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<![CDATA[Pen & Paper Games - Blogs]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/blog.php Pen and Paper Games hosts a very powerful, but easy to seach and join database of players and game masters in the United States and Canada. Our forums are also a great place to find the most recent news, product releases, tips, and rpg discussion. en Wed, 07 Dec 2016 14:44:42 GMT vBulletin 60 http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/pnpg_style/misc/rss.jpg <![CDATA[Pen & Paper Games - Blogs]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/blog.php <![CDATA[Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition: Redcap's Rampage Session Two - Peasants Home]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1977-Advanced-Dungeons-and-Dragons-2nd-Edition-Redcap-s-Rampage-Session-Two-Peasants-Home Sat, 05 Nov 2016 00:48:47 GMT Monday, October 31, 2016

(After playing the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition scenario “Redcap’s Rampage” by Christopher Perkins from Dungeon Adventures #54 Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. with Katelyn Hogan, Collin Townsend, and Ashton LeBlanc.)

Arya had left the Dragon’s Flagon Inn in Luskwald on the 8th of Fireseek, 592 CY, when Leon Chamberlyn had rushed out of the building, having sensed evil. She decided to go with him as she didn’t think the man could take care of himself. He led them west through the woods and the freezing, falling rain for almost an hour. Some three miles down the road, the forest that surrounded Luskwald ended and the road continued west through the plains, though a second road split from it, heading north. Where the road split were the ruins of a stone and wooden house that lay partially collapsed.

Both of them were very cold and miserable by then and so they spent the night in the remains of the cellar of the house where it was somewhat warmer.

* * *

It was a clear and cold on the 9th of Fireseek, 592 CY, though the rain turned snow had left an inch or so of precipitation on the ground. They were both very hungry. They noticed a signpost where the roads split they had not noticed the night before. The sign for Luskwald pointed back the way they had come and had no indication of the distance to the village. Another sign pointed up the road that followed the edge of the forest. It read “Armskirk - 10 miles.” Leon was intent on heading west, despite being terribly hungry, and Arya, feeling like the man was a little too much, decided to follow the northern road that led to Armskirk.

She reached it a few hours later, close to noon. It proved to be a small village with a temple prominent on the hill in the center of town with the rest of the buildings arranged on the lower portion of the hill. The temple had a symbol of a lightning bolt upon it and appeared to be defensible with strong outer walls and arrow slits instead of stained glass. A tall steeple had a shining brass bell atop it. The town was probably twice the size of Luskwald.

The inn was called The King’s Shield and was a quaint establishment of two stories. She found a nice little taproom and talked to the older man who was in the place, learning his name was Samuel Croaker. She asked about a dark-haired woman with green eyes who was also a sorceress. Though he knew a lot of women with black hair and a few with green eyes, he knew of no sorceresses. However, he had heard of some kind of sorceress who lived in the Flinty Hills though his story was very vague.

The innkeeper’s wife was a gentle lady who asked Arya all kind of questions as to where she was from and what her name was.

“Have you eaten anything today, honey?” she asked at one point.

Arya had not and the woman looked at her with pity and offered to get her a meal if she would help around the inn for a couple of hours. The elf, not proud and very hungry, was willing to do that and, after her work was done, they fed her and gave her some ale to fortify her. The food was good and filling.

Noting her bow and arrows, Samuel offered her five gold pieces if she could bring him some a side of fresh venison. She said she could try. When she asked about a whole buck, he offered her 10 gold coins for good meat.

She learned the temple was dedicated to Hieroneous and was also used as a garrison for some of the Duke’s men in the vicinity, the only garrison within 20 miles, according to Samuel.

She went to the temple on top of the hill and met with a priest there. He was a middle-aged gentleman with light, thinning hair, cut short, who seemed quite friendly. He wore blue robes and a long sword on his belt. She asked about her eye and the man examined it and changed the dressing on it, tending to it and using some healing herbs on the wound. He was, unfortunately, unable to heal her damaged eyeball. He noted that in some of the bigger cities there were powerful priests who could cast a spell to actually grow back her eye. He asked what god or goddess she worshipped and she noted her goddess of choice was Ehlonna.

“Huh,” he said. “There was a ranger passed through here. I think he worshipped Ehlonna. His name was Blackwood.”

“I don’t know a Blackwood,” she said.

“If you can find some priests or priestesses of Ehlonna, maybe they’ll have a quest or something for you to do if you don’t have the money,” he said. “Or if you could help them in some way, they could probably help you back.”

She thanked the man and left.

She hunted for deer near the forest on the southern road that day. She managed to track down and kill a good-sized deer and drag it back to the village. Samuel was quite pleased and sent for the butcher. The two men took the deer to a rack behind the inn, bled it into a bucket which the butcher kept, and cut and dressed the meat. He asked the girl if she wanted any giblets or organ meat and also counted out 10 gold coins, noting there was a general store in the village. She asked him to wrap up a few pounds of the venison and he was happy to oblige.

She went shopping, replacing the gear the orcs had stolen, and was given a free meal at the King’s Shield that night. While she ate, she thought she overheard that the next town down the road from Armskirk was called Warrington. She spent the night in the common room of the inn, which she actually had to herself.

* * *

On 10 Fireseek, 592, Elriya and Tarmak had their breakfast at the Dragon’s Flagon Inn in Luskwald.

Arthelion had left that morning with his garnet, claiming he was going somewhere to spend the money. The others in the group were scattered around the village. They were unsure where Noiree or Kilb were either but assumed they were somewhere close.

That morning, the two also talked to the peasants and former slaves. They made sure to get the dozen people two meals per day and a place to sleep at night but it was starting to cost them. The people were also anxious to be returned to their homes, if at all possible. All 10 adults and two children told them where they lived and they finally took the time to learn their names.

The little boy and girl, each of them no more than 13, were Robertus and Idamay. Robertus was from a village called Archmouth and Idamay was from a town called Warrington. Another was a merchant named Tybalt Rice from Womthan, the capital of the duchy. Four of them were from a village called Troutberk and claimed they had been taken by the orcs when a large band of them had attacked the village some months before. They were Betsy the Gemsmith, Petur the Fletcher, Gaufroi Rapidmantle the Leatherworker, and Libbe Aphrah, a poor housewife. They weren’t sure if Troutberk had survived the attack. Another woman, Tatty Royse, had lost her husband and told them she was from Armskirk, as was Rulf the Butcher. Aimery Smith was the smith of a village he named Calmornock and Percyvell Sharp was a beekeeper from the village of Windrip. The last of them was a tax collector from Womthan who had been traveling in the area when he’d been captured by the orcs.

Tybalt Rice noted his family would reward them if they saw him safely back to Womthan. They learned from him the road that ran through Luskwald was called the Old Border Road and it didn’t see much use as it was a secondary road populated with tiny villages near the dangerous border of Nyrond.

Everyone wanted to go home, even the Troutberk people, who were unsure if the village had survived the attack. They wanted to go home if the village was still there.

Elriya questioned them at length and though none of the villagers knew where Luskwald was in relation to their own village, most of them had heard of it. She learned Troutberk lay on a river with woods across the water from it. Archmouth was the same way though there was a large stone bridge there that crossed the river. They all knew the forest was called the Gentle Birch Forest, which they learned from Coryston was the forest Luskwald lay within. Coryston also described the forest as vast. They learned Warrington was between two forests: the Shadow Forest and Hollow Butternut Woods. The Hollow Butternut Woods was also familiar to the villagers from Calmornock.

After talking to the people in their charge, Tarmak began fiddling with the red box they’d brought from the underground temple. The red box was approximately 12 inches long, six inches wide, and four inches deep. It was made of a strange red metal and was surprisingly well-preserved. Although shaking it revealed there was something within, no seam or method of opening the box was visible. The top was monogrammed with the letters JC in Flan lettering and the underside of the box contained four dials, each of which contained six Flan runes.

He tried different combinations and, surprisingly soon, found the combination of “ANYA” caused a “click.” He turned the box and, when he lifted it by the top, the lid pivoted back. Within was a small pouch and a long, ivory wand decorated with symbols and markings of vines, leaves, and flowers with stylized urns or pots on either end. When he opened the small pouch very carefully, he found it had a small amount of dust of some kind in the bottom. He guessed there were three small pinches of the stuff.

He closed the lid of the box with the items within and turned the dials on the bottom. The seam seemed to vanish, the box shut so tightly, and it was again impossible to open. But he knew the combination.

It was around noon when Arya entered the inn, having come back from Armskirk that day. She had a backpack and gear once again and carried a small, bloodstained piece of cloth around something. She went to Coryston and asked him for something to replace the cloth with.

“What?” he said. “What’ve you got in there?”

“Meat,” she said.

She opened it up to show him the venison.

“Oh,” he said. “Why do you need a new one? It’s just going to get wrecked with the blood from …”

She shrugged and went to Tarmak and Elriya.

“Where were you?” Elriya asked. “Where’s Leon?”

“Leon went finding trouble,” Arya said. “And I’ve been in a town called Armskirk. Nice people.”

“That’s where the butcher’s from.”

“Well … butcher?”

“And one of the women. If you know where that is, we can place them back.”

“You want some food? I killed a deer.”

“How long did it take you to get from Armskirk to here?” Tarmak asked.

“It’s about 10 to 15 miles,” she said. “Half a day. Leon went on some other path. I don’t know where he is now. I’m sure he’ll be fine. He seems able. A little reckless.”

“Were there any towns over there?” Elriya said.

“I heard something about a Warrington being somewhere nearby. But that was just talk. Who knows?”

Tarmak and Elriya realized there was only one person in the group of former slaves from Warrington. Then Laird Donavan Yanek arrived at the inn. He was a portly fellow with a well-trimmed beard and mustache.

“What?” he said. “I thought you people were going to go to the ruins today.”

“Um … our party seems to be out of sorts right now,” Elriya said.

“All right. I’m not paying you until … until … until they’re cleared out.”

“What?” Arya said.

“What?” Laird Yanek said.

“Who’s cleared out?” Elriya said.

“The ruins. Until the ruins are cleared out.”

“Oh.”

“You find out what’s going on.”

He went to another table and sat down and Coryston brought him lunch.

“What’s he talking about?” Arya asked.

“Well, we can get the butcher, the wife, and maybe the two kids,” Elriya said to Tarmak.

Arya looked on, confused.

“We could just take them all with us,” Tarmak said.

They discussed returning the former slaves. Arya took some of the venison to the dwarven innkeeper and he said he’d cook it up for them if she wanted. They soon smelled bacon and then venison. Elriya suggested they see if the peasants would go to Armskirk but when Tarmak talked to them, they were afraid to travel alone. None of them had any weapons or skill with arms and they feared getting lost or attacked. They only wore makeshift cloaks and light clothing as well. Though it was probably warm enough for them to travel during the day, weather permitting, they would probably freeze to death at night. They also had no money.

Elriya finally told the confused Arya what they were doing, trying to get the former slaves back to their homes. She noted they didn’t know where any of their homes were, however, making it more complicated. Arya suggested if any of them were from Armskirk or Warrington, at least they would know the way. She asked if there was any money left over from the money Leon brought back and Elriya noted they had some gold but taking care of all the people was making it dwindle quickly.

Tarmak suggested taking them all to Armskirk and giving them a few gold coins each. Elriya suggested people there might know where the other villages were. Tarmak pointed out there was a temple there as well.

Arya remembered coming from central Nyrond, from the southwest. She remembered going up a road that went through a swamp before she reached another village with a fine stone bridge, woods on the other side of the river from the village proper. She remembered the village had been called Archmouth and she had passed through it, following the road along the river, the forest on the opposite bank, until she reached the burnt out remains of another village. There were few buildings left and the wooden walls had also been burned to the ground, leaving only a few standing here and there. She had no idea what the name of that village was but there were no people there. She had taken shelter there that night in the remains of one of the homes. She related all of that to them.

They discussed it with the villagers and, when Arya described the burnt-out town, those from Troutberk guessed it had been their home. Young Robertus recognized Archmouth from the girl’s description of the stone bridge there.

They decided to return to Armskirk with the Tatty Royse and Rulf from there. They also took Idamay, who was from Warrington.

They followed the road back to Armskirk, passing the ruined house and heading up the road to the village, following the tree line. Arya left them to hunt once again. The road soon curved away from the forest and they saw Armskirk on the lone hill on the plains. They found the King’s Shield Inn, passing a blacksmith and a weapon smith and armorer on the way. They also saw the temple of Hieroneous on the hill.

Tatty Royse and Rulf the Butcher were happy to be home. The people of Armskirk were both surprised and happy to see the two, though when they learned Tatty’s husband had died as a slave at the hands of the orcs, they were very sad. Samuel Croaker was especially happy to see Rulf as they had been friends. Many villagers came to the inn that night to see the man and Rulf told his tale of how the adventurers had rescued them from the orcs.

Tatty Royse was very quiet. She had been pretty broken by the entire ordeal.

“What are you three called?” one of the villagers asked. “What’s the name of your group?”

The three didn’t really have a name for their group.

They learned over the course of the evening that Tatty and her husband had been traveling west to the next village, a place called Windrip. When they asked about Warrington, people in the village didn’t know where that place was. Idamay was terribly sad. She wanted to go home though her parents were dead.

“I told you we should have brought all of them!” Elriya said.

“I wanted to bring all of them but we walked out with only three of them!” Tarmak said.

Arya rolled her eyes.

They had a good dinner and found the ale there was 5 copper coins for a mug, a little more expensive than in Luskwald.

Some of the other villagers helped Tatty Royse back to her house and told the adventurers they would try to help the broken woman. Rulf was actually one of two butchers in the town who worked together in the butcher shop so he expected to return to his home and work soon.

Arya asked Samuel where Warrington was but the innkeeper was unsure. He did know it was not on the road which ran to Windrip and then curved back down to the Old Border Road, the same one that ran through Luskwald. However, he pointed her out to a well dressed man in a red jacket sitting in the back smoking a pipe. The man was heavyset and had a finely clipped and combed red beard, the edges of both it and his mustache curled upward. He wore a crumpled red chapeau on top of his head. A fine, fur-lined cloak hung over the back of his chair. A mug of ale was on the table in front of him as well as numerous pieces of parchment, a ledger of some kind, and an ink bottle and quill. He seemed to be writing. A leather satchel stuffed full of more paper was on the floor by his chair.

Arya introduced herself to the man and learned he was Bartleby the Mapmaker, a cartographer to the Duke of Womthan.

“I’ve been sent here to make new maps!” he roared.

The man didn’t seem to have a soft voice but spoke loudly all the time.

“Oh,” she replied. “Would you mind making me one?”

“You realize, of course, that it would take several hours and my time is very valuable!” he said.

“Do you have a spare then?”

“Again, it took me several hours to make the map and my time is very valuable!”

“How much do you want for one?”

“For 10 gold coins, I can show you a map of the area with everything that I have found on my journeys.”

“Just to show me?”

“No no. You will be able to keep a copy of the map. For two gold coins, you can look at the map for as long as you want, this evening. But I will require it back.”

She asked to think about it and he noted he would be there for several days as he was still making the finishing touches on his maps. She talked to the other two and they discussed purchasing a map, especially when she found out that ink cost some eight gold pieces a bottle and there was none for sale in the town.

The three went to the man and paid him 10 gold coins for a map of the area. He gave them a finely crafted map which not only showed towns but various ruined buildings and other structures. They found the villages of Armskirk, Windrip, and Luskwald and saw that Archmouth, Calmornock, and Warrington were all further to the east on the other side of the Gentle Birch Forest where Luskwald lay. They saw Troutberk was also listed. Two other small woodlands were marked: the Shadow Woods and the Hollow Butternut Woods. The Flinty Hills were far to the north.

“Warrington’s way over here,” Tarmak said.

“Yes yes, Warrington!” Bartleby said.

“Do you know about Troutberk?” Elriya asked.

“Troutberk, yes, I was there,” Bartleby said. “Nothing left. Burned out ruins.”

“Where is Womthan?” Tarmak asked him. “Not the duchy, the town. Because a couple people are actually from Womthan.”

“Womthan’s that way,” Bartleby said.

He pointed to the map. On the left side was an arrow, pointing to the west that was marked “To Schukendale - 40 miles.

“Maybe 200 miles,” Bartleby said. “That’d be my guess.”

Tarmak whistled. It was a long way.

“Is Archmouth a bigger city?” Elriya asked him.

“No,” he said.

“Is there a big trade city around here?”

“Armskirk’s the biggest town in the area.”

Elriya asked Samuel Croaker how often caravans passed through Armskirk. He admitted it was not very often as they usually followed the Old Border Road while only a few came through to Armskirk.

“I’m going to go hunting,” Arya said.

She left the inn.

The other two saw Bartleby go up the stairs to the second floor just before they went to bed. He had rented the large room above. They decided to spend the night in Armskirk and head back for Luskwald the next day. They spent the night in the common room. Three other travelers stayed there that night. One was a cobbler and the other two were farmers looking for work from some village past Windrip.

* * *

Arya had the luck to take down a massive buck that night. She dragged it back to the village, taking it to the butcher shop, which was closed by the time she arrived around midnight. She took it around the back of the flat-topped building and noticed a ladder to the roof there. The building itself was stone with a parapet around the roof and almost appeared to be built to help defend the town. There were a few racks out back for bleeding out animals and the like.

She tied the buck onto one of the racks and slit its throat, getting one of the buckets hanging on the back wall of the building and catching the blood. She ended up sleeping by the back of the building, using her winter blanket to keep warm.

* * *

The 11th of Fireseek, 592, was cloudy and overcast. Arya awoke that morning when Rulf the Butcher touched her shoulder tentatively.

“Excuse me,” he said. “Excuse me. Is this yours?”

“The big buck?” she said. “Yes.”

“Yeah. Wow! That’s … wow! We’ll prepare it for you if you give us some.”

“Sure.”

The other butcher showed up shortly after and they got to work on preparing the meat. She headed back to the inn.

At the King’s Shield Inn, Tarmak and Elriya were eating the complimentary breakfast of cold meat, cheese, bread, and watered-down wine when Arya came into the place, yawning. Idamay was there with the two. Arya gave the venison to the innkeeper on the condition he cook some up for them.

“I’m never going to get home,” Idamay said sadly.

“We know where your home is, now,” Elriya said.

“Where?”

“It’s …”

The Halfling showed her the map.

“We’re here,” she said, pointing at Armskirk. Then she pointed to Warrington. “And it’s over there. We’re going to take you there.”

“That’s a thousand miles!” Idamay said.

“Actually, it’s only about 40.”

“My feet hurt!”

Idamay looked at her shoes, which were too big for her feet. Elriya looked around and spotted the traveling cobbler eating porridge nearby. She asked him how long it would take for him to fix up Idamay’s shoes so they would be tight around her feet. The man examined the shoes and gasped, looked at the woman, gasped, looked back at the shoes, and gasped again.

“Were these made by Otto Bellinek?” he finally asked.

“Yeah,” Elriya said.

“He’s the most amazing cobbler in the land! I can’t believe these are Bellineks!”

The man was quite flustered by it and Arya was confused as to why.

“It won’t take much,” the cobbler finally said. “Here.”

He had some cloth in his poorly-made satchel. He pushed some into the toes of the shoes and gave the rest to Elriya.

“Wrap her feet in this,” he said. “That should take care of it. They’re Bellineks. They won’t fit? That’s impossible. No no. Did you steal these?”

“No, we bought ‘em from him,” Elriya said. “He lives in Luskwald.”

“I know! I aspire to be half as good as he. Otto Bellinek is the most amazing cobbler in all the land. He … his shoes make your feet feel more comfortable. He’s amazing! But if you’ve got shoes that don’t fit her, that’s very suspicious!”

He narrowed his eyes and looked at the Halfling.

“He does not sell shoes that don’t fit perfectly!” he went on. “Did these - did they kidnap you, little girl?”

“He was definitely heartbroken over it,” Elriya said.

The cobbler pointed to his eyes, then to hers, and then back to his own. Tarmak explained they had been in a rush to get shoes for people who had been slaves of the orcs and the shoes were just what Bellinek had laying around. The cobbler took him at his word. Then he leaned close to Tarmak.

“I don’t trust that Halfling though,” he said. “Keep your eyes on her!”

He watched the Halfling carefully.

Arya left, returning to the butcher to ask them how long it would take to dry some meat for her. They told her they could salt it but that would take a few weeks. They also said they could smoke the meat, which should only take a couple of days. She wanted about enough for three weeks and they were fine with that. She returned to the inn and told them she was getting food smoked.

* * *

Tarmak ran back to Luskwald that day as he was very quick. He learned nothing had happened the night before. The curse was apparently lifted from the village. He paid for the eight remaining people to stay for the night. He also told the four people from Troutberk their village was gone. He asked if they wanted to stay in Luskwald or wanted to be taken to another town. Betsy, Petur, Libbe Aphrah, and Gaufroi Rapidmantle all wept at the news. They had suspected such, but had hoped they were wrong. He showed them on the map where Troutberk had been.

The four were thinking about staying in Luskwald. Gaufroi was a leatherworker and thought about setting up in one of the abandoned houses, though he didn’t have a good water source. After some short discussion, they decided they would ask Laird Yanek if they could have one of the houses, preferably the one not filled with broken glass, and use it for their own and try to set up some kind of shop there, perhaps. They had absolutely no money, however. But they had gotten to know some people in town.

Tarmak also realized Arya had been hunting deer and the like and the hides from that could possibly be used by Gaufroi to start his business.

Coryston heard the conversation about Troutberk and Tarmak guessed the word would get around town fairly quickly.

Tarmak quickly found Percyvell Sharp, who he knew was from Windrip, and brought him back to Armskirk by that afternoon. They continued on to Windrip, arriving by dark. A little larger than Luskwald, Windrip had perhaps 30 buildings and stood on the plains surrounded by farmlands. It was very windy in the village. The place held a tavern and inn and once they arrived, Percyvell told the man he lived a half mile from town.

The house was north of the village and very small. Percyvell noted he had been snatched by the orcs some five weeks before when he was out looking for seeds for more flowering plants. They found the place very dusty and obviously unlived-in, but intact. The food in the place was rotten and Percyvell had to throw it out, opening the windows to air out the house. He did have plenty of honey and the two built a fire in the living room and then sat at the table and ate honey out of a jar and talked. They closed up the house after that and he offered Tarmak his room up above. He also gave the man five clay pots filled with honey from his store in the basement and thanked him profusely, telling him if he was ever in Windrip, he would have a place to stay.

The tiny loft was warm and toasty as the chimney ran up one side of the room and put off a good deal of heat. A small bed with a straw tick was in the room a small stand next to it.

* * *

Also that day, back in Armskirk, Elriya noticed Bartleby the Mapmaker spent a lot of time in the taproom drinking ale and drawing or revising maps. She crept up the stairs and tried to break into the most expensive room, which actually had a lock on the door. She found the lock too much for her, however.

The doors to the other rooms all had latchkey strings hanging out, pieces of leather coming through the hole in the door over the latch within. They could easily be opened from either side but if the renter wanted privacy or security, he could pull in the leather string to “lock” the door. She peeked into one of the rooms and saw there was a narrow bed with a straw tick, chamber pot, tiny stand with pitcher and bowl, chest with a key in the lock, and pegs on the walls. The room had a window and shutters, both closed, but was very cold. She found the chest bolted to the floor and empty.

She thought about the architecture of the inn and realized there was probably an attic space up above somewhere. The roof was above the second floor and without gables though most of it was flat.

She really wanted some ink. Theft seemed to be the best way, to her, to get it.

Arya left the village and went looking for wild vegetables that day. She found a few wild potatoes and onions, returning with them that evening around dinnertime.

Elriya watched Bartleby the Mapmaker carefully during supper that night. The two and Arya were the only ones staying the night in the inn. A few locals were there for ale and to gossip or play darts early in the evening but left shortly after suppertime. Bartleby ate a substantial supper of venison, as did the women, who were not paying for their dinner due to the deal Arya had made with Samuel for the meat.

“I suppose I shall be moving on tomorrow,” they overheard the mapmaker say to the innkeeper. “I suppose everything is in order here. I will spread the word of your lovely inn!”

They learned he was heading for Windrip and then back in the direction of Womthan. He told the innkeeper he had started at the far side of the Duchy of Womthan and was traveling back towards that city, mapping the border area as he went to make a new map for Duke Finelann for “defense of the realm!” He talked loudly and long about his mapmaking expedition and his closeness to the duke.

Samuel complimented Arya on the venison.

Bartleby, an hour or two after dark and having smoked several bowls of pipeweed and talked to the local villagers, gathered up his maps and notes and tucked them into his satchel. He bid the two women good night and went up the steps to his room, candle in hand.

Elriya jumped up, crossed to the stairs, and slipped up the steps after the mapmaker. She saw the man draw forth a key from his money pouch and open the door. He slipped into the room and closed the door behind him. She heard the key turn in the lock. She crept to the door and listened at it but could not hear very well. The door was obviously solid.

She crept back down the stairs. Arya watched her from across the room, the elf ranger making sure all of her items were on her person in case they had to beat a hasty retreat. Elriya crossed to the kitchen and pushed open the door, peeking in. She saw Samuel and Amanda cleaning up the kitchen for the day, hanging pots and pans back on the hooks from the ceiling. Amanda took cold meat and cheese and opened a small door in the outside wall, putting them into a box there. Elriya guessed the little door probably led to a small chamber or box attached to the building to use as refrigeration - at least during the winter. Samuel put a bar on the back door.

The fireplace in the room was straight across from the door on the back of the building. She guessed Bartleby’s room was directly above it.

She slipped back into the taproom where Arya watched her with interest.

Samuel returned some time later and asked if they needed anything else. When they said they didn’t, he bid them “goodnight” and went to the front door, pulling in the leather latchkey strap. He didn’t bar the door, though one leaned against the wall next to it. He left, going into the kitchen, which they knew connected to a small room he and his wife lived in.

Elriya crept back into the kitchen. A fire roared in the fireplace, obviously recently stoked by Samuel or Amanda. Pots and pans hung from the ceiling near dried herbs, spices, and dried meat. Part of the counter actually had a stone top for cutting. The kitchen door opened and Arya walked in.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

Elriya looked at her.

“I was … just checking on their fire,” she lied badly. “It seems to be roaring pretty well.”

“Oh … kay, but why?” Arya asked.

Elriya went to a pump and drank down several cups of water. Then she announced she was going to bed, leaving the kitchen. Arya realized the Halfling was planning on waking up soon but didn’t know why. She gave the Halfling a suspicious look.

The two bedded down. Arya lay there, watching the Halfling carefully. She was tired but able to stay awake. She was still awake a couple hours later when Elriya got up, looked at the elf, picked up a chamber pot, and crept out of the room. Arya heard her urinate and then she returned to the room and put the chamber pot back down. She crept back out of the room.

* * *

Elriya crept into the kitchen and found the fire had been reduced to red hot coals that glowed and pulsed in the darkness. They were still obviously very hot and so she took the cauldron, turned it upside down, and put it atop them. She figured that would protect her well enough.

She climbed up into the chimney, starting to sweat immediately from the heat from the fire. She clambered up and didn’t find any connection to the room above at first. She thought she heard someone in the kitchen below not long after she began her ascent.

* * *

Arya got up not long after Elriya left the room. The taproom was empty and the latchkey chord still pulled in, so she looked into the kitchen. No one was there either and the bar was still on the back door. The connecting door to the innkeeper’s room was closed as well. The only other place the Halfling could have gone was up the chimney, but that would be stupid, if not completely insane.

* * *

Elriya had never climbed up a chimney before and it wasn’t pleasant. She felt like she’d been climbing for some time and guessed it was going to go all the way to the roof. She’d expected the fine room to have a fireplace and then found a connecting chimney, obviously above the second floor room. She looked down into it with irritated eyes and could see the glow of coals. The flue was open. However, the chimney was very narrow and she wasn’t sure she’d be able to climb down it.

She climbed back down.

* * *

In the kitchen, Arya heard debris falling down from the chimney, landing in the coals and bouncing off the cauldron, which she noticed was sitting upside down in the fireplace. She wondered what was creeping into the inn from the roof so she took out her bow and nocked an arrow. Then booted feet came down and landed on the cauldron. Elriya leaned down to exit the fireplace, saw Arya, and stopped. Arya sighed in relief and lowered the bow.

“Why the hell are you in the chimney?” Arya hissed at the Halfling.

“I’m trying to steal ink from the cartographer,” Elriya said.

“Oh. Okay. I thought you were trying to steal from the innkeeper.”

“No. He’s a nice guy.”

“Do you need help?”

“Do you mind greasing me up?”

“What?”

“I’ve got to fit through this hole in the chimney and it’s really tight.”

“Can’t you just pick his lock?”

“I tried and I wasn’t able to.”

“Oh, that’s where you went. Okay. Okay.”

They found a little jar filled with lard. There was not a lot as Elriya had hoped. Arya helped her put it on her shoulders and hips. Then the little Halfling climbed up the chimney again.

* * *

Elriya scuttled up the chimney again, getting to the attached chimney to the room. She climbed into the tight little aperture and wedged her way in, feet first, sliding down to the fireplace just above the coals. She could hear a light snoring. She peered into the good-sized room and saw a large bed to the left, Bartleby sleeping in it. The door was directly across from the fireplace. A wardrobe and dresser were to the right and there were a few hooks on the walls, one of which held his fur cloak and another which held the man’s satchel. A chest was at the foot of the bed and a small nightstand with a single drawer was by the bed, a bowl and pitcher atop it.

She stepped into the room and stood very quietly.

She quietly moved to the chest of drawers. The three drawers were filled with extra clothing, undergarments, and the like. Nothing of value was in the piece of furniture. She crept to the chest but found it locked. She tried to pick it without luck. The lock was simply too complex.

She crept across the room towards the nightstand and heard the man suddenly snort and stop snoring. She dropped to the shadows beside the bed.

“Is somebody there?” he asked.

He looked around but didn’t seem to see anything. He leaned over, obviously listening. Finally, after what seemed like a very long time, he lay back down and, after about five minutes, she heard him start snoring again.

She stood back up looked at the nightstand. A pipe and a pouch, probably filled with pipeweed, was on top of it. She slid the drawer open. Some pocket items were in the nightstand, as well as two keys. One was large and one was small. She guessed the smaller one went to the chest and she took it, creeping to the foot of the bed. She was halfway there when the snoring got louder. She stopped a moment and then crept on.

She fit the key into the lock on the chest and opened it up. Within was a belt pouch, boots, and saddlebags. She quietly searched the bags. She found paper, journals, and 11 bottles of ink. One of the saddlebags held 10 bottles of ink while the other held only one. There was a great deal of blank pieces of parchment and a couple of dozen quills. She moved one of the bottles into the bag with a single bottle and then took two bottles from the other bag, sticking them in her pouch. She stole a couple sheets of parchment and two quills. She also took one of the eight leather bound blank books.

She crept back to the fireplace and climbed into the chimney again but slipped, falling back down onto the coals. The lard on her had dripped down onto her legs and feet and the flames licked at her as she almost let out a scream. She had been badly burned. She pulled herself back up into the narrow chimney, wedging herself through the tiny one. Then she fell again, dropping down onto the cauldron, flopping out into the room, smoke coming from her boots.

Arya ran to the Halfling woman and patted her down, putting out the smoldering fire on her feet and legs. Then she picked up the Halfling and headed out of the inn through the taproom, putting the leather latchkey back out through the hole. She carried Elriya up the hill to the temple.

The temple was dark and she laid Elriya down and knocked on the front doors. Eventually, she saw a light from within and the door opened. The priest was there, holding a sword in his hand. He looked at her suspiciously.

“Yes?” he said.

“I need some healing,” Arya said. “My friend is unconscious.”

“Well, bring her in, bring her in.”

He opened the door and she carried Elriya into the church. The priest looked the Halfling woman over, his lantern hanging from a hook nearby. Elriya was partially burned and covered in soot. Her shoulders and hips glistened with the lard they’d spread on her. She still wore her mask and black clothing.

“What happened to her?” the priest asked.

“Uh … I don’t know,” Arya lied.

“Why are her feet burnt? Why is she covered in lard? Just tell me what happened.”

“I really don’t know. She gets herself in trouble all the time.”

“How did you find her?”

“She was laying down on the kitchen floor.”

“The kitchen floor? Where is this?”

“In the inn.”

“Why was she …?”

“I don’t know. Maybe she was getting water and got caught.”

“How did you find her?”

“I walked in. Heard a noise.”

“This all sounds very suspicious. Well, she’s in no danger. She’s just knocked out.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Yes.”

He looked the Halfling over more carefully.

“She’s unconscious,” he said again.

“Okay,” Arya said.

“She also has these thieves’ picks in her pocket. What’s this about?”

“I don’t know her that well, okay?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Does it really matter that much?”

“We’ll keep her here for the night and look after her.”

“Okay.”

He picked up the Halfling and took her out of the room. He returned a short time later.

“We’ll take care of your friend,” he said.

“Okay, I’ll wait,” Arya said.

“You can go,” he replied.

He opened the door to let her out into the cold.

“I can sleep in the pews, right?” Arya asked.

“No,” he said.

“Why not?”

“You may go.”

“Okay.”

She went out and he closed the door behind her. She settled down by the side of the church, covering herself up with her winter blanket.

* * *

The morning of the 12th of Fireseek, 592 CY dawned cold and cloudy again, though it had not been as cold as it had been the night before. Tarmak had honey for breakfast with Percyvell and then took his leave of the man, walking back to Armskirk and arriving in only an hour or so.

When he got to the Shield’s Rest, he was greeted by Samuel, who asked if he wanted breakfast for three copper pieces. The innkeeper noted they still had venison from the day before and he was going to make some eggs to go with it. Tarmak sold him the pots filled with honey for two gold coins and breakfast of eggs and venison.

There was no sign of Arya or Elriya.

“Do you know where my friends went?” he asked Samuel once he’d eaten.

“No, they were gone,” the innkeeper said. “Though someone was fiddling in the kitchen. Somebody was messing with my cauldron. I don’t know what was going on there.”

Bartleby the Mapmaker came down the steps loudly.

“Ready for my breakfast, innkeeper,” he called out. “The breakfast of Bartleby the Mapmaker!”

Tarmak got up and headed out the door. Bartleby waved at him and he returned the wave as he left, going to look for his friends.

* * *

Elriya woke up. She found herself in a clean room in a comfortable bed. She was only wearing her underclothing. Everything else was gone. A tall man with thinning brown hair sat on a chair next to her bed. He had a lightning bolt symbol on his amulet and wore blue clothing. Two men stood by the door, both of them heavily armed and wearing chain mail.

“Hello, are you feeling all right?” he asked.

“I feel like I fell off a building,” she said.

“Ah, could you tell us what happened?”

“Yeah, I was at the innkeeper’s and I went to get up and get some water. Relieve myself. There was a coal that had fallen onto the kitchen and I stepped on it and crashed into some pot or something. I don’t know. Hit my head.”

“You didn’t have any head trauma, actually. That’s interesting. You had some trauma to your body on the whole. You could probably see the bruises if you lift up your shirt. Your feet were apparently on fire, which was interesting as well. Why were you covered in lard?”

“Why was I covered in lard?”

“It’s still on your shoulders.”

“I mean, I must have fell in the lard in the kitchen.”

“Ah. Interesting. All right. Very well. Thank you.”

He left the room.

* * *

Arya sat by the church and wondered what to do about Elriya. Then she saw the priest exit one of the doors towards the back of the building, walking past her without noticing her, heading down the hill towards the inn.

* * *

Tarmak had gone by the butcher, the blacksmith, and the weapon smith and armorer. He was a little surprised at the number of old men hanging out in the latter two buildings, playing checkers and gossiping. He noticed a priest of Hieroneous heading down the hill and going to the inn. He stopped the man before he went in.

“Have you seen an elf or a Halfling?” he asked the man.

“I have,” the man said.

He walked into the inn. Tarmak followed him and asked him where they were at.

“I’m sorry,” the priest said.

“Where are they?” Tarmak asked. “You said you saw them.”

“The Halfling is part of an investigation,” the other priest said.

“Investigation?” Tarmak said.

The priest looked over his shoulder.

“There you are, Samuel!” he said to the innkeeper as he came out of the kitchen. “Anything odd happen here last night?”

“Well, now that you speak of it, Nathaniel,” Samuel said.

The innkeeper related the story of the cauldron upside down on the fire and the lard all being missing from the kitchen. The priest asked if the lard jar had been knocked over or if there was a mess. Samuel said there was not, just the missing lard and the cauldron. He noted they were frying a lot of bacon that morning to get more grease and offered the priest some.

“Interesting,” Nathaniel said. “Interesting.”

Tarmak left and headed up the hill to the temple. He saw Arya sitting by the front door of the temple on the ground, her winter blanket wrapped around her. She looked bothered and sad.

“What happened?” Tarmak asked her.

“Well, you know how thieves get,” Arya said.

“And you brought the thief to Hieroneous.”

“I did not realize who he was.”

“The priest of Hieroneous.”

“I just knew that she was unconscious and could have been hurt or maybe even died the next morning. So, I did what I thought I could. You weren’t around so I couldn’t just take her to you.”

“Hm. Do you know where she’s at inside or …”

“No, except for wherever he took her last night. It was some room. I don’t really know where.”

“Hm. Guess we’ll just wait around for that priest to come back.”

Nathaniel returned shortly, walking up the hill.

“Good morning,” he said to them. “Good morning.”

He went around the side of the temple towards an attached building they assumed were his quarters.

“He seems too happy,” Arya said.

They caught the man before he entered the building.

“Yes, can I help you?” he asked.

The man looked at the holy symbol around Tarmak’s neck.

“Are you a priest?” he asked.

“Yes,” Tarmak said.

“I don’t recognize …”

“Priest of Fharlanghn.”

“Fharlanghn! Fharlanghn. Ah yes. We don’t have many of those around here. Surprising. You would think traveling priests would be more common in Armskirk. But can I help you?”

He looked at Arya.

“Ah,” he said, obviously recognizing her. “I might need to talk to you.”

“I’m still looking for the Halfling,” Tarmak said.

“Yes, yes,” the priest said. “She is a person of interest at the moment and I have to question her about a certain incident.”

“Interest in what?”

“I’m … not sure yet. Some very strange things happened at the inn last night. The stories are not quite matching up. You know how that goes. And so as the lawful priest of this town, I need to find out what happened. So far, we haven’t had any complaints of being robbed, but finding out the truth is important, wouldn’t you say?”

“I would but you see that Halfling is in my charge and I was out of the town for the evening.”

“In your charge? What do you mean by that?”

“She’s traveling with me.”

“Oh, yes.”

Tarmak explained how they had escaped from the orcs and he was taking one of the former slaves home to Windrip. The priest seemed unfamiliar with the town but once Tarmak explained it was the next town up the road, he recognized it.

“That’s right,” he said. “That’s right. I never can remember the name of that town. Yes yes. Well, something happened at the inn last night. I just want to get to the bottom of it.”

“Hm,” Tarmak said.

“You understand, of course.”

“Yes.”

Nathaniel turned to Arya.

“Perhaps you could explain to me what happened,” he asked.

“Not much to my knowledge,” she said.

“Hmmm,” he said. “Of course. Of course. Understandable. But, anyway, I must talk to your friend. I haven’t gotten her name yet. What’s her name?”

“Uh … Elriya,” Tarmak said.

“Yes yes. I haven’t gotten her name yet. I haven’t talked to her quite to that extent. But, just trying to get to the bottom of what happened. Perhaps it’s nothing. Perhaps it’s just mischievous pranks.”

“She does do that from time to time.”

“Yes, well, a spell will let me know. So, if you’ll excuse me.”

He bowed his head slightly and went into the building.

* * *

The bed was very comfortable and Elriya was lying there, dozing, when the priest returned.

“Ah, Elriya,” he said.

“How do you know my name?” she asked.

“Oh, that’s not important. I’m going to cast a spell which … you must tell the truth. If you lie to me, you’ll react … it will not be pleasant. It won’t hurt you, but you’ll be very uncomfortable and I’ll know that you’re lying. All right?”

He pulled out a large emerald, ruby, and diamond. They were too large to possibly be real and she guessed they were glass. He touched his holy symbol and said a few magical words, gesturing briefly. The gems disappeared from his hand. She didn’t feel anything.

“Do you know how much that was worth?” she asked.

“Were you doing anything illegal last night?” he asked.

“Did you just─”

“Were you doing anything illegal last night?”

“Did you just destroy that?”

“They’re fake. They’re fake. Were you doing anything illegal last night?”

“No.”

“What happened?”

“I went into the kitchen. I was getting some water.”

“Yes. Continue.”

“And I fell.”

“Continue.”

“Because of a coal.”

“How did you get lard on you?”

“I just have fallen into it.”

“Hmm.”

The priest thought a moment.

“Hmm,” he said again. “I need you to lie to me now. What’s your name?”

“What’s my name?” she asked.

“Yes, please tell me your name. A false name. Say Finkelbottom - whatever you want to say - just don’t tell me the truth.”

“My name’s Elriya.”

“Tell me something that’s not your name.”

“My name’s Elriya.”

The man sighed.

“All right, let’s try this again,” he said, leaving the room.

The man returned after a minute or so with more of the large, fake gemstones.

“This are glass,” he said, showing her the stones. “These are not worth the glass they are used to make them, by the way. See, glass. They’re garbage. Oh wait. See? I have a spare diamond.”

He flung it violently at the ground and it shattered like glass.

“What?” she said. “It’s still expensive to make glass.”

“No,” he said.

“It’s such a waste.”

“I can get a bag of these for a copper coin. They’re garbage. It’s like the leftovers.”

“Why?”

“Because, I need them to cast a spell. It requires this to cast the spell. Now, what I require of you: I want you to lie to me when I ask you the next question. If you don’t, I’m not going to believe anything that you say. Understand? Thank you.”

He cast the spell again.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Arya─” she started to say, then grabbed her head as if in pain.

He looked at her quizzically.

“Interesting,” he slowly said.

“Don’t make me lie again,” she said quietly.

“Interesting,” he said, turning to the guards. “Hold her here.”

He left the room again. He was back in a few minutes.

“Look,” he said. “I know the spell didn’t affect you.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“You know what I mean,” he said. “It didn’t affect you. You would have known if it affected you. It wouldn’t cause you any pain, per se. Perhaps discomfort. Not what you did. Now, we found, on your possession, some vials of ink and some paper and quite a substantial amount of gold. Now, there’s a priest outside who says you are in his charge. He’s a priest of Fharlanghn, so not completely honest, but sometimes they can be. I understand that. If you tell me the truth now, I’m willing to release you to his charge so long as any and all items that were stolen are returned. Are we of an understanding? I will not have crime in my town.”

He stared at her.

“I’m willing to overlook this,” he went on. “This time. So long as you place yourself under his charge and he is willing to accept any and all responsibility for you in the future.”

“That’s fair, it’s his gold,” she said.

“What did you steal?”

He pivoted his head and gave her a sideways look that seemed to say “I will know if you are lying to me. Don’t lie to me.”

She thought for some time.

“You’re thinking far too long about the lie you’re going to tell so I need you to tell me the truth,” he said, frowning. “What did you steal? Was it the gold?”

“No,” she said.

“Was it the ink? Was it the paper? Was it the silver dagger? We will be questioning everyone in the inn and will find out.”

“It was the silver dagger.”

“It was the silver dagger. Interesting. Anything else? Because the only other person staying at the inn, I have found, is some mapmaker or something, whom I will be asking to search his belongings to make sure he is not missing anything, like a silver dagger. Or ink and a pen and paper.”

“The gold is me and the priest’s.”

“The dagger?”

She thought on it.

“Don’t think about it!” he said. “Just answer me!”

“The dagger I stole from the orcs,” she said.

“The orcs? Okay. I don’t care about that then. What of the ink and the quills and the paper?”

She thought on it again.

“The notebook’s mine,” she lied. “I just … I ran out of ink to write in it and … the cartographer wouldn’t give me any.”

“Very well,” he replied, obviously not completely believing her. “We will be questioning the cartographer as well. You may wait here until we find out the truth … because the truth is all.”

He stood up and left the room. The two guards remained in the room with her.

* * *

The priest exited the temple once again.

“Oh, hello,” he said. “Still here? You could probably wait at the inn.”

“Hm,” Tarmak said.

They followed him to the King’s Shield and they entered the place.

“This person, this cartographer who’s been staying here for the last several days,” Nathaniel asked. “Is he still here?”

“Oh, he just left about 20 minutes ago,” Samuel said.

The priest frowned.

“Dammit,” he said. “Okay. Very well.”

He looked at Tarmak and Arya.

“You sure there’s nothing you want to tell me?” he asked.

“I told you everything I did,” she replied.

“You did tell me everything you … did,” he said.

He walked out of inn.

* * *

Nathaniel the priest returned to Elriya’s room.

“Very well,” he said. “I’m going to assume that you also stole the quills and the paper. The rest will be returned to you. I do not have anyone actually claiming to have been robbed. But this town is under my protection and I will not have thieves. Are we of an understanding?”

“Can I pay for them?” she asked.

“Pay for the … no. No. The ink will be returned to the cartographer when he returns or else I’ll have it sent on to him. I do not allow thieves to buy their ill-gotten gains.”

He quietly spoke to one of the other men and he left the room.

* * *

At the inn, Tarmak and Arya had sat down to see what would happen next. A man arrived with a tabard with the symbol of Hieroneous upon it.

“Are you the priest of Frarlang?” he asked.

“Fharlanghn,” Tarmak said. “Yes.”

“You’re to come with me,” the man said.

“Okay,” Tarmak said.

He left with the man, who took him back to the temple. The priest of Hieroneous introduced himself as Nathaniel and shook his hand. Tarmak introduced himself as well.

“The Halfling Elriya is guilty of theft,” Nathaniel said. “She confessed to it. However, in deference to the fact that there is no complainant, I am putting her in your charge. Literally in your charge.”

“She was already in my charge, but okay,” Tarmak said.

“She was a traveling companion. Now she is in your charge. If she is found thieving in the bounds of Armskirk again, you will both be punished for any of her crimes. Is that understandable to you, sir?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t wish to hold it against you. You seem like a fine fellow. But I will not have crime in my town. So … I have also confiscated two bottles of ink, two quills, and two pieces of parchment from her that she confessed to have stolen. You will watch her and make sure she does not thieve again. Is that agreeable? Can I have your word on it?”

“Yes.”

“Very good. I’m sorry you’ve had to be a part of this. You might wish to talk to her about the evils of thievery.”

He left Tarmak.

* * *

The priest returned to Elriya’s room and told her she would not be charged for the healing spell he cast upon her although she was now under the charge of Tarmak of Fharlanghn.

“Should you break any laws, you’ll both be punished for it,” he said. “If the law calls for your hand to be chopped off, his hand will also be chopped off. If the law calls for you to be fined for something, he will also be fined an equitable amount. If you are jailed, he will be jailed. If you are to be executed for a crime, he will be executed for a crime.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“You really should take this more seriously miss. We could have had you locked up and confiscated all of your property, but you’re a stranger here and certain people in the town seem to like and respect you and your comrades. So you are free to go.”

He motioned to a guard, who went to the wardrobe in the room and brought her all of her items. The priest removed the vials of ink, the paper, and the quills. The guards left to give her privacy to gear up. She soon left the room and found Tarmak waiting for her in the next room.

The two walked back towards the King’s Shield Inn.

“Damn elf,” Elriya muttered.

Tarmak casting a healing spell on the girl on the way.

“At least there’s good priests in this world,” she said.

“Just the next time you want to steal something, don’t get caught,” Tarmak said. “And don’t let the elf take you.”

“I didn’t tell her to take me anywhere!” Elriya said.

They found Arya at the inn, eating breakfast. After they ate, they returned to Luskwald with Idamay. On the way there, Tarmak told her about certain gods of law and justice that she should avoid, at least if it was due to the Halfling getting into trouble. Arya paid little attention to it. Elriya told her to simply not trust any priests except Tarmak.

“I was just trying to help,” Arya said.

They also explained to her what the priest had said about Tarmak being in charge of Elriya while in Armskirk.

They arrived at Luskwald around noon and picked up Robertus and Aimery Smith. Tarmak gave Tybalt Rice and Geffrei Foregrain five gold coins each in the hopes they would be able to find their way back to Womthan. Then they continued on east from there.

Archmouth proved to be only about five miles away. It was a quaint little town on the other side of a solid stone bridge marked with symbols and runes. The craftsmanship was superb and the bridge in good shape despite its obvious age. They asked around town about Robertus and it took them the rest of the day to find his great aunt, who lived near the center of town. She was older but more than willing to take the boy since his parents had died in slavery.

The older lady rewarded them with a pie.

“Here’s all I have,” she said. “You can have this. It’s a blueberry pie. Thank you so much for bringing my nephew back to me. Oh my goodness. Oh.”

“Wait, what if I want to come with you and be an adventurer?” Robertus cried, clinging to Tarmak’s tunic. “Can I come with you and be an adventurer?”

He lowered his voice to a whisper.

“Please!” he hissed. “She’s so old!”

Tarmak explained to the boy he needed to stay with his family.

“But adventure!” he cried out.

“Oh Robertus, come on,” the old woman said, taking him by the ear. “I don’t have any boy’s clothes, but we still have your mother’s clothing. Let’s put you in a dress.”

“No! Please! No!”

The old woman closed the door.

It was close to dark by then so they stayed at the River Rook Inn, a place with the sign above the door showing a river with a chess piece, a rook, standing in it. The food and drink were good and the innkeeper read poetry and history aloud in the taproom in the evening. Though not a bard, the man apparently aspired to be one.

* * *

The 13th of Fireseek, 592 CY, continued cold and overcast. They headed east that morning to the village of Calmornock, some five more miles down the Old Border Road. The people of the village were so happy at the return of Aimery Smith, the only smith the village had had, they had a great celebration. The adventurers were told they could stay at the local inn for free and there would be a feast that night. People were very happy about the return of their blacksmith.

Tarmak considered taking Idamay back to Warrington but remembered the last time he had left the others alone and the bad things that had happened.

There was a feast at the inn that night. The building was long and built more like a feasting hall than an inn. There were no actual rooms but anyone who wished to spend the night there could stay in the taproom for a small fee, which was waved for the adventurers. They were plied with ale and even wine that evening and not allowed to pay for anything. The locals were also impressed with the fact that an elf was with the party, something most of the people had never seen before. Much to her discomfort, they pointed and stared at her.

Locals wanted to know the names of the adventurers in order to spread word of tem far and wide.

* * *

It continued cold and cloudy on the 14th of Fireseek, 592 CY. Warrington lay some 10 miles down the road past Calmornock and they arrived at the place before noon. The small village had stone walls around it and everyone in the village appeared to be armed. Even the children had knives on their belts. The locals seemed very cautious of outsiders. Idamay told the adventurers she looked forward to getting her knife back and Elriya gave her the silver dagger they’d gotten in the Scar. Idamay hugged the Halfling girl with tears in her eyes.

They eventually located some cousins of the girl who said they would take her in. There were more tears when they parted from the little girl. She said she would miss them and asked them to write her.

“Tell that paladin … tell the paladin to write me … please,” she said.

She cried some more about that. She ran into the house but soon returned with a piece of paper.

“Please give this to Leon,” she said.

It surprised them the little girl could write and once they left the house, they looked at the note. It read “I luv you Leon, Idamay” with several hearts on it, one before and one after her name. The exterior read “To Leon.”

Elriya found the local provisioner actually had ink and quills for sale so she purchased some.

“See how much easier that is to buy the stuff instead of shimmying up a chimney and trying to get back down?” Tarmak said to her.

“He had plenty of it,” Elriya said. “He wouldn’t have missed it.”

They figured they could reach Archmouth by nightfall and so headed west again.

In the mid-afternoon, they were on the road between Warrington and Calmornock, approaching an old, ruined tower that stood to the north of the highway, when four men stood up from the ditch on either side of the road some 20 feet ahead of the party.

“Stand and deliver!” one of the men shouted. “Give us your money.”

They wore rags under their leather armor and each of them had a small ratty-looking shield on his arm. Each had a long sword on his belt and held a spear in his hand.

“Go home,” Arya called.

“Not without your gold!” the man shouted.

“Go get a job.”

“Don’t make us get rough!”

“Okay.”

“Give us your money and you can go by!”

“Put that bow down!” another called.

“No,” Arya called.

“They’ve had enough time!” the man on the right said. “This is your only warning!”

He flung his spear at Tarmak and it struck the priest in the gut. It seemed to surprise all the bandits.

“We’re not playing around!” another man yelled. “Now give us your damned money!”

“By Istus, Bob, that was a great shot!” one of them said to the man who’d flung the spear.

Elriya rushed the man who’d flung the spear.

“Look out, Bob!” another man called. “That child is running at you!”

“It’s a kid,” Bob said. “I’m not scared.”

Elriya stabbed Bob in the right hand and he let out a scream.

“It hurts!” he cried.

He glared at the Halfling woman as Tarmak started to chant.

“Gadzooks!” one of the men yelled. “They’ve got a wizard!”

Arya changed her target to the front man on the left but the arrow flew high over their heads. Then Tarmak stopped chanting and touched himself in the chest, casting a healing spell.

“He’s casting on himself!” another man cried out. “I’m so scared.”

The man in front of Elriya drew his sword as two of the bandits flung their spears at Arya. One of them scratched the girl as it flew by her arm. Another man flung his spear at Tarmak but it missed. The man with the sword swung high as Elriya ducked to one side. Arya shot the man who’d flung that spear that had hit her, the arrow striking him in the chest. He fell with a shriek.

Two men drew their swords and rushed at the priest and the ranger, both of them missing completely. The man near Elriya also swung wildly and didn’t connect with the Halfling. Arya stepped back from the man and fired at him but the arrow slapped against her arm and she dropped her bow. Tarmak, next to her, swung his staff but the bandit blocked the blow with his shield. The man cried out in pain from the blow.

Elriya stabbed the man she faced and he fell with a gasp.

Tarmak swung at his opponent once again but the blow was too high. Arya drew her dagger and stabbed at the man she faced but missed. Elriya ran up behind the man fighting Tarmak and stabbed him in the back. He fell with a confused scream. The last remaining bandit rallied.

“You killed my friends!” he cried out, swinging wildly at Arya and missing the elf.

Elriya tried to flank the last bandit but he watched her so she rushed the man and stabbed him in the side.

“No!” he screamed. “No!”

Tarmak charged the man as well, bringing his staff down on his head. He went down like a house of cards.

Tarmak went around to the bandits and bound their wounds, stabilizing each of them before he cast a healing spell on himself.

They searched the men and found each had a spear, long sword, shield, and leather armor. None of them had any money in their pockets. They decided to examine the tower and see if anything was within. The floor was dirt and the doorway was very low, only about five feet in height. Stone steps went up to the remains of a second floor but they could see sunlight above. The place didn’t have a roof.

A search of the ground floor revealed a spot where the dirt was disturbed as if it had been dug up and piled back. When they dug it up, they found a small chest. Opening it revealed four money pouches and a few worthless odds and ends. There were a few coins in each of the coin pouches and a quick tally revealed a total of 36 copper coins and 12 gold coins.

“So, uh, four for each of us, right?” Arya asked.

Tarmak suggested keeping the copper in the party treasure and dividing up the gold.

Elriya climbed up the stones steps to the cobblestone floor above. She found the corpse of a man in fine clothing who had been stabbed several times, his clothing covered with bloodstains. She searched the man and found a good-sized opal tucked into his cheek like chewing tobacco. She guessed the man had been a traveling merchant and had been murdered by the bandits.

They gathered the men’s spears, swords, and shields in the hopes of selling them at some later time.

Tarmak noted he could run back to Warrington while the women watched the bandits. He returned within a couple of hours with a few men from the village who came to collect the bandits. They told them about what happened in the attack and the body that was found. The constable and men from the village took the body and the four men back, the body for burial and the men for justice.

The three returned to Calmornock that evening and spent the night in the inn. They sold the swords, spears, and shields for a few gold coins. Arya purchased a short sword in the village as well.

* * *

They returned to Luskwald by noon on the 15th of Fireseek. Elriya got Betsy the Gemsmith to appraise the opal and learned it was worth 90 gold pieces. Tarmak found that Tybalt Rice and Geffrei Foregrain were still in Luskwald and so gave each of them five more gold pieces to help them survive until they could find a way back to Womthan.

The three of them went to Armskirk that afternoon.

Arya picked up the smoked meat, keeping about a week’s worth for herself and giving a week’s worth to Tarmak and a week’s worth to Elriya. Tarmak talked to the butchers and purchased the hides of the two deer from the men for five gold coins. Rulf the Butcher noted they had been kept in the upper room that was ventilated so they were not rotten at all. Tarmak bargained the men down to four gold coins, even though Rulf told him the one deer had been called The King of the Forest due to his size.

They returned to Luskwald that day by nightfall. Tarmak found Gaufroi Rapidmantle the leatherworker and gave him the hides. He was most gracious, telling Tarmak he was still getting his chemicals and materials together to get to work leatherworking.

The two rooms at the inn were open that night so Elriya and Arya shared a room while Tarmak took the other room himself. The cost was two silver coins per night, but it was nice to sleep in a comfortable bed for a change. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1977-Advanced-Dungeons-and-Dragons-2nd-Edition-Redcap-s-Rampage-Session-Two-Peasants-Home
<![CDATA[Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition: Redcap's Rampage Session One Part 1 - Investigation]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1976-Advanced-Dungeons-and-Dragons-2nd-Edition-Redcap-s-Rampage-Session-One-Part-1-Investigation Mon, 24 Oct 2016 02:38:47 GMT Monday, October 17, 2016

(After playing the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition scenario “Redcap’s Rampage” by Christopher Perkins from Dungeon Adventures #54 Sunday from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, Adam Frager, Collin Townsend, Ashton LeBlanc, Hannah Gambino, Aaron Scott, and.)

Arthelion the Enlightened had escaped the orcs with the others but had gotten separated from the them on the 7th of Fireseek, 592 Common Year. He had gone looking for shelter and found a cave nearby, spending the night there. The next day, he traveled south in hope of returning to Nyrond and had come upon thick woods as the hills began to taper out. He soon found a small village.

He wandered down a rough road through the village in the evening of the 8th of Fireseek. Dark Clouds loomed menacingly over the grim, rain-drenched hamlet. The settlement was little more than a cluster of weather-worn cottages surrounded on all sides by solemn, densely-wooded hills. Rivers of mud flowed between the wood-frame houses, which seemed unfriendly, as if they were unwilling to relinquish some dreadful secret. They also shared one other odd similarity. Flickering in the window of each tenement was a scowling pumpkin, its innards carved out and filed with candlelight. The shutters inside the windows were closed.

He walked with a staff he’d ripped from a tree in the woods on the way. He was passing another road coming into the village from the east when he saw a man wearing dark clothing and a cloak walking into town. A hood covered most of the man’s face. He had a short bow on his back as well as a backpack. A long sword was on one side of his hip while a dagger was on the other. He wore many pouches on his belt.

The half-elf ranger priest Blackwood saw the mage as well. The other man wore dirty robes and was almost as tall as he was. He had shoulder-length brown hair. His robes and wizard’s hat were colorful and he carried a staff. He shivered in the cold.

Arthelion fled to the nearby rain-drenched, single-story structure with few windows, adjoining stables, and a large, weather-worn crest painted on the front wall depicting a green dragon, its wings unfolded, clutching an ale tankard with two fearsome claws. He grabbed the front door but it was locked or barred. He could hear voices inside.

“Oh my gods!” was screamed from inside. “It must be out there! It’s out there! Help us, adventurers!”

Blackwood followed him at a slower pace.

* * *

“My friends will help you,” Leon Chamberlyn had said to Tarmak and Elriya earlier. “I sense evil outside!”

He had handed over the gold they had found to Tarmak and left the Dragon’s Flagon Inn with Arya close behind to keep an eye on the man.

When the door of the Dragon’s Flagon Inn had rattled a short time later, Laird Yanek had cried out in alarm for Elriya, the Halfling thief, and Tarmak, the human priest, to do something. Tarmak went to the door while Elriya hid in the shadows in the corner near the entrance. As he pulled back the bolt, Laird Yanek cried out in alarm. Tarmak cracked the door open.

Arthelion was surprised to recognize Tarmak, the priest he’d been imprisoned with and had lost track of the day before.

“Oh, thank goodness,” he said. “Can I come in and have a room and some food, please?”

“Very funny,” Tarmak said. “You don’t recognize me?”

“Who?”

“Let him in or close the door!” Laird Yanek cried.

“Oh my gosh,” Tarmak said.

“It’ll get in!” Laird Yanek said. “The curse will get in!”

“Just … come on in,” Tarmak said.

“Thank the gods,” Arthelion said. “I’m freezing.”

The chamber Tarmak admitted him to was cozy, perhaps 20 feet wide and deep, with a pair of windows on one side around a small fireplace where two yellow dogs lounged. A black cat sat on the mantle and haughtily looked over the place. A dozen of the commoners, former slaves of the orcs, sat at the four circular tables in the room. The place was lit by lanterns suspended from the rafters. A large ale barrel stood in one corner near two doors in the wall, the open one obviously leading to cluttered kitchen. Two more doors stood on the wall to the right and a hallway near them led into the darkness, probably to the stables attached to the building. A dark-haired dwarf in a leather apron stood near the ale barrel. A pretty blonde woman stood near him. A portly man with short brown hair and a well-trimmed beard sat at one of the tables, a chain of office of some kind around his neck.

Arthelion crossed the room to the dwarf in the leather apron. He greeted him in dwarvish.

“Oh!” the dwarf replied, surprised. “You’re the second person tonight who’s spoken dwarvish to me! That’s great!”

“Who’s the first?” Arthelion asked.

“Uh …” he said, looking around the room.

“Liar!” Arthelion said.

“What?” the dwarf said, glaring at the man. “What did you say?”

“Can I have some food please?”

“I misheard something you said. I’ll need you to repeat what you said.”

“I mumble a lot.”

“What did you say?”

“I said … ‘Howdy doody.’”

The dwarf glared at him.

“All right …” he slowly said. “You have any money?”

“I do not,” Arthelion said.

“How are you going to pay for your food?”

“I can dance.”

“Don’t really need dancers.”

“You don’t think you need dancers.”

“Look, I got a lot of these people who were slaves of the orcs─”

Tarmak walked over and put down a gold coin on the ale cask, hoping the dwarf would just give Arthelion some food to shut him up.

“Oh … that’s … you’re going to have change coming,” the dwarf said.

“Thank you, Tarmak,” Arthelion said.

“What do you want?” the dwarf asked. “You want stew? We got stew.”

Arthelion had smelled the stew and after being a slave of orcs for almost a week, his mouth watered at the prospect of solid food with taste.

“And ale,” the dwarf said.

“Yeah, I’ll take one of both, please,” Arthelion said.

“All right,” the dwarf said.

“Thank you,” Arthelion said.

The dwarf took out several coins from one of the pockets on his robe. Arthelion held out his hand for the change. Tarmak just shrugged and the dwarf gave the mage the coins. The dwarf brought the mage a bowl of stew and a tankard of ale.

“Is there more of this?” Arthelion asked Tarmak.

Someone rattled the front door to the inn again and then knocked.

“Oh no!” Laird Yanek cried. “It’s here again! Oh my gods!”

He looked at Tarmak, who crossed the room, staff at ready, and pulled back the bolt to open the door. He found himself facing a man in a dark cloak who appeared to be heavily armed. He wore a holy symbol around his neck that Tarmak recognized as the symbol of Ehlonna, the nature goddess.

Blackwood found himself facing a very average-looking man with sun bleached brown hair who wore a holy symbol around his neck as well.

“Is the inn open?” he asked, his voice raspy.

“Yes, it is,” Tarmak said. “Are you a follower of Ehlonna?”

“Yes,” Blackwood said.

He shouldered his way into the room and went to the corner.

“Greetings traveler!” the dwarf said. “Are you hungry or thirsty?”

“Dinner, please,” Blackwood said.

“You want ale too?”

“Yes.”

“All right.”

He got the man a bowl of stew and a mug of ale, telling him that two tankards were five copper and one was three. Blackwood ordered two and the dwarf got him another mug and charged him for the food and drink.

* * *

When Rome, Helius Wik, and the female dwarf warrior Noiree Fragginth had left the others during their first escape attempt on the 3rd of Fireseek, they had followed Rome to a secret panel in the wall and slipped through. Orc reinforcements had charged past the entrance to the horrible temple and they had quietly followed them, slipping up the ramp leading outside and into the cold where they fled.

Noiree had soon parted from the other two. She didn’t feel like she needed them and that she’d be able to do things better on her own. She had survived in the wilderness until she found her way south into a forest. She soon found the tiny town and eventually found her way to what she thought was the village inn.

She listened at the door and heard people talking quietly within. There were quite a few voices but they only spoke lightly. It was raining and she was soaked almost through to the skin. She tried to open the door but found it locked.

* * *

Tarmak heard the door rattle once again.

“Oh no, it’s here!” Laird Yanek cried out. “It’s at the door! It’s at the door! The curse! The curse is here!”

“Just leave it unlocked,” Arthelion said.

“We don’t want it to come in! Are you mad?”

“Why not?”

“It’ll kill us like it killed the others!”

“Well, it’s not going to kill me.”

“It’ll kill somebody!”

“Who?”

“It’ll kill somebody!”

“Who do you think it would kill?”

“What?”

Tarmak, meanwhile, went to the door and opened it up. He recognized the dwarf Noiree Fragginth. She was wearing the orc armor she’d stolen. She was solid and had brown hair, orange on top, tied in a pony tail. She carried a battle axe in one hand and a hammer in the other.

Tarmak let her in.

“Noiree, you made it out!” a voice came out of the shadows.

Arthelion laughed.

“I thought you were dead!” he said.

“Can you believe that idiot made it out?” the voice from the shadows said in dwarvish.

Noiree chuckled.

“I heard that!” Arthelion said, also in dwarvish.

* * *

The kobold rogue Kilb Bronzescale had separated himself from the others during their escape attempt on the 7th of Fireseek. He was certain the orcs would capture the commoners and the others but figured he could escape in the commotion. He was right, at least about his escaping. He managed to get out of the Scar during the entire fiasco and then headed south, towards the country of Nyrond.

He found his way to the very same village with its dark, locked-up houses and its sinister jack-o-lanterns. It was lightly raining and very, very cold. He carried only a spear he’d taken from one of the orcs. He had killed whatever he could to survive and was very hungry.

He scouted around the village, trying to find an empty house. He had found the inn and heard many people within. He looked at some of the houses on the south side of town. At the first house he had fled from barking dogs within the building that had obviously heard him without. He went to another nearby house that had a half-keg mounted above the door with some words he couldn’t read underneath it. It looked occupied.

He moved to another house, this one with a porch and a jack-o-lantern glaring from one of the front windows. It looked dark an empty. He listened but didn’t hear anything in the place. He tried the front door but found it locked. The orcs still had his lock picks and the shutters were on the inside of the glass windows.

He started to go door-to-door, looking at the houses. He soon realized there were people in most of them. He could either hear people within or see a jack-o-lantern in the window outside of the glass. He grabbed one of the jack-o-lanterns and ran into the woods. He lifted the lid of the jack-o-lantern and took out the candle, carefully putting it aside where the rain wouldn’t put out the flame. Then he ate the pumpkin, finding the lid that had been scorched by the candle the tastiest.

* * *

Arthelion went over to the nervous Laird Yanek and stood in front of him.

“Would my dancing cheer you up, sir?” he asked.

“What?” Laird Yanek said. “No no no no no. This adventurer and─”

Arthelion started dancing.

“The paladin said they would help us out and this is his man,” Laird Yanek said, gesturing to Tarmak. “This is one of his companions. They’re going to save us from the curse. The curse that’s on the village.”

“I know of them,” Arthelion said, still dancing. “But watch me, okay?”

“What?”

“Just watch.”

Arthelion danced as the confused laird watched.

Noiree, meanwhile, had gone to the dwarf innkeeper and gotten a bowl of stew and a mug of ale with the gold coin Tarmak tossed to her.

“What happened to you?” the dwarf asked her.

She signaled him to wait a moment as she ate the delicious stew and drank the heavenly ale, the best food and drink she’d had in the months since she’d been captured by the orcs.

By the end of some five minutes, Arthelion was dripping in sweat. He stopped and Noiree applauded. The dwarf innkeeper and the barmaid looked a little confused.

“That was very nice,” Laird Yanek said confusedly.

“Do you feel better?” Arthelion asked.

“No. I don’t feel any better.”

“How do you … how do you not feel better after see that?”

“Because I’m scared! My village is under a curse. There’s a terrible, murderous thing loose and it’s been killing people and they said they would help! They said they would help the village!”

“How do you think it would react if it saw me dance?”

“I don’t know what it is!”

“You don’t know what it is.”

“I don’t know what it is but it’s killed three people in their sleep in the last two days.”

“Does it have a soul, because obviously you don’t! You didn’t enjoy that at all.”

“What?”

The man seemed completely befuddled by the entire conversation. Arthelion wandered to the keg and got another mug of ale from the innkeeper. He drank it quickly down. Then he returned to the laird.

“I will help you with this … curse that you speak of,” he said. “But I require financial gain and a goat.”

“I … don’t think we have any goats in the town,” Laird Yanek said.

“Then I can’t help you.”

“But I could pay you if you’ll help.”

“Can you lead me to someone who can sell me a goat?”

“The tradesmen might know where you can get one.”

“Have you ever seen a goat?”

“Yeah, I’ve seen a goat. I know what a goat is.”

“Where should I go to get one?”

“You won’t be able to find one in this town. You’d have to go to one of the other towns around here. But I’m not sure which one would have a goat.”

“Could you send a messenger to get me a goat?”

“Sure. As part of the payment, if you help me solve my problem, I’ll do my best to help you find a goat. How about that?”

“A strong goat?”

“What are we doing here?” Noiree interjected.

“There’s a curse on the village,” Laird Yanek told her. “There’s a keep to the north of here. There were goblin problems a few months ago. I decided to pay to have it renovated and we brought in some stonemasons. Some of the people from town helped. But then strange things started happening and … like sabotage. People would find nails stuck up that they would step on or wooden scaffolding would fall on people. It was - it was quite terrible. Then some adventurers came and took care of the goblins that were up in the Flinty Hills so we didn’t have to worry about it anymore. So, even though I wanted to finish it, the villagers thought it was cursed. So, everyone just stopped worrying about the keep. But then, over the last few days, the … there have been three murders. They had their throats slit and weird, strange words were written on the walls that don’t make any sense at all and … something has been somehow getting into locked and closed buildings and killing and leaving these messages that don’t make any sense and … I-I-I asked and the paladin said he said he would help us. And the other said they needed a good night’s sleep. And then you folks arrived. And … any help you can give us would be greatly appreciated.”

He seemed nervous and was sweating profusely.

“Do you know anybody who would want to stop the keep from being renovated?” Elriya said, stepping out of the shadows.

She was a Halfling who wore dark clothing and a mask that covered the bottom half of her face. Her hooded cloak covered her head though her bright blue eyes were visible. She was armed with a dagger and had a grappling hook on her belt.

“No, not particularly,” Laird Yanek said. “Some people didn’t care one way or another but it would have been a place to go if the village got attacked. We could run to the keep and be safe there. It’s not very big, but it’s big enough to hold all the villagers for at least a short period of time until whatever threat was gone. It’s two miles to the north.”

“I require parchment and paper,” Arthelion said. “And I will need to talk to you further about the victims.”

“Well, can I bring it in the morning because I don’t want to have to go back to my house and then come back here,” Laird Yanek said. “I’m getting ready to go home. I’m getting ready to lock my doors and go hide under my bed.”

“Do you even care?”

“I do! I do!”

“I’m trying to solve this.”

“Can you do it tonight?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, the villagers are all locked in their homes. They’re not going to come out at night.”

“Why not?”

“Because the monster … whatever it is will kill them.”

“No,” Noiree said.

“You want me to walk you back to your house and we can talk there?” Arthelion said.

“If you wish,” Laird Yanek said. “But I wouldn’t wish upon any of you to walk alone at night. I’m scared to go.”

“Let’s do it.”

“No, I’m not going to walk. I’m going to run. I’ll be running, not walking.”

“I can run.”

“If you want to go with me, you can.”

“I’ll go with you too,” Tarmak said.

“What about all these people?” the innkeeper asked Tarmak.

He needed money to keep all of the people under the roof. There were 12 commoners who seemed happy to see Arthelion when they saw him. He requested they sing his praises and they did, but it was awful. Of the 12, two were children, a little boy and a little girl, while the other 10 were adults. They all started telling the story of the heroic adventurers saving them from the orcs. They spoke of Arthelion leading them out of the orc lair while the others fought bravely to kill their pursuers.

While they talked, Elriya talked to the innkeeper. She learned there were two rooms, each with two beds, in the inn. He was willing, for a silver piece a night, for anyone who wanted to sleep on the floor of the common room. Each of the rooms were two silver pieces for each bed for the night.

Arthelion, hearing the conversation, put his arm around the little boy.

“I think the kids have earned a bed tonight,” he said.

“Uh … no,” Noiree said. “They should be grateful they’re out.”

“Just decide who’s sleeping where,” the innkeeper said.

He pointed to the dark corner where Blackwood leaned against the wall.

“Is he with you?” he asked.

“No,” Tarmak said.

The innkeeper approached Blackwood and asked if he wanted a room. He looked at the others and saw most of them wore no armor and carried no weapons but wore torn and ragged clothing. Even the adventurers wore rugged clothing and armor, for the most part.

“What do you think about all this?” Arthelion suddenly asked the shadowy figure. “Is the mayor crazy?”

“I just got here,” Blackwood said.

“I’m not crazy,” Laird Yanek said.

“So, you haven’t heard of the curse either?” Arthelion said.

“Ten seconds ago, when he was talking about it,” Blackwood said.

“I’m not crazy!” Laird Yanek exclaimed. “People have died! Three people are dead!”

“They can have the room,” Blackwood said to the innkeeper.

“If you want to sleep on the floor in here or if you want to sleep in stables, it’s a silver,” the innkeeper said. “How about that?”

“We’re having a sleepover at the mayor’s house if you want to come,” Arthelion said.

“What?” Laird Yanek said.

“Huh?”

“What?”

“Huh?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Nothing.”

“No, nobody’s sleeping in my house! I’m locking my doors and I’m barring my windows and hiding under my bed!”

“Exactly.”

“Not with you!”

“Wait. You’re hiding under the bed.”

“You’re not sleeping in my bed.”

Laird Yanek stood up.

“I will get you parchment and quill tomorrow,” he said.

“I thought we were running to your house together!” Arthelion said.

“Not if you’re staying. You could be the killer for all I know!”

“But mayor, he’s a wizard,” Tarmak said. “He could protect you.”

“Please. No!” Laird Yanek said. “I don’t need a dancing wizard in my house.”

He ran to the door.

“Everyone needs a dancing wizard in their house!” Arthelion yelled as the man ran out the door, leaving it open.

* * *

Outside, Kilb saw a man run out of the inn and flee up the road. He heard someone yelling out the door as the man fled. Then a Halfling in a mask peeked out before closing the door.

* * *

Blackwood finished his ale after the altercation with the laird and then headed outside. Elriya went and locked the door once again.

Noiree asked who owned the dogs.

“Those are ours,” the dwarf innkeeper said. “Well, they’re their own but … they stay here.”

“This your cat too?” Noiree asked.

“Yep,” the dwarf said.

The woman told her the dogs were Winkin and Blinkin and the cat was Nod.

“If we save your village, can I have your dogs?” Noiree asked.

“Oh no,” the dwarf said. “No no no.”

“Why?”

“Because they’re our dogs! They’re family.”

“What if I find gold?”

“What do you mean?”

“Can I buy your dogs?”

“They’re not for sale!”

She gave the dogs her bowl to lick anyway.

“Can I teach your cat a trick?” Arthelion asked.

“What?” the innkeeper said.

“Can …” Arthelion asked again, this time in dwarvish. “Can I teach your cat a trick?”

“What are you talking about? You can’t teach cats tricks!?!”

“I can, actually.”

“Are you going to hurt him?”

“No. It’s just going to be a trick.”

“I don’t care.”

“What’s the trick?” Noiree asked.

Arthelion began working on training the cat but realized it would probably take weeks to really teach the animal to do a trick. He was also only proficient with training a goat so he trained the cat as if it was a goat.

Tarmak paid the innkeeper for all of them to spend the night, giving the two rooms to the commoners who were in the worst shape. It was hard to decide who, actually, because they were all so weary from their enslavement.

* * *

Blackwood examined the ground carefully, first trying to figure out where the laird went and finding his tracks. He followed them to a house on up the road. Three steps led up to the front door of the well-kept house. Mounted on the door was a brass plaque etched with the words “Donovan Yanek, Laird of Luskwald.” A sinister jack-o-lantern peeked through the front window of the residence with wicked, candlelit eyes.

He set to work casing out the entire town and looking for other footprints and the like. It was intensely cold so he cast a spell upon himself to ward off the freezing weather for some time. He took that time to search but didn’t find anything in his general searching of the tiny town.

* * *

Kilb crept back to the inn and tried to open the exterior doors that appeared to lead to the attached stable. They wouldn’t move and he guessed they were barred from within. There were a couple of large doors in the sloped roof above the main ones as well, probably for bringing hay into the loft. He crept around the place and noticed an outhouse behind the building. There were also a couple of back doors to the inn but they proved locked and bolted as well.

He used his spear as a pick in the frozen ground and started the long, arduous process of digging his way under the stable wall. After an hour, he had dug a nasty little hole that was just enough for him to slide into the stables. He was able to get the spear in with a little more work. His candle had burned out by then.

He found himself in a chilly stable. Directly across from the stall he came out in was a door that looked like it led into the inn. He crept out and found a wide area that ran the length of the room with stalls for horses on the side opposite the smaller door. All of them were empty. A ladder hung on the interior wall near the doors that led outside. It led up to a loft with several bales of hay. A bar was over the doors above as well.

He pulled a good deal of hay down into the stall on the end and made a nest, burying himself in it and going to sleep.

* * *

Everyone in the inn bedded down as best they could within an hour of Blackwood leaving the building. Arthelion had been trying to train the cat without any luck though he felt it was going well.

“You’re my cat now,” Arthelion said, petting the cat before bedding down.

“What’re you talking about?” the dwarven innkeeper, who Arthelion had made sure was close by, said.

“Huh?”

“Don’t take the cat out of here.”

“Can I sleep with the cat?”

“The cat sleeps where he wants.”

“You wanna sleep with me, don’t you?”

As he bedded down and the dwarf and woman opened another door and headed in and the cat jumped down from where he was and followed them into the room along with the two dogs.

“I knew it,” Arthelion muttered.

They bedded down and, about a half hour later, another knock came at the door.

“You wanna flip for it?” Arthelion said to Tarmak, who he noticed also woke up.

“No, I got it,” Tarmak said, getting up.

“I win,” Arthelion said.

Tarmak opened the door to find Blackwood standing out in the rain.

“Tell the innkeeper I’d like to sleep in the stables,” Blackwood said, figuring Tarmak was the doorman and giving him a silver coin.

Tarmak said he would. He went back to the door he’d seen the dwarf and the woman disappear into and knocked.

“Who is it?” the dwarf’s voice came. “What do you want?”

“The … traveler that came earlier wants to sleep in the stables,” Tarmak said.

The door opened.

“He gave me a silver to give you,” Tarmak said.

“What?” the dwarf said.

“To sleep in the stable.”

“Him?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Did you lock the front door? Bolt the front door so the curse doesn’t get us.”

He closed the door and Tarmak returned to the front door and bolted it. Blackwood noticed a narrow hallway and headed down the corridor. He found a locked and bolted door and another door with bolt and latch that proved unlocked and open. It led to the stable and he heard heavy breathing coming from one of the stalls. It sounded like a child. He just figured someone else was sleeping there so ignored it, going up into the hay loft and making himself comfortable with his winter blanket.

* * *

The rain had stopped in the early morning hours and the sky was clear on the 9th of Fireseek, 592 Common Year. It remained cold though promised to be at least above freezing that day.

The innkeeper was up and about fairly early that next morning. He reheated the leftover stew and the innkeeper added some scrambled eggs to the mix.

“Is that all you know how to make?” Arthelion asked the dwarf when he got his breakfast.

“I know how to make other things,” the dwarf said.

“Can you? Please?”

“I’m not just not going to make it today.”

“Oh.”

“Maybe for dinner.”

“Oh! Nice.”

“This is leftovers anyway.”

“I knew it.”

He asked the dwarf where the laird’s house was and the dwarf game him instructions on how to get there, telling him what the house looked like as well. When he asked if he could get stew to go, the dwarf told him if he planned to get stew for the laird, he didn’t have to as the man ate all his meals at the inn.

“Shouldn’t he be here by now?” Arthelion asked.

“Maybe,” the dwarf said.

Arthelion left the inn but it was frigidly cold. He went back inside and asked the dwarf if he had a coat he could borrow. The dwarf didn’t. He asked if his wife had a coat he could borrow.

“No,” the dwarf said. “Leave my wife alone.”

“Where can we buy clothes and such?” Elriya asked.

“There’s a provisioner,” the dwarf said.

He gave them instructions on how to get to Dalagar’s Provisions, which was around the curve of the road on the right. Tarmak asked if he sold boots and the innkeeper wasn’t sure.

Everyone else ate and enjoyed the stew.

“So, what’s the deal with the gold?” Arthelion asked Tarmak.

“I don’t know, it’s just what the paladin brought with him and left with us,” Tarmak said.

“That paladin … I still have his shoes on.”

Tarmak took out the pouch of gold and talked of dividing it up. Elriya wasn’t sure they should divide it up as they still had to provide for the villagers they’d rescued. She pointed out that he’d kept the gems though.

They saw the woman who worked at the inn go up a back hallway and open up a door.

* * *

Blackwood and Kilb were both awoken by a woman’s voice.

“All right, c’mon, wake up!” she cried into the stable. “Time for breakfast!”

Then they heard a door close again. Kilb lay very still.

Up in the loft, Blackwood got up and got his things together, climbing down to the ground floor and going into the inn.

* * *

“So, Tarmak, can I have some gold so I can go get supplies for this … new adventure that … we have been … called to do?” Arthelion asked.

“We can all go together,” Elriya said.

“I need money,” Arthelion said, hand still extended.

Tarmak thought on that a moment and then took out five gold coins.

“Holy shit!” Arthelion yelled.

He ran out the front door.

“I knew that would get rid of him,” Tarmak said.

Cold wind blew in.

“Born in a barn,” Elriya said, closing the door.

Blackwood also headed out to look around the town.

Elriya suggested buying provisions for the former slaves and Tarmak noted he needed shoes. They headed out of the inn as well.

Noiree asked the dwarf innkeeper about her stronghold: Thorzak.

“That … that place, I heard … I heard … no … that place is just a story,” he said.

“No,” she replied.

“There used to be a place up in the mountains on the other side of the Flinty Hills. But that was years ago, a generation ago, and they were destroyed by humanoids, weren’t they?”

“That’s where I’m from.”

“No!”

“Yeah. That’s why I asked.”

“Ah … well … really?”

“Yeah.”

“They’re still alive?”

“They were given tribute to the goblins to─”

“What!?!”

“─keep ‘em off us.”

“Oh … that’s … that goes against the grain!”

“Uh-huh. It was a tough situation.”

“Well, I’d heard they’d been wiped out years ago. A generation ago.”

“Huh-uh.”

“Huh. That’s what I heard.”

“What direction would I go for that area?”

“That I don’t know. I don’t know much about navigation. I’m not a navigator. I haven’t been out of this town in 30 years.”

“Okay. That’s okay.”

“Sorry.”

“Thank you anyway.”

“Oh, you’re welcome.”

She also learned his name was Coryston Dalnor and that he was married to the human woman named Penelope.

* * *

The village store was a dark and foreboding structure, even though lanterns hung on either side of the entrance. A sign that read “Dalagar’s Provisions” swung gently above the portal. There were no windows in the front of the building though Arthelion had seen one on the side as he’d run up. Smoke came out of the chimney towards the back of the structure as well. When he tried the front door, he found it locked. He banged on the door.

“Who is it?” a terrified man’s voice came from within. “Who’s there?”

“I’ve come to spend gold at your establishment,” Arthelion called through the door. “Let me in!”

There was confused mumbling from within and then he heard the bolt pulled back on the door. It opened into a dim chamber. The man was average-looking and the room was large. Shelves lined with sacks and jars of foodstuffs occupied most of the room though there was room enough for a long counter along the south wall.

“What can I help you with sir?” the man asked. “This town is dangerous. Are you passing through?”

“I hope to be, yes,” Arthelion said.

“Haven’t you heard?”

“What? Haven’t you?”

“Assassins are stalking Luskwald, using the village as a training ground to hone their evil skills. Haven’t you heard that?”

“Yeah. Yeah yeah.”

“It’s terribly dangerous!”

“Yeah, your mayor was telling me that last night.”

“Well, it’s terribly dangerous here.”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m trying to buy some stuff from you. Are we going to get on with it or what?”

There was another knock at the front door. The man jumped almost up into the air with fright.

“It’s them!” he said. “The assassins!”

“Yeah, don’t let ‘em in!” Arthelion said.

“Who is it?” the provisioner asked. “Who’s there? Are you assassins?”

“Probably,” Arthelion said.

“Travelers who came into town last night,” Tarmak said. “Looking for provisions.”

“That’s what an assassin would say!” Arthelion said.

“That’s what an assassin would say!” the provisioner said.

“Is that wizard in there with you?” Tarmak said.

“Wait, are you a wizard?” the provisioner asked Arthelion.

“No, I’m an assassin,” Arthelion said with a laugh.

“What?” the man said.

“He’s an idiot!” Elriya called. “Don’t listen to him.”

The man seemed confused and walked away from Arthelion, suddenly untrusting.

“You have gold?” he asked the mage.

“Yes,” Arthelion said.

“Let’s see it!”

Arthelion held out the coins.

“I’m rich,” he said.

The man unbolted the door and looked out at the man and the Halfling girl. Tarmak held out a couple of gold coins.

“All right,” the man said. “Come in, come in. My gods, people. What’s wrong with you?”

It was chilly in the room and Arthelion shivered. There was clothing to buy. There was only one pair of boots and Dalagar told them the cobbler in town made the best shoes in all the land. There were only four cloaks so there was not enough for the commoners. Arthelion purchased clothing as he was freezing and needed something to protect himself from the elements.

“What kind of store is this?” Arthelion asked when he saw the lack of stock.

“It - it - it’s my store,” the man said.

“Do you not expect a lot of travelers?”

“There aren’t a lot of travelers along this road. And they usually already own cloaks.”

“Well … some of us … don’t.”

“Well, I’m sorry, sir.”

“Do you have a goat?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Is there a seamstress in town?” Elriya asked.

“There’s a mender,” the man said. “Ylandra Morgyr.”

He told them she was just next door to the north. When Tarmak asked about the cobbler, he gave him instructions to his house and said his name was Otto Bellinek.

“Who are you people?” he asked. “Why are you even here?”

“We escaped from some orcs,” Elriya said. “They enslaved us.”

“Oh no!” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“Have you ever been enslaved by an orc?” Arthelion asked.

“No,” he said.

“Do you want to?”

“No. What’s wrong with him?”

They continued making purchases. Arthelion bought a cloak, backpack, food, and a torch. The others bought what they could for the former slaves.

* * *

Kilb shimmied out of the hole to the barn and then gathered leaves and covered the hole with them. He tried to keep out of sight. He occasionally saw the others walking around the town. He recognized the average-looking priest and spotted Arthelion and Noiree, whom he also recognized.

* * *

Blackwood continued looking over the town but didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. He got a general layout of the village and learned which houses were also shops of some kind. He noticed the building with the wagon out front had people outside talking. An old, horse-drawn cart sat in the front yard of the residence, its wheels mired in the mud. The house itself was a proud testament to its builder, standing against the elements without the slightest sign of wear. A candlelit jack-o-lantern sneered through one window. The people seemed very disturbed. He wandered close and eavesdropped, trying not to be too obvious.

Apparently, something had been in the man’s house the night before and called out in strange, unintelligible words. None of the family had gotten any sleep, not Ezekiel Devek, his wife Jezebel, or their son Zandor. Devek said it was just like the other houses where people were murdered and he was afraid he was next. There were strange noises from inside the house. Something was moving inside the house. They heard creaking floorboards and a baby crying at one point. Blackwood figured the man was the town carpenter and the whole family was shaken by what happened. They were afraid of what was going to happen that night.

“It will be just like Ezner,” Devek said. “Or Karn and Bryne. I’m scared. I’m really scared.”

Blackwood kept his distance and, when people dispersed and departed, he looked around the house for tracks of some kind. Though the rain had been coming down most of the morning, he found strange tracks that appeared to be tiny footprints. They were impossibly small, however, and indicated someone who couldn’t have been more than a couple of feet tall. He tried to follow where they went but they were soon lost in the mud. Now that he knew what to look for, he found more tracks all over the village.

* * *

Elriya and Tarmak went down the road to the cobbler’s house, which seemed especially grim, perhaps the result of its dark wood frame. A boot-shaped sign swung listlessly above the front door. Tarmak knocked.

“Who is it?” a voice called from within. “Who’s there?”

“I’m a traveler that came in yesterday evening and brought a group of slaves with me,” Tarmak said. “I need to get boots for all of them if possible.”

“Oh dear, oh dear,” the man said.

The cobbler let them in and showed them the shoes and boots he had in the shop. He told them he was a hardworking cobbler but he tailored his shoes to fit the wearers. However, when he quoted them the price of the shoes, it was a fair and average amount.

He had 18 pairs of shoes in the shop but he was loathe to sell them as he considered them cast-off shoes that didn’t fit their wearers. He was willing to sell them to the two though he seemed quite upset about doing so. When Elriya suggested the peasants come to the place to try on the shoes, he said he would, but noted it would take at least several days to make each pair of shoes. The price was the same either way.

“I don’t know how long we’re going to be here,” Tarmak said. “We’ll take what you have.”

“Yes, how long are you going to be here?” Otto Bellinek, the cobbler, asked. “Luskwald is dangerous right now. Haven’t you heard?”

He lowered his voice and spoke more confidentially.

“Hazel Glaghorn is a witch,” he said. “Her ‘House of Spirits’ is precisely that! She is responsible for the evil that plagues Luskwald!”

“Where is she at?” Elriya asked.

He told them she lived up the road to the north, just past the provisions store but on the left side of the road.

* * *

Noiree petted the dogs that morning and thought about hunting though she didn’t have any kind of ranged weapons. She headed out, eventually, to catch up with the others. She saw a few of the villagers out and about. Laird Yanek walked up to her.

“There you are!” he said. “Aren’t you one of the ones who’s going to help us?”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Well what have you found out? Anything?”

“I haven’t. I know other people are out.”

“Well, Ezner Mourne, the glazier, was the first one who died.”

He described where the glazier lived in a long house on the north side of the village.

“The other two were Karn Ironstar and Bryn Bellowforge,” he said.

He noted they lived right across the road from the glazier.

“I don’t know if there’s anything there you might find to aid in your investigation or not …” he said.

He also noted the keep was two miles up the road that led north out of town. He related that he heard Ezekiel Devek and his family had been terrorized the night before by something that was in their house, running around and crying like a baby.

“That’s what I’ve heard,” he said. “It’s terrifying.”

“How much?” Kilb said, stepping from behind a tree to stand next to Noiree.

“What the!?!” Laird Yanek cried out. “Ah! It’s a kobold!”

“He’s okay,” Noiree said.

“Protect me!” Laird Yanek said.

“He’s okay.

“What!?!”

“He’s not that bad.”

“But it’s a kobold! He’s going to murder me!”

“He’s not going to touch you. If he does, I’ll smash him.”

“You know him!?!”

“I’ll smash him.”

“Do you know him?”

“Yeah, kind of.”

“Really?”

“I know of him.”

“Oh … all right.”

“How much will you pay us?” Kilb asked.

“Well … uh … I-I-I … I …we … the village does have some money,” Laird Yanek said, completely flustered. “I’d be willing to pay. I have some garnets. I have a garnet. It’s worth a hundred gold pieces, that I could pay to your party. Is he with those others too, the Halfling and the Tarmar? Tarmark? And that wizard?”

“I don’t know,” Noiree said. “Have you talked to anybody else?”

“No,” he said. “Everyone just seems to have left.”

“We could just go look for them because that’s what I planned to do anyway,” she said.

“I know where the loudmouth is,” Kilb said. “I saw him─”

“Is that what you want?” Laird Yanek said. “One of the garnets. I mean the garnet.”

“Yeah, sure,” Kilb said. “Sounds good.”

“Once you find the thing and stop whatever’s going on, that’s what I’ll pay you,” Laird Yanek said.

“You better,” Kilb said.

“Let’s go look for the others,” Noiree said. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” he called, watching them as they walked away. “You’re welcome.”

They found Blackwood. Kilb pointed to the man.

“That guy’s been sneaking around town,” he said to Noiree.

“Hey, what’re you doing over there?” Noiree called to the man.

Blackwood looked closely at the kobold. He had bronze-colored scales, stood about three and a half feet tall, and had purple eyes. He walked with a spear that was almost twice as tall as he was and wore some dirty, ragged clothing.

“What are you doing with a kobold?” Blackwood said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kilb said.

“Come here,” she said to him.

Blackwood walked over to the two.

“What’ve you found?” she asked. “You seem like you’re looking around.”

When he got close, Kilb noticed the man actually had pointed ears like an elf though he looked more like a man. He thought the man was a half-elf. The high cheekbones and the finer skin also gave it away.

“Elves can’t keep themselves out of anything,” the kobold said under his breath.

Blackwood just barely heard it. Noiree didn’t know what the kobold meant.

“I’m simply looking into the disturbance of the village,” Blackwood said.

They discussed the family that was terrorized. Noiree said the laird had told her about the disturbance at a house. Blackwood noted the carpenter’s family was disturbed.

“Is this … kobold … under your watch?” he asked.

“I don’t watch him,” Noiree said. “But he’s been nothing but friendly to me.”

Kilb just glared at the half-elf.

“That’s good,” Blackwood said, glaring back.

“So, you said you looked at the house,” Noiree said. “Did you see anything? I was just about to go over there with the kobold.”

“I have a name,” Kilb said.

“Hm,” Noiree said. “So?”

“Maybe, but I need to get more information first,” Blackwood said. “What have you learned?”

“Uh …” Noiree said.

“Just what the mayor told us,” Kilb said.

They talked about what they’d learned and shared all of the information they had so far. Kilb noticed most of the strange things had happened on the northern part of the town.

“So, you two are interested in solving this?” Blackwood asked.

They saw Tarmak and Elriya come down the road, their arms filled with shoes as they headed for the inn. Arthelion also walked down the road and walked over to them while the others went to the inn with the shoes.

“We need to check out the houses,” Kilb said. “I need you to come with me so no one attacks me.”

“Kobolds are unusual in human towns,” Blackwood said.

“Yeah,” the kobold replied.

“So, is he the reason this curse is happening?” Arthelion said, looking at Kilb.

“I swear to Norebo …” Kilb cursed.

“How did you get out of the orc caves?”

“After you all left me down there, I was able to find my way out myself.”

“Okay, whatever,” Noiree said. “We’re─”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Arthelion said. “We were just having a conversation.”

“Regardless, we need to talk about what we’re doing right now,” she said. “We need to gather up the other two or … what do we want to do there?”

“Yeah, if they want to, yeah,” Arthelion said. “Is he with us now? What’s going on here?”

He gestured at Blackwood.

“Are you?” Noiree said.

Arthelion looked at the man for the first time and noticed he was a half-elf.

“I’ll meet you back at the Dragon’s Flagon Inn around lunch,” Blackwood said.

“Okay,” Noiree said.

The man strode off.

The other three headed around the south side of town where the road circled around to the north with the intention of going to the house that had been attacked the night before. As they passed the inn, Elriya and Tarmak, who had distributed the shoes to the commoners in their care, came out of the building. They both recognized Kilb. Noiree told them everything they’d learned and what their plan was. The other two joined them and they headed to the house on the north side of town.

When they arrived at the house, Tarmak said he was going to check on something and headed off, leaving the gold with Elriya.

“How do you know about who got terrorized last night?” Arthelion asked.

“The laird told us,” Noiree said.

“You saw the laird? Where is he?”

“I don’t know. He walked off after we talked to him. I mean, I’m holding him as prisoner.”

“You are?”

She laughed at the mage.

They reached the residence where the old horse-drawn cart sat. They talked to the people inside and learned it was the house of Ezekiel Devek, who lived there with his wife Jezebel and their youngest son, Zandor, who was about six or seven years old.

“What’s with these faces cut into these squash?” Kilb asked.

“What?” Devek said. “Is that a kobold?”

After that confusion was cleared up, he told the group they were supposed to ward off evil spirits.

“Well, it didn’t work, huh?” Arthelion said.

“All right, ignore him, please,” Noiree said.

“Well, it might’ve worked,” Elriya said. “They didn’t get eaten.”

“I suppose,” Devek said. “You know, someone or something deliberately sabotaged our effort to rebuild the fallen keep. Whatever dwells there does not like intruders. My oldest son, Voltan, was crushed beneath a collapsed scaffolding while helping to repair the ruined keep. We’ve been mourning his death ever since. For weeks!

“I want to leave this village but I can’t afford to buy horses to pull my cart. To pull this cart here.”

He gestured towards the cart. Then he told them someone was moving around the house and at one point they heard a baby crying the night before. He also said there was a weird noise like a howling coming from the chimney. The horror had terrorized them all night long. He looked very tired. He also asked if they knew where he could buy some horses cheap.

Noiree suggested staying in the house that night to see what happened but Elriya pointed out the attacks had been in different houses every night.

“That is true,” Noiree said.

“It sounds like we need to go to the fallen keep,” Arthelion said.

“That’s where it seems to stem from,” Elriya said. “It is on this side of town.”

“If you stop it, we’d be eternally grateful,” Devek said.

“How much?” Kilb said.

“I can’t even afford horses …” Devek said.

“I mean …” Kilb said.

“Mayor’s pay you,” Noiree said.

“If you have any wagon wheels that need repaired, I’ll fix ‘em for free,” Devek said.

“Clothes are fine,” Kilb said.

“Can you take the peasants with you?” Elriya said.

“Just get the peasants to carry their stuff,” Kilb said. “Just make them a bunch of pack mules.”

“You’re slaves again,” Arthelion said.

“But not to orcs,” Kilb said.

“Stepping up!” Arthelion said.

Just then Elriya remembered she had Kilb’s bow and arrows back at the inn.

“Do we just want to head for the keep then?” Noiree said. “Or do we want to do something tonight?”

“We have to meet our mysterious elf friend at the inn at lunchtime,” Arthelion said. “Also, I want to eat lunch.”

“That doesn’t sound like a bad idea,” Kilb said.

“I still need to go buy clothes for the peasants,” Elriya said.

“I want to talk to your son,” Arthelion said to Devek.

The man allowed him to talk to Zandor. The child was still very scared and told the wizard he’d been terrified all night long, waking often to the sounds of someone moving around the house, a baby crying, and a noise from the chimney. When Arthelion asked the boy if he saw anything, he said he didn’t. He only heard someone move around and scratching noises. The parents couldn’t corroborate that information.

Noiree was confused as to why no one had died in the house.

“Maybe they were just paranoid,” Elriya said.

“Maybe it was the face gourd,” Kilb said.

The house did have a pumpkin. Kilb remembered taking the pumpkin from the house with the half-keg mounted over the door across town the night before.

* * *

Blackwood arrived at the Glazier’s house but found the front and back doors of the long house both locked. He broke down the back door to find himself in a kitchen and living area. Every piece of furniture in the room had been knocked over, pulled down, or smashed to bits. He saw another door towards the front of the house and looked around the room carefully. He found tiny footprints next to a spilled bag of flour. He was unsure if it was a single set of prints moving back and forth or several little people.

The door led to a display room, the floor of which was covered with broken glass. The walls were lined with wooden display shelves, several of which had been knocked over. Only a few glasses and dishes remained unbroken amidst the thousands of shattered pieces. A bloodstain was under one of the fallen shelves. Two other doors led into the house and the front door was in the corner.

He went to the nearest of two doors and found a bedroom. The room’s contents were in utter disarray. Many personal belongings lay scattered on the floor including a spilled pouch of silver coins. Written in blood on the side of the dresser was “GIVHAT MINE KEEP OUT” in a rough script.

The last room was a glassworks. In the corner was a metal stove used for heating and molding glass.

He searched the house thoroughly but found nothing else of interest.

* * *

Arthelion left the house and went across the road to the house with a solid, well-kept porch embellishing the front. The windows had all been shuttered. There, he met Doland Mirklar, a carpenter and roofer lately turned the town’s coffin builder and gravedigger. He lived there with two orphaned apprentices, Angus and Timmel. He told Arthelion he thought the ruined keep was haunted by ghosts of slain goblins.

“Have you ever been to the fallen keep?” Arthelion asked.

“I did,” Mirklar said.

He also noted his two apprentices had worked at the keep before the renovations were abandoned. Angus put his foot through a nail jutting out of the floor and Timmel had a chunk of rock dropped on his head. Arthelion wanted to talk to them and found both boys were frightened and thought the keep was haunted. Timmel thought it a mistake to rebuild it and thought anyone who stepped foot within it was cursed for life.

“Who was the main builder?” Arthelion asked. “Who is the person who decided this was going to be the job?”

“The laird,” Angus told him. “He decided to rebuild it several months ago so the villagers would have a place of safety if the area was invaded by goblins.”

* * *

Elriya want to the mender on the other side of town. Her house stood between Dalagar’s Provisions and the laird’s house. Pounded into the front lawn of the property was a handsomely carved wooden sign with the words “Village Mender—Open All Hours” painted on it. The house was missing a few shingles and shutters.

She met Ylandra Morgyr, an average-looking young woman whom she learned lived alone. She was very skeptical of rumors concerning “evil spirits” and feared the village was beset by a crazed lunatic. She was also not a seamstress but a healer, “mending” people. One of the smaller rooms in the house was used as a hospital, complete with a patient’s bed and a locked medicine cabinet. By mender, they meant healer.

She apologized when she found out Elriya was trying to get clothing, noting people made their own clothing in the town. When Elriya asked where she could get fabric, the woman suggested the traders’ guild. Elriya thanked her and headed across town.

* * *

Noiree and Kilb went over to the workman’s house where the second set of murders had taken place. They found the long house had front and back doors that were both locked. They crept to the back door and Noiree put her shoulder to it. It was solid but she quickly broke it down. She found herself in a large den. A fireplace was on one wall and all the walls were covered with hunting trophies. Scattered across the floor were a deck of cards, silver and copper coins, and other miscellaneous items. Another door led to the interior of the house.

Noiree quickly gathered the silver and copper coins.

“You’re messing up the evidence,” Kilb said.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Noiree said. “You’re not going to get any?”

“No. This is a crime scene.”

“Oh, they’re all mine then. I have no money. I have no shame. This place is dead.”

Typical dwarf, Kilb thought.

She gathered up the coins and pocketed them. Kilb peeked into the interior door while she did so and saw a narrow kitchen. A broken table lay in the center of the room. Various jars and food sacks lay broken and empty on the floor, their contents creating a multicolored carpet. Two doors were on the wall opposite the front door.

Kilb went into the room and opened the door closest to him. A blood-soaked, dwarf-sized bed rested against one wall of the room. Next to the bed lay an overturned wooden chest, its contents scattered across the floor: pieces of leather armor, a torn hunter’s cap, an emptied wineskin, a pair of bearskin gloves, six iron spearheads, and a spilled sack of copper coins. A small table had also been overturned, along with the lantern that once stood upon it. The room smelled of the spilled oil. On the headboard of the bed were words Kilb couldn’t read.

Noiree arrived at the room a few moments later.

“There’s more coins over there if you want them,” Kilb said to the dwarf.

“All right, bud,” she replied.

“Can you read?”

“No.”

They went to the last bedroom. It contained a blood-soaked bed, an overturned trunk, and a bearskin rug. The straw stuffing inside the mattress had been strewn across the floor along with the contents of the trunk: pieces of hide armor, two wooden candlesticks, a pouch, a heavy crossbow, and several broken bolts. Noiree picked up the heavy crossbow. All of the bolts were, unfortunately, broken.

Kilb noticed the straw pulled out of the mattress and wondered why the mattress in the other room hadn’t been damaged.

* * *

Arthelion went to the next house. A rain-filled birdbath stood on the front lawn of the well-tended residence. A sign suspended above the door read “Eregauld’s Pottery & Clayworks.” A clay, candlelit pumpkin peered through every glass pane. He knocked and talked to the village clayworker, Lorna Eregauld, who refused to open the door. She was willing to talk through the door but sounded terrified.

“I want to know why they haven’t killed you yet,” he called.

“Go away!” she cried out. “Leave me alone! No!”

“Did you know the Deveks?”

“Leave me alone! Leave me alone! Go away! Go away!”

“I’ve come here to buy pots!”

“Go away! Just go away!”

He went around to the back door and found it locked as well. When he tried the latch, he hear a noise from inside the house and something hit the back door. The tip of a crossbow bolt protruded out of the door.

“I’m reloading!” the woman within screamed. “Get away from my house!”

“You’re no fun,” Arthelion called.

He left, heading for the inn.

* * *

Elriya was heading for the trader’s hall when she ran into Arthelion going the same way. He did not seem happy to see the Halfling girl.

The walls of the building were in desperate need of paint, yet the structure itself seemed to have weathered the passage of time. Above the main door hung a sign that read “Luskwald Traders’ Guild.” The guild actually consisted of two buildings: the trade-hall and an adjoining stable sealed by a pair of heavy wooden doors.

They found the front door locked and Elriya knocked.

“Who is it?” a man’s voice came from within. “Who’s there?”

“I’m here to trade,” she said. “I need some cloth.”

With a grunt, the man within opened the door. Arthelion abandoned dealing with the Traders’ Guild altogether and went back to the inn.

Elriya met Skaldar Larimil and Vaxalt Larimil, the two traders of the village. Skaldar was a large, friendly man. His brother was heftier and shorter. Skaldar was willing to sell some cheap fabric and for a cost of two gold coins, she was able to get enough to at least give makeshift cloaks to all of the commoners and former slaves.

* * *

When Blackwood got to the other murder house, he found the back door broken open and went inside. He heard a floorboard creak and thought someone was in the house. He put his hands on his weapons.

Both Noiree and Kilb, in the kitchen, heard someone enter the house. They readied their weapons. The two heard footsteps heading towards them. Noiree picked up broken table leg and then asked Kilb where she should throw it. Then she flung it into the next room.

Blackwood saw the table leg land on the ground. He moved to one side so he could see into the doorway. He saw Noiree alone in the kitchen of the house.

“It’s the guy we talked to earlier,” she said.

Kilb peaked out.

“Oh, it’s rogue man,” the kobold said. “Or cloak guy. Whichever sounds better.”

“Cripes man, I was going to hurt you,” Noiree said to Blackwood.

“Yeah,” Kilb said. “With that table leg.”

Blackwood raised his eyebrows.

“Have you found anything?” he asked.

“Yeah … we, well - apparently they were after something, but we don’t know what,” Kilb said. “Because they’ve torn apart the mattress looking for something. I think.”

Blackwood started looking around for footprints in the house but didn’t find any. However, in the bedroom with the torn up mattress he found a candlestick with two very small, bloody handprints.

“Oh! Can you read?” Kilb asked.

He pointed out writing on the headboard.

“Tell us what it says,” Noiree said.

“Please,” Kilb said.

“Please.”

Blackwood looked at the words.

“We’re both very stupid,” Noiree said.

“Speak for yourself, all right?” Kilb said.

The blood spelled out the words “GIVHAT ORKIL.”

“I don’t think whoever wrote this … knows how to write well,” Blackwood said. “‘Give hot or kill?’”

“Wait, what did you say?” Kilb said.

“I think they were trying to say ‘Get out or kill,’” Blackwood said. “‘Give hot or kill?’ I also saw something similar in one of the other houses. It said … ‘Give out mine keep out.’ So …”

“Well, I’m out of ideas,” Noiree said.

“Sounds like the keep … is there a name for that place?”

“I don’t know,” Kilb said.

“Are any of you familiar with these handprints?” Blackwood said.

He showed them the candlestick.

“I’ve seen footprints around town of the same size,” Blackwood said.

They searched the house. The pouch with silver coins falling out proved to have some gemstones in it as well. Kilb realized the blue quartz was worth 20 gold coins and thought the moss agate, though small, exceptionally fine and probably worth about 1,000 gold coins.

“This is pretty good stuff,” Kilb said. “In case anyone’s wondering. At least this is.”

* * * ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1976-Advanced-Dungeons-and-Dragons-2nd-Edition-Redcap-s-Rampage-Session-One-Part-1-Investigation
<![CDATA[Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition: Redcap's Rampage Session One Part 2 - Setting the Trap]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1975-Advanced-Dungeons-and-Dragons-2nd-Edition-Redcap-s-Rampage-Session-One-Part-2-Setting-the-Trap Mon, 24 Oct 2016 02:36:51 GMT * * * Tarmak had been walking for some time. Two miles north of Luskwald lay the ruins of the fallen keep. The ivy-covered... * * *

Tarmak had been walking for some time. Two miles north of Luskwald lay the ruins of the fallen keep. The ivy-covered structure was partially obscured behind the skeletons of dead trees. Both the gatehouse and the keep itself showed signs of collapse, and one of the courtyard walls had completely crumbled. The roof’s tiles had peeled away from the rooftops, leaving plenty of holes for the rain to trickle through.

He went to the front door of the gatehouse and could see light beyond. A muddy path led to an arched entrance in which two wooden doors stood splintered and agape. Although ruined by the ravages of war and time, the doors were still affixed to their rusted iron hinges. Without going any further, he cast a spell to detect evil and felt an evil presence somewhere ahead in the place. It felt worse than the orc evil and he quickly retreated and headed back to town as quickly as possible.

When he got back to the town, he was surprised to see three cats apparently hunting together. They stopped as if they were talking and then continued their hunt. They disappeared around the side of a house and when he went to look for them, they were gone.

* * *

Arthelion returned to the inn, having to knock to be let back in. He hung out at the inn, still trying to train the cat to do a back flip. Elriya soon arrived with a load of cloth that she gave to the commoners who were still in the building hiding from the curse. She had also purchased needle and thread from the merchants in the hopes one of the commoners could sew.

* * *

Kilb looked around the messy room.

“What could they have been looking for?” he pondered.

It was obviously not coin and not the amazing gem he’d found.

“They were looking in different places so it’s obviously something they haven’t found,” Noiree said.

“Why would they look in the mattress?” Kilb said.

“They were really looking for something,” Noiree said.

“Don’t you think some of the neighbors would have heard all of this commotion?” Kilb said.

“I wondered the same thing,” Blackwood said.

“They probably did when it happened,” Noiree said.

“Have you been to the clayworks house?” Blackwood said. “They’re right next to it.”

“Not yet,” Kilb said.

They also found a loosened wall board through which someone tiny would have been able to crawl.

“Someone that big killed these dwarves?” Noiree asked, unbelieving.

“Didn’t you see those handprints?” Kilb asked. “They probably have tiny, little knives.”

“Even a kobold can be dangerous,” Blackwood said, turning and walking out of the house.

“What a sick burn,” Noiree said.

Blackwood went to the glazier’s house, entering the back door. The other two followed him and found him inside doing a more thorough search of that house as well. He showed them the tiny footprints in the spilled flour. Noiree grabbed the silver coins on the floor. There proved to be 112 of them.

“How could something that small move furniture?” Kilb said when he saw the mess in the building.

He also looked into the metal stove in the glassworks room and he found tiny footprints in the ashes. They appeared to Blackwood to be the same size as the prints in the flour. When they looked up the stovepipe chimney there were numerous scratches on the sides of the metal.

They returned to the Devek’s and asked if they had a fire in the fireplace, learning the family did. They discussed how the thing might have gotten into the places and wondered if the chimneys were the way the thing might have entered the house. The dwarves had a fire as well but there was the hole in the wall of their house. They were of the opinion they needed to tell everyone to make sure their fireplaces are lit.

* * *

It was getting close to noon and they all met at the Dragon’s Flagon Inn for lunch. Elriya gave Kilb his bow and arrows. Tarmak was already there. Coryston told them there was leftover stew for lunch and chicken, mashed potatoes, and warm bread for dinner.

“Where were you?” Elriya asked him. “I thought you were going with me to get cloaks.”

“Uh …” he replied.

“Hey, Tarmak,” Arthelion said. “You have any more …”

“Actually, I don’t have the money anymore,” Tarmak said. “I gave it to …”

He pointed to Elriya.

“Because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen at the keep,” he said.

“Oh no!” Arthelion said. “Why are you so tired?”

“I went up to the keep to check thing out,” Tarmak confessed. “And we’re dealing with some sort of evil─”

“Wait, you went to the keep?” Kilb asked.

“There’s something─”

“You’re cursed for life now! At least that’s what I heard.”

“I didn’t go inside. I just went to the door.”

“Oh.”

“Checked it out. There’s something evil in there.”

“Well, we found tiny footprints all over the houses. They’ve got in through holes in the wall and chimneys from what we figured out … hypothesized.”

“You can’t even read and write and you say words like ‘hypothesized,’” Arthelion said.

“He’s very learned,” Tarmak said.

“That’s rude,” Noiree said.

“They didn’t get in that one house last night because they had their chimney lit,” Kilb said.

“But they did get in,” Arthelion said.

“Oh,” Kilb said.

“They didn’t attack or anything,” Noiree said.

“Well, that’s interesting.”

“They didn’t say they got in, they said they heard noises.”

“They heard footsteps inside of the house,” Arthelion said.

“Well, it could have been in the chimney,” she replied. “In the house?”

“The wind,” Kilb said. “It was the wind.”

They discussed what they had learned that day. Tarmak told them about the strange cats.

“Maybe it’s the witch lady,” Elriya said.

“Can anyone talk to animals?” Kilb asked.

“Where did this happen?” Blackwood said.

Tarmak said it was around the Mirklar residence.

“Wait, was this cat acting weird?” Arthelion asked, pointing at Nod, the black cat at the inn who was sleeping on the mantelpiece of the fireplace.

“It wasn’t that cat,” Tarmak said.

“Of course it’s not!” Arthelion said, petting the cat.

“They say there’s a witch that lives in the house across from the laird,” Elriya said.

Blackwood told them about the messages he’d read, relaying what they said. Arthelion spoke several languages and didn’t recognize the words from any of them.

“Maybe there’s a little hat,” Noiree said.

“Give my hat?” Elriya said.

“Give my hat. I love that thing.”

They laughed.

“What were you talking about with the cats?” Arthelion asked Tarmak again. “That sounds like something weird.”

“There were three cats,” Tarmak said. “Looking like they were talking and then they walked around the corner of the house.”

“Maybe we have to sacrifice the cat in the inn,” Noiree said.

They discussed which house, Arthelion noting it had not yet had anything happen to it. He also noted it was in line with the others that had been cursed. He pointed out there were young men at the house who worked at the keep. He thought whatever was seeking the revenge was attacking people who had worked at the keep before.

“That would only make sense,” he said. “We could … if you actually think what the cat’s were doing was really suspicious, we could stake out that house tonight. I’m sure whatever attacks, will attack again tonight.”

“We should probably talk to the house of spirits too, before we do that tonight,” Noiree suggested. “They might know something.”

“What’s the House of Spirits?” Arthelion asked. “I haven’t been there yet.”

“We haven’t either,” Noiree said.

“Well, you know of it.”

“Yes.”

“So what is it?”

“A house of spirits.”

“You know as much as we do,” Kilb said.

Blackwood went over to the cat and petted it as well. It enjoyed that very much. Then he left without a word.

“Bye,” Noiree called.

* * *

Blackwood searched the village and soon found three cats. They seemed organized and acted as if they were looking for something in the town. He approached them and the cats stopped long enough for him to pet them. They loved him and were very friendly, obviously domesticated. He looked around and found they were over by the laird’s house.

He crossed the center of the village and went to the house Arthelion said he had seen them before. There, he met Doland Mirklar, and questioned the man and his two apprentices. He asked if they owned any cats and they said they didn’t. When he asked who the cats belonged to, the man said several people in town owned cats.

* * *

Noiree picked up one of the dogs in the inn and it struggled against her.

“What do you think you’re doing!?!” Coryston asked.

“I’m petting them!” she said.

“Leave Winkin and Blinkin alone.”

“Aw, those are terrible names.”

“That’s their names and they go where they want.”

He looked at the dogs.

“Right?” he said.

The dogs both gave him a nod.

“Holy shit!” Arthelion said. “They’re dwarves in dog suits!”

“Those aren’t dogs!” Noiree said.

“They are dogs,” Coryston said. “They’re good dogs!”

He petted one of the dogs.

“I’m going to the witch’s house,” Elriya said.

“Let’s go to the spirit house,” Noiree said. “I’m going to the spirit house.”

“Yeah!” Elriya said. “Let’s go.”

They all headed for the House of Spirits though Arthelion tarried behind to tell Coryston about the strange behavior of the cats. The dwarf agreed it was strange but he didn’t know much about the other cats in the village. Arthelion asked if they could hire the dog for the quest or if someone in town might loan him their dog for the quest. Coryston wasn’t about to loan his own dogs but noted that Emily Dalcus owned a couple of dogs. He noted they weren’t as good as his dogs. He noted his own dogs protected the inn. They lived there, it was their home, and they’d protect it.

When Arthelion asked how to get there, he gave the wizard instructions, noting she was the village chandler.

* * *

A curious sign hung above the doorway of the modest residence. It read “House of Spirits.” Given the mystique of the eerie little village, they could only imagine what kind of spirits lurked within. They knocked on the door.

“Who is it?” an old woman’s voice called.

“Iunno,” Noiree said.

“Whoozit?” Kilb said.

“Who’s there?” the voice called.

“We’re travelers,” Elriya said.

A moment went by.

“What the hell does that mean?” the voice called. “What are you talking about?”

“We’re from out of town,” Elriya said. “We’re here investigating─”

“Are you the one’s killing everybody? Slitting throats and─”

“No, we just got here.”

“That literally makes no sense,” Noiree said. “What are you talking about?”

“What are you talking about?” the voice called. “What do you want?”

There was a strange rattling, hissing noise from inside the house. A lot of smoke came out of the chimney.

“We just want to ask about what your business is,” Noiree said.

“Okay,” the voice called. “But I can defend myself.”

“Okay,” Kilb said.

“I can too!” Noiree said.

The bolt was drawn back and the door opened. The woman was older, probably in her 40s, with frizzy, fly-away hair and a wacky-looking face.

“Hey, what’s your names?” she asked.

She pointed to Tarmak.

“You, what’s your name?” she asked.

Tarmak just looked at her.

“Just a cleric a Fharlanghn,” he said. “My name doesn’t really matter.”

“I didn’t ask who you are,” the woman said. “What’s your name?”

“Does it matter?” he replied.

She turned to Elriya.

“All right, what’s your name?” she asked.

The Halfling woman just stared at her.

“Oh my Gods!” the old woman cried out.

She slammed the door shut and sent the bolt home.

“Way to be rude, dudes,” Kilb said.

Tarmak cast a spell to detect evil but detected nothing in the area.

“I’m sorry about my comrades,” Noiree called through the door. “My names Deidre.”

“My name’s Kilb!” Kilb called. “I’m not lying.”

Noiree looked at the kobold. They heard the bolt drawn back once again and the door opened.

“I’m Hazel Glaghorn,” the woman said.

She looked at Tarmak once again.

“Who the hell are you?” she asked.

“I’m Tarmak,” he said.

“Arya,” Elriya said.

“Deidre?” Hazel Glaghorn said to Noiree.

“Yes,” the dwarf replied.

“And Kilb,” the old woman said.

“Yep,” he replied.

“Why you have a kobold?” she asked.

“Well, he’s not my pet, but he is my accomplice,” Noiree said.

“I didn’t think he was a pet,” Hazel Glaghorn said. “Why would you call him that?” She looked at Kilb. “Are you with her? Why do you have a dwarf?”

“I’m not his pet either,” Noiree said.

“That remains to be seen,” Hazel Glaghorn said.

“‘Cause everybody … wonders why I’m here,” Kilb said.

“Well, most kobolds are trying to murder us,” Hazel Glaghorn said.

“This guy’s not,” Noiree said.

“All right,” Hazel Glaghorn said.

“Sometimes they’re not,” Kilb said.

“Some - well, you’re not going to murder me, are you?” Hazel Glaghorn said.

“No!” Kilb said.

“Fair enough,” she replied. “I won’t murder you either. What do you want?”

“We want to know what this establishment is,” Noiree said.

“It’s the House of Spirits!” Hazel Glaghorn said.

“What does that mean?”

“I make spirits.”

“You make spirits?” Noiree and Kilb said together.

“Yeah!” Hazel Glaghorn said.

“Can we see?” Noiree said.

The woman looked at all of them.

“All right,” she finally said. “Wait! I’ll give you the tour! But it costs a copper common.”

They all paid a copper coin to the woman, who bit each of them and tucked them away before taking them into the house. They noticed she wore a fine ring on one finger. She led them into the house where they saw a pair of orange cats, snoozing on a rug.

“That’s Rapscallion and that’s Ragamuffin,” she told them. “You-you get out now. You go looking.”

The two cats obeyed, heading out the door, which she closed behind them.

Hazel Glaghorn took them to the back room where the rattling metal and whooshing noise came from. Almost the entire room was filled with a very large still made of steel and copper. She was obviously making alcohol in the back room.

“That better not be the spirits,” Kilb said to Noiree. “I’ll be pissed.”

She showed them the still.

“Yeah, I’m pretty proud of this,” she said. “Hold on. Hold on. Hold on a second. I gotta go in the next room. I’ll be right back.”

She left them for a few moments, returning quickly and looking at them with a mischievous smile.

“What do you need?” she said.

“We’re not talking about ghosts, are we?” Kilb said.

“What? Ghosts? Well I might have heard some things. What’s it worth to you to know?”

“I thought that’s what spirits meant.”

“Spirits are … it’s this.”

She showed off several varieties of wine, numerous kegs of ale and an ample supply of more exotic elixirs.

“What’s it worth to you to know?” she asked again. “I have to run a business, you know.”

“Well, this is not what we expected,” Noiree confessed. “We expected a sort of oracle.”

“Oh! Who says I’m not?”

“Are you?”

“Maybe. I might be a powerful wizardress. You don’t know.”

“Show me magic.”

“Just because I don’t wear a hat - what? Why should I prove myself to you?”

“Why shouldn’t you? I don’t believe you otherwise.”

“How much is it worth to you to know?”

“A copper?”

“Pshaw!”

“A copper?”

“A copper common? For me to waste a spell?”

“You don’t have a spell to waste, do you?”

“I do!”

“What is it?”

“Maybe I’m a powerful wizardress.”

They looked at her.

“What’d your cats go to get?” Kilb suddenly asked.

“Oh, they’re looking,” Hazel Glaghorn said. “I can tell you that for … how much is that worth to you?”

“I don’t have money.”

“I’m poor. I need money.”

“A copper,” Noiree said.

“No,” Hazel Glaghorn said. Then she said conspiratorially to Kilb: “Don’t let her negotiate for you. She’s bad at it.”

“Well, what do you two think about this?” Noiree said to Tarmak and Elriya.

“They’re quiet and rude,” Hazel Glaghorn said to her.

“How about I give you a gold piece and you tell us everything we ask you,” Tarmak said. “Or answer everything we ask you.”

“Hm,” she replied. “How about you give me a gold piece … for every question!”

“Uh-uh, you’re asking too much!” Noiree said. “You ain’t going to get any money! You like money, right? You get one piece, you get something.”

“Maybe a couple silver per question,” Tarmak said.

“There’s not a lot of people who come around here!” Noiree said.

“Three silver per question,” Hazel Glaghorn said, ignoring Noiree.

“Two,” Tarmak said again.

“You already said two! This ain’t no way to negotiate! I came down seven! You’re going to go up … nothing!”

“Two silver and three copper per question.”

She held up three fingers.

“Three silver there … normal-man,” she said. “You’re so very plain-looking. I knew somebody, when I was a kid, looked just like you. I did.”

She cackled.

“Oh, sorry,” she said. “That slips out sometimes.”

“Two silver or we leave,” Noiree said.

“There’s the door,” she said.

“There’s silver all over the floor in the house across the street!” Kilb said. “Just give her the silver!”

Elriya slipped over near the woman.

“What’re you doing, Halfling?” she asked.

She pulled aside her coat and they saw a dagger on her belt.

“Three silver,” she said. Then to Elriya: “And stay away from me. You’re already rude.”

“How do we know you know anything?” Noiree asked. “Give us an answer we haven’t heard before.”

“Because I know things because I’m a powerful wizard,” the old woman said. “I told you this.”

Noiree went to the door, opened it, and walked out.

“Okay, good luck with that,” Hazel Glaghorn called.

Kilb also walked out without a word, intending to track down her cats.

“Well, average-man,” Hazel Glaghorn said to Tarmak. Then she looked at Elriya. “Hey! No! Stay over there. Stay away from me.”

“You’ve got to give us something,” Tarmak said. “I mean we don’t know for sure if you have anything. We don’t want to be cheated out of it. If you would answer the first one for a single silver─”

“What are you?” Hazel Glaghorn said. “A priest?”

“Yes, I’m a priest.”

“Can you tell when things are magic? Why don’t you check on that on me and then you’ll see how magical I am.”

“Hm.”

“Hm?”

She looked at him.

“I know you can afford it,” she finally said. “Don’t act like you can’t.”

Tarmak sighed.

“Trust me, I know things,” she whispered to him.

“You a witch?” he asked.

“I am. I’m a good witch.”

“If you would answer at least the first question for a silver, I’d do three for the rest.”

“Give me a silver.”

He handed over a silver coin.

“Do you know what’s been going on in the village?” he asked. “What’s been attacking people?”

“I have my suspicions,” she said.

“Suspicions?”

“Well, they say that goblins are hiding in the dungeons of the keep and they’re stalking the villagers one by one, until no one in Luskwald remains to stand against them. But that ain’t true! You hear anybody say that, it ain’t true. ‘Cause I seen something.”

“Seen something?”

“Seen something.”

“What exactly?”

“Well, that was your question.”

“Here’s three more.”

“Well, what’s your question?”

“What did you see?”

“Well, I use a magic spell. I can see through the eyes of my cats. With this magic ring, I tell them where to go. And then … I peek inside my neighbors’ houses … because I think it’s funny. By chance, I caught a glimpse of something two nights ago over at the workman’s home. I saw me a sneering leprechaun!”

“Leprechaun?”

“That’s right! I can tell you more.”

He sighed and handed over three more coins.

“He was searching the workman’s house with a knife in his hand,” she said. “Then, all of a sudden, he just disappeared! So I’ve been … oh! But I have a plan.”

She held out her hand with a smile.

“This is the last three and that’s it,” Tarmak muttered, handing over the coins.

“I’m using the cats to scour the village for him,” she said. “Find that little mother … that little …”

She muttered profanities.

“He’s little and he’s wily and he’s mean-looking,” she said. “Ugh!”

“But there’s just the one?” Tarmak asked. “There’s not multiple …?”

“I only saw the one,” she said.

He nodded.

“Now do you believe that I’m a powerful wizard?” she said. “You go tell your dwarf Noiree friend that she’s full of shit!”

“Thank you for your help and I apologize for my previous rudeness,” Tarmak said. “Ma’am.”

“That’s all right,” she said.

He left the place though she tried to get him to buy some wine.

Noiree waited for the two of them outside and asked what the old woman had said. They conferred to her what they’d learned.

* * *

Arthelion, meanwhile, had gone to the Dalcus residence on the south side of the village. The sound of barking dogs—large ones—echoed from the residence. A candlelit pumpkin lit every window of the house.

“Who’s there?” a woman’s voice answered his knock.

“Uh, I was told to come here by the innkeeper to inquire about … hiring a dog,” he said.

“They’re not for hire!”

“I really need one.”

“Nope! I’m not letting ‘em go!”

“How many do you have, ma’am?”

“I have two! You can’t have ‘em!”

“They would be returned to you. I just need one.”

“Then I’ll be killed in my sleep!”

“You’re not going to be killed in your sleep.”

“The curse will kill me!

“Uh─”

“It’s gonna slit my throat!”

“Ma’am, I know─”

“Pull my tongue right out that hole!”

“I─”

“I know how it happens.”

“I know how to end the curse! I just need a dog!”

“No! No no no. No dogs.”

“Then I can’t end the curse.”

“You can’t have my dogs.”

“All right, I didn’t want to tell you this but it’s coming to your house tonight.”

“What?”

“It’s coming to your house tonight.”

“You’re just trying to get me to give you my dogs!”

“I just need one dog.”

“No, you can’t have ‘em.”

“All right, well, rest in peace. What kind of wood do you want for your coffin? I’ll go tell the guy.”

“I want it make out of … teak.”

“Well─”

“You can pay for it!”

“Well, that’s the one wood I’m not going to get, so …”

“Get away from door, you rapscallion.”

“Your candles suck. Everyone says it behind your back.”

“You get out of here, you bully!”

* * *

Kilb was finding none of the village cats and it suddenly struck him that there was no gold in the houses of the deceased, just silver and copper. Leprechauns loved gold! He thought it terribly important.

* * *

Blackwood found Tarmak, Elriya, and Noiree and they told him about the wizardress Hazel Glaghorn and her need for money. Tarmak noted the houses that were attacked didn’t have either a cat or a dog. Then Kilb ran up to them.

“Guys!” he cried out. “Gold!”

“What do you mean?” Noiree said.

“Let’s set a trap with gold!” he said. “All of the houses were turned inside out but the only thing we didn’t find in the houses was gold pieces.”

“I have no gold,” Noiree said. “Who has gold?”

“I don’t either!” Kilb said.

“Setting a trap inside the inn probably wouldn’t work because there’s a cat and a couple of dogs there,” Tarmak said.

“So, we should all wear green,” Kilb said.

“I think we should talk to the mayor to see if they took anything from the keep when they rebuilt it,” Blackwood said.

Kilb mentioned the jack-o-lanterns and Noiree noted they weren’t really working. They all went to the laird’s house.

* * *

Arthelion got back to the Dragon’s Flagon Inn and asked Coryston about other dogs in town. The dwarf didn’t think there were. He decided to go to the laird’s house. On the way, he saw three cats walking in a wide line, keeping the same distance between them and sweeping back and forth as if they were looking for something in formation.

He cast a spell to detect magic and got magic on the cats. Concentrating, he figured out it was a charming or enchanting magical spell on the animals and one of them had a divinatory magic upon it.

He sprinted to the laird’s house and found Blackwood, Elriya, Kilb, and Noiree at the front door. They had just knocked and Laird Yanek opened the door to see the five of them.

“Oh!” he said, surprised. “Thank goodness. Come in! Come in!”

“Guys, someone’s using magic to control the cats!” Arthelion said.

“Yes,” Kilb said.

“We know,” Blackwood said.

“It’s the old lady at the spirits place,” Kilb said.

“What!?!” the laird said.

“Good job everyone,” Arthelion said without skipping a beat.

“Well get in,” Laird Yanek said. “Get in. Quick quick quick!”

He let them in and bolted the door behind them. They found themselves in a fine parlor with a fully stocked cedar wine cabinet, a pair of leather armchairs, a cushioned sofa, a wooden coat rack near the front door, and a pile of wood by the wide fireplace. A portrait of Laird Yanek was over the mantle and three other doors led off the room.

“What do you need?” he asked them. “What do you need? Is everyone all right?”

“We need to know what you took from the keep when you were working on it,” Blackwood said.

“Yeah,” Arthelion said.

“Nothing, Laird Yanek said. “Nothing’s been taken from the keep. There was nothing there. The place was trashed. We sent stone and wood and stuff out there to make … to do repairs but we didn’t finish. Some of the stuff got left behind when people were scared off from the terrible place. Have you found anything? Do you know what’s doing these terrible deeds?”

“I’ve figured out that dogs are really important,” Arthelion said.

“Dogs?”

“Houses that have animals will not be attacked.”

“Oh.”

“And it also seems to attack businessmen or people with money,” Blackwood said.

The laird looked nervous.

“I’m poor,” he said.

“Specifically─” Blackwood started.

“Bullshit!” Arthelion said.

“You’re the mayor!” Kilb said.

“You have a garnet!” Arthelion said.

“Well, that’s to pay you,” Laird Yanek said.

“How did you know about the garnet?” Kilb said. “I didn’t tell anybody.”

“I overheard it,” Arthelion said.

“According to Hazel Glaghorn, it’s a leprechaun,” Blackwood said. “And your kobold friend thinks he’s only getting gold from the houses.”

“Can we suggest to tell the villagers to put all their gold into a pile and put it at the keep and see if─” Noiree said.

Arthelion burst out laughing at that suggestion.

“I don’t think they’re going to give up their gold,” Laird Yanek said. “They don’t have much. We’re very poor.”

“I have a little,” Blackwood said.

“I mean, it’s a tiny town.”

“I can donate.”

“It would be the dwarf to suggest they pool their gold,” Arthelion said.

“Well, do they like living?” Noiree asked.

“I have convinced the candle lady that she will die tonight,” Arthelion said. “So if you could just reiterate that story─”

“What?” Laird Yanek said. “Emily Dalcus is going to die tonight?”

“That’s what I heard.”

“Where did you hear that?”

“Hey, rumors spread, alright? Just tell her, if you see her, to give us her dogs.”

“What?”

“Do we want to have a town meet?” Noiree said.

“Well, hold on just a second,” Arthelion said. “Where did this leprechaun stuff come from? ‘Cause this is the first I’ve heard of leprechauns. Why do you think it’s leprechauns?”

“Spirit lady,” Kilb said.

“She … looks through her cats,” Blackwood said.

“Oh, the cat lady,” Arthelion said. “All right, well, she’s definitely got some magic so I trust anything she does. Magical people know everything.”

They all looked at him.

“All right,” Noiree said. “All right, bud.”

“Why don’t we turn in our silver for gold?” Blackwood said. “Make a trap and have the woodworker make a cage or a trap that we could put it on and trap the thing?”

“But it disappears,” Noiree said. “Unless we have some kind of magical enchantment.”

“Maybe it just turns invisible,” Blackwood said.

“We could just kill it,” Kilb said.

“I think maybe the leprechauns might suspect a trap,” Arthelion said. “Maybe we should be inside of a house with a lot of gold and plant a trap. And also, maybe not all of us be in that house. Because I have noticed, from what I’ve seen, it seems like the leprechauns are attacking houses that have very few people, whereas this lady’s house, which should have been next in line, she has so many kids, that I think the leprechauns might have found it difficult to attack.”

“I found that weird too,” Noiree said.

Arthelion suggested putting the trap in one of the houses where people had already died. Elriya wondered if they would attack the same house twice. Noiree was also unsure about that and suggested having the Devek family go to the inn for the night and using their house. Arthelion suggested they might have better luck at the Mirklar house as he had boys there that worked at the keep. He felt if the leprechauns were connected to the keep at all, they would target that house because people there went to the keep.

“Are you a hundred percent sure that nobody took anything from the keep?” he asked the laird.

“Well, no,” Laird Yanek said. “I guess somebody could have picked something up, but I don’t think so.”

“You never heard mention of it?”

“There was nothing there. The place was ruins.”

“Who else worked with the now-deceased?” Blackwood asked.

“What?” Laird Yanek said.

“The people that were killed. Did everyone work at the keep that were killed?”

“I hired out-of-town stonemasons as we didn’t have any. But the remaining crew were all Luskwaldians. There was Hans Bellinek, Gustav and Justin Orlesky, Erne and Homme Shyndle, Karn Ironstar and Bryne Bellowforge, Ezekiel Devek, and Donald Mirklar and his two apprentices.”

They recognized Bellinek as the same name as the cobbler. They also recognized the dwarf names and remembered meeting Devek, as his house had been terrified the night before, and Mirklar.

“I think we should talk to the carpenter,” Blackwood said.

“I second that notion,” Arthelion said.

They returned to the Devek residence, Blackwood telling Arthelion on the way that Devek wanted to leave the town. He suspected Devek might be trying to get out of town because he had money. They found the people there still unnerved, afraid it was going to happen again that night. When Blackwood asked if they’d taken anything from the keep, the man said neither he nor anyone had taken anything from the place. There wasn’t anything there. He corroborated the laird’s tale that the place was a wreck but nothing had been brought back to the village. When Blackwood asked if the man had any gold, he said he only had a few silver coins. He didn’t even have anything made of gold in his house. Like the rest of the villagers, he was very poor.

“That’s why they didn’t kill him,” Kilb guessed.

“That might be why,” Elriya said.

Arthelion suggested going to the Mirklar house again, avoiding the house of the clayworker whom he knew was armed and dangerous. They questioned Doland Mirklar, who had worked at the keep, but he denied bringing anything back to the village. He reiterated how the apprentices had been injured at the place as well. Mirklar wanted to end the horrible events in the village.

“Oh, you want to end it?” Arthelion asked. “But business is booming right now, isn’t it?”

“People are dying!” Mirklar said.

“Yeah, that’s good for business.”

“My friends are dying. No, it’s not.”

“Pfft.”

“That’s terrible! What kind of person are you?”

“Aren’t you making money?”

“I’m making coffins! I’ve been making a lot of coffins lately!”

“So, people’ve been paying for these coffins, correct?”

“The laird’s going to pay me eventually.”

“Is he going to pay you in gold?”

“What? It doesn’t cost that much.”

“Do you have any gold?”

“No, I don’t have any gold. Who are you?”

“Do you really have no gold? For real?”

“No, I don’t have any gold.”

“Well, okay.”

“We’re not rich city people like you folks.”

“Don’t be spreading rumors or nothing but, if you have gold, you have a higher chance of being attacked.”

“What?”

“That’s just between me and you.”

“What makes you say this? What?”

“Listen, man, I’m just trying to help you out. Also, Emily Dalcus told me to tell you she’s going to need a coffin sometime soon.”

“What?”

“She says she’s got a tab. Just put it on her tab. She’s expecting to die very soon.”

“She doesn’t have a tab! Why does she expect to die?”

“That’s just what’s going around town, man, I don’t know what to tell you. That’s who we’re expecting.”

“What?”

“You see anybody, you say ‘Emily Dalcus dies tonight.’ All right? That’s what you tell ‘em.”

“No!”

“She said she wants her coffin made out of the shittiest driftwood you got.”

“We don’t have driftwood. There’s not even a river here.”

“Listen─”

“Why would she say that?”

“It’s her last request. Can you just find some driftwood?”

“There’s not driftwood anywhere within 50 miles.”

“Take all your payments in silver and copper. That’s my last word to you.”

“What?”

“Right? Peace out, man.”

“Where are you going? What’s going on?”

They left the very confused man.

“Okay, so he doesn’t have gold,” Arthelion said.

“Don’t you have gold?” Blackwood asked Tarmak. “You’ve been paying for everybody’s meals with gold.”

“Yes,” Tarmak said. “We going to use that for the trap? But how are we setting this trap.”

They discussed setting a trap but no one knew how to set snares. They didn’t know of any trappers or hunters in the village though they suspected the two dead dwarves possibly were. They approached Devek and Mirklar about making some kind of trap and both agreed to help, though it would take some time to make a little cage. Blackwood suggested some kind of trapdoor. He also suggested they talk to Hazel Glaghorn to see what she might know about leprechauns and their weaknesses.

“Somebody else can go back there,” Tarmak said. “I’m not going back there.”

“I’ll go back there,” Blackwood said.

He returned to the House of Spirits and talked to Hazel Glaghorn.

“Oh, I know a few things,” she said.

“How much does this cost?” he asked.

“Five silver … 10 silver pieces.”

“Total?”

“Sure!”

“How about seven silver and five copper?”

“Is that all you got, honey?”

“No.”

“Well, then, no!”

“Fine.”

“Nine! Nine silver.”

He paid the woman, who didn’t know much. She’d never heard of leprechauns attacking people as they weren’t evil. She said they were merely mischievous and usually didn’t murder people. She described the thing she’d seen to him. It had long hair, no hat, and an evil-looking face. When he asked how she knew he was a leprechaun, she said he was tiny, no more than a couple feet tall. When he asked if there was anything else that could fit that description, she said there was nothing that she knew of. She thought it was an evil leprechaun. He didn’t think that made any sense, nor did she. That’s why she was trying to get the cats to find it and kill it.

“Are leprechauns attracted to gold?” he asked.

“Leprechauns have gold,” she said. “They don’t like when you steal their gold.”

She fixed her hair.

“But they’re not naturally drawn to it?” he asked.

“No, they can’t detect gold or anything like that,” she said.

“Yeah.”

“If they see, it like anyone else …”

“That’s weird.”

He returned to the others and relayed the information to them. Elriya was of the opinion they should just go to the keep.

“I feel like, if we waste another night, they’ll attack someone,” she said. “So, we should just go to the keep and find them.”

“That or we could always try the gold trap, if it’s drawn by gold, whatever it is, even if it isn’t a leprechaun, it might come after it,” Blackwood said.

“Maybe it’s best not to go to the keep at night,” Tarmak said.

“What if we go there and we’re there over the course of the night?” Blackwood said. “Somebody could still be killed in town here if it’s not at the keep.”

“I think the trap idea and the keep tomorrow is what I’d do,” Arthelion said.

They agreed to that and made plans to set a trap for the horrible little creature. Arthelion thought they should switch places with people and letting them stay at the inn. Blackwood suggested using a house with the chimney but not lighting it, setting up the trap at the bottom of the chimney. Arthelion noted they should remove all the jack-o-lanterns from the house as well.

Then they tried to figure out which house.

“Who have you not talked to?” Blackwood asked Arthelion.

“I think we should just put the gold out in the open,” Kilb noted. “We don’t have to put it in a house.”

“I think that’s too suspicious,” Arthelion said. “I wouldn’t fall for that.”

“Who leaves gold out on the front porch?” Tarmak said.

Arthelion was of the opinion they should talk to Doland Mirklar and try to use that house.

“I did talk to this guy, but I didn’t say anything mean to him,” Arthelion pointed out. “I just told him that candle lady’s going to die.”

Blackwood wondered about flues in the chimneys. He suggested waiting in the house without having a fire but tying a rope to the handle of the flue. If something dropped down, they could pull the flue shut so it couldn’t climb back up. Tarmak pointed out the thing only attacked houses with a few people, and perhaps only half the party should be in the house. Though Blackwood and Elriya suggested hiding, he noted they shouldn’t be too close.

Mirklar was willing to go to the inn though he suggested they might should talk to Emily Dalcus as she was apparently supposed to die that night.

“We’re trying to prevent that,” Arthelion said.

“How is staying here preventing her from dying?” Mirklar asked.

“It’s too complex. You have to understand.”

In the end, he allowed them to stay in his house and they paid for him to stay the night in the inn.

The house was long and had a layout that was similar to both the glazier’s house and the house the dwarves had lived in. There was a large room that served as both a living area and a work area. There was a narrow kitchen and two bedrooms, one for Mirklar and one for his apprentices, which also served as a storage room. Arthelion asked how much gold they had. Blackwood noted he had five gold coins. Tarmak said they had 103 gold pieces. Blackwood suggested they use about half of the gold.

“Yeah, just in case this goes wrong,” Arthelion said.

They could picture the terrible creature grabbing the gold, yelling “Thanks,” and disappearing.

They tied a rope on the flue and figured it would be easy enough to pull it shut if the thing showed up. They made sure all the jack-o-lanterns were gone and stomped out the fire. It started to get chilly very quickly. Arthelion looked for any other ways to get into the house but found nothing out of the ordinary. Blackwood got sticks to jam the windows shut and they made sure to bolt all the shutters as well.

In the late afternoon, there was a knock at the door. Arthelion peeked out the window and saw Coryston, the dwarven innkeeper, was there.

“He wants his money,” Arthelion said.

They opened the door.

“I found a burrow or something in the stable,” the dwarf told them. “Whatever that thing is, I think it tried to get in the inn by digging underneath.”

“Huh,” Blackwood said. “We’ll check it out.”

“I’ll show it to you,” Coryston said.

“Okay,” Blackwood said.

The dwarf led Tarmak and Blackwood to the stable on the inn and they found a hole dug from outside the stable into one of the stalls. The hole had been covered by leaves outside and hay inside. Blackwood looked around and found kobold prints everywhere, inside and out.

“Penelope came in here to clean up and noticed all this hay,” Coryston said. “She looked under it and she found a hole and I looked outside and found a pile of leaves where somebody had covered it up. This is very suspicious. Is that thing … what is it?”

“This is just … a groundhog,” Blackwood lied. “Probably trying to stay warm.”

“That’s a giant groundhog!”

“Maybe … maybe a wolverine. But … you should be fine. I don’t think it’s what is causing the stuff around town.”

“Can I close it up?”

“Uh-huh.”

The dwarf got a shovel to fill the hole back in. While he worked, Blackwood leaned over to Tarmak.

“That’s your kobold friend,” he whispered.

“Oh,” Tarmak said.

They returned to the house and continued preparing it for a trap. They had gotten a key from Mirklar. Blackwood got some of the spilled flower from the glazier’s house and spread it out on the floor around the small pile of gold coins. Arthelion suggested three should stay in the house while the rest were outside. Blackwood didn’t think the things could actually detect how many people were present. He was of the opinion some people could hide in the bedrooms while others hid in the main room. Arthelion agreed to that so long as the ones hiding were good at it. Blackwood also suggested putting sheets or blankets over some of the furniture to aid in the hiding.

In the end, Blackwood, Elriya, and Kilb would hide in the main room with the gold while the others hid in the two bedrooms. Elriya had her whistle ready. Noiree actually lay down in the bed in Mirklar’s room and quickly fell asleep. In the apprentice’s room, Arthelion and Tarmak lay in the beds but managed to stay awake.

In the wee hours of the night Arthelion, laying under the blankets in the comfortable bed and trying to stay awake, and Elriya, huddled in the cold living room holding the rope to pull the flue shut, each heard yelling and screaming coming from somewhere in the village. It didn’t sound very far away and seemed to be somewhere behind the house.

Elriya blew the whistle loudly.

* * *

In her room, Noiree immediately woke up when the whistle was blown.

* * *

“What are you doing?” Blackwood hissed at Elriya.

“I hear yelling,” she said. “It’s over that way.”

She pointed to the back wall of the house.

“Lead the way!” Blackwood said. “Go!”

They heard a door flung open somewhere in the house and footsteps run to the back door. Arthelion struggled to get the door open. He crashed his shoulder into the door but slipped and fell to the floor.

“Who’s got the key?” he cried.

Blackwood had the key.

Elriya ran to the back door and found Arthelion on the floor. She shook her head as Blackwood and Kilb ran into the kitchen. Tarmak ran by them, heading for the living room to scoop up the gold. Noiree burst out of the room she’d been sleeping in.

“What happened?” Blackwood asked Arthelion as he unlocked and unbolted the back door.

“I heard screams behind the house,” Arthelion said, getting up. “It’s somebody over there.”

“All right, let’s go!” Blackwood said, flinging the door open.

They ran from the house under the leafless trees of the village. Luna was waxing and nearly full in the sky above, giving plenty of light. Celene, waning from her fullness of nearly two weeks before, was closer to the horizon, glowing bluely in the distance. Ahead of them, yelling and crashing noises came from the house of the village mender: Ylandra Morgyr.

Open all hours, Blackwood thought.

“Bust the door down!” Kilb called to Noiree.

Arthelion ran by the outhouse behind the house and found the back door. It was closed and locked as was the entire house. Screams and sounds of breaking things were coming from inside. He tried to peek into the window. Kilb was next to reach the door and found it locked. He got out of the way.

“Bust it down!” he said to Noiree again.

A childlike scream came from inside the building.

Noiree and Blackwood crashed into the door and it flew open under their combined strength. The sounds of a struggle continued in the house, as well as a child screaming and a woman shouting “Get out! Get out of this place you evil thing!”

“We’re here to save you!” Arthelion cried out.

He ran into the house and found himself in a darkened kitchen with a door in the opposite wall. He stumbled to the door and flung it open. In the dim light of the coals from a fireplace, he saw Ylandra Morgyr standing in the middle of the room with a mace in her hand. She swung it around herself wildly. He smelled blood and saw the glitter of broken glass on the floor. She screamed for “this devil” to get out.

“Who wants this gold!?!” he cried out.

Blackwood ran through the kitchen, dagger and long sword drawn. With his infravision, he could clearly see the main room of the mender’s house. Nothing else was in the room except for Morgyr. He saw blood on her arm. He saw no footprints on the floor. He moved towards her, looking for her attacker.

Elriya ran into the room and stood by Arthelion, looking around the room.

“We’re here!” she called out. “What’s going on?”

Kilb also ran into the room. He moved to the other door to the room and flung it open. It proved to be a hospital complete with bed and locked medicine cabinet. Unlike the other room, nothing was damaged in the place.

Morgyr swung wildly, backing up until she bumped into the fireplace.

Noiree ran into the room and then rushed by Kilb and into the hospital room where she made her way to the window and flung open the shutters.

“It’s here!” Morgyr cried. “It’s here! I can’t see it but it’s here!”

Elriya looked around and spotted a fallen candle in the corner.

“Does anybody see anything?” Kilb cried out. “I don’t see it!”

He had his bow ready but had no target. Arthelion chanted and waved his arms as he cast a spell to detect magic. He saw that Morgyr had a magical scroll tucked under her clothing but didn’t see anything else. He realized if the thing was invisible, such a spell wouldn’t allow him to detect it.

Noiree, in the next room, got scared from the chanting in the next room. She stopped what she was doing and looked around the hospital room. An unlit candle was on a stool. She didn’t see anything strange in the room. She didn’t have anything to light the candle.

“There’s a candle in here!” she called out.

In the other room, Blackwood dropped his dagger, which was tied to his wrist by a leather strap, took out a bit of foxfire, and started chanting. Elriya ran to the far corner of the room where the fallen candle lay, taking out her flint and steel and grabbing up the candle. Then the spell went off. A strange, greenish fire seemed to outline Morgyr. There was no sign of the invisible thing in the room. Then a cut appeared on Morgyr’s shoulder and she let out a cry.

A strange, high-pitched giggling laughter resonated through the room.

“Keep the doors blocked!” Kilb yelled, standing in the doorway to the hospital.

Blackwood started chanting again.

In the next room, Noiree closed the shutters and bolted them again. Then she ran to the doorway where Kilb stood.

Blackwood’s spell went off and suddenly a tiny, two-foot-tall figure appeared, running at him. The green flames outlined his figure, showing his horrible little face and the tiny pikestaff in his hand. He appeared to be a gnarled old brownie with sharp, protruding teeth, long and tangled hair, and wide eyes. He had a tiny knife on his belt. Most of them could even seen a ring on his finger. Arthelion saw that the ring on his finger and a long stick or wand tucked into his belt were both magical.

“Get ‘em!” Blackwood called out.

“There he is!” Arthelion called out. “His ring and his wand are magical! Watch out!”

In the corner, Elriya lit the candle with her flint and steel. The horrible little creature cried out like a stuck pig.

* * *

Tarmak reached the back door of the house just as he heard someone yelled “Get ‘em!” He stopped and looked for some stones outside of the house but couldn’t find any. He headed into the house and stood near Arthelion.

“What is it!?!” Morgyr cried out.

The tiny, green-glowing man ran to the fireplace, jumped over the coals, and scuttled up the chimney and out of sight. He was terrifyingly fast. They heard him crawling up the chimney and saw bits and pieces of creosote fall down. A ghastly howl came from the fireplace.

“I’ll go try to head him off!” Kilb yelled.

He ran out of the room and out the back door of the house. He moved along the side of the structure.

Inside, Tarmak ran to the fireplace and flung a few logs onto the hot coals. They immediately started to smoke. Arthelion ran out of the room, also exiting the back of the house. He saw Kilb off to his right and so went around the left side of the house, moving away from the building until he could see the chimney. A green glow came from within.

“He’s still in the chimney!” he cried.

Inside, Elriya went to the front door and found it locked and bolted. She pulled the bolt back and then took out her picks and tools and got to work on the lock. She unlocked it and pulled it open.

Outside, Arthelion saw the horrible little creature pop out of the chimney and onto the roof. The thing seemed to look around and tried to wipe off the green-glowing flames. Then it headed towards the opposite end of the house, closer to them.

“He’s out the chimney!” Arthelion cried out.

Blackwood ran out of the front door and saw the horrible little creature on the roof.

“I’m following him!” he yelled.

He ran along the side of the house, trying to keep up with the horrible little thing. The little thing ran all the way to the far end of the roof, squealing like a pig and still trying to wipe the flames off himself. Blackwood found himself near Arthelion.

Noiree ran out the back door and looked around, running around the left side of the house. Also in the back, Kilb moved away from the house and spotted the thing on the roof. He pulled his arrow to his cheek and shot at the horrible thing. His arrow just missed it.

Inside the house, Tarmak and Elriya watched Morgyr cast a healing spell on herself

The horror on the roof leapt down to the ground, stumbling but not falling. It ran towards the road, heading towards the house there which had a pumpkin patch growing on one side. The terrible little man continued making a awful squealing noise.

Blackwood started to cast another spell, chanting and touching his holy symbol. The little monster let out another squeal. Then Tarmak burst out of the house and ran after the terrible little thing, curving around and ending up in front of it, staff in hand. He jingled when he ran. Elriya ran after him but couldn’t match his speed, lit candle in hand. Noiree came around the other side of the house and rushed after the thing as well, crashing through the night. Arthelion also rushed after the thing, striking the horrible little creature with his staff. It shrieked in pain and Arthelion noticed, when it opened its mouth, the green flames outlining its every feature, it didn’t have a tongue.

“Give me the gold,” Arthelion said to it.

Blackwood stopped chanting and the grass, leaves, trees, and every plant in a huge area that surrounded the horrible thing, Arthelion, and Tarmak, came to life. The trees reached down to grab at them. The grass and bushes reached towards them. Leaves billowed up to obscure their vision. It was as if the plants in the area were all trying to kill everything within. The vines, trees, bushes, and grass grabbed Tarmak and the horrible, glowing thing. The plants thrashed around Arthelion.

Just then, Kilb came around the side of the house and spotted the strange overgrowth going crazy. The little, glowing creature shrieked and screamed as the grass grabbed him and held him in place. Kilb moved towards the area without entering it.

“Hit him at a distance if you can!” Blackwood yelled.

“Are we trying to kill him?” Kilb called.

“It doesn’t seem like he can talk!” Noiree said.

“He’s killing things at will!” Blackwood said.

Arthelion quickly moved out of the horrible area. He readied his quarterstaff. Blackwood dropped his weapons and drew his bow, getting out an arrow. Noiree, having no ranged weapons, stayed ready with her axe. Kilb moved to a better position and pulled an arrow to his cheek. The horrible thing in the entangling growth screamed, shrieked, made strange noises, and cried like a baby. Then Kilb shot the horrible thing in the left leg and it squealed. Blackwood fired too quickly as he was still aiming, missing completely, the arrow striking Noiree in the right leg in his haste. Blackwood’s mouth was an “o” of surprise.

Elriya moved closer to the horrible little creature and fired a sling bullet but missed the creature completely. Blackwood ran to Noiree and looked at her wound but decided to wait until he had a healing spell before he tried to remove the arrow. He looked up at her, embarrassed.

“Sorry about that,” he muttered.

She frowned and shoved him over.

“Aw man, that must have hurt bud,” she said.

Tears came from the dwarf woman’s eyes.

Arthelion took out a piece of beef jerky and sat down to watch.

Kilb pulled and arrow back and fired at the glowing little man just as the fairy fire started to fade away. It lasted long enough for them to see the arrow go through the horrible thing’s abdomen, coming right out the other side. The thing shrieked one last time as there was a gush of blood. The fairy fire went out as the thing disappeared. Then it exploded like a firecracker and vanished. Through the magic glow of the vines, Arthelion could see the ring and the wand had survived the blast and still glowed in the light of his spell. He concentrated and found the wands was some kind of divination magic and the ring was some kind of conjuration magic. He guessed it was some kind of protective ring.

The arrow had been grabbed by several vines and grasses and hung there, dripping blood.

They heard the front door of the mender’s house slam shut.

“You’re welcome,” Kilb called.

Several minutes passed while they waited for the spell to dissipate and the vines to disappear. Once that occurred, they found a few shreds of cloth, the scorched wand and ring, a tiny knife, a tiny pikestaff, two small, iron boots, and a single split tooth. Tarmak was happy that the entangling ended. The priest cast a spell to detect evil and found residual evil about the tooth and the boots. Arthelion grabbed the wand and the ring as well as the tooth, hoping there might be a spell that needed a leprechaun tooth. Kilb grabbed the tiny knife.

Tarmak examined Noiree and removed the arrow, patched up the wound, and then cast a magical healing spell upon the dwarf woman. Blackwood yelled through the Morgyr’s door they had destroyed the thing

They returned to the house where they’d been spending the night, closing up the doors again and, this time, lit a large fire in the fireplace.

Arthelion took the tooth to the laird’s house and knocked on the door.

“Come look at this!” he called.

“Go away!” Laird Yanek called from within, probably from under his bed.

“Come look at this!”

“Go away!”

He wouldn’t come out so the wizard returned to the house and settled in with the rest of them.

* * *

In the early morning hours, Blackwood crept into Noiree’s room and quietly cast a healing spell upon her, completely healing her. He crept out of the house and left the village.

* * *

The 10th of Fireseek, 592 Common Year, was greeted with a thunderstorm that lasted from 5 a.m. until about 8 a.m. It was cold enough that the thunder and lightning was accompanied by snow instead of rain and it dropped about seven inches of snow on the ground before it broke up into overcast and cloudy skies. It warmed up after that and most of the snow melted.

They talked to the laird and told him what they had dealt with the night before. He seemed quite relieved.

“I said I’d paid you what?” Laird Yanek said. “Ten gold?”

“No, a bunch of garnets!” Arthelion said. “All your garnets!”

“I think I promised a garnet …”

“All your garnets! There’s probably more of these.”

“Then I’m not paying you until they’re gone.”

“Just kidding. There’s not.”

“Uh-huh.”

He ended up paying them two garnets, telling them they were worth 100 gold coins each. He handed them to Kilb and Arthelion though the rest saw them take the stones.

Ylandra Morgyr found the party that day as well to thank them. As she approached them, Arthelion asked her for a reward.

“No, you get nothing,” the woman said to him.

“Oh,” he said. “Man, being an adventurer is hard. They don’t even pay you.”

“Being a jerk is easy though, isn’t it?” she said.

“Yeah,” he said. “Bring it. You would have died.”

“I want to reward you all,” she said. “I don’t have much I can give you.”

She was, however, willing to give all the rest of them a healing salve that was not magical but would heal them. She gave each of them one, even Arthelion.

“Here,” she said to the mage. “You can have one too, I suppose. Perhaps you should work on your manners. Just because you’re a wizard doesn’t mean you have to be jerk.”

“That’s what I’m talking about!” he said.

Hazel Glaghorn found them and wanted to see the thing. She was disappointed when they told her it had exploded but, when they described it to her, she recognized it as the thing she had seen before.

“That’s the one,” she said. “Why was it here though? Why was it here? Oh well.”

She left them.

They had not found any gold on the thing. They were still unsure why it was in the village.

Laird Yanek, once he learned of the terrible thing and it’s power, asked if the thing was going to come back as Tarmak told him about detecting evil at the keep.

“I don’t know,” Tarmak said.

“Could it?” Laird Yanek said. He turned to Arthelion. “You’re a wizard. Could stuff from the keep come to the town.”

“No, you’re safe,” Arthelion said.

“Okay,” Laird Yanek said. “Because I might pay you some more money if it poses a danger to the town if you clear it out.”

“Well, when it happens it happens,” Arthelion said.

“Okay,” Laird Yanek said uncertainly.

He walked away.

“Wait wait wait!” Tarmak said. “We’ll clear it out.”

“Really?” Laird Yanek said.

“Yes.”

“I can give you … another garnet if you clear it out.”

“Yo, what, you got a garnet mine somewhere?” Arthelion said. “What’s going on?”

“I just came into a few,” Laird Yanek said.

“A few?”

“Three.”

“Oh.”

“I’ll give you my last one.”

“I’ll accept that,” Tarmak said.

“Once it’s cleared out, let me know,” Laird Yanek said. “You’ve done a great job. Thank you so much adventurers. You’ve saved our village!” ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1975-Advanced-Dungeons-and-Dragons-2nd-Edition-Redcap-s-Rampage-Session-One-Part-2-Setting-the-Trap
<![CDATA[Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition: The Scar Session Three]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1973-Advanced-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-2nd-Edition-The-Scar-Session-Three Fri, 16 Sep 2016 18:55:43 GMT Sunday, August 11, 2016

(After playing the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition scenario “The Scar” by Ray Winninger from Dungeon Adventures #80 today from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Katelyn Hogan, James Brown, Ashton LeBlanc, and Collin Townsend.)

Arya Amannodel was a wood elf ranger who had left her homeland in search of someone who had wronged her. She had traveled extensively for years, but had most recently lived with the reclusive wood elves of the Celadon Forest just west of Nyrond. In the last few weeks, she had traveled across Nyrond to the Flinty Hills, a journey of some 500 miles, in search of a lead of the woman she was looking for.

On the evening of the 4th of Fireseek, 592 Common Year, she had set up her tent in the Flinty Hills and wrapped herself in her thick, winter blanket. She had fallen asleep to the cold, light rain that had been coming down all day.

She was awoken not long after she settled in when something started beating on the tent.

“Stop!” she cried.

The tent fell down on top of her and she got angry and crawled out, as she reached the opening, she was roughly grabbed by several orcs. She found herself surrounded by the creatures and counted at least a dozen of them.

“You’re coming with us, elf!” one shouted into her face.

They tied her hands behind her back and scooped up her tent and everything within it. One of them threw it over her shoulder and another put a bag over her head and pulled a drawstring, nearly choking her. She was very irritable as she stumbled through the darkness. She felt like she was going downward at one point and then the sound of the wind and the rain stopped. It felt like she was underground. She was dragged through passageways and she heard orc speak. She didn’t understand it. At one point they stripped her of her armor and roughly searched her.

Then she heard the clanking of chains and the grinding of stone on stone. The bag was jerked off her head and she was flung into a room, crashing to the stone ground. The clanking of chains and grinding of stone came behind her as the door came down and crashed to the ground.

She slid back to the nearby wall and looked around. The room was roughly 50 feet wide and 30 feet deep. In the near corner was a pile of rubble while two of the other corners held large piles of hay. Several men, women, and even a few children were lying in the hay, trying to sleep. In the other corner were two men and a Halfling woman, talking quietly.

* * *

Just before the slaves had been thrown into their room that night, Storr, the orc sub-chief, had taken Arthelion aside. Out of earshot of the others, he had told the mage if he acted out again or did anything to annoy any of the other orcs, his tongue would torn out by the roots and his own cleric friend would be used to see he survived. The orc asked him how well he’d be able to cast his spells then, but told him, by all means, to mouth off again if he so desired. He had some money riding on it.

When they had returned to the room, Arthelion had flopped down on one of the piles of hay, despondent. Kilb was exhausted that night and merely climbed into the hay and went to sleep.

The amazingly handsome Leon Chamberlyn the paladin, the ugly Elriya Warrick the Halfling thief with bad teeth, and Tarmak of the Winding Road, the average-looking priest of Fharlanghn, however, all planned their escape. They had been conferring in the far corner of the room, noting what Leon had learned when he had been “fighting” the Gnasher, when the orcs had brought in the elf girl and flung her to the floor.

Neither Leon nor Tarmak could tell what had happened, it still being pitch-dark in the room. However, Elriya could see the elf, who had darker skin and hair than any elf she had ever seen. The elf girl’s eyes looked lighter-colored.

“Dinner’s here early,” Leon remarked.

Elriya walked over to the elf.

“So, they captured you too?” she said.

“In the middle of the night while I was sleeping,” Arya said. “I’m not happy about that.”

“How long have you been traveling?”

“A few weeks.”

“Are you able to help us free these people?” Leon said from across the room.

“Can we?” Arya said.

They heard the clank of chains and the grinding of stone on stone. A half dozen well-armed orcs entered the room. Some of them gave out bowls of gruel while the others stood by, weapons ready. The gruel was thin but had a little meat and grease within. It was not very good but most of the prisoners ate it voraciously. Arya ate as much as she could stomach. Leon ate in the most polite manner he could while not being able to see his food. After they had mostly finished, the orcs took back the bowls and left, closing the door behind them once more.

A half hour or so after they were fed, they heard the nightly orc revelry begin somewhere else in the underground complex.

Tarmak, Leon, and Elriya all starting working on moving rocks from the pile in the corner. Arya got up and went to them.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Moving rocks,” Leon said.

“Why?”

“There could be something under it.”

“And what if there’s not?”

“Maybe it’s a way to escape,” Elriya said.

“Why would they put a way to escape in a jail cell?” Arya asked.

“Maybe that’s why they covered it up,” Elriya said.

“This looks pretty impromptu,” Leon said.

“I mean the ceiling’s not collapsed or anything,” Tarmak said.

Arya looked over the rock pile. It looked like a portion of the ceiling had collapsed against the wall.

“I think you’re wasting your time,” she said. “I know you probably can’t see this but, the ceiling? It just looks like it’s rubble that fell from it.”

“Doesn’t mean there’s not something behind it,” Elriya said.

“All right then,” Arya said, walking away and watching them.

They worked for an hour or so before the orcs came in to search the prisoners and then again for an hour after that. The three were even more exhausted after they had finished. About three hours after that, the orcs returned to roughly search the prisoners and the room again.

Arya was especially curious about the kobold she’d seen.

* * *

They were all woken on the 5th of Fireseek when the orcs pounded on the door and then opened it and ushered them back out into the stone corridors beyond. Two people didn’t get up that next morning. They had died in the night. One of them was the little girl Rome had made friends with. The other was a woman. Orcs unceremoniously dragged the bodies out.

They passed a few closed doors, each of them eight feet tall with an arch at the top. Rusty chains to hoist the doors were in a slot to the right side of each. They took the slaves down a corridor, through an open door, down another corridor into a room and then opened another door. They passed through a room with rubble on the floor, around a corner and past more rubble, and then past a huge, brass lamp that stood on the floor with a wick the thickness of a fist that gave out a great deal of light. Then they passed through an area of rubble that had been broken through to another room where the slaves were given shovels and told to clear the rubble there.

Several of the slaves were cut out from the rest and taken away, including the nondescript man.

The orcs watched as the slaves worked. Arya noticed each of the orcs carried a spear and had a scourge on his belt. They wore leather armor and black cloaks.

* * *

Tarmak and several other slaves were taken to the library once again and ordered to search for anything of value.

“Skarg wants you to find stuff,” one of the orcs said.

“Find what?” Tarmak said.

“Anything important!” the orc grunted, slapping the priest.

“Fine! Fine! Gods.”

They all set to work sorting through the loose papers and pages in the library. At three points during the day, one of the slaves came with buckets of water for them and then they were put back to work.

* * *

The others worked at moving stones and rubble from the pile. Three times that day, a slave was sent for buckets of water for them. They actually made a great deal of progress on the pile during the day.

During the first water break, Leon approached the subchief, Storr.

“Storr,” he said.

“What?” the orc growled.

“I wish to wager.”

“Huh! What do you want to wager, blue eyes?”

“So, I wish to test my mettle against one of your own.”

“What does that mean? Speak clearly, manling. I’ve had my fill of bargains and bets.”

“Would you like to see a brawl?”

The orc considered for a moment.

“All right,” he said. “How about the Gnasher? Why don’t you go fight the Gnasher?”

“You wouldn’t be able to watch,” Leon said.

“You could lure it out. Or how about that guy?”

He pointed to one of the other slaves.

“Would that be entertaining?” Leon said.

“Then what?” Storr asked.

“One of your men against me.”

“I’ve already had my orcs fighting amongst themselves. I don’t need to lose any more. Not to mention one who beat up one of his fellows and then claimed that some handsome man, a woman, and the Mouth came in. Wait a minute …”

“Would the Mouth be able to do anything?”

“He was lying anyway. They’d been having a feud for some time.”

“I could lure the Gnasher out to where we could see him. I am curious.”

“I suppose you’ll want a sword or something.”

“Uh, it would be preferred.”

“You’re asking a lot of favors. What am I going to win from this wager … from you?”

“You get to see─”

“No. That’s the wager. That’s not the prize.”

“True.”

“Gambling requires a prize.”

Leon thought on it.

“What do you propose?” Storr said.

“Well, if I’m dead, I’m no more use to you,” Leon said.

“That’s why you’re going to put a wager up before you do this thing. You think about it. Get back to work.”

The orc walked away from the paladin, who was ordered back to work by the other orcs.

Leon later approached Arya as they worked.

“You look capable,” he said to her.

“Thank you?” she replied.

“Would you be willing to help us in our escape? Once it’s figured out, of course.”

“Uh-huh. So … you don’t know how to escape? But you want me to help with your escape?”

“When we can. We already have some things … planned. Just waiting for a better opening.”

The wood elf looked around carefully.

“Uh … sure?” she finally said. “As soon as you figure out what it is you’re going to be doing. Otherwise …”

She went back to work.

Later in the day, after the third water break, Elriya struck loose rubble as she was digging. It caused a minor cave in as the wall collapsed. The daring Halfling thief did a double back flip out of the way, landing perfectly, her shovel at ready. A few small stones bounced her way and she batted them away with the tool. Arya stopped and watched, amazed. The peasants also stopped their work to merely stare, open-mouthed at the Halfling.

“Stop showing off!” one of the orcs yelled at the Halfling. “Get back to work!”

“Quick causing cave-ins!” another orc yelled at the Halfling, cuffing her in the head. “Stupid Halfling!”

Not long after that, they broke through to the next chamber. Storr ordered the orcs to move the slaves back and sent off another guard. Within a few minutes, a larger orc that those who had been present longer recognized as Skarg arrived with a tall, gaunt man in black chainmail with a two-handed sword in his hand. The latter wore a black helmet that completely covered his face except for a y-shaped slit. Only his red, glowing eyes were visible. The helmet had strange, bat-like wings on the sides. Leon felt a wave of nausea as he saw the horrible thing.

Skarg ordered some of the slaves to clear away more of the rubble and debris and then he and the horrible knight went into the darkness. A few moments later, angry cursing and shouts came from within. The two stomped back out and Skarg gave orders in orc to Storr and other guards. Then the slaves were ordered to continue clearing rubble. They looked into the next area and saw more rubble behind the second pile.

The orcs brought in an additional brass lantern and set it into the new room so exposed. Everyone could see a frieze running around the top of the room. It depicted the construction of a small parlor, its fireplace, and a chimney. There was a caption around it in Flan, which, though none of them could read, Elriya was able to make out. It read: “A second hearth exists in the northwest wing of the complex.”

Not long after that, they were taken back to the slave quarters, as were the slaves taken to the library. The door was closed again and about a half hour later they were brought gruel with some kind of pork. The bowls were taken away once again and the orcs began their revelry an hour or so after that.

They discussed what had happened to them that day, Elriya telling Tarmak about the frieze she’d seen and what the writing had read. Arya had sat apart from everyone else in the place, mostly watching.

“Come, sit with us … if you’re not already,” Leon called into the darkness.

He was not looking in her direction. She looked around, unsure who he was talking to.

“Elf, I think he’s talking about you,” Elriya said.

“Um … sure,” she said, getting up and joining the other three.

“What is your name?” Leon asked.

“Arya,” she said.

“Arya?” he said. “I am Leon Chamberlyn.”

“You look like one.”

“Thank you!”

“So, how’d you end up in here?”

“Same way you did,” Elriya said. “Orcs captured us.”

“Getting kidnapped in the night?”

“Yes.”

“That’s unfortunate.”

“The bard over there and I were camping out and they attacked us,” Leon said. “I wasn’t in my armor.”

Arya looked to where he’d pointed but there was just a wall there.

“Bard?” she said. “Where?”

“Are you going to help us escape?” Elriya asked.

“Depends on how,” Arya said. “He asked and he said you didn’t know how to escape.”

“Not quite yet,” Leon said. “Not fully done.”

“So, what do you have?” she asked.

“Well, I won that bet with Storr and he’s going to let me walk around the complex for an hour tomorrow,” Tarmak said. “So I can scout out a little bit more.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Possibly find an exit.”

“And we’ve already explored several areas,” Elriya said.

She explained the areas of the complex she had seen and the others had explored and shared with them. That included the area where the Gnasher lived and where they thought their gear was being stored. They also described to her where they thought the exit lay.

“We may have some weapons,” Leon said.

He told her of the shield, two spears, two halberds, long sword, suit of leather armor, and suit of studded leather armor they’d found and secured in a nearby room.

“How’d you get this?” she asked.

“I found it while we were exploring,” Leon said. “Then we killed a few … well, mortally wounded a few orcs and stole their weapons.”

“Is it all in this room?” she asked.

“No no, not in this room,” Leon said. “They’re stored in a safe place.”

He turned to Elriya.

“If you could get the magical sword of greatness from Cameron …” he said.

He was referring to the frieze they had found that showed the room with statues and noted a great weapon had been put in Cameron’s hands.

“Hopefully, it means the statue,” Leon said.

“It could also mean his body,” Elriya said.

“If we put that with our stores, we should have enough weapons.”

“Unless Cameron’s entombed with his weapon.”

“I could always give it a check,” Tarmak said.

They decided to work on the rubble pile once again. Leon and Elriya helped but they only worked an hour that night.

As they finished, a half-dozen orcs came in again and searched everyone and the room for contraband. No one woke them three hours later, but a group came in some six hours after they bedded down.

* * *

It was only three hours after the orcs searched them that they returned to the room on the 6th of Fireseek to take the slaves out once again. On the way to the work area, Tarmak noticed a hole in the wall in the hallway. Some of the slaves were taken to the library once again while the rest worked on the new pile of rubble. Tarmak was able to get a good look at the frieze and then almost immediately asked Storr for the hour to look around.

“Okay,” Storr said, obviously unhappy. “It’s a deal. Go. If you’re caught, you’ll be brought back here. And we might beat you.”

“Fair enough,” Tarmak said.

“Fair enough,” Storr said. “Good luck, you …”

He had been trying to think of some insult but the man was so average, he couldn’t make up anything. Tarmak merely threw the orc a salute and walked away.

Tarmak walked around through the wide tunnel and remembered where two orcs stood guard towards their quarters. Instead, he headed towards what the friezes called the Hall of Honor. He found it very, very dark in most of the room. In addition to the piles of rubble and debris, four nine-foot-tall statues dominated the room. A long, thin pool of smelly, stagnant water ran the length of the hall, just east of the statues. Each statue had an engraving.

He looked at the first statue which was of a woman dressed in flowing robes with a dove perched on her fingertips. He skipped it entirely. The second statue, he could barely make out, was a man wearing some kind of mail and holding a long sword in his hand. He felt the engraving, trying to figure out the name and, after some five minutes work, realized it was “Cameron.”

“Oh!” he said.

He climbed up the side of the statue and grabbed the metal sword. It had been set there and he easily pulled out, though it let loose a good deal of dust into the air. He climbed back down with the sword, which felt very light in his hands.

“If only I could use bladed weapons,” he mused.

He thought about what to do with the blade, knowing he could probably not get to where the rest of the weapons and gear was hidden on the other side of the complex. He decided to see if he could make it and so slipped past the nearby lit lantern and peeked around the corner to where they thought the entrance of the place was. Two orcs stood on guard duty there. He didn’t think he could get by them to the hiding place without being seen.

He went back to the Honor Hall and carefully opened the door in the hallway outside of the room. It seemed horribly loud to him but he persisted and slipped inside. He could just make out, in the dim light, a few splintered sticks of furniture and scraps of carpets. He could just make out the opposite wall of the room had collapsed, leaving a crack wide enough to squeeze through though he could see nothing but darkness beyond it. He saw the frieze in the room, which depicted a starscape in the night sky. There was no caption.

He guessed the room had already been searched and tucked the sword in a corner.

He headed out of the room and went down the hallway connected to the Honor Hall, creeping down the other side and looking for more orc guards. He stopped when he spotted a couple around the corner near the library.

* * *

While Tarmak was gone, Leon approached Storr again.

“What?” the orc growled. “What do you want now, blue eyes?”

“I figured out a way to compete with you with easier gains for you,” Leon said.

“What?”

“Of course, it’s less interesting.”

“Oh Gruumsh! You never shut up! Just say it.”

“I’m better than the Mouth.”

“Not by much. What do you want!?!”

“If we have a contest of strength. An arm wrestling match. Surely, you can’t turn me down. That would look bad.”

Storr looked at the man.

“You’re like a damned brick shithouse,” he muttered.

“But you’re an orc!” Leon said.

“Yes, and if I lose to you, I lose more face in front of my men.”

“True, but then how about one of your men? They can use both hands.”

“Two against one!” Storr said.

“Well, what would you want if I lost?”

“If you lose, I’ll give you what I gave him. You get to look around the complex for an hour. But you have to bring me something that’s worth at least 10 gold pieces. If you don’t, I’ll throw one of you in the hole. Either you or one of your friends can go in the hole for the day.”

“Wait, but if I win, that makes you win as well.”

“If you win, what do you want?”

“The exploration could be nice. Get out on my feet.”

“I can give you a day off. You can rest for a whole day.”

“How about this. I explore. If I can’t find you something of value.”

“You better. Or you’re going in the hole.”

“Then I go in the hole.”

“That’s what you get if you lose, dumbass.”

“A day off then. Or would I be able to meander?”

“Not for a whole day. And I’m not giving you any permission with any of the orcs to be out, either. If you get caught and brought back, you get caught and brought back.”

“Fair enough. And then in the hole.”

“Depends on if you find my stuff.”

“Let’s do it. But I get to give that day off to someone else of my choosing if I win.”

“Fair enough.”

Storr called over two of the larger orcs. Neither of them was as big as Leon but they were both fairly large. They grabbed the man’s hand and, though he struggled valiantly, they quickly pulled his arm down. It was, after all, two against one. Storr laughed at his victory.

“Once your friend gets back, you can go look for my stuff,” he said. “Don’t fail me. Get back to work until then. That was only mildly entertaining.”

* * *

Tarmak crept back to the Honor Hall and towards the back of the room where he knew there was a door. He pulled it open but it was pitch black beyond. He could see nothing and would have to feel his way. Then he got an idea.

He went back to the room where he’d stashed the sword. He got an intact stick and wrapped some carpet around it. He went to the nearest lantern and lit the makeshift torch on it. He knew it wouldn’t last very long as he had no access to pitch or oil. The great brass lanterns had the caps on the fonts, where the oil was kept, tightly closed. Each cap was a foot across and had a ring on it the orcs passed a bar through so two of them could tighten or loosen it. It would be impossible for him to open himself.

He quickly made his way back to the door he’d opened to find a small antechamber with another door directly across from him. He opened the door and peered into the room in the failing light of his makeshift torch.

Two huge, empty, rusted iron vats occupied the center of the chamber, and a number of rusted iron racks stood against the south wall. An old pile of frayed linens rested on the bottom shelf of the easternmost rack. A hole was in the north wall and two other doors were in the room. A frieze ran around the top of the wall depicting the construction of a large table and a surrounding council room. The caption read, in Flan, “The Answer Stone is set in the council chamber in the southwest wing of the complex.”

He guessed that was near the library somewhere, perhaps. He figured the door in the angled wall of the strange-shaped room led back to where they were working. His torch was quickly burning out and he grabbed a bit of the old linens and ran back out to the Honor Hall. The linen, though old, was sound and he wondered if he could make a rope out of it. He wrapped some of the linen over the piece of wood again and then lit it on the lantern and headed back to the room where he’d put his sword.

He crossed the room to the hole in the wall and crept through, finding a long chamber with a single door to the left he guessed led back to the hallway where they were working. The room was, for the most part empty. The frieze that ran around the ceiling depicted a number of tall trees in a dense forest. There was no caption.

He quickly crossed to the room with the vats and opened the door on the far side of it, revealing another long room with nothing in it. The frieze depicted a number of tall trees in a dense forest. The other door to the room probably led out into the hallway where they were working.

He crossed through the antechamber into the Honor Hall and went to the door directly across from the one he’d already opened. Another antechamber lay beyond that door. He crossed it and opened the door on the other side.

The floor of the large room was covered in broken glass, smashed bits of glassware everywhere, though a few pieces of pristine glassware, wine flutes of some kind, survived, sitting atop an old workbench. Alone one wall were shelves that housed various curiosities including a human skull, a candle, a silver dagger, and a rack of test tubes. The test tubes contained three measures each, according to the marks on them, of five colored powders: black, green, yellow, blue, and orange. A broken area of wall was to the right, a door not far beyond it. Another broken area of wall lay directly ahead of him. The frieze depicted two moons orbiting the planet, presumably Oerth and the moons of Luna and Celene. The caption read “The sisters.”

Tarmak quickly lit the candle. It was about three inches tall and he guessed he had about a half hour of candlelight but it was still better than the makeshift torches he had been using. He picked up the candleholder and looked around more carefully. Then he went back to the room with the linens and grabbed a larger piece. He returned to the room and used the linen as a makeshift sack, wherein he put the glassware and the three test tubes of powder. Each was sealed tightly with a cork. He also tucked the dagger in.

He left the bag next to the door and went through the hole in the far wall.

The room beyond was an L-shape with a northern and western section. A single door stood on the north wall of the western area, a moldy carpet resting on the floor near it. A tattered, canopied bed sat against the north wall of the north section. The remains of a writing desk stood against the south wall and a tall brazier stood in the southeast corner. The frieze depicted a torrent of flames and rubble shooting skyward from the ground, presumably from the temple. The caption read “Once the holy endeavor is complete, a great cataclysm will bury the temple forever.”

He guessed the door led back out into the corridor near the library.

He went to the writing desk first but there was nothing upon it and there were no drawers. He picked up the moldy carpet next but found nothing under it. It fell apart in his hands. He looked under the bed and found an iron box that was open. The lock had been smashed and it was empty.

He crept out of the room, going back to the room with the broken glass and then through the other hole in the wall. He found himself in a relatively small chamber with another door that he guessed led out into the hall. The room was mostly empty except for some broken trash on the floor. He searched the room for 10 minutes but found nothing.

Feeling like he was running out of time, he returned to the room with the broken glass, got his makeshift bag and put it with the sword in the first room he’d examined. He blew out the candle, only about a third of which was left, and left it with the bag. Then he crept out of the room, closing the door behind him as he’d closed all the others.

He crept back where the slaves were working and started to open one of the doors nearby. It sounded like the orcs were rolling dice and gambling. He pulled on the chains but then thought he heard the orcs asking what that noise was so he quickly closed the door and walked into the room where the others labored. He had noticed light in the room, however.

“What was that noise?” one of the orcs said.

He cuffed Tarmak on the head.

“Was that you?” the orc said.

He cuffed the man again.

“I had to get─” Tarmak said.

“Answer my question!” the orc said.

He cuffed the man on the head again.

“I had to get back here on time!” Tarmak blurted out. “Apparently I’m a little early.”

“Get back to work!” the orc told him.

He did so.

“So, were you able to do it?” Leon asked him as they worked.

“Yes, I was able to find Cameron,” Tarmak said. “Found a long sword in his hands and took it back.”

He told them everything he had found and described the rooms he’d explored. He also told them about the powders and the silver dagger and the expensive-looking glassware. He described the strange friezes about the Answer Stone and the destruction of the whole place. He told them of orc guards he’d seen as well. They talked about Kilb and wondered if he might be able to determine the value of the glassware but the kobold seemed very uncooperative. Leon used his divine powers on the kobold but detected no evil from him. None of the other slaves were evil either.

Leon asked if the glassware would be worth more than 10 gold coins and Tarmak thought it would.

“It’s more ‘Would Storr think it’s 10 gold?’” Elriya said.

“Good question,” Leon said.

“Yeah, if you have to take him something back, grab one of them,” Tarmak said. “There’s six.”

Storr walked over to them.

“We’re even,” the orc said. “But if you can think of some other amusing bets, I’ll be around.”

“Oh, you’ll be the first to know,” Tarmak said.

“I better be,” Storr said.

He cuffed the priest in the back of the head.

* * *

Between the first and second water break, Leon approached Storr to go find his treasure. The orc sent him off an hour after the first water break, ordering him to bring him treasure or suffer.

Leon headed in generally the same direction Tarmak had gone. He made his way to the room where Tarmak had hidden the gear and picked up one of the pieces of glassware. He tried to determine the value of the thing but was unable to tell how much it might be worth. Unsure, he put it back with the others.

He picked up the sword. It had a very good balance. He put it down and looked at the powders in the test tubes. He thought about tasting them but then discarded that very bad idea. He put the powders back down but held onto the sword.

He carefully headed down the hallway, through the Honor Hall, past a door no one had examined yet, and around the corner towards the library. There was a large lantern in the empty hallway and he knew, from what Tarmak had told him, there were orcs just around the corner. He went to the door around the corner that had not been explored and opened it.

“Who dat?” an orc voice came from within.

He quickly pulled it closed.

“Hey!” the orc yelled. “Who’s out there!?!”

He ran as the door opened behind him, fleeing back down to the room where they’d hidden their things and closing the door there. He waited several minutes but heard nothing so crept back out.

He went back down the corridor to the other door he didn’t think, from his mental map, anyone had looked into. It stood on the hallway between the Honor Hall and the wider halls outside of the library. He pulled the chains and loudly opened the door. In the light spilling in from the hallway, he could barely make out another door in the opposite wall of the room. The splintered ruins of a number of bunks and a rickety writing desk were all that remained in the room. He could just make out frieze, which depicted a group of workers moving delicate steel cages into what appeared to be an aviary. He couldn’t read the caption.

He knew he’d not be able to see anything in the next room but opened the door to it anyway. He went out and lit the candle, returning to enter the room. He felt a sensation of cold and evil. The frieze depicted a starscape in the night sky and had no caption. There were a few splintered sticks of furniture and scraps of carpet. Another door probably led out into the corridor near the library. The feeling of evil was palpable but only seemed to be a residue of what he’d felt when the horrible knight had passed by him on two separate occasions.

He left the room and closed the door, blowing out the candle.

He returned to the hallway and thought about where to go and what to do. Then he crept back to the lantern and north, heading to the place where the others thought the exit might lie. He crept by the two orcs on guard there, making his way to the wide corridor to the north without being seen. He could see the other orcs at the far end of the hallway but crept through and to the room where the keys were. He lit his candle on the nearby lantern and opened the door.

The room was exactly as Elriya had described it. Hundreds of keys of all descriptions were hung by hooks on the walls of the small chamber. The frieze around the top of the wall depicted two moons orbiting the world. After a moment’s thought, he closed the door and, instead, went to the room where they’d hidden all of the gear they had collected thus far. That was the room with the frieze of the Honor Hall.

He picked up the other longsword and compared them. The balance on the sword from the Honor Hall was much better. Then he donned the studded leather armor and picked up the small shield. He crossed through the hallway to the other part of the room and opened the door that led to the hallway to the slave quarters. The door to their quarters was open but he knew no one else was in there. He went to the door on the south wall and opened it. He found a room that had a frieze around it that showed the construction of a hearth and chimney and a caption he couldn’t read.

In the wall adjacent to their own cell, he found a breach with some rubble blocking it. He realized if they cleared the rubble from the other side, they could get into the room from their cell. He also noticed another breach in the wall that led out to the corridor on the opposite side, meaning they could creep out without having to open any doors. There was nothing to hide things with, however. It looked like it had been searched already.

He quickly transferred all of the weapons and armor from the other room, as well as the citrine gem. He closed the door and headed back out into the hallways near the key room once again. He blew out the candle and headed back to where the other cache of goods had been hidden by Tarmak. However, the orcs on guard near the entrance spotted him.

“Hey, whatta you doing, slave?” one of them yelled.

The orcs came over.

“Storr asked me to go find him something, which I did,” Leon said.

The orc cuffed him in the head.

“Liar!” the orc screamed.

The orc grabbed him by the arms.

“I say, sir, I do not lie!” Leon said.

The orc punched him in the face, not even hurting the paladin. The other poked him in the back with the spear and they dragged him back to the working area.

“Storr, this one of yours?” the orc asked.

“I don’t know how he got away,” Storr said.

He slapped Leon in the face.

“All right,” he said. “Sorry.”

Once the other orcs left, he glared at the man.

“Well?” he said.

Leon held out the piece of citrine he’d gotten. Storr snatched it out of the man’s hand and looked at it.

“All right, that’ll do,” he said. “Get back to work.”

Leon got back to work and told them everything he’d seen and done.

“And guess what, that pile of rubble isn’t a waste of time,” he said.

Arya just shrugged. When he told them about the weapons, Elriya was disappointed.

“The dagger isn’t though,” she said.

She was not happy about that and a little peeved about it.

“But, if I was caught, we would have lost the dagger,” Leon said. “I wanted to take minimal risk. And I know how to use the sword. I don’t know how to use a dagger.”

They worked the rest of the day and were given their water breaks. After a grueling day of work, they were sent back to the slave quarters. While they waited for the orcs to bring them food, Leon used his divine power to lay on hands to aid Elriya and Tarmak, both of whom were still injured. The orcs brought them their gruel, which still seemed to have some kind of pork in it.

As soon as the orcs took away the bowls, the four of them got to work on moving the pile of rubble in the corner. Elriya asked some of the stronger peasants if they would help.

“It’s a way out?” one man asked. “Really?”

“You’re just going to get us all killed,” another said.

“We’ve already lost two,” Leon said.

“That’s that ugly girl,” another peasant said.

Still, four of them agreed to help them move rubble as much as they could, though they were already exhausted. The four only worked for an hour before they had to fall into one of the piles of hay and sleep. The heroes all worked for about three hours between the orc searches. They had made an appreciable dent in the rubble but did not yet reach the other room before they had to stop from exhaustion.

* * *

They were woken only a few hours later on the 7th of Fireseek and dragged out to work on the pile of rubble at the work area. A few of the slaves were taken to the library again that day. Elriya was chosen again to fetch the water. But the orcs remembered how slow she’d been before.

“Get it faster this time,” the orc said.

He cuffed her in the head.

The orc took her to the cistern the first time and brought her back.

“I remember how long that took,” he growled at her, glaring at the Halfling girl.

He sent her to get more water.

She walked to the lantern that led to the entrance, but then ran to the room where Tarmak had stashed the dagger and the strange powder. She grabbed everything he’d hidden there and tucked it into the bucket, then walked calmly by the guards at the entrance. Once she was out of sight of them, she ran to the room where they had initially hidden their things, crossed to the room where the weapons and armor were now hidden and tucked the dagger with the rest, then ran all the way back, got the water, and returned.

“*****!” the orc said, slapping her. “Better hurry up!”

She ended up fetching the water for the rest of the day, making nearly good enough time not to get slapped repeatedly, though she was told she could have done it faster. She related to her allies everything she had seen and done.

A couple of hours after the last water break, they heard thunder. Every once in a while they heard the rumble coming from above. Leon, who worshiped Hieroneous, took it as a good omen. A lightning bolt was his god’s holy symbol. About an hour after that, they were returned to the slave quarters. They could still hear the occasional rumble of thunder.

The orcs brought their gruel and fed them before leaving them alone once again. The gruel seemed to have some hardtack in it that night. One of the villagers was doing very badly and so Leon used his divine power of healing to help that man and Elriya, who was also injured.

“This is a sign from Hieroneous,” Leon said of the thunder.

He tried to convince the other slaves to help them dig at the rubble and, in the end, six of the villagers said they would help. They worked for an hour before everyone feigned sleep again. Orcs came in to search them and they got back to work after that. After only about 20 minutes of the second hour they worked, they broke through to the next room and could squeeze through one at a time. They asked the peasants to put the rubble back once they left. By then, the sound of thunder had stopped.

“Stay here,” Leon said. “It’s safer here. We will come for you.”

“Find my spellbook,” Arthelion said.

The peasants were unsure but complied. As soon as the four were through, they set to work covering the hole back up.

The heroes geared up. Leon took the studded leather armor and the shield, as well as the well-balanced sword. Elriya picked up the silver dagger, content with that. Arya was disappointed at the selection of weapons. Tarmak broke the end off a spear to use it as a quarterstaff.

“I can’t use edged weapons,” he told Leon. “My god forbids it.”

They talked about using Arya as a diversion. Leon noted they needed to get into the room with their equipment.

“If we can get in there, we can get your bow,” he said.

“Do you know where this room is?” she asked.

“Yes,” Tarmak said.

“We know where the room used to be,” Leon said, “and we’re hoping the orcs, of questionable intelligence, wouldn’t have moved it.”

“They still keep my holy symbol in that room, so …” Tarmak said. “Possibly, they would have kept everything else too.”

“If nothing else, we’ll have our healer,” Leon said.

“Now how to do you think I could be a diversion?” Arya asked.

“Honestly, just run through screaming,” Leon said.

Tarmak suggested giving her the other suit of armor and she donned the nasty orc leather. She broke the end off one of the halberds and turned it into a makeshift club.

“If all else fails, hopefully we can dispatch many of them so they’ll route,” Leon said.

They left the room, opening the slave quarters enough so someone could crawl under if they wanted. Then they made their way through the room where they had earlier hidden their things. Arya and Elriya guided them through the dark room where they found the gold and gems still hidden. They went out through the north door of the room and then through the area near Skarg’s chambers. They opened the door to the central room where some of them had hidden during their earlier escape attempt and which Leon had passed through after being in the gnasher’s area. Then they crept down the hallway to the wide hall.

Leon peered around the corner and saw two orcs by the bonfire near the gnasher area. He told the rest and Arya asked if they could open the door just a little to slip in. Leon suggested trying to sneak and if the orcs saw them, they would try to deal with them. Arya told them if they got her bow, she would hurt the orcs. Elriya said she could sneak into the room.

Elriya moved out into the corridor, sneaking to the door. She pulled on the chains, only raising the door about three feet, and then peeked in. She didn’t see any orcs in the dim room so slipped in and found her things. She also noticed a hole in the wall that opened to another room, which was dark. She quickly put on her armor and got her gear and weapons. She also saw numerous other items. There were more spears, orc-sized leather armor, the black cloaks the orcs wore, a shield, a broadsword, another sling and bullets, as well as gear that probably belonged to the rest of the party.

She saw there were two short bows, one black and the other looking pretty typical. There were two quivers of arrows as well, one black and the other a rustic brown. She took the non-black items and the holy symbol that she recognized as belonging to Tarmak. She also saw a thick book and guessed it was Arthelion’s spellbook. She took it. She slipped back to the others, startling them a little.

“Hey,” she said.

Arya got her bow and arrows while Tarmak took his holy symbol.

“If you can, I have splint mail, a shield, and a bastard sword,” Leon said. “And a heavy lance but I don’t need it.”

Elriya remembered seeing the items. Tarmak mentioned studded leather armor and a staff. She snuck back into the room, retrieved the splint mail and the bastard sword. She noticed another suit of leather armor obviously made for a female and guessed it was Arya’s. She also got leather armor and the morning star. She crept back to the rest completely quietly.

They went back down the hallway to the central room and put on their own armor, equipping themselves with their own weapons once again. Leon opened the door to the gnasher’s lair a little and shoved in the gear they were not using. There was a growl from behind the door and a huge claw came out under it after Leon had pushed the things through. It looked like the arm of a bear. Leon quickly lowered the door, first pinning the claw, which was withdrawn, and then closing it all the way. The door rattled in its frame but held firm.

Arya slipped down the passage and peeked around the corner at the orcs on guard duty. They looked back towards the gnasher’s area with some concern.

They discussed what to do next. Leon suggested they could free the gnasher to create a distraction. Or they could go back to where they were and try to kill their way out with the peasants. There was some discussion about the wisdom of that second plan and the efficiency of their trying it the first time. It was pointed out numerous shouts of alarm had been raised already when they tried to escape before. Leon was adamant to rescue the peasants. He also noted they could possibly kill off enough of the orcs to completely rout them, if not make future attempts, at least, much easier. They talked about sending Elriya back into the storage room. Leon said his top priority was the peasants so they should get them out and come back if necessary. He thought they should get the peasants before retrieving any more gear. Tarmak was fine with that.

They headed back through the back corridors and to the room where they’d hidden their stuff when they heard orc voices from around the corner. Then they heard someone walking towards them. Arya and Elriya ducked into the room while Leon and Tarmak ducked behind the pile of rubble. They heard orc speak for a few moments. There was silence for a half minute and then the slap of orc feet going away.

Leon took a long time to sneak back to the room where they had hidden their things, creepy slowly to be quiet. When he arrived, they decided to leave the door open. Elriya retrieved the gold and silver coins as well as the gems and other valuables they had stashed in the room. Leon pointed out he was coming back later because the orcs had to be purged. Tarmak took Odila’s notes.

They crept back to the slave quarters and opened up the door. When they told Arthelion about guiding the peasants with his magical light he said he could when the time was right. He was very happy when Elriya begrudgingly gave him his spellbook back. He snatched it out of her hands and gave her a dirty look.

“Thank you,” he said insincerely.

The peasants were afraid but followed after them all in the dark as they made their way through the nearby corridor that usually took them to the work site. They hesitated in the larger room, knowing there were two orc guards outside during the daytime shift. They didn’t remember there being any guards there when they last tried to escape so opened the door.

The wide corridor outside was empty, lit by the nearby great lantern.

“What about the box?” Arthelion said.

“I feel like they’re going to be hindered if we take the box,” Leon said.

“What is the box?” Arya asked.

Arthelion opened the door to the room where they’d found the box and they retrieved it. The red, metal box was 12 inches long, six inches wide, and four inches deep. It was made of a strange, red metal and was surprisingly well-preserved. The top of the box was marked with two Flan signs and on the bottom there were four dials with Flan lettering on them. Tarmak examined it and noted he could read it. He could see that each of the four dials had five letters upon them. He also noted the letters “JC” on the top in Flan runes. When he shook it, something rattled and something soft moved around inside.

They continued moving through the place towards the north, Leon closing the door behind them. They arrived at another of the giant lanterns and realized it would cast their shadows once they passed it. Arthelion quietly chanted a short spell and a flame appeared in his hands. He closed his hand again and it was gone. He nodded at them, ready.

“I’ll find my own way,” Kilb said.

He took Odila with him and they crept into the dark tunnels and disappeared.

“Are you good at fighting?” Leon asked Elriya.

The Halfling looked very small to him and he had little experience with the folk. Elriya gave the man a look and then took the silver dagger by the blade, flipped it up into the air, and caught it again by the blade. She spun it with a single hand so that she was holding it by the handle. She didn’t say a word.

“Perfect,” Leon said. “So, as soon as we round the corner … can you use that mace?”

“Can I use that mace?” Tarmak asked sarcastically.

“I’m just making sure.”

“Last time we tried to escape I killed three or four orcs with it.”

“Well, then, excellent. We should just rush up and try to kill these orcs before they can sound an alarm. We can have her peek out and not get caught. We can have her shoot at them.”

“Maybe our thief friend should be the one to go peek. Since she could sneak into that room and get our gear back for us, she can do that.”

“If I hear someone scream, an orc do anything. I’m going to charge it.”

“Fair enough,” Arya said.

Elriya crept up by the wall and peeked around the corner. There were three orcs watching in her general direction.

“Somebody’s coming,” one of them said.

Tarmak rushed forward and slammed his morning star into one of the orcs, striking the creature in the side of the head. Elriya ran forward as well, rushing by the orcs and stabbing the same one in the kidney. The orc fell without a sound, bleeding profusely. Then Leon ran forward and stabbed with the sword he’d found, which seemed to move in his hand as if seeking out the orc’s heart. The swing was bad, however, and even with the magical sword, Leon only stabbed into the orc’s armor, not injuring it. Finally, Arya moved into the room and aimed and fired into the fray. The arrow flew over their heads and disappeared into the darkness beyond.

The orcs, though surprised, rallied quickly.

Leon swung wildly at one of the orcs, missing. Arya fired another arrow into the fray but missed completely. Behind the orcs, Elriya slipped around and stabbed at another, but didn’t pierce his armor. Arya shot another orc, striking him in the chest, and the creature fell backwards. Tarmak circled around and swung at the final orc, who yelled something in orcish and stabbed Leon.

Elriya and Leon both tried to stab the last standing orc but he deftly dodged the man’s attacks while his armor turned aside the Halfling’s silver dagger. Arya moved to one side and fired into the melee again, the arrow narrowly missing Leon and disappearing into the darkness. The orc shouted something in orcish and swung at Leon again, the spear bouncing off the man’s armor. Tarmak, behind the orc, swung away and struck the orc in the back of the head. The creature’s eyes crossed and he went down.

More orc feet slapped against the stone in the direction they were heading. They saw three more orcs running their way.

“I need healed!” Leon said.

“Hey you!” one orc shouted.

“What are you doing!?!” another orc cried.

Arthelion moved forward with his charges, getting into the room but trying to stay behind the others. Arya headed towards the exit and spotted the orcs coming. She fired into their ranks but the arrow went low and struck the ground, sliding out of sight. Tarmak started chanting. Then the orcs rushed them, spears flailing. One of them charged at Arya and stabbed her in the side. Another tried to stab Tarmak but he was able to parry the spear with his staff. The third tried to stab Elriya but she leapt out of the way and then stabbed at the orc’s knee with her silver dagger.

Tarmak moved to Leon and cast a healing spell on the paladin. Leon pushed past Tarmak and swung his magical long sword, missing completely once again. He stabbed at the orc again but the blow bounced off the orc’s leather armor. Elriya stabbed at another orc but didn’t penetrate it’s armor.

One of the orcs stabbed Arya in her left eye. There was a sickening pop and she felt warm fluid pour down her face as she was almost overwhelmed with a horrible, sickening pain. Another of the orcs futilely beat on Leon’s shield but was unable to hurt the man. The last one stabbed Elriya in the gut and she stumbled backwards and fell to the ground. Arthelion let out a shriek.

Tarmak rushed the orcs and his morning star merely struck one of the orc’s shoulders. Arya fired at the orcs again but missed completely. Arthelion moved around the battle, leading the peasants towards the exit. Leon finally managed to stab an orc, who went down with a cry. Then Leon moved forward to get closer to the nearest two orcs. One of the remaining ones tried to stab Tarmak unsuccessfully. The other pivoted towards Leon and stabbed the man, who stumbled but did not fall. Arya, who had fallen back, shot the orc who had stabbed her in the left eye. He went down with a shriek.

Tarmak chanted and then cast a healing spell on Elriya. The Halfling thief blinked her eyes and awoke.

Arthelion activated his cantrip and moved into the corridor where the orcs had come from. The peasants followed him.

“It’s a way out!” he cried.

He led the other slaves out of the terrible place.

Leon swung wildly at the last orc, who turned to the man and stabbed him in the side. Leon fell to the ground. Tarmak started to chant again as Elriya stood up and rushed the last orc, who had turned his back to her. The orc was pulled his spear from Leon when she stabbed it in the back.

“Ow!” the orc cried. “Quit it!”

Tarmak cast another healing spell on Leon. Unfortunately, the paladin did not awaken. Then Arya fired two arrows at the orc. The second one hit it in the chest and it fell to the ground.

“My duodenum!” the orc cried out as the elf cursed him.

They heard the slapping of orc feet from the other side of where they thought the entrance lay.

“Grab him!” Elriya called to Tarmak. “I’ll lead you to the exit.”

Tarmak grabbed Leon, throwing him over his shoulder. With the adrenaline running through him, he was able to pick up the heavy man. They raced through a vestibule. Those with infravision could see that it was some 30 feet by 30 feet with the side walls decorated with faded murals depicting sylvan landscapes. Beyond the room was a sloping passage leading up to the cold. The walls of the passage, like the rest of the place, were hewn from limestone.

They found themselves on the bottom of a ravine. They could see Arthelion ahead, a light in his hand, leading the other slaves up a path in the side of the ravine. It was very dark and cold but at least it wasn’t snowing. Those in the rear could hear the slapping of orc feet behind them and those with infravision could see three more orcs running after them.

Arya ran to grab Elriya and pick her up but found the Halfling weighed more than she first assumed. She nocked another arrow and then turned and ran up the path up the ravine. Elriya raced up the path, running past them all. The orcs jogged after them.

Tarmak, trying to run, dropped Leon’s prone form into the mud up the path. He simply couldn’t carry the man any more. The other two women had outrun him. He pulled the morning star from his belt and turned. As the orcs came up the path, Tarmak leapt at the lead orc, hoping to use the high ground to his advantage. He tripped and crashed to the path, striking his head on a rock. He lay still on the ground, stunned.

Arya pulled the arrow back in her bow and let fly. The lead orc raised his spear to murder Tarmak but the arrow struck him in the neck and he fell back, crashing to the ground on his back. She pulled back her bow and fired a second shot. This one struck the next orc in the chest and he fell backwards as well. The last orc looked at the two, turned, and ran away, heading back into the temple. Elriya moved down the path to Tarmak’s fallen form, her sling swinging over her head, and fired a bullet at the retreating orc. It flew off into the darkness and the orc ran away.

Arya ran down and she and Elriya helped Tarmak up.

“Hey!” Elriya yelled up the ravine. “Help the paladin!”

Four of the men and women broke from the other group.

“The paladin!” one yelled. “He’s in trouble!?!”

As the peasants arrived and picked up Leon, Arya pushed the two unconscious and bleeding orcs off the edge of the path. They flopped down the side of hill to crash at the bottom of the ravine some 20 feet below. Then she headed up the path after Elriya and Tarmak, helping with the priest, who was barefoot.

“Lead Tarmak,” Elriya told her. “I’m going to lead these peasants out.”

“Okay,” Arya said.

Tarmak shook his head. He had a terrible headache and but was able to walk on his own. It was very cold and his bare feet were very, very cold. As they reached the top of the ravine, they thought they could hear someone rushing up from the bottom, far below. The ravine ran in a roughly east and west direction but they had no idea which way to go. They were surrounded by hills with only a few small copses of trees anywhere near. They were unsure where they were though Tarmak knew which direction was north.

They could see flashes in the sky miles away to the east where a thunderstorm played. It seemed to be heading their way though it would probably be hours before it got to them.

Tarmak chose a northeasterly direction to get them away from the ravine and the orcs, at least. Arya knew that Nyrond lay to the south of the place she camped when the orcs ambushed her. Northeast would take them further into the Flinty Hills. She tapped his shoulder.

“Nyrond is south, though,” she said.

“South?” he replied.

“We’re going north,” she said. “Just further in the hills. I think.”

Tarmak continued them moving to the northeast, telling them they would start in that direction and then circle around to make a southerly course once they escaped the orcs. However, they soon heard the sound of barking dogs behind them as well. Tarmak’s feet soon stopped hurting, which was also a bad sign.

They traveled about a mile to the northeast and then Tarmak started them curving towards the south, hoping they would go around the ravine. They didn’t see the fissure again and Tarmak led them south through the cold and the darkness. They had lost sight of Arthelion and were not sure what happened to the mage.

Arya suggested they make camp at some point and so they continued walking south for another hour. By then, they no longer heard the shouts of orcs or the dogs and they found a deep place in the hills not far from a small copse of trees. The peasants collected debris, kindling, and branches from the nearby trees and Elriya had flint and steel. Tarmak soon had a cozy fire burning in the spot, though it continued to get colder, already below freezing.

Arya went hunting in the cold despite having no cloak or anything to keep herself warm.

Tarmak’s feet hurt even worse once they warmed up and he feared he had frostbite. The peasants put Leon close to the fire as was safe and some of them warmed his unconscious form with their own bodies. Some of the peasants gave strips of cloth from their sparse clothing to wrap Tarmak’s injured feet.

* * *

Arya found deer tracks and, after following them for two hours, found her prey. However, she spooked the deer and it ran off. She tracked it again and after only another half hour, she was able to creep up on it. She got to within 130 yards and could just make it out. The thunderstorm continued to approach in the distance.

She shot the deer, striking it in the neck. The animal was not killed but was spooked and ran away. She set to tracking it once again and soon found it. She was able to get within 160 yards. She shot at it again but missed it and the deer was spooked once more. She tracked the animal again and then got within about 150 yards. She shot at the deer again but missed once more. The deer didn’t seem to notice. She crept closer and was able to get within about 130 yards. She crept closer and shot at the deer again. The animal bolted and ran and she lost the animal’s trail.

Snow started to come down and she looked for another animal. She found cleft hoof prints and so followed them. She soon found the wild boar almost 200 yards away in the darkness. There were some trees within about 100 yards of the boar. She crept closer but the animal spooked and took off. She tried to track the animal but soon lost him in the rough barrens.

It was getting colder and colder and she was unsure what direction the camp lay. She had a choice of trying to find some cover and just wandering aimlessly. She wandered for some time but soon felt the cold cutting into her terribly. She eventually found shelter in some trees and covered herself as best she could with the pine straw for the night and keep somewhat warm.

* * *

Dawn of the 8th of Fireseek was partly cloudy. The snow had stopped after only an hour in the early morning and the small fire in the hollow kept the peasants and other adventurers warm. They had seen no sign of Arya. Tarmak prayed to his god and cast healing spells on Elriya and Leon.

However, they found three of the villagers had succumbed to the cold and died during the night. One of the villagers had lain down by the fire and was dead by the next morning. Another had not come back when he’d gone to get more sticks and wood for the fire. The third came back and sat by the fire and watched it. He was dead by morning.

After building up the fire, they put the two dead bodies on it and headed east, in the direction Arya had gone.

* * *

Arya woke that morning, happy to still be alive. She felt terrible. She was cold and stiff and uncomfortable. She made her way to the top of a hill and spotted smoke. She made for it, guessing it was the fire the others had talked about making the night before. She ran into them coming her way roughly an hour later and realized she had wandered some four miles from the original camp during the night.

Tarmak cast a healing spell on Arya.

“Thanks,” she said.

It was still very cold but it was warming up somewhat and it looked like it might get above freezing that day. The snow was melting all around them.

They headed south. Towards the end of the day, they moved out of the hills into a wooded area. It was almost dark as, traveling through the woods, they came across a track and soon saw a village ahead. Dark clouds loomed menacingly over the grim, rain-drenched hamlet a sign marked as Luskwald. The settlement was little more than a cluster of weather-worn cottages surrounded on all sides by solemn, densely wooded hills. Rivers of mud flowed between the wood-frame houses. The houses seemed unfriendly, as if they were unwilling to relinquish some dreadful secret. They also shared one other odd similarity. Flickering in the window of each tenement was a scowling pumpkin, its innards carved out and filled with candlelight.

Leon, looking for a town hall, went to the first building on the left, which was larger than the others. The walls of the building were in desperate need of paint, yet the structure itself seemed to have weathered the passage of time. Above the main door hung a sign that read “Luskwald Traders’ Guild,” according to Tarmak. The guild actually seemed to consist of two buildings: the trade-hall to the south and an adjoining stable sealed by a pair of heavy wooden doors.

They continued down the dirt track past three smaller buildings that appeared to be homes. All of the windows were tightly shuttered and the doors closed against the night. The peasants were cold and tired, some complaining about stopping. Leon told them they were trying to find someplace to stay.

The next large building was on the left, just past near where another road left the village to the east. The large building was a rain-drenched, single-story structure with few windows, adjoining stables, and a large, weather-worn crest painted on the front wall. The crest depicted a green dragon, its wings unfolded, clutching an ale tankard with two fearsome claws.

“Well, this says food and drink and possibly rooms,” Leon said.

“And possibly dragons,” Elriya quipped.

“Dragons?” one of the peasants whined. “I don’t like dragons. We shouldn’t go in there if there’s dragons!”

“Let us find warmth and food,” Leon said.

“And information,” Arya said.

“Information is secondary to safety,” Leon said.

He walked up to the door of the inn and knocked.

“Who is without?” a voice came from within.

“What?” Arya said.

“Who is within?” Leon asked.

He heard someone on the other side of the door gasp.

“I think it’s people!” a voice said. “I think there’s a person out there.”

They heard the bolt pulled and the door was opened by a portly fellow with short hair and a well-trimmed beard.

“Our village is cursed!” he exclaimed loudly.

“Uh …” Arya said.

“Is … this not a good stop?” Leon said.

“Quickly!” the man said. “Come inside. Before it gets in. Quickly! Quickly!”

“Everyone in!” Leon said.

They got everyone into a warm and cozy chamber lit by lanterns suspended from the rafters. Four circular tables occupied the floor space and a large ale barrel stood in the corner. A toasty fire was in the hearth between two shuttered windows on one wall. Several doors led off the room and they could smell stew and hay. A dwarf stood by the ale barrel and a woman stood near the door that obviously led to the kitchen. Two golden brown dogs sat near the hearth, watching the newcomers. A black cat lay on one of the tables.

It was quite crowded in the room with the four adventurers and the 15 peasants, many of whom sat down at the tables, exhausted. The man at the door quickly bolted it again. He seemed very nervous. Arya went over and petted the cat, which rubbed up against her hand, enjoying it every much. In her mind, she beat herself up over the deer she’d wounded.

“Do you have enough food for everyone?” Leon asked.

“We’ll make do,” the dwarf said. “This is my place.”

Elriya greeted him in dwarven and he smiled and spoke his own language back to her.

“I haven’t heard my tongue in many and many a year,” he said to the Halfling. Then in the common tongue: “Who wants stew?”

Tarmak laughed nearly maniacally.

“Everyone,” Leon said.

“Penelope!” the dwarf said. “Stew! Let’s get stew for everyone.”

The adventurers took a table while the peasants all sat down. Some of them put their heads down on the table, exhausted. The four adventurers took out the sacks of coins and Arya said she was carrying some that wasn’t hers.

“That is very forthright of you,” Leon said with genuine respect.

“It’s not mine,” she said again.

“Arya is not a thief,” the paladin exclaimed.

They found they had a total of 150 silver pieces of mixed denominations. There were 131 gold coins as well as the three gemstones. Tarmak pulled out the strange red box he’d found and put it on the table. The dwarf and the woman came out of the kitchen with trays covered in bowls of a thick, hearty stew with plenty of meat and vegetables. The dwarf innkeeper told them the stew was a silver coin a bowl, and came with a piece of bread, which the woman went to fetch. He noted ale cost three copper coins, or two tankards for five copper coins. A bed for the night was two silver coins though he noted most of them would have to stay in the common room as he only had two rooms, the village never getting a great amount of traffic.

They made sure to give all of the villagers food and a mug of ale. The final tally to feed them was about 20 silver coins and the dwarf was not in any hurry to charge the group, making sure all of the people got food and drink first. It was the most delicious food they’d tasted in days.

Unbeknownst to any of them, Elriya had squirreled away 20 gold coins from their loot, mostly as she didn’t want the paladin to give away all of their gold. Leon tucked the three gems away and held onto the other coins.

It was only after they had eaten and drank and put the coin away that the portly man who opened the door approached their table.

“My name is Yanek,” he said. “Donovan Yanek. I’m the laird of this town. Luskwald is beset by a menace … a terrible and mysterious menace. Ezner Mourne, the village glazier, was found dead in his cottage two mornings past, lying in a pool of blood and broken glass. Two others have died since: a pair of local woodsmen named Karn Ironstar and Bryn Bellowforge. Both were murdered in their sleep, and all three victims had their throats slit. Words were scrawled in blood in each of the victims’ homes, but we could not decipher their meaning. I believe the message warns of more deaths to come. Only you can help us stop the evil ─ before it is too late. Adventurers, please, help us!”

“Of course, sir,” Leon said.

“Is the writing still there?” Elriya asked.

“It is,” Yanek said. “One of them, it was … I couldn’t read it … and the others.”

“We’ll investigate it on the morrow,” Leon said.

“Very well,” Yanek said. “Very well. What happened to you folks?”

“We just escaped an orc encampment.”

The man gasped.

“Orcs?” he said. “Are they invading?”

“No, they were trying to uncover some sort of treasure,” Leon said.

“Oh. Well, there was supposed to be some kind of goblin invasion some time ago. That’s why we were repairing … repairing the keep. I-I think the murders are somehow related to the peculiar events that happened in the old keep, a couple miles north of the village. We’ve been fraught with ill-luck ever since repairs began. If you’re willing to help …”

He told them six months ago, the residents of Luskwald heard rumors from passing merchants of a possible goblin incursion into the region. News from the nearest city confirmed speculations that goblin tribes were massing in the Flinty Hills. Worried about the future of his small community, Yanek commissioned a stonemason and several carpenters to rebuild a damaged keep two miles north of the village. The old keep, neglected since the last goblin invasion 10 years before, could be rebuilt and defended at minimal expense. When the villagers got news of a goblin advance, they could retreat to the security of the keep’s thick stone walls.

The repair crews worked for weeks restoring the keep’s fallen walls, while waiting nervously for the first goblin to show its ugly head. For the first several days, the restoration proceeded according to schedule, but in the weeks that followed, several “accidents” led many to believe the keep was cursed or haunted. The first incident was dismissed as a mere mishap: a section of floor collapsed beneath the stonemason, seriously injuring him. Unable to continue his work, the mason left an apprentice in charge of restoring the outer walls. Most of the workers blamed the accident on rotten floorboards, while a handful believed something more sinister was responsible.

But the collapsed floor was just the first of many unfortunate incidents. Over a period of several days, falling blocks of stone struck crewmen, nails pierced their boots, and unsteady scaffolding sent more than one worker tumbling to the ground. At the same time, rumors that the keep was haunted began circulating among the crew. The keep’s restoration was terminated altogether when, just four weeks into the repair schedule, an entire section of the scaffold collapsed, killing one workman and injuring three others. A study of the wreckage revealed that the scaffold had been sabotaged; someone or something had deliberately sawed through three support beams.

Yanek said he tried to convince the workers that the keep was an important bastion against the goblin hordes, but the crewmen were adamant about staying away from the haunted ruins, claiming the site had “a life of its own.” Fortunately, several bands of brave adventurers sent from distant cities put a quick end to the growing goblin threat, and with the village of Luskwald spared, Yanek abandoned his effort to rebuild the fallen keep.

However, the haunting did not end.

In the past week, three villagers had died, each the victim of a grisly assassin whose identity remains a mystery. Several villagers had heard or seen peculiar things over the last several days, leading them to believe that Luskwald has been cursed , or worse, ravaged by angry spirits - perhaps sent by a greater evil that dwells within the ruined keep! Yanek didn’t believe such nonsense, though he told them he wasn’t getting much sleep at night. Beyond any doubt, something was stalking the people of Luskwald … and everyone was afraid.

He suggested they start in the village itself and maybe the nature of the curse would be revealed by exploring the victims’ homes. He also said some of the villagers actually worked on the keep.

“So we can talk to them,” Elriya said.

“Yes,” Yanek said.

He told them the villagers who had worked in the keep included Hans Bellinek, Gustav and Justin Orlesky, Erne and Homm Shyndle, Karn Ironstar and Bryn Bellowforge (who were now both dead), Ezekiel Devek, and Doland Mirklar and his two apprentices. When asked, he noted that the glazier Ezner Mourne, the first to die, had not worked at the keep.

Outside, a light rain began to fall. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1973-Advanced-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-2nd-Edition-The-Scar-Session-Three
<![CDATA[Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition: The Scar Session Two]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1972-Advanced-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-2nd-Edition-The-Scar-Session-Two Wed, 27 Jul 2016 18:37:01 GMT Monday, July 25, 2016

(After playing the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition scenario “The Scar” by Ray Winninger from Dungeon Adventures #80 on Sunday from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, Collin Townsend, Aaron Scott, Ashton LeBlanc, James Brown, and Helen Koeval.)

The mage Arthelion the Enlightened, the priest Tarmak of the Winding Road, and the kobold rogue Kilb Bronzescale ran towards where they hoped the entrance to the terrible underground temple lay. Along with them were the elf priest Rome, the hedge wizard Helius Wik, and the dwarf warrior Noiree Fragginth. They arrived at the room with three doors to find the halfling thief Elriya Warrick there with the other slaves. She was looking around the corner of an archway into the darkness to the west. The room itself was only dimly lit by the large brass lanterns down the halls to north and south.

Elriya could see three orcs in a corridor towards the center of the complex, directly where they wanted to go. One of the rare halflings who had infravision, she could see in the pitch blackness perfectly.

Rome, Helius Wik, and Noiree said they would look for another way out. Rome said he knew of a secret door.

“I really don’t think we should split up,” Arthelion said.

“We’ll be okay, man,” Helius Wik said. “We’ll be fine.”

“All right. I trust you.”

“Wizards!”

The three of them headed south into the darkness and were soon lost to sight.

“We’re only assuming the exit is this way,” Elriya whispered.

“I really don’t want to fight anymore,” Arthelion said.

“I mean, none of us do,” Elriya said. “Why don’t you go distract them, distracting wizard?”

“Nah, I don’t want to do that,” Arthelion said.

“Hm,” Tarmak said.

“Hm,” Arthelion said. “All right, where’s the exit?”

“Well, I assume it’s past them,” Elriya said.

Arthelion hid in the corner as best he could. They heard the slapping of feet on flagstones come from the north. Then came the clanking of chains as one of the three doors rolled up into the ceiling. An orc strode out and they recognized him as Storr, the orc sub-chief. He wore the same black cloak the orcs wore as well as leather armor. A footman’s mace was on his belt, as was a scourge. He grinned when he saw the slaves. Nine orcs came out of the room behind him, all of them armed with spears and scourges.

“Prisoners,” Storr said. “You’ve had a good run. Drop your weapons … we’ll let you live.”

“Can you show me how to drop my weapon … like, can you do it and then I’ll know how to do it?” Arthelion said.

Storr looked at him.

“You’re outnumbered, except for those pansy-asses there,” Storr said, gesturing towards the other cowering slaves.

“Are we?” Arthelion asked.

“Yep,” Storr said.

“Hey listen, you guys have had a good run,” Arthelion said. “Let’s just kind of call it quits on the whole enslavement thing.”

“As soon as you go back to your room, we’ll discuss it!” Storr said.

“Like … nice conversation?”

“Civilized human …”

“I would like a debate. Can we debate now?”

“That’s a negative.”

Elriya grabbed Tarmak’s hand and pulled him towards the darkness.

“Grab the next person!” she said.

“Guards! They’re comin’ yer way!” Storr yelled.

Tarmak reached out blindly and grabbed Arthelion’s hand, dragging him along. Arthelion reached out to grab at Kilb but missed the kobold completely.

“Oh no! I wanted to surrender!” Arthelion called out.

“Why’d you grab him?” Elriya said.

“You gave me like two seconds and said ‘Grab somebody!’” Tarmak said. “I grabbed somebody! It’s kind of dark in that corner.”

“Get ‘em!” Storr yelled. “You three!”

He pointed at the other slaves and three orcs rushed to take them prisoner. Three more orcs ran to Kilb and surrounded the kobold, pointing their spears at him. Two of them tried to strike the kobold with the blunt end of their spears. Storr and the other orcs rushed forward, the orcs moving past the fleeing slaves and turning on them. Storr ran up behind Arthelion.

“Hey, I tried to surrender!” Arthelion cried out.

Storr struck Arthelion on the head with the handle of his mace and the man went down, letting go of the spear and Tarmak’s hand.

“Eat my ass!” Arthelion cried.

Kilb dropped his sword and the orcs pointed their spears at him. He looked disgusted.

Several other orcs approached from the other direction, blocking the corridor out with lowered spears. Elriya turned to the left, pulling on Tarmak, who was moving more slowly in the pitch blackness. That gave the orcs time to close ranks in that direction and block them. Several of them started to rear back with their spears to beat on them with the blunt end. Storr put his foot on Arthelion’s chest. He pointed the mace at his face.

“Surrender, wizard!” he said.

“I have,” Arthelion said.

Elriya backed a few feet from them and dropped her dagger, surrendering.

“Can you get your foot off me, please?” Arthelion said.

Storr leaned down to the mage.

“If you’re ever in the mood for bets, let me know,” the orc growled.

“You ever kissed a human before?” Arthelion said.

“Get up!” Storr said, standing back up as he held Arthelion’s hat.

Arthelion held up his hand for help.

“Get up,” Storr said.

Arthelion grabbed the orc, using him to pull himself up. Storr backhanded the wizard and shoved him off and flung his hat at him.

“Thank you,” Arthelion said, putting it on. “How’s it look?”

“Get back in there!” Storr said.

The orcs herded all of the slaves back to the slave quarters.

“Well, we did it once, we can do it again,” Arthelion muttered.

When they got to the room, they got the orc out who was under the door. He was still alive, surprisingly. Some of the orcs kicked his unconscious form.

“Dumb ass!” one said.

“I was just want to say that he was like that when we escaped,” Arthelion said. “He opened the door, guys, and he just slammed it on his back and said ‘Get out of here!’ and we just did what he said.”

He realized the orc was probably still charmed, but also realized he didn’t even know what the orc looked like. It was pitch black in the slave quarters and he had never seen the orc’s face.

The orcs stripped them of their gear and possessions again. Arthelion started to take off his robes as well but one of the orcs shoved him in the chest and he fell backwards.

“Oh, you don’t want …” Arthelion said.

The orcs talked in their own tongue and then closed the door and left. Later that night, when orcs came to search them and the room, they were in groups of six each time. The other slaves whined about what had happened.

* * *

Leon Chamberlyn, Champion of Justice, was a paladin of some little repute. He was amazingly good-looking and had brown hair that was thick but short. He wore splint mail and carried a shield, as well as a bastard sword and a heavy lance. He had come to the Flinty Hills in search of orcs he’d heard were terrorizing the land near the border of Nyrond, committed to ending their reign of terror.

On the evening of the 2nd of Fireseek, in the bitter cold of the hills, he had met with a woman wearing primarily red. She had introduced herself as Odila Redfeather, a traveling bard. She was pretty and rather tall and had blonde hair and green eyes. She had been traveling between some of the gnome villages hidden in the hills.

The two decided to camp together for the night for safety. Unfortunately, they were ambushed by a dozen orcs who entered their camp and took them prisoner, putting bags over their heads and marching them off into the darkness. They walked for what felt like hours before they headed downwards and into some kind of tunnels.

* * *

When the orcs came to get the slaves on the morning of the 3rd of Fireseek, they were all exhausted. The nine orcs also brought two people with bags over their heads, shoving them into the room. Only Kilb and Elriya saw the two in the dark.

“Two more!” an orc said. “C’mon. You’re all getting to work.”

They were all herded out back to the area where they had been working the last two days. In the light, all of them could see the two new arrivals. The orcs gave them shovels and ordered them to clear rubble from the end of a passageway. They grabbed about six of the other slaves and ushered them off towards the library.

The newcomers saw that most of the other slaves were merely commoners though a few stood out, particularly the man in robes and the pointed hat, the man with intense green eyes, a kobold, and a halfling. They seemed to be close to being done clearing the rubble pile they were working on.

“Can I get some ****ing shoes?” Arthelion said to one of the orcs watching them.

“No,” the orc said.

“Please.”

“Back to work.”

“I really need shoes to work effectively.”

“Get back to work.”

“Have you ever stubbed your toe?”

“You’re the mouth, aren’t you?”

“Wait, take off your boots. How many toes do orcs have?”

“All right, get back to work or I’ll start beating on you and if I start, I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop.”

“All right, I will work twice as fast if you just show me your feet.”

“Get back to work.”

“Gods damn it.”

He went back to work.

“Is anyone here injured?” Leon said the other slaves.

“Describe injured,” Arthelion said. “Physically or mentally?”

“I can fix physical.”

“Do you think I could have one of them boots?”

Leon looked down at the man’s feet. He was not wearing shoes and his feet were bruised and dirty.

“Why just one?” Leon said. “Here. Take both of them.”

The paladin took off his soft boots and handed them over to the wizard.

“Wow,” Arthelion said, genuinely surprised.

“Your feet look so injured,” Leon said.

Arthelion put the boots one. They were a little loose on him but he could make do.

“We could just alternate every other day or something,” he said.

“But I don’t want you to have to suffer … walking on this cold ground,” Leon said.

“I really appreciate all the niceties but … in a couple of hours, you’re not going to be nice anymore. This place ruins you.”

“It’ll take more than these foul orcs to change my attitude.”

“I don’t think we should be calling them foul orcs!”

He said it loud enough to for the orcs to hear.

Kilb walked by the two and then dropped a large rock almost on Arthelion’s foot. He had done the act on purpose, aiming at the man’s foot, but made it look like an accident.

“Oops,” he said. “Sorry.”

Arthelion was suspicious for a moment but then remembered the kobold was terribly clumsy. He dropped rocks all the time, particularly larger stones.

“Does anybody know where they keep our stuff?” Leon asked some of them.

“Yeah, we got it before,” Elriya said. “Unless they moved it.”

“You look like you were injured as well,” Leon said to Arthelion when he noticed the bloodstains on his robes.

“My pain goes deeper than this stab wound, friend,” Arthelion said.

“Internal injuries?”

“Yeah. You could say that.”

“Try mental,” Tarmak quipped as he walked by.

“Well, I’m sorry these orcs have mentally broken you so,” Odila said.

“Nah, they didn’t mentally break me,” Arthelion said. “I’m about to mentally break them.”

“Um … that doesn’t make much sense.”

“You’ll see.”

“Are you this group’s fool?”

“Nope.”

“Yes,” Tarmak quipped as he walked by.

Others nodded.

“You’re obviously a paladin,” Arthelion said to Leon. “You wouldn’t have given me the boots otherwise.”

“You are correct,” Leon said.

“And you don’t necessarily look strong so, what do you do, sing?” Arthelion said to Odila.

“Yes, I’m a performer,” she said. “I travel around and I sing and I tell stories. I’m sure this will make an excellent one when I get out of here.”

“Your parents must be proud.,” Arthelion said.

“My parents died several years ago,” she said.

“You’ll be dead soon, so you’ll get to see them again anyways,” Arthelion said.

“How long have you been down here?” Leon asked him.

“What is time?” he said philosophically.

A rock struck Arthelion on the back of the head, stinging like the dickens. He spun around and saw Elriya lowering her hand and turning away and guessed she had thrown the rock. He picked up a rock and flung it at the young woman despite Leon trying to stop him.

“People, we mustn’t hurt ourselves!” Leon said.

Elriya was bleeding where where the rock had struck her in the back of the head.

“Why did you do that?” Arthelion said to her.

“Well, now I’m hurt, Mr. Paladin,” she said to Leon.

“Why did you do that?” Arthelion said again.

“We need to not hurt each other!” Leon said as he laid his hands on Elriya’s wounds, magically healing her.

“I-I-I feel─” Odila started to say.

“I think she’s working with the orcs!” Arthelion said.

“I don’t think─” Odila started to say.

“Yes, because I helped you escape!” Elriya said. “Because I was working with the orcs.”

“I don’t think that─” Odila said.

“If we escaped, why are we still here?” Arthelion said.

“You were the one who surrendered first!” Elriya said.

“I’m not the one that ran into six orcs,” he replied.

“There’s a lot of finger-pointing going around,” Leon said.

“You were the one who alerted them to our presence in the hallway!” Elriya said.

“I’m the one that charmed the guard so we could get out in the first place?” Arthelion replied.

“So, you are an effective wizard?” Leon said.

“Oh, highly effective,” Arthelion said.

“I feel like this team is going to be totally hopeless,” Odila said.

“Ain’t no team, honey,” Arthelion said. “What are you talking about? All you do is dance and stuff. This guy can’t even walk straight.”

He gestured at Kilb.

“Everybody’s going to take advantage of you,” he said to Leon. “You’re going to be the prison *****, probably.”

He looked at Tarmak.

“That guy just looks normal,” he said. “I ain’t got a problem with him. And he healed me! I like this guy.”

Leon stared at the raving wizard but didn’t detect any evil coming from the man.

“Do you think we could take him?” Elriya said to Kilb in the kobold tongue, looking at Arthelion.

“Definitely,” Kilb said.

“So, everybody says that you’re a normal person,” Odila said to Tarmak. “So, what’s your name?”

“Thanks,” Tarmak said. “My name is Tarmak. I’m a priest.”

“You’re a priest?” Leon said.

“Yes,” Tarmak said.

“Really?” Odila said.

“Who is your deity?” Leon asked.

“I’m an adherent to the great Lord Fharlanghn, long may he travel,” Tarmak said. “And you, paladin?”

“I serve the great Heironeous,” Leon said.

“Oh,” Tarmak said.

Tarmak knew Heironeous was a good god of chivalry, justice, honor, and war. He knew there were a lot of worshippers of Heironeous in Nyrond.

“Well, if we have a priest … some kind of wizard …” Leon said. “And you can actually do stuff with song, right?”

“Yes, I can,” Odila said.

“If we can reach our equipment, we may be able to free these people,” Leon said.

“Again,” Arthelion said.

“We already tried that,” Tarmak said.

Leon turned to Arthelion.

“And … you, I guess,” he said.

“Again,” Arthelion said.

“He’s the one that ****ed it up last time,” Elriya said.

“I didn’t **** up anything!” Arthelion said. “How did I **** up?”

He looked at her.

“I’m genuinely asking!” he said. “What did I **** up?”

“She just might think you did,” Leon said, playing the peacemaker.

“I don’t think I did anything wrong,” Arthelion said.

Storr walked up to the group slaves.

“I ****ed it up, apparently, and I don’t know how!” Arthelion said. “No one’s going to say anything so …”

“Look alive slaves!” Storr said. “The master’s coming down to check. And if you mouth off at him, Mouth, he’s likely to cut you in half.”

“I don’t give a **** anymore!” Arthelion said.

“It’s hard to cut someone in half with a mace,” Elriya said.

“Would you like to make a wager on it?” Storr said to Arthelion.

“On what?” Arthelion said.

“Are you going to mouth off to him?”

“I might. I just do what I want.”

“All right, if you mouth off to him … and survive … I’m willing to give you some favor of some sort.”

“Like freedom?”

“No, not like freedom. Of course if you die, I get nothing anyway so that doesn’t sound like much fun. Never mind. I love to wager.”

He left them.

They worked for another hour before the orc chieftain Skarg arrived. He wore studded leather armor under his black cloak and a longsword hung from his side. He was in the company of a man in black armor with a helm that covered his face except for a y-shaped slit for his eyes and mouth. Darkness lay within the helmet except for two red glowing pinpoints where his eyes should have been. Small, nasty-looking wings were attached to the helmet. A was very tall and his black chainmail was rusted and old. He carried a two-handed sword in one hand. The temperature of the entire area seemed to drop in his presence.

Leon could feel almost a palpable evil emanating from the terrible creature even without trying.

“They’ve almost broken through Mohab,” Skarg said to the armored man. “We’ll be here when they do! Finish slaves! Break through the wall! We must see if it’s there.”

The man in armor watched, unmoving. The other slaves started working at quickly as they could and soon they broke through the barrier of the rubble to another chamber beyond. As soon as a way was cleared, the orcs ordered the slaves back and Skarg and Mohab entered. They returned after some angry cursing as it only opened into another portion of the room with more rubble beyond it. Both of them seemed incensed at yet another delay.

The orcs ordered the slaves to get back to work and started to lead the slaves into the next antechamber.

“What the hell?” Arthelion said. “I thought when we broke through the wall we were done.”

Skarg walked over and backhanded the mage.

“You’ll work ‘til we’re done with you!” he growled.

“So, do you backhand me because that guy backhands you?” Arthelion said. “Is it kind of a trickledown effect of backhands? I bet his armor hurts you when he hits you, doesn’t it?”

“Does this happen all the time?” Leon asked Elriya.

“I’ve heard of you,” Skarg said. “You’re the Mouth aren’t you?”

“I haven’t heard of you,” Arthelion said. “What is your name, good sir?”

“Skarg. Or you may call me master, if you wish.”

“Did your mother call you that?”

The orc glared at him and then slapped him hard in the face, knocking him backwards.

“Sir, leave him alone!” Odila said, coming forward. “He’s just trying to get a rise out of you. I’m sure he means no harm.”

“He’s succeeding!” Skarg bellowed at her. “Would you like some more?”

“So you admit I’ve succeeded,” Arthelion said.

“Would you like some more?” Skarg said.

“I’ve heard all I need to hear,” Arthelion said. “Thank you.”

The orc glared at him before turning and leaving, followed closely by Mohab. Arthelion rubbed his face, which was beet red where he’d been slapped. His teeth felt loose in his skull. The orc had hurt him. Leon felt nauseous form the overwhelming sense of evil that clung to Mohab.

“We have to kill it somehow,” he muttered.

They worked the rest of the day on the new pile of rubble blocking the room. One of the slaves was sent to bring water three times. Leon thanked the person each time. The slave seemed pleasantly surprised at that. Some hours later, they smelled food and then nine orcs returned to collect them and return them to their terrible cell. It was a half hour after that when six orcs brought gruel and a tiny piece of tough meat for them to eat. Soon after they, they could hear the orc revelry they indulged in every night.

“This might be a good chance to get out of here,” Odila said.

“Welp …” Arthelion said.

“They tried that last night!” another of the slaves said. “You’re gonna get us all killed.”

“Hey man, if they haven’t killed us yet, they’re not going to kill us,” Arthelion said.

“How do you know that?” the panicked voice said.

“They do need the labor,” Leon said.

“They haven’t killed me yet,” Arthelion said.

“It’s too much trouble to get new people,” Elriya said.

“I’ve only known you for half a day and I’m surprised they haven’t killed you yet,” Leon said.

“We’ve only known him for two,” Elriya said.

“Imagine what you saw, but for the past two days as well,” Arthelion said. “But with boots now!”

“You’ve only been here three days?” Leon said.

“Yeah.”

“I didn’t know earlier.”

Tarmak remembered they had not cleared the pile of rubble in the corner of their quarters so he felt his way over to it and started to work in shifting some of the stones. Elriya went to help him.

“What is all that noise?” Leon asked.

“What are you doing?” Kilb said.

“There’s a pile of rocks in the corner,” Elriya said.

“Going to see what’s behind it,” Tarmak said.

“We’ve been moving rocks all day,” Kilb said.

“A couple more won’t kill us,” Elriya said. “I don’t think.”

“A quick question,” Odila said. “Do you know what the orcs and that creepy guy from earlier were actually trying to accomplish?”

Silence filled the room.

“You’re the one who read the papers,” Elriya said.

Tarmak told them of finding a paper that discussed a magic weapon in Cameron’s hands that lay to the south in the Honor Hall. The elf Rome had told them about a hall with statues as well.

“So, what kind of mage are you?” Leon asked.

Arthelion, already asleep, didn’t answer.

Orcs came in twice that night to search the prisoners and the room.

* * *

The next day, the 4th of Fireseek, saw them woken roughly and taken to work on the wall again. A few of the commoners were taken to the library again and the rest were set to work on the new pile of rubble that sat before them. Leon heard two orcs talking about Skarg, but he didn’t understand their language. It was just gibberish to him. Some hours later, Elriya was chosen to fetch water. Two orcs led her to the room with water storage where water dripped down into the tuns there. It was raining lightly above somewhere but even the overcast and cloudy day seemed bright to the halfling after spending so much time underground.

She noticed an orc guard outside of the room where they had found their things two days before. She also noticed the orcs guarding the area near the bonfire at the far end of the tunnel. She had seen two orcs guarding in the area they had almost escaped through but otherwise there were not many orcs about.

The two orcs escorted her back to the slaves with her two half-filled buckets to water the slaves. They cuffed her in the head and ordered her to return with more water, threatening if she tried to escape again, it would go very hard on her. One of them kicked her as she walked away. She walked back towards the water room but turned right and headed into another lit corridor to the northwest.

A pile of debris filled the wide corridor and she spotted a door in a small niche to the right. She walked to her left and saw the corridor open up. Numerous doors were closed on the corridor. She wandered down another corridor and peeked around a corner. Another lantern stood there but there were no orcs in the vicinity.

* * *

“So, what kind of wizard are you?” Leon asked Arthelion.

“Why does that concern you, friend?” Arthelion said.

“You could aid in my rescue of these people.”

Your rescue?”

“I mean … our rescue. It doesn’t matter as long as these people get saved. The orcs will surely kill them after they’re done with what they’re doing.”

“What do you think they’re doing?”

Leon thought on that.

“Moving rocks to get to something?” he finally said.

“What do you think they’re getting to?” Arthelion said.

“It doesn’t matter what they’re doing,” Odila said. “They’ve enslaved us and they’re obviously evil.”

“I’m not convinced yet,” Arthelion said.

“Are you daft?” Leon asked.

“What’s it going to take to convince you then?” Tarmak asked.

“Just … just get hit by one of them,” Arthelion said. “You’ll see they’re not hitting us as hard as they could.”

“They don’t want to hurt their workers too much,” Leon said. “They just want us in line.”

“What is it you want me to do?” Arthelion said.

“Just assist in our escape,” Leon said. “But it would help to know what you can do.”

“What could assist in our escape?” Arthelion said.

“If we could get to our equipment and … probably … is there anything in here that’s dangerous?” Leon said. “Lead them to a pit?”

“There’s the gnasher,” Arthelion said.

“Do we know what a gnasher is?” Leon said.

Tarmak shook his head.

“We only know the guards are afraid of it,” he said.

“What is a gnasher?” Leon said again.

“I don’t know,” Arthelion said. “But if you want to see it, they’ll let you.”

“Are they scared of this gnasher?”

“They won’t go with you.”

“Maybe we could release this gnasher.”

“I think that’s a wonderful idea.”

“It sounds big. We could probably be safe in one room and see how the orcs kill it. Maybe it can take out a few.”

“Do you want me to ask them if they’ll let us go see the gnasher?”

“That actually might not be a bad idea.”

“Oh guard!”

“By Gruumsh, what do you want now!” the orc guard growled.

“Guards, I’ve found somebody who wants to see the gnasher,” Arthelion said.

“Are you insane or just stupid?” the orc said to Leon.

“Why does it have to be one or the other?” Arthelion asked.

“Because there are no other choices,” the orc growled. “Or perhaps both?”

“So, yes, I─” Leon said.

“You want to see the gnasher?” the orc said.

“What is a gnasher?” Leon said.

The orc turned to one of his fellows.

“Go get Storr, he’s going to want to bet something on this,” the orc said.

The other orc nodded and ran into the darkness. He returned after a short while with Storr.

“You boys wanna see the gnasher, huh?” he said to Arthelion and Leon.

“No!” Arthelion said.

“I would actually like to see the gnasher too,” Odila said.

Storr laughed.

“All right … so … place your bets boys,” Storr said to the other orcs.

“We don’t want to go up to it, we’d like to see it,” Leon said.

“Oh, you’ll see it,” Storr said. “Especially you, Mouth, since you were part of that whole uprising the other day.”

“Well, you see …” Arthelion said.

“And no one’s holding your hand, by the way,” Storr said.

“No, but … I want to see them see the gnasher,” Arthelion said. “Is what I want to do.”

“Aw,” Storr said. “So, you don’t mind throwing your friends to the gnasher, huh?”

“Friends?” Arthelion said. “Why are we … nobody’s friends here.”

“You’re all humans,” Storr said. “All humans are friends. You all know each other. We know that.”

“That is not accurate,” Tarmak said.

“Are all orcs friends, then?” Arthelion said.

“All orcs are enemies,” Storr said.

“So, would you stab that guy beside you?”

“Yes.”

“Show me?”

“Don’t be stupid.”

“Okay. So, we going or what?”

“Who thinks they’ll survive?”

Storr didn’t get any takers who would back the men.

“I’m going to wager that they’ll survive,” Tarmak said.

“What have you got to wager, slave?” Storr said.

“Hm,” Tarmak said.

“Well, he’s got some rocks,” Arthelion said.

Tarmak offered healing spells if they didn’t come back and was willing to heal them if they got wounded.

“Heal them?” Storr said.

“No, you,” Tarmak said.

“I’m not going in there!”

“Any of your men that get wounded.”

“All right, all right. You’re a priest, eh?”

“Yes.”

“Healing upon demand.”

“Yes.”

“For the next week.”

“Yes, if they do not come back.”

“Oh. All right, what if they do come back?”

“He can’t heal your face,” Arthelion said.

“Nor yours,” Storr said.

Without even looking at the wizard, he punched him in the face, breaking his nose and sending him stumbling backwards.

“Are you a glutton for punishment?” Leon said to the man.

Tarmak rolled his eyes. The other orcs readied their weapons before they relaxed again.

“What if you win the bet, there, priest?” Storr said.

“That you would allow me to have my holy icon for at least a small amount of time each day so─” Tarmak said.

“You’ll have it for your healing!”

“Obviously if I win the bet, I don’t have to heal you for the next week. It’s just so I can commune with my god.”

“No, I don’t trust you. You’ll cast other spells.”

“Well, it takes a long time to cast spells, even with the icon.”

“Tell you what. You win the bet; I’ll let you roam around for an hour. Anywhere you want to go.”

“Seems fair.”

“I’m not telling any of the guards though, so you’d better keep clear of them.”

“Oh. I’ll take you up on that bet then.”

“What?” Arthelion said, blood pouring from his nose.

“He gets an hour off,” Storr said.

“That’s the most unfair bet I’ve ever seen,” Arthelion said.

“He is getting a lot from it, but who cares?” Storr said.

“You have to survive for me to get that,” Tarmak said to Arthelion.

“Yeah!” Storr said.

“Don’t make me look like an idiot,” Tarmak said.

Storr spit in his hand and shook hands with Tarmak, sealing the bet.

“C’mon, you get to come too,” Storr said to him.

“I’m not going to go in there, am I?” Tarmak said.

“Hey, I’m not going to be able to beat the gnasher already injured,” Arthelion said. “Can you at least let him heal me so I can go fight the gnasher.”

“Wait,” Leon said. “Are we actually fighting this gnasher?”

“I didn’t know that but I like the sound of it,” Storr said. “Sure.”

“What do you think we’re going to do, going in there?” Arthelion said.

“I wanted to look at it,” Leon said.

“If you look at it, it’s going to fight you,” Arthelion said.

“There ain’t no light in there,” Storr said. “Good luck looking at it.”

He took Tarmak, Arthelion, Odila, and Leon. Kilb thought about trying to follow but with six orcs there, he didn’t know if he was going to be able to get by.

* * *

Elriya walked quietly down the corridor knowing any door could have orcs behind it. She came around the corner and found another pile of rubble. Bearing again to her right, she found herself back where she’d started. After some consideration, she chose to open the door in the niche, pulling the chains and slipping into a smaller room that was only about 20 feet across. It was pitch black within but she could see with her infravision.

The chamber housed hundreds of keys of all descriptions, shapes, and sizes, hanging from hooks on the walls. A frieze ran around the top of the room depicting two moons orbiting the world. It had a caption but she couldn’t read it. She recognized it as Oerth with its moons of Celene and Luna. She was unsure about the keys and realized she’d not seen anything like a keyhole on any of the doors but guessed if there was one, it would probably be near the floor.

A small hole was in the back of the room.

She returned to get water and took it to the slaves again. The orcs slapped her.

“Where you been?” one of them bellowed at her. “Hurry up! Faster next time!”

She was kicked again.

“I’m a short little Halfling!” she cried.

“Run then, you stupid *****!” the orc growled at her.

She ran away with the buckets, slowing only when she returned to the key room. She slipped into the hole. The next room was larger than the strange key room and filled with smashed sticks of furniture and trash. Two doors lay close together in one wall and a short corridor connected the large room to another, smaller one with a single door. The frieze was identical in both rooms depicting a hall with statues. She was unable to read the writing, however.

She guessed the door led back to the corridor outside their slave quarters and pulled on the chains to open the door. It was, indeed, the corridor just outside of their quarters. No one was inside the quarters and the door had been left open.

She closed the door behind her and went back through, returning with water. She was slapped again for taking so long and then sent for one last time to get water for the slaves, admonished to hurry it up.

This time, she turned left just after leaving the area where the slaves were, going down the corridor she knew led to the library. She stopped at the hall where the statues were, however. The long hall was 30 feet wide and 100 feet long. In addition to several large piles of rubble and a long, thin pool of smelly stagnant water that ran the length of the hall to the east, were four damaged, 9-foot tall statues covered in a thick dust. A name was engraved on each statue in the common tongue.

The statue furthest north was of a priestess dressed in flowing robes with a dove perched upon her fingertips. The name on the statue was Josia. The second was of a knight dressed in chainmail wielding a longsword. The name upon the statue was Cameron. The third showed a man in flowing robes holding a large stone sphere in his hands. The name Thomas was on the statue. The last was a huntress dressed in a tunic and wielding a bow with the name Dionna upon it.

The frieze that ran around the room depicted the construction of a room filled with small desks upon which papers seemed to be sitting. Men sat at the desks and wrote. She couldn’t read the writing that ran along the frieze.

She headed back, got the water and returned with it. She saw Storr and two orcs leaving with some of the others as she arrived. The orcs cuffed her head and one of them took the buckets back.

“Where are they going?” she asked Kilb.

“They’re going to go see the gnasher,” Kilb told her.

“Why?”

“A wager.”

“For what?”

“They’re going to allow the average guy to walk around for an hour if we win. In exchange for the Mouth’s life. If he dies, then …”

“He’s gonna fight it!?!”

“I don’t know. They went to go see it. There’s a chance they’ll die.”

“Okay. Whatever. Hopefully they survive. I’ve got some stuff to tell ‘em.”

She told Kilb about the areas she’d explored, speaking in the kobold tongue in the hopes none of the orcs understood it.

“So, I’ve noticed Storr likes to wager,” Kilb said.

“Um … what would we wager him?” Elriya said.

“Anything. We could find something of value and try to wager for it. Something they can’t just take from us.”

“Well, something to think about.”

“Like the priest’s ability to heal, apparently.”

“Huh.”

“Can you do something interesting? Because I can.”

“I mean … I can tumble.”

“I can tumble as well. I can walk across a tightrope but …”

* * *

Storr took the four to the room with three doors. Two other orcs were there and Storr went to one of the three doors and got three more orcs to guard them. Then he left them for a short time and returned with Tarmak’s holy symbol. He told his three orcs something in their own tongue and they lowered their spears to point at the four, almost jabbing them with the points.

“Any tricks and you are tonight’s supper,” Storr said. “Understood?”

“No tricks,” Tarmak said.

Storr also drew his footman’s mace. They all watched Tarmak very carefully as he cast a healing spell on Arthelion. The mage’s nose clicked painfully back into place with a nasty-sounding snap. A single tear went down his cheek. It had hurt terribly.

Storr snatched the holy symbol out of Tarmak’s hand.

“Watch them,” he said to the other orcs.

He left them for a short while and then returned again. Then he and the three orcs took them down the wide corridor to the bonfire at the far end. Four orcs stood guard there, watching the darkness beyond.

“All right,” he said. “Go and see the gnasher.” He turned to Tarmak. “You’ll stay here as witness.”

“Now, as to seeing it, don’t we need some sort of light?” Leon said.

“Yeah,” Odila said.

“There’s a bonfire here,” Storr said matter-of-factly.

“Oh,” Leon said.

“I would advise not going too far in,” Storr said.

“Do we have a torch or stick?”

“No!”

Storr bowed mockingly and pointed them to the darkness.

“So, we gonna get some weapons or what?” Arthelion asked.

“No!” Storr said.

“How are we supposed to kill it?”

“I thought you just wanted to see it.”

“Well, if it attacks us, I’d like─”

“Oh, it will!”

“Then I’d like to be able to fight it.”

“Okay, well, good luck with that.”

“So … can I have my stuff?”

“No. Go.”

“Out of curiosity, wouldn’t it be more entertaining for you if we were able to fight it?” Odila asked.

“No,” Storr said.

“Put on a show for you?”

“No, the screams of your dying will probably be quite entertaining enough. And besides, we have a wager.”

“Yes,” Tarmak said.

“That would go against the wager,” Storr said. “Unless your reneging. In which case, you lose.”

“No. We’ll keep going with it. I have the utmost faith in y’all.”

“And remember, you have to tell us what it looks like. Giving you fire would be an undue advantage on your side anyway.”

“You haven’t even seen it?” Arthelion asked.

“Is it afraid of fire?” Leon asked.

“I didn’t say that,” Storr said. “But I think it would be an undue advantage.”

He looked at them.

“Go!” he said.

Leon led the way past the bonfire and into the darker area. He tried to sense evil ahead of him but detected nothing. Odila followed him, as did Arthelion.

The area directly past the bonfire was a room some 25 feet on a side with a wide archway that led to a darker area. In the center of the room was a large pile of rubble. They crept around it and could see a larger pile of rubble in the wide area beyond the archway. The smell of rotten meat began to get stronger. In the shadows to the left, they could see a door some yards away. In the shadows to the right was another door at about the same distance. They looked back and could see Tarmak and the orcs.

Somewhere ahead, they heard deep panting. Leon could still not sense any evil ahead of them.

The three crept to the right and found a corridor leading further into the darkness. They went to the door that lay in the shadows, looking around warily. They heard laughter come from back where the orcs were. Odila thought she’d heard one orc ask another in orcish “How long you think they’re going to last, Storr?” whereupon Storr had answered “A minute? I give them a minute. Anyone want to take more than a minute?” One of the other orcs had said “No.” and they had all laughed.

It was a testimony to orc humor.

Leon pulled on the chains, opening the door. He only opened it about three feet. Odila heard one of the orcs ask what the noise was but didn’t hear any reply. It was pitch black in the room.

“Where are you going?” Arthelion asked.

“Checking stuff out,” Leon said. “Why not?”

“Coming with you,” Arthelion said.

They crept into the dark room and groped around, trying to see if there was anything within. They thought they could feel debris and even what felt like cut stone. Leon wondered if they were gems. He found a necklace as well. Arthelion bumped into some sacks that jingled. Odila also bumped against a sack that jingled. They felt around as best they could. Then Leon felt what seemed to be a round shield.

Arthelion cast a cantrip spell and a tiny flame appeared in his hand. It only illuminated a small area but it was enough, when he was very close to something, to see it.

“Seems like we’ve found some sort of treasure room,” Leon said.

The room proved to be 20 feet deep by 30 feet wide with the door in the center of one of the wider walls. Leon held a small, round, metal shield. It was primarily made of wood with an iron rim and a round iron plate in the center. Embedded in the wood were two bronze serpents or legless dragons coiling around each other and facing each other with long tongues extended. It was quite elegant and very light.

The cut stones proved to be gemstones. Among them was a piece of jasper, a rock crystal, a moonstone, and a piece of citrine. There were also small bags, each filled with a few gold coins. A larger bag held hundreds of copper pieces and yet another bag held at least a hundred silver coins of ancient mintage. The necklace was simple but made of gold. They also found a suit of studded leather armor and a longsword, neither of which appeared to be of any great value, but both of which were in good condition.

Arthelion picked up one of the bags of gold coins.

“There’s no point in taking it with us,” Leon said.

“If we were to come back out, do you think you could fight a couple of these orcs?” Arthelion asked Leon.

“I feel if we could get them in here, the gnasher might be able to help us some too,” Leon said.

“That’s a possibility,” Odila said.

Arthelion guessed if there was a door in the corridor behind the room they were in, it connected back to another empty room the others had found before. He described the rooms he’d been told about when they had last tried to break out some two days before. It would circle them back around to the wide corridor.

They got Leon into the armor and gave him the shield and sword. While they got him in the armor, Odila made a rousing speech about defeating the orcs, noting the orcs were a bunch of oppressive jackasses. However, with the weapon and armor, they could fight them.

“Should we check that other room across the way?” Leon asked.

“Let’s!” Odila said, caught up by her own words.

Arthelion put the necklace around his neck, not even trying to hide it. He tucked the moonstone in his boot. Odila carefully counted the gold coins, finding 20 in each sack.

“The first priority though, is to save the innocent people,” Leon said.

“Yes,” Arthelion said.

“Then we can come back!”

“Well … um …”

“You know what?” Odila said. “You know what? You’re right.”

Arthelion picked up the sacks of gold coins and the sack of silver coins. When Odila asked for a bag of gold, he gave it to her.

“It seems the orcs are scared of this room,” Leon whispered as they left the treasury. “So, if we are running somewhere, we could run over here.”

They could hear panting somewhere in the dark.

“I hear the gnasher!” Odila said.

They crept around the back of the room and, in the dim light of the cantrip in Arthelion’s hand, saw a door exactly where he expected it to be. Arthelion pulled on the chains, making a terrible racket, and opened the door. Light spilled from the room beyond, which proved to be a wide room with a single large, brass lantern in the center. A corridor led to the right, presumably back to the wide tunnel, and another door stood on the far wall. The corridor to the left proved choked with rubble and completely blocked.

They discussed leaving the door open in hopes the gnasher would come out and attack the orcs, eventually doing so.

* * *

While Kilb and Elriya continued to work with the other slaves. One of the people they didn’t know well stumbled.

“I-I can’t … do anymore,” the man muttered.

He was one of the middle-aged men who was very thin but looked as if he might have once been overweight. He looked exhausted and they both knew he’d been their longer than either of them. One of the orcs unhooked the scourge from his belt and walked over to the man.

“Get up, you son of a *****!” the orc said.

He struck the man on the back with the scourge. The man let out a scream and tried to get to his feet.

“Keep working!” the orc shrieked at the man, cutting his back with the scourge once again.

The man screamed out in pain, eventually getting up and stumbling back to work

* * *

“Well, I don’t hear any chewing noises yet,” Storr said to Tarmak.

He glared at the cleric.

“We’ll keep waiting,” the orc finally said.

“Okay,” Tarmak said uncomfortably.

* * *

“If we go to our right, they’ll find us,” Leon said.

“Yeah, we just want to go where they’re not going to find us,” Arthelion said.

“Let’s go straight,” Leon said.

They opened the door directly in front of them as quietly as possible, which was not very quietly. They slipped through and closed it behind them. They were in a large open room with a wide hallway ahead of them and a more narrow one to their left. Debris filled the middle of the room and light came from the wide corridor, where another of the great brass lanterns stood. They could see some doors down the wide corridor and a few more down the narrow corridor.

They turned to the left and found two doors, one on either of the passageway. Leon picked the door on the left and pulled the chains to open the door. The room within was about 20 feet by 20 feet and was musty. It was filled with a messy pile of blank papers and writing implements. The light from without and the dim light from Arthelion’s spell only illuminated part of the room.

“Seems …” Odila said.

“This room seems boring,” Arthelion said.

“Completely useless!” Odila agreed.

Arthelion held up his hand and they could see a frieze around the top wall of the room. It depicted the construction of what appeared to be a cistern and showed a long key with a looping handle. They could not read the caption as it was in a language they didn’t understand. They noted the looping key and determined to remember it.

They went to the doorway across the hallway. The room proved to be very large. Most of it was occupied by smashed wooden benches, shattered statues, and fallen support beams. It was dark and empty and they found it occupied a space some 30 feet wide by 80 feet deep. The frieze along the ceiling depicted a number of men in regal robes who looked like priests.

Against the far wall was an old altar and dais upon which rested an iron bowl and a dried tree branch. When Leon stepped onto the dais, he suddenly received a brief, mysterious vision and dropped to his knees. He could see a crystal-clear image of a long iron key with a thick hoop for a handle.

Odila ran back to the open door to the last room and got pencil and paper to write down what they had found. She wrote down what they’d found and descriptions of the friezes.

* * *

“So, what kind of time limit are we putting on this before you lose?” Storr said to Tarmak.

“I didn’t know there was going to be a time limit?” the priest said.

“I’m bored!”

“What? We’ll just give them a little bit longer. We haven’t heard any─”

“Hey! Are you dead in there!?!”

There was no answer.

“That seems like proof,” Storr said.

“Yeah, don’t you usually hear the gnasher eating?” Tarmak said. “Or making other types of noises when he’d feeding?”

“We usually hear screams.”

“Well, then they’re obviously not dead yet. We would have heard something.”

The orc glared at him.

“Just a little longer,” Tarmak said. “Perhaps they’re still stumbling around in the dark.”

“All right, priest, since you’re going to lose anyway,” Storr said. “We will wait. For now.”

Hurry up, Tarmak thought.

* * *

“Shall we go back and play dumb?” Leon said.

“Um …” Odila said.

“And just, obviously, put the gold back, and the armor?” Leon said.

“Nope,” Arthelion said.

“And come get it later?” Leon said.

“Nope,” Arthelion said.

“Nope?” Leon said.

“I don’t wanna do that,” Arthelion.

“Um …” Odila said.

“Then let’s try to go free those other people,” Leon said.

“Oh!” Odila said.

“I say we keep checking the other doors,” Arthelion said. “We’ve got more to check.”

“Let’s check the other doors,” Odila said.

They moved to the next door and could see down the next hallway. Another brass lantern stood in it, as well as more doors. The ones on the right obviously went back to the temple room they’d just been in. Two others stood on the wall to the left.

“Look, there’s a lantern,” Arthelion said.

“Although if the orcs think that we died, we could work that to our advantage,” Odila said.

“We could,” Leon said.

“Some of us died a long time ago,” Arthelion said.

“It was three days,” Leon said.

“You’ve been here for three days,” Odila said. “I know that the orcs suck but they couldn’t have totally broken you in three days.”

“And you look like a glutton for punishment,” Leon said to him. “You might even be enjoying this.”

They went to the next door but, as Leon was pulling the chains to open the door, a shout came from within.

“Who the hell is that!?!” the voice sounded like Skarg’s.

Leon stopped pulling on the chains.

“My mistake,” Odila called in Orcish. “Sorry.”

“Get out!” Skarg cried.

“Yes sir!” Odila said in orcish.

She motioned for Leon to lower the door and he quickly did so. They moved down the hall to the next door on the left. Leon opened it and, as it went up, they saw two orcs in the room talking. There were bedrolls on the floor.

“What the hell?” one of them said.

“Skarg sent me to give you these for your hard work,” Arthelion said.

He held out some of the pouches and shook them. They jingled.

“Why is he in armor?” one of the orcs said as they got up. “Why does he have a weapon?”

“We work for you guys now,” Arthelion lied.

“You do! You’re slaves!”

“Yes, but we actually will help you with the other slaves.”

“Put down the sword!”

“I was told to escort,” Leon lied.

“Bullshit!” one of the orcs said.

They picked up their spears.

“Uh!” Odila said.

“Nope,” Arthelion said.

Odila ran into the room and grabbed the spear of one of the orcs. The two struggled with it. Arthelion flung one of the bags of gold at the other orc. It missed and burst open as it hit the wall, spilling gold coins all over the floor.

“You *****!” the orc yelled at Leon.

When he got close he suddenly looked nauseous, probably due to the magical ability the paladin had against evil creatures.

“That feels awful!” the orc cried.

He raised his spear over his head and brought it down, slipped, bringing the spear down into his own belly. He shrieked and fell, the tail of the spear breaking off. He landed on the ground, bleeding profusely.

The other orc continued to struggle with Odila for the spear. Leon ran over and swung at him, missing completely as the beast tried to keep the woman between himself and the paladin. A look of disgust went over his features as Leon got close. Then Arthelion ran over to the orc and tried to drop kick him. He only managed a glancing blow and landed on the hard stone floor on his back. Odila continued struggling against the orc but was unable to get the spear from him. Then the orc jerked it out of her hand.

“Oh, you little *****!” the orc growled.

Leon tried to stab the creature, but the orc ducked under the blow. Arthelion stood up and tried to punch the orc as Odila tried to get the spear away from the orc again but the orc pushed her off. Leon finally stabbed the orc in the belly and the orc dropped his spear and shrieked for mercy. He begged for quarter, tears welling up in his eyes as he fell to his knees. Leon looked down at the orc, and saw he was evil. Odila picked up the spear while Arthelion picked up the gold coins and put them in another sack.

The orc continued crying and begging for mercy.

“Will you assist in freeing the prisoners?” Leon asked him.

“Ask him to lead us out of here,” Arthelion said.

“Don’t kill me!” the orc cried. “Please don’t kill me!”

“Will you assist in freeing the prisoners?” Leon asked again.

“Don’t kill me!” the orc cried. “Please don’t kill me! I don’t want to die! Please don’t kill me!”

“You know what?” Odila said. “If you help us escape, we won’t kill you.”

“I can’t!” the orc said. “They’ll kill me! Skarg will kill me! He’ll kill me! His room is right over there! I can tell you where his room is! It’s right over there. It’s right over there.”

“Where is our equipment?” Leon asked.

“It’s over in that armory room down that main hall,” the orc said, still crying.

It sounded to Arthelion like the same place their stuff had been before. He nodded at Leon, who struck the orc in the head with the pommel of his sword, knocking him unconscious. Leon tore the orc’s clothes and tied him up. Then he put the bleeding orc atop the other orc, as if they had been fighting.

The room held rickety tables and decaying floor mats. Five piles of sleeping skins also covered the floor and a rusty pole arm rack holding a pair of halberds sat in the far corner of the room. A frieze along the ceiling depicted two jeweled eggs. There were words none of them could read.

Odila also found a coin pouch on each of the orcs with a total of 31 gold coins between them. She also got the orcs’ spears. She took off the leather armor from the unconscious orc and donned it.

* * *

“Maybe you should go look for them,” Storr said to Tarmak.

“I mean, there’s not much I can do,” the priest said. “Plus, if I die, you won’t get your healing.”

Storr glared at the man. Then he turned to a couple of the other orcs.

“You two go and look around,” he said. “This doesn’t feel right.”

The two orcs turned and walked away. Storr turned back to Tarmak.

“You set this whole thing up, didn’t you?” Storr said.

“No,” Tarmak said. “I mean, how could I know what’s down through there. I don’t think we’ve even been to this side of the complex─”

“Shut up!” Storr said.

He slapped the man smartly across the face.

* * *

A hole in the wall peeked into the next room but they couldn’t see anything in there aside from, via their very feeble light source, more rickety tables and rotten mats. They pushed into the room through the narrow hole but found nothing of value. They realized they had been gone for a while.

“Well, now we know where are stuff is,” Odila said. “Where do we go now?”

“I feel we should rescue the prisoners,” Leon said. “That is the first priority. We could arm them.”

“You know what … well, we have this spear that I have,” Odila said. “There’s two more.”

Leon retrieved the halberds and the damaged spear.

“Well, two of us can sort of fight,” Odila said. “We’re all going to die, aren’t we?”

She looked at them both and then gave them another motivational speech. Arthelion knew where the rest were, but it was a long way. However, when they went around the corner further down the passage, they spotted two doors side-by-side. They discussed which way to go and decided to open the double doors. The room beyond was dark and so they entered.

The large room was filled with smashed sticks of furniture and trash. It was connected to a smaller room via a short corridor with a door on the other end. The frieze around the top of the wall depicted the construction of a long hall with several statues in it. They could not read what was written on the caption as it was in another language. Arthelion thought the other door out of the room led back to the hallway outside of the slave quarters.

They opened the door and found themselves in the hallway where their quarters were. They found their quarters wide open, spotting the piles of straws and the rubble in the corner after a quick look around. Leon headed through another door at the end of the hall. In the chamber beyond that, they saw a hole in the wall. They headed down the narrow corridor and opened the door there. It was very loud.

They found themselves in a room they’d never been in before. It had an elaborately patterned tile mosaic countersunk into the far side of the room. A small kettle was in the far corner, filled with water. Beyond a few broken splinters of furniture, the only other object in the room was a small box in the corner opposite the kettle. A door was on the wall to the left and they guessed it led to where there was light and a pair of orc guards. At least there always had been when they were taken to the digging area before. The frieze around the top of the room depicted a number of trees in a dense forest. There was no caption.

Leon picked up the box which was approximately 12 inches long, six inches wide, and four inches deep. It was made of a strange red metal and was surprisingly well preserved. No seam or method of opening the box was visible but the top of the box was monogrammed with strange sigils, like the lettering of the friezes in the rooms. The underside of the box contained four dials with more of the strange sigils upon them. Each of the dials had five letters. When shaken, something soft moved around and something harder tapped against the sides.

Arthelion took the box, holding it along with the other treasures.

Leon opened the door to the south, where they thought there would be two orcs on guard duty. Odila and Leon waited against the wall while Arthelion hid in the corner.

“What was that?” one of the orcs said in orcish. “Who’s there? Is that you Pall?”

“Yes, it’s me, Pall,” Odila said in orcish.

Leon looked at her.

“Didn’t sound like Pall,” the orc said in common. “Sounds like a human girl trying to sound like Pall.”

The orcs marched over to the door and saw them. One of the orcs stabbed Odila, hurting her slightly. The other stabbed Leon, hurting him badly. Leon tried to stab one of the orcs with the longsword but missed completely. Then Odila tried to stab one of the orcs, her spear not penetrated the orc’s leather armor.

One of the orcs stabbed Odila again but the bard didn’t fall. Leon blocked the other orc’s spear with his shield, which seemed to move deftly through the air. Then he slashed the orc in the gut and the creature went down without a sound. Odila tried to stab the other orc but missed once again. She tried again without luck, unable to hurt the horrible thing.

The remaining orc ran Odila through even as Leon tried to cut him down. She fell to the floor, bleeding.

“*****!” the last orc said, looking sick to the stomach.

He stabbed at Leon but missed the man completely. Leon slashed at the orc, who deftly dodged out of the way. He stabbed the orc in the stomach and the creature fell with a muted cry. Then the paladin quickly laid his hands upon Odila. The bleeding stopped but she didn’t awaken.

Leon pulled the orc bodies into the room and closed the door. He thought about what to do but, in the end, decided it might be prudent to hide the items they had found and sneak back to the gnasher’s area and then claim Odila’s wounds had been caused by the beast. He thought about hiding the gear in the slave quarters under the rubble, but was unsure if the orcs searched it.

He told Arthelion to put the box back where he’d found it. The wizard didn’t want to do so but eventually complied. Then the two carried Odila back into the large double room filled with debris off the corridor to the slave quarters and they hid away the gems, gold, silver, shield, studded leather armor, sword, halberds, spears, as well as the notes, pencil, and leather armor Odila had been using, and even the few gold coins she’d squirreled away from the orcs in the first room.

Arthelion kept the necklace around his neck but put the moonstone he’d hidden in his boot with the rest of the treasure.

They crept back the way they’d come, carrying Odila and closing doors on the way. They moved quickly through the gnasher area and got to the bonfire, still carrying the woman.

“The most terrible thing I’ve ever seen!” Leon said.

“What’d it look like?” Storr asked.

“Look what it did to my friend!”

“Meh. What’d it look like?”

“I couldn’t see! It was in the dark! I barely got her out.”

“So you didn’t see it.”

Storr turned to Tarmak.

“The bet was they’d see it,” he said.

“No, the bet was they’d come back alive from the gnasher’s lair,” the priest said. “I don’t remember you saying anything about them actually seeing it.”

“All right, fine! You can have your hour tomorrow.”

“Thank you very much.”

“Hey, take her to the slave pit. Throw her in.”

“Can he not try to heal her?” Leon said. “Then she can get back to work?”

“It’s true, I can heal at least once more per day,” Tarmak said.

“Go get his gewgaw,” Storr said.

One of the orcs went up the hallway and into the same room they’d raided two days before. He returned with the holy symbol and all of the orcs pointed their spears at Tarmak while he cast the spell on the woman. She awoke and was unpleasantly surprised to find herself surrounded by orcs.

“What happened?” she said.

“The gnasher got you!” Arthelion said.

“The gnasher got you,” Leon echoed. “The gnasher!”

“Right,” she said. “Right.”

“He got you,” Arthelion said.

“Where’d you get this!?!” Storr suddenly said.

He grabbed the necklace around Arthelion’s neck.

“Where’d you get this necklace!?!” Storr said again.

“It was terrifying,” Odila said. “It had thousands of teeth.”

“Shut up!” Storr said. “Where’d you get this gold?”

“Where did you pick that up?” Leon asked.

“I found it,” Arthelion said. “It was on the floor. The gnasher gave it to me.”

Storr slapped the mage and took the necklace from around his neck.

“The gnasher looks just like your mom,” Arthelion said.

Storr slapped him again.

They were sent back to the rest of the slaves where they resumed their labor for the rest of the day. The others told them everything that happened to them during their adventures with “the gnasher.” Elriya told them all about the key room she found that sounded as if it was close to the large room filled with trash where they’d hidden their stolen gear. She was disappointed Arthelion had found the other rooms before she could tell them what she’d found.

“Well, you didn’t see the key room,” Elriya said with a laugh.

“Well, maybe I did!” Arthelion said. “Wasn’t there a room full of keys? Yeah, yeah. We found a room full of keys.”

They looked at Leon.

“See, silence gives consent,” Arthelion said. “We found a room full of keys.”

Leon just shook his head. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1972-Advanced-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-2nd-Edition-The-Scar-Session-Two
Basic Roleplaying System: Deadworld Session Seven - The Weirdos of Wickwold http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1971-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Seven-The-Weirdos-of-Wickwold Wed, 20 Jul 2016 17:11:53 GMT Friday, July 15, 2016 (After playing the *Basic Roleplaying System* original setting “Deadworld” with Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, James... Friday, July 15, 2016

(After playing the Basic Roleplaying System original setting “Deadworld” with Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, James Brown, Katie Gallant, and Leigh Ann Philbee Wednesday from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.)

Manuela “Manny” Rodriguez and Jonathan Franks decided to stay at Simon Smith’s farm for a week while Manny recuperated. Jaiqwan Jayshawn Skadooter, Dani Bateman, and Elizabeth Tolini had taken the two vehicles and left them. After a week, on August 8, 2015, they left the Smith farm, which had still had a few incursions by the creatures from the woods, but they had further barricaded the house and none of them wandered very closely. The two continued east towards the coast in hopes of finding the others.

They eventually reached Interstate 40 again and found an old Dodge Ram with an extended cab that had the keys in it and gas. It was also very heavy duty. Though Manny wanted to return to her own car, she sadly admitted they probably couldn’t make it safely there.

They headed east.

* * *

Dr. Mikil Wolfgang and Courtney Dean, the cheerleader, had been travelling with a group when the first meteors had struck in July. They had soon gotten separated from the others when Courtney Dean found an injured young man and dragged Dr. Wolfgang to help him. The boy was beyond help but they had to hole up in a house when nightfall came. When they returned to where they had left the others, somewhere in the foothills of North Carolina, they had already moved on. However, they remembered the plan to head east and get to an island on the coast. The two managed to find a relatively new Honda Pilot and some supplies and headed east.

Unfortunately, due to the weather and a malfunctioning GPS in the Pilot, they ended up going further south than they had actually planned.

* * *

Lindsay Munghan Fang had been on the way home from one of her excursions. An explorer by trade, she traveled often but was home in Fayetteville, North Carolina, when the whole “zombie apocalypse” apparently caused by the falling meteors struck. She didn’t worry too much due to her proximity to the army base but when Fort Bragg was reportedly hit by one of the meteors, she decided to stay home and stay safe. She started to run out of supplies after about a week and then travelled as she could in the city, which seemed to have been abandoned.

She was a tall and athletic Asian woman with long, black hair she usually pulled back into a pony tail. She wore a tank top and polo with shorts and good shoes. She had a Glock in the holster on her belt and a marine magnum shotgun with a foldable stock and several shells she’d gotten on one of her forays to the base.

It was August 5 when she was scrounging for supplies that she found out why most parts of Fayetteville had been abandoned. There were a lot of zombies in the city. It seemed like the virus or plague or whatever it was had spread through Fayetteville like wildfire. She found herself pursued by at least a dozen dead men and women with blank eyes and rotting skin.

One of them ran ahead of the rest.

She ran out of an alley and saw a white SUV driving slowly down the road. It pulled to a stop and the window rolled down.

“Qvickly!” Dr. Wolfgang called. “Get in!”

He was an older gentleman in a rugged-looking suit. He had a strong German accent and sat in the driver’s seat of the Pilot. In the passenger seat, a German shepherd puppy in her lap, was a young girl in pink camouflage.

“Hey, you wanna ride?” Courtney called cheerfully.

Lindsay ran to the back door and pulled on it, finding it locked. They quickly unlocked it and she leapt in as a man ran around the corner, sprinting at the vehicle. Dr. Wolfgang thought it might be another survivor. Courtney noticed he ran strangely and had his mouth open. He didn’t look like he was alive.

“Go go go!” she screamed.

Dr. Wolfgang floored it and they drove away. The running man kept up with them for only a little while before they finally lost him. After a short discussion, they decided to make a more northerly course as Lindsay told them the zombies were worse to the south of the city. They planned to head northeast as best they could with the malfunctioning GPS.

“Mikil Wolfgang,” the doctor said by way of introduction.

“I’m Courtney!” she said. “This is Killer.”

The German shepherd puppy wagged her tail.

* * *

On Tuesday, August 11, 2015, they had just stopped and filled up at an abandoned farm with a gas tank on U.S. Route 17 near Hertford, North Carolina. They had spotted several large arrows painting along the highway and the sides of buildings the last few miles with captions like “Skadooter was here!” and “Going to the beach! Love, Skadooter” or “ASU rocks!” or “Football Forever!” or “Enjoy coke!” or just “Doot! Doot!” so they had been following them. The arrows were all very straight and well drawn but the captions were always very messy, as if two people had done them. As they headed down the road, they spotted a white truck ahead, moving slower than they were. Dr. Wolfgang started flashing his lights at the vehicle.

Courtney rolled down the window and hung out.

“Hey!” she called, waving.

The white truck slowed and pulled over. They pulled up as the window of the Dodge Ram rolled down. Manuela “Manny” Rodriguez looked out. She wore a plaid shirt and a baseball cap facing backwards. She wore her black hair in a ponytail and was Hispanic. Jonathan Franks, in the passenger seat, had sandy-brown hair and was very good-looking.

They were in the middle of nowhere with farmland all around them.

“Hey!” Courtney said when she saw him. “You wanna come join our group?”

Manny looked at the pilot - the interior was much larger than the pickup truck and it probably got better gas mileage.

“Ve have a lot of seats,” Dr. Wolfgang called. “Lots of gas.”

Manny looked down and saw their Dodge Ram had three quarters of a tank of gas.

“Did you all see signs?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“What?” Manny replied. “The Skadooter signs?”

“Yes!”

“You know Skadooter!?!” Courtney said.

“Yeah,” Manny said.

“Omigod, that guy is awesome!” Courtney replied.

“Ze black guy with ze drugs?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Yeah,” Manny said.

“Oh, he’s black?” Courtney said. “Do you want to come with us to find Skadooter?”

“I mean … yeah,” Manny said. “The more the merrier, right?”

“Yeah,” John said.

“Probably a good idea to ditch this gas guzzler,” Manny said.

“Do you have lots of supplies?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“We’ve got some food,” Manny said. “And with more people we could get more supplies probably.”

“All right, cool,” Courtney said. “Well, let’s find Skadooter and go to the beach!”

“That is vhere we’re going,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“You want to sit in the back with me?” Courtney called to John.

He rolled his eyes.

Whatever, he thought.

Lindsay just watched from the back seat, cleaning her Glock.

It had been overcast and darker clouds rolled in. Though it was mid-afternoon, the clouds made it dark. None of the GPS were working very well with the overcast and cloudy signs and they could see lightning in the distance. They guessed they were over an hour from the beach at their present speed. According to signs, the next town was Woodville, a few miles on down Route 17. They knew Elizabeth City was beyond that.

They talked about camping in the nearby fields.

“Okay!” Courtney said. “Killer, I think, needs to go potty.”

“Get ze dog out of car!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

Courtney took the dog out by the road. Killer peed and pooped and was very happy about it. The storm continued to roll in, getting closer. They could see lightning in the distance and hear thunder. Lindsay was of the opinion they should move on to a town where they could find shelter.

“It does look like a thunderstorm,” she said. “I don’t want to be in the middle of a field.”

They quickly transferred everything from the Dodge Ram into the Honda Pilot and the other two piled in as well, Manny getting in the back by herself as Lindsay took shotgun. It started raining, gently at first, but soon the water was coming down so hard it was like buckets were being dumped onto the car. It made it very hard to see and they had not gone very far when they saw a sign at an exit that read “Wickwold” and beyond that “Waterville - 5 miles.” There was a small exit.

“Good thing ve didn’t do field,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

As they approached the Wickwold exit, they saw there were lights in the area. The place looked like one of those little towns that used to pop up on the highway with places to eat, get gasoline, and sleep. The entire strip looked like it had grown along the side road. A McDonald’s was lit up but appeared empty, as was the Burger King. A Sunoco station was also lit up though an Exxon station was dark. A motel stood across the street from the Exxon station. It probably had about 20 rooms and a small office at the end. A vacancy sign glowed from the window.

“We’re good on gas,” Lindsay said. “We don’t need to go to the gas station. You want to go to McDonalds?”

“We could get some extra gas though,” Manny said from the back. “I’m sure the gas station has gas canisters.”

“Ve vill pull over,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Exxon!” Courtney said.

“Sunoco,” Dr. Wolfgang said, pulling into the station.

“No, you always go for the dark one!” Courtney said. “Less people around.”

He had already pulled in.

“Oh! I want to go see if they have any Red Vines!” Courtney said.

As they pulled up, a man walked out of the side of the building that looked like a convenience store. The building was pretty old and there were a couple of bays for repairs on the other side, closed up. Courtney cried out as the man stepped out of the building.

“Uh … hi,” the man said. “Hi. Hi.”

His face twitched and he walked very strangely, as if he was having trouble controlling his own body.

“Do you need gas?” he asked.

“Do you have any Red Vines?” she asked.

“Uh … you can … go look,” the man said, his head and face twitching.

“Kay,” she said, going inside.

The man walked towards the car, his gait jerking and twitching, as Courtney ran into the convenience store.

“I vould like gas, sir?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Yeah yeah yeah,” the man said, apparently eager to please as he continued to twitch and jerk. “We still got gas. Not many people been … been stoppin’ by.”

He sniffed the air and then laughed.

“Wow!” he said with an idiotic grin. “You guys smell funny.”

He laughed oddly.

* * *

The interior of the convenience store was well-lit if quite small and somewhat claustrophobic. The aisles were narrow and the shelves, for the most part, stuffed with candy and snacks. She found the narrow candy aisle and saw there were several packages of Red Vines near the back. As she picked them up, she saw an old woman sitting in a rocking chair in the back corner of the store, knitting. The old woman twitched and her face screwed up in a strange tic. She looked right at Courtney, who turned to walk away.

“Come over here,” the old woman said. “Come on.”

“No, that’s okay,” Courtney said.

“Come on over here.”

“What … what do you want?”

“Just come over here so I can see you better.”

Courtney looked at Killer, in her arms, who wagged her tail and licked her face. Then she inched closer to the old woman.

“Wha-what?” she said. “What?”

“Oh!” the old woman said. “Oh!”

“What?”

“Yeah.”

“What do you want?”

“Are y’all stayin’?”

“I don’t know!”

“We ain’t had many people … stayin’ here.”

The old woman twitched again. Courtney turned and ran. The rocking chair squeaked as the old woman stood up but Courtney had fled by then.

* * *

“Could you pull the thing?” the man outside said as he went to the gas pump.

He nearly stumbled as a spasm wracked his body.

“The thing?” the man called again as he took the nozzle from the pump. “You gotta pull the thing so the gas tank will open.”

“No,” Manny said, leaning out of the passenger side window. “The tank’s full. We want extra gas.”

“Do you have canister to hold gas?” Dr. Wolfgang asked.

“There might be some in the store … you could buy,” the man said. “You could buy in there. There might be some.”

Courtney ran out of the convenience store and flung open the back door, climbing quickly in.

“We’re ready to leave!” she cried. “We’re ready to leave.”

“I’ll look for gas cans,” the man said with another twitch in his face.

He stumbled and jerked his way back to the convenience store. They saw him looking around in the place for a moment and then he left the lit part of the building for the repair bays, which were dark.

“So, what are we doing after this?” Manny asked. “Going to the motel?”

“Yes,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Does anyone have a gun? He looks suspicious?”

“I got a shotgun,” Manny said.

“I’ve got a Glock,” John said.

“She’s got a shotgun and a Glock,” Manny said, pointing at Lindsay.

“Do you like sharing?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“No,” Lindsay said. “You come at me again, you gonna see this up your face.”

“Okay,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

The man came back with a couple of old five gallon cans. Dr. Wolfgang climbed out to help him fill them.

“Thank you sir,” he said.

“You folks … have any problems comin’ here?” the man said.

“Just a few. People seem to want to eat other people …”

“They’re dead!” Courtney cried out. “Everyone’s dead!”

“Heh,” the man said, another spasm crossing his face. “We don’t got no problems with them around here.”

“Why not?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“‘Cause we’re protected,” the man said, his head jerking to one side.

“By?” Manny asked.

“How?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“By … by them,” the man said. “They’re protectin’ us. Here ya go.”

He handed the doctor the cans.

“We’re not really takin money anymore,” the man said. “Ya got anything to trade?”

“Oh no,” Courtney muttered. “I don’t like this.”

“What do you want?” John asked.

“Ve have some food,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Well, we usually … food’ll be good,” the man said, his eye snapping shut for a moment. “Your friends took some Red Vines, I saw. Some food for them. We don’t have … candy ain’t as good any more. That’s the only bad thing.”

“So … what do think is appropriate trade?”

“I dunno. You got, like, fresh fruit, or, ah, meat?”

They didn’t.

“Well, we can settle up,” the man said with yet another jerk. “You stayin’?”

No, Courtney thought

“Ask him if he’s seen Skadooter?” Manny said.

“Uh …have you seen ze black man waving things around, snorting various substances?” Dr. Wolfgang asked.

“Skadooter!” Courtney said. “He’s talking about Skadooter!”

“Uh … no, no,” the man struggled to say, his body shaking again. “Ain’t had many people … people pass through here lately. Not ma-many.”

“But …” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Cars go by once in a while. Not many. Not many.”

“If … ze other people zhat valk funny and try to eat you come by?”

“Nope. I mean, they come. They don’t care. We’re protected!”

“Protected by what?” John said.

“Henry, you get back in here!” the old woman, twitching and spasming like the man, said. She stood in the doorway. “You talked enough to those strangers.”

Courtney ducked down in the back seat.

“Oh!” Henry said. “That’s my mom. Okay, maw! Okay. Are you staying at the motel? Clem. Clem owns it now. So, good-night.”

“Good night, sir,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

Moving with twitches and tics, Henry stumbled back into the convenience store after the old woman.

“Guys, I don’t want to stay here!” Courtney said after Dr. Wolfgang got back into the car.

“Zhis place is strange,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Apparently ze retardation grants immunity from ze … monsters.”

“Well, if that was true, Courtney would be fine,” Manny quipped.

“Oh!” John said.

“What?” Courtney said. “I’m immune? So cool.”

She smiled.

“Seriously though, I don’t want to stay here,” she said. “That lady gave me the creeps, you know?”

“Uh …” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Did you see her? In her rocking chair? The little needles?”

“Zhis is strange. I am exhausted though.”

“Can we just find another motel?”

“This rain doesn’t seem like it’s going to let up,” Manny said.

“Does anyone else like to drive?” Dr. Wolfgang said. “I need a … break.”

“Manny will drive!” Courtney said.

“If you can take ze vheel, I need to lay down,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Vatch yourself though.”

“I’m fine to drive but this storm seems pretty bad,” Manny said.

“We need to stay somewhere until it lets up,” Lindsay said.

“Okay, well, I’m sleeping with Johnny then,” Courtney said.

Manny rolled her eyes.

“I also say zhat ve should stay on our second floor,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “It seems safer.”

“Are you French and German?” John said, having a hard time understanding his accent. “Against my better judgment, I guess we should stay.”

“At least at the motel,” Lindsay said. “We can get one on the second floor.”

“Does … you not understand me?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Yes, I understand you,” Lindsay said. “I speak French!”

“I mean, I wanna keep driving but if we’re going to go to sleep, let’s just do it already,” Courtney said.

“Zhen ve should stay at Red Inn Motel?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

He put the car in gear and they crossed the highway. The sign out front of the motel read “Happy Valley Motel” and it looked like there were two stories with rooms in the front. A staircase went up on both ends of the building and a balcony ran across the second floor, where the doors opened from the rooms. He parked nearer the road than the building.

Dr. Wolfgang, John, and Lindsay went into the office. The man at the front desk also proved to have a strange twitch.

“You must be Clem?” Dr. Wolfgang asked.

“Yeah, that’s right, I’m Clem,” the man said.

He had a very thick southern accent and blinked his eyes very quickly. He also twitched occasionally.

“I need two rooms,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Preferably two beds each.”

“Whatchu got to trade?” Clem said. “We ain’t had nobody with money.”

“I … I have money. I could give you food.”

“You ain’t protected, are yeh?”

“Uh … I do not believe zo. People have chased me before.”

“Aw. That’s a shame. That’s a shame.”

“It is.”

“Well, you gonna have to take the second floor and be careful. If you ain’t protected. Yeah.”

“Yes.”

“What you got to trade?”

“Ve have canned goods.”

“Aw … that’s not bad. That’s not bad. Or you could join us. We got church in the mornin’. You get protected there.”

“Ve could see ‘bout ze church.”

“Sleep in the church?”

“Sleep at ze church?”

“Isn’t that what you just said there, Frenchy?”

“No,” John said. “No, he didn’t.”

“Ve could ask at the church, there, tomorrow,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Meet the church. Come to the church,” Clem said. “Get protected. That way you’re protected from them fellas. The fellas that … the dead guys.”

He looked at them and his head twitched again.

“Okay … how many of you are there?” he asked.

“It seems … I see two rooms,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Two beds each?”

“So, four’ve yah?”

“Uh …”

“You married?”

“No, dear, we’re not married,” Lindsay said.

“You’re in a separate room, then,” Clem said with another blink. “Okay.”

He thought on it a moment.

“How about a dozen cans of food?” Clem said. “You got any fresh meat? Love some fresh meat!”

“Uh … not fresh meat,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Dammit! So hungry.”

“But the canned food is good too.”

“All right. Dozen cans for the night?”

They discussed it and, though John tried to get the price down, Clem would not budge. They only had 14 cans of food and were loath to give up so much of it. Lindsay tried to persuade the man to lower the price but he wouldn’t come down.

“Ve have enough,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Ve have dozen cans.”

“Well, bring ‘em in!” Clem said. “You got any peaches?”

“No peaches, but we have creamed berries, asparagus …”

“Asparagus? Ugh. Awful. Just bring me 12 cans and you can have two rooms. Bring ‘em in, I’ll give you keys. Keep your doors locked.”

They brought in 12 cans of food and he handed over the two keys.

The motel had electricity and they had noticed the water tower during a break in the pouring rain. They climbed to the second floor where they had rooms 11 and 12, close to the office. John went into one of the rooms to investigate it. Dr. Wolfgang went into the other while Lindsay kept watch outside. The rooms proved to be relatively clean and, though the air conditioning was off and the rooms were stuffy at first, when they turned on the units, they worked.

Courtney, having seen John go into one room and Dr. Wolfgang another, left the car, ran through the pouring rain and up the steps, to enter room 12.

“How does it … how does it look in here?” Courtney asked John.

“It looks fine,” John said. “I haven’t finished checking it yet. Why don’t you wait outside for a bit?”

“Oh …well that suits me,” she said. “That’s fine.”

She left the room.

Each hotel room was typical, with a bathroom in the back with a toilet and bathtub/shower. The sink was outside of the bathroom on the far wall with a wide mirror. Two double beds were in each room, as well as a television and clock. A few pieces of mediocre hotel art were on the walls and a small table and two chairs were in each room as well.

Dr. Wolfgang went into the bathroom of room 11, locked it, and took a long, hot shower.

Courtney waited outside.

“So, Lindsay,” she said. “What do you think about … John?”

“He’s cute but he’s too skinny for me,” Lindsay said.

“Oh, thank God. ‘Cause you’re way prettier than I am.”

“Thanks.”

John came out of room 12.

“Can me and Killer go in yet?” Courtney asked. “It’s kind of weird out here.”

“Yes, you can go in,” John said. “I would suggest that, since our host seems to be a little … cultish … that the ladies stay in one room and the gentlemen stay in another.”

“We don’t get a protector with us!?!” Courtney said. “We’re just ladies.”

“You’ve got Lindsay with you,” John said. “She looks like she could take down a … small army. You’ll be fine. You’ve got Killer too.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” Courtney said. “Well, thanks for checking the room.”

She went into the room, which was cooling off quickly due to the air conditioning. She played with Killer with her bunny toy.

Lindsay headed down to the car to check on Manny and to tell ask if she wanted to take a shower.

“Hot shower?” Manny said.

“Yeah, the shower works and everything,” Lindsay said.

Manny quickly climbed out of the car and went up to the room, where she went to the bathroom of room 12 and got into the shower.

“Hey Manny,” Courtney said to her as she went by, disappointment in her eyes.

A few moments later, Courtney knocked on the door.

“Manny?” she called.

“Yeah?” Manny called from inside the shower.

“Can I come in and talk? It’s scary out here.”

“Yeah.”

Courtney went in and saw the steam coming from the shower. She sat down on the toilet and chatted inanely to the other woman through the shower curtain. Once Manny was done showering, she washed her clothes in the bath water she’d collected as they were still bloody and disgustingly dirty. Courtney continued to tell stories.

“Okay, and this one time, Mandy took two Jell-O shots before we even went out to dinner,” she said. “And then she took six more she had in her purse. Like, six!”

John was finally able to get into the shower once Dr. Wolfgang finished a half hour later. The water felt magnificent.

* * *

Outside, Lindsay saw a couple of men stumbled slowly down the road, just like zombies always did. She suspected the people were not really alive. She watched them carefully as they moved through the pouring rain. There wasn’t much light on the balconies - those lights were out - but the office was lit up. The two dead men in ragged clothing headed towards where she knew Clem was and she watched them very carefully. She went to the top of the steps, trying to stay hidden in the shadows of the balcony.

As they approached the office, Clem came out and walked to them fearlessly. When they saw him, they opened their mouths and started to move towards him but, when they got close they slowed and came to a stop. Clem took each of them by the shoulders and turned them around, giving each of them a gentle shove. They started to wander back down the road. Clem twitched and jerked, as he always seemed to do. Then he walked slowly back to the office with his clumsy gait, disappearing within.

She had never seen anything like that before. She returned to her position between the two rooms.

* * *

A short time later, John came out of his room and crept down the balcony, trying to peek into the other rooms. They all had their curtains pulled and it was dark in each. He returned to his room and cleaned his Glock.

“Do you have more zan one?” Dr. Wolfgang asked when he returned.

“What?” he said. “More than one what?”

“Ze guns?”

“No, just the one.”

“Drat?”

After he was done with the cleaning, John settled into the bed, watching the door, gun in hand. Dr. Wolfgang told him to wake him up if anything happened, climbed under the covers, and quickly went to sleep.

* * *

Courtney had climbed into one of the beds and lay there with Killer, petting her. Manny looked towards the motel clock. It was only about 7 p.m. but was so dark outside it seemed like it was much later. She went out to the balcony and told Lindsay to wake her up when her shift was over. She was glad she could see the car from the balcony. Then she went back to the room and went to bed.

Courtney went back out onto the balcony to talk to Lindsay.

“Hey, how’s it going out here?” she asked.

“Good,” Lindsay said.

“You see anything weird?”

“Uh … no, not really. Just a lot of thunder and lightning. And rain.”

“That’s cool. Isn’t Killer so cute?”

“Cute puppy.”

“So … have you seen the guys? What are they up to?”

“No clue right now. I heard a lot of banging in there. I think someone was trying to clean their gun.”

“All right. So, wasn’t it weird how all those local people were, like, …”

She pantomimed her head at an angle and made a face.

“… and stuff?”

“Yeah, I noticed it,” Lindsay said. “It just looks like a town with a bunch of insane people.”

“You think they’re going to come in and, like, murder us and stuff?”

“Uh … not at the moment. I mean, I’m keeping watch out here and, probably in another few hours, I’ll wake Manny up and she’ll take another watch.”

“That’s cool. So … do you get your hair done somewhere … because it looks really good.”

“No … it’s just a lot of dirt …”

“Oh, is that like a spa treatment? Like a scrub or something?”

“No … it’s self-American scrub from Brazil.”

“Oh, cool. Cool. Okay.”

“I mean, if you want to, you should probably go back in and see if you can get at least a little bit of sleep.”

“Oh, I can’t sleep right now. I’m, like, so, like, awake right now, it’s ridiculous. Don’t you want to talk to me?”

Killer started to growl.

“Killer, what’s wrong?” Courtney asked.

The dog was looking down towards the other end of the building and growling.

“What’s up, Killer?” Courtney said. “My goodness.”

She grabbed Lindsay’s arm.

“Lindsay, what’s going on?” she said.

The dog kept growling and, when they looked down towards where the dog looked, Lindsay saw a man standing by the side of the building. She guessed it was another zombie. He just stood there.

“What is it, Lindsay?” Courtney asked. “You see something?”

Killer continued to growl and bark.

“Uh …” Lindsay said. “Go back inside real quick and wake Mandy up and we’ll check it out.”

“Okay!” Courtney said.

She ran into the hotel room and flung Killer onto Manny.

“Mandy!” she cried. “Mandy! Wake up!”

“It’s Manny, God damn it!” Manny said. “Leave me alone!”

She pushed the dog off of her as she tried to lick her face.

“Lindsay says she needs you to check something out,” Courtney said.

“With the car?” Manny said groggily.

“I don’t know. What do I look like, a mathematician?”

Manny just looked at the girl. Then she got out of bed, all business, grabbing her shotgun and heading for the door. She found Lindsay out on the balcony, watching the far end of the hotel.

“What’s up?” Manny said.

“I saw what I believe to be a zombie down there at the other end of the balcony,” Lindsay said.

“Why didn’t you shoot it? You have two gun.”

Lindsay pointed out the man.

“Why didn’t you shoot it?” Manny asked again. “You have two guns!”

“I didn’t want to disturb the rest of them,” Lindsay said. “Especially if there’s one, there’s probably more somewhere nearby. And he’s not being aggressive right now. He’s just kind of standing there.”

“Yeah. You know, I’ve got my crowbar. Maybe I can take care of it real quick.”

Lindsay nodded.

“I’ll be real quiet,” Manny said.

She retrieved the crowbar from her room. Courtney had laid down on the other bed and was asleep, cuddled up with Killer. The puppy didn’t get up when she came in but her tail thumped against the bed. Manny looked at the clock and saw it had only been about 15 minutes since she laid down. She groaned and left the room.

The zombie hadn’t moved so she crept down the balcony and then down the stairs at the far end of the hotel near it. The metal stairs had concrete steps and she was able to slip down fairly quietly.

* * *

Lindsay, meanwhile, pushed open the other hotel door. It stopped only a few inches in, banging against the short table John had shoved up against the unlocked door.

“Who’s there?” John called.

“John, it’s Lindsay,” Lindsay said through the slightly opened door. “We might have a situation out here. Just be apprised in case I yell for you to run.”

“Uh … okay,” John said.

Dr. Wolfgang sat up and looked around sleepily.

“Is there anything we should be worried about?” John said. “What’s going on?”

“Not at the moment,” Lindsay said. “But if you hear gunshots, just go ahead and start running.”

“Gunshots at what?”

“Uh … I’ll let you know in a little bit.”

She pulled the door shut. John leapt out of the bed as Dr. Wolfgang shrugged and lay back down.

* * *

Manny made it down the steps without, apparently, alerting the zombie, who stood by the edge of the building, facing partially away from her, swaying slightly in the wind and blowing rain. She crept up to the man, trying to keep as much behind him as she could.

* * *

The door behind Lindsay flew open and she spun around, a little startled. John peeked out, Glock in one hand and baseball bat in the other. Lindsay shushed him.

“What the hell’s going on down there?” John whispered.

“She’s going to kill a zombie,” she whispered. “Shut up!”

“Oh, is that all? You could’ve just told me it was a freaking zombie!”

* * *

Manny struck the man in the back of the head with the curved end of the crowbar with a loud crack. He went down like a sack of potatoes, the crowbar lodged in his skull. He twitched for a few seconds and then stopped moving. She jerked the crowbar out of the man’s head, blood and brain matter splattering into the parking lot. She looked around but didn’t see anyone.

“Man, now I gotta wash my crowbar,” she muttered. “Just finished washing my pants …”

She returned to the others and then went back to bed after washing off her crowbar. John went back to his room as well, shoving the low table in front of the door once again. He had looked for something to steal but there really wasn’t anything in the place.

Lindsay kept watch until about midnight, some four or five hours later. She checked to make sure no one was around and then went into the women’s room and woke Manny up. Manny look at the clock and saw it was around midnight, which seemed all right. She got up, took her shotgun and her crowbar, and took the other woman’s place. Lindsay climbed into the bed and went to sleep.

At one point, the lights in the office went out but Manny didn’t see Clem leave the building. She guessed there might have been a room or two behind the office where he lived.

Around 4 a.m., Manny knocked on the door to the men’s room, waking John up. He had meant to stay awake but had fallen asleep sitting up in the bed.

“What?” he said, glancing at the clock.

He had probably fallen asleep between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.

“It’s your turn for watch,” she said.

“Uh … oh,” he said.

He moved the table he’d used to block the door and went out onto the balcony. Manny went to the other room, where the light was still lit. Killer obviously heard her. Her eyes opened and she looked at the woman, though didn’t move except to wag her tail. She climbed into the bed with Lindsay and fell quickly asleep.

* * *

The storm was worse in the morning of Wednesday, August 12, 2015, when they all got up. John was tired but had gotten several hours sleep. The lightning and thunder had stopped but the rain continued to come steadily down. Manny was the last to get up. They stood on the balcony by the rooms and talked.

“So, should ve see the secret of how ze are protected by ze undead?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“What are you talking about?” Courtney said. “What secret?”

“I think they’re just too dumb,” Manny said.

“They could be too dumb,” Dr. Wolfgang admitted. “But, in zhat case, ve should probably steal some of the canned food back, right? Ve won’t be back here.”

“You know how they say zombies won’t eat brains, so …” Manny said.

“Oh!” Courtney said. “What?”

“Vhat!?!” Dr. Wolfgang said. “So, who cares about ze zombies? We’re stealing from them!”

“I don’t want to go near those people anymore,” Courtney said. “Can we just get on the road?”

They heard someone come up the steps. It was Clem.

“Who’s that!?!” Courtney said.

“Clementine,” Manny quipped.

The man walked in the same strange gait the gas station owner had, his neck twitching and his hands gripping and opening. Courtney moved behind John and put her hand on his shoulder. John took a ready position with his baseball bat.

“I’m going to go get the car ready,” Manny said.

“Are y’all comin’ to church?” Clem asked them as he blinked and twitched.

“What day is it?”

“Sunday.”

“Sunday? What-what time is the service?”

“It’s - it’s in an hour.”

“In an hour?”

“In the church down there.”

Clem pointed down the road to what looked like some building that had been converted into a church. Manny looked but couldn’t tell what kind of church it might be.

“Is it a Baptist church?” she asked.

“No,” Clem said, stuttering and starting. “No, not Baptist. Methodist.”

“Well, I mean, I’m Catholic so, I can’t. Not my cup of tea.”

“You’re missin’ out. Anybody comin’? It’s in an hour.”

“Uh … no, unfortunately, we have to─” John started to say.

“Ve might be zhere,” Dr. Wolfgang said, interrupting him.

“You should come,” Clem said. “Get protected.”

“No, we’ve got to get on the road,” John said, elbowing Dr. Wolfgang. “We’re looking for a friend of ours. Have you seen a man named Skadooter? You would definitely know you’ve seen him.”

“Doot-doot,” Manny said.

“Nope,” Clem said.

Courtney showed him a selfie she’d taken with Skadooter when they first met.

“He don’t look familiar,” Clem said. “Well, if you’re going back out there not protected, that’s a bad thing. It’s a bad thing.”

“Uh, we were unprotected before,” Manny said.

She headed for the car.

“We got protection from a fella comin’ through,” Clem went on. “He was a real nice fella.”

“How does he give you ze protection?” Dr. Wolfgang asked.

“What?” Clem said. “I can’t understand yer French there, fella.”

“What kind of fellow would offer you protection?” Courtney asked.

“French!?!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Does he have any more?” Courtney said.

“He was comin’ down the road and he said ‘This’ll protect ye’ and-and-and Pastor John, he said he would try … and it worked, so we should try, and we tried,” Clem said, twitching and stuttering, seemingly having difficulty sometimes even forming words. “And it worked. Protection.”

Manny had gone down the steps on the opposite side of the building. The zombie she’d destroyed the night before was still there on the ground.

“I don’t really know that we should, but maybe we should go to this church,” Courtney said.

“Well, come if you want,” Clem said, starting to move towards the nearby stairs in a creeping, jerking walk. “It’s safer that way. Them fellas don’t getcha then.”

“I wanna find Skadooter but … safety, right?” Courtney said. “Doctor? Right?”

“Yes,” Dr. Wolfgang said, watching the man walk away. “Safety.”

“Right John?” Courtney said.

“Vell, because it is survival of the fittest, ve are more fit zhen Mr. Clinton …” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“True,” Courtney said.

“Maybe ve should grab zhe food before we make way east,” Dr. Wolfgang continued.

“We can pick up food in the next town,” Lindsay said.

They walked down to the Honda Pilot where Manny was looking it over as if she was preparing an aircraft for takeoff.

“Ve should make note of zhis place,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Just in case.”

“Just in case they were right about everything,” Courtney said.

Everything was still in the car and it appeared to be in good working order. There was not much food left. Perhaps enough for maybe a day for the five of them.

“The next town will probably have food that has no people guarding it, so let’s go,” Manny said.

They drove out in the pouring rain though the weather began to break by the time they got back onto U.S. 17. As they left, they saw people leaving the various buildings to head towards the church. There were maybe a couple of dozen people and all of them seemed to be twitchy, having trouble walking.

They continued on east, passing an exit with a small sign noting Woodville lay to the right five miles past Wickwold. They also passed Bypass 17, which went further north. They started passing more cars on the sides of the road. It looked like they had crashed off the highway.

They were some five miles beyond the Woodville exit when they came over a rise in the road and were surprised to see numerous cars and trucks blocking the entirety of both lanes of the highway. The highway had been smashed about a half mile ahead and a crater sat in the median between the two roads of the highway where one of the meteors had struck. A lot of people stood there, all of them turning their way. They started walking slowly in their direction. Many of them were clustered around the center of the crater.

Manny, who was driving, slammed on the brakes and brought the Honda Pilot to a stop. Lindsay was riding shotgun with John and Courtney in the back seat, Killer on Courtney’s lap, and Dr. Wolfgang napping in the third row. He rolled off the seat and crashed to the floor with a grunt. Manny turned the car around.

“What’s going on?” Courtney said.

“I saw an exit back there,” Manny said.

“Well, what’s going on over there?” Courtney said.

They drove back down the highway to the last exit, which actually was one of the rare overpasses in the area. As they drove the wrong way down the exit ramp, something slapped against the windshield of the car, leaving a swath of strange green liquid. Courtney let out a cry.

“What is that!?!” she yelled.

Manny slammed on the brakes again, bringing the Pilot to a halt. Dr. Wolfgang, napping again, rolled off the seat once again and woke up when he crashed into the floor of the vehicle.

“What’s going on?” Courtney said.

“Aw, this crap just got on my windshield,” Manny said.

“What is that?” Courtney said. “Ew.”

“Your first instinct is to stop?” John said, looking out the windows nervously.

“Vhere is ze homeless man when you need him?” Dr. Wolfgang quipped.

No one laughed.

“Wipe it off!” Courtney said.

Manny engaged the windshield wipers, which just smeared the greenish stuff across the windshield. She used the sprayers and it cleaned mostly off the glass. They noticed several tall plants they didn’t recognize on the side of the road. Each of them was tall, topping probably six feet easily, and had a straight stem springing from a round and circular woody bole. Three small, bare sticks grew straight up beside the stem. Leathery green leaves and shaggy rootlet hairs grew from the sides of the bole. The top of the stem had a curious, funnel-like formation.

“Is this The Happening?” Courtney said. “Oh, those are pretty.”

She looked around.

“Why aren’t we still moving?” she said. “Why have we stopped?”

“Ignore flora!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“What about fauna?” Courtney said.

Just then the small sticks protruding up from the bole started to rattle against the stem. Then things began to strike the car over and over again. They saw that from the funnel-like formation at the top of each plant, long vines lashed out and whipping at the side of the car. Where they struck, they left more of the greenish liquid.

“Oh my God, this is just like that movie with Marky Mark!” Courtney said.

“Step on gas!” Dr. Wolfgang cried.

There were only five or six of the things and Manny floored it. They tore down the exit lane to the intersection below, where she pulled the car to a stop. The two-lane road at the bottom went to the left and right but the sign at the bottom was missing. Only the metal poles still jutted out of the ground there. One of the poles was bent as if someone had hit it. The area was lightly wooded and the road disappeared out of sight around a curve in either direction.

Manny tried the built-in GPS but there was no signal. It was still cloudy and overcast.

“Let’s go!” Courtney said. “Which way did Skadooter go?”

“The problem is, we can’t keep following the highway because of the crater,” Manny said. “There must be some way around.”

“So, let’s take it,” Courtney said. “What’s the way around?”

They only had a state map so they weren’t sure of the smaller roads in the area.

“Can we just go down a little bit and cut around the crater?” Courtney said in a moment of, for her, sheer genius.

Manny and John just looked at her.

“Yeah,” Manny finally said.

“It’s like that one time when, we were out late, and we all wanted to get drunk, and there were cops because we weren’t 21 yet,” Courtney said. “So we just had to keep going.”

Manny finally pulled forward, turning left. She planned to look for the next left that was going somewhere. About a half-mile down was another country road that was paved at a four-way stop. They turned left and immediately started seeing a chain-link fence on the left. It looked like perhaps the land for a factory farm - no trees were within the chain link. Then they started passing more of those unusual-looking plants.

“The Happening!” Courtney said. “I’m telling you! This is just like Marky Mark and that movie The Happening. He’s so hot, by the way.”

Signs on the chain-link fence noted “Danger” or “Keep Out” or “Protected Environment.” There were no signs of Skadooter. They started seeing the strange plants off and on.

“Maybe this is like when the government tried to put fluoride in the water to make our teeth better and really it was to take over the world,” Courtney said.

They passed a dirt road to the left that didn’t look like a main road. Shortly after that, they saw the chain-link fence on the left again. A sign upon it read “East North Carolina Triffid Zone.” They had heard of triffids, and thought they were some kind of plants, but weren’t exactly sure what they were. After that, the road curved to the left again and as they drove down it, they saw the chain-link fence ahead had been knocked down, the poles holding it up fallen towards the road.

“Why can’t they just build straight fences?” Manny said.

Dozens, if not scores, of the plants were in the area. Some seemed to be growing up out of the asphalt of the road itself, which was strange. Manny braked. There was room between the plants to get by but they’d have to slow their vehicle considerably.

“What’s going on?” Courtney said. “Why did we stop?”

“So, there’s these plants,” Manny said. “And they’re kind of weird. And they kind of threw green stuff at us earlier.”

“Yeah, there were dead people and now there’s like dead … live plants. What does this mean.”

“So, I can move boldly forward or we can go back and try that country road that I saw.”

They started to hear a rattling noise that seemed to come from all around them.

“I vote for the country road, personally,” John said.

“Sounds like a good idea,” Manny said.

She turned the car to make a three-point turn. That’s when they noticed some of the plants were walking. Most of the plants around them were tapping the three short branches sticking up from the boles along their stems, making a strange, hollow, rattling noise. But some had actually stood up on three roots and started to move, almost like a man on crutches. Two of the roots slid forward and then the plant lurched as the rear one drew almost up to them before they slid forward again. Each step caused the long step to whip violently back and forth.

They closed in around the back of the car.

“Guys, I think those plants are coming after us,” Courtney said.

“Manny, I don’t mean to rush you, but … could you hurry it up?” John said.

Manny finished her three-point turn. There was a report as something struck the side of the car, leaving another swath of green liquid of some kind. As more and more of the plants came closer, more reports from the sides of the car came close after each other. Manny floored it again, running down the terrible plants. The windshield was getting covered in the goo and she turned the windshield wipers up to full and doused the windshield with water to try to clear it.

The driver’s side window suddenly shattered as a long vine tipped with a sharp-looking stinger burst into the car. The vine was just as suddenly whipped out of vehicle in a flash. Manny pushed the accelerator to the floor as they bounced over the plants and were finally past the mass of the horrible flora, leaving them behind. However, a light came up on the panel and Manny recognized it as a tire inflation warning. One of the tires was losing air. Manny thought either one of the stingers might have hit he tires or perhaps they damaged the tire when they ran over one of the heavy boles of the plants.

“What’s going on?” Courtney said. “Why are we just driving? Let’s get out of this place!”

“The hell is going on!?!” Dr. Wolfgang cried.

Manny drove back to U.S. 17 and went under the underpass, heading the opposite direction from the plants. Less than a half mile down the road, tucked into the trees, was a small town of perhaps a dozen older buildings. The sign on the road read “Craft, North Carolina.” There was a church and an old gas station, as well as several houses. The place might have been abandoned before everything went so terribly wrong as most of the houses had peeling paint and even the church looked worn out.

Manny pulled up by the gas pumps. The rain was letting up.

“Let’s get some food, guys,” she said.

She got out and started to examine the tire, quickly finding the low one.

“Oh!” Courtney said. “My daddy showed me how to fix a tire. I can help.”

Manny rolled her eyes but didn’t object. She got out the jack and working on replacing the tire. Courtney looked under the car for the spare while she told nonsensical stories about high school and college that vaguely had to do with cars.

* * *

Lindsay and Dr. Wolfgang went to the convenience store. The pumps didn’t appear to be work and were old, not even having credit card readers on them. The upper half of the front door was a window. While Dr. Wolfgang looked around for a rock or something to break it with, Lindsay smashed one of the panes with the butt of her shotgun. She reached in and worked the bolt.

The convenience store looked like it was probably in use in the last month or so. Unfortunately, several shelves that probably held bread and canned foods were bare. All that was left was snack food and candy bars. Someone had beat them to it for the actual healthy food. There was plenty of soda in the tall coolers towards the back of the store though there was no power. They would be warm. A door led to the back of the store.

* * *

John went to look at one of the houses that lined the street. All of them had peeling paint and appeared to be in pretty bad shape though the windows were intact. The front door of the first house he checked proved to be locked. He peeked into the window and could barely make out a living room through the partially drawn curtains. However, someone appeared to be lying on the couch. He decided to try the next house.

The curtains were open in the front of that house and he could see a neat little living room. An archway led to the back of the building and he guessed a kitchen might be there. He tried the front door and found it unlocked. It opened with a loud creak. There was a rotten smell in the house and it was terribly hot in the building. He could see the archway did lead to the kitchen. Two other doors were closed in the living room.

He went to the door to the left and cracked it open. The stench hit him and he closed the door again. The other door led to a small, neat bathroom. It was old with porcelain that had been kept clean probably for decades. Tiles covered the floor and walls and a bathtub sat in the back of the room on small, white feet. The sink and medicine cabinet were likewise quite old, the latter filled with some over the counter drugs and the like. He guessed a woman had lived in the house from the makeup he found. He took the aspirin and such.

He went to the other room. The smell was very bad like rotting meat. He saw someone lying on the bed. They were completely unmoving and there appeared to be a big stain near the person’s head. There was a small closet door and a dresser. He crept across the room to the closet and found some out-of-style woman’s clothing but little else. He thought he saw a moving shadow as he looked in the closet and spun around. No one was there. Perhaps it was the trees outside, blowing in the wind, casting their shadows into the room.

He nudged the form on the bed with his bat but it didn’t move. A pistol sat on the floor next to the bed. It looked very dark under the bed. He tapped the floor near the gun with his bat and, when nothing happened, he reached down and picked it up. It looked like a .38 revolver. He opened it up and found five bullets and a spent shell in the gun. He tucked it into his pocket.

The dresser had a mirror upon it and was filled with ladies clothes. A jewelry box was atop the dresser and he opened it and was amazed at the value of the jewelry within. He guessed the stones alone were probably worth thousands of dollars and he filled his pockets with everything in the box. He also found a box of .38 pistol rounds.

He finally went over and pulled the sheet off the body. The stain on the pillow and upper mattress was blood. The old woman appeared to have shot herself in the head with the gun he’d found. He was very disturbed by the terrible act and by the stink of the old woman.

He turned and left, hesitating at the door and looking back. He hadn’t looked under the bed. He leaned down and he could see a shadow there. He crept to the bed and used to his bat to sweep under it. He bumped it to one side and it appeared to be good-sized. Then a clown face fell into the light, grinning with empty, glassy eyes at the man. He jerked back and then smashed it with the bat. Something shattered under the bed and he looked again.

The face must have been made of some kind of china as it had shattered with the blow. The whole of the thing proved to be some kind of large clown doll, dressed in bright colors and with a brightly painted china head.

“Lady, what the hell were you into?” he said.

* * *

Dr. Wolfgang and Lindsay were disappointed to find no substantial food in the convenience store. There was just candy and melted ice cream and warm soda. However, they heard a scratching noise coming from the back of the store.

“Vhat vas that?” Dr. Wolfgang whispered.

He moved towards the back room and peeked in. There were several shelves filled with boxes of more candy and such, as well as a back door. A chest freezer stood against the back wall. Next to it was a large trapdoor, about the size of a normal door, in the floor. A bolt held it shut. The scratching seemed to be coming from there.

“Could be valuables,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“I’m going to stand back,” Lindsay said. “If you want to open it, it’s on your ass.”

He tried to position himself to be behind the trapdoor but realized he wouldn’t be able to as it opened up so it could lean against the wall. He stood next to it and unbolted it and lifted it up. Kneeling on the steps that led down into the dark cellar was a man. His fingernails were cracked and torn, the ends of his fingers ripped and bloody. A wide hole was in the middle of his chest and he looked up and then lunged at Dr. Wolfgang with open mouth.

Lindsay put her shotgun to her shoulder and blasted the zombie in the head, blowing the man’s skull to pieces and spewing blood, brains, and bones all over Dr. Wolfgang, who had pulled his arm back to punch the zombie in the face. The body stumbled backwards and fell down the stairs, disappearing from sight. Dr. Wolfgang staggered back and bumped into the chest cooler, hurting his hip. He let out a shout.

* * *

John was getting ready to leave the house when he heard the shotgun blast.

“What hell was that?” he said to himself.

* * *

Manny scooped up her shotgun and ran into the building, followed closely by Courtney, who drew her machete. They saw Lindsay in the doorway and could smell the gun smoke. They stopped in the doorway behind the women.

“What happened?” Courtney said.

“What’s going on?” Manny said.

“Uh … he decided to open the cellar and there was a zombie down there,” Lindsay said.

She worked the action on the shotgun and a smoking shell flew out and clattered to the floor.

“Zhere could be supplies down zhere!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Oh!” Courtney said. “Well what was down there? Did y’all check it out?”

“No,” Lindsay said. “Dead zombie in the way right now, so …”

* * *

John left the house and glanced over towards the little gas station but there was no one out front at all. He turned and headed for the next house in the line. He found the front door unlocked so looked in through the window. Nothing moved within so he entered.

The house resembled the other one with a kitchen in the back and two bedrooms. What appeared to be one of the closets had been nailed shut with boards. That was unusual.

* * *

Manny left, heading back to the car to finish replacing the tire.

“Let’s go check out what’s down in the cellar,” Courtney said.

She pushed by Lindsay and headed down the stairs, pulling the flashlight from one of the many pockets on her pink camouflage clothing and shining it around. The steps were very steep and curved to the right. Killer was right behind her. The basement below appeared to be the same size as the building above, with bricks set into the foundation.

Dr. Wolfgang followed her down while Lindsay stopped at the top of the stairs.

The headless and now still corpse had fallen all the way down to the bottom of the stairs. The place smelled of rotten meat though it was not overpowering. Courtney’s light finally stopped on a little girl in a pretty white dress in the back corner of the room.

“Oh hey little─” Courtney said.

Killer started barking and growling.

“What is it, Killer?” Courtney said.

The little girl suddenly rushed towards her. Her dress was actually covered in blood. Dr. Wolfgang stepped forward and kicked the little girl, using his Tai Chi and slamming her in the face. The little girl stumbled backwards but stayed on her feet and moved forward again.

Lindsay took a few steps down the stairs and saw what was going on. She slung her shotgun over her shoulder and drew her Glock. Courtney hacked at the little zombie girl with her machete, cutting her right leg. The little girl didn’t make a sound but tried to bite her, her teeth coming together very close to Courtney’s midsection.

Lindsay headed down the stairs, aiming her Glock at the little girl, as Doctor Wolfgang tried to drop-kick the dead child in the face but landed short of the dead little girl with a scream.

“My hip!” he cried.

Killer barked and growled.

* * *

Manny heard Killer barking and picked up her shotgun for a second time, heading inside the gas station. She made it to the open trapdoor and thought she heard some kind of fight or scuffle going on below.

* * *

The little girl looked down at Dr. Wolfgang.

“Aha!” Courtney said.

She dropped her machete and slammed her fist into the little girl’s face. There was a snap as the girl’s nose broke and she stumbled back once again. Reddish black liquid squirted down out of her broken nose and onto her dress. The blood also sprayed the fallen Dr. Wolfgang.

“Ew!” Courtney cried.

The little girl opened her mouth and fell at Courtney’s feet, biting her in the left foot. Courtney screamed.

Lindsay fired at the little zombie but missed, the bullet smashing into the bricks behind the terrible little girl. Dr. Wolfgang kicked up and landed on his feet, coming down onto the little girl, landing on her neck. There was a terrible snap and the girl turned her head and glared at him, her neck obviously broken.

* * *

John heard screaming somewhere nearby and then heard the report of a pistol.

“They’ve got it in hand,” he said to himself. “They’re fine if they’re still shooting.”

* * *

“What’s going on?” Manny called from the top of the steps.

She went down a couple more steps and saw them clustered around a small, mostly white form on the floor.

“This ***** just bit me in the foot!” Courtney cried out.

Courtney slapped the little girl in the top of the head, causing it to flop to one side. The little girl put a hand on either side of her head and stood up between Dr. Wolfgang and Courtney. She opened her mouth and went for Courtney, holding her head in place, and bit at Courtney, tearing her clothes. Courtney cried out.

Lindsay moved for a better shot, firing at the little girl again. This time the bullet struck the little girl in the right hand, smashing the bones there. The little girl’s head flopped onto her shoulder. Dr. Wolfgang cried out and palm struck the little girl in the face, knocking her back against a protruding peg at exactly the right level. With a crunching noise, the little girl stopped moving, though she was held in place by the peg in the back of her skull.

Manny nodded and headed back to the car to finish with the tire.

“Dr. Wolfgang!” Courtney cried. “Look at my foot! What can we do?”

“Did her teeth pierce you or was it your shoe?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“I don’t know! You’re the doctor!”

He led her out of the cellar to the back room where there was more light. He sat her on the chest freezer and examined and cleaned the bite wound with alcohol and iodine. He wrapped it in gauze and gave the girl some of the antibiotics he’d gotten at the veterinarian in West Jefferson. The drugs were in a form of jelly that tasted like meat and was meant for dogs. He shoved the syringe without a needle into the girl’s mouth and pushed the plunger.

“Ew!” she cried.

“Pinch your nose!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Thanks doc!” she said.

Courtney returned to the car as Manny lowered the jack. A doughnut tire was on one of the wheels.

* * *

John had searched the house but found nothing else of value or use. Only that nailed shut closet or whatever was there. He tapped on the door with the bat. He heard nothing. He looked more closely at the nails and found them driven in down to the head though he was unsure how long they were. He remembered Manny had a crowbar.

He left to check another house and spotted Manny just finishing up with car. When she touched the green goo from the plants, her hand started to go numb. She dropped the tire and wiped off her hand. He walked over to her.

* * *

Dr. Wolfgang returned to the basement with Courtney’s flashlight and looked around. Lindsay was still down there. It looked like the room was full of old junk and now he noticed the floor was simply dirt. There was nothing of real interest in the room and, at first, he thought the man might have gone into the basement with his daughter and shot himself. However, there was no sign of a shotgun, which had obviously been used at close range on the man at some point.

He was puzzled.

He examined the bodies and found no bite marks on either one of them. He decided to take samples Then he heard a strange noise from above.

* * *

Lindsay made the mistake of opening the chest freezer. The stench of the rotten meat within was overpowering and she bent over and violently vomited, the lid dropping back into place. She fled from the room, still vomiting, and ran out the front of the building.

* * *

“Is everything okay?” John said.

“Oh yeah,” Manny said. “It was just a little tiny zombie. Like a kid.”

Just then Lindsay ran out of the building, fell to one knee, and vomited onto the ground.

“Oh!” John said.

“Are you okay?” Manny said. “What’s wrong?”

Lindsay vomited again.

“She’s fine,” John said. “I found a door that was nailed shut. Do you still have your crowbar?”

“Yeah,” Manny said

It was tucked into her belt.

“Can I borrow it?” John said.

Manny said she’d go with him and they went to one of the houses.

* * *

Dr. Wolfgang had heard the puking and headed up. The stench was horrible and he immediately vomited, fleeing from the room towards the front of the building. He stopped at the door to the building and puked again.

“Ew, gross!” Courtney said. “What are you doing?”

Dr. Wolfgang got a few sample vials and covered his mouth and nose before heading back into the place.

* * *

Manny pulled out the boards holding the door shut. The hinges were on their side and when they opened the door, they saw steps going up, probably to some kind of attic. A dead man stood there and came at them. John panicked and punched the zombie in the face. The dead man stumbled back and Manny brought her crowbar down on the man, striking him in the head. Unfortunately, it was a glancing blow, merely knocking the man to one side. He stumbled but didn’t fall. Then the man lunged at Manny.

“Not again!” she screamed.

The man’s teeth snapped short of her face. She continued to scream.

* * *

The other three were all by the car when they heard a woman screaming.

“Vhat is it now?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Oh no!” Courtney said. “Mandy!”

Lindsay ran for the house, shotgun at ready. Dr. Wolfgang ran after her.

* * *

John swung his bat but only struck a glancing blow on the dead man’s arm. Manny dropped her crowbar and pulled her shotgun from her back. She shoved the barrel into the zombie’s mouth and blew the entire back of his head off. Blood and brain matter spewed everywhere as the man was flung backwards and crashed to the steep steps.

Lindsay and Dr. Wolfgang ran in a moment later. John and Manny climbed the steep steps and found an attic room that had been set up like a bunker. There was a cot and large bottles of water as well as tins of food, canned goods, bread and perishable food, most of which were moldy and rotten. There was still enough that was good to keep the five of them going for a week or two. It might even have been the food from the gas station across the street.

They loaded up the Honda Pilot with everything and headed off again. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1971-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Seven-The-Weirdos-of-Wickwold
Impromptu Zombie Role-Playing http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1969-Impromptu-Zombie-Role-Playing Sat, 02 Jul 2016 17:59:17 GMT Friday, July 1, 2016 (After sitting in the hot tub Wednesday, June 29, talking when I started a short diceless, narrative zombie game to give... Friday, July 1, 2016

(After sitting in the hot tub Wednesday, June 29, talking when I started a short diceless, narrative zombie game to give Camilla and Herman and idea of what tabletop was like. With Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, Camilla Ekker-Runde, and Herman Lee.)

On Wednesday, June 29, several people had come out to Andy Miller’s house for tubing. Collin was the first to arrive, around noon, followed by James Brown and Leigh Ann Philbee a short time late. Andy had already started drinking, of course. Camilla had texted she was running errands before coming so they were debating making the first run of tubing down the Watauga River when a car pulled up below. Andy went down and found it was Camilla.

They all talked for a short while and got themselves sprayed down with sunscreen before grabbing tubes and the small cooler tube Andy had found in the attic the day before and heading down the lane. Andy ran a few towels down to the river where they would land after the short trip. He ran back, something he much regretted, as he had two beers on his mostly empty stomach.

They walked the half mile or so down the lane and the logging trail to the river, put in, and had a pleasant trip downstream. It took maybe a half hour, sitting on the tubes, drinking beer and pop, and chatting. Collin had some trouble keeping up for some reason, but handled it with style and grace. After they arrived at the landing, Collin lounged in his tube while Camilla and Andy swam a little. Then they headed back up to the house.

Ashton arrived around then. Perfect timing. After re-applying sunscreen, they headed back down the lane, seven of them this time, Camilla and Andy with beer in hand for the walk, and put in a second time up above for another pleasant trip down the river. It was a warm sunny day. This time Andy and Camilla took the lead somewhat, heading downstream ahead of the rest, while James and Leigh Ann followed with Ashton and Collin in the rear. It all went horribly wrong at one point - a dead spot where Collin had gotten caught before this time caught Andy and Ashton as Camilla and Collin abandoned them to their fate. They made it back to the group in short order, however.

The water was starting to feel a little cooler by the time they got back to the Miller property a second time, but it was still warm out and pleasant. After a little swimming, most of them wanted to head back to the hot tub but Camilla wanted to go again. Andy was up for it so the two of them headed up the lane one more time. Pleasant conversation took them down the road and they put in upstream. They had a nice heart-to-heart, chatting about numerous things as they floated down the river a third time.

When they returned, Andy put hot dogs on the grill and they all had a nice meal. It was getting a little late and Leigh Ann had had a tooth pulled that day so she and James took their leave, Collin moving his car from the upper lane for them to get out. When he returned, the four remaining went to the hot tub. It was very warm after the cold river but Andy had a little cooler filled with beer and pop and they enjoyed the bubbles and the company. It had gotten dark by then, but the tiny white Christmas lights had a pleasant glow and the conversation was amusing.

They started talking about role-playing games and Andy said he could give Camilla an example of one as she’d never played before.

* * *

As Andy, Ashton, Camilla, and Collin sat in the hot tub, they heard a commotion from somewhere up the mountain. A man stumbled down, bleeding from a terrible wound on his shoulder.

“Help!” he said. “He just attacked me!”

The man stumbled into the gazebo where the hot tub stood and Andy leapt out and past the man.

“I’m going to call 911!” he said making for the back door.

Camilla was the next out and grabbed one of the towels, draping it around the man’s shoulder as a makeshift bandage. The man, meanwhile, had leaned against one of the pillars of the gazebo and slid down to the floor, breathing heavily. Collin and Ashton climbed out of the hot tub.

The man suddenly looked up at Camilla and then stood, leaning towards her, his eyes glazed over and his mouth open. Recognizing someone who’d become a zombie, she shoved him hard and he went back down to the ground. She ran from the gazebo towards the back door of the house.

When the dazed and apparently unbreathing man stood again, Collin rushed him and shoved him hard. The man flopped back over the back of the railing this time, not even uttering a scream, and crashed down the hill to smash into the side of the house below, where he lay in a heap for a moment. Then he stood up, his neck bent at a terrible angle. Collin couldn’t believe the man was still alive.

Ashton ran for the back stairs but the railroad ties used for steps were already slippery from the passage of two other people. She slipped and fell down the last few, crashing into the rocks at the foot of the steps leading to the back porch. Collin rushed after her and heard someone else stumbling down the dark mountainside behind them. He quickly helped Ashton to her feet. She favored her right leg and worried it might be broken, it hurt so much. He helped her to the top of the steps to the back porch as the man he had pushed clumsily climbed up the hill towards the steps.

Camilla and Andy burst out of the back door. Camilla had a tiny knife in her hand that was also fitted with a compass and a few other survival items. The blade of the knife was exposed. Andy held the cordless phone in his hand. Collin handed off Ashton to Andy to help into the house even as his own foot broke through the damaged board on the back porch. He pulled his foot out and then started to work the board loose.

Camilla stood at the top of the steps as Andy helped Ashton into the house. As the uninjured man came at her, she tried to stab him in the temple with the knife but caught him in the neck instead. It didn’t seem to even hurt the man and he tried to bite her shoulder but she screamed and held him off. Then Collin, stick in hand, moved forward and shoved the man’s shoulder hard. The man toppled over backwards and fell to the bottom of the steps even as the other man came up them. They crashed at the bottom again.

Camilla ran down the steps and stabbed both of the men in the temple, killing each of them in turn. Then she and Collin headed back into the house.

* * *

Andy helped Ashton to the couch. She was babbling about zombies and such and Andy handed her the cordless phone and ran down the steps to the living room, heading for the garage, where the shotgun was.

“Andy’s mom?” Ashton called.

“You’re making a lot of noise out there,” Mrs. Miller called back.

Ashton started telling her there were zombies outside.

* * *

Herman, Camilla’s boyfriend, was driving in the darkness of Watauga County. He had his GPS set for Andy’s house and was heading there to hang out with them towards the end of the day. He had passed over the bridge across the Watauga River and come to a steep hill that was not far from the address when a man stumbled out into the road in front of his car. He slammed on the brakes but the man still went down in front of it.

In shock, he pulled out his cell phone. He had service so he dialed 911.

“Watauga County 911, what is the nature of your emergency?” a woman answered.

“I just hit a guy in the road!” Herman said.

A hand came over the hood of the car and the bloody, broken man pulled himself up, standing. He started to make his way around towards the driver’s side but Herman, thinking the man must have been a zombie, floored it and ran him over again. The man didn’t make a sound as he went under the car.

“I just ran him over again!” Herman said to the dispatch operator. “He was a zombie!”

“Excuse me, sir?” the woman replied.

Herman saw movement in his rearview mirror. Red-lit by his brake lights, he saw the terribly injured man stand up behind the car and make his way around towards the driver’s side door. The man didn’t make a sound but Herman could see his left arm was hanging limp and he was stumbling as he walked. He cracked the window.

“Are you okay?” he said. “I didn’t think─”

The man grabbed the window with his right hand and pulled hard. The glass shattered and Herman dropped the cell phone and pushed the accelerator to the floor once again, leaving the undead horror behind. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1969-Impromptu-Zombie-Role-Playing
<![CDATA[Advanced Dungeons & Dragon 2nd Edition: The Scar Session One]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1968-Advanced-Dungeons-amp-Dragon-2nd-Edition-The-Scar-Session-One Sat, 02 Jul 2016 17:33:33 GMT Monday, June 27, 2016

(After playing the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition scenario “The Scar” by Ray Winninger from Dungeon Adventures #80 on Sunday from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, Nathaniel Steelmen, Logan Scott, Collin Townsend, Aaron Scott, Hannah Gambino, and Ashton LeBlanc.)

On the last day of Needfest, 592 Common Year, two new prisoners were brought into cell holding slaves of the orcs led by Skarg and tossed into the darkness. They would begin their labors the next day.

Arthelion the Enlightened was a mage. The man had shoulder-length brown hair and bright blue eyes. He was trying to grow his wizard’s beard but it was still scruffy. He was achingly handsome and wore white robes with black trim and a matching pointed hat. He had come to the Flinty Hills in search of the orcs, wanting to be captured. He had heard of other people being taken by the orcs and thought if he got captured, his notoriety would go up. He had run into an elf and asked about the orcs.

Rome was an elf priest of Corellon Larethian. He had grey hair that was teased back and muttonchops, very unusual for an elf; many had commented that there must have been some human blood. He had gold eyes and was wandering in the wilderness when he had met the wizard Arthelion. Moments later, they were surrounded by orcs and taken prison, blindfolded and dragged away.

The other prisoners’ muscles ached from the long hours of manual labor and their backs stung from the lash. They’d been prisoners of the orcs for more than just a day. Just after they were captured, the orcs brought them there, the ruins of an ancient underground temple located in a barren wasteland of the Flinty Hills known as the Scar, not terribly far from the Nyrond border.

The orcs were looking for something. Their leader, a ruthless animal named Skarg, drove them onward and they in turn, drove the slaves. The prisoners spent 14 hours of every twenty four digging and hauling rubble, opening the passageways that would soon allow Skarg to find his prize. Those who defied Skarg fell beneath the slavers’ lash - or worse.

It was unlikely that Skarg would be even this hospitable once he had achieved his objective. The slaves’ only hope was escape. There were 25 of them, most of them peasants, captured merchants, a few women, and a few children. However, in addition to the two who had just been captured, there were also five more of a different sort.

Helius Wik was a hedge wizard. The man wore robes that looked like they’d been patched together from other robes of dark earth tones. Twigs and beads and dried leaves adorned his dark brown hair. He had only a little scruff of a beard on his chin and he was young, having seen only 21 summers. He was pretty dirty. He’d been captured by the orcs a week before while gathering herbs to make the beers he brewed. They had thrown a hood over his head and dragged him into the terrible underground temple.

Tarmak of the Winding Road was a priest of Fharlanghn. The man was average-looking aside from his brilliant green eyes. He had brown hair, bleached by the sun, and was average height and weight. He had the beginnings of a beard only because the orcs allowed them no blades, even to shave their faces. He wore a tunic. He had been captured by the orcs a week and a half before when he had been camping out in the wilderness and had seen their shadows. Thinking they were fellow travelers on the road, he invited them to his fire and they jumped him.

Kilb Bronzescale was a kobold rogue. He was small, standing almost three and a half feet tall, and had bronze colored scales. His eyes were deep purple and he was 15 years old, a young adult in the kobold tribes. He had been traveling from the Bone March through the Flinty Hills towards Nyrond to rob the humans when he stumbled across some orcs who snatched him up three days before. He had kept to himself and the other slaves had left him alone.

Noiree Fragginth was a dwarf woman. Half of her head was shaved and, though her hair was brown, the top of her hair that was still long was dyed orange. She also had an orange braid that came down longer than the rest of her hair. Many of the dwarves in her stronghold were not happy about it as they said it went against dwarven tradition. She had been there the longest: a slave for two months.

Her isolated stronghold stood in the Rakers where it met the Flinty Hills, and had always, it seemed, been subject to humanoid attacks and subjugation. The dwarves had eventually capitulated, giving tribute of gold and sometimes even slaves to certain humanoid tribes to keep them away. However, two months before, the orcs who had come had taken more gold and slaves than usual. Noiree had gone after them but found herself surrounded and captured by another group as she pursued the first.

Elriya Warrick was a Halfling rogue. She went by the nickname “L” in her hometown. She stood just over three feet tall and had short black hair and piercing blue eyes. She normally wore a cloak with a mask that covered the lower portion of her face as she had very crooked teeth. She had seen a caravan of orcs moving towards the part of the Flinty Hills called the Scar 11 days before and decided to try to rob from it. However, she found the caravan full of slaves so she tried to free them but the orcs had captured her. She had been enslaved ever since.

The room the slaves were housed in was about 30 feet deep by 50 feet wide. There were two large piles of straw for the slaves to sleep on in two corners while a pile of rubble filled another corner. The doors in the complex were unusual. Each was eight feet tall and arched at the top. Rather than swinging inward or outward, they rose into slots in the ceiling when opened. Rusty chains used to hoist up each door were found on the right side of the doorway. They made a great racket when they were pulled and anyone nearby could hear them, making sneaking through the place problematic. The door to their quarters had no chain on the inside.

Additionally elaborate friezes illuminated by strange writings that Helius Wik and Tarmak had recognized as ancient Flan, were in some of the rooms. They ran in a continuous strip across the uppermost two feet of the walls and depicted various things. They had briefly seen the one in their prison at one point, though light was only rarely brought into the room. It depicted the construction of a hearth and its chimney with the caption “The great hearth was built in the western wing of the complex.” In another room they passed through to get to the area they worked in was a frieze of construction of some kind of hall with statues that read “A great hall of honor was constructed in the south wing of the complex. A great weapon was placed in Cameron’s hands.”

The underground complex was lit sporadically with great brass lanterns with thick wicks made of hemp rope. They burned brightly enough that they illuminated an area some 60 feet across. One was near the place the slaves worked to clear rubble and was the only illumination they had in that area though another light came from a nearby corridor they noticed each time they passed.

They were fed at the end of the long work sessions and given water breaks during them. Sometimes orcs came in after they bedded down each night to search them for contraband. They also occasionally searched their quarters.

* * *

The next day, the first day of the month of Fireseek, they were all woken by nine orcs, as usual.

“Happy Fireseek everybody!” Helius Wik said.

“Quiet you!” one of the orcs said.

It was pitch black and those with infravision were forced to help those who could not see to navigate the corridors until they reached the part of the complex illuminated by one of the huge brass lanterns. Then the orcs, as usual, split off about a quarter of the slaves, including Helius Wik and Noiree this time, and headed off into the complex in a direction none of those who had been slaves had yet seen.

Each of the orcs carried a spear and a scourge. They wore leather armor and had heavy black cloaks.

“Get to work!” another orc said to those who remained.

They were all given crude shovels and started working on moving debris from a pile that blocked the corridor.

“What do we do?” Arthelion asked.

“You’ll figure it out!” an orc said, slamming the mage in the back with his spear.

“Ow!”

The slaves knew they were move the debris to clear the tunnel beyond. There was a lot of it there and it would probably take a couple of days work to clear it, even with the number of people there. Arthelion looked around. There were some bones on the ground that were somewhat fresh. Otherwise there was little on the area of the corridor beside a few closed doors.

“Yeah, we got fresh meat for dinner tonight,” one of the orcs said to another in common.

He laughed and looked at Arthelion.

“Hey, I like that goat,” Arthelion said. “Please don’t─”

“We’re gonna like him too!” the orc said and laughed again.

“He’s … uh … he’s poisonous.”

“Oh, we’ll let the captain eat him first then.”

The orc laughed again. He probably thought he was making a joke.

“I’m going to tell the captain,” Arthelion said.

“What’d you say?” the orc barked.

“Nothing.”

“I thought so.”

“Yeah.”

“Get to work!”

* * *

Helius Wik, Noiree, and a handful of other slaves were taken down a long corridor, past a deep room with a statue, and then down another corridor where yet another large lantern illuminated the area. They were pushed into a room nearly buried with wooden debris. It appeared to be the remains of a library and a frieze went around the top of the room depicting the construction of a hall with statues within it. Helius Wik could tell the writing said “A great hall of honor was constructed n the south wing of the complex. A great weapon was placed in Cameron’s hands.”

They were not told what to do but one of the other slaves said they were to find books and papers. Helius Wik found a scrap of parchment and hid it into his long hair.

* * *

Arthelion tried to persuade the orcs to find some other work for him as he was very weak but the orc merely growled for him to get back to work.

“I’m not very strong,” Arthelion said.

“I don’t care,” the orc replied. “Get back to work!”

“This is all I can lift.”

“That’s something.”

Arthelion lifted the meager amount he could and moved it.

“Good job,” the orc growled.

Arthelion walked over to the other adventurers.

“You don’t look like peasants like the rest of them,” he said. “How’d you get captured? How long have you been here?”

The kobold just glared at him and continued working.

“Are you racist against elves?” Rome asked.

“No,” Arthelion said. “Are you all special?”

“Yeah,” Rome replied.

“This guy’s an idiot,” Elriya said to Kilb in kobold. “Don’t talk to him.”

Kilb’s eyes opened wide. He was surprised she could speak his tongue.

“I don’t speak it, but was that the kobold language?” Arthelion asked. “I can speak dragon.”

He looked at Kilb.

“Do you speak common?” he asked.

Kilb just glared at him and kept working.

“Don’t worry,” Arthelion said. “I’ll get us out of here soon.”

“I’ve only been here for one day,” Rome said.

“Oh yeah.”

“And I could break this place with a straw of hay. I didn’t mean to rhyme but … that’s what happened.”

The elf looked around him and guessed the place was some kind of orc stronghold that had been taken over by men as they were too lazy to build their own. He guessed the orcs had merely retaken it. He told the rest of his hypothesis.

“Huh,” Arthelion said.

Arthelion kept talking to the orcs all day, trying to convince them he was not strong enough for the work.

“This will make you stronger,” one of the orcs said, swatting him with his spear.

“All I have is a staff and a goat,” Arthelion said. “My life sucks.”

“You don’t have either now.”

“I … I mean, you’re going to die if you eat him. I’m just telling you that. He cost half of my fortune so … if you could not eat him … I really love him. I mean, as much as one can love a goat, I love him.”

The orcs ignored him.

“Okay, I have a proposal,” he later said. “I’m really good at dancing. And it must be really boring guarding.”

“Get back to work!” the orc told him.

“Don’t eat my goat and I’ll dance.”

“Get back to work.”

“I can do a dancing lights spell.”

“Wait … you’re a caster?”

“Oh yeah. I’m so smart.”

“Don’t cast spells or we’ll cut your fingers off so you can’t cast.”

“I might’ve already cast one, I’m not sure.”

Displeased with that, they knocked the mage around with their spears.

At another point, Arthelion put his back to the orcs and cast a charm person spell, turning at the last moment and focusing on one of them. The orcs didn’t notice he’d cast the spell. However, Tarmak, Kilb, Rome, and Elriya all saw his casting. He walked over to the orc he cast the spell on.

“So, do you want to watch me dance or what?” he asked.

“No!” the orc said. “Shut up! Get back to work!”

“Huh.”

The spell hadn’t worked.

“Well, they’re not willing,” Arthelion said to the other slaves. “You want to watch me dance? I’m pretty good.”

No one seemed to. He told the orcs he needed a very private area to pass his water but was told to piss with the rest of them. The orc hit him with a spear.

“Where?” Arthelion asked.

The orc pointed to a corner.

“I’m kind of shy,” Arthelion said.

The orc took the scourge off his belt and started swatting it against his leg.

“You are getting on my last nerve, boy,” the orc said.

“I have something really cool in my pouch, if you want to see it,” Arthelion told the orcs.

“We’ve seen everything in your pouch,” the orc said. “We took it.”

“I made something invisible in it though. You want to see it?”

“You a wizard? You try that crap with us and we’ll rip your tongue out.”

“I need my materials to cast spells. I can’t cast spells.”

“Bullshit! My uncle was a shaman. You don’t need no materials. I bet you already wizzened me! Didn’t you?”

“Nah!”

“I should rip the beard off your face. You ain’t got much. Go piss over in that corner with the rest of them.”

“Can you make sure nobody sneaks up on me?”

“I’ll whip the shit out of you! Get over there and piss.”

The orcs started to watch the wizard more closely after that. Kilb dug away with his shovel but kept an eye out for sharp rocks he might use as a weapon. He didn’t find anything he could use that day. Rome started to shovel the rocks more efficiently in an attempt to get onto the orcs’ good side. He had a plan for an assembly line that would speed up production and keep everyone busy. He decided to do it himself in the hopes the orcs would notice, which they did.

“Elves, I hate ‘em,” he said. “But he’s really working hard.”

Before he finished for the day, he asked the orc for his medallion so he could pray to his god. The orc told him to piss off.

They continued work and were brought water three times over the workday. Elriya volunteered to bring water but they refused to take a volunteer to do it. They were all finally taken back to the slave pen. Arthelion, remembering the straw from the night before, felt his way to the pile in an attempt to call dibs on a place to sleep.

* * *

In the library, Helius Wik crept into the side of the library the orcs couldn’t see from their place in the corridor. He cast a spell to detect magic and looked around but could not see anything magical within his field of vision.

A slave was sent off three times that day to bring water to the others. They were very tired by the time the orcs took them back to their room.

* * *

A half hour or so after they were brought back to the slave quarters, the orcs brought them gruel and a tough piece of meat. That was all they would get in terms of food and it really wasn’t enough. A half hour or so after they had their food, they started smelling cooked food and heard the orcs start their loud revelry, as they did nightly.

They might be drinking my beer! Helius Wik thought. Those bastards!

Arthelion, Rome, Noiree, and Elriya all thought they smelled roasted goat.

Oh well, Arthelion thought. I’ll have to buy another goat.

They bedded down, the adventurers all finding themselves in the same pile. Elriya tapped on Arthelion’s shoulder.

“Hello?” he said.

“Did you try to spell those orcs earlier today?” she asked.

“Nah.”

“I saw you waving your hands around and chanting.”

“Yeah.”

“And you looked at ‘em.”

“Yeah.”

“What were you trying to do?”

“I have the tremors. I get hand tremors when they hit me with the spear more than seven times. They hit me a little more than I was hoping today. I was shaking a little bit.”

“Well … I know you’re new here but, at night, only one orc comes to check up on us.”

“Oh. That’s pretty cool. Maybe he’d like to see me dance. You know, nobody took me up on that today.”

“I wish I could see you dance,” Helius Wik said from the darkness.

“Who said that?” Arthelion said. “I’ll dance for you tomorrow, stranger.”

“Awesome. The name’s Helius.”

“My name is Arthelion.”

“Nice to meet you, Arthelion. What kind of dancing do you do?”

“I can do all kinds of dancing. I prefer … have you ever seen the taps?”

“I’ve only heard of the taps.”

“I can taps it real good.”

“Yeah, I’m not a very good dancer myself but get a few beers in me and I’ll try anything. At least once.”

“That sounds like an opportunity.”

A little girl on the edge of the pile of straw was crying.

What a baby, Arthelion thought.

“So, you gave me that information about the lone guard coming at night,” he said. “Have you got a plan, friend? What do you want to do about that?”

“Yeah, I’m trying to get out of here,” Helius Wik said. “You guys trying to get out of here?”

“Why would you try to get out of here?”

“I’m just … I’m just saying … you guys look like wizards,” Elriya said. “If you can a spell on the orc, that would be a good time to do it.”

“I kind of need to rest before I can perform a spell, personally,” Helius Wik said.

“Well, you know, if I could cast a spell, I’d probably couldn’t now,” Arthelion said.

“It’s not like we’re going anywhere,” Elriya said.

“It’d probably have to be later. If I could.”

Rome walked over to the little girl and sat down next to her. She was startled in the dark but he comforted her and told her about his god, Corellon Larethian. She snuggled up to him and asked him to tell her more stories. She finally fell asleep.

“So, everybody,” Noiree said.

“Who is this?” Arthelion asked. “Who’s talking?”

“Who is that?” Helius Wik said.

“My name’s Noiree Fragginth,” she said. “I’ve got an idea. So, I’ve been here for a little bit.”

“How long,” Arthelion asked.

“Two months.”

“That’s a long time.”

“Yep. I hate it.”

A couple others chimed in they hated it too.

“Guys, it’s not that bad,” Arthelion said.

“Well, I plan on trying to get out of here soon,” Noiree went on. “Now, I still have my clothes from when I was captured. And around my waist I have a band that wraps around. I’m thinking, I’m a strong person. I’m a strong dwarf. I think─”

“Strong, independent woman,” Helius Wik said.

“Yes, thank you,” Noiree went on. “I think that if we, a few of us, get to the sides of the walls, when they come in, I take my wrap, hold it, and I can take them down from behind.”

“I don’t mean to burst your bubble, Noiree,” Arthelion said, “but they’ve got some pretty good armor and might scream out in the night.”

“We also outnumber them,” Elriya said.

“If I get them around the neck, they won’t scream,” Noiree said.

They knew most of the common people would be useless in a fight. Helius Wik also said he was not a good fighter and would prefer to stay out of battles.

“Why don’t you just keep hyping up how good of a dancer I am,” Arthelion said. “Tell ‘em you saw me. And you’ve heard of me. And the orcs should really watch me dance.”

“Hm,” Helius Wik said.

“Well, there’s got to be something we could do,” Noiree said.

“I could distract them … with my dancing,” Arthelion said.

“They’re going to whip you,” Noiree said.

“This might have nothing to do with the escape plan but … in the room that I was taken to today, I saw something on the ceiling, something written down about the great hall in the south complex and a great weapon in Cameron’s hands,” Helius Wik said.

He remembered the route he’d taken to the library and described it to the others.

“There was something written on the ceiling about Cameron’s hands and a big weapon,” he went on. “Does that ring a bell with any of you guys? Even to the people who have not been here long.”

Arthelion remembered a legend he’d once heard or read. It was about a people who worshipped one of the world’s nature gods who had made a huge underground temple somewhere in the Flinty Hills. They were apparently trying to create some powerful magic. He remembered the elf who had been on the chain gang with them had mentioned the place being an orc lair, but he didn’t think so.

“Story time,” he said.

He described the story as best he could remember it.

“So, you think that this is the same hall?” Helius Wik said. “You think this might be where that magical weapon might be kept?”

“Oh, most definitely,” Arthelion said. “Without a doubt.”

“Maybe if we find this magical weapon before the orcs, we can take them out,” Helius Wik said.

“If we do find said magical weapon, I would consider it a great honor if you all would bestow it upon me,” Arthelion said.

“Oh, you would consider it an honor,” Helius Wik said.

“Hm,” Noiree said.

“Yeah,” Arthelion said. “What you will see of my dancing will be enough payment for whatever this item is.”

“Would you even know how to use said weapon?” Helius Wik said.

“If I could use said weapon … yeah, I could probably figure it out.”

“Well …”

Helius Wik laughed.

“But I’m really thinking that I could distract them tomorrow,” Arthelion said. “So … you can formulate the plan from there but I’m going to give them a show. I’m going to give them the what’s up.”

“We’ll try anything,” Noiree said.

“Distract them with your dancing skills?” Helius Wik said.

“Yeah,” Arthelion said. “So, I mean, I don’t know if you noticed but you all look different. All the rest look like peasants that are going to die here.”

“Hey!” one of the other prisoners said.

“No offense,” Arthelion said.

“Okay, no offense,” the other man said.

“I can’t tell in this darkness,” Helius Wik said. “I can’t even tell how you can tell.”

“Is he really a wizard?” someone said.

“But I’m thinking if I can distract them, what would you like to do?” Arthelion went on. “Just get to that library?”

“The orcs took me to a room where they were looking for a magical artifact or a magical book or something,” Helius Wik said. “I feel if I had more time, I might could find this magical artifact. And I remember the way to get there, past a couple hallways, a few doors.”

“Do you think this distraction idea’s good? Then you could get back there unseen possibly? Or do you even know if they’ll take you back there tomorrow?”

“I have no idea if they’ll take me back to the library tomorrow. But if we can hold a big enough rabble where you guys are digging, maybe I could … maybe me and a few other people can do some investigating and track it down.”

“It sounds like, to me, what you’re proposing is they need to make sure they don’t take you there tomorrow, and you’re there with the bigger group so you can lead us there. When I perform the distraction.”

“I could lead anybody to this library.”

“Is that man going to dance?” someone muttered.

“So, for all of you who want to get out of here, there might be an uprising tomorrow,” Arthelion said.

“All right,” Helius Wik said.

“I don’t wanna die,” someone said.

“The signal will be my tapping,” Arthelion said.

“Well, we need to find our weapons and stuff if we’re going to have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting out of this place,” Helius Wik said.

“Can anybody here hold their own? I mean is anyone here a fighter or something?”

“Not me.”

“Not I.”

“Those shovels suck,” someone said.

“But we do outnumber the orcs,” Arthelion said.

There was some dissent among the commoners. Most of them were scared. However, they didn’t give the impression any of them would betray them to the orcs. Everyone was afraid of the orcs.

“I’m pretty strong myself,” Noiree said. “I can pull my weight. Help out. Strangle a few orcs.”

“It will have to be a quick attack,” Arthelion said. “And we will all have to fight at some point.”

“Oh gods,” Helius Wik said.

“But I will try to get the orcs to turn their backs on the digging,” Arthelion said.

“Well, as long as I get a good night’s rest before all of this goes down, I think I can help out,” Helius Wik said.

It was about an hour later when the door opened and a single orc came in and looked around. Only a few of them could see him. He left fairly quickly however. It was several more hours before a single orc arrived to search the room for contraband, but he did it very quickly and inefficiently.

* * *

They were awoken early on the 2nd of Fireseek when the orcs opened the door to their room. They were led out of the room once again and to the place where the digging was taking place. The orcs took Tarmak, Rome, Kilb, Noiree, and Elriya, as well as the little girl, to work in the library. Rome memorized the route as they walked. Six orcs escorted them and kept watch outside the door of the room.

Noiree was really, really angry that they’d been split up in such a way that the plan was wrecked.

“Hopefully those idiots don’t spend their spells while we’re gone,” Elriya muttered.

They got to work searching for papers and books. Kilb continued to look for a something sharp to use as a weapon. Tarmak recognized the language of the frieze as ancient Flan and was able to read it.

* * *

The others, including Arthelion and Helius Wik were put to work on the pile of debris once again.

“So … it does look like our plan has failed,” Arthelion said to Helius Wik as they worked.

“Partially, yeah,” Helius Wik said. “Though I’m still here if you still want to dance. You were talking it up last night.”

“I mean … I was going to dance to distract while you took the other people, so … I don’t think you and me can overpower these orcs.”

“I can’t take anybody in my condition.”

“So, I guess we’ll just have to wait until they get back. But hey, did you hear a door open last night.”

“Yeah, I heard it open twice. Those are the guys. They go through and make the rounds, you know. They check up on us.”

“Seems like they only send one guy.”

“Yeah, you know, after partying, he’s probably boozed up. He’s probably not all there. You know what I’m saying.”

“If you could cast a spell, do you think you could cast it when he shows up? I mean, if you could.”

“I know a few spells. You know.”

“Right.”

“I can throw my voice here and there.”

“Okay.”

“I got some jubilee fireworks.”

“I’ve possibly got something I could do that might make him our friend.”

“Oh yeah?”

“I say, tonight, why don’t me and you, if we can cast spells, why don’t we try it? You know?”

“Okay, so … I guess I won’t …”

When it came time to give water to the slaves, Arthelion was picked to go fetch it.

“So-so what do I do?” he asked.

“Come with me,” the orc said.

He led him in a different direction than those who went to the library had been led, past a pile of rubble and by a large lantern before going through another chamber with rubble in the center. They came to another large lantern and turned left where a wide corridor led off some ways. The orc led him to the second door on the right, which the orc made him open. Further down the corridor, Arthelion could see a large fire with four orcs standing guard near it.

The room itself was painfully bright. A number of small holes were in the crumbling ceiling overhead. Sunlight streamed down through the ceiling holes, brightly illuminating the room and making Arthelion’s eyes sting. Four large tuns half-filled with water dominated the center of the room where the holes were. The orc pointed at two buckets, told him to fill them, and then follow him back. When he gathered the water, he looked up and could see a blue sky high above.

“These are some pretty big buckets,” Arthelion said. “Are you going to help me carry them?”

“No,” the orc said. “Fill them. I heard about you!”

“Have I not met you? You all look the same.”

“Do we?”

The orc walked over to the man.

“Yeah, you’re all very beautifu─” Arthelion said.

The orc struck him with the scourge and he stepped back.

“They call you ‘Mouth,’” the orc said. “I don’t wanna hear it any more. Fill ‘em and let’s walk back.”

Arthelion filled the buckets and the orc escorted him back. The slaves drank the water but quickly emptied both buckets.

“You know where it is!” the orc growled at him. “Just go. You’re not back … then I’m going to come looking for you.”

He swung his scourge at the man.

“I don’t know,” Arthelion mumbled. “I’m pretty fast.”

“What was that!?!” the orc said.

“Nothing.”

“Thought so.”

The orc pointed and Arthelion walked back to the water storage room. He noticed a corridor in the wall next to the room and saw light coming from that direction. It looked like lantern light. Further down the corridor, near the large fire, the four orcs continued to stand guard. He dropped off the buckets at the water storage room and started to head down the corridor next to it.

“Hey!” one of the orcs down the hall shouted. “Where are you going?”

“I’m getting water,” Arthelion called.

“The water’s in there!”

“Oh, that’s right. Whoops.”

He walked back into the water storage room and got the water, heading over to the four orc guards.

“Are you guys thirsty?” he asked.

“Gimme that!” one said.

He grabbed the bucket and drank it. Another grabbed the other bucket and drank from it as well.

“How are you guys doing?” Arthelion asked.

One of the orcs poked him.

“You’re awful skinny,” he said.

“Have you guys heard of me?” Arthelion said.

“Iunno,” an orc said.

“They said you guys had heard of me,” Arthelion went on. “You call me ‘Mouth.’”

“Mouth,” the orc said. “That’s Mouth.”

“Hey. What’s up guys?”

“You got purty teeth,” an orc said.

“I’ve offered this to everybody; nobody’s taken me up on it. You want to see me dance?”

The orcs looked at each other.

“No,” one finally said.

“Man, the─”

“No no no no.”

“Why not?”

“Ain’t … ain’t there no … we … no.”

“Okay.”

“Get some human women. They can dance.”

“So, I made a bet with this one guy that this is the way out. Is it? I just want to know if I’m going to win the bet.”

“Back here?”

One of the orcs pointed at the area beyond the fire near the barricade they stood by. A pile of rubble was there and the next chamber opened into a larger area.

“You wanna go back there?” the orc asked.

“Why is it barricaded?” Arthelion asked.

“Yeah! You wanna go back there?”

“There something cool? To see?”

“Yeah! It’s real cool.”

The orcs looked at him.

“You know what’s back there?” one said.

“I mean … I’m a little curious, but …” Arthelion said.

“You can go look.”

“Well … are you gonna come with me?”

“No. Gruumsh no.”

“How bad is it? Tell me. What’s going on?”

“The Gnasher’s back there.”

“The Gnasher?”

The orc moved forward and got in his face.

“That’s where we throw people that talk too much.”

“Well, I feel like I talk about the right amount, so …”

“So, you don’t want to go see the Gnasher?”

“I don’t guess so. If you don’t want to see it, I don’t want to see it. But if we hold hands and go look at it …”

“Get back to work.”

“Okay.”

Arthelion returned to the workers so they could slake their thirst. The orc told him to take the buckets back to the water storage room and he did so, returning with all due haste. He noticed a couple of orcs in another room he passed through before he returned.

* * *

Both Tarmak and Elriya found pieces of paper in the library. Each of them depicted one of the friezes. Tarmak’s displayed construction of what appeared to be an armory. It read: “An armory was established near the northwest wing of the complex.” Elriya found one that depicted a council of priests. She could not read what the script read but noticed Tarmak reading a piece of paper. She handed it over and he saw it read: “The high priests come together to set the stage for the new order.”

They knew they were supposed to hand over anything they found to the orcs.

“Can you conceal these?” Tarmak asked her. “At all?”

“Probably,” Elriya said.

She hid them on her person as best she could.

* * *

Helius Wik took the time to examine the lantern that lit their area as best he could. He saw it was made of brass and very large with a wick that almost appeared to be a thick piece of hemp rope. He guessed it was filled with lamp oil and probably weighed hundreds of pounds.

He also overheard a couple of orcs talking. Unfortunately, it was in their own language. He didn’t understand a word of it.

* * *

They were returned to the slave quarters after several hours, exhausted. Most of the slaves flung themselves down on the straw to get what rest they could. A half hour later, they were brought gruel and meat.

“Can I get some more?” Arthelion asked.

“No,” the orc, hidden in the pitch blackness, said.

“Hey, have you seen the Gnasher?”

“Yes.”

“What does he look like?”

“I’ll let you go see him if you want.”

“Will you come with me, though. Because the other guys─”

“No!”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want to die, idiot.”

“Wull─”

“Shut up Mouth. You’re the mouth, aren’t you?”

“Yeah.”

The orc slapped him in the face and walked away, leaving shortly after giving them their food. They knew it was a little while before the orcs began their revelry and possibly an hour before an orc might go in to inspect them.

“Hey, so I’m pretty tired but I think we should stay up tonight to maybe do some spells,” Arthelion said. “Maybe.”

“Yeah,” Helius Wik said. “Except I would have no idea what we would do once we get out of this room.”

“Full disclosure, if I was a wizard, I would probably have a spell to charm somebody, maybe. That’s if I was a wizard.”

“Okay, but you don’t─”

“I need to see them though and I can’t see shit.”

“How old are you, man?”

“What?’

“How old are you?”

“What’s my age matter?”

“Because you look like a pretty young wizard. You can probably only cast one spell a day.”

“Pshaw.”

“I know, just from experience, that your spells won’t always work, man.”

“‘Cause they won’t work,” a voice out of the darkness said.

“Whoa, who’s that?” Helius Wik said.

“Who was that?” Arthelion said. “I wonder if he’s a wizard.”

Noiree, Rome, and Elriya all saw it had been the little kobold who had not spoken to any of them previous to that very moment. Elriya smiled and gave the little creature a high five.

“You tried to charm somebody yesterday and it didn’t work,” Kilb said.

“No, I didn’t!” Arthelion said, still unsure exactly who he was talking to in the darkness.

“We all saw you. You didn’t even hide it that well.”

“I wasn’t hiding it from you. I didn’t try to cast a spell. When I cast a spell, it always works.”

“Oh yeah?” Helius Wik said.

“Yeah,” Arthelion said.

They couldn’t see Elriya put her face in her hands but they did hear her sigh very loudly.

“It may not work instantaneously, but it does work,” Arthelion said.

“I just know from experience that they don’t always work and we might need more than just spells to get out of here,” Helius Wik said.

“Well, yeah.”

“We have to work as a group. What does everybody else have to offer, besides spells?”

“Well, possible spells.”

“Possible spells.”

“This is all hypothetical. If we were wizards.”

“My strength’s my strong suit,” Noiree said.

“Who said that?” Arthelion said.

“I,” Noiree said.

“How much can you lift?” Helius Wik asked.

“I can lift a lot,” Noiree said.

The others were silent.

“So, is that all we have, two hypothetical spells and some strength or are you pussies going to start talking?” Arthelion said.

“I know how to appraise gems,” a voice said.

“I mean, unless you guys want to live here forever, which is cool,” Arthelion said. “I get it.”

“I … I kind of want to get to my wineskin,” Helius Wik said. “I’m kind of hurting for some beer right now.”

“I kind of want to get back to my goat,” Arthelion said.

“Your goat’s dead,” Noiree said.

“We don’t’ know that. There’s a lot of things that smell like goat.”

“Like what?”

“Like other goats. They didn’t kill my goat. I asked them not to.”

“How many goats were there? Yeah.”

“I dunno. I didn’t see ‘em.”

“I think there was one goat.”

“Well, we’ll see.”

“Good talk.”

“The idiot has a point, though,” Elriya said. “Even if we get out of here, how do we get out stuff back?”

“One of those papers I found earlier that I gave to you said there was an armory to the northwest section of this fortress or wherever we are,” Tarmak said. “And I might be able to get us there if we can get out of this room.”

“Do you know which way northwest is?” Elriya asked.

“Yes, I do,” Tarmak said.

“Nice,” Noiree said.

“Well, that’s a start,” Arthelion said. “Why don’t we all sleep next to the door and try the spells. If they do fail, which it won’t, but if they did fail, then we can just overpower the one guard.”

“So, are you just trying to persuade this guard to help us out or something?” Helius Wik said.

“Aw yeah. He’s going to be our best friend. And if, if he does become out best friend, then him leading one of us around won’t look as suspicious to the other guards.”

“But him leading all of us around would look pretty suspicious.”

“Yeah, him leading one person.”

“Well, who would that one person be?”

“Me, of course.”

“But you would … hypothetically you would already have used your spell.”

“Naw, I just came up with this today.”

“So …”

“Trust me. This is a brand-new plan.”

“You know, we might not need the charm spell. There’s a pile of rubble over there. Why don’t we just knock him out when he comes in to look in on us tonight.”

They realized, from the description of the few in the room who could see in the dark, the pile of rubble was large enough it might even cover a door or something.

“I have a sense there might be more to this pile of rubble,” Helius Wik said. “I might not have any night vision or anything─”

“I’m going to be completely honest with you,” Arthelion said. “I didn’t even know there was a pile of rubble.”

“It’s pretty dark.”

“We’ve got digger extraordinaire in the room,” Kilb said, thinking of the work he’d seen Rome do.

“Who’s the digger extraordinaire?” Arthelion asked.

“Yeah,” Rome said.

“Who’s talking?” Arthelion asked.

Helius Wik felt his way over to the rubble and started to dig around, trying to get a sense for how large some of the stones there were. Arthelion noted that as he couldn’t see the pile, he was going to just lay there, but to let him know if they found anything. Noiree, Elriya, and Kilb helped with the rubble, moving it a little bit and looking for large rocks.

“What was the Gnasher?” Rome asked.

“I don’t really know,” Arthelion confessed. “The orcs are scared of it so, I think we should be scared of it.”

“Maybe we could use it to our advantage.”

“Yeah, I was … it’d be really cool if I could let it out or something.”

Helius Wik found a good-sized rock in the pile.

“I found a giant rock we could crush some heads with,” he said.

“I like that idea,” Noiree said.

“Right? You could probably be more efficient with this rock. Where are you? I can’t even see you right now.”

She walked over and took the large rock from him.

“I have a belt,” Kilb said.

They discussed what to do and Helius Wik asked if Noiree wanted to bash the guy’s head open with the rock when he came in. They made a plan wherein Noiree would stand near the door with the rock.

“Guys, if you charm him, then he’ll lead us out,” Elriya said. “And probably to our stuff.”

“But we’re not entirely sure the charm will work,” Helius Wik said.

“I’ll have to kill him,” Noiree said.

“Some of us are pretty sure it’s going to work,” Arthelion said.

“Well, mouth is really good at aggravating these guys so we can have him stay near the back of the room and say something,” Rome said. “When he steps into the room, they can be ready to bash his head in.”

“The order that you’ve got to think about is we’ll try to charm him and if that doesn’t work, we hit him,” Arthelion said. “But if we hit him and we fail, then charm’s not really going to work.”

“Do you have any magic tricks besides charm?” Helius Wik asked.

“Possibly,” Arthelion said.

“Okay,” Noiree said.

“What are they?” Tarmak asked.

“Well, what if we don’t need charm right now?” Helius Wik said.

“I don’t want to reveal everything right now,” Arthelion said. “I’ve got some things.”

“You should hold off on your magic until you absolutely need it. I feel. Speaking as a magician myself.”

“Well, I mean, if you’re just going to hit him with some rocks then I’m just going to go to sleep. Okay?”

“But we need you─”

“But we need you because your mouth is pretty magical,” Rome said.

“Your mouth is magic itself,” Helius Wik said. “When the guy comes in, you should try your best to get him to slap you in the face or something. So that we have time to take him out.”

“Lure him in,” Noiree said.

“Or perhaps we lure him in the room and then we go out and slam the gate back on him,” Rome said. “There’s no need to take the risk of knocking him out.”

“The opening apparatus is only on the outside of the door,” Kilb said.

“He’ll scream,” Arthelion said.

“But they won’t hear him,” Kilb said.

“I’ll kill him,” Noiree said. “It’s okay.”

“They can’t hear us scream,” Rome said. “We scream every night.”

“You just have to promise me that, if you do hit him with the rock that it’s going to work,” Arthelion said. “Because if I do aggravate him and you try this─”

“I-I won’t be hitting him because I’m a weakling over here,” Helius Wick said.

“Okay, I’ll get him to come in and come after me, I guess,” Arthelion said. “You guys just make sure he doesn’t hit me. Make sure you get to him before he gets to me.”

“Well …” Noiree said.

“My face is kind of sore,” Arthelion said.

“He closes the door behind him,” Kilb said.

“I thought we were knocking him out,” Arthelion said.

“Once we get him inside, we lock him in the room,” Kilb said. “That way if he yells or anything, they won’t hear it.”

“Why don’t we try screaming now and see if they come?” Arthelion said. “I bet they come.”

“But there might be more than one,” Helius Wik said.

“I’m pretty sure they can hear us.”

“We only have one rock and we know that only one guy comes at certain times.”

“What’s the worse that’s going to happen?” Rome said. “Scream tonight and see if they come.”

“So are you going to knock him out?” Arthelion said. “You going to do it?”

“Yeah,” Noiree said. “I’ll do it.”

“But where do we go from there?” Tarmak asked.

“Yeah, that’s true,” Helius Wik said.

“Trapped outside of our cell.”

“Well, you mentioned an armory, right?”

“Yes, to the northwest.”

They discussed, at length, everything they had seen in the place, putting together a rough map in their heads of the layout. With what Arthelion had seen on his water run and those who went to the library describing the way there, they all had a rough idea of the layout of the place, at least as far as any of them had seen. They also discussed the Gnasher and whether or not it was even real.

Arthelion said he’d be in the hay and try to lure the orcs back.

“What should I say to ‘em?” he asked.

“You just be you, Mouth,” Helius Wik said.

It was about another half hour before the door was loudly opened.

“Line up!” an orc voice came from the darkness of the doorway. “We’re searching you.”

Only those with infravision could see the lone orc. He stood there, spear in hand, and glared at them. Noiree had put the rock down behind her foot.

“Who’s ‘we?’” Arthelion asked.

“Me,” the orc said. “Shut up.”

“Aw, this is horseshit.”

“What?”

“I ain’t lining up. **** this. I’m trying to sleep, dude.”

The orc walked over to where Arthelion lay in the straw. Those who could see in the dark saw the orc take the scourge off his belt. Kilb and Elriya crept up on him. Kilb got close but the orc turned towards him. Elriya got close enough to throw one of the rocks she’d picked up.

“What’d you say?” he growled.

“I said eat my shit!” Arthelion said. “You want to eat my shit?”

“You son of a …” the orc growled.

Tarmak tried to head towards the orc while looking like he was heading towards the lineup. Then Elriya flung a rock at the orc, hitting him in the right hand.

“Ow!” the orc shouted.

Rome moved towards the open door in the pitch blackness. His elvin sight allowed him to see and he slipped out the door. The orc was too busy looking around for whomever threw the rock at him. He glared at Elriya. Then Arthelion started chanting. The orc looked back at him and raised his scourge but then suddenly stopped.

“Hey man, how you doing?” he said, putting his arm down.

“Well, it’s about time you got here,” Arthelion said. “This guy was about ready to whip me.”

Then the orc turned towards Elriya.

“You!” he said. “You!”

“Hey, hold on there, bud,” Arthelion said. “She was trying to hit me. It was an accident. I talk too much. You know that.”

“You do talk too much,” the orc said.

The orc glared at Elriya but also kept an eye on Kilb, who stood near him.

“Can I have that scourge though?” Arthelion asked him.

“No,” the orc said. “Can’t give it to the prisoners.”

“I’m not a prisoner. We’re buds.”

“You’re still a prisoner.

“Well, can you give me something?”

“No, I’m not allowed.”

“Okay, how about─”

“I’ll give you some extra … meat. There’s some goat left over.”

“I thought we were good friends. What is this?”

“We are good friends!”

Tarmak was struggling to figure out where he was in the dark. The rest of them watched Arthelion and the orc.

“These are all friends here, man,” Arthelion said. “There’s no need to be hostile anymore.”

“They’re slaves,” the orc said. “You’re a good slave.”

“I agree with you. But … I got this bet with this one guy that one corridor leads outside. Can you at least confirm that for me.”

He described the corridor next to the cistern room that had light at the end of it.

“No, it’s all blocked up,” the orc said.

“Oh,” Arthelion said.

“Hey, get over there!” the orc said to the others. “Get in line.”

“Yeah, get over there.”

“Get in line!”

“So, we gonna search these guys or what?”

“You’re human. You can’t help. Just relax.”

Arthelion leaned towards the orc.

“All right, between you and me,” he whispered.

“What?” the orc said.

“How do we get out of here?”

“There’s an entrance.”

“Where though?”

“It’s in the middle. In the middle.”

“What?”

“It’s in the middle! This is an old stupid temple. Skarg’s got all this stupid crap. I’m so sick of this place!”

“Hey. Take me there.”

“No, I can’t. I gotta search these people. Wait here.”

“All right.”

The orc started to search the others, starting with Kilb and then moving on to Tarmak. Arthelion started sneaking as best he could towards the door.

“You’re next!” the orc said to Elriya. “What’s this? You hiding these pieces of paper? This could be important!”

He grabbed the Halfling by the shoulder and shook her, shoving her against the wall.

“Stupid stupid slaves,” he muttered. “Always causing trouble. I hate you people.”

He turned to Noiree and searched her as well, finding nothing. She glared at him and he glared back.

“Hey guy,” Helius Wik said. “It’s the second night of Fireseek. I haven’t had any beer. Can we just get to my wineskin?”

The orc searched him roughly. Helius Wik noticed he stank of beer.

“He’s one of my best friends,” Arthelion called.

“My wineskin has a gallon of beer,” Helius Wik said.

“You’re awesome,” the orc said to Arthelion. “This guy …”

He slapped Helius Wik in the face.

“Aw, c’mon guy,” Helius Wik said.

“You all stay in line,” the orc said.

He started to search the other slaves.

“Arthelion, tell him how great my beer is,” Helius Wik said.

Arthelion had made his way, finally, to the door in the complete blackness. In the hallway, Rome saw the man slowly making his way out of the room.

“Hey,” Rome whispered to the wizard. “What information did he give you?”

“Nothing, man,” Arthelion whispered back. “I’m just trying to get out of here.”

“Arthelion, tell him how great my beer is,” Helius Wik said. “Tell him how great my beer is.”

“His beer’s amazing,” Arthelion said.

“I don’t care,” the orc called over his shoulder, still searching the other slaves. “He’s a filthy human. No offense.”

“None taken,” Arthelion said.

“None taken,” Helius Wik said.

“I wasn’t talking to you, you filthy human!” the orc growled.

“It’s in the middle,” Arthelion whispered to Rome.

The elf was suddenly gone, heading for the other door.

* * *

Rome pulled on the chains and opened a nearby door. The orc didn’t seem to notice. He fled, going through the room with the frieze along the ceiling and pulling the door there open as well. Light streamed in from the great lanterns not far away and it was dazzling after being in the pitch darkness. He moved through the next area and past a pile of debris, heading to his right and past another large lantern. As he entered the next open chamber, he saw three orcs standing in the archway to his left. They didn’t seem to notice him and he slipped back around the corner.

* * *

Arthelion waited in the hallway.

In the room, Kilb waved at the others with infravision. He pointed at Tarmak.

“Get that guy,” Elriya whispered to Noiree in dwarvish. “I’ll get him.”

“Take him out,” Noiree said.

“No …”

“Take them out.”

“No.”

“Take them outside.”

“Yes.”

Elriya walked over to Tarmak while Kilb snuck to the door and waited there. The orc glared at Elriya.

“I know it was you!” he grunted. “Shrimp.”

Then he went back to searching the other prisoners. Elriya grabbed Tarmak by the wrist and started leading him towards the door. The orc didn’t notice. Noiree headed towards the door and Elriya got her attention and pointed again at Helius Wik. Noiree nodded, remembering, and went over to the man. She hit him lightly on the arm.

“Come here,” she whispered.

He moved blindly towards the voice, going the wrong way. She just watched him.

Elriya pushed Tarmak out the door and then crept to Helius Wik.

* * *

After watching the orcs for a few moments, Rome crept back down the corridor that he knew led to the library. Aside from some statues in the long hall to the south, he saw nothing of interest. He wanted to make his way to the northwest side of the place where Tarmak had said the armory lay. He made it all the way past the next lantern before he stopped to peek around a corner and saw another set of orcs on guard.

One of them saw him.

“Hey!” the orc yelled. “Hey! Get over here!”

“****,” the elf muttered.

* * *

Elriya grabbed Helius Wik by the wrist and led him to the open door. He was completely blind in the darkness but could feel people around him. Tarmak was outside the door and bumped into someone.

“Who are you?” Arthelion’s voice whispered to him.

“The cleric,” Tarmak said.

“What kind of clothes were you wearing?”

“A tunic.”

“Okay. What are they waiting on?”

They were all clustered around the doorway by then but the orc, still busy searching the other slaves, hadn’t yet noticed. Another person bumped into Arthelion and he asked who they were. Everyone was out of the room and Noiree followed, leaving only Kilb in the room with the slaves. The kobold slipped out and then grabbed the chains and started pulling down the door.

“What the hell?” the orc yelled. “Sons of *****es!”

He ran for the door as it slid down. He went down on all fours and crawled through the opening, trying to punch Kilb. He missed the kobold completely.

“Hey, beau, what’s going on?” Arthelion said.

“Get this door open!” the orc said to him.

“Well, you’re under it.”

“Open! Open the ****ing door!”

Noiree walked over to the orc and kicked him in the face. He let out a shriek. Helius Wik leapt away from the fight as far as he could. Kilb continued to pull on the chains, bringing the door down. The orc screamed as the door crashed down on his back.

“Whoa, don’t kill my friend!” Arthelion said.

“We need to know where our stuff is,” Elriya said. “Ask him where our stuff is.”

“Give me the whip and I’ll take these guys out!” Arthelion said to the orc.

“Yes!” the orc said. “Okay.”

The orc pulled the scourge off his belt and slid it towards the man. It went about halfway. Noiree saw it and snatched it up.

“Hey!” the orc cried. “No! Give it to him! No!”

“Oh no, he’s defenseless,” Elriya said. “If only had his staff, he could beat us.”

“Get this door off me!” the orc cried, trying to get up. “Go get your staff! It’s in that room! By the cistern. Across the hallway from … go get your staff, stupid!”

“Okay,” Arthelion said.

“Okay, so we have what we want?” Noiree said. “We have what we want? Can I finish him off to the face?”

“Hold on, hold on, hold on!” Arthelion said as she raised up the scourge.

“Let’s get out of here,” Elriya said.

“I want his armor,” Noiree said.

“We don’t need it,” Arthelion said. “We’re going to go get our stuff. Let’s go. We don’t have much time.”

Noiree brought her arm down, intending to hit the orc just once. She did so, striking him in the face with the scourge. The orc let out a scream and his head dropped down.

“You feel good?” Arthelion said.

“Yeah,” she said.

“You feel good about yourself?”

“Uh-huh.”

“You probably just killed him.”

“Good.”

“Where’s the other priest?” Elriya asked.

They looked around and those who could see in the dark realized the elf was gone.

“I don’t know,” Arthelion said. “You guys spent so much time dicking around in there, I don’t know where he went. Plus, I can’t see.”

* * *

“Come over here!” the orc called again.

“Just the people I’d like to see!” Rome said. “The gnasher has been released! Yeah! Run!”

“Shit, get over here!” one of the orcs said, looking behind them.

Three more orcs ran over from the that darkened area. Then all six of them headed up to the north where three more orcs stood near a bonfire. Rome turned and headed back the way he’d come. He noticed a secret door in the wall as he ran back but ignored it.

* * *

“Can somebody take me to where my stuff is, please?” Arthelion asked.

“Everybody hold hands,” Elriya said.

They headed out and could soon see light as they passed through the room with the friezes along the ceiling. They bore right, now all of them able to see. They passed the rubble pile and continued north. As they reached the second lantern, they saw Rome come running down the other corridor at a dead run.

“What happened?” Elriya asked.

“I’ve been compromised!” Rome said.

“Where did you go?” Arthelion said.

“I guess we’re turning right then,” Elriya said.

“Yeah, let’s go right,” Helius Wik said.

“Wait, are we going that way?” Rome said. “No, there’s three orcs there. I saw them. We don’t want to get caught.”

“There’s seven of us,” Arthelion said.

“What about the other direction?” Tarmak said.

“Yeah, how many are that way?” Elriya asked.

“There’s six the way I just came from,” Rome said. “But we haven’t explored that yet.”

“The cistern’s this way, though,” Helius Wik said.

“It has all our stuff,” Elriya said.

“There’s guards everywhere,” Rome said.

“Let’s go there anyways,” Arthelion said. “Maybe they left.”

“Yeah, maybe they did leave,” Rome said.

Kilb crept up to the corner and peeked around it. He returned to tell the rest of three orcs on guard there.

“Nah, they’re still there,” he said.

“I think we should just sprint for our stuff,” Elriya said.

“Not back the way I came from because those guards told the other guards,” Rome said.

“Why?” Arthelion said. “Do they know we broke out?”

“We could throw a rock or something and distract them,” Kilb said.

“I could distract them,” Helius Wik said. “And get them to go to the Gnasher.”

Everyone just looked at him but he nodded confidently and then crept up to the corner. He pulled one of the tiny scraps of parchment from his hair and rolled it up into a cone. Speaking a few arcane words, he cast his ventriloquism spell.

“The Gnasher’s escaped!” he said, trying to imitate an orc voice and using the magic to fling his voice behind the orcs.

“What?” one orc yelled.

“The Gnasher!” another yelled.

“Shit!” the last said.

They ran across the room ahead of the group to three doors on the opposite wall and worked the chains, getting the door open and rushing inside before slamming it shut again. They could hear voices within. Helius Wik motioned for them to come to him.

“Wait,” Arthelion suddenly said. “We need to let the other peasants out.”

“Too late for them!” Helius Wik said. “Let’s get our materials and then─”

“I’ll go with him,” Elriya said. “Because he can’t see in the dark.”

“I’ll say a prayer for them,” Rome said.

“Right now the way is clear for them,” Arthelion said. “They won’t be able to fight.”

“We won’t be able to either,” Kilb said.

“You get our stuff and meet us back here,” Arthelion said.

“Yep, we need to meet at the middle anyhow, because that’s the exit,” Elriya said.

“All right,” Helius Wik said. “I’ll grab as much shit as I can carry.”

“What did you guys come in with?” Kilb asked.

“Just grab it all,” Arthelion said.

“We’re just going to grab our stuff,” Rome said. “You guys can be weaponless.”

Arthelion and Elriya headed back while the rest went north, to the next lantern and turned left down the wide corridor. They spotted a group of orcs at the far end, but the orcs didn’t seem to notice them. They ducked into the corridor next to the cistern. The orcs were close enough that they would probably notice if the group got any closer.

“Can you do your voice thing again?” Kilb asked.

“I can only do it once,” Helius Wik said.

“A ways back there, there was a secret door,” Rome said, suddenly remembering the door.

* * *

Arthelion and Elriya returned to the prison cell. The orc lay on the floor, still unconscious. However, he seemed to have stopped bleeding. Elriya pulled on the chains and opened the door.

“Let’s go,” Arthelion said.

Elriya told the peasants to all hold hands as they were going to lead them out. Once she saw they all had done so, she took the first peasant’s hand and started to lead them out. The peasants were quietly thankful and worried.

“Arthelion has returned for you,” Arthelion said.

“Yes,” someone said.

The peasants thanked various gods.

* * *

“We need to get in there,” Noiree said.

“You think we should just rush it?” Kilb said. “They won’t see us until we start opening the door.”

“I think we should. I have a weapon.”

“They’ll hear the door even if they’re not looking,” Rome said.

“As soon as we start opening it, we should all run in,” Kilb said.

“I could … I don’t know …” Rome said. “There’s no orcs back in that room we came from. Right? And there’s no orcs through the way that I ran. I could go back, all the way back around and say ‘Hey stupid orcs’ and then run into the secret door. I can try to figure out how to open it.”

“We don’t know how long those orcs will be stationed there,” Kilb said. “Once they realize the Gnasher isn’t out, they’ll go back to their station.”

He pointed out they were on a time limit. Rome said he could go figure out about the secret tunnel.

“What if we don’t hear from you?” Kilb said. “What if you get captured?”

“I’m equipped with my brain,” Rome said.

He headed back the way they’d come.

“What’s the plan?” Kilb said.

“I want to open the door that we ran past,” Helius Wik said.

“It’ll still make as much noise,” Kilb said. “All they have to do is look down the hallway and they’ll see us.”

“Well …” Helius Wik said.

He searched the floor for rocks and pebbles. He flung one of the rocks past the orcs but they didn’t pay it any attention.

“Well shit, I’ve tried everything,” he muttered.

* * *

Rome reached the secret door and tried to figure out how to open it.

* * *

“We’re going to be safe,” one of the slaves said when they reached the room with light beyond.

“I sure hope they have our stuff,” Arthelion said.

“What?” the slave said.

“Surely they didn’t just stand there the entire time.”

“You’re heroes and adventurers, right?”

“Well …”

They passed the first pile of rubble and passed the lantern near it, then went north to the other light in the wide tunnel. Elriya slipped down the side where the orcs had been guarding earlier and spotted three more orcs further down on guard duty.

* * *

Kilb slipped further down the corridor they were hiding in. It ended in a chamber some 20 feet deep and fifty feet wide. Another corridor on the far side was blocked with rubble and doors stood on either side of the chamber. It didn’t have a frieze or any decoration. One of the huge brass lanterns sat in the middle of the room. Helius Wik followed the kobold. He wanted to try one of the doors but Kilb warned him of the noise.

* * *

Elriya caught up with the rest as they reached the wider corridor. Arthelion stopped them all as he had seen orcs on guard duty at the other end of the long passage. Elriya quickly made her way to the corner and peeked down that way. Arthelion saw Noiree in the passageway that ran perpendicular to the wide corridor.

“Stay there,” Elriya whispered to the villagers.

They were terribly frightened.

“I don’t suppose any of you know where the exit is,” she said. “Or speak orc?”

“I think ‘Bree-yark’ means ‘I surrender’ in goblin,” one man said. “Right?”

Arthelion, meanwhile walked up the corridor towards the passage where Noiree stood.

“Which one of you has my stuff?” he asked.

“Hey!” one of the orcs down the corridor called. “Hey you! What are you doing?”

“What the **** do you want?” Arthelion said.

One of the orcs headed down the corridor towards him.

“Wait a … you’re supposed to be locked up!” he said. “What’re you doing out!?!”

“Getting water, *****,” Arthelion said, confident the others had gotten their weapons. “What are you doing?”

The orc changed his spear to his left hand and took the scourge off his belt.

“I’m about to beat down a mother ****er!” he said.

“I’ll beat your ass!” Arthelion said, trying not to seem scared.

“Son of a *****!” the orc yelled.

* * *

Helius Wik heard the conversation in the corridor. He pulled on one of the sleeves of his robe and tore it free. He lit one end of it on the lantern.

Further down the corridor, Tarmak lined up behind Noiree and got ready for the fight that seemed to be coming.

* * *

The orc walked directly towards Arthelion, taking his time, a terrible glare upon his face. Arthelion strode towards the orc, sparing a glance up the narrow corridor where the others were. He noticed none of them had weapons or armor except for the scourge in Noiree’s hands.

“Come get me, big boy,” he said as bravely as he could.

* * *

Kilb headed down the narrow corridor towards the others slowly. Back down the corridor, Helius Wik started to swing his burning sleeve around his head like a sling and then jogged down the corridor to where his friends stood. Then Arthelion turned and ran into the narrow corridor.

“Son of a *****!” the orc yelled.

He ran into the corridor and stopped suddenly when he saw the group of people.

“Aw!” he cried out.

He tried to whip Noiree in the face even as she swung her own scourge at him. The orc, however, tripped and fell, crashing into the floor with his face, stunned. Noiree brought the scourge down as Arthelion tried to grab her arm but missed.

“Don’t do it!” he barely had time to hiss.

She brought the weapon down on the orc, cutting him badly. Helius Wik dropped the lit sleeve on the back of the orc. Kilb grabbed the orc’s spear. Tarmak chanted and reached over the kobold, casting a spell and touching the orc. The orc let out a tiny cry and jerked before he stopped moving.

* * *

Elriya, seeing the orc fall and her companions fall upon it, sprinted from the corner towards them.

* * *

“Prisoners are out!” one of the other orcs cried. “Prisoners are out!”

The two orcs near the bonfire at the far end of the corridor ran down towards them. Noiree ran out of the narrow corridor to the door of the cistern. She grabbed the chains and started pulling on them. The door noisily rolled up into the slot in the ceiling above.

In the hallway, Tarmak stepped forward but stayed in the corridor, hidden from the orcs.

Elriya ran down the corridor to the door they thought held their gear and started to pull on the chains. It rolled loudly up into the ceiling.

In the corridor, Arthelion picked up the burning rag. He walked out into the main hallway.

“You guys ready to be incinerated?” he said to the orcs.

He started chanting. The two orcs stopped, their eyes wide.

* * *

Rome heard an alarm being shouted somewhere in the distance. He gave up on the secret door and turned to run down the corridor nearest him that led north. He hoped the battle was going on between the party and the orcs near the bonfire he’d seen before, near the lair of the Gnasher. If that was the case, he hoped to get behind them. As he got to the area with the archway where he’d tricked the orcs before, he saw they were back. They saw him as well.

“It’s one of the prisoners!” one yelled. “Stop you son of a *****!”

“There’s escaping prisoners!” another cried out.

* * *

They all heard the orcs yelling elsewhere in the place.

Helius Wik ran back to the lantern in the empty room, tearing off his other sleeve. Kilb brought the spear down on the orc lying on the ground, hurting him badly. Blood started to pour out of the creature. Then Helius Wik ran down the narrow corridor, swinging the burning sleeve over his head.

Tarmak ran out of the corridor and into the room Elriya was opening. He was dismayed to find two more orcs in the room, rousing themselves due to the noise outside. He could see several spears leaning against the wall, a few suits of leather armor, some black orc-cloaks, a shield, a broadsword, and a sling and pouch of bullets. He also spotted a pile of weapons and armor in the corner, probably those of his friends. He spotted his staff and so ran in and grabbed it.

“What the!?!” one of the orcs cried.

“Hey!” the other yelled. “Slaves’re out!”

Elriya ran into the room and grabbed up some of her items.

“You cooked my goat, now I’m going to cook you!” Arthelion said, slowly moving towards the orcs.

They didn’t seem convinced.

Just then Rome came running around the corner by the bonfire. He glanced down the corridor and then ran for the closed door next to the open one. The two orcs heard him and turned.

“What the?” one said.

“Son of a …” the other replied.

“You take these,” the first orc said. “I’ll get him.”

“Okay,” the other said.

Noiree ran across the narrow corridor and to the door Tarmak and Elriya had gone into. She saw two orcs in the room and moved towards them. Kilb pulled the spear out of the orc on the ground. He peeked out and saw the orcs discussing dealing with the elf so he charged in absolute silence and skewered the one with his back to him. The orc went down with a grunted shriek. His blood spewed and splattered on Rome. The other orc looked terribly surprised and turned to Kilb.

“*****!” he yelled.

He tried to stab the kobold but missed completely.

“The prisoners are escaping!” he cried. “The prisoners are escaping!”

Arthelion ran over to Kilb and threw the flaming rag in the orc’s face.

“Burn!” he yelled.

The rag hit the orc’s chest and fell to the ground ineffectually.

“Just wait for it,” he said.

The orc was unimpressed. Rome pulled on the chains and noisily opened the door he’d run to.

In the other room, Noiree ran to the corner, switched the scourge to her left hand, and picked up her war hammer from the pile in the corner. Elriya lunged at one of the orcs with her dagger but missed completely. Tarmak grabbed up his morning star in one hand and his holy symbol in the other. Then Helius Wik ran into the room and flung his burning rag into one of the orc’s faces. The orc batted the cloth away.

“*****, get those flames out of my face!” he cried.

The other one tried to run Noiree through.

In the corridor, Kilb tumbled back down the corridor, leaving Arthelion to face the orc alone. The orc tried to stab the mage but missed. Then three more orcs appeared in the hallway near the bonfire, tramping loudly their way.

“We should grab our stuff and run!” Elriya yelled when she heard them.

“What do you think you’re doing!?!” one of the orcs yelled.

“Suck me!” Arthelion yelled back.

That seemed to enrage them all.

In the tiny chamber, Elriya ran to her stuff and grabbed what she could. Then Rome ran into the room, having abandoned the room he’d just opened. He snatched up his long sword and his holy symbol. Helius Wik ran to the corner to grab his belt pouch and his wineskin. He was disappointed to find the latter nearly empty. Arthelion ran into the room as well, grabbing his staff. Then Kilb ran in as well.

Tarmak strode to one of the orcs in the room and swung at him but missed completely. Noiree grabbed the shield off the wall and ran at the other orc, swinging her war hammer. Unfortunately, the blow struck the orc in the side but didn’t injure him. The orcs tried to stab Noiree and Tarmak in return without luck. The one facing Tarmak dropped his spear.

“You ever use one before?” Noiree quipped.

Helius Wik rushed one of the orcs and splashed him with the last of his beer. It distracted the orc, who cried out. Arthelion picked up his pouch and looked over. He moved to Tarmak and grabbed up the orc’s spear. Elriya continued to grab things in the corner, getting her leather armor and her belt. Rome pushed between Noiree and Tarmak and stabbed the orc Helius Wik had splashed with his beer. Tarmak swung his morning star again, striking the other orc in the head. The orc dropped to the ground with a scream. Noiree’s next swing missed the confused orc covered in beer.

Kilb moved to one side of the door and readied himself to stab any orcs that came through.

Elriya grabbed her sling and ran towards the orc blocking the doorway, dropping and somersaulting under his legs. The orc looked down, confused as she fled down the corridor. Arthelion reached into his component pouch and took out the live spider he always kept there for his spider climb spell. He rushed the orc and flung it at the orc’s face. The orc shrieked.

“I hate spiders!” he cried.

Arthelion ran out of the room and down the corridor.

Noiree missed the orc again and then Rome stabbed him and he went down with a scream. Nearby, Helius Wik put a bullet in his sling and started swinging it, backing into the corner. Tarmak ran out of the room as well, but then stopped to attack the orc in the door. The blow struck the orc in the head and he went down with a cry.

Kilb ran to the corner and grabbed some of his things.

One of the orcs in the corridor rushed Tarmak but missed the man. Another ran to Arthelion and stabbed him in the side. Another ran towards Helius Wik and tried to stab him but missed him completely. Arthelion jogged down the corridor, bleeding badly.

“Tis but a scratch,” he called.

Tarmak ran back into the room and grabbed up more of his stuff. In the room, Rome picked up his chain mail shirt and started putting it on.

Out in the corridor, Helius Wik backed away and swung his sling. He fired a bullet at the orc that attacked him but missed completely. Elriya ran towards the corner where the villagers hid. One of the orcs ran to Helius Wik and tried to stab him. Another orc sprinted right past Arthelion and Elriya, turning to block their escape route.

Another orc ran into the little room and stabbed Rome.

“Surrender stupid slaves,” the orc said. “We need you to keep working!”

Noiree, still in the room, dropped her war hammer and snatched up her battle axe. She swung at the orc but missed him completely. Kilb picked up his short sword and tried to stab the orc but missed as well.

Tarmak fled the room, jogging down the corridor to the orc striding towards Helius Wik. He swung his morning star, striking the orc in the right arm. There was a terrible snap as the orc’s arm broke and the creature fell to the ground.

In the room, Rome stopped trying to put his chainmail shirt and backed out, leaving Noiree with the orc. She swung again without being able to hit it. Kilb stabbed at the orc but the orc blocked the blow with his spear, striking the tail of the kobold’s weapon, which broke off and fell to the ground.

In the corridor, Elriya ran around the orc blocking her way and headed for the villagers. Arthelion, meanwhile, turned back and fled towards the others in panic.

“Help!” he cried. “Help me!”

Helius Wik flung another bullet at the orc but it missed, flying down the corridor.

“You *****!” the orc cried.

The orc charged the mage and tried to stab him ineffectually.

* * *

Elriya got close to what she thought might be the entrance, but saw three more orcs on guard duty there. She stopped with the slaves, unsure what to do.

* * *

Tarmak ran over to Arthelion.

“Let me heal you,” he said.

“Please!” Arthelion said.

Tarmak chanted and laid his hands upon the mage, completely healing him. Arthelion turned and ran past the orc.

“You smell like shit!” he said to the orc.

Nearby, Rome pulled his chainmail shirt on. The last orc in the corridor rushed Helius Wik but the mage deftly ducked to one side, backing up and slinging a bullet at the orc, which missed.

“I thought you were slinging your bullet at me not at the wall,” the orc quipped.

In the room, Noiree struck the orc with her battle axe as the orc stabbed her with his spear. Neither of them fell but both were hurt. Kilb also tried to stab the orc but his sword just bounced off the orc’s leather armor.

Tarmak chased the orc that pursued Helius Wik. He shoved the morning star into his belt and swung at the orc with his staff, missing completely. The orc turned and stabbed the cleric in the side. Nearby, Helius Wik fired a shot at the orc but missed.

Rome came into the room where Noiree and Kilb fought the last orc there. He stabbed at the orc but struck the creature’s armor.

“I smell the stink of elf!” the orc said. “And I am hungry!”

The blow from his spear was turned aside by Rome’s chainmail shirt. Then Kilb stabbed the orc and he fell.

Noiree ran to the corner and found her chainmail. She started putting it on.

Outside in the corridor, Tarmak backed away from the orc and cast a healing spell on himself, chanting for what felt like a long time. He was still chanting when Helius Wik fired another sling bullet at the orc, missing completely. Tarmak finished his spell and cast it upon himself, healing his wounds.

Rome ran out of the room and charged the last remaining orc, running him through. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1968-Advanced-Dungeons-amp-Dragon-2nd-Edition-The-Scar-Session-One
Looking for Alpha Testers for a GMing app http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1965-Looking-for-Alpha-Testers-for-a-GMing-app Mon, 06 Jun 2016 18:35:58 GMT I'm looking for Alpha testers for my tabletop GM application http://gamemaster.pro/
This is a GMing application that integrates combat management, very detailed NPC generation, and Sound Scenes that can really bring your environment to life. Please pass this on to any GM's you know and have them reach out to me at contact@bwa-designs.com






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Imbibovita http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1965-Looking-for-Alpha-Testers-for-a-GMing-app
Basic Roleplaying System: Deadworld Session Six http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1964-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Six Sun, 08 May 2016 18:28:06 GMT Sunday, May 1, 2016 (After playing the *Basic Roleplaying System* original setting “Deadworld” with Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, Katelyn... Sunday, May 1, 2016

(After playing the Basic Roleplaying System original setting “Deadworld” with Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, Katelyn Hogan, Hannah Gambino, and Kyle Matheson Saturday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.)

On July 1, 2015, six people answered an ad in the paper looking for volunteers for a month-long experiment at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The work would pay $2,000 for the month’s work but those who volunteered would have to clear the entire month from July 1 to August 1.

Manuela “Manny” Rodriguez wore her black hair in a ponytail, usually with a baseball cap set backwards on her head. She was Hispanic and of average height, standing just under six feet tall. She wore a white tank top and a flannel shirt, primarily. She was a mechanic and strapped for cash but she bribed her boss with $100 to let her take the month off.

Jonathan Franks stood about 6’2” tall with sandy brown hair and was very good-looking. People often mistook him for a fashion model or thought that was what he should have done for a living. He told people he was a bank teller though in reality he was a conman. He needed the money and this sounded like an easy deal.

Elizabeth Tolini, as she called herself was Italian-American with dark brown hair, pulled up, and dark brown eyes. She was tan and obviously of Italian descent. She stood over six feet tall and was very leggy. Her actual name was Ella Auditore and she was an assassin. There was not much call for work in the last month so she decided to make an easy two grand.

The other three included Dan Adams, a plumber; Michael Curtis, who worked in a bank; and Dawn Henson, a housewife.

When they arrived, they learned it was a deprivation experiment. The scientists at Duke had set up a bomb shelter some 50 feet under the psychology classroom building of the university. The six subjects would be placed in the bunker with plenty of food, access to water, and books and video entertainment. However, they would have no contact with the outside world and would act as if they were survivors of a nuclear holocaust for the month.

The bunker was self-supporting with a generator, food, and water reserve to last a group of six people at least two months if necessary. It would be sealed from the outside world.

Every week or so, the scientists would contact them via intercom. In the meantime, they would be video and auditory recorded in order to gauge how people reacted to being literally in a bunker underground for that time. Additionally, there would be different difficulties placed upon them over the month to determine how average people would react to each other in such a situation.

All six of them signed the paperwork and were admitted into the bunker.

* * *

Over the course of the next few weeks, the six people dealt with each other in close quarters and amid the various tasks and tests the scientists set for them. One was a limited water supply for three days wherein the taps were only turned on for an hour a day. Other difficulties were set as they went. In one case, all power except for the air vents went out for two days.

They got to know each other fairly well. Dan Adams proved to be a creepy guy who hit on all three women in the place and grew depressed when he was rejected. Michael Curtis, when he learned Franks worked in a bank, pestered him incessantly about which bank he worked at. Dawn Henson talked about her children and her home life but treated the entire thing as a vacation.

Though the scientists told them they would contact them at least once a week, after the third week, the intercom remained silent. There was actually no contact after about the 22nd of July all the way until August 1. Miss Rodriguez assumed it was part of the experiment. Though the last week and a half of their time in the bunker was boring, it was pretty much a cakewalk.

* * *

Noon on August 1 rolled around but the hatch didn’t open as it was supposed to.

“What should we do?” Adams asked.

“Meh,” Miss Tolini said.

“What?”

“Meh.”

“Meh?”

“Meh.”

“I wanna get outta here!”

“Meh.”

“You know how long it’s been since … I need to get outta here!”

Miss Rodriguez continued reading the book she’d started the day before.

“Fine!” Adams said.

“I say wait a couple more hours and if they still haven’t contacted us, maybe try to get out somehow,” Franks said.

They waited a few more hours and, around 4 p.m., opened the sealed door, which they were surprised was not locked. An alarm went off and red lights flashed in the small room outside. They were surprised no one was in the outer area. The lights there were off but they knew an elevator stood on the opposite wall with a stairwell nearby.

Miss Rodriquez retrieved a flashlight, as did the others. Adams was ready to go.

“Gotta find my girlfriend!” he muttered. “I’m so ready. I’m so ready!”

“You’re so annoying,” Miss Tolini said.

“Whatever, I’m ready to go!”

“Then get out.”

“I’m going!”

Something about this doesn’t feel right, Franks thought.

Nothing happened when the elevator button was pressed so they went to the stairwell. It was just a shaft with a set of metal stairs made of metal mesh. It was about 50 feet up the shaft to the classroom building above. Miss Rodriquez assumed it was all part of the experiment and they made their way up, flashlights shining around as best they could. Adams led the way.

They reached the top without incident and opened the door into the darkened classroom building. They didn’t see anyone in the hallway and the classrooms seemed empty as well. Adams headed for the front door. Miss Rodriquez went to the hallway light switch. The clear plastic dome over it, to keep anyone from messing with the lights, had been smashed and pieces of jagged plastic lay on the floor under it. She tried the light switch there was no power.

Curtis and Mrs. Henson headed for the back door of the building, where they’d parked their cars. The others followed Adams towards the front of the building where the hallway opened into a foyer with windows. They saw about a dozen cars in the parking lot, one of them turned on its side.

“The ****?” Miss Tolini said.

A few bodies lay on the ground in the parking lot. Miss Tolini headed out the door to inspect one. Miss Rodriguez, watching out the window, was still convinced it was part of the experiment. She went to look for a circuit box. Adams walked towards his car, fiddling with his keys. Franks slipped into one of the classrooms to look for something to steal.

Miss Tolini reached a prone body on the ground lying face down on the asphalt. He stunk of a corpse and she grabbed him by the shoulder and flipped him over. He’d obviously been dead for a while, his throat torn out as if by an animal. The dead man’s eyes opened and he looked at her. Then he reached for her.

As Adams opened the door of his car, someone grabbed his foot from underneath.

“What the hell?” he cried. “Get out of there you son of a *****!”

He started kicking at the person under his car.

Miss Tolini ran from the walking corpse towards her own car.

* * *

Miss Rodriguez didn’t find a circuit breaker on the front hall of the building. She walked back to the front window of the building.

* * *

Franks searched a disheveled classroom but the only thing he found was a woman’s finger. He picked it up and looked at it. It stank and he quickly dropped it.

* * *

Miss Tolini opened the trunk of her car and took out a small dagger. The man stumbled to his feet and shambled towards her. Another body sat up and looked in her direction.

“Nah,” she said.

She tucked the dagger into her jacket and pulled out the crossbow.

Miss Rodriquez walked out of the front door of the building, still convinced it was all part of the experiment.

“Ha ha,” she said. “Very funny guys.”

They could hear a car engine somewhere in the distance.

* * *

Dani Bateman drove the white Jeep Wrangler carefully through Duke University Campus. She was Native American and very tall and slim. She had very long braided hair. She wore camouflage clothing and heavy, steel-toed boots. Jaiquan Jayshawn Skadooter rode beside her, crossbow in his lap. He was tall and solid, a black man with dreadlocks. He wore camouflage clothing, the shirt unbuttoned so the Appalachian State Football jersey was visible underneath it. He had a chinstrap beard and wore a camouflage bandanna on his head. He was also very high on cocaine, as usual. Miss Bateman’s own crossbow, loaded and ready, sat in the backseat.

It has been nearly two weeks since the terrible things happened in the Boone, North Carolina, area and they had been making their way towards the coast ever since, only getting to the area of Raleigh/Durham in that time. Between blocked roads, zombies, triffids, and people trying to stop them, it had taken them that long on Interstate 40 and back roads to get just that far.

They had seen some terrible things. In Winston-Salem, the Wells Fargo Bank building looked like it had gotten hit by one of the meteors, the top floors smashed and fallen. There had also obviously been many fires downtown. They barely made it through the city with their lives. Closer to the capital of the state, they’d passed a church with all the windows boarded up on a back road. Someone with a rifle was up in the steeple. He’d shot as them as they drove by. They had to deal with some feral animals. Skadooter had insisted on stopping at hospitals and police stations in search of drugs. He had gone through it quickly at first but started to space out his use of the drugs as his supply had dwindled. They didn’t see much in the way of zombies on the highway but occasionally spotted one of the strange plants.

He had also wanted to drive all the time.

“I wanna drive,” he said.

“Why don’t you let me do this one?” she’d replied.

“Why?”

“So you can focus on more important matters … like dealing out your cocaine and everything.”

“You smart!”

“Yeah.”

They had been traveling in a caravan with gravedigger Floyd Wayne riding them with. Driving the other car had been EMT Abraham Jandhyala, Dr. Mikīl Wolfgang, and ASU student Courtney Dean in Jandhyala’s 2001 Audi A-3 hatchback. However, they’d lost the other vehicle in some confusion in the Greensboro area several days before and hadn’t seen them since. Just two days after that, Floyd Wayne had told Miss Bateman he couldn’t take Skadooter anymore and said he’d find his own way to the Outer Banks, meeting them down the line somewhere. If they made it to the Outer Banks, he’d find them.

“I’ll meet you in Roanoke,” he said to her.

He was gone the next morning.

“Where’s Wayne?” Skadooter said.

“Um … he went out for a little bit,” Miss Bateman said. “He was just wanting to … you know … he was just wanting to enjoy the scenery. You know.”

“Cool. Let’s wait for him.”

“Well, we don’t have to do that because he’ll just catch up. He’s a pretty smart guy.”

“Wayne’s my bro.”

“What’s even cooler is when he gets to see you, it’ll be a bro reunion, man. It’ll be so fun. It’ll be better than now.”

“Where’s Wayne?”

“No, man. He just … I didn’t want to tell you. Do you know what he said?”

Skadooter looked at her.

“Do you want to know?” she said.

“I love gossip,” he said.

“Okay. He was … he was planning on surprising you. He was going to throw a party and get a bunch of shit together like a bunch of drugs. And you just made me ruin it!”

“Naw, that’s so good. I’m so glad you told me. I hate surprises.”

“Okay.”

“Low-key, I’m kind of scared of surprises.”

“What … okay, that’s cool. Now you know. So it won’t be a surprise so we can go have fun. So let’s go meet ‘em!”

“Yeah!”

“Yeah, Skadooter give me five!”

The man did so.

“Doot doot!” Skadooter said.

They went on their way, coming to Duke University that day. Campus was actually the best way to go through the area. As they passed through campus slowly, they spotted a woman in the trunk of her car who took out a large black crossbow. Nearby, a man seemed to struggle with someone on the ground. A couple of zombies shambled towards the woman. Miss Bateman noticed another woman was in the doorway of one of the classroom buildings.

“Dani!” Skadooter said. “Dani! I think that’s Wayne’s crossbow!”

“Maybe we shouldn’t get close to her because then she’ll get really mad,” Miss Bateman said. “She might want to shoot us.”

“I think she knows where Wayne is.”

“You think she’ll shoot us? ‘Cause I think she’ll shoot us.”

“Ain’t nobody shoot Skadooter. *****, I’m too fast.”

“Hey, Skadoots, there looks like there’s a zombie over there. You think we should get out and attack it or do you think we should just run over it or something?”

“Do you think it would hurt the car?”

“I think this car’s pretty strong.”

“Run that ***** over, then.”

“Okay. I’ll run the ***** over.”

* * *

One of what Miss Rodriguez thought were just more testers messing with them turned and walked towards her. Then a white Jeep Wrangler roared into the parking lot, just missing one of the zombies and curving towards the classroom building, stopping near her.

“I think you missed him,” Skadooter said Miss Bateman in the car.

“What are you doing!?!” Miss Rodriguez yelled at them.

“Should I bump the lock?” Skadooter said.

Miss Rodriguez ran to the car as it slowed.

“What are you doing!?!” she called again.

* * *

Franks heard the screech of tires from out front and so looked out the classroom window. He saw the white Jeep.

“Aw, that’s cute,” he muttered.

* * *

Miss Tolini pointed her crossbow at one of the zombies and let fly. The bolt went wide and struck a yellow car across the parking lot.

* * *

“Lock the doors,” Skadooter said, pressing the lock button.

He hit it wrong and accidently unlocked the doors.

“Skadooter, you know what you did?” Miss Bateman said.

“I’m savin’ our ass!” he replied.

Miss Bateman stopped the car and rolled down the window.

“What the hell you doin’?” Skadooter said.

“Hey, what’s going on?” she said to Miss Rodriquez.

“What’s going on!?!” the other woman replied. “Why’d you just tear into this parking lot?”

Franks appeared at the front door of the classroom building.

“Get in the car!” Miss Bateman said.

“You gonna talk to me about this?” Skadooter said.

Miss Rodriguez looked at the vehicle, trying to figure out how to get in and if she wanted to get in. Then she jogged towards her own car.

“It’s okay, I got my car!” she called.

Across the parking lot, Miss Tolini started to reload her crossbow.

“You wanna try and hit that person again?” Skadooter said to Miss Bateman. “And maybe not ***** out?”

“Hey Skadooter, why don’t you get out and go save her?” Miss Bateman said.

“Why don’t you let me drive?” he replied.

* * *

Franks surveyed the arguing couple in the Jeep, Miss Rodriguez running for her car and Miss Tolini working on reloading a crossbow.

* * *

Miss Rodriguez looked more closely at the man shambling towards her. He appeared to have a couple of bite wounds and smelled like road kill. She continued jogging towards her car.

Miss Tolini reloaded and backed away from the man walking towards her. He didn’t make any noise at all, just shambled towards her, looking at her with dead eyes.

* * *

“Why don’t you let me drive?” Skadooter said again.

“I think it’d be faster if you just got out─” Miss Bateman started to say.

Skadooter reached forward and turned up the radio. The only radio station they had been able to find was suddenly loud. It was someone talking as he described what he could see from wherever his transmitter was located, probably somewhere in Raleigh. The man was obviously not a professional radio announcer and it was very strange and somewhat creepy.

“Oh my God,” the voice said. “There’s a lady. I think she’s still alive! They’re getting her! Oh God!”

Miss Bateman turned the volume back down.

“I was listenin’ to that!” Skadooter said.

“Skadooter, if you want to help, get the **** out!” she said. “Ultimatum.”

* * *

Bored watching them play with what he thought were actors, Franks headed for another classroom, looking for valuables. He heard someone banging on something in one of the classrooms.

Sounds like that’s occupied, he thought. I guess I won’t go in that one, then.

He headed for another classroom. It was a science classroom with large, built-in lab tables on the sides and at the front, each with a sink. On the large one at the front, a man was tied down, rope binding him tightly by his wrists and ankles and holding him atop the table. Large nails had been driven into the sides of the table to secure the ropes. His chest and body cavity were opened up but the obviously dead man still struggled against the ropes that tied him down.

* * *

Miss Rodriguez continued to jog to her car.

Miss Tolini raised her crossbow and fired at the man coming at her, striking him in the left arm, the bolt entering inside his elbow. She heard a snap. She growled as it didn’t seem to even affect the man. He continued shambling towards her, coming at her and trying to bite her, his teeth snapping shut with a click. The man’s tongue was black and shriveled up and he stank like a week-dead corpse. He made no other noise at all.

* * *

“Fine, you want me to go help them, I will,” Skadooter said.

He pressed the button to unlock the door, locking it. He tried to open it but it wouldn’t open.

“I knew you didn’t want me to leave!” he said.

Miss Bateman unlocked the doors.

“Get the **** out, Skadooter!” she said.

“All right, but from here on out you don’t tell me how much cocaine I can take and I get to drive!” he said.

He climbed out of the car.

“I didn’t agree,” she muttered.

“Hey, watch this!” Skadooter said.

Outside the car, he tried a 360 no-scope, spinning part of the way around like a drunk ballerina and firing his crossbow. The bolt flew off the wrong direction entirely. He looked around confused, unsure exactly how he got out of the car.

“Doot doot!” he said like he’d done something.

In the car, Miss Bateman laughed, sighed, and then put the car in gear and drove towards Miss Rodriguez, coming up behind the zombie shambling after her. The thing didn’t pay much attention to the car and she bumped into it, knocking it over; it went down in front of the car. The back tire bumped over something and she heard a crunching noise. She continued over it and pulled up next to Miss Rodriguez.

* * *

Franks slowly approached the lab table and noticed several Exacto knives and surgical scalpels, all of them bloody, stuck into or laying on the table near the struggling man. Dissecting T-pins were stuck into the man, holding back sections of skin and muscle, leaving his chest and abdominal cavity open. Franks crept closer and the smell overwhelmed him; he turned and vomited onto the floor.

The man on the table looked at him with dead eyes, opening and closing his mouth as he bit in his general direction.

* * *

Miss Rodriguez looked back and saw the man the Jeep Wrangler had just run over. The man’s left arm was straight out and his left shoulder was crushed to a pulp. A tire track ran over his back. The man still trembled and shivered.

“What’s going on?” she asked the woman in the car.

Miss Bateman gave her a thumbs up. Miss Rodriguez backed towards her car.

Nearby, Miss Tolini turned and ran from the man shambling after her at a slow walk. The man Miss Bateman had just run over stumbled to his feet and looked in Miss Rodriguez’s direction.

* * *

Across the parking lot, Skadooter looked around. There were maybe a dozen cars scattered around the lot and he saw a man struggling with two zombies on the other side, screaming as they dragged him under the car.

He’s a goner, Skadooter thought.

He went to the nearest car and peeked in, hoping it was empty so he could loot it. A woman sat in the passenger seat, strapped in. As he walked away, he heard rattling coming from the car.

* * *

Miss Bateman, seeing the man stand up in the rear-view mirror, put the Jeep Wrangler in reverse and backed up, bumping into him again and knocking him down. He went under the Jeep and vanished. She backed up until she could see the man on the ground again. He was still moving.

Miss Rodriguez went to her car and opened up the trunk as Miss Tolini ran from the zombie that had been chasing her. The one Miss Bateman had run over twice stood back up.

* * *

Franks got closer to the man, pulling his shirt up over his face to try to cover up the terrible smell. There was not as much blood as he expected and he realized some of the man’s organs had been removed or at least moved around. It was the most grisly science experiment he’d ever seen and he suddenly had the dry heaves.

He picked up a few Exacto knives, tucking a couple away. The he looked at the moving corpse again. He poked the corpse in the hand with the blade but it didn’t react. There was not much blood either.

“Huh,” he said. “What the hell is this?”

He continued stabbing the man on up the arm. The man didn’t really react aside from trying to bite him.

* * *

Across the parking lot, Skadooter approached another car. He peeked inside and saw two children in the back seat, unmoving. One of the children was very small and in a car seat. He headed for the next car.

* * *

Miss Bateman, angry, put the Jeep back into gear. She pulled forward and curved the wheel to hit the zombie with one corner of the vehicle, knocking the man down again. She had angled the Jeep so the tire would definitely roll over the man’s body this time and heard a nasty crunching as she pulled forward, stopping the car when she thought sure it was in the right spot. She leaned out the open window and saw she had rolled the left front tire right up the man’s back about halfway. He struggled to move, his legs unmoving and his head bouncing up and down.

Nearby, Miss Rodriguez pulled a pump shotgun out of her trunk and started loading shells into it.

Miss Tolini ran past the Jeep and slowed to start loading another bolt into her crossbow. The zombie still on his feet shambled towards Miss Rodriguez.

* * *

Skadooter went to the next car and found it already broken into, the driver’s side window shattered. Lying on the passenger seat was a severed head. As the athlete looked in, the head, looking at him, started to open and close its mouth as if trying to bite at the man.

“Oh God damn!” he said.

His cocaine buzz was completely gone and he felt far too sober.

“****!” he said, stumbling away and towards the screaming of the man the two zombies had dragged under another car.

* * *

Miss Bateman took the Jeep out of gear, pulled the parking brake, leaving the vehicle running. She climbed out, walked over to the zombie, and stomped on its head. The skull was crushed as the bone shattered and brains and blood spewed out. Her boot was dirtied.

Miss Tolini walked up to the woman.

“Damn girl, you’re hardcore,” she said.

“Thanks,” Miss Bateman said.

Miss Tolini put her crossbow to her shoulder and aimed at the zombie shambling slowly in their direction.

“Do you want to get this next one?” Miss Bateman asked.

“Imma try,” Miss Tolini said.

* * *

Franks saw one lung was missing and part of the liver was gone from the corpse. The heart had also been removed from the body cavity and lay in the sink on the table, unmoving. He guessed the organs had been removed to see what would happen to the living corpse. Nothing had.

He took the Exacto knife, put it against the man’s temple, and shoved it in as hard as he could. The body jerked and then stopped moving.

“Huh,” he said. “I think I read that in a comic once.”

He looked for anything of value but the room was empty of anything except a sheaf of bloody notes that appeared to be the results of an “Experiment on the Animated Corpse.” The notes explained how certain organs were removed but the dead man would not die. It was noted there were no microscopes powerful enough to examine the blood.

One sheet noted everything had started on July 21, almost two weeks before. Apparently there were several thousand meteor strikes on the world which seemingly released something that killed people and then caused the bodies to rise from the dead. There was speculation an airborne pathogen was released but became a blood borne pathogen after the dead were animated. The dead seemed to spread the disease via bite.

* * *

Skadooter peeked into the next car and saw it was empty. He used the butt of his crossbow to smash out the driver’s side window. He reached in to unlock it but found it was already unlocked. He opened the driver’s side door. It was very hot in the auto and he started looking for anything of valuable.

The screaming had stopped from the car where the man had been dragged under.

Skadooter didn’t find anything of value in the car. There was a snow scraper and an umbrella. Nothing of value was in the glove compartment. He abandoned the vehicle and headed for the next car.

* * *

Miss Rodriguez moved behind the zombie heading towards the other two women but didn’t fire.

“Is there anybody else in the place or anything in the place that we could use?” Miss Bateman asked Miss Tolini.

“Well, there are, like, five other people around here someplace,” Miss Tolini, still aiming, said. “One I didn’t really care for, I think he got dragged under a car. I think he’s dead now.”

* * *

Franks listened and didn’t hear Dan screaming any more so decided to check and see how the others were doing. He went out into the hallway and heard somebody walking slowly down an adjoining hallway. He opted for the front door of the building, opposite the direction the footsteps came from.

* * *

As Miss Rodriguez loaded more shells into her shotgun, Miss Tolini shot the zombie that approached her right between the eyes. He was only a few feet away and knocked literally off his feet as he crashed backwards onto the concrete. They heard metal scraping against stone as the bolt had gone right through the walking dead man’s skull and stuck out the other side.

Miss Bateman clapped.

* * *

Across the parking lot, Skadooter found a car with a crossbow bolt sticking in the door.

“Who the hell would shoot a car?” he said, pulling out the black bolt and tucking it into his own quiver.

Then he focused his cocaine-hazed mind on the car and was suddenly upset. It was a yellow Porsche 918 Spyder in pristine condition. The little two-door was slung low to the ground, with a black spoiler on the back and a black roof. It was sleek and shiny and looked new. Aside from the hole in the door, it looked brand new.

“A wha …?” he muttered.

Being delicate, he tried the door handle and found the car unlocked. It smelled brand new on the inside.

“There’s gotta be drugs in here!” he said.

He did a little dance outside of the car.

“Oh yeah!” he said.

He didn’t notice the three dead men crawling out from under the car nearby with a large puddle of blood underneath it.

* * *

Both Miss Bateman and Miss Rodriguez noticed the two rotten men and the relatively fresh but probably dead man crawl out from under the car. Miss Rodriguez recognized one of the men as Dan Adams from the bunker experiment. He’d been bit in several places and looked about himself with dead eyes. Skadooter stood near the yellow sports car, stock still, staring at it.

Miss Bateman ran back to the Jeep and drove it over to Skadooter.

* * *

Franks was surprised at the carnage in the parking lot when he reached the front door of the classroom building. At least two men lay obviously dead on the ground and the two women he’d left the bunker with were both armed. There were also a couple of other people he recognized.

“Huh,” he said.

Then he noticed Dan Adams, apparently dead, with two other rotted men by one of the cars in the parking lot.

“Oh, that Dan prick died,” he said.

* * *

Miss Rodriguez walked towards the zombies, loading the last shell into her shotgun. Behind her, Miss Tolini pulled the crossbow bolt from the dead man’s arm and then put her foot on his skull and used both hands to rip the other bolt out. Blood and ichor splattered from the wound. She looked around and spotted Dan Adams and the other two zombies near a car across the lot.

Skadooter also noticed the nearby zombies, who walked slowly his way.

“Don’t let those zombies touch this car!” he said. “I’m gonna be lookin’ inside it for a bit.”

He climbed into the car, looking for anything he could find. He flipped the visor down and the keys fell into his lap. He did another little dance in the front seat.

Miss Bateman drove at the three zombies slowly and one was knocked to one side while the other two grabbed the front of the car and backed up, staying on their feet. She suddenly realized she had left the driver’s side window open.

At the classroom building, Franks headed towards the two women he knew. Miss Rodriguez ran towards the Jeep and the three zombies. Miss Tolini followed her towards the yellow Porsche to get her last crossbow bolt.

One of the zombies near the car moved to the open driver’s side window and leaned in, trying to bite Miss Bateman. She leaned back as the dead man’s teeth snapped together with a snap. One of his teeth cracked nastily.

“What the ****!?!” she cried out.

One of the rotten zombies was pawing at the passenger side window of the car, which Skadooter had left closed. The man who didn’t look like he was dead for long moved towards the Porsche, which suddenly came to life with a low roar. Inside, Skadooter felt himself getting very, very excited. The fuel gauge showed almost half a tank of gas. The man pawing at the passenger side window of the Jeep turned towards the Porsche as well.

Miss Bateman punched at the man in her window but only struck him a glancing blow in the face, which seemed almost loose on his head and squished nastily. Then she put the Jeep in reverse and backed away from the zombies, narrowly missing the Porsche.

Franks headed across the parking lot towards his own car. He was disappointed to see someone had broken the driver’s side window. He stopped and sighed.

“I’m the criminal and I get robbed,” he muttered to himself. “****!”

Miss Rodriguez continued walking towards the zombies, followed by Miss Tolini, whose crossbow was still unloaded. Then she noticed her third crossbow bolt was gone from the side of the Porsche.

“The ****?” she muttered.

The zombies shambled towards the two running vehicles.

Skadooter drove the Porsche past the zombies, curving around the parking lot to the two cars with open trunks nearby. One of the zombies stopped walking and just watched the yellow sports car as it moved. Miss Bateman put the Jeep in gear again and drove forward, aiming at two of the zombies and knocking both of them over, driving over each of them. She felt the jeep bounce over two things and heard crunching from below.

The others saw her run right over one of the men’s head with the front tire of the car, crushing the skull to pulp. The back tire went over the left foot and ankle of the other zombie, crushing it.

Rodriguez closed with the still-standing zombie and blasted away at it with her shotgun but missed.

“What the actual ****!?!” Skadooter said.

Miss Tolini stopped and started reloading her crossbow as the zombie with the shattered foot stood up.

Miss Bateman backed up again, trying to pin the two zombies behind her heading for the woman with the shotgun. She missed both of them, bumping them to one side as she went by them.

* * *

Skadooter searched the car for drugs but only found a nice pair of leather driving gloves in the glove compartment. He put them on. He found the switch to open the trunk, but when he pulled it, the hood of the car opened. Not knowing the engine in a Porsche was in the back, he was a little confused.

“Well, that’s weird,” he muttered. “Why did this open?”

He got out of the Porsche and looked under the hood but found the empty trunk.

“Where’s the motor?” he cried.

* * *

Franks went to the trunk of his car and opened it. He was pleasantly surprised to see the things there undisturbed. He took out the Glock 17 and pocketed it, as well as extra magazines. He also took out his baseball bat.

* * *

Across the parking lot, Miss Rodriguez shot the zombie with the shattered foot, blasting away his right thigh. The man fell to the ground, slamming his face into the pavement, and then crawled forward and bit her ankle. The other zombie turned towards the sound of the shotgun and started shambling her way. She screamed in pain.

“Oh no!” Miss Bateman said.

She grabbed the loaded crossbow from the back of the Jeep and climbed out. She fired at the zombie at the woman’s feet, missing completely. Miss Rodriguez then put the shotgun to the head of the man biting her and blasted it to pieces. Nearby, Miss Tolini aimed at the last zombie, Dan Adams, shambling across the parking lot towards Miss Rodriguez.

* * *

Franks, meanwhile, went across the parking lot to search cars. The first car looked like it had been vandalized. All of the windows were broken out, all of the tires were flat, and it had obviously been lit on fire.

* * *

The undead form of Dan Adams reached for Miss Rodriguez and tried to bite her, just missing as she stumbled backwards. With a roar, the Porsche turned and headed out of the parking lot.

“I’ll be back!” Skadooter called.

Then he was gone.

“Thanks,” Miss Bateman muttered. “That’ll help.”

She ran towards the last zombie as Miss Rodriguez put the shotgun into Dan Adams mouth and pulled the trigger, blowing his head off.

Miss Bateman looked around and saw no other zombies but realized the shotgun fire had probably attracted the attention of undead and any triffids in the area.

“Well,” Miss Tolini said.

“Who has a knife?” Miss Rodriguez said.

“I have a machete,” Miss Bateman said.

“Cut off my leg,” Miss Rodriguez said.

“How you gonna wrap that up?” Miss Tolini asked. “It’s gonna bleed out.”

They could see the nasty bite mark on the ankle.

“All right, let’s do it,” Miss Bateman said. “Would you rather live or a be a zombie?”

“We could put a peg on your leg,” Miss Tolini said. “Peg leg!”

“I can craft metal,” Miss Rodriquez said. “I could make a metal leg.”

“What do you want to do?” Miss Bateman asked.

“Cut my leg off,” Miss Rodriguez said.

“She gonna bleed out,” Miss Tolini said. “Ain’t nothing to stop it.”

Miss Bateman raised her machete over her head and brought it down on Miss Rodriguez’s leg. Unfortunately, the blade didn’t cut through the ankle as she intended, but struck her on the leg above it, cutting to the bone and then sliding down to the ankle, cutting skin, flesh, and muscle and leaving a large chunk of meat hanging there.

“I’m sorry!” Miss Bateman said. “I’m sorry.”

Miss Rodriguez screamed and passed out, blood gushing from the terrible wound. Miss Tolini quickly staunched the bleeding and bound up the cut. Then she bound up the bite wound though didn’t do a very good job on it. Miss Bateman cleaned up her shoddy job on the bite. Miss Rodriguez partially regained consciousness but was only semi-conscious, fading in and out. She was in terrible pain.

* * *

Franks found nothing of value in the other abandoned cars.

* * *

Miss Tolini noticed people were moving their direction though they were far off.

“**** that!” she said.

He grabbed Miss Rodriguez by the shoulders, dragging her towards the classroom building. Miss Bateman followed her.

“Hey, what are you doing?” she asked.

“That,” Miss Tolini said.

She pointed.

“That?” Miss Bateman said.

“That,” Miss Tolini said. “Way out there. That.”

“That?”

Miss Bateman finally saw the people walking towards them. They were pretty far off but seemed to be coming from every direction. She ran back to recover the shotgun.

“Do you really want to go inside or do you want to leave?” Miss Bateman asked. “Because we can get in my car. My car’s fine.”

“Take my car …” Miss Rodriguez muttered.

“But there’s probably medical supplies in there,” Miss Tolini said.

“But it’s also safer to get away,” Miss Bateman said.

“****, okay.”

Miss Tolini dragged Miss Rodriguez to the Jeep and they got her into the back seat. The people walking towards them were closer though still pretty far away. Miss Rodriguez wondered if they’d put her in an ambulance but was unsure where she was.

“I … want my car …” she muttered. “I … want my car …”

Miss Bateman got into the driver’s seat.

“Get in,” she told Miss Tolini.

The other woman ran back towards the classroom building.

“Pepperoni, get in the car!” Miss Bateman called after her.

“I’ll be back!” Miss Tolini called.

Franks followed her into the classroom building. Miss Tolini looked for some kind of map of the building and found a place where there might have been one once, but it had been ripped off the wall.

“**** me!” she said.

The sound of footsteps approached from the nearby corridor.

“**** it,” Miss Tolini said.

She turned and headed back out. Franks waited and she ran back.

“Hey you!” she said. “Come with us.”

She grabbed him by the arm but he resisted and she wasn’t able to easily move him.

“Fine, get ate,” she said. “Bye!”

She ran out of the building.

The person shambling down the corridor was a woman and he approached her slowly. She looked normal but looked at him with dazed eyes.

“Hello?” he said. “Are you okay?”

She didn’t respond but walked slowly towards him. He backed up when she got closer and he looked around for something to throw. There was a paper plate of stale cookies and he picked one up and chucked it at her. The cookie missed. He picked up the rest and flung the other four cookies, missing with all of them. The woman didn’t stop coming at him or say anything.

He swung with the baseball bat landing a glancing blow on her shoulder as she moved forward and tried to bite him, her jaws snapping shut close to him. He drew his pistol and stuck it in the woman’s face.

* * *

As Miss Tolini ran towards the Jeep, she heard a gunshot from within the building.

He’ll be fine, she thought.

“All right, are you ready to go?” Miss Bateman said as she reached the Jeep.

“Hmmm - one sec,” the other woman said.

She ran to her car and took out a leather rifle bag from the back, as well as another smaller leather bag.

“Okay,” she said as she climbed into the passenger seat with her gear.

Miss Bateman put the vehicle in gear.

“All right, we good to go?” she asked. “Let’s go.”

She drove away.

* * *

The woman had stumbled back and fallen to the ground after Franks had blasted her in the mouth with his Glock 17. He looked around and then headed back to the fake bunker for food and medical supplies. He heard a vehicle driving away from the building as he headed down the stairwell. He grabbed medical supplies and food and a few bottles of water as well, putting what he found in a couple of pillowcases and heading back to the surface.

As he exited the front of the classroom building, he heard a roar and a yellow Porsche driven by a black man in camouflage clothing pulled up out front. Loud music was playing on the CD player.

“Hey … what’s going on?” Skadooter said to the handsome man coming down the steps. “I’m back.”

“Not much,” Franks said.

“D’y’all handle them zombies?”

“Were you … huh.”

A lot of people were walking slowly towards them and starting to get closer.

“You need a ride or something?” Skadooter said.

“Yeah, man,” Franks replied.

“Let me show you something cool!”

“All right.”

The trunk on the front of the car popped open. Franks moved towards it as Skadooter got out of the car.

“Check this out!” Skadooter said. “No engine!”

“That’s … really cool, mean,” Franks said.

“Magic car! I bet this thing don’t even need gas.”

“I don’t know.”

Franks shoved the pillowcases into the trunk and closed it. Then he got into the car on the passenger side as Skadooter took the driver’s seat again. Skadooter had seen the others driving away but he said he’d come back so he had. He thought he knew where the others were.

* * *

It wasn’t long before Miss Bateman spotted the yellow Porsche pulling up behind them, the horn blaring. The car pulled around the left side and she saw Franks in the passenger seat, shaking his head. The passenger window rolled down and Skadooter leaned across Franks.

“Yo, we still goin’ to the beach!” he shouted.

Miss Bateman rolled down her window.

“Uh-huh!” she called.

“Spring break!” Skadooter yelled.

“Okay,” she called back. “Yeah.”

She rolled her window back up.

* * *

In the Porsche, Franks rolled his window up.

“Yo, what’s your name?” Skadooter asked.

“John,” Franks said.

“John. You ever do coke?”

“Nah, man.”

“All right. Good. More for me.”

“You sure you should be driving, man?”

“I’m good.”

Skadooter turned up the CD player.

* * *

They continued making their way east that afternoon, driving for about four hours. Franks and Miss Tolini both had trouble getting cell phone reception though the GPS in the cars seemed to work fine. Internet also proved to be very spotty.

In her vehicle, Miss Bateman turned on the radio with the lone man talking.

“I don’t know, I think they might have seen me,” the nameless man said. “I don’t know. They’re looking up. Oh God! One’s running! There’s a runner! Oh God! There’s a runner! Oh shit! Look at him go! Oh God! What the hell is that!?! Okay! I’m seeing something new! I’m seeing something new!”

The signal was started to break up.

“I think it’s … it’s … what the hell is that?” the voice said as Miss Bateman reached for the knob. “That ain’t human. That ain’t─”

The broadcast faded in a burst of static and she turned off the radio altogether.

“Somebody’s just wanting attention,” Miss Tolini said.

Miss Bateman looked for CDs in the car to play some music. She had found some en route.

* * *

They had to take several back roads to avoid car wrecks, places where vehicles were simply blocking the roadway, and, finally, a barricade crossing Interstate 40 with armed men atop it. They ended up on a back road somewhere south of Raleigh as it started to get dark. They had learned it was safer to travel during the day as the lights at night made them a bigger target, it seemed.

“Where’s my car?” Miss Rodriguez called. When no one answered, she asked again: “Guys, where’s my car?”

Miss Bateman and Miss Tolini were talking about how best to get to the coast and if they should stop for the night.

“Guys, where’s my car?” Miss Rodriguez said again.

“We’re in it,” Miss Tolini said.

Miss Rodriguez was very relieved.

“Thank God,” she said.

They discussed staying in their cars overnight but realized they would possibly have no warning before something broke in. There was also the potential of having a zombie wake up with them the next morning in the form of Miss Rodriguez thanks to her bite. They were unsure what would happen to the woman.

“What do you think the best course of action is this moment?” Miss Bateman asked Miss Tolini. “Because my intuition is saying we shouldn’t necessarily stop somewhere because that would leave us not being able to leave immediately.”

“Let’s knock on a door,” Miss Tolini said.

“Where?”

“I don’t know. If there’s a light on. If there’s no lights on, we probably shouldn’t. If there’s a light on, we should probably knock on the door. If there’s not, we should probably not trust it.”

“All right. Let’s do it.”

They started keeping an eye out for a light. When they saw one at a small farm off the road, they turned in. The light had come from between the two-story farmhouse and the barn and was moving. It looked like a lantern or flashlight. Then it was covered up and gone as they drove up the long dirt road that led to a circled driveway between the house, the unattached two-car garage, and the barn. There was also a chicken coop on one side and a few smaller sheds or outbuildings. Miss Bateman pulled up between the house and the barn, Skadooter pulling his Porsche up behind them.

“Hey!” Miss Tolini called.

There was no answer. Miss Tolini got out of the Jeep and looked around. It was very quiet and she noticed the windows of the house had been boarded up with large sheets of plywood. She went to the front door and knocked as Skadooter rolled down his windows.

“What the hell are we stopped for?” he called.

“Who is it?” the voice of an older woman asked from inside.

“Hi!” Miss Tolini said. “Hi … there’s five of us. Do you have a place for us to stay for the night?”

“You-you’ll have to ask my son.”

“Where’s he at right now?”

“He was going out to the barn but … he’s scared. Don’t threaten him.”

“I’m not going to─”

“He’s got a gun.”

“Oh.”

“He’s keeping them off us.”

“I saw a light in the field and it went out.”

“He wouldn’t go in the field. They’re out there in the woods.”

Miss Tolini looked to her right where the fields lay and could see the woods beyond the fields of wheat. The woods looked very thick.

“They come every night,” the old woman behind the door went on. “He’s-he’s … he went to the barn to check on the animals.”

“Okay,” Miss Tolini said. “We’ll go find him if that’s okay. Is there anything we should say so we don’t get shot?”

“Don’t-don’t threaten him. He’s really, really upset.”

“Excuse me!” Miss Bateman yelled from the car. “We are disciples from the Lord Jesus and we have come to spread the day of reckoning. If you’d let us in, we’d like to demonstrate what we can prove …”

Miss Tolini looked at her like she was crazy.

“Oh no!” the old woman from behind the door said. “More of ‘em!?!”

“What kind of God damned lies are you spreadin’ now!?!” Skadooter called from his Porsche.

“What do you mean ‘More of them?’” Miss Tolini asked at the door.

“Oh, they came through,” the old woman’s voice said. “They said ‘Find Jesus … or else.’”

“Or else what?”

“I don’t know. Simon shot at ‘em. He said ‘Get the **** off my property.’ He shot a few shots and they high-tailed it. They had guns. They were strange-looking folks. They were wearing all black. They said it was the day of reckoning and, if you weren’t a Christian, they were going to make sure you became one … or you were gonna die trying. They were scary folks.”

“Yeah … don’t listen to her.”

“Okay. As long as you’re not trying to hurt nobody.”

“We’re not. We’re just looking for a place to stay for the night.”

“Well go talk to Simon.”

“P.S. Do you make Salisbury steak or something?” Miss Bateman called. “‘Cause I’m hungry right now.”

“Hey, I don’t wanna do any more coke!” Skadooter yelled from the Porsche. “I need to go to bed soon!”

“Oh, is that a colored folk?” the old woman’s voice behind the door asked.

“How would you know?” Miss Tolini asked.

“‘Cause it’s in his voice. You can tell.”

“Uh … okay.”

“Okay.”

Miss Tolini walked back to the cars.

“We have to ask her son,” she said. “And I think he’s out here somewhere.”

She pointed at the large, red barn. It had big doors in the front and another door over the entrance to the hayloft above. All of the doors were closed. A corral was on one side but no animals were in it.

Skadooter got out of the car and stretched.

“Who the hell was you talking to?” he asked.

“Some old lady,” she said.

“Yeah, let’s get the hell outta here. I don’t trust this place.”

“They might give us a place to stay for the night. You wanna go to bed, don’t you?”

“I do wanna go to bed, but not in Redneckville North Carolina.”

“Redneckville … where is NOT Redneckville, North Carolina?” Miss Bateman asked.

“Listen, I didn’t have a lot of schools recruit me,” Skadooter said. “I had to pick the best one I could!”

“Uh-huh,” Miss Bateman said.

“I heard ASU was a bunch a druggies and I was like ‘All right.’”

“Oh my God.”

“Listen, if y’all wanna stay here, that’s fine. But me and John? We ain’t stayin’ here at Uncle Tom’s Cabin, all right? We’re gettin’ the **** outta here.”

“Good reference. Good reference. What is our decision?”

“I was going to go find that guy but she said he had a gun and he was scared so … maybe we should just leave,” Miss Tolini said.

“I don’t know,” Franks said. “I think I could talk to him─”

“Plus, zombies come every night. I don’t like that. Let’s go.”

“Let me go talk to him.”

“Are you telling me her son Bubba is out there in the dark with a ****ing gun?” Skadooter said.

“Yeah,” Miss Tolini said.

“Aw we definitely outta here now!” Skadooter said.

Franks got out of the Porsche.

“Let me go talk to him,” he said.

“Oh shit,” Miss Bateman said.

“I don’t like that,” Miss Tolini said.

But Franks was already on his way to the barn.

“John, get in the car!” Miss Bateman called. “John, don’t walk to the barn!”

As he approached the barn, Franks saw a rifle barrel stick out of the crack next to the door in the loft.

“Whoa,” Franks said.

“That’s far enough,” a man’s voice came from inside the barn.

“Okay.”

“What’s you folks want? You them Jesus folks come around here to torture us to Christ or some bullshit?”

“No, we’re just looking for a place to stay for the night. We don’t want to hurt anybody. We don’t want anybody to hurt us. We’re just trying to find someplace safe.”

“You-you got anything? Like anything to trade to stay?”

“Got a little bit of extra food we might be able to trade you.”

“You-you ain’t … there’s five of you?”

“Five of us.”

“There’s only two of us. But you try anything and I’ll fight. I’ll fight you.”

“Okay, I mean, we can … if you feel more comfortable, we can stay out in the barn while you’re in your house.”

“No. Stay there. Don’t move.”

The rifle barrel was withdrawn and a few moments later the lower barn door opened with a click. A skinny man of about 40 who hasn’t shaved or bathed in probably a week crept out. He held an over under rifle with a the small barrel on top, probably a .22, and a larger barrel on the bottom which was probably a 20 gauge shotgun. It was a hunting rifle and had a cheap plastic stock. He latched the door and then checked it, trying hard to get it open. It didn’t move though. Satisfied, he turned back to Franks and cradled the rifle in his arm. The two walked back to the cars.

The man looked at all of them suspiciously and then his eyes stopped on Skadooter.

“John?” the athlete said. “You and Forrest Gump having a good talk over there?”

“Huh,” Franks merely said.

“Name’s Simon,” the man said.

“Course it is,” Skadooter said.

“Wait a minute,” Simon said. “Ain’t you Skadooter?”

“Doot doot!”

“Omigod! I saw that game! I’m an ASU fan!”

“Aw hell yeah!”

“I can’t believe it’s Skadooter! Jayshawn Jaiquan Skadooter, right?”

“Jaiquan Jayshawn Skadooter.”

“Damn, I always get it backwards. They give me hell at the machine shop!”

“I forget sometimes too!”

“C’mon in! C’mon in! I gotta let grandma … I gotta let grandma … C’mon in!”

“That’s your grandma?” Miss Tolini said. “Okay.”

“I love my car!” Miss Rodriguez called from the Jeep as they walked away.

“We better get in the house before it gets dark ‘cause they come around,” Simon, not hearing it, said. “C’mon.”

“Okay, wait,” Miss Tolini said. “I’ve got to get this girl out of the car.”

“Oh. Oh my God.”

Simon helped her to get the woman, now gibbering in Spanish, from the vehicle and into the front door of the house, Simon bidding Granny to let them in. They heard something heavy move and, once they got in, found someone had built a makeshift bar to hold the door shut.

Simon told them they hadn’t had power for almost a week but they were making do. They noticed the kerosene lantern near the front door. He also told them they’d had some problems with some things in the woods that came out every night. When Miss Tolini asked if it was zombies, Simon shook his head.

“No,” he said. “They ain’t trouble. ‘Cause you can see them like a mile away and they just pop ‘em and they die. You shoot ‘em in the head and they go down. That’s what I found out.”

“Yeah, we found that out too,” Miss Tolini said.

“There’s some out there. But no, they ain’t out there no more because the other things took ‘em away.”

“What other things?”

“I don’t know. They’re these things. I ain’t seen ‘em up close. They only come out night and … I ain’t goin’ out there. They make this weird … yipping noise. Like …”

“What the ****?” Miss Bateman said.

“Like a dog?” Miss Tolini said.

“Like a what?” he said.

“Like a dog?” Miss Bateman said.

“No, more like a meeping,” he said.

“Like a fox,” Miss Tolini said.

“Kind of like a fox,” he said.

“So, it’s cute,” Miss Bateman said,.

“Oh, God no,” he said. “I don’t know what it is. I can’t see it. It’s dark out there.”

“Yeah.”

“But they been coming for the last three days and you won’t see ‘em, the dead people, out there, ‘cause they kind of come wanderin’ in every once in a while. And I shoot ‘em. But … but they’re gone now. All the bodies are gone. They just been lying out there, rottin’ after I shot ‘em in the head, but now they’re just gone. I don’t know what happened to ‘em.”

“Oh, hell yeah,” Skadooter said.

“Well …” Miss Tolini said.

“I say hell no,” Simon said.

“Hell no,” Miss Bateman said.

“Hell no, they’re dead,” Skadooter said.

“I’ve been wantin’ to get granny outta here but we only got the one car and I … I’m just worried about …” Simon went on. “What’s going on out there? The radio’s not working. TV ain’t working - or at least there’s nothin’ on. And there’s no power. And then there’s the … we got the - uh - we have the generator but weren’t not runnin’ it now ‘cause we ain’t got much gas left for it. And-and-and we got kerosene stove though, so we can still cook. Damned, I wish I’d a got one of them damned windmills. Anyway … but …”

He looked at all of them.

“So, I boarded up all the windows ‘cause we had some plywood but …” he went on. “They come around the house. But they’re comin’ closer every night. So … I’m worried about that.”

“What do you think they are?” Miss Bateman asked.

“I dunno. Ain’t never seen the like.”

“You have no idea?”

“No. They … I-I can’t see ‘em. It’s too dark.”

“I’m curious,” Miss Tolini said. “We should stay the night.”

“Oh … God,” Miss Bateman said. “Well I might as well stay with a group of people rather than go on myself, so I’ll stay with y’all. Let’s do it.”

“They been trying to get in the barn too,” Simon said. “That’s why I secured it real good at night, ‘cause─”

“Are there animals in the barn?”

“Yeah. Yeah yeah yeah. We got some chickens in the coop and I secured that too. It’s all boarded up. Although the dead people walkin’ around, they don’t seem to care about chickens and cows. We got some cows and some sheep and two horses.”

“Woo cows!” Miss Rodriguez called from the couch where they’d laid her.

“Yeah,” Simon said. “Okay. Is she okay?”

“Uh … no,” Miss Tolini said. “Um … we might need some rope for her and we need to cut off her leg.”

“What? Why?”

“She got bit. By the zombies. When you get bit, you turn into one.”

“You do!?!”

“Apparently. This one guy I saw, he got taken underneath this car and he got turned into one of them. So we need to tie her up for the night. See what happens.”

“We could lock her in the cellar.”

“Okay.”

“The only way out’s the ladder. Can they climb ladders?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen it. They walk real slow though.”

“Okay, we could tie her up in the cellar if you want. It’s just got a dirt floor but it’s secure.”

“Yeah.”

“And I boarded up all the windows too. I didn’t want something coming up out of there.”

“You got anything we could chop of her leg with?”

“Uh …”

“What the ****?” Skadooter said.

“There’s a wood axe,” Simon said.

“We never finished cutting off her leg,” Miss Bateman said to Skadooter.

“I got a … well, there’s no electricity,” Simon said. “‘Cause I got an electric saw but you can’t run that. I guess I could get the generator going.”

“My legs already cut off,” Miss Rodriguez called. “Don’t cut off my leg.”

“She thinks her leg got cut off,” Miss Tolini said.

“I got a bandsaw,” Simon said. “I got a skill saw. That would not be easy, but I got a circular saw.”

“Don’t cut off my leg!” Miss Rodriguez called again.

“We could use that,” Simon said.

“We could try the axe,” Miss Tolini said.

“Are you a doctor?”

“Um …”

“Are any of y’all doctors?”

“Are you adopted?” Miss Bateman asked him.

“Am I adopted?” he replied. “No. She seems distraught. No, but what I’m sayin’ is if you chop her leg off, she already looks terrible. Will she live?”

“We might as well just finish her off and heal her up,” Miss Bateman said. “She thinks it’s hilarious. Let’s just do it.”

“Okay, this is what happens,” Miss Tolini said. “Either we chop her leg off and she might survive or she might turn into a zombie anyway.”

“Y’all don’t ****ing know that!” Skadooter said.

“Don’t chop off my leg!” Miss Rodriguez cried.

“If you wanna do that, you can,” Simon said. “I’d rather you didn’t do it in the house.”

“Okay, where would you rather do it?” Miss Tolini said.

“Well I guess we could do it … it’s getting dark out … I don’t want to go outside. I’d do it in the barn, but …”

“Don’t chop off my leg!” Miss Rodriguez called again.

She was staring at a dead flatscreen television but, in her mind, the show she was watching was amazing.

“I mean, I can do my best trying to patch her after it’s done,” Miss Tolini said.

“Man, I love this show,” Miss Rodriguez called.

“She … she loves that show …” Simon said, confused.

“What show?” Miss Bateman asked, walking into the living room.

“That show, right there!” Miss Rodriguez said, pointing at the blank screen.

“I guess we could do it in the kitchen …?” Simon said. “Maybe the bathroom. We could do it in the bathtub.”

“How about your porch?” Miss Tolini said.

“Do you know what’s on TV right now?” Miss Rodriguez called.

“There’s gonna be a lot of blood,” Simon said. “Have you ever chopped somebody’s … what are you chopping off?”

“Just her ankle,” Miss Tolini said, reaching down. “Like, right here.”

“You ever done that before?” Simon said.

“No,” Miss Tolini said.

“Do you know what’s on TV right now?” Miss Rodriguez said.

“It’s … uh … McGyver,” Miss Bateman said.

“I’ve slaughtered some animals,” Simon said. “There’s gonna be a lot of blood.”

“McGyver’s my favorite!” Miss Rodriguez said. “Richard Dean Anderson is the best. Like …”

“McGyver’s a good show,” Miss Bateman said.

“If ya want …” Simon said.

“It’s a hard call,” Miss Tolini said.

“It’s up to you. It’s up to you. I’ll help if you want but … Jesus Christ. I don’t know no medicine. Nothing like that.”

“Got any painkillers?”

“Just aspirin.”

“Don’t chop off my leg!” Miss Rodriguez said again.

“We got Granny’s arthritis medicine,” Simon said. “That’s pretty strong, but … it’s pain medicine, that’s all I know. I got some marijuana.”

“What?” Skadooter, sitting in the dining room, suddenly said.

“I have a little marijuana,” Simon said. “I used to grow some out in the field amongst the crops.”

“Let’s smoke some.”

“Okay, we can smoke some if you want. I usually smoke in the morning.”

“I do too, but I smoke in the night and the evening and …”

“Well, I just don’t want to be … them things out there scare me. I’m afraid they’re gonna try to bust in the house.”

Simon turned to Miss Tolini.

“So, what do you want to do?” he asked.

“Don’t chop off my leg!” Miss Rodriguez said.

Miss Tolini looked at the woman.

“You know what?” she said. “Let’s just make this a little game. We’ll lock her up in the cellar and see what happens.”

“Okay,” Simon said. “We can lower her down there with a rope or something.”

“We’ll patch her up a little bit before we keep her down there for the night.”

They did so. Simon made a comfortable enough bed for the woman in the cold cellar and they lowered her down with some rope. Then got her comfortably enough in the bed and left a lantern with her. She stared at the flames. They closed the trapdoor and put a heavy piece of furniture on top of it.

The others ate a small meal of the food Franks had and some of the food in the house. It started raining.

Later that night, they heard strange noises from outside. Indicating that was “them,” Simon headed upstairs. He had set up a barricade at the top of the steps and moved it back into place once they were all up there. Granny went to her room. Miss Bateman picked a bedroom and fell into the bed, going to sleep almost instantly, exhausted. The rest of them looked out the back windows on the second floor.

They saw movement in the field amidst the trampled crops. At first they thought it was people, but they moved more like apes, sometimes going on all fours. They were hard to see. The light rain came down and it was overcast. They could also hear some kind of strange meeping noise.

“Oh my gosh, it’s Beaker,” Franks said.

“The ****?” Miss Tolini said.

“I dunno,” Simon said.

“Is that all you can ever see?” she said. “Just walking on all fours?”

“You got this place barred in,” Skadooter said. “We’re good for the night, right?”

“They ain’t never tried to get in the house before,” Simon said. “Hopefully they won’t tonight. They’ve been trying to get in the barn. You can see the claw marks.”

“Well, if they can’t get into your barn … I dunno,” she said.

“I don’t either,” Simon said.

“We’ll be all right.”

“I hope so. I ain’t got these upper windows sealed up. So …”

“Why not?” Skadooter said.

“Why not?” Miss Tolini echoed.

“I ain’t got enough plywood,” Simon said. “I had to do everything I could down below.”

“Shit.”

“That’s what I said.”

“Why the hell we ain’t in the cellar?”

“You got any bookshelves or anything we could put in front of ‘em?” Skadooter asked.

A few bookshelves and dressers and a china hutch were pushed up in front of some of the windows, but they weren’t really secured.

“Let’s just smoke and go to sleep,” Skadooter said.

Miss Tolini quickly looked for anything else to use but it looked like Simon had used everything. Even the mattresses for the beds were lying on the floors. He’d used the bed frames to help secure parts of the house.

“There’s one,” Simon said.

“Shoot it!” Skadooter said.

One of the things came out of the field and moved carefully towards the house.

“I don’t wanna waste the ammo,” Simon said. “Not unless I know it’s coming for me.”

Miss Tolini opened up her leather rifle case and pulled out a massive Accuracy International AW 7.62mm sniper rifle. She pulled up the window sash and leaned out the window, aiming the rifle out at the things in the field.

“Now what the hell you doin’ with a gun like that?” Skadooter asked.

“I hunt,” she lied.

“The hell you hunt? Elephants?”

“Naw, them …”

“Nothin’?”

“Nope. Never mind. It don’t matter.”

“‘Never mind. It don’t matter.’ You know, I tried to say that to a cop once? Almost got arrested?”

“Well, that’s─”

“Pulled up and smoke come out my car window. ‘Never mind. Don’t matter.’ Yeah. All right.”

“That sounds like a different problem, sir.”

“You gotta lotta secrets. I don’t like you.”

“I mean, when you got smoke coming out the car, that sounds different from me having a hunting gun.”

One of the things moved towards the house and, as there was no porch on the back, they had a pretty good view of the darkened field. It moved towards the back door where the stoop was and clambered directly towards the back door. She followed it with the site. When it was right below her, it looked directly up with green-glowing eyes.

Freaked out, Miss Tolini fired. The sound of the shot was unimaginably loud.

“Jesus Christ!” Simon yelled.

Miss Tolini had missed and the bullet struck the stoop by the back door, shattering the stone on one side of it.

She saw that the thing had a doglike snout. It leapt up towards the window, digging claws into the outside wall of the house and climbing up towards the window she was in.

“Get your gun ready, Cletus!” she said.

“You do hunt nothing!” Skadooter screamed. “You can’t hit for shit!”

“I wanna see you do something!”

“I’m gonna go hide in the other room!”

The thing pulled itself up over the door and towards the window.

“Yo, go downstairs and get me anything silver!” Miss Tolini yelled.

Franks had drawn his Glock 17 as the thing climbed up and into the window. Its silhouette had green glowing eyes and a stooped posture. The body, though roughly bipedal, had a forward sloping and vaguely canine cast. The texture of the skin was an unpleasant rubberiness. It gibbered and meeped as it tried to claw and bite Miss Tolini. The claw tore at her clothing but didn’t hurt her but it bit her on the shoulder and clamped on.

“Can you shoot if it’s that close!?!” Skadooter screamed.

Miss Tolini dropped the rifle and pulled the dagger out of her jacket. She slashed at the thing, cutting it terribly but not killing it.

“Somebody shoot this thing!” she screamed.

“What the hell do you do for a living!?!” Skadooter screamed.

Then he rushed forward and punched the thing in the side of the head, which knocked it loose of Miss Tolini. It fell backwards towards the window but Miss Tolini grabbed it and pulled it into the room, falling back with the thing on top of her.

“Whose team you on!?!” Skadooter yelled at her.

The thing was not moving and appeared to be unconscious.

“I meant to knock it out the window!” Skadooter said. “What the hell you doing?”

“I want to see what this thing is,” she replied. “Kill it.”

“Huh?”

“Kill it. I want to see it.”

“Well … well yeah, I was gonna kill it. It fell out the window! What you doin’ bringing it back in?”

“I got this.”

She stabbed the thing in the head.

“What the hell is it?” Simon asked.

“Well, it’s dead now for sure,” Skadooter said. “But that counts as my kill, by the way. I killed it.”

“Whatever,” she said. “I don’t care.”

More gibbering and meeping came from outside.

“Shut the window!” she said.

The stink of the terrible thing filled the room. It smelled like nothing so much as an open grave. Simon closed the window and stationed himself at it.

“What the ****?” Miss Tolini said, looking at the stinking thing.

“There’s more,” Simon muttered. “There’s more out there. I think there’s more out there.”

“Yeah, probably,” she said.

The thing was definitely dead and she wanted to drop it into the cellar to see, if Miss Rodriguez turned into a zombie, if she would eat it.

“There’s more out there,” Simon said as she dragged it out of the room. “They’re not coming to the house, I don’t think.”

Miss Tolini rolled the corpse of the horrible thing down the stairs and then left it there. She returned to the room.

“We’ll check on it later,” she said when she returned.

“Hey, make sure you hit this one,” Skadooter said.

She glared at him.

“You wanna keep talking?” she said. “I’ll throw you out the window!”

“Why don’t you let me try to shoot that gun?” he said.

“Nope.”

“Well then shoot something.”

There were about three or four more out in the field.

“You shoot ‘em,” Skadooter told her. “If they get in the house, I’ll punch ‘em. All right, that’s the way we’re gonna do it.”

“Well fine,” she said.

She worked the action on the rifle.

“It’s gonna be loud again though,” she said.

Simon opened the window for her and she aimed at one of the things.

“Hey, why don’t you take some shots too?” Skadooter said to Franks when he noticed the Glock in his hand.

“I don’t think I can hit those things with this thing,” Franks said.

“Give it a shot,” Skadooter said. “She didn’t hit the first shot she made.”

“You gonna keep talking about that?” Miss Tolini said. “And I’m going to turn this on you.”

“Let me shoot the gun!” Skadooter said.

“I’m not going to waste the bullets,” Franks said.

Another of the things moved towards the house and Miss Tolini aimed at it. Instead of coming to the back door, the thing moved around the side of the house toward the front. A couple more were near the barn.

“Hey, go get that one,” she said to Franks. “It went around the house.”

“You crazy?” Franks asked.

“Little bit.”

He sighed.

“One of y’all wanna give me a gun?” Skadooter asked.

“Got get your rifle … or whatever you got in your room,” Miss Tolini said.

“My crossbow, man …” Skadooter said. “That ain’t as cool as what you got. Somebody give me a gun.”

“Oh my God, here,” she said, handing over the rifle. “I’ll get my crossbow.”

“Oh! I get the big gun!” Skadooter said, laughing.

“Now you be careful with this,” she said. “This thing’s powerful.”

She quickly showed him how to work the bolt action after every shot, that bracing it was best, and warned him not to shoot it from the hip or he’d break his pelvis. He went to the window and braced the weapon up against the sill. He aimed at one of the things and fired. The blast rocked the house but he missed.

“I think I hit it in the foot,” he said.

“Oh, you wanna hit something?” Miss Tolini said.

She left the room.

The two creatures outside headed for the window.

“Uh …” Skadooter said as he worked the action. “Hey. Hey John …”

“Uh-huh,” Franks said.

“You wanna back me up?”

He set up the next shot and fired again, missing once again. Then both of the creatures started running towards the house, waving their hands over their heads.

“Uh … John!” Skadooter said. “John! Shoot these things!”

The things ran very quickly.

“I’ll take the one on the right,” Franks said.

Both of them fired, Franks hitting with his second shot but the other bullets missing. The thing stumbled but didn’t fall as the horrors both made strange gibbering noises.

* * *

Miss Tolini grabbed her crossbow, quiver, and one of the magazines for the Accuracy International AW. Then she moved to the master bedroom in the front of the house. She peered out the window into the dark and could see the roof of the front porch. As she moved to put up the sash, she saw claws come up onto the roof and pulled the creature’s head and shoulders up to look towards the house.

She opened the sash about an inch, lined up the crossbow, and shot at the thing in the throat. It shrieked incoherently.

* * *

Franks took two more shots at the rushing things, hitting the one on the right in the hand. The thing didn’t fall but kept coming at them.

“Get ready John!” Skadooter said before firing again.

He blasted the one on the left, hitting it in the hand as well. Blood spewed from the wound. Franks fired twice more at the one on the right, hitting it once in the gut and missing once. Then the things climbed up the wall towards them.

* * *

The horrible thing on the porch roof rushed the window, crashing through the glass as Miss Tolini leapt out of the way. Shattered glass, muntins, and stiles shredded the horrible creature and scattered in to the room as the thing fell to the ground, a shattered piece of wood in the thing’s throat. The death rattle rolled from it and she drew her dagger and stabbed it in the head just in case.

“What luck,” she said with a laugh.

* * *

Skadooter dropped the rifle and punched the horrible thing in the head, hurting it badly.

“Shoot both of ‘em!” Skadooter said.

Franks fired twice, the first bullet striking the thing on the right in the chest. It fell backwards out of the window with a shudder. The second bullet missed. The second thing tried to claw and bite Skadooter but the athlete was too fast, dodging out of the way.

“Shoot it again!” he cried. “Get off of me you─”

He punched the thing in the head, merely clipping it in the chin. Then Franks fired twice more, the second bullet hitting the thing in the crotch and it fell back without a sound, crashing to the ground below.

They looked out of the window and saw more of the things in the fields. They were not getting any closer to the house. Miss Tolini walked in.

“How you guys doing?” she asked.

Some ichor stained her clothing from when the thing had bled after crashing through the window. Skadooter picked up the rifle.

“Can I have this?” he asked.

“No,” she said.

“Please!”

“That’s my personal gun.”

“Please!”

“No.”

“Aw. I hit one though. Didn’t I John?”

“He did,” Franks said.

“What are those things?” Simon asked. “What are they?”

“Where the hell were you the whole time!?!” Skadooter asked.

“I didn’t wanna hit you!”

“With what?”

Simon showed him the over-under.

“You had that the whole time and didn’t help us!?!” Skadooter asked.

“I don’t shoot at people when monsters are in their face,” Simon said.

“All right.”

“If I shot Skadooter … You know how much money I won on that game you won?”

“How much?”

“A thousand dollars!”

“Nah-ha-ha-ha.”

“Yeah!”

“Sheeit!”

Skadooter looked at the man.

“So, since I saved you and your granny’s life … can I please smoke some of that stuff you was talkin’ about?” he said.

“Yeah yeah,” Simon said. “Are they coming any closer? We gotta - we gotta keep an eye on things.”

“I think we’re safe for now. C’mon now.”

“All right.”

“I’ll keep an eye out,” Franks said.

“I mean, I was basically─” Skadooter said.

“It ain’t great but all right,” Simon said.

“I got this,” Miss Tolini said, brandishing her crossbow.

“I mean I was basically high when I was shootin’ ‘em anyway!” Skadooter said. “I’m high all the time!”

They tried out the marijuana, which was okay and had few sticks and seeds. Simon kept watch through part of the night and Miss Tolini did as well.

* * *

The next morning, Miss Rodriguez was still semiconscious but had not become a zombie, much to their surprise. They decided to continue on towards the Outer Banks.

They examined the horrible thing that had been killed the night before. In addition to its canine-like face, it had hooved feet and stank. When Miss Rodriguez saw it, it reminded her of feral ghouls from the Fallout III video game. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1964-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Six
<![CDATA[Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition “The Keep on the Borderlands”]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1963-Advanced-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-2nd-Edition-“The-Keep-on-the-Borderlands” Wed, 13 Apr 2016 19:26:14 GMT Monday, April 11, 2016

(After playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition “The Keep on the Borderlands” on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Appalachian State University Game Fest and LAN Party with Quentin Russell, Ashton LeBlanc, Katelyn Hogan, Mike Miller, and Daniel Houchins.)

The realm of mankind was narrow and constricted. Always the forces of chaos pressed upon its borders, seeking to enslave its populace, rape its riches, and steal its treasure. If it were not for a stout few, many in the Realm would indeed fall prey to the evil which surrounded them. Yet there were always certain exceptional and brave members of humanity, as well as similar individuals among its allies – dwarves, elves, and Halflings – who rose above the common level and joined the battle to stave off the darkness which would otherwise overwhelm the land. Bold adventurers from the Realm set off for the Borderlands to seek their fortune. It was those adventurers who, provided they survived the challenge, carried the battle to the enemy. Such adventurers met the forces of Chaos in a testing ground where only the fittest would return to relate the tale. Here, those individuals would become skilled in their profession, be it fighter or magic-user, cleric or thief. They would be tried in the fire of combat – those who returned, hardened and more fit. True, some few who did survive the process would turn from Law and good to serve the masters of Chaos, but most would remain faithful and ready to fight chaos wherever it threatened to infect the Realm.

The five who came down the road that fateful day were indeed members of that exceptional class, adventures who had journeyed to the Keep on the Borderlands in search of fame and fortune. Of course, they were inexperienced, but they had their skills and hearts that cried out for adventure. They had it in them to become great, but they still had to gain experience and knowledge and greater skill. There was much to learn but they were willing and eager to be about it! Each of them had come with everything which they could possibly be given to help them. But now they had to fend for themselves; their fate was in their hands, for better or worse.

Ahead, up the winding road, atop a sheer-walled mount of stone, loomed the great Keep. There, at one of civilization’s strongholds between good lands and bad, they would base themselves and equip themselves for forays against the wicked monsters who lurked in the wilds. Somewhere nearby, amid the dark forests and tangled fens, were the Caves of Chaos, where fell creatures lay in wait. All this they knew, but before they dared adventure into such regions, they had become acquainted with each other, for each of their lives would depend upon the ability of the others to cooperate against the common foe.

They had only met the day before and decided to travel together.

Sister Mad Martha was a solid woman who talked very loudly. She was a priestess of Dionysus and of average height. She had red hair and wore hide armor over her nun’s habit. She walked with a quarterstaff and had a whip on her belt. She drank beer out of her wineskin. She had been warned to beware of treachery from within her party. She suspected Dodan of such.

Alissa the White was a noble-born mage. She wore her platinum hair in a bun and was very tall, wearing robes and walking with a quarterstaff. She bore herself regally. She had heard rumors that a merchant, imprisoned in the Caves of Chaos, would reward his rescuers.

Arya was an elf ranger. She had long brown hair that she kept up and wore leather armor. She carried a bow and had a short sword on her belt and a dagger in her boot. She had heard that “bree-yark” was goblin-language for “We surrender.”

Dodan “Sticky-fingers” Swiftfoot was a Halfling. He had short, messy brown hair and was a rogue. He wore leather armor. A dagger and a sling hung from his belt. He had heard rumor that an elf had once disappeared across the marshes near the Keep.

Bran Frostgrim was the largest of them, a man standing six and a half feet tall. He was slim with long blonde hair and a thick blonde beard. He was fairly dirty, wore splint mail, and carried a spear. A long sword and a dagger were on his belt. He was a warrior, born of the north, whose family was all dead. He had heard the bugbears in the caves were afraid of dwarves.

They had each traveled many days, leaving the Realm and entering into the wilder area of the Borderlands. Farms and towns had become less frequent and travelers few. The road had climbed higher as they entered the forested and mountainous country. When they had seen the keep, they had taken the side road that led to it.

They moved up a narrow, rocky track. A sheer wall of natural stone was on their left, the path falling away to a steep cliff on the right. There was a small widening ahead, where the main gate to the keep was. The blue-clad men-at-arms who guarded the entrance shouted at them to give their names and state their business. All along the wall, they saw curious faces peeing down at them – eager to welcome new champions of Law but ready with crossbow and pole arm to give another sort of welcome to enemies.

“My name is Martha,” Mad Martha said. “And my business is … my business is … I need to know where I can refill my wineskin with some beer!”

The men looked at each other.

“What about the rest of you?” one called.

“I don’t know,” Mad Martha called back up. “I think they’re here for adventure!”

“That’s why I wasn’t talking to you!” the guard called. “What about the rest of you?”

“I’m here to make some money,” Dodan called.

“I’m here to fight,” Bran called.

The guards looked at each other.

“Who are you fighting?” one called.

“Anything I’m paid to fight,” he said grimly.

“It’s another mercenary,” one guard said.

“I heard there’s a merchant trapped in a cave,” Alissa said.

“I heard that too,” one of the men said to another.

“I’m just traveling,” Arya said.

The guards mumbled amongst themselves and when someone yelled to lower the drawbridge, it was dropped and the portcullis raised. The five went through the gatehouse and into a courtyard beyond.

They stopped in the paved entry yard when a man in plate mail carrying a shield and armed with a long sword bid them to halt. Next to the man was another who wore robes and had a great book. Flanking the two were two men-at-arms in plate mail. The center man gestured them to come to him.

“Excuse me, sir!” Mad Martha said. “Do you know where I can refill my wineskin with some beer?”

“Probably the merchant,” the corporal said. “But we need to know some information first.”

He asked their names and the scribe wrote them all down in his book. The armored man asked if they were merchants and when they claimed they weren’t, he waved them through, allowing them to finally enter the keep proper.

They walked south past stable and warehouse with parapets atop their roofs, then turned to follow the way westward. A taller smithy stood in the cobblestone street and they could hear the men working within. Small apartments stood against the wall of the Keep across from it. The way past that led to the west and to the north.

Mad Martha approached one of the residents walking by.

“Sir, do you perhaps know where I could refill my wineskin with quality ale?” she asked.

The man pointed vaguely to the west. She wandered that way with Arya and Alissa behind. They passed by two low buildings with wooden placards over the doors to their right. The first read “Provisioner” and the second “Trader.” They were well-provisioned and so walked past them and the houses that lined the other side of the street. On the corner was a larger building with a guard outside the door.

They finally came to another courtyard, this one with a large, gushing fountain in the center of the square. A few women drew clear water from the source. Two more buildings opened into the Fountain Square. Over one door was a sign that proclaimed it to be the “Traveler’s Inn” while a simple sign over the other listed it as a “Tavern.”

* * *

Bran and Dodan stopped at the smithy as the women had headed for the tavern. The building was two stories high and had a parapet on the top as well. It was directly connected to the warehouse. Wide doors opened in the front and forges, bellows, and other items were central in the place. A large blacksmith worked on horseshoes while two young men assisted him. Some weapons hung on the wall: a couple of swords, a mace, and a suit of chainmail were all present. Several spears also leaned against the wall. A narrow set of steps climbed to the second floor.

The big, burly blacksmith noticed them and stopped his work, wiping the sweat from his brow.

“What d’ y’ need, gentlemen?” he asked.

“Just appreciating your fine hardware,” Dodan said.

“Oh. I do my best.”

He and his boys went back to work. It was blisteringly hot in the building.

“So you have any shields?” Bran asked the blacksmith.

“Nope,” the man said. “All I’ve got is these weapons over here.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

They left the smithy and headed west, the same direction the women had gone.

* * *

The women’s throats were dusty and dry from the road so they opted for the tavern first. The smell of cooked meat, bread, and other good food greeted them as they entered the room and they found that in the early morning, they were alone. A man stood near several casks stacked up by the far wall and over him was a sign that listed the prices of food and drink in the place. The prices were quite high. Only Mad Martha and Alissa could read it. Arya was not familiar with any written language.

A mug of ale or a glass of wine cost an electrum piece, according to the posting, though small beer or bark tea was only a silver coin. The honey mead was a gold piece for a mug. The tavern had a decent variety of food with bread being only a copper coin a slice and pudding, soup, or fruit only a silver coin for a bowl. Both the stew and the hot pie were an electrum piece while the roast fowl coast a gold coin and the roast joint cost two gold coins.

“How much to refill this wineskin … skin of wine,” Mad Martha asked the man there. “Beer. Whatever this is.”

“Well, what do you want?” he asked.

“I want …”

“You want ale or small beer?”

“Beer.”

“A silver piece.”

“I’ll do that.”

The man filled the wineskin from one of the kegs until it started to overflow, stoppered it, and handed it back to her. She drank from it.

“Very good, very good,” she said, suddenly seeming to be a bit more sober, actually. “It’s quite a time since I’ve had any beer. The headache! Oh, the hangover! I’m good now. Let’s go.”

“I tell you what I like better is honey mead,” the barkeep said.

“See, I always prefer beer to a honey mead.”

“Ah.”

“Honey mead is too sweet. But beer just … beer just sits right in the stomach.”

“I would like a tea, good sir,” Alissa said.

“Of course,” the barkeep said.

He put the kettle over the fire. She asked him about the merchant.

“I don’t talk a lot unless my throat’s been quenched,” the barkeep said. “I love honey mead.”

She purchased a glass of honey mead for the man.

“Merchant, you say, merchant?” he said, taking a long sip. “I have heard of that merchant. I’m not sure which of the Caves of Chaos he’s in, but I’m certain he’s there. It’s said he’ll reward his rescuers. He’s a man. He’s a man who passed through here. I don’t remember much more about him. But you won’t find many men there, I think. Most are monsters.”

“Do you know who else would know more, possibly?” she asked.

“Oh, I couldn’t tell you. I really don’t know.”

“Which direction are the caves?”

“I don’t know exactly. I know they are to the east. The road continues on and the Caves of Chaos lie somewhere in that direction.”

“Good sir,” Mad Martha asked. “If this merchant is trapped in the cave, then how are we to know, how would anyone know, whether he would provide a reward for his rescuer? How do we know this isn’t a trap laid out by, say, vagabond bandits?”

“It could be,” the barkeep said. “I’m just telling you what I’ve heard. That’s just the story that’s going around town.”

Bran and Dodan entered the tavern.

“Do I smell tea?” Dodan said. “I’ll have some of that!”

“All right,” the barkeep said. “Come on in, gentlemen!”

He poured large cups of bark tea for Alissa and Dodan.

“I’ll have me a cup too,” Arya said. “And some fruit if that’s all right.”

“Of course!” the barkeep said.

He brought her a small bowl of apples, grapes, and a lemon after pouring her a large cup of bark tea. Bran asked for ale and the barkeep poured him a huge mug of ale, overflowing it a little to get rid of the head.

“Lightweight,” Bran said, looking at Mad Martha, who sipped from her wineskin.

“It’s not that I want the beer or the ale or the alcohol, it’s that I need the beer to function,” she said.

“I’m a man,” Bran said. “I have a stein!”

“Good sir, what have you got by way of meat?” Dodan asked.

He couldn’t make head or tail of the placard on the wall with prices.

“Well, we’ve got roast fowl and roast joint,” the barkeep said.

“How much is the roast joint?”

“The joint is two and a half gold.”

“How about the fowl?”

“Fowl’s a gold piece.”

“I’ll take one.”

“All right, I’ll get on it.”

He left the room for a moment and then returned with a chicken carcass. He put some spices on it and skewered it onto a metal pole and then put it over the fire, turning it occasionally. It would probably be some time before it was cooked. The smell of the chicken filled the place while Bran leaned back, feet on the table, and enjoyed his ale. They discussed going to get provisions and Alissa, Arya, and Mad Martha all left the place.

They entered the trader’s house first and found the place was filled with armor, weapons, and large quantity goods like salt, spices, cloth, rare wood, and the like. A small, slim man stood in the place along with two younger men. They could see the family resemblance between the three.

“Yes, can I help you?” the man asked.

“I’m looking for a lantern,” Alissa said.

The man told her she could find such things next door at the provisioner. He told her he mainly dealt with weapons. He noted if she found any furs he’d buy them from her.

“Furs?” Arya said.

“Furs,” he said. “I’m looking for furs.”

“Well, I happen to be a hunter.”

“I will pay you one and a half times what normal people would pay.”

She asked what kind of furs he wanted and he said he would take any kind of furs.

“The bigger the better,” he said. “Bear would be good. Something large. Larger the better. But I will pay for small as well. I just won’t pay as much. But I’ll give you a good price.”

“Would you happen to have any weapons of the more clerical persuasion?” Mad Martha asked.

The man had all kinds of weapons but she didn’t know how to use any of them.

“Well, my good sir, it would seem you have nothing that would interest me,” she said. “So, good day.”

“You too,” the man said.

They went to the provisioner next and found just about anything they wanted. The only weapons there were spears, daggers, arrows, and bolts. A few shields stood against the wall as well. He was also willing to purchase weapons and armor from them if they ever wished to sell. Mad Martha ended up buying a small, round shield.

* * *

Bran mentioned wanting to get a shield and the barkeep told him the provisioner sold them. He left and Dodan asked if he could come back for the chicken. The barkeep told him he could so he followed the man. They found the other three in the provisioner as Alissa purchased three torches, flint and steel, some hemp rope, and chalk. Bran wanted to buy a medium shield but didn’t have the gold coins. He thought the provisioner was gouging the prices.

They left the place. It was about midday.

“I feel like we should go exploring,” Mad Martha said.

“I agree,” Arya replied.

“Hang on,” Dodan said. “I’ve got to get my food.”

He ran to the tavern and got the roast chicken, returning with it. He found Alissa talking to one of the guards at the main gates who seemed quite friendly.

“Hey, how’s it going?” he said. “Whatcha need? Whatcha need?”

“I want to know where the Chaos Caves are,” she said.

“Oh yeah yeah!” the guard said. “There’s a bunch of different tribes of different types of monsters there. Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.”

He thought a moment.

“If you follow the road east, you’re going to see the marshes to the south,” he said. “They’re dangerous. They’re dangerous. Then the woods start closing in on the road. If you keep following the road until it curves to the north and you see the land rising to your left, the caves are back there in the woods somewhere. But be careful. It should be right there.”

Dodan stood and watched, eating his chicken.

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to use a napkin,” Mad Martha said to him.

“I’m going to have to ask you to kiss my ass,” Dodan said.

“That’s your fetish, not mine,” she replied.

“Right, it is,” he said.

He used Arya’s sleeve to wipe his mouth. She was not pleased.

“What a disagreeable little man,” Mad Martha said of him.

The guard scurried off.

“What an interesting guard,” Arya said.

They went to the main gate and spoke to the corporal who called up for the guards to lower the drawbridge and open the portcullis. They left the Keep, going down to the main road, and heading east. To the south they saw what looked like swamps and a wide river that came close to the road before meandering away again. A grove of pine trees stood past the swamps, perhaps a quarter mile away. The woods came close to the road but then fell away again and they passed a tall, grassy hill to the right. Then the woods came close to the road on both sides as the road turned northward and the land rose steeply on both sides.

They turned to the left, heading back westward. It was dark under the boughs of the trees but they could soon see clear areas a few hundred yards to the right and ahead. To the left were simply dark woods.

“I say we go towards the clearing,” Mad Martha said. “That way we can get out of this accursed dark. I’m not a fan of the woods.”

“What dark?” Arya said.

Her keen Elvin senses allowed her to see clearly in the gloom of the forest.

“We’re going to a cave and she doesn’t like the dark,” Alissa muttered.

“I didn’t say I was happy with going to the cave,” Mad Martha said. “I say we go towards the clearing.”

“We can take a look, but if we don’t find anything, we’ll go elsewhere,” Arya said.

Mad Martha led them to the clearing to the right. They could just make out the road down the hill. Dodan finished off the last of his chicken, tossing the bones behind him. Bran glared at him for not sharing. He was so hungry.

The forest they had been passing through had been getting more dense, tangled, and gloomier. The thick, twisted tree trunks, unnaturally misshapen limbs, writhing roots, clutching and grasping thorns and briars all seemed to warn and ward them off, but they forced and hacked their way through regardless.

The strange growth suddenly ended. They stepped out of the thicket into a ravine-like area. The walls rose rather steeply to either side to a height of about 100 feet or so. Dark streaked rock mingled with the earth. Clumps of trees grew here and there, both on the floor of the ravine and up the sloping walls of the canyon. The opening they stood in was about 200 feet wide and the ravine ran at least 400 feet west to where the far end rose in a steep slope. Here and there, at varying heights on all sides of the ravine, they could see the black mouths of cave-like openings in the rock walls. The sunlight was dim, the air dank, there was an oppressive feeling there – as if something evil was watching and waiting to pounce upon them. There were bare, dead trees here and there, and upon one, a vulture perched and gazed hungrily at them. A flock of ravens rose croaking from the ground, the beat of their wings and their cries magnified by the terrain to sound loud and horrible. Amongst the litter of rubble, boulders, and dead wood scattered about on the ravine floor, they could see bits of gleaming ivory and white – closer inspection revealed they were bones and skulls of men, animals, and other things ...

They knew that they had certainly discovered the Caves of Chaos.

There were numerous caves and some of the small thickets were too dense to see through. They guessed there might even be more caves amongst those copses.

“Let’s turn around,” Mad Martha said. “I feel there is other adventuring to be done.”

She made a quick supplication to Dionysus to keep her alive. Dodan drew his dagger and spun it in his hand. Bran was tempted to toss his spear at the vulture.

“Let’s go to the first,” Arya said.

“Who wants to go in first because it’s certainly not going to be me,” Mad Martha said.

Bran gave her a shove.

“Everyone goes to the first,” Dodan said. “I say we go to the middle caves. Everybody’s going to go to the first and the last. We want unspoiled territory.”

“Maybe everyone thinks like you,” Arya said. “They all go to the middle.”

“They’re not as smart as me!” Dodan said.

Alissa looked for footprints and saw all kinds of tracks in the area.

“We’re looking for the merchant,” she said.

“Also, why would we want to go to the unspoiled caves?” Mad Martha said. “That would mean there are things that are fresh that could freshly kill us, right?”

“Thinking you should take a fresh swig of that beer, love,” Dodan said.

“Maybe. I. Will. But not because you told me to. First of all, I took an oath: Dionysus is the only man for me.”

Arya stuck out her tongue and made a gagging motion.

“Whomever wants to go first can go first,” Mad Martha said. “I’ll stick to the back.”

“By all means, I am a gentleman, so ladies first,” Bran said.

“No, thank you,” Mad Martha said. “How about age before beauty?”

Arya started walking towards the nearest cave at the bottom of the slope to their left.

“I’m thirty!” Dodan said.

“I’m only 16, thank you very much,” Mad Martha said.

Alissa started a random count to pick a cave and then followed Arya towards the second cave on the left.

“Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa,” Mad Martha said. “What are you all doing? Why are you choosing to go into different caves? We should all go into one.”

“I chose this one first,” Arya said.

“I’ll follow you,” Mad Martha said, running to catch up to the elf. “You seem decisive.”

I got the cleric, Arya thought.

Dodan and Bran followed them as well, Bran shaking his head. Alissa saw they were all heading for the first cave so joined them.

They reached the cave and stopped to discuss their marching order. Alissa noted they should not put the ranged people in the front. She moved towards the back of the party. Arya argued she was going in first and Dodan said he’d go in second. The cave mouth was wide enough they could walk two abreast if they wanted but they went single file. Arya went first, followed by Dodan, then Mad Martha and Alissa, with Bran in the rear. They all drew their weapons.

The cave was dark with only a little light coming in from the entrance. Alissa lit a torch. The corridor split, going three directions some 30 feet ahead of them.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Mad Martha said.

Dodan squinted in the hope of his eyes not getting too used to the torchlight.

The natural cave quickly turned into worked stone tunnels.

“Well, this certainly bodes ill,” Mad Martha said.

Dodan stopped the group.

“All right, we need to think about this strategically,” he said.

Arya continued walking forward but he grabbed her by her belt. She nearly tripped but didn’t fall.

“I think we should put the heavy hitters up front,” Dodan went on. “The people with armor.”

“So, what if we have a rear attack?” Arya asked. “Then what?”

“We’ve just walked through the tunnel. Presumably, there’s not much behind us.”

“From what I can see, there’s three paths up there.”

“Well with three paths, that means …” Mad Martha said.

“We’re more likely to walk into trouble than to have trouble walk into us,” Dodan said.

“All right,” Arya said.

“Here’s the thing,” Mad Martha said. “Either way … or either triple way, I don’t know … we’re probably heading into almost certain danger, so … as long as someone else is getting hit I’m fine. If someone needs healing, I’ll heal them, but if I have to get hit, we’re going to have some trouble.”

“So, here’s what I propose,” Dodan said, ignoring them. “I propose the fighter and the cleric up front.”

“How about no,” Mad Martha said.

“I agree,” Arya said.

As they discussed it, several goblins walked into the intersection ahead.

“I told ya!” Dodan said.

“Be quiet; we’ve attracted danger,” Arya said.

The goblins stopped when they saw the adventurers.

“Bree-yark!” some of them yelled as they rushed forward.

They cried out in their own language and only Alissa understood they were saying to kill the intruders. Two of them attacked Arya with short swords but weren’t able to hurt her. The other attacked Dodan but missed as well. Mad Martha took a deep breath.

“Woooo!” she screamed. “Let’s party!”

She swung her quarterstaff at the goblin attacking Dodan, hitting it in the head.

“Woo, mother****er!” she cried out again. “This is how we roll with Dionysus!”

Dodan stabbed the creature in the side and it went down with a shriek. Bran rushed forward with his spear but slipped on the blood of the goblin who had just fallen and crashed to the ground, stunned. Arya, in the front ranks, dropped her bow and drew her short sword, swinging it wildly at the goblins. The goblins rushed forward, one of them climbing over Bran’s body and making his way towards Alissa, but tripping over the body of his companion. A second goblin climbed over Bran and managed to get over the bleeding goblin and then skipped over the goblin who had just fallen. Then it stabbed Alissa with its short sword and she went down, the torch dropping beside her. Another goblin leapt atop Bran’s prone form and stabbed Dodan.

Dodan dropped his dagger and took out his sling, whipping it over his head. The bullet flew off into the caves, missing completely. Arya slashed at one of the goblins but the blade struck the goblin’s leather armor and trembled terrible, dropping from her hand.

“All right, you ****ers!” Mad Martha yelled. “Let’s get this shit going! Get set to get dead mother****ers!”

She swung for the goblin’s head but he ducked. On the backswing, she broke his leg and the goblin fell without a sound, lying on Bran’s body.

“Let’s go, mother****ers!” she screamed in a deep voice.

She turned towards the goblin who had cut down Alissa and swung at it but missed. One of the goblins Arya fought stabbed her, hurting her badly. The one near Mad Martha was unable to penetrate her armor.

“I am the phenom!” she screamed. “I am the wrecker!”

Dodan moved to his right, climbing onto Bran, and fired another lead bullet from his sling at the goblin that had just stabbed Arya. The bullet missed, zipping down the corridor. Arya drew the dagger from her boot and tried to stab one of the goblins but only nicked his armor. Dodan’s next bullet struck one of the goblin’s in the head. He went down like tenpins.

Nice, Arya thought.

In the back of the party, Mad Martha swung and missed again, grunting at shrieking. The goblin turned and ran.

“You think that you can get away mother****er!” She shrieked as it turned. “This is─”

She swung, slamming the goblin in the back of the head and it went down.

“You think you can get away!” she cried. “No! This is Martha’s town! You’re in my world now, *****!”

Then the goblin who slipped and fell leapt back to his feet, picking his sword up.

“What?” Mad Martha shrieked. “You wanna come to my world!?! My town!?!”

There were only two goblins left. They fought fiercely but couldn’t hurt the adventurers. Mad Martha had progressed past speech and was merely groaning angrily. She struck the goblin in the side but didn’t seem to hurt it. Then Dodan shot him in the head with a sling bullet and down he went. The lone remaining goblin tried to stab Arya unsuccessfully. She had no better luck injuring it.

Bran started coming around. He shook his head groggily.

Arya stabbed at the goblin again without luck, the blow skittering off his leather armor. Mad Martha strode forward, pushing her way to the last goblin. She swung her staff but missed.

“Bree-yark!” the goblin yelled as he turned and ran away.

“You think you can run?” Mad Martha yelled.

She struck the goblin as he fled, heading for the left. Bran finally stood up as Mad Martha screamed. She went to the back of the group and cast a cure light wounds spell on Alissa. Then she took a sip of beer.

“Wow,” she said. “Wow. That was … what’s with all these goblins around. Oh! I did this, didn’t I?”

Arya scooped up her sword and bow and ran into the cave after the goblin. The corridor curved off and there was a side corridor that dead-ended but the goblin continued on into a small room at the end of the main passage. She slowed as she approached the chamber, moving into the side corridor and hiding there. She thought she heard several other goblins in the room, all of them speaking in their own language. She turned and ran back to the entrance.

Dodan and Bran were searching the goblins on the ground. Each were able to get a few silver coins. Dodan noticed two larger bags in the intersection the goblins had dropped before they’d charged the party. Mad Martha started ripping off bits of cloth and tying up the unconscious goblins.

Arya ran back to the others.

“Goblins. Room. Back there. A lot!” she said.

Several of them heard the slapping of feet coming down the corridor. Dodan ran to the intersection, followed quickly by Arya, and they grabbed the two sacks. They saw the goblins coming so they ran. Dodan snatched up one of their short swords as he ran by.

“Bree-yark!” came a shout from behind them as the goblins ran after them.

They all fled the cave, running out into the sunshine and away from the Caves of Chaos. As they ran back into the woods, a half dozen goblins came out of the cave. They shouted in goblin and tried to shield their eyes from the sunlight as it obviously pained them.

Mad Martha turned.

“Does anyone know goblin here?” she called.

“I know goblin,” Alissa said.

“Do you know the word for ‘die’ in goblin?”

She told her the word. Mad Martha cast a command spell and yelled the word. One of the goblins fell to the ground. The other goblins slowed as they were certain she had just killed one of their number.

Then the party all ran away, slowing so Dodan could keep up with them. Arya yelled for someone to pick Dodan up. Bran changed course and moved towards him to pick him up.

“No no!” Dodan called. “We’re fine. We can outrun them!”

Bran shrugged and they fled back to the woods. They walked back to the Keep, examining the two bags as they went. Each proved to be filled with goblin food. Though it wasn’t the best food they’d ever seen, it was not poisonous and quite edible. Arya handed the food in the bag to Dodan.

They were let back into the Keep, battered and bloody. Bran was covered in blood and the guards seemed quite concerned for him.

“It’s not mine,” he grunted.

Arya wanted to find a chapel for healing but wasn’t sure where one might be. There was a street they hadn’t explored and she saw a large building with a peaked roof that might be a chapel. Alissa and Dodan went with her. Meanwhile, Mad Martha and Bran cleaned themselves in the fountain in the square. The bloody water quickly grew clear again and they guessed it was some kind of natural flowing spring.

* * *

The other three, still bloody and beaten from the battle, headed up the other street. They passed a large, two-story building that appeared to be a merchant’s guild of some sort. Just past it was a large chapel. They went into the peaked-roof building. The altar was located at the far end with a stained glass window above it. An offering box was fastened atop a heavy pedestal in the far corner to the right. A single, old man in robes was there.

“Hello, is there a healer?” Arya called.

The old man walked over to them. He carried a staff with a snake head upon it.

“I am the Curate,” he said. “How can I help you?”

“I have a wound,” she said.

“Oh, do you?”

“Yes.”

“Oh dear. Oh dear. I usually don’t use healing on outsiders, only on guards and other people who live in the keep. But, perhaps for a donation.”

He looked towards the box in the corner. She went over and dropped a gold coin into the box.

“Well well well well,” he said.

He cast a cure light wounds spell upon the young woman. She was not completely healed but was better than before.

“That’s fine,” the priest said. “What happened to you good folk. What about this little fellow? He’s all covered in blood as well.”

Arya looked down and was surprised to see Dodan. She hadn’t realized he’d accompanied them.

“I could use some healing too,” he said.

“As you’re not a member of the keep …” the Curate said.

“I think a gold covers two people,” Dodan said.

The man just looked at him and growled slightly.

“Yeah, gold doesn’t go as far as it used to,” the Curate said.

Dodan put a coin into the box and the man cast a healing spell upon the Halfling.

Alissa headed off while Arya talked to the man.

“We are adventurers,” she said. “We were just wondering, since we go out, if there’s anything you might want from the outside.”

“No no no,” the Curate said. “I’m fairly well stocked. I have to tell you though, to beware. There’s a priest in this town, who we all thought had died some time ago, but came back. I don’t trust him. I don’t trust him, I tell you.”

“Who is this?”

“He’s a priest. He just calls himself ‘The Priest.’” He related where the man lived. “But you cannot trust him! He’s not to be trusted. As I said, he went away with adventures who claimed that he had betrayed them, but fled. Then he came back. I don’t know whether the adventurers were lying or not.”

Meanwhile, Dodan crept to the offering box and found no lock or latch upon it. He opened it quietly and reached in, snatching out the two gold coins and a handful of others that were already in the box. He pocketed everything and then walked away as if he had been admiring the place.

“Is there anything you want us to do with this priest?” Arya asked.

“Just don’t trust him!” the Curate said. “If he comes to you and he wants to join your party, don’t trust him.”

“Gotcha. Thank you very much.”

She left the building as well, quickly catching up to Dodan, who was counting coins. He’d gotten the gold, several copper coins and several silver coins.

“I didn’t like that priest very much,” Arya said.

“Charging that much for healing,” Dodan said. “Hmph.”

“Well, he didn’t charge but he did expect payment to the church.”

“Oh, how naïve. You think that money doesn’t go straight into his pocket?”

* * *

Alissa had returned to the Merchant’s Guild. The door opened into a hallway with two desks behind a railing. A couple of men sat at them, writing in ledgers with quills.

“Can we help you?” one of them asked.

“I’m part of a group of adventurers and I was wondering if you needed anything done?” she said.

“No, we usually just deal with merchants who come through. This is the merchant’s guild so merchants can stay here after they’ve paid a tithe on their goods. If you’re not a merchant though …”

“Did you hear anything about the merchant that’s trapped in the caves?”

“Oh! I haven’t heard anything about it. Why? Wait! Are you here to ask for ransom!?! Is that what you’re doing here? This lady here is asking for ransom for the merchant that went missing! I’m going to call the guards!”

The other man seemed confused. Alissa left the building quickly.

“Hey!” the man yelled after her. “Come back here!”

* * *

As they approached the merchant’s guild, Arya and Dodan argued about getting her gold back.

“I didn’t get any gold,” Dodan said. “I got my gold.”

“How much did you get,” Arya asked him.

“I only got one gold,” he lied.

She looked at him.

“I don’t believe you,” she said.

“That’s good for you,” he said.

She continued to glare at him.

“My gold,” she said.

“No.”

“I knew I should never trust Halflings!”

She increased her pace and outdistanced him quickly. She passed the merchant’s guild and Alissa walked out. Someone inside was yelling at her as she closed the door behind her.

“I helped you out!” she said to Dodan, who caught up.

He handed her five silver coins.

“I want my gold!” she muttered. “Where’s the other five?”

“We’ll see,” he said.

They found Bran and Mad Martha in the square and all of them went to the Traveler’s Inn. The building was a long, low structure and they learned from the innkeeper there were five private rooms and a large common room with room for a dozen. The private rooms cost a gold piece per night while sleeping in the common room was a silver piece per night. Bran, Dodan, and Mad Martha slept in the common room while Arya and Alissa got private rooms.

The common room had cots with straw ticks and space for each person’s gear. The private rooms had feather beds, a wardrobe, a nightstand with a pitcher and bowl, chamber pot, and even a window. They had an inexpensive meal for dinner that night and then slept the sleep of the righteous

* * *

As they ate gruel at the tavern the next morning, they discussed what to do. Alissa was of the opinion they should go to the second cave. Bran thought if there were a lot of goblins in there, they must have been in there for a reason. He wanted to explore that first cave further, but pick a different route. Mad Martha was fine with either. She had plenty of beer so she felt she’d be okay again. Arya told them what she’d seen. Mad Martha reminded everyone that they hadn’t necessarily killed the goblins they’d fought, only knocked them out. Bran pointed out they knew what was in the cave and so they could be more prepared.

“Now that there’s an enemy we know, we’re not going to go into an unknown, necessarily,” he said. “We actually know what’s in there now. That’s why I suggest going to the same cave.”

“I’m more prepped for combat today,” Mad Martha said.

A few of the locals were also in the tavern and they overheard some of them talking. Mad Martha heard tribes of different creatures lived in different caves and there was talk of the new party of adventurers going into the caves. Alissa heard a magic wand was lost in the cave area. Arya overheard that the big dog men lived very high in the caves. Dodan heard that “Bree-yark” was goblin for “We surrender.” He told that person he was full of shit.

“What?” the man replied. “I heard that from my brother’s cousin’s nephew’s uncle!”

“I heard it from a goblin’s mouth as he was trying to attack me,” Dodan said.

“Whoa.”

Alissa, who spoke goblin-speak, realized “bree-yark” was essentially a goblin call for help.

They shared their rumors with each other. No one was sure what dog men were but Dodan thought it sounded dangerous. Arya advised they not go to the higher levels.

“Well, danger usually means more loot,” he pointed out.

“Usually, but I don’t think I want to die,” she said.

“Do you have to be so greedy, little man?” Mad Martha said.

“We nearly lost our wizard,” Arya said.

“Yes,” Dodan answered the priestess.

“I’d like to be part of the fight the next time,” Bran said.

“Next time I’d like not to be part of the fight,” Mad Martha said. “That is very …”

“You didn’t sound like it when you were in it,” Dodan said.

She just looked at him.

“Look, that’s not … that’s not the me that you think I am,” she said.

Arya still favored her injury.

“I say we gotta search for this merchant,” Dodan said. “Sounds like he could give us a right reward.”

“I say go back to the cave,” Bran said. “I want some revenge.”

“You just want to kill goblins.”

“I still say go back to the cave in a different route.”

“And prove you’re not useless.”

“I will stab you.”

“You won’t catch me.”

“I can throw a spear far and fast.”

“I just feel we’d miss something if we don’t go back,” Arya said.

“Fine, let’s go back to the cave,” Mad Martha said.

They left the Keep once again and walked to the forest. They soon found themselves at the Caves of Chaos. As they looked into the ravine from the edge of the woods, Mad Martha said they should go in more stealthy this time and with a better plan.

“This time, I say you send me in first,” Dodan said.

“But can you see in the dark?” Mad Martha said.

“I can,” Arya said.

“I say we send her in first,” Mad Martha said.

“I agree,” Arya said.

“I agree,” Bran said.

“What does everybody know about goblins?” Dodan asked.

“We know ‘bree-yark’ doesn’t mean ‘I surrender,’” Arya said.

The Halfling laughed.

They talked about goblins. Dodan knew goblins could see in the dark. Arya knew that individually, goblins were not very strong, but in groups they could rush and be very dangerous. Alissa knew some goblin tribes had shamans though they were usually not nearly as powerful or prevalent as wizards. Mad Martha told them there had been a few famous goblins in history, though none were known to be from the borderlands where they were presently standing. Bran told them he’d heard if you hit a goblin with a gold brick, it would immediately become your slave and give the brick back.

Mad Martha started to talk more and more aggressively as they looked down on the ravine.

“All right, guys,” she said. “Here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna go in there and we’re gonna break some skulls. Who’s with me? Team on three! One! Two! Three!”

Bran slapped her when she said “Three!” The woman looked at him.

“The **** did you just do!?!” she shrieked.

Dodan laughed and the Mad Martha punched Bran solidly in the face, knocking him backwards but not off his feet. She growled at the man.

“You come after the Skullcrusher, you are gonna get crushed!” she yelled at him as Dodan laughed and Arya giggled. “Don’t **** with the Skullcrusher! You ****ing with me, little man!?!”

Bran glared at her. He would remember this.

They went down to the cave once again. Mad Martha was ready to fight, breathing heavily and grunting and groaning.

“Just go!” she said. “Bring ‘em to us!”

Mad Martha waited in the entrance while Alissa and Bran stood just outside the cave.

Arya went in with Dodan holding onto the back of her belt. Mad Martha leant her hooded lantern to Dodan and he lit it and hooded it and held it down. The two of them crept into the cave and down the corridor to the left, heading for the room where she’d heard the goblins before. She heard more goblins there and Arya peeked into the pitch black room. She spotted a half dozen goblins within. A barrel filled with spears was also in the room and there was another passage on the far side. Three goblins watched in either direction. One of them spotted her as she peeked in. He started jabbering and sounded angry.

Dodan flung open the shutter on the lantern and light flooded the room. The goblins squinted and jabbered.

“Get in here!” Dodan yelled.

Arya drew her bow and nocked an arrow as Dodan took out his dagger. He rushed into the room and stabbed at one of the goblins.

* * *

The others at the cave’s entrance heard the cry. Alissa quickly took out flint and steel and lit a torch. Mad Martha cast a shillelagh spell on her staff and then rushed into the caves as best she could in the dark.

* * *



Mad Martha ran into the room with a shriek, holding a magical staff in her hands. Bran followed close behind her, crashing through the corridors. The goblins tried to stab them with their spears as he ran into the room, one of them cutting Mad Martha. Two other goblins backed away from the fray as Bran ran one of the goblins through with his spear. The horrible creature died screaming, blood spewing everywhere. Arya moved into the corner of the room and shot a goblin on the far side. With a cry, it fell to the ground.

Dodan tried, unsuccessfully, to stab the goblin in front of him. The little creature laughed at his feeble attempts. The other goblin in the back of the room ran away, disappearing around the corridor.

“Y’all handle these!” Arya said, running after him.

“You killed my brother!” one of the goblins yelled in his own tongue.

Only Alissa, still outside the cave and just picking up her torch, understood him.

He moved to Bran and stabbed him with his spear. The other goblins missed. Alissa arrived behind the others, torch in hand. She chanted and a magic missile flew from her hand and struck the goblin Dodan was fighting.

* * *

Arya ran around the corner and up the steps beyond. She mounted a landing and went up another short flight of stairs before she caught up with the goblin. She tried to club him with her bow but he heard her coming and ducked. She saw a door at the end of the corridor some 20 feet away. The goblin said something and readied his spear.

* * *

Bran stabbed one of the goblins but didn’t kill it. It grunted and groaned and said something in its own language. Only Alissa understood the surprised goblin had said “I’m not dead yet.”

Mad Martha slammed a goblin with her enchanted staff and sent the beast flying across the room to crash in the corner. Dodan slipped behind the goblin fighting Bra, stabbing the creature in the back and twisting the blade. With a terrible cry, it dropped to the ground.

Both Alissa and Mad Martha took off down the corridor after Arya, tearing up the steps and attacking the goblin they found at the top.

“Surrender!” Alissa called in goblin tongue.

But it was too late. Mad Martha reached the goblin at the same time and brought her staff down on the creature’s head. It went down.

“We need to ask it questions!” Alissa said.

“**** that!” Mad Martha replies.

She smashed the thing’s skull.

* * *

Back in the little guard room, Dodan cut the throat of the goblin he’d just taken down. As he started killing all of the goblins, Bran began looting the bodies. They finished off killing all five and got everything of value off the bodies, including a good number of copper and silver coins.

Now that they had time to look around more carefully, they saw there was a barrel of spears, a small table, two benches, and a keg of water in the room.

* * *

Mad Martha ripped open the goblin’s throat and tasted the blood. She smeared it on her face, splashing it all over herself. Then she bit into the goblin’s flesh and ate of it. It did not taste good.

“It’s delicious!” she said. “Takes like chicken.”

Arya moved to the door. It looked typical with a latch and keyhole. She put her hand on the latch and pressed down. There was no resistance. Unless it was barred, she guessed it was not locked. Alissa moved up beside her, torch in hand.

Mad Martha ripped the arm off the goblin to take with her, tucking it into her belt.

“We should probably wait,” Alissa said.

Arya nodded and let go of the latch slowly and without a sound. Mad Martha stood up as Bran and Dodan came up the stairs.

“How’s it going, Bran?” she muttered angrily.

Dodan shuttered the lantern.

“I’m going to kill her the first chance I get,” Bran whispered to the Halfling.

“That might not be a bad idea,” Dodan replied.

Mad Martha walked towards the door with purpose as several of them said she should take a swig from her wineskin.

“**** that!” she said.

As she passed Alissa and Arya, she rushed the door, slamming into it. Arya backed into the corner to the left. Alissa backed to the stop of the stairs where Bran and Dodan stood, ready to run. Mad Martha struck the door, breaking it down and rushing into the room. The light from Alissa’s torch revealed a large room filled with hobgoblin males, females, and cubs. There were at least five males, almost double that number of females, and a few cubs. It appeared to be a common room where a good portion of the tribe probably lived. There were heaps of cloth and skins in the room for beds, some odds and ends of furniture, a small barrel, buckets, and the like.

Mad Martha charged ahead and struck one of the hobgoblins with her staff. It obviously hurt the creature but it didn’t fall. The creatures were much bigger than the goblins.

“Intruders!” one of them yelled in goblin-speak. “Kill them! Kill them all!”

Only Alissa understood though the tone of voice gave the others a hint it was not good. She turned and ran away, taking her torch and the light with her. Arya reached into the room and pulled the door closed and then followed Alissa. Bran felt his way in the dark, being careful of the steps, as he followed as best he could in pitch blackness. Then light erupted behind him as Dodan opened the lantern and ran down the steps to the goblin room. He started pulling spears out of the barrel and snapping off the spearheads. Bran went by him, heading for the exit.

* * *

Mad Martha swung her staff, still glowing with the residual energy of her last spell, at the same hobgoblin she’d struck before but the creature easily ducked aside. Then four of the males, each of them armed with a long sword, attacked her while the fifth went to the door and opened it. The females, meanwhile, picked up clubs and headed her way. One of the males stabbed her but barely hurt her.

“You call that a hit?” she screamed. “I call that a tap!”

Others attacked her but were unable to hurt her. She cast a command spell at one of the children, yelling “Die” in the goblin tongue. The child fell to the ground. The hobgoblin females wailed in terror.

* * *

Bran saw the light of Dodan’s lantern behind him as he stumbled down the corridor towards the entrance, bumping into Arya and making it to the cave entrance just behind her. Dodan, having heard the door open to the hobgoblin area, fled the guard room as well.

* * *

Mad Martha used her shield to good effect, blocking the blows of the hobgoblins for a short time. Then another one stabbed her in the chest. She breathed heavily before falling flat on her back, unconscious.

* * *

They stopped at the entrance of the cave for a moment and then moved to the woods near the edge of the ravine. After a short time, a hobgoblin came out of the cave and looked around before going back and disappearing into the darkness.

“Well, it’s a pity all that gold got left in there,” Dodan said.

They discussed what to do next. Arya thought they should enter the cave again but go straight. She knew what was up the steps and didn’t want anything to do with it. Dodan noted they had explored and it had almost killed them twice, and it did kill one of them.

“Just don’t go upstairs,” Arya said.

“They’re probably alert and waiting there at the intersection, if anything,” Dodan said.

“I still say cave two,” Alissa said.

“Do you think they’d think we’d come right back after being chased out?” Bran asked.

“Yeah,” Dodan said. “They might think we’re coming back for our friend.”

They discussed which cave to enter next.

“Eeny-meeny-miny-mo has never failed me,” Alissa said.

They ended up going to the second cave, a little west of the first they entered. The place had a strong, sour odor and appeared to be a natural cave, cut in two by a natural stone wall. There appeared to be a huge bear sprawled asleep on the far side of the cave to the right. Arya, in the lead, took a step into the cave and peeked into the other section. Sitting there was an ogre. It looked her way with his tiny, evil eyes.

“Oh hi,” she said. “Bye. Sorry to disturb you, sir.”

The ogre roared and Arya stepped back, as did the rest of them. The ogre came to the entrance of the cave and they all ran away, fleeing from the terrible beast. Dodan considered attacking it but ran like the rest. The creature shook its fist at them and went back into the cave.

The party regrouped at the edge of the forest and decided to try the third cave, hidden under the bows of a copse of trees. As soon as they got to the entrance, they smelled a horrible stench coming from the place. Arya just shook her head and walked away towards the last cave on the lowest level of the ravine.

They went under the boughs of another terribly wicked-looking copse of trees. The cave quickly gave way to worked stone, much as it had in the goblin caves. Arya and Dodan led the way with Alissa and Bran behind them. The initial tunnel went about 30 feet before splitting to the left and right. The two in the front stepped into the intersection. To the left, it went around a corner, possibly into a room. To the right, it disappeared into darkness, but in a small niche near the entrance were a group of tiny humanoids with brown, scaly skin and dog-like faces.

A half-dozen kobolds were in the tiny guard room. The two groups spotted each other.

* * *

Mad Martha awoke and found herself bound hand and foot, completely tied up. She was at the bottom of a pit with two hobgoblin guards standing over her. She knew they were terrified of her and she had them exactly where she wanted them. She tried to break free of the ropes without luck.

“We are sending for ransom to the keep,” one of the hobgoblins said in broken common.

She tried to bite at the creature without effect. Two climbed down into the pit and beat her into unconsciousness.

* * *

Arya shot at one of the kobolds but missed completely, her arrow clattering into the tunnel. Dodan fired his sling, just missing as well. The kobolds rushed out of the niche but then stopped and yelled at the adventurers. Only Alissa understood they were yelling taunts at them.

“C’mon cowards, we’ll rip your spleens out!” one shouted.

“We’ll bite your kneecaps off!” another yelled.

“We’ll wreck you!”

“Come and get us you idiots!”

“You … are stupid humans and do not know how to fight!”

Bran ran forward with his spear and suddenly the floor in the intersection collapsed under him, dropping him into a 10-foot deep pit. The floor appeared to have been made of some kind of light material that couldn’t hold his weight. The kobolds laughed uproariously and continued taunting.

Alissa moved forward and tossed one end of her rope down the hole. She ran back out the cave and tied the other side to one of the trees in the copse outside the cave. Dodan fired another bullet at the taunting kobolds, hitting one in the head. It went down.

“*****!” Arya said with a grin.

“C’mon!” Alissa heard the kobolds taunting. “Cross it. That’s the only spot! That’s the only spot!”

Bran climbed up out of the pit, pulling himself up onto solid ground again. Arya fired another arrow, realizing the ground under her was not very solid. She almost dropped her bow as she fired and the arrow skewed around but she managed to keep her hand on the bow. She figured it was from the shaky floor.

Dodan started to feel around on the floor and realized the 10-foot by 10-foot area in the intersection was all part of a trap. The entire floor there was shaky, made of weak wood covered by painted linen of some kind. The whole spot was unstable. Arya was standing on it while Dodan was on the edge of it. He told everyone about it as quickly as possible.

The kobolds continued taunting them. Alissa understood they were telling them to come across the floor as they would be fine. Arya stepped back off the floor and then shot one of the kobolds, which dropped to the ground with a squeal. Alissa walked over towards Arya, crossing the trapped floor. She crashed through the floor but Arya grabbed her as she started to fall and pulled her to safety.

Bran leapt over the hole, landing in front of the kobolds. He charged at them with a battle cry.

“No this time!” he called.

He tried to stab one with his spear but the kobold leapt out of the way as the rest converged on him. One climbed over a dead body, flanking him. Two of them stabbed the man while the other missed. Another kobold was holding back from the battle. Arya carefully walked across the pit, taking her time. It collapsed underneath her and she fell, hurting herself badly. She shook her head and cursed.

Bran dropped his spear to the floor and drew his longsword, cutting one of the kobolds down. Dodan tucked his sling away and drew his dagger, jumping over the corner of the pit. He landed next to the kobold who gave him a double take. He tried to stab the kobold who turned towards him. Arya climbed up out of the pit and back onto solid ground. Her legs hurt badly.

The kobold in the back climbed over the bodies of his comrades and he and another kobold attacked Bran. One stabbed him but the other missed. The kobold that attacked Dodan missed the Halfling completely. Bran cut down another kobold. The last kobold fighting him couldn’t hurt him and he cut it down.

“Surrender or die!” Alissa called to the last kobold in his own language.

“Never!” the kobold shouted back. “You are awful, evil monsters who come to kill our children and eat our young!”

“Capture him alive!” Alissa called. “Let’s interrogate him!”

Dodan used the flat of his dagger to try to knock out the kobold but missed the creature completely. Arya dropped her blow and drew her short sword. She reached over and smacked the kobold in the head with the flat of her blade. The kobold went down, unconscious.

They helped each other back to the main corridor near the cave after Bran and Dodan searched the bodies. At Alissa’s suggestion, Arya retrieved her rope and tied the kobold to a tree outside. Then she helped Alissa back across the pit. Dodan flung the kobold bodies down into the hole. One made a terrible crack when he landed.

“How do you like your hole now, guys?” he called to them.

Bran and Dodan helped each other across the pit and the former hobbled outside. He’d been badly injured in the battle. Alissa slapped the kobold’s face a few times. He began jabbering in kobold angrily.

“Let me go or feel the wrath of my people!” he said in kobold to the wizard. “They will fall upon you like the wolves swarm over a bear!”

Arya took out one of her arrows and put the pointed end in the palm of the kobold’s hand.

“Should I?” she asked Alissa.

“We can kill you right now or you can tell us what else is in that cave,” Alissa said in the kobold tongue.

“You will kill me anyway!” the kobold said. “I know that. You come to kill my family and my children! You terrible people!”

Dodan moved to the kobold and started peeling off a scale.

“No!” Alissa said. “Stop!”

The kobold cried out in pain.

“I knew it!” he cried. “I knew it! I knew it!”

“Let’s just take him back to town and get rest,” Alissa said.

“You want information out of him or not?” Dodan said.

“I do, but I can get it my way.”

“I’m bleeding over here,” Bran said.

“You know what we could use?” Dodan said. “A ****ing cleric!”

“Well I kind of locked her up so …” Arya said. “No, I didn’t. I just shut her in.”

“Yeah … well …” Dodan said.

They returned to the Keep with their prisoner. They were questioned about why they wanted to bring a kobold into the keep and Alissa told the guards he had information they wanted. She was warned that if he got loose, they’d be in big trouble, probably being expelled from the keep. The guard told her the kobold was her responsibility. She pointed out he was tied up with 50 feet of hemp rope. She was told if he got loose, anything he did would be her responsibility.

Dodan went to the trader and sold his spearheads and the goblin short sword.

That night, Alissa, Arya, and Bran got private rooms while Dodan paid for the common room once again.

* * *

The next day, they learned a hobgoblin came to the Keep the night before, demanding 100 gold coins for the return of an insane priestess by the name of Mad Martha. The Castellan had not paid the ransom but put out the word that if anyone wished to pay for the person’s ransom, they could, but the keep would not be paying for this stranger. The Castellan was also willing to front the money though those who took the loan would be in debt to the Keep until they paid it off.

That same day, Alissa prepared to cast a charm person spell on the kobold. He was still defiant before she cast the spell but then she brought him a bowl of gruel.

“Ugh, your food is terrible!” he said. “I hate it!”

She also offered him some wine, letting the kobold drink some of it.

“This wine is terrible!” he said. “Give me some more!”

She ended up giving half the wineskin and the kobold was plastered by the time she was ready to cast the spell.

“I hate you … *****es,” he slurred. “You … done these … things … I don’t know what they are …”

She cast the spell on him.

“Except for you!” the kobold said. “You’re my best friend!”

She knew the spell would probably last three or four weeks.

“You’re my very best friend,” the kobold said, tears in his drunken eyes. “Oh my gods, I’m so glad you found me!”

He cried drunkenly and then fell asleep. She was convinced the spell had worked and knew she had him for a while. Hours later, after he awoke, she untied him. When walking about the keep, people gave her the strangest looks.

* * *

Later that day, Bran asked Dodan if he could pay for the priest in town to heal him.

“I don’t know if I have enough gold for that,” Dodan said.

“Bullshit!” Bran said.

Dodan gave the man nine silver coins to pay the priest and Bran went to the chapel. He talked to the Curate and put a gold piece into the offering box. The priest was willing to cast another cure light wounds on the man as he seemed to desperate. Bran noticed he watched the box closely and checked it as the man left.

“You see a Halfling around here, you tell him to stay outta here!” the Curate told him.

* * *

Dodan went to the Chapel but as soon as the Curate saw him, he yelled at him.

“Get outta here!” he yelled. “You’re not welcome in here, you little thief!”

He got a broom.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dodan said.

“Get outta here!” the Curate said.

He started hitting Dodan with the broom.

“Get out of my chapel!” the Curate said. “Get out of my church! You’re not welcome here!”

Dodan fled.

* * *

Alissa came to the tavern with the kobold that night. The little creature dug into the gruel she bought him.

“Yea, gruel!” he said in his own tongue. “I love this gruel that you give me!”

Dodan walked in, muttering about untrusting priests.

“Hey, there’s that Halfling!” the kobold said. “Can I kill him?”

Alissa shook her head.

“Dang it!” the kobold said. “Hey, there’s that elf! Can I kill her?”

“No,” Alissa said.

“Dang it!”

“I heard lizard tastes good,” Dodan said.

“Hey, that guy smells good!” the kobold said, gesturing at Bran. “Can I kill him?”

“No,” Alissa said.

“Dang it!”

Alissa actually found Bran’s scent quite offensive. He stank.

“Have you ever eaten lizard?” Dodan said.

“I like hobbit feet though!” the kobold said to Alissa.

Arya just gave the kobold the eye and wondered why he was just walking around.

“You have the best gruel!” the kobold said to Alissa. “You’re the best!”

Dodan wondered if the mage had used the spell on them.

Alissa talked to the kobold about the caves and he told her there were rats in the room to the left as they went in. The kobolds avoided it. There was a food storage room, a guard room, and the chieftain’s room. The chieftain had a key to the storage room and a really big gem on a golden chain around his neck. He also had five females in his room. He told her there were 17 more male kobolds in the tribe, and 23 females, and eight young. She asked about traps and he said there were not anymore; they only had the one and they repaired it pretty often. He guessed it was already fixed.

“As long as you don’t remembered it … don’t tell your friends,” he said. “Maybe they’ll fall in. Well, your non-friends. Your associates. Your … other peoples.” ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1963-Advanced-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-2nd-Edition-“The-Keep-on-the-Borderlands”
Elektra: Datafile (Marvel Cortex System) http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1962-Elektra-Datafile-(Marvel-Cortex-System) Fri, 25 Mar 2016 19:48:14 GMT It has been a log time since I have actually played an RPG simply as a player and not a GM when it comes to tabletop games.That being said, I was... It has been a log time since I have actually played an RPG simply as a player and not a GM when it comes to tabletop games.That being said, I was somewhat excited when I was asked to join a Marvel Knights campaign by a friend. The only catch is that it was the Marvel Cortex system. I am not a fan of the Marvel Cortex System in the least. I actually loathe the system. However,I was caught betwixt two. Should I pass because that system is about as convoluted and unfun to play (unfun is my new word), or should I just put my bias aside and try to make the best of it? In the end, I opted for the latter because...well...I just gosta get my superhero on.

So, I had a choice of characters to choose from and it came down to either Punisher or Elektra, but kind of dark anti-hero types. But now I had the opportunity to play them as I saw fit. So, I went to some Elektra back issues in my private collection and it was pretty much a wrap. I wanted to play Elektra.

Then the snag. Since that system came and went like a weak cold, there were no stats on Elektra. However, through some conversion from the Marvel Classic Advanced RPG (a FAR superior and much more fun system), we were able to get her stats reinterpreted for this system. So now, I post those here because I will be using them. You can follow along by just looking for the Marvel Cortex Group. I'm quite sure it's the only one.


Elektra




Affiliations: Solo d10 / Buddy d8 / Team d6

Distinctions:


  • World Class Assassin
  • Trained by Hand and Chaste
  • Redemption or Damnation


Power Sets:

Mystic Ninjitsu Training

  • Enhanced Reflexes d8
  • Enhanced Stamina d8
  • Enhanced Strength d8
  • Enhanced Speed d8
  • Mind Control d8
  • Telepathy d6


SFX: Chi Healing. Add Enhanced Stamina to your dice pool when recovering stress. Spend 1 PP to recover your own Physical Stress or step back your Physical Trauma.

SFX: Chi Focus. If your pool includes MYSTIC NINJITSU TRAINING die, you may replace two dice of equal size with one stepped-up die.

Limit: Concious Activation. While stressed out, asleep, or unconcious, shutdown MYSTIC NINJITSU TRAINING. Recover MYSTIC NINJISTU when you recover the stress or wake up. If you take mental trauma, shutdown MYSTIC NINJITSU until you recover that trauma.

Deadly Sais

  • Enhanced Durability d8
  • Weapon d6


SFX: Rebound. Against a single target, step up or double your WEAPON die. Remove the highest rolling die and use three dice for your total.

SFX: Grapple. When inflicting a complication on a target, add a d6 and step up your effect die.

SFX: Deep Cut. Add d6 to your attack action pool and step back the highest die in the pool. Step up physical stress inflicted.

Limit: Gear Shutdown. Shut down DEADLY SAIS to gain 1 PP. Take an action vs. The doom pool to recover.

Specialties


  • Acrobat Master d10
  • Combat Master d10
  • Covert Master d10
  • Crime Expert d8
  • Menace Expert d8
  • Mystic Expert d8


Milestones

Master Assassin

1xp: Dealing first physical stress to an enemy
3 xp: Successfully locating target in a confrontation
10 xp: Uncovering the reason for the hit, executing or saving the intending target

Biting the Hand

1 xp: Engage in a fight with Hand forces

3 xp: Declaring a member or hired agent of The Hand as a long time enemy.
10 xp: Foiling a major Hand plot and resolving the issue or join the Hand in their attempts in the plot, seeing it to success.
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Marvel Master http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1962-Elektra-Datafile-(Marvel-Cortex-System)
Superworld: Pursuit from Down Under http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1961-Superworld-Pursuit-from-Down-Under Fri, 22 Jan 2016 17:23:20 GMT Monday, January 18, 2016 (After playing the original *Superworld* scenario “Pursuit from Down Under” Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. with Kyle... Monday, January 18, 2016

(After playing the original Superworld scenario “Pursuit from Down Under” Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, Joey Scott, Aaron Scott, and Hannah Gambino.)

Arclight did several ads for Papa Franchetti of Papa Franchetti’s Pizzerios, a small local pizzeria in The Shops at Freedom in Charlotte, North Carolina. The commercials were fairly simple, with Arclight coming into the pizza shop, where they filmed on site, and really wanting some pizza. Papa Franchetti then came out of the kitchen to encourage Arclight to have pizza. At first, Papa Franchetti tried it with an Italian accent but the director and Arclight both convinced him not to. By the end of the commercial, Arclight ordered a pizza or a calzone. The camera zoomed in on him and he would say “It’s the best!”

The commercials were mostly appearing on local channels but the pay was no not bad. Arclight’s agent was also landing him other commercials in Charlotte and talking to the people at The CW about another appearance on Arrow.

He had gotten his own apartment with Doug and was finally able to move out of Vanguard’s place. He had picked a rather highly-priced apartment in one of the downtown skyscrapers. The VUE at 215 N. Pine Street was upscale and very nice and he got an apartment on the 31st floor. He’d found a nice, though expensive, two bedroom apartment with a balcony. It was fully though spartanly furnished. Doug the Pug loved it.

* * *

Tinker had returned home and improved the tiny jamming field to keep the Grays from picking up on the anti-matter pistol, as he called it. He had put an ad out in the paper for “Tinker’s Fix-It: If it’s broken and electronic, I’ll fix it.” He got a lot of people with appliances and smaller devices showing up to have things fixed.

On Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014, there was a knock at the door and he found a tall, thin man in a suit carrying a metal suitcase.

“I need to talk to you,” the man said. “Can you be discreet?”

“I can be discreet,” Tinker said.

The man entered the apartment and looked around. He put the suitcase on the couch and opened it. At first, Tinker thought it held a ventriloquist dummy folded over. The man unfolded the small figure and stood it up on the floor and Tinker realized it had more mass than a dummy would.

“I need you to fix this,” the man said.

Tinker looked the automaton over, at first thinking it was an older robot. However, it looked virtually brand new and had a porcelain exterior though the joins were slightly exposed. It was faceless except for two eyelike cameras. The back opened up and there were some very complex circuit boards and computer equipment within.

“What’s this for?” he asked.

“My employer … my employer believes that the soul of his son is in this machine and it needs to work,” the man said.

Holy shit, Tinker thought.

“But it has broken down,” the man went on. “The device is 10 years old. Can you fix it? Can you be discreet?”

“I can be discreet, but, I mean, the more information you can give me, the more I have to go on,” Tinker said.

“All right. His son died 10 years ago and he’s convinced that his son’s soul is housed in this device.”

“How did he come to believe this?”

“Because, he had a research laboratory take his son’s brain engrams and place them into this machine.”

“Oh yeah, that’d work.”

“However, recently it has stopped working.”

Tinker looked at the mannequin for a moment.

“Yeah,” he finally said. “I’ll take a look at this.”

“What will you be charging for this?” the man asked. “Or shall I make you an offer?”

“Let me get back to you on that. I’ll need to find out what’s required. I can’t even give you a guesstimation on that right now.”

“Okay.”

The man took out a small notebook and opened it. He handed it to Tinker. There was a small document within, noting he was taking possession of “The Lazarus Device” and took full responsibility to return it, intact, at the very least. Tinker signed it and the man took out a notary public seal and sealed the document. He pulled out a duplicate from the book and handed it to him. There was a phone number Tinker could use to contact him on it.

“Here’s some down payment money in case you need any parts,” the man said.

He put a wad of cash into Tinker’s hand and left without another word. Tinker found there was a $1,000 there.

He took the mannequin back to the extra bedroom where he did most of his work and started inspecting it carefully.

* * *

Edward had been asking around among the homeless people but no more were missing from their ranks. No new terrible things were happening outside of the normal things. Gang violence was still sometimes a problem, as well as people harassing them about getting jobs and homes. Edward took it upon himself to punch some of the people who were harassing them.

* * *

On Friday, October 31, 2014, Arclight got a phone call.

“Arclight speaking,” he said.

“Is this Arclight?” the voice on the other end of the line asked.

“You know it is, baby!”

“Well, this is Mayor Daniel Clodfelter.”

“Oh … yes sir. How are you doing today?”

“We’d like you … we’d like you and your, uh, um, your friends or whatever they’re called …”

“Super friends.”

“Yeah. Arclight and the Super … wait. I thought. Whatever. We would like them to … we want to give you all certificates and medals of meritorious service to the city … at a … at a little gathering next Friday.”

“What kind of metal is the medals?”

“What? It’s just a medal. I don’t know.”

“Is it gold?”

“Sure!”

“All right. We’ll be there.”

“It’ll be next Friday at noon at city hall. Be there by 11.”

“Okay. All right. It was nice talking to you.”

“Don’t forget.”

“Yeah. Yep.”

He hung up. He was still a little bit put off by the death of Tommy McElroy almost a week before. He didn’t like when people died. He sent a post on the beeper: “We have an award ceremony next Friday at noon at city hall. We get gold medals.”

* * *

After working on the mannequin for a few days, Tinker found himself feeling a little strange about the whole thing. He was making good progress though he figured he had between two weeks and a month of work left. The whole interior of the mannequin was filled with computer circuitry, not all of it making a lot of sense and much of it worn out, broken, or burnt. There was a lot of interior damage though the exterior appeared to be sound. He wondered if it had been subjected to an EMP pulse or some kind of strong magnet or powerful current. He also thought it might have been simply 10 years of wear and tear.

He started calling the mannequin “Sonny” and began talking to it like it was aware.

* * *

Arclight and Doug patrolled Charlotte, mostly dealing with petty crimes such as muggings and a few gang dealings. Edward often found them and watched their heroics from a nearby sewer grate.

* * *

On Friday, November 7, 2014, Tinker was the first to arrive at city hall around 11 a.m. He pulled his motorcycle up to the curve and parked it. He wore his armor and hooded mask.

A platform had been set up in front of the building and off to one side in a clear area. About 50 folding chairs stood in front of the platform with a few more near the podium. Behind the large group of folding chairs was a roped-off area for people to come off the street and watch. Several cameras were set up near the platform and microphones on the podium.

As Tinker approached the platform, a young man in a suit approached him.

“Are you one of those … you’re one of the heroes, right?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Tinker said.

“Come right this way!” the intern said. “Come right this way!”

As he led Tinker to the platform, he told him they’d be starting at noon and everyone was very excited.

“The mayor was hoping that … where’s Arclight?” the intern said. “Is he here?”

He looked around.

“Maybe … knowing him, let’s just wait until we start getting excited,” Tinker said.

“That’s all right,” the intern said. “We don’t start until noon.”

He smiled nervously.

“But if he’s not here, in a little while, you can give him a call, right?” he said. “You’ve got his number?”

“Yeah, I can do that,” Tinker said.

“Great. Who else is coming?”

Tinker just gave him a blank look.

“I don’t know, man,” he said.

“Oh,” the intern said. “Sorry. Sorry. Uh … uh … okay.”

“He’s the one that told me to be here.”

“Okay.”

Arclight and Doug the Super Pug flew in a few minutes later, Arclight floating down and landing in the chair, already in the sitting position. Doug miscalculated his speed and angle and crashed into the stage and rolled over and over before leaping to his feet and looking around, trying to see if anyone noticed. Arclight laughed.

“There was some wind shear there, yeah,” Doug said.

The intern saw Arclight and ran over.

“So glad you’re here,” the intern said, pumping Arclight’s hand.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Arclight replied.

“Oh, thanks! I’m one of the assistants to the mayor. Who else is coming?”

“I don’t know. I just sent out beepers to all my people.”

“Could you find out?”

“The beeps to my peeps.”

“The mayor was especially hoping Cool Croc would be here. We’ve got several firefighters who want to present him with a special award for the help he gave them during those fires.”

“Yeah. I’ll go get him.”

“Thanks.”

Arclight flew to the street, lifted a manhole cover and climbed into the sewers below. Edward had actually been watching from a nearby sewer grate.

Great, he thought. Now they know where I am.

Arclight started calling quietly down the wide sewer pipe for Edward.

“Hey, man,” Edward said, coming out of the shadows.

“Dude, the thing’s …” Arclight pointed up towards the street. “You coming to the city hall thing?”

“Uh … I’m not too keen on it.”

“You really should. Everyone wants to see you.”

“Yeah, it’s a good reason to not really go.”

“Just … get in, like, cover up, man.”

“You have a blanket?”

“Yeah! I’ll tell ‘em you’re shy. I’ll take all your questions for you. You just stand behind me and you’ll get a medal.”

“I wish Magic Man were here so he could disguise me.”

“Well, he hasn’t been around in a while so who knows what he’s doing.”

“Yeah, he was my way of getting around outside.”

“A blanket works just as well.”

“Does it?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Got get me a blanket then.”

Arclight left the sewer and found the intern again.

“If you wanna see Cool Croc, I need a blanket,” he said.

“A blanket?” the intern said, turning from the TV crews he’d been talking to.

“He’s shy. He doesn’t want to be seen.”

“All right, I’ll get you a blanket.”

The man went into city hall and returned with a Red Cross blanket a few minutes later. Arclight took it to Edward.

“Look, you even get to keep this now,” he said.

“Nice,” Edward said. “I can give it to one of the homeless people after the show. They probably would enjoy that.”

“You coming?”

“Sure.”

“All right!”

Edward wrapped himself in the blanket, pulling it around him like a robe, and they left the storm sewers. Arclight immediately became really bright so as to get most of the attention for himself. The two walked to the platform.

Before noon, people had filled most of the chairs in front of the platform. There were city councilmen and women, other officials, the police and fire chiefs, and several firefighters in dress uniform. The firefighters waved at Edward and he waved back. Arclight told Tinker Edward was very shy, explaining the blanket, and asked the man to help if he got really nervous. Mayor Clodfelter arrived shortly before the ceremony. He seemed happy to see them and shook all of their hands.

“And you’re the one that helped with the fires?” he said to Edward.

“We all did,” Edward said.

“Yes, that’s great,” Mayor Clodfelter said. “That’s great.”

“I-I didn’t help with the fires,” Doug the Super Pug admitted. “I didn’t really help with the fires. I helped with other stuff though.”

“This is a talking dog?” the mayor said, looking at Doug. “You have a talking dog.”

“Of course I do,” Arclight said.

“Okay,” Mayor Clodfelter said. “I hadn’t heard about that.”

He told them he’d introduce them at noon and they could answer questions, make a speech, or whatever they wanted to do. People from the street started to gather behind the chairs in front of the platform.

* * *

Yaara Tandon owned a flower shop northeast of downtown in NoDa, the arts district in Charlotte, in the North Charlotte neighborhood. Her little shop had a laboratory in the back and a small apartment above. She generally sold flowers and plants as well as helped her neighbors who needed her green thumb. She had also recently been experimenting with using different plants to create different effects.

She was bicycling by city hall when she saw the crowd out front and stopped to see what was going on. It looked like some kind of ceremony was taking place and she recognized some of the heroes of Charlotte.

* * *

By noon, most of the chairs were filled and a dozen or so people were standing in the roped-off area to watch. Arclight, Edward, and Tinker sat in three of the dozen chairs set up on the platform. Mayor Clodfelter went to the mic and tapped it. Arclight had just sent Doug the Super Pug to go get them coffee and hot chocolate.

“Check, check,” the mayor said good-naturedly. “Is this thing on?”

He told an unfunny joke to loosen up the crowd. Then a hissing noise came from above.

I knew it! Edward thought.

Looking up, they saw four tall mechs dropping towards the ground. The humanoid-shaped machines were painted blue and white with the work A.T.T.A.C.K. stenciled on the chest of each one. They appeared to be armored, though joints and other vulnerable spots could also be seen between the armor plating. Each of them had some kind of nozzle or barrel on their wrists as well as a long cannon barrel mounted in the left shoulder. Two of them carried what appeared to be some kind of long, modified minigun with large ammunition drums.

They landed on city hall grounds roughly in a square around the platform.

“Do not be alarmed!” loudspeakers blared from one of the mechs. The accent was Australian. “We are from the Australian Tactical Training and Armor Control Kluge, here to protect you from a dangerous animal. Please do not interfere!”

“What?” Tinker said quietly, moving in front of Edward.

He looked up and about a mile above was what looked like a large cargo jet of unusual design, circling. Arclight looked up as well, also moving in front of Edward. Edward noticed the mechs had an open top and he could actually see the pilots’ heads behind a semi-transparent windscreen. The men wore helmets.

People in the seats were starting to scatter, as were about half the people standing in the roped-off area behind them. The other people standing got out their cell phones and started to record what was going on.

“What is the meaning of this!?!” Arclight yelled at Mayor Clodfelter.

The mayor, trying to get off the platform, ignored him.

In the crowd of civilians, Yaara Tandon ducked under the rope line, pulled her scarf up over the lower half of her face, and ran towards a nearby tree.

“What do you want!?!” Arclight yelled at the mechs.

The machines moved forward as quickly as a car might drive, crashing towards the platform and surrounding the three on stage.

“Step away from the crocodile!” the loudspeakers blared from one of the mechs again.

Two of them raised their right arms, pointing the barrels on them at the stage. The two with the miniguns also pointed in their direction, though they were not yet spinning. Tinker drew his laser pistol and pointed it at the mech that had spoken. He noticed the pilot was rather exposed on the back of the mech, though he didn’t have a good shot at him. Edward flung off the blanket and drew the rifle from his back.

Yaara Tandon made it to the tree.

“Last time I checked, you’re in the United States of America!” Arclight shouted. “I think your further from your jurisdiction … or however the **** you say that. Out of your jurisdiction!”

“We have permission to retrieve this animal from your government!” came over the mech’s loudspeakers.

Then they opened fire.

Each of them fired from the wrist cannons, which belched forth a blast of energy of some strange kind. One of the blasts nearly struck Edward but he ducked to one side. The blast struck the platform but left no residue or mark. Another blast came from the opposite direction but missed him as well. The other blasts missed Arclight and Tinker.

“Step away from the animal!” came over the loudspeakers.

Tinker fired his laser pistol at the shoulder cannon on the mech that spoke. The beam missed completely.

“Arclight, how fast can you fly?” Edward said.

“Really fast,” Arclight said.

“Really fast?”

“Really fast.”

Yaara Tandon, near the tree, started fiddling with the strange chemicals and potions on her belt, mixing the various plant extracts she carried. Arclight flew directly at the mech that had been talking to them, punching the top of the mech and denting the armor.

“I’m gonna hurt you,” he said as he struck. “Crikey mate!”

Then he noticed the mech had an open top and there was a man sitting in it. The man looked very surprised and the mech tried to swat Arclight away but he leaned back and the huge arm missed him completely.

Another mech lowered its shoulder cannon and there was a loud report. A black mass burst from the gun and quickly expanded to form a net trailing a line. It flew at Edward but he leapt out of the way and it slammed into the platform, sliding along it. A blade slid over the front of the cannon and cut the steel cable connected to the wire net. The cannon clicked as it reloaded another charge.

Another mech fired its wrist cannon and the blast struck Tinker. He shook as if he was having a seizure and then fell to the ground, stunned. The other mech fired his wrist cannon at Edward and the blast struck the crocodile as well. However, he resisted the painful paralyzing energy.

Arclight flew over the front of the mech he faced.

“I’m going to punch you in your real face now!” he said.

He slammed his fist into the man’s face, breaking his nose. The man’s head slammed back into the back of his chair and his eyes rolled up. The mech leaned backwards and fell onto the ground.

“Good day, mate!” Arclight quipped.

One of the mechs turned towards him.

“He killed Tom!” came over the loudspeakers, again in an Australian accent.

The mech raised its minigun and the barrels began spinning. Then the gun opened up on him but the blast went wide and missed altogether. Another mech fired its net cannon at Edward but the net flew over Edward’s head and crashed to the platform. Again, the cannon cut the steel cable connected to the net free. Another mech fired its stun cannon at Edward but he ducked easily out of the way.

Tinker struggled to move.

Edward drew out the frigid gun he’d stolen from Absolute Zero and spun the dial Tinker had labeled for him. He turned it to the setting that did less cold damage but encased things in ice. He aimed and fired at the minigun and ice formed on the barrels as they spun. The minigun barrels slowed and then came to a stop with a grinding noise.

Yaara Tandon, still standing beside the tree, wanted to go over to help the heroes, having made a potion that would protect them. She worried about getting gunned down, though. Finally, she flung the potion towards them, but it fell short, not reaching the platform but landing in front of the chairs in the grass there. Only Edward noticed.

Arclight flew at the mech that had just fired at him, flying at the pilot.

“I’m gonna send you to the land down under,” he said.

“Nooo!” the man cried.

He punched the man in the face, breaking that man’s nose as well. The man was knocked out by the massive blow and his mech toppled over onto its back.

Across the lawn, the other mech with the minigun opened fire on Arclight, aiming at his back. He missed the completely as well. The last mech fired his shoulder cannon at Edward and the net struck the crocodile, folding around him and trapping him.

Tinker finally felt the terrible paralyzation fade away. He saw Edward get snared by the net and so rolled over, grabbing his laser pistol, and fired at the steel cable connected to the net Edward was trapped within. The beam missed altogether. Edward fiddled with the frigid gun and used it on the net. The wire mesh was covered in frost but held together. He felt a blast of cold and saw frost form on part of the platform.

Yaara Tandon started running across the lawn, heading for the other tree. Arclight flew at the mech that had fired the minigun at him.

“I don’t think you’re koala-fied for this job!” he quipped.

He punched the man in the face and this time heard not only the crack of the man’s nose breaking, but the crunch of his skull as well. The man’s face was partially collapsed and Arclight realized he was going to die if he didn’t get immediate medical attention, maybe even if he did. The mech stopped moving altogether.

“Oh my God,” Arclight muttered.

A whirring noise came from the last remaining mech and the steel cable went taut and started pulling Edward towards the cannon on the mech’s shoulder. He was pulled off the edge of the platform and into the grass.

Yaara Tandon ran the rest of the way to the tree. Once she got there, she started mixing up a potion.

Arclight worked the complex buckles holding the dying man into the mech.

As Edward was pulled towards the mech, the rockets on the sides of the things feet started to glow with power and hiss as they ignited. Tinker fired at the steel cable again and the laser struck the target. The cable glowed red but didn’t part. He quickly stood up. Edward shoved the barrel of the frigid gun through one of the net’s holes and fired at the rocket booster on one side of the mech. It was covered in frost and the rocket engine coughed and flared but didn’t shut down completely.

Arclight had gotten the dying man out of his buckles and looked around. He saw Edward being pulled towards the other mech so he abandoned the man and flew at the last mech, punching the man there in the face, this time without a quip. The man was knocked unconscious by the blow but the line continued to reel Edward in.

Edward was dragged to the end of the cannon before the line stopped, leaving him hanging about 25 feet off the ground. He saw a woman he didn’t recognize move away from a tree.

“Tinker! Look out behind you!” he yelled.

“What?” Tinker yelled, spinning around, gun in hand.

He saw the woman who had partially covered her face with her scarf but didn’t see any more mechs.

“She threw something at us!” Edward yelled.

Arclight flew towards the man he’d almost killed and flew away with him, heading for the hospital.

Doug flew in almost right after Arclight disappeared. He had a cardboard drink tray with several covered cups on it in his mouth. He muttered something unintelligible to them. Then he put the tray down on the edge of the platform and looked around, confused.

“Aw,” he said, looking at the mechs. “Are those for us? Are those the medals?”

The firemen were still amidst the chairs, having taken cover when the gunfire erupted. As a group, they headed towards Edward.

“Get a fire truck out here to help get him down!” Tinker said to them.

“Gotcha, chief!” one of them said to him and headed off.

The others continued towards Edward.

Tinker looked around and spotted Mayor Clodfelter. He had obviously fallen during the combat and was not yet out of the area. Tinker strode over to the man.

“I need these,” he said, gesturing at the mechs.

“Well, they … they belong to these people!” Mayor Clodfelter said.

“These people don’t matter!”

“They said that that …”

The mayor pointed at Edward.

“… they said he was a dangerous animal,” he finished.

“He’s - he’s one of us!” Tinker said.

“But he’s an animal!”

“I don’t care!”

“But both Federal and State law state animals do not have any civil rights. Like robots or the dead.”

Tinker punched the man in the face, merely clipping him in the chin without really hurting him. Mayor Clodfelter stumbled back.

“How dare you?” he cried. “Get away from me! Officer! Arrest this man! Arrest this man for assault!”

Tinker grabbed him by the lapels of his suit and shook him.

“He’s one of us, you bastard!” he shouted in the man’s face.

“Let me go!” Mayor Clodfelter cried. “Let me go!”

Tinker flung him back and he fell into the grass. He yelled at Tinker he hadn’t heard the last of it. Tinker lit a cigarette and headed back to the others.

The police chief was heading over towards the mech holding Edward and, when Tinker looked around, he noticed it didn’t look like anyone had noticed the altercation between him and the mayor. The people holding cell phones were pointing them at that mech. The firemen were examining the mech, a few looking for ways to climb up while others positioned themselves under Edward in case he fell. Police Chief Dean was looking up at the crocodile. Doug flew up to the trapped crocodile.

“Hey!” the talking dog said.

“Hey,” Edward said.

“Whatcha doing?”

“Uh … got caught.”

“That sucks!”

“It does.”

“Do you want to get free?”

“Yes.”

“Um … hmmm … I got an idea.”

“Okay.”

“Okay. Okay. Ready?”

“All right.”

Doug gripped the net in his mouth and apparently tried to lift it up without luck.

“Okay, we better wait for the firemen,” he said.

“Oh,” Edward said. “Yeah, I’ll wait a little bit.”

Yaara Tandon walked over to the mech receiving all the attention. She waved at Edward.

“Hey,” he said.

She took out a bottle with the potion she’d made. She held it up and showed it to him, then took the cork out. She tried to splash Edward with the potion. Unfortunately, it came back down right on top of her. She vanished.

“Where did she go?” Tinker asked.

“Holy crap!” Doug the Super Pug said. “What happened to that lady?”

“What was that all about?” Tinker asked.

“Did you know her?” Doug asked Edward. “Was she a witch? I think she melted! Arclight had us watch Wizard of Oz last week. It was really good. I liked the flying monkeys … and that little dog too.”

* * *

Yaara Tandon found herself in a wide storm sewer. She looked around and realized where she was. The potion was supposed to teleport the crocodile downward 20 feet but it had struck her and sent her down instead. She started looking for a way out.

* * *

Arclight arrived at Carolinas Medical Center as quickly as he could, taking the injured man to the emergency room. They got the man immediately to the ICU and the doctors and nurses did everything they could. Unfortunately, they were unable to save the man’s life. The doctor finally came out and told Arclight the man he’d brought had died. Arclight moaned and looked at the floor.

* * *

The fireman returned with a cherry picker and an arc welder. They got Edward into the basket and then two men cut the line and brought the basket down. Everyone helped unravel Edward from the net. Several police cars also arrived from across the street with numerous policemen putting down a perimeter and guarding the mechs. Ambulances also arrived and the men had been removed from the fallen mechs and taken to the hospital. The still-standing machine with the man inside was scaled using the cherry picker and firemen’s ladders and the man was removed and taken to the hospital as well. The men’s sidearms resembled Edward’s rifle in design and the police confiscated them.

Edward and Tinker watched everything. Tinker drank the coffee he’d ordered and Edward sipped on a hot chocolate. Doug drank water: hot chocolate made him feel sick and he didn’t like coffee. Edward had picked up the decorative potion bottle with a narrow neck. It was not labeled. He guessed it made people vanish.

“What happened to that lady?” he asked.

Doug had sniffed around the spot the lady had disappeared and was convinced she was some kind of witch and had melted. Tinker found the police chief coordinating a few flatbed trucks and cranes they were going to use to remove the mechs. He was also talking to a couple of city councilmen, who didn’t seem to have any idea what had happened.

Tinker really wanted one of the mechs.

“I need … I need to figure out what these things are and what they do,” he said to Chief Arnold.

“We’ve got to keep them for evidence,” Chief Arnold replied. “For now. I’m not sure what’s going on. Once we figure it out, we’ll see. How about that?”

“How about I help with the police to figure out what they do?” Tinker said. “And then afterwards …”

“Yes,” Chief Arnold replied. “Afterwards, we’ll see. Yes. That sounds fair.”

Tinker introduced himself for the first time to the man.

“I’m Tinker with FORCE,” he said. “I want to help out however I can.”

“Good to have another hero around,” Chief Dean said.

Not long after that, Yaara Tandon returned.

“So … I tried to help,” she said when she approached them.

“There she is!” Doug said. “She’s back!”

“But that didn’t work out too well,” she said.

“What?” Edward said.

“Are you a witch?” Doug asked.

“What happened?” Edward asked.

“Are you a witch?” Doug asked again.

“No,” she said.

“Why did you melt?” he asked.

“Yeah, so I tried to use teleportation to get you down but … uh … it backfired a little bit,” she said.

“So, these things teleport you places?” Edward asked, holding up the bottle he’d found.

“That one,” she replied, pointing to the bottle, “is supposed to be a force field, but then you got captured. I make concoctions.”

“Oh, that’s cool,” Edward said.

“Wait are you a─?” Doug said. Then he turned to Edward. “Is she a superhero?” Then he whispered: “I’m a superhero!”

“No,” she said.

“I am!” Doug replied. “I’m Doug the Pug. Super pug! Doug the Super Pug! No relation to Doug the Pug. I don’t know that guy.”

He winked at Edward as Tinker walked up. Edward gave Doug a thumbs up and Doug looked at his own paws and their lack of thumbs.

“You okay man?” Tinker said to Edward.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Edward said.

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“All right.”

Tinker lit another cigarette. Then he noticed Yaara Tandon.

“She’s a witch,” Doug said. “Super Witch. That’s her name, I bet.”

“Super Witch?”

“Yeah, she, like, makes potions that … teleports people and makes force fields. See, I was listening! You didn’t think I was but I was listening!”

She glared at the talking dog.

“Yeah?” Tinker said to Doug and turned away.

“Yeah!” Doug said. He turned to Edward and said in a whisper: “See, he listens to me.”

“You did good, Doug,” Edward said.

“Thanks!” Doug said. “I brought coffee.

Tinker told Edward the police were going to let him look at the mechs and figure out what he could. Edward told him he was pretty sure he knew where they came from.

“Is that right?” Tinker said, taking a drag on the cigarette.

“Yeah,” Edward said.

“Yeah?” Tinker said. “You wanna shed a little light on that?”

“Sure,” Edward said.

He told them the Australian Tactical Training and Armor Control Kluge or A.T.T.A.C.K. was a company based in Australia, where he was from. He said they were trying to catch him so he had fled to America, but apparently they had found him. He noted it was why he was trying to stay out of the media. Doug asked why they wanted to catch him and he said apparently he had the director’s son’s soul inside him.

“What!?!” Doug said.

“This sounds very familiar,” Tinker said.

“His soul?” Doug said.

“Yeah,” Edward said.

“So, are you really that guy?” Doug asked.

“Kind of. In a way.”

“Was his name Edward?”

“No.”

“Oh, it wasn’t?”

“Kid’s soul, huh?” Tinker said.

Edward told them there was an experiment to put the human psyche into animals. Edward was a test animal. Since the director’s son was unconscious and going to die, they decided, as a last resort, to try to save him by putting him into Edward. It didn’t exactly work. The director wanted him to be his son but instead, Edward had merely gotten smarter.

“So, you’re really the crocodile?” Doug asked.

“Yeah,” Edward said.

“With like human …” Doug said.

“Characteristics,” Edward said.

“… like hanging on,” Doug said.

“Yeah,” Edward said.

“So, you don’t remember anything about the kid’s life?” Tinker said.

“That’s where … he wasn’t a kid,” Edward said. “He was a firefighter, which is why I’ve got …”

“Oh, so son not child,” Tinker said. “Just son.”

“Yeah,” Edward said.

He told them the director was upset and claimed Edward stole his son’s soul.

“But it was forced on you!” Doug said.

“Yeah,” Edward said.

“That’s like rape!” Doug said.

“Wow,” Edward said. “All right.”

Doug pointed out that it wasn’t like Edward had taken the soul, it was placed in him. He called the director a jerk and Edward noted that was why he’d left. Doug asked how Edward had gotten opposable thumbs and Edward told him he’d had the suit since he was just a couple of months old. It was modified as he got older. As it was made for humans, it shaped his physiology as he got older. Doug was impressed.

“I wish I had opposable thumbs,” Doug said. “It would make video games so much easier.”

“It would,” Edward said. “But, if I take the suit off, that’s why I can’t stay without the suit.”

“Would you turn back into a crocodile without the suit?”

“No, it’s just my muscles start aching.”

“Wow! I didn’t know any of this. Did you know this, Tinker?”

“No, I had no idea.”

“Okay. I’m not mad at you then, because if you hadn’t told me, I’d be really sad.”

Yaara Tandon had been listening, wide-eyed.

“Well,” she said. “You can keep that─”

“Nice!” Edward said.

“─for later. I can make more.”

“Is this, like, magic?”

“It’s … flowers. It’s cool, huh? But I have a store but you could come by anytime you need more potions and stuff.”

“Do you have potions that give opposable thumbs?” Doug asked.

“No,” she said.

She gave them the address and phone number of her store in NoDa. They entered it into their cell phones and pagers. She noticed Doug had a pager clipped onto his super suit. Tinker put her name on his phone as “Aerith.”

“Hey, where’s Arclight?” Doug asked.

They looked around but there was no sign of the hero. Yaara Tandon went back to her bicycle and left.

“Yeah, where is Arclight?” Tinker said.

“He was gone when I got here,” Doug said.

“I didn’t see him,” Edward said.

Edward paged Arclight: “Where are you?”

There was no reply.

* * *

Arclight didn’t even look at his pager when it beeped. He just took out the device and crushed it.

* * *

“What if something happened to him?” Edward said.

Doug gasped.

“Nothing’s going to happen to him,” Tinker said.

“I’m gonna go look for him!” Doug said.

He flew off in search of Arclight.

“So, I tried to punch the mayor,” Tinker said. “Threw him on the ground. I probably ought to get outta here.”

“I’m probably not too safe here either,” Edward said.

“You can come back to my place if you want,” Tinker said.

They were approached by the police about then and asked to give statements on the entire attack. They went to the station and the police got a contact number for Edward and Tinker. Tinker ended up heading back to city hall to help the police with the mechs. Edward went home to the sewers.

* * *

Doug found Arclight at the Carolinas Medical Center.

“Arclight, what’s going on?” he asked. “Whatsa matter? Whatsa matter? Whatsa matter? Whatsa matter? Whatsa matter? Whatsa matter?”

He nudged up against Arclight’s leg.

“We should go home,” Arclight said.

They went home.

When they got there, landing on the balcony and entering the place, Arclight went into his room and shut the door. The television came on out in the living room where Doug, sans opposable thumbs, fumbled with the remote before getting a news channel. He flipped a lot though, so the stations kept changing.

Through the wall, Arclight could hear the news report on the attack on city hall and some of the questions that had arisen. Very little information was yet available. On FOX News, there was plenty of opinions about animal rights, all of it opposed to said rights, on the grounds that people might try to marry their hamster or something.

No country in the world gave animals equal rights, not even those animals who had human or equivalent intelligence. The lack of basic civil rights extended to computer AIs and sentient robots, as well as the dead who might still be walking around. The issues had been addressed by the American Civil Liberties Union, PETA, and other organizations and political parties, but no court cases had been resolved either giving said “persons” civil rights.

* * *

Tinker found the mechs exceedingly high tech. The two weapons on the arms were some kind of stun cannon or paralysis ray. The shoulder cannons were made to fire the nets and cables. The miniguns were high-tech but not exceptionally interesting. The entire mechs were controlled via joysticks and foot pedals and were also very high-tech and well-built. Other than the miniguns, none of the weapons were actually deadly. They also appeared to be flight-capable though he guessed the flight would be slow and clumsy.

* * *

The news was filled with more and more information on what happened at city hall. FOX News reported that an Australian company received permission from Mayor Clodfelter to recover an animal they owned: one of the superheroes of Charlotte - Cool Croc. Since animals had no rights, it was probably going to have to be decided in court what would be done. Other news agencies reported the mayor thought Edward was possibly dangerous. It was also reported that Jack Kelly, the director of A.T.T.A.C.K., was demanding the return of what he called Experimental Subject 6641, whom it was believed was the Cool Croc or Vicegrip. A picture of a man with a mustache wearing a blue beret was shown of Kelly. It was also reported one of the people involved in the assault on city hall was killed during the scuffle with local super heroes. Arclight was being sought for questioning. There was also some question as to the mayor’s part in everything that happened. Mayor Clodfelter was not commenting on the incident.

* * *

On Saturday, November 8, 2014, Tinker sent a message to Edward, asking him to meet him at his place. Edward arrived shortly after. They both got a page from Doug the Super Pug.

“Something’s wrong with Arclight,” it read. “He’s really sad.”

Tinker guessed the advertising with Papa Franchetti’s Pizzerios must have fallen though.

“We need to make it so they can’t just come and claim you,” Tinker told Edward. “Technically, you have a human soul. Technically. You have been given a human soul. I think that should be up for debate whether or not you have rights.”

“Yeah, but zombies have human souls,” Edward said. “And they don’t have rights.”

“People think zombies are dead. People think they have the absence of a soul. But you were given a human soul.”

“I don’t know. It’s gonna be hard to fight.”

“I still think it’s worth doing.”

Tinker decided he was going to look into FORCE for a lawyer for superheroes and their issues. He was angry at the mayor for luring them there. Edward was annoyed and wondered if the mayor didn’t want him to protect the citizens of Charlotte. Tinker contacted FORCE online to try to get a lawyer.

* * *

By Sunday, November 9, 2014, the news reports were starting to sound a little more desperate for Arclight to contact the police. Tinker and Edward paged Doug and tried to get the address. It took Doug a while to figure out all the details.

“Have that witch bring some flowers,” Doug texted them back before they came. “Super Witch. You know who I’m talking about.”

“Hey, you got flowers that might cheer up our friend?” Tinker texted Yaara Tandon.

“Yeah,” she replied.

“Doug said to bring some flowers.”

“Cool.”

They arranged to meet her at Arclight’s apartment at The VUE. Yaara Tandon had pink daisies growing in a pot. Doug answered the door with a “Come in!” as he had trouble with doors. They looked at the nice apartment and Tinker was a little envious of the place.

“Oh, thank goodness!” Doug said. “Arclight hasn’t been out of his room since Friday. I’m so worried.”

“Let’s see what we got going on,” Tinker said. “Edward, go check on him.”

Edward looked at him.

“He likes you more!” Tinker said.

“I don’t know what to say!” Edward said.

“Just … knock on the door.”

“Hey, that guy was a scumbag anyway?”

“No!”

Tinker walked over to the door, pushing Edward out of the way.

“Hey man,” he called through the door. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Arclight said.

“He’s not fine,” Doug whispered.

“We got you some flowers,” Tinker said through the door.

There was no reply.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” Tinker muttered.

He opened the bedroom door. The room was very nice though there was a bit of a smell. All the blinds were drawn. Arclight sat at an empty desk facing the window. A half-filled bottle of whiskey was on the desk next to an empty glass. It was very dim.

This is ****ing depressing, Tinker thought.

He went over and opened the curtains, letting in the light. Then he grabbed the glass and poured himself a drink.

“What the **** are you doing?” he said to Arclight.

“I killed a man,” Arclight muttered.

“So what?”

“It’s not - we’re heroes! We’re not supposed to kill!”

“You know what? If you didn’t kill him, he probably would have killed your friend.”

“I know.”

“So, would that have been better?”

“I don’t want anyone to die.”

“Well … tough shit. People are gonna die. And that’s part of the job. You can deal with it and be a man or you can sit and sulk.”

“Just … I could’ve saved him. I had him in my hands. He didn’t make it. If I’d have just been faster …”

“You did everything that you could. That counts for something.”

“I’ve … punched so many people. It’s never … I’ve never been strong enough to kill a man. I’ve just recklessly been punching everyone and … he was the first one that just … died on impact. I just … I don’t know my own strength. I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Well, if it weren’t for you, we probably would have all died. Do, you may have accidently killed one ******* … but because of that, the rest of us are okay.”

“I just … I just need some time. I don’t know.”

“You’ve had plenty of time. We need you. Everyone’s asking about you. We can’t cover for you anymore. We don’t have the - we aren’t Arclight. People look at us and they just see the B-class heroes. They’re not going to listen to us.”

“Or villain in my case,” Edward said.

“You’re not a villain,” Arclight said. “And you’re not B-class heroes. We’re a ****ing team.”

“We are!” Tinker said. “Right now we’re missing somebody and he’s in here being a dick.”

Arclight took a swig of whiskey from the bottle.

“That’s right,” Tinker said.

“All right, let me shower,” Arclight said. “I’ll be out in a bit.”

“Good man,” Tinker said.

In 15 minutes, Arclight was ready to go. He flew down to the police station and was questioned by police and then charged with manslaughter. Chief Dean advised Arclight to get a lawyer. He told him not the leave the city but Chief Dean told him he’d be released on his own recognizance due to his service to the city. Arclight got a lawyer, who thought sure he would exonerated of all charges. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1961-Superworld-Pursuit-from-Down-Under
Basic Roleplaying System: Deadworld Session Five http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1960-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Five Wed, 13 Jan 2016 19:51:43 GMT Monday, January 11, 2016 (After playing the *Basic Roleplaying System* original setting “Deadworld” with James Brown, Katie Gallant, Aaron Scott,... Monday, January 11, 2016

(After playing the Basic Roleplaying System original setting “Deadworld” with James Brown, Katie Gallant, Aaron Scott, Joey Scott, Kyle Matheson, and Hannah Gambino Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.)

After Sofia Rosita Mariana Fernando Vasquez II Junior drove off at speed, leaving Jaiqwan Jayshawn Skadooter and Floyd Wayne by the side of the Road in the early morning hours of Wednesday, July 22, 2015, Jorman Flanagan leaned forward from the back seat.

“You know, you left Floyd back there too,” he said.

“What?” she replied.

She was silent for a minute or so.

“Fine, if he wants to go with that jackass, let him!” she finally said.

“Maybe we should just go back for him,” Flanagan said.

The woman turned and glared at him. Then she slammed on the brakes and pulled off the side of the road.

“Sure!” she said angrily. “You want to go back for him, you go back! Get out!”

Flanagan slipped out of the 4Runner and she floored it and tore away from him. He looked around a moment at the dark road and then started hoofing it back down 421 towards Deep Gap. She had managed to get them several miles away from the others before stopping, he wasn’t pleased to see.

* * *

Leslie Stanwick, aka “Blaze,” was a 16-year-old young skinny punk who lived with his divorced mother in a crappy little apartment in Deep Gap, North Carolina. There were four other apartments on the building behind a gravel parking lot. Their apartment was a two-bedroom and he had the bedroom in the front because it was bigger.

He was awoken in the middle of the night by what sounded like a car wreck. He looked at his clock and saw it was almost 3 a.m. It sounded like a car rolled over some ways away, probably on 421. He tried to get back to sleep without luck so he went to the tiny kitchen for a snack. A little Mountain Dew Code Red and some Twinkies would hit the spot. His mom was at work in Boone and wouldn’t be home until about 7 a.m.

* * *

Abraham Jandhyala was woken from his sleep by the blaring of a stereo in one of the nearby apartments. An emergency medical technician, Jandhyala was Indian, originally coming from India, but had lived in the states for some time. He was 32 years old and had a small, inexpensive apartment in Deep Gap, though he worked in Boone.

The music that woke him up was Nine Inch Nails. It sounded like it was coming from the apartment next door, where the Stanwicks lived. He guessed Blaze was up.

Nice, he thought. He’s always had the greatest taste in music.

He got up and got a drink of water. He also checked his beeper. He was not on call, it being one of his rare nights off, but he wanted to see what was going on and was surprised to see there were no pages whatsoever since about 11 p.m. That was unprecedented in his three years working as an EMT. There were always calls for ambulances in the night but there was absolutely nothing from Boone in the last four hours.

Nice, he thought. Seems like a pretty quiet night. Nothing wrong.

It was a little strange though. The last dispatch was at 11:04 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21, 2015.

That’s really odd, he thought. Oh well.

* * *

Blaze, enjoying his Twinkies and Code Red, heard a banging on the apartment door. He answered it and found Mr. Frisby there.

“S’up,” Blaze said.

Mr. Frisby was a fat, balding man with a messy mustache who reminded him of Carl from Aqua Team Hunger Force. He wore a wife beater t-shirt and striped boxer shorts. His face was very red. He always spoke with a lisp.

“Whataya?” he said, his southern accent making him almost impossible to understand. “Shut that shit up! What th’ hell’s wrong with you!?! Shut that shit up!”

He shoved Blaze aside and walked into the apartment, going to the stereo and bending over it, trying to figure out how to turn it off. Blaze picked up the baseball bat nearby.

“Get out of my house, man!” Blaze said. “Yo, get outta here!”

Mr. Frisby finally just pulled the plug out of the wall. The music stopped.

“This is my mom’s house!” Blaze said.

“If you turn this thing back on, I’m comin’ back here,” Mr. Frisby said. “With the po-leese!”

He stomped out, grabbing the door and slamming it shut behind him.

Jandhyala had opened his own front door and watched Mr. Frisby leave the apartment. The man walked by, nodding at him as he went.

“Hey,” Jandhyala said. “Mind not slamming the door at three in the morning?”

Mr. Frisby looked at him, open-mouthed.

“Yeah, sorry Jandhyala,” he said.

“No problem, dude,” Jandhyala said.

He walked back to his apartment, watching the man as he passed. Blaze had opened up apartment door again.

“Yeah!” he said.

“What an ass,” Jandhyala said to Blaze.

“You want some Twinkies, man?” Blaze asked.

“Dude! Yes!” Jandhyala said.

Blaze remembered the car accident that had woke him up.

“Hey, man, you go out to that car accident?” Blaze asked as they entered the apartment.

“Nah, today’s my day off,” Jandhyala said.

“Cool, man,” Blaze said.

He realized there could be dead bodies at the wreck.

“You wanna go check it out?” Blaze said. “There might be some cool dead bodies.”

“I guess,” Jandhyala replied.

“Blood and stuff.”

“I guess if there’s a wreck, we should at least check it out. Make sure everyone’s okay.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

Jandhyala went back to the apartment and got dressed, grabbing his pocket knife and a first-aid kit. The two then walked over to 421 and saw a few cars already at the site of the wreck, apparently. In the intersection of 421 and 221 was a large overturned SUV. Several people were clustered around it, just standing there. It looked like it had rolled over.

* * *

Flanagan reached the intersection of 421 and 221 as a couple of other people approached a wrecked SUV in the intersection he had not remembered being there when he had passed by the place over a half hour before. He realized the people wandering around it were more zombies.

He crept by the walking dead in the darkness but they all saw him and turned his way.

* * *

Blaze and Jandhyala saw the man walk towards the SUV and then try to creep around the people there. The people all started walking towards him. He ran at the two. The people from the car slowly walked their direction.

“Zombies!” Flanagan said. “Get away!”

“Wait what?” Blaze said.

“What?” Jandhyala said.

“They’re zombies!” Flanagan said.

“Dude, you trippin’,” Blaze said. “What chu talkin’ ‘bout?”

“Well, if you want to wait a second, you can see them up close,” Flanagan said. “And they’re gonna try to bite you.”

“Is everything okay over there?” Jandhyala asked. “I’ve got a med-kit.”

“They’re zombies,” Flanagan said again. “They’re done.”

“Wait,” Jandhyala said. “Okay …”

“The med-kit might be useful though,” Flanagan said.

The people continued to walk slowly towards them.

“So, we should probably get out of the street because there’s like five them coming at us,” he said.

“Is anyone in the car?” Jandhyala asked.

“They’re zombies!”

“Zombies aren’t real!”

“Yo, Abraham,” Blaze said. “Zombies?”

Flanagan backed away from the approaching crowd.

“Look at them!” he said. “They’re going slow and they’re not talking! What the **** are they if they’re not zombies!”

“Hey,” Jandhyala said to the people approaching. “What happened here?”

The one closest to him, still about 10 feet away, opened his mouth wide and moved at him. Jandhyala backed up.

“Shit, Abraham, man!” Blaze shrieked. “They are zombies!”

“They are zombies!” Flanagan echoed.

“Wait, something’s wrong with ‘em but─” Jandhyala said.

Blaze didn’t wait. He stepped forward and threatened the man in the front with his baseball bat. The man didn’t appear to really even notice but continued towards Jandhyala.

“He’s in shock!” Jandhyala said. “He’s not a zombie.”

It was still unnerving.

Blaze swung his baseball bat at the approaching man’s legs. He struck the man and something snapped in one of the legs as the man went down without a sound.

“Jesus, Blaze!” Jandhyala cried. “What the hell!?!”

“He was trying to bite you, dude!” Blaze said.

“He was just in a wreck!” Jandhyala said.

The fallen man reached forward and grabbed Blaze by the leg. Blaze brought the bat down on the man’s head as hard as he could. The man’s skull cracked and his head slammed against the concrete with a terrible sound. A little blood appeared on the man’s head, but he didn’t make a sound and didn’t slow down at all. Flanagan flung a knife at the man but it missed and flew into the darkness.

“What’s wrong with you people!?!” Jandhyala said. “Stop beating this guy! He just got in a car wreck!”

The man on the ground tried to bite Blaze on the leg but the youth shoved the Twinkie he’d been holding into his mouth. This seemed to confuse him only a little as he continued to try to bite the boy’s leg. Blaze beat on him with the baseball bat but it seemed ineffectual. Flanagan flung another knife at the man, hitting him in the foot, but not slowing him down.

“C’mon man!” Blaze yelled. “Do something!”

Jandhyala dropped his medical kit, grabbed Blaze under the arms, and pulled him away from the man.

“What are you ****ing doing, guy!?!” Flanagan yelled.

The man on the ground bit at Blaze’s jeans and tore them though he didn’t actually bite the youth. Blaze brought the baseball back down on the man’s arm and struck him in the elbow. There was another terrible snapping noise and the hand that held his leg let go with a jerk. The arms flipped around in a way it shouldn’t but the man continued to try to grab at the youth with his other hand.

Flanagan moved by the two and stabbed the man on the ground in the temple, slamming the blade in and then pulling it back out. Jandhyala got a weird, sick thrill when he saw the man’s head drop in obvious death. It felt so wrong. The rest of the group continued to walk towards them.

“Run!” Flanagan yelled. “Run!”

He ran, picking up the medical kit as he ran by. Blaze yelled at Jandhyala to get off him and broke free to run away as well. Jandhyala saw the other men were coming at him, all with mouths open.

“I’m gonna go with this guy,” Blaze yelled as he ran up 421 towards Boone.

Jandhyala noticed there wasn’t as much blood coming from the dead body on the ground as he expected. Then he turned and ran away. The other four men merely walked after them without ever increasing their speed. After the three got about fifty yards up the road, the four strange men stopped walking.

“What’s going on, man?” Blaze said to Flanagan.

“I feel like we need to check out that SUV,” he replied. “It’s wasn’t there when I passed by before.”

“First things first. What are these guys?”

“They’re zombies! I’ve said it, like, five times.”

“When did this happen!?!”

“Just recently.”

“All right, well …”

“Around 11 yesterday.”

There were still stars falling from the sky though they were mostly confined to the west.

“You wanna sneak around and check out that vehicle?” Blaze said.

“We should,” Flanagan replied.

They crept around the men who were wandering aimlessly on the highway and got back to the SUV which proved to be an older model Lincoln Navigator. There was some camping gear within as well as a lot of canned goods, bottles and large jugs of water, and even a fire axe and a mattock. Flanagan recognized the tools as those Floyd and Skadooter had been carrying.

“Do you have a car?” Flanagan asked Jandhyala.

“Yes,” the other man replied.

“I don’t have a car but I can drive,” Blaze said.

“Can you bring your car up here?” Flanagan asked.

“If these are zombies, shouldn’t we, like, take care of ‘em?” Jandhyala asked.

“I mean … they’re slow,” Flanagan said doubtfully. “There’s only four. We could.”

“Do you mean take care of them like bash their head in?” Blaze asked.

“I think that’s what he meant, yes,” Flanagan said. “Here’s your med-kit.”

He handed Jandhyala the medical kit he’d picked up.

“Oh thanks,” Jandhyala said.

“I thought you meant care for them,” Blaze said with a pout.

“We should practice taking these out,” Jandhyala said.

He looked at the road. The tire marks connected to the wreck seemed to indicate someone had tried to turn the car left onto 221 at too high a speed and it had rolled. There was a little blood in the vehicle as well. He pointed it out to the others. Flanagan asked if they were heading up 221 and Jandhyala said they were.

“So, are these zombies your friends?” Jandhyala asked.

“Nah!” Flanagan said. “No. None of them look familiar. We can go kill ‘em if you really want to. I need my knives back anyway.”

“We need to practice,” Jandhyala said.

Flanagan searched for the first knife he’d thrown and found it in the road. One of the zombies had wandered into the brush, leaving three in the road. Jandhyala retrieved the fire axe from the car and Flanagan pulled the mattock out. Jandhyala asked if hitting in the head killed them and Flanagan said that’s what it seemed like. Blaze noted he’d hit the man’s head and nothing had seemed to happen.

“Yeah, but this is an axe,” Jandhyala said.

“You gotta put nails in your bat,” Flanagan said. “You can kill, like, one or two but then we need to leave.”

“We need to practice,” Jandhyala said.

“You pussied out in the last fight, so …” Blaze said to Jandhyala.

“Damn, kid!” Flanagan said.

“C’mon Abe-man, let’s see what you’ve got,” Blaze said.

“You were just too quick to accept that they were zombies,” Jandhyala said.

“He was trying to bite me!”

“Or get your attention. Maybe he had a collapsed lung and couldn’t say anything.”

“What do you believe right now? Are they zombies or are they not zombies? Who was right?”

“Well … you were right.”

While they talked, Flanagan crept up behind one of the zombies. He tried to stab the thing in the head but the man lurched as he struck and the stiletto went into the thing’s neck, coming out of the other side. He pulled his knife out but the man didn’t fall.

“Cool!” Blaze said.

The zombie turned and opened its mouth, biting Flanagan in the shoulder and ripping out a chunk of flesh. He cried out. The other zombies obviously noticed the scuffle. Blaze ran from where he and Jandhyala had been talking. With a curse, Flanagan backed away and flung a knife at the zombie. He missed and the knife went into Blaze’s side just under his ribs.

“Whoa! What the hell?” Jandhyala said.

“You just had to practice, didn’t you!?!” Blaze yelled.

“Don’t blame me for this! Holy shit! Why’d you throw a knife?”

The zombie that had been watching Flanagan turned at the sound of Blaze’s voice and bit the youth in the face. Blaze screamed and fell to the ground. Two other zombies shambled towards the scuffle.

“Damn it!” Flanagan said.

He took out the .22 short automatic pistol from his pocket and opened fire on the zombies. The first bullet struck the zombie that had bit him in the back and it didn’t even flinch. The second bullet missed completely and the third bullet stuck that zombie in the head and the walking dead man went down and didn’t move again.

Jandhyala crept up behind the two zombies very quietly. One of them leaned down and ripped Blaze’s throat out. The other walked towards Flanagan. Then Blaze opened his eyes and climbed to his feet. He looked around and spotted Flanagan, then shuffled towards him. Flanagan pointed his gun at the little, undead punk, and pulled the trigger. There was a click and the gun jammed. He backed away with a curse.

Behind the other zombies, Jandhyala swung at one of the zombies but it lurched and he missed it completely.

Flanagan leapt forward and grabbed the knife out of the dead kid’s side, cursing at the child. He backed up. Jandhyala meanwhile swung again, this time so hard he flung the axe out of his hand and off to the left. The two zombies ahead of him stopped and turned, looking towards the sound. One walked towards the sound while the other looked towards Jandhyala. It didn’t seem to notice him and so followed the other zombie.

Blaze’s zombie suddenly ran at Flanagan, faster than any of the other zombies ever had, and tried to grab the man unsuccessfully. Flanagan stabbed the child in the left arm as it grabbed at him and he used it to try to hold off the youth. Jandhyala crept towards the two, picking up Blaze’s bat. Blaze grabbed at Flanagan, ripping his arm free of the knife by pushing forward and allowing the blade to simply tear up along the muscle. The child zombie managed to grab the man in a tight grip.

Flanagan stabbed wildly at the youth, cutting him in his already ragged throat. Jandhyala sneaked towards the fight, hoping the other zombies wouldn’t hear him. He crept up behind Blaze, who bit at Flanagan, tearing at his clothing without ripping through, yet, to the flesh. He stabbed at the kid again, cutting into his chest and not, seemingly, slowing him down at all. Then Jandhyala swung the baseball bat but it was only a glancing blow on the kid’s side.

Blaze bit at Flanagan but he squirmed and kept away from the teeth tearing at his clothing. He stabbed the kid again in the chest but it didn’t seem to help. Jandhyala brought the baseball bat down on the youth’s left shoulder but it was not a terribly effective blow and the zombie child didn’t seem to care. He bit at Flanagan again but the man squirmed away from the blow and stabbed the youth in the chest again.

Jandhyala struck the child another glancing blow and then Blaze finally bit the man he held in his death grip. Flanagan went limp. Upon seeing this, Jandhyala turned and fled back towards his apartment and his car. Behind him, Blaze ripped out Flanagan’s throat. Jandhyala glanced back and saw a second silhouette stand up from the fight.

Jandhyala had a 2001 Audi A3 two-door hatchback. He tossed the bloody baseball back into the passenger seat and was happy to see the tank was about three-quarters full. He decided to head up 221 in pursuit of the people the man on the road had mentioned. Every once in a while, he passed people shambling on or by the road. There were lights at the 221 Grocery and some kind of weird plant by the building, not far from a man lying on the ground. Another man stood under the canopy, in the light, and started to stumble after him as he drove past. He increased his speed a little bit, continuing up the road.

He had not quite reached the area of West Jefferson when he saw taillights ahead.

* * *

Floyd Wayne was driving more carefully down 221 since he, Jaiqwan Jayshawn Skadooter, and Dani Bateman had stolen the 2013 Jeep Wrangler from the 221 Grocery and fled the zombie and triffid there. He didn’t want another car accident. Skadooter had traded seats with Miss Bateman, putting him in the passenger seat and her in the back. He rode with the hunting crossbow on his lap. Wayne’s crossbow was in the back seat with Miss Bateman. They were heading for West Jefferson as Wayne had mentioned the Wal-Mart there and they hoped to get some better weapons and more supplies.

They had almost reached the area of West Jefferson and he thought he could see the lights of the town ahead when he saw headlights in the rearview mirror.

Oh shit, he thought.

The vehicle continued to gain on them as they continued on up the road. Soon, it was about 100 yards behind.

“Stop!” Skadooter said, looking at the rearview mirror on his side of the Jeep. “Stop the car! Stop the car. That’s gotta be humans, right?”

“I mean, yeah, that makes sense, but … do you really wanna stop?” Wayne said. “We don’t know what’s around here. I say we just … we’ll just keep going slow and they’ll eventually catch up with us.”

“That’s a good idea,” Miss Bateman said.

The car behind them flicked its high beams on and off.

“He needs help,” Skadooter said. “Actually, don’t stop. That guy’s drunk as ****!”

The car behind started honking its horn. It had pulled up close behind them. Wayne turned the hazards on and off and the car behind them did as well. Wayne cautiously came to a stop, looking around them carefully. Skadooter got out, crossbow in hand, pointing it at the car behind them, which had stopped about 50 feet back.

* * *

After the car ahead of him stopped, Abraham Jandhyala had pulled over. He was surprised and a little disturbed to see a solid-looking black man get out of the vehicle with a large crossbow with a telescopic sight on it. The man was decked out in camouflage clothing with a camouflage bandanna over his head. He pointed the crossbow at his car and yelled something unintelligible to him. Someone else called from the other vehicle but he couldn’t make out the words.

* * *

“Doot doot!” Skadooter yelled at the other car.

He walked quickly to the front of the vehicle.

“Careful Dooter!” Wayne called.

When Skadooter reached the car, it changed gears and backed away from him very slowly. He sat the crossbow on the ground and held up his hands.

“Friendly!” he said. “Doot doot!”

The car stopped and gears shifted. Skadooter walked over to the driver’s side and the windows rolled down to reveal an Indian man. He reached his hand into the window.

“What’s up, man?” he said.

“Hey,” Jandhyala replied, shaking hands with the man.

“How ya doin’?”

“Uh, not too great.”

“Not too great?”

“Ah … just … just two people died right in front of me.”

The Indian man looked a little nervous. Skadooter saw a bloody baseball bat in the passenger seat of the car.

“Dude, that sucks, man,” he said. “I’ve seen people die too. It’s not good.”

“Yeah, what’s going on?” Jandhyala asked.

“It’s hell out here.”

“Yeah. Where are you guys heading?”

“I … I got this guy with me. His name’s … uh … Floyd Wayne. He just … he said ‘Go to West Jefferson.’ I’m just doin’ it, man. Boone’s a shit town, dude; I’m outta there.”

“Okay, where in West Jefferson where you guys headed?”

“I don’t know, man. You can ask Floyd. You wanna come sit with us in the Jeep?”

Floyd got out of the Jeep, pulling out his crossbow and holding it in one hand. He stood by the door.

“Do you know who I am?” Skadooter asked. “It’s me, man. Jaiqwan Jayshawn Skadooter, man!”

“Oh, the football player,” Jandhyala said.

“Yeah! We won the championship! ASU! ASU!”

“Dooter! Shut the **** up!” Wayne called to him angrily.

“Ah, sorry Floyd,” Skadooter said. “Sorry. I just get hyped. I get hyped, man. Sorry.”

Wayne shook his head and put his left wrist to his forehead. Jandhyala saw that the man was missing his left hand.

“Does he need help?” he asked Skadooter.

“No, he’s fine, man!” Skadooter said.

“Are you sure?”

“Dude, Floyd’s a boss, dude. Don’t worry about it. You wanna get out of the car and talk to us though? It’s kind of weird talking through a windshield.”

“I should probably check out that wound.”

“What? What, are you like a doctor or some shit?”

“I’m an EMT.”

“Dude! We don’t have a doctor! Help us out, man!”

Skadooter pulled on the door handle but found it locked.

“Dude, come help Floyd, man,” he said. “What the ****?”

“Totally,” Jandhyala said.

He grabbed his medical kit out of the back seat and climbed out of the car, going to Wayne.

“Hey, that hand looks like it’s been messed up,” he said to the man.

“It is,” Wayne said. “Where you coming from?”

“I’m coming from Deep Gap. That area. The intersection of 221 and 421.”

“All right. We had a pretty nasty spill out there.”

“Yeah, we came across an overturned vehicle and there were, like, four zombies out there and two of the people I was with kind of like … died. We tried to take them on.”

“Yeah, so did I. And you can see what happened.”

“Dude, if you stay drunk or high, they don’t come for you as often,” Skadooter said.

He’d retrieved his crossbow and walked back over.

“It’s kind of weird,” he said.

They both looked at him.

“Is that so?” Jandhyala quietly asked Wayne.

The other man just shook his head.

“I … I don’t know what he’s thinking,” he said.

“Anyway, I’m an EMT,” Jandhyala said. “I can take a look at your hand and see if it’s dressed, at least, properly, and can clean up the wound.”

“That’d be nice,” Wayne said.

He looked around first but their part of the road was completely empty. Then Jandhyala examined the wound. It was pretty bad. When he released the tourniquet, blood began to ooze from the man’s wrist. His hand was completely gone. He smelled alcohol and antiseptic on the wound and noticed burn marks around the edge of the ragged wound. He replaced the tourniquet and redressed the wound as best he could. It was really a bad wound and he knew it would have to be watched carefully as gangrene was a real threat. The man needed to get to a hospital.

“Were you bit?” Jandhyala asked him.

“I was,” Wayne said.

“That like … turns people into zombies.”

“Well, here’s the thing. I was bit and then … um … pretty immediately afterwards, some ******* shot my arm off. Um … I been okay since then.”

“Oh.”

“Maybe we should … uh …”

“Well, how far is the nearest hospital?” Miss Bateman asked.

“It’s not far,” Wayne said.

“Do we want to go there? I feel like we should anyway to get materials.”

“It’s about 10 minutes from where we’re at,” Skadooter said in a brief moment of clarity. “I think.”

“Does this need medical attention or can we just pick stuff up at a CVS?” Wayne asked Jandhyala.

“We probably need medical attention ‘cause … I mean … you’ve got …” Jandhyala said.

Wayne sighed.

“Shit,” he said.

“… your arm is, like, open,” Jandhyala said.

“So, you can’t use, like, needles and dental floss to sew it shut?” Wayne said.

“Probably not. You don’t have enough extra skin to pull over the wounds, so we’d have to graft some.”

“You got some ‘roids on you?” Skadooter suddenly said. “Coach just used to give us ‘roids to get rid of everything!”

“That won’t work,” Jandhyala said.

“Yeah,” Miss Bateman said.

“Well, we tried a hospital in Boone and it was … busy,” Wayne said.

“Yeah, I would imagine it would be busy at this time,” Jandhyala said.

“Like bad busy,” Skadooter said. “Like zombie busy.”

“Oh,” Jandhyala said.

“The hospital we’re going to is in West Jefferson, you said?” Miss Bateman asked.

“Yeah,” Wayne said. “Less people.”

“Maybe that one’s not as bad,” she said. “Maybe we should try it, at least. I mean, we could pull up and see how it looks, at least.”

Jandhyala knew Ashe Memorial Hospital was in Jefferson. He’d transported people there.

“What about a vet?” he suggested.

“Wayne’s not an animal, man!” Skadooter said.

“There’d be even less people,” Wayne said.

“They still carry basic medical supplies,” Jandhyala said.

Wayne said he knew of two in the area of Jefferson. They discussed going to one of them for medical supplies.

“Listen, I hate to be that guy,” Skadooter said. “But can animals be zombies? Because I don’t want to deal with no zombie dogs, man. I don’t want to deal with that!”

“We haven’t seen any yet,” Wayne said.

“I’ve only seen human zombies,” Jandhyala said.

“Well, I ain’t seen a four-legged man but I’m still keeping my hopes up,” Skadooter said.

“Tell him no,” Wayne whispered to Jandhyala. “Just tell him no. Lie, I don’t care. We need to go somewhere.”

“Are you gonna follow us or are you gonna get in our car, man?” Skadooter asked Jandhyala.

“I think two cars is better than one,” Jandhyala said.

“That is true,” Miss Bateman said. “Just in case one gets messed up.”

“Two is more than one,” Skadooter said. “Math taught me that.”

“Yeah, totally it is,” Jandhyala said.

“So, instead of the hospital, we’re going to go to a vet,” Wayne said. “There’s one down the hill from the hospital.”

“I wanna ride with the new guy!” Skadooter said as Miss Bateman started to climb out of the car.

She was ready to not be riding with Skadooter anymore.

“New guy!” Skadooter said, raising his crossbow over his head like a Tusken Raider. “New guy!”

Jandhyala walked back to the car as Miss Bateman also headed back that way. When Skadooter saw her, he ran over to her.

“Yo, you be with Floyd!” he said to her.

“I’m leaving!” Wayne said.

He got in the Jeep and started it. Skadooter was only torn for a moment before he ran to the Jeep Wrangler. Miss Bateman climbed into the Audi with Jandhyala. The little caravan headed up the road.

As they approached West Jefferson and passed through the intersection at 163, they could see the entire area was dark. Light still came from somewhere ahead down 221, however, so they continued. Lowes, on their right, was also dark, but the light became brighter ahead and when they could see Wal-Mart and its parking lot, they saw the light. They also saw a good-sized group of people.

A lot of vehicles appeared to have been pulled into the parking lot and their lights left on, as the lights in the parking lot were dark. The noise of engines rumbled in the area and an air ambulance helicopter sat on the edge of the parking lot next to a good sized tent. Wayne had slowed and they could see more tents pitched in the parking lot as well as several bulky generators, all apparently running. It looked like a couple hundred people were out in the parking lot. Skadooter pointed out the generators and Wayne nodded.

It was dark everywhere else.

“Wayne, I never asked you, should I stay in the car?” Skadooter suddenly asked. “I know this is the south.”

“Nah, man, you’ll be okay,” Wayne said

“I’m in the camo. They’ll think I’m one of them, huh?”

“Yeah, you’ll fit in, man.”

Wayne was unsure what to do. He slowed as they drove down 221 and came to a stop, motioning with his nub. Jandhyala pulled up beside him and Miss Bateman rolled down the window.

“Should we go over there?” he asked.

“They’ve got an emergency helicopter,” Jandhyala said. “It may be able to fly you somewhere where you can get some help, or they might have some materials at the camp to work on it.”

“There’s a lot of people over there.”

Jandhyala noted there would be a pilot and co-pilot as well as at least a flight nurse from the helicopter.

“Well, we may as well go check it out,” Wayne said.

“Yeah, better to be around living people than …” Jandhyala said.

“Not,” Wayne finished.

“You guys want some weed?” Skadooter asked.

“Okay, let’s head that way, then,” Wayne said, ignoring him.

He drove the Jeep down 221 and pulled onto Campus Drive and then turned on 1149, the road connected to Wal-Mart. When they got closer, they could see cots were set out in the open in the few spots and several of the people carried hunting rifles or shotguns. Some folks were dressed in their nightclothes while others were fully dressed and some were even outfitted in camouflage clothing and hunting gear. A Jefferson police car and a West Jefferson police car were amidst the other vehicles in the parking lot as well, and they could see a couple men in uniform in the crowd. Leaning against the helicopter was a man in a flight suit, smoking a cigarette.

It seemed loud in the parking lot compared to everywhere else they’d been that night. The generators and car motors set up a low vibration in the air. Most of the cars with their lights on were pointed inward and the whole place had the look of a refugee camp. Wayne parked the car on the edge of the parking lot and Jandhyala pulled in a little behind and beside him.

“Let me handle this,” Skadooter said.

He climbed out of the Jeep, leaving his crossbow on the seat, and looked around.

“Doot doot!” he called out.

A few people nearby looked his way and some of them replied in kind. One man had an ASU jersey on and Skadooter jogged over to the middle aged white man with messy hair.

“Yer that … yer that guy,” the man’s southern accent was thick and came right through his nose.

“Skadooter!” Skadooter said.

“Dooter! You did that thing. Like, good. What they call that. Good thing.”

“Running back!”

“That’s it! You do it so well. You won the Championship.”

“I won it.”

“You got that touchdown.”

“I did.”

“I never went to college myself.”

“You don’t need to go so college! It’s overrated, man! I made D’s the whole way!”

“The power went out,” the man told Skadooter.

“In Ashe County?” Skadooter asked.

“I … I dunno. It went out in my house.”

“Where you at?”

The man pointed to the east.

“Ah, okay,” Skadooter said like he knew where the man was talking about.

The man told him the power had gone out and the phone was out too, and they couldn’t get through to call anyone to fix it as their cell phones had no signal. They decided to wait until morning but then noticed people in the yard. The people started to try to get in their house, which was strange because the people weren’t really violent, or didn’t seem to be, but acted like they were bored.

“I hate those kind of people, man,” Skadooter said.

“So we got in the car and left,” the man said. “And we saw the lights here and … I guess the lights are out in West Jefferson and Jefferson, so people are settin’ up here. That helicopter was here when we got here. I don’t know what they’re doin’ here. But there’s some hurt people and they set up a triage or whatever they call it. I watch M.A.S.H. I like M.A.S.H.”

“M.A.S.H. is a good show.”

“Anyway, from what I gathered, this happened to a lot of people east of Jefferson so they came to West Jefferson. The power’s out, nobody can get hold of anyone on their phones, and people showed up, so we’re all gatherin’ here ‘til someone comes.”

“How many guns you guys got?” Skadooter asked as he lit up a blunt.

“I don’t got any,” the man replied. “You got some? I like guns.”

“I got a crossbow in the Jeep.”

“That ain’t loud enough. I like loud things.”

Skadooter went to the Jeep to get his crossbow to impress his new friend.

* * *

Wayne got out of the car.

“I guess I’m going to handle this,” he said.

He headed for the air ambulance and was followed by Miss Bateman and Jandhyala. They passed the large camping tent next to the helicopter and could see several cots had been set up inside. There were at least a dozen people in the cots, most of them covered by blankets or fleece throws. A lady was in the tent wearing nurse’s scrubs and an old man in a somewhat out of date suit were there, the two of them tending to injured people. A pair of air ambulance coveralls was discarded on the floor near the entrance.

They walked over to the pilot.

“Do you know what’s going on here?” Wayne asked him. “Do you understand the severity of the situation we’re in?”

“Uh … no,” the pilot said. “No. We had put down here because we had trouble with the radio and all those meteor were coming down. So we had to put down in order to … we didn’t want to get hit.”

“So, you’re not here for rescue, you’re just down because you happened to be in the air?”

“Yeah. We put it down. It looks like it’s clearing up. We were going to head out and then all these people started showing up. Some of ‘em had some people who had gotten hurt, so … Miss Christian over there, she said we should get a triage set up and see who we could handle. What’s going on? The power’s out everywhere in this area. We weren’t even able to get through to Boone or any of the other hospitals on the radio.”

Wayne told him some kind of mass hysteria had struck the area. People were rioting and weren’t acting right. He decided not to mention zombies for fear of not being believed. He pointed out the missing hand.

“They did this to me,” he said.

“You need to get into the triage tent,” the pilot said. “Get Miss Christian to look at you. She’s only a nurse, she’s a flight nurse, but she can help you out. Looks like someone’s done a pretty good job there, though.”

He noted they were going to get out of there pretty soon. Wayne looked at Jandhyala.

“Let’s go check out the first aid tent,” he said. “See if they know what’s going on.”

The three headed over to the tent.

* * *

Courtney Dean was an average-looking but very tiny, energetic, and somewhat dumb cheerleader and junior at Appalachian State University. She had been in West Jefferson visiting her boyfriend, but when several people showed up in the yard, he sent her away while he dealt with it. She hadn’t seen him since, but had found the lit area at Wal-Mart and had been there ever since.

When she saw Skadooter, he was posing for pictures some other man was taking using a cell phone.

“Boop boop!” she said, getting his catchphrase wrong. “Hi!”

She walked over and got into the photo, doing duck face.

“Hey Jaiqwan Jayshawn Skadooter!” she said.

“You know my whole name?” he asked.

“Yeah, I do!”

“Have you got enough pictures?” the little man in the football jersey said.

“No!” Skadooter said.

“Hey, you wanna take pictures?” the man asked Courtney.

“I wanna be in the pictures!” she replied.

The older man sighed.

“Who are you?” Skadooter asked the girl.

“I’m a cheerleader for your team!” Courtney said.

“Are you one of them girls on the sideline?” he asked, finally recognizing her.

* * *

Mikil Wolfgang was originally from Germany. He’d immigrated to the United States many years before. He was 69 years old and a doctor and surgeon, having practiced in the area for years. He was semi-retired but still helped at the local hospitals. When his power had gone out he’d come into town to help. He ended up at a triage tent set up at Wal-Mart where several people had gathered.

He was working with Nurse Christian, who had come in the air ambulance and had been there when he had arrived. The people in the triage had all been attacked by other people and, strangely enough, all of them had been bitten and were showing signs of some kind of infection. There were about 20 injured people in each of the large tents set up in the parking lot.

* * *

Jandhyala approached the tent and looked around nervously.

“I think you should ask since you’re the EMT,” Wayne said.

“Hey,” Jandhyala said to the nurse as he entered. “What are most of these injuries from?”

“Some people are attackin’ people,” the nurse said in a heavy southern accent.

“How so?”

“They’re getting attacked! Who are you?”

“EMT.”

He pulled out his certification card, which seemed to impress the nurse.

“We can use some help,” she said to him.

“No thanks,” he replied.

“We got a lot of people hurt here. We need to actually transport them to Boone or up here to the hospital─”

“It’s my day off.”

“What?”

“What do you mean, it’s your day off!?!” Dr. Wolfgang said in a thick, German accent.

“I don’t work today,” Jandhyala said.

The two looked at him, aghast.

“Did you not take the Hippocratic oath?” Dr. Wolfgang said to him.

“Are any of you hurt?” Nurse Christian asked.

“No,” Jandhyala said.

“Then get out!” she said.

“Okay,” he replied.

“If you’re not going to help, I got no use for you!”

Jandhyala left the tent.

“What did she say?” Wayne asked.

“They’re all bitten,” Jandhyala said. “We should leave. Most of these people were bitten. I can tell just by glancing at them. They’re either unconscious or not feeling too well. I don’t have a good feeling and want to leave.”

“So, what are you thinking of doing?” Miss Bateman asked Wayne.

“All these people are here, being bit,” Wayne said. “I don’t like it.”

“I don’t either,” Jandhyala said.

“I say we get in our cars and we get out of here,” Wayne said.

“These people turn fast,” Jandhyala spoke from terrible experience.

* * *

“Y’all are bit!?!” Skadooter yelled, having overheard part of his companions’ conversation.

He pointed his crossbow at the people around him and backed away from them.

“Dooter, get in the car!” Wayne yelled.

The guy with Skadooter’s phone backed away and Skadooter reached for the phone. The man reached as well, trying to stay as far from him as possible. As soon as he handed it off, the man turned and walked quickly away.

“Y’all are bit?” Skadooter yelled again.

“Boy, you better settle down!” someone shouted at him.

“You bit?” Skadooter yelled.

“Dooter! Get in the car!” Wayne yelled again as he headed for the vehicles.

“You better settle down, boy,” another man, this one armed with a double-barrel shotgun, said to Skadooter.

“Don’t call me boy, boy,” Skadooter said.

“Listen, you little shit!” the old man said.

* * *

“God damn it,” Wayne muttered. He raised his voice: “Dooter!”

He ran over between Skadooter and the old man with the shotgun and physically pushed Skadooter towards the car.

“Can I go with y’all?” Courtney asked.

“C’mon!” Skadooter said to her.

* * *

In the triage tent, one of the more seriously ill people suddenly sat up and climbed out of his cot.

“Sir, sir, you need to get back in your bed,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

Nurse Christian went over to help and the man, who suddenly leaned forward, teeth bared, and ripped her throat out. Dr. Wolfgang screamed as the man attacked the man on the next cot, ripping out his throat as well.

“Security!” Dr. Wolfgang screamed.

The nurse was choking on her own blood on the ground while the man who had just been murdered also climbed up out of his cot. Dr. Wolfgang fled.

* * *

“There’s a helicopter comin’!” Skadooter said, pointing to the east.

They heard the sound of a helicopter in the distance and could see the flashing lights in the sky. Then the old man ran out of the triage tent.

“The patient is eating the other people!” he screamed.

“All right, we’re leaving,” Jandhyala said.

“Dooter, get in the car!” Wayne said.

Skadooter ran for the Jeep. Wayne and Courtney followed him while Jandhyala and Miss Bateman got into the little Audi. Dr. Wolfgang, seeing the people piling into vehicles, ran over to the Jeep with three people in it. The black man in the passenger seat had a large crossbow.

Several people had headed into the triage tent. A shotgun blast erupted from the tent and blew a hole in the back of it. Screams issued from the tent and from the people nearby. Some people ran towards the tent, mostly armed men and women, while others ran away. Several people suddenly came out of the darkness to the east; they looked very confused as they stumbled slowly, but with purpose, into the lights of the parking lot. A few other people ran into the light and fell upon those who were there.

The pilot climbed into the air ambulance and, moments later, the turbines began to whine loudly as the engine warmed up and the rotors started moving. More gunshots and screams issued from the triage tents. Someone stumbled out of the tent and attacked another person. An automobile on the other side of the parking roared into motion and crashed into a generator, knocking into a crowd of people and ripping it free of the lights it had been attached to, sending that part of the lot into darkness.

Skadooter pointed his crossbow at the Dr. Wolfgang’s face.

“Did you call me nigger?” he asked the man.

“Vhat does nigger mean!?!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

Jandhyala had put his car into reverse and backed up enough for Wayne to the get Jeep out.

“Dooter, not now!” Wayne said. “Get in the damned car!”

“Did you call me nigger?” Skadooter said to the man again.

“No!” Dr. Wolfgang yelled.

“I don’t think he did!” Courtney said from the back seat.

Dr. Wolfgang grabbed the door handle and jerked the door open. Skadooter laid the crossbow down between the seats.

“Doot doot?” he said.

“Doot doot?” Dr. Wolfgang said uncertainly.

“Get it!” Skadooter said with a smile. “Get in!”

He dragged the old man into the Jeep and shoved him towards the back seat. Then he pulled the door closed again. They heard what sounded like automatic weapons fire from the approaching helicopter, then saw someone fall out of it and disappeared into the darkness. It looked like an older model military Bell UH-1 Iroquois. The vehicle seemed to be flying a little more erratically and they could now see there was some smoke coming from it.

Wayne put the Jeep into gear and floored it, peeling out and trying to spin around so he could make a quick escape. Unfortunately, he spun out, coming around about 90 degrees, and the car stalled. He quickly started it again and then turned and drove out of the turmoil of the parking lot a little more carefully. As he drove away, he saw more people stumbled out of the triage tent slowly, their mouths open.

“What ze **** was zhat!?!” Dr. Wolfgang cried.

“My history class told me Hitler was bad,” Skadooter said to him, pointing his crossbow at him. “Are you Hitler’s son?”

“No!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

Wayne drove to Campus Drive, watching in his rear view mirrors. The helicopter continued to fly erratically until it struck Wal-Mart on the front top corner and broke up and exploded, burning aviation fuel spewing out and all over the front of the building and the nearby parking lot. He thought he saw the air ambulance get off the ground and head off to the east, several people hanging from it, and wasn’t sure if they were alive or dead. More gunfire erupted from the parking lot.

“Do you like football?” Skadooter asked Dr. Wolfgang, his crossbow still pointed at him.

“We really like football,” Courtney whispered to the old man.

“American football is best,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

Skadooter grinned, put his crossbow down, and high-fived the man who flinched away from him.

“I like you, French-German-whatever guy,” Skadooter said.

Wayne stopped where Campus Drive intersected U.S. 221, about 500 yards from the madness in the parking lot. He wanted to talk to someone about what to do next, but didn’t trust anyone in his car.

“Can we get some music going in here?” Courtney said, tapping Wayne on the shoulder.

He sighed and rolled his eyes.

“You could always pull over and sidebar with the other car,” she said.

“What?” Wayne said.

“See if they have any ideas about where to go.”

“What?”

“And they might have some snacks!”

Jandhyala stopped his car behind the jeep until Wayne stuck his head out and then pulled up beside them. Wayne appeared to be on the verge of tears.

“Doot doot!” Skadooter said.

“Where are we going?” Wayne asked.

“Vet?” Jandhyala said.

“All right, let’s go to the vet,” Wayne said.

They turned right on U.S. 221 and headed up a little ways until they reached Mt. Jefferson Road, then turned left and followed the road into the darkened Jefferson until they reached South Main Street. They turned right and followed the road up about a mile until they reached the Animal Hospital of Ashe, pulling into the parking lot on the south side of the building. Next to it was a building marked Tractor Supply Company. They didn’t see many people as they went, though they spotted a few people, sometimes, in the distance, down side streets. The only person they saw nearby was a man in front of the Tractor Supply Company who seemed confused and was walking in a circle. He didn’t even pay the cars any mind as they passed.

They pulled up in front of the vet and killed both of the engines.

“Are we going to see puppies!?!” Courtney asked brightly.

Skadooter gave her a look.

“We’re going to have to break into this place,” Wayne said as he got out of the jeep.

“Easy,” Jandhyala replied. “I’ve got a baseball bat. And there are windows.”

Miss Bateman handed the man the bloody baseball bat.

“I threw my axe on accident,” Jandhyala said as he took it. “I went to swing it and I swung too hard, expecting to hit something that I missed. It flew out of my hand.”

“Good job, bud,” Miss Bateman said. “Good job.”

“Yeah, I’m not used to swinging giant axes at people,” Jandhyala said.

“Soon, though,” Skadooter said. “Soon.”

Jandhyala talked about putting nails into his wooden bat. Wayne walked to the front door.

“You want to use my credit card to pick the lock?” Courtney asked.

“No, we’ve got a baseball bat,” Jandhyala said.

He walked up and looked around. The only person around was the man in front of Tractor Supply, who didn’t seem to be paying any attention to them. Jandhyala asked why they didn’t go to Tractor Supply and Wayne pointed out they could.

“So, doot doot,” Jandhyala said.

“What did you say to me?” Skadooter said.

“Doot doot.”

“You say the n-word?”

“Stand watch.”

“Did you say the n-word?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Okay.”

“But, you stand next to the cars with your crossbow and protect anybody from that guy or any other people who come by.”

“What guy?”

“The guy over at Tractor Supply.”

Jandhyala pointed at the man.

“Because that dude’s a zombie, but─” Jandhyala said.

“Clearly,” Skadooter said.

“Look, there’s somebody over there!” Courtney said loudly.

The man apparently heard her and started to shuffle their direction.

“Okay, line up a shot, somebody, and take this guy out,” Jandhyala said.

Skadooter put his crossbow to his shoulder, aimed through the site, and fired. He missed.

“Skadooter, you’re so fine,” Courtney chanted. “You can hit him any time!”

He started reloading his crossbow.

“Shit!” Wayne said.

“It’s going to take him an hour to get here!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“There’s six of us,” Wayne said. “Let’s get rid of this guy.”

“From a distance,” Jandhyala said. “I’ve seen what they can do up close.”

Wayne took his own crossbow out of the car and took a shot at the man. His bolt also flew off into the darkness, missing. Skadooter’s next shot was accompanied by the snap of the bowstring as it broke.

“God damn it!” Skadooter yelled.

He flung the crossbow at the man but it fell far short. He looked at Wayne.

“Yours,” he said.

He held his hands like he was holding a crossbow. Wayne aimed and fired again, thinking he meant the zombie was his to kill. The bolt missed. Skadooter was a little upset as he had expected Wayne to give him the crossbow. Wayne reloaded and fired again but missed once more as the man slowly approached. On the next shot, his own bowstring broke. He cursed.

“Who’s got weapons here beside me?” Jandhyala asked.

“I have a butcher knife,” Miss Bateman said.

Skadooter drew the hunting knife he had gotten. He looked at everyone.

“Should I go get him?” he asked.

“No,” Jandhyala said.

“Should I go get him?”

“I don’t think anybody’s voting for that,” Miss Bateman said.

“Guys, maybe we should just to talk to him,” Courtney said.

She started walking towards the zombie.

“Courtney, no!” Skadooter said.

“Oh, okay,” she said.

Wayne was getting really angry. He glared at the zombie.

“Dooter, you have it,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Go get him.”

“We are,” Skadooter said. “We are. We are.”

Courtney walked over to the front door of the veterinarian’s office. Dr. Wolfgang followed her. It had a large window in it but it was locked.

Miss Bateman said she thought the zombie might forget about them once they were out of sight in the building. Jandhyala said it was worth a try. He went over to the door and shattered the glass with his baseball bat. They discussed throwing something at the zombie to distract it. Courtney picked up several rocks from the parking lot and flung them in its direction, but it ignored them. It seemed focused on them and was getting closer.

Wayne climbed back into the Jeep.

“Get out of the way,” he said.

He backed up, turned the jeep around and then drove slowly at the zombie. He sped up a little bit as he approached the thing and then turned to hit it with the front corner of the car as he approached. The zombie went down under the car and he peeked out the driver’s side window. The zombie was under the tire, most of its chest crushed by the vehicle. Still, it struggled to get to Wayne though it was completely pinned. Wayne got out on the passenger side and walked back to the rest.

Jandhyala had finished clearing the broken glass out of the door. Skadooter ran over to him.

“What’d coach say?” he asked. “What’d coach say?”

“We’re going to the vet to get the guy some better medicine,” Jandhyala said.

“You follow me?”

“What? Why?”

“You follow me?”

“No, you follow me.”

“I follow you?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

Jandhyala climbed through the window and tried the light switch on the wall of the small foyer. Nothing happened. The inner door, also with a glass window, was unlocked and opened into a reception area and waiting room. They all crept into the place and searched as best they could in the dark.

Jandhyala, Wayne, and Dr. Wolfgang headed behind the reception desk where the drugs were apparently kept. They grabbed everything they could that might possibly be useful. Dr. Wolfgang asked about Wayne’s hand and he showed him the wound. Jandhyala also found the drugs used to put animals to sleep. He took some and found syringes to use with it.

Miss Bateman started to pull kibble and canned dog food off the shelves and pile them by the door. She figured they could eat it if they got desperate. She asked if there was anything else they could use. Wayne told her they’d go to Tractor Supply for other stuff. She noted there were probably snacks and such at the checkout there as well. Then she noticed a small rack of snacks on the counter right there. She grabbed them and stuffed them in her backpack.

Courtney found half a bottle of Captain Morgan’s Spiced rum in one of the desk drawers.

“I found the alcohol, guys!” she called happily.

She and Skadooter wandered into the back where the dogs and cats in various cages set up a racket. She continued looking for alcohol, as she’d been told, and he eyed the animals suspiciously, fearing zombie dogs. Then he started opening up the cages to let them all free. Courtney found a tiny three- or four-month-old German shepherd puppy female with the name “Killer” on the cage. She had stitches on her belly and was listed as being “neutered” with that day’s date for release. She released the puppy and kept it.

They left the vet and headed over for Tractor Supply. The zombie remained trapped under the Jeep tire as they broke into the place and started looting everything they could find. Wayne found buckets of long term emergency rations and started carting them out to the cars. Jandhyala found a machete and a bush axe, taking one of each. Several others took machetes too. Courtney found some pink camouflage clothing and put it on.

There was also camping gear, hunting supplies, game hoists and 24-mile walkie-talkies. There were plenty of tools like shovels, picks, and even mattocks, which Wayne was happy about. He replaced his lost mattock. There were a good deal of fishing supplies and they took them as well. Jandhyala got a lot of extra fishing line too. He also got long nails to put into his baseball bat when they had more time and a wood axe. Wayne got some small winches.

Courtney’s puppy ran all around the store, slipping on the smooth concrete and trying to love everyone. She made sure to get treats and a little squeaky toy.

Wayne made sure Courtney had practical clothes before they left. Everyone got some hiking boots that fit them as well. He also got several sleeping bags as well as hose to use for siphoning gas if they needed it.

It was dawn before they were finished and they saw a few vehicles moving along the street, as if people were going to work. Wayne wanted to get a trailer for the jeep but found it didn’t have a hitch so decided against it.

They discussed where to go and, after a short discussion, decided it was probably best to head for the coast via Interstate Route 40. Jandhyala pointed out zombies couldn’t swim and asked if they’d read the Zombie Survival Guide. Courtney was excited about going to the beach. In one of her moments of clarity, she also suggested they go where there would be less traffic. Miss Bateman thought they should head somewhere not as crowded, like Shallotte. Wayne was for going to the coast or heading north. In the end, they voted for heading down to Interstate 40 and the coast.

They headed out of the area in the two vehicles as the sun rose, the smoke from the burning Wal-Mart still thick in the sky behind them. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1960-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Five
Basic Roleplaying System: Deadworld Session Four http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1959-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Four Thu, 26 Nov 2015 15:28:31 GMT Tuesday, November 24, 2015 (After playing the *Basic Roleplaying System* original setting “Deadworld” with Joey Scott, Kyle Matheson, and Hannah... Tuesday, November 24, 2015

(After playing the Basic Roleplaying System original setting “Deadworld” with Joey Scott, Kyle Matheson, and Hannah Gambino Friday, November 20, 2015, from 6:30 p.m. to 10:15 p.m.)

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, July 22, 2015, Sofia Rosita Mariana Fernando Vasquez II Junior drove the stolen car out of Boone, North Carolina, heading east on U.S. Highway 421 towards Deep Gap. Riding shotgun was Jaiqwan Jayshawn Skadooter while in the back was Floyd Wayne and Jorman Flanagan. They had escaped the horrors of the city filled with zombies though falling stars still fell in the sky all around them.

Skadooter suddenly started shouting he had to pee, making a huge deal out of it until Miss Vasquez pulled over, very angry, and turned off the vehicle. Both Skadooter and Wayne got out, though Miss Vasquez didn’t notice the latter open his door at the same time as the athlete. While Wayne headed into the woods, roll of toilet paper in hand, Skadooter stopped by the hood of the 4Runner they’d stolen, grinned at Miss Vasquez, and then took out the bag of cocaine he’d found in the Honda Fit they’d raided earlier. He poured some cocaine on the hood, cut it with his ASU student id, and then snorted it up with a rolled up dollar bill. Then he raised both arms and gave her a look.

“Doot doot!” he said.

He backed away and then turned to walk into the tree line to urinate. While he was doing so, he heard the car start up and then drive away.

Wayne, relieving himself further away in the woods, heard the car pull off too.

Da ****? he thought. I’m so mad right now!

He finished, wiped, and ran out of the woods. The car was gone and Skadooter stood there, looking around vaguely. All they had was the single roll of toilet paper, Wayne’s mattock, and Skadooter’s fire axe from the hospital. Wayne looked around and realized they were just west of Deep Gap near where U.S. Highway 221 headed north of 421. Angry, he wondered whether they should continue down 421 or head up 221.

“That *****!” Skadooter said.

He looked around.

“Doot doot!” he cried.

“Shut the **** up!” Wayne hissed at him.

After the echo went away, he listened carefully but it was very quiet. He saw no vehicles or anything else in the vicinity. The stars falling seemed to have thinned out.

“We’ve got our choice between hick town, this way,” he said pointing down 421 to the east. “Or hick town this way.” He pointed vaguely to the northeast, where he guessed West Jefferson lay. “Hick town this way is probably going to take a little more time than hick town this way.” He pointed to the northeast and then the east again.

“Hm,” the other man said. “Skadooter don’t like waitin’.”

“All right,” Wayne said. “This one’s on a bigger road. This one is a little two lane.”

“Skadoo thinks we should stay on the small road, then,” Skadooter said.

“Small road?” Wayne said. “All right then, I guess we’re going to head towards West Jefferson.”

“You want some of this before I bag it up?” Skadooter asked, brandishing the quart bag of cocaine.

“No,” Wayne said. “I think I’m doing good. I’m still a little loopy from all the blood loss.”

“I’m hella loopy right now,” Skadooter said.

Everything was awesome for him.

“It’s pretty good except for the fact that that ***** left us,” he said.

“All right, I guess,” Wayne said. “****.”

They continued down U.S. Highway 421 towards U.S. Highway 221. They passed the Pepsi bottling place on the left and were approaching a small road on that same side of the highway, only a quarter of a mile from the yellow-flashing U.S. Highway 221 stoplights, when they saw a light suddenly appear in a house on the hill a few hundred yards to the left.

“I don’t think they know how to do that,” Skadooter said. “That’s prob’ly a person.”

“Maybe,” Wayne said. “Out here in the middle of nowhere, I doubt they know what’s going on.”

“They might have a car.”

“Well … I say we at least go up there and check it out.”

“I’m gonna go knock on the door and tell ‘em it’s Skadooter.”

“Hey.”

Skadooter jogged up the little road apparently called Yuma Lane.

“They might know you,” Wayne called after him.

Skadooter jogged about halfway up the road before he had to stop to catch his breath. The cocaine was really messing with his head and the road kept going back and forth, it seemed. Wayne, watching from the highway, saw Skadooter run from one side of the road to the other, almost as if he were running serpentine up the lane before he stopped about halfway, hands on his knees.

“What the hell’s up with this road!?!” Skadooter yelled back at Wayne.

That boy ain’t right, Wayne thought.

Skadooter started running up the road again and, from his vantage, he could see some people wandering across a nearby field. They appeared to be glowing slightly and he realized the two people were skipping. It was also brighter out, it seemed. There were so many flowers beside the road. He stopped.

“Wayne!” he stage whispered to the man, who was at least 100 yards away. “Wayne.”

He could see Wayne’s silhouette on the highway, but then he was right in front of him, but then he was gone again.

“Wayne!” he whispered again. “Wayne.”

Wayne, still standing in the middle of 421, saw Skadooter start up the hill again and then simply stop and look back at him. Skadooter pointed to one side and Wayne thought he saw two silhouettes crossing the field nearby. They weren’t heading his direction so he jogged up to Skadooter.

From Skadooter’s really high perspective, it looked like Wayne ran to him and then back and then ran up and back and then up and back again. He finally actually arrived. By then, they both saw the light had gone off in the house.

“Why’d you stop?” Wayne asked him when he reached him.

“Monsters over there,” Skadooter whispered back.

“Wha … I … yeah … I mean. So what? They ain’t botherin’ you.”

“I’m just really scared right now. Doot doot.”

“How ‘bout, hey. Let’s go see these people.”

“Oh yeah!”

Skadooter ran towards the house, going about 50 feet before he ran off the side of the road and fell flat into the dirt. To Skadooter, it had looked like the road had climbed and gone over his head. Wayne went over to the youth and picked him up.

“The ****’s wrong with you, boy?” he said.

“I know this may be hard to believe but this is my first time doing cocaine,” Skadooter said. “This stuff’s pretty crazy.”

“You did what?”

“That bag. The bag of stuff I showed you.”

“That’s what you got?”

“It’s right here. Yeah.”

“Holy shit, boy! Oh my God! This is not the time! If anything, you save that for later!”

“I still got some.”

“No. Well, God. Hold onto it.”

“Okay.”

“Apocalypse, you can trade that shit.”

“Okay. I won’t do anymore.”

“Promise.”

“Mmmm.”

“Man, **** you! Let’s go!”

“Okay.”

They continued on up to the house. A pole light out front lit the area but the house was otherwise dark. It was two stories with gabled windows on the sides. A garage was attached to the right side of the building and there were many windows. The front porch was merely a stoop.

Skadooter knocked on the door.

“Hold on, son,” Wayne said. “Let me talk. Please.”

Skadooter moved off the stoop and then moved to the right and peeked into the darkened windows. He couldn’t see much of anything.

“You think I could jump through these, like you see in the movies?” he asked.

“No! Don’t!” Wayne hissed. “Please don’t.”

He put down his mattock and knocked a little harder on the door. He looked over at Skadooter.

“Someone’s in here,” he said.

“We know that,” Skadooter said. “There has to be somebody in there.”

He stepped away from the window as he thought he’d seen a doll looking at him. Wayne knocked a little harder on the door, pounding with his fist.

* * *

Dani Bateman had just gotten back to sleep after using the bathroom in the middle of the night. She woke to the sound of someone knocking loudly on her front door. She looked at the clock; it was 2:30 in the morning. She got up and went to the front window of her bedroom upstairs and tried to see who was there. A tall man with graying hair stood on the front stoop, knocking loudly. He looked a little raggedy.

The entire upstairs of her house was one big bedroom. The windows were open and the cool July air was brought into the room by the fan set in one of them.

She headed downstairs, turning the lights on as she went.

* * *

When Wayne saw the lights coming on in the house through the glass panes in the door, he stopped banging and stepped back. The woman who opened it was very tall, almost six and a half feet. She had Native American features and was slim. She was pretty, had long dark hair, and appeared rather fit. She wore pajamas.

Skadooter ran over to Wayne and the woman quickly shut the door again.

“Who are you guys?” she asked through the door.

“I’m sorry to bother you, ma’am,” Wayne said. “You don’t know me. You might know my friend here. He’s the star quarterback of Appalachian State.”

“Running back!” Skadooter said.

“Running back. Football.”

“Skadooter!”

“Um … we ran into some trouble out here on the road. We’d really appreciate some help.”

“Do you have a car?”

“Not now!”

“So, what do you need?” she asked.

“Oh, we just …” Wayne said. “Ma’am, we don’t know how familiar you are with what’s going on right now. Um … things aren’t nice.”

“It’s bad out here!” Skadooter said.

“What are you talking about?” Miss Bateman said. “Are you guys on drugs or something?”

“I’m not,” Wayne said.

“Welp!” Skadooter said. “Doot doot.”

She noticed Skadooter’s eyes were very dilated and guessed he was high on something.

“Okay, so what’s going on?” she asked. “What’s happening because I have no idea what you’re talking about?”

“Listen, ma’am, I don’t know if you’re aware … but shit’s happening,” Wayne said. “So we had to get out of Boone in a hurry.”

Neither Wayne nor Skadooter noticed the man come around the side of the garage and start to shamble slowly towards them.

“Okay, well, I’m just going to call the cops so … if you guys want to leave, that would be awesome,” Miss Bateman said.

“Please!” Wayne said.

“You can stay here,” Miss Bateman said. “The cops are coming.”

“I don’t think the cops are coming,” Skadooter said. “They’re probably busy.”

“Please,” Wayne said. “Please call the cops.”

“What?” she said.

“I would love nothing more for the cops to show,” Wayne said.

Just then, both men noticed motion in their peripheral vision and turned to their right at the same moment. Their eyes went wide. A man stumbled towards them, mouth open. He wore pajamas and nothing else. He was middle-aged with brown hair going gray at the temples.

Wayne grabbed his mattock and swung it around at the man’s head. The blow struck the man in the jaw and tore his face and chin, the blow actually catching the man’s jaw and ripping it free of the right side of his face. It partially dislocated at a terrible angle, his tongue hanging out as well. The man didn’t slow down or speak.

Skadooter moved around the side of the dead man and brought his fire axe down on the back of the man’s neck. The blade went too low and cut into the side of the man. It didn’t slow him at all though there was a lot of blood. The zombie turned towards him and tried to bite him on the shoulder without much effect due to the lack of a lower jaw. It felt more like a bludgeoning blow.

“Get off me!” he cried. “****er!”

* * *

In the house, Miss Bateman ran towards the kitchen to get a knife.

* * *

Wayne grabbed at the dead man’s collar but was unable to pull him off Skadooter. The athlete dropped his axe and punched the man in the temple as hard as he could. The man stumbled but did not fall and then tried to grab at Skadooter and bite him.

“Get off me!” Skadooter cried.

Wayne moved behind the man and tried to get him in a headlock without luck. The man ignored him.

“Let me get him!” Skadooter said.

Wayne backed off and Skadooter tried to grab the man around the midsection, hoping to pin the man’s arms and then move behind him. Instead, he grabbed the man under his arms and was unable to shimmy around. It put the zombie in a perfect position to bite as his neck. Fortunately, the thing only managed to lick his neck with its tongue as it tried to bite him.

“Ow!” Skadooter yelled. “I got him right where I want him.”

Miss Bateman flung open the door of the house. She recognized the man in the pajamas as one of her neighbors on Yuma Lane.

“You guys need to back up!” she yelled. “This is my neighbor!”

“He’s not your neighbor anymore!” Skadooter yelled.

Wayne picked up his mattock and brought it down on the man’s back, much to Skadooter’s dismay.

“No no no no!” Skadooter cried.

The mattock glanced off the back of the dead man’s neck and blood splattered all over Skadooter. When he realized he had not been hit by the mattock, he tried to get a better grip on the man in pajamas. He slid around behind the man, still grappling him.

Miss Bateman burst out through the screen door and stabbed her neighbor in the leg. The man didn’t cry out but merely continued to struggle with Skadooter. Wayne walked around the man and swung his mattock at the man’s chest. He cut the man pretty badly but the man continued to fight and struggle. Then Skadooter picked up the bloody man and fell backwards, slamming the man into the ground behind him. There was an audible snap as the man’s neck broke. Then the body convulsed as Skadooter crawled quickly away. The corpse jerked around for a few moments before it finally lay still.

“Jesus Christ!” Miss Bateman said as Skadooter stood up. “What the ****?”

“Skadoots!” Skadooter said.

He got his face into the dead man’s face.

“Doot! Doot!” he cried.

Then he looked at her.

“You gonna call the cops?” he said.

“I - I’m probably gonna call the cops,” she said.

“Good! Good!”

She stared at the dead body of her neighbor in shock. She held the knife pointed at the two men. Skadooter picked up his fire axe. He walked to the porch and then looked around for anything else coming. Wayne had dropped to his knees, dizzy from the sudden exertion.

“That wasn’t a person,” he said. “It’s not people. You saw!”

“Okay, so what was that?” she said. “Because that was my neighbor!”

“Not anymore it weren’t.”

“Not anymore? Obviously, ‘cause he’s dead, but what happened?”

“Naw! I don’t know what happened to him.”

He leaned his mattock against the house and she noticed, for the first time, one of his hands was missing. His left wrist was wrapped in bloody gauze. She finally pointed the knife down.

“Okay, what happened to your arm?” she asked.

“One o’ him happened to my arm!” he said.

He pointed at her neighbor.

“If I didn’t get lucky, he would have turned all of us into one o’ him,” he went on.

“Okay, so this is a zombie situation,” she muttered.

“A what?” he said. “Like Dawn of the Dead?”

“Like Walking Dead.”

“What?”

“Like … Night of the Dead, maybe?”

“I … zombie. Dawn of the Dead. That’s all I hear.”

“That’s what it seems to be.”

Skadooter spotted some people shambling around down on 421.

“This can’t no zombie thing!” he suddenly said. “The black guy always dies first!”

“He’s high,” Wayne said. “Ignore him.”

“Yeah,” Skadooter said with a smile. “You want some?”

“No,” she said.

“Ma’am, you have a car we can borrow?” Wayne asked her.

“I do have a car but is there any reason for me to leave as well?”

“I don’t think you should stay here.”

“Where is this all at? Where did it start?”

“We just came from Boone.”

“Meteors,” Skadooter said.

He pointed to the sky.

She could see a few shooting stars in the distance, mostly to the west.

“I heard about stuff happening, but I thought it was just a bunch of crazy stuff,” she said.

“Naw,” Wayne said. “Boone is gone. We’re trying to go somewhere a little less populated but …”

Skadooter stared at the falling stars.

“You can’t stay here,” Wayne said.

“All right,” she said.

“This ain’t safe no more.”

“I’ll go with you. Just let me get my stuff, I guess.”

“Can I drive?” Skadooter suddenly said.

“**** no,” she said.

“If you have any high proof alcohols, grab ‘em,” Wayne said.

“Come in with me and get whatever you need,” she said.

“Okay.”

The three of them entered the house. The ground floor was one large room with a kitchen in the back and two doors that led to the only rooms: a bathroom and a small guest bedroom. Stairs went up to a door as well. It was decorated in old American style with plenty of modern features. Another door in one wall probably led to the attached garage.

Wayne went to the bathroom and found the aspirin, popping a couple and grabbing other medical supplies and alcohol he could find. Skadooter grabbed canned foods out of the cupboards. He also found crackers and other non-perishable foods. He also found several bottles of water and put them on the counter as well.

“You got anything to defend yourself with?” Wayne called from the bathroom.

“I got this knife,” she replied.

“You got anything better?”

“Guns!” Skadooter said. “We need guns!”

“I have some lawn supplies in the garage,” she said.

She knew there was an electric weed eater and a riding lawnmower, as well as some old lawn darts of her parents and a long piece of pipe. That was about it.

“Djew see the newest episode of Walking Dead?” Skadooter asked her.

“I haven’t kept up this season,” she said. “How did it go?”

“This is what they would get ‘cause …” he lowered his voice to a whisper. “… we’re in the Walking Dead now. We’re the Walking Dead.”

He was having a strange, drug-induced epiphany.

“Do you have any alcohol?” Wayne asked, coming out of the bathroom with supplies. “Any at all?”

“There’s some wine,” she said.

“No vodka or anything like that?”

“No.”

She gathered some camping stuff from hiking trips she’d gone on. There was a backpack, small tent, and sleeping bag, as well as a little propane stove.

“We can’t stick around here much longer,” Wayne said. He pointed to Skadooter. “That ******* needs to eat something.”

“Yeah!” Skadooter said.

He was looking at his phone. He had made a Facebook post that read “We’re the Walking Dead now.” Then his Facebook Messenger beeped. It was his friend, a freshman who lived in Cannon Hall.

“Skadoots,” the message read. “I’m so ****ing high right now.”

“Same broski,” Skadooter wrote back. “Same.”

“What’s going on with these people in ASU? They’re like people are ****ed up. Somebody drove crashed a car. I can see it from my dorm.”

“You guys stay inside right now.”

“I saw there was girls. They crashed a car. There’s a girl.”

“What girls?”

“I don’t know. She was a girl. There were two guys with her.”

“One to ten.”

“I’m on the fifth floor!”

“Bruh! One to ten though.”

“… … … I’d give it a seven.”

“All right.”

“Hold on. Somebody’s at the door.”

“You should probably go check that. I’ll talk to you later.”

He put the phone away but it beeped a couple minutes later.

“Oh shit!” his friend sent. “Some ****er bit me.”

“That’s not good,” Skadooter wrote back. “Aw man. That sucks dude. RIP.”

“What are you talking about??? I lost my buzz. What’s ****ing going on? Oh shit! There’s a bunch of them out there.”

“Dude, I’m busy right now.”

He smirked.

Wayne and Miss Bateman were talking about the zombies and how the thing was spread.

Skadooter’s phone beeped as he got a Skype call. He saw it was the same guy he’d been texting.

“Answer that!” Wayne said. “Answer it! You know who that is? Answer it!”

“Nah,” Skadooter said.

“Why not?”

“My friend got bit and now he’s *****in’ about it.”

Wayne just stared at him.

“Look … we need to get out of here,” he finally said. “You need to eat something.”

He turned to Miss Bateman.

“All right,” Wayne asked her. “So, you’ve got a Lincoln Navigator.”

“Uh-huh,” she said.

“Back seat!” Skadooter said. “Called it!”

“How much do we have packed into this?” Wayne asked. “How much can we get into it?”

“We should take everything we can!” Skadooter said.

The car in the garage was a 2001 Lincoln Navigator, a big SUV. It looked like it was in good shape. Skadooter started loading the truck up with the food and water he’d found while Miss Bateman put in her camping gear. He found two five gallon jugs filled with water in the garage as well so he put them in too.

“Yo, does it have a DVD player for the back seat?” Skadooter asked her.

“No,” she said.

“Fack!”

“Calm down.”

“Fack!”

Skadooter climbed into the back seat with his fire axe.

Wayne had filled his pockets with everything he’d gotten from the bathroom. Then he asked if Miss Bateman had any men’s clothing. He was specifically looking for underwear. They found an extra pair that was her father’s. He’d left them one time when visiting. Unfortunately, they were small for Wayne. He found some socks as well.

“Anything else you can think of?” Wayne said to her as they entered the garage. “Because shit has hit the fan. We ain’t coming back. If there’s anything … personal effects you want to take.”

“You wanna dig up, like, a dead pet and take it with us?” Skadooter said from the back seat.

“For ****’s sake!” Wayne said.

Wayne got into the passenger seat as Miss Bateman took the wheel. There was a GPS sitting on the dashboard and, when she started the car, there was about a quarter of a tank of gas. Wayne said he knew the closest gas station was a few miles up 221. He said if they headed for West Jefferson, he knew a place they could fill up. Miss Bateman knew about the gas station and he guessed they would still have power.

“When we get there, we need to check for extra gas cans,” he said.

She pushed the button on her automatic garage door opener and, as the door went up, they saw two people standing right outside the garage door, facing it. It was Miss Bateman’s neighbor’s wife and little girl both standing there in their pajamas.

“Floor it!” Skadooter said.

“It’s not them!” Wayne said.

“Floor it!”

“It’s not them!”

The two walked forward slowly and Miss Bateman put the car into gear and gunned it. The Lincoln Navigator leapt out of the garage with a squeal, running down the two. The seven-year-old girl vanished under the front of the SUV without a sound. Her mother was taller, however, and as the Navigator struck her she crashed over the top of the hood and slammed into the windshield. She started clawing at the glass as the vehicle tore down the driveway. In a panic, Miss Bateman turned on the windshield wipers. The other woman grabbed one with one hand.

“Stop!” Wayne said, his voice growing louder. “Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop!”

Miss Bateman slammed on the brakes and the woman flew off the car and hit the ground, rolling over and over again before landing in a heap off the side of the road. Then Miss Bateman floored it again, tearing down Yuma Lane. As they passed the smashed woman, she sat up again and reached a hand towards the vehicle.

They tore down to 421 and turned left towards 221, Miss Bateman driving recklessly fast.

“Hold on,” Wayne said, hitting Miss Bateman with his nub. “Calm down.”

She swerved around one of the cars stalled in the road and turned hard to the left as she applied the brake. It wasn’t enough, however, and as they made the turn, the SUV rolled. The car rolled once completely over and then came to rest on the passenger side, the glass on that side shattering out of the windows. Both Wayne and Skadooter were injured and the automobile stalled out. The windows on the driver’s side were intact, as was the windshield, though there was a large crack in it.

“I told you to let me drive!” Skadooter screamed.

Miss Bateman braced herself then unbuckled herself and looked at Wayne who lay moaning in pain.

“Hey!” she said. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” he mumbled.

“Can you unbuckle?”

In the back seat, Skadooter climbed out of the driver’s side back door. Wayne unbuckled and she asked if he could get out. He said he thought he could. She tried to fiddle with the sunroof but nothing happened when she pushed the button.

“We need to flip it quick!” Skadooter said to them.

“I’m here,” Wayne muttered.

Atop the car, Skadooter saw several people shuffling their way.

“Zombies coming,” Skadooter said with a grin.

Miss Bateman lowered the electric window on the driver’s side and she climbed out.

“Scooter!” she said to Skadooter. “Scoot!”

“Skadoot-er!” he said.

“Help me get−”

“All star running back for the Mountaineers!”

“Help me get Floyd out of the car. Please.”

“****ing Skadooter!” Wayne said.

“Hi Wayne,” Skadooter replied.

He reached into the car and pulled Wayne out with one great heave leaving him sitting on the edge of the door. There were at least five zombies shambling towards the car. He looked back into the car.

“We can’t risk it,” he said. “We need to make a run for it.”

“You’re right,” Miss Bateman said.

“We need to go. Now.”

“We definitely need to go that way though.”

She pointed up 221.

They all climbed down off the wreck and ran up 221, avoiding the zombies who slowly shambled after them. They had nothing but the medical supplies Wayne had stuffed into his pockets. They passed several dark houses and jogged for nearly a mile until they saw a church to the left. They walked from there to catch their breath.

“Are we going to the gas station still?” Miss Bateman asked.

“Doot doot,” Skadooter said.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Wayne replied. “The gas station, even when we rolled, it’s going to have what we need.”

“Well, we might as well go there and see what they have,” she said.

“I mean, if anything, it’ll have … medication.”

He sighed.

“They’d have something,” he said.

“Yeah,” she replied.

“Ooh. They’d have beef jerky is what they’d have.”

They passed another church on the left and a few buildings on either side of the road. They saw no automobiles. Shortly after they passed the church, they saw a chain link fence with barbed wire across the top on the left side of the road. Wayne didn’t remember it being there the last time he’d been there though he’d heard rumors of some botanical company setting up some kind of greenhouse in the area.

“This does not look familiar,” Wayne said.

Miss Bateman told him about a new botanical garden in the area. She’d only heard a little bit about it. He told her the gas station was right next door to a very large, expensive house. She asked if anyone would be there and he guessed if there was, it’d only be an old man. It was a mansion on West Pine Swamp Road.

When they had walked another half mile, they saw a building to the left with a sign that read “New River Archery Supply.” The lights on the sign were off. The front of the building had a set of glass doors and wide glass windows. They could see a single light burning within. The chain link fence ran around behind the building and continued closer to the road on the other side.

“This is meant to be,” Wayne said when he saw it.

He headed across the parking lot and the others followed him. He looked into the front windows and saw a single fluorescent light on in the middle of the room. There were shelves filled with archery supplies. He was disappointed he couldn’t see any crossbows. The whole place looked pretty rough. The back wall had an interior door set into it and he guessed there was a large back room as well.

Wayne tried the front door but found it locked.

“Lemme kick it!” Skadooter said.

“Can I at least find a rock first?” Wayne asked.

“Skadooter’s foot is stronger than a rock.”

Wayne found a good-sized rock and smashed the window next to the door. He was happy not to hear any alarms go off despite the First Alert sticker on the window. The three of them climbed into the building.

There was camouflage clothing, paintball supplies, numerous bows and arrows, crossbows of various sizes and bolts, and even tree stands and other hunting supplies. Wayne was happy to find paintball masks, elbow pads, knee pads, protective gloves, and even athletic cups. The place had several composite bows and even the cheap bows he remembered using in middle school. Beef jerky and pork rinds stood on the counter as well as a jar of pickled eggs. Confederate flags hung behind the counter.

Skadooter picked up the largest crossbow, which was equipped with a stirrup in the front necessary to cock the massive thing and a telescopic sight. Wayne picked up a heavy crossbow for himself that he thought he could reload with one hand, also with a stirrup on the front and a telescopic sight.

Skadooter started to take off his clothing to change into camouflage. Wayne decked himself out in protective gear including the paintball knee and elbow guards, gloves, and a mask. Skadooter followed suit and also got some protective gear on. He was especially careful to make sure he held onto his weed and cocaine and filled his backpack with crossbow bolts. He smoked a bowl after he was decked out and had his new weaponry. Wayne found a camouflage backpack and loaded it with all of the beef jerky at the counter. He also found hunting knives and suggested they all get backpacks.

Miss Bateman got some clothing and a backpack. She also found some light cloth camouflage clothing and tucked it into the backpack to use for possible bandages later. She tore a few of the outfits into bandages and then tended to the wounds the men had sustained in the car wreck.

Skadooter and Wayne both heard a noise from the front of the building where they’d broken in. A man was climbing in through the broken glass. He looked terrified.

“What?” he muttered. “Who’re you guys?”

“I’m Skadooter!” Skadooter said. “All star running back of ASU!”

The white man was small and wore pajamas, boots, and a light jacket. He was probably about 30 years old.

“What the hell’s going on?” he asked in a thick southern accent.

“Stop!” Wayne said.

“What?” the little man said.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Billy.”

“Billy? Billy who?”

“Billy Jackson. What the hell’s going on?”

“Billy, do you know what’s happening?”

“I don’t know! I woke up to pee and there were people out in the yard. And I was like ‘**** them people.’ So I went out there to talk to ‘em. God! I’m still drunk. I was drinking a lot tonight.”

“You get bit?” Skadooter asked.

“No,” Jackson replied. “What?”

“You did get bit, didn’t you?”

“No, I do sterno. You ever drink sterno. It’s so good.”

“I’m gonna shoot this ****er,” Skadooter mumbled.

“And I drank a bunch ‘cause my stomach is all … messed up. So I can’t drink like real−”

“So Billy, get in here!” Wayne snapped.

“Yeah, yeah,” Jackson said, walking a little further into the room. “But … but I looked out the front and I was like ‘Martha!’ That’s my wife. Martha. And I went back to tell Martha … and then Martha tried to kill me! She came at me. She didn’t say a word, she just came at me! I’m like ‘Martha, I’m not in the mood. There’s people out on the yard.’ And then she tried to bite me! So, I had to put her down.”

“That’s kinky,” Skadooter said.

“It wasn’t!” Jackson said. “I beat her to death with a croquet mallet.”

Wayne looked out past Jackson but didn’t see anyone else in the parking lot.

“You get bit?” Skadooter asked again.

“No, I didn’t get bit,” Jackson said. “I beat her to death with a croquet mallet. She was trying to bite me, the *****!”

“You got bit.”

“I think her mom’s talkin’ to her too much.”

Wayne looked the man over but didn’t see any bite marks. Though there was splattered blood on his pajama tops neither Miss Bateman nor Skadooter thought the man had been bitten. He also appeared to be unarmed.

“Is he okay?” Wayne asked.

“Yeah,” Skadooter said.

“Yeah,” Miss Bateman said.

“Yeah, Martha, she was crazy,” Jackson went on. “And then those people in the yard so I just came here ‘cause I thought there’d be weapons.”

“We’re the walking dead,” Skadooter said.

“Shut the **** up, Scooter,” Miss Bateman said.

“The Wha?” Jackson said.

“Ah,” Skadooter said.

“Is that on cable?”

“Yeah.”

“We ain’t got no cable. We got four channels. Well, five if the weather’s right.”

Jackson moved further into the room.

“What’s going on?” he asked again.

“I need you to sit down and just listen,” Wayne said.

Jackson listened.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “That’s Jaiqwan Jayshawn Skadooter!”

“It is!” Wayne said.

“Hell yeah,” Skadooter said.

“You’re a running back!” Jackson said.

“Yeah.”

“Your with ASU! You’re so good! Even for a colored folk!”

“I won the Championship.”

“Yeah, you did!”

“You wanna smoke some of this weed?”

“Oh, God damn yeah, I wanna smoke weed!”

Skadooter had been filling his little pipe and lit he. He and Jackson shared a few hits of the marijuana.

“Nobody here smokes with me,” Skadooter said sadly.

“That’s a shame!” Jackson said.

“I know.”

“I smoke enough, I’ll treat you like a brother.”

Wayne filled him in on what was going on and the spread of some kind of zombie virus through the meteorites crashing to earth. The man picked up on it though he was still a bit confused.

“What?” Jackson said. “That’s crazy! Was Martha a zombie?”

“Billy …” Wayne said.

“Wait wait wait wait wait! I ain’t goin’ to jail?”

“Well, you killed her,” Skadooter said.

“No,” Wayne said.

“Yes!” Jackson said. Then to Skadooter: “I had to! She tried to ****ing bite me!”

“There ain’t no more jail to go to!” Wayne said.

“Woo,” Jackson said. “We can do anything!”

“No!” Wayne said.

“Smoke weed,” Skadooter said.

“I am,” Jackson said.

“Billy, how much … are you a local?” Wayne asked. “Do you know the area?”

“Yeah, I live just across the road here.”

“We passed a chain link fence. What was that all about?”

“Oh, that’s the farm.”

“What’s in the farm?”

“They’re farming those plants, those weird-ass plants. I can’t remember what they’re called.”

“Weed?” Skadooter said.

“No. No, it’s a plant right? And it does oil, but it’s better than like fish oil and all that stuff. They been doin’ it since the 60s but nobody knows much about it because … who cares? It’s ****ing oil.”

“Who cares?”

“I don’t care. It’s some kind of plants and what they do is they extract the oil. And it’s supposed to make all these jobs. But I didn’t get no job.”

“Same.”

“I still work up at the God damned gas station. I still work up there. But, you know, I saw these people so I came down here because, **** it, I ain’t got a gun in the house. Martha wouldn’t allow it. **** her. *****.”

“Oil plants?” Wayne asked. “What is that?”

“I don’t know,” Jackson said. “I don’t remember the name of ‘em. There’s a sign up by the gas station.”

“Are they a fruit? Are they a vegetable? Can you eat ‘em?”

“I dunno. They’re just … they were supposed to make a bunch of jobs. They didn’t make no jobs. There’s like three guys that work there and they’re all like these scientists or some bullshit.”

He clutched his belly.

“Ah shit,” he said.

“What’s wrong?” Wayne asked.

“My stomach. I got ulcers and shit. Martha gave ‘em to me, that *****.”

He turned to Skadooter.

“Hey, you got any more?” he asked.

“Aw, that’s all I got, man,” Skadooter said. “I’m sorry.”

“Aw man.”

“I shared with you.”

“I thank you. So, I came down here and I was gonna get a bow and maybe a tree stand and I was gonna wait in a tree for those ****tards to come at me and I was gonna murder them.”

“That’s really smart.”

“Well, if they’re coming at my house, if they’re on my property, I’m going back up to my house here in a minute, once I get a bow.”

“Well Billy …” Wayne said.

“They’re zombies?” Jackson said. “Like Dawn of the Dead?”

“Yeah.”

“We should get to a … a …”

“Mall?”

“Mall. Let’s get to the mall.”

“No, Boone ain’t good.”

“Boone bad,” Skadooter said.

“Boone is ****ed up,” Wayne said.

“West Jefferson ain’t got a mall,” Jackson said.

“There is a mall in Wilksboro,” Wayne said.

“Let’s go to the Wilksboro Mall!”

“Billy, that mall ain’t been functional for years, man. If you want to camp out−”

“In Dawn of the Dead, the zombies went there, I remember that movie, they went there ‘cause they were familiar. So, if nobody’s been there for years, they won’t go there.”

“But there’s nothing for us there, Billy,” Skadooter said.

“If it’s familiar and that’s where they’re going, why would we go there, Billy?” Wayne said.

“No, they’re not familiar,” Jackson said. “But he just pointed out that there ain’t nothing there.”

He picked a bow off a shelf and got some arrows in a quiver. He pulled on the bow. Then he looked around.

“Billy, how far away would you say the Wal-Mart is?” Wayne asked.

“What Wal-Mart?” Jackson asked.

“The one in West Jefferson.”

“I dunno. Ten miles?”

“I’m thinking−“

“I’m gonna look in the back. I’m gonna get an armguard.”

He headed towards the back room.

“We got nothing,” Wayne said to the other two. “Car is on the intersection. Gas station’s up there. But we got food. Only thing it’ll give us is bottled water and drinks. We need to get somewhere we can protect ourselves. The only thing I can think of is the Wal-Mart in West Jefferson.”

“How far is that?” Miss Bateman asked.

“Ten miles.”

“We gonna walk there?”

“If we don’t find any better way to get there.”

“That shit’s uphill!” Skadooter said.

“I mean … at points, maybe, yeah,” Wayne said. “But …”

He sighed.

“I do know there’s a house next to this gas station,” he went on. “Whether or not there’s a car there, I don’t know.”

Miss Bateman and Skadooter both heard the tinkle of glass and the sound of a whip or something slapping from the back. Then they heard what sounded like someone fall to the floor in the back room.

“Did you guys hear that?” Skadooter said.

“Huh?” Wayne said.

“****ing glass shattering.”

“Yeah, I heard that too,” Miss Bateman said.

“Wait, from where?” Wayne asked.

“The back room, apparently, seems like.”

“Wait. Back room? Shit. Does this place have flashlights?”

“**** that,” Skadooter said. “He’s gone. Let’s go.”

“No.”

Wayne found a package with several tiny flashlights and batteries. There were four small LED flashlights, two smaller ones with straps to place around a person’s head, and at least a dozen triple A batteries. He grabbed one of the packages.

“Billy’s dead,” Skadooter said again. “**** him.”

Wayne struggled with the thing with one hand and was unable to open it. Skadooter took it from him and ripped open the plastic the flashlights were trapped in. He set up one of the ones with the straps and put it on Wayne’s head.

“Here ya go, buddy,” he said.

He looked towards the back.

“Billy, you okay?” he called towards the back.

There was no answer.

“Guys, he’s done,” Skadooter said.

Wayne turned on the light as Miss Bateman put batteries in the other flashlights. She grabbed the other pack of flashlights and tucked them into her backpack.

“Billy?” Wayne called carefully towards the back.

No reply.

“He’s gone,” Skadooter said again.

He headed for the front windows and climbed out of the building.

“Billy, we’re leaving!” Wayne called as he backed away from the back room.

Miss Bateman followed the men.

“We’re going,” Wayne said again as reached the window.

“Good luck with that, Billy,” Skadooter called. “Good luck with whatever’s happening back there, buddy.”

As they got out of the building, Wayne and Skadooter heard something moving on the right side of the structure. It sounded like someone had a branch with a lot of leaves and was shaking it. It was getting closer. Skadooter quickly loaded his crossbow. Light from Wayne’s headlamp faced the side of the building. He’d already loaded his crossbow. Skadooter aimed.

The thing that came around the corner was a strange looking plant.

“Oh shit,” Miss Bateman said.

The plant was walking! It had a large bole on the bottom which was shaggy with little rootlet hairs. It would have been almost spherical but for three blunt-tapered roots extending from the lower part. Supported on them, the bole was lifted about a foot clear of the ground. It walked like a man on crutches, two of the blunt legs sliding forward and then the whole thing lurching as the rear one drew almost level with them, then the two in the front sliding forward again. Growing up out of the bole was a tall, straight stem at least five feet high with short sprays of leathering green leaves. The top of the plant had some kind of wide, conical cup. Three short straight stems grew up from the bole on the sides of the main stem. At each step the horrible thing took, the long stem whipped violently back and forth sickeningly.

It came around the corner and stopped.

“Do you guys see this?” Skadooter said.

“What the ****!?!” Miss Bateman said.

“That’s a plant, right?” Skadooter said. “Like … you guys see this, right?”

“Uh-huh,” both Wayne and Miss Bateman said.

“Um,” Skadooter said, turning to run.

“Don’t move!” Wayne said.

The thing started to move in their direction with purpose.

“Go!” Wayne yelled. “Go go go!”

They fled around the side of the building, the strange plant in pursuit.

“Around the corner and stay still!” Wayne yelled.

They fled around corner and then stopped once they got there. They heard the plant still coming but it stopped moments after they stopped.

“Skadooter, aim around that corner, but don’t do anything yet,” Wayne said. “Do not move.”

Skadooter aimed towards the corner of the building without moving. They listened but heard nothing. Somewhere in the distance, a coyote howled in a strange ululating wail.

“What I think we should do, I think we should try to sneak around the back of this building and cut around it,” Wayne whispered.

“Yeah, I think that’d be best,” Miss Bateman said.

“Quietly,” Wayne said.

They moved painfully slowly towards the back of the building, taking about five minutes to get there. Skadooter got to the corner first.

“What do you see?” Wayne whispered.

Skadooter peeked around the corner. The chain link fence was not far from the back of the building. A large section of it was knocked down as if something had broken through it. A lot of smashed plant matter was in the area of the break, all mashed up.

“Looks good,” Skadooter said.

They continued creeping along the back of the building, past the windows and the back door.

“Hey, isn’t that that room Billy went into?” Skadooter whispered.

“I honestly don’t care about Billy right now,” Wayne whispered back. “Just keep going.”

“Shall we go through that broken fence where it looks like that ****ing plant came from?”

“****. No. That’s the worst ****ing thing.”

“Okay, I’m just going to keep sneaking this way.”

They crept across the back of the building and when they reached about the halfway point, not far from the door, they saw one of the windows was broken.

“That’s it,” Skadooter whispered.

They crept by the broken window. Miss Bateman peeked in but it was too dark to see much. The broken window had a circular hole but the glass had stayed in the window frame. They could make out a little light coming through the open doorway from the front of the store.

When he reached the corner of the building, Skadooter continued to follow the fence. Wayne, walking backwards, stopped them when he noticed they were leaving the building.

“Hold up,” he whispered.

The other stopped. Wayne surveyed the area but couldn’t see much in the darkness.

“If we want to get to this gas station, if that’s still the plan, then we need to get back to the road because it’s on the other side,” he whispered to them.

“Okay,” Skadooter whispered back.

“I mean …”

Skadooter again crept very slowly towards the road. It took them five or six minutes to get to the edge of the building nearest the road. He peeked around the corner and spotted the plant still in the same spot. He got a good look at it and saw it wasn’t moving.

“Shall we sneak by it?” Skadooter whispered.

Wayne sighed.

“We could try to shoot it,” Skadooter whispered.

“Let’s back away,” Wayne whispered.

He crept towards the road and away from the strange plant.

“We need to go this way,” he whispered. “This is the way we need to go.”

They made their way quietly and carefully to the road. Wayne still had his paintball mask on with the headlamp upon it, still turned on. He was pleasantly surprised the mask was not fogging up. Once they got to the road, they crept until they were out of sight of the plant. Only then did they start walking normally.

“What the **** was that!?!” Wayne finally said. “What was that!?!”

“I knew the government was making marijuana plants,” Skadooter said.

“It was like a ****ing … oh my God! Little shop of horrors! What the **** was that!?!”

“I’m gonna tweet this.”

He got out his cell phone and tweeted “Saw a walking plant. #what?”

They soon saw the lights from the gas station ahead. Miss Bateman and Skadooter also spotted another of those creepy plants at the corner of the building. Someone was lying on the ground on his back right next to it, arms spread.

“Wayne,” Skadooter said. “Wayne.”

The other man looked at him.

“Plant,” he said. “Plant.”

They pointed it out to Wayne. They wondered why, if the man was dead, he was not walking around.

“Skadooter, how’s your throwing arm?” Wayne whispered.

“Best in Boone,” Skadooter said. “Better than my quarterback. That guy sucked.”

The lights were still on at the 211 Grocery. It was a white building with two gas pumps out front under a small canopy. Florescent lights glowed under the canopy and a vehicle was parked between the pumps and the main building. Light also glowed from the windows. An outbuilding was further up the road and a house was on the near side of the road to the right. The man on the ground looked like he wore a gas station shirt.

The plants reminded Miss Bateman of the red weed in the relatively recent War of the Worlds movie.

“I want to try to see if this thing is distracted by noise,” Wayne said.

“Yeah, because we snuck around but it was just standing there?” Miss Bateman said.

“I think it detects vibrations on the ground within its vicinity,” Skadooter said in a rare moment of clarity. “So, like, when we’re running fast it’s big vibrations.”

“Tremor rules,” Wayne said.

He handed off his crossbow to Miss Bateman and picked up a small rock.

“Stay here,” he said. “Please.”

Then he crept towards the gas station. Skadooter aimed his crossbow at the plant from the couple hundred yards away the other two were standing. He aimed a little above the plant, expecting the bolt to drop a little, at least from his experience playing video games. He watched Wayne creep up to the gas station, getting to within about 45 feet, near the diesel pumps.

When Wayne got close, he realized the body was wearing the shirt of someone who worked at the gas station. He chucked the rock past the plant, aiming for a spot near the front doors. The plant didn’t move. The vehicle between the pump and the station still had a hose and nozzle in the tank. It looked like a two-door, hardtop jeep.

Skadooter and Miss Bateman crept over to where Wayne was still watching the plant.

“I don’t know what to do,” Wayne said when they got there.

Skadooter noticed a man standing in the darkness on the other side of the canopy, not moving.

Wayne pointed out the diesel pumps they were hiding beside and noted diesel was not as volatile. Skadooter had a lighter. Wayne suggested they make a big puddle of diesel fuel, make a line with the fuel, and light it to attract the plant. Then they could go around to get to the car at the gas station. He hoped it would create a diversion.

“Skadooter, what do you think?” Wayne said.

“Burn the plant?” Skadooter said.

“Are you with me?”

“I am all about burning plants.”

Wayne repeated the plan one more time, noting they weren’t trying to burn the plant but creating a distraction. He said if the pumps still worked, they would pour a pool of diesel fuel, ignite it, and hope it would attract the attention of the plant.

“You with me?” Wayne asked.

“Yeah,” Skadooter said.

“You understand that?”

“Yeah. You want my lighter?”

“That’s − yes!”

Wayne quietly removed the nozzle from one of the diesel pumps, feeling lucky it was not locked. He turned on the pump and then slipped over towards the gas station. He pumped enough fuel to cover a wide area in a big puddle, pumping for about five minutes and getting a puddle about 15 feet across. Then he make a line of diesel towards the road, shut off the pump, and put the nozzle back.

“I’ll light it,” Skadooter said.

Wayne told Skadooter the plan again.

“Light it, cross the street …” Wayne said.

“Slow or fast?” Skadooter asked.

“Creep.”

“Okay, am I supposed to stomp around before I light it?”

“No. No. Do what we’ve been doing.”

“Creep.”

“All you’ve got to do is bend down and light it. And then … the whole time we’ve been moving. All you’ve got to do is do that across the street. ‘Cause the idea is that they’re attracted to this flame, to this moving flame. That’s the plan.”

He looked at Skadooter’s lighter and saw it was a cheap Bic. He would have to light it before he could move.

“Now, this is up to you, because you’re lighting,” Wayne said.

“I’m going to light and then creep,” Skadooter said.

Wayne and Miss Bateman crept across the road and hid in the shadows on the other side.

Alone by the stinking diesel gasoline, Skadooter waited until they were out of sight.

“**** the police,” he whispered.

He lit the spot Wayne had shown him and the diesel fuel burned in a line to the pool, which ignited. Skadooter, meanwhile, crept away without even looking to see what he’d done. He thought he saw movement out of his peripheral vision but he kept creeping.

Up by the gas station, the man who’d been standing there, unseen by anyone but Skadooter, turned and shambled towards the burning fire. The plant didn’t move. Wayne didn’t see the zombie until it walked by the Jeep. Skadooter was about halfway across the road when the zombie got close to the plant. Suddenly, something whipped out of the cone atop the plant like a whip. It struck the zombie in the head in a heartbeat. The zombie stumbled but then continued to walk towards the flames. The plant turned as it walked by and whipped at its head again. The zombie continued to walk towards the flames.

The plant followed the walking dead man, continuing to whip at the back of his head. The zombie ignored it and stopped near the fire. The plant continued to whip at the dead man several more times before it stopped. It stood there for maybe a half minute before it shuffled back towards the first dead body.

Skadooter reached the others, all of them hiding in the darkness.

Wayne signaled and they crept down the road, almost in the ditch on the other side from the gas station, until they were across from the Jeep.

“Are the plants on our side?” Skadooter whispered to the others.

Wayne told the others he wanted to sneak across and check the vehicle for keys. He headed across the road and the other two followed a little further back, Skadooter about 10 feet from him and Miss Bateman behind the two of them. Wayne crept up to the car and looked into the open driver’s side window. A set of keys were sitting on the driver’s seat.

Wayne opened the door of the car and motioned them over. The other two crept to the car until the zombie turned and looked in their direction. When it saw them creeping towards the car, it shambled towards them. As it got near the plant, the thing started whipping at it once again. Skadooter crept towards the car but Miss Bateman broke into a run and leapt into the car, climbing into the passenger seat.

Skadooter leapt up and ran after her when the plant started to move their way, now ignoring the zombie. He clambered into the vehicle and over the seat, crashing into the back. Wayne leapt into the car and slammed the door shut. They heard another whipping noise and something struck the glass in the back of the vehicle. Some kind of greenish liquid splattered where the horrible thing struck.

“Ew!” Skadooter yelled.

Wayne saw the car had a manual transmission. He started the engine and threw the vehicle into gear, pulling out of the gas station quickly but not at a breakneck speed. Miss Bateman struggled to strap herself in while Skadooter was thrown around in the back seat.

There was a snap behind them as they pulled away from the pumps and Wayne looked into the rearview mirror on the driver’s side. He saw the nozzle was still in the gas tank of the car, the torn hose hanging from it. He kept going, heading up the road.

The chain link fence followed the road on the right and they saw an entrance in the fence line. A prominent sign there read “New Generation Triffid Farm.” They roared past it and headed up U.S. 221. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1959-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Four
<![CDATA[Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 - Luxit Sol Campaign Session Four - Arrest]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1958-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-3-5-Luxit-Sol-Campaign-Session-Four-Arrest Thu, 26 Nov 2015 03:32:22 GMT Friday, November 13, 2015

(After playing Kit Howard’s D&D 3.5 game Wednesday, November 11, from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. with James Dixon, Katelyn Hogan, and Ethan Gordon.)

From the recollections of Rory Buttertongue - Halfling

I had a very strange dream that second night we spent in Denrith. First, I heard the words “Protect me.” Then I saw a face with glasses on it, though I couldn’t see the face. The person was also holding a slingshot. He wore a ring on the index finger of the hand he held the pouch with while the other two were on the hafts of the slingshot itself.

* * *

I woke on the 3rd day in Denrith when someone knocked on my door and called my name.

“How’s your head?” I heard Dack Fel yell.

“Wha?” I called back.

I was a bit out of it but at least didn’t have a headache.

“Can I come in?” he called.

“Hold on,” I muttered. “Wait a minute. I gotta find the key.”

I found all my things and then climbed up onto the bed to reach the shutters of the window, opening them up. I took a deep breath of the morning air. Light poured in. I went over and opened the door.

“What?” I asked. “What do you want? C’mon in.”

I picked up my items and unlocked my chest to get the rest.

“I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with me but, since you wanted to get that mole rat thing stuffed, we’re going to have to find a house to keep it in,” he said.

“Oh, that’s a good idea,” I said. “I’ll be right down.”

“Okay,” he said.

He left. I used the chamber pot and then went down for breakfast, which was extensive. There were eggs, chunks of ham, and a sweet summer wine. I filled the plate until it was almost overflowing and joined the others at a table.

“Sorry I’m late,” I said. “What’d I miss?”

“Not much,” Arya said.

“You look radiant this morning.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome!”

“About time you woke up.”

I had dug into my food but stopped.

“I overslept,” I said. “But, you know what? Oh, that’s right! Someone was in my room last night!”

“Oh really?” John Wayne said.

“No,” I said, thinking. “Maybe it was a dream. I woke up and I thought I saw somebody fiddlin’ with this.”

I pulled out the pouch I’d found with the three rings and the spectacles within.

“Anything gone?” John Wayne asked.

“No, I checked,” I said. “Everything’s in the room. And then I had this weird dream. Let’s see. Wait! I’m going to have to try this out. There was a figure and he had my magic item. And he had my slingshot and he took two of the rings and he had a ring here and a ring here and then I put another ring on this finger. And then I put the spectacles on.”

I had put a ring on either of the hafts of the slingshot and slipped the third onto my finger. Then I put on the spectacles.

“How do I look?” I said.

The rings fit onto the slingshot and over the rubber band. I heard a buzzing in my right ear.

“I probably shouldn’t shoot anything in here, should I?” I said.

I pulled back the slingshot.

“I guess I’ll try it outside and see what happens,” I said.

“Wait, you found rings?” Dack Fel asked.

“The things we found in that chest with the kobold wizard,” I said. “Remember we each found something?” I pointed to John Wayne. “He had those gloves, they’re all bloody now. She got that and you got that cloak of yours. I think it was a dream. It must’ve been.”

“How come you get a dream?” Arya said. “I don’t even know what this thing does.”

She gestured at the guard on her arm.

“We should try it out!” I said. “Oh, you shot your bow. Why don’t we find a bard today and he could tell you a legend about it?”

“Legends are not answers,” she said.

“Ah, but he could help point you in the right direction,” I said.

I took the spectacles off and when I turned over the slingshot, the rings fell off the hafts. I left the ring on my right index finger. Then I tucked the spectacles away with the other rings.

“We’ll try it out after breakfast,” I said. “Oh, and I thought I saw someone in my room and he was looking at this, at my pouch and my stuff. And I couldn’t move and I went back to sleep. Maybe it was a dream. It might’ve been a dream too, but it felt so real!”

“Did you hurt anybody in your dream?” Dack Fel asked. “Or did the figure hurt anybody in your dream?”

“No, he was pointing … wait, which figure? The figure I thought was in my room?”

“No, the figure in your dream.”

“No, he just was aiming.”

“We had similar dreams except my dream, the figure wearing my cloak, exactly the same as yours, seems to have decapitated a guard.”

“Well, tell me exactly what happened.”

He said he had heard a voice saying “Someone is after me. Protect me. With a calm center, think of death and I will assist you the most.” Then the man had swung his hand and decapitated a guard.

“So, try that next time you see a guard,” I suggested. “Maybe it’s a cloak of guard decapitation.”

“I don’t think I’m going to try that on a guard,” he said.

Arya looked very disturbed.

I asked John Wayne what his dream had been about. He said his had started out with someone saying “Help me, don’t squelch me.” I suggested that sounded like a jingle for some product. The voice had gone on: “For if you do, I cannot help you.” Then he saw a figure going through a war zone beating up everyone while wearing his gloves. Dack Fel thought the figures were supposed to be us.

Arya said she had a dream as well. She said she had seen a bloody figure with a broken composite bow stagger back and then had seen an army of orcs. The lone figure wore the guard she had on her wrist. She remembered the words “Something is after us. Protect me. Think of me in dire need and I will be there to protect you.”

“These are riddles!” I said. “I love riddles!”

John Wayne suggested we have a magician examine our items and I told him I was going to try out my own item and see if anything happened. Then I finished my breakfast. I hadn’t had before-dinner or after-dinner the night before so I was very hungry. Once I finished, I called over one of the innkeeper’s wives. I asked her who we’d talk to about buying or renting a house. She told me we should go to the housing authority. I thanked her and looked on my deluxe map for the place. It was easy to find and stood only a little ways away in the market. We decided to look into getting a more permanent place to stay in the city.

“Then you can get your bird or whatever you want,” I said to Dack Fel.

“I can’t get a bird,” he said.

“Your pet?”

“They’re expensive.”

“Then you can go borrow a bird … that you’ll give back at the appropriate time to the person you borrowed it from. Borrow. Borrow. Borrow a bird.”

We left the inn and found the market, as always, packed. I looked for a target to test the slingshot on. There were birds flying overhead.

“Rory, be careful with that,” Dack Fel said. “Rory. Be careful. Careful. Don’t.”

I put on the spectacles and the other two rings on the slingshot and once again felt the tickle in my right ear. I looked around but no one was near me. I scratched it. Then I spotted a seagull and shot at it with the slingshot. The bullet missed completely. I tried again and when I aimed, my ear tickled again. I told the others about it.

“He’s gone weird,” Arya said.

I looked at her.

“She has a little crush on me, I think,” I said to the others.

I shot a sparrow and the bird exploded into feathers and dead flesh, falling to the ground nearby. Arya and Dack Fel laughed uproariously at it.

“Definitely magic,” I said. “Definitely magic.”

I put the items away again. En route, Dack Fel stopped at one of the stalls. He soon rejoined us.

The housing authority was in a warehouse. There were two doors, one with a line. I asked the man at the back of the line what it was for and he told me it was for housing. I asked about the other door and he said it was for people new to the city. I thanked him and we went into the batwing doors without the line. There were several small booths set into the walls of the room with. We went through the empty line.

A small blonde woman was in the booth.

“Hello, my name is Jenny!” she said loudly.

“Hello Jenny!” I said.

“Are you here for housing?” she asked.

“Why, yes we are!” I said.

“Good, are you new to the city?”

“We’ve only been here for … this is our third day here.”

“Okay, please, hand here. Let’s verify that.”

She held out one of those magic books.

“Sure,” I said.

I put my hand on the book.

“Three days, wow!” she said. “Most people don’t make it here for a couple of weeks. What are you looking for?”

I told her we were looking for a place to rent or purchase in the market district. She asked how many rooms we were looking for and we told her we were looking for four rooms with a kitchen and sitting room.

“Something nice but not terribly expensive,” I said.

“I’ve got just the thing!” Jenny said.

“We’re not terribly rich,” I told her.

Arya looked annoyed with her.

“We’ve got just the thing!” Jenny said again.

“I like her,” I said. “She’s happy.”

“Oh, you can like her all you want,” Arya said with a glare.

Jenny showed us some houses in the market district, back from the main market area. We looked at a few that morning and found them adequate. All were a single story with several bedrooms, an indoor privy, and kitchen and living area. All were located near public wells in the area. The price of the one for rent we liked the best was about 15 gold coins per mouth, which included a pebble for utilities. We looked at a few houses to buy, which looked better.

We discussed buying vs. renting during lunch but decided to rent. We talked to Jenny again and learned there was a one-month deposit in addition to the first month’s rent. We paid the money and she said we also got the utility pebble. When I asked what that was, she said there were two pebbles, one for heating the fireplace in the living room and activating the small, pot-bellied stove in the kitchen, and one for flushing the privy. We also got a large, complex lock for the front door if we wished to lock up the house. Dack Fel signed the paperwork for the rental, something we would eventually regret.

I asked how the pebbles in the house worked and Jenny explained. If one took the heat pebble to the fireplace or the stove and thought of something warm, it lit the fire. The fireplace in the entry room and a small stove in the kitchen could both be lit. Testing proved though there was wood in the fireplace, using the fire didn’t actually burn it. The privy had a pebble embedded in the wall. When it was touched, the bottom of the privy opened and anything there was sucked down into the sewers. We would have to replace the pebbles every month.

I’d already paid for the night at the Scented Seasons so I spent one last night at the inn. I learned I had actually purchased the locks there so would be allowed to keep them.

* * *

The fourth day of our arriving in Denrith, I went to the house and asked the others to help me get the rat ogre I’d had stuffed. Dack Fel joked we should pebble the thing to make it easier to carry but I told him they’d chop off some bit of it and send us the rest. I thought it a terrible idea.

We went to the booth called “I Stuff Things!” and found Samuel the gnome. The stuffed rat ogre was pretty frightening-looking. Samuel had done a good job and it looked better than I thought it would. I paid him the other 25 silver coins I owed and Arya and John Wayne helped haul it back to the house. We put it in the living area facing the front door.

We spent the rest of the day buying furniture. I made sure I got a child’s size feather bed, the equivalent of a king-sized bed for me. There was also a chest with a sturdy lock for my room. We got kitchen implements and a table and chairs as well as a few places to sit in the living room. We got lamps and candles to use in the house too. It left us a few gold coins and we decided to keep it in a chest in the living room for us as a group.

* * *

I cooked breakfast on our fifth day in Denrith and the egg soufflé was delicious, if I do say so myself. It was my grandmother’s recipe and was amazing.

“Right, so what’s our plan for today?” I asked. “We got a house for the next 30 days. We got some food in the pantry. It’s good. I got a room next to a beautiful lady.”

Arya just looked at me.

“I’d like to take that translating job to make back some of that money we just spent,” John Wayne said.

“How much does it pay?” I asked. “We’re asking in advance this time.”

“No idea. I haven’t checked.”

“Because that 20 gold was not worth it.”

“It’s a few days work.”

“So, what’s the plan? You want to go on the translating job? Now wait, what did it say on the board? Is that a time thing? We gotta go on a sailing ship?”

“Yes.”

“Ooo! A cruise!” I said, clapping my hands in excitement.

“But the lost dog …” Dack Fel said.

I suggested we get the information on the translation job and if it was going to take a while, they could tell us when we would be leaving. If it wasn’t immediate, we could go look for the lost puppy.

“And we should be able to find the puppy,” I said. “We’ve got the best tracker in the world here.”

I pointed at Arya.

“I wouldn’t say that,” she said.

“I would,” I said.

We headed down to the docks. According to the magical map, we were supposed to talk to Brigadier Stutterlynch. On the way, Dack Fel gave a bottle of milk to a beggar. Arya looked at him suspiciously. We finally arrived at an older, regal-looking three-masted ship, practically a galleon. It was painted red and had an elaborate figurehead. There was no name on the bow, which I found strange.

“This is a fancy ship,” I said.

I looked to the ship on beside it. It was called Queen Diane. I looked on the other side of the red ship and saw that vessel was named The Porcelain Doll.

“That’s unusual,” I said. “There’s no name on the ship.”

“Maybe it doesn’t have a name,” Arya said.

No Name. Then it should say No Name.”

“Maybe that’s the name.”

“Then it would be on the ship.”

“This is a new ship,” John Wayne said.

The ship did look new. Perhaps no one had named it yet. It looked like it was spit-polished and perfectly clean as if had been kept up since the day it had been laid down, or it was newly in the water.

“And we’re after the Brigadier so it’s a military vessel, potentially,” I said.

A Luxit Sol flag flew on the vessel.

“Let’s go on board,” I said.

“Are we allowed on board?” Arya said.

I walked up the gangplank and saw a few scraggly men on the deck. One of them stopped us. He had dark skin and dark hair.

“What can I help you with?” he asked.

“We’re here to see Brigadier …” I said.

“Stutterlynch,” both Arya and John Wayne said.

“Stutterlynch,” I said.

“You’re here to see the commander?” the man said. “All right. Hold on one sec. I need you to step back off the vessel. He gets very, very fussy with people getting on his boat.”

I backed down the gangplank.

“This is a boat?” I said. “I thought this was a ship.”

“Boat, ship, it floats on water, it gets us from point A to point B, he likes it different ways but that’s not me,” the man said before disappearing into the ship.

While we waited on the dock I took out the slingshot and started experimenting with the rings. I tried different rings on the hafts and my right index finger, putting the spectacles on as well. After some experimentation, I put different rings on the hafts and my finger until, at one point, the rings on the haft slid down over the rubber band and seemed to connect themselves to the slingshot. I put the last ring on my right index finger and put on the spectacles. When I aimed the slingshot I got a humming in my right ear, and crosshairs appeared on the spectacles. I guessed it would make bullets strike more accurately. The rings were now part of the slingshot and didn’t come back off. Likewise, the ring on my index finger couldn’t be removed. I tucked the spectacles away.

I told the others what I had discovered in great excitement. Dack Fel was wearing a plain, boring cloak by the time I got done with my own fiddling.

A man with a peg leg walked onto the deck. He wore a huge, blue admiral’s hat and had a ridiculously long and curly mustache and whiskers. His gray hair was cut in a huge pompadour and he wore a military jacket. He also had a monocle over one eye and that eye looked a different color than the other eye. Very strange.

“Edwards!” he screamed back towards the ship. “Edwards! Where are they!?! You said they were up here! Where are they!?!”

“Hello,” Arya said.

I waved.

The other man, presumably Edwards, came out and pointed us out.

“Down there, sir,” he said. “Down there.”

“Oh!” Brigadier Stutterlynch said. “Okay lads!”

He headed down the gangplank very quickly and his peg leg got stuck. He stopped and almost fell but miraculously stood straight back up and then kept walking towards us. It was very strange.

“Hello gentlemen!” he shouted at us. “I’m Brigadier Stutterlynch! What can I do for you!?!”

“We’re here about the translating job,” John Wayne said.

“Oh yes!” Brigadier Stutterlynch shouted. “Yes! My young … elf? And elf and human and … what the hell are you!?!”

“I’m a walking mouth,” I said.

“Even better!” he cried.

“I said Halfling,” I said.

He stopped and looked at me for a moment, then seemed to carry on as if it hadn’t happened.

“Yes!” he shouted. “Translation!”

It was again, very strange. As if he had suddenly become another person.

“Brilliant!” he said, pointing us out once again as if he was cataloguing it. “Yes, walking mouth! We made need that!” He turned to John Smith. “Do you speak elvish!?!”

“Yes,” John Wayne said.

“Prove it to me!” he cried.

John Wayne started speaking hesitantly to the man in elvish.

“Okay!” Brigadier Stutterlynch said and turned to Arya. “Can you!?!”

She also spoke to him in elvish.

“Do you speak Halfling?” Dack Fel asked me.

“Yes,” I said.

They were still jabbering away in elvish.

“What’s going on?” I asked when they stopped talking.

“It’s going to be a three-day trip,” John Wayne said.

“Leaving when?” I asked.

Brigadier Stutterlynch continued to talk to Arya in Elvish.

“When do we leave?” I asked.

“Two hundred gold,” John Wayne said. “Three days out and three days back.”

“Bargain,” Dack Fel said to John Wayne. “Three hundred gold.”

Brigadier Stutterlynch continued to talk in Elvish, which seemed pretty rude to me.

“It’s going to be 10 days actually,” John Wayne told me.

“Ten days?” I said. “When do we leave?”

“In five days,” Arya said.

Arya told me there were issues with sea elves. Apparently the Brigadier needed the elves to communicate with the sea elves as they were being rambunctious.

“Oh, we have to talk to ‘em?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Oh! Oh! I’m good at that.”

“Because they’re causing the ship problems.”

“All right. I’ll talk to people. I like talking to people.”

“In Elvish?”

“Uh … um. Well, I’ll smile a lot. You know, if you talk loud enough …”

“No.”

“… and you talk slowly enough.”

“You might piss them off.”

The Brigadier, meanwhile, had been speaking to John Wayne in Elvish now. It was very strange.

“I’m up for this if the rest of you are,” I said.

“Doesn’t sound too hard,” Arya said. “Sea elves.”

“Piece of cake,” Dack Fel said.

“I see your friends have filled you in on most of it!” Brigadier Stutterlynch said. “I’ll see you in a couple days!”

He headed back up the gangplank, tripping once again and almost falling before suddenly standing back up straight and continuing on to disappear on the ship. It was very strange.

We headed up the dock.

“So, where’s this dog?” I asked.

“Billy the kid,” Dack Fel said. “Northern market district.”

I looked on the deluxe map as we walked back up through the market district. I fell back from the rest and picked a random man’s pocket. Then, up ahead of me, a man who Dack Fel bumped into grabbed him by the wrist.

“Excuse me,” Dack Fel said.

“Guard!” the man yelled. “Guard!”

I panicked and rushed at the man.

“Get out of my way, you filthy beggar!” I yelled, slamming into the man’s legs from behind.

I kept running, not even looking back, until I the commotion behind me stopped. Then I slowed my pace and walked to where we were supposed to meet with Jimmy the kid. I pebbled the money pouch I’d gotten and handed off the cheese it became to the nearest beggar en route. I waited there for about a half hour but my companions didn’t arrive, so I went home. I found three gold coins and 50 silver coins from the thieves’ guild on my bed.

* * *

I later learned from the others my attempt to knock the man over had failed and he kept hold of Dack Fel, who tried to claim he’d merely bumped into him. Arya apparently tried to claim Dack Fel was simple minded but the man wasn’t convinced. The guards then arrived and she tried to tell them the same story, but one of them took out one of those damned magic books and grabbed Dack Fel’s hand and put it upon it. They noted he had been in the military and the thieves’ guide and seized Dack Fel, dragging him off to gaol.

Arya and John Wayne went to the gaol and found out Dack Fel would be sentenced the next day. It would be listed on a board on the wall outside of the gaol.

* * *

Arya finally got home while I was baking some potatoes for lunch.

“Where’s Dack?” I asked her. “He got accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Or something. I didn’t really see clearly.”

“I saw his hand in that man’s pocket,” she said.

“Oh right. Okay, so he got caught pick-pocketing. And I tried to help him out.”

“So, what’s that about?”

“He likes to pick pockets, apparently. I’m a locksmith though. That’s all I do is pick locks.”

“Sure.”

“Now, c’mon now. Where’s that other fellow? Where’s John Wayne?”

“He’s out training.”

“All right. He seems really … worried about stealing. So if you don’t tell him about Dack’s picking pockets, it would probably be for the best. Or you could also blackmail Dack. It’s a possibility.”

“He already asked.”

“Oh, he asked?”

“Yeah.”

“What did you tell him?”

“Uh.”

“Did you tell him the truth?”

“Uh … yeah.”

“Oh. Fair enough. Is he going to go kill Dack?”

“No. No. He just wanted to know.”

“Well, Dack has his name on our rental so they might seize all our property.”

“Let’s hope not.”

“That’s why I got all my stuff out. It’s in my pockets.”

“Well, I did see him take that cash from that man’s pocket.”

“Wait, what?”

“Wait, what?”

“When? What cash from what man’s pocket?”

“Nothing. Nothing.”

“No no no, don’t you ‘nothing’ me.”

“Oh, you don’t worry about it.”

“I do worry. The man in the market or some other man?”

“No, not the man in the market. Don’t worry about it.”

“What other man?”

“It’s just his pick-pocketing thing, like you said?”

“When?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It does!”

“You don’t seem to care about the man in the market.”

“You would tell John Wayne but you won’t tell me? My feelings are very hurt right now.”

“I told you he was pick-pocketing from that man.”

“Yes, but what about this other man he pick-pocketed from? Who was this other man? Just tell me.”

She walked out and I followed her. She turned back towards me as if she was going to kick me.

“No!” I said. “Get away from me! What other man did he take from?”

“You’re not going to be mad if I tell you, are you?” she asked. “You’re not going to tell him, are you?”

“Well, I might tell him I noticed.”

“But you’re not going to be mad at him?”

“No. Look, he’s a thief. He’s a thief. He steals.”

“Oh, is he?”

“Well, I guess. I … he apparently steals. He got caught for it.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because it’s happening.”

“Well, they did say he was in the thieves’ guild. What is that?”

“What? Iunno. I’m a locksmith. That’s why I asked about getting a little shop in the market so that I could start a little locksmith shop. Take old locks and fix ‘em up and sell ‘em. For profit.”

“I tried to help. Tried to say he wasn’t there.”

“Not that. That other man you said he stole from.”

She just looked at me.

“Just tell me!” I said. “I won’t be mad.”

“Okay,” she said. “Remember the man they detained? You were knocked out for a while. Yeah, you were knocked out. That’s why you didn’t notice.”

“Oh, that one that attacked me from behind?”

“Yeah. He took some gold from him, I think.”

“Oh. You might should ask him about that.”

“I don’t care that much.”

“Well, we should have equal shares, shouldn’t we?”

“Meh. He did get the last kill.”

“All right. I might ask him about it. Might tell him I had a dream or something about it, how about that?”

“I don’t think so. Of course, I don’t think he noticed that I noticed.”

“Fine, then I’ll just ask him if that man had anything on him.”

“Why do you need to talk to him?”

“Because, if he got gold, we should get some. You and me and him … and John Wayne too, who took a bit of a pounding and had to spend a bunch of money on healing. I don’t know how much he spent but I’m sure it wasn’t cheap.”

“This isn’t that big of a deal to me.”

“If you don’t want me to, I won’t.”

“Don’t. Don’t.”

“All right. I won’t.”

I had gotten so involved in the conversation that the potatoes burned. I ate what I could of them but Arya declined. I offered her some carrots from the pantry. She told me what had happened to Dack Fel. John Wayne returned a few hours later and I gave him some of the cold, burnt potatoes.

“She told me that Dack Fel was arrested,” I said to him.

“He was,” he said.

“That’s a shame. Were you able to talk to him? Could you go in and speak to him?”

“Nope. Wasn’t allowed to speak to him.”

“All right. So, she said sentencing was tomorrow.”

“Well, it’s going to be posted tomorrow,” Arya said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be tomorrow.”

We decided to wait until the next day to see what his sentence was.

* * *

After the elves went to bed that night, I snuck into Dack Fel’s room and searched it. I opened up the locked door and the locked chest and found clothing, extra daggers, a document with his real name on it, and a journal. There was a small bag of 15 gold pieces on the bed as well. I guessed that was from the thieves’ guild. I didn’t figure I had time to read the journal but I might be able to read it at some point.

I put everything back exactly where it was and then crept out, locking his door behind me.

* * *

The next day, the sixth since we’d come to Denrith, I got up and made us all breakfast of eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, and toasted bread. I slipped into Dack’s room and took the bag of gold from his bed. I figured we might need money for him. After we ate, I had the others take me to the gaol. I didn’t want to go but I did.

We found a sentence had been set for Dack Fel: Seven Days - Ten Lashings Times Stocks. We found him in the stocks near the market district. It looked like he’d has his face beaten as well. I expected that as I always thought gaol was a terrible place. However, I noticed none of the other people in the stocks had their faces beaten.

“Who beat you up?” I asked. “Did you mouth off? You talked, didn’t you?”

“We have a special friend that works here,” he said.

“Who?”

“One of the four jerks back from basic.”

“Which one?”

“The cleric.”

“Oh.”

Arya glared. She had been the one who had fought the cleric when we first joined up months before.

“You said she beat the crap out of you?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “And there’s not much I could have done about it.”

“There was some money on your bed,” I whispered to him. “We’ll start with that. Fair enough? I know where it’s from. Wait! Where your pebble?”

“I don’t know,” he whispered back.

“Next time swallow it,” I said.

“Just get me out of here,” he said.

“All right,” I said. “Let’s go. C’mon.”

“Don’t bribe them!” he called.

We went into the gaol and asked if there as any way to make a payment in lieu of Dack’s punishment. He told us the only way to do it was to get a specific letter from Dack Fel saying he was sorry and delivering it to the man he robbed. We could talk to the man he robbed, but only with the escort of a guard. Then the victim would have a choice of what he wanted for reprimand. I asked for the escort.

I went back out to talk to Dack Fel.

“Do you have any more money at the house?” I asked.

“Yes,” he growled.

“How much?”

“Enough.”

“How much? I need a number.”

I told him exactly what we were going to do and reminded him the man might want a good amount of money. I told him I needed to know, that I could get into wherever he locked it and might use it to pay the man. He guessed he had about 80 gold pieces so that gave us a total of potentially 95 gold coins.

The man who was to act as our escort did not look like a typical guard but carried himself more like a house guard or a personal bodyguard. He took us to the nobles’ quarters to a specific mansion. He went to the door and talked to a servant who led him into the house. We waited outside for them. He returned after a few minutes and told us the lord Dack Fel has insulted was Duke Brennan. The duke said his day with his children was interrupted and it was something he liked to do, so we had to come up with something his children would like. John Wayne asked about the duke’s children and we learned he had a boy of 13 and a girl of about nine years old.

We talked, just the three of us.

“I don’t want to go near the duke,” I confessed. “Because, I realize I shouldn’t have been in such a hurry. I yelled ‘Get out of the way, filthy beggar’ and I ran into him as I ran by.”

I glanced at the house, fearful the duke might be watching. I pulled my hood up to obscure my features as well.

“It’s up to you two, so … I dunno,” I went on. “Take ‘em to the zoo or something.”

We discussed it. I suggested as a beautiful woman, Arya would entertain them. She said she could tell them stories of her homeland. I noted it would be appropriate if Dack Fel had to do it. Then I had it!

“We can sent a proposal to the duke that the perpetrator will dress up as a jester and do magic tricks,” I said. “You know, things like pull pennies out of their ears and make cards magically disappear. We could send that to him and note it would an appropriate punishment, if the duke is willing. He would do tricks for his children and entertain them for as long as the duke so wishes.”

“Or maybe the children could just throw food at him,” Arya said.

We told the guard and sent that proposal back to the duke. I also suggested the duke could pick the jester costume. The guard left for a bit and returned. He told us the duke was fine with it with the stipulations it be done in the public market and the orphan children would be invited as well. The duke also had a costume in mind.

He escorted us back to the gaol and the guard told us to wait. He returned with a piece of paper we were tell the guard to give to Dack Fel. We went to the stockades and were to return that night. I told Dack Fel everything that had happened with the duke. I advised him to take the blame in the apology letter, perhaps noting he was misguided and regretted what he’d done. Then we left, returning at nightfall to take the apology letter.

* * *

On our seventh day in Denrith, I fixed us breakfast before we headed out. We left for the market and eventually made our way to the market center, where the show would probably take place. I went into the Scented Seasons Inn and asked if they had a room on the second floor overlooking the market square. Unfortunately they didn’t. Instead, I crept into the market square and found a niche I could hide near a booth where I could see the market square but remain hidden. I soon saw the Duke in the center of the market square. There were a lot of children around and a lot of people had rotten fruit and vegetables.

Dack Fel arrived shortly in the most ridiculous jester outfit I’d ever seen. It had massive shoes and bells everywhere. Only his face and his buttocks were uncovered. He looked like a raggedy hobo.

That’s the worst suit ever, I thought.

I realized I should have brought him some cards to do card tricks or perhaps makeup for his terribly bruised and beaten face. Oh well.

Dack Fel talked to a guard who didn’t seem want to talk to him. He then talked to John Wayne and Arya for a few moments. The two left and John Wayne brought him various items. Then he was pushed towards the middle of the square. Then the Duke came forward.

“Ladies and gentlemen, in regards to my son and daughter’s birthdays, today, all day, we will be having entertainment from … Lester the Jester! Remember kids, throw that food all you want! You’ll never miss.”

“Yeah, right!” a kid in the back yelled.

He chucked a tomato and it bee-lined straight for Dack Fel and slammed him in the face. I had a great idea and I left the area, even as I saw Arya handing out tomatoes. It took me a half hour to find a pie cart and the lady told me it was early and it would be some time before her pies were ready. I told her that was fine, as I wanted to buy all of her pies and for her to take her cart to the market center and distribute them to all of the orphan children there, who were having fun with a clown.

“Oh, are you a part of the festivities today?” she asked.

“I just heard about it happening and so I want to help out,” I said.

“That is wonderful! Come back about 11 or 11:30 and we’ll have a full cart for you. You want ‘em extra messy?”

“Yes, as messy as you can make them. Spare no expense.”

I returned a couple hours later and she told me it would cost a gold coin for her 50 pies. I paid her two gold coins for her trouble and asked her to take the cart down to the market center and distribute the pies to the children so they could throw them at the jester. I went back to my hiding place.

By then, Dack Fel was completely covered in rotten fruit and vegetables. I figured pies would be a blessing after that. The pie lady arrived and handed out the free pies. I soon noticed any adult who threw something would miss while children would always hit. It appeared all of the children were having a good time, though they didn’t like the pies as much as they did the other things. Dack Fel was soon covered in white pie filling.

By the early afternoon, they were out of things to pelt him with. Then he started doing magic tricks for the children, though none of them wanted to get near him. Arya helped him to do some of his tricks. He did the cup and ball trick with three cups and a ball. It was not a very good trick. Dack Fel claimed it was just a test round and tried again. He did the trick again and the cup and balls just seemed to vanish. The children cried for him to bring them back. I ran to where I could quickly purchase more cups and a ball and did so. I flung the whole thing at Dack as hard as I could. Cups and a ball flew over the crowd and landed on the table. The children loved it. Then I went back to my hiding place.

He tried some juggling and did a couple of tricks. Arya appeared with more tomatoes and gave them to the duke’s children. Eventually the show ended with evening. I saw the duke talking to Dack Fel before they took him back to the gaol. Arya, John Wayne, and I went home.

“That was the best day ever,” Arya said with a giggle. “That was the best. That was great.”

* * *

Dack Fel returned to the house early the next morning, our eighth day in Denrith, just as we were getting up. John Wayne was waiting for him and talked to him briefly. Then Dack Fel came to my room.

“Rory, where’d you put the gold that was on my bed?” he asked.

I tossed him the sack, telling him there were only 13 gold coins left.

“You can have six,” he said.

“Well, shouldn’t everybody get some?” I asked. “Where did you get this?”

John Wayne and Arya peeked in.

“We should all get some of this money that you found somewhere that I don’t know where you found,” I said.

“What are you talking about?” Dack Fel said. “I’m a government employee.”

“You should divide this money between all of us,” I said.

He did so, giving us each three gold coins.

“No matter what, I’m taking the day off, so … you know,” Dack Fel said. “We could relax. We could all just relax and think about what we’ve done. And me and Rory can−”

“Or you can think about what you’ve done,” John Wayne said to him.

“I’ll think about what I’ve done with Rory,” Dack Fel said.

The elves went to the ship to talk to Brigadier Stutterlynch. While they were gone, I questioned Dack Fel about how much money he’d stolen without telling me. He told me he’d successfully stolen from two people.

“What about that guy in the warehouse?” I asked.

“What guy in the warehouse?” he asked.

“Did he have some money on him?”

“A little bit.”

“You’re not going to share it with your best friend?”

“It’s gone now!”

“Aw, damn it.”

“But from now on, we should do this together and share in the profits.”

I agreed with him. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1958-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-3-5-Luxit-Sol-Campaign-Session-Four-Arrest
<![CDATA[Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 - Luxit Sol Campaign Session Three - Rats]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1957-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-3-5-Luxit-Sol-Campaign-Session-Three-Rats Mon, 23 Nov 2015 20:36:48 GMT Saturday, November 7, 2015

(After playing Kit Howard’s D&D 3.5 game Friday, November 6, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. with James Dixon, Ethan Gordon, Katelyn Hogan, and Demetrius Jones-Dixon.)

From the recollections of Rory Buttertongue - Halfling

On our second day in Denrith, Dack Fel disappeared again, directly after breakfast, without telling us where he went. John Wayne, Arya, and I discussed a job and we went to the job board outside. Arya wanted to fight rats and one of the jobs was for that.

“So, what shall we do?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Arya said.

“So, you want to kill rats?” I asked. “All right, where’s this rat place?”

John Wayne looked more closely at the job board and told us we needed to talk to a Captain Louis. I left a note for Dack Fel at the inn that read: “We’ve gone to look for a missing dog. Just kidding. Rory.” I slid it under his door and we left.

The market was very, very crowded and I had little trouble picking a man’s pockets for about four silver coins. I touched the guild pebble to them and was surprised when they turned into a little bunch of grapes. I handed them over to a beggar with an eye drooping out of the socket and he tucked them away. Very interesting system.

“Oh, that’s what pebbling is,” I said to myself.

It took us about an hour to walk to the docks from the inn. I asked a beggar about Captain Louis and showed him my pebble.

“Uh …” one of them said. “Don’t show that in public. Keep it hidden.”

“All right,” I said.

“Haven’t you been taught yet?” he said.

“Sure,” I said. “I forgot! It’s been a big day. It’s my birthday! Do you know anything about Captain Louis?”

He told me he didn’t and suggested if it was for a job from the board, I should ask a guard. I gave him a silver coin and walked back to the others, telling them what I’d learned. They were talking to people passing by. John Wayne walked over to a guard while I held back. I couldn’t hear what they were talking about but the two soon came back over to me.

“So, deluxe map,” Arya said.

“Do we have a deluxe map?” John Wayne said.

“Yes, I’ve got one right here,” I said.

I opened up the scroll and we looked on it for Captain Louis and rats. John Wayne went back to the guard, Arya grabbing the map from me and walking over with him. The two learned from him how to use the map by touching the help board on the map. Then you could actually see the spot on the map where the job was. It was very magical and quite ingenious. It also showed us where we were. We headed to the spot marked on the map which was not far from the dock entrance to the slums.

I found another beggar on the way.

“I got a job for you,” I said to him. “I got five silver coins here. I need you to go to the … where we staying?”

“Scented Seasons,” John Wayne said.

“The Scented Seasons,” I said.

“Yes, I know,” the beggar said.

“Find Dack Fel and tell him that his friends are down at the docks,” I said. “Tell him Rory sent you.”

“Okay,” he said.

“All right, and you find me again, I’ll give you another five,” I said. “Go!”

The beggar took out something and scribbled on it and then put it behind him.

“It’s getting done,” he said.

“Good job!” I said.

We continued on to the warehouse. All of the warehouses looked the same but when we got close, the map zoomed in and showed us in relation to our destination. There were several people working in the warehouse and the main doors were open. The place was about 100 feet wide and looked very deep. There were windows in the walls near the roof, about 40 feet high. Sailors moved in and out of the warehouse and we headed in, following John Wayne.

A man in a red shirt came out of the warehouse as we approached.

“Hold on, hold on,” he said. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“We are here to kill some rats,” John Wayne said. “We’re looking for Captain Louis.”

“About damned time someone was interested in this,” the man said. “Please please come in. I’ll bring you to Captain Louis.”

We followed the man inside. The warehouse was massive and probably a hundred yards from front to back. It was filled with everything imaginable, crated produce and the like, and even livestock. The far end of the warehouse, the entire back, had apparently been walled off.

“There’s your rats right there, I’ll bet,” I said.

“Well, I guess I better start tracking them,” Arya said.

“Wait, let’s talk to the captain first,” John Wayne said.

We headed up the stairs, then across a catwalk to a small office built into the wall some 20 feet up. I could see another catwalk behind it and more steps leading up from there. We were led into the office where a man with rusty blonde hair sat behind the desk. The man who led us in turned out to be his first mate and introduced us to Captain Louis.

“These men and lady are here to help with the rats,” the first mate said.

“All right, go back,” Captain Louis said. “Go back. Continue.”

The first mate ran out.

“How bad is this rat problem that you’re having?” John Wayne asked.

“Well, that’s the thing, I sent a couple people back there,” Captain Louis said. “I don’t have the time, unfortunately, to go down there myself. I’ll explain. We have rats. They come out at night and into the main part of the warehouse. We’re pretty sure we know where they come from but it’s been a little bit of a problem because they’re getting into our fresh produce, eating it, they scare the cows, which break out, damage other products. It’s just not good. So, go back out there and there will be a person at the bottom of the stairs. His name is Shmee. He will help you go back. He’s the one that’s had the most experience with the rats. When you’re done, I’ll give you some gold for your time and hopefully this never happens again.”

We left the office and found a disheveled-looking teen at the bottom of the stairs. He had dirty brown hair and a baby face. He looked very poor.

“Are - are you the ones here to get the rats?” he said.

“Yes, we are,” John Wayne said.

“Oh, good good,” Shmee said. “Please please follow me!”

He led us to the very back of the warehouse where a door stood in the extra wall I’d noticed before.

“I can’t believe Dack hasn’t found us yet,” I muttered. “What’s wrong with him?”

Shmee told us the rat problems were getting worse. He noted they’d put some spoiled meat on the ground the night before and they heard the rats, so they’d sent a couple of men in.

“What happened next?” I asked the boy.

“Exactly,” he said.

“They didn’t come back out?” I asked.

“NO!” he said.

I gasped.

“This was this morning?” I asked him.

“This morning,” he said.

“The rats should be full now,” I said. “They should be easy to kill. Let’s go.”

I could hear the scurrying of rats behind the wall.

“The captain just told us to take care of it,” Shmee said. “He doesn’t have time to go down and handle it himself.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Open the door then?” Shmee said.

“Open the door,” John Wayne said.

Shmee took the lock off the door and then flung it open and jumped behind us. Four huge rats, each the size of a man’s arm, were waiting and leapt at John Wayne. All four of them tore into his legs and ankles, cutting and biting him. Blood splattered from the man. Arya fired her bow into the melee but missed completely. John Wayne drew out what looked like a small, sharp hoe, and struck at the rats but missed. I moved to my right, still some distance from the rats and took out my slingshot. I fired into the melee and struck one of the rats solidly in the skull, killing it instantly.

“One!” I called.

The rats tore into John Wayne and Arya again, biting both of them. Arya backed away and shot a rat dead. John Wayne missed again and I fired another bullet that winged one of the rats.

“One and a half!” I called.

The remaining rats attacked John Wayne. Arya fired another arrow at the rats and missed completely, nearly skewering John Wayne’s leg. John Wayne struck one of the rats with his fist, killing it, and killed the last one with his sharp hoe.

“Dinner for Dack,” I said, pointing at the rats. “Is it dark in there? Do we need a torch? I don’t have one. Do we need one?”

“No idea,” John Wayne said weakly.

“Where’s Dack when we need someone to scout ahead for pits?” I said.

John Wayne looked around for something to bind his wounds and eventually tore some strips from his shirt.

“Good shot,” I said to Arya.

She didn’t look pleased at my compliment. I think she thought I was being sarcastic.

“Can you see in there?” I asked John Wayne. “Is it too dark to see?”

There appeared to be shelves on either side of the door and the back wall of the building was only 20 or 30 feet further on.

“Let’s go,” I said to John Wayne. “Are you all right? You look very pale.”

“Close the door,” John Wayne said.

Arya just looked at him so I closed the door. Shmee walked back up to us.

“Do you get ‘em?” he asked.

“We got a few,” John Wayne said.

“How many are there?” I asked.

“How many are there?” John Wayne said.

“How am I supposed to know?” Shmee said.

“I thought you were a smart boy,” I said.

“‘Go kill the rats,’” he said. “‘How many rats are there?’ I don’t know! They’re rats!”

“One, two, three, four,” I said. “There’s four.”

“Four, at least, are dead,” John Wayne said. “Shmee, go find us a torch.”

I could still hear scurrying behind the wall.

“Do you have any torches?” I asked.

“Uh …” Shmee said.

“Or a lantern?” I said. “Something we could borrow? We don’t have to keep it.”

“All right, hold on,” Shmee said.

“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you.”

He ran off.

“So, how you feeling?” I asked John Wayne.

He just glared at me.

“You look like … there’s a lot of blood,” I said. “There’s a lot of blood …”

We waited for Shmee to return. I asked John Wayne what we were doing and he replied he was waiting for a torch. It had only been a few minutes but I was getting bored.

“I can see in there,” I said. “It’ll be fine. Let’s go. Let’s go.”

John Wayne continued to look around.

“Can you use a shield?” I asked.

“I don’t have a shield,” he said.

“Yeah, but look, there’s plenty of palettes,” I said. “You could use one as a makeshift shield.”

“I prefer not to,” he said.

“All right,” I said. “Let’s go then, lead the way! I’m ready. I’ve got my slingshot.”

I nudged him in the back of the leg.

“Before we do anything, grab one of all the produce,” he said. “Put it down in front of the door.”

I shrugged and Arya and I started to gather up single potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage, radishes, turnips, and the like. We each got an armful and returned.

“Are you hungry?” I asked.

“I hope we don’t have to pay for this,” Arya said.

“Not right now,” John Wayne said.

“Well no one’s here to see that we took it, so …” I said.

“Well, it’ll be on the ground,” Arya said.

“No stealing,” John Wayne said.

“What are we doing?” I asked. “I’m not stealing, I’m … you just told me to steal!”

John Wayne looked around again but didn’t seem to find whatever he was looking for.

“I don’t think he’s coming back,” I said of Shmee.

Arya walked over to the door and opened it, peeking in. I followed behind her and John Wayne followed us. She went to the left and I followed, looking at shelves on either side. I figured I could climb them like a ladder but they were very high, being 30 feet or so to the top. A fall from one of them would be very, very bad.

“Rory, put the produce in the corner,” John Wayne said.

I grabbed up the produce and dumped it in the corner of the room. Then I went back outside and got the lock off the door so we didn’t get locked in. I took out my slingshot. I went back in and followed Arya, who moved off to the left. There was a bloody skeleton further on and I stopped as she walked over and examined it.

“Oh,” she said.

I turned around and watched the other direction, where there was another corridor of sorts leading through the shelves. Arya returned to me and I suggested we stand back-to-back.

“I hear something,” John Wayne said.

“What do you hear?” I whispered. “What is going on?”

“Thuds,” John Wayne said

“Where?” I asked.

“Behind the walls,” he said.

“Which walls,” I said. “Point me.”

He gestured towards the main wall.

“Behind this wall over here?” I asked.

He nodded and I moved to the back wall, as did John Wayne. There were no cracks but it was darker than one would expect from an outer wall.

“There’s another wall back there,” I whispered. “There’s some shelves over this way.”

Arya walked by me, heading off to the right. John Wayne put his ear to the wall, listening to it.

“Don’t get stuck to it,” I hissed at him. Then I looked around. “Dack’s not here for me to tease. You hear anything?”

“Slowly something is fading into the back behind the wall,” he said. “It seems to be gone.”

“All right,” I said.

“But stay on your toes,” he said.

“I don’t hear the little rats anymore,” I said.

“Stay on your toes,” John Wayne said again.

I looked around and found Arya, putting my back to her. John Wayne headed over to the right of entrance.

“He’s about to die,” she said to me. “Let’s stay with him.”

I nodded and she followed him. I followed after her. As we reached the side of the first shelf, we all saw a hand on the floor by the edge of the nearby shelves suddenly dragged away. I heard heavy breathing and the sound of someone dragging a body. I quickly told the others in a whisper.

“Go, lead the way,” I said. “I’ll follow you. I’ve got your back.”

John Wayne drew his daggers and moved to the front of us. I crept to the corner and hid in the shadows while the other two moved to the next shelf. John Wayne peeked around the corner. Suddenly, a dead body came out of nowhere and slammed into John Wayne as if it had been flung. He crashed back into Arya and they both fell to the floor.

“Behind the door!” John Wayne yelled. “Let’s go!”

“What is that?” I cried. “It’s a dead body! Grab the body!”

“No,” John Wayne said as he ran away.

“Grab the body?” Arya said. “We just got hit with that. No!”

Something bellowed loudly from back in the shelves.

“Help me!” I hissed at Arya. “Grab the body! Grab the body!”

“Why?” she asked. “That would just hinder me. Why would I grab the body?”

I ran away as something large came at us. I wasn’t about to argue with her.

“You need to calm down!” Arya yelled as she ran.

The thing bellowed back at her.

“We mean you no harm!” I yelled at the thing as we ran out.

John Wayne slammed the door shut. The thing lumbered quickly towards the door, by the sound of it. I ran back and hid by a crate.

“Where’s the lock?” John Wayne said.

I tossed him the padlock and he locked the door. The roaring immediately stopped the moment the door was shut.

“I don’t believe that was real,” I said. “It’s an illusion. It’s fake.”

“It didn’t feel like an illusion,” Arya said.

“It went off like somebody had just … like … you know … like in the stage,” I said. “You ever see the theater? How they die quickly? Like that.”

John Wayne led us back to the front of the warehouse.

“Shouldn’t we put the produce back?” I said as we walked. “At least we’d have one of the bodies to give back to them if someone had helped me.”

Shmee showed up with a torch as we walked back.

“I’ve got the torch!” he said. “Sorry, there was no fire over here.”

“Oh, thanks,” I said. “There’s some kind of giant monster back there.”

“What!?!” he shrieked.

“That’s what we said,” I said.

He ran away.

“We locked the door for you!” I called after him.

We went to the front of the warehouse.

“Tell you what,” I said. “You two go try to see the captain. I’m going to try to get Dack here.”

“All right,” John Wayne said.

“I’ll be back in five minutes,” I said.

I went out into the street and found another beggar.

“I need you to get Dack Fel here,” I said.

“Right here,” he said.

“Right at that warehouse,” I said, pointing to the warehouse.

“I can’t get him here,” the man said.

“Can you tell him where this warehouse is?”

“Sure.”

“We’re waiting for him. Tell him we’ve been waiting for a very long time.”

“Okay.”

“And we can’t understand why he’s not here.”

“All that?”

“Just make it sound like it’s his fault.”

“All that? His fault? It’s all his fault?”

“We’ve been waiting for him.”

“I like that it’s the thieves’ fault.”

“We’ve been waiting for him like he said.”

I handed him a couple silver coins and returned to the warehouse. I heard shouting from the office as if Arya and John Wayne were yelling at the captain through a door. I couldn’t make out what they were saying but they continued to converse in that way for some time, it seemed. Then they held a short conversation on the catwalk before finally coming back down. I walked up and asked what he’d said.

“He said ‘Deal with it,’” John Wayne said.

“All right, let’s go,” I said. “I’ve got my slingshot. I grabbed a bunch of rocks too, for more bullets.”

We went looking for the first mate couldn’t find him. Then we used the map to try to find a local temple where John Wayne might get healed. The nearest healer was over by the gate that led into the market district. I showed him on the map.

We went looking for the first mate throughout the warehouse and asked some of the workers what his name was: Zult. None of them had seen the man recently. John Wayne left for the temple while Arya and I waited at the warehouse for Dack Fel. We continued looking for the first mate but couldn’t find him anywhere. We discussed investigating more and ended up heading back to the back to try to recover Arya’s arrows.

“I hear whispering,” Arya told me.

We listened at the door.

“Be careful next time,” I heard someone say off to the right.

Something growled in response. Then it sounded like something was dragged away. I gestured for Arya to move away from the door and then I told her what I’d heard. She asked if the whispering sounded familiar but I told her it did not. I suggested we go look for Dack. Arya wanted to look for the first mate.

“What if that was the first mate?” she asked.

“I dunno,” I said. “It might have been.”

We walked back to the front and the first mate entered the warehouse as we got near the entrance.

“We’ve been looking for you,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“Well, the captain wanted to find you,” I said. “He was looking for you, and wanted to know where you were. I think he was worried. Are you all right? Are you all right? Are you okay?”

I reached up and touched his arm.

“I’m fine,” he said. “Please. Please don’t touch me.”

“Oh, well I’m sorry,” I said.

He headed up the steps towards the office again. Neither Arya nor I knew where he’d come from. I suggested we look at the outside of the warehouse. We walked out front and I looked around for Dack Fel and then sent Arya around the side of the building to look for a secret entrance into the back of the warehouse. I told her I’d wait there for Dack Fel. She left. Dack Fel arrived a minute or so later.

“Thanks for waking me up, jerk,” he said.

“There you are,” I said. “You were already awake! You left this morning without us.”

“No,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

“What’s this note?”

He showed me the note I’d slid under his door.

“Oh, that was a joke,” I said. “That’s my attempt at human humor. Did it work?”

“No,” he said.

“Well, I felt bad, so I sent word to you,” I said. “Did you get the other messages. I sent many.”

He showed me other pieces of paper. Some were ruder than I had been.

“Where’s everyone else?” he asked.

“John Wayne has gone to the temple,” I said. “We fought rats. There’s some kind of giant monster that throws bodies at its weapon, apparently. And John Wayne got scratched and went off to a temple to get healed. And then we were waiting for you.”

“Screw this, do you want to go look for a dog?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “We’re finishing this for these people. You’ve been off doing your own thing all day, so …”

“Yeah, waiting for you. All day.”

“You’ve just been waiting? I left you a note saying where we were and you just waited? And I sent two more notes and you just waited?”

“I went to talk to the thieves’ guild and he said to go to a tavern for jobs for us. For later.”

“Well, there’s some kind of monster in the back and I heard someone whisper ‘Be more careful next time.’”

I told him everything else I could remember of the thing though I forgot about the first mate. I eventually remembered.

“Let’s go kill some rats,” he said.

“We have to wait for John Wayne to get back,” I said.

“We don’t have to wait for him to get back,” he said.

Arya returned. She said she hadn’t found anything. I was very disappointed. We discussed elves noticing secret doors and I told them I thought they could just notice them. Arya told us she hadn’t looked on the other side and I told her to do so. She left with a frown. Dack Fel said he believed someone was using the rat thing as a front. We discussed what might be going on. He believed someone wanted to keep people out of the back of the warehouse for some reason. Arya finally returned but hadn’t found anything but cobwebs.

We headed back to the door and I tried to pick the lock on the padlock without luck. It was a tough one and I asked Dack Fel if he wanted to try. I warned him not to unlatch it, merely unlock it. He tried without luck so I gave it another go but couldn’t get the lock opened. He tried one more time without luck either. I kept an eye out to make sure no one was near us.

We returned to the front of the warehouse to wait for John Wayne. Shmee returned some 30 minutes later.

“How are you?” I asked him. “How you feeling?”

“I’m fine,” he said. “Who are you?”

“We’re here to get the rats,” I said.

“Oh!” he said, heading into the warehouse. “Follow me!”

“Wait!” I said. “There’s one more of us. We’re waitin’ for him to show up.”

“Oh, okay,” Shmee said. “I’ll be around, doing my work. Let me know when you’re ready.”

“All right,” I said.

When he walked away I turned to Dack Fel.

“He’s the one that let us in, but he’s acting like he never saw us before,” I said.

“Maybe he got hit on the head,” Dack Fel said.

“But he’s acting like he never saw her before,” I said, pointing at Arya.

She looked at me.

“You stand out in a crowd,” I said of the beautiful elf woman.

“Not very,” she said.

“But you’re gorgeous so you stand out in a crowd,” I said.

“No,” she said. “Among humans. Yeah. I do.”

“And you’re so modest.”

“You should see back at home.”

“I would love to! Let’s go.”

“Hm.”

“What?” Dack Fel said. “What are we doing?”

“Your hair looks nice,” I said to him. “That’s what she said.”

“Oh, thank you,” he said.

“I did not,” she said.

It was over an hour before John Wayne returned.

“How are you feeling?” I asked.

“A little better,” he said.

“You look … I can’t say you look better,” Dack Fel said. “Because I didn’t know how you looked before.”

“Let’s go back in there,” I said. “C’mon. We got Shmee. He doesn’t remember us. At all.”

“Shmee’s back?” John Wayne said.

I pointed him out.

“How about the first mate?” John Wayne asked.

I told him how he had appeared after we’d left the back and of our suspicions of him. We also talked about the whispering in the back and Arya walking around the exterior of the warehouse. Arya used some of Dack Fel’s bandages to bind her own wounds.

“I thought we were looking for a dog,” Dack Fel said.

“Just ignore him,” I said.

“Let me look at the map,” Dack Fel said.

“Why?” I asked.

“I just want to look at it.”

I handed him the map and he looked over it for a minute. John Wayne wanted to find the first mate and we quickly did. He was barking orders to people in the warehouse.

“Did you mention to him about the monster?” Dack Fel asked. “The first mate?”

“No,” I said. “No one was told but Shmee.”

“I thought we told the captain,” Arya said.

“I don’t know what you told the captain,” I said. “I was outside.”

“Did we tell the captain that?” Arya asked.

“Yeah, we did,” John Wayne said to her.

“So, he doesn’t know we know,” Dack Fel said. “So … and he was apparently gone. You couldn’t find him.”

“What is your point?” I asked.

“Ask him about it and see his reaction,” Dack Fel said. “If he denies it, then …”

“Go ahead,” I said.

“No, it’s your idea, Rory,” he said.

“This is your idea!” I said.

We approached the first mate.

“What can I help you with?” he asked.

“So, about the rats … uh … we killed some of them,” John Wayne said. “As we went to go back to the warehouse to find more, there was something else back there. It … frankly was a little freaky. It’s … like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s large, like a massive dog … like a bear and a dog.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand,” he said.

“I don’t either,” John Wayne said. “Has there been anything … have you found anything in that part of the warehouse that is, in any way, suspicious?”

“No, we just had a lot of rats. And a lot of rats together means you need a lot of people to kill them.”

I looked around to see where Shmee was but there was no sign of him.

“All right,” I said. “Let’s go get those rats, then.” I turned to Arya. “You all right? You feel better? You smell like lemon water.”

John Wayne asked the first mate for a torch and the man left us for a couple of minutes, returning with a rod. He handed it to me and told me there was a light spell upon it. Once it was dark, we would be able to see it. Arya suggested John Wayne carry it. I handed it off to her and she tucked it in her belt.

We went to look for Shmee and found him carrying a box onto a ship. I waited for him to come back and, when he returned, I told him we were going back to kill the rats and asked him if he had a key to the lock. He led us back to the back again.

“Don’t forget to ask him to get a torch, right before we go in,” I whispered to the others.

“We’ve got a torch,” both John Wayne and Arya told me.

“Just do it,” I said. “See how he reacts.”

Then I turned to Shmee.

“I see the door is locked, Shmee,” I said.

The youth went to the door.

“You ready?” he said. “I’m going to open it for you!”

He unlocked it, then swung back the doorway and leapt back. Then he screamed and ran away. I called after him, asking him to get a torch.

Four rats were in the doorway, just as before. They rushed forward again.

I was in the back and didn’t have a shot so I pulled back on my slingshot and stood ready. Dack Fel had drawn his knives and moved to one side of John Wayne. He flung a dagger into the doorway but it missed. Arya shot one of the rats dead, actually pinning it into the clay floor. John Wayne had some kind of punching daggers on his hands. He punched at one of the rats but missed. He skewered the second rat, killing it instantly. It was stuck on his punching dagger.

I still didn’t have a shot so I waited. Dack Fel flung another knife, skewering another rat, and I cheered. Arya shot another rat, again skewering the thing into the floor.

Dack Fel and Arya recovered their daggers and arrows.

“They’re on the right,” I whispered. “It’s on the right. The right is where the stuff is.”

The bodies of the rats we’d killed before were gone. Arya suggested they had been dragged off and eaten by the other rats. I suggested we get the others out of the area. However, when I picked up a rat, I noticed it was lighter than it should be. I examined it more closely.

“Why you looking at the rat for, Rory?” Dack Fel asked.

“Here,” I said, pointing to another rat. “Pick that up. Pick one of these up.”

Dack Fel did so and then cut into the rat with his dagger. It vanished. I didn’t notice until he did it until another one. Dack Fel suggested I try to stab mine but I was of the opinion we should try a different method, pointing out John Wayne had stabbed one, which was still on his punching knife but it hadn’t disappeared. Instead of stabbing it, I felt the dead rat. It felt like a rat but was not nearly heavy enough to be one. It was quite confusing. Blood still dripped from it.

I handed the rat to Dack Fel. Then I moved to the doorway to watch for anything else to come. When he asked if I wanted him to stab it, I told him he could do what he wanted, and explained the rat felt real, though it weighed far less than it should. I suggested he chop the tail off and he did, but nothing unusual happened. Then he laid the rat down on the floor and it vanished like the rest when he cut it.

“So, would you like this?” John Wayne said, brandishing his rat at me.

“Not really … why would want that?” I said. Then I had a thought. “Pebble it!”

“I want to cut this one,” Arya said.

“Here ya go,” John Wayne said.

Dack Fel snatched it out of his hand and then pulled out his pebble.

“What are you doing?” Arya said.

“I’m pebbling it,” Dack Fel said.

He touched the rat and it turned into a small block of cheese. Then it started shrinking. I backed away and Dack Fel put it down on the ground. Then it vanished.

“That’s so weird,” I whispered.

Dack Fel told us his blade had hit something and it had felt solid, like metal or glass. I guessed it was some kind of clockwork. He said it felt more like glass or crystal.

“Quick, get the wand out,” Dack Fel said. “Summon a kobold.”

“A goblin?” I said.

“A goblin,” he said. “Whatever.”

“I don’t know how that wand works … okay!” I said.

I took out the wand.

“Do you hear that?” Dack Fel said.

“Hear what?” I asked.

“Sounds like a thumping,” he said.

“We heard something before, right before we saw the thing,” I said.

Nervous, I pointed the wand and concentrated. A moment later, an armed goblin appeared next to me. My jaw dropped! I was not really expecting it to work.

“Hello!” I said. “Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello! I have the wand. Are you here for me? Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you! Nice to meet you!”

He was armed with a sword and shook my hand when I gave it to him.

“Go kill some things in there,” I said. “Not these.”

I pointed to my companions. The goblin looked at the door and then ran in.

“Let’s go!” I said, giving chase.

“Rory, that’s not why I wanted the goblin for,” Dack Fel said.

I tucked the wand back into my belt and took out my slingshot once again, following the goblin in excitement. I gave the creature about 10 feet of space, just in case. I followed him through a maze of shelves into a spot that opened up into a space about 25 feet by 25 feet. The others followed behind me. The goblin ran to the far wall of the room and started scratching at a grate which was very dark.

“This is the best!” I said to myself.

Then I turned to the rest.

“This is where the thing came from!” I hissed to them

There were shadows in the corners of the room so I slipped to one and hid. The others entered the room, Arya ready with her bow, John Wayne with his punching daggers, and Dack Fel, sword in one hand and dagger in another, standing near where we came in.

“All right, hold on, hold on, hold on,” I said to the goblin.

He didn’t listen and I realized I’d told him to kill everyone but my friends in the area. He was just following orders. Dack Fel kept an eye on where we’d come from and I watched the grate. With a crash, the wall over the grate bulged and fell onto the goblin, who vanished completely under the rubble with a squeak.

A pink creature standing well over six feet tall burst out. It had long hair that grew from the top of its head, partially covering its eyes. It looked like a mix between a giant, naked mole rat and a bear. I recognized it from a story my gram-gram had told me years ago. It was a rat ogre. They would come through and steal children if they didn’t do their chores. It looked exactly like she had described.

It glared at Arya and then rushed her with a roar. It was terrifying. The thing tried to maul her but she ducked out of the way.

I moved across the room to flank the thing and fired my slingshot at the rat ogre and struck him in the back of the head. It was an excellent shot. Arya, right in front of the thing, fired her bow at it as it tried to maul her again. The arrow flew off into the darkness. John Wayne punched at the horrible thing with his punching daggers. He struck the thing with both of them and the thing stumbled. Dack Fel moved around the room and stepped between the rat ogre and me and then stabbed it in the back.

Then someone punched me from behind. I screamed in terror and a fist flew by my head as he tried to hit me again.

“There’s monks behind me!” I screamed.

The rat ogre tried to attack Arya again but stumbled. I tried to tumble away from the horrible hole but was struck in the back of the head and everything went black.

* * *

I awoke some time later to find myself still in the terrible room. Arya was above me, lightly slapping my face. My head hurt horribly and the light from the windows hurt my eyes.

“Aw,” I muttered. “Someone hit me in the head.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Don’t worry, I hit them back,” Dack Fel said.

Their voices were muffled and dull. It hurt me to listen to them.

“What’s wrong with your voice?” I said.

I felt terrible.

“Where’s the … the … you know … the thing?” I asked.

“It’s gone,” Dack Fel said. “Don’t worry.”

“Where’s my … you know … my thing?” I asked.

“Your slingshot?” Dack Fel asked.

“No,” I said. “My slingshot.”

“Yeah … oh,” Dack Fel said.

He handed me my slingshot and I tucked it away. I sat there for some time, my hands over my eyes for the most part, trying to figure out where I was and what had happened. I felt awful.

“Are we safe?” I asked.

“Yeah, we’re safe,” Dack Fel said as they continued to fiddle around.

“My head hurts,” I muttered.

“We’ll get you some water,” Arya said to me. “Later.”

I felt my head and found there was no blood but my skull ached.

“Does anyone know what the writing on this ring is?” John Wayne said.

“I’ll take a look at it,” Dack Fel said.

Arya left my side as she, presumably, looked at the ring as well.

“Why are we still here?” I muttered. “Did we win?”

“We’re searching the guy that punched you in the back of the head,” Dack Fel said.

“There was a … is there more than one?” I muttered. “What’s behind that wall?”

“We killed the thing and he freaked out,” Dack Fel said. “So, I think there’s just him.”

“That wasn’t the question that I asked.”

“We don’t know. We haven’t been there.”

“Go look before more monsters show up. What is this thing we’re looking at?”

“Give me the light.”

“A ring,” John Wayne said. “Please.”

“Ring?” I said. “What ring? I’m so confused.”

They went to search the hole in the wall the rat ogre had come from. He had the light stick Arya had been carrying and Dack Fel fiddled. I suggested he tap the floor.

“Go in!” I said.

“There could be stuff in there,” he said.

“If there’s anything that could kill us it would have killed us by now,” I said. “That back wall. There’s something behind that back wall. Over there. There’s something behind this wall.”

“Make sure he doesn’t wake up,” Dack Fel said, pointing at the body on the floor.

“There’s something another wall,” I muttered. “There’s probably something behind all of the walls!” I gasped. “They’re behind all the walls!”

“Arya, come with me, please,” Dack Fel said.

“I think there’s a wall hiding behind the walls,” I muttered.

Dack Fel and Arya went into the hole in the wall. I got my goblin wand out. John Wayne held out a ring.

“Come over here, Rory,” John Wayne said to me. “What is this?”

“What is … put it on the end of my wand,” I muttered.

“Just come look at it,” he said. “No.”

“Put it on my wand,” I said again. “Put it on my … wand.”

I giggled.

“Put your ring on my wand,” I said.

I found that immensely funny for some reason.

“The walls are going to try to kill us all!” I hissed at him. “The walls are going to kill us!”

He kept trying to get him to go over by the hole in the wall. I refused, certain the walls were out to get us.

“It’s the walls trying to kill us,” I said. “All the bad stuff comes out of the walls.”

“What are you talking about?” John Wayne said.

“The walls are evil!” I hissed.

Dack Fel stepped back out into the room.

“It’s a pocket dimension,” he said.

Things were finally starting to make sense. I told them about the rat ogres.

“We should have it stuffed,” I said.

Dack Fel went to the body.

“I wanna stuff it,” I said. “What are you doing?”

The man who lay in the corner started to stir. He was all in black and the scarf had been pulled from his face so I could see it.

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“That’s the one that hit you,” Dack Fel said.

“Who’s that?” I asked again.

“That’s the one that hit you in the head,” Dack Fel said.

John Wayne moved to the man, who was slurring swears.

“Take his clothes off,” I muttered. “He won’t run very far.”

I stood up.

“Hey, it’s your gran here,” Dack Fel said to the man. “It’s your gran.”

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“Seeing if we can get him to speak,” he said.

“Why don’t we just take - he’s a criminal!” I said.

I walked over to him.

“Let’s just go,” I said. “Let’s take him out of here. Is he tied up? He’s not even tied up! Anyone got rope? String?”

I removed the man’s cloak and started to rip strips off it to tie his hands and his feet. As soon as I tried to grab his hands to tie him up, he shoved me and pushed me off. I stumbled back and the man leapt into the darkness behind the wall, vanishing from sight.

“Well, that was very helpful,” I muttered.

I left, walking back among the shelves until I reached the door to that area. I was so angry. They had taken the time and effort to take a prisoner and then made no provisions for keeping him. It was ridiculous. I was done with that entire warehouse. My head hurt, I felt like I’d been misused, and was completely fed up. I walked all the way to the front doors of the warehouse to wait. I didn’t even care about stuffing the rat ogre anymore.

A few minutes later, Arya and John Wayne came out of the warehouse with the rat ogre.

“Oh good,” I said.

“We took care of it,” Arya said.

The first mate, nearby, turned and ran up the stairs, bumping into Dack Fel as he went. Dack Fel headed up to the office as well.

“Thanks for bringing this out,” I said to Arya and John Wayne. “Should we get it stuffed?”

“Yeah!” she said. “Let’s do it.”

“Don’t eat it,” I said.

“No,” she said.

“It’s foul,” I said.

“It smells,” she said.

There was yelling coming from up above. Then Captain Louis and the first mate ran down the stairs and approached us as I took out the magical deluxe map and looked for taxidermists. There was one in the market district that’s advertisement consisted of the head of a bear and a title: “I Stuff Things!” Then I looked for teamsters and a place to rent a cart.

“Holy crap!” Captain Louis bellowed. “I didn’t know they stacked shit that high! Did you kill this?”

“Yes,” Arya said.

“Yes,” John Wayne said.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“I got the final blow,” Dack Fel said. “We killed this!”

“Is this what was causing the rats?” Captain Louis asked.

“Probably,” Dack Fel said.

“This was what was killing the people you were sending back there, I think,” I said.

“Yeah,” Arya said.

“Really?” Captain Louis said. “Huh.”

“There’s some kind of … what’s in … there’s a back room back there too,” I said.

“What do you mean?” he said.

“Iunno,” I said.

“What back room?” Captain Louis said.

“There’s a back room that’s−” Dack Fel said.

“Okay, this guy busts through the wall,” Arya said.

“Show me,” Captain Louis said. “Show me. Are you sure that thing’s dead? Someone take its head off!”

“No,” I said. “It’s dead. Don’t take its head.”

He glared at me.

“Then take it out of my warehouse!” he said.

“Take it out of the warehouse,” I said to Arya and John Wayne. “Take it right around the corner.”

They dragged it out front of the warehouse and I sat on it. Captain Louis asked them to show him the back room while Arya and I stayed to guard our prize. We discussed the house we’d live in someday, or at least I did. The others were gone for a little while. Then they were marched out of the warehouse by the captain and headed for the nearest guard station. They talked to a guard for a few moments. I found that a little odd but didn’t feel like thinking about it as thinking made my head hurt. Then they returned.

“All right, let me get your payment,” Captain Louis said.

I looked on the map for a place to rent a cart. The nearest was in the market district.

Arya and I talked about getting a wagon to move the rat ogre carcass. It took me a bit to convince her to go get a wagon while I guarded the carcass. She eventually left.

“Rory, go follow that guard that just took the pebble,” John Wayne said to me.

“What?” I said.

“Do it,” Dack Fel said.

“No!” I said.

“Tell us where he’s going,” Dack Fel said.

“We need you to,” John Wayne said.

“I’m staying with my prize, here,” I said. “You go.”

“Rory, please,” John Wayne said.

“No,” I said.

Dack Fel headed off to follow the guard. He returned a few moments later and told us the man was gone.

“I didn’t really realize it was that big of a problem but this is what I’ve got,” Captain Louis said when he came back down.

He handed a sack to John Wayne. He looked through it and gave us each five gold coins. Captain Louis thanked us for the help and told us if we were ever looking for a job moving freight or on the sea, they could always use good hands to help, especially bodyguards.

“A lot of people need bodyguards,” he said.

I told him we’d get rid of the carcass. It was some 30 minutes later when Arya returned with a cart and driver. We loaded up the rat ogre into the cart and took it to the taxidermist.

“If the rats disappeared when I stabbed them, what do you think it’s going to do when a taxidermist dissects the big one?” Dack Fel asked as we rode.

“How much did this thing weigh?” I asked John Wayne.

“Around 300 pounds,” he said.

“How much did those rats weigh?” I asked. “Nothing. This is real!”

“So you think,” John Wayne said.

“So are the clowns,” I said. I looked at the clown standing nearby. “I see you, clown!”

We got some odd stares but I had dropped down into the back of the cart and dozed. I felt awful. I pulled out the map at one point and figured out where we were going.

“When he gets to his stomach, he’s going to find body parts and bones,” Dack Fel suddenly said.

“Probably,” Arya replied.

“Ew,” Dack Fel said.

“That’s his job,” I muttered.

The taxidermist proved to be a gnome. He had a lazy left eye, was a little bit twitchy, and named Samuel.

“Can you stuff this?” I asked, pointing at the rat ogre in the cart.

“Yes, I can,” he said. “I can do it lickety split too!”

“Can we see some of your work?” I asked.

“Of course!” he said. “Follow me!”

We looked over some of his work and most of them looked very nice. One or two were really, really bad.

“What’s with this?” I asked, pointing at one of the terrible ones

“That’s … that’s my apprentice Jeremiah,” he said. “He’s not too good with his hands.”

“All right, all right,” I said. “How much to stuff this thing?”

“It’s going to cost you about 50 silver and it’ll take me two days!” he said.

“All right,” I said.

I paid him the 50 silver coins and gave him my name and where I was staying.

“Can you make it look ferocious?” I asked.

“Yes, I can,” he said.

“Can you make it hold this sword?” Dack Fel asked.

“Stop it!” I said to him.

“Do you want it to be magically inclined?” Samuel asked.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“We got basic animation spells to scare your neighbors,” he said.

“That’s okay,” I said.

“It’s great during the Pumpkinseed Festival,” Samuel said.

“I’ll pay for it,” Dack Fel said.

“No!” I said. “You won’t. No no no. No magic is necessary.”

“Okay,” Samuel said.

“But thanks for offering,” I said.

“All right,” he said.

He brought out a small piece of paper and asked me to put my hand on it. It showed where I was currently staying.

“Oh, that’s not good!” he cried. “Where are you going to keep this thing? You can’t keep it at the inns.”

“Why not?” I asked. “It’s not a pet.”

“They won’t let you keep it there,” he cried. “It’s too much!”

“All right, we’ll find someplace within the next couple days,” I said.

“You have two days to do it!”

“Yes sir.”

“You sure?”

“Here’s a question. If I pay you, could you store it for me, maybe for an extra day or two?”

“Uh … it’ll cost you …” Samuel took out an abacus and started to move beads around. “It’ll cost you 10 silver a day because that is relatively big.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “I’m going to try to find a place before then though.”

“That’s good!” he cried. “That’s good! If not, I know where you are.”

I paid half of the cost up front and told him I’d return in two days.

We returned to the Scented Seasons Inn. It was close to dinnertime already and I hadn’t even had lunch, not to mention late breakfast and late lunch or early dinner. I went back to my room and put some coins into the box to pay for the next night. I was already paid for that night but I’d decided to keep a day or so ahead of my payments so I wouldn’t forget.

We all sat down and had a good dinner. There was pheasant, wild rice, and fresh vegetables for dinner. There was also raspberry mead with the meal and I got as much as I could. I was exhausted so again went to bed early. I found a note under my door. It merely read “I hate you guys.” It looked like Dack Fel’s handwriting.

* * *

I awoke in the night, or dreamed I did. I felt very groggy. I thought I saw a weird figure by the pouch that held the rings and the glasses. It was on my nightstand, for some reason. I must have dropped it there instead of under my pillow, where I usually hid it at night. The figure appeared to be looking at the items. I couldn’t move. Then I fell back to sleep. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1957-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-3-5-Luxit-Sol-Campaign-Session-Three-Rats
<![CDATA[Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 - Luxit Sol Campaign Session Two - Thieves in the Big City]]> http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1956-Dungeons-amp-Dragons-3-5-Luxit-Sol-Campaign-Session-Two-Thieves-in-the-Big-City Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:18:15 GMT Monday, October 26, 2015

(After playing Kit Howard’s D&D 3.5 game Friday, October 23, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. with James Dixon, Ethan Gordon, and Katelyn Hogan.)

From the recollections of Rory Buttertongue - Halfling

On our week-long wagon ride to the city of Denrith, I looked at the magic items I’d found, especially the spectacles and the three rings. I tried on the glasses and the rings, all to no avail. They didn’t seem to do anything. The spectacles didn’t even magnify my vision in the least. I wondered if there was some magic about the items. They felt like they belonged together. I put them away for future study.

We finally arrived at the city. It was immense and stretched as far as I could see along the coast. The wall was 50 feet high and completely made of stone, appearing very solid, almost as if it was made of a single, giant rock. There were guards on the stations and the ramparts as well as patrolling. The main gates were some 30 feet wide by 30 feet high. A portcullis was up in front of them. The wooden doors each had a great sun sigil. A small shack stood next to the gate where a few old, crippled men wearing the red tunics embossed with the sun symbol stood.

As we approached, a small, squat man with a bald spot on his head and spectacles hobbled to the cart.

“Newly graduated recruits, I see!” he said. “Okay guys, come here. We’ll make this quick for you.”

He opened up a tiny book, only perhaps a few inches by a few inches. It was also flat with almost no pages.

“All right, who is first?” he said. “Who is first?”

“I guess Cap’n’s first,” Dack Fel said. “Cap’n? Is that what we call him?”

I walked up and the man opened up the book.

“Please put your hand here,” he said.

“Where?” I said.

“Just right here,” he said, indicating the blank page to the left.

I put my hand on the left page and my name appeared on the right page, where I was coming from, and that I was just getting out of basic training. On the bottom there was some weird scribbled script.

“What’s that weird scribbled script?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I never know. I can only read that.”

He pointed to the words.

“Anything else?” I asked.

“Next!” he said.

I stepped aside and he flipped the page, going to John Wayne and then Dack Fel, who was cautious about putting his hand in. He then had Arya, Stephen, and the driver, who I’d learned was named Jory, do it as well. I asked the man if there were any unusual laws of the city we might need to know about. He said there were not. I asked if we were allowed to carry weapons and he said we were. He noted that murder and theft would send a man to jail.

“If you’d like to go see Ishaak inside, he’ll give you a tour of the city,” the man said. “Please, please move on.”

We entered Denrith and quickly found Ishaak. He was a lean man with an angular face, very dark features, and rugged clothing: a reddish top and white pants.

“Welcome! Hello!” he said. “My name is Ishaak and I’m going to give you your tour today! I can give you a rundown of the areas and what to expect. It’ll also take up to about an hour. Or you can just about your own way, it’s up to you. Really. What would you like to do?”

We decided to take the tour.

“Sirs, sirs,” he said. “First, first, let me show you something. We have amazing maps of the city, especially since you’re new. Let me show you.”

He took out a map of the city and showed it to us. I asked where we were and he pointed at part of the map marked “Gate.” There was a small dot there. The city also was marked with several sections: the market, the slums, nobles, the docks, and the military district. He pointed at the dot.

“As you move along in the city, this will show you,” he said.

“We get to keep that?” I asked.

“No, you have to buy this,” he said.

“Oh, how much?” I said.

“This is from the government,” he said. “But we also have the deluxe edition. It’s 50 silver for the map, but it is imbued with magic, remember? It will show you where you are in the quarters.”

“Will it show anybody else where we are?” Dack Fel asked.

“I’ll take it!” I said.

“You take …?” Ishaak said. “You sure you don’t want the deluxe edition? It’ll show you each individual section. Except part of the slums.”

“How much is the deluxe edition?” I asked.

“That one’s a little bit steeper, especially because you have to go with each individual one and it comes out to two gold,” he said. “But it will show you where all the inns are and some more important things.”

“Well, let’s see it,” I said. “The deluxe edition: let’s see it. Have you got one?”

He took out a scroll of paper and showed me the deluxe edition. When he tapped on the different sections of the city, it magically zoomed in on each. I told him I’d buy it. Dack Fel suggested everyone chip in but I told him I’d cover it. I paid the two gold and got the magical map from the man. I tucked it away.

Ishaak ushered us into a cart and he mounted the front of it. He told us there were 18,000 people in the city though many were moving away. Most of the people in the city were under government pay. In 15 years, the new capital city would be completed and most people would move there. He told us there were four different docks, one for those coming into the country who were not citizens, the regular docks, the military docks, and the noblemen’s docks, connected to the noble’s district.

The cart path we traveled down was pleasant and the city laid out in a very casual and spread out fashion. He showed us the market district and then the military district. He pointed out the mage quarters, part of which lay in the military quarter. He told us they could cast magical spells to identify magical items. There were four large mage’s towers there.

There was a single inn in the noble’s quarters. It was called the Sleeping Beauty. Guards patrolled the noble’s quarter and there were a few guards at the gate, though they didn’t seem to be stopping people passing through. I asked Ishaak if they closed the gate at night and he said they didn’t, but they increased patrols in the district. We passed the slum quarter as well, Ishaak noting he didn’t go in there. He pointed out part of the slums was unmarked on any map. We passed and it looked dark within. A large tarp hang over the wall.

“The tarp pretty much covers the slums,” Ishaak said. “It’s almost eternal dusk to night.”

“Why?” I asked. “Why’s there a tarp?”

“Because they like to do things in the dark and it’s always dark there, so they get to do whatever they want,” he said.

“No questions asked?” Dack Fel said.

“Um …” Ishaak said.

“That’s so strange,” I said. “Where’d they get the tarp from?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“So they just put up a tarp so nobody can see what’s going on?” I asked.

“Pretty much,” he said.

“There’s some strange people living in there,” I said.

“So, I guess they take care of their own laws in there, outside of the city’s laws or something?” Dack Fel said.

“No, they do have a patrol that go in there,” Ishaak said. “Which, those guys are actually quite scary, as well. It’s a patrol of six or more.”

“Okay,” Dack Fel said.

“They go and they go ready to kill,” Ishaak said.

“Oh!” Dack Fel said.

“The thieves’ guild is in there,” Ishaak went on. “There are two inns in there.”

“We can afford those inns!” Dack Fel said.

When Ishaak noted people were moving to the new metropolis, I asked about it. He said the government had reinforced Denrith after the Dwarf Wars. Then the king had gotten the idea to construct a new capital, “the ultimate defense,” and started an 85-year building plan to get the city ready. It was almost done. The Luxit Sol people knew how to hold a grudge. It had been three generations of men since the war and they still hated the dwarves.

The central part of the city had a thick wall some 20 feet tall with metal spikes atop it. A castle stood in the middle of the area, visible from where we were. At least the battlements and towers were visible.

Most of the houses in the market had shops in the bottom with a second floor, ostensibly for living. In other parts of the city, the houses were a little taller and probably held smaller apartments. The noble district, of course, had great houses of magnificent craftsmanship. When Dack Fel asked about purchasing a house in town, Ishaak told us there was a housing authority in the market. Dack Fel wanted a base of operations.

“We could … we could just be squatters,” I said. Then I had even a better thought. “Let’s find a church and establish our own religion! We’ll make plenty of money that way.”

There were a few temples but they all had a sun emblem and we learned from Ishaak they were all dedicated to the sun god, Aesur, which was the state religion of Luxit Sol. When I asked if other religions were forbidden, he noted in major cities and especially the capital, everyone worshipped the god of the king. Dack Fel announced he worshipped Kord. Ishaak told us temples or churches to other gods were outside of the city. The capital was completely off limits to other temples, however.

We learned there were three inns in the market: Scented Seasons Inn, Inn of Four Feathers, and the Sleepy Lamb Inn. I asked what he recommended and he said they were all good and relatively cheap. It depended on what we liked.

“Is the Scented Seasons a brothel?” Dack Fel asked.

“No,” Ishaak said.

“Is there a brothel?” Dack Fel asked.

“Yes,” Ishaak said.

“Okay.”

“It’s in the slums.”

“Oh. Ew. Go figure.”

“I mean there’s also one in the noble’s quarters but it’s been forbidden in the market because of the type of trade that goes on in the market.”

“I understand. I don’t want to go there, I was just wondering where they were because I want to steer clear of the ladies around those areas.”

“There’s probably some guild-affiliated whores around somewhere,” I said.

“That’s okay,” Dack Fel said. “I can make friends.”

Ishaak noted the Thieves’ Guild was in the slums and the head of it was a man by the name of Klein. He said there was also a beggar’s guild there. The two inns in the slums were called the Dark Passenger and the Sleepy Drunk.

He also showed us where the mages lived.

“Are there any bards in this town?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“They sing songs?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“And they know histories?”

“Yes.”

“That’s who we ask about … certain things.”

He also told us there were two notice boards up across the street from the Scented Seasons: the help board and the job board. The difference between them was the help board had notices put up by civilians while the job board had notices put up by companies. The job notices would have information on jobs available in the city, including who to talk to and how dangerous the job was.

“Maybe we should stay there,” I said of the Scented Seasons. “It sounds perfect for you … Dack.”

“I want to find a trainer,” Arya said.

“What was it?” Dack Fel said. “I was asleep.”

“The Scented Seasons,” I said.

“What about it?” he said.

“It’s where the job board is,” John Wayne said.

“It’s an inn,” I said. “The job board is across the street.”

“Oh,” Dack Fel said. “Sorry. I kind of fell asleep back in the mage’s quarter.”

“Oh,” Arya said.

“Shall I slap you hard next time you do?” I asked. “Help keep you awake? I could. I’d be glad to help. I’ll even warm my hands first. Just like this.”

I rubbed my hands together.

“It’s been a long day,” he said. “My leg still hurts.”

“Is there a job board in the slums?” Dack Fel asked.

“Uh … I don’t know,” Ishaak said.

“Why would you ask him that?” I asked. “You think he’s a thief or something? Why would you want a job from the slums? Are you a thief!?!”

Ishaak only had the tour information and never went in the slums, he told us. He noted he couldn’t protect us in there. Dack Fel said it was fine.

“Are there archery grounds?” Arya asked.

“You’ll have to talk to the military about that,” Ishaak said.

“Okay,” she replied.

“For most of your trainers−” he said.

“Just go in the slums and find a target,” I said.

I remembered talking to the wizards when they gave us a physical at the beginning of my training, some months before. They had us fill out a piece of paper and then used magic to inscribe the information into each of us as our personal data. That was how they tracked our citizenship. I guessed that was the information in the book at the main gate. Ishaak told us the information that involved the military were all filled out with that information.

I asked Ishaak if the military could seize magic items and the like if they wanted but he said they couldn’t. The law stated the military could not rightfully seize any of our possessions. However, they might come talk to us if we had an item that proved dangerous, and possibly ask us to leave the city.

Dack Fel was talking about having a crest for our group, which didn’t make any sense to me. He noted if we were going to have our group, we needed our own symbol.

We left the cart and I tipped Ishaak 20 silver pieces for the tour. Dack Fel suggested we split up and talk to whomever we needed to talk to. I suggested we get rooms at the inn first. Arya was ready to find someone to train her. John Wayne suggested the Scented Seasons so we headed there. We saw the job boards across the street.

I headed into the inn with the others close behind me. Dack Fel went to look at the board.

I could smell incense even outside of the inn and it was almost overpowering when we entered. The common room was brightly lit and had an attached kitchen. The smell of delicious food filled the air. A dark-skinned man walked around the taproom, his hands clasped.

“Yes, good evening, good evening,” he said to us.

His eyes moved around constantly.

“Would you like a room?” he asked. “Are you new to the city? I’ve never seen you before.”

“Can we get four rooms, I guess?” I asked. “How much are a room?”

“Four rooms?” Dack Fel said. “How about one room?”

“Yes,” the old man said. “Rooms will be three silver pieces a night.”

“Three?” I asked.

“Yes, three,” he said.

“That’s a bargain!” I said.

“And if you’d like, for two silver pieces, your meals will be included,” the old man said. “We have a lock, we have two different types. One’s kind of small, one’s kind of large. That’s about it. Five copper for a small one and one silver for a large one.”

He showed us the locks. The larger was iron and probably fit the door. The smaller was copper and was smaller but could be used on a chest. I told the man I’d take a room with meals, and a large lock and small lock. The total came to six silver coins and five copper coins. The old man wore a butcher’s frock covered with blood. His fingernails were long and dirty.

“We could eat at the restaurant across the street,” Dack Fel whispered to me.

“No no,” the old man said. “I kill the food. My wives cook.”

“Oh, okay,” Dack Fel said. “I was a little worried.”

“Don’t be insulting!” I said to him.

“Yeah, it is okay,” the old man said. “It is very okay.”

“I believe you,” Dack Fel said.

Arya paid for her room and a lock. The others paid as well.

He took us upstairs and showed us four rooms next to each other down the hallway. Outside of each was a small box with a slot in the top. Each room had a small bed, a small chest at the foot of it, a small table with a low stool, and a single oil lamp. The window of the room had shutters and it looked out over the market in front of the building. I peeked under the bed. There was no chamber pot. The old man mentioned the box by the outside of the door was where we were to pay for our rooms. If we didn’t do so before dinner of the night we wanted to stay, they would move our things out into the taproom.

“Looks nice,” I said.

The whole place stank of incense. I opened the windows and wondered what smell they were using it to cover.

“Where do we poop?” Dack Fel asked.

“If you would like a chamber pot, my wives can bring one to you,” the old man said.

“Just wanted to check,” Dack Fel said. “Because I’ve got to go soon.”

“Oh, okay,” the old man said. “You have to go right now?”

“No, I can wait,” Dack Fel said.

“Okay,” the old man said. “If there’s anything else you need, I’ll be right in the kitchen.”

“I hope he doesn’t cook the food …” I said.

“He kills the food,” Arya said.

“He kills the food,” Dack Fel said.

I was doubtful.

Dack Fel said he had a quest for us even as I locked my chest with the copper lock.

“‘Cripple looking to move to new metropolis,’” Dack Fel read. “‘Need help loading carts. Will pay and provide food for service.’ I figure we could just … his name’s Dale.”

“Dale?” John Wayne said.

“His name’s Dale,” Dack Fel said again. “It seems like a pretty good, simple task, helping a cripple.”

I looked at the job posting.

“Why would loading a cart have combat written on the sheet?” I asked.

“Just in case we’re attacked by rats?” he said. “I don’t know. He’s a cripple. I don’t know about you, Rory, but I think we three could do it.”

I examined the box outside of the door and found it only had a slot. There didn’t appear to be any way to open it. I suspected magic.

“So, you guys want to go talk to this cripple guy?” Dack Fel asked.

We discussed it but I suggested we do it the next day. Everyone wanted to look for someone to train them. When Dack Fel asked what I wanted to do, I told him I wanted to explore the unexplored areas of the map.

“So, you want to get killed by a purse snatcher/cutthroat?” he said sarcastically. “That sounds smart.”

“I’ll be fine,” I said.

“Are you going by yourself or are you taking someone with you?” he asked.

“I was going to go by myself,” I said.

“Don’t bring any money with you, all right?”

“Oh, that’s a good idea.”

I locked up most of my money in the chest in my room. I held onto 20-30 silver coins.

“Do you want me to go with you?” he asked. “We could team up, if you want.”

“If you want,” I said. “I might be dealing with some shady fellas.”

“That’s all right,” he said. “I’m used to shady fellows.”

“I’ve also got this,” I whispered.

I pulled out the magic wand I’d taken from the kobold magician.

“But you don’t know how to use it!” Dack Fel said.

“You point it, they appear,” I said. “I’m sure I’ll figure it out.”

“Hey, Rory, look what I figured out how to do,” he said. “What’s your favorite color?”

“I’m partial to blue,” I said.

His cloak suddenly turned blue and he told me he’d figured that out the other day. I suggested he might not want to make it quite so royal a blue if we were going to head into a place with thieves. The cloak turned dirt brown and ratty immediately.

We all went our separate ways, Dack Fel and I heading for the slums together. As we walked, I learned that Dack Fel was not his real name.

“What is your real name?” I asked him.

“My real name isn’t important,” he said.

“It could be very important,” I said.

“It’s not,” he said. “It’s not. Yeah, it’s very important, but−”

“I don’t know if I should trust you if you’re not going to tell me your real name.”

“The more people that know my real name−”

“I’m the only one!”

“−the more chance that they can use it against me.”

“Pft!”

“It’s like, yeah, I could go around telling people my real name, but … uh … I feel like an alias is much safer considering what we’re all here to do. Is your real name Rory Buttertongue?”

“Yes!”

“Is anybody out to kill you though?”

“Well, there was this farmer named Gobo. He didn’t like me ‘cause his girl liked me better than she liked him.”

“Oh, and you liked the girl I imagine too?”

“For a little while.”

“I can understand that. But … is he in charge of an entire country that you were part of the military of?”

“No, just a farm. He had several cows though.”

“Several cows.”

“We’ve known each other for a decent while now.”

“You and me? Six months.”

“Yeah. But … uh … I just feel that what you call me now is perfectly fine.”

“Fine.”

“Maybe I’ll tell everybody sometime later.”

“Everybody? Oh, I see. I thought we were buds.”

“We’re the two sneaky guys. We are buds.”

“Hm.”

“We got each other’s back, I feel like.”

“Hm.”

We reached the slums and entered the gates to the place. There were a few people there and it looked like a back alley. A sign nearby pointed in the direction of the Thieves’ Guild, apparently. I, at first thought it was a trap, until I realized like everything else in the city, it was government-controlled. We followed the signs through the maze of the slums. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, though it was still filled with ruffians and bottom feeders. It took us about 10 minutes to find the guild hall. The building had a sign out front that marked it as the Thieves’ Guild.

“This is NOT what I expected,” I said.

“No,” Dack Fel said. “Yeah, I agree.”

We went into the small building. A single man sat in the main room of the building. He looked up. He wore a long brown coat and heavy boots. He flung a knife at the ceiling and it would get stuck, then fall a few moments later. He would catch it and throw it back to the ceiling. I walked in, whistling.

“Can I help you?” the man asked.

“We’re here from the military,” Dack Fel said.

“Okay,” the man said. “And …?”

“We’re here to join the Thieves’ Guild,” Dack Fel said.

“We’re registering,” I said. “We don’t want to get our hands cut off.”

“That’s wise,” he said. “That’s a very wise thing.”

“I’m not very wise,” I said. “But thank you!”

“All right,” he said. “Here’s the deal.”

Two stools popped up from the floor behind us. Dack Fel and I took our seats at his behest, Dack Fel looking over the stool and I checking to make sure it wasn’t sticky.

“All right, so, interested in the Thieves’ Guild,” the man said. “You have to do us a favor.”

“Sure,” Dack Fel said.

“There’s a man named Rooster,” the man said.

“Rooster?” Dack Fel and I both said.

“You must break his legs,” the man said.

“Okay,” Dack Fel said. “Why? What’d he do? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“He didn’t pay,” the man said.

“Oh,” Dack Fel said.

“So, legs. Broken,” the man said. “First one to do it wins. You get in. The other one, we’ll figure out what to do with you.”

“Okay,” Dack Fel said.

“Good luck,” the man said.

“Where is he?” I asked.

“Somewhere on the docks,” the man said. “Good luck.”

“You’re not going to make me break his legs if I win, right?” Dack Fel said, gesturing at me. “Because I don’t want to lug him around.”

“So, you’d break someone else’s legs to get in the guild …?” the man said.

“I travel with this guy,” Dack Fell said.

“… but if you were in the guild and I asked you to break someone else’s legs, you’d question it?” the man said.

“He’s with me,” Dack Fel said. “I don’t want him to slow me down.”

“And neither of you are with us,” the man said.

“Hopefully yet,” Dack Fel said.

The man glared at him.

“I’ll break Rooster’s legs!” Dack Fel said. “I don’t care!”

The man fidgeted with the knife. He did not look happy.

I stood up and left. Behind me, Dack Fel was still talking.

“So, you said the docks?” he said.

“Good bye,” the man said.

Dack Fel hurried after me.

“This is more your thing,” I told him. “I think you’re gonna win, so you can go ahead and do this one.”

“I think that guy wants us to actually break the guy’s legs,” Dack Fel said. “Is this a test, maybe?”

Dack Fel suddenly turned pale and looked very ill. I stepped off, putting a little room between us as I didn’t want sick on me. I looked around but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. We followed the signs back out to the entrance of the slums and headed to the docks from there.

“Rory,” Dack Fel said.

“What?” I asked.

“I don’t really want to break this guy’s legs,” he said.

“All right, I’ll do it,” I said. “I’ll have to buy a mace or something, I guess.”

“But … what if we make it look like his legs are broken?”

“Go ahead. You can just go ahead and do this one and I’ll take whatever they have for me next. How about that?”

“Do you think it’s a good idea?”

“No. I do not. I think walking back to that man after faking breaking that man’s legs …”

“Because tomorrow we agreed to help a cripple, and we’re about to make somebody a cripple. That seems kind of counter-productive to me.”

“Well, you can always pay to have his legs healed back up. If you feel that badly.”

“I’ve got a better idea. I’ll break his legs.”

“We need masks.”

“We could just take him somewhere else.”

“Why do you keep saying ‘we?’ Only one of us is doing this.”

“I mean, if you help me with mine, I’ll help you with yours. And vice versa.”

“That doesn’t seem like a good idea either. I’ll help you find this guy and then you break his legs and then we’ll go back and we’ll get mine. Look, we pulled some stuff in the army, right, under the table. We do it with these guys, they will murder us!”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Like that!”

“He didn’t say you couldn’t help me.”

“These are big-city thieves! These are real thieves!”

“He didn’t say ‘Hey, you go break his legs. You stay here while he goes and does it.’ He said ‘Go break his legs. Whoever does it first …’”

“But he said it was a test, a contest. Hey! Are you Rooster?”

I had picked a random man walking by on the street.

“Uh … no … what?” he asked.

“All right, thanks!” I said.

I kept walking.

Dack Fel walked up to a random man.

“Hey, do you know a guy named Rooster?” he asked.

He didn’t. We continued to ask random people about Rooster without luck. The docks were literally miles long so it would take forever to find anyone on them. There were nothing but warehouses and docks. I suggested looking for a boat named Rooster.

“How are we supposed to break a boat’s legs, Rory?” Dack Fel asked.

“No,” I said. “He’ll be a guy who said ‘I’m Rooster and my boat’s name is Rooster.’”

“Is that Halfling humor?” he asked.

“No, it’s not,” I said.

I looked down the length of the docks. It was miles.

“This could take a few days,” I muttered.

“Nobody’s heard of Rooster,” Dack Fel muttered.

“We’ve talked to, like, eight people,” I said.

“But nobody’s heard of Rooster,” he said.

Dack Fel went over to a guard. When I saw that, I wandered away. He spoke to the man for a few moments as I loitered just out of sight of the guard. He walked back over to me very obviously. As he approached, I turned and walked away.

“Rory!” I heard him yell.

I kept walking. A few people looked back towards him and I did too, acting like I didn’t know him. He eventually ran up to me.

“Human stuff, Rory,” he said insultingly as he walked beside me. “Human stuff.”

“What did you find out?” I asked.

“He just said to ask the beggars,” he said. “If you want to find somebody.”

I snapped my fingers.

“They have a guild!” I said. “Of course, they’re organized. That’s probably the best information network in the city.”

I looked around for beggars.

“I wonder if Rooster is a beggar,” I said. “We’d be doing him a favor, breaking his legs.”

“That will make me feel better about it,” he said.

We spotted two beggars and Dack Fel walked over to them. Again, I was not with him, falling back. One of the beggars played a tempo on tin cans and sang old sailor shanties. His partner shook his hat to the same beat. I got close enough to overhear the conversation. Dack Fel tossed a couple silver coins into the hat.

“Thank you, sir!” one of them said.

“Actually, I have a question for you guys, if you don’t mind,” he said.

“What’s that?” the beggar said.

“Have you heard of a guy named Rooster?” Dack Fel said.

“Nope! Don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Would another silver say you know what I’m talking about?”

“Make it two and I got something for you!”

Dack Fel tossed the man two silver coins. The other man with the hat pointed down the docks towards the military docks.

“All right,” Dack Fel said. “Can you tell me what color his hair is?”

The man kept playing.

“Not in the military district though, right?” Dack Fel said to the beggar.

The man ignored him and went back to his singing.

“Right, what’d you find out?” I asked as we walked away.

He told me they had motioned to the military district so we headed on down the docks to it. A wall stood there with a tall gate, dividing it from the rest of the docks. Guards were posted in front of the gate. I walked in as if I owned the place. One of the guards stopped me.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“You can’t go in,” he said.

“What if we want to go to the noble docks?” I asked.

“You have to go through the noble quarters,” he said.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” I said. “Thank you. Thank you.”

I walked away. Dack asked what I learned and I told him we couldn’t go through but would have to go through the noble quarters.

“What if he’s not in there?” Dack Fel asked. “What if he’s out here?”

“Go ask,” I said to him. “Go ask for Rooster at the gate. You’ve already made your presence quite well known here on the docks, friend.”

“Yeah, five miles back that way!” he said.

“Just go ask,” I said. “I can still see the beggars. Go on, go ask. Go on.”

“No. You go ask for Rooster.”

“No no, you’ve already announced our presence quite loudly. Go. Go go go; this is your quest. Good luck!”

“What if I want it to be your quest now?”

“It’ll be fine! It’ll be fine! Just go. Go go. You’re good. It’s all good.”

“I don’t wanna ask. Let’s put it this way, I ask a guard or a military person ‘Hey, have you seen Rooster,’ and he just gets his legs broken.”

“You already asked one!”

“I didn’t ask the guard where Rooster was.”

“Yes you did!”

“I asked him where I could find somebody know knows people.”

“Oh.”

“I’m not going to ask a guard where Rooster is. Think how suspicious that would be?”

“I’m not a fan of this quest.”

“I’m not a fan of this quest either. I don’t want to hurt anybody for no reason. You know, if we go through with this, I’m going to give him money, because I’m going to feel bad!”

“Then you should do it! Because I’m poorer than you, because you’ve got more money from the army.”

“We got the same amount of money!”

“No, you got more.”

“I got a little bit more.”

“I saw the coin. In your pockets. At night, while you were sleeping. Go ask. Just go ask. It’ll be fine! It’ll be fine!”

“No, it won’t be fine! We’ll have to hightail it out of this place forever.”

“It’ll be fine! You’ll be fine!”

“I didn’t escape my country just to never go to another country again!”

“You’re already in another country. You failed on that. Go on! Just go! It’ll be fine!”

“No. You do it.”

“All right, fine. Let’s go.”

We walked back, away from the military docks. Then we spotted another lone beggar on the side of the road.

“You want to ask him?” Dack Fel said.

“Are you going to or should I?” I asked.

“You … you’re probably better at this,” he said.

I walked over to the stinking beggar.

“Friend, what’s wrong with you?” I said to the man. “Why aren’t you working?”

“I have a bad back,” he said.

“Aw,” I said. “That’s a terrible shame.”

He pulled up his shirt and showed a large scar going up his back.

“What caused that?” I asked, dropping a silver coin in his hat. “Tell me a story.”

He told an epic tale of how he fought a boar that gored him but he survived. It was actually a very good story.

“That’s worth another coin, friend,” I said, dropping another coin. “I’m looking for somebody in town. Have you ever heard of a fella, I owe him some money, his name is Rooster?”

“You owe him money, you say?” the beggar said.

He seemed very skeptical.

“Yeah,” I said. “Not much, but I do owe him money.”

“For what?” the beggar demanded.

“He made me this loan, you see,” I said. “I was trying to buy something, but I couldn’t afford it. And Rooster had a couple coins in his pocket, and he said … well, I had to beg ‘im. He was kind of …” I sighed. “… okay, I had to do some things I didn’t wanna do. I don’t wanna talk about it too much. It was - it was a little humiliatin.’ There was a dance involved.”

The beggar laughed.

“The king of the beggars−” he said before he clapped his hands over his mouth.

“Oh, is that who Rooster is?” I said.

“I don’t know anything,” he said.

“So you don’t know him,” I said, acting as best I could that I believed his lie. “You don’t know him at all?”

“Nope.”

“All right. Damn.”

“Not at all. Not at all.”

“All right. Well, if you ever hear of a man named Rooster, tell him I got the gold that I owe him.”

“Okay.”

I walked away.

King of the Beggars, eh? I thought.

We kept moving and I pulled out my map. I found the beggar’s guildhall in the slums, as well as the thieves’ guildhall.

“Rory!” Dack Fel said as I looked at the map. “Rory!”

“What?” I said.

“Our initiation … is to break the King of the Beggars’ Guild’s legs,” he whispered. “This is kind of …”

“You should say it louder because all the beggars didn’t hear you,” I said. “Yes, I know what our initiation is. Your initiation, we already decided that.”

“But if they figure this out for me, what do you think they’re going to do with you?”

“Iunno. Maybe I’ll get to break some army man’s legs. ‘Cause I don’t like the army very much, I tell you.”

“You were in the army!”

“I know. I hated it. Let’s go look for the beggar’s guild. We’ve got to find Rooster.”

Then I raised my voice when we passed some beggars.

“Twenty gold is not a tiny sum of money that I owe the King of the Beggars,” I said loudly to Dack Fel.

We headed towards the slums, ignoring them.

“I thought it was going to be just a random guy,” Dack Fel said as we walked. “I could sneak up behind him and just go pft! You know.”

“He’s gotta live somewhere,” I said. “Just follow him home.”

“We don’t even know what he looks like!” Dack Fel said.

“We’ll find out,” I said. “That’s what we’re on our way to do!”

I found a merchant and bought a scarf I wrapped around my neck. I positioned it so I could pull it up to cover part of my face. I also bought a small, cheap bottle of perfume as well, just in case the Beggars’ Guild stank as much as those beggars before.

“Rory, I think you’re overdoing it here,” Dack Fel said.

“How will the ladies find me attractive?” I asked.

“I already find you attractive,” he said.

“Well, you are a lady,” I said. “I’ve always suspected.”

Then we headed into the slums. We followed the signs for the Beggars’ Guild and I realized we had not seen any beggars in the slums. Everyone we saw looked like they wanted to kill me. I stared back as if I wanted to kill them too. It got darker and darker.

The Beggar’s Guild was in a darker part of the slums and I looked at the map. We were not in the unknown zone, nor had we seen any way into the unknown zone. It was a little bit bigger than the Thieves’ Guild and the entrance room held a desk with three beggars sitting behind it.

“Rory, you handled that last one so well,” Dack Fel said. “Go ahead.”

I walked up but they didn’t notice me.

“Hello?” I said.

“Hello, wee-one,” one of them said.

“Hello, too-tall,” I said. “How do you apply to be a beggar?”

“Do you have money?” he asked.

“Little bit. Does it cost money to be a beggar?”

“No.”

“I thought when you didn’t have any money was when you were a beggar.”

“Exactly! Do you have a place to stay?”

“Um … I do presently but I don’t see that lasting long.”

“Well, then, you can’t be a beggar. Once you’re done and you don’t have one, you can be a beggar. And we’ll know. We always know.”

“Interesting. Where’s Rooster, I need to talk to him.”

“Who?”

“Rooster!”

“Who’s that?”

“Rooster. You know Rooster.”

“No.”

“The King of the Beggars.”

“Who is that?”

“Rooster.”

“King … what the heck is a King of the Beggars?”

“Rooster is!”

“Are you talking about an animal or a person?”

“A person.”

“A person named Rooster?”

“I think so, yes.”

“Why, that’s the stupidest name I’ve ever heard,” he said to the man next to him.

“What kind of beggar king would you have, if you had a king of the beggars?” I asked.

“We don’t have a king,” he said. “You see Brandon over there?”

I looked. A moronic looking imbecile sat by the desk.

“He’s the closest to a king of the beggars,” he said.

“Brandon?” I said.

“Hello!” Brandon said stupidly.

“He’s the one that runs all of the paperwork over to the mage’s quarter to keep this place going,” the first man said. “We really don’t do much. They pretty much feed us and … we sleep here. This is my bed.”

“This desk?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“It looks very comfortable,” I admitted.

“It is very comfortable. You see that. That’s a roof. That means I don’t’ get rained on. I have a lock on the door.”

“Well, if you have a place to sleep, how can you be a beggar? Have you got money?”

“I’m not a beggar.”

“I thought this was the Beggars’ Guild?”

“It is. We just run it.”

“So, you’re a clerk?”

“Yes, I am a clerk for the Beggars’ Guild.”

“I’m very, very confused. Who gets all the money the beggars make?”

That’s when he looked confused.

“The beggars!” Dack Fel said.

“I’m sorry, sir, do I know you?” I said to him. Then to the beggar clerk: “I think you have another customer.”

“Brandon,” the man said. “Who gets the money?”

“I don’t know!” Brandon said idiotically.

“Well, don’t they bring you a cut?” I asked. “The whole point of being a beggar and having a guild is that they have to give you some of the money they make during the day.”

“No,” the clerk said.

“What’s the point of the Beggars’ Guild then?” I asked.

“Information,” he said smugly. “Information.”

“Then why isn’t it called the Information Guild?”

“Because we’re not information-ers! We’re beggars!”

“Well, I’m looking for Rooster because I owe him money. But you don’t know him? I thought you had information.”

“We do.”

“Okay, then where is he?”

“Who?”

“Rooster.”

“Is that an animal or a person?”

“Person.”

“Here, fill out this form.”

He handed me a dirty piece of paper with word “Name” on it twice, each one next to a long line.

“Have you got a quill?” I asked.

He gave me a quill and I wrote “Rooster” on each of the lines.

“That’ll be one silver!” he said.

“For what?” I said. “Writin’ down a name on a piece o’ paper?”

“You want information or not?” he said.

I took out the silver piece and held it between my fingers.

“And oi’d like the information now,” I said.

“Okay,” he said.

He took the coin.

“Go tell Rooster where Rooster is!” the clerk said.

The simple-minded Brandon ran out. I ran after him, Dack Fel behind him. We chased the foolish beggar through the slums and then through another gate directly to the docks, further from the military docks then we had walked. He went to a red-headed beggar who’s hair was only on top of his head, almost like the comb of a rooster. He sat on the ground with a poncho over him. I couldn’t see his legs. Brandon said something to the man. Three other beggars were around him after Brandon left. We hid in the area nearby. They didn’t see us.

“The Beggar King,” I said to Dack Fel. “Guess who’s got no legs under there?”

Dack Fel squinted as he looked at the man.

“Go break his legs,” I said to Dack Fel.

“How do you think we should go about this?” he asked.

“How much money you got?” I asked.

“With me?” he asked.

“How much money have you got with you?”

“Two silver now.”

“Well, go get some gold and then go offer it to him if he lets you break his legs. He’s a beggar! They do terrible things for money.”

“Well, it’s not about the money. It’s about sending a message from the Thieves’ Guild.”

“Then shoot him with an arrow. I don’t know.”

“What do you do if they ask you ‘How did you break his legs?’ ‘Oh, I gave him gold for it.’ What if we make it look like an accident?”

“What’s this ‘we?’ This is your job!”

“So, I don’t know how to go about this. If it happens out in the open, other people around us, they’re going to notice …”

“Just go run up and beat him.”

“I just really don’t wanna.”

The beggars got up and walked away, Rooster standing up and walking with them. I followed at a distance.

“He has legs,” Dack Fel said. “We can do it!”

We followed them a little while.

“This sucks,” Dack Fel said. “This sucks.”

I looked around but saw several heavy things that could be used as clubs.

“There ya go,” I said. “Just grab a club. Run by, bust his legs, and run away.”

“I can kick really hard,” he said.

“Okay … if you think that’ll do it,” I said.

“It might take more than one kick,” he said.

“Then yell ‘Greetings from the Thieves’ Guild’ and run away.”

“Yeah, probably. Maybe we should talk to him. Maybe I should talk to him first. Get to know him.”

“Okay, go talk to him. ‘Cause there’s nothing better than breakin’ yer friend’s legs. Go ahead.”

He walked forward and I fell behind a little further. He went to Rooster and tapped on his shoulder. Rooster turned towards him.

“Whatta you want!?!” the beggar said.

“Hi,” Dack Fel said. “Are you a man named Rooster, maybe?”

“No!” Rooster said.

“Okay,” Dack Fel said. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I know my own name!”

“What is your name?”

“Leon!”

“Leon. I tell you what ‘Leon,’ I wanted to discuss some things with you. You see, I have this friend that apparently owes you money.”

“Nobody owes me money. Have a nice day.”

“Apparently a friend owes you money!”

Dack Fel got into the man’s face. I lost myself in the crowd so that Dack Fel wouldn’t somehow draw me into the thing. The man looked taken aback.

“If you wanna give me money, sure,” he said. “But nobody owes me money. I’m a beggar. I just ask people for money. You good? I have things to do.”

He turned and the beggars walked away. I headed after them as Dack Fel stood there, unsure what to do. I closed with the four beggars passing them, getting ahead of them, and then heading back for them. I sprinted down the dock, directly at Rooster as quickly as I could. I rushed at them and when I got close, I lowered my head and ran right at his legs.

“Get out of the way, filthy beggars!” I yelled just before impact.

I slammed into his legs with my shoulder and there was a splintering sound and a resounding snap from the man’s legs as I struck them. He fell over as I ran away. I kept on running as quickly as I could down the docks. I never looked back and ran all the way back to the slums and the Thieves’ Guild. I found the place locked up so I went back to the inn.

* * *

I later learned the man who had been in the Thieves’ Guild with the knife leapt over a log after it happened and laughed his ass off.

“That has to be the funniest thing I have seen in weeks,” he said.

He went to Rooster and told him he had some better legs for him. He took out a new pair of prosthetic legs for the beggar. Then he told Dack Fel it had been enough entertainment and we should come back to the guild the next day.

* * *

Dack Fel got back and told me what had happened.

“I’m just relieved I didn’t have to break this guy’s legs,” he said.

“You didn’t break his legs,” I said. “I broke his legs.”

“Well, we didn’t have to break his legs,” he said.

We had dinner around 7 p.m. It was roast rabbits with carrots, peas, and potatoes on the side. Very delicious. They served us clean water with it.

“So now you can pickpocket people and not worry about getting your hands cut off, Rory,” Dack Fel said. “Isn’t that great.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.

Then I lowered my voice.

“There’s ears everywhere, you idiot!” I hissed. “Shut up!”

“Rory, you owe the king of beggars money,” he quipped. “What a silly excuse.”

“I figured he’d agree and take the money,” I merely said.

We were just finishing up when Arya and John Wayne returned. They looked confused.

“What’s up with you guys?” Dack Fel asked.

“I … don’t really know,” John Wayne said.

“All I know is we left, and we were outside of this house,” Arya said.

“We went to go solve a puzzle, but …” John Wayne said.

“Puzzle?” Dack Fel asked.

“This person bewitch you?” I asked.

“I dunno,” Arya said.

“No idea,” John Wayne said. “Probably.”

“I don’t remember anything,” she said. “It’s all right.”

“It was a puzzle?” I asked. “Can you go back and do it again?”

“I … don’t know,” John Wayne said.

“What?” I said.

“Well, after not remembering, I don’t think I want to go back there,” Arya said.

“How did you find out about this?” I asked.

“Shoot, we’re done eating, Rory,” Dack Fel said. “Want to go try out that puzzle box? I saw it on the board earlier.”

“I don’t know if I want my memories mixed up,” I admitted. “I’ll come with you if you want to try.”

“Yeah, I’ll try,” he said. He turned to the other two. “You’re probably going to stay here, aren’t you.”

“Uh-huh,” Arya said. “I’m going to eat.”

“We’ll be back shortly,” I said.

“All right,” Arya said.

We left the inn and went to the noble district. The address was a large, gothic house that seemed to be old and new at the same time. It stank of witchcraft. I went to the door with Dack Fel, having no intention of going into the cursed place. The butler was a large man who was goofy-looking.

“Would you like to try?” he said to us.

He looked at me.

“No!” I said. “No no!”

I started to walk away.

“Would you like some food, like tea and crackers with nutmeg?” he said.

“Tea and crackers does sound nice,” I muttered to myself.

“You can make a lot of money doing this,” Dack Fel said to me.

“No, I’m not doing it,” I said. “I’m sorry, I’m not doing it. Good luck. Win it for us. I’m having tea and crumpets or whatever this old man wants to give me.”

“Please then, come in sirs,” the butler said.

“I’ll have tea,” I said.

“That’s perfectly fine, sir,” he said.

“I won’t steal anything,” I said to him.

“That’s good sir,” he said.

We walked into the living room and I sat down. The man suddenly had a tray of tea and cookies in his hand.

“Where did you get that?” I asked as he poured the tea.

“The pebbles sir,” he said, showing me a pebble.

“Rory, see if she wants that wand?” Dack Fel said. “You should probably try to see if you can sell−”

A woman entered the room. She was old and wore dark clothing. She had her hair pulled into a tight bun.

“If you are here for the puzzle, please follow me, otherwise you can stay here,” she said. “But, the rules are as such: You get to play the game. It takes five minutes. If you fail, you forget everything about the game. If you win, you remember everything. That is it. Then you will be on your way.” She looked at me. “Please enjoy our hospitality.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” I said.

“I can’t believe you,” Dack Fel muttered to me.

“Enjoy coming out with half your brains,” I said back.

“I will,” Dack Fel said. “She seems nice.”

“Well, she does seem nice,” I admitted.

“You should probably try to see if she can teach you how to use the wand,” he whispered to me before following the woman into the next room.

I’ll figure it out myself, I thought.

Five minutes later, Dack Fel exited the door and then looked around, confused.

“Did you win?” I asked him.

“Did I win what?” he said.

“Iunno,” I said. “The box thing.”

He was confused.

“I guess not,” he said. “I was close. But wait … was I? I guess I’ll never know.”

“Thank you for the tea,” I said to the butler.

“You’re welcome,” he said.

I’d eaten all of the cookies.

“We’re open any time you’d like to try,” the old woman said to me.

“Thank you,” I said carefully and headed out the front door.

“Did you ask her about the wand?” Dack Fel asked once we were in the street.

“No!” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because I’ll figure it out,” I said. “It’s not that hard.”

“Yeah, but it’s been months,” he said. “Days.”

“It’s been a week!” I said.

“You were scared to do the box, but at least I didn’t eat anything in the demon house,” Dack Fel said.

“Meh,” I said.

We returned to the inn about an hour after we’d left. We found Arya and John Wayne finishing their meal.

“So, how did you guys do?” John Wayne asked.

“He didn’t do very well,” I said.

“I was close, I think,” Dack Fel said.

“I had cookies,” I said. “They were buttery … and some had chocolate on them and there were these other ones that had large pieces of sugar. And the tea was all right.”

“The first thing I want to do tomorrow is get a pet,” Dack Fel said.

“A pet?” I asked.

“A pet,” he said.

“Like a rat?” I asked.

“No.”

“Cat?”

“Do I look like a rat person?”

“Kind of.”

“Dog?”

“Dogs are fine but I don’t want to worry about a dog.”

“Frog?”

“Frog, no.”

“I’m going to look for a bard, because I bet a bard would know something about these specs.”

I took out the spectacles I’d found.

“Sir sir sir,” the innkeeper said to Dack Fel. “No animals on the property. When you leave.”

“That’s fine,” Dack Fel said.

“Thank you,” the innkeeper said.

“I’ll look for a place,” Dack Fel said.

“Thank you,” the innkeeper said. “Thank you. I’m sorry, we don’t have animals upstairs. I’m sorry.”

“That’s fine,” Dack Fel said.

“How did he hear?” John Wayne asked.

“This place is nicer than I would have thought if they don’t allow animals,” I said.

“I imagine the incense wouldn’t be good for animals,” Dack Fel said.

I gave him a look.

“Yeah,” he said. “Incense can kill birds.”

“They turn away druids and rangers and wizards with familiars?” I said.

“I don’t think you have to worry about a familiar pooping on the carpet,” he said.

“Well, if I had a dog, I wouldn’t worry about it either,” I said. “Oh, dogs that Halflings ride, sometimes, I hear. Not in Cheshire. We ride small horses.”

We talked about else to do that next day. Dack Fel suggested we help the man who was moving.

“I’m not very strong,” I groaned. “I can’t lift things.”

“Maybe we can go kill some rats,” he said.

“I’d like to go kill some rats,” John Wayne said.

“We should’ve killed the rats instead,” Arya said.

“I will supervise,” I said. “As you move the furniture.”

“Fine!” Dack Fel said. “Then be the motivator. I’ll get you a little megaphone.”

“A megaphone? Yes!” I said, suddenly excited. “Would you, really?”

He nodded.

“Yes yes yes!” I said.

“I’ll get it enchanted for you,” he said. “Make you louder.”

“You don’t have get it enchanted,” I said. “I’m very loud already.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said.

“So, we’ll go in the morning, after breakfast?” I said. “Go and do the thing?”

“Do the thing,” Dack Fel said. “After that we can go kill some rats.”

“Kill some rats?” I said. “What are you talking about?”

“There’s another quest that says we can go kill rats for a guy,” he said.

“They probably have all kinds of terrible diseases,” I said.

“Well, yeah,” he replied. “Wear boots.”

“I’ll have to buy some boots,” I said. “Some hip waders.”

“You don’t have boots?” he said.

“I have shoes,” I said, pointing them out.

My little boots only came up to my ankles.

I headed up the stairs for bed. I put my money in for the next day into my little box. I noticed it didn’t even clank. Then I went into my room, locked the door behind me, latched the shutters, and went quickly to sleep.

* * *

I slept in the next morning, the soft bed being so comfortable. The sun was well over the horizon before I got up, cleaned up a little, and headed down to the taproom. They had porridge with berries in it for the meal. There was honey and brown sugar and fresh milk as well. I got a big bowl and sat down with the others, who had already eaten, and dug in.

John Wayne left immediately but the other two sat with me while I ate my breakfast.

Dack Fel told me we were to report to the Thieves’ Guild that day. He noted the man didn’t give us a time so I figured I could eat first. We decided to meet later for lunch. Then Dack Fel and I went to the guild.

I found out breaking Rooster’s legs was a bit of a running gag by the Thieves’ Guild. It happened every few weeks. I also found out the beggars were the information for the Thieves’ Guild and they were run by the Thieves’ Guild. Klein, who was the man who had been in the place when we’d first come there, also told us about the guild.

“Thanks for that thing yesterday,” he told us. “I was really, really bored. Everybody is allowed into the Thieves’ Guild if you are a citizen.”

He took out a little book like the man at the main gate had.

“If you put your hand in this, it registers you with us,” he said. “We take 35 percent commission of anything you do in the slums. It is your area to practice train and hopefully not get killed. It’s a big playground for thieves. Do not kill anybody here or we will turn you in. You can settle your stuff otherwise almost as violently as you want. No maiming. No killing.”

“What about self-defense?” I asked.

“Self-defense is fine,” he said. “No problems with that. Most people just laugh at the other people anyway.”

“So, we’re only allowed to thieve in the slums?” I asked.

“In this city, yes,” he said.

“You’re not really allowed to thieve most places, Rory,” Dack Fel said to me.

“By the guild, I mean,” I said. “I don’t care about the government.”

“Yes,” Klein said.

“The guild says we can only, say, pick pockets in the slums,” I said.

“We condone it in the slums,” he said. “If you pick-pocket anything else, you still owe us. We don’t ask you where you get it from.”

“Okay,” I said. “You don’t care, though.”

“Nope,” he said.

“That’s all I need,” I said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. “You need to pick-pocket in the slums.”

He winked at me.

“Right right,” I said. “Only in the slums.”

I winked back.

Dack Fel asked if he went to another town, would there be another representative he could talk to and the man said as long as he registered there, it was good, so long as they were under the Luxit Sol authority. He noted the government had its hands in a lot of things and they liked to make sure their people were prepared. As long as people had a safe outlet to do it in, it was fine.

I put my hand in the book and screamed, trying to trick Dack Fel, who didn’t respond.

“What the **** are you doing?” Klein asked.

“Well, my friend there, I was trying to trick him,” I said.

“Oh,” Klein said.

“A joke,” I went on. “It didn’t work.”

“Apparently,” he said.

“These are the Halfling jokes he’s been talking about,” Dack Fel said.

I felt rather foolish.

When Dack Fel did it, I noticed his information now noted he was part of the Thieves’ Guild.

“So, what you’re telling me know is wherever we go, they’re going to know we’re in the thieves’ guild,” Dack Fel said. “And keep an eye on us.”

“That only comes up for us and actual military documentation,” Klein said.

“That’s a relief,” Dack Fel said.

“Like if they needed to pull you up because you did something wrong, they would know you’re with us,” Klein said. “And they would come asking us.”

“And which you would say …?” Dack Fel said. “You would reprimand us, right?”

“Oh yeah, you would be found, depending on what you did,” Klein said.

“Shouldn’t get caught,” I said.

“I don’t plan on doing anything really bad, so …” Dack Fel said.

“I don’t plan on getting caught,” I said.

“We should go practice and see how much we can steal today,” Dack Fel said.

“Well, it’s almost lunchtime,” I replied. “We should go back and meet the others.”

Klein told us more about the guild and when I asked if we were to bring the 35 percent to the guild hall, he t