Amas & Oras

Beyond the Wall
In which Hayden gets et

[Hayden’s POV]
As the party enters the forest through the gate, the handsome and dashing Hayden makes several witty remarks regarding the dubious nature of the guards’ effectiveness.

After the better part of a day’s travel, they come to the edge of the wastes.

Zephyr and Aeric bitch at each other for a while about what our actual purpose is and which way to go.

Sheila mercifully takes over and summarizes Zephyr’s ramblings into something resembling coherent concepts and gives Aeric a direction to head.

As the party begins to move out, a rumbling is heard, shaking the ground for a few moments before falling silent.

They begin to head towards the nearest settlement marked on the map (a city to the north).

[NOT Hayden’s POV]
We travel along the forest line (the normal forest by the wall). As we travel, we see giant shadows in the distance, and occasionally feel tremors. About an hour before sunset, Aeric calls back that he’s found a campsite. Thanks to fallen logs, we can make camp several feet above ground. We arrange 2 person shifts. No clouds; nebula is bright enough to see clear across the wastes. More dust clouds in the distance, followed by slight tremors. But closest one is ¾ of a mile away; luckily, next are further off. Mid shift saw four dark shadows far away. First watch, hear Polena squeal; huge blue lizard has hold of her foot, trying to drag her off. Aeric stabs in the eye region, and it releases Polena. We can see six legs on first half of its body as it backs away. It hisses, and we see sparks in its mouth. It turns out that Polena swears.

Hayden is swallowed, Sheila slices the creature open to get him out, he is pissy because he could have done a lot of damage from the inside (even though more than half his hit points were gone by that point). Zephyr IDs the creature as a Behir. Strelok took several legs, which were cooked for the party. He left the horn of the Behir in the trees to be retrieved upon our return.

Giant, Murderous Peeps
Also, Zephyr outlines what we should do in the Forest. No one will remember.

Closer to wall, more trees. Wall looks patchwork, made with whatever was on hand. Abandoned crane-like pulley systems from when wall was put up. Wall built 22 years before (this part, at least). Each country along forest contributed to section of wall in their territory. Never completed, but important parts (touching countries) were.

Map info… Feneros: all farmlands taken over by the “wastes” of the forest (areas where nutrients sucked out; dust bowl, dead). Most citizens left (diff country or to coast); remaining are squabbling, petty noblemen fighting over useless land. Wall patchy here, so Insects get through.

Beyond the Wall, 16 miles to the wasteland which surrounds the forest. 4 days casual ride to cross wastelands.

We are traveling south. Arrive at stockade as evening falls. Sharpened log fence, a few out buildings (large warehouse, stables); quiet. Probably 100-200 men stationed. We are hailed by two guards as we approach the fence. Sheila introduces herself and tells them we are here to investigate the recent surge of activity on the forest side of the wall. Polena is impressed, never having seen the wall or any sort of barracks. One of the guards (Lord Hale) actually trained with Strong; he is now the leader of the garrison. He clearly doesn’t like Strong, and is perhaps a bit bitter over his assignment. Zephyr asks about reports of insects pushing against walls. No attacks here; scouts have noticed burrowers closer to wall than would like… on hot days, stink of spores almost unbearable.

Meanwhile, Strelok reaches the bird ranch. The owner shows him their stock… currently only unbroken yearlings available. Strelok says he wants a big, strong Terror Bird… the owner is skeptical about his ability to handle one, or even to survive the attempt. Strelok feels confident that he can train it. The owner shows him “Jake”, who is “a handful” and “difficult”… but “will treat you well if you treat him well”. The owner again tries to convince Strelok to get an Ax-beak, but he sticks with his choice. Jake is rope broken, at least. The owner (Frank) helps acquaint Strelok with Jake. Strelok will ride the Ax-Beak and lead Jake; the two birds seem to get along.

Back at the stockade, Hale offers to arrange sleeping accommodations and dinner. We get two rooms, one table with four chairs in each, 4 bunks each, each bunk with an empty chest. Shared bathroom between the two rooms. The Captain who shows us the rooms warns of fleas in the straw bedding and goes off to find clean blankets. Polena meeps, and Hayden pokes the straw. He requests Zephyr do something with her alchemy, and she makes an insecticide. The captain returns with blankets and says there is stew for us in the kitchens.

Darkness falls while Strelok is still on the road. He makes camp for the night and tries to hunt. He catches some rabbits for the birds, but they are unsatisfied. He offers trail rations, but they simply peck at them. He eventually is able to get 3 more rabbits. The birds eat and settle down to nest. They look like giant, murderous peeps.

In the morning, those of us at the stockade are awoken by roosters. Zephyr gets up and finds the yard has turned to mud from the rain. She locates Lord Hale eating breakfast in the command yurt. He is a tall, broad-figured man with red hair turning silver, and an incredibly bushy mustache. She is offered breakfast. After, she asks about the burrowers he mentioned the day before, as well as other forest creatures. Burrowers are several varieties of insect — centipedes (fast), beetles (pincers), littler things with nasty bites, feisty… not so much those that they worry about; “tank beetles”, big as “all hell”, takes 2-3 ballista shots just to penetrate carapace. Will collide with wall with enough force that it shakes. Not here, but at posts further north. Wastelands spreading faster than ever; 50 miles away 10 years ago, now about 15. Soil stability in stockade already being lost, hence all the mud this morning. “Only a matter of time; this wall’s not going to stop them.” Zephyr asks if any event marked a change, or if the Forest has always been gaining pace? The latter; like a runaway train. Places of interest? Some abandoned cities, not really explainable… will have his men plot a rough map. Rumors… say the whole forest is run by a giant tree in the middle. Molds in the dark parts of the forest where trees are too dense to let in light. Bugs seem to like it. Seeing more and more of the “pit trees”, big trees (not as big as middle) where trunk opens into a pit. Bugs like them. Easy to fall into, have lost men, horses, even whole parties; pit full of something caustic.

>Zephyr’s In Forest To Do: Investigate big tree? Sadly, VERY far away…, pit trees (try to get sample of contents), look for signs of mating and reproduction like old egg cases (theory that it may just be population increasing exponentially due to lack of predators, but lack of predators would probably have been constant for past 1250 years… can’t really figure out lifespan without years of study), investigate mold. Strange abandoned cities.

Zephyr goes back to the group to share what she learned. Discuss what she wants to research… much would take years to find out, we have to do the best we can; “We have much research to do—” Hayden: “WE?” Zephyr: “Why are you here?!”

Aeric interjects: he’s also heard rumors of abandoned cities; says to Hayden: “I know what that means, and I’m pretty sure you do too.” Zephyr tells them about the rough map she will be getting. It is mentioned that the magical components in the jungle may have kept them from deteriorating… or at least, what is magical would not have deteriorated. Hayden is now interested, due to the possible loot. Zephyr concludes that, given limitations of time and distance, the best things to investigate are abandoned cities, molds, and the pit trees. Hayden says sane people would stay AWAY from the bugs and caustic materials, and it is pointed out that if we wanted to stay away, we would have stayed in Danuul. Aeric points out that those same people aren’t looking to become filthy rich; Zephyr is exasperated by this mode of motivation.

Other prep: Zephyr finds scouting party, inquires about food in the forest. Very limited knowledge, but know some edibles, and some things that are deadly. There are some (but few) birds, very few mammals… perhaps none. The Ax-Beaks can forage for themselves. Zephyr asks if there are any detect poison scrolls she might take; no, they’ve been out of for months. Sheila can cast it, but it would be nice to have a backup in case of separation. Zephyr says she will talk with Strong and have him supply them with sufficient detect poison scrolls, and she herself will take notes in the forest to share with them upon her return.

Strelok arrives. He hails a guard and requests food and water for the birds. Zephyr fills Strelok in, and they discuss, which pleases Zephyr greatly. Meanwhile, Sheila talks to some of the guards about their post; her own post was quite similar. Some ask about the rumored “blight” in Oras; others ask about the general goings-on from their hometowns or countries.

Strelok and Hayden go hunting in a woodland near the stockade (safe side of the wall). Aeric decides to tag along. Bonding! (Not so much.) Hayden unfortunately has essentially no survival skills. They find a bear. And then a goat screamed, and Cody called Skyler a bastard. Anyway, Strelok tries to hold completely still, and Hayden contemplates trying to backstab it. He approaches the bear, having epic stealth skills. He hides behind a tree and stabs it through the neck. A second hit kills it. (Strelok sees nothing from his position, but hears a “woo!”) Aeric got a deer. The meat goes into a bag of holding. Aeric is a bit put out that Hayden got a bear, and all he got was a deer. Strelok later goes in search of tubers and other edibles.

Meanwhile, Sheila has been talking to the soldiers about Oras; a group soon gathers around her. She tells them just the basics about the creatures, but gives detail about symptoms to look for. The mood becomes somber as the soldiers learn that the rumors are in fact truth.

Polena is freaking out.

We prepare to embark the next morning.

Landscape on other side of wall is basically identical at this point. The soldiers atop the wall call down to us to wish us luck, and give us a pattern to sound thrice with whatever is available to us.

Traveling with the Caravan

Sheila mentions that the Ax-Beaks would be useful in the forests, since the horses won’t be. Hayden makes a comment about them being large beasts that show no emotion except murderous rage… Polena eeps and looks worried. Aeric is up with the merchant, and it looks as though money is exchanging hands. Sheila goes up to them, and finds that Aeric has bought a young Ax-Beak. They are 4k apiece. We discuss whether or not to get them. Sheila and Zephyr see no need, and Polena is terrified of them. Pallas crawls into the cage with the birds to investigate. They look at him in an unconcerned manner.

So we are now traveling with the caravan. A man turns his horse and rides back to greet us. He inquires whether we are heading towards the wall. He says they welcome the company and added safety. He introduces himself as Art. The caravan is in search of new territory. Strelok offers Art his protective services in return for a small stipend or food for the journey. Art says they don’t have any way to pay, and already offered to share what food they could.

Aeric’s bird is walking alongside his horse. The horse is not at all happy. Sheila asks Hayden how he’s doing. Bored, traveling with yokels, the pompous windbag…. Sheila asked if he’d made any progress. Hayden said he took her advice, and Aeric took that as an opportunity to come bother him (referring to the suggestion of swordwork as meditation). Sheila asks if Aeric was JUST a nuisance, or if Hayden gained something from his advice. Hayden admits that he did; “[Aeric] knows what he’s doing. That actually makes it worse.”

Meanwhile, Aeric approaches Zephyr and mentions that we’d be passing by the college city of Merc{…?}; he asks if she had any opinion on the headmaster, who is of serpantfolk. Making small talk. Zephyr says she assumes he’s qualified. {Cyrus Sevenscale?}. Aeric chuckles. Zephyr has no interest in small talk, however, so Aeric soon moves on.

Strelok approaches Art, and asks about their search for new lands. Art says they are headed to Eriws {sp?} where there is work in the timber industry.
Strelok: Where are you from?
Art: A ways to the east.
Strelok: Vuresca? Ferrin?
Art: Yeah, off to the east.
Strelok wishes them luck and rides back to speak to Hayden. He says he thinks there is something shady about Art. Hayden thinks Art seems like normal country bumpkin. Strelok mentions Art’s reluctance to name their origin. Hayden says, so, he’s running from the law. Whatevs. Strelok says he may be wrong. “May be seeing work where there isn’t.”

The overall caravan seems antisocial, perhaps suspicious of us, but otherwise nothing seems unusual.

Strelok mentions that he hasn’t had work for awhile, and the last job… wasn’t really worth it. Except the warehouse. He asks Hayden if he got goods (laugh for answer). Strelok shows him the giant diamond necklace, asks how much Hayden thinks it is worth; if Hayden fences it for him, they can split the profit. And, uh, not mention it to Sheila. Hayden mentions that a diamond that large is rare, and thus hard to sell; usual practice is to cut it into smaller gems and sell them. Strelok has no problem with that.

Night falls, and we set up camp. Strelok overhears a child asking their parents, “are these the people who are going to save us?” The child is told, no, and is shushed. Strelok decides that he will try to speak to the child alone. The child is about six, and is sitting by a fire alone when Strelok approaches. He is clutching a teddy bear and pouting. Strelok asks what bear’s name is; Henry. “Are you going to take him away?”
Strelok: Actually, Henry told me you are looking for someone to save you.
Child: Henry doesn’t talk.
Strelok: Oh, well, maybe it was someone else… maybe you?
Child: I didn’t say that…
Strelok: Too bad. I’m a pretty good hero.
Child (eyes widen): Really?
Strelok: Yup. I can do magic and everything.

The boy hesitates, and says he shouldn’t talk to strangers; but he ends up asking if Strelok will kill the scary monsters that are going to come kill them. That’s why they had to leave, according to his mother. Strelok asks where they are from; the child replies, “Far away”.
Strelok: From over the ocean?
Child: …ocean?
Strelok: Did you ride a boat?
Child: Oh, yes. Mommy got sick.

Strelok asks if mother still sick; she is not. Strelok tells the child to let him know if he sees any monsters. The child agrees, and expresses gratitude that Strelok is there to save them. Ok.

Strelok leaves the boy and goes to Hayden, who has heard only Strelok’s side of the conversation. Strelok tells him that the caravan broke the quarantine. Hayden asks if any are infected. They seem not to be, since symptoms should have shown by now. But larger implications are that others could have gotten through the quarantine. And if these people got this far inland, others could have gotten as far into the country and spread. We haven’t heard anything yet… and it spread so fast last time. They discuss further. These people might have been among the last to leave before the quarantine was enacted. Strelok expresses a concern that, with all the wagons covered, they may be hiding infected relatives. Strelok also wonders if they should tell Sheila, since she might turn the people in, and they’re only trying to survive. They finally decide that they should tell her.

Polena is with Sheila, panicking about the birds. Sheila tries to calm her. Aeric has been spending the evening attempted to manage both horse and bird, who do not want to be anywhere near each other. The peasants giggle at him a bit. After initially taking satisfaction, Strelok feels guilt at being petty, and offers to help with the bird, since he won’t have his for awhile. Unfortunately, his horse responds even less well than Aeric’s. He hands Sheila his horse, saying she earned it, and walks off with the bird before she can protest. Aeric is grateful. and they agree that Strelok will keep the bird until they get to the wall and Aeric can stable his horse. Strelok needs to practice before he gets the larger model.

Just before bedding down, Hayden and Strelok tell Sheila and Zephyr what they’d learned. Sheila says they need to find out if there are any infected as soon as possible; however, we agree to just keep a careful watch for now, and Sheila will attempt to get some information the next day. Strelok makes sure to mention that the information is from a six-year-old, and inferred at that. Sheila detects no evil. She asks Zephyr if any of the images in the book help. No; the drawings show the creatures in various stages of development; for example, a largely intact human face with a small split, larger splits, etc. They pictures show developments in the creature beyond what we had encountered, indicating we had seen only jueveniles. In the last stages, the host body seems impossibly small to hold such vast amount of worm…

Strelok: “Wait, pictures? What pictures?” He asks about the book, and why Zephyr hadn’t told them this before. Then he turns to Pallas and demands why the hedgehog didn’t tell him either. Pallas looks simultaneously offended and bashful, and slinks behind Zephyr. Zephyr says she’s been keeping Sheila updated, but until she has some of the translation, there was little to share. Having just finished translating the note left in the alley, Zephyr was only just starting on the book.

Aeric approaches and asks “are we having a meeting?” Strelok looks at Sheila and makes a shrugging gesture, asking if Aeric should be told. “You hired him…” Sheila briefly says that it seems the people of the caravan were running from the creatures on the other continent. Aeric: Oh! Got through the quarantine, good for them! They seem well enough. Strelok agrees that we would notice symptoms, and Aeric inquires whether we are familiar with the creatures.

Strelok asks how good Aeric is at sneaking; says they should perhaps investigate wagons. Aeric agrees if Strelok feels it is necessary; remembering what we encountered in Oras, Strelok says he does. Sheila, on the other hand, plans to ask Art directly in the morning.

[Side note: from what Z knows of creatures from her own observations and information she got from Strong, and based on length of journey, symptoms should have shown by now, so we should be in clear. However, the creatures/contagion may have mutated or developed so that symptoms didn’t show up until later stage. ] Strelok: “to be on same page… I will kill every person here, women and children included, if it will stop this from spreading from here.” Aeric seems a bit surprised by this vehemence. He says he trusts he’ll be kept informed; Sheila says yes. Meanwhile, Aeric plans to go speak to Art and offer to help with watches. Strelok says he’ll go as well.

So, time for bed. Polena asks to camp with Sheila, because the bird Strelok has is scary. Sheila points out that it is in its own area; Polena protests that “it’s right over there!” (it is in fact at least 40 ft away). Polena promises to be quiet, and begs. Sheila says Polena will have to get used to the bird. She declines sharing a tent, but reluctantly says that Polena can put her tent next to Sheila’s own “if you are quiet”. Polena apparently hoped not to be alone.
Polena: I can go ask Hayden if I can share his tent…
Sheila: …whatever works for you.
Polena: Ok, I’ll go ask him!

Meanwhile, Aeric and Strelok are discussing shifts with Art. Strelok volunteers the entire party to help with overnight shifts, letting the caravan group rest. Strelok returns to Hayden and says he’s arranged an opportunity for them to look around without anyone spotting them. (He also asks Hayden what he thinks about him asking Polena to share his shift, to have time with her.) Strelok leaves to find Polena. Polena comes up to Hayden and says Sheila said she could spend the night with him because she is scared of the bird… Hayden replies, “why of course!” Polena soon starts her rapid-fire chatting.

Sheila approaches and is told about taking shifts. Strelok returns. Zephyr is there also. We all ended up by the fire, that’s the important part. Anyway. Strelok asks Polena to share his shift so he can show her arcane magic stuff. She says she was planning to share Hayden’s shift… since Strelok’s got that bird… Strelok says he will leave it tied up. Polena asks Sheila if she is allowed to do this, as she had been taught not to do arcane magic. Sheila points out that that arcane magic saved all of their lives on the boat to Amas. Hayden makes sparkles and says that magic is neat stuff, but Polena still wavers. Sheila tells her that she needs to stay on her path, but can also learn arcane magic if it doesn’t make her stray from that path. Strelok adds that it is how you use the magic that matters, and points out that we use ours to help people. Polena agrees to join him for his watch.

Sheila takes the last, early dawn, shift. Aeric will join her. Polena and Strelok get the mid shift, Zephyr and Hayden take the first. Aeric returns, saying he has scoped out the layout of the camp. He shares the info.

Hayden taunts Pallas during the first watch. Pallas bites him. Zephyr works on the book as much as she can. The watch is otherwise boring and uneventful. Second watch, Polena says she’s still really sleepy and doesn’t want to get up, but Strelok reminds her that she’s going to be learning arcane magic and urges her up. Polena struggles with the lesson; she has sorcery while Strelok has wizardry, arcane magic doesn’t come easily to her, and she’s spent most of her life attempting to suppress it. Aeric is cheerful on the last watch, and makes small talk. In the morning, Strelok admits being distracted by a girl, and is irritated that Hayden didn’t go snooping, thinking being distracted by a hedgehog is not as acceptable an excuse. Sheila still detects no evil.

Sheila finds Art grilling up meat for the morning meal. She reports that nothing eventful occurred during the watches. He says they’d found this road to be quiet. Sheila asks how long the caravan had been traveling on this road, and is told it has been nearly six weeks, from the coast (it would have taken this long if they were wandering a bit aimlessly in search of land, or if they walked the entire way rather than utilizing the trains and ferries). Sheila asks about life back where they came from. Farmers… the land was no longer hospitible. Sheila asks if the crops were not growing. Art replies that demand fell, and trails off… Hayden, arriving just then in search of food, adds: “also the monsters coming out of faces.” Art says “Uh, yes…. that would be bad…” and shifts uncomfortably. Sheila glares at Hayden.

Art asks how long we are planning to travel with them. Sheila: You seemed eager for extra company, have we done something to overstay our welcome? (vague answer about people belonging where they belong). Sheila questions the abruptness of this attitude change, and Art cites Hayden’s sudden monster comments. Sheila and Hayden say they understand fleeing from such monsters; after all, our party did. Art says they harbor no infected people. He says we are welcome to travel with caravan if plan to assist; if we plan to inhibit, whether by accusing of harboring infected or otherwise…. Sheila says we will not hinder them. Art says we can travel with their caravan, but they will be resuming the watches. He says quietly that if we were indeed familiar with the creatures, we would not tolerate their presence, implying that they would have or already had dispatched any infected. Detect motive supports this, and supports theory that they had in fact dealt with it on their own.

Hayden and Sheila return to the party and share what had happened with Strelok and Zephyr. We decide to leave the caravan and head to the wall, which we should reach by the next day. Strelok says he will be going to get his Terror Bird and will meet us at the wall. We pack up and set out. Strelok borrows Aeric’s bird and money to buy a saddle for Aeric’s bird (Aeric gives him 2 platinum).

Aeric Interacts with the Party. There is Also a Catfish. And Later, There Are Birds.

We set of for the wall. There are various forts stationed along the wall, as well as guard stations. Having been stationed at the wall previously, Sheila knows the area somewhat, and suggests a specific fort destination. We take a ferry down the river for the first leg of the journey. During the first few hours, Hayden gets increasingly restless, and eventually pulls Sheila aside to relate what he remembers about “Marcus” from his childhood (whether real or imagined), and describes his interactions with Marcus in the city. Unfortunately, Sheila has no proof of Aeric’s deception, and must figure out how much of Hayden’s story is true.

Meanwhile, Strelok is mainly oblivious to everything except Polena, who is paying a lot of attention to Aeric. Strelok sulks. Zephyr continues to study the note, and makes progress in her cypher, but can’t yet make sense of the message. She has been keeping Sheila updated with her progress.

After consideration, Sheila talks to Hayden and suggests that he try to remember more of his past (as he seems to have blocked out much of his childhood), and to make connections with those memories with his present knowledge, to determine how much of his memories are true and how much they may be skewed by a child’s perspective. Hayden says that finding Marcus and what little he has said about their past has called everything Hayden thought he knew into question. Sheila offers to set up a zone of truth so that the two men can discuss things, but Hayden insists that it didn’t work the last time; he cites Aeric’s statement of not staying up late gambling, combined with the wooden die Aeric gave him that had been used by Marcus. She suggests meditation, perhaps in the form of sword training. Hayden doesn’t understand this idea. Finally, Hayden translates what she is trying to tell him as “just don’t think about it”. Sheila doesn’t quite agree with this method, but if it works for him, for now… fine.

After several more hours, Sheila realizes she hasn’t seen Polena since they disembarked… which is odd. She finds her at the bow, deep in conversation with Aeric. Sheila greets them. Aeric returns the greeting: “Hail, Paladin!” Sheila tells him he doesn’t always have to be so formal, and he replies that he is only being polite; “you have worked hard to earn your status”. Aeric says they were discussing getting over fears of the unknown. Polena gushes about how brave the two of them are, and how she wants to be just like them. Sheila asks Polena for a few moment’s alone with Aeric to discuss plans, and Polena cheerfully goes to find Strelok. Sheila expresses a desire to know more about Aeric’s life and history. He says he came from humble origins, and left home at an early with big dreams of being an adventurer; it turned out not to be as glamorous as he’d thought, but it was a good life and he enjoyed it. Sheila asks what those “humble origins” were. Aeric says he is the son of a butcher, from {general area Hayden is from}. Sheila asks if he was familiar with a noble in that area by the name of Julian. Aeric thinks for a minute, and says it rings a bell. He says that he and his father traveled to many estates in their work. He vaguely remembers an estate that might have matched that name, but at age 12, the estate dissolved or something… he didn’t know the details. He himself didn’t interact with the nobles, except for the children, whom he would play with when he wasn’t helping his father. Sheila asks about his first adventures, and Aeric fondly relates his memories of his early adventuring. He seems to be completely genuine.

Polena finds Strelok drinking and fishing. She asks what he’s trying to catch; whatver bites, he responses. She asks if he is hungry, and offers to share her rations, but he says he’s just fishing to pass the time. “Oh… is this a man thing?” “…Yeah.”
Strelok: So. New guy.
Polena: Yeah.
Strelok: Yeah.
Polena: He’s so brave.
Strelok: I bet. (pause) Very handsome.
Polena: You think so?
Strelok: It’s hard not to think so.
(long pause)
Polena: …ok, well have fun!

Zephyr continues her work, occasionally going above deck to pace. When stuck, she talks with Pallas to help work things out… he doesn’t really contribute much, but it is helpful to bounce ideas off him, and he is patient and willing to listen.

The ferry ride lasts two days. On both mornings, when Sheila gets up to train, Aeric is already out to practice forms above deck. His footwork is excellent.

Hayden also practices his sword work during the trip. Aeric comes across him, and gives him pointers. Hayden is annoyed, but actually finds his advice is helpful. Which is especially annoying.

Strelok catches the biggest catfish he’s ever seen. It takes him and two sailors to pull it aboard. They suggest he throw it back, though, as they tend to taste horrible. He considers waiting to show it to Polena, but decides to just throw it back, as it isn’t injured. Aw.

Zephyr finishes the cypher for the message… and {insert info here later… something vague and flowerly, that refers to shop, not nec book.}

Our ferry ride is two days long. We are in Southern Vuresca (hills, farmland).

We dock and start of on the horses we brought with us. We travel west towards the fort. Southern Vuresca’s terrain is hilly and mostly farmland. It is around September, crisp but still bright and sunny during the day. The terrain is not difficult, and our travel easy. There are scattered farmhouses, and few actual towns. As we travel, Aeric continues interactions with the group: giving Hayden pointers, inspiring Polena, exchanging stories of past adventures with Sheila… he tries to talk to Strelok, notices he broods a lot, and eventually just leaves him alone. He asks Zephyr about the book, so she is actually willing (and in fact eager) to talk to him about it. He takes a great liking to Pallas, which pleases Zephyr (having recently been insulted by a certain merchant’s daughter and by Polena’s uncomfortable reaction to spending time with Pallas), although until she knows him better she doesn’t want him taking Pallas out alone. Stranger danger and all that.

Third day into land travel: we encounter a caravan also traveling towards the wall. We travel together for the added protection, although it slows our pace. Aeric notes that with the slower pace, there’ll be more time for him to give Hayden tips. Hooray! Hayden conceals his annoyance at this. It is a six-wagon caravan with a few smaller carts, as well as a caged cart containing a large flock of flightless birds. They are Ax-Beaks, which are mounts favored by soldiers at the wall for use in scouting missions, as they travel more easily through forested terrain than horses. Strelok has been looking for one of these, and there are several in the lot for sale. Strelok asks if they have any Terror Birds, a larger variation; they don’t, but they direct Strelok to where he can get one.

Bounty Adventures, Exploding Barrels, and Character Development

Hayden goes to see a man about a something. (He is no longer here. He pulls a batman).

Zephyr jitters while Sheila and Strelok decide not to upgrade the bracelet to include Aeric. Sheila asks Zephyr when she last slept. Zephyr says she would have to check her notes. Sheila attunes Strelok to one of the charms on the bracelet… the charm now takes on the appearance of Strelok’s face. Strelok then leaves to find pickpockets, and tells Sheila not to let Polena follow.

Strelok returns to the warehouse he found the previous night. The window that he broke the night before has been covered with cloth as a temporary fix and stapled into place. He listens for sounds from within, but hears nothing. He dives into the cloth and through the window frame. Luckily, the warehouse is empty. He attempts to put the cloth back, but some staples are rather mangled. Oh well. The loot is not really sorted… the shiniest things go in one pile, regardless of actual worth. There is a chest that seems to be the dumping container for purses, as it containers both currency and pocket lint-type material. Under one pile of stuff, Strelok discovers a trap door. Moving the pile, he opens to door to find a dark tunnel. He uses a light cantrip and reveals that the bottom is ~8ft down. A ladder is built into the wall below the door. Strelok follows the tunnel until it intersects with other tunnels. He guesses that this is the way the pickpockets get around the city unnoticed. He returns to the warehouse and goes through what appears to be their “crap pile”, which contains 2 finely crafted yet simple long swords, a composite long bow, and a fine, sharply fashioned glaive-style polearm. He also finds a set of 6 iron-like rods ~1 ft long each. Strelok is able to determine that they are magical, and he takes them as well. Then he goes to the shiny pile and finds the single most valuable item: a platinum necklace encrusted in fine jewels, set with a diamond the size of his eyeball. Woohoo! He bundles up his loot and sticks it between some boxes near the window. He returns to the money chest and scatters coins in two paths, one leading to the front door, and another to the trap door (which is left open, with coin scattered to the bottom). He then hides atop a tall stack of crates and waits.

Meanwhile, Sheila goes to train, and Zephyr takes a “power nap” before heading back to the mysterious shop.

After ~2.5 hours, Strelok hears voices approaching. They sound muffled and distant, unlike the voices he has occasionally heard passing outside the warehouse; the voices are coming from beneath the trap door. A male and female voice are arguing. Eventually Strelok makes out that the female is angry at the male for not getting a fair share, or something. They burst carelessly through the trap door. Female: half-elf, a little older than Polena, a little younger than Strelok. Male: half something-or-other, ~25. Both have daggers at their waists, girl also has a long sword. They don’t notice the scattered coin. They continue arguing about the male cutting the female out of a deal/heist/whatnot. The male looks vaguely familiar, perhaps from a poster, although not one that Strelok is currently carrying. He is carrying a wanted poster for the girl, however. They empty loot from their pockets and head back towards the tunnel. The girl notices the coin on the ground and absently kicks it towards the coin chest(s). Strelok moves down the pile and reaches the ground, when suddenly the two thieves turn. Strelok hides behind the pile, but they approach his position. Strelok draws his sword, and confidentally walks out towards them. He tosses the girl’s wanted poster at their feet. He gives them options: resist, I’ll beat you up, take you in; or come willingly. Female’s body language becomes flirtatious, and she suggests a third option: I have more money than they are offering, we can deal. Strelok points out that he can turn her in AND take what she has… She approaches, but Strelok takes out a pistol and fires at her feet. She becomes pouty, turns to her companion and whines. Companion his draws dagger and rushes Strelok. They fight while the girl runs to the trap door. Guy gets skewered to floor by sword through the calf. He pleads for his life and gives info freely: the tunnels run throughout the city, he is not sure how many thieves in group… Olivia (girl who got away) and a big orc-ish guy, also little guy he only met once (“maybe human? younger than you…”). He pleads for his life some more. Strelok knocks him out and bandages the guy’s leg.

Meanwhile, Zephyr wakes up. Pallas complains that he is starving. Zephyr feeds him and heads out, planning to return to the mysterious shop. She has trouble finding it at first, but after an hour reaches the place where she could have sworn the shop was… the neighboring shops (molded leather armor, parasols) are right there… but there is an alley where the brick and mortar store had been. She goes down the alley. No magic detected, but on one wall there is a series of scrawled pictures that looks like writing; likely a message. It is in an unfamiliar language. It has elements of elvish, maybe draconic. Zephyr transcribes it for further study. Beneath the writing is a series of dots and an X; perhaps a map? Looking around the alley, she notices a number of barrels in random places, and sees that they correspond to the dots. She approaches the barrel marked by an X on the wall, and opens it. It explodes. Oops. Inside is a necklace… a fireball necklace type IV, which she had been hoping to buy when she returned to the shop. There is also a small piece of paper with a message written in the same loping, unfamiliar scrawl as the message on the wall. It is short; only a few words. Zephyr races off to the library.

Meanwhile, Sheila has a successful afternoon of training. She meets a talented paladin who is somewhat full of himself. They duel, and he turns out to be less charming from the ground. Macho-ness fizzles after repeated trouncing. Sheila gives an inspiring speech about humility.

Strelok follows the tracks of female thief through the tunnels. As he tracks, he gets quite twisted around. She shouldn’t be this fast— he should have caught up to her. He tries to figure out where he is beneath the city, and thinks he is beneath the merchant’s district. There seems to be no pattern to the girl’s “scamperings”; she has gone in loops, doubled back at times, and generally seems to be trying to lose him. Keeping at it, eventually Strelok hears footsteps up ahead. He races to catch up to her, and finally catches sight of her at a crossroads. She squeals and runs down a pathway. He tackles her. She turns out the sexual charm again. Strelok is somewhat annoyed by this, partially because he is tempted. He successfully manages to “keep it in his pants”. He hauls her up and off towards the warehouse. Unfortunately, as the girl predicts, Strelok is lost. And naturally, she is no help. He tries to reason with her, she tries getting teary. Strelok proposes a deal: info for freedom… in addition to the way out, he wants to know how many members are in group, their names, and where they hang out. She can even take a small portion of money from the warehouse. She acts insulted by the “small portion”, but he tells her that he’ll eventually find his way out without her help, and will be much less willing to be lenient at that time. The girl agrees, except that she won’t give up everyone in the group… just the ones she isn’t fond of. As long as those people include the leaders, Strelok says this is acceptable. She lists nine names and gives very basic descriptions. Three are matches to posters Strelok is currently carrying. The male back in the warehouse is Todd. Everyone drops stuff off at the warehouse; the only other place they hang out is a club. She is at first reluctant to say what club, concerned that he will “ruin it”, but Strelok advises that she be long gone by then anyway. The club is called the Black Scorpion, and is in the trade sector.

She leads him back to the warehouse. Strelok unties her, allows her to take some money, and suggests she leave town. She sticks out her tongue and leaves. It is around 5pm.

Meanwhile: Hayden had vanished off to his room at the inn, where inner turmoil/agonizing/character development took place. After about an hour, he emerges (Zephyr napping, Strelok tracking, Sheila training). He gets some coffee and goes looking for a fencing school. He finds an artistic, hoity-toity fencing academy. Their “drop in” hour is 5-6. In the meantime, Hayden walks around the city and just watches people. Although no one is paying attention to him, he is not tempted to steal anything. He is seeing things with a new perspective; seeing people as opposed to a vehicle for something he wants (such as their purse).

Night falls; it is dinner time. Sheila returns to the inn, where Polena is on her third leg of lamb. She only got up a few hours ago. She is eager to meet the mercenary, and solemnly asks if he is very handsome. Sheila says he “is rugged around the edges, but… sure”. Polena squees. She asks if Zephyr left. She digs in her pocket and brings out Pallas, who she says she found in her hair. “He’s kinda pokey… I guess I’ll just hang onto him for awhile…” Polena asks if they can go sight-seeing the next day, since Sheila has declared it a “free day”. She excitedly tells Sheila about the things she saw while out with Strelok.

Strelok heads to the Black Scorpion, taking his bundle of loot and the unconscious pickpocket (Todd). He stops by a weapons shop and asks for a weapon that won’t do much permanent damage; he leaves the loot for selling, takes only a wooden sword, and says he’ll return the next day for the rest of the money.

Hayden goes back to the academy. He has never actually had formal training; he knows dirty tricks and what looks good. He has decided he’d like to learn properly. After the drop-in lesson, he has gained a better understanding of footing, and has learned how to properly hold his sword.

Strelok reaches the Black Scorpion after about an hour. Todd wakes up on the way, and Strelok makes him walk (under threat of being hit again or shot; Todd gives him no trouble). At the Scorpion, Strelok pushes Todd in front of him and tells him to lie down on the ground. He looks confused, so Strelok smacks his leg with the flat of his blade; Todd squeals and falls onto the floor. Strelok calls out the names Olivia gave him. He offers two options: come peacefully, or “join your friend on the ground and I’ll drag you in”. Silence falls. The bartender raises an eyebrow. “What are you doing here, son?” Strelok tells him he is collecting bounties. “I don’t think you’re going to find what you’re looking for here.” Strelok looks around, sees a few people who MIGHT fit the description… he pokes Todd, and asks if his friends hang out here.
Todd: Yeah…
Strelok: Well, where are they?
Todd: They, uh…. they only come on thursdays.
Strelok: Do you want me to add another hole to your leg?
Todd: Aw, come on, man, can’t you just let me go?!
Strelok: Make it worth my while.
Todd: Loot?
Strelok: No, your friends.
Todd: I don’t have any frieeeeeeends waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah no one likes me (etc.)

Strelok sighs and sits down on the floor with Todd. He remarks that it has been a long, unfulfilling day, and he is hungry. “Me too,” adds Todd. Strelok takes him to the bar and orders food for them both. He unties Todd with a warning: “if you stab me, I’ll stab you worse.” Todd says that sounds good, and scarfs down food as Strelok considers his options. He tells Todd to get out of here. “Really?” Yes, Strelok says; you are so pathetic… yeah. Just go. He suggests Todd take up farm work. “Like, with cows and stuff?” “…Yeah. Like cows and stuff.”

Sheila and Hayden meet up as each returns to the inn. Sheila asks Hayden what he’s been up to; he says “learning things”. She inquires about what he’s been learning. “Apparently these [rapiers] are a lot more useful than I first thought them to be. So how was your churching and preaching and stuff going?” Sheila presses him on what he learned, so they go outside and Hayden demonstrates. Strelok returns to find them apparently locked in combat. “What is it about today….?” Strelok talks about free money in a vague and confusing manner, but Hayden is immediately curious. Strelok says he should get back to the warehouse before it is cleaned out, and asks Hayden to help him go get stuff. Polena comes out of the inn and remarks about how pretty it is. “It’s a pickpocket’s lair!” Strelok says he’s planning to take some of the loot, turn over the rest (gestures to Sheila). Polena thinks this is an excellant idea, since it’s from bad people anyway, and they wouldn’t have to ask the church for more money… Sheila reminds her that it was originally from good people, and Polena loses some enthusiasm. But there isn’t much chance of returning the goods except for the larger or more unique items. Sheila says she’ll see if there is a list of stolen items reported, but doesn’t otherwise object. Strelok goes back to Van, says he doesn’t have the money for the special gun. He asks for a less special gun, one he can afford. Van is dissappointed, but sells him a gun. Strelok gives him blueprints for a gun he would like Van to make for him, to be paid for when the party returns to the town. Van becomes less grumpy and looks at the blueprints with interest.

Hayden goes straight to the warehouse, having gotten directions from Strelok (who suggested not jumping through the canvas window). He sifts out most of the crap, and gets a lot of swag. He returns to the inn. Zephyr is also returning, having been kicked out of the library when they closed. He reminds her about the hankerchief, but she says she hasn’t had the time, mentioning the potion making and translation work. Polena greets Zephyr and brings out Pallas, saying she found him in her hair… nesting… is he supposed to do that…? After handing over Pallas, Polena nurses a finger than may or may not have been bitten earlier.

Hayden’s loot: 423 copper, 572 silver, 412 gold, 74 plat; lint; ~30lb of fine jewelry. Nothing magical.

The next day, we do last minute shopping. Zephyr’s studies: Note definitely ancient elvish, have developed the beginnings of a cypher, not complete enough to decode. Not same the language as book. Examining hankerchief: herbal compound, some local plants, some she doesn’t recognize. Able to determine that the compound causes mild hallucinogenic state, puts drinker under state of being highly suggestable/influencable.

Hayden disguises himself as a noble. He fills his pouch with copper and walks around trade sector (seediest part of town) in a carefree manner. Someone soon tries to swipe his purse, and Hayden grabs them. It is 15-year-old awkward boy, but talented… his attempted theft would have worked on a normal person. He looks very surprised to be caught. Based on the state of his clothing and cleanliness, he is probably stealing to feed himself. Hayden asks his name. The boy stammers about not knowing… er… “Of course you know what you’re doing”, Hayden says, and again asks the boys name. It is Shawn. Hayden asks: “Why are you doing this?” Shawn says that he is mighty hungry… Hayden advises that most people who have enough to share don’t want to… Shawn asks if he is willing to share; Hayden says, currently, sure. He holds up a gold piece, tells him the location of a shelter, and tells him to drop Sheila’s name if anyone gives him trouble. “You’ve got skill, just be careful what you do with it.”

The party goes to bed having done all the final preparations. We leave the next morning.

Next morning: breakfast! Polena is annoyingly chipper and talkative, and eager to meet the mercenary. We bond each party member to the bracelet. At 8am sharp the mercenary arrives, as previously agreed. Polena comes into the inn and says he needs help with his stuff. She babbles about how handsome he is, and how he has a pony, etc. The rest of us go out to meet him. First impression: big, friendly, charming, handsome set of half plate. And by the way, it’s Marcus. Hayden is not pleased, the rest of us are confused. Hayden calls him out as a cheat, while Aeric denies this and seems not to know Hayden. Aeric offers to demonstrate his skill; Hayden replies that he is not doubting skill, he is doubting honesty. Aeric points out that he was given 4000 plat upfront… there was no reason for him to come here if he were dishonest. Sheila casts Zone of Truth, and asks what’s going on. Aeric denies what Hayden is saying, says he fully intends to fulfill his obligations. Hayden asks his name; “I go by Aeric Ed’aar”. He said he wasn’t familiar with “Marcus”. He also claims not to have been out gambling at night. Hayden thinks the Zone of Truth spell is not working… or that one of the two of them are crazy. Hayden strongly suspects that he himself is crazy, in fact. We all decide to set out, but we are somewhat wary. Aeric discretely slips Hayden one of the wooden die that he— Marcus— used the night at the bar.

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…

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.

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.

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!

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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