Amas & Oras

Across the Glass Sea

We spent the night at Strelok’s family cabin.

The next morning, we set off an hour or two after dawn. We travel between the Glass and Puddle seas, ~ three days. It is misty and cold. We arrive at the ferry, located next to a shack. The ferry is just big enough for the party and our horses. We don’t see anyone, and the cabin is locked… Hayden “fixes” the latter problem. There are several beds. Hayden searches the desk and finds a key. Looking at the calendar on the wall, it seems that no one will be here for two days. We decide to wait instead of stealing the boat as Hayden suggested. Hayden steals food and Cure Light Wounds potions. Hayden is a bad man.

The next two days are cold and uneventful aside from some nighttime snow flurries. Strelok hunts and forages. After two days, six large men arrive. They had apparently been expecting a search team for Hornswaggle. They prepare the ferry, and we set off. The journey is ~ three days (two nights). It continues to be miserably cold, and we encounter ice floes from time to time. During the winter, the sea freezes over.

We land at a base camp used by those traveling to and from the Veil. There are stables and four cabins, as well as a silo full of grain. Strelok advises that we leave our horses here while we are gone. The ferrymen tell us they will return in ten days, and will wait for us for three days. If we arrive after that, we can use the scrying stone in the shed to contact the nearest college town.

Zephyr knows that there are things found in the veil that are very useful in alchemical recipes, but does not know enough to guess what Hornswaggle was searching for.

Before we turn in for the night, Strelok tells us about some of the Veil’s inhabitants. Many are abberant creatures, there are teleportation fields (some random and/or changing), poisonous clouds, places with vampiric mists… teleportation fields are most dangerous. Also, creatures in area tend to have high ACs. No common weaknesses.

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Things are Poked with Swords, and Zephyr is Apparently "Feisty"

Zephyr finds books and recordings on the Veil, and a map that is two years old but has no key. Hayden finds a charter book written by Hornswaggle, which says he was looking for a crystal along the northern edge of the veil. He has six men with him, two of which are field medics. All are armed and trained for the Veil. The departure was marked as ~48 days prior.

The veil is 200 miles across (a two week walk).

The walk from the base camp to the edge of the veil takes the better part of a day (we leave the horses stabled at the base camp with a large food supply). We enter the Veil and smell something burning. As we go along, Strelok and Zephyr toss rocks to look for various magic fields. Soon, a rock disappears. Hayden goes closer, throwing rocks. He is highly amused until he realizes the teleportation zone is advancing in our direction. We are able to skirt the teleportation field.

We notice that the rocks we are standing on have tiny holes in them. Zephyr and Strelok recognize this as a sign of subterraneous acid bubbling to the surface. We are able to skirt both this acidic area and the teleportation field. We camp at what we hope is a safe distance and assign watches. The field gets closer in the night, but remains at the end of our farthest throws.

Once we turn back towards our original direction, we see hundreds of drifting balls of light off in the distance. We hear and feel a rumble, and see a flash on the horizon. Zephyr is reminded of a will-o-wisp, but they aren’t quite the right color, they never wink out, and they move more randomly. Hayden approaches one and pokes it with his sword (despite protests from the other party members). It shrinks, then expands and explodes in a massive fireball that shakes the earth. Hayden is not injured, and learns nothing from the experience. We see one touch the ground a bit further off; it also explodes. We decide to go north-west in an attempt to avoid them. We again smell burning, although we see no holes. Soon, the area looks melted in places. As we discuss what to do, Strelok senses an increase in the smell. We run away as noxious, corrosive fumes start emerging from the ground at previously unnoticed vents. There is a narrow space between the lights and the vents, but we encounter another teleportation field. We go closer to the motes to get around this new teleportation field. Hayden, Strelok, and Zephyr use Mage Hand to move the motes to safe distances.

Night is falling. We decide to camp for the night, with three watches for the people who can cast Mage Hand. During the second shift (Zephyr’s), the motes begin drifting further North. Just before dawn (Strelok’s watch), Strelok gets another eerie feeling. This time he smells a charred burning (as opposed to a corrosive burning), and the wind gets warmer from the East. He wakes the rest of the party. As we walk along, it grows hotter. We begin to hear crackling noises. Strelok thinks it sounds like ice cracking. Looking back the way we came, it looks as though the air is sparking. We pick up the pace. We find ourselves in a tight squeeze between a teleportation field and a dense area of motes. We use mage hand to get the motes into the teleportation field (rather than towards other motes, which would explode). Behind us, the meager vegetation catches on fire. Strelok recalls stories of men being melted by extreme heat and fire.

Strelok sees the tracks of four cerebral stalkers. He also sees something shiny in the distance that appears to be some sort of metal. He suspects an ambush, but the metal might be something from the expedition team we are trying to find. Strelok and Hayden investigate, with Sheila and Zephyr not far ahead. They find a small, flat dish that may have served as a mirror (as it is highly polished on one side and very reflective). It has writing on it in an unrecognizable language. Strelok pokes it with his sword (what is with the men in this party?!). Nothing happens. He lifts it with the flat of his blade, then tries to pick it up. As soon as he touches it, it emits a bright, dazzingly light. Hayden, Sheila, and Strelok are able to turn in time, but Zephyr is blinded for six rounds and takes 3 damage. Once she can see again, she can tell that the writing is in an alphabet, although it is not one familiar to her. Strelok thrusts it into a pouch; it stops shining. Looking at the terrain, it seems that the dish was buried but had recently been uncovered by the wind.

It was early afternoon. We have a few uneventful hours. In the evening, we see motes of light, but ones that look different from the ones we’d previously encountered. A rock thrown in their midst causes them to wink out. The slowly light up again. Zephyr suspects they are Will-o-Wisps. As the winds shift to blow from the north, we hear sighing sounds.

We set up camp. Strelok takes first watch. Early in the night, he hears a whistle and click sound. Further in the distance, he hears a rattle-click sound. Later in the watch, he hears more whistles and clicks. The sounds seem to be moving away from us. The wisps have mostly gone by the second watch (Zephyr). The whistle clicks are far in the distance, and are only heard once. An hour or so into the third watch, Sheila thinks she sees something moving at the edges of the camp, but then all is still. She does a perimeter sweep. When passing the area where the movement was seen, the ground moves beneath her feet. She finds her feet stuck to the ground; she is able to yank one up at a time, and a creature follows her up out of the ground. The creature looks like earth covered by mucus. Sheila finds the same substance on her feet, reducing her movement. She yells for us to wake up.

Sheila cuts through it with her sword, but the mucus clings to it and the sword gets stuck. Zephyr and Strelok attack it, and suddenly it begins sputtering in Common. Strelok remembers that there have been reports of mimics in the area, and that mimics take on the appearance of the terrain when prey is scarce. We agree to a ceasefire, and Sheila retrieves her sword (and then heals the mimic). Zephyr asks if it has seen other humans; weeks ago, it says, and they tried to kill it too! Strelok proposes a trade of food and protection for guide. The mimic rejects trail rations, but we tell it we will try to catch some will-o-wisps for it.

TIMELINE: It is early morning of our 4th day since leaving the base camp.

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Session of November 8th, During Which Becky is Drunk

Zephyr summons three dire rats for the mimic. The mimic’s name is Squelch.

Hayden requests that Sheila touch the silver object; it has the same reaction, showing that it was not an alignment-based occurrence.

It is the beginning of our fourth day; it has been 15 days since we left on this assignment.

The ground is frosty. It’s flippin cold. Midmorning, we hear a crackling sound that seems vaguely like the clicks we heard the night before. The noises seem to be coming from different directions. Zephyr guesses that the sound is a form of communication, as it has a distinct call-response pattern. Strelok recalls his father talking about eyeless reptilian creatures that hunted in packs. Strelok was told that people should cover their ears when dealing with them. We ask the mimic, who confirms that they are the “lizard things.” They are “really loud” and have large mouths with equally large teeth.. The mimic fears they would eat him. Hayden realizes that the response noises are identical and sound as if they are from the same voice, despite coming from numerous locations. They don’t seem to be getting closer, and they have become less frequent since we stopped moving.

We resume moving, and hear the clicks again almost immediately. Hayden tries to imitate the response sound with Ghost Sound, having it sound behind us, and suddenly all the clicks stop. Hayden gestures to Strelok to indicate he is going in the direction the call sound had been coming from; Strelok goes with him. They come across a rock that is warm to the touch; Strelok can tell something was crouching here several minutes before (around the time Hayden used Ghost Sound). They return and the party moves on.

The sky grows darker as we travel, storm clouds forming above us. The wind picks up, blowing Zephyr’s teleportation-field-seeking pebbles off track. A freezing rain soon begins to fall. Zephyr switches to larger rocks. Soon after, she finds a teleportation field approx 30ft ahead; it is moving towards the party. We backtrack, but the field is gaining on us. We try going to the side to get around. This takes us into a field of glowing fireball creatures, which we use in lieu of pebbles (those of us with mage hand). We travel along the edge of the field, which seems to by passing us by. Around 45 minutes later, we hear the clicking noises behind us (in the fireball area with us). We see two hunkered shapes in the distance; our view is somewhat obscured by rain. They are approaching. They do not respond to Hayden’s wave or clicking noises. Sheila suggests we shift some of the fireball creatures between us (subtly, not in a threatening manner), and the rest of us agree. The two creatures split apart as they approach, one veering off as the other continues the original course. The teleportation field, meanwhile, is changing shape so that our current location is at risk unless we resume movement forward; we try going towards the lizard creatures. Hayden tries to communicate with one of the creatures; it makes a sound that almost resembles laughter. Meanwhile, our mimic has assumed the appearance of a rock, and we are moving forward alone.

Description: no eyes, oversized mouth, color of dried blood, bipedal, lizard-like but warm-blooded, very large ears.

Strelok tries to communicate in common, draconic, and terran; another laugh-like sound. One gnashes its teeth as they approach. We notice that the mimic has been swallowed by the field; Pallas communicates with Zephyr, and advises we act like the mimic by going into the field… also suggests that the mimic’s earlier escape from these creatures by not moving → don’t move, can’t see you. I relay the message. Hayden tries staying perfectly still and silent; the others discuss following the mimic into the field. Hayden also tries to use Ghost Sound again, but the creatures are not fooled. Their clicking sounds now sound more like shrieks, and they are very close. Zephyr urges the party to go into the field; Strelok dithers. Zephyr convinces Sheila to come into the field while Strelok plugs his ears with wax, and the creatures break into a run (the nearest ~80 ft away). Strelok takes a shot as soon as one is within 75ft; Zephyr and Sheila are moving towards the field, weapons at the ready. Hayden is still maintaining his silent, motionless stance. Strelok’s shot hits, and the creature screams so loudly that the pebbles around us rattle. Sheila and Zephyr each take 10 damage (Hayden succeeded reflex save, Strelok’s ears are plugged). The creature continues to lope; ~60 ft away (the other is out of site, but sounds ~100ft away); Hayden attempts to use one of the fireball creatures to attack it, while Strelok fires again. And then Becky was drunk and thought, you know, actually, we don’t need every detail as it happens, but just the summary and anything important we learned from the encounter. Bullets hurt it. The fireball makes it stop and shriek again. We decided to take a stand (Pallas is no longer agitated, but rather resigned), but we are ready to go through if we need to. After some more bullets, creature runs off, but the other doesn’t; running full speed at us. More bullets and fireballs, us inching forward to avoid teleportation field. Sheila’s “know creature” → ears are sensitive, and necessary for finding us. Getting closer, more bullets, more fireballs, more squealing. We knock one out, the other flees, and Hayden grumbles because he didn’t get to shank anything. He spitefully stabs the dying one.

The dead one’s stomach is bulging; in it is a human leg bone and human left hand. There are two rings; one gold with emerald, one silver with blue stones (poss sapphire). Hayden takes the rings.

TIMELINE: It is afternoon of our 4th day since leaving the base camp.

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Beetles and Fungus and Halflings

It is afternoon, and the freezing rain continues. It is very dark from the clouds. We want to avoid the teleportation field, so we go into another fireball field. Hayden complains non-stop, resulting in Zephyr casting Forced Quiet after about an hour. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long.

We camp for the night within the fireball area, although they are not dense. Hayden, Strelok, and Zephyr take turns on watch. The night is damp, miserable, but uneventful. By morning, the rain has faded to a drizzle. The teleportation field has moved away in the night. As we travel, Zephyr continues to throw pebbles. The rain eventually stops, although the clouds still block most of the sunlight. We happen upon another telportation field, but it seems stationary, and we are able to skirt it. ~3-4 pm, Strelok notices a strange depression in the ground that seems to be a frequently followed path (ala a deer trail). The trail goes over a petrified log that is clearly ancient, and partially buried in the ground. On one side of the log is a barely raised mound of dirt, while on the other is a depression in the dirt. It doesn’t seem an indicator of one-way travel, although it may show the direction most recently traveled.

After further study, Strelok recalls stories of creatures in the ground that would leap out and suck travelers in with them; it looks like something came out of the ground where the mound is, and reentered where the depression is. We decide not to take the path.

The rest of the day is uneventful, but our pace is slow due to the mucky ground. We set up camp and cook the reptilian creature’s legs for dinner. It is a surprisingly relaxing night.

Midmorning, we come upon a hilly region (small, low hills; more like mounds). Distance perception is skewed in this terrain, and things between hills might not be seeable even standing on one of the hills. We see berries, which Zephyr identifies as edible (and in tea or slurry form can give resistance to cold). Zephyr and Strelok harvest some for later use or selling, while Hayden uses them for immediate food. A few hours later, Strelok notices more divots in the dirt, like the depression beside the log we saw before. There are also dark stains in the dirt near them, which may be old blood. Zephyr uses Blood Biography.

Name: Dothan something or other
What: Male human explorer/hired body guard
How blood was shed: something grabbed him, then everything hurt
When: ~3.5 weeks ago (fits timeline of Hornswaggle’s journey)

Meanwhile, Strelok has been digging in the dirt. He finds surprising well-preserved remains. The crown of the skull and the brain had been removed. When he digs around the face, the body twitches. Strelok backs up. The head lolls around and it opens an eye. Sheila’s detect evil spell reveals that it is, in fact, evil. Luckily, the creature stuck fast in the earth. There are a few more mounds in the area. Strelok recalls that the creature he’d been thinking of is said to consume the brain and leave the corpse as an undead being.

Zephyr suggests we dig up the other bodies in case Hornswaggle is among them. We can rule out two, as there are body parts sticking out that do not belong to Hornswaggle. One mound has an entire torso sticking out; the man had apparently stabbed himself as he was being pulled into the earth. His brain is intact. We find another divot and two mounds; we recall that Hornswaggle’s team was seven people. We dig up the divot and find a human female; Strelok loots an amulet off her. From the torso half out of the ground, Zephyr takes a magical circlet. The torso also has an ornate dagger with the monogram ‘MH’. We wait until we stop for the night to determine the magical aspects of the gear. Meanwhile, Sheila destroys the undead creature.

Strelok and Hayden notice an area close to the first divot where there seems to be a trail; it looks as though a lot of the berry shrubs have been ripped up or pushed aside as something was dragged over the ground. We follow the trail, and see several places in the dirt that have been gouged into, as if there may have been a struggle. The maker of the gouges seemed to be small creature, but not necessarily bipedal. If it WAS bipedal, it was being dragged. We continue to follow the trail ~ 2 hrs. The trail comes to a stop, and there is a large blood stain. Not able to use Blood Biography a second time that day, Zephyr takes some of the blood-stained earth in a pouch. Strelok discovers a deer trail about 100 yards further on. Using his tracking skills, Strelok thinks something travelling on this path left it to investigate the blood-stained area. There is no sign of where the creature who left the blood went, but it may have travelled to the deer trail (tracks obscured by the investigating creature); or, it may have been carried off by the investigating creature. We decide to follow the deer trail. Look at the tracks found on it, Strelok suspects they may be a large species of beetle that is said to live in the Veil. He looks for signs of beetle nests; from the top of the tallest nearby hill, he sees something off in the horizon, but cannot make it out. We head toward it.

We make camp for the night slightly off the path. We investigate the loot from the past two days: the silver ring is a ring of featherfall, the gold is a ring of sustenance, the amulet grants +3 to heal checks, and the circlet was of nat armor +2. We also have a quality gambeson and breastplate.

On top of a hill, those who keep watch see winds and walls of flame to the east. To the north we see lightning strikes. The night is otherwise quiet. In the morning, Blood Biography reveals that the blood belonged to Hornswaggle. Something slashed at him, but a companion pulled him free from the ground. His arm was broken (compound). His leg was also injured. This was 3.5 weeks ago.

We follow the path, which takes us between the largest hazards; we pass safely by a wall of corrosive fog and an area of lightning storms. In early afternoon, we come around a bend and see smoke stacks on the horizon… beetle nests. At 4pm, we are about a quarter mile away from them. Strelok offers to scout ahead, but we decide not to split up. However, we decide to wait until morning, so we make camp. Less than halfway through the first watch (Zephyr’s), ~8 huge beetles emerge from the earth behind one of the hills. They head west, away from us; the seem to be following the same path we had been. Throughout the night, steam billows from the stacks.

We go to where the beetles emerged and find a deep cavern. We enter, Stelok and Zephyr using light cantrips, and follow a tunnel downward. The temperature and humidity rise rapidly as we descend. A mile in, we see a faint blue light ahead. The tunnel opens into a vast cavern filled with bioluminescent fungus, in a stunning variety of types and colors. Not many are classified; Zephyr takes samples. Hayden pokes one, and it puffs into his face. It looks almost like some of the fungi are landscaped. There seem to be three chambers; the largest has tiny glowing spores floating in the air, which seem to come from dandelion-like fungi. Looking up, we see sky; we are directly below one of the steam vents. It is very far off. At the end of this third cavern, the tunnel narrows significantly. There is another steep descent, although a short one. We come across a place where tunnels offshoot in multiple directions. There is a shiny purple chitin covering everything in these lower caverns. We take a tunnel that looks to have the fewest offshoots. We see a few rooms connected, and a curving offshoot. In one room are many different enclaves, filled with barks and dried berries (food stores). There is no meat. Strelok suggests that the beetles are somewhat intelligent. Around this time, we notice that Hayden’s eyes have started to glow faintly; we assume this is from the fungi spores that were puffed at him.

Further exploration reveal other storage areas, at least one of which contains what seem to be tools for grinding and possibly gardening. We hear a faint noise down a hallway; we inspect, and find a faint glow coming from a room. Inside are fungi-lanterns, eggs, and some larvae. Although no adults are around, we leave quickly to avoid any misunderstandings. We find bedding-type materials in the next area we investigate. We have finished this tunnel, and go back to the crossroad-like intersection. We take a tunnel on the left this time. The walls that seem slightly different, as if the chitin was added on as an afterthought. In one room we find Hornswaggle, suspended from the wall, bound up on his left (injured side). Zephyr reaches to him, waking him up, He is still badly injured. Zephyr suspects that the bindings are bandages, but he is coughing, so she offers him water. We hear a scuttling above. Zephyr chats with Hornswaggle as Sheila heals him. He tells us not to attack the beetles, and says they speak common. Two beetles arrive; they have faces in a human-like structure.

They say they were expecting us, and ask us politely to leave, as “our kind” have generally served as bad omens. They direct us out, and we take down Hornswaggle. Talking to Hornswaggle, he was sent to get materials for a non-magical shrapnel grenade. The lightning fields create “razor-sharp sand”. As we cut him down, he says that there is a glow that has been unbearble; looking over, it seems as though there was a wall of chitin put up to close off a room, and a glow is coming from it. Strelok asks one of the beetles; “the other one stayed there”. A humanoid came seeking a great beast; he was also injured, and also healed by the beetles, but then refused to leave. He stayed “for quite some time, training”. He left and slew the beast (a great serpentine beast, frosted and fanged), then returned. dragging the creature’s head. After healing again, he vanished. He left some things in the room. Strelok removed his mask and asked if there was any resemblance. The beetles couldn’t tell, but said the man’s name was Alexander… the name of Strelok’s brother. Strelok asks to see the room. In it he finds a twisted horn and a book. The book is a journal. The last entry reads: “The linnorm is dead. I am free now.” The horn appears to have come from the slain linnorm. It is about 3 ft long and kinked in places. The head of a hawk, Strelok’s family crest, was carved into its base. Alexander had left 2-3 seasons before.

We cut down Hornswaggle, who is grumpy as always. Strelok takes the book and horn, and leaves the keys of his other family members in their place. He wants to stay and talk to the beetles; the rest of the party will wait for him a mile off until morning; if Strelok hasn’t rejoined us by then, we will depart and hope he catches up with us. Zephyr and Hornswaggle chat extensively about his recent research.

Strelok with the beetles: he is taken to talk with the elder beetle, who was fond of Alexander. The elder has no idea where Alexander may have gone after he left. He had been surprised that Alexander had survived after facing the Linnorm. Alexander needed nearly a season to heal. One day, the beetles returned from hunting and found Alexander gone. Alexander had never spoken of what would happen after defeating the Linnorm, except to say that he would figure it out when the time came.

Zephyr gets an alchemical bomb discovery.

TIMELINE: It is evening of our 7th day since leaving the base camp.

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Trudging

We camp for the night and wait for Strelok, who rejoins us within a few hours. Hayden takes out the disk and shows it to Hornswaggle. He doesn’t know what it is, but says it is druidic.

Hornswaggle leads us off, knowing the area best. He does not wait, but just expects us to keep up. He seems to intuitively know how to avoid areas of acid. Around 5pm, he marks the map to show us where we are, and says we must camp for the night. Sheila offers Hornswaggle some food, and he thanks her grumpily; he has no supplies. As night falls, he calls Zephyr over for a lesson (bomb related stuff).

The morning is cold and frosty. Hornswaggle rises at the same time Sheila does. About an hour after we set off, he sidles up to Sheila to inquire about rations.

Hornswaggle also knows when to start tossing pebbles, and as soon as he finds a teleportation field, he races in. Zephyr follows without hesitation. The area is sort of black yet bright at the same time. When we get through, he acknowledges us, and quickly heads off again. We are heading north-east. Suddenly, one of Sheila’s feet sicks a bit into the soil and gets stuck. She sees gray fingers wrapped around her boot. She detects evil, and attempts to smite the creature. Her smite hits. Strelok attempts to tug her free. Hornswaggle says it is a Cerebral Stalker, and says to get Sheila free quickly. The stalker shoots out a sticky mucous to get a better hold on Sheila, and keep her in place. The substance is web-like. Hayden and Zephyr attempt to unearth the creature using Mage Hand, but aren’t able to move much earth away. Sheila’s attempts to break out of the grapple, but is unsuccessful. Zephyr tries a bomb (after checking with Sheila); she misses, but the splash damage burns away the goo. Hayden “backstabs” the creature. The creature “webs” again, Strelok immediately cuts it away, and Sheila uses Divine Bomb. Strelok attacks, and the stalker retreats. Hornswaggle gives us kudos, and heads off again.

TIMELINE: It is late afternoon/early evening of our 9th day since leaving the base camp.

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This Is Why We Told You Not To Poke Things

When we camp for the night, Hornswaggle tells us that with luck, we’ll be out of the Veil within 24 hours. Hornswaggle pulls Zephyr aside and asks about going home. Zephyr says that they were suppose to fetch Hornswaggle back to Strong. Hornswaggle refuses, but is confident Zephyr can carry on in his position. He shows her the shards he collected; he says they need study, but they should be cultivatable without returning to the veil. Crystal is excellent b/c shatters readily, chemical reaction that makes shards white hot; no magic. Zephyr is fairly confident that she can handle it, but is reluctant to rely on that confidence; she asks Hayden (as he seems to be a dramatic type) to better illustrate the threat, as her descriptions have been more analytical. It did not help. There was lots of arguing that was largely done by the adventure log keeper, so sum up: Hornswaggle will go through the weapon creation with Zephyr on the boat ride. Hopefully, it will be proven that she can handle the task; if not, we will presumably resume this argument/attempt to convince Hornswaggle to come with us.

We assign watches; Zephyr takes first. ~45 minutes later, when everyone else is asleep, she hears a click and whistle in the distance. Then all is quiet for the rest of the watch. Zephyr informs Strelok of the noise when she wakes him up. On Sheila’s shift (the last), she hears clicking and whistling again, still in the distance. She hears it once more, from another direction, 30 minutes later; then, nothing. In the morning, Hornswaggle warns us that there is a pack of 10-15 of these creatures that roams this part of the Veil. They are called Destrachan and they are incredibly intelligent. The two we fought were apparently a mated pair, and may not yet be missed by their brethren. Their sense of hearing is far stronger than sense of smell, so hopefully they will not smell them on us.

As the morning goes on, we hear them twice more, but they are mostly quiet. It begins to rain that afternoon, and light flooding begins (the terrain is rocky and filled with crevasses). At 1-2pm, Hornswaggle warns us that we are coming upon the acid fields, which are currently venting gas quite heavily. He takes us on a narrow bridge through it; the next 3 hours, we will be in a fair bit of danger. Awesome.

This particular field is far more apparent (that is, we can clearly see the boundaries of the acidic area). The ground is brittle in places; in other places, it has crumbled to reveal pools of bubbling acid. We walk in single file, with Hornswaggle in the lead. As we get deeper in, we see large, gooey things swimming (or at least floating) in the acid pools. We start seeing them on the walkway; they are vibrant green slimes about the size of a house cat. They aren’t aggressive until Hayden nudges one. Then they start moving towards us; the one he nudged reaches up towards him. He avoids it, luckily. Hornswaggle tsks when he sees the slimes ahead starting to come at us. “You touched them, didn’t you?” He says they are fairly harmless, but dangerous in numbers. Zephyr botches acrobatics. She starts falling behind, unable to keep up and still avoid all the oozes. She gets grabbed by one, and two more reach her as she tries to free herself. She swears at Hayden in a variety of languages. She cannot shake them off, but prevent them from climbing on her further. There are 9 at her feet. Hayden pulls one off (now two on her). Sheila creates water to douse the slimes clinging to Zephyr. Four at Zephyr’s feet are washed back into acid pits. Zephyr is able to get one off (that has by that time gotten to her shoulde). Pallas had long since climbed onto Zephyr’s head. He now jumps onto Hayden’s head, and then onto Sheila’s. The remaining slime on Zephyr has melted a hole in her Veil suit.

Meanwhile, Strelok IDs the slimes as Emerald Slimes. Hornswaggle tells us we must just keep moving and outdistance them. He heads off. Hayden flings off the last slime on Zephyr. Everyone hustles across the bridge. Hayden uses “mending” to fix Zephyr’s suit when they get across the field. It is 5-6pm and night is falling. Hornswaggle says we are close, but we’d have to travel about two hours after dark. We decide to press on. Dark falls about 7pm, our eta is 9:30; but the whistles and clicks start up again, and they sound closer than they were the previous night. We continue to hustle. It is ~1.5 hr before we hear them again. Hornswaggle seems concerned… apparently, they normally don’t venture this close to the edge of the Veil. He hypothesizes that the magical disturbances indicate that the Veil is expanding. We reach the treeline (technically outside the Veil), and soon come upon a ring of very old trees with a clearing within them. We set up camp, and Hornswaggle sets up traps. We assign the same watches (Zephyr, Strelok, Hayden, Sheila).

20 minutes into Hayden’s shift, clicking is heard less than a mile off. It goes on for 20 minutes, coming closer. He wakes up Strelok. He notices that the area has the same unique scent of the Veil, as opposed to a forest. There is silence for an hour; then there is a far off click, and an answering click close by (within 1/2 mile)… but not on a different side of us. There are at least three of them. The rest of the party is woken. Hornswaggle tells us that they can will be able to hear and understand us. He apparently has learned a bit of the meanings of the clicks and whistles, and he goes to listen. We make ready. Hornswaggle says he believes there to be three, but these are only scouts. Options: get as far as we can; or wait and pretend we haven’t noticed, but if the entire group comes, we’re screwed. He suggests we take care of the scouts, then get away before the rest of the group comes.

We take positions and wait. Zephyr prepares bombs and applies Dragon’s Bile poison to Strelok’s blade. Sheila casts Protection From Evil on the entire party (2 to AC and Saves, and need a will save to touch us) and Bless (1 atk). Strelok and Zephyr hand out wax for our ears (+2 reflex vs sonic). Zephyr readies Spectral hand. She casts it when the first creature appears. Hayden & Sheila hold their actions, Zephyr casts Inflict Serious Wounds. Two other creatures appear, from different locations. There is one NE, one NW, and one SE. Strelok attacks one, another (injured by Zephyr) attacks Sheila, but Sheila has a readied action and hits it first. It misses her. Sheila attacks it again. There is more fighting. Other two approach, attack, get attacked. Becky is no longer sober. Hornswaggle is eventually attacked, but dodges. Fighting, fighting, a fourth one came in at some point, they all die and we all live. Hooray!

TIMELINE: It is early morning of our 12th day since leaving the base camp.

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Hornswaggle's Ego Grew Three Sizes That Day. Also, Sad Sailor was Sad.

Note to GM: There was something said about saliva spores while discussing new developments with/discoveries about the Plague Worms, but I didn’t catch it, and forgot to ask about it later
There are 1.5 hours of travel left before we reach the base camp. We are traveling for 30 minutes before Strelok hears clicks and whistles, with many response callers. They are all coming from the same direction, at least. Strelok’s amazing preception determines the amount of pursuers: lots. Hornswaggle estimates 20 minimum. We decide to run. Hornswaggle has a haste potion to aid him in this. We hear them following us, and in twenty minutes, we can hear the sound of the branches and brush disturbed in their path. ~120ft. Strelok casts haste on himself and then pauses to look behind us. He sees 24-26 of them. Zephyr throws Alchemist’s Fire behind her as she runs. She loses some ground and does not manage to do more than make a smoldering spot on the ground. Strelok doubles back to pull her forward.

We recognize the area; we are close to the base camp. We can hear the horses whinnying. Strelok throws a fireball into the middle of our pursuers. The barge comes in sight, and the crewmen beckon us frantically. Strelok takes advantage of his haste to get the horses. We all make it onto the barge and push off as the Destrachan burst into view. Luckily, they stop at the shore and shriek at us.

Zephyr requests that Hornswaggle finish teaching her about making the weapon, while Strelok and Hayden get boozed. We all happily remove our veil suits. Strelok prepares to tie himself to the boat and bathe, but is advised of flesh-eating fish. He puts his pants back on and uses a bucket instead. The sailors share rumors about people infected by the creatures back in Amas. Supposedly the government of Ferin had stopped accepting refugees and closed trade routes. There is a strict quarantine process to let natives back in.

Hayden gets the sailors into a gambling game, where he plans going to swindle them. Suspecting foul play, Sheila uses Zone of Truth on the game. Hayden was not verbally lying, but the sailor with the tough guy act suddenly gets weepy about missing home.

The weapon substance is very volatile and fussy. Hornswaggle teaches Zephyr how to cultivate it. It grows like a plant, and is very opportunistic. Care must be taken with containment, since it will grow essentially anywhere, and is very explosive. Recap from previous learning: crystal shatters readily, causing a chemical reaction that makes the shards white-hot. Hornswaggle then starts to teach Zephyr the weaponization process; she suspects this will take longer than the two days they have together on the boat. After many hours, Zephyr requests sleep, which Hornswaggle reluctantly allows.

The next day of travel is very much like the first. Strelok tries fishing…. his catches are all small, bony, and full of teeth. He fries them up and tries to eat them anyway. He asks the sailors about how best to cook them… they don’t know, as they have never tried to eat one. He makes a stew with a Destrachan leg. Hayden spars, Sheila does her training routines, Zephyr learns. Zephyr has been having trouble with the samples, shattering the crystals too early.

We arrive at the docks the next day. Zephyr again requests that Hornswaggle come with the party; she feels she has a basic understanding, but not nearly sufficient. He responds that we have a few days left for her to learn. At the docks, Polena is waiting for us with a message for Sheila from Strong. It is an update of orders: time is of the essence; instead of having us return to Ferin, we are to meet him at the location where the weapons are to be made: Eirginturn, one of the college cities. Sheila relays this news. Hayden is looking forward to seeing coeds.

As we leave the docks, Polena displays hero worship towards Hornswaggle. Zephyr suddenly stops worrying about convincing Hornswaggle to come, and stops planning a recipe for drugging him. Hornswaggle is quite puffed up.

We travel back by way of Strelok’s family cabin. Polena babbles most of the way. On the third day, she sidles up to Sheila and reveals that Sheila might get a promotion. Polena wants to be a companion/underling. Sheila is apparently her hero. Hornswaggle lets the party know that he will be coming with us after all. After six days of travel, we reach the cabin and stay the night. Hornswaggle claims the master bedroom for himself, while Polena requests to bunk with Sheila (“slumber party!!”).

A few days later, we reach a college town (Ormuse) which Strelok remembers as a chipper place. Now there is an air of solemnity and caution. Guards are out in force. People keep to themselves, minimal interaction. Lots of tension. We can ride the train to Eirginturn. Hayden goes shopping for a scroll of Sculpt Corpse. Zephyr and Sheila return their veil suits. They were cleaned via prestidigitation, and Zephyr’s was mended. 6480 refunded (out of 8k possible). We get train tickets. On the train, Zephyr makes and sells potions, and Strelok chats with Polena a bit.

Getting off the train in Eirginturn, Hayden pick-pockets a bunch of folks. Strong is residing in a wing of the college set aside for dignitaries. Hornswaggle, suddenly eager to help out (and have a bard write songs about him), wants to go with Sheila to meet Strong. Sheila advises we all go in order to get paid. As we travel the halls, we hear rumors that Olvand has fallen.

Strong sees us immediately. We can tell he is somewhat alarmed, which is extremely worrisome. He thanks Hornswaggle and sends him off to the lab. Strong then informs us that the creatures have been dubbed the Plague Worms. New info: definitely parasitic, probably extradimensional/planar, spread rapidly from host to host. Most of the Western coast of Oras has been lost, including parts of Ardova. One worm per host. More mature the creature is, the longer it is able to incubate eggs, and the further along in growth cycle the young will be when released; decreases new generation’s incubation period. {Saliva spores…?}

Strong admits that, after speaking with the Treasury, he realized that his former offer was something of an insult. Formally apologizes (a bit begrudgingly), and says our reward will be 22k each. Sheila is promoted to commander; Polena is her first ward, and the only one until Sheila has proven up to the task.

The church is keeping us on retainer, and will be providing regular pay. New mission: travel to the wall. New activity in forest, expansion, bugs pushing against the walls. Unknown if related to “the blight in Oras”. Go find out what’s up, report back. 18k given on our departure. Payment on return 12k-36k, dpending on intel we bring back. We are given limited access to the armory, vouchers for local smiths (fittings and mending); also three vouchers (500gp each: one for armor, one for weaponry, one for magic items). Magical item vendors also accept. Only valid in Danuul. He bids us goodnight, but asks Sheila and Polena to stay for private words.

Hayden gleefully realizes that he is now sanctioned by the church, and then laughs evilly. Actually, people would have to be young, naive, and easily impressed by shiny badges to believe that.

Strong tells Sheila that she bears responsibility for the group as a leader. She gets a badass long sword. Told to be careful.

(On way to wall, will be going through biggest, most prosperous city in the country (Danuul). Lots of magic stuff, equipment, etc. Can find pretty much anything.)

(Later, Sheila tells us stories about scouting parties going into the forrest and never being seen again, or returning insane.)

We all level!

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Shooting Fish in a Barrel with a Bazooka

Strong continues to speak with Sheila. He expresses concern about the rest of the party, specifically about us taking the money and running off on Sheila. He recommends hiring an additional mercenary, which they will pay for. She asks why she can’t have another paladin, since he’d already given her trouble on money matters. Well, the paladins are all busy. There is some snark from Strong. No, there is lots of snark. My mistake. He says he’d send her alone if it was his choice.

It is night, and we leave for Danuul in the morning. We take the train for one day. Polena is very chatty, and doesn’t take Sheila’s hints regarding the virtues of silence. Sheila eventually runs away excuses herself from the cabin.

We arrive in Danuul, the capital. It is a prosperous city not associated with any of the colleges. It has defined districts (trading, merchant, central district where headmasters meet, living districts of varying social classes, etc.) We agree to find accommodations for the night before hitting the market. We go to the church of Iomadae to find lodgings, so as to get a discount as emissaries (or whatever) of the church. We are told of an inn called the Laughing Ox (good morning stew, ale is not as watered down, gives a small discount to church members). Asking for news, Sheila is told that there has been “some buzz about the creatures in Oras” and occasional protests (almost violent on two occasions) regarding Amas’s apparent abandonment of Oras.

The Laughing Ox is a medium sized inn. It is surprisingly clean and smells of freshly baked bread. Zephyrs offer to share a room with Sheila, and Polena gets offended and says she’ll share with Strelok. Sheila is not actually jealous by this, and Strelok is happy/anxious and wants to go shower immediately. Aianna, the innkeeper, shows us to our rooms. To the market!

There is much bargaining, buying, selling, and trading. Hayden gets a date with a hedgehog-hater who then babbles incessantly about how excited she is and where she wants to go and what she’s going to wear yadda yadda yadda.

We meet back at the inn for dinner (except for Hayden). Polena asks how we all meet, and Strelok relates how he and I joined the party. She then asks Sheila how she joined the church (“are your parents dead too?”). Polena reveals she knows a little about mercenaries, and Sheila gives her the task of gathering information. Polena goes to bed, and Strelok leaves to find Hayden, wanting advice on how to deal with sharing a room with her.

Meanwhile, Hayden picks up his date (Suzie) and they go to the “restaurant”, a place with little food but a lot of alcohol. When asked about this place, Suzie says she was taken here before on a date. She remembers only that she had fun. There is a local dice game going on, and there is a large crowd watching, as if it is a spectator sport. Later in the evening, cheering is heard from below the main floor. When Suzie gets her coat, Hayden asks a waiter what is going on downstairs. The waiter tells him that there is no downstairs… and discreetly offers to sell him a coaster. An interesting coaster, worth 200 gold. The coasters are redeemable at the tavern that shares a wall with the restaurant. Hayden buys one. When Suzie comes back, Hayden asks if she’s interested in finding out what the cheering is.

They go down a steep staircase and find a smoky room where serious gambling is going on. There is a very diverse crowd, and scantily-clad waitresses. Suzie finds the place vaguely familiar. She hints that Hayden should play some games (hoping she’ll be given some of the winnings). Hayden begins playing, shooing off the various men who come over to hit on Suzie. Several games in, he notices a lizardman watching intently, but is not sure whether he is watching the card game or something else. Hayden is growing bored when another roaring cheer goes up from the largest table. He inquires, and is told “Marcus is playing cards”; a big-name gambler. Hayden slides the dealer some money and asks if Marcus has any tells; none that they know of. Some have accused Marcus of cheating, since he never seems to lose, but no magic has been detected. Hayden takes his winnings and heads to the big table. He watches a few hands. Marcus seems to almost know what will happen. He only loses hands with tiny stakes. A man bows out of the game, and Hayden takes his place. He pretends not to know how to play and have excessive tells, purposely losing at first. Marcus seems fooled, but Suzie also loses some interest in Hayden. She offers to get him a drink, and wanders off. Marcus seems to have not really taken notice of him. The next round, Hayden starts bluffing, and wins the hand. Suzie comes back with a drink she says was given to her for free. Brilliant girl, there. Marcus starts noticing Hayden as they continue playing. Suzie wanders off at some point. Marcus addresses Hayden. Talks about how great the women are, including Suzie, who wanders over now dressed like the other girls hanging off him (the scantily clad waitresses). Marcus seems to think Hayden brought Suzie for him. Compliments Hayden on his card playing.

Marcus seems to be watching how the cards are dealt and how the dice are rolled very carefully. Hayden nudges the dice with Mage Hand, but Marcus doesn’t seem to notice. Hayden starts using mage hand continuously to mess with his luck, and after a few rounds, Marcus seems slightly perturbed. He waves a guy over, and the guy stands and watches the game; Hayden stops cheating. Using sense motive on the new guy, Hayden gets the sense that the man is watching the other players for foul play. Hayden then uses mage hand to cause Marcus to win by nudging the dice when it looks like gravity wouldn’t move them further. Marcus expresses confusion. He expresses some reluctance but takes the hand, then calls it a night. Hayden reaches out to shake Marcus’s hand, prompting for a last name, which Marcus gives as Ferosa. He leaves with all the women hanging on him (including Suzie). Hayden follows them to an inn, where UNNECESSARILY LOUD fornication is heard. Hayden waits until it has been quiet for ~1.5hr, picks the lock of the window. Three women are in the room; Marcus is not. Hayden finds a back door to the inn. At this point, Strelok tracks Hayden down. Hayden asks if he saw anyone; Strelok saw someone 15 minutes before coming from this direction. Hayden asks Strelok to track the person, and Strelok agrees in exchange for help getting recompense from a merchant who he felt cheated him earlier that day. They track the person to the market district, but there they lose the trail. Suddenly they see movement in one of the stores— the one where Suzie works. It is Marcus, picking through the cloaks and carrying a bag full of other goods.

Hayden uses ghost sound to make a creaking noise from the back door… Marcus turns instead to look straight at Hayden. Marcus shushes him, and offers him some cloaks. Hayden asks what’s up with the dice, and Marcus compliments him for figuring it out. Hayden asks what’s in the drinks, but Marcus apparently doesn’t know. Anyway, he’s heading off to the next shop. Good job following him, but don’t do it this time, because he really has to go. Friendly goodbye. It is almost dawn, and people are stirring. Strelok wants to know what all this was about, but was told not to worry about it. He sulks about having spent all night searching for Hayden when he could have been sharing a room with Polena. Hayden and Strelok go back to the inn, where Sheila is just waking up. Hayden announces that he has finally found a worthy foe.

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Shopping Adventures

Polena wakes up as Strelok is going in, so he takes a quick shower and goes down for breakfast. Hayden asks Strelok to detect magic on the lead seal on his rented Bracelet of Bargaining and finds that it is probably magicked to preventy theft. Hayden destroys the seal. Zephyr and Polena come down to join them. Polena eats 6 servings, and claims it is typical. Hayden had apparently forgotten why we were in the city. “Oh, right! The wall!”

Sheila brings up the Bracelet of Friends, saying she needs to attune each pendent on it to one of us. Zephyr will be making cure potions, an animal aspect potion for Hayden, and will be getting Dragon’s Bile.

Polena and Strelok set out to find mercenaries. Polena is obnoxiously talkative. After following Polena around aimlessly, Strelok finally takes the lead and goes to a bar. Strelok pretends to be looking for mercenary work and asks the bartender where he might find such. The bartender recommends the train station. They head to the train station. Strelok sees a dwarven-looking man looking at wanted posters, and asks him if there are any bars or hangouts for mercenaries. The man asks him if he isn’t a little young for that, but mentions The Stork. He seems skeptical and eyes Polena, who is enthusiastically gathering “work wanted” fliers for various “do gooders” (aka mercenaries). They note one huge poster for Sir Quinten Bardis, which has a rather dashing image of a handsome man, and boasts of noble deeds.

So, they head to The Stork. It is dim and mostly abandoned. Strelok approaches someone stacking chairs, and asks where he might find a mercenary to hire. He asks after “Quinten”, who the man says “thinks very highly for himself”. He can be found at “The Duck and Goose”. The man seems unimpressed with Quinten.

Strelok and Polena go to the market and find Sheila. Polena shows off the huge flier for Quinten. She is quite enthusiastic about him, despite Strelok and Sheila’s reservations. Sheila returns to searching for the bracelet, and Polena goes with her. Strelok seeks out the gun merchant.

Meanwhile, Zephyr notices some herbs are missing… and Pallas is eating something. And is fat. She goes out in search of an Apothecary. She finds her needed items, and heads back. She passes through a part of the merchant district that she doesn’t recall seeing before. One shop has a sign of a skull and smoking vial. It is full or old maps, taxidermy, pickled body parts, etc. Sign says “Old Kreetchers Antiquiities, Oddities, and Collectibles, Both Magic and Mundane”. She goes in. There is a distinct smell of dust. The place is packed. Tiny, yet it seems huge inside. Oldest most maciated half elf-looking-thing is the shopkeep, and he is flipping through a giant tome. Zephyr wants everything. She only has 18k. The shopkeep directs her to a case with things for that price or under.

The shopkeeper addresses Zephyr: “So, you’ve seen much of the world… or will.” He asks if she is from Vuresca; perhaps one of the colleges? Zephyr tells him she attended Aqua Fortis. The shopkeeper asks if she knows of Waylan Sidell. She does; he was and still is the headmaster. “One of the last true elves”, the shopkeeper says. "Strange, a child playing with titles such as “headmaster”. Not wise or experienced enough to know…" he trails off. “He and {?didn’t catch?}… they want to help with… what was it? In Oras?” Zephyr supplies “Blight Worms”, and tells him that she was part of the first group discover them, or at least to encounter them and survive (as far as she knew). “Yes,” says the shopkeeper, “I’ve seen them at the rallies” (them being blight worms or Waylan and colleagues?). “If only there were some way to know where these abominations have come from. Today, we have no guidance. These ‘wise headmasters’… if they were like headmasters of old, they would have been there…” He approaches a bookshelf. “You say… you discovered…?” He inspects a book carefully, then returns to the counter. Zephyr asks him who or what he “saw at the rallies”, but the man does not seem to understand. Zephyr inspects the book. It is burnt in places, missing pages that seem to have been torn out, has tiny cramped script and diagrams, illustrations of strange yet familiar beasts… it is written in Abyssal, but in a dialect Zephyr is unfamiliar with. Zephyr gives the shopkeeper the name of the inn they are staying at, in case he has anything else he would like to share. She asks how much for the book. The shopkeeper asks that she please take it, saying she should have it, and that he doesn’t want it there. When she picks up the book, Pallas struggles a bit in his pouch. He says the book is very old, and smells “wrong”. The man seems to no longer realize that there is anyone but himself in the store. Zephyr needs to return to her potions, but she carefully takes note of landmarks so that she can hopefully find her way back to the store. Pallas hops out near the market and goes for a waddle.

Meanwhile, Strelok goes to the gun shop he was told about the previous day. There is a sign on the door saying “be back in four hours”. Strelok prepares to wait, but sees someone moving inside. They appear to be working rather than looting. He looks for a backdoor, finds one, knocks. No response, but Strelok still hears sounds from inside. He tries the door, finds it unlocked, opens it but doesn’t enter; “hello?” Sees someone familiar… the person who taught him to smith guns in the first place, Van. Not quite human, looks a little dwarvish, or a little gnomish…. unknown origin. Bearded, angry, smallish. Not quite a friendly reunion, as he is quite grumpy. Terse exchanges ensue. Strelok requests a force shot. Van pulls out a few guns— his shop is organized almost obsessively. One gun is significantly smaller. When Strelok asks why Van pulled it out, Van replies that it is “exactly what you want”.

Eventually a reluctant good to see you type exchange. Smaller gun: very manueverable, gives force shot, very concealable, free quick draw… if one gets a surprise round, get free additional shot. Van admits that he had never planned on selling it… "no one deserves this craftsmanship. Normal asking price ~ 35k…. but knows Strelok won’t just go and break it. So, 30? Still out of Strelok’s price range. Van seems a bit insulted. “What, you hunt me down in this god forsaken place and don’t even bring 30k?” Strelok says he’ll do some jobs and come back with the money. He mentions that he might bring Van a jump in business… “your guns do the most damage to these creatures”. “Damn straight”. But the 30k price stays.

Meanwhile, Polena and Sheila are looking for the bracelet. Sheila asks Polena if she learned search patterns. Apparently not… clerics and paladins learned different skills. Sheila instructs Polena on a particular search pattern, and they split up. But when lunch time rolls around, Sheila hasn’t seen Polena yet, even though their search patterns should have overlapped. Sheila backtracks, and finds Polena… at the start point. Apparently, she found the bracelet and then stayed where she was. Talks about her lunch. (Meanwhile, Sheila is still extremely hungry). Sheila goes to the bracelet’s stall, asks for one to be set aside, and gets foodage back at the inn. The innkeeper comes over when she sits down for lunch, and gives her a letter from Chaplain Strong. There are two papers— one written by a secretary, and one by him. They emphasize the stress the church is under, and says that the mercenary they hire should must be of good repute. Then she sees another, small note: “Good job, Sheila”… from “C” (Collier Strong). Off the record note, not stamped like the other. Zephyr sees her in passing and they exchange greetings before Sheila heads to the church.

Sheila and Polena go to the church to request funds for the bracelet (~13k needed on top of what she already has). The person she is speaking to says that they do not have 13k… she can have 8k. Unless she wants to steal the food out of the orphan babes’ mouths. She is given a voucher worth 8k gold. Polena seems tired; Sheila offers her the afternoon off (yay!), and Polena accepts (YAY!), but requests to go along when they hire the mercenary. Polena returns to the inn, and Sheila heads to the merchant with the bracelet. Sheila talks to the merchant, who says he can modify the 3 and 6 charm bracelets to make 4 and 5 charm bracelets. Sheila will return for the 4-charm bracelet the next day.

Strelok is looking for Polena, since she collected some wanted posters and he needs money. After not finding her at the market, he goes to the inn for a nap, but finds Polena sleeping in the room. Nervousness happens. Then sleep deprivation kicks in and he falls asleep. Success! Sort of.

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Pining like a Spruce for a Fir

It is midafternoon. Hayden has been looking for bounty posters, and has found several. Wanted dead: ringleader of a group responsible for a train heist (Ernest Birch), and a bandit lord known to attack caravans leaving Ilirra towards the south (Ben Galloway). Offering 15k gp and 11k gp, respectively.

Hayden is bothered by his encounter with Marcus, having the feeling that they’d met before.

Meanwhile, Sheila has some alone time, and decides to go to the church for prayer and meditation. Pallas catches up to her on the way and makes a nuisance of himself by trying to nest in the silk drapery at the alter Sheila is praying at. She makes a bed out of a spare shirt for him. She does her training routine and attends closing prayers. She returns to the inn around dinner time.

Polena tries to quietly get ready to leave, but is super clumsy, and wakes up Strelok. Strelok pretends to still be asleep until she leaves. Polena meets Sheila downstairs for dinner, where Hayden and Strelok join them. Zephyr, busy with potion making, forgets about dinner. Strelok requests some of the wanted posters Polena got, she leaves to get them, Hayden makes a joke about putting a wanted poster on Polena, and Sheila smacks him. When he has the posters, Strelok peruses them to see if there are any likely persons that he could probably find within 24 hours. Sheila asks if Hayden has evening plans. He nods and makes an affirmative noise, but says nothing. Suspicious!

Sheila asks if Polena is ready to go find Quinten. Hayden asks who this person is and what’s going on, so Sheila explains the instructions she received from Strong. Hayden tags along, since his tasks are best done later in the evening. Polena leads the way to the Stork. It is extremely busy and “smells of working men and cheap ale”. Hayden picks someone’s pocket and uses the money to get a drink or ten. Polena seems a bit overwhelmed by the crowd. She takes out Quinten’s poster and points over at a man surrounded by a large group of people. Polena disappears into the crowd. A boistrous voice is coming from the center of the group. It is from a man who resembles the picture on the poster. He is currently boasting about this and that in an arrogant fashion.
Sheila: Most heroes don’t toot their own horn.
Q: Never met a hero like me! Have you seen my poster?

Polena looks disappointed. Not nearly as handsome and dashing as the poster, is rather short, thinning hair. Quinten asks if Sheila needs his services, Hayden makes a raunchy joke, and Quinten responds in kind. Polena: You’re not a real mercenary, are you? Quinten: Uh….I’m the best mercenary in this town!

Sheila asks for proof of this claim, and Quinten mentions that he is SIR Quinten, the GALLANT, and he won’t have anyone question his credentials yadda yadda yadda. Then he realizes she is from the church, says he finds it “cute” (women with swords)… Sheila
S: Proof? Q: SIR quinten ?, the gallant, won’t have anyone question his credentials. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. Realizes she’s from the church, Sheila grabs him by jaw and throws him at the door. His once adoring crowd laughs. Polena is distressed, and requests that they leave. They walk over Quinten. As they are leaving, they hear the bartender chuckling. “Looking for a REAL mercenary?” He overheard the bit about going to forest, and knows a mercenary that might be willing to go…. Hayden bribes him to get the name (with the money pickpocketed earlier): Aeric…. (Sheila adds a gp) Aeric Ed’aar. Can find him at an inn in the north district, although he retires early; may still be up. Inn is called the Mug and Barrel. He doesn’t come cheap, but he is worth it. “Tell him Frank sent you”. It is 9ish. Hayden, Sheila, and Polena head to the inn. They arrive shortly after 9:30. Quiet place, sparsely furnished, bar area has only two patrons. The barkeep says Aeric has retired for the night. He is seen briefly with the morning sun, and then not again until afternoon. Best to come back in the morning. Polena is disappointed, wanting to find their mercenary… she’s not very good at mornings, but she’ll try to get up. Sheila decides to head back to the inn; Polena asks Hayden if she can tag along with him. Hayden suggests that Strelok might be looking forward to her company… “Do you really think so?” Polena goes in search for Strelok, and Hayden heads off.

Strelok is on the trail of some pickpocketing street thugs, when suddenly…. Polena pops out and greets him loudly and cheerily. “Are you happy to see me? Hayden said you wanted to see me… and something about a pine tree, I dunno.” Strelok tells her that, actually, he’s doing something a little dangerous, so she might not want to come… but Polena insists that she is a great helper. Strelok says that if things get bad, she needs to run. Polena: “Will you protect me?” Strelok: “………yes…..”

Strelok explains what he’s doing (hunting for pick pockets). Polena helpfully inspects EVERYTHING. Despite Polena’s help, Strelok is able to gather some clues and follow a trail. He doesn’t run into any of the pickpockets, although the trail is concentrated around several empty buildings. One seems to be a warehouse, the other an office. Strelok asks Polena if she can pick locks. Nope. Strelok covers his sword pommel with his cloak and breaks a window. No one comes running. Strelok widens the hole and slips through. Polena attempts to crawl in after, but Strelok motions for her to wait, and then unlocks the door for her. Investigation type activities occur. There is a back door, no cellar, lots of boxes stacked around. Polena suddenly yells, STRELOK LOOK WHAT I FOUND! Strelok suggests whispering. Polena has found a crate full of gold pieces and jewelry. Strelok looks in other crates and finds many of them contain valuables. Some seem to be frieght such as iron ore bars, leather straps for making armor, thises and thats. Strelok decides to try to follow tracks leading from the warehouse. He follows the tracks to an area with bars, and goes to see if he can see any familiar faces (since he has the wanted posters with sketches or descriptions). Polena follows. She seems to be lagging a bit. She suddenly gives a large yawn. She admits to being tired. Strelok decides to stake out the bars tomorrow and take her back to the inn, although it frustrates him. She hugs his arm on the way back to the inn and rests her head on his shoulder as he tries awkwardly to walk at her pace. She starts falling asleep, so he picks her up. She snores and drools. He resists the urge to touch the boobage as he puts her to bed, and goes downstairs. He draws a map and plans his stakeout.

Hayden heads to the underground bar where he met Marcus. They ask for his chip, so he gets one from the bar. The buy in is higher tonight. Marcus is in the same seat, again surrounded by girls, again playing the dice game, again in the middle of a cheering crowd. Extra excitement: there is a high roller in town, and they are going head to head. Again Marcus has the infuriating amused look. Most of the other players at the table have folded. Hayden watches the dice. It seems as though Marcus has his own set of dice that he switches out when it is his turn using slight of hand. Marcus is also watching Hayden. Hayden winks, and Marcus waves. Hayden orders a drink, surrepticiously drips some into a handkerchief, doesn’t actually drink any. The game soon ends. Hayden congratulates Marcus loudly, but suggests that perhaps the crowd is tired of seeing him win again and again. The crowd hushes. Obviously this is his game and he does well; let’s see something new; a different game! Hayden proposes a card game. Marcus smiles and agrees, offering him a chair beside him. Quietly, Marcus asks “…have we met before?”

The cards do not appear to be stacked. Hayden plays straight to see how Marcus does. He loses the first hand (but the previous game was very close; Marcus is careful not to win every round). However, the game involves bluffing, and Hayden has a ridiculously high bluff skill, even when he doesn’t cheat at all. As time goes on, Marcus loses again and again. He looks unperturbed, perhaps even amused. Once when Marcus folds and puts down his cards, Hayden sees he has a pair of Aces…. finally, Marcus says “tonight wasn’t my night”, hands out more cash, and thanks Hayden for the challenge. As crowd disperses, Marcus says, “I think I remember you… did I… pick on you when I was young?” Hayden vaguely remembers a butcher’s son a few years older than him who was not very nice. Marcus tries to recall a name, but finally says, nah, couldn’t have been you. (Guessed Roland… Hayden seemed to react.) Marcus leaves with ladies, returns to same inn, to which Hayden follows. This time, Hayden goes to back door, waits. No one comes. Finally checks the room’s window… room empty, window open. ARG! Hayden recognizes one of the girls, though: a merchant’s daughter he had noticed himself. Merchant sold fine magical items. Hayden decides to go to the shop. Takes most of the night to find it; sees a dark figure leaving. Catches up to figure in an alley. Figure admiring rings on his hands; wearing a tiara. Marcus: “Oh! You found me again! You’re good! You want some of these?” (offers rings). “Here, you can be the princess.” (Puts tiara on Hayden’s head).

Hayden says, you do remember, don’t you? Marcus pretends not to; Hayden draws his sword. Marcus: “you’re still very feisty”.

(Approximate conversation transcript)
M: I’m only here to play games. What do you want?
H: What did you want? Just to make someone cry?
M: Isn’t that what you want?
H: No.
M: Good for you.
M: Ah, it was Nowlan! I used to come to that estate you lived on, with my dad, and we’d slaughter the cattle for you. You were a little shit! We used to have some great times—
H: Enough! advance (finds he can’t just stab Marcus… who is not holding a weapon. Wonders why. That conscience thing, maybe.)
M: You apparently have some stuff to work out… but, you know how to find me. You’re good at it. So… come find me! Going to sleep now. Toodles!

Hayden eventually returns to inn. He arrives near dawn. Sheila is getting up and leaving; she encounters Hayden, who is muttering about a fucking conscience. Sheila: “Rough night?” He quickly puts up his mask and says, “same old same old, made a ton of money”. Sheila: “what were you muttering about?” Hayden: “Muttering…?” (Dodges by asking if she’s eaten yet, calling a waitress). Sheila knows he’s dodging, but needs to leave to meet Aeric.

Sheila returns to the Mug and Barrel to see Aeric Ed’aar. Inn is just as empty. The same bartender is there, and says Aeric has just risen; he points to a more private area of the dining room. Man sitting there is perhaps as handsome as Quinten’s poster. Clothing looks normal, but closer inspection reveals fancy embroidering. He looks up as Sheila approaches; mischievious twinkle in his eye. “Hail, Paladin! I was told Frank sent you”. Sheila says looking for someone for a quest. He sizes her up. Calls her lovely, but not in an inappropriate way. Discuss the quest a bit; heard from Frank that we were going to the forest. He says he is interested, but is not cheap. Estimate? “Well, since Frank sent you, and I haven’t worked with someone so lovely in quite awhile… for the whole trip… 4000 platinum” (40k gp). Most upfront, as it is a long and dangerous trek. Sheila asks that he comes with her to the church. Aeric suddenly looks tired, but agrees. He asks if they have a deal; Sheila agrees.

As they go to the church, Sheila asks about scar on his face. Childhood accident with a threshing machine. Looks worse than it was (trails off)….

At church, Sheila presents him to treasurer, says this is the person that will fulfil the obligations set by Strong. 4000 platinum?! The treasurer wants to see orders! …Oh. Apologies. Only has 1000 platinum, they will have to go to the city treasury for the rest. Next few hours spent w/ Aeric getting supplies. He is a little arrogant, but still a gentleman. When Sheila tells him about party, Aeric gets an amused smile, says “they sound wonderful”. They part ways to get supplies and Sheila’s bracelet. Aeric says he cannot leave for two days, as he has personal business he must conclude, but he can be reached at the inn at that time. Sheila returns to the inn for lunch.

Strelok is awoken by a loud, grumbly snore from Polena. Clothes reveal tiny, tiny, tiny amount of cleavage. OMG. He goes downstairs to get food. Zephyr stumbles down as well, having finished potions but not yet slept, eager to look at the book she got the previous day. Hayden is there playing darts. Strelok relates events of the previous night. Zephyr jitters and has more caffeine. Sheila says she found our mercenary, and he’ll be ready to go in two days, when we will meet him for the first time. Zephyr asks if he is anything like the other guy, and Sheila says no, this one is actually respectful. Strelok: “That will be something new! You didn’t pay him entirely up front, did you?” (Sheila becomes very interested in her cup). Strelok sighs. “Next time, I’m going with you.”

Hayden sees Zephyr, gives her the handkerchief, asks her to examine stain on it. Z does not find this odd at all. Hayden is struggling with what to do next regarding Marcus. Confront him diplomatically, physically, or assassinate, or…

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