A First for Many

Creatures from the Deep
This is why no one likes to fish.

Oh our adventurous party. They had successfully thwarted that sea spirit, but it was only the beginning. Before they left Horizon, they were approached by Snergel’s half-orc body guard. After a brief meeting with Snergel himself, the party was (handsomely) contracted to retrieve some singing stone tool whatchamacallit from the Grey Dwarves. This was convenient, since they had been meaning to visit the Grey Mountains anyway. But first, they had to deal with the political implications from the Nelvahi experience.

After returning to the capital, they updated the king on these affairs. They told of Nelvahi and how Queso’s helmet was still getting them into trouble. At the mention of the helmet, out popped some magical short old woman, who offered to try to remove it for us. Queso knelt down so she could put her hand on either side of the helmet. Then she began to radiate a golden glow. Our not so good friend Dirren began speaking through Queso about how futile of an attempt this was… or at least that is what he started with. Then the woman started chastising him like a child and glowed even brighter. With a groan, Dirren’s voice left and the helmet fell off Queso’s head. After she stopped glowing, the woman informed the party that, although she couldn’t identify him directly, she could tell that the power behind the helmet was one of the Elven high patriarchs.

On the topic of the sea beasts and the reference to the old enemy, none in the king’s company knew anything off the top of their heads. However, there was a general recollection of a great war. While his sages began researching, the party decided it was time to put this God Iron to good use, and began preparations for their journey to the Grey Mountains. The remaining party who hadn’t secured a bank account did so, and the God Iron was retrieved from the Thunderlights. It was clear that the closest port to the Grey Mountains was back in Horizon, so off they went.

As they were pursuing the Horizon docks, they came across a very well dressed lady, who stuck out like a sore thumb among the dock workers. Hofniel decided that he must ask about her fashion, since he had not had much time to focus on his wardrobe since the adventuring began. They came to learn that the woman’s name was Sriracha Williams, and she was a fashion designer by trade. Sriracha was doing business on the continent, but was soon returning to her homeland of Tabasco. Hofniel and Queso were not going to let the opportunity of having a professional fashion designer slip through their fingers, so they hired her for their personal wardrobe. She agreed, and the party grew a little that day.

The party eventually met up with Miguel, an associate of Snergel. He gave a reasonable travel deal, so the party packed up and hauled off. The first day didn’t seem so bad, but then out of nowever, on the start of the first night, a sudden storm beset the ship. The waves and winds kept picking up in intensity until all hands were on deck trying to keep the ship. It rocked port to starboard in great ungulations. Miguel quipped that somebody must have upset a sea spirit or something… now who would have done a thing like that?

Soon, shapes could be seen emerging from the waters. They crawled up the side of the boat and onto the desk. They were slimy mer-creatures carrying crude spears. The party knew what must be done. They began the encounter with the creatures. But with the great heaves of the boat, half the time that the party tried to do something, they would end up slipping! (Although, the mer-creatures who’s main mode of transportation was swimming seemed fine on deck…) Hofniel immediately slipped, but was able to unleash the power of the mace. Gregor began his punching arrays, and Queso began making sushi: nasty, slimy, gorey sushi. Dobby summoned a shark that leapt into the water and began attacking the mer that were still in the waters. Elora shot out some magic missiles, and even Sriracha pitched in to fight the beast (she just happened to be a wizard).

Belladonna, trying to be bold, went to the starboard side of the boat to stop some of the newly landed mer. Unfortunately, as a halfling, she wasn’t too familiar with boats, and immediately slipped, opening herself up for some attacks. Even more unfortunate, she couldn’t get her footing right fell off the side of the boat! Down she tumbled into the waves with the mer creatures somewhere around her. She saw and felt a shape approach her, but as she was about to attack, she barely heard Dobby’s cry through the storm, “Grab onto the shark!” Indeed, it was the shark before her, and she was able to keep afloat by riding this terrifyingly majestic beast.

Things on the ship were going better, but not the best. By this time Hofniel had laid down a protection circle while Queso managed to drop more of the mer with the help of the wizards, but he had been injured a lot. When they had almost cleared the deck of the mer, a sailor cried that something big was in the water off the port side. This was most concerning for Belladonna, since the shape was approaching her side of the ship. With the help of some sailors, they were able to get Belladonna back on the boat.

Elora went to the edge of the ship to look down at the shape. Little did she know that this would open her up to a look much closer than she intended. Everyone turned as a giant crash came from starboard side. A giant armored fish leapt straight into the air, took a giant bite from Elora, and plunged back into the deeps (this fish was clearly cut out for Sea World). Elora was on the brink of death, but she wouldn’t let that stop her magic missiles from attacking. Queso and Hofniel shared a knowing gaze, and began their trademark Grande Queso Grande maneuver. Hofniel healed Queso, then soon after enlarged him. Queso then killed the mer he was engaged with and charged toward the edge of the boat. He performed a skewer dive: sort of like a swan dive, but he was holding his great sword in front of him and stabbed the beast, breaking off one of its armor plates.

The rest of the party worked on clearing the remaining mer from the ship while Hofniel went to heal Elora as well. Elora wasn’t even bothered with her closeness to death, and instead fried that fish with a scorching ray while Queso continued his battle with it in person. It would take giant bites from Queso, but he kept at it. The remaining mer were finally cleared, but not before Queso was on his last legs, and too far from Hofniel for healing. Then, Sriracha in all her glamour cast Glitter Dust on the fishy thing. It leaped from the water again, but with its eyes blinded, it narrowly missed Elora and dove back down. Everyone was firing everything they had at the beast, and eventually it died. The seas calmed down, and Hofniel vowed never to sail again.

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The Duchess of Lies
Unmasking the big bad, Scooby-Doo style

Having discovered the secret passage in the library, Elora and friends set out to gather everyone to delve inward and, hopefully, uncover more about the Duchess’s plight. Elora was able to wiggle through the crowds in the hall and, unsurprisingly, discover Queso and Heisenberg living it up at the bar, being fed drinks and find foods in celebration of their recent championship bout. Also unsurprisingly, Queso was drunk as as skunk, while Heisenberg was more moderate in his consumption. After (Not really) feigning the need to offload a massive amount of bowel content, the crowd cleared a path for Queso to do his business, with no one daring to follow, allowing for a discrete exit. They made their way down, with Gregor attempting to cover their absence, though he was soon swept away in a throng of admirers still eager for autographs. Meanwhile, the rest of the party descended down the passage, immediately noting the change in stonework, indicating the lower levels were much more ancient than the manor itself. Several small, empty cells, carved into the bare rock, indicated past use as a dungeon or prison of some kind. One of the cells contained the skeletal remains of…someone; in a tattered dress. Inspection by the very careful Belladonna revealed the fabric to be high quality, indicating nobility of some sort. Fearing the worst, she carefully investigated the cell, revealing the now familiar name “Nelvahi” carved into the wall in fingernail scratches. Thorougly creeped out, they boldly pushed forward, but not before Queso relieved himself in the very same cell, effectively defiling the place. As they moved forward, they discovered a small room with an altar, adorned with the stone-carved symbol of Pelor, with various lesser good deities, including Elven god Carellian Latherian. It was then that a low moaning sound became more prominent, and an apparition slowly made its way through the stone wall. The ghostly figure appeared to be a disheveled woman adorned in a gown, very much like that of Elspeth Sever. It did not speak, and so the brave Hofniel implored her, as the Duchess, to tell them how they could help her. She beckoned to him. Steeling himself, he followed the ghost, who gestured to a loose brick in the Pelorian altar, then vanished. Hofniel very, very carefully withdrew the loose stone, and reached inside, his hand both gauntlet clad and covered in the designated “nasty sack”….just in case. He withdrew several dried flowers, and a small magical disc with a sunburst carved upon it. They speculated as to what it was for, with Hofniel able to discern something about “truth” or “illuminate” from whispers in the darkness. They also noted two more exits at the back of the room, which Belladonna once again carefully inspected. One had the salty tang of sea air just barely drifting inward, while the other was dead silent.
The party entered the right passageway, stepping softly on the slick, ancient stones. It opened into a dank catacombs, with various bones interred in shelves and various sarcophagi lying about. On the far end, a cryptic riddle, barely legible, written in both an old human tongue and elvish, read: “Traitors in life, Servants in death, the faithless guard the faithful, speak reverently with every step.” Wisely interpreting this as a call to prayers, Hofniel invoked a number of memorized Pelorian hymns and such while the rest of them walked quietly deeper into the foreboding tomb. A large, partially opened sarcophagus showed a long-withered skeleton clutching a stone tablet. Hofinel, again with the greatest of care and utilization of the nasty sack, withdrew the tablet, reading it quietly. It made some mention of a “great nemesis” in the “still waters.” Whether it referred to their whatever water spirit they were dealing with, was difficult to say. He took a moment to inquire the other party members, breaking his prayers inadvertently. Almost immediately, bones of all types skittered across the floor to create a huge, monstrous amalgam of parts: a towering bone golem with three heads, attached to whipping spines, and a vicious looking bone flail clutched in one of its large, asymmetrical claws. The embarrassed cleric tried to recover some semblance of control by attempting a turning spell, which caused bones to peel off of the entity and reform as individual human skeletons, clawing at the far walls in their attempt to flee. The golem remained, and set upon them. Hofniel and Heisenberg took point, with Queso charging in with glee as he so often does. The ladies of the group, lacking testosterone poisoning clouding their judgement, realized they didn’t really have to engage the creature, moved to the exit, remaining within spell range. They provided magical support to the men, while the hideous construct tore at their flesh with its mighty flail, and snapped with its various heads. One such bite sunk into Queso’s meaty deltoid, instilling a magical fear that nearly drove him to flee the fight, but he held fast, albiet while quaking in terror. The fight was a prolonged give-and-take, blows exchanged, healing performed, and Elora calmly blasting it with spells. Eventually, Queso went in for a leaping kill strike, stabbing his own toe on the delivery, and falling INSIDE of the beasts immense, exposed rib cage. Completely losing his cool, our barbarian badass wet himself while flailing, grasping, kicking, and bashing in a wild panic. This had the serendipitous effect of dismantling the golem from the inside, sending bones flying all over. After giving Queso time to cool off, the group rummaged through the remaining effects, discovering a couple magical rings and a magical set of fingerless gloves. Satisfied that they had done all they needed to do here, the group healed up and headed back to the main portion of the mansion, nervously pondering just how they would take on this “Nelvahi.”  Using the scroll of true vision revealed the Duchess to be a horrifying, gnarled, heavy clawed haglike being with sharp teeth and sunken eyes that burned like embers…but only to Elora.  Their fears that the true Elspeth Sever was dead were cemented at that point. Much discussion later, they agreed that the old, Pelor’s crest amulet had something to do with neutralizing the awful creature’s powers, though they were entirely unsure as to how. Taking a chance, the heroes positioned themselves strategically in the ballroom-turned-arena that now had various nobles and admirers milling about. Queso and Heisenberg agreed upon a distraction: They began to shout and shove eachother, as if arguing over who was the REAL champion of the previous bouts. As weapons came out, the entire room was enthralled, including the “Duchess,” who leaned over the upper railing to observe with apparent glee at what certainly everyone believed would be an epic battle. While this was occurring, Belladonna utilized the group’s invisibility scroll and snuck up the stairway with the amulet, inching her way to the very creepy “Elspeth.” Taking a deep breath, she nimbly slipped the now thrumming amulet into the coat pocket of the leering creature. Immediately the amulet shattered and an orb of energy coursed in a globe around it, revealing the disgusting hag for what she was. The warriors immediately stopped their charade and together with Elora, pointed at the exposed monster for all to see. Hissing and seething with rage, the witch cast a fog in the hall, obscuring her movement from all…except Elora, whose scroll of true sight allowed her to track its movements as it leaped from the balcony and tore through the blind and bewildered crowd, tossing foppish nobles and guards out of her way with terrifying ease. She was stopped, briefly, by Heisenberg, who had placed himself strategically at the exit. Gripping the monster’s wrists, he held on for as long as he could in an attempt to prevent the hag from escaping, but it was sickeningly strong, eventually tossing even the stalwart fighter into a nearby wall. It was far from over however, as Dobby summoned a wolf to lash at the beast’s knotty calf, and Queso jumped in to tackle and slow the hag’s progress…which appeared to be directly toward the library, where the hidden exit through the bookshelf was. Elora instantly recognized what the hag was doing and called out to the guards to block the library, which they did with some confusion and reluctance. Nelvahi growled something about “getting you and your little dragon too” before drawing upon inner fey powers to bring an unnatural chill to the room, dropping the temperature at an astonishing rate. Everyone in the room suffered from the cold, aside from Queso, whose otherwise inconvenient helm provided cold resistance. Elora, nonplussed though shivering, took this opportunity to immolate Nelvahi with a powerful scorching blast, while Queso continued to hang on and stab with his greatsword as best he could. Screeching with pain, the witch tore Queso off her back, giving him the Evil Eye, which drained the brute of his epic strength….and removed her primary obstacle to escaping, aside from a few frozen guards. Hofniel, who had been attacking with his mace, realized how dire their situation was. Invoking an inner strength he had not called upon before, he, by the power of piety and Pelor, used divine magic to become (drumroll) The Incredible Hoff. Surging with this newfound, nearly superhuman strength, The Hoff dove to the fleeing hag and caught it in a bear hug, from which, despite desperate clawing and gnashing of teeth, even the diabolical witch could not escape. Indeed, the slashes Hoff received only seemed to increase his resolve, gaining even more advantage over the flailing foe. The rest of the party resumed their attacks on the grappled creature. Finally, Heisenberg, having shaken off his delirium after being tossed into a stone wall, made his way back, itching for revenge. With a disapproving frown, he drove his gleaming silver longsword deep into the heart of the beast, with black, brackish blood spilling out over the blade. He saw the life-force draining from its demonic eyes, as it hissed out its last hateful words…“They…will come for you..you…only delay…” Heisenberg was far from intimidated, snorting with contempt and a single “Shut it” before twisting the blade and drawing it back in one smooth motion, ending the killing blow. (Hofniel barely avoided being impaled himself with the hag in his grasp). The witch melted into a puddle of ghoulish ichor on the ground. The room warmed again, and the nearby crowds made their way into the hall, along with Bancroft the steward, who had witnessed part of the final fight. In a state of mixed relief, dismay, and shock, he praised the heroes, who had brought an end to a devious,ancient evil, awarding them all with honorary titles and gold.

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Party Crashers
And that includes more than just our heros...

While the others were surveying the actual party, Dobby was in the kitchen clean some dishes and missing her beloved animal companions. While in the kitchen, she gathered corroborating rumors that something is different with Elspeth. But with no way to communicate these rumors to the rest of the party, she kept on with the dishes.

Elsewhere in the limelight, Elora and Belladonna continued their masquerade as Blackfire Mercenaries. Mariah Goldblossum, the emissary of the Ashdrake’s, sidled up to them and offered her assistance. She shought that Bancroft might know more about the changes Elspeth has been experiencing. So they saunter over and start up a conversation. It was easy to see that Bancroft was also disturbed with the duchesses changes, and after some gentle persuasion, began telling the two all he knew. He described how she has been acting differently for almost a year now. She is always leaving the manor undetected, and seems to be a whole different person with no empathy. She used to love going down to the beach and always refused her guard escort, and it was after one of these visits that she returned while acting strangely. With a quick glance around the room, and a deep search into the adventurer’s eyes for aid, he pulled out a parcel, claiming Elspeth gave it to him on that day.

Thanking him for his help, the two left his company and nonchalantly examined the packet. It was a note wrapped around a key: the note instructed to search the manor for some door. The two were puzzled by this development, and as they pondered, they noticed that Duke Torvald Parsefal and Lady Elspeth were having a heated discussion on the second tier: well, it looked like the Duke was having a heated discussion, and Elspeth was eerily calm. Using her message spell to eavesdrop, Elora learned that the Duke was yelling, practically stuttering in rage, that the big Oaf was in the tournament, probably with the rest of that bunch. Elspeth simply replied that she did not care: she would just see if he won or not. What happened after the tournament was not her concern.

Before he could retort, the tournament announcer informed everyone that the next round would be between The Whirling Slashers and Slash and Smash. Our melee trio triumphantly entered the arena to face their next opponents. One was a heavily muscled and tatooed individual armed with nothing but his fists, another on his left carrying a whip (who immediately threw out some caltrops about the arena), and the one on his right wielded some weighted daggers. Gregor rushed past the caltrops, and aligns a punch at the man with the weighted daggers: with his aim and magic punch, he punched through to also injure the enemy monk. Heisenberg charged forward and left the first bar of his signature H on the monk. Queso charged toward the whip man by jumping over the caltrops. He unleashed two powerful strikes on him, and simultaneously Gregor unleashed two powerful his on the whip man. Thrown off by this onslaught, the dagger man missed so terribly that he ended up stabbing himself. Queso took the opportunity to knock out the whip man and cleaved into the monk. Gregor continues attacking the dagger man while Heisenberg properly engages with the monk, who is landing many a blow on Heisenberg. With much effort, but even greater determination, Heisenberg and Queso drop the monk, leaving just the man with weighted daggers quaking in his boots. He immediately surrendered, which disappointed Queso. Queso, with smash-lust in his eyes, glanced up to Elspeth and asked for her judgement. Amused by this development, she held her thumb up for the moment, before smashing it down. In unison, the three “good” guys each unleashed a devastating “non-lethal” blow on this defenseless man. The healers rushed forward, and Smash and Slash advanced to the next round.

While the fight was going on, Elora used her message spell to confer with Hofniel (who is still undercover as The Hof) and Dobby in the kitchen with how to proceed. Deciding that finding the door would require sneaking about the second level, which was forbidden, the following plan unfolded. Dobby secured two sets of servant’s uniforms from the back. Hofniel gauged which stairwell was less securely guarded. Seeing that one was guarded by actual house guards while the other was hired by a temporary guard, Hofniel went to the latter and informed him that he was relieved. The guard immediately took off toward the food. Dobby and Belladonna then dressed as servants before ascending the stairs that were guarded by Hofniel, and Elora provided overwatch using the remaining duration of her message spell.

So off the two went, up the stairs guarded by Hofniel. Upstairs they found a door leading out to the overlook of the arena and two other directions to explore. At the far end of the straight path was a figure, so they went off to the right. Along the right wall were two doors. Belladonna effortlessly opened the first door, revealing a bedroom. They searched the room thoroughly, and underneath a vase they found a scrap of paper which had handwriting that matched Elspeth’s! It described something about meeting some type of water spirit on her many visits to the beach. Finding nothing else in that room, they continued on to the next door. Although the lock was finer, Belladonna still had no issue with it. Inside they found a much grander room, which they took to be the duchesses. It was covered in nice paintings and furniture. They searched high and low, thinking that the mysterious door must be here. In the closet, Belladonna found a nice light golden shawl, which she just happened to pocket. Then in a side table, Dobby found more writing. This depicted how the spirit taught her in divination and stories and only wanted trinkets and clothes in exchange.

But still they had yet to find a door! Then, Belladonna’s sneakiness kicked in and she thought to look behind the pictures. And behind a large self portrait they found a built in wall safe. The key fit it perfectly, and inside they found a diary and a scroll. In the few minutes they had to skim the diary, they found reference to a secret door somewhere in manor: a secret passage in the library she would use to escape her guards when leaving the manor. Further, the diary mentioned Nelvahi, one of the water narads (a fey creature). They would have read more, but they knew they could be caught at any moment. So they relayed the information to the others, quickly noted that the scroll was that of True Sight, and headed out a door on the opposite side of Elspeth’s room.

In this hallway, they had come to the other side of the mysterious figure which looked like he was slumped in his chair, and the only way forward was past him Belladonna thus crept down the hallway, trying to determine if the figure was possibly asleep. However, as she got closer, she found the figure was not breathing. Getting right next to it, she found a deep, strange scar on his neck, and determined that this guard was dead: probably killed by magic. Thinking that they needed an emergency exit, Belladonna tried to unlock the final door in this corridor, but her hands were shaking too violently to pick it. Then, when they were about to rifle through the guard’s pockets for some keys, they heard his voice.

“My my… I was wondering how long it would take you to make it this far…”

Dirren Kas’ disembodied voice seemed to ring around them. Thankfully, the last vestiges of Elora’s message spell were in effect, so she was immediately informed of the danger. Alerting Hofniel as she hurried past, they charged up the stairs to aid their newly endangered friends. Behind Dobby appeared Dirren Kas’s ghostly hand. Knowing there was nowhere to run, Belladonna charged forward with her daggers, but the hand silently maneuvered around her. But it could not as easily maneuver around the flaming sphere that Dobby summoned on top of it. The carpet and part of the wall caught ablaze while Hofniel and Elora (casting True Strike on herself in preparation) sprinted ever closer to the conflict. The hand retaliates by grasping Belladonna, instantly paralyzing her right within its clutches. Knowing the hall was too small to summon an effective creature, Dobby tried to distract the hand with dancing lights, but it did phase it. Then, as Elora rounded the corner, they cried out some elven battle cry as she prepared her spell. At the sound of her voice, Dirren Kas’ simply replied: “Ah, there you are Elora… I hope you have been enjoying the party…”, then his ghostly hand disappeared. Hofniel arrived after everything had died down. When these four tried to think of what to do with the body, the prize fight was just getting under way.

The final clash between Roland the Magnificent and Slash and Smash was about to go down! Roland entered the field sporting splendid armor and a heavy mace in each hand. The other two of this party simply carried standard swords and shields. Gregor run up and immediately bashes on of the shields with his fist, leaving a small dent. The shield bearer was stunned at this display of force, and was unable to land a counterblow. Queso took the opportunity to charge the man and grappled with his shield. But while Gregor was engaged with the shield bearer, Roland approached from behind and landed a sickening blow with his mace. Heisenberg take the chance to flank Roland and landed a blow. But Gregor was tired of playing second fiddle. Just as Roland started to look away, Gregor landed a devastating blow, followed by a debilitating blow, before delivering a crippling blow! However, Gregor too was surprised by his success: so surprised that he lost his footing and fell. Queso, not wanting to be outdone, jumped while holding the shield, which was still firmly attached to the man’s arm. He somehow jumps over the man, yanking the shield away, and nearly yanking the man’s arm off as well. Then Heisenberg, also not wanting to be outdone, landed a strong, precise blow on Roland’s shoulder, removing the epaulet there. But the blow came at a cost to his coordination, and somehow hit his own head! Gregor unleashed another flurry of blows, while Queso tried to grab the other man’s shield. This, however, was unsuccessful due to all the oil he had applied to himself: but the oil did help him avoid damage from the blunted swords that slid off him. Gregor spend more time dishing out pain, before Queso remembers that he can get angry. He rages, destroys the Roland’s chest piece in a massive final blow, before cleaving into the shield guy. But while Queso is distracted with anger, Roland reveals a hidden lethal blade and slashes as Queso. He plants the blade in Queso’s leg, and Queso feels something entering his bloodstream. He pukes immediately, and Heisenberg bashes in Roland’s helmet, knocking him out.

Then, as if Queso wasn’t suffering enough, he heard a voice in his head that wasn’t one of the usual ones. “Did you really think it was a good idea to put on the Helmet of the Thrall?” It was Dirren Kas! Queso started trying to yank the helmet off, but found that he couldn’t! Then, he started shouting, “Yay Blackfires!”, while his teammates looked at him in shock.

Now that they had won, it was apparent that the Duke wanted some very strong and violent words with Queso, but he was being swarmed by groupies, and thus the Duke was unable to make his move. The adventurers met back together. Seeking advice, Elora asked Mariah about how they could help Queso. She informs the party that there are clerics in the town who could help, but none were present or prepared at the party. Knowing there was nothing they could do to help Queso with the helmet (he was already recovering from the poison) they went to the library to find the secret door. Elora thought for a moment, “If I were to hide a secret passage, where would I want it.” Somehow, she thought a book lever would be perfect. So she started pulling at books and in no time found one that released a door latch!

There were so many questions remaining! Where was Dirren Kas? What purpose could this scroll of True Sight hold? Where does the secret passage lead? Is Elspeth really Elspeth, or possibly is she possessed by this Nelvahi? And what will Dirren try to do with Queso’s poor mind?!? Tune in next time for more!

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Sneaking Into the Party

Having carted the bulk of the god iron to the safekeeping of Bob and Linda Thunderlight, the party made haste to Horizon, the city of Duchess Elspeth Sever. Upon arrival, and realizing they had but two days to come up with a plan to enter the Gala, they broke out into intense debate on the topic. Heisenberg recalled an old guard friend, Isaac, who happened to be stationed nearby, and sent an invitation to discuss the current state of affairs, to include possible guard post openings. They settled on the local tavern (of course) and, by the time our comrades arrived, Isaac was well into his cups. He beckoned Heisenberg over, and the two made small talk, with Hofniel attempting to gain some rapport by buying a round of drinks for Isaac and his acquaintances. He soon regretted this move, as many observing riffraff soon started clamoring to the shiny young noble for their own free drinks. While Hofniel shooed them away, Heisenberg managed to gain some useful information about the Gala. It seemed the Duchess was eschewing the traditional ballroom dancing for something far more exciting- a team based, double elimination gladiatorial style combat! It was non lethal of course, but the promise of large gold prizes enticed the warriors among the group, namely Queso, Gregor, and Heisenberg. As he could not simultaneously take a guard position and fight in the tourney, Heisenberg discussed with Hofniel, who agreed to try for the position in his stead, with Heisenberg’s seal of approval. Isaac recommended they approach the guard captain the following morning and attempt to get Hofniel a “job.”

The following day, everyone went about looking for potential ways into the Gala. Finding no other available jobs for the event other than kitchen scullery, Elora and Belladonna, with great apprehension, decided to go with the direct approach disguised as Black Fire mercenaries, invitations in hand. Dobby had no problem with getting her hands a little dirty, and opted to find work in the kitchens as a drudge. The fighting team applied under the group name “Slash n’ Smash” befitting their style. Hofniel and Heisenberg approached the dour captain to negotiate his way into a guard spot for the event. With Heisenberg’s good word and a bit of smooth talking (as well as fabricating a colorful resume on the fly), he was able to weasel his way into a spot near the upcoming combat.
On the day of the Gala, the group split up into the respective locations. The fighting trio made their way to the holding area next to the ballroom-turned-arena, where the other hopeful warriors prepared themselves. A bit of careful questioning led them discover the tournament favorite was one “Roland the Magnificent,” a large, plate armored, vain fellow, with a sterling record of arena victories all over Erath. Heisenberg and Queso, of course, made faces at him in the prep room which Roland stiffly ignored. The undercover femme fatales went in through the front gate, into the lush gardens, abundant with rare and exotic flora from all over the continent. In the center was a beautiful statue of a woman wreathed in a silver-leaf tiara. Trying to be as incognito as possible, the two slunk carefully to the front door, only to be brusquely accosted by a black-armored, rugged boar of a man, who they quickly learned was Lord Vorn Gell, whose holdings were within the Duchess’ purview. He immediately recognized their Black Fire adornments and demanded proper respects. Having read in advance, they hastily preformed the Black Fire salute. Vorn growled his questions, curious as to why the “knife-eared creep” Dirren Kas had not come himself, to which the increasingly nervous two mumbled something about being recently assigned to the area, effectively pleading ignorance. Displeased but convinced, he switched topics to that of an upcoming supply drop to Fort Overwatch on the Eastern coast, declaring in no uncertain terms that they were to defend it at all costs he would have their heads. Nodding and saluting vigorously, the ladies were finally able to extricate themselves from the brutish fellow and move on into the foyer. The inside was bustling with lords, ladies, and other well-to-do types. A few careful glances around doorways revealed Duke Torvald, bedecked in new, wyvern-hide finery, at the bar with a less than cheerful affect that seemed to clash with his usual gaudy appearance. On the other end of the room, wherein all manner of delicious hors d’oeuvres were being served, sat none other than their old friend Snergle Snodbottom from their first adventure, engaging in conversation and general merrimaking. A peek into the library revealed Duke Finn Garland, who seemed to be avoiding the crowds by poking around for a good book. Moving into the arena, they saw the Duchess herself, attired in a deep lavender dress, standing on the indoor balcony that surrounded the open area space. She seemed to spot them with uncanny precision, smiling and waving the up. Already jittery, and having no idea what the Duchess could possibly want, they made their way up. She greeted them amicably, asking them if the elven mage she had been expecting was among them. Quickly, albeit in a stammering tone, Elora volunteered that she was indeed the mage they had sent for, to which Elspeth asked for a demonstration of her magic. Flustered, our courageous wizard decided to burn her invisibility spell, making Belladonna fade in and out before their eyes. This seemed to mightily please the Duchess, who dropped hints that she might be interested in a long term working relationship with Black Fire, provided they could continue to prove themselves useful to her. She suggested they bring her a few odds and ends, namely a manticore tail and a ghost mushroom (known to only grow in deep mines, she noted), as further evidence that they meant business. They hastily agreed and headed back to the main level, just in time to watch the first round of the tournament, featuring Queso, Heisenberg, and Gregor as “Slash n’ Smash” vs. the blandly named “Tough Guys,” who, as the name suggested, did indeed appear to be a stout group of warriors. Their battle was intense, but not terribly epic; nonlethal rules prevented any deaths, and victory was had by our steadfast trio with some orthodox smashing and slashing, until the other team was either unconscious or to battered to continue. The group nursed their superficial injuries in the prep room in anticipation of the next round. What Dobby had been doing this entire time, remained to be seen…

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Strange Creatures near some Strange Metal
There is such a thing as TOO much magic

After returning from the unsuccessful rescue attempt, the team found that they had just enough time to visit the speculative location of some God Iron before they went to the party. Hofniel hired a local worker to mine the ore for them, and proper storage was also acquired. The journey to the beach was uneventful, probably because this region was guarded by Bob and Linda Thunderlight. In any case, they quickly came to the spot.

When they were still some distance away, the adventurers could see, wedged between a steep cliff and the ocean was a blackened, sooty crater in the beach. The party left the hired hand with the horses and cart while the rest of the party departed on foot toward the crater. As they got closer to the crater, suddenly Elora saw a shimmering appear directly in front of Hofniel. With Elora’s warning, Hofniel was able to avoid having Pelor’s Radiance snatched from his hand by the arm that materialized in thin air! However, he wasn’t quick enough to stop the arm from quickly redirecting and snatching his silver tongue amulet.

After the initial shock, the party could see the creature before them… and what a sight it was! It stood on a single leg with a large foot. In its torso region was a large mouth a small eyes. Four spindly arms with long bony fingers sprouted from the torso. After it successfully grabbed the amulet, it used its other arms to being some hand signs and it began to shimmer again. Dobby was quick to daze the creature and the shimmering diminished. Hofniel cast detect magic, which was not extremely effective since the whole area was glowing with magic, including the creature before them. Queso ran forward and grappled the beast, pinning two of its arms down. Hofniel and Gregor both lunged forward and secured an arm each while Belladonna snuck behind the creature and retrieved the amulet.

For some reason, Elora felt pity for this creature as it tried to escape. After a short time, the party discovered that the creature could understand common but could not speak it. With some effort they learned that the creature had followed them to this location and that it really liked shiny things. They found out that it knew that there were two creatures with some sort of appendages that were in the crater. The party still had it pinned down, but it had stopped struggling and had yet to attack. Feeling pity for it, they told it that they were going to battle in the crater, gave it a gold coin, and released it. It waved at the party, made some arcane gestures, and disappeared into thin air.

The sneaky members of the party tried to get a visual on the creatures, but they couldn’t make anything out without going into the open. Hofniel detected two flickering magic auras, but only for a moment before they darted behind the meteor. Not knowing any other option, they party decided to charge in! When their threat became apparent to the creatures in the crater, they lunged out and attacked the party. These beasts looked almost like two black, emaciated jaguars but with long pincer talon-like appendages coming out of their backs.

Queso charged forward and attacked the closest one while Hofniel enlarged Heisenberg. Dobby summoned vines to entangle the farther one and Elora flung magic missiles at the first one. Queso was strengthened by Hofniel and continued his barrage. Gregor tried firing from a distance, with little to no success. Even with Hofniel and Queso’s mighty blows, the first creature still remained alive while inflicting heavy blows of its own against Queso. Dobby then started rolling a flaming sphere on the entangled creature before Elora summoned 3 monstrous centipedes to nibble on the first creature. With all this, the FIRST one finally fell.

By this time, the second one had freed himself from the vines and charged the party. Gregor moved into range and, with a clever feint, landed a sizeable blow. Dobby summoned a hippogriff to join the fray while the centipedes crawled over to it. Heisenberg, in his battle mindset, charged forward, even though it was over his own teammates. Hofniel move was able to keep his footing, but Queso was caught unaware and was flung to the ground. Hofniel hurried to heal the extremely wounded Queso while the remainder of the party whittled away at the second one. The battle drew on, but with a ridiculous flurry of blows from the Hippogriff, the second creature was also felled.

Now that the adrenaline had died down, Hofniel realized how gory and disgusting the scene was, especially with the centipedes eating the remains. He promptly found a clean place to lose his lunch. When he righted himself again, he returned to the cart to find the hired hand, but he was nowhere to be seen, the spineless coward! Thus, Hofniel did the next best thing and gave Queso the pick. The work was slow, but with Hofniel’s supervision the storage chests began to slowly fill with the ore.

As mining progressed, Elora decided that this time was as good as any to find a familiar. She walked a few steps away and began the ritual. At first, there was nothing. Then, she heard a voice in her head (which wasn’t one of the normal ones. Just kidding). The voice asked if she was nice and would care for it, to which she replied yes. They then began having a conversation. The strange thing was that Elora was talking out loud while listening to the conversation in her head. The entire party was looking at her, and then smoothly a small flying lizard of some type swooped down on her shoulders. Hofniel, ever the gentleman, reached for his mace, careful walked over, and told Elora to stand still: there was some beast on her shoulder. As he advanced however, the small lizard coughed some pink cloud in his face and he immediately fell asleep. Elora was happy with this development.

Thus the party recovered all the ore, loaded it and Hofniel on the cart, and rode off with their new friend (a psuedodragon).

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Where is Lord Calver? (DM Edition)

Following the rout of Dirren Kas, the whole group got together in Westwall to seek the wise counsel of Duchess Ashdrake once again. She took into account the recent events, and the continued threat of BlackFire. After discussion with the group, they agreed to discover what had happened to Lord Castor, the MIA lord of the modest town of Calver. With such evidence in hand, Adeline reasoned, they could approach King Treville Pargraven directly, hopefully getting into the monarch’s good graces in the process. At that point they could inform the king of the BlackFire treason. The Gala invitations from Kas’s lair could wait, as they had a two week window before that event. As they geared up, Heisenberg and Mendel the monk rejoined the group. The fighter had once again used his guard contacts to dredge up more information. As it turned out, they were being tracked by several well-known bands of mercernaries; the Reavers, led by a vicious half-orc named *; the Blue Falcons, a hilariously inept, ragtag band of misfits; and a shadowy organization with no commonly known name that Heisenberg was able to ascertain, learning only that their contact was one “Sillith the Hexmaiden.”

The team set out south to Calver, enjoying the beautiful sights of the glittering Coldhallow lake and the bountiful forests, even catching a glimpse of a griffon flying high overhead at one point. Sadly, the light-heartedness was not to last, as even at a distance they could see Calver was in ruins as they approached along the main road. Belladonna thought she saw something, or someone, scurry behind a building, likely an orc. The group very carefully split into teams, searching the delapidated buildings for clues and any undiscovered items. Belladonna carefully pocketed a magical headband, while the others found some potions and a lovely bottle of Elven brandy, but not much more. Signs of orcs abounded, from hastily abandoned straw mats to various strange bone trinkets. Dobby was able to commune with the birds and learn that the orcs had holed up in the lord’s large, defensible home, with at least a few Worgs with them. As they approached the wooden double door to the large stone manor, the noticed a pile of burnt corpses to one side, doubtless the remains of the villagers. Suspecting a trap, Belladonna checked the door for traps, inadvertently setting it off, causing several bolders to splinter the door apart. Our dexterious halfling narrowly avoided being squished. Inside, on either side of a long fire pit, multiple orcs stood ready for battle. At the end of the hall, their burly, two-handed axe wielding chieftan stepped forth, flanked by snarling, slavering Worgs. The tumult began, with our barbarian guffawing casually into the fray, slicing this way and that, while Heisenberg maintained a somewhat more conservative approach, deflecting blows with ease as he stood toe-to-toe with the green goons. Dobby made an attempt to befriend one of the giant canine monsters, only to enrage it to the point that it focused entirely on the poor gnome. Elora, for her part, decided it would be just peaches to get into a ranged weapon contest with the chief, landing a crossbow bolt square in his chest, much to the orc’s surprise. As Queso did what Queso does best, Hofniel thought it would be helpful to enlarge Heisenberg again, enabling him to effortlessly skewer one orc from above on his giant silver sword to toss casually into the firepit. Elora and the chief seemed hellbent on seeing who could be more like Boromir from Lord of the Rings, both sustaining multiple arrows/bolts, each one teetering on the verge of death. Hofniel scrambled forward to save Elora, casting healing magic in the nick of time-At least it would have been the nick of time, had Heisenberg the Huge not meandered over and casually stomped the orc chieftan’s guts out before he could fire another shot with his bow. Mendel the monk took down one remaning orc with a spectacular uppercut, shattering the sap’s skull like a melon. This gave him enough time to engage the Worg that sprinted toward Dobby, inflicting powerful strikes against the creature, but not putting it down. Queso tried to stop the monster, slashing into it’s mangy hide with his blade, but he just couldn’t finish the job in time. It bit Dobby savagely, nearly ripping the tiny druid off of her feet. It was then that Norbert the hitherto shy Wyvernling, aghast to see its “mother” under attack, launched into the building and delivered a vicious sting to the wounded Worg, ending it’s existence with a delivery of potent venom. On the other side of the room, Elora angrily bashed the other Worg’s head in with her staff, much to the surprise of her warrior comrades, who had been working hard to finish it off beforehand. Cleaning themselves off, the group advanced to the side rooms, only to find a few torn pages of a journal along with dented swords, broken armor, and dried blood stains- signs of a last stand. Amongst the wreckage was lord Castor’s split shield, identifiable by the oak tree painted on its wooden face. The journal indicated what the team had suspected- they had come under assault by orcs in the night, and had been hopelessly outnumbered. The journal made references to this kind of attack as being unusual for southern orc barbarians. Queso, while rooting through the dead orcs’ gear, inadvertently noticed burn scars in a splash patters on a few of them, just like the acid burns from the hellish creations of Dirren Kas. Having the evidence they needed, the group made the journey to Starkhaven to deliver the sad news of Castor’s untimely demise.

Starkhaven was immense, bustling with activity of all kinds. Clay shingled buildings with stone and plaster walls were painted a variety of colors, making the city vibrant and aesthetic. Tradesfolk of all stripes hawked their skills and wares at every turn. The group soaked up the sights, culminating in the tremendous castle of King Pargraven, flanked with banners of all kinds, with that of the king himself foremost, bearing a single white rose. Built close by was a towering spire that crackled with magical energy, no doubt the lair of Erath’s Order of Magic, the proximity of which made Elora bounce with glee. Dobby, for her part, found the prospect of making another animal friend irresistible, wandering off to hunt down an exotic animal trader to obtain her very own naked mole rat. Queso, noticing a tattoo parlor, immediately wanted to get a teardrop tattoo for every poor sap he had ever cleaved in half. Hofniel gently reminded him that would likely take a week. The group bought useful gear and upgraded their current armor and weapons as much as they could, personalizing it with some added flair (Hofniel made sure there was a sun on everything he owned, while Heisenberg preferred his items embossed with large “H”s. Eventually they made it to the castle, convincing the guard of the urgency of their news and their need to obtain an audience with the king himself.
They were ushered in, walking through a high-ceiling hall adorned with all manner of heraldry. Nobles and vassals held conversations here and there, attending to important business, no doubt. The adventurers were guided further into an expansive room, where the king and his closest knights held counsel. Bedecked in the finest plate armor, shields bearing the crests of each house, they were as something out of legend. In the center, hovering over a table, stood Treville Pargraven himself, who beckoned them to approach. He addressed Hofniel directly, instantly recognizing the son of one of his lords. All of them carefully bowed, following Hofniel’s example. Even the mighty Queso stayed on his best behavior, stifling his flatulence in an uncharacteristic manner. The conversation was terse, and nerve wracking. They presented their findings, and though the king seemed concerned at the loss of Lord Castor, he betrayed no emotion, acknowledging the team’s efforts to aid Erath, and, much to their relief, granting them a formal pardon for their assault on the Duke of Sorpigal. Treville wryly commented that, so long as they maintained unwavering loyalty to the crown, they could keep their questionably obtained mace, at least for the time being. Mentions of their misadventure with Torval elicited giggles from a few of the nearby knights, though Treville kept his stoic composure. Things became particularly tense when Hofniel realized the king was…purportedly..unaware of the Blackfire problem, being forced to explain the plot himself. King Pargraven made it clear he would look into the matter, but promised no more than that. At the conclusion of their audience, the king granted the group access to the finest artisans and smiths in his domain, to include the Order of Magic that Elora had so eagerly hoped to enter. Within they found access to enchanters, spell tomes, and the wise old astrologer Dinweld, on the top story. Wielding an enormous mobile of planets and stars with mirrors set at all angles to collect the sunlight through the glass roof, the astrologer could ascertain the exact location of a fallen godstone, at the behest of the gleefully drooling Queso Grande. Moving on, Elora bypassed the normal spellbook salesperson to obtain a cheaper copy from a fence, catching some questionable stares in the process. All in all, our heroes chalked up a success, now well outfitted and eager to pursue a greater challenge, which was sure to come.

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Necromancer, or Necromentor? (DM Edition)

After their last adventure, our heroes met again with the esteemed Duchess Ashdrake in Westwall castle at the war table. Knowing that it would take more than words and accusations to get an audience with King Treville, Adeline sagely advised the group that they would need to perform some service to the kingdom to gain credibility (particularly considering their notoriety). She recommended discovering the fate of Lord Castor, who had not been heard from since the southern orc incursions. Though they knew they needed to get in the King’s good graces sooner or later, they also felt that they had procrastinated far too long in regards to the dread necromancer, who even now was commanding the Black Fire mercenaries into doing who-knows-what. They came to the conclusion that it was time to find and end this “Dirren Kas.”

Adeline quite helpfully alerted the group the existence of one of the few remaining veterans of the Chevren war, an understandably venerable gentleman who lived in Falcon Watch. Conveniently, Falcon’s Watch was on the way to the mysterious location where Kas purportedly was. They determined it would be safest to travel incognito, aka as merchants. With their looted wares, it was not difficult to put on a convincing show of it.
On the long road North, the heroes met a real merchant travelling along the road, a Dwarf who moved wares from as far as the Grey Mountains and back. Our fragrant champion Queso Grande took this as an invitation to sprint forth and rub the terrified fellow’s face in his sword-drawing, and it took no small amount of damage control from Hofniel to get the poor Dwarf to stop hiding behind his cart. He turned out to be reasonably helpful, providing further interpretation of their schematic, alluding to something called “godstone iron,” from stones that fell from the heavens (read: meteorites). A wordly fellow, he noted that only a good astrologer would be able to reliably locate such an object. The merchant proved useful in other ways as well, outfitting them (at a price) with various fine dwarven crafts and weaponry before they all waved their goodbyes.

Falcon Watch was a large, bustling, but otherwise unremarkable city with an assortment of amenities. Naturally, the team set off to the tavern for information, chatting up the barkeep. Everyone obtained their favorite beverages (aside from Queso, who was having an increasingly difficult time obtaining fermented goat’s milk outside of Sorpigal). Upon further discussion, the were able to ascertain the location of the only known veteran of the Chevren-Erathian war, along with his favorite potable: a spiced rum made only in Sorpigal. Thankfully, the barkeep noted they could just look into the local markets rather than be forced to travel all the way to Sorpigal proper to find the stuff. They moved on to the marketplace, costumes still in place, and located a trader who specialized in luxury goods from their (least) favorite port town. Queso put in a request for some fine hobbit leaf (read: Wacky Tobaccy), and so Hofniel approached. Sadly for him, it became immediately apparent that the real merchant had recognized Hofniel even through his disguise, forcing some heavy bribing to keep his mouth shut. He purchased both the rum and the weed, moving quickly on to the veteran’s home. Dobby the Druid, who was hooded and cloaked as a very short merchant herself, noted several individuals quietly gathering around the merchants booth, and so the party double-timed it.

When the old-timer was informed that the adventurers had come by on a social call with a large bottle of his favorite rum, he assumed an expression of merriment and dragged the surprised friends into his home. Hofniel at first thought he was going to be able to sit back and allow the man to drunkenly regale them with tales of the war (and hopefully, the mace), but as it turns out, the oldster was quite spry and sociable at heart, inviting the nervous cleric to drink with him- shot for shot. The brave Pelorian kept up, if only barely, his vision becoming foggy and his words slightly slurred as drink after drink went down. In the end this binge session was rewarded with a speech- a speech, the man said, that the king himself delivered at the onset of great battles, upon which his magical mace would light up like a star. He felt that it may have happened about the time the king shouted his name- thankfully, the rest of the group was paying attention to this whilst Hofniel hiccuped and nodded dumbly.

The group traveled further North through the woods to the mysterious location. With every step, the darkness seemed to become more oppressive, until nearly no sunlight broke through the forest canopy to the ground. Finally, they saw in the distance a stone building, and before it, a partial clearing with a few scattered, gnarled old trees. The ground seemed to to shimmer with a fine mist. Rightfully anxious, the resident druid called upon the trees to speak to her, which uttered only these words: “Look to the ground…the dead walk.” This did nothing to ease their jitters, so Belladonna very, very carefully tiptoed around for a closer look, taking mental notes of several patches of loose soil. The entire group decided to follow suit with the tip-toeing bit, lining up and sneaking along the periphery until someone stepped on an obnoxiously loud twig. Instantly, gray, rotten corpses began bursting up from the ground, moaning eerily as they did so. Elora and Dobby scampered up the nearest tree, while Queso leapt into the fray. Hofniel took up defense near his treed comrades, deflecting flailing zombie strikes while utterly failing to inflict any of his own damage in return. At one point, he missed so spectacularly that he smashed his own foot, harming himself more than any of the zombies could. The ladies fired stones and bolts from above, while Queso blasted through the undead with wide, cleaving blows, until every last wretch was given eternal peace. In the meantime, Belladonna had crept closer to the stone structure, getting a better view of what appeared to be a large sepulcher, flanked by stone statues. They appeared to be humanoids, one carrying a large bowl, and the other holding a curved ritual dagger. By the time the rest of the group had made it to her position, she had crawled into the bowl to get a closer look, finding what appeared to be dried blood. Informed of this, Hofniel’s face lit up, as he instantly recognized this for what it was- a door locked with ritual blood magic, something he had conveniently studied and written extensively about in his school days. Withdrawing a small dagger, he offered up some of his own blood into the bowl, charging the magical device and opening a solid rock doorway into the sepulcher.

There was no light inside, and so the enterprising Hofniel cast light upon himself, melting away the darkness in part. Toward the back of the crypt, two figures paced. As they approached, they saw two horrors, stripped of skin down to the muscle as if flayed alive, teeth uncovered by skin, and lidless eyes staring back at them. One was approximately human shaped, clutching a jagged, makeshift sword. The other was more horrible still, a squat, hulking brute with enormous fists wrapped in twisted iron. In the very rear of the sepulcher sat a smiling, hooded fellow, no doubt the necromancer Dirren Kas. He applauded the group for making it to him, noting that those that had come before had not been up to the challenge of testing his creations. Queso and Hofniel charged forward to engage, swallowing their fear. The others began their support roles. Hofniel cast protective magic upon them while the barbarian unleashed powerful strikes. As he cut into the taller humanoid, the brackish black blood spatter sizzled and smoked on the stone floor. Elora lit the monster up with magic missiles, while Queso was able to finish off the human appearing creature with a few powerful strikes. Dirren Kas, content to watch until now, stood and clapped. He didn’t want to make it too easy on them, he stated, immediately launching a spectral hand toward Queso while casting a wall of ice between himself and the adventurers. The hand froze Queso in place with a ghoulish touch spell. Hofniel’s hastily cast sanctuary prevented the monster from harming Queso further for the time being. Dobby called forth a flaming sphere directly over the necromancer, forcing him to dodge to one side while presumably being very distracting. Elora’s next spell sadly fizzled, and the hulking iron fisted monster decided to sidestep the frozen Queso and attack the wizard directly, blasting her with violent force. Meanwhile, Dirren Kas had dispelled the sphere, using his spectral hand to attack once more, this time giving poor Hofniel a terrible case of the shakes (aka, draining his dexterity). Queso was still locked in place, his sanctuary all but worn off, and the necromancer was gearing up for more terrible magic. Realizing they had nothing to lose at this point, Hofniel attempted to unlock the mace. Recalling the tales of their veteran friend, he raised the scepter high and shouted the name of the king, at which point it burst forth with light, empowering all of his friends with it’s warm radiance. With renewed vigor, he struck at the ghost hand, sending it back into the ether, and eliciting a yelp of pain from the astonished necromancer.The team had a second wind, and Belladonna used the opportunity to unleash several swift dagger strikes into the brute, whose swings became erratic and off-balance. Elora took a deep breath and, channeling arcane energy she hitherto did not know she had access to, let forth a lightening bolt that incinerated the wounded hulk, while cutting directly through the fire-sphere weakened ice wall…directly into Kas, who still nursed his injured hand. The bolt seared into his chest and slammed him into the stone wall. He gasped with pain, loudly exclaiming his disbelief that Elora could have mastered such a powerful spell at her level of experience. Before they could accost the diabolical elf, he assumed a gaseous form and wafted through cracks in the stone wall, escaping their wrath. Our adventurers counted themselves victorious however, finding not only a great deal of gold, but various useful items, including magical anklets and a gruesome, intimidating horned helmet with a skull face that Queso took quite a liking to. The final thing they discovered was a set of careful sketches and diagrams. These drawings clearly depicted the creation of the flayed horrors they had recently fought, and thus Elora made it a point to decipher as much as she could from the including margin writings, hoping to be better prepared in case they should encounter more desecrated beings in the future.

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Necromancer, or Necromentor?
New crypt, who dis?

As you recall, our adventurers had just discovered a grand plot to overthrow the king by an extremist cult under the disguise of the Black Fire Mercenaries. The party sat at a war table with Adeline Ashdrake in West Wall and discussed their next action. On the one hand, there was a necromancer they now knew was connected with the Black Fire. On the other, the King, as far as the party knew, was oblivious to the pending crisis. Adeline advised that the King would consider such accusations if they came from someone he trusted, and suggested discovering the whereabouts of Lord Castor. After much debate, the party decided to engage the necromancer.

Weighing heavily in that decision was a piece of intel that Adeline shared with the party. There were few soldiers who had fought in the Great Chevren War that were still alive, but there was word of a veteran living in Falcon Watch, which conveniently was on the way to the alleged location of the necromancer. The party decided to thus go to Falcon Watch first, then confront the necromancer. Unfortunately, the party’s notoriety was starting to make travel difficult without the occasional assassination attempt. Fortunately, with all the wares they had secured from their previous adventure, they could convincingly disguise themselves as merchants.

On their travels to Falcon Watch, they found no sketchy situations. They did, however, cross paths with a merchant dwarf traveling towards West Wall. Though not a Grey Dwarf himself, he frequently traded goods with them. Queso, in his excitement, scared the crap out of this little dwarf while shoving the schematic in his face. After some coaxing from Hofniel to calm him down, the dwarf took and inspected the page. The dwarf was able to read some of the runes, and told the party that it would probably require God Iron, which is mined from stones that falls from the gods. He suggested that if we wanted to find some, we would need to talk with an astrologer. The party bought some goods and continued on their way to Falcon Watch.

The adventurers finally reached Falcon Watch with their disguises intact. The first stop was the local tavern. Inside was the common assortment of riffraff and a typical barkeep. Queso was upset when he found that they did not have curdled goat’s milk in stock, but he settled down over a mead instead. The party asked the keep if he knew any veterans from Great War, and he instantly recalled one who is a regular at the tavern, although he was currently absent. The party asked for directions to his place and on a whim asked the barkeep if he knew the veteran’s favorite drink. He enthusiastically replied that it was a spiced Sorpigal rum. The tavern didn’t have any in stock, but he knew they could find some in the market.

With the barkeep’s directions, it was not difficult to find the Sorpigal merchants. Trying to keep things incognito, they decided to let Hofniel purchase the rum. As he was leaving, Queso requested some “Wacky Tabaccy” from the merchant, and Hofniel agreed to try. Still in his own merchant’s disguise, Hofniel approached the trader and requested the items. Unfortunately, Hofniel’s face was now (in)famous as well, and the merchant immediately donned a face of recognition. Hofniel then slid a sum of 10gp while ensuring the merchant that he was nobody of importance. The merchant insisted that he must be someone, to which another 10gp found its way into the merchant’s possession. Skeptical but silent, the merchant from Sorpigal retrieved the requested items, Hofniel paid for them, and quickly turned back to his friends. As Hofniel walked away, the rest of the party saw a small group of individuals crowd to the merchant’s booth as soon as Hofniel left. There was some debate about whether to try to draw out this crowd beyond the city gates and ambush them, but they decided to ignore them, since they would probably not try anything risky inside the city.

The group then headed to the verteran’s house. With a couple of knocks, an older and jovial man came to the door. The party said they heard he was a veteran and had some rum that was weighing them down. At the mention of the Sorpigal spiced rum, he swiftly whisked them inside. Hofniel and a couple of others went inside, while the rest kept watch in case the group with the merchants visited. Hofniel had originally planned on simply letting the old man drink while they talked. However, the veteran believed that drinking was a group activity. The group did their best to hold down the liquor while they asked him to tell them stories of the war, then stories of the King, before stories of the mace. Although the rum was strong, everyone was able to hold their drinks down while he told his tales. He described how the King would give a grand speech before the great battles, and they would end with him shouting something with his name and his mace lighting up. When they had extracted all the information they could, they gave him the rest of the rum and parted ways.

From there, the party decided to head straight for the necromancer in case there were more nosy people in Falcon Watch. Their travels were uneventful and they entered the woods that were marked on the map. The woods started as a bright and lively place, but as they ventured farther in, the woods grew darker and a chill entered the air. They eventually found a partial clearing. There were a few old, gnarled trees spotting the clearing, with dead leaves and a fine mist covering the ground. At the far end of the clearing the outline of some stone structure could be seen, but not clearly. Belladonna scouted the area and discovered that beneath the fog there were multiple patches of disturbed ground. Queso climbed a nearby tree in order to keep an eye in the sky while the rest of the party skirted about the edge of the clearing. However, as they walked, someone in the party stepped on the biggest, loudest branch to ever exist.

Immediately the patches of earth birthed zombies that started approaching the party. Dobby and Elora quickly climbed the nearest tree they could, while Hofniel protected himself before defending the tree. Queso went on the offensive, leaping heroically from the tree and started chopping and slashing. Elora and Dobby were successfully attacking from the trees while Belladonna snuck past the zombies and advanced to the other side of the field. Hofniel, new to his tank role, discovered quickly that he is not made for offense, as he smashed his mace into his own leg. Thankfully the zombies were not too powerful, especially with Queso killing two at a time. In almost no time, the zombies were returned to death without major damage.

Belladonna was able to successfully scout the far structure and found it to be a stone crypt with massive, closed stone doors. Two massive statues were on either side of the door. One was holding a dagger while the other held a bowl. Belladonna climbed into the bowl, and after her eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness, saw a dried brown stain in the bottom of the bowl. The rest of the party came to the doors. Hofniel immediately recognized this as a ritual door that required a human blood offering to open (he had done his senior thesis on the stability and longevity of ritual magic). Hofniel paid the price into the bowl (after Belladonna left) and the doors opened on their own.

They could tell that the inside of the crypt wasn’t lighted, so Hofniel cast light upon his helm and they entered the darkness. Inside, they could see many stone slabs with dissected corpses upon them. Two shadowy figures stood in the middle of the crypt, one thin and the other much thicker. Suddenly, an eerie voice whispered from further in the darkness. He welcomed the group, stating that he had been waiting for them to arrive. He was excited to test them, since most groups never made it this far. The party went to their battle positions: Hofniel and Queso advanced to engage the two figures while Belladonna, Dobby, and Elora stayed in the back.

Up close, it was possible to see the outline of a robed figure sitting at the far end of the crypt. The two figures looked like they were stitched together abominations: the smaller carrying a dangerous sword while the bulky one seemed to have iron incorporated into his fists. Hofniel cast magic to protect Queso and himself while Queso went to town attacking the smaller of the two. To their surprise, with every blow that Queso landed, the blood that was released began to burn anything that it touched, and this was in addition to the pounding they naturally did on Queso. Elora unleashed a magic missile and Dobby attacked from a distance, while Belladonna ensured that the dissected corpses would not rise to join the fight. Thankfully, the skinny one fell without too much trouble, but that was when the tide began to turn: the necromancer stood and joined the fight.

Immediately, he created a wall of ice to separate himself from the rest of the party, while commenting on how glad he was to see Elora again. Queso was able to land a solid blow on the brute, but then, the necromancer sent out a spectral hand which immediately went to Queso. With a ghoulish touch, Queso was frozen in place, which was a particularly sticky situation with a hulkish brute right next to him. Dobby showed her fiery side by creating a flaming sphere right on top of the necromancer, forcing him to immediately dodge. Elora attempted to scorch the brute on this side of the ice, but missed both him and the wall of ice behind him. Hofniel, ever the attacker, managed to miss the brute as it attempted to attack the defenseless Queso. The necromancer was not nearly as unlucky, as his spectral hand grabbed at Hofniel and seemed to drain his dexterity.

Queso was getting dangerously low on health, the protection spell would not last much longer, Elora was struck with one of the brute’s punches, and the necromancer was able to dispel Dobby’s flaming sphere. The battle seemed grim, and in their desperation Hofniel decided it was time to try and unlock the mace. With a bellow of the king’s name, the mace erupted in golden light that filled the room. The party felt empowered, and channelling Pelor’s strength, Hofniel struck at the spectral hand. It fizzled at the onslaught as the necromancer howled in pain.

Using this distraction to their advantage, Belladonna and Elora attacked. Belladonna surprised the brute with a serious stab to its leg. Elora lined herself carefully and cast the most powerful spell she could muster. A streak of lightning erupted from her fingertips, successfully passing through the brute, burning it alive. But Elora’s aim was true: the bolt continued through the brute, shattered through the ice wall, and struck the necromancer in his chest, doing incredible damage. He cried out, “Where did you learn that spell?!” before transforming himself into gas and escaping through the ceiling. The necromancer may have been hindered, but he was not defeated. The party then turned to Elora, wondering how she knew this madman. They looted what little remained, and prepared for their next adventure.

View
A Hostage Situation (DM Edition)

Having retreated to the safety of Peloria, the friends settled in to plan their next move. The group wisely decided to set aside some of their gold for intelligence gathering, with a large portion going to help the refugees from the southern lands. Dobby set off to determine how she was going to hatch the Wyvern egg, and Gregor the monk decided to meditate on the recent events for a while.
In time, their efforts bore fruit, giving them a better sense of how they were perceived by Erath’s various nobles, including the Duke’s and Duchesses. Understandably, assaulting Torvald created some political angst particularly in the eastern regions, with Duchess Ashdrake in the southwest being the only definitively friendly noble. This was in part due to their recent rescue of Peloria, a town which fell in her jurisdiction.  Various lesser nobles in the Western region, particularly the devout, also seemed to have a favorable impression of the group as one might expect. Additionally, the found that the rod they had “borrowed” from Duke Torvald doubled as a heavy mace, rather convenient for Hofniel. However, the magical properties of the mace were locked behind a command word.
While planning their approach to the hitherto ignored necromancer, the team was approached by a courier of none other than Adeline Ashdrake, with a matter of some urgency. The team, not wishing to lose their one significant potential sponsor, made haste to Westwall where the Duchess reigned.
Their journey was marred by an orc ambush along the road. Belladonna noticed the creatures shuffling along the treeline, calling out to the rest of the group, but not before Hofniel sustained an arrow to the arm. The party quickly leapt from their horses to engage, while Hofniel bellowed Pelor’s roar, a sonic shout that did devastating damage to three orcs, felling one. Heisenberg calmly ran another orc through on the opposite side, while Queso, in classic Queso fashion, sliced through two orcs like butter. Meanwhile, Elora launched a dagger directly into a stunned orc’s eyesocket, and the team quickly and easily eliminated the remaining creatures. The group was able to make it the rest of the way without further issues.
Finally, they arrived at Westfall, the combined city and fortress that guarded the westernmost pass to neighboring Chevre. Nestled between the northern mountain range and an enormous lake, Westfall was very defensible. The courier greeted them at the gates of the massive castle, which was built directly into the side of the adjacent mountain. They were directed to the ramparts, where Duchess Ashdrake waited. Bedecked in glittering full plate and carrying an ornate but weathered war-hammer, Adeline was clearly no stranger to conflict. After formal introductions, she informed the group that they had been chosen for a delicate task, both for their peculiar political situation as well as their proven resourcefulness. It seemed, the Duchess’ son was missing, with only a ransom note asking ten thousand gold for his safe return. Ashdrakes, she informed them, do not give in to ransom demands, though naturally she wished her son’s safe return. Further discussion revealed her son, James, to be something of an aggressive, hot-tempered young man with poor impulse control. She had ascertained that one of his favorite haunts was a gambling den on the outskirts of the city, and suggested the group begin their search there. Pondering, Hofniel asked the Duchess if they might obtain a sack of fake coins from her to which she agreed, sending word to the town blacksmith. Switching gears, Hofniel asked the Duchess about his new mace, now named “Pelor’s Radiance.” She rubbed her chin thoughtfully, remarking that, if this was in fact the weapon she thought it was, that it had quite an intriguing history. The mace had been used by Duke Stark Pargraven in the Chevren-Erathian war some fifty years ago. Stark would later become king, and the mace itself seemed to only have been in the hands of Torvald since he was cousins with the son of Stark, Treville Pargraven, the present king of Erath. The mace itself had been crafted by powerful mages specifically for the late king. The group thanked the Duchess, obtained the fake coins, and set out for the gambling den.
As expected, the location was a seedy building tucked behind a copse of trees. Various unsavory individuals drifted in and out, and sounds of yelling and laughing emanated from within. Not wishing to be too terribly conspicuous, Hofniel, Elora, and Heisenberg chose to stay outside at a safe distance, awaiting a designated call sign from Queso, which was to be, unsurprisingly, “Who cut the cheese?!” Belladonna and Queso entered the establishment, presumably with Queso as her bodyguard. Queso wisely kept his mouth shut at first, not wanting to tip off the locals that he was Chevren. Belladonna hopped up to the barkeep and, after ordering drinks, casually questioned him about James Ashdrake. At first the barkeep seemed very suspicious, until Belladonna informed the man that James owed her money, which drew some raucous laughter. She then proposed they roll dice for the information, with the terms being that if she won, he’d tell her everything he knew, and if she lost, she’d pony up one hundred gold pieces. She attempted to subtly influence the dice roll, but unfortunately, her effort was easily spotted by the man behind the counter. He snarled and hoisted a large mace onto the counter, making it clear that Belladonna was leaving minus the gold she had gambled, or else. Queso, however, was having none of it. He calmly placed a hand on his enormous blade and announced who he was. This caused a visible ripple of apprehension, even among the hardened thugs present. The barkeep, his tough facade broken, begged the pair to simply leave, but the barbarian wanted more information. The barkeep told them he had seen James hanging out with some Black Fire Mercenaries. Queso, having the memory of a goldfish, could not recall where he had heard that name, and rather than simply sending for his friends, he shouted out the call word, yelling “Who cut the cheese?” in front of the increasingly startled gamblers. The remainder of the party barged in, weapons bared, when Queso stated calmly that he just needed to ask them a question. The situation rested on a knife’s edge as they asked the barkeep a few more questions, without ascertaining much in the way of new information. Queso simply swatted over a glass on the table sauntered out, as if daring anyone to do anything about it. Poor Hofniel gave the innkeeper some gold pieces, being sorry for the mess.
And so, off they went to the drop point outside of the city of Falcon Watch. Along the way, they came upon a broken oxcart, it’s axle shattered, blocking the road. Our adventurers were quite on edge now that they had become so infamous, and so proceeded with great caution, yelling out to the peasant to come clean. This only seemed to upset the fellow, who proclaimed innocence- until Queso charged forward to call his bluff. As the party suspected, it was a trap, with multiple men springing from within the cart and behind nearby hills, including one garishly armored individual wearing a harlequin mask, wielding two sinister blades. Arrows flew, while Heisenberg, Queso, and Belladonna fought back. Queso and Heisenberg could not seem to land a shot against the exceedingly nimble masked man, who landed a vicious strike against the burly barbarian. Hofniel wasted no time, politely requesting to touch Queso, in order to turn him into…an even larger Queso. Now a towering force of pure unbridled destruction, he obliterated his dancing opponent with a gut-splattering swipe. After soiling themselves, two of their opponents fled. The rest of the party easily cleaned up the remaining assassins, with one asleep, thanks to Elora’s magic. Upon interrogating the last, no longer sleeping bounty hunter, the discovered that they were wanted dead or alive- 250gp dead, 500gp alive, by edict of Duke Torvald. After Heisenberg carved an “H” on the man’s forehead, they allowed him to leave otherwise unharmed.
Finally, they made their way to the drop site, off in the woods some distance from Falcon Watch. Belladonna wisely scouted the area for a couple days, not only finding where a couple of Black Fire mercenaries had set up in tree stands to observe. The team came up with a plan, quietly taking up positions to flank the hidden mercenaries, while Queso hoisted the fake gold to the site hidden away beneath a boulder. He walked just far enough away to be out of site, and they all waited. After about an hour, one of the mercs dropped from the tree to inspect the loot…and immediately became aware of it’s counterfeit nature, giving the kill signal to his comrade. They both bolted, but thanks to careful positioning, Heisenberg and Queso were able to grapple them both to the ground, after which binding them was a simple matter. Hofniel and Queso began their classic routine, this time with Queso hoisting one of the guards by his nostrils, eliciting much screaming and squirming, while leveling his steely gaze upon the second. Hofniel was then able to calmly pry information from the trembling man, who now doubt wanted to keep his nose intact. They discovered that the captain commanding the fort was, in fact, their wayward James Ashdrake, and he had been involved with the Black Fire mercenaries for some months. It was clear at this point he was helping extort money from his mother. They also ascertained the location of their fort, a day’s travel north of them. A long debate ensued before coming to an agreement on their strategy. The captives were bound, set next to some bowls of water like caged dogs, and left in the shade to be set loose on their return.
The stalwart crew approached the weathered fort per the captive’s directions. Elora, with the aid of magic, disguised herself as one of them; full Black Fire attire and all…with a little suprise, namely Belladonna, hiding in the sack she carried, pretending to be gold. The rest of the crew hid, at the ready, in the nearby woods. Approaching the door, Elora saw a slat open and was immediately asked for a password; something the team had forgotten to get from the mercenaries before. Attempting a bluff, Elora tried to impress upon the guardian that she didn’t have time for such trivialities. However, her voice cracked, and the guard hit the switch that opened a trapdoor beneath her feat, causing her to fall into a pit. To her credit, she never broke character, and when a second mercenary joined the first, she was able to convince them that she was indeed who she claimed to be, and so they hauled her from the pit. However, when they grabbed her bag, they realized that rather than gold, a small person lurked inside. Belladonna leaped forth like a cat and backstabbed the nearest fellow, nearly killing him. At this point, the heroes hidden in the brush sped forward; Queso did an acrobatic somersault through the air, landing behind on of their adversaries, while Heisenberg attempted a similar jump, also clearing the pit, but without the grandeur of Queso (he was wearing heavy armor at the time). Hofniel made a simpler entrance, and together, the group defeated the first two guards- almost, anyway, as for some reason, Queso had difficulty dispatching one of them, while the rest of the part moved to the far door, having heard commotion from within. Elora placed her ear against the door and heard whispering about “setting up crossbows,” rightfully concluding they would be walking into some bolts the moment the door opened. Trying to ascertain more information, she tried to peek under the door, only to see someone else peeking right back at her. Bracing for confrontation, Heisenberg took point, turtling up as a good tank does, while the others stood to the sides, ready to move on a moment’s notice. Eventually the doors flung open, twin crossbows firing at Heisenberg simultaneously, with one bolt doing a small amount of damage, the other plinking harmlessly off of his armor. Inside, they saw an armored warrior manning the crossbows, with a scraggly-bearded blonde male in fine armor behind a table next to a staff-wielding sorceress. They instantly realized the man was James Ashdrake. Attempting to parley, Hofniel stood in the door frame, explaining calmly to the perturbed James that they were there at the behest of his mother, Adeline. Being no fool, he did this AFTER casting “calm” on the lad, with Elora quietly putting the foremost armored guard to sleep. They could hear more guards inside, on either side of the door, and so wisely did not fully enter the room. The sorceress, henceforth inexplicably named “Francis,” conjured a small Earth elemental from the ether as a barrier between her, James, and the crew. She maintained a hostile expression throughout Hofniel’s eloquent soliloquy. Eventually the brave cleric was able to convince James to stand down and surrender himself…only to have Francis slap him with a “hold person” spell and initiate violence, namely with a lightening bolt straight into poor Queso, who had just managed to join the party after finally finishing off the last guard. Understandably annoyed, Queso blasted through one of the flanking guards and into the rock monster, with Heisenberg finishing the earthen monstrosity off with his silver sword. In the meantime, Belladonna invoked their scroll of invisibility and snuck up behind Francis, unleashing a devastating dagger-strike that nearly felled the mage. Unfortunately, the teetering sorceress was able to use a vampiric touch to siphon life force from our halfling heroine. Seeing her small friend being nearly killed, Elora exploded with rage and magical energy, invoking a searing volley of fire magic that incinerated the hapless Francis. The rest of the adventurers were able to neatly clean up the last standing Black Fire mercenaries, leaving them with James to question once his holding spell wore off. James was seemingly filled with regret at his actions, and offered no resistance spilling the beans on Black Fire- namely, that they were a widespread para-military organization that was gathering allies and influence within Erath to initiate a coup of the rightful king, Treville Pargraven. He also knew the name of the necromancer they had been tracking- “Dirren Kas,” apparently as creepy a fellow as his profession would suggest. As it turns out, he was a regional commander for Black Fire. A war chest in the compound contained lots of gold for the heroes, in addition to lots of stockpiled food and other dry goods that the party loaded themselves up with. Elora got her hands on a handy staff of summoning and some spellbooks, while Hofniel and Queso nonchalantly relieved James of his masterwork half-plate armor and greatsword, respectively. Queso renamed the new blade “The Bigger Cheese Knife,” the clever-for-a-barbarian sequel to his “Big Cheese Knife.” Elora was able to forge a copy of the strategic map the mercenaries were using, which gave them a better idea of who the traitors were targeting as potential allies. With all that accomplished, the fantastic five gathered their horses (as well as those from the compound) and headed back to the sanctuary of Westwall.

View
A Hostage Situation
and the treachery it revealed.

After spending some days gathering political information, the party discovered who was important, who would tolerate them, and who actively hated them. Furthermore, they discovered that this rod was quite unique. As far as they had learned, the rod was actually a magical mace. They knew it had a command word, but they had also discovered that they only had three chances to guess the command word before it locked up. Gregor went to meditate while Dobby went looking for someone who knew how to raise a Wyvern.

After about a week of resting and researching, a courier entered Peloria, and he immediately recognized the adventurer’s and addressed them. He was a courier for Duchess Adeline Ashdrake, and she apparently requested them for a time sensitive task. Knowing that this was one of the few political powers that didn’t actively hate them, they decided to postpone the necromancer quest and head to her aid instead.

Thus they embarked towards the border city of Westwall. But on the first day of traveling, the party was beset by a roaming band of six orcs! Belladonna noticed them first and warned the party, but not before one loosed an arrow into Hofniel’s arm. He immediately retaliated with Pelor’s Roar (a sonic burst) against the three on his side, which dazed the middle one and damaged them all. Heisenberg used the distraction to slay an orc on the other side, while Queso cleaved through two more while guffawing. Elora, not wanting to be outdone, sunk her dagger right between a deafened one’s eye. Heisenberg then decapitated the dazed one and Queso skewered the last. The rest of the trip to Westwall was uneventful.

Upon arriving, the courier greeted them at the gate and informed them that Adeline was waiting for them on the ramparts in order to have a private conversation with them. The party was ushered there, found her waiting, and they introduced themselves. They were informed that, due to their political alignment, she believed that the party could handle this task on the down low while being reliable. She handed over a note she had received. Her son, James Ashdrake, had been kidnapped for a ransom of 10000gp. She provided a quick physical description of him, and told them that James was a brash and foolish hot head who tended to gamble at a joint outside of town. She clearly had no intention of paying the ransom, and wanted the adventurer’s to deal with it.

Hofniel asked if they could be provided with counterfeit gold pieces, to which she agreed. She also gave a signet ring to the party so James would know they were sent with her blessing. While they waited for the fake money to be crafted, Hofniel asked Adeline if she knew anything about the mace, which Hofniel was now naming Pelor’s Radiance. She responded that, if it was what she thought it was, then the Duke had only possessed it since he is a cousin of the King. Back during the Chevre war, then Duke now King Stark had used a powerful mace. It was specifically crafted for him by an elite team of mages, and had been instrumental in their victory. This, however, was the extent of her knowledge.

After the counterfeit coins were finished, the party decided to first drop by the gambling house that James frequented. They decided that only Belladonna and Queso would enter, while Elora, Heisenberg, and Hofniel stayed outside guarding the fake gold. They agreed that the code phrase would be “Who cut the cheese?” should anything happen. Thus Belladonna and Queso entered. Inside, they found all sorts of different low lives, most of which were playing some dice game. There also was the barkeep who seemed to be in charge. The dynamic duo went to the barkeep, ordered some drinks, and asked about the game everyone was playing. After wetting their whistles, Belladonna then asked if he had seen James Ashdrake recently.

At this, the keep narrowed his eyes and asked why, to which she immediately replied that James owed her some money. This brought a twinkle to his eye and he laughed, claiming he owed a lot of people money. He then said he could maybe say more if she coughed up 100gp. Not willing to part with that much gold, she counter offered with a gamble. If she wins at dice, he tells her. If not, she owes him 100gp and he says nothing. So they play their game. Belladonna tried to use some sneaky hand moves to help, but she was never any good with die [rolled a 1] and the barkeep was not pleased.

He grabbed his mace and put it on the counter. At this, his five guards from around the room turned their attention to the duo. He demanded they get out immediately, but Queso was having none of it. He stood up, placed his hand on the hilt of his sword, and introduced himself as Queso Grande. This visibly shook the guards. Queso continued to inform the keep that this would get ugly if things didn’t go well. The barkeep then pleaded with Queso to just leave, but he demanded some information first. The keep agreed, and then Queso asked where he had last seen James.

The barkeep claimed that he had seen him a few weeks back with some guy from the Black Fire Mercenaries. Queso thought the name sounded familiar, and had also ran out of questions. So, instead of just calling out to rest of the party outside, Queso just screamed, “Who cut the cheese?!?!”, which startled the guards. A few seconds later, the rest of the party burst through the front door, ready for some action. Just before the blows began to fall, Queso told them he didn’t know what else to ask. Recovering from their recent heart attacks, the party calmed themselves and asked more questions, such as what he was doing with the Black Fire Mercenaries and if James owed the mercenaries. The barkeep didn’t know much more, so the party left. As they exited, Queso knocked over his drink on the counter, and Hofniel through a few gold coins in apology.

So the party embarked to the drop point, which was located just outside of the city of Falcon Watch. But, midway there, an interesting event happened. As they were traveling down the road, they spotted up ahead a broken ox cart with a peasant crying near it. With their new notorious status, the party immediately expected something to be up. They yelled angrily at the peasant to second guess whatever shenanigans he was up to. He cried even louder that he was up to nothing, it was just his cart broken down on the highway. Hofniel had a feeling that the cart was just a setup, and Queso went forward to rough him up a little.

Low and behold, as Queso advanced, the peasant let out a cry and two men jumped out from the cart, while two more jumped from blind spots on either side of the road. They had fine armor, and the last one was wearing a white theatrical mask with two exquisite blades. Queso cried out his name, while engaging in the fight. Two of the band fired arrows while the other three closed in. Elora put one to sleep while the other two attacked. The masked adversary danced around, feinting and slashing deeply at Queso. Heisenberg was able to land a blow, while Belladonna engaged one that was coming to flank Elora. Hofniel once again asked for permission to touch, but this time imbued Queso with a new move: Grande Queso Grande. With his even larger and more muscular status, Queso effortlessly slew the closer enemy, before making the masked enemy a streak of blood splattered over 20 yards.

At this monstrous sight, the two archers high tailed it, leaving the sleeping assassin. After binding him, a very short interrogation revealed that they had been hired by the Duke to kill the party. It appears that Duke Torvald had set a bounty of 250gp for each of them dead, or 500gp for each of them alive! The group secured the bounty letter and the little goods they carried (including some nice poisons). They let the last assassin live, but not before Heisenberg placed his signature H upon his forehead. Thus, they continued to the drop point.

When they were at a significant distance from the drop point, the group sent Belladonna ahead to do recon. Using her scouting intuition, she located two men who were staking out the place, which was a small, shallow cave in a hill. The plan was then set: everyone but Queso would sneak in their blind spots until the surveillance team was mostly surrounded. Then Queso would place the fake coins in the drop site before walking away and hiding on the other side of the hill. Hopefully, the two would take the coins back to their hideout, where the party could then plan a rescue.

The plan worked brilliantly… except for when one of the mercenaries went up to the sack of gold, inspected it, and gave the kill signal to the other! At that point, both men started bolting in opposite directions. The one still in the hiding spot turned and ran toward the west. Heisenberg was closest to him, and was able to close the distance before he was noticed, then Heisenberg pinned the man down. To other ran to the east around the hill, but Queso was able to easily out pace him. The rest closed in and were able to secure both of the prisoners.

Hofniel and Queso then decided that it was once again time for some “Good Guard, Bad Guard”. Queso began with a fantastic bad guard, by staring one of them down, then without breaking eye contact, hoisted the other mercenary by two fingers in his nostrils. Hofniel then came in with the good guard, and interrogated the one on the ground while Queso stared. The adventurer’s learned that these two were definitely sent to recover the ransom and were to bring it back to their keep in the north. However, their commanding captain was none other than Captain James Ashdrake, the supposed hostage! He had been a member of the Black Fire Mercenaries for some months apparently.

At this turn of events, the party knew they would need a new tactic to pull this off. There was much debate about how to proceed, but it was finally settled. They decided to bind their two captives and free them on the return trip. Elora would take one of their uniforms and cast a disguise spell in order to infiltrate the keep. Belladonna would hide in the coin sack, while Elora would play it off as the ransom. The remaining three, Heisenberg, Hofniel, and Queso, would wait nearby to run in when things got hairy.

Well, the plan worked great, until Elora actually got to the door. With a knock, a little eye slit opened in the gate and the guard ask for a password: a password which the party had forgotten to retrieve during the interrogation. Elora tried to pass it off that she was clearly whoever she was supposed to be impersonating, but her voice cracked, which led the guard to open a trap door that was in front of the door! Down tumbled Elora and the sack containing Belladonna. Unsure how to proceed, the men continued to wait for their time to shine. After a while of waiting, the guard came out, accompanied by another guard who apparently identified Elora as his friend. They lifted her out of the pit, but when they also retrieved the sack, the original guard was alarmed when he felt a small person inside instead of gold!

Thus all pandemonium broke loose. The three men bolted from the bushes while Elora avoided one attack and Belladonna did a sneak attack from the sack, nearly dropping one of the guards. Hofniel did a standard jump over the pit, for he was not very coordinated. Queso, wanting to demonstrate him impressive jumping prowess, jumped over the pit, then over Elora, then while spinning in midair, over the closest guard, safely landing on the other side! Heisenberg, not wanting to be outdone, attempted a similarly grand jump. However, his jump was weighed down by heavy armor, so even though he did clear the enemies, he did not do it with as much flair. Queso let out a small guffaw under his breath.

Hofniel protected himself from attack while advancing deeper into the fort. The guards let out a cry, then Queso silenced one of them, and the party thought he could be left alone to take on the other one. Thus, the rest of the party advanced into the fort. They could hear some commotion through a large, main door. Queso, however, wasn’t doing great against the second guard. He was injured multiple times while also dropping his greatsword. Apparently he guffawed too soon.

Elora dropped to the ground to try to look under the door. She could see another eye staring back at her! She took a defensive posture behind the corner next to the door, Hofniel readied a spell to cast inside, Heisenberg turtled up in front of the door, and Belladonna stayed hidden on the left side of the door. Suddenly, the doors swung wide, revealing some crossbows that immediately attacked the party, inflicting minor damage. Furthermore, the party could hear groups of men on either side of the door. Immediately in plain site, was a very heavily armored individual in front of a table, and at the back of the room behind the table was James (identified by his pretentious facial hair) and a wizard, which everyone somehow knew was named Francis.

The wizard wielded her staff, then stones appeared and took on a humanoid form that began slowly advancing towards the party. Elora cast sleep from around the corner, and the heavily armored mercenary slumped to the floor. Hofniel cast his calming spell, and it definitely calmed James, while its affect on Francis couldn’t be determined. Then, Hofniel spoke the words he thought would be most frightening to James, “Your mother sent us.” This rattled James less than anticipated, and he was still bent on ending their lives. While the enemy was distracted, Belladonna managed to use a scroll of invisibility and silently entered the room. Then, Heisenberg and Hofniel stood in the doorway (not quite in the room) and Elora peeped from behind the corner periodically. Hofniel then tried intimidation, informing them that Queso was right behind them. At that very moment, Queso was STILL engaged with the same guard, but definitely getting closer to joining the others.

At this point, the party could easily tell that Francis was definitely more experienced in these situation than James. But thankfully, everyone was holding back from attacking. Elora tried to daze Francis, but Francis deflected the spell. Hofniel tried reasoning, claiming that James was clearly in over his head. It would be best if he just came with them peacefully, then Francis could become captain of this fort. He also added on that there was another team waiting for them outside (a bluff that amazingly worked). James began pacing around seriously thinking over this plan. Elora then successfully charmed Francis. All the while, Heisenberg stood guard while Belladonna sneaked behind both Francis and James.

Finally, Queso finished off the other guard. Then he cut off the guard’s head and brought it to the standoff, taking a prominent spot in the middle of the room. Hofniel continued to try to persuade James to just come with them. It was on the verge of working, when Francis’ patience expired. She cast a paralyzing spell on James while instructing the rest to continue with the original plan.

At the moment of betrayal, Belladonna sprung from her invisibility and sent a debilitating barrage of blows to Francis. Queso tossed the head while advancing to the elemental, dealing it a blow. Heisenberg joined the fray, easily dispatching of a couple of enemies before focusing on the elemental as well. Hofniel tried his best to help drop the enemies, but his first blow happened to miss. Elora, the devious minx, cast a mage hand, used it to pick up the severed head, and dropped in on one of the remaining guards. Francis, not pleased with the backstabbing, turned around, harshly grasped Belladonna, and began to draw upon Belladonna’s life essence while she healed her own wounds. Hofniel got in a strike! But much more impressive was the rate at which Heisenberg and Queso defeated the remaining enemies. Then, Elora emerged from her corner, rushed towards Francis, and unleashed a scorching ray which engulfed Francis in flame. The party then heard some snoring and thankfully remembered to put the last mercenary out of his misery.

When the battle was over, the group bound James before he could move and investigated the room. On the table was a map depicting forts and alliances with the Black Fire mercenaries. It revealed which duke and duchess sided with them or against them, and gave the name of a Prelate Dirren Kas who was holed up at the Mysterious location where they thought the necromancer was. When James could finally move, he further revealed that Kas was the regional commander of the Black Fire mercenaries, which were apparently a front for some radical cult bent on overthrowing the king! The adventurer’s knew this information would only help if the enemy didn’t know they had it. Belladonna forged a copy of the map, slightly burned the original, then folded it and hid it on Francis’ corpse. The party then had James tell them where the horses were. The fort was then plundered of as many good as they could carry, including some very helpful books from a library and a war chest containing much gold.

The heros then mounted up, (returned to free the captives), and traveled back to Westwall.

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