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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, 26 Sep 2018 07:31:40 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 Star Frontiers: Crash on Volturnus http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1993-Star-Frontiers-Crash-on-Volturnus Mon, 27 Aug 2018 17:36:39 GMT Tuesday, July 28, 2009 (After play testing Star Frontiers with the scenario “Crash on Volturnus” from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday with Jeff Tolle,... Tuesday, July 28, 2009

(After play testing Star Frontiers with the scenario “Crash on Volturnus” from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday with Jeff Tolle, Tim, RJ, Derick, Ryan, and Bethany.)

A small group of six had been hired by the government of Truane’s Star to carry out a preliminary exploration of a newly discovered planet. The group included two Dralasites: short, rubbery aliens that had no bones nor hard body parts. The one who called himself William the Dralasite was an environmentalist while the other, named Autobot, was a psycho-social specialist. The lone Yazirian in the group, Cornelius, was a tall, thin biped with a simian face and two large flaps of skin growing on either side of his body. He was the computer specialist. A Vrusk named Schweppes, one of those centaur-like insects, was the robotics specialist in their party. The group was rounded out by two humans, a male doctor named Sir Neville Butterfield, and a female technician who merely called herself Damsel.

The six had been hired to journey by Starliner to Volturnus in the frontier and map as much of the planet as possible. The government was especially interested in contacting and studying any intelligent races living on the planet. The group also had orders that if they were to meet any intelligent race, they were to make friendly contact and learn as much about them as possible.

They were also told that the first expedition to Volturnus had disappeared without a trace as soon as it entered the Zebulon system. If possible, this secondary group was to locate and rescue any survivors of that mission.

The background report on the Zebulon star system that they were briefed with indicated that the system was first investigated 20 years before by an unmanned exploration probe launched by Truane’s Star. The probe had indicated that Volturnus was the only inhabitable planet in the system and that great mineral wealth might have existed on the planet in the form of molybdenum, tungsten, gold, and other heavy metals. Truane’s Star had soon made legal claim to the ownership of Volturnus and completed exploration of a star route to Zebulon, five light years distant, the year before.

The first manned expedition to Volturnus from Truane’s Star was launched nine months before. The four member team of specialists was instructed to set up an outpost, gather data on possible colonization and mining of Volturnus, and report back. However, after passing into the star system, the starship carrying the specialists was never heard from again.

The four members of the lost expedition included Commander Louis V. Jameson of Truane’s Star Military Exploration Force, a combat veteran; Geeko-sur-Mang, a Yazirian professor of geology at Capital University, and a recognized authority in geophysics and specialist in planetary crust formation; Itklikdil, a Vrusk cartographer with Vrusk Atlas Manufacturing Corporation; and Grod, a Dralasite technician in the Truane’s Star Civil Service, a developer of the hydro-magnetic stabilization system in Dralasite air cars, and author of “The Metaphysical Foundations of Dralasite Morality.”

All were well known and well-respected in their fields.

“So, we’re the B-team,” Autobot said upon looking over the credentials of the first expedition.

The report also indicated that Truane’s Star had found itself short of personnel and funds due to colonial troubles and associated police action on Cygnus Omnicron IX recently. They had hired the “B-team,” as Autobot had put it, a team of unknown adventurers, to mount the relief expedition to Volturnus. The government had provided them with a minimal amount of equipment, and transportation to Volturnus on the commandeered starliner Serena Dawn. After dropping them on Volturnus, the Serena Dawn would return in three months to transport them, and with luck, the original exploration team, back to Truane’s Star.

As they boarded the starliner that would take them to Volturnus, the steward gave them each an interior plan of the starship and urged them to study it carefully. He also searched their luggage and placed all weapons and power packs in the weapon’s locker on the bridge. William’s electrosword; Autobot’s gyrojet pistol and rifle; Sir Neville’s automatic pistol, fragmentation grenade, and sword; Damsel’s doze grenade, poison grenade, and tangler grenade, Schweppes’ gyrojet rifle; and Cornelius’ weapons were all confiscated and locked away for the duration of the voyage. They were allowed access to the tool kits that would be used on Volturnus. However, the steward’s assistant placed the military skeinsuits given to them by the government of Truane’s Star in the cargo hold as well.

It took the starliner five days to cross the five light years to the Zebulon star system. In that time, they toured the rest of the ship. It contained recreation areas, the observation dome, the galley, and first class living quarters, and fuel storage. They were also given instructions that in the event they had to evacuate the ship, they were to proceed immediately to the nearest escape bay where two of the Serena Dawn’s lifeboats were stored. Each could hold up to eight persons. If it became necessary to use the lifeboats, they had been instructed not to open the hatch until all persons using the lifeboats were assembled and ready to enter them because they automatically launched one minute after the hatch was open. The boat would then seek the nearest inhabitable planet and land in the first safe spot.

* * *

William the Dralasite was in his cabin on the fifth day of their voyage, preparing to meet with the others and ready their shuttle to the surface, when he heard the sound of scuffling outside of his cabin. After a couple of seconds, he heard what sounded like a man crying “Help!” A loud thump followed the man’s cry.

William had three arms at that time and so grabbed the cabin chair with the arm jutting out behind him and moved to the door, pressing button to open it. He made sure to keep the chair well behind him and low so that if there was trouble, it would be hidden.

In the hallway was a Vrusk. Eight legs grew from its abdomen, four on each side. Its torso was upright in front of its abdomen and the creature’s head was that of an insect.

“Hello, hello,” William said. “What seems to be the problem sir?”

A man whom William recognized as his steward lay on the floor under the creature which was pounding on him with both of its hands. Blood was splattered on the floor and walls of the corridor outside of William’s cabin.

“Autobot! Transform!” William yelled.

He knew the other Dralasite’s cabin was just down the companionway.

The Vrusk rushed William and the Dralasite brought the still-hidden chair over his head and brought it down onto the Vrusk’s head. The creature folded like a deck of cards under the onslaught, knocked out by the massive blow.

“Autobot!” William yelled again.

He could only assume the worst. He quickly searched the Vrusk and found a lot of blood on the creature’s hands. Otherwise he had nothing of interest on him. He grabbed the unconscious steward and dragged the man to Autobot’s door. Once he was close to the cabin, he could hear the sound of Dralasite vibratory music from within. He pounded on the door.

* * *

Autobot heard the pounding on his cabin door. At first, he thought it would be in beat with the music but it quickly degenerated out of that rhythm. He cursed and then opened the cabin door with one of his four arms to find William there with an unconscious steward. A damaged chair was in another of William’s appendages behind him.

He gave William a look.

“These two were in a fight,” William told him, gesturing behind himself with the chair. “He beat up the steward pretty well. We need to get the medics over here.”

Autobot looked out the cabin door and into the corridor. The dark veins that met at his eyespots were not meant for color but he recognized the blood on the floor and wall near the unconscious Vrusk. He was confused, as Vrusk were usually very calm and not prone to fly off the handle. If it had been a Yazirian involved in the fight, even Cornelius, it would not have surprised him. That it was a Vrusk was uncommon.

William suggested they put the two in Autobot’s cabin.

“Do you mind if I use your cabin to get to the other corridor?” William asked.

“Go ahead,” Autobot replied.

William put the steward down on the bunk and as Autobot went to retrieve the unconscious Vrusk, William opened the opposite cabin door into the connecting corridor and stepped out. He saw three more people he didn’t recognize. One, a Yazirian, carried a bullwhip and stood at the top end of the corridor. The second, a Dralasite that had formed one of his legs into a peg-leg and wore a patch over one eyespot, was armed with a club and stood at the junction of the corridor leading from the airlock and the corridor running between the passenger-class cabins. The third, a human who wore silver shock gloves wired to a wide power belt, stood at the bottom of the corridor nearest to William.

William cursed when he realized all three had noticed him though they all seemed surprised to see him.

“Hey!” the man with the power gloves yelled.

“Three more out here!” William said over his shoulder. “I need help.”

He headed up the corridor towards the center pirate, banging on one of the cabin doors as he ran by.

“Cornelius! Get out here! Trouble!” he said.

He ran past the surprised Dralasite pirate and banged on the next cabin door where he knew another of his compatriots was lodged.

“Human! Get out here!” he said. “Neville!”

Autobot, by then in his cabin with the unconscious Vrusk, shoved the creature under the bed as best he could.

* * *

Both Sir Neville Butterfield and Damsel had been in the same cabin, talking very intimately.

“What the devil?” Neville said.

They both began to pull discarded clothing back on.

* * *

In his room down the hall, Schweppes heard someone running down the corridor, yelling and banging on the walls or cabin doors. He turned off the monitor on which he’d been watching a Vrusk drama and sighed.

* * *

Autobot stepped into the corridor and spotted the three men. He ran down the corridor to the Dralasite pirate and was pursued by the human at the bottom end of the corridor. The Yazirian at the top of the corridor rushed William.

William ducked under the Dralasite pirate’s club and the Yazirian behind him tried to whip him without success as well. The man with the shock gloves grabbed Autobot from behind and the Dralasite groaned as electricity coursed into him.

William brought the chair over his head, striking the Dralasite pirate on the head. The creature’s head actually went down into his body, he was struck so hard, and he collapsed to the floor, unconscious, his club rolling away from one of his now senseless hands.

Autobot spun around. The man grinned evilly at him and he punched the human in the head. The man stumbled backwards and laughed at him.

“Let’s go clubbing,” Autobot quipped as he picked up the club that lay next to the fallen Dralasite. William, tickled by the wonderful pun, gave Autobot a big smile and a thumbs up.

A door opened by the Yazirian with the bullwhip and Sir Neville Butterfield poked his head out.

“My God!” he said. “He’s got a whip!”

Down the corridor by the man with the shock gloves, Cornelius’ door opened at that same moment and the Yazirian leapt out, scratching at the man and slamming an open fist into his ribs. The man was busy dodging Autobot’s club and ignored him.

“You first!” the man with the power gloves said to Autobot. The Dralasite ducked to one side.

William passed the chair from the hand in the front to the hand in back, swinging it wildly at the whip-wielding Yazirian, who ducked. The chair slammed against the wall next to Neville’s door, almost hitting the man in the head, and it shattered to pieces, leaving two large chunks of plastic in his hands. Neville shrieked and the bullwhip snapped high above William’s head.

“Oh Lord!” Neville said.

He closed the door.

* * *

Neville crossed the room.

“Brigands and brawlers!” Damsel yelled.

He pressed the button to open the door that led to the opposite corridor. It slid open with a hiss and he peeked out. That companionway was empty.

Damsel ran out past him and headed towards the bridge.

“No Damsel, don’t leave!” he called after her.

He went to the airlock door nearby and manipulated the switches to open it. Then he closed his own cabin door.

* * *

Damsel ran into Schweppes, yelled “Run!” and passed him as well. He followed her towards the bridge. They stopped at the security door that led forward and she began to work on opening it.

* * *

The human gripped Autobot and there was a hissing crackle. The stink of burned Dralasite flesh and ozone filled the corridor as Autobot cried out “Shocking!” Then the Dralasite clubbed the man in the head, though he still did not fall.

Though tragic, William found himself almost laughing at the clever pun. Cornelius rolled his eyes and wondered if he should bother to save the clown and then tried to kill the man with the shock gloves with his bare hands.

The bullwhip cracked again, still too high, and William clubbed the Yazirian who wielded it, beating him about the head and shoulders. The whip snapped near him again.

“You just like the sound of that thing,” William said to him. “You don’t know how to use it, do you?”

“Shut up!” the Yazirian yelled.

Autobot backed from the man with the shock gloves even as Cornelius tried to beat on him without hurting him.

“Fine!” the man shrieked, and turned towards the Yazirian.

Cornelius punched at the man without effect.

“Float like a Dralasite, swing like Ickpak-Mustala!” Autobot shouted.

He swung and missed, unlike the famous Dralasite cricketer.

The man reached over to Cornelius and gripped him by the collar, burning him and sending his hair standing on end. The stink of burning hair and flesh filled the cabin and corridor.

“Hurts, don’t it?” the man said to him.

Down the corridor, William smashed one of his clubs to splinters as it struck Neville’s door. He dropped the shattered weapon as the Yazirian whipped at him and still did not make contact.

“You’re getting closer,” he said, helpfully.

“Shut up!” the Yazirian screamed at him.

“Should I put a cigarette in my mouth for you?” William replied.

Then he beat the Yazirian with his club, leaving the creature badly injured.

“Try taking a couple of steps back,” he quipped. “Maybe you’re better at a distance.”

The Yazirian stepped back and then whipped at him and William charged at the creature and beat him in the head again, receiving a whipping in return.

“Oh, did you hit me?” William said. “I didn’t feel it.”

At the other end of the corridor, Cornelius couldn’t even hurt his opponent, who blocked every blow.

“What kind of Yazirian are you?” the man said. “Don’t you know how to rage? You suck!”

Cornelius ducked under the man’s blows. The man turned back towards Autobot.

“I’m going to show you how my stand-up comedy ‘knocks ‘em out,’” the Dralasite said to him.

Cornelius glared at the creature and then Autobot struck the man with his club. When Cornelius tore at the man, he blocked every blow and grabbed Autobot, blasting him with the shock gloves.

* * *

The security door in front of Damsel slid open, revealing a long, dimly-lit, empty corridor.

“I’ll get it. Run ahead!” she said to Schweppes.

She began to work on making sure the door would stay open as the Vrusk headed down the corridor. It dead-ended in another security door and he knocked on it. There was no answer.

* * *

Cornelius swung ineffectually at the man again but he was ignoring the creature now. The man, instead, grabbed Autobot and burned him again. With a yell, the Dralasite went down in a smoking heap.

“That’s enough damned lousy jokes out of you buddy!” the man yelled, laughing.

Down the corridor, William slammed the club down on the Yazirian and the creature went down in a heap. He turned to see that Autobot was down and looked dead.

“Medic!” William yelled.

* * *

Sir Neville had entered the airlock when he heard a shout for a medic and turned, opened the door to his room, and then ran through the cabin, grabbing his medical kit, and running to the opposite door.

* * *

William opened the door to Neville’s cabin, saw him run in and get his medical kit, and then the Dralasite moved down the corridor towards the man with the shock gloves. The man moved away from the Yazirian in the doorway and then readied himself further down the corridor.

Sir Neville stepped out into the hallway. A cursory examination showed him Autobot on the floor in the corridor next to another fallen Dralasite he didn’t recognize. William’s back arm was pointing at Autobot. Nearby was an unknown Yazirian.

“Don’t worry snotman, I’ll save you!” Sir Neville yelled dramatically.

William rushed the pirate even as Cornelius disappeared into the cabin.

“Bring it Dralasite!” the man yelled.

The two scuffled in the hall for a few moments.

* * *

Damsel had finished jamming the security door and headed to where Schweppes was banging on the far door. She nudged him aside and started to work at opening that door as well.

* * *

Cornelius had crossed his cabin to the opposite door, opened it, and then ran around the adjoining corridors until he came to the bottom end of the corridor where the man and William were still fighting. William clubbed the man in the face.

“This is how you hurt somebody!” he said.

The man stumbled but did not fall.

“That all you got?” he said.

“I have eight more,” William said.

Cornelius rushed the man from behind and tried to slash at him without effect.

“What the hell?” the man yelled. “Get off me monkey boy!”

He tried to burn William but the Dralasite ducked to one side.

“Hold still, both of you!” the man yelled.

He was obviously badly hurt.

* * *

“You don’t have a leg to stand on!” William said.

He swung at the man but the man ducked. Then Cornelius slammed him in the back of the head and he went down. William unhooked the power belt and removed the shock gloves from the man, putting them on himself. He found that the power belt had an LED display that read 34 SEU. He knew that shock gloves took 2 SEU each time they connected.

Cornelius got William’s club and held it in one hand as Autobot stumbled to his feet after Neville’s ministrations.

* * *

The security door opened for Damsel and she saw that the officer’s quarters beyond were in terrible shape. Someone had knocked over a table and the chairs were scattered and on their sides. The mattress had been pulled from a bunk and thrown to one side as well. The room was a mess and no one was within.

The other door, they knew, led to one of the two bridges of the ship.

* * *

As Neville headed back towards his cabin, he heard the pressure door to the nearby airlock sealing shut again.

“Damn it!” he muttered. “It took so long to open.”

William, meanwhile, beat the unconscious Dralasite and the Vrusk in the cabin nearby to death. He had found the Vrusk crammed under the bunk, his legs still sticking out.

“Oh Lord!” Sir Neville said. “So brutal!”

When they finally got together, they realized that two of their party were missing. Sir Neville said that they had gone to look for their gear. After only a short discussion, they moved to the nearest airlock and got the pressure door open.

* * *

Schweppes was moving the mattress and the chairs into the security doorway in an attempt to keep that door open. Then he moved to the door that led to the bridge and listened to it. He could hear talking, rough speech, someone laughing, and the sound of something being knocked over.

“The ship is ours!” he heard.

It didn’t sound like the captain.

They left the room, going to the nearest airlock.

* * *

Sir Neville led them out of the airlock to the door they knew led to the cargo bay. Then he stopped and gestured for William to go ahead of him.

“Here it is,” he said.

William pressed the button to open the door to the cargo bay and was unpleasantly surprised to see that there was Vrusk within armed with a small, bulky weapon that he recognized as a gyrojet pistol. The creature looked alert and aimed at the doorway, ready to fire.

There were many boxes piled everywhere, with just enough room to walk between. There were also several rows of cargo cabinets that didn’t appear to be locked.

William rushed into the room and the Vrusk fired a shot. The tiny missile flew out into the corridor and exploded against the wall. Neville followed the Dralasite into the room and another missile flew by and blasted the wall. The doctor took cover.

“Oh Lord!” he said. “He’s shooting!”

Cornelius ran into the room and rushed the Vrusk. Another gyrojet missile flew by the Yazirian and exploded against the wall. Autobot followed him into the room and the two attacked the Vrusk as William came around the back of the cargo containers and grabbed the Vrusk’s thorax, the shock gloves burning the creature. Autobot and Cornelius found their clubs just bouncing off its exoskeleton.

* * *

As Schweppes and Damsel crossed the airlock to a door to their left, they heard what sounded like the small explosions of gyrojet missiles coming from another door to the airlock about 90 degrees around the round chamber from the door where they stood.

“I don’t want to go in there!” Damsel said.

They worked on getting the airlock door open.

* * *

William reached for the Vrusk and, just as he was about to grab him, Autobot clubbed the thing in the head. William ended up grabbing the Vrusk’s unconscious body. He let out a yell for wasting the charges.

The Vrusk was unconscious.

“I found a computoy!” Sir Neville called out.

* * *

As the airlock cycled, Schweppes was certain he heard Sir Neville’s voice from the same direction that they had heard the gyrojet missiles a few moments before. The two headed into the nearby corridor away from both sounds.

* * *

Autobot picked up the fallen gyrojet pistol and checked the weapon’s ammunition count. The LED read seven missiles within. He also noticed that the handle of the gun was damaged, as if it had been used to beat someone. He tried to fix the handle by beating it on the unconscious Vrusk. It didn’t fix the weapon but did finish off the Vrusk.

They began to search for their equipment.

William found large machine gears in a cargo box. They didn’t seem to have any value or immediate use. Cornelius found their skeinsuits and called out what he’d found. Sir Neville found a crate of hand axes and called out.

William threw a Dralasite skeinsuit over his back even as Autobot started to suit up in his own. Sir Neville found several high-fashion human dresses.

“Oh excellent!” he said.

William had found 12 packets of dehydrated food and read on the side that each packet would feed six people for a day. They were safe for all the major races. Cornelius found and pocketed 10 laser rifle clips.

* * *

Schweppes and Damsel arrived at the door of the cargo bay and opened it up. The Yazirian within was armed with a hand axe and looked surprised to see them. He had been caught looking into one of the boxes.

The Yazirian rushed forward towards them and both Schweppes and Damsel tried to punch the creature as he reached the door. They didn’t appear to do any appreciable harm. Schweppes tried to grab the creature without luck and Damsel attempted to punch him again. Neither hurt him.

The Yazirian swung his axe at Schweppes but the Vrusk ducked under the blow.

* * *

As Autobot suited up, he thought he heard the sound of fighting somewhere forward. He looked over at Cornelius and the Yazirian had obviously heard it too. Autobot continued putting the skeinsuit on as quickly as he could even as Cornelius bolted for the far door of the cargo bay.

Sir Neville, meanwhile, had found some more laser rifle clips.

“I found our laser rifle clips!” he said. “There’s just clips. There’s no rifles.”

William had found a prize Vrusk statue. He tucked the heavy thing into his belt. Then Neville found Vrusk body wax and William found another crate of hand axes.

“There’s a lot of axes here,” Sir Neville said.

“I need a wheelbarrow,” William replied.

He tucked five hand axes into his belt.

“How many axes are on this ship?” William asked.

“We’ll need a lot,” Sir Neville replied. “There are trees where we’re going.”

* * *

Damsel struck the Yazirian in the face with her fist and he stumbled back a step. More blows were exchanged without any appreciable effect. Then Schweppes punched the villain again but only harmed him a little bit. They continued to fight, all of them avoiding being badly hurt.

* * *

Once Autobot finished suiting up, he moved out to the corridor in the direction where the noises had been coming from. He activated the pressure door and then returned to the room to search along with William and Sir Neville. He was unsure where Cornelius had gone. He had headed the opposite direction.

Meanwhile, William had found a holographic fireworks projector.

“Something to impress the natives,” he said.

Sir Neville found a chronocom, a combination watch, calculator, and communicator. It was somewhat useless alone, however.

“I found a watch,” he said.

Then he tossed it aside.

* * *

Cornelius had gone down the other corridor, through an airlock that they hadn’t been to before, and then into the corridor opposite the other cargo hold. He thought the cries he heard earlier might have come from there.

He got through the airlock and headed for the door to the cargo hold.

* * *

William found another prize Vrusk statue. Then Autobot came into the room and searched one of the cargo containers, finding chocolate anchovies in aspic. He picked them up. Meanwhile, Sir Neville found boxes of ball bearings.

The search of the cargo hold continued. William found Yazirian punching bags, deflated. He took some of them.

“You’re being ridiculous,” Sir Neville said, finding more ball bearings.

Autobot found 12 packets of dehydrated food and tucked them into his skeinsuit, then left the room. He found his way to the airlock and entered, moving to the other pressure door and activating it. It slowly started to cycle and open.

* * *

The Yazirian struck Schweppes with his axe, cracking his exoskeleton. Schweppes screamed out profanities at the creature, who just grinned back at him. He backed further into the room and the two pressed their attack.

* * *

William ran out of the cargo hold and through the door to the airlock as it was closing, and went through the other open door. Cornelius was just opening another door and so he slipped by the Yazirian and into the cargo hold.

* * *

Sir Neville found another chronocom in the last unopened cargo container. He looked around the room to find that he was alone.

“I’m coming!” he called, and headed out the open door.

* * *

Schweppes tried to grab the Yazirian in a wrestling hold but missed him. Damsel swung a fist at the creature as well but didn’t connect. Then they spotted William come through the door on the other end of the hold, rush the Yazirian and try to grab the creature with the shock gloves. The pirate noticed him and ducked to one side.

As Cornelius moved to flank the creature, the pirate moved back into the corner and readied his axe for any takers. Cornelius rushed the creature and hit him with a club. William moved into position and flung his axe at the Yazirian, missing completely.

Meanwhile, Schweppes and Damsel started to search the lockers. Schweppes found crates of hand axes while Damsel found a computoy. Schweppes next found chronocom and Damsel found a full set of Galacticana Encyclopedia. Sir Neville came into the room, saw them, and pulled out a locker of his own, finding Vrusk body wax.

“This is so gross,” he muttered.

Autobot appeared in the doorway and looked into the room. Then he moved closer to the combatants to get a better shot with his gyrojet pistol. At that moment, William grabbed the Yazirian with his shock gloves, making the creature twitch and burn. The stench was almost overwhelming but the creature did not fall. As Cornelius tried, ineffectually, to injure him with his club, the pirate swung at him. He ducked and the hand axe slammed into the wall, dented beyond repair.

Autobot aimed and fired at the Yazirian. The gyrojet missile struck the wall behind the pirate. Then William grabbed him with the shock gloves. He screamed and jerked around as Cornelius missed again. The pirate got his bearings and swung at Cornelius again but he easily ducked back and out of the way.

The other three were still searching. Sir Neville had found another box with 12 packs of dehydrated food. Damsel found costume jewelry and started to put it on. Schweppes found yet more Vrusk body wax.

The Yazirian turned to William and swung at him, missing him completely.

“Right on the chin,” William quipped. “What I failed to tell you is: Dralasites don’t have chins.”

“That’s not funny!” the Yazirian screamed.

Then William grabbed the creature, shocking him again. He fell back, smoking and his hair standing on end.

Autobot tried to convince the pirate to surrender but he didn’t listen to him.

“He just attacked me you son of a *****!” he yelled at the Dralasite.

Cornelius backed up and started growling at the Yazirian pirate even as Autobot aimed the gyrojet pistol at the pirate again. The pirate flung his broken axe at the Dralasite but missed completely. Then William grabbed him again with the shock gloves. The Yazirian screamed and jerked before he fell to the floor, smoke coming out of his mouth. Cornelius yelled at the corpse.

Sir Neville found another holographic fireworks projectile even as Damsel found another set of the Galacticana Encyclopedia. Then a third holographic fireworks projector was found. They all set to searching the room as quickly as possible and found another chronocom, another Prize Vrusk statue, more high fashion human dresses, 12 more packs of dehydrated food, more Yazirian punching bags, more chocolate anchovies in aspic, two more holographic fireworks projectors, more large machine gears, and more boxes of ball bearings.

They hadn’t found their possessions anywhere.

They realized they had left the skeinsuits in the other cargo hold. Schweppes pointed out that bridge was occupied.

“We know there are multiple people on the bridge and they are not friendly,” he said.

They decided to get the skeinsuits first. Sir Neville gave Cornelius a shot of biocort and bandaged him up. The Yazirian suggested using the computers to try to take control of the bridge but then remembered that they were separate systems. He told them he might be able to hack into the security system and possibly see the bridge. He also wondered about opening all of the doors between them and the bridge.

Autobot was working on what to do with the ball bearings and realized he could put them in a fist to act like brass knuckles. Damsel suggested putting them into a bag to make a sap. While they talked, Damsel started shoving hand axes in her belt, her boots, and even down her shirt. William tucked five of the hand axes into his belt and donned his skeinsuit.

Sir Neville and Damsel headed back to the other cargo hold and retrieved the skeinsuits. Autobot covered the other door with his gyrojet pistol. Everyone donned their skeinsuits.

They realized that their weapons could be in the weapons locker on the starboard bridge. They also discussed disabling the engines and taking the ship that way or possibly storming one of the two bridges. Sir Neville asked if they could disable the bridge life support from the engine room but Autobot pointed out that only from the bridge could such a thing be done. When asked, he noted that all they could do from the engine room would be to disable momentum. William wanted to get to the weapon locker and get their weapons. Sir Neville mentioned putting on pirate clothing to try to disguise themselves. Schweppes searched the dead pirate for credits but found nothing.

As they talked, they heard a pressure door opening and when they looked around, they saw that William was gone. Sir Neville quickly picked up one of the holographic fireworks projectors and grabbed two axes.

“To the bridge!” they heard William yell from the starboard corridor. A moment later, there was a violent explosion out in the corridor and then the whine of a sonic stunner. Shrapnel rattled down the corridor and in through the open door.

* * *

As William, loaded down with holographic fireworks projectors, hand axes, Vrusk statues, packets of dehydrated food, Yazirian punching bags, and boxes of anchovies in aspic, looked through the opening pressure door into the airlock, he saw there was a Dralasite and a human standing in the room. The Dralasite had a small, round object in his hand, while the man held a sonic stunner.

As William watched, the Dralasite tossed something into the corridor. William rushed into the airlock at the Dralasite. The grenade went over William’s head and landed in the corridor. A moment later it exploded behind him. Then the human fired the sonic stunner at him but he wasn’t stunned.

“Little help!” William called.

The man with the sonic stunner grinned.

“We’ve killed anyone with him,” he said. Then he moved closer, bringing his sonic stunner to bear.

Suddenly, the rest of the group piled into the large, round airlock. Sir Neville had a can of spray on flesh in his hand. He had dropped the holographic fireworks projectile in the cargo hold. Cornelius crossed the room and put a foot on the airlock door.

William tried to grab the man with the sonic stunner but the nimble fellow danced out of the way. Damsel flung an axe that clattered against the far wall.

Autobot tried to persuade the pirates to give up.

“We’ve killed all your friends!” he said.

“You killed my brother?” the Dralasite said.

“My cousin is dead!?!” the man said. “You bastard! I’ll kill you!”

The Dralasite tried to beat on William but he managed to block the blows. The man fired his sonic stunner at him as well but missed completely. Then they both turned towards Autobot.

The Dralasite moved towards Autobot, who fled back into the blackened corridor as the door cycled and closed. William grabbed the man with the sonic stunner, burning him. Cornelius tried to hit the same man with a club but missed him completely. Damsel threw an axe across the room and it struck the far wall.

Sir Neville sprayed plastiflesh on the side of the face of the man with the sonic stunner. The pirate let out a scream, ripping at it, and turned towards him, his face half covered with the stuff.

The door next to William finished cycling and opened all the way, even as the pressure door that Autobot had fled to started to cycle again.

Damsel flung another axe, hitting the man again even as William grabbed him with the shock gloves. Sir Neville fled from the man who was still trying to pull the plastiflesh from his face. The pirate turned and fired the sonic stunner at William and the Dralasite fell to the ground, stunned. The Dralasite pirate tried to punch Sir Neville but didn’t injure the man at all.

Sir Neville tried to spray the Dralasite in the face with the spray. He hit the creature but the eyespot moved out of the way of the plastiflesh. Sir Neville cursed.

Damsel crossed the room and flung an axe at the man with the sonic stunner even as a missile flew from the opening pressure door and exploded against the far wall courtesy of Autobot. Sir Neville crossed to William and administered a stimdose.

“Get up!” he yelled.

The man with the sonic stunner fired at Cornelius but the beam missed him completely. He aimed again at the Yazirian but missed. He had moved away from the others and Damsel flung her axe at the man with the sonic stunner. He fell with a long, drawn-out scream, dead.

They congregated on the Dralasite pirate and fell upon him en masse. Cornelius tried to convince the pirate to surrender or he would die as Schweppes picked up the sonic stunner. The pirate struck Cornelius and then William slashed at him with a pair of axes. Then Damsel flung another axe and the Dralasite fell to the ground.

Sir Neville was holding open the pressure door even as Damsel retrieved the axes she’d flung.

“To the bridge!” William said again.

He went down the corridor as Sir Neville asked if anyone was injured. He tended to Schweppes’ injuries from the cargo hold as the Dralasite examined the door to the bridge. Once Schweppes was tended to, he followed William down the corridor. Autobot lingered behind in the airlock while Cornelius took one of the chronocoms from Neville and then worked on opening the airlock door to the nearby computer room.

William found the door to the bridge unlocked and he manipulated the controls. He immediately realized a struggle had taken place there. Chairs, instruments, and even unconscious or dead officers lay strewn about the floor. He saw four armed space pirates on the bridge, each of them armed with a gun. The first, a Vrusk, held an automatic pistol; the second, a Yazirian, held a needler pistol; the third, a Dralasite, held an electrostunner; and the last, a human, held a laser pistol. From his vantage point, he could see the weapons locker had been destroyed, along with everything it once contained.

The pirates spotted William. He closed the door and then backed up to the other side of the hall from the rest.

“The weapons locker is destroyed, but they have some nice stuff in there,” he said calmly. “They’re going to come swarming out in just a second.”

“Lock the door!” Sir Neville said. “Lock the door!”

Schweppes aimed his sonic stunner at the doorway. Damsel had an axe ready to throw at the doorway. Autobot aimed his gyrojet pistol at the doorway as well.

* * *

Cornelius found the computer room a mess. Several of the monitors and much of the equipment was damaged or destroyed. Other monitors appeared dead. The few that were still working displayed broken words and a warning that read:

“EMERGENCY ALERT! EMERGENCY ALERT! SECURITY VIOLATION ON BRIDGE. REPEAT: INTRUDERS ON BRIDGE! EMERGENCY ALERT! EMERGENCY ALERT! EXPLOSION REPORTED IN WEAPONS LOCKER. REPEAT: WEAPONS LOCKER DESTROYED.”

He started working on the damaged computer to try to turn off life support to the bridge.

* * *

No one came through the door to the bridge.

“I don’t think this is a fight we can win!” Sir Neville said.

He suggested they lock the door and they realized that the door lock was on the other side of the door. Damsel said she could get the door to lock when the door cracked open and William swung into the crack with both axes. The door slammed shut again.

“Maybe they’re more afraid of us,” William suggested.

“They’re coming a different way!” Sir Neville wailed. “The lifeboats are this way!”

He pointed behind him.

Schweppes headed out of the corridor and back into the airlock. He made his way across the airlock to the pressure door to the escape bay and began to work on opening it.

“Not a bad idea,” Sir Neville said to him.

I do have enough Vrusk body wax to hold me over for a while, Schweppes thought as he worked on the door.

William moved to stand in front of the bridge door and waited, his axes in two of his hands. The rest also waited to see if anyone else would come out of the airlock door.

As Schweppes got the airlock door open, he heard the rattle of automatic weapon fire and a burst of bullets ricocheted off the airlock doorway. Someone was in the escape room! He moved back to the cover of the doorway.

“What!?!” Sir Neville cried. “Who’s shooting at us!?!”

“Let’s just make a run for the lifeboats!” Schweppes called to the rest.

William opened the door of the bridge and saw there were still three pirates in the room. All of them had their weapons pointed at the door. He turned and ran down the corridor, through the open pressure door and into the airlock, and from there into the escape bay. The rest of them followed him, Damsel moving to the center of the airlock so she could see both of the open airlock doors. An axe was in her hand.

Sir Neville ran to the open bridge door and slapped the button to close it. He heard weapons fire strike the closing door and cringed. Then he headed for the escape bay.

As William entered the escape bay , he saw that one of the lifeboats was gone. To one side was a Vrusk pirate armed with an automatic pistol who fired at him. He turned and charged the pirate as the bullet ricocheted around the bay. Autobot, meanwhile, ran to the lifeboat. Looking into it, he noticed an item inside labeled “Survival Pack.” It seemed to locked in some sort of cabin.

The lifeboat itself was a wide, nearly featureless ship with a wide door on the side and narrow impeneglass windows all around a forward cabin. The engine was towards the rear. A single iris door stood closed on the side with a single activation button next to it.

Suddenly, the Serena Dawn lurched and they heard three loud explosions from the bridge. The ship trembled for several seconds, then lurched again and they heard another explosion somewhere. They could hear various squeaks and groans as the ship twisted and buckled beneath their feet.

Autobot slapped the button on the ship and the door slid open. A computerized voice announced: “One minute to launch. Please fasten your seat belts.” For a moment, Autobot thought about going back to try to repair the Serena Dawn.

* * *

In the computer room, more monitors began to go black. Cornelius only struggled with the machine for a few moments after the explosions before he fled out of the computer room into the corridor towards the airlock.

* * *

Schweppes stepped into the escape bay and fired the sonic stunner at the Vrusk standing near William. The pirate fired another shot at William but missed again.

The Vrusk pirate switched his pistol from single shot to burst.

“There’s eight spaces on that lifeboat,” William said to the pirate. “You want to come with us? Drop your weapon now.”

Then he ran to the lifeboat even as Autobot climbed into the lifeboat and yelled that he was going to close the doors and the pirate needed to drop his gun if he wanted to live. Schweppes moved closer to the pirate and fired the sonic stunner at him. The Vrusk jerked and fell to the ground. Schweppes reached forward and grabbed the automatic pistol.

Damsel ran into the escape bay and leapt into the lifeboat. She was closely followed by Sir Neville and then Cornelius. Schweppes moved back to the lifeboat, a light flashing yellow and red above it. He waited in the iris door until what he felt was the very last second and then leapt in just as the door was closing.

The lifeboat jerked into motion as it moved towards the hull of the Serena Dawn. As Schweppes desperately tried to strap himself in, four pirates appeared in the escape bay, all armed with automatic weapons. They opened fire, shooting at the lifeboat, and they felt it shudder and lurch as the bullets struck it.

“See you in hell!” Sir Neville said.

Then they were free of Serena Dawn, only open space ahead of them. They saw the starship tremble again. A few metal chunks floated out of the escape bay and then all was quiet.

The lifeboat quickly accelerated towards the forbidding planet of Volturnus. As they approached the daylight side of the planet, they saw nothing. A great portion of the planet was shrouded in clouds. The lifeboat entered a shallow orbit and traveled to the other side of Volturnus, where it began its descent into the dark, clear night.

Sparks began to fly from the onboard computer. Then, after several seconds of jolting, a rear engine exploded and a fire erupted on the exterior of the lifeboat.

“Fix it!” William yelled at Damsel.

The fire grew larger and hotter as they descended, even entering the passenger compartment. After two minutes of intense heat, the lifeboat crashed into a high outcropping of rocks. The fire seemed to die down but the flames still flashed from the rear engine and the onboard computer.

The survival kits popped out of the locker and were ready for removal from the lifeboat. They also noticed a foul-smelling liquid seeping from the engine compartment. Some of the liquid was starting to burn and they recognized it as a highly toxic, flammable acid used in ship engines.

They grabbed the survival kits and got them away from the burning ship, finding that they were in the middle of a great desert. Both Autobot and Schweppes went back for the extra survival kits, getting away from the ship just as it burst into flames.

“Run!” Damsel said.

They fled the ship and only a few seconds later, the lifeboat exploded.

They quickly looked through the survival kits. Each contained a machete, a box of matches, an allweather blanket, a first aid pack, a chronocom, two small packages of survival rations, a tangler grenade, a compass, a lifejacket, 10 salt pills, a pocket tool, a flashlight, a doze grenade, 10 meters of rope, a toxyrad gauge, eight liters of water, a pair of sungoggles, a pair of stretch coveralls, a poly-vox, and a laser pistol with a 20 SEU clip.

The sun was rising. A desolate wilderness of sand and rock stretched as far as they could see in every direction. The desert was occasionally broken by green, flat plants similar in appearance to tiny lily pads. Though it was only minutes past sunrise, the heat was already overbearing.

They had crashed on Volturnus. They were on their own. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1993-Star-Frontiers-Crash-on-Volturnus
Albedo Platinum Catalyst: Return to the Catapult http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1992-Albedo-Platinum-Catalyst-Return-to-the-Catapult Tue, 21 Aug 2018 01:06:43 GMT Monday, April 16, 2007 (After play-testing Albedo: Platinum Catalyst in Bryan Sunday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. with Aaron and Adam Frager.) As the... Monday, April 16, 2007


(After play-testing Albedo: Platinum Catalyst in Bryan Sunday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. with Aaron and Adam Frager.)
As the Second ConFed/ILR War heated up, more EDF troops were sent to the planet Tlakatan in order to help defend the planet and train local Homeguard troops. The group that arrived on-world a few months after the terrorist attack on the moon base on Tindo consisted of three officers and a group of cadets. The officers represented the Aerodyne and Freefall Infantry service of the Aerospace Branch and the Mobile Surgical Hospital service of the Ground Operations Branch. Attached to the three squads were two light infantrymen and a heavy infantryman.


Commanding the group was 3rd Lt. Reteth, a male raccoon and aerodyne pilot. Under his command was 3rd Lt. Pepperton, a male otter from one of the resource colonies of the Confederation, and 3rd Lt. Sashier, a male skunk and a doctor.


They had several subordinates.


Directly under Lt. Reteth were three aerodyne pilots: Cadet Diane, a cat, Cadet Erni, an opossum, and Cadet Masi, a weasel. He was also in command of Cadet Gar, a brown and black dog from the heavy infantry.


Lt. Pepperton commanded three others in the Freefall Infantry who were being trained as snipers: Cadet Oswart, a horse, Cadet Capricus, a pigeon, and Cadet Tuddels, a squirrel. He also had Cadet Snark, a tasmanian devil heavy infantryman under his command.


Lt. Sashier had three other MSH unit medics under his command: Cadet Attani, a golden cat, Cadet Norzzen, a weasel, and Cadet Artz’oo, a black dog. Their squad was rounded out with Kor, a bear and member of the light infantry.


They had only been on Tlakatan for a week or so before they got their first mission assignment from 1st Lt. Aldrik, a bush-tailed possum in command of the EDF group on the planet. He told them that some 90 days before, the moon base on Tlakatan’s only moon, Tindo, had been attacked by terrorists who hoped to use the catapult there to lob massive chunks of debris at the planet in hopes of hitting a city or at least disrupting the government. They had been foiled by a very small group of non-coms in an EDF aerodyne that had made an emergency landing on the moon.


The base had been abandoned after that, Lt. Aldrik told them. It was thought that the cost of repairing and re-staffing it would be too much to make it worthwhile so it had been shut down.


“With the ILR invading other systems and the war seemingly heating up, I think it prudent to maintain a small garrison on the moon,” Lt. Aldrik said. “The government of Tlakatan concurs.”


He told them they were to take an aerodyne to the moon base and affect repairs on the installation, readying it for a platoon of Homeguard troops who would take it from there.


They set off that afternoon for the six-hour flight to the moon. The aerodyne had been supplied with rations, two maintenance robots , and a small crate of stun grenades. They also found a crate with six MAKW 3-60 light machine-guns, each with 10 100-round belts, stored in the vessel. None of them knew how the weapons had gotten aboard and they were not on the cargo manifest. Lt. Reteth shrugged his shoulders and headed back to the cockpit. He didn’t think they’d need the weapons but figured it was not a terrible waste of space or weight to keep them.


It was several hours before Reteth flew over the moon base. They could see two low, square buildings connected by some kind of clear tube. A garden dome was also connected to both via the tube-like tunnels. On one side of the base was a low hummock that rose only slightly above the rest of the base. On the other was a slag heap that was higher and beyond that a landing field of some kind of concrete. To the north of the base was the two-kilometer long launch catapult.


Lt. Reteth set the aerodyne down on the landing field and then shut down the systems aboard. They got their gear around and disembarked onto the airless surface of Tindo, leaving Cadet Diane behind to man the aerodyne while the rest crossed the barren surface of the moon to the abandoned base.


They scouted around the entire base, finding several airlocks, one of which appeared to be a manual one. They also saw there were several portholes or windows in the place. The garden dome was had transparent walls and they could see dead plants within. They tried one of the electric airlocks to find that there was no power.


They headed over toward the garden dome again and as they approached it, Lt. Pepperton thought he spotted someone duck behind one of the larger plants within.


“Did you see that?” he asked over the com.


“Yeah,” Lt. Sashier replied. “It looks like a robot.”


“What?” Pepperton said.


“Over there on that side,” Sashier replied. “Isn’t that a robot?”


He was pointing to the far side of the dome between where the two tubes connected it to the rest of the complex. The box-like shape of a robot was set against the wall.


Most of the dome was filled with shadows. They manipulated the airlock and found it would only hold about four of them. Pepperton, Reteth, Snark, and Erni all went in and they cycled the airlock as best they could. When they opened the interior door, there was a hiss but the monitors proved there was only a little pressure in the dome.


They soon had everyone else within, leaving Tuddels on guard outside of the airlock.


The garden dome consisted of a large open space occupied by many tiers of dead plants that had probably been growing in a hydropin solution. There were a few stains on the floor that looked like bloodstains.


The box-like object in the corner was, indeed a robot. It was shut down and its power pack removed. The pack was on the floor next to the robot.


They found there was no power in the greenhouse and they guessed that the oxygen had bled away in the last few months. They decided to try the larger section of the complex and soon found themselves in the living quarters. They were in a shambles. There were great stains everywhere and the place was a mess. After some searching, they found the life support equipment. Lt. Pepperton worked on the machinery and found it all in good order but shut down. He tried to get life support working but there wasn’t any power to the system. When he told the others, they guessed that power control was likely in the command center.


Leaving Cadet Oswart to guard the life support equipment, they left the living quarters and headed for the command center. There, they found a storage room and a power control room in the corridor connected to the living quarters. Monitors in power control showed there was no power but they found an access tube that led down to the base’s sunken fusion power plant.


It took about two hours for Lt. Pepperton to get power back on. Once the power room registered that power was up, they brought up the entire network and restored power to the entire complex. Pepperton then went around and released several tell-tales and found numerous bullet holes in the command center, two in the garden dome, and dozens in the living quarters. He was able to get them sealed with the tell-tales temporarily and then set to work making more permanent repairs.


They finally ended their long day by camping out in the command center, where Pepperton had made the most permanent repairs. They set two people on one hour watch shifts at all times.


They found that the radio was out the next day and Pepperton had some of his men continue repairs in the living quarters while he examined the radio antenna. He found some damage to the antenna, probably from a micro-meteor, and returned to get Sashier and another one of his own men to help him start making repairs. He guessed it would be three or four days work before they could actually use the radio.


Meanwhile, they had gotten the entire complex pressurized and sealed. They activated the robot in the garden and set it and the other two to cleaning up and making general maintenance repairs to the station.


Lt. Reteth made sure he always had a pilot in the aerodyne to guard it.


They moved all of the light machine-guns into the base and set one of them up in each of the different sections.


Things were pretty routine for the next few days.


On the morning of the fifth day after they’d arrived, radar picked up an approaching craft. While Cadet Capricus tried to contact the vessel, Lt. Reteth went up to the observation lounge to get a better look and spotted another aerodyne fly into the area fairly low to the ground. The vehicle hovered 40 meters away from the base and after seemingly observing it for a few moments, opened fire with its big HAKW guns. In the silence of vacuum the guns blasted over the observation area and Capricus called out that the long-range radio had gone completely dead.


Lt. Pepperton cursed. Whomever was on the aerodyne had just destroyed the antenna he’d been working for days.


The aerodyne then headed for the landing field while Lt. Reteth called over the suit radio for Cadet Erni, who was on watch in the vehicle, to get the aerodyne off the ground. He watched as the aerodyne hovered over their own and then opened fire with its gun, tearing into the cockpit. A moment later, he spotted the glass burst out of the cockpit, pushed by the pressure of the atmosphere within.


Lt. Reteth climbed down out of the observation lounge as Lt. Sashier ordered Kor to take his place. Reteth ordered everyone to suit up and he had Lt. Pepperton set up a light machine-gun position in the garden dome while he set up two more in the living quarters. He ordered ordering Sashier to set up positions with the fourth and fifth light machine-guns in the command module. They used the machine-guns to cover all the airlocks.


Lt. Pepperton found himself cover by the once-again deactivated maintenance robot on one side of the garden dome. Oswart and Tuddels had taken positions as well, Oswart on the MAKW light machinegun and Tuddels with his CKW Precision sniper rifle. Lt. Reteth was at another position with an MAKW watching one of the airlocks of the living quarters while Cadets Gar and Masi manned a gun watching the other airlock. Lt. Sashier was in command of the command center, also with two machine-gun emplacements: one manned by Cadet Kor and the other by Cadet Snark. Capricus continued to monitor communications from the command center while the other MSH personnel prepared the medical bay.


Cadet Capricus called over their headsets that the local radio had just picked up a message ordering them to stand down in the name of the ILR.


“No reply,” Lt. Reteth said.


They settled into to wait. Soon Kor reported that two small groups had exited the ILR aerodyne and were making their way around the slag heap to the base. They soon spotted several rabbits in spacesuits peering into the various portholes and the very walls of the dome. The rabbits met on the far side of the living quarters and then moved around towards the garden dome again.


A few moments later, Cadet Capricus radioed that they were cycling the electric airlock in the greenhouse dome and everyone in the dome could hear both of the airlocks pumping air. Then both doors flew open at once and the five lapines within rushed out, guns blazing.


Lt. Pepperton immediately shot one of the rabbits. Though the shot didn’t penetrate his spacesuit, it knocked him back and he stumbled against the wall of the airlock. Oswart and Tuddels both opened fire as well though they didn’t do much damage to the rushing rabbits. None of the shots fired in return hit either.


As the rabbits got into close range, Oswart laid down a devastating suppression fire that either panicked or blasted all five rabbits on that side of the room. Four fell to the ground, knocked out by the bullets that had hit them. The fifth had screamed when he was hit and crashed to the floor to lie cowering. Oswart started to pivot the machine-gun around to point to the other airlock.


Tuddels and Lt. Pepperton were holding their own, with both of them targeting the officer that stood back in the airlock. The rabbit took a bullet but still yelled encouragement to his soldiers. The lapines started to target Oswart and the horse took a hit and was panicking. Pepperton yelled words of encouragement to him and he fired on the rabbits once more.


He was hit again and again Pepperton rallied him before he laid down another field of devastation on that side of the garden dome. The officer was hit and went down, dead almost as soon as he hit the floor. Two other rabbits flung down their weapons and surrendered.


Suddenly the battlefield was quiet except for the moans of the injured. Pepperton had been hit but the bullet hadn’t penetrated his armored spacesuit. Oswart had been injured but not badly and Tuddels had been hit once but had rallied himself.


They called for the medics and took the rabbits that surrendered prisoner. They didn’t see the lone officer who had not entered the airlock but watched the entire battle from outside flee back towards the landing field.


The garden dome was a mess. There were over a dozen bullet holes in the walls from the light machine-gun and other misses and Pepperton got to work sending tell-tales to temporarily seal the structure. Then he called up Lt. Reteth and asked for orders. The raccoon decided they should take the fight to the ILR and, if possible, capture their aerodyne. He also wanted to find out how Cadet Erni was faring. He hoped the opossum was still alive but feared the worst.


Lt. Reteth, Lt. Pepperton, Cadet Tuddels, and Cadet Gar all headed out of the garden dome and made their way towards the landing field, using the slag heap for cover. While Reteth and Gar went around the slag heap and headed for the lowered landing ramp of their own aerodyne, Pepperton and Tuddels made their way to the top of the slag heap and got a good look at the ILR aerodyne.


The ship stood on the tarmac on the far side of the field. What appeared to be an AW 193 heavy machine-gun had been set up near the aerodyne’s ramp and Pepperton spotted a lone soldier manning it. He smiled. It was a hard shot but he thought he could make it and didn’t think the rabbit had seen him yet.


He took careful aim.


* * *


Lt. Reteth crept onto the dark aerodyne, ordering Cadet Gar to guard the ramp.


The raccoon made his way to the cockpit and then found that it was depressurized. He couldn’t safely open the cockpit door so he depressurized the entire interior of the aerodyne and worked the door.


The cockpit was a mess. Controls had been smashed and a small fire had broken out before the automatic equipment had put it out. Cadet Erni sat in the crash couch and there was a lot of blood in the room.


Then Reteth noticed that an emergency seal was over part of Erni’s bloodstained suit. He checked the opossum and found that he was badly injured but alive. If he could get medical attention, they might be able to save him


He went back into the interior of the aerodyne and told Cadet Gar to get ready to transport Erni out of the aerodyne.


Just then the entire vessel started to rattle and shake. It felt like they were under attack.


* * *


Pepperton’s first shot struck the tarmac just short of the gunner. He saw the rabbit’s helmet moving back and forth and so took a somewhat panicked second shot that struck the machine-gun housing itself. The rabbit dropped out of sight.


A moment later, the HAKW machine-gun on the front of the ILR aerodyne pivoted in his direction.


“Down!” he yelled, turning and sliding down the slag heap.


Tuddels followed him and he ordered the squirrel to maintain his position. Then he took off along the slag heap towards the north end.


* * *


The aerodyne finally stopped jerking and shaking and Reteth, where he lay prone on the floor, felt lucky to even be alive. He had seen bullet holes appear in the walls and flung himself down, hoping they would not hit the reactor or fuel storage.


He stood up and checked on Erni, finding the opossum in the same condition. When he checked in via radio, he found that Gar was also fine. He flung open the airlock and headed down the ramp.


He and Gar crept under the aerodyne where they saw the gun on the ILR vessel pivoting around. Then the ship took to the air.


* * *


Lt. Pepperton made it to the far end of the slag heap and peeked around the debris in time to see the ILR aerodyne lift off the tarmac where their own smoking aerodyne stood, and head in his general direction.


“Tuddels, get back to base!” he said into his helmet microphone. “Now!”


He ducked down into a narrow fissure in the slag heap and hoped he had enough cover. He spotted the aerodyne fly over him and saw it turn to the south.


Then he spotted Tuddels, leaping and running in the light gravity towards the base. The aerodyne flew in and hovered over the squirrel and the big HAKW maching-gun opened up, shredding him and his space suit to pieces. After firing at the still form again, the ship moved to the complex and opened fire on the garden dome.


Pepperton cursed but watched helplessly as the aerodyne then proceeded to fire on the living quarters and the command center. The vessel hung there a few more moments before it took off over the hummock and out of sight, flying very low.


Pepperton risked a radio signal and learned that Reteth and Gar were under their own aerodyne, which had apparently been further damaged by fire from the ILR ship only moments before. He managed to contact Capricus and the pigeon took a head count and relayed back that though the base was badly damaged, they had no EDF fatalities. Two of the ILR soldiers who were being treated in the medical bay had been out of their suits when the blasts had depressurized the command center. A third had been hit by a stray bullet but none of the EDF personnel had been struck.


Pepperton gathered the AW 193 machine-gun and the three returned to the base to get repairs underway once again.


Two days later, while they all were living in the crowded command center, a Homeguard aerodyne put down and they were evacuated with their wounded and the prisoners.


The base was in such bad shape it was declared a loss and charges were laid to destroy it. More charges destroyed the catapult as well. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1992-Albedo-Platinum-Catalyst-Return-to-the-Catapult
Albedo The Role Playing Game: The Catapult http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1991-Albedo-The-Role-Playing-Game-The-Catapult Tue, 21 Aug 2018 01:04:12 GMT Monday, April 2, 2007 (After play-testing Albedo (1st ED) in Bryan Saturday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. with Steve and Scott Allen.) The three... Monday, April 2, 2007


(After play-testing Albedo (1st ED) in Bryan Saturday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. with Steve and Scott Allen.)


The three EDF enlisted men had been sent up in a military aerodyne to get some training in zero-g and low-g operations on the only moon of the planet Tlakatan: Tindo.


Squad Leader Boadsun was a bear. He was a bit vulgar and burped and farted repeatedly. A Spec 2 mechanic, he was great with tools. Squad Leader Jastar was a gray fox and an excellent aerodyne pilot in his own right though he had not made officer or even come very close. Monitor T’Kinnari was a large black dog and more at ease with diplomats and officers than he was with enlisted men. He was responsible and polite though it hadn’t gotten him very far in the EDF.


Their commanding officer, Lt. Aldrik, a brush tailed possum, was piloting the aerodyne between Tlakatan and Tindo. He was alone in the cockpit while the other three were in the crew cabin in the center of the aerodyne, strapped in due to the zero gravity.


Some two hours into the trip, the inter-ship intercom cracked.


“I need some help up here!” Lt. Aldrik called.


Jastar and T’Kinnari were quick to unbuckle themselves from their seats and head forward against the low force created by the thrust of the aerodyne. Boadsun took his time, not particularly liking officers.


“Probably drank too much last night,” the great grizzly bear growled as he followed the other two towards the nose of the ship.


They found Aldrik slumped over the controls, clutching at his right side and groaning in pain. In the cockpit window, Tindo was large and gray.


Jastar eased Aldrik back and a short examination proved that he had collapsed from appendicitis. Jastar feared that the possum would die within the hour if he didn’t receive medical attention.


“He’s just an officer,” Boadsun grunted.


Jastar gave him a dirty look.


“Take him aft and strap him in,” he said. “We can take him to the mining base on Tindo.”


He unstrapped Aldrik and handed him off to T’Kinnari, who eased the possum back to the aft cabin.


“Strap in,” Jastar said to Boadsun.


“I don’t know anything about flying,” the bear replied.


“Doesn’t matter,” Jastar said. “Just strap in.”


Boadsun shrugged and strapped himself into the co-pilot seat. It was a tight fit at the very least.


Jastar turned to the radio.


“This is Training Flight T7,” he called. “We’re in trouble.”


He got nothing but static in return.


He tried to contact the Tlakatan and the moon base on Tindo but in each case, the interference was too great. He guessed the solar noise in the region of Tindo’s daylight side was interfering.


Jastar brought the aerodyne down in the final approach to the moon moments later. They could both clearly make out the rails of a huge linear accelerator near the small domes and cubes of the base. Jastar remembered being told by Lt. Aldrik that the moon base was only used by a few private mining concerns still looking for fresh ore deposits. The linear accelerator wasn’t even used any more.


As he set the aerodyne down on the wide landing field not far from the base, he could see that Tlakatan was just rising over the horizon. He and Boadsun noticed the large slag heap between the landing field and the base, and saw a commercial freighter also parked on the field.


He landed the aerodyne like a pro and while he completed the post flight shut down, Boadsun went into the cabin. T’Kinnari told him the Lieutenant seemed to be doing worse and the bear simply nodded. When Jastar had the ship shut down, they put their helmets on and depressurized the cabin.


Boadsun and Jastar left T’Kinnari in the ship with Aldrik. The two headed across the landing field, Boadsun taking point. Jastar noticed some cables coming from the freighter and going around the slag heap, so he reported it to Boadsun and followed them. He reached the edge of the slag heap and saw that the cables went to the linear accelerator. That puzzled him.


When Boadsun reached the freighter, he saw what looked like a body sprawled at the bottom of the cargo ramp.


“We’ve got a body!” he called into the radio.


He drew his sidearm, a machine pistol of light and handy design. He felt on the outside of his vacc suit for the ceremonial axe of his clan that he always kept with him.


He radioed to T’Kinnari to open up the weapon locker and ready the few weapons they had on board. T’Kinnari reminded him they would have to explain any such actions and he grunted he would take full responsibility. The dog told him he’d get the weapons out and loaded.


Jastar bounded up to the bear in the low gravity a moment later, his own machine pistol in his hand. Boadsun examined the body and found that it was a dead penguin in a vacc suit with two bullets in his back. He carefully headed up the ramp to the cargo hold and found an unsuited cat and mouse at the back of the cargo bay.


They did a very quick search of the ship and found little or nothing. It didn’t look like any of the cabins or gear was stolen or missing. Boadsun sent Jastar back to the aerodyne to get the two assault rifles there and the fox headed out of the freighter. While he was gone, Boadsun examined the ships logs. From the newest logs, he found that the ship had landed only a short while before they did.


When he got back outside of the freighter, he found Jastar there with the two assault rifles that had been in the weapon’s locker and an extra clip for each. He nodded at the fox and then headed around the slag heap the opposite way the cables ran from the freighter.


The moon base looked fine. It consisted of three structures: a large dome, a wide, low building, and a building with a second level that appeared to be some kind of observation area. They saw no sign of trouble or habitation so bounded across the light gravity of the lunar surface until they reached the nearest of the three structures of the base: the greenhouse. A quick reconnaissance showed them there was an electric airlock and a manual airlock on the exterior. Boadsun, cautious as ever, advised they use the manual airlock.


It took them a few minutes to cycle themselves through the airlock and when they opened the door to the greenhouse within, they noticed fog starting to cover their visors. They pulled off their helmets and started to move through the place.


They soon found three bodies in the building. One was a beaver who showed signs of being shot while he was running away. The other two were a squirrel and a cat, both of whom had been killed by one bullet to the neck. Each of them had powder burns on their necks as well, as if the weapon had been fired at close range, execution-style.


A couple of burst tell-tales were on the wall. Tell-tales were small, gas-filled spheres with adhesive coated interiors. They were often set loose if a vacuum leak was feared. They would float to the leak and get sucked up against it, whereupon they broke and the adhesive plugged the holes. These seemed to be covering bullet holes.


They also found a smashed and broken robot in one corner of the room. Boadsun examined it and found that it was deactivated due to small arms damage to the power pack. Jastar quickly found a power source and they hooked the robot up to that and rebooted his central AI.


Once the robot was sure that the two were not the ones that had attacked it and were, in fact, EDF personnel, it was willing to cooperate with them. It suggested they net it into the base’s computer system. Once they had done so, it was able to provide them with maps of the base and locations of the five people in the command center building. It also told them it was picking up a power and oxygen drain in the living quarters though that building was exposed to vacuum.


They asked if it could do anything about the people in the command center but the robot noted that all of the computer systems there were under manual control and if it tried to do anything, it would be noticed.


After finding out they were out of communications with the aerodyne and T’Kinnari, they decided to investigate the power drain in the living quarters.


The living quarters building was connected to the greenhouse via a transparent tube. They made their way through the airlock in the greenhouse, through the tube, and through the airlock in the living quarters.


The entire building was in a shambles. Bunk compartments and the common room were splattered with the remains of over 30 individuals. A little radio coordination with the robot allowed them to find the energy and oxygen drain was in the common room. Jastar found an access panel that looked like it had been removed and replaced. He pulled it open while Boadsun covered him, revealing a small dog and a penguin within.


“Hands up!” the bear growled.


They both raised their hands and the two could see they were only wearing helmets and vacc suit liners. It only took them a few moments to learn that the two were inhabitants of the base who had hid themselves during the terrorist attack. They were unsure why the terrorists had taken over the base. They were also very uncomfortable in just the vacc suit liners and suffering the discomfort of improper preparation for vacuum.


They learned that the dog was the station’s janitor and the penguin was a medical orderly. The penguin told them there was a medical center in the command center building.


They took the two back to the greenhouse where they would be more comfortable. Boadsun realized they would have to assault the command center if they wanted to stop the five that had caused all the carnage. He sent Jastar back to the aerodyne with the two and waited until the fox had returned with T’Kinnari. He filled in the black dog on what was going on and told him they were going to try to take the command center.


The robot was able to tell them that one of the terrorists was guarding each airlock and the other two were in the nearby computer center. They examined the areas on the computer screen in the greenhouse and then headed into the connecting tunnel.


They cycled the airlock at the other end, Boadsun warning them to keep as quiet as they could and drawing his ceremonial axe, and then flung open the door that opened into a storage room of the command center. The rhino on the other side was completely taken by surprise and Boadsun laid into him with the axe, cutting his head, arm and chest while Jastar slipped into the room and put his rifle to his head. T’Kinnari stood near Boadsun, aiming at the rhino.


The creature collapsed and they tied him up. He was wearing a vacc suit without a helmet and a flak jacket. He also had a radio on his shoulder that they quickly took.


“T’Kinnari, the door!” Boadsun said.


The dog moved to one side of the storage shelves and aimed his machine pistol at the door, watching it very closely.


The other two interrogated the rhino and learned that the terrorists were going to use the linear accelerator to lob huge, eight-ton metal slugs at the planet to cause as much devastation as they could.


“They’ll start any minute,” the rhino said with a grin. “You can’t stop us. Power to the people!”


They quickly prepared themselves, Boadsun arming himself with his assault rifle and giving the oversized assault rifle of the rhino to T’Kinnari. Then Jastar flung open the door and got the drop on the raven standing guard at the airlock. He blasted the raven in the wing and it fell with a cry. He’d fired a short burst and several of his bullets struck the wall. A moment later, Boadsun stepped through the door and fired down at the raven, putting two more bullets into the creature. He shrieked in pain and jerked back and forth.


T’Kinnari and Jastar moved to the door that led to the command center’s central room and Jastar nodded at the dog. The fox pressed the button to open the door and as T’Kinnari rushed through, he was struck in the abdomen by a bullet fired from the raccoon who stood ready behind one of the consoles in the main room. Several others bullets from the raccoon’s assault rifle struck the wall. T’Kinnari fell to the ground with a grunt.


Jastar ran out of the room, hoping to get to the nearby machine benches. The raccoon was incredibly fast, however, and fired another burst of machine-gun fire. One of the bullets struck Jastar in the arm and he slammed into the ground behind one of the benches. There was a sound like “pock-pock” and then a hissing as two more bullets pierced the outer shell of the building.


Boadsun lumbered out of the room, spun around the side of the console hiding the raccoon, and let loose a long burst from his assault rifle. The bullets crashed into the raccoon, striking him in the arm, chest, and abdomen. He collapsed with a shriek.


A moment later, the lion and the bear hiding behind the console on the far side of the room stood up and opened fire on Boadsun, striking him with several bullets. He fell to the ground near the raccoon, unconscious.


T’Kinnari was delirious but Jastar was still alert, hiding on the far side of one of the machine benches. He pulled himself to his knees and waited. A moment later, the bear came down from the computer center and into his sights. The terrorist tried to shoot him but Jastar was faster and blasted the bear twice.


He went down but Jastar heard more of his bullets piercing the exterior of the building. He ducked down again and could see the shadow of the lion under another of the wheeled benches nearby. He stayed as perfectly still as he could and a moment later, saw the lion’s shadow start to creep to one side. As the terrorist peeked around the side of the bench, Jastar put a bullet into his head, killing him instantly.


He stopped his own bleeding and then tended to Boadsun and T’Kinnari. They managed to get some more tell-tales in the room activated and stopped the loss of pressure before they patched up Jastar’s suit and sent him back to the aerodyne to retrieve the moon base crewmen and Lt. Aldrik.


The penguin orderly was able to operate on Aldrik and save his life. Boadsun was in bad shape but they were soon able to get a message to Tlakatan and call for help and medical evac. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1991-Albedo-The-Role-Playing-Game-The-Catapult
Nine Strangers: Basic Roleplaying System http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1990-Nine-Strangers-Basic-Roleplaying-System Fri, 04 May 2018 15:10:41 GMT Wednesday, May 2, 2017 (After Kyle Matheson ran his *Basic Roleplaying System* original scenario “Nine Strangers” with Ashton LeBlanc, Austin... Wednesday, May 2, 2017

(After Kyle Matheson ran his Basic Roleplaying System original scenario “Nine Strangers” with Ashton LeBlanc, Austin Davie, Katie Gallant, Ben Abbott, Yorie Latimer, Whitney Ward, Collin Townsend, and me Saturday, April 14, from 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.)

What defines a man? What makes him what he is? Is it his past? His hopes? His dreams? His memories? Can he aspire to be something better than those things make of him? Or is he trapped in whatever he has made of his life? Can he change it? Can he better himself?

Most importantly: Does he want to?

Those were not the thoughts that ran through my head when I awoke in a prison cell. I had no idea what I was doing there though it didn’t feel like I shouldn’t have been there. The cell was only about 10 feet by 10 feet and had a bunk, a vent, a toilet, and a television. I stumbled to me feet and saw there was a mirror over the toilet.

The man that stared back out of the glass at me was young with greased black hair. He wore a black t-shirt, jeans, tennis shoes, and a leather jacket. He looked tough, not the kind of person you’d like to meet in a dark alley. Handsome-ish, he also looked a little world-weary, like he had more on his mind than he should for someone in his early 20s. He was clean-shaven and somewhat pale.

I knew it was me. I didn’t know who I was.

I saw a terminal near the door, a small box with some kind of reader on it. It said “Locked” in the digital display. When I reached for it, I saw I had bracelet on my wrist with the number four upon it. It was a digital bracelet that probably acted as a keycard for the terminal from the look of both. I put the bracelet up to the terminal but it only beeped negatively.

The door was made of metal with a small, barred window and a slot in the bottom for food. Outside was a dark hallway, dimly lit, without doors on the opposite wall.

“Hello?” I called none-too-loudly.

“Who’s out there?” a man’s voice came from the left. “Let me out!”

“I’m in a cell,” I said, raising my voice. “I’m in a cell.”

I’m in a cell!” the voice said.

“Who are you?”

“Who put us in here?”

“I don’t even remember who I am. Look, could you call for a nurse or something?”

“I don’t gotta phone!”

I checked my pockets to see if I was carrying a cell phone. I thought I owned one. It seemed familiar. The only thing I found in my pocket was a piece of paper that read “Marcus Wilson.” I wondered if that was who I was.

“Hey, is your name Carl?” the man called. “Is your name Carl?”

“I don’t remember,” I said. “I found a piece of paper in my pocket. Did you find one?”

“Yeah, it says Carl! Who’s that?”

“I don’t know! I don’t remember anything! I don’t even remember my own name. Is this a hospital? Nurse! Nurse!”

I wondered if it was a hospital and then I heard someone outside whistling.

“Nurse!” I called again. “Nurse!”

I went to the television and turned it on. There was static.

“You think this was a hospital?” the man’s voice shouted at me. “Why kind of hospital has bars?”

“Maybe it’s a psychiatric hospital,” I said.

“That explains why you don’t know your name!”

“What’s your name?”

“I dunno.”

“You don’t know your name?”

“You don’t know your name!”

“Well, you just gave me shit for that!”

I heard other voices in the hall but couldn’t understand them.

The static cleared and a figure appeared.

“Hey, my shows are on!” a woman’s voice bellowed down the hallway.

“Hey Doc, gimme outta here!” I called back.

“I think you should turn on your television set, everyone,” the whitest man’s voice I’d ever heard said.

“It turns itself on!” another woman’s voice called down the hallway. “It’s okay!”

The figure on the screen resolved itself into a hooded man whose face was blurred.

“Oh shit!” I cried out. “We’re in Saw.”

“Greetings,” the man in the television said, his voice heavily distorted. “My name is Zero. I’m sure you must be confused and disoriented from the drugs that got you here and you must have a lot of questions. For now, I will only explain that you are here for your atonement in the death of an innocent, but you are not solely responsible.

“Nine of you participated in this and nine of you will face the consequences. How you choose to accept responsibility will ultimately decide if you live or die.

“The device on your wrist is a key to many doors within this complex. The number on your device will act as a partial key on other doors used in conjunction with others. I will explain this interaction later. It should be noted that any attempt to remove this device would be ill-advised. If the wrist device senses enough force indicating possible removal, it will trigger a small bomb that I have placed inside each of you, so tread with caution.

“The only door out of this room can be opened by putting your wrist near the digital terminal. I suggest you leave now.”

The picture faded to static and the television went blank. Then gas started coming out of the vent. I ran to the terminal and put the bracelet up to it. It beeped and the door opened.

I found myself in a hallway with eight other doors on one side. The opposite wall was blank. Coming out of the cells were a number of other men and women, each of them with a bracelet on their wrist.

The man in the door to my left was black man with short-cut hair and a short-cut beard. He wore jeans and a wife-beater. Further down that direction was an Asian man with a short-trimmed beard and mustache, a woman with long black hair, an older, balding man with a shaved haircut and beard, and another pretty, dark-haired woman. To my left was beautiful black woman with her hair pulled back tightly in a bun, an older lady with short hair and glasses, and an older man with a completely bald head and a white mustache and goatee.

“I never saw this movie,” I said. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

The door to the room I was in had a number four on it. I saw all the rest of the people also had bracelets on.

I felt over my body for fresh scars and found a recent incision on my right side just under my ribs. It looked like recent surgery. I felt there and thought I felt something that wasn’t supposed to be there.

“So, he put a bomb in us, because … what?” I said. “I was a little freaked out because everybody was yelling at me.”

“He said we killed somebody,” the black man said.

“He said we all contributed,” the Asian said.

“I don’t remember!” I said.

I turned to the black man and realized the sheet of paper in my pocket must have been my name. One of the dark-haired women started to whistle.

“Doesn’t your sheet say something?” I asked him.

“It says Carl!” he said.

“That’s a black man’s name,” I said. “Yeah, I bet that’s right. I’m Marcus. Yo.”

The white guy said his name was John Whitmore as he went around shaking everyone’s hands.

“Marcus,” I said.

“John Whitmore,” he said to me.

“Nice to meet you,” the Asian man said. “Eric Roland.”

“How do you know your name?” Carl said when John reached him.

“I found it in on a scrap of paper in my pocket,” John said.

“How do you know that’s your name?” Carl said.

“We’re assuming,” Eric said.

“Well, I looked at myself in the mirror and I thought ‘Eh,’” John said.

“What’s your name?” I asked Carl. “You said you were Carl. That fits you.”

“What are you saying?” he said. “What are you saying?”

John looked at the nearest cell and his eyes went wide. I saw the gas was coming out of the cells.

“Excuse me, group,” John said.

“Yeah yeah!” I said. “I see it. I see it. Let’s get outta here. Which way? Is there a door down there?”

I headed for the door along with the rest, Carl pushing me out of the way. The woman at the end who had not given her name started whistling again.

“Hey, has anybody seen Saw?” I said as I headed for the door. “Anybody seen that movie? Or I Know What You Did Last Summer? I haven’t seen either!”

“I saw it years ago,” the older lady said.

“How do we get out?”

“I don’t know! I didn’t pay attention! I fell asleep halfway through!”

“He had to saw his own leg off!” Carl said over his shoulder. “I ain’t doing that!”

The woman looked at him.

“Now you spoiled it!” he said. “I can’t watch it now.”

“I thought you said you watched it!” Carl said.

“We’re all gonna die anyway,” I said.

“Are we in hell or something?” the older lady said.

“I think it’s called purgatory,” Carl said.

The bald man with the goatee reached the door first and pushed it open. The whistling lady pushed past everyone to get there first.

The room beyond the door looked like a theater. There were three sections of seats separated by aisles facing a large stage with a pair of doors at the far end of it. Another door stood on the wall with the door we’d just come out of. The room was not fancy by any means and had kind of a run-down look to it. A screen was on the stage and a projector in the wall we’d come through shined a light on it. It was simply blue though. Nothing was on the screen.

The whistling woman went to the front row and took a seat on the right while Eric headed for the stage. I headed for the other door but Carl shoved me out of the way and walked by.

“*****!” I said.

He tried the door and found it locked. There wasn’t even a terminal on it.

“Excuse me, you two,” John said.

The woman started whistling again. It was starting to get to me a little bit.

I moved to the seats on the left and started searching under them for anything. I was hoping to find a piece of wire I could use to try to pick the lock on the door. Carl started looking through the center seats. On the stage, Eric picked up a broom. The other black-haired woman went to the doors on the stage and looked at them. One of them had a three on it and the other had a six. There were digital terminals near them. The black woman went over to the door marked with a three.

“Hey y’all,” the black-haired woman said.

“Yes?” John said.

“These doors have numbers, like on our cells,” she said.

“What are the numbers?” Eric said.

“This one’s a six,” she said.

The black woman put her bracelet up to the terminal but nothing happened. Eric, number six, put his up to the other terminal with the six but it only beeped at them.

“What if we do that at the same time?” the black woman said. “I put my hand against this door and you put your hand against that one.”

“Uh … it could work,” Eric said. “Maybe.”

“Let’s-let’s try it,” she said.

The terminals just beeped.

“What if y’all switch places?” the black-haired woman said.

“Hey Carl, you should check over here,” I said. “I checked on the left side─”

“I thought you checked over there!” he said.

“I check where you checked, you check where I checked,” I said. “We double check each other!”

Someone asked Carl about the other door near where we’d come in and he told her it was locked.

John moved up to the stage and looked around. I went to the right side of the seats and looked around but didn’t find anything. Carl moved to the left side and looked around.

“Don’t worry, I found the ‘G’ key!” the older, short-haired lady said. “I found the ‘G’ key. Anybody found a ‘G’ anywhere?”

She held up a gold key with a “G” on it.

“This is like Resident Evil, you guys!” I said.

“What’s Resident Evil?” the dark-haired woman who wasn’t whistling said.

“It’s a video game,” I said. “I played a lot of it.”

“My favorite game is Candy Crush,” John said.

“Ew,” I said.

“Oh! I play that all the time!” the older woman said. “It’s so good!”

Carl, unbeknownst to us, had found a briefcase marked “J.W.” lodged in the seats on the left sides. I hadn’t noticed it. He found a gun and a badge in it. He pocketed the pistol and left the badge. It said “Whitmore” on it. He closed it and put it back. There was only one bullet in the revolver.

It was about 10 minutes after we entered when the projector started up and projected that same static that had been on the television.

“Excuse me, everyone,” John said.

“Oh great, the Saw Guy’s back,” I muttered. “He’s gonna tell us we’re all gonna die again, right?”

“Now, we don’t know,” John said.

“You gonna tell us we’re all gonna die again!?!” I said. “We don’t even remember what we did, you jackass!”

“Let’s hear what he has to say,” Carl said.

“We don’t know he’s the Saw guy,” John said.

“Okay ‘Dad!’” I said.

“I feel like a dad,” he said.

The face did appear on the screen.

“I will explain how your bracelets work with the door from here forward,” his distorted voice said. “The door for your cell was a special type of door where your bracelet was the only thing you needed to open the door. Now, these doors require multiple bracelets to open. The doors are opened by a ‘digital root.’”

The camera switched from his face to a desk. A piece of paper was in front of him.

“The ‘digital root’ works like this,” he went on. “For example, one of the doors you have is door number three. If you want to open door number three, you need a digital root of three. How you get a digital root of three is adding numbers until you get at least to the double digits, 10 or more. Once you get there …”

He wrote “1+2+3+4=10.”

“Then you add the digits,” the voice said. “One and zero would add together. That would be one. That would open a one door. The way I have arranged the doors are ways that everyone can always go through. Though there are two doors, all of you can go through. You would have to split up, obviously. But it could work out.”

The whistling black-haired woman raised her hand as I looked around for cameras.

“Can multiple groups go through the same door as long as each individual group does the root thing?” she said. “Or can only one group of people that add up to that number go through the door and no one else can?”

“Once you have put your bracelet on a door, you are locked to that door,” the distorted voice went on. “If you put your bracelet to the three door you cannot switch to the six door. Calculations should be figured first. Once the door opens, you have 10 seconds to go through the door as a group. If none of you go through, the bomb goes off on your person. Only those who use the door can go through it. Those who don’t use their numbers will explode as well.

“Be careful not to get the root before everyone is registered for a door. Or they will be left behind.”

“So, we need to add up to a three and a six,” I said.

“Excuse me, everyone,” John said. “If someone has seven, we could make 15, which adds to six.”

We figured out who was to go which door. I did what math I could.

“You, lady,” I said to the older lady. “Jew lady. You and me and this Chinese guy can go through.”

“Wait wait wait,” Carl said. “We gotta make sure everybody goes through!”

“Stop,” the whistling lady said.

“I’m just saying I did the math for us,” I said. “Hey, you ain’t said a word to us yet, lady!”

“I talked to him,” she said, pointing at John.

“Uh-huh,” I said.

“Nah nah, she did,” the older woman said. “She did. I mean she’s a little weird but …”

There was some talk about math, which was not my specialty. I remembered that at least. I kept my eye on the old guy, number one. I didn’t trust him.

Carl was figuring.

“Damn, Carl, you’re smart,” I said.

“Hey, guys, I did it,” the whistling woman said. “I did it. I did it! Guys. One through six and seven through nine are the two groups.”

“One through six?” I said.

I had struggled through the description the Saw guy had given. I was obviously no math whiz.

“One through six is 21,” whistling woman said. “Three.”

“And then seven through nine,” Eric said.

“Seven through nine is 24,” Whistle Woman said.

“Yep,” Eric said.

“Yep,” Carl said.

“Which is six,” Whistle Woman said. “We could do that.”

“I was slightly behind you on the math,” John said. “But I agree.”

“She’s the math whiz,” I said.

“I want to open this door first,” she said.

She pointed to the other door that led back the way we’d come. She went to the older lady and pushed her towards the door.

“Sweetie, sweetie, sweetie,” the older lady said. “I already tried that door. It doesn’t work.

“Okay,” Whistle Woman said.

“I tried the key and it doesn’t work,” the other woman said. “It has a ‘G’ on it. The door doesn’t have a ‘G’ on it.”

“We should try to think of some other combinations though,” Whistle Woman said. “‘Cause if seven, eight, and nine run into a different door, I don’t think they’ve got a good chance of making it through again.”

“Um, we could also …” Eric said.

“And the guy, he’s, like, seven,” she said. “We can’t make seven.”

“We could also - one through five and six through nine also works,” Eric said.

“No, we can make seven but we’d also have to give up eight,” the woman said. “Eight would be left behind.”

“Does that work better for you, lady?” I asked.

“I mean that’s still heavily weighted,” she said.

“It’s half and half!” I said.

“It’s four and five,” Eric said.

“It’s close enough!” I said. “There’s nine of us! It’ll never be even!”

“We should have a split level of people, high and low,” Whistle Woman said.

“You’re the math genius,” I said. “Tell us how to do it!”

“We can’t,” Eric said. “There’s only nine of us. Four and five.”

“One moment,” she said.

“Has everyone checked everything in this room?” the other dark-haired woman said. “Is there anything we can use?”

“I found the key under the seats,” the older lady said.

“Did it work on the door back there?” Eric said.

“No,” she said again. “No, it did not.”

“Did anyone else find anything when you were looking?” the dark-haired woman asked again.

“I didn’t find anything,” I said.

“Yeah, did anybody find anything?” the old lady said.

There was talk of the broom.

Carl went to the three door and put his bracelet on it.

“I guess we’re going one through five or six on this side,” the older woman said.

Carl tried to pull on the door but it didn’t open.

“All right, let’s go!” I said.

We did the one through five and six through nine combination. One through five went to the six door while the rest went through the three door.

As we passed our bracelets over the door, I tried to figure out if I was more attracted to Carl or the Whistling Woman, unsure of my sexual preference even. I realized I was more attracted to her though Carl had the feeling of someone I’d interacted with before or knew. I also realized I didn’t like people like Carl. It wasn’t a racial thing, but I just didn’t like abrupt, bullying men.

We all used our bracelets and headed through. The door closed behind us. There was no terminal on the other side. We headed down a hallway with doors on either side. They were metal cell doors and locked. The cells were dark and empty. The old man told us his name was Mike.

“Do you think he wants us to remember?” I said. “Or do you think he wants us to repent? Or do you think he just wants to kill us?”

“Well, if he wanted us to remember, he’d leave us with our memories,” Carl said.

“Unless he wants us to remember in the worst possible most traumatic way,” I said.

The door at the end of the hall had no bracelet reader. It opened into a large room with a small table with a scale upon it in the center. To one side was a bar while in another wall was a safe. There was a picture on one wall and a bookcase across the room. Carl went to the bar and slid over it coolly. I realized I was over 21 or at least had done some drinking as I knew the things I liked.

“Hey, Carl, gimme a bottle,” I said.

Carl was looking at a pint glass and a knife on the bar.

“I’m not filling that with my blood!” Carl said. “I’ll cut one of y’all!”

He grabbed the knife. He held it like he didn’t want to hold it.

“Can you hand me one of those empty bottles?” I asked.

“Why?” he said. “They’re empty.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I want an empty bottle.”

“Why?”

“Oh my God!”

“Are you gonna pee in it? That’s gross!”

I walked around the bar and picked up a bottle.

“Is there any wine back there?” the older lady asked.

“I said they’re empty!” Carl said.

“Oh, they’re empty?” the woman said. “Okay.”

“If we find a box later, I’ll check it for wine!” Carl said.

“I mean, I don’t like box wine,” the lady said.

Mike had gone to look at the safe and the black woman went to the bookshelf and was looking over the books. She started taking out some of the books and looking at them. I walked over to the shelves and noticed some of them looked different from the others. They looked less weathered and each had a number on it, one through six.

“Can-can I look through number four?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said, handing it to me.

I put the book down and to see if it opened to a most-read page. The book seemed to be part of a fantasy series. I realized I didn’t read a lot.

“Is this Lord of the Rings?” I asked.

The speakers in the room suddenly crackled.

“Welcome to your first escape room,” the distorted voice said. “These rooms are designed to remind you of the roles you played in the death of an innocent woman. Before you sits an unbalanced scale representing the unjust legal system, something Evelynn Stevens thrives from. To your right is a bar with the tools needed to complete the task at hand. Much like a scale, a human body has a tipping point when consuming alcohol. Isn’t that right, Carl? The legal maximum BAC for an individual driving is .08, yet you kept serving because was tipping well. Remember the .08. It will come in handy. Balance the scales and escape the room.”

I could barely understand anything the voice said.

“Yeah yeah, Saw Guy!” I shouted. “I can’t even understand ****ing word you’re saying, mother****er! Why don’t you eat my shit!”

“Would you calm down?” the black woman said. “Please.”

“These white boys,” Carl said.

The entire message came over the speakers again.

The scale in the center of the room had a tiny bucket on one side and a larger bucket on the others. The larger bucket was actually higher than the smaller bucket, so the small one was made of something heavy. We guessed whatever we put in the scales would balance them.

I walked over to the picture of an older gentleman, sitting in the chair. It looked very old. The man in the picture looked at the safe. I told the rest and the older lady looked at the safe.

“Anybody find any numbers?” she said, noting the combination lock.

“Who’s Evelynn Stevens?” I said.

“We’re numbers,” Carl said.

“Is anybody in here Evelynn Stevens?” I said.

“Well, yes, but like a series of numbers,” the older lady said.

“Are you Evelynn Stevens?” I asked the black woman. “What’s your name?”

“Christine,” she said.

“Christine,” I said. “Hm.”

“That’s probably the girl who died?” Carl said.

“No, he said ‘he’ - ‘he’ was served over .08,” I said. “He said that.”

“No, but she died,” Carl said.

“Evelynn Stevens didn’t die,” I said. “Some guy did.”

I looked around the bar for any liquid of any kind but there wasn’t any at all.

“What’re we putting in the scales then?” I said.

I picked up the pint glass and looked at it. I felt like anything I should interact with would be things that were fairly new. Things that were dusty and old didn’t seem to be for use. I told the others my idea and Christine told me the new books had diagonal lines on the bottom.

“We gotta put blood in the scale!” Carl said.

“Why are we jumping to that conclusion?” the older lady said.

“Blood?” I said.

“I got a thing about blood,” the older lady said.

“There’s a knife,” Carl said. “And a pint glass and a scale. And he was talking about blood alcohol content.”

“You sure there’s no booze behind that bar?” the older lady said.

“No, I looked,” I said.

“You think he would give us booze if we were meant to put blood in the scale?” Carl said.

“I mean it would have been nice,” the older lady said. “But … okay.”

“White boy!” Carl said. “White boy. Pee in this pint glass.”

“What’d you call me?” I said. “What do you want me to do?”

“Pee in this pint glass,” Carl said.

“Oh,” I said.

“If you’re gonna do that, do it in the corner when I’m not looking,” the older lady said.

“All right,” I said.

I went behind the bar.

“Turn around,” I said. “I can’t do it if anybody’s watching me.”

“Can you squat down so I can’t see the top of your head?” the older lady said.

“Just go look over there at the books or the picture,” I said.

The speakers crackled again. I looked at Carl.

“Urine will not weigh the same as blood,” the voice said.

“Oh, thank God!” the older lady said. “I thought he was going to have to pee in the cup.”

I put the pint glass back up and zipped up.

“Is he zipped up?” the older woman said. “I’m not looking until he zips up.”

“Yeah, I heard the zipper,” Carl said.

“Okay,” the older woman said.

I went over to Christine, who was stacking the new books. It didn’t take her long to stack them so the diagonal lines on the bottom of the books lined up. From top to bottom, looking at the spines, it was 134526. There was a keypad beside the bookcase. The older lady used the numbers on the safe without luck. I suggest 13, 15, 21 as they were the prime numbers. They didn’t work either. I told her 4, 6, 3, but that didn’t work either.

Christine entered the numbers on the keypad and it lit up and something clicked in the room. She suggested checking the picture and the old woman felt around it.

“This actually feels loose now,” she said.

“Was it tight before?” I asked.,

“Boy, I will come over there and I will slap you!” she said.

She pulled the painting off. She found a piece of paper with “23-41-19.”

“Oh, I actually found the safe combination,” she said.

I went back to the bar while she fiddled with the safe and unlocked it. I had ducked down and peeked over the side of the bar, ready for the safe to explode.

“Hey, it worked!” she said.

She found a bottle of whiskey, an ounce measuring cup, a laminated paper with the letter ‘E’ on it, and two keycards.

“What’d you find, lady?” I asked.

“Well, I found - I found the booze,” she said. “It was in the safe, not behind the bar where it shoulda been.”

“Don’t drink it,” Christine said.

“That’s what we put in the other bucket,” Carl said.

“Okay,” the older lady said. “I mean, I kind of want to drink it but it’s not wine, so … I don’t know. I tried whiskey once and I had a hangover for, like, three days.”

“How do we know how to measure it though?” Carl said.

“Well, I also found a little ounce glass, like a shot glass,” the older lady said.

“Oh,” Carl said.

“And I got two cards but they say weird things,” she said. “I mean if you want to look at these.”

“Gimme that!” Carl said.

He grabbed one of the keycards. I looked at the other, the one that said “Defended a guilty man.”

“So, what, you think we put alcohol in one and blood in the other?” I said.

“You could say please,” the older lady said to Carl. “It’s okay.”

“Bah!” Carl said.

He threw the other card on the ground. The older lady picked it up and let me look at it. It said “Served a violent man alcohol.”

“And you’re the bartender, he said,” I said.

“How am I supposed to remember?” Carl said.

“Oh, you were a bartender,” the older lady said.

“That’s what … Saw Guy said,” I said.

“Saw Guy or you saw a guy?” the older lady said. “Carl, you’re smart. You think blood one side and alcohol in the other, is that what it is? Then we gotta get .08. That’s not much alcohol.”

“Ounce glass of alcohol,” Carl said. “Pint glass of blood.”

“That’s a lot of God damned blood,” I said.

“It doesn’t have to be from one person, probably,” Carl said.

“Yeah, but it’s gonna be a big cut to get it started,” I said. “And it’s going to be hard to stop it once you get it started.”

“Okay, I’ll do this one,” Carl said. “But if we gotta chop someone’s leg off, it’s not me. It’s not me.”

“I prefer not either,” the older lady said.

“Hey, ma’am, is it okay if I use your over shirt as a bandage?” Carl asked her.

“Well, since you asked so nicely, yeah,” she said. “Here, take it.”

Mike walked up to the woman and tried to pull the bottle of whiskey from her hand.

“Why do you want this?” she said. “Why do you want this? Mike! Mike!”

“I got nerves,” Mike said.

“Well, can you wait until we measure it out first?”

“Just a swig. Look how much there is.”

“Well, now we know,” Carl said. “Now we know who the guilty man is: the alcoholic.”

“Lemme just have a swig,” Mike said.

“Do not let him have a swig,” I said.

“Once we have enough to use in this, you can have the rest of it,” she said. “Because I don’t like this stuff.”

“I’ll hold you to it!” Mike said.

“Mike, that son of a ***** wants to kill us all,” I said. “It’s probably poison.”

“It ain’t poison,” Mike said.

“Why would he want to drink it if it’s poison?” the older woman said.

“I know whiskey when I see it,” Mike said.

“Saw Guy might want to poison it,” I said.

“Yeah, I’m not the Saw Guy,” Mike said.

“Well, that’s good,” the older woman said.

“I just want some whiskey,” Mike said.

“That’s exactly what the Saw Guy would say,” I muttered.

“Cut yourself,” Mike said. “Let’s do it.”

Carl made a bandage and then cut his hand. He dripped blood into the shot glass. Then he poured the whiskey but I stopped him and suggested he pour the whiskey into the pint glass until they evened out. In the end, he put his blood and the old woman’s blood into the pint glass. They only filled it about 2/3 of the way. Mike offered to do it for the whiskey bottle. Then they filled the shot glass with whiskey and put them in. The scale still wasn’t even. It was close but probably off by the weight of the heavy pint glass. Carl fiddled with it until it evened out. Then the door unlocked.

“Get through!” Carl said. “Get through! Ten seconds.”

We ran to the door and put our bracelets to the terminal so it would open. The older woman gave Mike the whiskey and he drank most of it! Then we were out of the room. Finally.

* * *

I later learned the others went down a corridor similar to our own. When they entered the room, at first they thought there were people in it. It only took them a moment to realize they were actually mannequins. That disturbed Eric even more. There were makeshift stage curtain between the mannequins All of them wore hats: two white hats and two black hats. There were four low pedestals of various colors: red yellow, blue, and green. On one side was a safe. Offset just a little off from each of the pedestals was a picture on the wall of a person doing a different, distinct pose. Each of them had one of their legs in the air. A piece of paper was on the table and Whistle Woman rushed it.

“We must gather as much information about our predicament as we are able,” John said.

Whistle Woman saw it was a safe combination but one of the numbers was missing.

She held the paper up triumphantly.

“What’s that?” the other dark-haired woman said.

“I think it’s the safe combination,” she said quietly.

Eric examined the pictures but none of them were wearing hats. They were pictures of dancers.

The other dark-haired woman examined the mannequins. John looked at the one on the other side of the curtain. All of them faced the curtain. When John saw the man alone looking into nothing, it resonated with his tragic back story. Tears welled up in eyes as he felt a wall had been put up between himself and society. He wiped the tears away.

Eric suggested standing on the pedestals in the poses of the pictures behind them. The dark-haired woman suggested using the mannequins to do it.

“I can already tell you, I am not a dancer,” John said. “Just from the limberness I have felt in the small amount of time. I don’t think I’m a very posing person.”

Whistle woman looked in the hats and saw there were tags with numbers in them. One was 12, the other 23, one 16, and the last five. Then the speakers crackled again.

“Welcome to your first escape room,” the voice said. “These rooms are designed to remind you of the roles you played in the death of an innocent woman. Before you stands four prisoners with colored hats who will be granted freedom if one can guess the color of his hat with only the knowledge in front of him. The hat of the prisoner who knows their hat color contains the combination to the safe. The safe, however, will only allow you to enter one code. So make sure you have chosen the right one. In the safe are the tools to uncovering the truth of how to escape. Sometimes the truth is before us yet it takes effort to uncover, a lesson John will hopefully not soon forget. Remember, it’s not always about what you see but what others see.”

“Could you repeat that first bit again?” Eric said.

The message was repeated once again.

They discussed which mannequins could figure out his color based on what they were each seeing.

“Hey, can we stand on these pedestals?” Whistle Woman said. “I want to stand on these pedestals.”

“That was my initial idea,” Eric said.

“Let’s do the pose in the pictures,” she said. “I think it would be fun.”

Eric agreed with her.

“I have fun about once a week,” John said. “So, I guess it’s my time.”

They each got onto the pedestals and did the poses that were closest to them. Nothing happened. Eric suggested trying the one across.

“That makes no damned sense,” John said.

“Just do it, it might work,” Eric said.

Nothing happened.

Whistle Woman told them her answer to the riddle: the second man with the black hat. He knew that if the third person on that side saw two white hats, he’d know he was wearing a black hat. But he didn’t, so he didn’t know. But that let number two know that he saw a black and a white hat. Therefore, he had a black hat.

“It’s a good explanation,” Eric said. “Except for the fact that they’re mannequins and they can’t speak.”

“Yeah, but we’re treating this as a hypothetical,” she said. “That’s a very literal interpretation. This is a puzzle. Did you go to public school?”

“Yes,” Eric said.

“Well, I’m sorry,” she said.

“All right, I’m fine with it,” Eric said with a sigh.

She took the hat and used that number for the safe. It opened. She did a little dance and then looked in. She found a bullet, a black light, a laminated piece of paper with an ‘S’ on it, and a keycard that read “Did not uncover the full truth.”

“These puzzles aren’t that difficult, it seems,” John said. “We were able to quickly deduce that one.”

“This is the first of probably many,” Eric said. “What did you find?”

“I found a bullet, a black light, and some paper,” she said.

The black light worked. Eric suggested looking at the pictures with it. John agreed and looked at the back left picture with it first. It had a yellow mark on it. The next one had a green mark on it. The next had a blue and the last had a red.

“What’s written on the keycard?” the dark haired woman asked.

“On this keycard?” Whistle Woman said. “It says ‘You didn’t uncover the full truth.’ I don’t think we solved the puzzle, guys.”

“‘We didn’t uncover the full truth,’” Eric said.

“I think he’s teasing us,” Whistle Woman said.

“Well, yellow and blue mix to make green?” Eric said.

John black lighted the hats but found nothing. He black lighted the mannequins and then, at Whistle Woman’s suggestion, black lighted the pedestals. He found each of them had a color: green, blue, yellow, and red. They did the poses on the pedestals that matched the picture of the same color. There was a click from the door and a second click in another part of the room.

John heard a click and thought it might be the pedestal. He jumped off and tried to move it without luck. Then he went to the green painting and tried to move it. It opened up and he found a secret compartment with two syringes. One was marked “adenosine” and the other was labeled “lignocaine.”

“I would just like to make public knowledge,” John said. “I have two different kinds of drugs.”

He held up both syringes.

“What are they?” Eric said.

“Well, I’m not a doctor, by they are adenosine and lignocaine,” John said.

Eric was unsure which of them did which, but knew when used in conjunction together, both, when inserted to someone, would get the person’s heartbeat to stop as if they had died. However, slowly, their heartbeat would come back. The heartbeat would go to zero but then the person would resuscitate on their own. He felt like he had some kind of medical background.

Whistle Woman, meanwhile, put on one of the hats.

“Do you know what these are?” the dark-haired woman asked. “Does anyone know what that is?”

“I don’t know what they are,” Whistle Woman said.

“I think they’re drugs,” John said.

“My favorite number’s 23,” Whistle Woman said.

“Should we take ‘em with us for now and go through the door?” the dark-haired woman said.

“I feel very responsible,” John said.

“I know what those are,” Eric finally said.

“Enlighten us,” John said. “I’m still holding them.”

“Be careful with them, please,” Eric said.

“Well, I wasn’t planning on tossing them around!” John said. “I wasn’t going to juggle them!”

“Individually, they don’t do very much,” Eric said cryptically. “But together, they work very well.”

“To do what?” the dark-haired woman said.

“Well, I like it when things get together to work well,” John said. “It’s just like my marriage.”

That made him remember that he was recently divorced. Then Whistle Woman touched his arm.

“You know anything about these bullets?” she asked.

“It’s a bullet,” he said.

“Let’s go through the door,” the black-haired woman said.

“Do you mind if I take those?” Eric said.

“I would be much more happy to give them to you if I knew what they do,” John said.

“They lower the blood flow and simulate death,” Eric said.

“Oh,” John said. “I don’t want anything to do with these.”

He handed over the syringes and took the broom from Eric. Whistle Woman was looking at everything with the black light. They ended up taking all the mannequin hats with them. Some of them thought the numbers on the hats might have importance in another room. Eric put the syringes into one of the hats.

* * *

We had gone down another corridor and through another door that led us to a cafeteria. There were several tables evenly dispersed throughout the room. There was a long bar at the far end of the room and a door with a seven over it to the left and a door with a two over it to the right. We found the others there when we arrived. They had already searched the room. Unknown to anyone, Whistle Woman had found a taser and hidden it away on her person. John had found a couple more bullets, which triggered some memories, and he was still considering them when we arrived.

Mike was not looking very good. He drank a lot of the whiskey and was bleeding.

“Excuse me!” John said. “This is a bullet!”

“May I see it?” I asked him.

“Okay, look at it,” he said. “That’s a bullet.”

I examined the bullet and saw it was a .45 caliber. The others were talking about numbers in their hats and key cards and all kinds of things over each other. I could barely make out a word of it. I pointed out the bullets would go to a semi-automatic pistol or a revolver. The others discussed the key cards.

“You’ve been finding bullets?” the older woman asked. “Did you find a gun?”

“No, I found two of these,” John said. “We have a third one. She does.

He pointed to Whistle Woman.

“What good are the bullets if we don’t have a gun?” the older lady asked.

“They are no good without a gun,” I said.

“Well then what’s the point of the damned bullets?” she said.

“I don’t think they are good with a gun!” John said. “Have you thought about that?”

“What?” the older woman said. “Sir, have you been stealing Mike’s whiskey?”

I noticed Whistle Woman put her bullet in the band of her hat.

“Y’all found two bullets - three bullets - you said?” I said.

“Yeah, three bullets between the two of us,” John said.

“Three bullets, no gun,” I said. “Okay.”

“No gun,” John said.

I told them a little about what happened to us. They told us about the poses.

“Carl has a knife,” I said.

“Excuse me, everyone, I have some bad news to impart on the group,” John said.

“Oh no,” I said. “More?”

“All of the food is gross,” he said.

“What do you mean it’s gross?” the older woman said. “Like, gross like foreign food or gross like it’s been in the fridge for a few months.”

She looked at the food

“Oh, you mean like moldy bad,” she said. “I thought you just didn’t know what it was.”

“I got the numbers,” Carl said. “We’ve gotta be careful with this one though. ‘Cause both could get 16 or 11, so we gotta be careful what order we go in.”

“What do you mean?” I said. “Oh …”

“I got one, two, four, five and eight,” Carl said.

He looked at Christine.

“I’m sorry, girl,” he said to her. “I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” I said. “I am so sorry.”

“And three, six, seven, and nine,” Carl said.

“Look, guys, I did the first door,” Whistle Woman said. “Listen to me. I’m the best. Everybody knows it.”

“Why do you have a bullet in your hat?” I asked.

“Do you have a gun in that hat, too?” the older lady asked.

That’s when I noticed several of them had hats. It was very strange.

There was a mess of conversation that I couldn’t keep track of. Carl and Whistle Woman were talking about numbers but I couldn’t follow them. Carl was telling her they had to be careful of the order or some would get left behind. When she told him to shoot for 20 or 25, he noted he had and it made the most even groups. Eric made him repeat the numbers of the two groups.

That meant I was with the same group except we lost Christine and gained John. Before we split up though, I slipped up to Whistle Woman and snuck the bullet out of her hatband. Then I went to John.

“What’s your name again, buddy?” I said.

“My name is John Whitmore,” he said.

“Okay, John, here you go,” I said.

I handed him the bullet.

“Wow, I have three now,” he said. “I’m a cop!”

“Sh,” I said.

Carl told us what order to go in. We went in the two door and the others went in the seven door. Mike was completely drunk and we had to help him through the door.

“I would just like to brief everyone in this group,” John said. “You all have nothing to fear.”

He looked at Carl.

“Especially you,” he said. “I am a police officer.”

“I feel like I’ve heard this line before,” the older woman said. “It never turns out good.”

“He’s black,” I said. “He’s got everything in the world to fear from you.”

“I just want to remain racially sensitive,” John said.

“You’re just making it worse!” I said. “You’re just making it worse.”

Carl just glared at him.

We were in a room that had five doors on the far wall. Each of the doors had a terminal with a black digital display. As the door locked behind us, the digital displays came up on the five doors. They were our numbers.

The loudspeakers crackled.

“They say that quitting addictions are a constant battle, a war within a person as they try to fight for their former self,” the distorted voice said. “Two of you nine are in constant contact with addicted individuals, Marcus distributes to them while Lydia tries to help them. Ironic that you two would find yourselves in the same room from such opposite ends of the spectrum. However, that’s what happens when one of you fails to diagnose a troubled teenager and the other one becomes his main dealer. Before you are doors with your corresponding numbers that each of you must enter on your own. Tonight you will see addiction up close and personal to truly understand what you support and what you fail to cure. Good luck.”

“Who the hell is Lydia?” I said.

The older woman raised her hand. She had just realized she was s therapist.

“Uh … you sir, you might … uh … you know, the station’s a pretty cool place,” John said.

I was reeling from the news that I was a drug dealer.

“Sir, this is probably not helping,” Lydia said.

“I don’t - I don’t know anything about who I was,” I said.

I checked my arms for the first time. There were track marks all over them. I was a dealer and a user. How sloppy. How ****ing sloppy as hell. I slapped myself in the face.

“Dumb ass!” I said.

“Welp, I guess there’s only one place I can go,” John said.

He went to the eight door and scanned his bracelet. The terminal seemed to recognize it but it didn’t open.

“We gotta go together,” I said. “God damn it.”

I went to my door, as did the rest. I was dwelling on the fact that I was probably a heroin addict.

“All I got to say is, none of you are going to get the DTs if we’re in this place too long,” I said. “Except for me. God damn it. And Mike, he’s got his fix. Dumb ass!”

“Excuse me, Mr. Michael,” John said. “If … uh … if there’s any drug-addicted persons in the next room, I want you to say this to them.”

He told him some cop-rhetoric for talking down druggies.

“For clearly you’ve been sipping out of the class of intoxication tonight,” he went on.

“Wait a second, Mike, what’s your last name,” I said. “Maybe we should all give our whole names. What’s your last name, Mike?”

“What’s it to you?” Mike said.

“I’m curious.”

“What’s yours?”

“Wilson. Marcus Wilson.”

Mike pulled the paper out of his pocket.

“Newton,” he said.

“And you’re Lydia who?” I asked the older woman. “What’s your first name? What’s your name?”

“I said ‘Amenos’ like 20 minutes ago!” she snapped. “Or however long we’ve been in here!”

“And you told me …” I said to John.

“I am John Whitmore,” he said.

“Carl, what’s your last name?” I said.

He just glared at me.

“Who needs to know?” he said.

“I’m curious,” I said.

“Well, you know what they say about curiosity.”

“Yeah, you find out answers to questions.”

“Maybe questions you don’t wanna get answered.”

“All I’m saying is, the only way we’re going to get out of here alive is if we work together.”

“I don’t think there’s going to be much talking,” Mike said to John. “You heard what he said. Addiction? Up close and personal? Sounds like a fight to me.”

“How does addiction transfer to violence?” John said. “Well … never mind.”

“They said it was a fight with the self,” Carl said.

“So, are we gonna see a mirror inside there or something?” Lydia said.

“Now, I’m no humanities major, clearly,” John said.

“You’re a cop,” I said. “No.”

“Oh wait, you’re a cop?” Lydia said.

“I am a police officer!” John said.

“He said he was a police officer,” I said.

“I am a lawman,” John said.

“I thought I smelled bacon when I came in here,” Lydia said.

“I named my bullets,” John said.

“What’re their names?” Lydia said.

“Tim, Jerk, and Flanagan,” John said.

I took John aside.

“Look, you’re a cop, right?” I said. “I wanna get outta here alive.”

He offered me a recommendation at the station.

“No no, your station ain’t gonna want nothing to do with me if I got a skills set that … Jaws Boy or whatever his name is - Trap Saw Man - thinks I have,” I said.

Mike reached for the bottle of whiskey Lydia held.

“I ain’t drinking no more,” he said to her. “I need a weapon.”

“Here,” I said. “Here ya go.”

I handed off the empty bottle I’d been carrying since we were in the room with the bar. He smashed it, giving himself a makeshift weapon. He walked to his door and Lydia stopped him, asking him to pay attention to what was going on and try to remember it. I tried to get the knife from Carl but he wouldn’t give it up. John reminded Mike if he murdered someone, he would arrest him. Lydia argued that he had no place to take him.

I took off my jacket and wrapped it around my left arm as a makeshift piece of armor.

We all went to our doors and activated the thing before walking in.

* * *

The room had a single light bulb burning from a string coming down from the ceiling. The door slammed immediately behind me and I found myself facing a man with a knife in my hand. I realized the man was an addict, hopped up on bath salts. There was a knife on the floor near me and another one on the ground next to the madman as well. There was a door behind the man.

I knew bath salts made someone crazy and violent. There was no talking or reasoning to someone like that. He wore prison attire. He had a bracelet as well.

“Look out behind you!” I cried out.

I charged him as he looked behind him. I grabbed at his arm with the knife and we struggled.

“Give me the knife, man!” I yelled at him. “Give me the knife!”

I tried to get the knife away from the man without success. I vaguely remembered being in fights before.

“Calm down, man!” I said to him. “ Calm down! I’ll get you some more stuff. I’ll get you some more stuff!”

Then I thought I heard yelling and an explosion from Lydia’s direction. I continued to struggle with the man, trying to get the knife from him.

“Man, I’ll get you some shit!” I said. “I’ll give you some shit! Just lay down!”

I disarmed the man, getting behind him and pulling his arm up until he dropped the knife. Then I headed him for the door. I figured it took both bracelets to get out. I struggled to get both to the terminal. I got mine next to it first and it buzzed negatively. Then I got his and it was the same. I finally got them both to it and it still wouldn’t work.

I heard an explosion and a guttural scream from the room to my right.

Oh, Carl’s dead, I thought.

Then I heard another muted explosion to the right.

I put the druggie in a headlock with the intention of choking him out but then I heard a beeping sound that seemed to come from inside his body. I shoved him as hard as I could and then turned, unfurled my jacket, covered myself as best I could, and crouched in the corner. There was a muted explosion and something hit the jacket.

I lowered my jacket and found it was covered with blood.

* * *

I later learned that Lydia, in her cell with her insane drug addict, tried to reason with the man. She picked up the knife near her.

“Okay, sir, I’m going to need you to, like, just take a seat for a second and just wait,” she said. “I know you’re probably on drugs. Oh sir, sir. I’ve been through, like a dozen of these cases already. I just can’t … I know I have this knife, but it’s just for self-defense so just … please … stay where you are. Can you please sit?”

The man crossed to Lydia and swung his knife so hard he fell over.

“Sir, I told you to sit down and just listen,” she said. “You hurt yourself.”

She looked over the obviously badly crazed drug addict.

“All right, sir, I’m going to need you to calm down,” she said. “I just want you to relax.”

Lydia moved away from the man.

“Sir, I really don’t want to use this knife,” she said. “But I will if you do not calm down.”

The addict tried to slash her ankles. She heard a beeping sound and the sound of a door opening to her left. That was the direction Mike was in.

“Hey Mike!” she yelled as loudly as she could. “If you’re still alive, how did you get through your room!?! I heard it beep.”

“You gotta kill ‘em,” Mike yelled.

“Are you sure?” she yelled.

“What I did,” he yelled.

“Oh God,” she said. “All right, sir, sir, sir, I really don’t wanna do this so if you could please use your bracelet on the door? Or something? Just don’t get up. Please.”

The maniac slashed at her again with the knife and also struck the floor with the bracelet. A beeping sound came from it.

“Sir!” she said. “You’re really gonna wanna stop doing that!”

She backed up into the corner. There was an explosion.

“Oh God!” she cried out. “Sir, you’re gonna wanna stop!”

The room was covered with blood as was she. She slowly crossed the room, picking up the dead man’s knife. She went to the other door and used her bracelet to open the door.

* * *

I later learned Carl grabbed the other knife so that he had two. The Latino man advanced on him.

“Hey man, I don’t wanna hurt you,” he said.

The man rushed him, slashed too quickly, fell, and crashed to the ground. Carl grabbed the third knife up and ran for the door. He tried to get out of it using his bracelet but it just beeped negatively at him.

The other man got up and Carl looked at the ceiling.

“Hey man, this ain’t cool!” he said. “I ain’t killing nobody!”

The other man came at Carl with his knife.

“What the point of being in here for killing an innocent person if I got to kill another one!?!” Carl yelled at the ceiling.

The other man ran towards Carl and just exploded in his face. He found himself uninjured but covered in blood. He screamed.

* * *

In his own cell, John got into a fighting stance, instinctively reaching for a baton that wasn’t there.

“Uh … excuse me, sir,” he said. “We can figure this out. But, if you resist, I will have to throw you to the ground and give you a thrassling.”

The drugged up man rushed him. John punched the man in the gut.

“Sir, this a preview of the thrassling,” he said.

John pushed the man aside and walked to the door. It beeped at him but wouldn’t open.

“Excuse me, sir,” he said. “Do you know the mechanism by which I can escape?”

The man came at him with a knife again and he realized he had killed someone before though he couldn’t remember the details. He usually used a gun. He didn’t like it but he accepted it as his job. In his line of work it was just what happened.

The man swiped at him and he ducked to one side. His knife struck the door and then John punched the man in the kidneys. The man was knocked down to the ground and dropped the knife. It slid across the floor. John stepped over him.

“Now, sir, I’m going to ask you again,” he said. “We’re going to get out of this room and then you’re going to go turn yourself into the police like a responsible young man.”

He heard a beeping start inside the man.

“Oh Jesus Christ shit damn!” John said.

He ran away. He crouched in the corner as far away as he could but still felt the blood hit him.

* * *

I never found out what happened to Mike in the his room but, when Lydia came out of her room, he stood there with his right arm covered with blood.

“You good, Mike?” she said. “What’d you do?”

“I sobered up in there,” Mike said.

“I just talked to my guy and he kind of exploded. So … I guess that’s how therapy usually works?”

“I guess you’re a bad therapist.”

“Yeah, I guess so. I won’t deny it. I mean, I don’t know how it usually was but …”

* * *

I used the bracelet on the door again and got out. I found Lydia and Mike there. Then John came out of his room, covered in blood I had gotten the best of it, I guess.

“What the ****?” I said.

The other side of the room had a first-aid station. The table beside the first-aid station had a baggie of cocaine.

“This should be taken as evidence,” John said.

I pocketed it.

“What!?!” he said.

Carl came out with a lot of blood on him as well. He had two knives in his belt and carried another one. He looked really angry. He was covered with blood but it was all on his back.

“You killed that guy without looking at him?” Lydia said. “God!”

Carl didn’t say anything. He just went to the exit.

“Carl, you hurt?” I asked.

“No,” he muttered.

“All right,” I said. “Anybody get hurt?”

“Did you talk your guy to death like I did?” Lydia asked. “Because I just kind of talked to my guy and he exploded.”

“I mean, you heard the explosion,” Carl said.

“Ah, well, I mean I heard the one in my cell too,” Lydia said. “He just blew up.”

“Now, about that cocaine that you just took,” John said. “Mr. Marcus.”

“It’s evidence, like you said,” I said.

“The person to handle that should be the police.”

“Here you go, copper.”

I handed it over to him.

A key card was there with the drugs. On it was written “Stopped therapy because of stopped payments.” I told the others what I had found. Another under that read “Sold drugs to a troubled man.” I read that as well.

“Well, that’s me because I’m a drug dealer, right?” I said. “Stopped therapy because of stopped payments - that probably belongs to you.”

“Yeah, probably,” Lydia said.

“Aren’t you a therapist?”

“Yeah. Aren’t you the bartender?”

She had directed that last one to Carl. He took the key card and threw it down on the ground again.

“All right, I’ll hold on to it for you,” Lydia said.

The door out of the room didn’t have the terminals we’d also faced but a heart monitor.

“Aw ****!” I said. “We all gotta take some of the coke. I can bet money on it.”

Lydia made noises in her throat.

“Put your arm in the heart meter,” I said. “I bet it won’t be fast enough.”

She wasn’t going to put her hand in the cuff.

“Mike,” I said. “Why don’t you put your hand in the cuff?”

“All right,” Mike muttered.

He did so and nothing happened. The door still said “locked.”

Carl started doing burpees. It consisted of him jumping up and then lowering himself quickly to do a push-up and getting back up to make a leap before going back down for another push-up. He did them over and over again in an effort to get his heart rate up. I followed suit, not wanting to deal with cocaine in that horrible place. Lydia jogged in place.

Eventually, we all got our heartbeats up and checked it in the cuff. Once we’d all done it, the door opened. We headed through.

* * *

The others had entered a room with an operating table in the center of it. No one was on it. The table had two different displays: one a timer that read 11:28, and the other a heart monitor. In one corner was a cage with a man’s body in it. In the opposite corner was another cage, this one with a woman’s body in it. In a third corner was a keypad with a locked door. It looked like a small room. On a table near the operating table was a lock pick. In the last corner was a terminal with a slot for a card. A safe was on one wall with a ‘G’ on it.

The speakers crackled and came to life.

“Before you sits an operating table, much like one Alicia is in contact with on a daily basis,” the distorted voice said. “However, on that fateful night, EMT responder Eric Roland delivered a wounded man to be operated on first from a fatal car crash. The innocent woman involved in that car crash died of her wounds while the murderer was stabilized. The time of her death is displayed next to the operating table, a time that it etched in my mind.

“Tonight you have a chance to do it right. inside of these mannequins’ bodies are two electronic key cards that must be inserted in the terminal in the corner. The tools you need for this room are locked behind a keypad. However, the code is before you. Find it.

“Once the mannequins are put on the table, their heartbeat will start to rise. There is a way to stop this, but you must find it. If you were fast enough that night, you could have saved two lives. However, we will test that theory. Operate on both bodies and deliver the key cards. Your time starts now.”

The timer blinked 11:28 and then it changed to 00:00. Then it became 10:00 and started to count down.

Whistle Woman went to look at the cadavers and found they were behind terminals that used the bracelets. Each had a six on it.

“Someone go to the keypad and try 1128,” Eric said.

The other black-haired woman did so and it unlocked and she found surgical equipment within. Whistle Woman grabbed Eric by the wrist and walked him to the woman cadaver and he pushed his bracelet to it. It opened immediately. He wasted time trying to search the body for wounds. Whistle Woman pointed him at the other cage and he went over there to open it as well.

The black-haired woman brought the tools to Eric and he told her to put them on the table for him. She put them down and suddenly realized she was a surgeon. She knew all the tools and realized she was the one who had operated on them before.

“I think we should do the female first,” the black-haired woman, Alicia, said.

“Yes,” Eric said.

Whistle Woman brought the female body over to the table. Alicia got to work looking for the keycard. Eric suggested someone else move the bodies and he be her assistant. As soon as she placed the woman’s body on the table, the heart monitor popped up and started to act like it was monitoring an actual heartbeat.

Eric was going to put the drugs in the syringes into the other cadaver but realized he didn’t have to as it wouldn’t do anything. He wondered why he had the syringes. He went to help as best he could.

Alicia finally found the keycard.

“Bring me that man,” she said to Eric.

“Someone else get the body,” Eric said. “I’m going to start sewing her up.”

She looked at him like he was crazy. It was a dead body.

“Just in case he wants us to be thorough,” he said.

“All right,” she said. “All right. But do it in the corner because I need this table.”

Whistle Woman had gotten the card. It was different from the other ones they’d found.

The timer was down to five minutes before Alicia got the keycard out of the other body. Whistle Woman took the keycards to the terminal and saw it was a slot that you just put the keycards in. She suggested sliding in the one from the woman first but made sure it was okay with everyone. She did so and the terminal beeped as she slid each one through. There was an unlocking sound from the door but the timer continued going down. Two keycards also came out. One read “Operated on a killer” and the other read “Delivered killer before victim.”

Whistle Woman noticed the lock pick on the table.

“Who knows how to use a lock pick?” she asked.

They discussed it and she asked if Alicia had a stethoscope in the tools. She did. Whistle Woman suggested they use the stethoscope with the lock pick. Alicia worked on it but then broke the lock pick. They left the room.

Whistle Woman slipped the keycard that read “Delivered killer before victim” in Eric’s pocket.

* * *

We arrived at a room that looked like a prison visiting area. It had built-in desks, six of them in total, with glass between each of them and a duplicate one on the other side. Two were lit up: the first and the third from the left.

“This is just like when I came to visit Stan that one time,” Lydia said.

We looked over the visiting room and found a door that connected the two sides of the room. John found a key with an ‘A’ on it. It looked like Lydia’s ‘G’ key.

Then the others showed up from another door.

“We were forced to a moral dilemma,” John said.

“Did y’all have another blood puzzle?” Whistle Woman said.

“We had a puzzle - the puzzle was to get the blood out of the person,” John said.

“We had to kill somebody to get through the room,” I said.

“We had to kill somebody to get through the room,” John said.

“Did you kill someone?” Whistle Woman said.

“No, I just kind of talked to my guy and he exploded,” Lydia said.

“Why did y’all lie to me?” Whistle Woman said.

“But he didn’t explode like getting angry─” Lydia said.

“I didn’t kill nobody!” Carl said.

“… he just blew up,” Lydia said.

“They tried to make us kill somebody to get through the room,” I said.

“Oh,” Whistle Woman said.

“And they gave us coke as a prize,” I said.

“I found out I was a therapist,” Lydia said.

“I took the coke as evidence,” John said.

“I’m a surgeon,” the other black-haired woman said.

“Oh, well good for you,” Lydia said. “You’re a doctor?”

“Yeah,” the other woman said.

“EMT,” Eric said.

“I would like to make it very clear …” John said.

Whistle Woman asked Lydia to see the keycards she’d found.

“I have one that says ‘defended a guilty man,’” Lydia said. “Are you an attorney?”

“No,” the other black-haired woman said.

“That’s her job,” someone said.

“I don’t know,” Whistle Woman said.

I started asking people’s names. The black woman was Christine Franklin.

“Are you Evelynn Stevens,” I asked Whistle Woman.

“I don’t know what’s going on?” she said.

“Yo, Evelynn,” I said. “Evelynn.”

I went over to Whistle Woman, drawing my knife.

“What the **** is your name, *****!?!” I said.

“Excuse me, sir!” John said.

“Evelynn Stevens?” I asked her.

She just stared at me.

“You say something or I’ll ****ing cut your throat!” I said.

“Excuse me, he won’t,” John said, coming over. “I’m a police officer. I will … uh … if you try to do a cutting, I will do a punching.”

“Listen, I think it’s important that we know everybody who’s here and that we find out what their professions are,” I said. “And this woman has said not shit since she’s come in here. She might be working with them!”

“I just gotta know,” Whistle Woman said. “Do I have to say another word or not another word to get cut?”

“I have two knives!” Lydia said.

“Why does everyone have a knife?” John said.

Lydia handed him one of hers.

“You said if I say another word I get cut,” Whistle Woman said.

“I don’t know how I feel about this,” John said. “This is a knife?”

“What is your name, lady?” I asked Whistle Woman.

She just stared at me.

The speakers crackled and came on.

“Finally, we come to the last guilty members of our party, the two arguably the most sinful,” the garbled voice said. “Mike and Christine, you had the most contact with the murderer, yet you did nothing to stop his demented mind. Your neglect and chaotic lifestyle respectively empowered their man to eventually hijack a woman in her car and cause a wreck that would see her pass and him not even serve two years. They say words are powerful, mixed with real compassion eight letters can be the strongest mixture, a phrase I can no longer tell my dead wife or hear from her. You will say this into the phones before you continue to the final test.”

I didn’t really listen, instead watching Whistle Woman whom I was convinced was Evelynn Stevens, the whole time. I didn’t trust her and thought she might have been working with our abductor.

“Who’s Christine?” I said.

“Me,” the black woman said.

“Then that’s Evelynn,” I said, pointing at the other woman.

I turned to Carl.

“I think she’s part of it,” I said.

“Excuse me, Mr. Mike,” John said. “It seems there’s eight letters you need to say.”

“Say ‘I love you,’” Alicia said.

“That seems to be the prevailing thought,” John said.

“You have to say it,” Alicia said.

“I don’t love him,” Mike said.

“Well … I don’t really think …” John said.

“You’re not talking to him,” Alicia said.

“… that was exactly the point of the statement,” John said.

“It could also be ‘I miss you,” Evelynn said.

“Yeah, it could be ‘I miss you,’” Mike said. “I don’t miss him either.”

“Uh … Michael, I think you’re missing the point,” John said. “We need to move through here, whatever happens, regardless of whether you believe the statements.”

“Yeah, Mike, what was your deal with this?” I said. “You recognize this room? Were you on a parole board or something?”

“You say you were retired?” Evelynn said.

“Retired,” Mike said.

“He’s retired,” Evelynn said.

“Retired what?” I said.

“Doesn’t matter now,” he said.

“No, actually, it does,” I said.

“Listen, if I gotta say ‘I love you’ into a phone to get the **** outta here, I’ll do it,” Mike said. “How about that?”

He went to the booth and picked up the phone there. He muttered it and it was very awkward. The light in the booth went out. He came out with a keycard.

“All right, Mike!” Alicia said, holding up her hand.

Before he thought about it, apparently, he nearly high-fived her. Then he looked disgusted at the act.

“And … uh … Christina, I believe you need to do it too,” Eric said.

She went to the other booth that was lit and said it into the phone as well. Her light went out and the door to the far right unlocked. She also held a keycard.

The final door on the opposite end had a nine on it.

“That’s 45,” I said. “That’s all of us and we need to do it in a way that we all get through.”

We looked at the door.

“You really think any of us are getting out of here alive?” I asked. “He went to all this shit, just to let us walk?”

“No, this isn’t over,” Alicia said.

They decided it would be in reverse order of the numbers. Then we went through.

There was another room with a four and a five over the two doors there. Alicia had been right. It had been another deception. The others started to do math again to figure out who was going where.

“We all have keycards,” I said to Christine. “What’s yours say?”

“Excuse me, Miss Evelynn,” John said.

“Did Mike get a keycard?” I asked.

“‘Failed as a father,’” Mike said.

“So is this your son?” I asked.

“Apparently.”

“Matthew?”

“It’s my son apparently. I don’t know him.”

“Yo, Carl, I still got your card whenever you want it.”

Once they figured the numbers, I found myself with Carl, Eric, and Alicia for the five door. The others were to go to the other door.

“His son is murdering us,” I muttered about Mike.

“Either that or his son is the murderer,” Eric said.

We went in our respective doors.

* * *

It was an execution room. A man sat in an electric chair before us. He seemed passed out. A table was to the right of the door we walked in with an semi-automatic pistol on it. A heart monitor stood near the electric chair.

“Oh now he gives us the gun,” Lydia said

A door stood behind the electric chair. It said “Locked” and there was no terminal. To the left was a great glass mirror, like the kind they have in execution chambers.

* * *

We later found out the other room was the observation room and they could see us. There were chairs there and a lever to on the wall.

* * *

I went over and picked up the gun and checked the magazine. It was full of bullets. Then the speakers crackled.

“I must say, the scene before you is what I have fantasized about for so long,” the distorted voice said. “My wife’s killer receiving the death penalty for the crime he committed. This is your final test and is your most crucial.

“Both of your rooms have doors leading to the outside. However, neither will open until his heart rate reaches zero. On the observation side is a lever that controls the voltage of the chair. If the switch is flipped while his heart rate is active, the observation exit will open. On the execution side is a gun to carry out the deed. If the heart rate reaches zero without the switch being flipped, the execution exit opens.

“Regardless of how he dies, he will be released from the chair at zero beats per minute. Which group will right their past wrongs first? Or is there a way for both doors to open?”

“Hey, go give him the stuff!” Alicia said to Eric.

Eric went to the man in the electric chair and checked his pulse.

“Hey, hold on,” Alicia said to me. “We got something in one of our rooms.”

“I just wanted something to defend myself,” I said. “I ain’t gonna shoot him.”

“Okay,” she said. “We have something.”

I went over to the mirror and guessed there was some kind of execution chamber behind it. Then I thought of Evelynn.

“Aw Jesus! Don’t let that ***** throw the switch!” I shouted at the mirror. “Don’t let that ***** throw the switch!”

I banged on the glass with the butt of the pistol. It seemed solid, like bulletproof glass.

* * *

In the other room, Evelynn went to the switch to guard it.

She pressed the button to the intercom near the switch.

* * *

“Eric, do it,” Evelynn’s voice came over the intercom.

Eric looked at the mirror and gave a thumbs up.

“What’re you doing?” Carl said.

“Doing what?” I shouted, pointing the gun at Eric. “Doing what?”

“What are you doing?” Carl shouted.

“Doing ****ing what!?!” I shouted. “I will take your head off your shoulders!”

“He has the syringes!” Lydia’s voice came over the intercom.

“What syringes!” I said. “I don’t know ****ing jack about no God damned syringes!”

“Oh, the syringes,” I heard John’s voice over the intercom.

“Calm down,” Alicia said.

“Lady, you don’t know how close I am to ****ing calming everybody down,” I said.

“Very nice gentlemen,” Evelynn’s voice came over the intercom. “Very nice gentlemen!”

“Yeah, what’s your name, *****?” I shouted.

“Very nice gentlemen,” she said again.

“That’s not a name,” I said.

“He has a very good chemical that will make the guy’s heart stop and then start again,” Evelynn said.

“We can do this without anyone dying,” Alicia said.

“I don’t like not knowing what’s going on,” I said. “And all I’m hearing is codes from everybody here.”

“I’m trying to tell you exactly what’s happening.”

“What is exactly happening?”

She told me Eric had two chemicals that, when injected would lower a person’s heartbeat to zero but then bring him back to life. She reiterated no one needed to die and we could all go free.

“I thought it only opened our door, though,” Carl said.

“Nope, that’s if we shoot him,” Alicia said.

“Oh,” Carl said.

“Or if they kill him,” I said.

* * *

In the observation room, Evelynn, John, and Christine saw Mike heading for the switch. John tackled Mike to the ground and held him down.

* * *

“All right,” I said. “Go ahead.”

Eric injected the drugs into the man in the chair. When the heart monitor reached zero, his clasps came undone.

“Get him out of there!” I said.

The door clicked open.

“Hey, hey,” came Evelynn’s voice. “The heart monitor needs to start beeping again before I flip the switch, right?”

The others all looked at the man in the chair. Alicia finally pulled him out. The man was still hooked to the heart monitor and his heart rate got going again. As soon as the heart rate got to five, the clasps on the chair locked shut again. Then there was a crackle of electricity as someone in the next room flipped the switch.

I went to our door and through. The rest followed. The others came out of a door right next to us.

We were in a bare room with a single door that had a nine on it. It had both a terminal for the bracelet and a key card slot as well. We found that the unconscious guy had a bracelet with the number zero. We found no scar on him so there was no bomb in him.

We used each keycard in conjunction with the bracelets to get out. Luckily, Lydia had kept Carl’s keycard.

“You will leave in the order it actually happened,” the voice spoke for the last time over the intercom.

Mike went first, the father of the murderer. Lydia went secondly as she had stopped the therapy. Christine was next, having broken up with the murderer sometime after that. Then it was me, for selling drugs to him. Carl was next, who served him drinks at the bar. Then was Eric, the EMT who took the man before the woman and Alicia who worked on the killer but not fast enough. John was next for not getting the information that was necessary to putting the killer away for longer. Finally, Evelynn was the one who defended him, according to the keycard.

The door let us outside. We found ourselves on an island. The building was an old prison. We had to signal to nearby boaters to get them to send help but we’d escaped alive. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1990-Nine-Strangers-Basic-Roleplaying-System
Pathfinder - The Sunless Citadel 6 - An End to It http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1989-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-6-An-End-to-It Sat, 16 Dec 2017 01:42:13 GMT Friday, December 8, 2017 (After Jacob Marcus ran his *Pathfinder* game “The Sunless Citadel” with Justin Moser, Victoria Larson, Katelyn Hogan,... Friday, December 8, 2017

(After Jacob Marcus ran his Pathfinder game “The Sunless Citadel” with Justin Moser, Victoria Larson, Katelyn Hogan, and me Monday, November 20 from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m.)

The web I cast caught Durrn and the two large splinter imps. The splinter imps thrashed around wildly while the chief just sat calmly. Fighting erupted all around us as goblin fought goblin and cries of “For Grenl” reverberated through goblin town. Combat had started in the outer chambers as well. The entirely of goblin town was at war.

* * *

Brook had followed some distance behind us that day and around the time the revolution started, she entered the goblin guardroom Gurgle had retreated to. He jumped up when he saw her.

“They said that you had slept in at the inn this morning,” he said.

“I did,” she replied. “Where are they?”

“They’re in goblin town. We must go this way.”

He gestured to the door to the training room. As they headed in, they heard the sounds of combat and Gurgle ran ahead excitedly. Brook followed at a run as well. They ran through the next guard room and the room with the pillars, arriving at the main part of goblin town to find pandemonium. Goblins fought each other everywhere, green fighting red furiously.

She remembered I had told Grenl to put his goblins in green. The fighting was furious.

* * *

A hobgoblin crashed into the room and glared at all of us. A second ran in as well. I pointed at Catarina.

“Stand in front of me now,” I said.

“****, yeah!” she yelled.

I saw Brook through the doorway. She was being attacked by red goblins and gracefully dodged out of the way of one. Then she cut down the goblin with her spear.

The chief and the splinter imps struggled in the webs but were not able to escape. I cast a charm person spell on the chief while acting as if I was casting at one of the twigs. He continued to struggle, still glaring at me. The spell hadn’t worked. The twig creature on the right managed to rip free from the webs but, as it moved through the rest of them, it tripped and fell, crashing into the web once more.

One of the hobgoblins in the room charged Catarina. She cracked her knuckles and shook her shoulders loose. The hobgoblin tripped as he ran, however, and crashed to the floor, his spear sliding across the floor. The other hobgoblin ran to the other and helped him up. He drew a dagger and gave it to the one who’d fallen.

Argie, near me, turned and flung flames at one of the hobgoblins. She missed but the creature cowered in fear. Catarina, behind me, rushed the two hobgoblins and punched one of them. He staggered back.

Another goblin slashed at Brook but she ducked to one side. She stabbed the goblin with her spear, injuring it badly.

The other splinter imp ripped itself from the webs, leapt free, and rushed at me with his twiggy spear. Durrn finally started to try to escape the webs though without success. I stepped back from the imp and cast burning hands, engulfing both twig things and the goblin chief.

“You can burn them now!” I said over my shoulder.

The splinter imp still caught in the webs stopped moving altogether. The other two were injured by the fire.

“You want more?” I asked the splinter imp and Durrn, whose hair was on fire. “If you surrender now, we will find you a wonderful new home that’s much better than this crappy place, and we’ll teach you what to do with the gold that Belak has been stealing from you.”

I looked over my shoulder.

“Any help anybody could give me at this point would be greatly appreciated!” I called to the others.

“I’m working on it,” Argie said.

The cowering hobgoblin rushed Argie, swinging his sword at her but missing completely. She laughed in his face. The other, still-bleeding, hobgoblin who had only a dagger stabbed Catarina. Argie fired a fire bolt at the thing in front of her and burned him. Then Catarina punched both of the hobgoblins with one swing, smashing one of the hobgoblin’s head into the other.

One of the goblins fighting Brook dropped his weapons and surrendered. She punched it in the face and knocked it out before entering the room.

I didn’t notice any of this as the splinter imp came at me and tried to stab me with his twig spear, somehow missing me completely. Durrn grabbed one of the long swords near him. It was obviously not of goblin-make. He leapt from his throne at me, swinging madly at me but somehow missing me. I didn’t even move.

“Oh …” I muttered.

I backed away and cast another burning hands spell on the splinter imp and Durrn. Both of them burned but neither of them fell. His hair gone, it was now chunks of his armor on fire. He looked furious.

“A little help here, ladies,” I said.

Argie, just behind me, turned and flung a bolt of fire at the splinter imp, striking it squarely. The thing collapsed, on fire. Catarina walked by me and punched Durrn. The uppercut knocked his head back but seemed to just anger him even more. He swung his long sword and cut Catarina badly. He swung at her a second time, a nasty backhand that missed her completely.

Brook came into the room, stabbing at the goblin king with her spear. The goblin king ducked to one side. I backed away.

“You are free to surrender at any time if you don’t want to have your face smashed in and your skull crushed for Catarina’s pleasure!” I said. “I might be able to stop her.

“What the ****, mate!?!” Catarina said.

“Okay, perhaps not,” I said.

I peeked down into the pit, fearing something might be coming up, but it was empty. I could still hear fighting in the distance and off to one side a casual skirmish was going on between a hobgoblin and Grenl. I cast a ray of frost spell at the hobgoblin but missed, a little ice forming on the wall.

“All of your allies are dead!” I shouted at him in goblin. “Surrender and you will be spared!”

Then Grenl stabbed the hobgoblin, killing him. The goblin looked at me with a smile and then looked at Durrn, his father. I raised my eyebrows, quietly questioning him, and he glared at his father. Argie flung another fire bolt at Durrn, missing him, the flames blasting at the far wall.

Catarina punched the goblin king again but he still didn’t fall. Then Brook moved to flank the horrible creature and stabbed him with her spear. Durrn let out an otherworldly scream and swung at Brook, missing her completely and putting his back to Catarina.

“Do you want us to try not to kill your father?” I asked.

Grenl held out his fist and put his thumb down. The sounds of combat in the other room had stopped, for the most part.

Argie cast another fire bolt, the blast missing the goblin king completely. Then Catarina punched him twice. The first blow knocked him backward and the second knocked him to his knees, still gripping his sword and shaking in pain, burns, and fury. Brook ran him through with her spear, thrusting so hard, the spear went all the way through him. He coughed, blood coming from his mouth, and collapsed to the floor, dead. Brook stepped forward, grabbed the bloody head of the spear, and pulled it entirely through the creature.

I cast a detect magic spell. There was no magic on the dead goblin chief.

Catarina pouted.

“I wanted t’ kill him, bro,” she said.

“Well, we’re not finished here,” I said.

Grenl sprinted out into the main hall. I urged the others to come with me and followed. In the great hall, only five of Grenl’s people had survived. They were defending three females and a couple of children. Catarina laughed.

“You caused a genocide!” she said to me.

It was a lot bloodier than I thought it would be.

“Bra, I think you caused a genocide,” Catarina said, nudging me.

“You don’t even know what that word means!” I said.

“Yes, I do!” she said. “We did it to the elves a couple years back when we thought they gave us the plague. We don’t talk about that much.”

“Apparently,” I said.

One of the goblins in green hoisted a small figure on his shoulders and began cheering. It was Gurgle. He was covered in goblin blood. All the rest of the goblins began to follow in the cheer. They entered the throne room and one of two of the surviving hobgoblins in green whom I’d never seen before grabbed Grenl and put him on the throne. Gurgle was placed on the steps below, the place of an advisor. Grenl gave one of the nicer swords to Gurgle.

“They’re not magic,” I whispered to Argie.

“There’s a cave directly behind my throne,” Grenl said in goblin. “It leads to the lower catacombs and that is where you will find the great druid who has deceived our people and forced us into slavery for centuries.”

Behind the stone throne was a set of stairs that led down. I translated what he said into the common tongue as he spoke.

“He has subjugated our people for years,” Grenl went on. “Forced us to live here … even though the resources ran dry quite some time ago.”

“And we’re going to help find you a new place to live,” I said to him. “We already have a lead.”

“You agreed to do so.”

“We have a lead. We have caves.”

“And you agreed to teach us what gold does.”

“Oh yeah. Yeah, we can do that too.”

I told him I knew where there were caves the kobolds had vacated and mines there as well. I also asked him if they were the goblins who would go into the village and trade with the apples and he said they were. When I asked when they were next supposed to go, he was unsure as time was confusing. However, he said the strongest goblins and hobgoblins would suddenly close their eyes and then go down into the lower tunnels and come back with bags of apples. Then they would come back with bags of gold.

I urged Grenl to get his people out of the caves as soon as possible as, if they didn’t, it was going to happen to the rest of the goblins. I urged him to let us move his people that night. Grenl looked through the door with the destruction and nodded. I advised them to get anything of theirs of value, gather it, and we’d talk to the kobolds and find out where the caves were.

I asked Grenl if they wanted us to escort them to the old kobold caves and he said he did. As it was 50 miles away, that was at least a two-day journey, possibly more with goblins as they were smaller. I noted we would have to travel at night. Brook pointed out we could leave them with the kobolds but I didn’t know if that would put them outside the influence of Belak. I guessed if we could get them outside of the citadel, they would be safe.

I told Grenl I would talk to the kobolds and return post haste.

Catarina and I went to talk to the kobolds while Argie and Brook waited with the goblins as they gathered all of their possessions.

I talked to Yusdrayl while Catarina played with Gleep. I asked her if there were any local caves where the goblins could spend the night before moving on as they were leaving the Sunless Citadel. I also warned her the goblins had been under the spell of the druid and if they moved into that part of the complex, it could happen to them. I told her we planned on dealing with him as well.

Yusdrayl was surprised we had dealt with the goblins so handily. She pointed out a room off the throne room and noted the kobolds had come from a cave that led from an old, abandoned dwarven mine. It was 50 miles of underground caves that led them to the Citadel. I noted the goblins wanted us to escort them to the cave and pointed out there were very few left. She was willing to equip them and let them use the caves to get to their old home and, when I asked if they could escort them, she pointed out there was naught but rats in the caves.

I took that news back to Grenl and found them ready to go with backpacks of equipment, weapons, supplies and, on the two hobgoblins, bags of gold. There was a pile of gold remaining. I told them how valuable the gold was and advised they find a way to take it with them.

“Is it more valuable than weapons?” Grenl said.

“Yes,” I said. “Potentially. I would say make sure you have weapons, but that’s valuable.”

He understood and tasked one of the stronger goblins to take more gold. That left about half of the pile.

“What is left can be yours for securing a good life,” Grenl said to us.

There was probably about 1,500 gold coins left in the pile.

I told them of the caves, that the underground path there was safe and they didn’t need an escort. I also promised that, once they were safely living in the caves, I would come find them and visit them to help teach them more about the ways of the world.

“I trust that you will come soon and that you are staying to take care of the druid,” Grenl said.

“That’s the plan,” I said. “I’ll be there in a month at the latest but probably within a week.”

I told them if they could find ways to get to the surface, that would be great. We then escorted them to kobold town and they went through the room and the caves where the kobolds had originally come. I told Yusdrayl everything of what had happened and that I would be visiting the goblins someday as well. I told her the Sunless Citadel was now the kobolds and asked merely to be given passage to deal with the druid. She agreed wholeheartedly with that and asked us to expedite the process. I told her we’d go the next day and asked her not to send any kobolds to goblin town yet.

We returned to Oakhurst and divided up the gold, giving us over 500 gold pieces each. I locked my share in my room. I also appraised the amulet Argie had and found it was worth 30 gold coins. I appraised the alexandrite from the strange room that had taken over the minds of our party. The shards were worth about 100 gold coins to the right dealer. The four gems Brook had were worth 40 gold pieces each. The obsidian box was probably worth about 20 gold coins. The two bracelets Brook had were worth 30 gold pieces each and the ring was worth 15 gold coins.

I suggested we not tell anyone what had happened in the ravine, noting we might all get hung if they found out there were no more apples coming. I asked Catarina especially not to mention it to her new friends. I pointed out people would be very angry if they found out we have ended the apple trade.

“Did the airship people meet with the mayor?” Brook asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “But she’s their friend.”

I pointed at Catarina.

“You’re their friend?” Brook said.

Catarina nodded.

“I thought they beat your ass?” Brook said.

“And then they became best of friends,” I said.

Catarina told the story.

I asked the gnomes if they knew what happened to the other visitors to the village.

“Oh yeah,” Dem said. “The party left out the northern road of town and they haven’t come back since.”

“On foot?” I said.

“Uh-huh,” Dem said.

“The northern road?” Brook said. “Where does that go again?”

“That’s one of the long roads,” I said.

“It goes far north into the mountains,” Dem said.

“Ah, they’re long gone,” Brook said. “Probably dead.”

“Maybe they weren’t here for the apples,” I said. “Maybe they’re just passing through.”

“I wonder why they’re in the mountains,” Brook said.

It was pointed out the goblins were heading north to the mountains as well. I was worried the adventurers were going to massacre the goblins we had just befriended. We figured the mountains were closer and hoped they were not off to kill the goblins.

I asked the gnomes how the trade with the goblins went and learned that originally the goblins came to town and the townsfolk all put their money together and bought all the apples they had. Then the goblins went away and the town sold them to whoever came through for a profit. Brook found it strange the town would act that way. Dem said the goblins had initially made their claim about the magical apples and they didn’t believe it so they had someone in town eat one of the apples.

“Is that how you do it now?” I asked.

“Now we don’t have to pool the money together,” Dem said. “It’s been going on for about 20 years.”

“Because you’re all rich.”

“Yeah.”

“How rich are you? You got enough to retire? If you’re so rich, why do you keep doing it?”

“Why not?”

“Fair enough. But you don’t really need the money, do you?”

I looked at him.

“Who’s this airship belong to?” I asked. “Does it belong to this party?”

“The airship comes … not every year but every five or six,” Dem said. “‘Bout every five or six years that airship comes up. They march north for about a week and then they come back.”

“Sounds about right,” Catarina said.

“Sounds like we just got an airship,” Brook said.

“What they doing up there?” Argie said.

“No,” I said to Brook. “That’s immoral.”

“We ain’t taking the ship!” Catarina said.

“That wouldn’t be a good idea,” Dem said.

“Out of curiosity, why not?” Brook asked.

“I don’t know if you know what Marcus is,” Dem said.

“Who’s Marcus?” I said.

“I know he’s a rich ****,” Catarina said.

Brook looked at her, intrigued.

“He’s the captain of the ship,” Dem said. “He owns it.”

“What is he?” I said.

“He’s the big fancy ****er that I didn’t fight,” Catarina said.

“Oh,” I said.

“The one that said he ****ed goats,” Argie said.

“He’s the one we talked into admitting he was a goat ****er,” Catarina said.

Brook had looked intrigued about the man ever since Catarina had said he was rich.

“My gods, Brook,” I said. “That’s right, he’s rich and so you’re all turned on. Okay.”

“He’s a captain,” she said. “He’s got a cane. He spells it with a ‘k.’”

“You ever heard the word ‘gold digger’ Brooke?” I asked. “You would probably enjoy it.”

“Have you ever heard of the term ‘arrogant *******?’”

“Only from the ignorant.”

“He seems like a nice gentleman.”

“Perhaps it will be love at first … biting of a gold piece.”

“Don’t you assume anything!”

“He knows a lot of magic,” Dem said. “There was a bloke that tried to take that ship and, as soon as he climbed the ladder, he burst into flames.”

“Brook, go try to get the ship!” I said. “I want to see this.”

Catarina slammed her money pouch on the table.

“Fifty gold you don’t climb the rope!” she said.

“The strange thing is that Marcus has been coming here nigh-on fifty years,” Dem said.

The short man with the cane didn’t look that big. He wasn’t wearing a wizard’s hat either.

“He’s not a wizard,” I said. “If you’re not wearing the hat, why be a wizard? If people don’t know you’re a wizard, what’s the point?”

We learned that Marcus didn’t buy the apples and he and his companions didn’t usually come to Oakhurst around apple time. Their being in Oakhurst was simply a coincidence. Argie laughed at the term “apple time.”

“Are you going to climb the rope to see if you burst into flame?” I asked Brook.

“I’m not going to climb the rope,” she said.

“If you’re waiting in his bedroom when he gets back … that’s a turn-on from my understanding,” I said.

“Maybe you could catch a rat and throw it on board,” Argie said.

I pointed out there were still men on the ship. We’d seen them on board.

We discussed Dolf, the dwarf who’d lost his tongue and Brook wondered aloud if the apples of life might not grow it back. I called over Dem and asked him if there were any apples of life left in the village. There were not. I asked if they lasted and stayed fresh forever. He noted they lasted a long time but the villagers sold them all. That was no answer to that question. I pointed out to my companions that if we found an apple of life, we could save it for Dolf.

“Do we want to go talk to our druid friend?” I asked.

“Belak?” Brook said.

“No, the mayor.”

“The mayor’s a druid?”

“Yes.”

“Yeah,” Argie said.

“Oh, that’s right,” Brook said.

“The mayor’s a druid too,” I said. “Interesting coincidence, isn’t it?”

“Not evil,” Argie noted.

“I’d love to talk to the mayor,” Brook said.

“Good, I want you to talk to him,” I said. “Because I don’t know what to say.”

“You already tried,” Argie said to Brook. “You fell on your face.”

“Hey,” Brook said. “Hey.”

“What?” Catarina said.

We decided to go talk to the mayor. We went to his great hall and Argie stopped outside the door and sat down. The rest of us went in.

The mayor, the elf Vernor Leng, was playing chess with himself on a poorly carved marble chess set. The board was on a lazy susan and he would make a move and then spin it around to move a piece in order to play himself.

“I knew a guy who used to play like that,” Catarina bellowed. “Then he told me he could outthink me in a fight. I broke his nose.”

Brook went to the man and sat opposite to him. He didn’t seem fazed.

“Oh, they actually teach how to play this anymore?” Leng said.

“My father taught me,” Brook said.

The two began the game and though Brook made some very clever moves, Leng did better, taking several of her pieces. I lost interest and wandered around the room, looking at the tapestries.

“So, Mayor Leng, tell me about your past with being a druid,” she said.

“Oh,” he said. “How did you find out I was a druid?”

“I have an intuition about these things,” she said.

He sighed.

“I’m sure you have an intuition,” Leng said.

They continued playing the game. Brook started to pull ahead at that point, taking several of his pieces.

“I’m outta ale,” Catarina said. “Could we speed this up?”

“There’s ale in the back,” Leng said.

“Imma double check. I can go into your kitchen and find ale?”

“I believe I just gave you permission. Yes.”

“**** yeah!”

Catarina ran to the back of the hall and through the door Leng pointed out. I heard her ran down a set of stairs.

“You’d be surprised what I know,” Brook said to Leng.

I noticed her cross her legs under the table and rub her foot against his leg. Leng merely seemed amused. I walked out of the room and sat next to Argie in the sun next to the door. I tipped my hat forward over my eyes and listened as best I could.

“What are you looking for?” Mayor Leng said. “What do you want to know?”

“I just want to know about you,” Brook said. “I just want to know how you came to be mayor of this small town, such a … dignified druid as yourself.”

“I’ve been here all my life,” Leng said. “My father was mayor.”

“Was your father a druid?”

“No, he was not.”

“How did you learn your druid ways? Where did you go?”

“I took a trip.”

“Where?”

“Well, when my father turned 16, he, too, was kicked out and told to go learn something. So …”

“Kicked out of the house?”

“Yes. Came back about … whenever we become good at something, was the rule. Bring something back to the village.”

“Okay. Did you make any friends? Was there more than you there?”

“Of course there was.”

“There was?”

* * *

While Brook continued her pointless conversation, I turned to Argie.

“Do you think I should go in and name drop Belak?” I asked her.

“That’s a bad idea,” she said.

“Is it?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you’re wiser than me.”

“I imagine that going downhill rather than helping.”

“That’s why I asked.”

* * *

The conversation continued inside, I could hear.

“Druids work in clans,” Leng said.

“Anyone of notable strengths or … prestige?” Brook asked. “Certainly not better than yourself, I’m sure.”

“There are many druids better than me.”

I could hear the click of chess pieces moving around.

“Checkmate,” I heard her say.

It sounded like someone stood up and took a few steps. Then someone else stood up.

“What exactly are you looking for?” Leng said. “I’ll ask again.”

Argie slowly stood up.

I later learned Brook kissed the man at that point.

“What are you doing!?!” Leng said.

“Fine, you caught me,” Brook said. “Do you know the name Belak?”

Argie’s head hit the wall behind her. I shushed her and listened very carefully.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Leng said.

There was a mumbling and suddenly vines and roots lifted up out of the ground and wood around Argie and myself and grabbed both of us.

“The druid is attacking!” I yelled. “The druid is attacking! The mayor is a traitor! The mayor is a traitor!”

“Iago, I’m fine!” Brook yelled from within. “I cast it!”

“False alarm!” I yelled.

It was too late. People were coming out of their homes and gathered. They stayed away from the house and the insane vines and roots that were growing up and reaching for anyone nearby. I broke free of the vines and moved towards the edge of the area. Argie did as well, moving just behind me and then getting caught again. I moved to the edge of the field as Argie broke free and got out as well.

“Go get Hercule,” I said to Argie. “He likes you. Go get him.”

“What?” Argie said. “Why does he like me?”

“Just go get him! He doesn’t like me, okay?”

“Okay! Okay!”

“Just tell him that the mayor has attacked Brook. Why else would she cast entangle?”

Argie ran to the blacksmith shop. I looked around the street.

“Where is Catarina?” I said.

Argie, Hercule, and Dolf soon returned. I warned them not to go near the entangling vines and we waited.

“Brook, are you all right in there?” I called.

“For the moment,” she called back. “Once the vines drop, we’ll see. I’m currently interrogating the mayor for all he’s done wrong to the town. Belak’s his master.”

I exchanged a look with Argie.

“Of course he is,” Argie muttered. “They’re both druids.”

The entangling magic finally ended and the roots and vines pulled back into the ground and the wood. Argie and I ran in with Hercule and Dolf. We found Brook and Catarina there with the mayor. The latter was tied up on the floor. Argie stopped in the doorway and spread her wings to keep any more of the villagers from entering.

“Hey Dolf,” Catarina said. “Hercule. He’s the reason you ain’t got a tongue no more.”

Dolf glared at the mayor.

“What happened?” I said. “What happened? Did he attack you?”

“No,” Brook said. “If anything, I was more forceful than he was.”

“Ew and what happened?”

Dolf lunged at the mayor and flung him to the ground, straddling him. He started punching the mayor repeatedly in the face. Brook and I rushed the dwarf, trying to stop him.

“Dolf, Dolf, Dolf,” Brook said. “Honey!”

“Grab his arm!” I said. “Just grab his arm!”

“Dolf!” she said.

She dragged Dolf off the mayor. Catarina just watched.

“Justice will be served,” she said to him.

Dolf gasped angrily and glared at the mayor.

“What happened?” I said.

Catarina said something, her mouth full of apple. We ignored her. I watched the druid carefully. Then she went over to the mayor and sat on top of him, holding him down. He coughed and sputtered.

“You’re going to kill him if you don’t get off of him,” I said. “You will kill him if you don’t get off of him.”

“Fine,” she said.

She stood up and looked at the cask of ale on one shoulder and the apple in the other. Then she looked at me questioningly.

“Just sit on the ground and use him to rest your back,” I said.

“Put a foot on him, I don’t care!” Brook said.

She held him down with one foot.

“After the chess game, which I won by the way, I asked him where he learned to be a druid,” Brook said.

“Yes,” I said.

“He told me he went off somewhere. Uh … in a convent of some sort. Not really the correct word, but you know what I mean.”

“Important information is really what I’d really like to have right now.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t want the full story? With the details?”

“Just tell me what’s important.”

“I kissed him.”

“Okay …”

“Wait, you kissed him?” Catarina bellowed. “This guy is shit. He has a room of pretty men upstairs.”

“This is why I just want the important stuff,” I said. “She won’t understand it.”

“I know,” Brook said. “Belak is also a druid and Belak is druid mayor’s master.”

“Master.”

“They’re both in cahoots with the apple deal.”

“Why?”

“Apparently only for money? That’s all I could get out of him. Or at the very least, all he knows is that Belak is doing this for money. Which does not seem to be the whole story.”

“Does he know that Belak had Dolf’s tongue removed?”

“Hoodly doodly ****!” Catarina bellowed. “I found this downstairs!”

She pointed at a crude drawing on her arm.

“I dunno if it means anything but he’s got a bunch of banners of it downstairs,” she said. “There’s cool shit down there.”

I recognized the symbol, crude though it was, as an uncommon druidic order. It was a small order of some kind and not one that wielded much power at all.

“A lot of cool stuff downstairs,” Catarina said.

Vernor Leng looked very angry and surprised.

“You ain’t real good at this shit, are you?” Catarina said.

“Belak could have just used him for what money he had,” Brook said. “His father was the mayor before him.”

“He was?” I said. “All right.”

I took Brook aside.

“He hasn’t actually done anything illegal, per se,” I said. “It’s immoral …”

“Conspiracy to commit …” Brook said.

“Commit what? Sell apples?”

“Right.”

“I’m saying, he’s a corrupt, awful person.”

“He doesn’t deserve to die.”

“Well, I don’t even know if we have any right to actually arrest him for what he’s done. Of course there’s Dolf too.”

“Brass knuckles says you move your foot,” Hercule said to Catarina.

Catarina looked at him.

“He’s complicit with the goblins,” I said.

“One second,” Catarina said to Hercule. “So, do you know how to get Dolf’s tongue back?”

“So, what do we do?” I asked Brook.

“No,” Leng said to her.

“What about the apples?” I called. “Will the apples bring his tongue back? The good ones!”

“I’ve never seen any apple try to regrow a limb,” the mayor said.

“All right, good enough for me,” Catarina said.

“So, maybe,” I muttered to myself.

Catarina took her foot off the mayor and Hercule leaned down, grabbed the mayor by the ropes and started dragging him towards the front door. I cast a sleep spell on Hercule and he collapsed to the ground.

“Hey!” Catarina said.

“We’re in charge of the situation, not him,” I said.

“Okay …” Brook said.

“What the ****, man?” Catarina said.

“I’m not going to say I didn’t approve of that,” Brook said. “But I’m just going to say he is our only current supporter.”

“What the ****, man!?!” Catarina said.

She said something about getting her knuckles but was unintelligible.

“Other than Dolf, he’s our only supporter on this,” Brook said again.

“Understood,” I said, loud enough for the mayor to hear. “But I’m not going to let him just throw the mayor to the villagers, who are just going to murder him for what he’s done to a fellow villager. They’ll tear him apart. They’ll probably rip his arms and legs off. They’ll probably hang him and burn him!”

“If we’re lucky,” Brook said.

We can decide to do that, if he doesn’t cooperate,” I said.

“I’ll take half of what you got in the chest and everything in the shiny, sparkly one if we lie to the villagers and all this goes away,” Catarina said to the mayor.

“Shiny, sparkly one?” Argie said over her shoulder.

“What?” I said.

“You talking about me?” Argie said.

“We’re not lying to the villagers!” I said. “This is not going away! That money belongs to the villagers. More than it does to the mayor.”

“Yeah, and we’ll get the other half of it!” Catarina said as if she’d won the argument.

“He’s not getting anything,” I said.

I looked down at the bloody mayor.

“You realize you’ve been working with an evil person who’s been manipulating other races, mind controlling them, and causing them to war with each other on your very doorstep?” I said.

He seemed stunned by the news.

“You realize that those twig-monsters are a direct result of this?” I said.

I pulled out the bag of apple seeds and held one up for him to see.

“Those things are down there!” I said. “There could be an army of those things down there for all we know!”

“There was an army of goblins,” Catarina said. “There’s an army of kobolds. There’s that weird thing that made me want to touch the shiny soul thingy.”

“We can probably leave it there, Catarina,” Brook said. “It’s fine.”

“Do you know what Belak is really after?” I said to the mayor. “What is he really doing?”

“I … I thought it was money!” Vernor Leng said.

“Of course you did! You’re a greedy, small, little man who claims to be a druid who probably can’t even cast any spells anymore because you’re so out of touch with nature!”

“I … I … I deny that! I love nature.”

“But not as much as you love money, apparently.”

“I mean, it’s some nice money,” Catarina interjected.

“We’re going to allow the villagers to decide what to do with you,” I said. “Unless they get violent. But we’re going to advise them that their best bet is to banish you or imprison you. There’s a jail here.”

“Uh … the jail’s in his house,” Catarina said. “It’s downstairs. I found that too. You got a big house, man.”

Vernor Leng looked at her, goggle-eyed.

“How …” he said. “How much did you see?”

“Yes,” she replied smugly.

She put down the cask on her shoulder and pulled a key out of her shirt. Vernor Leng whimpered.

“That’s right!” I said. “She knows everything!”

“Including your room full of pretty men!” Catarina said.

“Including your room full of …what!?!”

“You really would have had a better time seducing him that she would. He like’s ‘em tall and elfy.”

“That explains everything,” Brook said.

“In the name of all that’s holy,” Vernor Leng said. “In the name of all that’s holy!”

“So, you decided we can’t lie to the villagers?” Brook said to me.

“That’s immoral,” I said. “You don’t lie. Lying’s wrong.”

“Can we lie to them about how much money ‘cause he’s got about eight casks filled with these,” Catarina said.

She pulled out a gold coin.

“And one filled with these,” she said.

She pulled out a fist-sized piece of topaz.

“We should tell the villagers the truth,” I said. “I don’t think they’re going to want the money. They’re all rich already.”

“I’m going to keep this,” Catarina said.

“Keep it, I don’t care,” I said. “Many of them are not … why do you want that? Many of them are not … as greedy as I think he is.”

“He’s always the one that goes and meets the goblins, right?” Brook said.

“Dem told me earlier the goblins come to the edge of town and then all the villagers take their money out─”

“To the goblins.”

“─to individually buy apples.”

“I told ‘em to do it,” Vernor Leng said. “I told ‘em not to attack the goblins and they were bringing it for trade.”

“So, that’s one good thing that you’ve done,” I said.

“He’s got much more money than the rest of these people,” Brook said.

“He probably started with more and so was able to purchase more apples and he’s probably smarter as far as selling them,” I said. “He was a druid after all.”

“Okay.”

“So he’s probably been cornering the market. So the other villagers are probably wealthy but he has the bulk of the wealth.”

“I thought he also might have been stealing money.”

“I don’t think he would have to steal.”

“Wait a minute,” Catarina said. “Has he basically done nothing wrong?”

“Not really,” I said. “Well, he works with Belak, who did have Dolf’s tongue ripped out, or at least his goblins did.”

“True.”

“That’s complicity. That’s illegal. It’s a conspiracy kind of thing.”

“True. I dunno.”

“Especially if Belak proves to be evil.”

“I’ve worked with some people before who’ve done some ****ed up shit and I didn’t know they were doing the ****ed up shit.”

“You’re still complicit.”

“Well ****.”

“If you’re allied with somebody who murders somebody and you didn’t know that they murdered somebody but you helped them murder somebody …”

“Dolf, was it a goblin that cut out your tongue?” Brook asked the dwarf.

He shook his head.

“Was it a man?” I asked. “A human?”

He nodded his head.

“Was he doin’ hoodly doodly bullshit?” Catarina asked.

Dolf looked confused.

“Did you see him?” I asked. “Did you get a good look at him?”

Dolf shook his head. He put his hands over his head.

“A mask?” I said. “A helmet!”

Dolf nodded.

“He wasn’t the paladin that was with you, was he?”

Dolf nodded.

“The paladin,” I said. “The paladin took his tongue.”

“The paladin,” Brook said.

“The paladin with the evil sword,” I said.

I looked at Vernor Leng.

“Do you know about that, there, mayor?” I asked. “About the horribly evil sword?”

“Those guys I have no idea about,” Vernor Leng said. “If they knew Belak then they didn’t tell me.”

“Well, they’re probably with Belak now,” I said. “Dammit, we should have asked the goblins about those people.”

“I’m sorry, Dolf, I don’t think he was the one who cut out … I don’t think he was the reason your tongue got cut out,” Catarina said. “But he’s definitely working for the guy who did that.”

“The mayor might not be guilty of anything except being greedy,” I said to Brook. “And petty.”

“And a moron,” Catarina bellowed. “Don’t forget he’s definitely a moron.”

Brook pointed out if we let Vernor Leng go, he’d go straight back to Belak. She felt like that was good enough reason to lock him up.

“Not really,” Vernor Leng said. “I have absolutely no interest in going into that shithole he lives in.”

I woke Hercule up, apologizing to the dwarf for putting him to sleep but noting we needed to discuss the situation and decide what to do with the mayor.

“Rather than just grabbing him and throwing him to the villagers, I would like your input please,” I said.

“He was lying to us all,” Hercule said. “He’s lied from the beginning.”

“I can show you what he’s lying about,” Catarina said.

“But he hasn’t actually broken the law,” I said.

“What?” Hercule said.

“He hasn’t actually broken any laws,” I said.

I tried to explain to Hercule that, though the mayor was a terrible person, he hadn’t actually done anything wrong and didn’t even know anything about Dolf’s tongue being cut out. It was apparently the “paladin” that went down with him who did it. Catarina added he wasn’t evil, just greedy.

“How greedy?” Hercule said.

“I can show you,” Catarina said. “Everyone, if you’ll follow me.”

She swung the mayor over her shoulder and took us. I ran to the doorway and asked Argie to keep the villagers out as we sorted all of it all out. She told me to tell her what happened and not to do anything stupid. I nodded and then caught up to the others going into the basement. Catarina opened up a secret room and we found numerous chests full of gold coins. There was also a chest of gems. It was so much money. We were all shocked. Hercule noted each of the other villagers each had about half of one of the chests for their own, which was still an amazing amount of money.

“Is all this money from apple trading?” I asked.

“Aye,” Vernor Leng said.

“We don’t have taxes,” Hercule said. “It’s just the apple trade. So, I imagine …”

I asked if the money could have been bribes from Belak or payment to help him or if he could possibly have made all his money legally trading the apples shrewdly.

“Why do you need all this money?” I asked Vernor Leng. “And you’re not even buying anything with it. You’re no better than the goblins. They horde it but don’t do anything with it.”

“Oh, I do things with it,” Vernor Leng said.

“You mispronounced ‘boys,’” Catarina said.

She looked around at us.

“Oh!” she said. “You want to see the pretty boy room? It’s upstairs. It’s hilarious!”

“The what?” I said.

“You don’t know that’s what that means!” Vernor Leng said.

“He has a room full of pretty men upstairs,” Catarina said.

“He has slaves?” I said.

“No! He … like, pretty men. On the walls.”

“They’re attached to the walls!?!”

“No! I think they’re attached to the walls. There’s some human boys. Elf boys. Barely any clothes on any of ‘em.”

Well, that’s slavery. That’s wrong.”

“No no. They ain’t alive.”

“He has dead people attached to his walls?”

She just looked at me.

“What are you talking about?” I asked. “How drunk are you?”

“Hey!” she said. “Shut up!”

I held up three fingers.

“How many fingers am I holding up?” I asked.

“Shut up!” she said.

Hercule headed upstairs. We followed him.

“We have to set these people free,” I said.

The others followed as well. The room upstairs had numerous paintings of young boys and men of all races and species, scantily dressed and always smiling.

“Oh,” I said. “Now I understand.”

“Yeah, this is the pretty men room,” Catarina said.

Hercule started laughing.

“I know what he uses his money for now!” he said. “Is that what those carriages are always bringing into town?”

Vernor Leng was red in the face.

“So, Vernor, buddy,” I said

“What what what!?!” Vernor Leng said.

“If this got out, attached to your name, I mean rumors really spread, don’t they, Hercule?” I said. “They’re fast.”

“Oh, they’ll spread,” Hercule said with a grin.

“They’ll spread just like you, bro!” Catarina said.

“There might be a way of silencing people, Vernor,” I said. “But it’s probably going to be very expensive.”

“It’s going to take a lot to silence me,” Hercule said.

I gestured towards Hercule.

“So, here’s the plan,” I said. “We’re going to throw you in jail, mayor.”

“What for?” Vernor Leng said.

“Suspicion,” I said. “Complicity. Possible conspiracy. And for your own protection.”

“I agree with the protection part.”

“And then we’ll figure out what to do with everything else.”

I turned to the dwarf.

“I don’t think, Hercule, that we need to spread word of what the mayor has done yet,” I said. “But if the mayor does disappear from out of the jail, then we’ll have no choice but to tell everyone everything.”

“I’ll just keep the secret right here in me belt, and when it’s time …” Hercule said.

“Exactly,” I said.

“You don’t have to worry about Dolf though,” Hercule said. “You have to worry about Dolf making lewd gestures.”

“Well, we’re still going to try to find some of the red apples to help Dolf,” I said.

“I don’t have any apples!” Vernor Leng said. “I wait until I have the last apples in town and then I sell all of them.”

“That’s how he’s got so much cash,” I said. “Because he increases the price. He lets everyone else sell theirs to the first people to show up and then he sells his last and makes his fortune, which he then spends, apparently, a penny at a time, considering how much cash was in that room.”

Catarina suggested Leng just move away but that seemed to disturb the man in a way that was almost overwhelming, which was illogical.

“Why wouldn’t you want to leave?” I asked.

He stuttered but couldn’t answer the question.

“Maybe it’s more hoodly doodly bullshit,” Catarina said.

I cast a detect magic on the man and peered at him closely. He had the same magic upon him as before, the kind that was natural for elves and druids.

“Why can’t you leave town?” I asked him again, watching him closely.

An aura flashed around his head and he stuttered and sputtered but couldn’t answer the question.

“So, when did Belak cast the spell on you?” I asked.

“Belak never cast any spells on me,” Vernor Leng said.

“Someone cast a spell on you. There’s a spell on you right now, not allowing you to leave town, apparently.”

“I … I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Tell me about leaving town. Wouldn’t it be nice to go outside of town? Why won’t you leave town?”

He lit up with some kind of enchantment every time he was asked or thought about leaving town. It turned out that every time he was asked the question, he stumbled in his speech and then couldn’t even remember me asking.

“We’ve got to lock him up,” I said to Brook. “He’s being controlled.”

Brook asked if I could dispel the magic on him but I told her I couldn’t. I’d not learned that spell yet. She wondered if the resident cleric of the town might have it and I told her we’d ask.

Telling Vernor Leng he was enchanted was met with shock but belief from the man. But as soon as he tried to think about it, his eyes crossed and he moved on to another topic. Though he understood he was being controlled, he couldn’t seem to focus on it or think about it.

“He’s no more in control than the goblins,” I said.

Brook guessed the spell was along the same as the spell cast on the goblins. I told Hercule we needed to lock the man up as he was being controlled enough for him to become massively rich yet continue living in the village.

“Why haven’t you ever left, Hercule?” I asked, scanning him while the detect magic spell was still active.

“This was just where I came to after I left my home in the mountains to the north,” Hercule said.

He seemed clean.

We all went back downstairs and told Argie everything that had happened, including the magic controlling the mayor. We told both the villagers and the mayor of the magical influence over him and that he needed to be locked up for the time being. The villagers seemed to understand, especially Terry. I pointed out we were going to lock up the mayor in case the magical influence became more powerful.

We locked up the mayor’s house and locked the mayor up in the jail. I asked Terry to take care of him and Terry gladly agreed. We made sure Hercule had the keys to the jail and the mayor’s house. Catarina handed over the letters and other writings she’d found in Vernor Leng’s office.

We discussed dealing with the mayor and returning to the ravine. Catarina gave the magical cloak that obscured features to Brook.

* * *

Our tenth day in Oakhurst started atypically. We awoke that morning and met in the taproom. We talked about whether or not the mayor could physically leave town and Brook suggested we test that. I got the key to the cell from Hercule and, after he had his breakfast, we took the mayor out onto the road and walked down the road with him. Fifty feet past the last building, he passed out. Brook picked him up and carried him back. He awoke when we entered town again, wondering aloud why she was carrying him.

“You passed out,” I told him. “The magic upon you holds you to this place completely.”

“That is awful!” he said.

His eyes went blank and he looked around, confused again. We locked him back in his cell. I told the others that hopefully the effect would end once we dealt with Belak. I also learned from the mayor that the apples were due to come in two days. Then we headed back to the ravine. I wondered, on the way, as there were no goblins to bring the apples, what or who would show up at the village.

“A very upset Belak, I would imagine,” Brook said.

“Or more of those twig things,” I said.

“Or more of those twig things,” she echoed.

We climbed down into the ravine and made our way to goblin town. The smell was starting to get bad there, but nothing had changed in the place. Corpses were everywhere.

“By the way,” Catarina said. “Can I get some healing?”

“You’re hurt?” Argie said.

Catarina had been covered with blood but none of us had really paid attention to her injuries, assuming the blood was not her own. Argie cast several healing spells on her to heal her wounds.

“Catarina, please, tell us before we go to bed at night,” I said.

“I forgot!” she said.

“Fair enough,” I said. “Fair enough.”

“I was kinda drunk,” she said.

“Just try to remember,” I said.

“She was very drunk,” Brook said.

“Fine,” Catarina said.

We discussed how much magic Argie could yet cast that day.

“Do you have anything non-spelly you could use?” Catarina said.

“What?” Argie said. “Do you realize who I am?”

“She doesn’t even carry bandages,” I said.

“I … don’t need to,” Argie said. “Let me try something else.”

She cast another healing spell of more power on her, completely healing her wounds. I again asked Catarina to remember to heal up at night. She said we’d try.

We returned to the goblin throne room. Nothing had changed and we made our way back to the door hidden behind the throne.

“Lead on, Catarina,” I said.

“All right,” she said.

Then I remembered Catarina only had one way of opening doors: smashing them.

“Lead on, Brook,” I said.

A long spiral staircase went downward for a long time. Lit torches with blue flames, obviously magical, lit the entire way. They were permanently affixed to the wall. Catarina looked at them, contemplating, and I bid her not to damage them as the kobolds would want them. It took us 10 minutes to get to the bottom, being careful and looking for traps the entire way. There were none.

We got to the bottom of the stairs. A long hallway led away from it. A door stood at the end of it, the hallway otherwise featureless. The stone of the hall was hewn from the solid rock.

Brook led us down the corridor to the door. She examined it for traps but found none. She found a few tracks due to the moss being slightly more worn towards the center of the corridor than near the edges. Someone had been there before us.

Brook carefully opened the door. The area beyond was surprisingly well-lit but cold. The light was cold and steady, unnatural, and blue. It emanated from the hole in the ceiling from the goblin throne room. The ceiling of the great chamber was domed and obviously nearly a hundred feet high. A single beam of light came down the center, casting its light on a tree in the middle of the room. It was 100 yards to the other side of the room.

The tree was full and beautiful, having been groomed and pruned with the hands of an artist. At the end of every branch were massive, beautiful, alabaster white apples. The thing should not have been able to survive in the place with the lack of light and warmth. The tree was unlike any tree I’d ever seen or read about in my life.

Brook, staring ahead with hawk eyes, saw three shapes crouching near the tree, relaying that to us.

“This is too scary,” I said loudly.

I pulled the door closed.

We discussed what to do, Brook suggesting a silence spell while I pointed out I could light up the area around the tree with magic. Catarina said she had a bad idea: she would go in and punch things while the rest of us snuck. Argie pointed out they could be stronger than her and she could die. She seemed perplexed by that sentence. We decided to head and I warned them not to get too close to the tree as it was not natural. We doused our lights.

When we opened the door again, the three huddled figures were standing by the tree. We all approached and then I cast dancing lights, forming four lights all around them once I was within about 90 feet. The four lights appeared near the tree.

The figure in the middle wore a brown cloak, his face obscured by the shadows of the hood. The one on the right wore nothing on her head and was a female elf with purple skin. She held a staff in her hand and wore black robes. The one on the left had black armor and a helmet. He had a nasty-looking sword.

“Who has intruded on the Sunless Citadel?” a booming voice echoed across the room.

“How you doing!” Catarina said. “I’m Catarina.”

I moved off to the right away from her.

The man with the brown cloak turned from us and faced the tree.

“Silence!” I yelled to Argie.

Brook had disappeared into the darkness to the our left and I heard Argie casting her silence spell. I cast a pair of magic missiles at the drow wizardress and then continued moving around to the right, flanking as best I could. Catarina came out of the darkness, rushing the drow, and punched her in the face. I thought I saw Brook near the edge of the darkness.

The drow swung her staff and aimed it at Brook. Three magic missiles flew out of the staff, swirling around each other and then striking the ranger. Then the armored knight moved at Catarina and swung that evil sword.

“Bring it!” Catarina yelled.

He slashed at her but it didn’t injure her very much.

Argie finished her silence spell and the combat near the tree suddenly went dead silent as it took effect. I cast another pair of magic missiles, this time firing them at the man in the cloak standing next to the tree and touching it with both hands. It looked like the missiles went through the man but then hit the tree. He flinched when they actually struck. I continued to flank around the side of the tree, moving closer to about 60 feet away.

Catarina punched the drow wizardress in the face again, continuing the blow into the paladin, but only struck his armor. The drow fell backwards and crashed to the ground in a crumpled heap. Catarina turned and focused on the paladin. Brook rushed the paladin and tried to slash him with her sword, the blade turned aside by his armor. The paladin looked down at Catarina and then stabbed her again.

Argie moved to the edge of the light from my spell as I cast detect magic, looking for the man I assumed was moving around, as I thought, at the time, it was an illusion of him was standing by the tree. The tree glowed in a strange magic and I saw no one else around me. It felt like something was coming.

“Argie!” I called. “Is the tree evil?”

I moved to within 30 feet of the tree but made sure to stay in its shadow from my dancing lights.

Catarina rushed the paladin and grappled him, knocking him down. Brook stood over them and, after being indecisive for a moment, stabbed the tree. The man near the tree, who I assumed was Belak, looked at her. The paladin tried to break free. Then I heard Argie cast a hold person spell and the paladin stopped moving altogether.

I moved up to about 15 feet from the tree and cast a burning hands spell on it. The tree caught fire and I found myself exposed in the light of the flames. I saw Belak wailing and screaming as he fled out of the silenced area and ran in circles nearby.

Catarina tied up the paladin. Brook stabbed the tree again. Belak screamed again. Argie cast a spell to detect evil. I later learned she had seen the tree was evil but the paladin had evil on the surface, but there was a faint glow, not of evil, within. The drow woman wasn’t evil either, except on the surface. Belak was evil.

“Tree, Belak: evil,” she said. “The others are not.”

I noticed a strange magical tether, invisible were it not for my spell, connecting Belak and the tree.

I moved around the tree about 90 degrees and cast another burning hands spell, blasting that side of the tree. Belak stopped, gasped, and fell over with a crash. Catarina grabbed the man in armor and the drow wizardress, pulling them away from the tree, whistling without making any noise.

“See if he’s alive!” I called, pointing at Belak.

Brook kicked the sword into the burning flames and flinched. I cast another burning hands on the tree. The tree was blazing and the smoke was being drawn up the hole in the ceiling. I went to check on Belak and found him dead. I asked Brook to drag him towards the door as well. Then I sent the dancing lights around the room to find everyone. I got the staff as well.

Argie told us Belak was evil, as was the tree, but both auras were fading as the tree burned and Belak was dead. We moved back to the door to the place and, after some five minutes, the tree was destroyed. Argie told us the evil auras on the drow and the paladin were overwhelmed and disappeared.

“So, I was right,” she said. “They were being possessed the entire time.”

I cast a detect magic on each of them but found no magic upon either of the two prisoners.

“I’m glad we didn’t actually kill them,” Argie said.

I pulled off the paladin’s helmet and found his face blue. Katarina was sitting on him.

“Get off of him!” I said to Catarina. “If it weren’t for the armor, he would be dead!”

“I ain’t that … okay, I am that heavy,” she said.

The man gasped and the color came back into his face.

“In the name of all that is holy, where am I?” he shouted.

“In the most unholy place you don’t want to be, sir,” Argie said.

“You ever heard of a sword called ‘Unfettered’, sometimes known as ‘Shatterspike?’” I asked.

“No, I have no memory of that sword,” the man said. “The last thing I remember is eating an apple.”

“What color was it?”

“It was red.”

“So, the apples of life aren’t the ‘of life,’” Brook said. “They put them under control of Belak.”

“Oh,” Argie said.

“What is your name?” I asked the man.

“I am the great Sir Braford,” he said.

“Oh,” I said.

“Want some pear?” Catarina asked him.

She cut off a hunk with her dagger and held it out to him.

“I don’t think he wants a pear,” Brook said. “It’s fine.”

“Who gave you this apple?” I asked.

Argie had moved to me.

“We better keep him away from the kobolds,” she whispered in my ear. “He’s a paladin.”

“Well, in the capital city of all humanity, far to the south, there came a trader,” he said. “He was a grand cleric and he was bringing these apples that could cure anything. At the time, I had just returned from fighting a dragon and my leg was missing. It had been eaten off. The apple seller said that this would heal it. I said ‘I’ve tried everything else and our clerics couldn’t do anything and all of the paladin order couldn’t.’”

“Would you happen to have an extra apple?” Argie interrupted.

“No,” Sir Braford said. “And so I ate it and that’s all I remember. It worked but … where in all hell’s am I?”

“Wake her up,” I said to Argie.

I pointed at the drow.

“Wake this woman up,” I said. “You say she’s not evil?”

“Who is this?” Sir Braford said.

“The drow?”

“And why am I wearing this!?!”

“Wearing what?”

“This … cursed-looking armor! This doesn’t go with the gold of my order!”

“All right, calm down. We’ve rescued you from being ensorcelled from some kind of druid for … what was the last date that you remember? What was the date that this happened?”

The last date he remembered was two years before. I told him the present day and year. He believed me and I told him where we were located.

“That far north?” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “You can probably untie him.”

We untied Sir Braford. Argie cast a cure minor wounds spell on the girl. She coughed and woke up.

“‘Ello love,” Catarina said.

“When did you eat the apple?” I asked the girl.

“Apple?” she said. “Apple. Oh! The white ones!”

“White?” Catarina said.

“You ate a white apple?” Argie said.

“You ate a white apple?” I said.

“Uh-huh,” the drow said.

“Did somebody give that to her?” Argie asked.

“Why?” I asked.

“Yes, I ate a white apple,” the drow said.

“Why?” I asked.

“It was … what is the year?” she said.

I told her the day and year.

“Five years ago,” she said.

“Five years ago,” I said. “So, all these apples ensorcell people,” I said.

I explained to her how the apples took people’s minds and made them the slaves of Belak. She looked herself over and noted a bracelet on her wrist.

“That’s my mother’s,” she said. “They only would have given me that if I’d died.”

“Wait …” I said.

“So the apple gives the appearance of death,” Brook said.

“But then you go back and dig up the corpse which isn’t really dead and, now, you’re mind controlled,” I said.

“Yes,” Brook said.

“Zombie!” Catarina cried out.

“Now now,” Argie said.

I asked the drow where she was from and she told me she was from the capital of the drow. Not as far away where Sir Braford was from but far away to the west nonetheless. I explained to her what happened. She leapt up from the floor and paced angrily back and forth spouting the names of the people who probably wanted her dead. I handed her the staff.

“Why are you giving me this?” she said. “This isn’t mine.”

“Oh, you’re right,” I said. “I’m sorry. My mistake.”

“Want a bit o’ pear?” Catarina said.

“Yes!” the drow said.

She got a slice of pear and ate it.

“Do you have your spell book?” I asked. “Are you a wizard?”

“I am a sorceress,” she said.

I frowned in disappointment. She would be no good to trade spells with. She seemed very flustered.

“Where am I?” I said.

I told her where we were located.

“Where the hell is that?” she said.

I told her the relative location, noting other geographical features, countries, and cities.

“You are kidding!” she said.

“Yeah, it’s been five years,” I said. “These apples are apparently … why did you eat a white apple? What did they tell you?”

“They told me it would finally help me sleep,” she said.

“Well, it did,” Catarina quipped.

“Technically,” Brook said.

“Yeah,” Argie said.

“Bet you don’t fell well-rested,” I said. “Well, there’s the tree they come from.”

I pointed out the door at the blazing trees.

“So, it controlled me?” the drow said.

“Yes,” Brook said.

“For five years,” Argie said.

“Technically, it half-killed ya and then a druid controlled ya,” Catarina said.

“We think they made you─” I started to say.

“But don’t worry. He’s that little pile of fire right there.”

“No, he’s not. His body’s right here.”

“Don’t worry, he’s dead.”

“We think that the white apples─”

“I mean, it doesn’t help that you’re kind of just a bunch of xenophobic spider-worshipping nutbags.”

“We think that the white apples made you look dead and that the person who gave it to you dug you up afterwards because, at some point, the death wore off and you became controlled by them or at least became very evil.”

“I’m going home,” the drow said. “How do I get out of here?”

“We’ll take you home,” Brook said.

“We’ll escort you out and we’ll take you back to Oakhurst and we will─” I said.

“I don’t want to but you’re the only option I have,” she said.

“─get you some money,” I pressed on, more and more annoyed at being constantly interrupted. “So that you will─”

“We’ll take you to the road and point you south,” Catarina interrupted.

“We’re going to give you some money so that you can find your way home,” I said.

“Very gracious of you,” the drow said.

“Well, there’s someone who actually … owes you,” I said.

“You screamed less than this one,” Catarina said, indicating Sir Braford.

“Oh, please don’t tell me I was a prostitute while I was away,” the drow said.

“Not as far as we know,” Catarina said.

“I don’t believe that was the case,” Argie said.

“I’m not sure what you were doing,” I said.

“In Oakhurst you weren’t,” Brook said.

“Well, you said somebody owed me money!” the drow said.

“No no no no no,” I said. “It’s just that there’s another person complicit with these crimes and … he will be heavily fined. I can’t believe no one has complained about the apples not working like they’re supposed to.”

“It seems like they do,” Brook said.

We discussed the fact. At first I was surprised no one had returned to complain about the apples of death not killing people but then realized, those who “died” by the apple were probably buried and then woke up later, buried alive. I noted I wanted to look around down there and look for red apples in the hopes of giving one to Dolf.

Sir Braford asked if there was an armor smith nearby and we assured him there was. I told him I would make sure the new armor would be financed. We had him keep on the armor he wore in the hopes of using it to help pay for his new armor.

We made a quick search of the room for any stored apples and found a small bag. Within were both white and red apples. As soon as we touched any of them, they turned to ash. Catarina picked up the bag, just in case. She wondered if they would stay apples if they were not touched. I checked the seeds and found they were still there.

We left the Sunless Citadel and the ravine, leaving the chain down this time. Catarina found that she could touch the apples outside of the citadel. She chucked the white apples into the ravine, where they turned to ash, and found she had three red apples still.

We returned to Oakhurst. There, we talked to the mayor in the jail. He was pounding on the door and remembered only that he was the mayor. He had been influenced and controlled by the apples as well. All he remembered was selling apples and little else. I told him everything but he remembered nothing of Belak. He was horrified by what he heard. When Catarina brought up the many male prostitutes he had been involved with, he wasn’t fazed by it and even seemed somewhat happy he at least lived it up while he was controlled.

When I asked if he was willing to give up all the money, he told me all he desired was enough to leave without being shamed. In the end, knowing he’d been controlled for 20 years, we gave him gold and gems enough to make him wealthy for life or at least see him on his way to wherever he might want to go. We told the townsfolk what was going on and they were saddened by what had happened to him, waving good-bye to him as he went on his way.

We also gave the drow gold and gemstones enough to make her rich and certainly get her back home. She was overjoyed and surprised by that. I learned her name was Sharwyn. She seemed unable to believe that we were helping her at all. She surprised me by, rather than asking for the direction to the drow capitol, she wanted to know the direction to the nearest large city. I told her the way to Starfall, noting I had lived there and mentioning the Magical University to her. She headed in that direction. I waved her off and told her I hoped to see her again. Argie had made sure the heal her completely.

We took Sir Braford to Hercule to make armor. Sir Braford gave the dwarf the black plate he was wearing. Hercule loved it and added it to his collection in the back. Then Hercule got to work making him some new armor, fit for a paladin. He also gave Catarina two brass knuckles, some kind of deal they had made before.

Dolf was given one of the red apples and he bit it. His tongue grew back and we checked him for magic and evil. The remaining apples apparently were exactly what they had originally been advertised as.

Once he was ready to leave town, some days later, we gave Sir Braford money and gems to get him home. He asked how long it would be able to take him to walk back to his home. It was some two months but I pointed out the airship, which might help him on his way. We discussed his getting passage from the airship, at least to Starfall, and then possibly getting passage on other ships back to his home in the far south. He decided to wait in town for the owners of the airship to return.

Brook was of the opinion of taking two chests for the party and we discussed distributing the wealth. I searched the gemstones for rubies as I needed ruby dust. I noted I could make continual flames with ruby dust and the others were fine with that.

We elected to give the bulk of the gold and gems to the villagers. Some of them wanted to leave but I talked to them and noted they could trade with the kobolds in the Sunless Citadel to make repairs on the place. Some of them left, but they headed north to the mountains there. Apparently there was an ancient dwarven citadel in that direction.

Hercule was staying and they started to cast lots to see who was to be the next mayor. Hercule was running for the seat and Brook campaigned for him. Catarina campaigned for someone running against him. He won, of course.

I returned to the rift and told the kobolds all that happened.

Merchants started to show up to buy the apples and were turned away, incredibly angry. Some of them had apparently built their lives on the apple trade. I made sure to tell each of them their lives had been a lie and their apples cursed, everyone who ate them and died having come back to life, probably in their graves, and the mind control that applied to everyone who ate an apple. I told them to spread the word to destroy the white apples. The merchants were astounded and all left in turn.

It was a week before the airship adventurers returned from the north. They were surprised by the changes in the town. They had a new member, a very short and well-dressed goblin. It was Gurgle. He looked very happy.

I asked Gurgle what happened and learned the goblins had moved into the ancient dwarven stronghold. I asked him for a map so that I could go visit them and educate them. I told him I would go as soon as I could get away from Oakhurst.

“You know, those goblins told pretty amazing stories about you,” Marcus said.

“How amazing?” Brook said with a smile at the man.

“They said you helped them get a new home,” Marcus said.

“Yes, I’m going up to see them about economics and trading with nearby villages,” I said.

“That is phenomenal. We’ll wait here and, when you come back, we’ll take you back to Starfall.”

“There’s a gentleman who needs a ride to Starfall.”

“Really?”

“I think he’s in the inn right now. Yes. It’s a paladin.”

“Yeah, it’s a long story,” Catarina said. “Lost two years of his life, from the human capitol, paladin, ate an apple.”

The undine cleric in the party looked at Marcus.

“I told you those apples were bad!” she said.

“You were right,” Catarina said.

“Some of them,” Argie said.

I asked them about a box that could negate magic. When Marcus asked me what kind, I held out my arms, indicating a box about four feet long by two feet wide by a foot deep or so. I wanted something that would hide and contain the magic of whatever was placed within it. He told me there were things like that in Starfall and I commissioned him to bring one back to Oakhurst, telling him I’d pay him a fair price.

I left for the new goblin town in the mountains to the north and advised them for a week or so on how money worked, how economics worked, and how they could possibly thrive. I also contacted a few nearby villages and arranged for them to meet the goblins to begin trade with them. I later learned that Brook had seduced Marcus before he had left on my little errand. When I returned to Oakhurst, I took the magical box Marcus had brought back and then borrowed pincers from Hercule.

I returned to the Sunless Citadel and talked to the kobolds. They had cleaned most of the citadel already and were hard at work restoring the citadel to its former glory. Then I went down to where the tree had once stood and sifted through the ashes with the pincers. I found the sword, used the pincers to put it in the box, and then closed it up. I returned to Oakhurst to get the opinion of the airship adventurers. Brook had convinced them to stay a little while in Oakhurst, mostly convincing Marcus.

“Where did you get this?” Marcus asked.

“The paladin that you took back to Starfall,” I said. “It was given to him, apparently.”

“And he doesn’t have any memory of it, does he?”

“No. The apples don’t allow you to remember anything.”

“How convenient.”

“Why?”

“There’s only nine swords like this.”

“Eight others.”

“Good math,” Brook quipped.

“Give me your hand,” I said.

“No,” Brook said.

Argie shook her head. Catarina smacked Brook in the back of the head.

“These things are incredibly powerful,” Marcus said.

“And this one is evil, apparently,” I said.

“Are you sure about that?” Catarina asked Marcus. “Cause it only tickled a little bit when it hit me.”

I asked Argie to detect evil on the thing and she said it was very evil.

“There’s only nine swords like this,” Marcus said again. “They say that if you actually touch this, it talks to you and it makes you like it.”

I laughed nervously.

“That’s why I haven’t touched it,” I said.

Catarina’s fingers crawled slowly towards the sword. I closed and latched the box.

“This is … this needs to be very … this needs to be hidden,” Marcus said.

“Okay, we’ll do that,” Brook said.

“Not that the other swords need to be, but this definitely does,” Marcus said.

“We’ll take it to Starfall,” Brook said. “That’s the biggest city.”

“Can it be destroyed?” I asked.

“No,” Marcus said. “No. The Nine cannot be destroyed.”

“Well, that’s why I wanted this box, so I guess it’s mine now,” I said.

“For now,” Argie said.

“All right,” Brook said.

“What are you going to do with it?” Catarina said.

“What are you going to do with it?” Marcus asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“I don’t like the tone of voice you just used with that,” Brook said.

“Probably donate it to the University of Magic,” I said.

“I would recommend donating to whatever university of magic you dislike the most,” Marcus said.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I know the professors. They’ll probably put it in the museum. There’s all kinds of weird magic item in the museum. Don’t touch.”

“That’s worse,” Marcus said. “Because whoever owns this will eventually be attacked and lose it to someone.”

“Not of no one knows about it.”

“Wars have been fought over things like this.”

“The only ones that know about it are the five of us right now. So, don’t tell anyone.”

“Why the **** do you look at me when you say that!?!” Catarina said. “I mean, you’re right, but still!”

“These things can’t even be taken to other dimensions,” Marcus said. “They refuse to go through doors. Or I’d offer to take it somewhere else.”

“Through dimensions?” I said. “What?”

“Other worlds,” he said. “Other planes.”

“Oh,” I said. “I will keep it safe. As safe as I can. That’s why I commissioned this box. It can’t be detected because of the anti-magic around it.”

We made plans to talk to some of my former professors about hiding it away, possibly. Catarina was for hiding it in the Sunless Citadel but I noted it would be found by someone. I figured the University was a better option.

“It’s will will be done eventually,” Marcus said.

“Yes,” I said.

“The most you can do by putting it in the biggest vault is delay it by a couple hundred years. Eventually it will call to someone to come get it.”

“But not in this box.”

I figured it was safe enough for the moment, muted and hidden for the time being. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1989-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-6-An-End-to-It
Pathfinder - The Sunless Citadel 5 - A Giant Rat and New Arrivals http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1987-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-5-A-Giant-Rat-and-New-Arrivals Wed, 06 Dec 2017 22:17:13 GMT Tuesday, December 5, 2017 (After Jacob Marcus ran his *Pathfinder* game “The Sunless Citadel” with Victoria Larson, Katelyn Hogan, and me Monday,... Tuesday, December 5, 2017

(After Jacob Marcus ran his Pathfinder game “The Sunless Citadel” with Victoria Larson, Katelyn Hogan, and me Monday, November 13 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.)

Iago’s Memoirs

I suggested sending Brooke back to town with all the loot and figured we should all go back as well as I was about out of magic and we’d explored as far as we could that day. I noted there was the room with the pit near the fountain of death that we had not yet examined, however. Catarina was unsure of where that was and I pointed it out on the map. Argie seemed content with whatever we chose to do.

We returned to the tower and then back towards goblin town, passing through the room with the dry fountain and through the dungeon. We finally arrived in the room with the fountain of death, so-called due to the inscription upon it in draconic. The pit in front of the room had been opened and the door was closed to the room.

Catarina cracked her neck and her knuckles.

“I really hope this door ain’t that tough,” she said.

She ran at the door from across the room, leaping over the open pit with a scream and smashing through. The room on the other side was a den with assorted, gathered shining things all woven together with twigs, moss, and feces, obviously amassed over the course of decades by the occupants. The stench of rotting meat filled the air from the chewed carcasses of cave rats, smaller vermin, and some suspiciously humanoid bodies. The cadavers lay upon a floor of filth, old bones, hair, and fur that combined to make a particularly large and vile nest. The northern wall was smashed, opening on rubble-strewn darkness. On the far end of the room was a rat larger than all four of us.

“Dibs!” Catarina yelled as she rushed it.

She charged across the room towards the huge rat as smaller rats moved in on her, fangs snapping. She punched the huge rat. It screamed in pain and Argie flung a bolt of fire from her hand, burning one of the smaller rats to death. The great rat tore at Catarina with its claws. She pushed on its face, holding it back.

“No,” she said.

I drew my crossbow and loaded it. The other rats flanked Catarina and attacked her. One of them nearly bit her.

“Better luck next time, bro,” Catarina said to the rat. “If there’s a next time.”

“I think she’s under the apprehension that rats understand her,” I said to Argie.

“Maybe she speaks rat,” Argie said.

I doubted it.

Catarina turned and punched one of the smaller rats, knocking it against the wall. It crashed with a squeal as she turned to punch the other smaller rat, killing it as well.

“You don’t have to help me,” she called. “I’m good.”

Argie rolled her eyes and settled for watching, as did I. I aimed my crossbow into the room, ready to shoot at the big rat should Catarina fall. The large rat, the last left, attacked the woman but didn’t injure her. Catarina punched the rat again and seemed to anger it. It moved around her towards the two of us but Catarina struck the thing as it moved by and it stopped just the other side of the pit from us, teeth bared.

I shot the giant rat, barely injuring it. I backed up to the other side of the room.

“Get back here!” Catarina screamed.

She charged the rat and shoved it into the open pit. As it fell, the rat screeched once and then stopped moving.

“****,” Catarina said. “I wanted to punch it again.”

“It’s right there,” I said. “Punch it.”

Argie crossed the pit, walking over the back of the rat. I waited in the fountain room while they searched. Argie found a corpse of a man buried under detritus. It wore a black cloak and next to it were six daggers. There was also a bow that was taller than the man used to be, two quivers, and a small sack. Argie found no evil on the items and brought everything out of the room. Catarina found a good deal of coins and small gems.

The cloak was very high-quality and I told them I would be able to tell if it was magical on the morrow. Catarina picked it up and shook it off. We guessed the bow was the one that the villagers had described one of the evil adventurers who had entered the place had used. I pointed it out to the others and reminded them no one could remember what he looked like. Both matched the description of the man.

“You want to hand me that bow?” Catarina said. “All I’ve got it this.”

Argie handed off the massive bow and Catarina used the bow and the cloak to make a pack on a stick. Argie urged her to be careful with the bow.

“It’s been gnawed on by rats,” Catarina said. “What’m I gonna do with it?”

“Has it?” I asked, taking the bow.

The weapon was in incredible condition. The curve of the bow was steel that had been polished. The back curve of the bow was beautifully varnished wood.

“It might be magical,” I said. “Do you know how to use a bow?”

Catarina took it back for her stick and sack. I asked her to be careful with it. She pulled it back as far as it could go without much effort. I again told her it might be magical and asked her to try not to damage it. I noted the cloak might be magical as well.

Argie handed me three daggers that were very well made. I put them onto my belt. Two of them were curved.

We decided to head back to Oakhurst. As we walked, I told Argie she needed to find out from the mayor when the apple exchange was to take place.

“Why me?” she asked. “Aren’t you the connoisseur of friends?”

“I don’t want to talk to him,” I said.

“You’re the sweet talker with the silver tongue in our group.”

“We’ll see.”

Catarina was still fiddling with the bow and, at one point, bit it to see if it was real steel.

“We’re going to have to put her in a cage,” Argie whispered to me.

We returned to the chain, climbed out of the ravine, and pulled the chain up after us. We walked back to town, arriving before dark. Gurgle told me, on the way, the giant rat was a legend to his people and they avoided those tunnels due to it. Catarina boasted of killing the goblin boogeyman.

As we arrived in town, we saw there were two merchant caravan wagons there already.

Brook was at the inn, counting the coins she’d gotten from the dragon room. I suggested she take the coins up to her room to count them. Then we divided up the coins we found in the room with the rat. I had Dem change out the loose change of copper and silver for gold coins and paid him a gold coin for his troubles. I also further examined the cloak and found it very well-used but in good condition. I told Catarina it might be magical and asked if she wanted me to hold onto it until I found out. She was fine with that. I also took the bow and arrows and daggers to check them for magic the next day. I took the items up to my room and locked them in the chest there

Argie found a cure light wounds potion in the satchel as well. She offered it to me but I offered it to Catarina. She would waste it soon enough.

As we sat at the booth, a commotion came from outside of a wagon pulling up and people yelling. It died out briefly and a few moments passed. Then a man entered the room. I suppose some would call him grandiose though he was not particularly tall, only being about five feet in height. He had blonde hair that flowed down his back and he wore a large and illustrious, gold-encrusted cloak and carried a small, pointless cane. Argie glared at the man.

“Dem! Nackle!” the pompous man called out. “It is that time of year again, is it not?”

“Dem! Nackle!” Catarina called out. “There’s a prissy ****er screaming louder than me!”

“You … have no right to call me that!” the pompous fool said.

Argie giggled.

“You have no idea what adventures I have been on,” the pompous merchant went on. “The things I have sold and the women I have bed.”

“You bed women!?!” Catarina said. “I’m impressed.”

“More women than you have bed men!”

“I never said I bedded men. Also, love … goats don’t count, even if they are women.”

Argie burst out in laughter once again and I joined her.

“I’m sure whatever your twisted, animalistic desires, I have surpassed you in that regard,” the man said.

“That means he’s had sex with more …” I muttered.

The man took a seat at the table and pounded on it with his cane.

“Did he just admit to being a goat ****er?” Catarina said to Argie and myself.

“Indeed, he did,” I said. “The common tongue is quite simple.”

I explained exactly what the man had said. Catarina just nodded.

“Let the man have his pride,” I ended. “Not everyone can have sex with many, many goats.”

Catarina and Argie laughed.

Nackle brought the man a mug and gave the man a hug as she jumped onto the table. He was obviously a familiar face.

“They just love his money,” I muttered.

The man put a small satchel of gold coins on the table. Nackle took it and disappeared into the kitchen again.

“The usual?” she said before departing.

“Absolutely,” the pompous man said. “Always.”

She returned with a glass of wine and a meal.

“Goat meat,” I said to those at the booth.

Catarina laughed again.

The man had withdrawn into his meal and didn’t pay any more attention to us. Over the course of the rest of the evening, other new faces trickled in and took places around him and his table. I guessed they were his entourage. I also guessed he was very rich, as were his friends. There were about six others with him. They laughed like old friends. He was the only man, however. There was an orc, a drow, a dwarf, an elf, a cat-folk, and some other creature in a heavy cloak.

“Hey, Iago?” Catarina said.

“Hm?” I said.

“Wanna help me earn some money from pansy ****?”

“What?”

“Wanna help me get some money off pansy ****?”

“I have plenty of money.”

“Ah, but don’t you want more, though? I just need your help backing me up to start a fight.”

“Oh, that’s all right. No no. I’m sure that you’re much better at this than I.”

“No.”

“Argie is very good at picking fights.”

“Have you seen my face?” Argie said. “Most people don’t talk to me.”

“I need you to make it look like me being in a fight would be the worst thing I could ever choose,” Catarina said.

“Had I been one of you …” Argie said.

“Because I’m an overblown moron who just happens to be big,” Catarina went on. “But who can’t actually hit.”

“How would I do this?” I asked.

“I dunno. You’re the smart one. I just punch people.”

“She wants you to get her into a fight,” Argie said.

I sighed.

“Something like a … an arena?” Argie went on. “Not an arena.”

“So, my dear, those lovely spiked things that you bought at the … at the … shopping district in Starfall … they really do make you look very tough,” I said loudly. “It’s very good that the magic helps your features as well. I … I think it’s been very good for you. Even the fake blood. Lovely touch.”

“Lower,” Catarina said.

“Oh … my voice does tend to carry. I’m sorry.”

“You’re ruining my fun. I do not appreciate your speaking so loudly about all this.”

My mouth dropped open as her usual boorish accent was gone, replaced by a refined voice.

“I do not appreciate you speaking so loudly of this,” she continued. “It is supposed to be secret. We discussed this.”

“Oh, no one’s paying attention,” I said loudly. “No one’s paying attention. The inn is full of people.”

“My father’s not paying for you to blow my cover, you moron.”

“Hm. You’re father’s not paying me much at all, so …”

“Shut. Up.”

“Shall I prepare your room? I know you like the flowers.”

“Thank you, Iago.”

I stood, bowed, and walked away, going up upstairs.

* * *

I later learned the merchant turned and looked at Catarina as if scanning her. She ignored him, waving for another ale.

* * *

I returned after 15 minutes.

“If you have no more need of me, m’lady … I mean … tough woman,” I said. “Isn’t that your name? Isn’t that the name you wanted? Tough woman?”

“I need to borrow nine gold from you,” Catarina said quietly to me.

I sat down and lowered my voice.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I need some collateral just in case,” she said quietly. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll pay you back.”

I surreptitiously counted out nine gold coins and slid them to her under the table. She also borrowed nine gold coins from Argie.

“Are you done with me for the evening?” I asked again.

“Go the **** to sleep,” Catarina said.

“Yes,” I said. “By your command.”

“Moron,” she muttered.

I grabbed Gurgle by the collar and took him up to our rooms. I left him at his own and went to my room to study my spell book.

* * *

After I left, I later learned Catarina figured the orc she was ready to challenge had enough to drink. That was also about the time Gurgle crept back downstairs in the hopes of seeing a fight. Catarina drank more beer.

Catarina stood up, muttered something about going to smoke, and wandered towards the door, pretending to waver on her feet. She headed for the door but, right before she passed the orc’s chair, she pretended to trip and fall, grabbing chair next to the orc’s chair. That was the chair of the cat-folk who was sitting upon it cross-legged.

“****!” Catarina cried out as she fell.

The cat-folk jumped off the chair, landing deftly on his feet and stared down at Catarina.

“**** bro,” she said. “I’m sorry, this big, stupid **** has his chair out too far.”

“That ‘big stupid ****’ has a name,” the cat-folk said.

“Aside from ‘Big stupid **** with the chair out too far?’” Catarina said.

She swayed and turned to the orc.

“What the ****’s wrong with you?” she said. “Have your chair out in the middle of the god-damned hall.”

The orc turned around and looked at down at her. He pumped his eyebrows and then turned back to his drink.

The cat-folk frowned. He dropped into a wind stance.

“I don’t know if you know who you have just picked a fight with,” he said in a deep voice.

“****, I ain’t gonna fight you in this bar!” Catarina said. “I like these tavern owners. I bet you and your friends 20 gold apiece that I could kick your ass outside.”

“That … ma’am … is a bet I will take,” the cat-folk said.

He turned his back to her and left through the front door.

“****,” Catarina said loud enough for everyone at the tablet to hear. “I’m in another fight.”

The other men put the gold on the table and then all went out to spectate. Catarina made a big show out of counting money out to match the coin. Then she stumbled outside to fight. Argie and Gurgle followed.

The cat-folk was tiny, only three-and-a-half feet tall. He wore only monk’s robes. He had a very calm expression on his face.

“Gurgle, whether you like kobolds or not, stay next to me,” Argie said. “Now watch close, Gurgle: Here’s how you pick who not to fight.”

Catarina held up her hands in fists, waiting for the cat-folk. He waited for her.

“What are you planning?” the cat-folk said. “Are you going to hit me or am I going to have to hit you first?”

Catarina stumbled a half step to the side and just looked at him.

“Huh?” she said.

The cat-folk walked up to her. He struck her several times open-palmed, punching her between the spikes on her chest twice. He struck her another time but didn’t harm her. Then he struck her again and again. All before she could react.

She cracked her neck twice.

“Oh, this is going to be more fun than I thought,” she said.

The cat-folk smiled.

“Give me five seconds, bro,” she said.

She drank down the cure light wounds potion we’d given her earlier that night.

I had heard the punches from my room above, each like a cracking whip in the night air. I shrugged and went back to reading my spell book.

Below, the cat-folk waited for Catarina to fight back. Instead of hitting the little fellow, she lunged at him to grapple him and wrapped herself around him. The orc let out a cheer. The cat-folk struggled to escape unsuccessfully. She punched him in the face and they both grinned. He tried to escape again and she pinned him solidly. Then she punched him in the face again and again.

“Do you have any idea how boring the monk academy is?” he said.

“Do you have any idea how boring it is killing everything with one punch?” she said. “Rats and goblins go down in no time at all.”

He tried to break free and she punched him in the face again. Then he broke free, twitching his claws and touching her in a spot that tickled her. She laughed and let go, standing up.

“I owe ya a drink when I wake up,” she said.

He laid into her again and again and again and again and again. She finally fell. Then he staggered backwards, finally displaying the level of pain he was in.

“That was ****ing awesome!” she said.

The cat-folk sat down heavily. Then the inhuman woman walked to them and healed each of them completely.

“Vow of poverty,” the cat-folk said. “You can keep your money.”

“I’m buying you the whole tavern, bro,” she said.

“My name is Rijin,” the cat-folk said.

“My name is Catarina Russianolska,” she said.

They shook hands.

“I owe you a drink, bro,” she said. “That was the best fun I’ve had in months.”

“I have to say the same to you,” he said.

He led her into the taproom once again. All of the money was returned and she spent the night with them, drinking and talking. In addition to Rijin, she met Crow the Orc, Marcus the merchant, Mal the drow, Artemis the Undyne, and John the elf. Gurgle joined as well and they seemed to enjoy his company.

* * *

Day nine in Oakhurst dawned bright and clear, as usual. The bellows came on to warm my room and I checked the items for magic. Only the cloak proved to have any magic which was illusionary in nature. I found it was unique. It didn’t have a specific spell upon it, but when the hood was pulled up, no one would be able to make out any distinctive features of the wearer’s face. They could look at the face but the cloak would affect their mind and they would not be able to identify it.

I went down to breakfast, put the cloak on the table, and told the others what it did.

“Really?” Catarina said.

She put the cloak over her shoulders and put the hood up to mask herself. I handed over the rest of the gear as well. I told them I’d put the rest back in my room and we’d see if Brook wanted any of the items. Otherwise we sell it all. I took the gear away and returned to finish my breakfast.

I suggested we could go back and finish dealing with the goblins, see the kobolds, or finish searching the areas of the map. Catarina said she merely followed us around because we found things she could punch. I pointed out we’d be going back to punch things. She wanted to bring someone named “Rijin” along. I was not familiar with him so she told me about the fight the night before.

“What are they doing here?” I asked. “Did you find that out?”

“Nope, no idea,” she said.

“Well, you’re friends with them. Can you find that out? Are they here for the apples?”

“I might. What is with you and apples?”

“No one’s told you about the apples?”

She looked perplexed and I reminded her we were all there for the apples, of the apples of death in the winter and the apples of life in the summer. How the first was poison. How the second could heal and cure almost anything. The death apples were white and the life apples were red and perfect. I told them about the town trading with the goblins for the apples and then selling them for a great profit to merchants. I told her also about the magical, evil apple seed we planted and what it had turned into: a strange, wooden thing that had flung itself into the ravine and destroyed itself.

She suggested planting it down into the ravine. She suggested I cast a spell upon it but I told her of the magic I’d tried to use. I noted I could cast a spell so it wouldn’t be hurt when it fell. Argie wondered where we might get another seed. I guessed we might get another from Terry, who I got the first. I related that story as well. I noted he had a bag of the seeds.

“It’s up to Argie,” I said. “Argie wanted to destroy it. You said it was evil, you wanted it destroyed. I’m deferring to you.”

“I was worried it was going to hurt the townspeople, but it went right through so I guess it’s fine now,” she said.

She shrugged.

I noted if the seed was planted in the morning, it took all day to grow and then changed after it got dark. Catarina suggested planting one of them down in the ravine. I wondered about dirt in the bottom of the ravine. Catarina suggested throwing dirt down but Brook reminded us she could summon moss.

“Thank you for letting us know that, Brook,” I said.

Moss usually grew in poor growing conditions like excessive shade, low soil fertility or acidic soil content, poor drainage, compacted soil, or the like. Hardly a good growing environment.

She also noted the fire pit with the dead kobolds had been filled with ash and dirt. Catarina suggested a pot of soil but I said it would have to be a very large pot. I pointed out the plant was some three feet tall. Argie wanted to test it. Catarina reached under the table and lifted it. I picked up my wine, putting it back down when she put down the table.

“The pot won’t be a problem,” she said.

I noted we had to alert the kobolds in case it got away and I wondered if it would even grow underground. I also said we could grow it without the cage and see how large it got.

“Let’s go find Terry,” I said.

I described what Terry looked like and asked Catarina not to hurt him. I told her Terry wanted to sell us a seed originally for five gold pieces. I had told him I was willing to experiment with it and try to learn what happened to one of the other farmers who tried to grow a seed. He then tried to sell me the seed for 10 gold pieces. I dressed him down and he left, returning to give me the seed gratis. I admitted I was not even sure what that was about.

We found out Terry lived at the edge of town behind the constable’s house.

“He lives just past the jail,” I said.

“Yeah, I find out where the jail is in every town I go to,” she said.

“I’m sure,” I said.

We left the inn and noted an airship floating just behind the building. A few men meandered around on the top deck of the small ship slung under the massive gas bag. It was a graceful craft, a personal yacht, and the ship below looked like it was large enough to carry a dozen or so men or more. The name on the craft was Figment. Catarina claimed it was one she was familiar with from Starfall, owned by rich folk for transport instead of cargo.

“I’m sure they could carry plenty of apples,” I said.

She noted the Figment very rarely left the docks, being moored up for months at a time. When it left, it was often for even longer periods. I guessed it was filled with adventurers.

We continued on to Terry’s house where we found him sitting on the front porch. He looked nervous and started sucking on his gums.

“Can I help you?” he asked. “What can I do for you, masters? I hope you got what you needed from the seed.”

“Oh, yes, Terry,” I said. “We found some very interesting things from the seed, but we need more.”

“More?”

“We know what killed your friend, Terry.”

“The price has gone down. It’s only one gold now.”

“It was free last time. For the price to go down, you would have to pay us.”

That seemed to confuse him.

“Here, Terry,” I said. “Give me ten.”

I took out 10 gold coins and counted them out into his hand. He smiled and handed over the entire pouch of seeds. I guessed there were 20 or so seeds in there and realized Terry was probably a mental deficient.

“Oi,” Catarina said to the man.

“Hello,” Terry said.

“Can I see those?” she said, indicating the gold coins.

“Sure!” Terry said. “Why?”

“I just like looking at ‘em,” she said. “They’re pretty.”

“They are, aren’t they?” Terry said.

I watched very carefully as Catarina took the coins, holding half in each hand before handing back one handful to Terry, who probably couldn’t read or count.

“Thank you,” Terry said.

“You’re welcome!” Catarina said with a grin.

“They’re pretty, aren’t they?” Terry said.

“They’re very pretty,” Catarina said.

She walked back to me and put five gold coins in my hand. I handed the five coins back to Terry.

“Terry, this is for just being you,” I said.

“Well, thank you, sir,” he said.

“You’re welcome,” I said.

We walked down the street and I pulled out a seed for Catarina to look at. Argie looked at the seed distrustfully.

“They are extremely and intensely evil,” I said.

Catarina was thinking very deeply as she stared at the seed.

“Don’t eat it!” I said. “Apple seeds are poisonous anyway: normal ones are.”

I took the seed back and put it back into the bag. We were ready to head back to the ravine but Catarina insisted on looking for the other adventurers in town and inviting them along. We wasted some time finding the others’ rooms were empty and when we asked in the taproom, Dem noted they often disappeared, going off and doing things. He said they would come back.

Catarina left word on where we were going and what we were doing. We spent some time trying to decide what the tiny, evil spawn of the magical apple seeds were called. Many of the things Argie suggested were already taken: nymph, imp, and the like. We finally settled on Argie’s suggestion of “Splinter Imps.”

We went to the ravine, arriving around noon or a little before. We lowered the chain and then climbed down, Argie jumping down and floating down to the top of the stone pile. I was ready to cast feather fall, just in case something happened. She was fine.

We climbed down the steps and into the tower. Three large rats came at us there. The rats rushed forward and Argie drew her scimitar and cut one of the rats in half. Catarina punched one of them so hard it smashed to mush on the wall. I backed away. Argie cut down the last rat.

We headed on down the hall to the room we’d first found Meepo in. I prepared to plant the seed when the others reminded me we were going to alert the kobolds to what we were doing first. I agreed and we proceeded to kobold town, Catarina running ahead, excited about seeing Gleep the dragon.

We were escorted into the main hall. The kobolds seemed to be doing fine and holding their own. Curled up behind the makeshift throne was Gleep with Meepo sleeping coiled his tail. Catarina rushed to the dragon, sitting quietly by him and rubbing his head scales as he slept. The dragon purred.

I showed Yusdrayl the seed and told her about them. I noted we planned on growing one and told her what it would turn into but admitted I didn’t know what it would do once it was grown.

“Sounds like a particularly weak creature,” she said.

I agreed but noted I wanted to warn her in case it came towards the kobolds. I told her we wanted to follow it and see what it did and where it went. She asked if we wanted her to have her kobolds stand down if it entered their area and I told her yes, but if it endangered any of her kobolds to kill it. I told her exactly what happened with the first one. She agreed to let it pass if it came that way.

We left the kobold area, Catarina very displeased with having to leave the dragon, and returned to the room where we’d first found Meepo. I planted one of the seeds in the mess in the fire pit, put some water on it, and we waited. Within 30 seconds, it sprouted. It grew particularly rapidly but as it grew, the growth slowed. After an hour, it was about three feet tall, the same size as the cage, and wider. Then it changed shape, taking the form of a very stumpy, twiggy creature.

It was outstretched when the leg snapped off and it dropped to both feet. It looked around at each of us, in a wide circle around it, and hissed violently. Then it looked around at the room and ran to the door that led to goblin town. We ran after it, keeping up with the horrible little thing. It ran down the crooked corridor and through the rooms beyond, turning left at the room towards the goblin territory. It ran up the corridor to the goblin guard post and then into the larger training room, still in ruins, and crossed the makeshift wall, turning to the left door and banging on it. I walked over and turned the handle of the door and backed up a step so as not to be exposed when the splinter imp flung the door open. It only took a step into the room before it was riddled with arrows.

Sounds of confused goblins came from the room.

“That looks like the thing from the lower caves!” one of them yelled in goblin.

“Shall we go kill them and then plant another?” Catarina said.

“Why did you kill our messenger?” I called in goblin.

“Messenger?” one of the goblins replied.

“We’re here to speak with Grenl!” I called.

“You work for Belak?”

“Yes.”

More confused goblin talk came from the room. I stepped boldly into the doorway. Six goblins were in the room, standing behind a rudimentary barrier wall. Another open door stood behind them, the long hall of pillars there. I put my hands behind my back and held up six fingers. About half of the goblins wore red and half green.

One of the ones wearing a red armband was a hobgoblin who stood up.

“What is this!?!” I said in common. “Aren’t you at war? Only five goblins and a hobgoblin to guard this place!?! And look at your colors. Three in green and three in red?”

The goblins were very confused. Two had bows drawn with arrows nocked.

“I’m sorry,” I said in goblin. “I’m speaking in my own tongue. I slip into it sometimes. I apologize. I am a wizard, you know. There’s only six of you here, guarding?”

“You work magic?” the hobgoblin asked.

“Would you like to see?”

“Like the great Belak?”

“Oh, much better than he.”

“Not many better than he.”

“Exactly!”

That confused and upset him. I rubbed my hands in anticipation of spell casting.

“Who’s the war chief?” the hobgoblin said.

“Durrn is the goblin chief,” I said. “Grenl is his son, of course.”

“You know a lot.”

“Yes, as I said, I am a wizard.”

“Someone like you needs to meet with the chief.”

“Yes, well, lead on. My bodyguards here, they’re quite stupid. Don’t aggravate them. They will destroy you.”

“Speak for yourself,” Argie whispered to me in common.

I’d forgotten I taught her the goblin tongue.

The goblins parted for us, opening up an opening in the makeshift barricade. I motioned for Gurgle to stay there.

“They’re not smart enough to know the goblin tongue,” I said to the goblins. Then I spoke common to the others: “Come bodyguards. Protect me.”

“What the **** you just call me?” Catarina said.

“Don’t forget the green,” I said, not missing a beat. “Don’t forget, I helped you last night. Don’t be an idiot. Bodyguard. Get ready to kill anybody in red.”

Several torches bound in crude wall sconces burned fitfully in the long hall, filling the air with a haze that blurred sight. A row of marble columns carved with entwining dragons marched the full length of the hall. The hobgoblin led us through the room. I saw the door to the room where they’d kept Gleep was ajar and empty. The hobgoblin led us into the door at the far end of the hall. The drone of activity came from the next room, the sound of many goblins talking and working.

The door swung wide open at the end of the hall and what may have once been a cathedral was now a goblin lair. Thick with the filth of years of goblin life, scores of wall and floor-mounted sconces filled with violet-glowing fungi provided illumination. In the sickening light, dozens of goblins went about their daily business, which seemed to be sleeping, preparing food, arguing, sleeping, fighting, sharpening weapons, sneaking, sleeping, shouting, fighting, sewing, and sleeping. The southern wall was home to a heaping pile of assorted items, including wagon wheels, broken armor, rusted arms, chests, small statues, antique furniture, and artwork, just to name some of it. Unfortunately, the stash didn’t seem to be particularly well cared-for.

The far end of the room was a curved wall with a door leading out of the room. Four hobgoblins guarded it. I looked around the room and guessed there were a couple dozen goblins there, with fewer in green than red. A few weren’t wearing any particular colors.

“Try not to murder the chief if you don’t have to,” I whispered to the others. “But if you have to …”

The hobgoblin led us to the guarded door. He was stopped by the other hobgoblins and they began to speak in a language I didn’t immediately recognize. A moment’s thought helped me realize they were speaking the secret language of druids.

“That’s druidic,” I said in common quietly.

Their exchange was short and terse and eventually the door was swung wide for us. We entered the round room.

“Is this Belak’s room?” I said.

“No, this is not Belak’s room,” the hobgoblin leading us said.

I rolled my eyes.

“Belak does not live with us,” the hobgoblin said.

A circular shaft pierced the floor in the 30-foot diameter chamber. Dim, violet light shined out of the shaft, revealing the sickly white and gray vines coating the shaft’s walls. The light from the shaft was supplemented by four lit wall torches set equidistant around the chamber. A crudely fashioned throne of stone sat on the curve of the northwestern wall and a large iron chest served as the throne’s footstool. Sitting on the throne was a very large goblin wearing crudely fashioned, but the best armor of any of the goblins. The armor had spikes on it and an array of weapons sat within arm’s reach of him: clubs and swords.

Grenl was off to one side at a table, sitting and discussing something with another goblin. He stopped talking as soon as we entered the room. His eyes grew wide. He looked back at the other goblin and then gestured with his head towards me, saying nothing. I looked away from him.

The hobgoblin led us around the pit to the throne. I noticed the shaft below was mirrored by one above and a pinhole of light came down, going to the blackest abyss beneath us. I didn’t see Catarina kick a rock into the shaft. She later told me it dropped a couple of seconds, indicating a hundred-foot drop at least.

Durrn looked at me quizzically.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“We’re here to see Belak,” I said.

“How do you know of Belak?”

“I’m a wizard.”

He glared at me.

“And I’ve brought something for him,” I said.

I took out the pouch and pulled one of the seeds from it. I flicked it at the goblin.

“It’s an apple seed,” he said.

“Genius,” I said.

“How do you know Belak?”

“Belak sent for these seeds. They’re special. They’re not like the other apple seeds.”

“Of course they’re not. You mentioned you were a wizard before. Why is that important?”

“It’s always important when someone is a wizard.”

“How old are you?”

“Seven goblin generations ago, I was brought into this world, my mother a demoness!”

“That would make you old enough.”

“Just.”

Durrn stamped his foot on the ground and, from behind the throne, two much larger versions of the splinter imp appeared, each with large and pointed spears. They stood on the side of the throne and slapped the butts of their spears on the ground menacingly.

“Do you know what these creatures are?” he asked.

“Do you?” I asked.

“Yes, I do.”

“Feh. I find that highly unlikely.”

“Tell me their names.”

“Very well. Has Belak given you permission to know this information?”

“Belak has told me … everything.”

“Then Belak and I are going to have to talk, because certain things aren’t for those who aren’t … magicians … wizards.”

“What is your name?”

“I am Red Max.”

“Belak’s not a wizard.”

“I know that! Did I say he was?”

“You did.”

“For Grenl!” I yelled in common and goblin.

I cast a web spell on the goblin king and the splinter imps. Grenl leapt to his feet and drew his sword. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1987-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-5-A-Giant-Rat-and-New-Arrivals
Basic Roleplaying System: Maid Tournament http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1986-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Maid-Tournament Sun, 19 Nov 2017 22:14:35 GMT Thursday, November 16, 2017 (After Kyle Matheson ran his *Basic Roleplaying System* setting “Maid Tournament” with Hannah Gambino, Ashton... Thursday, November 16, 2017

(After Kyle Matheson ran his Basic Roleplaying System setting “Maid Tournament” with Hannah Gambino, Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, Katelyn Hogan, Ben Abbott, Ambralyn Tucker, James Brown, Katie Gallant, Yorie Latimer, and me Friday, November 10, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.)

The Report of Igor Hastur on the Tyrandar Maid Tournament

I had received a letter with a beautiful stamp upon it from Tyrandar, the co-called capitol of Earth. The letter was from the king, who invited me to his Maid Tournament in the capitol of Tyrandar. The king wrote he hoped I would come as he thought I was one of the best maids or butlers on the world. It said he had heard I was very talented and had a lot of potential.

I was ordered to go, in order to help the cause.

I was called Igor Hastur, a butler of some renown in my own part of the world. I was older and had a heavy face. I was tall and thin, gaunt almost like a cadaver, with heavy eyelids and eyebrows. Like all of the Hasturs before me, I had a slight lisp, but knew my duties to my master and my masters.

I boarded a train several days later. It was the king’s private train and named The Regalia. I found there were nine other butlers and maid competing to be the maid of the king. We were all placed together in the same car as we went from a lesser city to Tyrandar. I was able to size up the competition, not that I intended to win anyway.

I soon learned all of the other butler and maid’s names.

Danny Devito was short and fat, being 4’10” tall and weighing around 200 pounds. He had a thick Jersey accent and was some kind of troll, or so he claimed. He stank and wore a ragged t-shirt with mustard stains on it. He didn’t wear any pants but only dirty underwear.

Megumi Hevita was half waifu/half snake. The lower half of her body was a snake while the top was a normal woman, of sorts.

In one of the seats was a huge pile of beer bottles atop which sat a chimpanzee wearing a fez and a suit with long coat tails. He also wore a nametag that read: Josiah JoHoppler or JoJoHo. He was obviously from the small annex nation ruled by sentient chimpanzees.

Nyancy was a neko, essentially a cat lady. She had white hair, ears, and tail. One of her eyes was yellow and one was blue. She wore a standard French maid outfit.

Tonio Trussardi was a chef, obviously, from his tall chef’s hat and white chef’s uniform. He had brown hair and looked normal, not otherworldly at all. However, he spoke like he was from another world. He stayed far away from both the chimpanzee and the filthy little troll.

“Ah, that’s how it is on this planet,” he often said.

Anna May was beautiful beyond belief. She was of the purple race who worshipped Senpai. They were mostly human in appearance but no one was sure where they had come from. She was quite well-endowed and curvy, beautiful in every respect. She wore a very tight and revealing maid’s outfit.

Reginald Thistleton had a pencil-thin mustache and wore long coattails. He was over seven feet tall and slim. If you looked at him too long, it looked like he might have tentacles. He was obviously a slender-butler. Rumor had it they were ancient experiments on improving butlers as a whole but they had eventually been ruled too dangerous and destroyed. At least that’s what the legends said.

Stanley Stanwick was a short and stout, much like a teapot. He wore an ascot and dressed well though not as well as many of the rest of us. He had a handlebar mustache and otherwise appeared completely typical. That made me suspicious, of course.

Ivana Goodtime was a tall, thick, muscular woman with a thick, Russian accent. She wore double buns on corners of her head. She had long hair and, I learned later, worshipped the king in all his glory. Russia had been under the iron fist and dominant toe of Tyrandar for centuries. As she had gotten on the train, she had picked up and carried the man carrying her bags, obviously not knowing the custom of porters doing it for one.

“Excuse me,” the porter said. “I have your bags. Could you please put me down?”

Ivana put him down.

The train departed once she got on board.

“Oh, I found a little dog under my seat!” Danny Devito said. “Oh, that’s a good little dog.”

Whereupon he took a dirty little dog from under his seat. Danny Devito gave the dog sloppy kisses and was very loud and obnoxious. One of the conductors approached the terrible little man. He looked perplexed, as if he wondered why the man wasn’t wearing pants.

“Excuse me,” the conductor said. “Sir …?”

Danny Devito looked up.

“May I see your ticket … again?” he said.

Danny Devito reached down into his underwear, groping around for the ticket. Thistleton gagged at the scene. Then the little man pulled out a ticket and held the now-very-dirty thing out. The conductor reached into the back of his pants pocket, put on a glove, and took the ticket, looking over it with distain and disgust. Danny Devito went back to sloppily kissing on the dog.

“That is the royal seal,” the disgusted conductor said.

“Yep,” Danny Devito said.

“Or very well forged,” the conductor said.

I crept over to the conductor.

“I believe he thtole the ticket,” I said quietly to the official.

“Possibly,” the conductor said. “But I do not have the authority to stop this man as long as he’s on the train.”

“Conductor, am I on the right train car?” Thistleton called out loudly.

His voice carried.

“What?” the conductor said. “Where are you supposed to be going, sir?”

“To the … capitol,” Thistleton said.

“Yes, this is the right car,” the conductor said. “Everyone here has been invited to come see the king, yes?”

“Everyone here!?!” Thistleton said, looking at Danny Devito.

“Yes, you are on the right car,” the conductor said. “Some of these individuals are a little … surprising, but …”

The chimpanzee started snoring loudly.

“Based on some of the people I have seen here today, this tournament should be very fast,” the conductor said. “Very, very quick this year, yes.”

“Excuse me sir,” Tonio said.

“Yes?” the conductor said.

“Is there another car I can take … away from …”

He looked at Danny Devito. Danny Devito noticed and held up the dog.

“Have you seen this dawg?” he said.

“I do not want to see the dog,” Tonio said.

“Aw, look at the little dawg!” Danny Devito said.

“Of course I don’t want to be rude,” Tonio said. “I’m … an alien.”

“Oh, yes,” the conductor said. “Of course.”

He looked at Danny Devito as well.

“Fortunately, sir, this train ride is going to be very quick,” he said. “So, by the time I get the authority to move you to a different car, we will have arrived. I’m sure you understand. This train is very, very fast.”

“Unfortunate,” Thistleton said.

“It’s okay,” Tonio said.

Megumi had moved to the seat farthest from Danny Devito. She held a charm and prayed. The rest of us had also taken seats as far from the “man” as we could. Only Stanwick sat near him, reading a book and apparently oblivious to the sounds and smells coming from the horrible little troll.

“I just found this dog,” Danny Devito said. “He’s my best friend.”

I used my cell phone to call ahead to the Tyrandar police to report my suspicions of Danny Devito. I also called Tyrandar Animal Control to tell them of the loose chimpanzee but I was put on hold for some time and finally hung up.

“Are ve to be killing each ozer?” Anna May said in a thick French accent.

“Killing each other?” the conductor said. “I’ll leave that for the king to tell you all. No one here is familiar with how the tournament commences, yes? No? Okay, you’re in for a rude surprise then.”

“How would we underthtand how the tournament workth?” I asked. “We’ve never been in it before, nor had anyone elthe been in it.”

“I will just have to leave everything for the king and his royal subjects,” the conductor said.

I called Animal Control again but the train arrived so I hung up. Men from outside came in and took our bags. They escorted all of us out. Danny Devito put the dog on his shoulder like a parrot. He immediately ran to a trashcan and started rummaging through the trash. Megumi took photographs of the area with her phone.

We each got into our own vehicle, Danny Devito’s driver pulling him from the trashcan. I watched as another man came over and they picked him up. He kicked and flailed, urinating all over himself, and they finally forced him into the car, locking the door behind him.

“I thought the monkey was going to be a problem,” I overheard one of them say.

It was a 10-minute drive to the castle. My people’s spies told me a little of what happened in the others cars.

* * *

Stanley Stanwick asked his driver about the king.

“Yes, yes,” the driver told him. “The king is magnificent. He’s fantastic. You’re going to love him. You’re going to want to work for him. You’re going to want to win this tournament.”

“What does he like?” Stanwick asked.

“What is he like? Oh, he’s magnificent─”

“What does he like?”

“What does he like? Oh, he likes many things. I’m not going to tell you what he likes. That would be an unfair advantage!”

Stanwick tried to persuade his driver to tell him what he wanted but the man refused.

* * *

Megumi Hevita asked her driver what every single building they passed was as she took pictures of each one. He described each and every building, giving its name.

“And the king built that one,” he said about every single one of them.

* * *

“You had insomnia last night, didn’t you?” Tonio Trussardi said to his driver.

“Yes, I did,” the driver said. “How do you know that?”

“It’s … it’s one of the perks of worshipping … Pearl Jam.”

“The band?”

“It is … it is my … my deity.”

“I guess you could’ve picked worse than Pearl Jam. Does anyone who worships Pearl Jam get this ability?”

“Oh yes! There are many back on my … home planet.”

The divider between Tonio and the driver slid up.

“I have a dish that would cure that!” Tonio called.

The divider stopped for a moment and then continued up.

* * *

JoJoHo tried to get his driver to have a drink with him.

“What do you got?” the driver said.

“Huh?” the chimpanzee said.

“What do you got?”

“What do I got?”

“Yeah. To drink.”

“What do I got to drink? What do I not have to drink? What do you like?”

“I can’t have the king knowing I drink while driving.”

“Here, have a Miller. It’s Miller time.”

He handed a Miller Lite to the driver.

“I need somebody to drink with,” JoJoHo said. “I don’t like to drink alone.”

The driver drank with him. JoJoHo put his magical crown royal bag of holding away.

* * *

In his car, Danny Devito tried to climb into the front seat of the car he was riding in. The driver closed the divider immediately.

* * *

A huge crowd was roped off to one side outside the castle. They were screaming, some of them holding signs with some of our names upon them. No one was apparently rooting for Danny Devito except one creepy little man in the back. He looked just like Danny Devito and seemed to be a stalker. The one with the most fans was JoJoHo. They were a mix of humans, aliens, and a tiny group of chimpanzees in the back. Everyone else was pretty well-represented.

“I’m Phil!” Danny Devito’s only fan yelled.

We arrived at the castle gates and that led us to the throne room. As we entered through the massive, metal doors, we came to a long inviting throne room. The marble floor held equally-spaced columns that extended to the tall ceiling which had a golden-inlaid depiction of the king. To the left and right were various ornately crafted windows showcasing different victories of the king and his armies. As we walked what felt like a mile, we came to a forty-foot high staircase that led to the throne and the king himself.

“I’ve got to do my best for Sempai!” Anna May said.

The king was a giant man of at least eight feet tall and his throne was at least twice that. It was studded in gold and jewels and surrounded by the banners of the king. His queen stood beside him. As we took our place before the king, a knight stepped forward.

“Presenting King Tyrantis von Delphonso, Born First of His Name, Leader of the Free Peoples of Tyrandar, Commander of the World’s Largest Army, Champion of the Battle of 48 Kings, and Slayer of the Pale Dragon,” he said.

He looked up to the king and bowed. I bowed from the waist and the others followed suit. JoJoHo dropped to his knees, as did Anna May and Stanwick. The king motioned again.

“Presenting King Tyrantis von Delphonso, Born First of His Name, Leader of the Free Peoples of Tyrandar, Commander of the World’s Largest Army, Champion of the Battle of 48 Kings, and Slayer of the Pale Dragon,” he said more loudly.

He looked at the king and the king looked at us. I bowed again. The others followed suit. Ivana Goodtime made the signature gesture of the king’s religion.

The knight turned to us.

“I presume all of you are here for the maid tournament, yes?” he said.

We responded in the positive.

“Whatever Lords and Ladies you have presided with before, you must now elevate yourself to be accepted by the king,” First Knight Leonis Victoria said. “So, first, how did I introduce the king? Who’s already memorized it? Write it on these pieces of paper.”

He handed out several sheets of paper for us to write out his entire name and title. I wrote: “King Tyrantis von Delphonso, Slayer of the Pale Dragon among other things. The First Knight did not say it loudly enough the first time. His repetition was distracting, the fool!”

We each wrote it down and then read what we had written to the First Knight.

“Nyan!” Nyancy said.

“Is that your … cat language?” he asked.

“Nyan!”

“K.”

He looked us over.

“If that’s the case …” he said.

He looked at the king and the king looked back at him.

“I say all of you get three points,” the First Knight said.

The knight bowed and the king stood up from his throne. He looked very impressive and towered high above us.

“Thank you all for attending the Maid Tournament!” he said in a strange, high-pitched voice. “I have inquired from around the realm and some of the people I have talked to, your names have come up multiple times! You are the ten chosen ones that will participate in this prestigious tournament! Your bags have been taken up to your rooms. And I hope to see you all at first light tomorrow for the next challenge. Please come prepared this time.”

He sat back down and the knights showed us up to our rooms. Ivana Goodtime made a religious gesture to the king.

“Deuces,” she said.

He made the signal back to her.

“Deuces,” he said.

We were all taken to our apartments and I checked the entire room for bugs, cameras, and listening devices. I found none. I went out of the room. A handler was by my door, as one was by every one of our doors.

“Where’th the linen clothet and cleaning thupplieth?” I asked.

“What is it you require?” he asked.

“The linen clothet and cleaning thupplieth!”

“Are you wanting to know the location so that you may get these things yourself?”

“Yeth. Pleathe tell me or lead me there.”

“Out of courtesy for our guests, we do not allow them to get things on their own. We assist them. So, I could take you there, if you like.”

“You will take me there then.”

“I will.”

He led me to the linen closet with the cleaning supplies. Once I outfitted myself with such supplies, I turned to him again.

“Thow me the king’th thudy tho that I might clean it,” I said.

“To clean the king’s study?” he said. “Oh, it is meticulous already.”

“I will be the judge of that!”

“Okay.”

He took me to the king’s private study and I examined it with white glove. I already had one glove with a big, black mark on it and when I ran it along the underside of the desk and lifted my finger, it came back black.

“Oh my goodness!” he said. “That is …”

“You may go,” I said. “I will go to thleep when I am finithed.”

“No, the king must hear of this, actually,” he said.

I started cleaning the room.

“The king must hear of this!” the fool said.

He left and I tried to get into the king’s personal files but found the filing cabinet locked. Unfortunately I didn’t have the ability to open it, in my haste to get to the castle. I was foiled by the lock. The handler came back and I went back to cleaning. He was with the First Knight.

“So, this was dirty, yes?” he said.

“Yeth,” I said. “I athume the person who ith cleaning ith doing an inadequate job.”

“That would be Victor Guesseppo, the butler you are replacing.”

“I was under the athumption he wath dead.”

“No.”

“Then he thould be.”

“If this is terribly kept then he might be.”

I continued cleaning and they left again.

* * *

I later learned Nyancy had gotten a cardboard box to sleep in, JoJoHo had asked about a bar, and Megumi Hevita had wanted to go to the kitchens to cook something. But the strangest thing I later learned was of the antics of Tonio Trussardi, who asked to see his handler’s hand.

“Left or right?” the handler said.

“Either one,” Tonio said.

He handed him the right hand. Tonio looked at the man’s hand.

“You had diarrhea last night,” he said.

“Uh … no sir,” the handler told him.

“Oh! My skill! My skill wanes. Please, can I see the … the cooking facilities?”

“It probably was a top five poop though.”

“Must’ve been what it was.”

“You were close.”

His handler took him to the kitchen where he found others there as well.

* * *

Danny Devito had asked to be let out of his room and so he followed his handler, sniffing at him and walking in circles around him.

“Wasn’t-wasn’t I taking you somewhere, sir?” the handler asked. “You said you wanted out of the room. I took you out of the room and now you are following me and sniffing me.”

“Yeah,” Danny Devito said.

“Can I see the letter that the king gave you?” the handler said.

Danny Devito reached into his filthy underwear and felt around, finally finding the piece of paper he’d stolen The handler was already wearing gloves and took it, holding it up to the light.

“Oh, you don’t want to hold it up that high,” Danny Devito said.

“Why?” the handler said.

Then he noticed it was dripping with urine.

“This is wet that if it was a forgery, I wouldn’t be able to tell,” the handler said.

“Oh yeah,” Danny Devito said. “It’s a little wet.”

He took the invitation and dried it off on his shirt. That got more mustard on it.

* * *

We were all assembled in the throne room once again. Danny Devito had the dog.

“Remind me to ask the king if dogs are allowed for this tournament,” one of the knights said.

The king was not there but the First Knight came out with a man in butler’s uniform.

“This, here, is the man that you all will be replacing,” the First Knight said. “He was supposed to be retired, effective tomorrow, but it seems that he has failed on his last day, all thinks to our friend Igor here, who has cleaned the study of the king.”

I bowed.

“Appropriately,” the First Knight went on. “And found that our friend here, Victor Guesseppo, has decided to slack off. There is no slacking off for the king. You must be perfect every day. And for this …”

The First Knight unsheathed his sword. Guesseppo got on his knees. The First Knight beheaded the man right in front of us. I made not a sound but both Stanwick and Anna May seemed quite surprised at the violence. Tonio and Stanwick both vomited, Tonio puking directly onto the front of my jacket. I ignored it.

“It is a tradition on my planet …” Tonio said.

“You are a liar, thir!” I said. “And a cheat, I am thure.”

“I’ve never told a lie,” he said.

I wiped the puke from my chest and flicked it into his face. Be reared back his fist and swung at me, completely missing. I took a step back and put my foot out. Tonio tripped, crashing into Nyancy. I noticed Ivana Goodtime was on the floor, cleaning up the puke.

The First Knight drew his sword again.

“Do not make me behead more than one person tonight,” he said.

I just looked at Tonio, lying on the floor.

“All of you, back to your rooms!” the First Knight said.

He grabbed the vomit-covered rag from Ivana Goodtime and threw it onto the floor.

“All of you, back to your rooms,” he said. “Back to your rooms.”

“That’s what we do to people who puke on us on my planet,” I said to Tonio as I left.

We returned to our rooms and were locked in. I showered and laundered my suit before going to bed.

In the room next door, I could hear Danny Devito and his dog barking loudly. I was still able to get to sleep without much trouble thanks to my military training.

* * *

I was woken in the morning when breakfast was brought to the door. It was a classic English breakfast.

“Courtesy of our head chef,” the man told me. “You will meet him later. I don’t want to spoil the surprise.”

I ate the breakfast. I discussed the fact that I thought Danny Devito was a fake and an assassin, though I noted that was just what I had heard. Then I shrugged.

“A cruel world it must be that Guesseppo was beheaded yet this thing lives,” the handler said.

* * *

I later learned that Ivana Goodtime fed her handler while Danny Devito shared his food with his dog. The latter’s room was already disgusting by the next day. When the handler came in, Danny Devito barked, his dog barked, and then they both shoved their faces into the food to eat it. The stench of urine and feces filled the room and the handlers left immediately, locking the door behind them.

There had been many species discovered across the world and the galaxy but none had ever disgusted anyone like Danny Devito did.

“Did you see me in my movies!” he called through the door.

* * *

After breakfast, we were called back to the throne room. There was still puke and blood residue on the floor. Ivana Goodtime took out a rag and started cleaning it but someone took the rag from her. Knights escorted the king to the throne once again. I got the feeling the king was a little bit upset but their entering the way they did was just procedure. The knights stopped at the bottom of the stairs to the throne while the king climbed to the top and sat.

He looked down at us and the First Knight came forward once again.

“The king … is displeased,” the First Knight said. “Guesseppo was a good friend of his. And you made me behead him last night.”

“What?” Nyancy said.

I looked back with dead eyes.

“We’re going to need the throne room cleaned,” the First Knight went on. “As you can see, it is not … clean.”

“Nyan!” Nyancy said, raising her hand.

The First Knight ignored her.

“But first, we must reveal the secret of this castle,” the First Knight said. “And I feel not better way to reveal what it is then … Guesseppo himself!”

Guesseppo walked out, alive and well. I was nonplussed.

The king smirked.

“This castle is magical!” he said. “None who walk within its walls shall perish as long as I am king on this throne!”

“So we can execute each other?” Anna May said.

“Nyan!” Nyancy said.

“You can, but they will resurrect,” the king said. “But don’t.”

“I’ll drink to that,” JoJoHo said.

“This castle provides a magical aura to me and all whom I will it upon,” the king said. “If you kill each other …”

He pointed to Danny Devito and we all looked at the horrible little troll.

“… he will come back in a short moment’s notice,” the king said. “That’s why we had to get you all out of the throne room. Guesseppo was almost ready to be resurrected. But you all did not see and thus, here is the surprise. So, I have a room for each of you to clean in my castle to judge how well you are at cleaning. The most basic of maid abilities is cleaning. This should be no problem for the 10 best that I have found. Or … nine plus one.”

He looked at Danny Devito again.

“Ith there a time limit, your majethty?” I asked.

“Yes,” the king said. “One hour. There are 10 rooms which my First Knight will be giving all of you. Some of these rooms cannot be cleaned in an hour. If your piece of parchment has a circled ‘H’ on it. There is no physical way your room can be cleaned in an hour.”

We were each given a piece of parchment.

“But, fear not,” the king said. “If you have a circled ‘H’ on your parchment, all is not lost. For now I will give the room to my most esteemed of mages: H’mlsnock Morvla.”

In crawled a three-foot tall slug leaving a nasty trail of slime. It had purple skin and didn’t have any eyes or nose, just a mouth. He wore wizard’s robes.

“Hey, what’s up my brother!” Danny Devito called out.

“This game is simple,” H’mlsnock Morvla said. “You all have magical abilities now.”

“Nice!” Thistleton said.

“I know him!” Danny Devito told us all.

H’mlsnock Morvla then described the things we were each able to do. We could only use one of the spells per challenge. For the tournament, at least, we would be able to switch how we did with someone else in the tournament. The magic could also have been used to switch the rooms, in this case, and the other’s person’s work would be judged as one’s own. We could also protect what we had done by magic so that no one could use the first power upon us. However, that magic could only be used once during the entire tournament. We could also magically help ourselves to do things better. There was a spell that would make someone do worse at one of the challenges. Another spell was to find out the secret, allowing us learn some information when we needed. It could only be used once for the entire tournament. Another one-time-use power would allow one to simply succeed the challenge. That would also not allow someone else to use magic to steal one’s success. The last special ability would cause someone to automatically lose the challenge. One could use that as many times as one wanted.

Then we were sent to clean our rooms. I had the library. Apparently some of the others used their magic to switch rooms with each other but I was untouched. The library was immaculate by the time I finished.

We were all called back into the throne room and told which rooms were impossible: the dungeon, the throne room, the armory, and the mess hall. The throne room was perfect, which was surprising.

The king came down to from his throne and approached Ivana Goodtime, whose job it had been to clean the throne room.

“I sat here during the whole hour,” he said. “And I don’t know how you did it? Did you use the succeed spell?”

“You know it, brother!” Ivana Goodtime said.

“Five points to you!” the king said. “I must say: five points is the maximum amount of points you can get!”

Then he went to Danny Devito.

“To you Danny,” the king said.

“Uh,” Danny Devito said.

“One point.”

“Uh.”

“You tried on an impossible room. There were some bite marks that I must speak to you about.”

“I was trying to get the grime out.”

“Megumi: Three points. JoJoHo: one point for trying on an impossible room.

JoJoHo thought he should get two points.

“The tournament has never had two points,” the king said. “I don’t like round numbers.”

“So, it’s either one, three, or five?” Anna May said.

“But three is a success,” the king said. “And you did not succeed.”

“Negative one ith altho … not a round number,” I said.

“You may have … one point,” the king said. “And then another one point.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Anna May: three points,” the king said. “Three points for the cat.”

“Nyan!” Nyancy said.

“Tonio: three points,” the king said. “Reginald: three points. Igor!”

“Yeth, Mathter?” I said.

“I don’t know about you. Guesseppo tells me the room was clean. Yet you say it was not.”

“I thaid nothing, Mathter. I thowed the proof.”

“If you had performed badly today, I would have considered you a liar and beheaded you.”

“Yeth, Mathter. Whatever Mathter pleatheth.”

“You have successfully cleaned the room … perfectly. Beyond perfect sometimes. In some places.”

“I am humbled by your praith, Mathter.”

“You get five points Igor!”

“Thank you, Mathter.”

“Stanley: one point,” the king said. “You failed but it was an impossible task. Have you all figured out how the game works?”

“Yeth, Mathter,” I said.

“Go to your rooms, change your garbs, and come right back down to the throne room,” the king said. “Immediately.”

We all left the throne room. Megumi Hevita picked up her handler and ran \. I changed into another of my identical suits.

* * *

I later learned Anna May started to change right in the throne room.

“Oh my!” the king said.

His eyes got big and he blushed.

“My eyes are cute!” Anna May said.

“While I do appreciate what you’ve shown me here today …” the king said.

“These are not for you!” Anna May said. “This is not for you! How dare you assume my culture!”

“… for my knight’s honor, would you mind going upstairs?” the king said.

Blood dripped out of the slit of one of the knights helmets from a nosebleed. Anna May walked over to try to help him out. That only made it worse.

* * *

We all returned to the throne room a short time later. Ivana Goodtime was wearing a summer maid outfit. Some of the others had different clothing. A few of us wore identical suits, of course.

“The third challenge, as you might expect, is one that is also very commonplace in the maid/butler career,” the First Knight said. “Your next challenge is this.”

Other knights rolled in a wheelbarrow filled with something. They dropped it in front of us. It was a pile of dirty clothing. The stench was terrible. Several of the others turned their heads at the smell. Even Danny Devito was sickened by the stench, though I think it was the lingering smell of bleach.

“So, what you all must do is clean the king’s garments,” the First Knight said. “This is one of the challenges with a riddle.”

He looked us over.

“Here is your riddle for what the king’s favorite scent is,” the First Knight said. “If you can clean his garments with his favorite scent, you will get a five. If you clean the clothes, you get a three. Obviously anything better than the current state they’re in will get you a one. You get a zero if you don’t turn anything in or you die or … I don’t know …”

He then told us the riddle.

“I am black when you buy me, red when you use me, and grey when you throw me away,” he said. “This is the king’s favorite scent.”

I was completely perplexed what kind of scent that could refer to. I’d not been any good with riddles since the incident wherein my master had died from riddle infarction. The blood had been everywhere.

“To find the riddle’s answer, I will give you all a minute,” he said.

He told us to write the answer on the pieces of paper he handed out. Then he sent us to wash some of the clothing. I had no idea and so just washed the clothing. Riddles were dangerous. The king obviously had not learned that yet. Something interfered with my cleaning, however. Some malevolent magic, no doubt cast by those other foul butlers and maids.

We returned to the throne room. The king started with Danny Devito, who licked the king’s hand when he reached for the clothing. The king pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his hand.

“Burn this,” he said to his steward.

The handkerchief was whisked away.

“Clean,” the king said. “But the wrong ingredient!”

Danny Devito grabbed the clothing with his mouth.

Megumi Hevita was judged the same. The king sniffed JoJoHo’s laundry. Something black came away with his hands.

“I’m sorry but I thought we were meant it to be cleaned with the ingredient,” JoJoHo said.

“Write in my book, that we must clear these rules up for the next tournament,” the king said to his steward.

He turned back to JoJoHo.

“The ingredient was correct, but you didn’t clean the clothes,” the king said.

He awarded each of them three points.

“Only because you got the ingredient right, monkey-man,” the king said.

He told us charcoal was the ingredient. Many of us were disappointed and I heard Tonio cursing under his breath.

“I love the smell of a dead fire!” the king said. “Like a battle has been fought.”

“Me too, king,” Stanwick said.

“Deuces!” Ivana Goodtime called out.

I rolled my eyes. The king was obviously mad.

I didn’t hear the points for Anna May but Nyancy got five points, Tonio got one point, and I got three points, as did Thistleton. Stanwick only got three points because he actually tried to clean the clothing in charcoal.

“Picture the clothes as you would the throne room,” he said to Ivana Goodtime. “And it would be fine.”

“I also thought you were supposed to clean it with the ingredient,” Ivana Goodtime grunted.

“Three points, Ivana,” the king said.

The king looked around.

“We have completed three of our challenges,” the king said. “The leaders are Ivana, cat-lady, …”

“Nyan,” Nyancy said.

“… and Igor,” the king finished. “All tied for first place. In second place, we have a tie between Anna May, Reginald, Megumi. All in second place. And then we have in third place, the rest of you: Danny, JoJoHo, Stanley, and Tonio. But the points are close.”

The king went through the garments and picked out the clothing Nyancy had cleaned.

“I will wear this for the party tonight,” he said.

He looked us over again.

“All of you, please,” he said. “I know you have only worn the clothes for this challenge, but I can look upon them no more. Change your clothes again. To the best thing you brought.”

All my clothes were identical so I knew it didn’t matter.

“My noble friends will be here … shortly,” the king said.

We all left for our rooms.

“How many challengeth per day ith thtandard for thith … thing?” I asked my handler.

“This is … honestly, this is very rare,” the handler told me. “The king usually would drag this out over a week and make this a festival of sorts. But it seems that he’s trying to see which is the best maid/butler sooner? Possibly because Guesseppo’s retirement has come so soon and also he beheaded him and Guesseppo doesn’t want to be beheaded again. I don’t know. Guesseppo has no place here anymore.”

I went into my room and changed. I checked the windows but found they didn’t open. When I checked the door, I found it unlocked and so left the room.

“I need thome club thoda,” I said. “For the thtain that wath left by that alien cad.”

“I’ll show you were that’s at,” he said. “It’s this way.”

He walked off and I walked the other direction.

“Sir, you misheard me,” the handler called. “This way.”

“Oh, I’m thorry,” I said, following behind him.

The next turn he took, I went in the opposite direction. I was in search of Guesseppo but was soon found someone else in the castle. I told them my handler lost me and I was very upset about it and needed to be pointed in the direction of the throne room.

“Yes sir,” the man said. “I’ll take you to the throne room.”

Candlelight illuminated the throne room. Numerous nobles and royals were in the room, wearing very expensive clothing. The king, who had been wearing his armor, had changed into the clothing Nyancy had washed: a silk, red, white, and black tunic and tights.

Danny Devito had red on his chest, as if he’d crushed a tomato there. Other butlers and maids had dressed up as well. Anna May was wearing a partially see-through nighty that barely covered her … prominent assets.

The king laughed and chatted with a couple of people right in front of the throne and then he stepped up onto the first couple of steps.

“My regal guests,” he said. “Here are the challengers.”

Everyone clapped or raised their glasses to us.

“One of the most important features of our head maid/butler is to be able to wine and dine with my friends and not make it seem like they are a servant,” the king said. “I like to treat everyone the same, whether you’re a maid, a butler, or one of my most esteemed nobles. I would like us all to come to the throne room for a glass of red and …”

Danny Devito was growling.

“… and have a good time,” the king went on. “So … today I will be testing all of you on your etiquette.”

“Nyan,” Nyancy said.

“Here is how the challenge will go,” the king went on. “First off, I must see how you interact with my guests.”

The knights started putting us into separate groups of nobles.

“Show me how to interact with my friends,” the king said. “And then, I must see which of you is the most … polite.”

I used a little magic to help my results and then I proceeded to serve the nobles while bantering them with witty remarks and cheerful and entertaining mannerisms. I remained polite but obviously failed at the task that no butler should have to endure. I failed miserably.

Five of the others succeeded and they were put in an even smaller group of nobles in order to more closely prove who was best. More points were handed out for those successes and failures. Then there was a third round.

“And now I must see which of you has the best etiquette,” the king said. “Reginald, converse with Stanley in front of my friends.”

I spread dissent among the nobles of how each of them preferred the company of animals to humans, pointing to the other contestants and claiming they told it to me.

Reginald won over Stanley, obviously.

“Then let us see how you do against Megumi,” the king said.

Megumi proved to be better than Thistleton.

“Well, it might be one of those triangle effects,” the king said. “You two then.”

He pointed to Megumi and Stanwick. This time Stanwick shined.

“It seems we have a draw!” the king said with a laugh. “Oh. Five to the three of you, then. Well played.”

Thistleton cursed.

“I hope to know you better in the future,” Thistleton said. “I wish you eat … I mean meet you better in the future.”

His mouth opened up just a little too wide for a moment.

Ivana Goodtime was still picking up and putting down nobles, guessing their weights as she did so.

“What a great night!” the king said. “It seems we have all pregamed lovely. What do you say we have a feast? Yes, of course. May I present my head chef? Some of you may have met him. Other’s maybe not. Rordon Gamsay!”

A blonde man with a chef’s jacket walked into the room.

“I have decided that this will be the finale,” the king said. “Along with another event. We’re going to combine the two. You all will be cooking meals for my esteemed guests. And here we have 10 ladies who are single. I would like for each of you to pick a lady and do her hair before the meal.”

“I pick the one with the nicest hooters!” Danny Devito mumbled.

He stared at one of the women. She looked around in terror.

I headed for the woman and managed to get there before Danny Devito did. He was angry but the woman seemed relieved, crying. Danny Devito spit at me but missed me completely, luckily, as I saw the acidic spit was obviously dangerous.

“It seems the event is heating up,” the king said.

“Yeth Mathter!” I said. “Ath long as he can’t die, though …”

“He might wish he could,” the king said.

We set to work on the girl’s hair. Ivana’s girl suddenly fell to the ground, dead.

“Ivana, what happened?” the king said.

The Russian woman had apparently accidently broken the woman’s neck.

“Ivana, I’m afraid … I don’t know if I can trust you with such … delicate … work,” the king said.

“She’ll be alive again,” the Russian woman said.

The woman came back to life, her hair a mess. She got up and saw that everyone was looking at her, some gasping, some of the meaner girls laughing. She ran out of the throne room altogether.

“It seems even if I wanted to give you another girl …” the king said.

He looked at crowd. They all backed up.

“Ivana, I must ask you to sit out of this one,” the king said. “I’m sorry.”

“Deuces!” Ivana Goodtime said, apparently not caring.

JoJoHo took out a bottle of wine and tossed it to Ivana Goodtime.

“What a devious master plan!” the king suddenly said. “Ivana, I cannot believe you pulled this off.”

The king bowed to her.

“Deuces!” Ivana said.

“Anna May, may I have your lady please?” the king said as the magic of the place took hold.

Ivana Goodtime suddenly had Anna May’s lady.

“Anna May,” the king said. “Luck shines on you today.”

Thistleton’s girl went to Anna May due to the magic active in the room. Then Thistleton got JoJoHo’s. Then Tonio’s woman was magically transferred to the chimpanzee, leaving Tonio alone. It was all very strange.

Danny Devito had done a terrible job on his own woman’s hair.

“It would have been better if she had died and left early,” Thistleton said.

“I’ll consult with her,” the king said. “Would you rather be dead?”

“She loves it!” Danny Devito grunted.

The woman shook her head.

“One point and you’re lucky to have that,” the king said.

My own hairdressing was not great but I got three points. Nyancy got three points as well. With Anna May’s girl, Ivana Goodtime got five points. Anna May got five points for Thistleton’s girl. Thistleton got five points for JoJoHo’s girl. JoJoHo had gotten switched with Tonio and got five points. JoJoHo rolled back and clapped with his feet.

“Sir Tonio … should I penalize you for the mastermind that Ivana has pulled off?” the king said.

“Yes, please, penalize him!” Anna May said.

“You’ve basically broken the rules, Ivana,” the king said.

“How did he break the ruleth, Mathter?” I asked.

“Three points Tonio,” the king said. “Three points.”

“Thank God!” Tonio said.

“And now I must go sit down with my guests,” the king said. “I hope you all prepare a very nice meal for me and my friends. I leave you with my trusted chef: Rordon Gamsay.

“You sacks of shit!” Rordon Gamsay said. “You better make the best ****ing thing you’ve ever made.”

“Nyan nyan nyan!” Nyancy said.

“I vill do my best!” Anna May said.

The challenge started with another riddle.

“So, all points are doubled!” Rordon Gamsay said.

He told us we could get up to 10 points if we got both riddles correct and cooked a meal fit for the king. The riddles were something the king wanted in the meal. One was food. One was not.

The first riddle was not a food and went: “Brothers, all pair up, bodies firm and tall. You only care to eat the solid food and don’t care to eat the soup.” The second riddle was a food and the king wanted it with the meal: “You throw away the outside and cook the inside. Then you eat the outside and you throw away the inside.”

Anna May’s dish was corn chowder. She had chopsticks on the plate, the answer to the first riddle, and corn, the answer to the second riddle. Rordon Gamsay and the king both tried it and awarded her 10 points. Tonio’s dish had chopsticks and corn. He made a traditional Italian meal that included chopsticks and corn. It was excellent. He got 10 points. JoJoHo was next. His meal consisted of lobster ala king. It was beautifully cooked and he was awarded five points. Nyancy’s food was cooked beautifully and was a soft-boiled egg with a fork. There was no corn, however. She was awarded five points as she didn’t have the correct type of food or the chopsticks. Megumi Hevita made corn fritters. Reginald had corn on the cob with lobster bisque. He was awarded 10 points as he had the chopsticks as well. Stanwick had stir fry with baby corn and was awarded 10 points. Danny Devito made corn nuggets but didn’t have the chopsticks and was awarded seven points. Ivana Goodtime made baked apple slices with caramel and chopsticks. It was very good and she was awarded seven points.

My own meal was a complete turkey meal with mashed potatoes, gravy, corn on the cob, stuffing, green bean casserole, and the rest. I was awarded seven points for mine.

The winners were declared after the meal.

“I have tallied the points up,” the king said. “And it couldn’t have been this simple. We have a tie.”

“Nyan!” Nyancy said.

“Between two of you,” the king went on. “Reginald! And Megumi!”

“Fight to the death!” Danny Devito said.

As I slipped out of the throne room, Danny Devito suggested the king might have both a butler and a maid.

“Perhaps I should ask the two of them,” the king said. “Reginald, could you serve alongside Megumi?”

“I believe it to be possible,” Reginald said.

“Megumi?” the king said.

She nodded.

“Then they have it!” the king said. “For the first time in the realm, there shall be a head butler and a head maid!”

Everyone cheered.

“Deuces!” Ivana Goodtime said.

I later learned that Stanwick took second place. In third place was Anna May. In fourth place was Ivana Goodtime. Three people tied for fifth place: myself, Tonio, and Nyancy. JoJoHo came next. Bringing up the rear was Danny Devito.

JoJoHo stayed on as the king’s court jester. Ivana Goodtime got a job as a maid under the others.

Tonio returned to his home planet of Italy.

* * *

I crept into the king’s chambers and forced open his filing cabinet, stealing secret files my own people needed. I slipped several less important documents into Danny Devito’s room to implicate him, and then I fled the capitol. Danny Devito was apprehended and arrested for the theft. I got away scot-free. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1986-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Maid-Tournament
Pathfinder - The Sunless Citadel 4 - Goblin Talks and Dragon Priest http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1985-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-4-Goblin-Talks-and-Dragon-Priest Fri, 17 Nov 2017 17:55:37 GMT Wednesday, November 15, 2017 (After Jacob Marcus ran his *Pathfinder* game “The Sunless Citadel” with Justin Moser, Victoria Larson, Katelyn... Wednesday, November 15, 2017

(After Jacob Marcus ran his Pathfinder game “The Sunless Citadel” with Justin Moser, Victoria Larson, Katelyn Hogan, and me Monday, October 30 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.)

Iago’s Memoirs

Our 8th day in the village of Oakhurst, I checked in on Gurgle’s room and found the goblin had curled up in one of the dresser drawers to sleep. When I went down to meet the others, Hercule and Dolf were down in the taproom. Dem ran up the stairs as we came down. Catarina was also there, buying the two dwarves ale. She was telling Hercule of her system for his being mute: slap the bar once for more ale and twice for no more ale.

“Greetings Catarina,” I said.

“Come, my friends!” she said. “We found Dolf. We found Hercule. We’re drinking much ale.”

There were several mugs on the bar in front of her. I ordered breakfast wine and food for Gurgle and I, and we sat down at our usual booth. I told Catarina that if we could find a way to get Dolf’s tongue back, we would bring it back and give it to the dwarf. She looked confused.

“For his tongue!” I said. “He’s missing a tongue.”

“No no,” Catarina said. “But we can get the tongue and bring it to him, but how to do we put it back?”

“Magic!” I said. “If we find something magical down there, we’ll use it to bring his tongue back.”

“If we do find his tongue, we will not want to retrieve it,” she said.

“I don’t think Dolf would be good with you keeping his tongue,” Brook said.

Argie and I discussed the possibility of using someone else’s tongue for Dolf, perhaps with a mending spell. Brook noted she’d rather have her own tongue back.

“Why are we having this conversation?” I asked.

“Because I have questions!” Catarina said.

I didn’t think a mending spell would work though I noted it would make an interesting experiment.

I also told Catarina we had a map of the Sunless Citadel that Gurgle had given it to us. I showed her the map and she pored over it a little, asking what the scribbles on it were. I noted they were the map key, which showed what various symbols were and which direction was north and a scale.

“North’s the cold one,” she said.

“Very good,” I said.

Catarina talked about wanting to punch things that would punch back. I suggested Brook could go on a reconnaissance mission into Goblin Town, noting I could turn her invisible if she wished. I had noticed she was very quiet. Catarina did not like the idea as they would not see her when she punched them and being seen was very important.

“Yes, I wasn’t going to cast it on you, dear,” I said.

I realized the spell wouldn’t last very long, however, certainly not long enough for Brook to explore far.

“It was just a thought,” I said.

We looked at the map and Brook noted there was a way into Goblin Town via the kobold throne room.

“Ah, there’s a back door!” I said.

We discussed taking the back door to Goblin Town with the hopes of rescuing the kobold’s dragon that way.

After we ate and discussed everything we sent Brook, to see if Argie’s armor was ready. We had only commissioned it the night before and when Brook asked the dwarf about it, he told Argie to come with him. Argie went. When she returned, she wore a suit of fortress plate, with plates over her tail as well.

Catarina elbowed Brook.

“What’s that?” she said, pointing at Gurgle.

“That’s our goblin friend we made down in the pits,” Brook said.

“Y’all are friends?” Catarina said.

“Yeah,” Argie said. “We got another one too. He’s my favorite. We’re going to meet him again.”

“Oh yeah, she’s got a kobold,” Brook said.

“Yeah.”

“Little runt kobold.”

“He’s adorable.”

“Y’all are friends?” Catarina asked again.

“Yeah,” Brook said.

“Shit happens down in the deep,” Argie said.

I took Gurgle to the general store and outfitted him with short sword, short bow, arrows, leather armor and a leather helmet, clothing, basic equipment, and some smoked glass goggles to protect his eyes from the sun, which he was more susceptible to then we were. I told him he could go with us or go anywhere he wanted. Gurgle stood very proudly with more composure than he had before. He looked down as he struggled to affix his sword but eventually got it to hang as he wanted. He put his hands on his hips proudly.

“Gurgle will go with you now,” he said.

“Good,” I said.

We headed for the ravine. En route, we told Catarina of some of the other things we found, including the room with the elf sarcophagi. That prompted a discussion on looting of the dead with Argie firmly on the side of respecting the dead and Catarina of the opinion that people who don’t use items should be relieved of them. Catarina asked about things that attacked or walked and Argie was fine with looting those.

Gurgle kept looking directly at the sun with his goggles. I told him not to do that, warning him he’d go blind.

We arrived at the ravine a few hours later. There was the smell of smoke in the air like hot metal.

“Uh-oh,” I said. “I guess we’d better go tell the villagers the goblins are pissed off and it’s all the mayor’s fault.”

“Basically,” Brook said.

“Yes,” Argie said.

“They’re mad about the rope,” I said.

“Smells like a good fight,” Catarina said.

We discussed scouting out the area invisibly first. We threw down the chain, making a good deal of noise. Then we waited a few moments to see if any goblin skirmishers showed up. None did. When nothing happened for about five minutes, we discussed a little more. We talked of Brook going down to scout around or Argie, who had darkvision. In the end, we decided to just enter the ravine as a group.

We climbed down to the top of the strange butte and then headed down in the darkness of the ravine. I put the enchanted candle into my belt pouch again, the lit end sticking out to give us light. Brook had her enchanted lantern. Catarina led the way down with Argie and Brook following her. Gurgle and I brought up the rear.

We went down to the very bottom of the stairs and could hear, off in the distance, the sound of war drums. It was the same drums that escorted us in our flight the day before. I pointed out if we didn’t want to fight, we could just pull up the chain and they’d be trapped there.

“But what if they go after the kobolds?” Argie asked.

“Oh, that’s right,” I said. “All right.”

“We gotta help the kobolds,” Brook said.

“We gotta help the kobolds,” I said. “Let’s go.”

Catarina pointed towards the first tower we’d entered, where the sounds of drums came from.

“I assume I’m supposed to punch that,” she said.

“Eventually,” I said. “Let’s go talk to the kobolds before we attack the goblins.”

We tried to remember how many goblins there were. We thought there were 30 goblins and we’d killed five and a hobgoblin and taken Gurgle. The goblin had pushed his goggles up onto the forehead of his helmet.

We went by the trap and through the broken tower, heading down the corridor beyond and looking into the two side rooms as we moved through. The room we’d found Meepo had the bench \ overturned and smashed. Argie got anxious when she saw it.

“I don’t understand why a bench is important,” Catarina said.

“It was Meepo’s bench,” I said.

“It’s not the bench, it’s the person,” Argie said.

“If you knew Meepo …” I said.

“Who’s Meepo?” Catarina said.

“He’s her son!” I said.

“My son!” Argie said.

“You’ll meet him soon enough,” I said.

We opened the door to the hallway that led to Koboldville. We came face to face with a spiked barricade and some very angry kobolds.

“Greetings, kobolds!” I said in draconic. “It is us.”

“What did you do!?!” one of them screeched in draconic.

“What did it say?” Catarina said. “Is it dying? I didn’t do it. But is it dying?”

“No, not yet,” I said to her.

Then I turned back to the kobolds.

“We rescued one of the villagers from the town on our way through to get the dragon,” I said in draconic.

“The elder wants to see you!” the kobold said.

“Don’t you raise your voice to me,” I said.

The kobolds opened up the barricade for us, glaring at Gurgle as we moved through.

“Meepo!” Argie called.

Meepo came running, leaping into the air to land in the wyvaran’s embrace.

“Y’all keep picking up tiny sidekicks,” Catarina said.

“Well …” Argie said. “It wasn’t intentional but it’s welcome.”

“It’s all that was here,” I said. “Next time we’ll try to get bigger ones for you.”

They led us to the throne room where we noticed signs of combat. I guessed the goblins had come through the back door. More barricades were set up there as well. It looked like they had sealed the door shut as best we could. The female kobold elder glared at us.

“Hello!” I said happily to her.

“Please tell me you’re with them,” the kobold elder said in common to Catarina.

Then she turned to me.

“I don’t know what you did,” she said to me. “But the war drums started to beat─”

“We rescued the dwarf from the village who was captured by the goblins,” I said.

“That must have been yesterday,” the elder said.

“Yes,” I said. “On our way to find your dragon.”

“Just past lunchtime yesterday, war drums began to beat and they have not stopped beating since,” she said.

“Then we shall go stop them beating,” I said.

“And they have begun to attack us on an almost hourly basis,” she said.

“Oh good!” Catarina said. “It’ll schedule when I get to crush things.”

Yusdrayl looked at Catarina.

“You are most welcome to punch as much as you want,” the elder said.

“Yes!” Catarina said.

“We also got this from the goblins,” I said, showing her the map. “I don’t know if you have any maps of this place or not, but …”

The elder hopped off of her chair and scurried over to me as I lifted up the map and looked at it carefully.

“She’s already pissed off at us, Iago,” Brook said. “Please give her the map.”

“I just want to see it,” she said. “Can I just see it?”

I handed her the map and she looked at it for quite some time. She handed it back to me.

“If you can find another one, I want it,” she said. “Or, if you’ll permit us to make copies, can we do that?”

I nodded and handed her the map. She handed it to another kobold who ran to a table with ink and a very large, crude skin for drawing on. He made a crude but functional replica of the map. In that time, I apologized for the inconvenience of the attacks and for not alerting her, but did point out we sent three of her kobolds, who had been prisoners, ahead. I told her we thought they would alert the entire tribe.

“Yes, they did warn us,” she said. “They did warn us and we had quite enough time. Not enough time to barricade the back door, but enough to adequately repel them.”

“Did you know about the back door?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Why was it not already barricaded?”

“It was. With a trap that we put there.”

“The pit trap. The goblins knew about it. It’s on the map.”

“Obviously.”

“We have found something else. There’s a room with a fountain that might spew death. We don’t know for sure.”

I told her about the two fountains, one which spewed blood. I mentioned we hadn’t tested the other for fear of what it might do. Catarina asked what the blood did and I told her it was just blood. She wanted to know what might have happened if we’d dipped something into the blood and we pointed out we didn’t try. It was just glowing blood. I told her it seemed more decorative than anything else and magic had revealed it was a simple spell. She was not impressed by that. When the elder asked about the death fountain, I noted it might be a massive trap or do nothing at all. I showed her where it was on the map.

“It is a shame that we haven’t been able to explore this place even as much as you strangers have,” she said.

“Oh, you will be soon,” I said.

“Is that so?” she said.

“If we get rid of the goblins.”

“Do you have plans to do that?”

“Yes, that’s why we came back. We’re going to get your dragon. We said we were going to.”

“Oh. I would have thought you’d gone back on that.”

“No,” Argie said.

“Why would even come back here if we weren’t going to help you?” I asked.

Catarina asked if the kobolds had hurt Dolf and we pointed out to her it had been the goblins.

“They all must die!” she said in response to that.

We questioned Gurgle about where many of the goblins lived. We already knew where the dragon was being kept. Then I asked the elder what she wanted first: the destruction of the goblins or the rescue of her dragon. Argie was of the opinion that we should save the dragon first. The elder, Yusdrayl felt the same way, wanting her dragon back first.

“There’s a dragon in here?” Catarina said.

“There’s a little, baby black dragon, yes,” I said.

“Probably bigger than any of us,” Argie said.

“The kobolds are …” I said. “Yeah. ‘Little’ is a relative term.”

Argie laughed at that.

“How big?” Catarina asked.

“Ten foot long,” I said. “They kept it in a cage that was much too small.”

“You cannot be any more clear of that, can you?” Argie said.

I merely frowned.

“The kobolds did or the goblins did?” Catarina asked.

“The kobolds did,” I said. “They were taking care of it. The goblins stole it. We’re trying to get it back from the goblins for the kobolds.”

“There’s a 10-foot-long baby black dragon,” Catarina said with a smile. “That sounds adorable!”

“I agree,” Argie said. “Let’s go save him!”

We discussed an assault on Goblin Town. Catarina was very excited as she got to find the adorable dragon and hurt those who had hurt Hercule’s son. We discussed if they might have moved or drugged the dragon. I asked if the elder was willing to use some of the kobolds to help us. Argie gave me a look and the elder rolled her eyes.

“Let me tell you what my idea is,” I said. “If your kobolds can create a distraction at the other end, down here, make it look like a major party is coming to attack from your people, like you’re trying to flank, then the five of us will go through the back door here, avoid the trap, try to get to where we think the dragon is being held, in the trophy room, at least that’s what Gurgle’s told us. Your kobolds don’t have to even endanger themselves, just make a lot of noise. Like a bunch of them are coming. Talk kobold talk, you know, draconic.”

“If they need to make a lot of noise, I find getting very drunk helps,” Catarina said.

Yusdrayl just rolled her eyes.

“Just ignore her,” I said to the elder in draconic. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

“I will send two kobolds with pots and pans,” she said.

“That’s a great idea. I would send three.”

“Why?”

“Because sometimes there are situation where one person, in groups of three … there are situations where two people could survive if something happens to one person. Whereas with groups of two, sometimes there are situations where one person can’t survive.”

“I would like to discuss strategy with you one day.”

“It’s just an idea.”

“But it is a good idea.”

I told her to send them up there and make a lot of noise. At the same time, we’d open the barricaded door and send Catarina in first. Yusdrayl called three strapping kobolds and had them fetch the pots and pans and then run off. She told us that we’d know immediately when they made their noise.

I took my companions aside and asked if we should tell the elder about the room with the sarcophagi. Argie was fine with it and so I told Yusdrayl about the room with the sarcophagi and the trap within. I also noticed the room butted up against another nearby room, which Yusdrayl told us was the kobold kitchen and living quarters. I pointed out a hole could be broken into that sarcophagi room from there.

Brook asked for the key and Yusdrayl told us it was our reward for returning the dragon.

As the other kobolds had already left, we readied ourselves by the back door. After what felt like a long time, even over the sound of the war drums, came a cacophony of noise. It sounded as if all the drunken chefs of the world had come to haunt this locale. From the other side of the door we were about to go through came a roar of goblin voices. Then it became quieter.

“Go Catarina, open the door!” I said.

She considered the door and I knew what she was thinking.

“Just open it,” I said. “It’s a kobold door and we might need to close it behind us. Open the ****ing door!”

She kicked the door to pieces, the idiot.

“Brook, you go open the next door,” I said.

Catarina stepped into the hallway.

“Hello targets!” she said.

“Oh great,” I muttered. “So much for surprise. Watch out for the pit trap!”

The pit trap was open but it wasn’t very wide so we could easily jump over it to the closed door on the other side. Gurgle followed us. Argie had Meepo on her back.

“Brook!” I said. “Go get that door.”

“You said there’d be things to punch here!” Catarina said.

“We’re working on it!” I said.

I turned to Argie.

“Don’t forget to check the dragon,” I said for her. “When we get to it, check it.”

I had told her before to see if it was evil. I hoped it wasn’t … but we had to know.

Beyond the second door was a hallway leading perhaps 20 feet before turning to the left. We sprinted down and could hear the sounds of goblins getting closer. We came to another door about 20 feet further down the corridor.

The stench of garbage, rotten carrion, and half-eaten legs of strange animals spoke of years of use by unsanitary tenants. Tattered hides from six unstable hammocks surround a much-used fire pit, battered cooking equipment lying mixed indiscriminately with the broken and worn arms and armor on the floor. A door stood on the right. Four goblins looked at us in various stages of arming themselves.

“Catarina!” I said. “Kill!”

Then I thought a moment.

“Oh!” I said, changing to the goblin tongue. “Goblins! Surrender or be destroyed!” I switched back to the common tongue. “Now kill them.”

The goblins yelled out at us, drawing or grabbing weapons.

Argie flicked a little burst of fire at one of the goblins, burning it. The creature staggered to his knees and looked at her with a combination of terror and anger. Gurgle, much to my surprise, leapt forward and brought his short sword down on the injured goblin, killing it. Catarina stepped forward, close to the unarmored one and the partially-armored one and swung away. She missed and looked at her fist, confused.

The naked goblin faced off with the woman, throwing a clawed punch at her but striking her armor instead. He looked even more angry.

I got out my crossbow and loaded it.

“Just a minute,” I said. “Hold on. Just a minute. Just a minute.”

Brook rushed the naked goblin and cut it down with her scimitar. Argie drew her own scimitar swung at another goblin, missing completely. Catarina struck another of the goblins, backhanding it in the face. There was an audible crunch as the goblin’s face collapsed under the blow. It gurgled and then crumpled to the floor, dead. Then she punched the last one in the face as well, knocking it back against the wall where it died.

Brook moved to the other door and listened at it. She told us she didn’t hear anything and I bid her to open it.

Several torches mounted on crude wall sconces burned fitfully in the chamber, filling the air with a haze that blurred sight. A double role of marble columns carved with entwining dragons marched the full length of the hall. There were numerous doors in the north wall and one on either end of the hallway. I pointed out the third door on the north wall to get to the trophy room. We made our way to it quickly and quietly.

I distracted Catalina while Brook listened at the door, which proved to be locked. She told us she heard movement of something large. I told Argie to have Meepo ready.

“Let me try something,” I said. “Let me cast a knock spell and see if we can open it quietly.”

Argie passed Meepo the magical dragon statuette.

“Meepo help,” Meepo said. “Meepo help. Meepo help now.”

I cast the knock spell and we heard the tumbles click in the door. I moved forward.

“Go!” I said.

Argie opened the door and we saw the backside of a small dragon. It was more than 10 feet long, had black scales, a long, serpentine tail, and a large, plump body. It was swimming through the pile of gold.

“Meepo, is that your pet?” Argie said.

Meepo flew from her back, through the air, landing in front of her, and then sprinted to the dragon.

“Gleep!” he cried out. “Gleep! I found you, Gleep!”

He proceeded to jump onto the black dragon’s back and hug its neck.

“Can we bring him back to kobold town?” Argie said.

The dragon looked around with glazed eyes and a perpetual look of stupidity on its face. Catarina ran forward to hug the dragon as well. The dragon looked at Meepo.

“Gleep,” it said.

Brook started grabbing gold and shoving it into her backpack. Argie called out we needed to go. Meepo held the magical dragon charm over his head and pointed to the door. Gleep waddled that way, its tail flapping wildly behind it. Its tiny, stunted wings fluttered as it moved. I called for Catalina to grab gold but she ignored me, clutching the dragon’s neck. I quickly cast a detect magic spell but there was none on the horde of treasure.

“That’s why they were selling the things in the beginning,” Argie guessed.

“Catalina, get those meaty hands to work!” Brook said.

“But he’s so cute!” Catalina said.

“Gold is cute!” Brook said.

I asked Argie to check the dragon for evil though I doubted it was. She cast the spell but then shook her head. The dragon wasn’t evil. It probably wasn’t even smart enough to be evil.

Meepo had the dragon head back through the hall while Gurgle and I brought up the rear, Brook near us. We went back through the hall of pillars, then through the guard room, and back into the corridor to kobold town. I closed doors behind us. I stopped in the guard room and sent Gurgle on ahead. I took out and blew the magic whistle in that room. Two of the goblin corpses twitched and then stood up, almost against their will. They looked at me, groaned, and waddled over to me to stand next to me.

“I want you to guard this room,” I said to them. “If any goblins come in here, I want you to kill them. Do you understand?”

They just groaned. I turned to walk away and they followed me.

“Stay here,” I said.

Then I said it in the goblin tongue.

“Wait over by that door,” I said in their own language. “If any other goblins come in, kill them.”

They grunted. I walked away and they stayed put.

“Kill goblins,” I said again.

Then I fled the room, closing the door behind me. I caught up with the others as the dragon got to the pit trap. It shook Catarina off, and then flopped into the air, flapping it’s tiny wings, and crashing to the floor just the other side of the pit trap. We all climbed over the trap and fled into the kobold territory.

Meepo dismounted as Gleep danced around the pillars in the throne room. Several of the kobolds bowed to it.

“This is their future leader,” Argie said.

“This is why they aren’t evil,” I said.

I found Yusdrayl. She was on her throne, happily watching her dragon. I told her what happened and of our destruction of the nearest door. She nodded and tasked her kobolds to attend to it. I also told her about the goblin zombies in the guardroom that were set to kill any goblins that came through. She nodded.

“So, key?” Brook asked her.

I asked Yusdrayl what kind of breath weapon the idiot dragon had. Gleep, as if understanding, scrunched up his face and sneezed. A tiny bit of flame came out of his nose.

Yusdrayl went over and petted the dragon, who nuzzled her. She went back to the throne.

“Key!” Brook said.

“Brook, shut up,” I said.

Yusdrayl brought us the key from the dragon statue and handed it to me. I pocketed it. The drums had stopped beating a few minutes after our raid.

We discussed what to do next, talking about attacking the goblins or sending them a message to leave. I pointed out we had the death fountain and the key to the area at the bottom of the map now as well. I suggested we could also just order the goblins out.

When I learned the kobolds from the distraction were back, I suggested we head to Goblin Town to talk to the goblins, noting the chain was still down and, if angry enough, the goblins might have gone to the village. I also got permission from Yusdrayl to return to Koboldville whenever they wanted. I told her I wanted, at some point, to talk to her about trade with the humans.

“They might be willing to trade you for supplies to help you fix this place,” I said.

“That is a brilliant idea,” she said.

“I know,” I said.

We left and headed back to the room where we’d first met Meepo where I asked Brook to look for recent tracks of goblins. She didn’t find any so we headed back towards the entry. When we reached the round room, we encountered three very angry goblins heading out the other door.

“Stop goblins!” I called to them in goblin. “Or you’ll be made into zombies for our pleasure!”

I looked at my companions.

“Try to take one of them prisoner!” I said.

I saw Catarina frown.

“If at all possible,” I said.

The goblins drew their weapons.

“Hold goblins!” I called. “We need to speak to your chief.”

Brook cast an entangle spell, catching all three goblins in growing bubbles of moss climbing up their legs and grasping them all.

“It’s magic!” one of them screamed. “No!”

“Was that actual words or just a noise?” Catarina said. “I can’t tell.”

“Yes!” I called to the goblins. “Throw down your weapons. My comrade does not know how long she can control her murder plants!”

The goblins dropped their weapons, which were grabbed by the moss.

“Are they all going to be our prisoners?” Brook asked. “Or do you just want one?”

“Yeah, they’re all going to be our prisoners!” I said. “We’re not going to kill them!”

She sighed.

“What do you want, spell-chucker?” one of the goblins called.

“You must take a message to your chief,” I said. “If you survive the plants. The goblins must leave this place. Now. Within the hour. Gather your women and children and … meager-est of possessions.”

“We tell chief, but Chief Durnn no leave.”

“Chief Durnn─”

“Chief Durnn strong!”

“─is weak! He is a tiny child. He is no more than the smallest minuscule … the tiniest atom … the most insignificant speck!”

“Me not know those words.”

“Because you’re stupid. We have many spellcasters and we are allies of the kobolds.”

“We tell Chief Durnn. You let go.”

“Any aggressive action on your part and I’ll set loose that on you.”

I gestured towards Catarina.

“You can drop the spell,” I told Brook.

When the moss let them go, they crossed the room towards us without retrieving their weapons. They looked at me hatefully, carefully moving towards us and the doorway.

“I would suggest you crawl on all fours,” I said.

One of them actually complied with it but the rest bowed their heads as they passed by us. Catarina wanted to punch one but I told her we couldn’t as we were at a truce at the moment.

“Goblins,” I said to them as they passed. “Have your chief send a message to the kobolds. One messenger, unarmed, with his reply. This could go very poorly for your tribe. We don’t want to kill you all … well, she does.”

“Quite badly,” Catarina said.

“But we will if we have to,” I said.

They didn’t reply but ran away.

Gurgle looked up at me with absolute admiration. I complimented Brook on the spell, asking her to make sure she never caught us in it.

We headed back to Koboldville. I told Yusdrayl what happened and that I was going to try to negotiate with the goblins to leave.

“You know they won’t answer peacefully,” she said.

“Well, then we’ll destroy them all,” I said. “But we’ve given them the option of answering peacefully.”

Gleep and Catarina danced around the room.

“Here here!” she screamed.

Yusdrayl and I discussed the kobold defenses and then we waited for a reply from the goblins.

During that time I told Catarina about the advisor to the goblin chief, someone called Belak who we thought was a spellcaster. Gleep had noticed Argie, who had lowered her hood, and looked over the wyvaran. When she petted the creature, he licked her hand. Then he coughed a tiny breath of flame.

“Adorable,” she said in draconic.

The dragon looked very happy at that.

It was three quarters of an hour before there was some ruckus at the main entrance to Koboldville. Several kobolds escorted a goblin in a loincloth into the throne room. Unarmed, it was pathetic-looking. The goblin looked around and then looked at Yusdrayl.

“Chief Durnn no leave,” the goblin said. “Chief Durnn fight. Chief Durnn tell you leave!”

I surreptitiously cast a charm person spell upon the goblin followed by a detect magic to see if it had taken affect. The goblin looked at me.

“Your job must be terrible!” I said. “How can your chief send you, alone, not even with pants! He’s a jerk, that’s what I think. That’s just my opinion.”

“Chief Durnn send me ‘cause Chief Durnn love his son,” the goblin said.

“Your Chief Durnn’s son?”

“Chief Durnn’s favorite son!”

“He doesn’t have any other sons?”

“Chief Durnn have daughters and son.”

“You’re the only son?”

“Yes!”

“Shouldn’t you be chief?”

“Me be chief when Durnn die.”

“That could be arranged.”

“What you mean?”

“Do you want to stay in this place? It’s dirty, nasty, and infested with kobolds! Wouldn’t you rather have someplace nicer like, I don’t know, a whole mountain or something?”

The goblin looked confused.

“Wouldn’t you rather have someplace without kobolds?” I said.

“Kobolds only temporary,” he said uncertainly.

“Well, probably not. Wait, you’re the son of the chief so you know Belak.”

“Belak only meet with chief.”

“But I thought you were important to your chief, to your father. But he won’t even let you in on important things.”

“Belak have very special rules.”

“What’s the deal with these apples?”

“Belak give apples. Apples make goblins rich.”

“Where are the apples from? What do you spend your money on?”

He looked puzzled.

“Spend?” he said.

“So you just keep the …” I said. “What do you do with the coins? The rich?”

“Shinies.”

“Yeah.”

“Shinies make strong.”

“How? Can you eat it? You throw it at your enemies? How have the shinies helped the goblin tribe? I think your chief is misinformed. You don’t use the coins for trade. They’re useless.”

“Do they melt it?” Argie whispered into my ear. “Armor?”

“Trade?” the goblin said.

“When you give something that you─” I started to say.

“Oh!” the goblin said. “Like when we give forge master food and he give us weapon.”

“Yeah, kind of like that. That’s barter but it’s kind of the same thing. So why …”

“Shinies for trade? Who wants shiny?”

“I … ugh … I don’t have time to explain the intricacies of the monetary unit. You know how you trade things and you’re not sure, you’re like ‘I’ll give you food if you work for me’ like you said? The forge master, right? So, how do you know you’re getting the right amount of work for that amount of food? When you use coins, you’ll say ‘I’ll give you this coin to work for me for a certain amount of time’ or ‘I will trade you this coin for an item that you have.’”

I gave a short discourse on the basics of how economics and the use of money worked better than barter. I got sidetracked in talking about the communal system and the implied contract between government and the people, whether they were a democratic society or ruled by the monarchy, but that’s neither here nor there.

The goblin finally came over and extended his hand to me to shake it. I shook his hand.

“You teach Grenl more,” he said.

“You’re Grenl,” I said.

I nodded and whispered to Argie to see if Grenl was evil. She cast the spell and said he was not.

“Yeah, I’ll teach you,” I said. “But you can’t stay here.”

“Then where will goblin go?” Grenl said.

“I don’t know. We’ll find some place for you to go and then some night, you can go there. Because up there - have you seen the sun? You wouldn’t like it.”

“Oh! Blinding light.”

“Bingo. But at night you don’t have to worry about it. But, the kobolds have prior claim to this place and all the dragons on the wall kind of say that is so. Because they’re draconic and this is a draconic place.”

“They dragon people?”

“Yes,” Argie said.

“Yes,” I said. “See, look at them.”

“Look more like lizard,” Grenl said.

“Potato potato,” I said, pronouncing the two differently.

“Tomato tomato,” Brook said, likewise using two different pronunciations.

“Lizard make good food,” Grenl said.

Argie bristled.

“We don’t want to have to hurt your people but obviously the goblins and the kobolds cannot both live here,” I said. “If we find you someplace to live, will you go there?”

“Will it be better place?” Grenl said.

“Probably.”

“Are there other place?”

“This place is a mess. The kobolds want to renovate it.”

“This nice place.”

“No, this is not a nice place. There are many nicer places.”

He looked at me in awe, his mind obviously opening to thoughts he’d never had before.

“So, your dad loves you, right?” I said. “He’s not going to hurt you?”

Grenl thought on it a while.

“Not sure?” I said.

“He trust,” Grenl said.

“Do you trust him?”

Again he thought on it a while.

“If you take these ideas back to him, is he going to think about them or is just going to start slapping you and not be able to stop?” I asked.

“That one,” Grenl said.

“That’s what I thought. See, you goblins need a more enlightened leader. Your father should retire. We could find him a nice─”

“What retire?”

“Oh. He just goes and he sleeps all day and … uh … enjoys women. Female goblins. And … uh … doesn’t have to work anymore.”

“Goblin only do that when dead.”

“See, that needs fixed too.”

“We can arrange that,” Argie whispered in my ear.

“Look, if we find you a better place to live …” I said. “Look do the goblins follow you too? Do they respect you and trust you? Can you get some of them on your side?”

“Me Durnn’s son!” Grenl said. “Course they do!”

“Do most of them?”

“Some.”

“All right, well … talk to the goblins that are your allies. Don’t tell your father yet. Tell them you might have a nicer place to live. And we’ll see if we can find some place for you.”

I turned to Brook.

“You’re a ranger, right?” I said. “You can find nice goblin-y places? Dark woods or caves in mountains or something like that.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“We can probably even ask,” Argie said.

“We can ask in the village,” I said.

I turned back to Grenl.

“The villagers have already been trading with you,” I said. “I’m sure they’ll continue the trade. Even if it’s not apples, there are things goblins can mine. You know how to mine, don’t you? Dig up shinies out of the ground?”

“Yes!” Grenl said.

“Those shinies can be worth a lot of the coins and then you take the coins and you can buy nice armor and weapons, you can buy chairs, and …”

“Benches,” Brook said.

“Yes,” I said.

I explained the concept of trade and the use of coins.

“Grenl want know more,” Grenl said. “Grenl not have time now. Grenl must go talk to friends.”

“Go talk to your friends,” I said. “Your friends who agree with you Grenl, and you too, find a certain color to wear. So if things get really bad, we can identify you and your friends and, if fighting breaks out, we don’t want to kill enlightened goblins.”

“Green is best! We wear green!”

“Green. None of the other goblins wear green, right? The other goblins don’t wear green?”

“Durnn likes red.”

“Good.”

“Red’s a good color,” Catarina said. “The blood blends in well.”

“Gather your friends and we’ll try to find a place for you and we’ll see what happens next,” I said.

“I just had a thought,” Argie said.

“So, go in peace,” I said. “Come here again to discuss this.”

Yusdrayl looked amazed. Grenl left.

I asked what Yusdrayl wanted from us, noting we could stay to help defend Koboldville or we could go look for a place for the goblins to live.

“We abandoned our old home,” she said to me. “To come and claim the citadel.”

“Is it nicer than this?” I asked. “Is it … ‘nicer?’ You think the goblins might consider it nice?”

“When we’re done it’s going to be much better.”

“But right now, with everything broken, is your home - was it in caves?”

“Yes.”

“Are they nice caves? Are they warm? Are they cozy? Are there mines down there where goblins could mine?”

“Some mines. Mostly for fairly common gemstones, but gemstones nonetheless.”

“How far? Where is it?”

I learned the kobolds had come under the land but through the crevice. Only rats were there when they left and it was probably a good place for the goblins.

“Can they have it?” I asked.

“This is our ancestral home,” she said. “That’s not. They can have it.”

I asked how far away it was and if there were any human towns nearby they could trade with. She noted it was 50 miles to the north and there were several towns nearby. It was very cold in the winter and not very warm in the summer but I noted that neither was the Sunless Citadel. She said they could have it. I said we could make the offer to Grenl next time he showed up.

Our work done with the goblins for the moment, I suggested we check out the southern tunnels, now that we had the key. Argie was hesitant, worrying about a goblin attack. I let slip there were a couple of zombies watching the back door.

“Two what?” she said.

“I turned two goblins in that room into zombies and told them to kill anymore goblins that came through,” I said.

She shrugged.

“Meh,” she said.

Apparently she didn’t mind necromancy, which was good to know.

We left Koboldville and crossed back through the first tower we had explored, then going out through the southwest door to the collapsed hall. On the way I told them of our arrangement with Grenl, of the goblins who would work with us being dressed in green as opposed to the regular red of Dornn’s goblins. I told them if they saw goblins in green, at least give them a chance not to be murdered. There was some confusion from Catarina but we eventually made her understand to leave the green-clad goblins alone.

I handed off the key to Brook, but then changed my mind, figuring I should go first. Brook wanted to open the door, however so I gave her the key. She was hoping for more treasure.

She inserted the key and turned it. The door slid back and then opened inward into a black room. Argie peeked in and I walked over with my candle. Brook had her lantern.

The dust of ages long undisturbed covered every surface in the large gallery. There were three alcoves on the north wall and one on the south wall. Each contained a dust-covered stone pedestal with a fist-sized crystallized globe upon it. Although the globes in the northern alcoves lay cracked and dark, the globe in the southern alcove glowed with a soft blue light. Soft, tinkling notes sprung forth from it. I could hear a very faint, droning, musical sound.

Catarina began to walk slowly towards the globe.

“Uh … Catarina,” I said. “Where are you going?”

I cast a detect magic spell. Catarina glowed with magic but I wasn’t sure what kind.

“Somebody sleep her,” Brook said.

“Let’s see what she does first,” I said.

Brook ran into the room and tackled her but the woman didn’t even fall over. She continued to walk across the room, dragging the other woman. Argie cast a hold person spell and the woman suddenly stopped.

“Drag her out,” I said.

Brook dragged the woman out of the room. Argie cast a spell to detect evil on the globe. Then Brook’s eyes went blank. I pulled the door closed and locked it again. Brook shook her head and looked around, confused. Argie’s spell continued to affect Catarina for a little while before she could move again.

I asked Argie if she had bandages but she didn’t, relying solely on her magic. She asked why I needed bandages and I told her we could use them to stuff our ears so we couldn’t hear that magical music. I asked if she had a silence spell and she said she did.

“Why couldn’t I move?” Catarina said.

“Oh,” I said. “Welcome back Catarina. You were ensorcelled by an evil crystal.”

“The shiny thing in that room? Were we in there? We were in there. What happened?”

“There was an enchanted crystal. We rescued you using magic and brute force. And here you are. Yes. And now we might try to get in there again. Do you have a club or a mace or any kind of weapon at all?”

“I don’t use mace. I punch things.”

“Grab one of these big rocks over here, won’t you?”

“Are we going to break it?” Argie asked.

“Yes, we’re going to smash it,” I said.

“It is evil,” she said.

“It is evil!” I said. “It’s evil?”

“It’s evil,” she said. “Remember that seed in your pocket?”

Catarina went to the rubble pile on the far wall and hefted a good-sized rock while we discussed what to do about the thing. Argie thought we should muffle the sound and keep it. I thought we should destroy it. We were unsure what might be able to muffle it. We also discussed silencing it until my magic could determine what it was. I suggested scraping some of the wax off my candles and making earplugs. Argie felt fine against it.

We decided to silence it with magic, I’d check it with magic, and then I would signal Catarina if she should destroy it.

We opened the door and Brook started to move across the room towards the crystal. I pointed at the pillar as Catarina tackled Brook. Argie cast her spell and the sound stopped. I concentrated on the crystal. The crystal had magic of the conjuration school and I gave Catarina the thumbs down. She dropped the rock, obviously haven forgotten my simple instructions. I yelled at her to smash the rock and she took the wax out of one of her ears.

“What?” she said.

I grabbed the rock, ran over, and smashed the crystal. Plumes of smoke in strange shapes wafted out and flew away.

“That was a soul,” Argie said.

“What?” I said. “A soul?”

“One of the plumes was evil,” she said. “I’m assuming it’s a soul.”

“Well, at least it’s done,” I said.

Looking at the map, I pointed out there was a trap on the other side of the other door to the room.

“I wonder what would have happened,” Argie said.

“Possession probably,” I muttered.

“Sweet. By the evil spirit.”

“That’s my guess.”

“Cool!”

“Now they’re out there possessing someone else.”

“Sweet!”

“No!”

“We couldn’t prevent it! It was either us or them. Maybe they just ascended.”

We did a quick search of the room. The broken gems were actually alexandrite and of some little value so we took them all. I knew alexandrite was particularly good at holding souls.

Brook listened at the next door, but it was also stone. She stumbled and fell on her face on the ground.

“Brook, what are you doing?” I asked.

“Uh …” she said.

“Is there something in the floor?” Argie said.

“It’s tactical,” Brook said. “The crack under the door. It’s better for the hearing.”

“That’s funny,” Catarina said. “You fell.”

“Of course,” I said, realizing Brook was lying. “Well, whenever you’re ready, you can listen again.”

She listened at the door again but heard nothing so opened it to reveal a short, narrow passage. The air was stale and Catarina chucked her rock in. Arrows shot directly down as it hit the ground in the center of the hallway.

“Throw another one,” I said.

She did so but no more arrows came down.

“Simple trap,” I said. “Let’s move on.”

“Wait!” Catarina said. “I should throw a third one, just in case.”

“Yeah, go ahead,” I said.

She ran to get another rock and flung it down the hallway as well. Again, nothing happened.

We went to the door at the end of the short corridor and Brook listened to it, hearing nothing. I noted there was a circle that might have marked another little column or plinth. Brook opened the door and we saw a hall that was some forty feet long and 20 feet wide. Dust filled the place like a layer of gray snow. In the rounded northern end of the chamber was a dragon carved from red-veined white marble.

Brook entered the room and the head of the dragon statue animated. It looked us over and then said.

“We come at night, without being fetched. We disappear by day without being stolen.”

“Stars,” Brook said.

“Stars,” Catarina said.

The dragon bowed its head and the secret door on the western wall that was marked on the map slid open. We peeked in at the dust-cloaked 20-foot wide hallway with three narrow alcoves on the north and the south wall. Each alcove held a humanoid figure of red-veined white marble except for the southwest alcove, which was empty. The figures resembled tall elves in plate mail. The far end of the hall opened via a stone arch into a wide room from which a greenish light trickled. A dark pit was situated before the western archway.

Catarina walked over to the nearest statue and poked it. Nothing happened. I suggested she poke each one, just to be sure.

There was a burned place on the map that connected to the room so I cast mending on it and repaired it. That revealed a secret door between the two alcoves on the south wall.

“Before we open that secret door, let’s peek in that pit,” I said.

Brook noticed that, in the snow-like dust on the floor were ancient tracks that had been filled in with more dust. They went from the empty alcove, wandered a bit, and to the pit and on the other side. The pit was an open trap, 10 feet deep, with spikes on the bottom. Disintegrated wood was scattered in the dust as if it had once had a cover.

We investigated the secret door. I stood on the other side of the room while they looked for a way to open it. I watched across the pit in case something was over there. Brook found a piece of stone that, when pressed, unlocked the door. It revealed a small chamber coated in dust which obscured the words inscribed on the southern wall.

“What do they say, Brook?” I asked.

She didn’t know. When Argie looked at it, she said it was in draconic.

“A dragon priest, entombed alive for transgressions of the law, still retains the honor of his position,” she read.

Argie read it out loud and I walked over to look at it. Brook backed away from the words, unnerved. She returned and found a small trapdoor in the floor. She pulled it open, revealing a three-foot by three-foot crawl space going down and to the west. I pointed out it was heading towards the room on the other side of the pit. Brook hopped into little hole and crawled along the low corridor, watching for traps along the way. I sent Catarina next. She sighed and muttered about large people in small places and tall, skinny magic bastards.

I’m sure she wasn’t talking about me.

I went to the pit to look into the room. A few moments later, Brook and Catarina popped up out of a secret door in the southwest corner.

Violent hued marble tiles covered the floor and walls though all were cracked or broken, revealing rough-hewn stone beneath them. Wall sconces were attached at the walls at each corner, but only one still bore a torch that burned with a greenish light. A massive marble sarcophagus easily nine feet long lay in the room’s center. The stone possessed heavy carvings with dragon imagery. The head of the sarcophagus resembled a dragon’s head, rusting metal clasps firmly locked down the lid.

“I got a bad idea,” Catarina said.

“What’s that, Catarina?” Brook said.

“Open the sarcophagus,” she said.

I waved at them from across the pit.

“C’mon, let’s do it!” Catarina said. “C’mon, let’s do it.”

Argie on looked more with curiosity than anger.

“Just don’t loot it!” she said. “Don’t. Loot. It.”

“Wait for us,” I said.

Argie and I went through the crawlspace, leaving Gurgle in the other room. We found Catarina standing there with a rock, eyeing the rusty metal clasps. I stayed by the wall near the trapdoor in the floor. The others stood around the marble sarcophagus.

“Do we have the cleric’s permission to try to get into it?” Brook said.

“Don’t loot it,” Argie said.

“Does smashing this clasp count as looting?” Catarina said.

“Just don’t take anything out of it,” I said.

“Yeah, we can open it up and look at it but we can’t take anything out of it,” Brook said.

“Cool!” Catarina said.

She started banging on the clasps with the rock. Within seconds there was only one left.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” I said.

Brook and Catarina grasped the lid of the sarcophagus, sliding it off the top. Lying in the sarcophagus was a strange creature in a position of agony. Scratch marks covered the underside of the lid of the sarcophagus and as soon as the green light hit it, it twitched.

“Cover it!” Argie said. “Cover it! Cover it! Cover it!”

The thing sat up and leapt out of the sarcophagus. I realized it was created by magic and was a hybrid. Brook called out it was half troll.

“Burn it!” I said.

“This thing ain’t a dragon!” Argie said.

Brook drew her scimitar and slashed the horrible hybrid thing. It fell back and had to brace itself from the terrible wound. Catarina punched the thing in the head and it fell onto the ground.

“Back away,” I said.

I spread my hands out and cast burning hands on the thing. Then I stepped back once again. It writhed in pain.

“If it’s half-troll, it’s going to regenerate so we have to burn it!” I said.

I fled into the trapdoor and stood there, waiting. I was out of spells but wanted to stay if someone needed help.

“Y’all stay where you are,” Argie said.

She cast a burning hands spell as well, burning the horrible thing even more. Gurgle, on the other side of the pit, took out his bow. He shot the thing with an arrow. Then Brook cut the thing with her scimitar again. It shrieked, crumpled, and lay still.

“Burn it again!” I said.

“Just for good measure?” Brook said with a smile.

“Yes,” I said. “If it’s a troll it needs to burned until its …”

“Ashes,” Brook said.

“Yes,” I said. “Not necessarily ashes but it needs to be burned all over. The wound that has not been burned could potentially regenerate. Argie, burn it again.”

She did so, blasting away with more burning hands. The thing crumpled to ash.

“There we go!” I said.

We searched the ashes and found a masterwork dagger, a ring, two bracelets, and an amulet. Argie cast detect evil on the items but said they were not evil. She then cast a detect magic spell on the items and found none of them were magical. She did detect magic emanating from the bottom of the sarcophagus. There, we found 50 gold coins and four scrolls that Argie looked over and found to be divine. She said they had spells of command, cure light wounds, inflict light wounds, and magical stone. Argie, the only of us who could use such magic, kept them.

I took the dagger, tucking it away.

Brook put the ring and the bracelets into the sack with the other treasure we’d found. Argie kept the amulet for the time being. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1985-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-4-Goblin-Talks-and-Dragon-Priest
Pathfinder - The Sunless Citadel 3 - Kobold Politics http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1984-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-3-Kobold-Politics Fri, 27 Oct 2017 19:21:14 GMT Tuesday, October 24, 2017 (After Jacob Marcus ran his *Pathfinder* game “The Sunless Citadel” with Justin Moser, Katelyn Hogan, and me Monday... Tuesday, October 24, 2017

(After Jacob Marcus ran his Pathfinder game “The Sunless Citadel” with Justin Moser, Katelyn Hogan, and me Monday from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.)

Iago’s Memoires

Brook indicated she wanted to go to the northwest first. She led the way, I followed, and Argie followed behind. We only had one torch so we’d have to leave shortly before the light died.

Through the doorway was a long hallway some 10 feet wide and 50 feet long. Near the far end, two doors led off to the right and left. An archway stood at the far end. Brook led us to the door on the right at my suggestion.

“Let’s listen,” I said too late as Brook pushed the door open.

The ruined chamber stood empty of all but rubble and rocky debris.

“Let’s not search this room,” I said. “We don’t have enough light.”

I suggested going to the door across the hall. That one had a hand-carved relief of a dragon without wings swimming.

“Listen at the door first!” I said.

She did so and said she heard only loud dripping inside. The door proved unlocked and Brook opened it. The small room, barely 10 feet square, was mostly filled with an upright keg filled fashioned of rusty iron. Several pipes led from the keg into the floor. I guessed it was a cistern. There were valves but no pumps.

Brook and I entered the room to examine the strange pipes. Argie waited in the hallway. As I suggested to Brook to hold the torch over the water to see if anything was within, a watery creature rose from the water. It was small, with thin, leathery wings, small horns, and a mischievous smile. Argie urged us to leave the room. Then the horrible water goblin, crouched on the edge of the cistern, blasted water from its mouth in a wide spray. Only I was struck by it, the others deftly ducking out of the way, and it slammed me back against the wall.

The little thing screeched with laughter.

Brook stabbed the thing with her spear. The thing staggered and looked surprised and angry.

“Stand down, you little *****!” I said in draconic. “I’m your master!”

I readied myself to cast a spell as the thing looked confused at me, obviously not understanding at all. Then Argie stepped into the room, touching my shoulder and casting a cure light wounds spell, healing me nearly completely. When the water goblin reared back to spray us again, I blasted away with two magic missiles. Unfortunately, the second blast of water hit me harder than the first had. The others escaped unscathed. Again.

Brook whipped her hair and stabbed at the thing but it ducked to one side. Argie cast a cure moderate wounds spell on me, completely healing me.

“Now fight!” she said to me.

I asked if the creature spoke goblin in the goblin-tongue but the water goblin just looked confused. I crossed to the other side of the cistern from the other two in the hopes of not getting caught in the breath weapon again. Then I blasted away with another pair of magic missiles. The thing cried out and fell back into the water of the cistern.

“Quick, look in the water!” I said. “Let’s get out of the room!”

I left the room. As I tried to wring out my robes, the other two looked in the cistern. They later told me they found 30 gold pieces on the bottom of the cistern in the shape of the thing. They retrieved the money and returned to the hallway. Brook gave me 10 gold coins and I pocketed them.

“Well done,” I said, thanking her.

Argie suggested making a fire to dry me off but I waved her off, figuring we could press on. She noted she had used much of her healing magic so if we got injured again, we’d be in trouble.

After thinking about it, I realized the creature was a water mephit. I remembered the spear and my magic had both injured the thing. It had not faked its death. The thing was definitely dead. It probably had spoken the languages of the inner planes, hence its confusion at my speaking to it.

We headed to the dark archway and peeked into the room beyond. Crudely executed symbols and glyphs scribed in light green dye decorated the large and irregularly-shaped, crumbling chamber. A large pit in the chamber’s center showed recently evidence of a bonfire. A metallic cage in the center of the southern wall contained a gaping hole and stood empty. A small wooden bench draped with green cloth stood before the cage and, upon it sat several small objects. A bedroll lay near the wooden bench from which the sound of whimpering was plainly audible. A small bump was in the bedroll. There were several other entrances.

Brook walked towards the bedroll as I took out my light crossbow and loaded it to cover her. As she lifted the edge of the bedroll with her spear, I aimed at the bump in the bedroll. A small kobold looked up at Brook, terrified. He stopped whimpering and froze in place.

“Do you speak Draconic?” I called in that language.

“Iago, talk to it,” Brook said.

I walked into the room, unloading and slinging my crossbow. Behind me, I heard Argie cast comprehend languages. Smart.

“Do you speak Draconic?” I asked again.

The kobold nodded, obviously terrified.

“Go ahead,” I said in Draconic. “Speak some.”

The terrified kobold said nothing. I turned to Brook.

“I’m going to cast a spell on you so you’ll be able to understand this kobold,” I said to her in Draconic. “Perhaps we can help him.”

I cast charm person on the kobold though I acted like I was casting it on Brook. The kobold crossed its legs and looked up, fascinated.

“You okay, buddy?” I asked the kobold in Draconic.

“Yeah!” the kobold said.

“What’s your name?”

“Meepo!”

“Meepo, do you speak just Draconic or do you speak common?”

“Uh-huh.”

“You speak common?”

“Uh-huh!”

“Let’s speak common! It’ll be fun, right?”

“Okay!”

“Yeah!”

The kobold bounced in place happily but then looked at the broken cage and began sobbing uncontrollably.

“Meepo,” I said. “Meepo.”

I went over and comforted him, casting detect magic to make sure the charm spell had taken hold. I realized the kobold was small for its kind. He was probably a runt and didn’t appear to be a pup.

“Tell us what happened here, Meepo,” I said.

Brook went to the cage and examined it.

Meepo reached up and grabbed his horns, furiously shaking his head as he cried and sobbed.

“The nasty goblins took the clan dragon!” he cried out.

“What’s the clan dragon?” I said. “Perhaps we can help you get it back.”

“The goblins stole Calcryx! They took my pet away.”

“Calcryx?”

Brook moved to the cage.

“Was Calcryx in the cage?” I asked.

“Mm-hmm,” Meepo said.

I looked at the cage which was about six feet tall by six feet long and four feet wide. The bars were very narrow, like the cage I’d had made a few days before. I guessed it was a big cage to hold something small. The hole in the side had been pushed inward.

“Tell us everything, Meepo,” I said. “Tell us how we can help. Where’s your clan?”

“Small dragon?” Argie mumbled.

Meepo thought a moment. Then he wrapped his arms around himself.

“Meepo doesn’t know,” he said. “But the leader does. Meepo take you to leader Yusdrayl if you make nice. Grant you safe passage if you promise not hurt Meepo.”

Argie walked over to us.

“Well, Meepo,” I said. “We’re going to be in need of getting back to town soon, a human town near here. We’re going to have to go back to the human town so we won’t be able to take you up on that until tomorrow. Could we meet you here tomorrow? Or would you like to come with us and see the human town? I can grant you safe passage to the human town. They have beer there.”

Meepo started shaking his head as soon as I suggested his leaving the place. He went over and started to pet the cage.

“Which direction is your tribe?” I asked him.

“Not unless you promise to save dragon,” Meepo said.

“Dragon?” Argie said.

“Yes, I promise,” I said.

“I wait here for tomorrow,” Meepo said.

“All right,” I said. “Sounds fair. We’ll return tomorrow around this time.”

I held out my hand and he lifted a fist in the hair. I bumped two fists to his one in the kobold fashion.

I took a closer look at the items on the bench. I saw there was a small, jade figurine of the black dragon that looked like the dragon on the tapestry in the mayor’s house. A little pot of green paint and a large, crude paintbrush were also on the bench.

“Oh, this is quite lovely, Meepo,” I said, pointing to the jade dragon. “Is this your dragon? Is this Calcryx?

“That is what dragons grow up to be,” Meepo said.

“So that’s what Calcryx looks like?”

“That is what he look like one day.”

“That will help us to find him, then.”

“So, Calcryx is a black dragon then,” Brook said.

“Yeh,” Meepo said.

“We’ll be back tomorrow,” I said.

“He’s little and Meepo look after him,” Meepo said.

“So, is this yours then, Meepo?” Brook said, gesturing at the dragon figurine.

“Uh-huh,” Meepo said.

“We’ll be back tomorrow,” I said. “Let’s go.”

Meepo smiled at me and went back to his bedroll.

“Meepo wait here,” he said.

We headed out of the room. Meepo must have noticed Argie’s tail and leapt up, sprinted over, and got in front of her.

“What are you?” he asked.

“Half of you,” Argie replied.

He grabbed her by the legs and hugged her. She knelt and hugged him back.

“Can Meepo follow?” he asked her.

“Can Meepo follow?” she asked me.

“Of course,” I said. “We’ll protect him in the village.”

“Meepo can follow,” she said.

“Meepo,” I said. “That dragon over there. You should hide it before we go so that the goblins don’t come back and steal it as well.”

Meepo retrieved the items on the bench, stuffing them into a dirty little bag and throwing it over his shoulder. He held onto Argie’s tail, dancing, as we went. I asked Argie to detect evil but she found no evil in the little creature. I lectured on kobolds as we walked out of the place, noting that traditionally, kobolds were an evil race.

We climbed up and out of the ravine on the chain. Meepo didn’t climb but hung onto Argie’s tail as we went up. Catarina, who had left us after the fight with the skeletons, waited up there for us. We introduced her to Meepo and all of us headed back to Oakhurst.

Meepo attracted a lot of attention when we returned to the village. Many people came out to look and Meepo hid under Argie’s cloak. While Argie and I went to the inn, Brook went to the general store to get torches. Nackle was interested in Meepo when we got there, asking Meepo all kinds of questions. Most of the kobold’s answers were “Meepo doesn’t know, but the elder does.”

“You want something to eat?” I asked the kobold.

Meepo nodded.

“What do you like?” I asked. “Cooked meat?”

“Meat!” Meepo said.

“Meat. Cooked?”

“Cooked?”

“You can try it. If you don’t like it, we can get it raw.”

I ordered a tray of all the different meats the inn had available and Nackle told me if we shared it, it was on the house. She ran off and came back with a tray of all kinds of different cooked meats upon it, mostly fish. Meepo liked the salmon and ate it down so we ordered more.

“Meepo not know you can cook food,” he muttered.

He tried many of the meats and the only one he didn’t like was the pork. I ordered some cooked potatoes and bread as well to round out the meal.

Brook soon returned and sat down with us in the booth.

“Did you get the torches?” I asked.

“I’ll do you one better,” she said.

She took out a hooded lantern.

“Ah, a lantern,” I said. “Nice.”

“Not just any lantern,” she said. “A continual flame lantern.”

“Ah.”

“You could swim with it.”

“Yes, I know. That’s what we lit the entire university with.”

The lantern glowed with a red flame. I examined it closely and found the spell was merely cast on the wick. I pointed that out to Brook, telling her the wick could be removed if she wanted to use it in a different way. I noted if I had the spell, which I had been studying, it could be cast upon anything. A tiny stick in the brim of a hat was a favorite.

I questioned Meepo about the other adventurers but he knew nothing. The kobolds had only been in the place for three weeks, having come from the caves. Meepo told me, when I asked, that they had come because the elder said the sunless citadel was a holy place of dragons. I learned the elder’s name was Yusdrayl. Yusdrayl was the war chief and was smart and big, but didn’t know magic, as far as Meepo knew. He only knew there were lots of kobolds in the tribe.

I noticed Meepo was barely reaching the table and so I asked Nackle for a booster seat or something for the kobold.

“Is your dragon Calcryx the only dragon in the clan or have they been stealing more?” Brook asked.

“He only dragon,” Meepo said. “He my dragon.”

“Are there multiple clans in the citadel?”

“No. Just our clans.”

“How many attacked your camp?”

“Goblins come. Meepo hide. Goblins kill all kobolds guarding dragon. Then burn bodies.”

We learned there were four kobolds guarding the dragon including himself. They had been outnumbered by the goblins, which had come from the south. We discussed which direction to go when we returned, thinking the goblins were that way. He noted the goblins had been there for a very long time and his tribe had known about the goblins, which were defiling the holy place of dragons: the citadel.

Brook went off once again. I later learned she had gone to see Hercule, the dwarven blacksmith.

We got a little ale for Meepo and the kobold ended up sleeping in Argie’s room.

* * *

On the 7th day since our arrival in Oakhurst, we got up, ate breakfast, and headed back for the ravine, arriving there in the late morning. We climbed back down to the broken tower top and then made our way back to the room where we’d found Meepo.

“Why’d they keep the dragon in this room, Meepo?” I asked.

“Kobold camp not far,” he said.

“How far is the goblin camp? Any idea?”

“Meepo don’t know.”

We bid him lead us to the kobolds. He took us to the doorway to the west in the middle of the room. The hallway beyond went both to the west and north and there were more doors leading off it on either side. He took us to the right, the north, and to a long hall with great pillars. We passed between the columns to the far end of the hall.

A short throne constructed of fallen bits of masonry stacked against an old altar stood against the far wall. A small, horned figure in red-dyed robes sat upon the throne. A force of six similar creatures guarded her. The alter top contained a variety of small items while the masonry that served as the throne’s back featured a carving of a rearing dragon. A metallic key was held firmly in the rearing dragon’s mouth. It appeared to be part of the altar.

The kobold female on the throne eyed us all suspiciously, including Meepo. She didn’t appear to be upset.

“Why have you brought them here?” she asked Meepo in the common tongue. “Why have you brought these humans here?”

“And!” I said, gesturing towards Argie.

“What are you?” the kobold female said to her.

“A wyvaran,” Argie replied.

The kobold’s eyes grew wide and she leaned forward in her chair.

“Where are you from?” she asked.

“I don’t remember,” Argie said.

“How old are you?”

“A hundred and forty-nine.”

“I would like to have a conversation with you later. Why are you three here?”

I bowed slightly.

“Meepo told us about your problem with the goblins,” I said. “We said we would help him and he offered safe passage to come and speak with you.”

“It seems you have a family dragon loose,” Argie said.

“Not loose,” the kobold female said. “Taken.”

“Great.”

“The goblins came at night. They killed some of my best guards and they took my dragon. Sorry, Meepo. Your dragon.”

“What kind of dragon?”

“Black wyvernling.”

“I’m interested.”

“A very young creature. We hatched it ourselves. My father hatched it himself. Took 50 years just for it to get 10 feet long.”

“It was 10 feet long?” I asked.

“Coiled in the cage, yes,” she said.

I frowned. The cage was only six feet on a side, much too small for any creature 10 feet long.

“It was the best cage we have,” she said. “Meepo took very good care of it. We didn’t even have to keep the cage locked.”

Damned animal mis-handlers, I thought.

“After all, Meepo is one of the best dragon handlers in the kobold tribes,” she said.

“Okay,” Argie said.

“So, there are multiple tribes,” Brook said.

“Only one is here,” the kobold female said.

“Tell us about these goblins who took your dragon,” I said.

“Great defilers have been here ever since the citadel sank,” she said. “They have been … troublesome ever since we arrived. We had to fight our way here, into this sacred throne room.”

“How long have you been here?” Argie asked.

“Three weeks,” I said.

“A little over three weeks,” the kobold elder said.

“How many are there? Goblins.”

“That is something we would like to know as well.”

“So, you don’t know anything about the apples of life and death?”

“We know that they are operating with some help. Someone is telling them to do that.”

“Well, we know who that is,” Argie said.

“No, we don’t,” I said.

“Yeah, we do.”

“They’ve only been here two months.”

“Huh.”

“Another party of adventurers, did they come down here?”

“Oh,” the kobold elder said. “We have only heard of them from listening and spying on the goblins. The goblins do not mess with them. They do not go near them.”

“So, they’re somewhere else,” I said.

“Yes, they’re on the far lower levels. The far lower levels.”

“So, they’re not working with the goblins.”

“The place where the goblins don’t go.”

“So, what did you hear?” Brook said. “About them?”

“They came … from what we know, one of them is one of the ones who gives the seeds to the goblins,” the elder said.

“They’ve only been here two months,” I said. “Haven’t they?”

“We don’t care about the business dealings. The curiosity extends only as far as we learn why they’re here in the hopes of removing them from this holy place.”

“What do you plan to do once the goblins are gone?”

“Rebuild.”

She looked around the room loftily.

“So, the citadel … is it yours?” Brook asked.

“The citadel belongs to all of dragonkin,” she said. “It was built hundreds of years ago by those who worshipped Ashardalon.”

“Who is Ashardalon?”

“Those who worshipped the great dragon Ashardalon built this place. No doubt you’ve seen the reliefs and etchings all over the walls.”

“We saw the tapestry in the human town of Ashardalon dropping the citadel into the chasm. Was that how it happened?”

“The tapestry showed a black dragon …” I said.

“Flying over,” Argie said.

“Ashardalon was indeed the blackest of dragons,” the elder told us.

“Blasting the citadel,” I said.

“It was said when he flew through the night’s sky, you could only tell where he was because the stars would disappear.”

“It showed him destroying this citadel.”

“Yes. Those who worshipped here perverted what his desires were, so he sank it.”

“Makes sense,” Argie said.

“Interesting,” I said, not completely believing the kobold mythology.

“They started worshipping other dragons,” she said.

“You wouldn’t happen to have any writings about Ashardalon, would you?” I asked.

“All writings in this place disintegrated years ago. All that’s left are the runes and reliefs on the walls.”

I looked around and only then noticed the reliefs covering the walls. Unfortunately, it was in ancient picture storytelling and the carvings had been long damaged beyond any hope of repair. Discerning any meaning from them would be impossible by that point. Parts of it were remarkably similar to the mayor’s tapestry, however.

“So, do you have any plans to enact revenge on the goblins, or …?” Brook said.

“Most definitely,” the elder said.

“What are those plans? If I may ask.”

“It starts with getting our dragon back.”

“Where are they holding it. Do you know?”

“We don’t know. We only know that their main base is somewhere on this level.”

“This level. And this is the level we found Meepo. We can go get your dragon for you, if you like.”

“Would you?”

“I … think I speak for everybody when I say that we would.”

“Why are you here?”

“We are chasing the other band of adventurers and also trying to figure out what’s happening with the apple trade.”

“Fair curiosity. Be careful as you go deeper. You may not come back out. The goblins don’t go past the steps.”

“Where are the steps?”

“On this floor, there is a threshold that goes down. It stops being citadel and starts being cave immediately. The goblins don’t go anywhere near it. We assume it goes deeper.”

“And you said there was someone helping the goblins?”

“We know through listening to them with the help of our elite spies that they are doing this … not willingly.”

While they talked, I whispered to Argie to see if the kobolds were evil and she quietly cast a detect evil spell. She looked at the kobolds and then around the room curiously.

“They’re not evil,” she whispered to me. “But they can still be dangerous.”

“Do you have a name of who is working with the goblins?” Brook asked.

“We don’t know who they are, what they are, why they’re here, how long they’ve been here,” the elder said. “We haven’t even heard names, just that there is someone forcing them.”

Brook turned to us and told us we should go back Meepo’s room, find the goblins, and question them. We were all in agreement. I quickly learned Brook spoke orc and I asked Argie if she spoke orc but she didn’t.

“So, what do you think?” I asked Brook in orc. “Can we turn these two tribes against each other?”

“Is that what you want to do?” Brook replied in the same language.

“Well, what I’m thinking is, kobolds are generally evil,” I said in orc. “Wait.”

I turned to Argie.

“Are they …?” I asked her in common.

Then I realized Meepo was still with us and so I shut up. She chatted with Meepo, trying to get him to stay behind.

“Can we try to play the goblins off in the same way that we have … we befriended the kobolds,” I said in orc. “Can we play the goblins off and make them think we’re going to help them as well.”

“Not if they’re being controlled by a third party,” Brook said.

“They might be evil too.”

“They’re already butting heads.”

“I don’t know if the kobolds are evil.”

I turned to Argie.

“Argie,” I said to her. “What is the kobold’s … disposition?”

“Not evil,” she said.

“Really!?!”

“They seem to be a decent tribe.”

Meepo took out the jade dragon.

“Calcryx follow this,” he said.

“Huh,” I said. “The kobolds aren’t evil.”

“I’m not evil either,” Argie said.

She seemed a little offended.

“Well, as a rule, kobolds are evil, at least as far as the moral code of humans,” I said. “That’s surprising. That’s good! That’s good! They’re not evil!”

“If it’s not evil, it’s good,” Brook said.

“No, not necessarily,” I said. “But at least they’re not evil. And they seem very lawful in that they haven’t attacked us when they said they wouldn’t.”

“Some, we might not want to approach,” Argie said. “But she’s fine.”

Meepo tugged on her cloak and handed her the jade dragon.

“Calcryx follow this,” he said. “Show to Calcryx. Calcryx follow you.”

“I … see,” she said.

She tucked the dragon away.

“So, Meepo, are you going to wait for you here?” I asked.

We had, by then, returned to the room with the cage where the dragon had originally been.

“Meepo wait here,” he said.

“You need to tell your … your lady that …” I said, gesturing at the cage. “That needs to be bigger.”

Meepo nodded.

“Meepo,” Brook said.

“Meepo say that all along,” Meepo said.

“Meepo, why does Calcryx follow the jade dragon?” Brook asked. “Is it the paint or is it the jade?”

I cast detect magic on the jade dragon. It had an innate magic about it of the enchantment school. I guessed it was made to cause young dragons to follow it.

“Calcryx follow sculpture of daddy,” Meepo said.

“Where did you get that?” I asked.

“Elder give,” Meepo said.

“So elder know,” I said. “Interesting.”

“It heirloom of dragon tamers,” Meepo said.

We left the throne room.

“I’ll need you to check the dragon for evil when we find it,” I told Argie.

“I’m sure it will be,” she said.

“The kobolds aren’t. Kobolds in nature, generally, are evil.”

“Generally. But black dragons …”

“Generally are evil. What do we do if the dragon is evil? Because it’s going to grow up and it’s going to be leader of the kobold tribe. That means it will turn the kobold tribe to evil sooner or later.”

“That’s very true,” Brook said.

“I’m just saying, we need to know if the dragon is evil,” I said. “Then we make a decision on what to do with it. It might be too young to be evil. If these kobolds aren’t evil, there’s a good chance they’ll raise it not to be evil.”

“That’s what I’m thinking,” she said.

“Worse comes to worse, we just kill it and say the goblins did it,” Brook said.

“If it’s evil, I don’t know what we’ll do,” I said. “Because I can’t let an evil dragon come back to this tribe.”

“Yeah.”

“Eventually it will be in command of the tribe.”

“Exactly.”

“And then it will teach them to be evil.”

“Yeah.”

“So, we’re going to have figure out what to do if that’s the case, but I need to know from you if it’s evil or not.”

“I understand. But I’m not going to be happy about it.”

“I’m not going to be happy about it either. But in the long run, we can’t allow an evil creature to influence kobolds which aren’t evil. The goblins might not be evil either. I’m guessing they probably are, but they might not be.”

“If they stole a dragon?”

We returned to the room where we’d met Meepo and went out through the door Meepo had said the goblins had come from. Brook led the way. The corridor was choked with rubble except for a very small gap at the top that no normal-sized person could ever hope to fit through. The smell of rat droppings was heavy there.

We returned to the round tower with the secret room and then exited the southwest door of that room. It opened into a wide hall. The masonry walls were in poor repair. The far end was especially bad as it had completely collapsed, filling the southern section with rubble. The western wall was in much better shape than the other walls and it held a strong stone door with a rearing dragon carved in a relief upon it. The door contained a single keyhole which was situated in the rearing dragon’s mouth.

“I think we need a key,” Argie said.

“Bingo,” I replied. “We have to go back and get the key.”

Brook listened at the door. She heard nothing. The door didn’t have any kind of handle or knob and was made of stone. I suggested Brook push on it to see if it was open but, of course, it wasn’t. We headed back to the kobold area to see about getting the key.

“Ah, you have returned, but dragon-less,” the kobold elder said. “What can I help you with?”

“Could we get that key in the dragon’s mouth,” Brook said. “We found a door that has a keyhole.”

It was definitely the key. It looked like a perfect fit for the lock.

“We’d like that key,” Brook said.

“We think it will help us get to the goblin town,” I said.

“Where are you looking for the goblin town?” the elder said.

“We can’t fit through the hole that the goblins came through. So, we’re taking another route.”

“Where are you looking though?”

“To the south and west.”

“The goblin town is to the north.”

“What? Meepo pointed us south.”

“He pointed us south,” Brook said. “But that’s where they came from.”

“Meepo said the goblins came from the door to the south,” I said.

“Who pointed you in that direction?” she said.

“Meepo did,” Brook said.

“Meepo said the goblins came from the door to the south,” I said again. “When they raided and took the dragon.”

“The goblins have paths that you cannot use,” the elder said. “Their town is not there.”

“Ah, we made an assumption.”

“But that would definitely be the reason why they could have gotten past my guards so easily, seeing as they were posted on the doors we expected them to come through.”

I was a little confused about how the goblins could have gotten the dragon through the hole but we learned Meepo had not seen the way the goblins had left the room.

“Do you know where the goblin town is?” I asked.

“All I know is that it is to the north and east,” the elder said.

I groaned. We realized we had to go through the northeast door of Meepo’s room to go in the direction of goblin town.

“Could we still take the key, though?” Brook asked.

“Bring me my dragon and you can have the key,” the elder said.

“Agreed,” Brook said.

“Sorry to bother you,” I said.

“Bring me my dragon and you can each pick anything you want from the treasures,” she said.

We headed back out. As we walked, I nudged Brook.

“She’s going to pick Meepo,” I said, indicating Argie.

We returned to Meepo’s room and Brook listened to the northeast door. She opened the door, spear in hand, to reveal a long, narrow hallway. We followed it first to the east and then south and then east again. There was a door to the north at the end of the hallway. Brook listened at it.

The door proved to be unlocked. The room beyond was about 20 feet deep and thirty feet wide. The lonely chamber was home to only rat droppings, crumpled flagstones, and nameless dark stains. A door stood across from the one we’d entered.

Brook listened at the other door then opened it into a room of similar size and shape to the empty room we were in. Dust and odd bits of rubble and debris lay scattered across the floor. An ornate fountain was built into the eastern wall: cracked, stained, and dry. The fountain’s carving of a dragon retained its beauty. A relief-carved stone door stood on the western wall. An archway stood across the room from our door.

Brook went to the stone door and listened but didn’t hear anything. I asked Argie what she saw in the dark hallway to the north. She told us it split a little ways down and then held doors on either side of it. I went to the fountain and saw very worn draconic writing on the base. They spelled out “Let there be fire.”

“What’s it say?” Brook asked.

“It says ‘Let there be fire,’” I said.

The fountain sputtered and from the mouth of the dragon poured forth a red, glowing liquid that proceeded to cascade beautifully down into the fountain. I cast detect magic and gazed upon the fountain and the liquid coming from it. I realized it was a prestidigitation blood spell cast in the mouth of the dragon. The glowing red liquid was literally blood, created by the magic of the fountain. It was activated by speaking the words.

“It’s glowing magical blood,” I said. “Gross.”

The stone door was not magical and there was nothing up the corridor that was magical either. I pointed out the spell would last a couple more minutes so if they wanted to go somewhere, we could. Brook thought goblin town was down the corridor but she wanted to open the stone door so I bid her do so.

Brook opened the door and two large curved scythe blades swung down from inside the room, slashing from side to side across the door and then back where they went up into the ceiling once again. If Brook had entered the room, she would have been badly hurt if not killed.

“Leave that open,” I said. “Wait, close it and open it again but don’t walk in.”

Brook did so. The scythes swung down and back again. It appeared they were based on the opening of the door.

“So, if we get chased, we run in here and slam the door behind us and just wait for whomever walked in next,” I said. “We’ll leave the door open.”

The room was some 20 feet wide by 25 to 30 feet deep. Five dusty sarcophagi stood on end in the silent chamber, three on the north wall and two on the south. The carved stone sarcophagi each resembled a noble, elf-like humanoid in ceremonial robes. A shrine carved of obsidian was set in the center of the west wall on which a single candle burned. I was surprised there were no dead goblins on the floor. Brook assumed it was because, like us, they had been scared to enter.

The candle was obviously magical, or at least the flame was. I assumed it was another everburning torch spell. I asked Argie if she could detect undead and, when she said she could, I asked if she could through the stone sarcophagi. She said she couldn’t.

“Shall we loot the dead?” I asked. “Or at least take their candle?”

“We will not be looting the dead,” Argie said.

“We won’t be?” Brook said.

“We will be leaving them as they are,” Argie said.

“What about the candle?” I asked. “Can we take the candle?”

“Can we go up to the alter and look at what we’ve got?” Brook said.

Argie frowned.

“It’s a waste of magic!” I said.

“We are not going to loot the dead,” Brook said.

“How do you know it’s magic?” she asked.

“Because it’s a lit candle and I can tell that it’s magical,” I said. “I’m a wizard. We know these things.”

She frowned at me.

“And there might be undead in the sarcophagi,” I went on. “Shouldn’t we find out?”

“If anything, it’d be safer if we just leave the coffins alone,” she said. “In case there are living dead in there.”

“If you feel that strongly about it,” I said. “But we should see what’s on the altar.”

“If they pop out of the sarcophagi though, it’s fair game,” Brook said.

“Fair enough,” Argie said. “Or we leave them alone, undisturbed, in case they are undead.”

“Let’s see what’s on the altar,” I said. “And take the candle. It’s of no use to the dead. Are you with me, Brook?”

“I am with you,” she said.

“Besides, we could use another light source,” I said. “It would be good to have.”

We all crossed the room carefully to the altar. Two beautifully carved obsidian dragons were carved looking down at the altar.

In addition to the candle was a single red potion and a solid glass whistle in the shape of a dragon. There was writing on the whistle as well. It was like a little dog whistle. I looked closer. The writing upon it was dwarven. The magic upon it was necromantic and the magic upon the potion was adjuration. The latter seemed to indicate some kind of protection or warding. Argie guessed it a potion to protect from fire.

I carefully examined the dragon mouths but didn’t see any nozzles or anything. Nor was there any hint of magic about them. There was no magic in the room except the items.

I told them of the whistle’s necromantic powers.

“Whistle up the dead, maybe,” I said.

When I told them of the protection magic on the potion, Argie again pointed out it was probably to protect against fire. I said it probably was but noted a potion could be made any color.

“What do we do, moral compass of the party?” I asked Argie.

“We take it,” Brook said.

“Well, it’s not on a dead body, so …” Argie said.

“It’s not on a dead body,” Brook said.

“You are desperate to loot something, aren’t you,” Argie said to her.

When Brook asked me if I thought it was trapped, I told her it didn’t seem to be. There was no indication of mechanical or magical trap about it. I pointed out the sarcophagi might be the trap. I checked again with Argie and she was fine with our taking it.

I picked up the whistle and looked it over. The dwarven spelled out “Azangund” which translated into “Night Caller.” I figured the word was said and the whistle blown to summon something up. Brook pointed out there was a certain dragon that was darker than the night’s sky. I realized the whistle was incredibly special. It was made of a substance called nifleheim, which was magical iron designed to look like glass. That knowledge to make it had been lost for thousands of years. It only existed in artifacts like the whistle and all of them were very small like it as well.

Then I took the candle. Brook took the potion.

“If we could find a library in a big city, we could probably find out what this does,” I said. “Without just blowing and hoping for the best.”

“Which may or may not have been my plan,” Brook said.

I pointed out to Argie that the kobolds were going to loot the bodies anyway. She said why should we do it then. I pointed out if we didn’t, someone else would. As we argued, Brook more carefully examined the altar and then opened a hidden panel on the front of it.

“It doesn’t work through stone!” I cried about my detect magic spell.

A small obsidian box was in the compartment. I cast detect magic again but it was not magical. It had two ornate hinges on the back and a dragon-shaped latch on the front. I told her there was no magic and she opened the box to reveal six beautifully carved dragon-shaped objects. The green peridot gems were each carved into the shapes of dragons. Brook closed it and put it in her bag.

We argued about the sarcophagi again. I pointed out the kobolds were going to disturb them and she didn’t care. When I noted if there was undead inside, they would hurt the kobolds when they disturbed them, she thought they already would have done so if they were going to do so. She finally got an attitude and told us to go ahead and loot the sarcophagi if we wished, but if there was undead, she wouldn’t turn them for us. I conceded that we wouldn’t loot them then.

We left the room and headed down the hallway, bypassing the intersection that was choked with rubble at one end and had a door down the other. Argie could see three sets of doors on either wall of the northern corridor and an archway leading into a room beyond them. We went that way first. Brook noticed giant rat tracks on the floor.

The long, narrow hallway had six doors, all of them slightly ajar. I readied my crossbow and advised Brook to peek in the first door on the right and we’d keep an eye on the other doors. I had shoved the magical candle into my belt pouch, the lit end sticking out. Brook likewise hooked her continual flame lantern on her belt. Then she went over to the door and nudged it open with the point of her spear.

A rat burst out of the room and two others came from two other doors. Argie was fast, blasting one of the rats to ash with a wave of her hand. I gave her a nod of approval. Another rat scurried up to me and lunged at me, stumbling and slamming into the wall behind me. Brook stabbed the rat that rushed her but tripped and fell to the ground. The rat near her scurried past her and attacked Argie, but merely crashed off her armor. Then I used a pair of magic missiles to kill the rat nearest me.

Argie drew her scimitar and hacked at the remaining rat, hurting it terribly. It struggled to move. Then Brook leapt to her feet and ran her spear into the rat, skewering it. I suggested to Brook to bring the rats to give to the kobolds.

The rooms along the hall proved to have once been prison cells. The doors had bolts on the outside and the windows in the doors were barred. I noticed the hinges were on the inside, the fools. It would be easy to escape from the rooms. The three rooms the rats had come out of had nests in them and we found a total of 15 gold coins in them.

We continued down the hallway to the room at the end, which proved to be larger than the others in the area: 30 feet deep and 20 feet wide. As we were about to enter the room, Argie yelled at us to stop, saying she’d seen a trap. She pointed out where the trapdoor was in the floor and we crept around it. An open trapdoor stood just inside the room in the doorway to the right. It had been deliberately triggered and held open.

Another fountain was against the far wall with another ornately carved dragon upon it.

“Let there be fire,” Argie said.

Nothing happened.

We went over to the fountain and I saw there was draconic upon it. I pointed out that this fountain would be the trap, now that we had successfully dealt with the other fountain. There was writing on the fountain in draconic that read “Let there be death.”

“What’s it say?” Argie said.

“It’s similar to the last one but it deals death,” I said.

Brook noted small pipes around the dragon’s mouth.

“Gas?” Argie said.

“It would have to be magic if the words do it,” I said. “Any goblin tracks?”

Brook looked around but found none. There were only rat tracks.

Unnerved by the fountain, we decided to go back to the cross corridor we had passed before. We went back and Brook found goblin tracks. She listened at the door at the end but said it was fine. She braced her spear and kicked the door open. The 15 by 15 foot room was bare and empty. Another door stood on the wall to the right.

Brook listened at the door but heard nothing. She braced her spear and kicked the door open. The sounds of a dozen or more cowbells crashed behind the door and several things skittered along the floor. The seven-foot wide hallway beyond had a floor covered in caltrops. The corridor was 20 feet long. At the far end of the hallway there was no door, but a crude, makeshift wall had been constructed. It was stone and mortar and even had crenellations upon it.

A screech came from the room and two goblins with bows peeked up over the short wall.

“We’re here from the village to talk to the goblin king about his apples!” I called in goblin. “We have cash!”

The two goblins stopped, the stupid creatures obviously confused. I edged towards the door lintel to give myself a little cover. However, they didn’t shoot. They looked at each other. They looked at me.

“Money?” the larger one said. “What money? What village?”

“Oakhurst!” I called.

“The people that buy the apples?”

“Yes! You’ve heard of us? Very good. Very good.”

“Why are you here?”

“We’ve brought a message for your king!”

They looked at me stupidly.

“If you’re here to see the king, what’s his name?” the goblin called.

“We’re just messengers!” I called. “We didn’t know there was a password! Do I have to go back to get it?”

“Messengers know the king’s name!”

“Well, they didn’t tell us that.”

“I think you’re lying.”

I sighed.

“Fine, I’m lying!” I called.

I cast a magic missile spell that cleaved the larger goblin’s head. He fell behind the barricade. I pointed my still-smoking finger at the other goblin.

“Do you want to talk to me now!?!” I said.

The second goblin flung his hands up, dropping his bow.

“Spell chucker!” he cried out.

I narrowed my eyes at him.

“Shuffle up there,” I said to Brook. “Quick!”

She shuffled up to the goblin.

“Don’t hurt him unless he gives you trouble!” I said to Brook in common and then in goblin, loud enough the second time for the other goblin to hear.

Brook grabbed the goblin and brought him back to the room.

“You won’t be harmed so long as you cooperate with us,” I said. Then to Brook in common: “Rip down those cow bells too.”

She did so as she passed. We closed the door and then turned our attention to our prisoner.

“All right, goblin, what’s the name of your king?” I asked.

“Charm person,” Brook said.

“Oh yeah,” I said.

“Chief name Durnn,” the goblin said.

I cast the spell on the goblin and then cast detect magic. Unfortunately, the spell didn’t take so I cast it again. This time I saw the enchantment controlled the goblin.

“Chief?” he said to me in awe.

“Yes, it is I in disguise,” I said quickly in goblin. “Sh! Don’t tell these two.”

I winked at the goblin.

“How can I help, chief?” the goblin said.

“Very good,” I said. “You see, I’ve been struck by a terrible magical spell that makes me look like a human and it’s taken part of my memory, so I need you to tell me─”

“Chief, that terrible!”

“I know, right? So, I need you to tell me everything about our tribe again. It’s terrible.”

Argie cast a spell that I recognized as comprehend languages. Now she would understand what we were saying.

“They told me once I learned everything, I’ll get changed back,” I said to the goblin. “Maybe.”

“Our chief strong,” the goblin said. “You make our clan strong, chief.”

“I try. I try. How many of us are there again? What’s the disposition? Which room is everyone in?”

“They’re over 60 goblins here.”

“Sixty goblins,” I said in common.

“Good idea keep human prisoners.”

“Yes. They’re filthy. Even more so than usual.”

“We has prisoner human too.”

“Oh.”

“And prisoner dragon.”

“Yes! Yes, that’s right! Where are they?”

“They in stockade, just through hall a bit.”

“That way?”

“Just through next room. Out southwest door is stockade. Where we keep prize prisoner.”

“What does he look like again?”

“Prize prisoner … uh …”

“He’s a human? A male?”

The goblin described a dwarf. It was probably Hercule’s son

“How many are guarding him?” I asked.

The goblin thought.

“There only two guard,” he said.

“Between here and there?” I said.

“No, next room is practice room. Where all goblins train.”

“That’s right! That’s right. There’s how many in that room. There’s … uh … it’s … uh …”

I snapped my fingers.

“There’s how many?” I said. “Oh! It’s … it’s right on the tip of my tongue.”

“There be … there should be four,” the goblin said.

“Four! Yes. Four.”

“Four training.”

“And the alarm system? It’s still intact?”

“There no alarm system outside of wall.”

“Oh, just the bells. That’s right. I always forget that.”

“There not need be.”

“Exactly! Because of the …”

“It be goblinville.”

I tried to get more information on the spread of the goblins.

“See if he’s evil,” I said to Argie in common.

She cast a spell to detect evil and turned to me and shook her head. That was surprising.

“Gurgle too stupid,” the goblin said.

I continued to try to get information from Gurgle though he was not terribly smart. He got very giddy and happy.

“Chief!” he said. “I have just thing for you!”

He led us back to the guard room. There were also a couple of makeshift bedrolls and a small chest in the corner. Gurgle got into the chest and produced a map of the Sunless Citadel. That gave us something to look at and a great deal of information. The very detailed map allowed us to determine where the kobolds were and where the goblins were. Since the goblins had been there since the citadel fell, it was obvious they knew much of the current level.

We determined where we were and where the practice room was, as well as the stockade.

We talked about whether or not to attack the goblins. I noted I had a web spell and Argie had her flaming spells. I suggested we leave Gurgle there.

“Several humans have infiltrated our clan, disguised as goblins,” I lied to the goblin. “But I don’t want you hurt, so we’re going to go back while you wait here.”

“Gurgle do that!” Gurgle said.

“Is there anything else besides goblins in the training room?”

“There are hobgoblin.”

“How many of those?”

“Not as many as goblin. Not as many. Our forge master is hobgoblin. One of stockade guards is hobgoblin.”

“Ah. Where is the dragon, Gurgle?”

“Dragon live in trophy room.”

He was able to point it out on the map. It was pretty far away. We would not get the dragon then. But we could get Dolf.

We discussed what to do and how to rescue Dolf. I noted we could rush the goblins.

“I’ll leave Gurgle here to guard this!” I said.

I produced my sewing needle.

“It is powerful magic, Gurgle!” I said in goblin. “Don’t lose it!”

I handed it to the goblin, who looked at it reverently. That would keep him busy.

“Whatever you do, don’t leave this room,” I told him.

We went back to discussing how to handle the goblins during the rescue. I had a plan to rush into the room, casting a spell to trap the goblins and hobgoblins in a web. Then Argie would enter and blast as many of them as she could with her flaming hand. While she dealt with the creatures in the room, Brook and I would rush the stockade, kill whatever we found within, and free Dolf.

We crept to the guard room, Brook picking up several caltrops. We doused our lights as the goblins had a guttered torch burning in that room. Then Brook listened at the door. She told us she heard the sounds of metal on wood and someone firing a bow. Then she quietly opened the door that led to the next room. There was a small hallway blocking the room from us though light came around the corner. There was a cast of flames as if there were a large fire in the room.

Brook peeked around the corner and then whispered to us what she saw: a large room with four goblins, all of them training. A hobgoblin had a bow on the far side. There was a fire pit in the middle of the room. I did a little calculation and figured I should drop the web on the far side of the room, giving us a chance to cross to the stockade.

I stepped out and cast the web spell. The webs covered the entire far side of the room, completely enshrouding it but leaving us a wide way to the door in the wall on our side of the room. The goblins and hobgoblins were all caught by the web or surrounded by it. The web near the center immediately caught fire, burning furiously. The only one that wasn’t caught by it tried to bolt for the door but immediately got caught in the web.

Brook and I ran towards the other door, leaving Argie to deal with the ones in the burning web. By the time she got around the corner, one of the goblins was already dead. Then she started casting flames onto the trapped creatures.

I cast a knock spell on the door but nothing happened. I cursed and told Brook it was still locked. She barreled into the door, the lock snapping off. Inside the room was a hobgoblin and a goblin. Cages in the far end of the room held a young dwarf and three kobolds tied together, back to back. All of them looked as if they had been severely beaten. The kobolds looked at us, first in fear and then in hope.

“Yusdrayl sent us!” I called in draconic.

That seemed to reassure the kobolds.

Brook rushed in, spear in hand, and rammed it into the hobgoblin’s gut. The creature screeched and then fell to the floor. The goblin swung his stubby little sword at Brook but the blade crashed on Brook’s armor.

I ran across the room to the cages.

“Surrender or be destroyed,” I yelled in goblin as I ran by.

I saw the cages were held shut with wire wrapped around the bars. I put my crossbow down and started working on getting the wire off Dolf’s cage. Meanwhile, Argie cut off the last goblin’s head off.

I got the wire off Dolf’s cage while Brook went to the kobold cage and got the wire off that before releasing the kobolds. They looked at me and one called to me.

“So, all is not lost?” he said in draconic. “The queen lives?”

“Correct,” I said. “Let’s go!”

Dolf was in terrible shape and Argie cast a cure light wounds spell upon him. He was able to walk better.

We fled. We ran through the training room and the guard room and the corridor filled with caltrops. Brook scattered those she’d picked up behind us as we fled. Then we heard the sound of drums. We made it through the empty room, grabbing Gurgle as we went. The deep, angry drums were loud behind us.

When we reached the room with the blood fountain, we heard screams from behind us, probably from the room with the caltrops. We fled through the next room and down the corridor into the room we first met Meepo.

“Will you come with us?” one of the kobolds said to me in draconic.

“Nope!” I replied. “We’ll be back though. Coming to save the dragon.”

The three paused, bowed to me, and sprinted away. I quickly bowed and we ran out the opposite direction towards the first tower. We fled through there and up the platforms to where our chain hung. There was daylight at the top and we quickly climbed up the chain and pulled it up after us. I took off my hat, putting it on Gurgle, who was having difficulty seeing in the bright sunlight, and peeked over the edge.

A minute or so after we had gotten to the top, several goblins reached the landing and looked around. They seemed angry they couldn’t find us and then yelled about the missing rope.

We ran back to town as quickly as possible. I didn’t want to chance the charm spell running out in the wilderness.

It was an hour or so later when we returned to Oakhurst.

“Don’t tell the mayor that the goblins are pissed at us,” I said to the others.

Argie wanted to get Dolf some food before taking him to Hercule but Brook and I were adamant about taking him to see Hercule immediately. Hercule couldn’t believe what he saw at first but then he fell to his knees.

“My son!” he said. “You managed to find my son!”

“Yep,” Brook said.

I nodded, still out of breath.

“You found my son!” Hercule said.

“We rescued him too,” I said.

“He’s a little better now, too,” Argie said.

“Don’t let him go again,” I said.

Hercule helped his son into a chair in the corner allowing him to warm up near the fire. I suggested Argie get some food for the lad but Hercule stopped her and told her he’d get the food. He ran into his house and returned with half a boar which he stuck on a great spit and started turning over the forge.

“Whatever can I do for ye?” he asked.

“Well, we will need to talk to Dolf at some point,” I said.

“Let him rest a bit─”

“No no, not right now. I’m saying, once he feels up to it.”

“That makes sense. As long as he’s willing to talk.”

“I’ve also got to figure out what to do with my friend here.”

“Ah, ye brought one back.”

“Yes. He’s simple. He doesn’t speak common.”

“Most of ‘em don’t.”

“He’s not evil.”

I took my hat back as it was dim in the blacksmith’s shop.

“Really?” Hercule said.

Hercule cooked a massive meal for everyone. Dolf didn’t talk. He ate and warmed himself but he didn’t say a word. I took Argie aside, noting if she had any kind of spells that could help a person’s mind, she might want to use them on him in the future. She didn’t think she had any spells that could help.

I also took Gurgle aside and confessed to him that I was not the chief. He was heartbroken. I told him that though I wasn’t his chief, I was his friend. He stopped and thought about that a little bit.

“You did save Gurgle,” he said.

“I couldn’t leave you behind, Gurgle,” I said.

I told him I would remain his friend if he didn’t do terrible, evil things.

“You do more for Gurgle than anyone else,” Gurgle said.

We got him food and drink. Hercule had brought dwarven ale and wine for all of us. I told the goblin I was going to take him to the store the next day to buy him clothing, weapons, and armor.

Halfway through the meal, Hercule leaned forward and professed he would forge anything we asked him to. I suggested he forge Argie better armor than the banded mail she wore. He said he would and could make metal plates for the tail and a barbed spike for the end.

When he asked what he could make me, I told him he could do me a favor.

“Have you ever heard of this?” I said.

I pulled out the whistle we’d found in the room with the sarcophagi. Hercule leapt out of his chair and grabbed it out of my hand, looking it over.

“Careful what you say,” I said.

“This is azangund,” he said.

“Azangund?”

“It’s a death-caller. Where did you find this?”

“It was in the citadel,” Brook said.

“Yes,” I confirmed.

“Figures it’d be down there,” Hercule said.

“Is it evil?” I asked.

“Depends on your view of necromancy,” he said. “These are famous pieces of iron glass. Nobody knows how to make this anymore. If I were to stick this in the forge, I couldn’t melt it, bend it, hammer it, or dent it.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“You could hit this with a hammer all day and you’d probably break the hammer first. It’s called ‘Death Caller.’”

“What does it do?”

“What it does … according to legend, the people who play these can make the dead dance. A got a book that mentions them. Do you want to read it?”

“Yes. Please.”

He gave me the whistle back and then went into his house, returning with a dusty, dwarven tome that read “The History of Dwarven Craftsmanship” in dwarvish on the cover.

“I would love to borrow that,” I said.

We looked through it and I found it was just a list of artifacts and when they were constructed or lost. We quickly found the whistle and learned that, when it was blown, any nearby corpses would rise and do the bidding of the blower until they were destroyed. It would create either skeletons or zombies and could create two per week.

A few hours went by and Dolf was still not talking. Hercule eventually got a little worried and tried to talk to his son.

“Boy, how are ye feeling?” he said.

Dolf didn’t answer but looked at his father. He tried to answer but couldn’t. I cursed and looked in his mouth. The goblins had cut his tongue out with incredible precision.

“The healing lady, is she able to heal people?” I asked.

“I just help her out,” she replied. “I don’t ask questions. I’ll ask questions now.”

“Go ask her to come here,” I said. “Wake her up right now. This is one of the people from the village. It’s her job.”

Argie didn’t seem to want to go but did. She later told us she found the old Halfling woman awake and playing the harp while an old man danced. She wasn’t pleased to see Argie and when Argie told her Dolf was back but missing his tongue, and asked for something that could help him speak again, the Halfling woman said she couldn’t.

“Figures,” Argie had told the woman. “Just thought I’d ask.”

That didn’t make the old woman any happier and she ordered her out.

“Dolf, can you write?” I asked.

He shook his head. He wasn’t literate.

“He can still answer questions ‘yes’ and ‘no’ … when he feels up to it,” I said.

Dolf nodded.

“So, you let us know when you feel up to it,” I said to him. “We need to know about this party you joined.”

He pointed at the ground and nodded, which seemed to indicate he wanted to answer questions right then.

“Did the goblins capture you?” I asked.

No.

“Were you given to them?”

Yes.

“By the man with the sword?”

Yes.

“And the other two?”

Yes.

“Right after you got in there?”

No.

“Did you explore as an adventuring party before?”

Yes.

“And once you reached the goblins … did they talk to the goblins?”

Yes.

“Negotiated with them?”

Yes.

“And then they handed you over at that point?”

Yes.

“What did they get … did they get anything in return.”

Shrug. He didn’t know.

“So, you’ve been down there two months?”

Yes.

“Have they been using you as slave labor? The goblins?”

Yes.

“And beating you and everything else.”

Yes.

“Did you see a little dragon?”

No.

“Were the … was the other party … did they do anything to indicate they were bad people before handing you over to the goblins?”

No.

“So, it came out of the blue. Hmmm. And this was two months ago. This was right after you entered the place?”

Yes.

“Well, we’re going to see if we can’t …”

Dolf pointed at the sky and made a motion as the sun passing twice.

“Two days you were down there?”

Yes.

“So, two days after you were down there, you were handed over?”

Yes.

“Did you see anything else besides the stockade that you were held in?”

No.

“We’re going to do what we can to help you. I know there are certain regenerative spells priests can cast, possibly from the bigger cities. If we find anything down there that can help you, we’re going to get it for you.”

Brook talked to Gurgle through me, as the goblin didn’t speak common.

“Ask Gurgle if he knows anything about the third party that the queen kobold lady mentioned that was controlling the goblins,” Brook asked.

“Is there someone besides your war chief in charge or advising your war chief?” I asked the goblin.

“Outsider?” Gurgle said. “You talk of Belak.”

“Sounds like the person,” I said. “Have you met Belak? Do you know anything about him?”

I told Brook and she asked what he looked like. I relayed the message.

“Belak old as time itself,” Gurgle said.

“Is he a man?” I asked. “Do you know?”

“Gurgle never see Belak.”

“Have you heard his voice? Have you just heard about him?”

“Belak only talk to chieftain and … older members of tribe.”

“All right.”

“But Belak been there since before goblins.”

“And the goblins have been there since the citadel fell.”

“About 50 years after.”

“So Belak was with the citadel when it fell, I think,” I told Brook.

I turned back to Gurgle.

“But he advises your chief?” I asked.

“Talks to chief,” Gurgle said.

“Talks to chief,” I said.

“So Belak was in the citadel when it fell,” Brook said.

“Belak very powerful,” Gurgle said. “Belak very powerful.”

“Is he a wizard, do you know?”

“Me not know.”

“He’s got to be a caster of some kind,” Brook said. “Or something if he’s controlling goblins.”

“He might be leading your goblins astray, Gurgle,” I said.

“For some other purpose,” Brook said.

I reiterated we were going to shop for gear for Gurgle the next day and I told him he could stay with me as long as he wanted but if he wanted to go somewhere else, he could. I told him he could do whatever he wanted. He seemed very happy. He was deep in thought.

I got him a room at the inn that night. I told him how to use the chamber pot and asked him not to make a mess. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1984-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-3-Kobold-Politics
Pathfinder - The Sunless Citadel 2 - Entering the Crevice http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1983-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-2-Entering-the-Crevice Thu, 12 Oct 2017 00:19:34 GMT Wednesday, October 11, 2017 (After Jacob Marcus ran his *Pathfinder* game “The Sunless Citadel” with Justin Moser, Katelyn Hogan, Victoria... Wednesday, October 11, 2017

(After Jacob Marcus ran his Pathfinder game “The Sunless Citadel” with Justin Moser, Katelyn Hogan, Victoria Larson, and me Monday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.)

Iago’s Memoires

We had slept until noon on our fourth day in Oakhurst. We spent the rest of the day planning and preparing, wanting to get a good early start before we went to the Sunless Citadel.

* * *

We were woken on the morning of our fifth day in Oakhurst by the sounds of the vents in the ‘Ol Boar Inn. I went down after studying my spell book and found Brook and Argie there, eating breakfast in the corner booth. I joined them. We had just finished our meal and Argie stood up.

“Wait!” I said. “Don’t go yet. Don’t go.”

“Why?” she said.

“We should discuss when we’re going to the ravine,” I said.

The door was kicked open and a large woman stomped in. She was well over six feet tall and had long brown hair in a mix of dreadlocks and braids, covered in various metal and wooden charms that seemed to get nicer as they went up her mane. She was dusty from the road. She wore studded leather armor that also seemed to have several blades upon it. She didn’t appear to be armed but had a flat sack over her shoulder.

She walked to the gnome on the counter, it was Dem, and slapped one hand on the wood.

“Brov, I need a drink!” she cried out.

“Oh,” I said to the others. “Maybe she’s with those other adventurers. Would they fit her description?”

As the gnome leaped across the counter and ran to the kitchen via a small, gnome-shaped archway in the wall, I snapped my fingers.

“The ranger!” I said. “That no one could see his face.”

“He had a noticeably big bow,” Argie said.

“Yeah, you’re right,” I said.

The woman had no bow.

“Maybe she left it behind,” I said. “Once the gnome comes, I’ll ask him.”

The gnome ran out with a mug of beer and handed it to the monster of a woman.

“Thanks, gov,” she said.

She drank it down. I waved over the gnomes. Nackle scurried over.

“Is that … is that the ranger that was here with that other party a couple months ago?” I asked.

“Oh, good lord, no!” she said.

“Thank you,” I said. “That’s all we need. Thank you.”

“Let me know if you need anything else,” she said and scurried away.

The woman at the bar smacked it twice again.

“Oi!” she shouted. “You got breakfast here!?!”

Dem leaned out of the little archway and held up two fingers.

“Two gold?” the woman said. “No problem!”

She smacked the gold down on the counter. Dem returned a moment later with food, taking the gold, and ran away. The woman ate her food messily with her hands.

“So, what do you need to do today?” I asked Argie.

“I was going to go to the healer,” she said.

“This didn’t take long yesterday, did it?”

“She doesn’t really welcome me.”

“Why?”

“She’s one of those who think she can do it all on her own.”

“Oh yes. Yes, I’m used to those. Most of my professors were like that.”

I thought a moment and then asked Argie how far it was to the bottom of the ravine. She noted it was a 40-foot drop to the platform the thing had destroyed itself on two nights before. I noted we would need 50 feet of chain.

“I don’t trust that rope,” I said. “It looks like goblin rope to me and goblin rope is generally of an inferior quality.”

We discussed meeting Argie after she went to the healer. Brook and I left the inn to talk to the blacksmith. The mountain of a woman followed us out.

We found Hercule sitting in on his stool, his feet on the forge and his boots on the floor next to it.

“Hello gents,” he muttered. “How’s it going?”

“Ah, my good dwarven friend,” I said.

I greeted him in dwarvish and bowed in the dwarvish fashion. He rolled his eyes.

“What can I do for you gentlemen?” he muttered.

“Chain,” I said. “Do you have 50 feet of chain?”

“Fifty feet of chain?”

“Yes. Strong chain.”

“About how thick?”

“It doesn’t have to be terribly thick. A sword shouldn’t be able to cleave it with a single blow. But otherwise, iron or steel chain will do.”

“My chain couldn’t be cleaved with an axe if you tried.”

“Is it heavy chain?”

“Aye.”

“Can you pull it apart?” the strange woman interrupted.

I ignored her.

“How heavy?” I asked Hercule.

“Who are you?” Hercule asked the woman.

It was then time for me to roll my eyes.

“Bored by passer,” she said.

“All right,” he muttered. “So … what are ye gonna use this for? Are ye gonna pull a cart with it or …”

“We’re to climb!” I said. “We’re going mountain climbing with chain.”

“So it needs to hold people?”

“Yes. At least one person.”

“So, we’re not talking big ox chain.”

“No no no. By any means.”

“I can cobble together something for you. I’ll have it ready …”

“How much? How much and how long?”

“I can get you fifty feet and I can get it for you by tomorrow morning.”

“All right. I think that will do. What’s the cost?”

“Two gold.”

“Fair enough.”

“I’ve just got to attach it all together.”

It seemed rather inexpensive but perhaps he was bored and wanted something to do.

As we left the smithy, I noted we could either try the rope that day or wait until the following day. Brooke was fine with scouting the crevasse that day and then using the chain to lower ourselves into the crevasse the following day. I also wondered about talking to someone about the terrible twig thing, though I didn’t trust the mayor. Neither did Brook. I snapped my fingers again.

“Didn’t they say there was a ranger in this town?” I asked.

She didn’t know. We returned to the inn to find Dem visibly shaken, obviously by the terrible monster of a woman who had been here before.

“Dem, is there a local ranger in this town?” I asked him.

“What?” he said.

“It seems like someone said something about one before.”

“There are lots of local rangers. The problem is they don’t live here.”

“Ah. Then that’s a dead end, so …”

“They tend to come by every couple of weeks but they don’t live here.”

“Oh. Thank you. Thank you.”

We discussed scouting out the ravine again that day. When we told Argie about that after she returned, she was obviously uncomfortable. I advised her not to try to detect evil again. I assured her we would only look and not use any magic.

It took three hours to walk the few miles to the ravine. At the road’s closest approach to the cleft, there were several pillars jutting from the earth where the ravine widened and opened into something more akin to a deep, narrow, canyon. Two of the pillars stood straight but most of them leaned against the sloped earth. Others were broken and several had apparently fallen into the dark-shrouded depths. A few other pillars were visible on the opposite side of the ravine.

From one of the pillars hung the old rope. Almost all of the pillars were covered in a scrawl of some kind of angry graffiti in goblin-tongue. The words “Beware” and “Get Out” were written over and over and over again.

Looking down into the ravine, there was an unnatural blackness. Where the rope hung down was a perfectly white, polished stone landing some 30 feet below. Just below the landing were steps leading down from it. Argie told us the platform was actually the top of a tower. I had not noticed that before.

“The sun was in my eyes,” I said.

“Sure,” she replied.

“When you were looking down at the deep dark ravine?” Brook said.

“Yes yes,” I said. “Sometimes it happens. It’s a strange effect that happens to wizards occasionally.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works,” Argie said.

The stairs disappeared into a black fog. I cast a spell to detect undead but picked up only residual auras. Some undead had been in the vicinity at some time before. I suggested Argie cast a detect poison spell and pointed out the strange fog. She did so but didn’t see anything poisonous. She cast detect magic and realized the fog was magical and in place to obscure vision only. She didn’t think it would affect magical spells.

We headed back to Oakhurst.

The dark-haired woman was at the bar in the taproom of the inn when we returned late that afternoon, the counter covered with mugs and two still in the woman’s hands. We settled in our booth and ordered supper. I also got wine. We paid for our rooms for the night and I also paid for my room for a week more, just in case.

We ate and then discussed our expedition to the ravine the following day.

The woman from the bar came over with six mugs of beer in her hand. She put them down on the table.

“Bartender won’t talk to me,” she said. “I’m talking you y’all. How you doing, luvs?”

She handed each of us a beer. I looked at the liquid with distaste.

“Beer, man,” she said. “ Drink a beer.”

“I am a man,” I said. “And a wizard. So, more than a man, you might say. Better in every respect.”

“You’re really ****ing boring,” she said.

She pointed to Brook.

“You!” she said.

“Yeah … ah ….” Brook said. “He’s a bit to handle at first.”

“He’s just like every other intelligent poof that shoots sparks from his hands,” the woman said.

“Ah yes: sparks, fire, death,” I said.

“Don’t start,” Brook said.

“He’s just like every other magic poof from the airships,” the woman said.

I’m going to have to charm her, I thought as the woman turned towards Argie.

“What the **** are you?” she asked.

“I am a wyvaran,” she said. “Not many of us.”

“****’s that?” the woman asked.

“Well, you see …” I said.

“Not you!”

“There were experiments.”

“He’ll go on forever,” Argie said.

“Kobolds conducted experiments combining kobold with wyvern,” I went on. “It was actually quite fantastically interesting.”

“Do I care?” the woman said.

“You asked!” I said. “If you don’t want to learn than don’t ask!”

“I asked her, not you,” the woman said.

I pushed the beer towards Brook.

“Of course, he could probably tell better than I could,” Argie said. “I am basically an experiment crossbreeding a kobold and a wyvern.”

“His story was better,” the woman said. She turned to me. “What’s yours?”

“What’s my what?” I asked dryly.

“Your version of the story,” the woman said. “It sounded more fun.”

Argie got up and left the inn through the back door. I began to regale the woman of the experiments conducted by the kobolds using wyverns and draconic magic to combine their people into the wyvaran. They imbued dragon magic into their unborn babies, resulting in the creatures.

“So, it’s an experiment,” I said. “I haven’t figured out yet whether they can breed. I’m very curious about that. But don’t ask her about her breeding habits. I don’t think she would appreciate it.”

“No, I found most people don’t appreciate asking about their breeding habits unless they want you to participate,” the woman said.

“Oh,” I said. “I wouldn’t know.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“Of course not. I’m a wizard. I don’t have time for mating pettiness.”

“Whatever you need to tell yourself, love.”

She turned to Brook.

“He’s a looker until he opens his mouth, ain’t he?” she said, pointing a dirty thumb at me.

“A look?” I said. “Oh. Conventional slang.”

I laughed.

“I get it,” I said. “Ha ha. Very funny.”

“He’s a bit arrogant,” Brook said.

“I am a wizard,” I said matter-of-factly.

“He’s a wizard,” the unnamed woman said. “I appreciate the self-awareness.”

The woman slammed her hand twice on the table. Nackle ran over, leapt up onto her little stool next to the table, put down three more mugs of beer, and then ran away. The woman pushed the third beer into the center of the table. I pushed it on to Brook.

I went to the bar and got another glass of wine. While I was there, I surreptitiously cast a charm person spell upon the rude and boisterous woman who had joined us as I was tired of her insults and her behavior. I headed back over to the table and she had already headed for me. She told me she was going to pay for my wine for the night and I thanked her. She told me “Anything for a friend.”

“Now,” she said. “You were telling me some story about some lizard ****ing.”

That was one way of putting it.

I took her over to the table and told her more about the creation of the wyvaran. While I spoke, I caught Brook’s eye and tried to convey whether or not to ask the large woman to join our little group on the expedition to the ravine. I guessed Argie was not going to want the boisterous woman around, and I didn’t care either way.

I also learned the woman’s name was Caterina. She gave me permission to call her Cat.

“Iago,” I said, touching my chest. I pointed at Brook. “Brook. And our other friend is Argie.”

Caterina told us stories of the people she had met at the airship docks in Starfall, the capital of nearby Numeria and the same city I had gone to University in. I found it all very interesting, actually. She told of the sights of the airships, the weird people she’d drank with, and the other people whom she’d punched. It was a lot of people.

Brook got up and moved over to me.

“I like her,” she whispered in my ear. “Entertain her. I’m going go to go figure out how Argie’s doing.”

I continued to chat with Caterina as Brook left the inn. I told her what we had learned in Oakhurst. I told her about the apples of life and death, the evil seeds, and how they became monsters when planted and ran to the nearby rift and destroyed themselves. I told her supposedly the tower and the accompanied ruins at the bottom of the ravine were something called the Sunless Citadel. She recognized that name, having heard it of it before. I told her the mayor traded with the goblins of the rift, buying the apples to sell for profit and then the entire village profited. However, I told her we didn’t trust the mayor.

“Now, hear me out,” she said. “Have you tried punching him?”

“If you’d like to,” I said. “He is a druid of, we think some power. Or was. I don’t think he uses his power anymore.”

“But … have you tried punching him?”

“No. Like I said, if you’d like to try that, it’s up to you. We don’t trust him.”

She pulled up her sleeve and a charcoal pencil and wrote “mayer” on her arm. Also on her arm was an ‘x,’ a squiggle that looked like a spiral, “Dickie,” and a strange symbol, as well as many smudges. I figured those marked out ones had already been punched.

I told her we had scouted out the rift and planned to enter it the next day. I asked if she could climb and she said she could.

“Is that what you need the chain for?” she asked.

“Yes, there’s a rope that leads down─” I said.

“That won’t hold me. I can just punch the wall.”

“Yes. There’s a rope that goes down to the rift but it looks pretty old.”

“Me and rope don’t do well.”

“I thought a chain would be safer.”

I told her we’d go in the morning and search out the rift and find out the truth of it all. The trading was supposed to go on in a few days, when the goblins would bring the apples and sell them. I also told her about the other adventuring party that went a couple of months ago that consisted of a paladin, a drow wizardress, and some other person, perhaps a ranger. I described the great bow that was described to me the man had. I also noted they took Hercule’s son with them.

“They got Dolf?” Caterina said. “I heard all kinds of great stories about Dolf from Herkie.”

She told me Hercule had great stories. I told her about the wonderful cage we’d gotten from the dwarf that hadn’t held the strange wood creature and I told her more about said creature.

She had put an arm around me, constantly holding me as we spoke. I chalked that up to the spell and looked forward to its being over. I was certain my neck would be sore in the morning. Before I went to bed that night, I used a prestidigitation spell as an analgesic to relieve the pain in my neck.

* * *

On the morning of our sixth day in Oakhurst, I awoke, read through my spell book and went down for breakfast. I found the others already eating their breakfast. I hastened to eat some eggs, potatoes, bacon, and toasted bread, along with a light breakfast wine.

The chain had been waiting on the counter with a note addressed to Caterina: “The Large Woman.” Brook saw it and read the address aloud. Caterina took it. Alas, the woman couldn’t read. I offered to read it for her but she handed it to Brook.

“I don’t trust the magic twinklers,” Caterina said.

“The what?” Brook said.

“The hoodly doodlers,” Caterina said.

“Oh, that’s such a shame,” I said. “I thought we bonded over drinks last night.”

“I don’t trust you,” she said.

“I don’t trust you either,” I said. “We’re even.”

Brook read the note. Hercule thanked Caterina for the amazing stories.

“Take care of them with the chain,” Brook read. “I want you to take that chain and I want you to go down in that pit with them and I want you to make sure they all get back with my son alive.”

“Well, here’s your chain,” I said. “Enjoy it.”

Unfortunately, the chain only came with a very large screw bolt. Brook said it would be fine and noted she had plans. However, Argie said “Maybe the general store does.” She left. We followed her there and Lutgehr the half orc sold Argie a padlock to her for a gold piece. It took a key and, though old, was in good condition. When Argie asked to test it, she handed it to Caterina. The woman tried to pull it apart without any luck. Caterina tossed me the lock and I handed it to Argie.

We headed off to the ravine. It took some three hours to get there.

It was late morning when we arrived. Caterina grabbed the rope attached to the post and pulled on it. It broke immediately. Then she grabbed the post and tried to move it. It didn’t move at all.

“You’ve almost got it!” I quipped.

“We’ll be fine as long as we use this thing,” she said.

Brook put the chain around the post and locked the lock, holding it in place. She tossed it over the side. Argie handed me the key and I pocketed it. I suggested we descend one by one and it was decided I would go first. I climbed carefully down and then waited at the bottom with a feather fall spell in case any of the others fell. No one did, though Caterina twirled down the chain, showing off.

Along the edges of the tower were the remnants of battlements and ramparts. They had been badly damaged and they were broken, chipped, and falling apart. I found a large chip and dropped it over the edge, counting as it fell to try to figure out how high the tower was above the ground. It was several seconds before I heard it clatter to the stone below. I guessed it was about a hundred feet down and I told the others.

Caterina picked up a very large piece of cobble and held it over the edge. Brook stopped her.

“I’d suggest we not,” she said.

“Why not?” Caterina said.

“It’s a big boulder. Lots of noise. We don’t know what’s down there.”

“It’s not a boulder!”

“I appreciate your enthusiasm.”

“But he got to do it!”

“His was tiny. It wouldn’t make a lot of noise.”

“This is tiny.”

“Not for the rest of us.”

As they spoke, I went to the steps that led down into the horrible fog to keep watch just in case something came up.

Caterina rolled her eyes and sighed heavily. She put the cobble back where she had found it.

“Thank you,” Brook said. “I promise, if we run into anything big, you’ll be the first one to hit it.”

I heard a skittering noise coming up the steps and quickly backed away.

“Something is coming!” I said. “Something is coming!”

“Dibs!” Caterina said.

Caterina ran to the stairs as I moved away from them. What came skittering up the steps were five rats the size of small dogs. As the first one reached the top of the stairs, Caterina punched it in the face, knocking its skull back into its body and killing it with a single blow. The rat fell backwards and over the side of the steps to disappear into the fog below.

Brook rushed the next rat, sliding at it and slicing with a scimitar but missing completely. The rat tried to bite her but missed. It hissed at her. Another rat barreled up the stairs. It lunged at Caterina but missed her.

I backed up to the far edge of the tower, taking out my light crossbow and loading it. I pointed at the combat but didn’t fire, not wanting to hit my compatriots. Argie lifted her hand and fire appeared around it. She pointed at one of the rats and fire burst from her hand, missing the rat.

A third rat charged up the stairs, trying to bite at Brook, followed by another. Brook slashed the last one, cutting it in half. Caterina kicked another of them, stunning it. Then she grabbed both of their heads and smashed them together, killing both of the rats outright. Brook slashed last and it sunk its teeth into Caterina’s thigh.

“Bloody wanker!” she cried out.

“I think she’s been hit,” I muttered.

“No shit!” Argie said.

“Gadzooks!” I called.

I cast a magic missile spell, sending two missile at the last remaining rat. The missiles struck it and it crumpled to the floor without a sound. Argie went forward and cast a cure light wounds spell on Caterina, completely healing the woman’s nasty bite.

We headed down the steps with Caterina in the lead. Brook was nervous about entering the fog and I told her we’d already checked it. It was not poison, nor was it evil, but merely a magical fog to inhibit vision.

“There must be something down here that’s actually creating it,” I said.

“You coming?” Caterina yelled at us.

We headed down the stairs to a small landing. There was an entrance to the interior of the tower but the floor was gone. We continued down to another landing, this one slightly larger. The stairs continued down about twice as far after that and finally landed us on the bottom.

Brook had lit a torch and I lit a candle once we were in the darkness. The fog didn’t allow any light in from the outside and left it terribly dark below. The fog was limited to the top, near the tower’s roof, and didn’t fill the place as we thought, but hung over it like an evil cloud.

“You think it’s infected?” Caterina said, poking at her leg.

“Ask the cleric,” I said.

“I just told you,” Argie said. “She’ll be fine.”

She looked more closely at the wound.

“You’re fine,” Argie said. “It looks like filth fever but you should be able to work through it in a few days.”

“Filth fever?” Caterina said. “Filth fever. Oh! We got that in the docks.”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ll be alright.”

“But okay!”

“I think I’ve had that one before. Is that the one goblins give you if they grab you in the sewer?”

“I don’t know.”

“Ah, yeah, I’ve had that before. I’ll be fine.”

Just at the edge of sight, a fortress-top emerged from the darkness, a subterranean citadel, though impressive, it seemed long-forgotten. If the lightless windows, cracked crenellations, and leaning towers were any indication, all was quiet though a cold breeze blew up from below, bringing with it the scent of dust and the faint trace of rot.

The narrow stairs emptied into a small courtyard, apparently the top of what was once a crenellated battlement. The buried citadel had sunken so far into the earth that the battlement was now level with the surrounding cavern floor. The floor stretched away to the north and the south. It was apparently composed of a layer of treacherous, crumbled masonry which reached to an unknown depth. To the west loomed the surviving structure of what must have been the Sunless Citadel. A tower stood on the western side of the courtyard.

It was very quiet. I blew the candle out and noted we needed to bring more torches next time. Brook had confided in me she had only the one. Caterina suggested heading back and getting more light but we decided to press on to the tower.

We continued west towards the tower, Caterina leading with Argie following her, myself following Argie, and Brook bringing up the rear.

Suddenly, a trapdoor opened under Caterina as she leapt back, crashing open to reveal a pit with spikes at the bottom.

“Oh, that’s a classic trap,” I said. “Classic.”

Caterina looked around and picked up an armful of crumbled masonry. She started to toss the rocks at every flagstone between ourselves and the door. I examined the pit as she did so. It was only five feet by five feet wide and 10 feet deep with spikes at the bottom. I kept an eye out around us just in case the noise brought anything.

It didn’t.

Caterina didn’t find any more pit traps and we made our way to the tower. It was only a shell and probably an overlook over the fortress when it was on the ground. It was circular and there was no way to go up as the interior floors had crumbled. We noticed there were four small corpses in the room. They died in combat and one was clutching a spear that was lodged in its chest and holding him to the wall. Two other doors headed out of the room, one to the northwest and one to the southwest.

Caterina looked at the corpses.

“Aw, **** me,” she said.

She pointed at the corpses.

“They’re about two months old,” she said.

“Oh, that’s about the same time those other folks came down here,” I said.

I went over to the bodies. They stank and scavengers had obviously gotten to them. They were goblins, of course. Two of them were decapitated, their heads a few feet from their bodies. The third was the one lodged in the wall about three feet above the floor. The last was crumpled in a heap with multiple slash marks on his body, face, and chest. They didn’t appear to have been searched.

“Ah, they might have money on them,” I said.

Caterina searched the bodies and I took the torch and went to the doorway to watch our backs.

“What’s up?” Argie said.

“I’m just keeping watch,” I said. “Can you watch that door?”

I pointed to the northwest door.

She went to the other door and peeked out.

Brook pulled the spear from the wall, the corpse falling to the ground. Directly behind it were glowing runes. Caterina reached forward to poke the runes but Brook grabbed her hand.

“Iago!” Brook called.

She looked at Caterina.

“Don’t move,” she said. “There’s a trap door. Runes. Scary. Iago! Come read these runes. They’re scary. There’s a trapdoor.”

“Runes?” I said.

I crossed the room and looked. The runes were written in Draconic and spelled out “Ashardalon.” I had never heard of that name but put it firmly in my memory as it seemed important. I told them I thought the runes spelled out a name but I didn’t want to say it aloud, just in case.

“I don’t know why this would be here in glowing runes,” I mused.

“What about the door?” Caterina said.

“What door?”

“Apparently that door.”

She pointed down and I noticed the concealed door. It was a small square about three feet on a side beneath the runes. I wondered if the runes had been missed in the heat of the battle that had eliminated the goblins.

“This may be a password to open that door,” I said.

“Wait,” Caterina said. “I got another idea first.”

“All right,” I said.

I thought one what her idea might have been.

“Don’t punch it!” I said.

“I wasn’t going to punch it!” she said.

“All right,” I said. “All right. Just checking.”

She squared up and reared her foot back.

“Don’t kick it!” I said.

“Well, why not!?!” she said.

“Hold on,” I said.

I cast a detect magic spell but didn’t see any magic on the door. Only an illumination magic from the runes.

“All right,” I said.

I took Brook by the arm and we stood back. Then I motioned for Caterina to proceed.

“I just hope there’s nothing valuable and fragile in there,” I said. “Or we could try to open it for you if you’d like.”

Caterina kicked the door and it slid aside. A dart flew out and struck the woman in the leg.

We peeked into the room. It was a small 10-foot by 10-foot square room with three human skeletons on the floor and a chest in the corner. I realized the skeletons had been there for hundreds of years and were probably in the place when it had fallen into the rift. They were covered in debris and dust. I told the others. Caterina called for Argie to go into the room.

“I think it’s pretty safe,” I said. “I’m willing to go in first if you want.”

“Nah, I got it,” Caterina said.

She crawled through the hole, then poked her head back out.

“Can I get your candle, Gov?” she said to me.

I took out a candle, lit it off the torch, and handed it to the woman. She looked at it for several moments. She snapped her finger, popped off one of her shoulder pieces, bit it and put the candle onto it, creating a makeshift candle holder of it. Then she turned to the room.

She got a few steps in before fire ignited in the skeletons’ eyes and they stood up.

“**** yeah!” Caterina said.

“Undead!” I said. “Undead!”

I poked Argie and she pulled out her holy symbol as Caterina put the candle down.

“I’m about to punch some bone!” she called.

I rolled my eyes.

Argie held up the angelic ankh and suddenly all three skeletons turned and cowered against the far wall.

“Punch them!” I said. “Punch them to pieces.”

I shoved Brook’s shoulder.

“Go kill them!” I said. “You two go kill them! Go punch them now!”

“That ain’t no fun,” Caterina said.

“You kicked a door earlier,” Argie said.

“It ain’t no fun if they don’t fight back!” Caterina said. “The whole point is it punches you back!”

“If you don’t do it, they will,” I said.

“Good!” she replied. “I’ll wait!”

“You won’t be able to fight back if they kill you!” Argie said.

I crawled into the room and punched at one of the skeletons while Caterina pouted in the corner. Brook smashed one of the skeletons to pieces.

Caterina turned to Argie.

“Are you sure you can’t let them go for just a bit?” she said.

“No,” Argie said.

“Why not!?!”

“Because, I’m not here to play, ma’am.”

“That’s right!” I said. “This is your job! Do it!”

“I ain’t got a job!” Caterina replied.

I punched the thing again but hurt myself more than it. Then I picked up a large rock and smashed the skull of one of the skeletons. I turned to the last skeleton as Brook destroyed it. I cursed and crawled back out of the room.

Brook went to the chest. She called to Argie, who entered the room and cast a detect traps spell but saw no trap on it. Brook opened the chest and found 80 gold coins. We divided them up. I looked at the coins carefully and didn’t recognize the pictures but guessed it was very old currency. Each coin had a symbol of a dragon head upon it.

I showed one to Argie.

“Maybe we’re going to find out about your history,” I said to her.

“I wasn’t born here so I doubt it,” she said.

“Maybe … maybe your parents were born here, hmm?”

“I don’t know if I have parents.”

I cursed to myself. I had been hoping to find out if her people bred, but she had answered none of my questions.

I examined the trap in the secret little room and found a device over the chest to fire the dart. I wondered aloud if it was a one-shot or would reset when we closed the door. Caterina told us it would not reset but noted the room would be a good place to hide. She said we should put the goblin back up on the wall to help hide the glowing words. I said Brook took the spear and she looked at the thing more closely, noting it was very rusty.

I turned to Caterina and asked how we could get the goblin back on the wall. She took one of the other goblin’s short sword and stabbed him into the wall in the same place. I examined the goblin and skeleton weapons but all of them were worthless.

Brook looked at the floor and told us there were a lot of goblin prints and a lot of other prints that weren’t goblin. Further study and she told us they were kobold footprints.

We all looked at Argie.

“I don’t know ‘em!” she said. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1983-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-2-Entering-the-Crevice
Pathfinder - The Sunless Citadel 1 - The Many Mysteries of Oakhurst http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1982-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-1-The-Many-Mysteries-of-Oakhurst Sun, 01 Oct 2017 00:14:59 GMT Thursday, August 28, 2017 (After Jacob Marcus ran his *Pathfinder* game “The Sunless Citadel” with Justin Moser, Katelyn Hogan, and me Tuesday... Thursday, August 28, 2017

(After Jacob Marcus ran his Pathfinder game “The Sunless Citadel” with Justin Moser, Katelyn Hogan, and me Tuesday from 6 p.m. to midnight.)

Iago’s Memoires

I found myself in the village of Oakhurst, the only place where one could buy the apples of life and death. The enchanted apples were said to be able to cure or kill anyone who ate them. In the summer, they sold the apple of life, which could heal any wound, any disease, or anything wrong, physically, with a person. The apples of death did exactly the opposite: anyone who ate them died. It was said the apples were very distinctive-looking, having an otherworldly aura to them. They were shiny and perfect, without a single blemish. The apples of life were red and the apples of death were white.

It was midwinter when I arrived in the village, two weeks before the winter solstice. I had arrived early in hopes of being able to buy some of the apples. I hoped for the apples of life, but even the others would prove very valuable, potentially.

I, of course, was the wizard Iago of the University of Magic. A tall man, I wore red robes and a wide-brimmed, pointed wizard’s hat. I had a finely trimmed mustache and goatee, and I carried a sack on my shoulder. A backpack, tent, and bedroll were all strapped to the pack saddle of my mule, Hepzidiah. I owned a light crossbow and a dagger to defend myself, but I used my magic almost exclusively. I had even penned several magical scrolls that I kept on my person, just in case.

Oakhurst was a tiny town with the Ol’ Boar Inn prominent in the center, not far from a well and across from the general store. There was a healer, a blacksmith, and a larger house where I soon learned the mayor lived, as well as a small jail and place for the constable of the hamlet. A road ran through it and it had taken me some time to reach it as it was in the middle of nowhere.

I went to the Ol’ Boar Inn, tying my mule up out front.

“Innkeeper!” I called.

I strode into the place and found two gnomes within, one standing on the bar.

“Welcome to the inn, sir!” he said.

The female gnome didn’t say a word but merely waved to me as she worked.

“I need someone to take my mule to the stables,” I said.

“We can see to that sir,” the gnome named Dem said.

I later learned the female was named Nackle.

“Thank you,” I said. “And a room for the night! Your best room.”

Nackle left the inn.

“And a glass of wine,” I said. “The road was dusty.”

“That will be one gold piece for the wine and two for the night,” Dem said.

I paid the gnome and took a seat at a small table in the corner, my back to the wall. The gnome soon came to me with wine and a key for my room.

I noticed another woman in the room who sat at the bar. She had long dark hair, wore armor, and carried two scimitars. There was also a female in a booth with a red cloak over her figure. She was very tall and seemed to have a hunchback or something. She was not human.

One of the gnomes soon returned.

“What do you have to eat around here, my good gnomish fellow?” I said.

“We have lots of meat,” he said. “Any kind of meat you want, really.”

“Dragon meat?”

“You have to go into the bigger cities for that.”

“You said ‘any kind of meat you want.’”

The large woman in red gave me a strange look.

“We have dire bison,” he said. “Is that good enough?”

I frowned.

“Bring me some steak and potatoes then,” I said.

He hurried off.

“Thank you, good sir,” I said. “And another glass, please.”

“Gladly,” he replied.

I lit my pipe, casting a silent image spell at the same time.

I overheard two younger people at the bar who were dressed and smelled like farm hands. They sat near the warrior woman. One of them looked at the other, arms folded. They talked about some kind of goblin monopoly.

I made illusionary but silent sparks come out of my pipe. Then the smoke formed into things above my head.

“How much do they steal from you?” the woman at the bar asked. “The goblins.”

“Oh, they never steal any,” the local said. “They just come by and they sell the apples to us every year. But every time we try to plant the seeds to see if we can grow our own, they’re gone in about a day or two. The saplings come on up within a couple hours and they get to about yay high and … we wake up the next morning and they’re gone.”

I filled the corner up with illusionary smoke filled with strange and mysterious figures.

“We can’t grow our own apples here, so we just pay the goblins a bunch of gold for each one they bring us and then sell them to the people that come by,” the farmer continued. “They only show up twice a year. Bring a bunch of bags. And they leave. We don’t let them into the village. No.”

“All right,” the woman said.

I stood up and walked over to the bar, a smoky, illusionary dragon on each shoulder. My red robes stretched all the way back to the table I had been sitting at and moved strangely of their own accord.

“They come from that chasm, way over yonder,” he went on, pointing vaguely. “You know, legend says there’s supposed to be a great big ol’ fortress over there. But I can’t see how there could be. It’s just a great big old hole in the ground.”

“So, my good, sir, if I might?” I said as I reached the drunken lout.

“Eh?” he said.

He looked at me and seemed intrigued by the spectacle I presented.

“You must be one of them city spell-chuckers,” he said.

I thought on that a moment.

“Sure,” I finally said. “You mean to tell me your village doesn’t produce the apples of life and death, you purchase them from goblins?”

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s not a secret.”

“Well, it was for me.”

“Every time we try to go get ‘em ourselves, we think we know where they come from. There’s goblin writings all over the chasm.”

“And you try to plant your own and they get stolen?”

“Yeah. The saplings grow to about a foot tall overnight. We go to bed and then, the following day, they’re gone. They don’t even look like real saplings. They look like a bush rather than a tree.”

“Have you thought about putting a guard on your saplings?”

“Yeah.”

“What happened to the guard?”

“We didn’t find Clarence again. So, rather than risk another person - there’s only about 50 people here - rather than risk another person, we thought it’d be best if we didn’t put another guard and we haven’t planted since.”

“Do you have more seeds?”

“Yeah!”

“Oh.”

“Got a little bag in the back. Want one?”

“Perhaps … perhaps you need …”

“Two gold pieces I’ll give you one.”

“… adventurers to guard your saplings for you when you grow them. People who have some skill in … I don’t know … knowing how to use a scimitar or … cast magical spells might be able to help you with your situation.”

“Five gold pieces for one seed.”

“You’re upping the price when I’m offering to guard your apples while they grow?”

“Two gold pieces and you can guard the apples as they grow.”

I laughed at the simple man’s audacity.

“Oh my goodness,” I said. “Who the hell are you, anyway?”

“My name is Terry,” he said. “I’m the local farmer.”

“There’s only one farmer in this town?”

“There’s five of us. We share the same fields.”

“I see.”

“Ain’t no lord around here.”

“Not yet. Thank you for your information, Terry. I might take you up on your offer.”

I returned to my table. Terry got up and waddled out.

I kept my magical illusion going with smoke and light. I created a tiny battlefield on my table. Several people showed up just to look at the magical display.

Terry returned some 30 minutes later with a tiny bag. He walked over to me and placed a single, large apple seed on the table. It was black and the size of an almond. He pushed it towards me.

“Oh, Terry,” I said. “Have a seat. Have a drink with me. As you can see, no one’s here.”

He looked down at the strange illusion on the table and saw his drink at another table, went over, drank it down, and left.

“Good talking to you, too, my friend,” I said.

I examined the seed, allowing the illusion to fade away. The seed looked like an apple seed though it was immensely large. Though I had heard about the apples of life and death, I had never heard one described in detail. I wondered how large they were and if they were as large as a pumpkin. I cast a detect magic spell on the seed next and saw that it had been touched by druidic magic. It was some of the most powerful druidic magic I had ever come in contact with.

I lit my pipe again and thought about what I wanted to do with the seed.

The giant of a woman got up and walked over to my table and sat down.

“Ah,” I said. “Greetings.”

“Hello,” she said.

I now got a better look at her. She was solid. She had dark hair and wore an armored coat. She had green eyes and tan skin and two scimitars on her belt.

“I saw you pocket that seed,” she said.

“Yes, the apple seed,” I said. “I’m trying to determine what to do with it. I’m ruminating.”

“Well, if the rumors are true, we should probably plant it and see what grows.”

“Well, I understand that. But, at the same time, if we plant it this time of year, we’ll get an apple of death. That’s not why I came.”

“Well, if your goal is money …”

“Magic is my goal. You might not have a noticed, but I am a magician.”

“I noticed.”

“I’m a wizard.”

“I noticed, sir. You had a small battle going on the table just a few minutes ago.”

“Oh yes, it was quaint. My name is Iago. I am trying to determine the best course of action. The locals, I heard them mention a ravine where the goblins are from. They apparently despise the goblins but I’ve never been one to hold something against a race of creatures, even one as reputably evil as the goblins. So, I’m trying to make a decision what to do.”

I thought on it a moment.

“I wasn’t planning on spending the night alone watching over apples growing,” I said. “I suppose it’s possible for the two of us to watch it. Do you think that would be a good course of action.”

“I think it’s the logical course of action,” she said.

“I’m curious as to whether the seed would grow elsewhere, such as away from the ravine and the goblins.”

“I don’t know if you heard but a group of people, a group of adventurers came through here. They were looking for the Sunless Citadel.”

“The Sunless Citadel! The Sunless Citadel!”

I had heard of the Sunless Citadel though very little of it. It was a fabled place filled with vast riches.

I looked around the room and noted four men sitting at a table talking and mulling over papers.

“You, there, gentlemen!” I said to them. “You know where the Sunless Citadel is?”

“The three adventurers who came through here two or three months back seemed to know exactly where it was,” one of them said.

“Where?”

“It’s the goblin ravine.”

He gestured vaguely in the direction of the old road. It was the same direction Terry had gestured before.

“The old road used to be the major highway that all the people of the empire would come through on,” the man went on. “But ever since the ravine formed, nobody comes through there anymore because the road just ends. You can’t get through there anymore.”

“What are you … ever since the ravine came, is that what you just said?”

“Yeah. Since the cataclysm.”

“What cataclysm?”

“About 200 years ago, the earth shook like a mother****er and we noticed that traffic had completely stopped coming from the capitol. So, we went to investigate and discovered that about half a day’s walk up the old road there was a great big ravine that was about 60 feet across.”

“How far long is it? Why not just build the road around it?”

“The ravine is about 20 miles in either direction.”

“Well, that would be why.”

“There is a new road. It’s a much longer road but it skirts the ravine and comes from a whole other direction.”

“How big is this ravine?”

“It’s about 60 feet across at its thickest. It never gets less than 40 feet until you get to the end of it.”

“You never … you don’t have any …?”

“We tried to build a bridge across it if that’s what you’re asking. As soon as we built a bridge across it, it was destroyed. So we built another one and it was destroyed and by that point we’d run out of money.”

“Destroyed by?”

“Yes,” the warrior woman said. “Did anyone see who destroyed it.”

The man scratched his head.

“Our local ranger said that it was goblins,” the man said. “On account of the fact that, all over this thing, there’s goblin warning signs. You know how goblins don’t have writing? Goblins just put shapes on signs to tell their kinfolk─?”

“Yes, they’re called hieroglyphics,” I said.

“Uh-huh. The posts we stuck in the ground to make the rope bridge across are covered in those.”

“Did you try to talk to these goblins? Don’t they come here regularly and trade apples with you?”

“Mayor’s the only one that can talk to them. The mayor actually speaks goblin. And kobold. The mayor comes out. He meets them on the edge of town, does the business, and then brings the money in and shares it with the whole town and we all make a profit.”

“What’s his name?”

“Mayor Vurnor Leng. He lives over at the big house.”

The strange, large female in red got up from her place and left the back of the inn, probably for the privy.

“So, if I understand you, sir, the Mayor controls the apple business that goes on in town?” the woman asked.

“No,” the man said.

“No?”

“We give him a bunch of money to pay the goblins. He comes back with the apples and then we all divide the money.”

“You sell the apples to passers-through?” I said.

“Yep,” he said. “About twice a year. The first merchants to come. It’s a first come, first serve. As soon as they get here they buy as many as they can afford. The goblins … the goblins don’t really understand money … and it’s better for us that way.”

“They don’t understand money but they have a monopoly?” the woman said.

I realized goblins have a vague enough grasp of money but no real use for it in their culture which begged the question: Why did they need money?

“I don’t think we should do the seed tonight,” I said.

“Agreed,” the woman replied. “We need to wait until tomorrow and ask the mayor a couple questions.”

The large woman came back from the privy and sat back in her booth.

I learned the woman I was with was called Brook.

I also learned where Hepzidiah was lodged and made sure to retrieve my pack saddle with backpack, tent, and bedroll, which all went into my room. It was a small room with a feather bed and a bolt on the door. The inn was set up with an ingenious system of bronze vents and pipes that drew heat but not smoke from the main fireplace in the taproom. It kept the room warm most of the night.

* * *

I woke up when I heard the gnomes clattering in the kitchen below me. I studied my spellbook before heading down for breakfast. I found Brook and the other woman with scales there already. They were the only ones present. Brook sat at a table while the strange creature sat in a booth in the corner. I waved at Brook and then walked over to the stranger.

“Good morningtide!” I said. “I am Iago, a magician, a wizard of some renown.”

“I was … very much aware of you last night,” she said.

“Ah, my plan worked! That’s my friend Brook over there. We couldn’t help but notice you’re obviously not a local.”

“You are correct.”

Brook got up and walked over.

“I’m a cleric of Sarenrae,” the dragon-looking woman said. “I’m visiting the healer here and volunteering for a little while before I move on.”

“Oh,” I said. “I am a mage.”

“Clearly,” she said.

“Brook is a … Brooke, speak for yourself,” I said.

“I’m a ranger,” she said.

“Brook is a ranger,” I said.

“That’s nice,” the dragon-woman said.

“And we have this!” I said, producing the apple seed.

“I know,” the dragon woman said.

“I meant you to!” I said. “And now it’s gone!”

I had quickly cast a prestidigitation spell and made the seed vanish from my hand.

“Could we join you for breakfast?” I asked.

“I suppose,” she said. “So long as I do not put you off. There’s a reason I stay in the corner.”

“You’re a … wyvaran?” I said.

“How … do you know that?” she said. “There’s not many of us.”

“I know many things.”

“Of course you do.”

“If you haven’t noticed yet, he’s a bit full of himself,” Brook said.

“Since he came in with two smoke dragons─” the wyvaran said.

“I’m a wizard!” I protested. “Of course I’m full of myself!”

“─and asked for dragon meat, if I recall?”

“I asked if they had dragon meat.”

“Hm.”

“I didn’t ask for dragon meat.”

“Right. Right.”

“I didn’t. It’s called basic Common.”

“Well, did you need prayer? Is that why you’re here?”

“Probably. I also know that wyvarans are a fusion of kobold and wyvern and often found in leading kobold tribes, serving wyverns, or even dwelling with true dragons. Like wyverns, they are territorial creatures, but also have an acute sense of honor. Many civilized races dismiss wyvarans as fast, dumb, selfish brutes. However, they can make steadfast and loyal allies.”

“He’s educating me about myself,” the wyvaran said to Brook.

“May we join you?” I asked again. “As the only ones present, why should someone sit alone?”

She gestured at the table and Brook and I took our seats for breakfast and a sweet breakfast wine.

“We plan on investigating these apples and their seeds,” I said as we ate.

“Apparently the mayor has some kind of control over the economy,” Brook said.

I learned the wyvaran’s name was Argie.

We proceeded to tell the wyvaran what we had learned of the strange seeds and the apples of life. We related the mayor seemed suspicious as he, alone, dealt with the goblins.

“And why would goblins want money?” I asked. “They have no use for it. At least not in a hole in the ground.”

Argie just looked at me.

“It’s a rhetorical question, you see,” I said. “None of us can answer it. Not even me.”

“Right, right,” she said. “The smartest man in the world, I’m sure.”

“Thank you,” I said.

She rolled her eyes.

We told her we were going to talk to the mayor and explore the town. I told her she could join us if she wanted. She declined, saying she was going to the healer and we should get her when we went by there. Brook wanted to go to the general store and so we parted from the wyvaran.

* * *

The owner of the general store was a half-orc named Lutgehr. The store was mostly filled with farm equipment, nets, snares, a few fishing poles, hunting equipment, and the like. There was nothing that would really be valuable to us except for maybe camping supplies and a few rugged knives. He told us if we were looking for metal works, the blacksmith next door did most of that work, though he pointed out he sold much of what the blacksmith made.

She asked Lutgehr for maps and the half-orc sold her a map of the area for a couple of gold coins. It showed Oakhurst, a place called the Ashen Plain to the west, and the ravine to the southwest. A few pillars drawn on the ravine and the words “Sunless Citadel” had been added to the map as well.

Brook asked the half-orc about the mayor.

“The mayor’s a good man,” Lutgehr said. “It was his idea.”

“His idea to … what?” Brook said.

“Ever since he started talking to the goblins, we’ve been able to make a ton of money. None of us ever really want for anything. We only grow our own crops to feed ourselves. We got a hefty bit of cash.”

I remembered no one claimed Oakhurst. Two hundred years before, there was a lord of the area. However, the area had been affected the most during the cataclysm of 200 years before. Other small provinces and the like were nearby, but none of them claimed Oakhurst for some reason.

“Lutgehr, we’re practically strangers,” I said to the half-orc. “You shouldn’t brag about how much gold you have. Some who are not as moral and just and upright as us might take advantage.”

Lutgehr hung his head in shame.

“No no!” I said. “My good friend, my good man, my half-orc. You must not feel bad. I can understand your being flustered by Brook’s beautimous looks, muscular toned body, perfect legs, and flowing black hair. You must understand. Don’t be embarrassed. Anyone would do that same. I just want you to careful, for future reference. I just met Brook and she seems to be of upright character. I could be mistaken. I know I am of upright character.”

I gave the half-orc and approving look.

“Do you know anything about the Sunless Citadel, Lutgehr?” I asked.

“I see you noticed I added that to the map,” he said. “About two months ago, three adventurers came into town, shanghaied one of our town guards to go on an adventure, because they’d claimed they found the Sunless Citadel. So, I asked them where it is. They told me so I added it to the map.”

“This wouldn’t be that same place as that castle that used to be here, would it?”

He looked at me.

“Wasn’t there a castle in the area where the place was ruled until the cataclysm?” I said.

“Never thought of that,” he said. “But yeah. That’d be right where it should be.”

“Hm. And now it is the Sunless Citadel.”

I accidently dropped the map and used prestidigitation to pick it back up. Twice.

We left the man to look for the wyvaran.

* * *

Argie had been in the healer’s house, dealing with an old man and a person sick with a cold. The healer was a Halfling named Kerowyn, a priestess of Pelor.

* * *

The blacksmith was hammering away at a forge that was built just for dwarves. Argie came out of the healer’s house and I called to her, waving her over as she covered her head with her hooded cloak. We told her we were going to talk to the dwarf and saw the name “Hercule” over the shop. We told her of talking to the half-orc in the general store.

We walked over to the smith and I stood there and watched him work. The dwarf looked very busy. Two farmer’s scythes were heating up in the forge. He was sharpening two pitchforks on the anvil. To one side was a crucible melting steel. He looked very busy and very distracted.

He quickly noticed me watching him and he went into a frenzy of movement, probably trying to impress me. He worked on the pitchfork robustly, grunting and sweating as he did so. He dunked the heated pitchfork into water and then stuck it back in the fire. He got to work on one of the scythes, but his fury of work and possibly pride got into the way. He missed the anvil and bent the blade of the scythe. He had too many irons in the fire.

“Damn it!” he yelled angrily.

He tried frantically to hammer it back into shape but it was not the way it was supposed to be. He glared at me.

“How can I help you?” she growled.

“My good dwarf, I’m here to help you,” I purred. “Might I?”

I gestured towards the damaged scythe. One of his eyes twitched.

“I am a wizard, sir,” I said. “And I am only here to help. But not without your permission, of course.”

I bowed deeply to him in dwarven fashion.

“It is a pleasure to meet such a skilled craftsman,” I said in dwarvish.

He seemed flattered at that. He didn’t say anything but he backed away from the scythe and gestured at it. I cast a mending spell on the blade of the scythe, pulling it back into perfect shape. I stood away from it. The dwarf looked at it and seemed to calm down.

“I can’t help but feel it was partially my fault this happened,” I said.

He put the scythe off to the side.

“What can I do for you?” he asked.

“We’re investigating,” I said. “We have a few questions about the apples and your beautiful village, here.”

He rolled his eyes at the word “beautiful.”

“We are traveling adventurers,” I went on. “We are thinking about going to the ravine, but … but … and this is important. We understand the ravine is important to the economic welfare of your village and we don’t want to cause any trouble with that either.”

“My business is good,” he said. “It doesn’t come from the apples either.”

He looked me up and down.

“I understand one of your own is missing,” I said.

He tensed.

“How did you find that out?” he said.

“Someone at the inn last night mentioned it,” I said. “As well as Lutgehr said one of the town guards had gone away with some adventurers a few months ago and had not yet returned. None of them returned, I suppose.”

“That’s right. My son didn’t come back.”

“He was your son. My condolences. The goblins─”

“I don’t need your damned condolences.”

“Then I rescind them. The goblins might still have him as a prisoner. The possibility is there.”

“Goblins, especially these kinds, love their pit fighting. And I know my son. The little pansy-ass shit probably didn’t survive two rounds in one of their rings.”

“Not much faith in your son, I see,” Brook said.

“He couldn’t cut a ****ing tree down,” Hercule said. “Let alone swing a sword properly. I tried to train him. He thought he was good. That was the funny part. He thought he was good. So, when that damned wizard and the stupid, stupid paladin … I ****ing hate paladins. They always think they’re so good.”

Argie smirked.

“When he came through and he looked at my son and said …” Hercule went on. “You know what? I think he thought of my son as a pack mule because a big muscular boy he was.”

He found a chair and sat, leaning back, his foot up on the anvil.

“That ravine … that ravine …” he went on. “They came through claiming that the damned Sunless Citadel was at the bottom of it. And … I don’t think it is. Because if it were, I think there’d be a hell of a lot more people coming through to see it. The merchants and the mapmakers in town have already started adding it to the map as if it’s ****ing there. But I don’t think it is. At the same time, my son never came back. And … I do have hope that he is still alive. But I’d more like to see that damned paladin alive so that I can put my boot through his head myself.”

“What is your son’s name?” I asked.

“My son’s name is Dolf,” Hercule said. “His name is Dolf.”

He looked into the fire.

“And your name, good sir?” I asked.

“My name’s Hercule,” he said.

“Well, if we go to the ravine, we will look for him.”

“If you plan on going, take none of our people and you’ll do way better than those adventuring *******s did.”

“No no no. I don’t put others into danger. I put myself into danger for others.”

He got up and got to work and I thanked him and we left as he grunted an appropriate good-bye.

We went to the mayor’s house next. A wooden plaque over the door read “Mayor Vurnor Leng.” He was obviously not a local. He was sitting at a grant table and eating a meal. He had black hair, piercing green eyes, and slightly pointed ears that seemed to indicate he was half-elven. He dressed as the rest of the people in the village but was very clean. He was very lean.

“Okay, go talk to him,” I said to Brook. “This is weird.”

The massive building proved to be more a great hall than anything else. There were trophies all over the walls, as well as banners of the various other provinces and kingdoms adjacent to Oakhurst. Many of the trophies were made of animal heads. A tapestry covered a wall that told the story of the Sunless Citadel. It started with a picture of a black, multi-spired castle. Then there was a picture of a huge dragon that covered the sun. The dragon breathed fire on the keep and then the castle was gone and there was nothing but a chasm or ravine. Argie, once she saw it, went over to admire it.

Brook went to the mayor and pulled up a seat. The man leaned forward and looked at her, a near constant smirk on his face.

“Another adventurer?” he said, a lilt to his voice. “Wow. That’s a lot more than were used to seeing. What can I help you with?”

Brook leaned forward to show off her ample cleavage, taking a deep bow. He seemed unphased.

“Thank you for noticing, Mr. Mayor,” she said.

“Yeah!” he said.

Once they were talking, I quietly cast detect magic and looked around. Argie gave off a little glow, unsurprising as she was a strange draconic experiment. Vurnor Leng gave off a strange nature glow. Nothing else glowed in the place, however. Leng’s glow was the earthy green of the druids. It didn’t seem like he had used any of his druidic abilities in a long time.

“Can we talk about the apple trade in town?” Brook said.

“Sure!” Leng said. “You came at just the right time, man! In about a week, we get a whole other shipment. You get to buy them before the merchants show up.”

“Well I appreciate that, sir,” Brook said. “How does it work when the goblins come to town? Do they just come into town and sell to the merchants directly or … how does it work?”

Leng leaned forward.

“Yeah,” he said with a smirk. “About 50-odd years ago, they just started coming to the village and they would bring these apples. And we knew they weren’t normal. These apples are about the size of a pumpkin. One of them could feed a whole village. But then we ate one of ‘em and we realized we felt better than we’ve ever felt before. And … so we bought ‘em from ‘em and we started to sell ‘em. Do it about twice a year.”

“Well, Mr. Mayor,” Brook said. “It’s strange behavior that I’ve heard of for goblins to come into contact with people through trade.”

“You know, goblin tribes are weird.”

“That seems like a very simple explanation, Mr. Mayor.”

“I’m about 80 years old. Back when I was a practicing druid, in my village, we had had six goblin tribes that lived all around us. All of ‘em could speak three to four languages. Some of them had complicated rituals. Others used money. Others would even barter and trade. So the idea of a goblin tribe circumventing or usurping expectations is not alien to me, while it might be to you.”

“Well, Mr. Mayor, from where do these goblins come?”

“They come from that crevice.”

“Crevice?”

“The crevice on the old road.”

“I figured.”

“They moved in, according to the locals ledgers, they moved in about 50 years after the cataclysm. They’ve been there ever since. We don’t know where they live in that trench. We know the old fortress is down there. We assume they live in that.”

“The Sunless Citadel? The old fortress.”

“That’s what those adventurers called it. Never heard it called that before. Although I have heard of the Sunless Citadel.”

“What do you know of the Sunless Citadel?”

“It’s one of those legends they tell kids to stop ‘em from going into the woods.”

“Have anything to do with this large tapestry you have on the wall?”

“That’s just what happened when the cataclysm happened. Dragon came through and he ripped great big holes in the land. The local castle, where the lord lived who ruled this area, sank right to the bottom of it. Then the chasm closed up slightly again. I assume the castle’s crushed under there somewhere.

“But that’s just a legend. Nobody’s seen that dragon or any dragons in about 200 years. The cataclysm was the even what ended it all.”

He went quiet and took a bite off the turkey leg on the table.

“Well, Mr. Mayor, I know some people from the village, including a group of adventurers like me and my friends over there, had gone into the chasm prior to our arrival and have been missing some two months?” Brook said.

“Yeah,” Leng said.

“Have you sent anyone after them or … made any sort of inquiries into that issue? Have the goblin brought them up during trade or has it been too long since you traded previously.”

“Outside of the trade, we never see them. And we don’t interfere with them. And as long as we make sure … I don’t worry about those adventurers hurting the trade, I worry about their lives. Because we haven’t seen them. And we do not have enough people or enough knowledge or power to be able to go in after them.”

I asked Argie if she could detect evil quietly. She said she could and we talked about it.

Brook tried to sit on the table and fell to the floor with a crash. Argie and I looked over, wondering what happened.

“Brook, are you all right?” I asked. “What just happened?”

Brook jumped to her feet and brushed herself off.

“Aren’t you afraid, Mr. Mayor, that if adventurers go and exterminate the goblins, the money-making venture of your apple selling might … dry up?” I asked.

“The thought has occurred to me,” he said.

“You didn’t try to stop the adventurers?”

“Do I have a military?”

“Asking politely could do just as much, dependent upon what kind of people they are.”

“The man that came through and started it all was a paladin of the sun. A paladin of the sun wanting to visit one of the darkest places in this entire realm. Do you think I can stop someone like that?”

“The land is under your domain, isn’t it? Lawfully, you are the law of this land. Then yes, sir, I think if you tell a paladin that he is breaking the law by going into a place where you have told him not to, that he will not go.”

“His laws were not of this land.”

“Ah. Typical hypocrisy of paladins.”

“His first law of existence told him that he has to expunge darkness and evil wherever he found it, even if that goes against other laws. And it seems he had two shanghaied with him. He had a wizard and he had a ranger.”

“What did these people look like?”

“Well, the paladin’s name was Sir Braford. Braford … the only thing … he always had his helmet on. He never took that off. He was about … he was huge.”

“What kind of helmet? Cover his whole face?”

“Visor, yes. Full plate.”

“A paladin of the sun that won’t let it touch him. Interesting. What about the others? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Sir Braford, before I continue, little interesting detail. He had a sword around his waist that I’ve never seen the likes of before. Very, very, very unique. It had a jagged edge on one side and a smooth, razor edge on the other. And it had this … gem on the hilt.”

“Hm.”

“It was also inordinately long. To me or you, it would have been a full-sized, two-handed broadsword.”

“But he was immense?”

“He was immense.”

I recognized the description of the sword. It sounded like one of the Seven Great Swords, one of them being Shatterspike. It matched the description exactly. The weapon was evil and intelligent. The swords also commanded they could not be concealed. Thus the reason for his wearing it where all could see.

I asked for descriptions of the other two.

“The other two were pretty bland,” he said. “There was the wizard. I think her name was Sharwyn.”

“A bland wizard,” Brook said. “That must be comforting.”

“She just wore a gray cloak, had a wide-brimmed hat and she didn’t do much magic,” Leng said. “I could tell that she was rather powerful. Potentially even gifted. She didn’t like being looked-at directly. She was a drow.”

That was disquieting.

“Then there was the ranger,” Leng went on. “The ranger came through, and he was just an average human. There was nothing really special about him. He just … I couldn’t even tell you his name.”

“Name?” I asked.

“His name was Karakas,” Leng said.

I asked if the man had a bow but Leng said the only thing notable about him was that he kept his hood up and it was so dark under the hood, you couldn’t see his face. He said the man had a massive bow, the type used by people who lie on their backs and fire it using their feet.

“They seemed all right to me,” Leng said. “They came through, they said they wanted to find the Sunless Citadel. I told them they could go right ahead and look, that it’s not here. And they went off and never came back.”

“And you had no worries they might destroy the goblins and end your apple trade,” I said.

“No.”

“How did you initiate this apple trade with these goblins? I remain curious.”

“They really just showed up.”

“Goblins just showed up?”

“At first we thought they were going to try to raid our village. But they were carrying all these sacks.”

“Full of the apples.”

“Full of the apples. And when … I can speak goblin.”

“Oh!”

“So, of course, I went and I met them. And … they said they wanted to trade. So, I told them they couldn’t come into the village. They were fine with that. They sold us the apples and then they left. We thought it was over. And then, six months later, they came back, this time with white apples.”

“The death apples.”

“Yes. They don’t sell as well as the red ones but at the same time, it’s a different market for those.”

“I understand.”

“Wizards love to study them.”

“I can imagine.”

“That’s mainly who comes to buy them. Those and a bunch of shady people. But that’s about it.”

“How much do you pay the goblins for these apples?”

“Sixty gold each.”

“How much do you sell your apples for?”

“That depends on how many we have. Sometimes we get hundreds.”

“And that brings the price down.”

“Sometimes we get hundreds. Sometimes … last year’s crop only had 50 apples in it. And those, of course, were about a thousand gold apiece.”

“And I understand that the apples won’t grow around here.”

“They will, but we don’t know why─”

“They just disappear.”

“Yes.”

“Along with anyone guarding them.”

“I didn’t tell them to put a guard on it. I told them not to.”

“I’m not accusing you of anything. You’re looking out for your people. You’re in a precarious position here. You have so many countries around you and you’re still independent.”

“Terry came by yesterday, said he sold you a seed. Have you checked on it?”

“No. No.”

“Have you actually checked it? You’re a wizard. You know actual magic.”

“Yes yes yes. It’s magical, yes.”

“That’s all you know.”

“That’s all I know. What else should I know.”

“It doesn’t matter what color apple the seed comes from, it’s always evil.”

“The seed is always evil.”

Argie looked at me and then stepped back.

“Destroy it,” she said under her breath.

“So, the seeds are evil,” I said.

“Destroy it,” she said more loudly.

“No matter what apple they come from,” Leng said. “Even the apples that cure diseases.”

“Interesting,” I said.

“There must be a catch,” Argie said.

“Well, thank you mayor,” I said. “Unless you had something else. I’m sorry.”

“No,” Brook said. “But, you’ve been a valuable source of information, Mr. Mayor, but I think we’re going to try to go do something on our own?”

We left the place. I told them what I knew about Shatterspike and the Seven Great Swords. I told them it had not been a paladin. I warned them drow were not to be trusted. We also talked about the trees.

“You’re not thinking of planting this thing, are you?” Argie said.

“Well, the apples themselves are not good or evil, just the seeds,” I said. “You did look at it and it’s evil?”

“Yes.”

“I guessed as much. Very evil?”

“It looked like fire in your pocket.”

“Maybe I should get a little box for this or something.”

I pointed out there was no real hurry to get to the Sunless Citadel as we had nearly a week before the goblins came to the village. I suggested getting Hercule to build a little cage to use to grow the seed and see what happened.

“Does it get up and walk away?” I asked. “Does it attack those around it? Does something come and get it?”

“I don’t like this,” Argie said.

We discussed it and I told them I didn’t trust the mayor. Brook agreed that we should plant the seed and put the cage. I voiced that if it did turn into something horrific, we’d destroy it. Argie thought I’d want to let it run free but neither Brook nor I wanted that. I also noted someone was in charge of the goblins. The species did not traditionally trade with mankind.

We found Hercule, working less frantically than he had been before.

“Ah, Hercule,” I said. “We might have a commission for you.”

“Aye,” he said. “What do you want me to make?”

“We need a cage.”

“How big?”

“I would guess perhaps four feet tall. No, three feet tall. Two and a half to three feet wide. Narrow bars.”

“How thick do you want the bars?”

“What?”

“How thick do you want the bars? A ****ing birdcage or human cage?”

“A birdcage that a human would have trouble getting out of.”

“Aye. It’ll be 20 gold pieces and I’ll have it done in a day or two.”

“Thirty gold pieces to have it done tomorrow morning.”

“Done.”

* * *

Hercule was waiting in the taproom for us on our third day in Oakhurst. He had circles under his eyes but he had a cage that was perfect. It was iron and heavy with thick bars. I paid him and told him it was perfect and then complimented him in dwarven as well.

I had purchased a little box for the seed the day before. If it was as evil as Argie said, I didn’t want it against my skin.

We headed out of town and found a copse of woods on the other side of the village from the ravine. I took my backpack with my tent and bedroll. I pitched the tent in the trees and then planted the seed, putting a little water from my water skin on it and quickly manhandling the iron cage over it.

The plant grew almost immediately, beginning to sprout before the water could even touch the soil. Argie cast a spell but could detect no evil from the sapling. I guessed there was powerful druidic magic at work. Within 12 hours, it went from a small sapling to what looked like a bramble bush. It just fit in the cage by the end of the day and wasn’t touching the cage. I pulled one branch out so it touched the iron.

Night was falling by then and Brook said she’d take the first watch. I went to sleep in my tent while Argie chose to sleep under the cold stars in her bedroll.

* * *

I was awoken by Brook an hour or two after sunset.

“The cage is making noise,” she said. “I don’t know if you want to hear it.”

I climbed out of the tent and cast a dancing lights spell, creating four flaming lights in a square around the cage. I heard Argie chanting and realized she was casting detect evil again.

The horrible little bush was now shaped like some kind of humanoid creature that was small enough to comfortably fit in the cage. It’s hands, for lack of a better word, were grasping the bars of the cage while the thing made a terrible noise and shook the bars.

“Hm,” I said. “Intelligent?”

Argie cast a spell to create fire in her hand.

“Wait!” I said. “It can’t get out. It’s trapped.”

The sapling was gone and there was a hole in the ground. I ran over to the thing and stared at it. I tried speaking several different languages to it but it didn’t seem to understand any.

“Fascinating,” I said.

I cast a spell to detect magic upon the thing and found it was magic and held together by druidic magic. Argie cast a spell to detect evil and then raised her hand to fling the fire at it.

“Wait!” I said. “It’s trapped for the moment. It’s evil, I take it.”

“Yes!” she nodded. “Yes!”

I didn’t figure a charm spell would work on the thing.

“Don’t do anything reckless,” Argie said. “If this thing gets away …”

“No no no,” I said.

“Because it would have to go right through town to get where it wants to go.”

“No no no. We’re not letting it go. We’re not letting it go at all.”

Brook was making noises at the thing. It seemed to look at her and then curled up in a little ball and started to shiver, watching her with pure hatred in its glowing leaf-eyes.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“I just wanted it to calm down,” Brook said. “But look at it now.”

Brook leaned down by the cage and I warned that my spell was going to fail shortly. Then it did so, throwing us into darkness.

“Oh, that’s just the spell going out,” I said. “Hold on.”

I took out flint and steel and lit a candle.

“Better than cursing the darkness!” I said with a laugh.

The thing saw the flame and cowered even more. It seemed terrified of the fire of my candle.

“I don’t think that my charm spell will work on this thing,” I said. “Too bad we don’t have a piece of metal we can slide under it or something.”

The thing stood back up, looking around with hatred. While Argie and I discussed the possibility of her using a comprehend languages spell on it, Brook tapped the cage with her sword, which seemed to enrage the strange little thing.

“What are you … why …?” I said. “Just stop!”

“I just wanted to see how it reacts,” she said.

“Can you speak with animals?”

“No.”

The growling sounded like dozens if not hundreds of tiny tree branches rubbing together.

“How are they getting the apples?” I wondered aloud. “The seeds come from the apples. The villagers gather them before they sell the apples. Probably they don’t want to sell the apple seeds or send them out of the village, because that could potentially end their trade.”

I looked at the little thing, growling so strangely. I put the candle a little closer and it quieted for a moment.

“So, it’s not completely unintelligent,” I said.

“It just doesn’t have a language of its own,” Argie said.

“How do the goblins grow the apples from this?” I said.

“That’s assuming this is what actually grows the apples,” Brook said.

“But these seeds came out of the apples.”

“They did?”

“I’m assuming Denny didn’t tell me he was selling me an apple seed and handed me a monster seed in its place.”

“Well, if Terry didn’t know.”

“Terry was his name? I don’t remember his name.”

“Or he believes he sold us an apple seed.”

“Remind me,” Argie said. “This is a new experience for these farmers?”

“No, no,” I said. “They’ve been trading with the goblins for years.”

“Yes, but they were complaining about trees going away.”

“They did not say if it was a new experience.”

“But they did start complaining about it.”

“We need to ask Terry.”

A little comparing of stories made us think the last experiments with planting the seeds had been years before.

“So, perhaps the goblins know the way to plant the apple seeds to grow the apples without creating … that,” I said.

The horrible little thing shook the bars again but made no progress in escaping.

“Dwarven craftsmanship,” I said. “You can never ever pay too much for dwarven craftsmanship.”

“So, what do you plan, Mr. Mage?” Argie said.

“Well, this needs to be shown to … someone,” I said.

“Not the mayor,” Brook said.

“I don’t trust the mayor,” I said. “We need to at least trust Hercule.”

“I’ll stay here,” Argie said.

“He lost his son. The gnomes perhaps? The half-orc?”

“If the mayor is a druid and this is druidic magic─” Argie started to say.

The creature suddenly stopped. It looked off to the west, towards the village, and began to push the cage in that direction. Argie moved towards the cage.

“Hold on,” I said. “Let’s see where this goes.”

The thing couldn’t move the heavy, iron cage, but it continued to try to push towards the village and the ravine. It desperately clawed in that direction.

“We need a leash and a muzzle,” I quipped.

“No,” Argie said. “You got get your mayor.”

“I don’t want to get the mayor,” I said. “I don’t trust him. I think he has something to do with this. I honestly do. In my opinion, he made a deal with the goblins to do some terrible thing like, I don’t know, use the blood of innocents to fertilize their seeds so that they’ll grow wonderful apples so that he can make money in the town.”

“I say we let it go,” Brook said.

I watched the thing carefully. I didn’t want it to escape.

“I say we let it go and follow it,” Brook said again. “We know at least it’s going to the ravine.”

“We don’t know how fast it is,” I said. “It could zip away leaving us with no chance of catching it.”

“I’m a fairly avid tracker,” Brook said.

The horrible creature suddenly pulled itself apart and phased through the cage. I tried to run around the other side with the candle but it was too fast for me and sprinted away towards the village. We gave chase.

“Don’t kill it!” I called. “Don’t kill it!”

We couldn’t catch it and it ran all the way through the village and out the other side, the three of us in close pursuit.

“Hold on!” I said, out of breath, as we ran. “I can stop it! I can stop it! Hold on! Oh Gods.”

We chased it, sprinting, for over an hour. The pain of keeping up with the thing was terrible. Once I could see the ravine, I stopped long enough to cast a web spell. Unfortunately, the thing leapt free of the 20-foot radius of webs and was gone, took a few more steps forward and flung itself off the cliff.

We all ran to the edge of the ravine.

Only Argie could see in the dark. She told us she saw it land on a very small platform, shattering as it struck the stone and flying into a million pieces. It was obviously dead. She watched it for a little while just to make sure.

“Why?” she said.

She cast a spell to detect evil. Then she grabbed both of us and stumbled back.

“Wait!” I said. “Wait! Did you see anything?”

“This whole ravine is evil,” she said.

We noticed a couple of wooden pillars nearby, probably the pillars or stakes used by the villagers to make their rope bridge. A sturdy rope was tied to it, going down into the pit. She told us there was a platform with steps going down into the darkness beyond even where she could see. She also told us the cliff faces were as smooth as glass.

“I’m wondering if there really was a dragon,” she muttered. “And if that dragon fire …”

“Well, it wanted to get to the ravine,” I said. “After it tried to kill us.”

“I’m exhausted,” Brook said.

We walked back to the town while we talked.

“So, at first it’s feral,” I said. “Then it tries to get back home to destroy itself. That doesn’t explain why the man disappeared who was on guard before. If it attacked and killed him, his body would still be there. Did it take him? Did it kill him and drag him? Hm. Interesting.”

“I swear that dragon was evil and the left behind some weird-ass shit,” Argie said.

“Goblins and evil little imps?” Brook said.

We returned to town. I went back to the campsite, collected everything and trudged back to the inn to sleep the rest of the night.

* * *

I slept in until noon on the fourth day we were in Oakhurst. We ate together and then discussed exploring the ravine that day. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1982-Pathfinder-The-Sunless-Citadel-1-The-Many-Mysteries-of-Oakhurst
Shadowrun (4th Ed) game starting in Hermitage, TN http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1981-Shadowrun-(4th-Ed)-game-starting-in-Hermitage-TN Mon, 25 Sep 2017 01:05:27 GMT OK, I'm trying to start a "Good Guys" Campaign, that will be Face to Face and right now it will probably be played at one or the other Game Stores located near Nashville (in Hermitage, TN near the I-40).

Standard 400 point build, and we use Chummer. If you are interested please contact me at: eaglehunts.shadowrun@gmail.com and I will give you the settings. (like Optional Rule were Strength helps you on Recoil Comp. when firing pistols, etc.)

(year is 2074, setting is Seattle UCAS) ]]>
tim.mineshine http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1981-Shadowrun-(4th-Ed)-game-starting-in-Hermitage-TN
Basic Roleplaying System: Deadworld Session Nine - Roanoke at Last http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1980-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Nine-Roanoke-at-Last Sun, 09 Jul 2017 02:07:25 GMT Monday, June 26, 2017 (After playing the *Basic Roleplaying System* original setting “Deadworld” with Ambralyn Tucker, Ashton LeBlanc, and Collin... Monday, June 26, 2017

(After playing the Basic Roleplaying System original setting “Deadworld” with Ambralyn Tucker, Ashton LeBlanc, and Collin Townsend Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.)

On the morning of Saturday, August 15, 2015, the ragged band of survivors of the meteor-created zombie apocalypse got up. They had spent the night in some peace at the Pirate’s Cove Marina on the east end of Roanoke Island in some of the abandoned condos there. One of them had been shot by the man guarding the bridge to the outer banks and she was still unconscious. The others fared only somewhat better.

It was eventually decided most of the crew, including the two doctors, would stay at Pirate’s Cove while a few of them would scout out Roanoke Island. In the end, Lisa Weiss, Manuella “Manny” Rodriguez, and Jonathan Franks took the white SUV Manny always drove and headed down Highway 64 onto the island. The handsome Franks had taken the shotgun position and napped. Manny drove, still unhappy about the broken window on the driver’s side. Lisa sat in the back seat, looking around nervously and drowsily.

It was overcast and had threatened rain all morning. It was hot and humid, despite the air conditioning blowing in the vehicle. They couldn’t see too far in the gloom. The GPS in the vehicle was working, though it was sporadic. There didn’t seem to be much to look at anyway, though they passed a darkened building to the right a half mile or so beyond Pirate’s Cove, and came to a wide intersection where the stoplights still flashed red, yellow, and green. Another wide road ran perpendicular to the highway they were on and they could see more structures to the north. To the south, the road headed into a wooded area.

In the center of the intersection was a big yellow arrow, spray painted, pointing to the south.

Just as they stopped in the intersection, the weather broke. It started raining heavily, water pouring out of the sky in buckets, making it hard to see very far. It crashed on the roof of the car and splattered on Manny through the broken driver’s side window. The roof rattled when hail struck the car and crashed off the pavement.

Lisa looked around, startled. She had been napping in the back seat a little bit. She wondered why they were stopped.

“Oh my God,” she said. “It’s ridiculous out there.”

“Manny, you driving over gravel again?” Franks muttered.

“Where should we go?” Manny said.

She turned on the windshield wipers, setting them for the highest setting. They tore across the windshield, whipping the water off.

“Jesus Christ!” Lisa said as hail clattered against the roof.

Manny turned on the lights and turned right, heading for Manteo, according to the GPS. They passed darkened buildings on the right and left, mostly set back from the road but were unable to make out the darkened signs due to the pouring rain.

They had only driven a quarter mile or so when they saw a lit building on the right, behind a parking lot. A vehicle was parked just off the road in the driveway of the building, crossed by an asphalt sidewalk or bike path. Though the sign by the road was dark, they could make out a lit sign on the little brick Dunkin Donuts shop behind the small parking lot. A drive-thru ran around the building, disappearing in the back.

The car was pulled over, partially blocking the main entrance to the parking lot. Manny pulled up behind it. She was unsure if the car were running, the sound of the rain on the roof drowning out any other sounds from outside. Her left side was getting increasingly wet from the rain.

“Hey, Manny,” Franks quipped. “Why are you all wet?”

“Do … do you want to go check out that car?” she replied. “Maybe there’s stuff in it.”

“Why do both of us have to get wet?”

“Well, I mean …”

“What?”

“Do you really want me to go check it by myself? I’m the driver here.”

Franks sighed.

“Yeah, I’ll go check it,” he finally said.

He took his pistol and his baseball bat out before climbing out of the SUV. He was almost instantly soaking wet due to the pouring rain.

“Do we not have an umbrella?” he muttered.

“If this was my car, it would have umbrellas,” Manny said. “But it’s not my car. Because they left my car when they tried to chop off my foot!”

Franks went over to the other car, a hatch-back, and found it empty, though there was a copious amount of dried blood on the driver’s seat. The door was slightly ajar and he noticed the dome light wasn’t on. He looked in the back seat but saw nothing. He went around it and opened all the doors, quickly looking in the back and the front. He found nothing of value though the glove compartment was locked.

He went back to the car and asked to borrow Manny’s crowbar. She handed it out through the broken driver’s side window.

“It’s a freakin’ Dunkin Donuts,” he said as he took it.

“Now I want doughnuts,” Manny said.

“I don’t,” Franks replied.

He took the crowbar back to the other car, pried open the glove compartment, and was disappointed to find it only held the registration, the instruction booklet for the car, and some old maps.

“Who locks their glove box?” he muttered as he walked back to the SUV in disgust.

He thought he saw the hint of movement from inside the Dunkin Donuts as turned away from the car. He looked at the building but couldn’t see anyone within.

* * *

“God, some coffee right now would be amazing!” Lisa said, looking at the building from inside the SUV. “Are they even open?”

“Why would they be open?” Manny said. “I don’t see the ‘open’ sign on.”

“Well, yes, I can see that,” Lisa said.

She slipped up to the front seat to get a better view of the building. They both wondered why Franks had stopped by the car. He finally returned to the SUV and Lisa climbed into the back seat once again. Franks, soaking wet, handed Manny her crowbar.

“So, apparently the Dunkin Donuts is still open,” he said.

“What do you mean?” Manny said.

“Are they?” Lisa asked, peering through the window.

“Yeah, sure,” Franks said. “All the … nah, I saw something move in the window. Should we go check it?”

“I mean … are zombies really worth some coffee?” Manny said.

“I haven’t had coffee in weeks,” Lisa said. “I’m ****ing tired of this.”

She got out of the SUV and walked in the pouring rain to the Dunkin Donuts.

“Man, she really wants that coffee,” Manny said.

Manny pulled the SUV into the parking lot.

“Why are you taking us closer?” Franks said.

“Well, let’s get her coffee,” Manny said.

“Why?”

“I didn’t say we were going in! I just said we were parking closer.”

“We just watch.”

* * *

Lisa reached the large double front doors of the shop. She leaned against them to look through the window and felt the door move. It wasn’t locked. She peered in through the glass. It was very dark within and she saw the counter and little tables and chairs within. Another door led to the back. She didn’t see anyone in the place so she pushed the door open a crack.

“Hello?” she called.

There was no answer.

She turned back to the SUV, which was parked in the middle of the parking lot.

“Guys!” she called. “Help me look around!”

“I’m not looking for damned coffee!” Manny called back.

“**** you, mate,” Lisa muttered under her breath.

* * *

“I’ll rock-paper-scissors you for it,” Franks said.

“What?” Manny said.

“Who goes in the house.”

They played rock-paper-scissors in the front seat. Manny lost.

“Well, if you want a quick getaway, I guess that’s out of the question now,” she said.

* * *

Lisa walked to the right side of the building as Manny got out of the SUV and walked to the front door. Lisa looked back at her but then went around the side of the building.

“I thought you wanted help …” Manny muttered.

She walked back to the SUV.

“Why are you back in the car?” Franks said.

He’d been keeping watch.

“Fine,” Franks said. “I’ll go.”

He was actually curious and wanted to look inside.

* * *

Around the corner of the building, Lisa found a drive-thru lane and followed it. There was an older-model station wagon sitting in the lane behind the building near the back door.

“Guys!” she yelled.

She heard the engine of the SUV and saw it pull around the side of the building in the drive-thru lane.

“Guys!” Lisa called again. “There’s a car back here!”

“There’s cars everywhere,” Manny said under her breath.

* * *

Franks entered the Dunkin Donuts and found the interior dim, only lit by the murky light coming through the front windows. The building sat on a slight rise, giving a view of the parking lot, porch, and street, but little else. A counter ran along the back of the room and a door obviously entered the kitchen in the back. The glass-covered counters were filled with doughnuts. He noticed the cash register on one side.

He thought he heard a rustling noise from behind the counter somewhere. Though it was mostly glass, there were also plenty of places to hide.

* * *

“I thought you wanted coffee?” Manny said to Lisa.

“But there’s a car back here,” Lisa said. “I’m sorry I yelled. But they might have more useful things in here.”

“Yeah, that’s fair,” Manny said.

She got out and walked over to the station wagon, Lisa following her. The car wasn’t locked and she leaned in, crowbar in hand. The older-model station wagon was dirty and filled with empty fast-food bags. There was the smell of old food and the interior was dusty. Dirt lay on the floor. It looked like it had never been cleaned. The glove compartment had two more McDonalds bags crumpled up inside, as well as a registration and a shake-light flashlight.

“Here’s what I found,” Manny said, handing her the shake-flashlight.

“Thank you,” Lisa said.

She turned on the light and it was very dim. She shook it for a while and it lit up for a few moments before almost immediately dimming again.

“Bullocks!” she said.

Manny moved to the back door and found it unlocked. She carefully pushed it open.

* * *

In the front, James crept around to the side of the counter, his Glock in his right hand and his baseball back in his left hand. He looked down the length of the counter and noticed one of the sliding doors on the back of one of the display cases had been opened and there were several doughnuts on the floor. It looked like a single bite had been taken out of each doughnut and then dropped on the floor. The little bites were also on the floor, as if someone were sampling the doughnuts, taking a bite of each, and then spitting out their bite.

No one was there.

It looked like there was a place under the cash register in the counter where someone could hide. Otherwise it was all glass display cases.

He picked up a napkin holder on the counter and chucked it at the register. He overshot and it crashed against the far wall. He thought sure he heard more noise coming from underneath the cash register.

“If there’s anybody under the cash register, come out!” he called. “I’m tired of this shit!”

Something came out from under the cash register, running at him. It was a short figure, head down, and running. Franks fired his Glock at it.

* * *

The kitchen was very dark because there were only a couple of small, high-set windows in the back. The room was filled with all the items and paraphernalia for making doughnuts and coffee. It looked very clean. A large walk-in freezer was on the wall to the left, the door slightly ajar. Manny noticed a draft of cold air coming from it. Across from the door they’d entered was a door that probably led into the dining area.

Manny glanced around for coffee and she and Lisa realized it was probably stored in the walk in refrigerator. As they went that way, Lisa also noticed the cold air coming from the slightly opened door.

They had just about reached it when they heard the gunshot from the dining room.

“Shit!” Lisa whispered.

She ran towards the door between the two rooms.

“I thought we were just coming for coffee,” Manny said, limping after her.

* * *

The bullet crashed into the far wall, shattering the plaster and tile. Franks realized the running figure was a kid with short-cut hair. The child was Caucasian and probably about 12 or 13 years old. He was dirty and wore somewhat tattered though tight clothing. He sidestepped and the child ran by him without a word, turning and heading for the front doors. As the child went around the corner, his feet slid on the tiles and down he went, crashing to the floor as he continued to scrabble for the front door, obviously terrified.

The door to the kitchen burst open and Lisa ran out.

“Are you okay?” she called when she saw Franks. “What the **** happened?”

“It’s okay,” Franks said. “It’s just some stupid kid.”

“A kid!?!” Lisa said.

The child regained his feet and ran towards the front doors. Franks ignored him and headed for the cash register. Manny came out of the kitchen.

“Wait wait wait!” Lisa called to the child.

She ran to the end of the counter.

“Hey!” Manny yelled. “We’re not going to hurt you.”

The kid stopped at the front door, looking back at Lisa and hesitating.

“Hey hey hey,” Lisa said. “Hi. We’re not here to hurt you. Wait. How did you get here?”

“Who?” the child said.

“Do you have any parents?”

“Who are you? I was looking … looking for the …”

The child pointed at the doughnut case. They thought she was a little girl whose hair had been cut very short. Lisa looked down at the case and saw the doughnuts on the floor with a single bite taken out of each.

“Oh, were you looking for some food?” she said.

The little girl nodded.

“Well Jeeze,” Lisa said.

Franks, meanwhile, found the cash register locked up. It looked like it was made out of plastic.

“Hey Manny, can I see that crowbar?” he said.

“Why do you want money for?” she asked.

“You never know. What do you want drugs for?”

“For trading! People actually want drugs. Why would they want money?”

“Find someplace where money’s still worth something. Or a sucker that still thinks it’s worth something.”

“Just came for the damned coffee and … the kid …”

“I was in favor of letting the kid go.”

Lisa, meanwhile, had moved out from behind the counter, hands at her side.

“What is your name?” she said. “Do you know your name?”

“Yeah, I know my name!” the little girl said. “I’m Jamie.”

“Your name is Jamie? Okay. Okay.”

Jamie was soaked and wore tight shorts and a tight shirt that had seen better days. Her sneakers were very wet too and she’d obviously been out in the rain.

“Where are your parents?” Lisa asked. “Do you know where your parents are?”

“They’re down at the fort,” Jamie said.

“At the fort.”

“Yeah, the fort.”

“Do you know the name?”

“Down at Wanchese.”

“Wanchese.”

Lisa turned to the other two, still arguing by the cash register.

“Guys, do you know of a fort nearby or …?” she asked. “Wanchese? Are you familiar?”

“Wen-what?” Franks said.

He had gotten the crowbar from Manny was prying the cash register open. It gave way with a snap and a metallic clang. He took the cash in the box. There was over $700 there.

Lisa turned back to the child, moving closer to her and kneeling down.

“Okay Jamie, my name is Lisa,” she said. “This is Manny and this is John.”

“What’re you doing here?” Jamie asked. “Wait! Are you - are you - are you here - are you the rescue?”

“We wish, kid,” Manny said.

“You’re not the rescue?”

“Nope. We’re waiting on that too.”

“Are you hunters?”

“No?”

“No,” Lisa said.

“Well, he said there’d be hunters,” Jamie said. “Whenever there’s … whenever there’s vampires, there’s hunters, right?”

“Who? Hunt? Wait. What?”

“The Professor said that.”

“Professor … Professor what?”

“He just calls himself the Professor.”

“Okay.”

“His last name wasn’t Wolfgang, was it?” Franks said.

“No,” Jamie said.

“Okay, then you’re fine.”

“What?”

“It’s not that drunken idiot.”

“Well, I guess we’ll give you a ride,” Manny said.

“The doughnuts are all stale!” Jamie suddenly said, tears in her eyes.

“Okay, we─” Lisa said.

“I came up to look for stuff. They don’t know I’m here. I don’t want to get in trouble. They - they - I don’t wanna …”

“You’re not in trouble, sweetie.”

“Yeah, I wasn’t supposed to come. I was told to look. Because it’s day. We’re safe in the day. And I was just coming─”

“Okay okay okay, who─?”

“But I heard something in the back and I was leaving and I saw him: that man with the gun.”

“Okay, well, he─”

“He tried to shoot me!”

“He was scared. We’re all scared, okay?”

“I’m scared.”

“We are not going to hurt you, okay?”

“Okay. You’re not marauders, right? ‘Cause the Professor said marauders come after the apocalypse. There’s going to be marauders.”

“No no.”

“They’re on bikes and stuff.”

“We’re just trying to get out of this, just like you are.”

“You’re not wearing all the spikes. He said they wear spikes.”

“No. We’ve got some food and water back in the car.”

“He’s been watching Mad Max too much,” Franks quipped.

“And we can get you some dry clothes,” Lisa went on.

“I just wanted to take some doughnuts back,” Jamie said. “‘Cause I was gonna share doughnuts with everybody ‘cause we haven’t had any good food in a long time.”

“Well … I’m … I’m not sure …”

“They probably have coffee in the fridge,” Manny said.

“It’s dark back there though,” Jamie said, shaking her head.

“Well, I got a flashlight.”

“Okay … I don’t like the dark.”

“Manny, can you go back and check what’s in the fridge, please?” Lisa said.

“That’s what I was gonna do,” Manny said.

“Be careful, Manny!” Jamie said.

Manny went into the kitchen again. Franks followed her.

“Just don’t let the kid bite you!”Franks called before he went into the kitchen.

“I’m … I’m not a vampire!” Jamie called after him, watching the kitchen door carefully. “God. Your friend is dumb.”

Lisa nodded. She put her hands on Jamie’s shoulders.

“It’s gonna be okay,” she said.

“You’re not a vampire, are you?” Jamie asked her.

“No. No, sweetie, I’m not.”

“You don’t have red eyes, so that’s good.”

Lisa showed the little girl her neck and Jamie looked very closely at it.

“Okay, Professor says they don’t act like regular vampires,” Jamie said. “They don’t … they don’t suck your blood. They just … they just kill you.”

* * *

Manny and Franks approached the refrigerator where cold air was still coming out. They realized there was still electricity in the building. They opened the door and Manny turned on her flashlight and shined it into the room. She reached to the right of the door and flicked on the switch. The florescent lights flickered but didn’t come on completely as they warmed up. They obviously needed to be replaced.

Manny shined the light around and saw two people lying on the floor. Two others were standing in the corners, leaning back against the walls. A shelf full of coffee stood against the far wall of the walk-in refrigerator, just between the two standing corpses. There were dozens of two-pound bags of the stuff, all marked with their flavor.

Manny turned the lights back off. Franks reached in and turned them back on though they didn’t really come back on, just flickered. Manny turned them back off again.

“Just grab the coffee and go,” Manny said.

Just wanting them to shut up about coffee, Franks crossed the room very quietly, reaching the coffee. He filled his arms with bags of coffee, getting about 10 bags of various flavors.

Manny noticed one of the men in the corner open his eyes. In the dimness of the room, they seemed to glow red.

“****,” Manny said. “Get away!”

The thing lurched towards Franks who glanced the thing’s way. It tried to grab him but he turned and ran away, not dropping any of the bags of coffee. He ran past Manny and to the door between the front and the back.

“Bye Manny!” he called.

The thing in the corner followed Franks with its eyes, which stopped on Manny. Then the other zombie leaning in the opposite corner opened its eyes. Then the ones on the floor opened their eyes.

“I’ll meet you out front in the car!” Manny shouted.

She turned and ran towards the back door.

* * *

Lisa heard the shouting from the back. She grabbed Jamie by the shoulders. The little girl looked towards the back of the building, terrified.

“Okay, we’re gonna go now, okay?” she said. “We’re gonna get in the car─”

“Okay!”

“─and we’re gonna leave here, okay?”

“Okay!”

Lisa tried to pick Jamie up but the girl was just too heavy. The little girl struggled against her.

“Okay!” Lisa said, putting her down. “Okay. Just walk with me, okay?”

“Okay!” Jamie said.

“Hold my hand,” Lisa said.

She pushed open the front door. The rain was still pouring down.

Franks burst out of the door to the kitchen, his arms filled with big bags of coffee.

“Nice job,” Lisa said to him, leading the little girl out of the building.

Franks ran along the counters and around the side, slipping on the damp floor right where the little girl had fallen earlier. He didn’t drop any coffee though! He scrambled to his feet.

* * *

Manny ran to the SUV and flung open the door. She jammed the key into the ignition and started it up. She looked over her shoulder and floored it, backing up down the drive-thru and increasing speed as she tore around the side of the building.

* * *

Lisa grabbed onto Jamie as the SUV roared out backwards around the side of the building and spun, turning and backing up past the front of the building, stopping about three feet in front of the two and coming to a stop. Both the woman and the girl watched, jaws dropped. Lisa flung open the back door and helped Jamie into the SUV, then climbed in herself, pulling the door closed.

Looking back, they saw Franks slipping and sliding towards the slowly-closing door. He hadn’t lost any of the coffee but stumbled towards the front door clumsily. Lisa climbed out of the back of the SUV and headed for him.

“Jesus, mate,” she said.

“Will you come here and take your God damned coffee!?!” Franks yelled.

“God, you absolute ledge!” she said, grabbing about half the bags of coffee.

Franks was finally able to get his balance.

The back door opened and they saw a man standing there wearing a Dunkin Donuts uniform.

“I took your money and your coffee!” Franks said to him. “What you gonna do about it!?! Nothing!”

Lisa noticed the man who came out of the kitchen had red eyes. He stumbled to the counter and climbed over, falling unceremoniously to the floor on the near side.

Lisa and Franks fled, Lisa leaping into the back seat again while Franks ran around the front of the car and got in on the passenger side in the front.

Lisa saw the man climb to his feet and walk to the front door of the building and then just stare at the SUV.

“Manny, let’s go!” Franks shouted.

Manny stared at the man in the shop for a moment but then put the car in gear and floored it. She tore out of the parking lot, turning right on the street, drifting but in complete control the whole time.

“Seat belts!” Manny called.

“No!” Jamie cried out. “Don’t go that way! The vampires are there!”

“What, do you mean there’s more vampires?” Manny said, slowing the vehicle.

“That’s where they live!”

“Then where are you from?”

“I’m from Wanchese! Fort Wanchese!”

Jamie pointed behind her, back the way they’d initially come.

“Are there car parts there?” Manny said.

“I … guess … I …” Jamie said. “I don’t … maybe?”

Manny slowed and made a u-turn in the center of the road.

“Oh my God, Manny, just go!” Franks said. “There’s probably cars that you can take parts from.”

“Yeah,” Manny said.

They drove past Dunkin Donuts a few moments later. It looked exactly as it had before. Franks flipped off the building as they drove by, laughing insanely. Lisa gave Jamie a towel.

They soon arrived at the intersection they had gone through before and Jamie pointed south, the direction the big yellow arrow pointed. They passed a pole barn or warehouse on the right and noticed a water tower over it. They drove by other scattered houses though the bulk of the road ran through woodlands with stunted trees common in the outer banks. It was about three miles before they saw more concentrated buildings and houses.

The Wanchese area consisted of widespread houses though they did pass a post office and three brick buildings connected together that almost but not quite could have been the downtown of any small town. Otherwise, the place was completely residential, though they had passed a church as the houses and buildings started to get more prevalent.

Jamie told Manny to turn left on Harbor Road. She did so and they passed some larger buildings on the left. Lisa took off her soaking wet shirt.

“Stop stripping in front of the kid,” Franks quipped. “You’re gonna give her ideas.”

Harbor Road ended when a makeshift wall made of various materials loomed out of the pouring rain where the water came closer on the right. They could see a few boats at docks down there. The wall ran across the road and ran across a portion of land with wetlands on the left.

“That’s it!” Jamie said. “That’s Fort Wanchese!”

“I’m tempted to just drop off this child,” Manny muttered.

“You will not hurt this child!” Lisa said. “This child is mine!”

“Well, she has people to take care of her!” Manny said.

“Uncle Ben,” Jamie said.

They slowly approached the rough wall and it looked like the gate was made of two low-slung automobiles that had some kind of warehouse siding welded and bolted onto them to make the entrance. They were pulled towards each other, obviously, to close it. A platform was over the gate and a few men stood behind a short metal wall there with rifles. They saw other men behind the top of the wall as well. Many of them aimed the rifles at their vehicle as it approached.

Manny pulled the SUV to a stop only a few yards from the gate. They all heard a banging noise that only lasted a few moments. Manny got out of the car.

“Hey!” she called. “We’re just giving a ride to this child we found in the city up north.”

“Stay there!” someone called.

Five minutes or so went by before the two cars making up the gate were each pulled back. A few more men came out of the gate, all of them armed with hunting rifles. They waved them in while looking around nervously.

“You want me to bring the car in?” Manny called.

“Yes!” one of them yelled.

She got back into the SUV and drove in through the narrow and roughly made gates. Once they were in, the drivers of the two cars pulled forward carefully, bumper to bumper, which closed the gates. There were braces made of two-by-four on the roofs of the cars, bolted into place, to brace up the back of the 10-foot tall siding that made up the gates.

Everyone looked nervous and everyone was armed. Jamie flung her car door open and jumped out.

“Jamie!” Lisa called. “Wait!”

The people seemed surprised and happy to see the little girl, calling to her and asking where she had been. Lisa climbed out of the back seat into the pouring rain. When she saw the people were greeting the little girl warmly, she climbed back in.

The north side of the “fort” consisted of several large buildings, probably storage for boats or possibly boat building businesses. They guessed boats might have been stored there in the winter. One of the men waved their SUV to follow him around a building and by a gate and then pointed them to a large, open warehouse door where they drove in to see some space where they could park where it was dry.

It was loud in the warehouse with the rain pouring down. There were places where boats had obviously been stored but it was, overall, fairly clean. A few other vehicles were pulled into the place and apparently under repair.

“We found this child,” Manny said as she got out of the SUV. “We were up in the city up there, looking for─”

“You were in Manteo?” someone said.

“Yeah.”

“You shouldn’t be up in Manteo! Especially when it’s this dark. They’ll get ya!”

“What? Who? The zombies?”

“Zombies? Ain’t no zombies here!”

“Have you seen any zombies?” Manny said to Franks.

“She thinks there’s zombies,” the local man said.

“You mean those *******s who I stole that money and the coffee from in the coffee shop?” Franks said. “That was good.”

“I mean … they were zombies, right?” Manny said.

“Wait!” the local man said. “Who are you folks?”

“May have been a wendigo,” Franks said to Manny. “It was cold.”

“That’s true,” Manny said.

They told the man their names and that they’d come from the Raleigh Durham area. When Manny asked them if there was a car parts store anywhere, the local men looked at each other.

“You gotta talk to Bob and Jimbo first,” one of them said. “And Tyson. And Cooter.”

Franks started laughing.

“Excuse me?” Lisa said to them.

“They’re in charge,” the man said. “They were all military, so they know what they’re doing.”

They were eventually taken up the road a little ways, past what appeared to be a restaurant or store with “O’Neal’s Sea Harvest” on the sign. They passed more pole buildings, one with the words “Briglia Boatworks” on it. They eventually came to a smaller building marked “United States Coast Guard Engineering Services Division” It appeared to be some kind of office though it had been converted over to living quarters and storage. It looked like two sturdy bars had been added inside the front door. Sandbags were around the outer walls and makeshift shutters were attached to the exterior over the windows.

There, they met four men in their 40s whom were gruff-looking. Tyson was missing his right leg and wore a prosthetic. Jimbo had a nasty scar on his face. The other two both had short-cut hair.

“Who are you folks?” Jimbo asked. “What you doing here? They put us in charge … ‘cause we kind of know what we’re doing. Where are y’all from? What’s going on? We’ve been kind of cut off.”

Manny told them she was from Durham and was told to come to Roanoke Island as it was some kind of safe haven. Shortly after their arrival, they found the little girl but they were just there looking for supplies. They noted she had found Jamie.

The men laughed when she mentioned a safe haven.

“Obviously that is not the case,” she said.

“I told you we shouldn’t follow some damned coke-head,” Franks said.

“Coke-head?” Jimbo said. “Wait a minute. Y’all know Skadooter?”

“Oh, God damn it!” Franks said.

“Is he here!?!” Manny said.

“That ******* came through here!?!” Franks said.

“No, he’s not here,” Jimbo said.

“You threw him out, right?”

“Yes, we threw him out!”

“Good,” Manny said.

“Dumb ass driving up and down the streets, blaring his horn!” Jimbo went on. “Yelling ‘Doot Doot!’”

“Oh, thank God,” Franks said.

“We started taking shots at him just to get him the hell out of here!” Jimbo said.

“Actually, by the way, where’d he go?” Franks asked. “Like, which direction did he go?”

“He went north, towards Manteo, but I think he was heading for one of the bridges,” Jimbo said.

“Ah, he’ll be fine.”

“If he went to the north bridge, it’s gone. They blew it up.”

“He’ll find a way across. Trust me.”

“There’s another bridge that goes to the mainland.”

“Like I said, he’ll find a way across.”

Jimbo cursed, using some nasty racial slurs.

“You will not find any coke for 40 square miles with that dude,” Franks said. “Unless of course, he finds out we have some.”

“He kept yelling ‘Where’s Floyd? Where’s Floyd?’” Jimbo said. “Who the hell’s Floyd!?!”

“What’s going on out there?” Cooter asked. “Is it vampires everywhere?”

“Well, I mean, I guess those were vampires in Manteo, but we mostly seen zombies and plants,” Manny said. “That’s what’s all over my car.”

“What are those dog things?” Franks said.

“Oh, triffids?” Jimbo said. “You saw triffids?”

“Where is that?” Manny said.

“They got a few over on Pond Island,” Jimbo said.

“Where was that?” Franks said. “About 20 miles back?”

“Those should be harmless,” Jimbo said.

“What about those dog things?” Franks asked.

“They attacked us,” Manny said. “That’s why my window’s busted.”

“Well, they been docked,” Jimbo said. “They should be fine. They cut off the stingers every year or so. And they’re harmless. Well, I guess it’s been about a year.”

Franks asked about the dog things and Manny noted they looked like some kind of monkeys. Franks said they meeped but Jimbo had no idea about that at all. There hadn’t been anything like that in Roanoke.

“Back in July, there was this meteor,” Jimbo told them. “It hit the elementary school up in Manteo. I mean, dead center, blew the whole frigging building to pieces.”

“Sucks to suck,” Franks quipped.

“It does,” Jimbo went on.

He told them the meteor hit around 11 p.m. The whole island shook. When people in Wanchese phoned up to Manteo and didn’t get any answer, they went up to investigate. There were fires and the people of Manteo had been turned into vampires. They thought they were zombies at first.

“Me and the boys, here, we came through a little later,” Jimbo said.

But the next morning, all the walking dead went to ground and those caught in the sunlight burned. Their skin turned black and they were terribly injured. Then the Professor showed up.

“He’s got his own little place down at the end of the marina,” Jimbo said. “He said he knows all about vampires. He’s been fighting them all his life is what he said. I dunno about that. But these people here think he knows what he’s talking about. He said stake ‘em, and we tried staking ‘em. That don’t really do nothing. But chopping their heads off helped.”

“We can do that,” Manny said.

Franks realized the thing that had attacked him Dunkin Donuts had not had the sharp fangs or canines vampires were traditionally supposed to have.

Jimbo told him many of the people from Wanchese, which was mostly residential, had gone up to Manteo to help after the meteorite hit. They got wiped out by the things. The fire department and police department, both in Manteo, were gone.

“All the departments?” Lisa said.

“Everybody who was called to help died,” Jimbo said. “Except for some people up there. Some people lived! There was dozen or two people who were in town who … what they did was they … they … a lot of them came down here. There might’ve been more.

“So, at some point, it was decided ‘We gotta stop ‘em from escaping … or getting anywhere.’ So, they blew up the Mann’s Harbor Bridge, to the north. They took all the explosives up there. And then old Carl, he went to the east bridge. He said he was gonna barricade it so nobody else could come here and suffer like we suffered. We ain’t heard nothing from him. So, no telling what happened to Carl.”

“That guy!” Franks said.

He laughed.

“Wait, you know Carl?” Jimbo said.

“Oh … wait …” Franks said. “Who?”

“Carl!” Jimbo said. “He said he was going to blockade the bridge, make sure nobody else came and got themselves murdered by vampires.”

“Never heard of him,” Lisa said.

“Carl?” Franks said. “Carl? There was a guy who was shooting at us and shot one of friends and almost killed her, but …”

Jimbo sent someone to find out what Carl looked like. They soon established it was probably Carl they had shot and killed on the boat the day before.

“Y’all should have sent a better guard,” Franks said. “Holy crap.”

“We didn’t send him!” Jimbo said. “He volunteered. Carl was always a little weird.”

“You should’ve had somebody volunteer to go with him,” Franks said.

“They probably would’ve been dead too,” Manny said.

They explained about the drawings and writing they had found in the cabin of the boat about Virginia Dare. They figured Carl had gone crazy.

“We just didn’t want marauders,” Jimbo told them. “The professor says marauders will come too.”

“Fair enough,” Franks said.

“Professor?” Lisa said.

“Yeah yeah yeah,” Jimbo said. “He’s got a place on the south side, the other end of the marina. He says he’s an expert on vampires. He’s been right about a lot of things, like chopping their heads off and burning the bodies. So, we’re just trying to survive here. Manteo is lost. There’s hundreds of them but they go to ground during the day. Can’t stand the sunlight.”

“You think they have tunnels underground?” Lisa said.

The men all looked suddenly very frightened.

“God damn it,” Bob said. “I didn’t think about that! Are they digging?”

“So, we can raid safely during the day,” Manny said.

“During the day is pretty safe,” Jimbo said. “Well, unless you got weather like this. They don’t like the light. Any kind of sunlight at all really … puts them off.”

“Well, you’re fine then,” Franks said.

“No, not when it’s like this! They might be able to get out in this stuff. I don’t know.”

“They didn’t come out for us.”

“We’re looking for car parts and clothes,” Manny said.

“We’ve been trying to get Wanchese back,” Jimbo said. “Because they kind of spread this way, fast. But it takes going into houses during the day, chopping heads off. We burned down a few houses because they were full. These things go to ground, they find a basement or they find a dark space or they find a fridge. They hide in refrigerators. They’re kind of smart! They know where they can hide. They’ll hide in a fridge or they’ll hide in a basement or even a crawl space. Sometimes they’re getting in cupboards.”

“So, there’s an infestation,” Lisa said. “Almost like rats.”

“All of Manteo was turned. I don’t even know what the population was up there. We ain’t no internets here now. But we still got fresh water. Apparently the pumping stations are still working.

“That’s good at least.”

“And we do have some electricity.”

“You need to burn that God damned Dunkin Donuts, then,” Franks said.

They were questioned about how many of the things were in the shop and they told him of the four they saw. Jimbo noted Jamie was a sweet kid. She just wanted to get some treats for everyone.

“See, I was in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Jimbo said.

“You need to tell her not to run at people,” Franks said. “Or guns or something. I almost shot the … kid.”

“Better running towards people than vamps.”

“Yeah, but she didn’t know that.”

“Well, I dunno. If you came in the front door, even raining out, she probably figured you were alive. Bless her heart. She was in 6th grade before all this happened.”

“You know, I’ll let her slide on that.”

“She’s just a kid.”

“Fair enough.”

“She’s a good kid. We told her ‘Cut your hair short so they ain’t got nothing to grab hold of’ and she did it. And she wears tight clothes so there ain’t nothing loose to grab onto. She’s a smart kid.”

“Y’all done good.”

“She’s a smart kid, but she probably panicked.”

They hadn’t heard of the Floyd fellow Skadooter was yelling about. However, they did offer for them to stay in the fort if they wanted. Franks asked if they were interested in trading and Manny mentioned they could stay there at least until it was sunny. When they asked for trade again, they told them there was probably things they could trade and they could help fix their car if they wanted too.

They learned Wanchese was safer than Manteo but there were vampires there as well.

They also learned a helicopter was up by the elementary school in Manteo. It had landed the day after the meteor struck and was full of army troops. They lasted until nightfall. They weren’t sure exactly what happened, as they had not arrived until a couple weeks later. However, they had heard the soldiers were overrun at nightfall and all of them were wiped out. The Chinook helicopter was up there and Jimbo guessed there were fully automatic weapons scattered up around there somewhere. He guessed there might even be some light machine guns, but it was right next to the elementary school, right in the heart of that place. He noted they hadn’t explored that far north yet. The helicopter had landed in the parking lot of the school.

He said they should probably get some boys on the bridge to watch it. There was still a bridge to the mainland as well and he noted the Professor said there was going to be marauders with the collapse of society.

“He says he’s read about this kind of shit,” Jimbo said. “Sooner or later, we’re going to get a group of people with good weapons who decide they’re going to prey on other people. We ain’t seen it yet, but we’re kind of secluded here. So, we’re keeping our eyes out. I’m glad Jamie fell in with folks who were nice to her rather than someone who would try to do something terrible to her. She might be young, but … I seen some bad things in my day.”

* * *

The three decided to stay in Fort Wanchese. They traded some of the food and drugs they had for some fresh clothing. They also traded some of the coffee they had recovered. The knowledge there were more bags of coffee was also of some value. Their main medical personnel there was a male nurse named Guy who was willing to take the cocaine, valium, and morphine in trade. It was enough for some car parts. Guy was referred to by the residents of the place as the “Chief Doctor” though he had been a nurse before the meteors fell. He was about 30 and had been a nurse for several years. He did the best he could.

They also told the residents of the fort about the group they had left at Pirate’s Cove Marina.

* * *

Lisa found the Professor was not what she expected. He had taken over one of the pole barns on the south side of the marina, near the water tower and not far from another called Blackwell Boatworks. He had the place set up with a small, enclosed office as his bedroom and the rest of the place filled with plastic bins filled with books.

The Professor was an 18-year-old boy who wore graduation robes, probably from when he graduated high school. She learned he had been watching zombie movies and playing tabletop role playing games since he was eight years old. He was not a goth or emo but had been a dungeon master playing Dungeons & Dragons for years and did a lot of research of vampire lore. He had also played a post apocalyptic game called Twilight: 2000 and played a lot of Vampire: The Masquerade. Though he was a geeky kid, when he talked to her about vampires, he came across with a confidence beyond his age.

When she asked about the things, he noted not all of his information was completely accurate. At first he thought staking them through the heart would be enough. When it proved not to be, he had people do it anyway, if they had to, to nail the vampires they encountered down in a position where leverage would not allow them to get up, then chop of their heads. He had also learned garlic didn’t work on the things.

He also had a lot of information on zombies as his father had made him watch zombie movies since he was very little. He had read Lucifer’s Hammer, a book about a comet striking the Earth, and he was trying to collect as much information as he could about farming, metalworking, and other important trades and crafts. They were mostly textbooks and library books about engineering and other important things.

He was very polite to Lisa and seemed a little nervous in her presence; she got the idea he was attracted to her. She intentionally bent over facing away from him to look in one bin and saw him sweating and nervous as he tried not to stare.

He was willing to take her on as a student or apprentice as he needed help collecting more books. When he learned she was a writer, he was very impressed. He told her they needed to get as much textbook information as they could to survive so society would have something to guide it in rebuilding someday. Realizing the youth could be an asset, she offered to help him, acting like a tease the entire time.

She later learned he showed up about three weeks before on a motorcycle with a sidecar. He was heavily armed and had come all the way from Raleigh by himself. He had been wearing biking leathers and a helmet. He had been on his high school football team as a running back before the whole zombie apocalypse happened.

He was also adamant about the lack of fossil fuel. He told her gasoline was only good for about a year before it went bad and was useless. They didn’t have a good way to refine more crude oil into gasoline. That was a problem to look forward to the following year. However, he had a solution, as did the military men they had put in charge. A lot of diesel engines could be modified to run on ethanol, which meant they needed the vehicles to modify and crops to process into ethanol. Many military vehicles were built to be modified for ethanol if need be.

She never learned his real name but he didn’t mind people calling him Prof. He talked about role-playing games a lot.

Jamie also spent a lot of time with Lisa, having grown attached to the woman after their first encounter.

* * *

Over the next few weeks, Manny worked on replacing the driver side window of the white Honda Pilot they were driving and cleaning up and repairing the car in general. She also heard what the Professor had said about diesel engines and learned how to modify a diesel engine to run on ethanol. She worked on other vehicles and machines that needed repairs at the place.

They contacted the group still at the Pirate’s Cove Marina to tell them what they’d found. They said they’d stay at the marina for the time being and loot as much useful stuff as they could.

* * *

They met some of the other members of the fort over the following weeks as well.

Katana Jimmy was a hobo from Asheville who had made his way all the way to Roanoke on foot with a shopping cart filled with katanas, or so the rumors claimed. He had tried to pull his hair into a top knot but it was too short and so it was kind of sloppy. He wore as much white clothing as he could. He thought of himself as a samurai. He was also an expert scrounger and very good at finding useful or valuable things.

He had all the Samurai Jack videos on VHS. Since the series had ended so vaguely, he thought of himself as making it up every day of his life since he’d found the katanas. He was certain Aku was behind everything.

He had a little mutt named Mange (or sometimes Sugar) that followed him around. The dog was a corgi/retriever mix and had spiky hair coming out in patches. He hated zombies. Katana Jimmy claimed Mange would attack zombies, ripping at their throats until he tore their heads clean off.

Jimmy actually had a place to live, but kept his shopping cart. He even put chicken wire around the little niche wherein he had his cot, hanging his katanas from it. “It’s like living in a shopping cart,” he would tell people.

When Lisa learned about him, she approached him to get a katana, as she knew how to use one.

May Eldridge was an older African-American woman of 56. She was missing her left arm, it having been cut off at the elbow sometime after the meteors fell. She had two children but had lost one in the Iraq War and one since the zombies rose from the dead. She usually said she lost one in that war and the other in “this war.” She always referred to what was going on as a war. She was fairly disenchanted but took care of people in the fort. She had been a nurse before being married and having kids and used her medical knowledge as best she could. She also tried to keep the kids there educated and teach them what she could as well.

She had made her way down the coast from New Jersey to Roanoke, looking for her younger son, who she had not yet been able to find. He had lived on Roanoke Island before “this war” as she put it. No one was sure what had happened to him and she assumed he was dead. She had lost her arm on her journey when, having been bitten by a zombie on the hand, she had been unable to cut her arm off herself and relied on another person to do it. She regretted her weakness. She only carried a harmonica and a pocketknife.

Lisa got along well with her. They became close enough that she learned a little about it. It further spurred Lisa to want to find some kind of cure for the virus or do something about it. When she talked to the Professor about it, he noted the place for that was probably the Center for Disease Control which was headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, though he knew there was a center located in Raleigh as well.

Bartholomew was a farmer boy from just outside Fayetteville. Everyone called him “Bolt.” He was blonde, skinny, and had just finished his senior year of high school before everything went to hell. He had been in track and field in middle school but then had to work on the farm instead when he got to high school. He had wanted to be a track star but his father had discouraged him, telling him he wasn’t good enough. He had a best friend who was a mechanic who taught him some of the basics of car engines.

Manny found a lot in common with the youth and the two soon found themselves getting along together well.

The three contributed to the fort as much as they could, Lisa working with the Professor, Manny helping with making various mechanical and electrical repairs, and Franks learning first-aid from May.

“Can I help you, son,” May said to him when he approached her.

“I want to learn first-aid,” Franks said.

“Oh, you want to learn first-aid?”

“I want to learn first-aid, ma’am. Yes.”

“Anything specific or just first-aid?”

“Just first-aid.”

“All right.”

* * *

In early September, a few weeks after they had gotten to Fort Wanchese, Franks, Lisa, and Manny all volunteered to go out and hunt vampires. Each of them was armed with a handgun. Lisa also had a katana, Franks was armed with his baseball bat, and Manny also carried her crowbar and shotgun. Franks, wondering if reflected sunlight would hurt the things, also took a small mirror. Since all of them wanted new clothing, they were told of a thrift store in a row of two-story buildings that had recently been built next to the post office. There were three of the buildings, all connected and set up like a small downtown. If they cleared a store, they had first dibs on what was taken out of the building and then others would loot the place for everything useful, which was often everything.

They talked to one lady who had lived in Wanchese. She knew there was an apartment on the second floor and a small basement under the thrift store. She wasn’t sure about the stores on either side. She knew there was a pump in the basement to keep it from flooding but no one was sure if the pump was still working. Others guessed there was probably a firewall between the three buildings so there was no access of one to another.

They picked a nice, sunny day to raid the place. They went on foot as it was not terribly far and soon arrived. The building was actually perpendicular to Mill Landing Road, sharing a parking lot with the U.S. Post Office Building. They first walked around and found doors on the front and the back. One door in the back probably led to the thrift store while the other, they guessed, led to steps up to the apartment. A narrow fire escape was connected to the second floor. The front of the place was a large, glass window with a sign over it that just said “Thrift Store.”

Franks decided he wanted to take the fire escape to the second floor. He tried to climb up the wall without luck, falling a few feet and hurting himself. Lisa then gave him a leg up. He reached the ladder and pulled it down with a loud rattle. He climbed up and got to the fire escape. There were darkened windows there and he could see a dark kitchen through one. He shattered one of the locked windows, reached in, unhooked it, and opened the sash. He used his mirror to shine around the room a little bit as Manny climbed up the ladder. Franks offered for her to go first, telling her he’d cover her with the light. She crept in, flashlight in one hand and crowbar in the other.

* * *

On the ground, Lisa found the back door locked but realized it had a cheap latch. She kicked it and the latch broke as the door swung open.

“If you find a leather jacket, please save it for me,” Franks called down to her.

She gave him a thumbs-up and walked into the dark shop.

The room ran to the front of the building and she could just make out dim light coming through curtains over the glass there. The place was cluttered with various bins, racks, and hanging clothing, making it feel claustrophobic and close. There were shelves and bins filled with a jumble of stuff: books, shoes, appliances, and the like. She drew her katana and looked around carefully.

* * *

The kitchen upstairs had a tiny table, cupboards, and shelves. An archway led into the rest of the upstairs apartment. Manny looked through the dim place for food and valuables in the open. She ushered Franks into the room and then headed through the archway. She found a landing with steps going down to the ground floor. Off to the right, it led to a living room while to the left it headed back to a hallway and three open doors that probably led to bedrooms and a bathroom.

She went to the living room and found it contained a television, couch, an easy chair, a few shelves, and a window seat. The curtains were drawn back from the windows, letting in a good amount of light.

Franks looked towards the back of the building. The rooms were quite dark, as if the curtains were closed.

* * *

Lisa soon found the men’s section. She looked for a big baggy shirt. As she crossed the floor, she heard a strange thumping below. She was unsure what it was so ignored it. She found a shirt and pulled it on.

* * *

Franks headed for the bathroom in between the two bedrooms. The narrow room had toilet and sink, with a bathtub running crossways along the back wall. The shower curtain was closed. There was no window in the bathroom so it was very dim.

He quietly opened up the medicine cabinet above the sink and found aspirin, Band-Aids, toothpaste, floss, and a used toothbrush with bent bristles. He looked at it and tossed it aside. As he reached for the other stuff, he heard the swish of the shower curtain being shoved aside. He turned towards the bathtub and fired his Glock.

* * *

Manny went to the first bedroom. The curtains were closed and the room was a little messy with bed, desk, and small shelf. She noticed the closet door was closed.

There was a gunshot from the next room.

Manny flung the closet door open and found a man in there. He lunged at her.

* * *

Franks blasted the man standing in the bathtub, the bullet striking him in the right leg as he panic-fired.

“Son of a *****!” he yelled.

There was a splatter of blood against the tiles on the wall behind the bathtub. Franks saw the man had red, glowing eyes.

* * *

“Guys?” Lisa called, running towards the back door.

“There’s shit up here!” she heard Franks yell.

“****!” she said.

* * *

The vampire or zombie or whatever it was climbed out of the bathtub without slowing and grabbed Franks, pulling him close. He pushed the gun up under the other man’s chin and pulled the trigger. The blast burst out of the top of the man’s head and the man’s eyes seemed to bulge from their sockets. That splattered Franks with blood and gore. The smell was terrible.

Mind blown, Franks thought.

The thing let him go and stumbled back, crashing into the bathtub.

* * *

Manny heard another gunshot and swung her crowbar at the red-eyed man. The weapon merely struck the thing a glancing blow in the shoulder. It came at her again but she fended it off as she backed away.

* * *

At the bottom of the ladder, Lisa heard another gunshot from above and quickly sheathed her katana and climbed up to the open kitchen window. She climbed into the kitchen and went through the archway onto the landing. She could hear the sounds of a struggle towards the back of the apartment.

* * *

The zombie in the bathtub climbed to its feet again, grabbing at the shower curtain and pulling it down, falling again. It grabbed the spigot and pulled itself to its feet. Franks noticed it wasn’t looking at him but was starting at the mirror on the wall. Its eyes were not facing the same way either.

Franks put the gun to the front of the thing’s head and fired. The blast knocked it back into the tub again. There was a spray of blood that splattered all over the tiles behind the thing.

“Shoot ‘em in the head!” he shouted.

* * *

Manny dropped her crowbar and pulled her shotgun from where it was slung on her back. She fired at the thing, the blast striking it in the left arm, which was blasted off and flung back into the closet. It tried to grab Manny again but merely slapped an arm against her.

* * *

Lisa drew her semiautomatic pistol and rushed towards the back of the apartment. She saw Manny in the nearest bedroom, working the action on the shotgun, which sent a smoking shell flying across the room. A man with red eyes stood just in front of her. Lisa thought she could hear something in the bathroom too.

As she stood there, looking around and trying to decide what to do, she saw the other bedroom door creak open. She headed into the first bedroom and shot at the zombie. The bullet struck it in the right foot.

* * *

Franks had heard a lot of gunfire from the next room but bent over to search the now-unmoving corpse in the bathtub. He knelt next to the bathtub and started going through the man’s pockets.

* * *

Manny backed away from the struggling zombie and aimed more carefully at the dead man’s head. It lunged at her, clutching at her with it’s one arm, scraping across her chest and practically groping her.

Lisa shot at the thing again and the bullet crashed somewhere in the back of the closet.

* * *

A bullet crashed through the wall, shattered the tile, whizzed by Franks’ face, and crashed through the tile on the opposite wall. He let out a shriek and then a gasp.

“Sorry John!” he heard Lisa call from the next room.

“God damn it!” Franks yelled. “That was good tile!”

He found a wallet in the corpse’s back pocket. It was very thick. He pulled it out and found over $700 in cash, credit cards, a safety deposit box key, and driver’s license with the name Gregory Smith on it.

“Well, thank you Greg,” he muttered to the corpse taking the cash and the key. “I’ll take that.”

* * *

Manny calmly shoved the shotgun into the zombie’s face and fired. The thing’s head exploded like a bomb going off in a pumpkin. Both she and Lisa were covered in blood and bits of bone. Lisa looked down at the new red shirt she had gotten below, now covered in gore.

* * *

With a second thought, Franks took the license and tucked it into his pocket. Then he felt someone grab him from behind. He shoved the gun behind him, near his own head, and fired it blindly. The blast nearly deafened his right ear. The ringing didn’t stop after he felt the thing fall away behind him. He leapt to his feet.

* * *

Manny and Lisa, hearing the gunshot from the bathroom, ran to find Franks. Another zombie lay splayed out on the floor, practically in the hallway, bullet through its skull. Franks stood in the bathroom, gun in hand, clutching his ear with his left hand and wincing in pain. He was covered with blood.

Lisa ran into the room to administer first aid to Franks, but she could not find any wounds on the man.

“Man!” Manny said.

“Damn it, Manny!” Franks said. “You’re supposed to kill these things. I ain’t bit, I just blew my eardrum out!”

Lisa backed away from the man.

“Now we’re equal on our kill ratio!” Manny said, disappointed.

She was upset. She was ahead on the kill ratio until that day. Then she heard something scratching on the firewall between their building and the next one. Lisa heard it too. It sounded like someone was trying to get through the wall. Lisa put her pistol in her belt and drew her katana again.

Manny ignored the sound and tried to remember how many zombies she’d killed as opposed to how many zombies Franks had killed. She was pretty sure he had surpassed her.

Franks clutched at his ear, still in intense pain.

“Well, there’s probably a zombie in the next building,” she said.

“Well, why don’t you shoot through the wall like that last one!” Franks said loudly. “Or was that you?”

“No.”

“Wait, that wasn’t a shotgun shell …”

“There ya go!”

“Wait a minute. Damn it, Lisa! What are you doing? You almost shot me through the wall!”

“Christ, I didn’t know you were there!” Lisa said.

Franks searched the dead body. The man was wearing pajamas and had nothing of value on him. Franks kicked him in the head.

“God damn worthless vampire … zombie … whatever you are!” he said.

Manny went to the other room. The closet door there was open and the curtains were closed, making the room very dark. She went to the kitchen to loot it and found spices and food, though everything in the refrigerator was out of date. There was electricity though.

They searched the entirety of the apartment. There was nothing of any great value but there was plenty of possible use for the fort. They gathered what they could and Franks cut off one of the more intact heads. Lisa got a “Life is Good” tote bag from the thrift store and they put it within. They went down to the thrift store and got some of the clothing they wanted, Lisa finding a leather jacket for Franks.

“I thought this was your size,” she said to him. “Sorry about your ear, mate.”

He gave her a fist bump.

They could hear something bumping under the floor. Something was in the basement.

Manny packed more clothing for herself, as did the others. Lisa put together a whole new outfit in addition to her other clothing. She found a pair of jean shorts, blue men’s t-shirt, and tall black, somewhat-tattered rain boots. They also recovered several umbrellas.

They found a door that led to the basement steps and Franks barricaded it, nailing it shut. He found a Sharpie and wrote “Vampire Inside” on one 2x4 and “Do Not Open” on the other. Lisa, meanwhile, opened up the old-fashioned cash register. There was a little cash and homemade coupons inside.

They headed back to Fort Wanchese and reported the place was cleared except for the basement, warning that there was something still down there. Several adults and children headed over to loot the place.

Lisa took the head to May, Guy, and the Professor to try to see what they could do to test it. They told her they needed better equipment.

When Lisa told them she had been a kidnap victim during the meteor shower, they told her what had happened on July 21. The meteors had been unpredicted and had come down in the thousands, blanketing the earth. Wherever one hit, everyone within a few miles died and then stood back up, seeking the living and trying to kill them.

Both May and Guy were curious as to whether cutting the head off without injuring the brain would leave it alive.

* * *

Over the next month, they considered what actions they could best take to help the little community or on a larger scale perhaps. As they went about their daily chores and duties, they discussed the possibility of going back to the CDC Center in Raleigh, raiding Outer Banks Family Medicine in Manteo, or even returning to Dunkin Donuts.

May looked at Franks’ ear but was unable to help the man of the damage he’d caused to himself when he fired the pistol right next to his own head.

Lisa became closer and closer to Jamie, whom she saw on a daily basis.

Manny was interested in converting as many vehicles as possible to diesel but they simply didn’t have many of those kinds of cars. There was some talk of a trip to Fort Bragg to look for military vehicles that would be easier to convert, but rumor had it from survivors who had crossed the state the military base had taken a direct hit from one of the meteorites.

They also heard stories about people from Manteo who had survived the meteorite strike and the ensuing zombies or vampires or whatever they were. One man was wasted drunk and lived alone. When he woke up the morning of July 22, he found the entire town deserted, apparently. He explored a little but made his way quickly south to Wanchese. Another man said he had stomach problems and was on medication. He had stayed in his house until dark the next night; it was then people came out of the surrounding houses and buildings. He had hidden in the house, listening to the things wandering the streets until morning, when they all apparently went to ground again. He left Manteo as quickly as he could that next day.

They met Billy-Joe, who had come to Manteo driving a combine harvester. He was cockeyed and a little off.

“I just drove down the road and zombies went in the front,” he said, “and pieces CAME OUT THE BACK!”

* * *

Franks was determined to go back to the Dunkin Donuts. He had been uninjured since they had left the experiment at Duke until he had hurt himself falling in Manteo and he wanted revenge on the dead inside the building. When he realized there was plenty of dough and sugary stuff in the refrigerator, as well as more coffee, he was even more adamant to go.

Lisa was hesitant but Franks was determined. Manny figured it was a good start but thought they should move on to the hospital next, then get a diesel truck and head for Raleigh to the CDC. Lisa eventually decided she wanted to bring back some kind of doughnut for Jamie.

September 28, 2015, was a warm sunny Fall day. Lisa, Manny, and Franks borrowed a flatbed truck and drove to Manteo in the morning, pulling into the parking lot of Dunkin Donuts. They had brought another resident of Fort Wanchese: Billy Blue, a somewhat secretive, decisive, and ornery older man. They didn’t really know anything about his past at all or if Barry Blue was even his real name. He was a gruff fellow with a shaved head and no facial hair. He had a deep, rough, voice and was skinny and of average height. He wore blue jeans and a blue jean jacket and carried a double-barrel shotgun.

Nothing had apparently changed at the shop. The lights were still off in the place and it looked as abandoned as ever. Franks and Manny had told Lisa and Barry Blue what they had run into in the refrigerator so they were all prepared.

“Dunkin Donuts?” Billy Blue grumbled. “Why we getting’ Dunkin Donuts? Jamie don’t need no doughnuts. She’s good with carrots.”

He complained constantly. He had grumbled about not wanting to take a vehicle all the way up to Manteo.

Once they got there, they drained the gasoline from the two cars near the building. The one out front was practically empty. The one in the back was also empty as well. They used the little bit of gasoline to top off their truck.

They went in through the front of the store and first searched the small bathrooms off the dining area. The lights were on in each and each was empty. They took the hand soap, toilet paper, paper towels and everything else they could carry from the rooms. There was also a little storage room off the dining room with more toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap, and cleaning supplies. They took everything.

They peeked into the kitchen and saw the refrigerator door was ajar but not as open as it had been when they’d been in the place before.

“Time to make the doughnuts,” Barry Blue quipped, thinking he was funny.

“Shut up, Barry,” Franks said.

“Hey! **** you, *****! I’ll murder your ass in the back of your head, boy. Let’s go!”

“That’s a good one, Barry.”

Franks clapped him in the back.

“Yeah, you too,” Barry Blue said. Then he muttered to himself. “God damned beautiful mother ****er.”

They opened up the back door of the building and then crept to the refrigerator. Franks flung the door open and Manny shined her flashlight into the place. Only one of the zombies was there, standing in the far corner of the room.

“There’s that ****er wearing the Dunkin Donuts uniform!” Franks said. “What the crap!?!”

He squinted to see the man’s nametag read “Bob.” Franks reached over and flipped the light switch. The fluorescent lights started to flicker and the man across the room opened his eyes. They glowed red.

“Go gettum, Barry!” Franks said.

“I ain’t gettin’ nothin’ you son of a *****, you call me Mr. Blue,” Barry Blue said. “You God damned mother ****ers!”

He poked Franks in the back with his shotgun.

“You’re funny, Barry,” Franks said.

“You get in there, do it yourself,” Barry Blue said.

“C’mon Barry,” Franks said.

He put an arm around Barry Blue in false camaraderie and pulled him towards the zombie. Barry Blue flung the man’s off him.

“C’mon Barry, we can do this,” Franks said.

The thing in the refrigerator shambled towards them.

“C’mon Barry, let’s level this thing with our guns,” Franks said. “You got your gun, I got mine. Let’s just pop it.”

Franks had his Glock in his hand and fired at the zombie, missing even at such close range.

“That was a shitty shot,” Barry Blue said. “You’re a shitty shot.”

Manny aimed her shotgun at the zombie’s head.

“I’m gonna give this sonuva***** both barrels!” Barry Blue said.

He blasted away with both barrels, missing. The blast also missed the shelves of dough and coffee, crashing against the far wall and scattered buckshot everywhere. He was knocked back several steps.

Lisa stood behind the others, katana in hand, looking around nervously.

Franks shot the thing in the left arm with his Glock, doing little harm to it, seemingly. He shot at it again, the bullet smashing between the shelves. Manny finally fired the shotgun, blasting the thing in the head. Unfortunately, the blast also blew apart several bags of coffee.

“That’s pretty good,” Barry Blue muttered. “Pretty good. Better ‘n him.”

“Shut up, Barry,” Franks said.

“What’re you doin’ tomorrow night?” Barry Blue muttered.

Behind them, Lisa thought she heard something in the bathroom and thought she saw someone duck out of sight. She exited the kitchen, walking over. She pushed open the bathroom door but nothing appeared to be in there. The stall door was closed.

She strode into the room and kicked open the door. No one was in there.

* * *

Back in the kitchen, Franks complained about the destroyed merchandise. Barry Blue grumbled and then let out a shout as a zombie grabbed him from behind. When they looked back, they realized there was an open cabinet amongst the doughnut-making machinery in the room. It had been hiding in there.

“Dang it, Barry!” Franks yelled. “Why didn’t you clear those!?!”

Barry Blue had just reloaded his shotgun.

“Get this God -damned …” Barry Blue shouted. “Get it off! Get it off!”

“Barry, just put the gun to its head!” Franks shouted.

“Get it off of me!” Barry Blue shouted.

“C’mon Barry!” Franks said.

He shot at the thing but missed completely.

* * *

Lisa had come out of the bathroom when she heard Barry Blue yelling. A bullet flew out of the wall of the kitchen near her.

* * *

Franks aimed at the zombie’s head and Manny worked the action on her pump shotgun and did the same. Barry Blue yelled and struggled against the thing gripping at him.

“God damned vampires!” he shouted. “I hate vampires! Sonuva*****!”

The zombie bit him on the lower neck near the shoulder. Barry Blue let out a shriek.

“You sons of *****es!” Barry Blue screamed.

He passed out and sank to the ground.

“God damn it, Barry,” Franks said.

Lisa burst into the room and saw what was going on. She hesitated, not wanting to get in the way.

Franks fired and missed. Manny also fired, blowing the thing’s head off with her shotgun. Blood splattered everywhere.

“This is the third set of clothes I ruined, Manny,” Franks said. “Third set of clothes. Third set of clothes. I’m glad I didn’t wear my leather jacket.”

Franks tried to bind up Barry Blue’s wound but didn’t seem to help the man much. Lisa considered waking him up but wasn’t sure if he would still be alive if he woke. She worried what woke up might be the undead.

“He’s gonna turn!” she said. “He’s gonna turn! I just know it!”

“Well, let’s take him outside,” Franks said.

He suggested tying him to the flatbed or laying him in the sun so if he did turn into a zombie, he would burn in the sunlight. Lisa didn’t believe the man.

“Yeah,” Manny said.

“You can stand over him with your katana if you want to,” Franks said.

“I agree with that,” Manny said.

“No!” Lisa said. “That’s not gonna work!”

“I got bit. I’m fine.”

“But your leg is horribly mangled!”

“Well, that’s from the cut, not the─”

“No!”

Lisa sighed.

“Do we have any rope?” Franks said.

“He got bit on the neck!” Lisa said. “You-you-you can’t just cut that off!”

“Well, the sunlight kills them so if we just tie him up outside …” Manny said. “… and give him time.”

“Yeah,” Franks said.

Lisa breathed heavily, backing away.

“You can keep guard over him with the sword if you like,” Franks said. “If he starts acting weird, chop his head off. Do whatever you want.”

“By then, don’t you think it’ll be too late?” she said.

“No, he’ll be tied down. You’re fast with a katana, aren’t you? You impressed Jimmy. He doesn’t usually let his katanas go lightly.”

She stared at him, backing up to the wall.

“Heck, I tried to take one from him and he almost cut my damned head off,” Franks went on.

“Okay,” Lisa said quietly.

She slid down the wall to a sitting position, holding her katana between her legs.

“C’mon,” Franks said. “You can follow me.”

He dragged Barry Blue unceremoniously out of the Dunkin Donuts by his feet.

“C’mon Barry, you dumbass,” he said to the unconscious man. “You silly kidder, you.”

He lay the unconscious man in the sun in the middle of the parking lot. Lisa followed him. Franks told her she could guard him and if he started acting weird to cut his head off. He started to look around for something to tie him up with and Manny, seeing him do so as she started hauling things out of the kitchen, suggested using one of the seat belts in the truck. He found a carving knife in the kitchen, cut off one of the seat belts, and brought it Lisa. She just stood there, looking at her katana.

“You’re that worried about him, you secure him, you guard him with the sword, he starts doing anything weird, kill him,” Franks said.

She pulled the unconscious man to a sitting position and then tied his hands in front of him and tied his feet as well. She thought he was tied fairly secure.

Manny moved the truck to the back and she and Franks took everything that was not nailed down out of the Dunkin Donuts: kitchen appliances and machinery, dough, sugary stuff, coffee, and everything they could find, carting it out to the flatbed truck. It took them four hours to get everything they could carry.

They left by around noon. Barry Blue was still unconscious and now very sunburned. Franks managed to wake the man up and he growled.

“What the hell?” Barry Blue muttered. “What’s going on? What’d you do to me?”

“How you feeling, Barry?” Franks said.

“I don’t swing that way! Get off me! God-damned mother ****er.”

“C’mon.”

“Get off me! Get them girls over here!”

“How you feeling, Barry?”

“Ow! My shoulder hurts.”

“Is that all?”

“What’d you do to me?”

“Huh?”

“Don’t touch me! What’d you do to me?”

“Well, gosh dang it, Barry. You were just not paying attention and one of those danged ****ers grabbed you. I just don’t know what to tell you.”

“I felt it grab me! It bit me! Sonuva***** tried to suck my blood!”

“Yeah, do you feel okay?”

“I feel like shit! Something bit me!”

“But is that all? You don’t feel like sucking blood yourself?”

“Wha? Shuddup!”

“Well, we can put him in the flatbed,” Manny said. “He’d still be in the sun.”

“You’re so stupid!” Barry Blue said to Franks. “I hate you!”

“Naw, he can─” Franks said.

“Don’t talk to me!” Barry Blue said to him.

“He can ride with Lisa, right?” Franks said. “You still want to keep an eye on him, right?”

“Sure,” Lisa said.

“She’s just going to keep an eye on you, Barry,” Franks said. “Just ‘til we get back and the medical people can take a look at you.”

Barry Blue growled at him.

“You’re fine,” Franks went on. “We’re sorry you’re a little sunburned but … just a precaution.”

“What do you mean I’m … Ah! Augh!” Barry Blue said. “AH!”

“You’ll be fine, Barry. It’s just a little sunburn.”

“It burns so bad!”

The man, who had been laying in the sun for four hours, was beet red.

“You’ll be fine, Barry,” Franks said again.

Barry let out a cry of pain.

“It hurts so much!” he said.

“I’m sorry, man,” Franks said. “But … it happened. I know you would have done the same for me had that happened.”

“Give me some water you stupid ****!” Barry Blue said to him.

They got him some bottled water. His lips were chapped and the sunburn was severe. He probably had sunstroke.

“I feel like I’m gonna puke!” he cried out.

“Ah, Barry, you’re such a kidder,” Franks said.

Lisa got a wet cloth and put over his head.

“Ah!” he cried out. “It still hurts!”

“Such a tough guy,” Franks said.

“Shush old man,” Lisa said.

“I’m only 27,” Barry Blue said to Lisa.

“This is nothing for you, man,” Franks said. “You got this. C’mon, let’s go back.”

“I hate you so much,” Barry Blue said to him. “Get my shotgun, you *****!”

Manny got some aloe from her medical kit and put it on Barry Blue. He cried out in pain at that as well.

They went back to Fort Wanchese. Barry Blue was treated for extreme sunburn and heat stroke. They locked him up in a large cage with a cot and a few amenities.

“See Barry, we were nice to you,” Franks quipped. “We didn’t lock you up in a cage.”

May noted the cage was just a precaution and Barry Blue would be exempt from his regular work and chores for a week or so until they saw what happened to him.

* * *

A day or so after their raid on Dunkin Donuts, the supplies and equipment they found was used to cook up a good deal of doughnuts and coffee for everyone in the fort as a little celebration for their windfall. Lisa handed Jamie a doughnut personally and hugged the girl. Jamie was very happy everyone got to have a little sweet treat.

* * *

Barry Blue’s health declined rapidly through the month of October. He had been given a slew of what antibiotics they had available at Fort Wanchese and tried to keep the wound clean. Unfortunately, it got worse very quickly. Both May and Guy were at a loss as to why he sickened so quickly. In mid-October, he died, passing away in his sleep in the night. He rose the next evening as one of the vampires or zombies or whatever it was infesting Roanoke Island.

“I ****ing told you guys!” Lisa yelled at the others. “You didn’t ****ing listen, did you mates!?!”

Guy wanted to experiment on the horrible thing as they’d never captured one of the vampires before. He wanted to get a sunlamp and a tanning bed to see if they would affect it. Franks wanted to try reflected sunlight to see if it hurt the things. May was on the fence, wanting to keep the thing contained but ready to destroy it if it escaped.

Franks was also for experimenting on it, saying Barry Blue would want that. Lisa was very uncomfortable having the thing around. Manny thought they should keep it around after experimentation. She reasoned if they went to Raleigh, they might need it for the CDC.

The cage with the terrible thing that had been Barry Blue was moved to one of the outlying buildings on the east side of Fort Wanchese. Then the experiments began. They got a tanning booth from somewhere and found the thing was injured by the light from it. Sunlamps worked the same. Even reflected light from a mirror could burn the thing, Franks found out. Otherwise, the thing didn’t seem to feel pain at all. It also avoided the sunlight as best it could and fled from an obviously sunny area. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1980-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Nine-Roanoke-at-Last
Basic Roleplaying System: Kyles Deadworld One-Shot: Escape from Boone http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1979-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Kyles-Deadworld-One-Shot-Escape-from-Boone Fri, 10 Mar 2017 16:24:44 GMT Tuesday, March 7, 2017 (After Kyle Matheson ran his *Basic Roleplaying System* setting “Deadworld” with Ashton LeBlanc, Hannah Gambino, Katie... Tuesday, March 7, 2017

(After Kyle Matheson ran his Basic Roleplaying System setting “Deadworld” with Ashton LeBlanc, Hannah Gambino, Katie Gallant, James Brown, Yorie Latimer, Katelyn Hogan, Collin Townsend, and Ambralyn Tucker Sunday from 1p.m. to 5p.m.)

Friday, June 23, 2017, was the last normal day I spent in a world gone mad …

* * *

My name is Mervin Terwilliger and I was 24 years old when it happened. I’m not the best-looking guy. I’ve been told my face looks goofy and my ears stick out way too much on the sides. I also have a terrible lisp that even years of voice therapy was not able to eliminate. I went directly from high school to flight school, getting my pilot’s license by age 19 and investing everything I had into a little Cessna 172 Skyhawk. I had a little courier business, taking small packages and sometimes passengers around the country. I usually ended up in Boone, North Carolina, for some reason though. I had some good friends there.

I had learned, a little, how to fly a helicopter simply because I wanted to know how. I’d always had dreams of flying helicopters but they were too expensive. I also knew how to fire a sub-machinegun pretty well. At one point, I had taken the training to get a license to own a Thompson sub-machinegun. Then the money ran out and I had to shelve that idea.

I always tried to get my friends to call my “Ace” but I guess I never fit into the name. At least not until it happened. At least not until everything fell apart.

* * *

This story doesn’t start with me, though. It starts with some of the other people I met on that terrible day.

Daryl Greene and Daryl Green were second cousins. It got very confusing with the entire family, not only the different spellings of their names but the fact that they had the same name. They often went by their middle names as Daryl Greene was “Clem” and Daryl Green was “Cletus.” They were both dating a girl named Katie, though they claimed it was not the same girl.

Daryl Greene was average-sized with red hair, blue eyes, and lots of freckles. That day, he wore camouflage clothing and an orange vest. Okay, he probably wore that every day. He was 22 years old. Daryl Green was shorter than his cousin, 21 years old, and very good-looking.

On that evening, around 9 p.m., they were tailgating in the parking lot of the high school in Boone. Six of their friends were there, most of them in their own trucks. No women were there, of course. As usual. They met every two months or so. They were drinking beer and blaring Keith Urban. Some of them were already really drunk.

“Where the girls at?” their drunken friend Billy said. “Where the girls at?”

“Why you say they’re coming?” Daryl Green said, taking a sip of his Bud Light. “You gotta ask Daryl over there.”

“Daryl! Where them girls at?”

“What?” Daryl Greene said.

“Harley and I, we want girls!” Billy said.

He sipped his Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

“Where them girls at?” he asked again. “You said you knew where the girls were at, Daryl, so where are they? Daryl?”

“We were huntin’ bucks all day,” Daryl Greene said. “Why would we know where girls are at?”

“Go ahead and blare that Keith Urban!” another friend shouted. “Turn it up!”

They rednecks howled in excitement.

“My speakers are louder,” Daryl Greene said.

“Daryl, what the hell did you just say to me, boy?” Daryl Green said.

“My speakers are louder!”

“I’m about to turn it up, boy! I turn it up all the way. I hear the neighbors complaining already!”

“Oooo!” Billy said.

“Shut the hell up!” Daryl Green said. “See this kid? Thinks he’s something cool, ain’t he?”

“Hey, wait a second,” another redneck said. “Hey. Hey Daryl. Ain’t yer girlfriend’s name Katie?”

“Yeah,” Daryl Green said.

“Ain’t your girlfriend’s name Katie too, Daryl?”

“Yeah,” Daryl Greene said.

“That the same girl?”

“No!” Daryl Green said.

“No!” Daryl Greene said.

“Oooo!” Billy said.

“My girl’s faithful,” Daryl Green said.

“What’s her last name?” Billy asked.

“I don’t know,” another redneck said. “There’s two Daryls. There could be two Katies.”

“What’s her last name?” Billy said again.

“Who invited this guy?” Daryl Green said, pointing at the last redneck.

“Who are you, fella?” Billy asked.

Then they heard police sirens. They all went silent for a moment and then pandemonium broke loose.

“Oh shit!” Billy said.

“Hide the beer!” someone said.

“Get in the pickup!” Daryl Green said.

They all ran around like chickens with their heads cut off as two police cruisers pulled up into the Watauga High School Parking lot. They had clearly been seen.

“Oh ****!” Harley said, stumbling drunkenly out of the truck and trying to run away.

Both Daryl Greene and Daryl Green had gotten into their trucks, started them. They were revving the engines. Billy had gotten into his own pickup truck but then thought better of it.

“Don’t shoot!” he shrieked, putting his hands in the air. “I’m not black!”

The police cars pulled up.

“He’s just gotta pee, officer!” Billy yelled from his truck.

He was pointing at Harley, who had run several paces before tripping and falling in the parking lot. The man lay sprawled in his face.

“Don’t shoot him!” Billy cried out. “Don’t shoot him!”

“Please put your hands in the air where we can see them!” blared over the loudspeaker of one of the police cars. “Do not make this harder than it needs to be!”

“I’m getting the **** outta here!” Daryl Green said.

“Daryl, is that you?” came over the loudspeaker.

“Who said that!?!” Daryl Green yelled.

“Daryl. Is that you?”

“Which Daryl?” Daryl Green called.

A police officer exited one of the cars and walked towards them.

“Who’s there?” Daryl Green said. “What do you want?”

When the officer walked up, Daryl Green recognized his old buddy Chris from high school.

“Aw Chris,” Daryl Green said. “How the hell you doin’, man.”

“Daryl, what the hell are you doing?”

“What the hell are you doin’ man? I’m out here listening to Keith Urban and drinking me some Bud Lights.”

“What the hell am I doing? I’m doing my job. What are you doing at the high school drinking beers again?”

“I’m drinking some Bud Lights, I’m listening to Keith Urban, and I’m celebratin’ America!”

“How many Bud Lights you had tonight Daryl?”

“I’ve had … a couple.”

“Daryl, show me on your hand how many you’ve had.”

Daryl started to hold up his hand but then stopped.

“Now, you know that’s a damn trick question,” he said. “I ain’t answering that shit.”

“Are you gonna pick them damn bottles up?” Chris said. “There’s bottles all over this damned parking lot.”

“Ain’t bottles, they’re cans! You got eyes! Bud Light.”

“Officer, we didn’t bring the bottles, they was here,” Billy piped up, his hands still up and out the window of his pickup truck. “We been drinkin’ outta cans. Here’s the rest of the PBR.”

“Shut the **** up, Billy!” Daryl Green said. “Billy’s got PBR with him! Nobody drinks BPR anymore. Billy.”

“I like PBR,” Billy whined.

“We don’t drink PBR here. Chris,” Green said.

“Daryl, how long have you been here?” Chris asked.

“I prob’ly been here about an hour. ‘Bout an hour?”

Billy just nodded. He had scooted over to the passenger seat in the hopes they wouldn’t get him for DUI.

“Have you been hearing a lot of … strange sounds been going on tonight, Daryl?” Chris asked.

“I been hearin’ Keith Urban,” Daryl Green said. “I don’t know how ‘strange’ that is to you, but to us … it’s America.”

“Have you not been noticing all the cars that have been speeding up and down this road?”

“That’s just Boone for you,” Daryl Greene said.

“They’re drag racing!” Daryl Green said.

“Them all them crazy college students and tourists.”

“They’re drag racing.”

They both realized, now it had been pointed out to them, it was not the typical Friday night drivers going up and down the road. Something was happening. People were swerving. People were speeding. There were more horns than there usually was. They had noticed it.

“Well, I guess we thought it was a little different,” Daryl Green admitted.

“Daryl, there’s been an incident,” Chris said.

“Well─”

“Daryl, what did you do!?!” Billy said.

“I didn’t do shit, Billy!” Daryl Green said.

“Is this about Katie?” someone asked.

“It’s always about Katie,” Daryl Greene said.

“This ain’t about Katie!” Daryl Green said.

“Listen,” Chris said. “The police chief, he sent me and the fellow officers all around town stopping to see everybody that we can, came here to the high school ‘cause I figured you’d be here. I’m your friend. I figured I would try to help you. There is an evacuation process going on in Boone right now. This is serious.”

“Oh shit!” Daryl Green said.

“Daryl. Daryl! This is ****ing serious!”

“Oh shit boy.”

“Can … can we go then, officer?” Billy said. “Should we go? Home?”

“None of you are in trouble,” Chris said. “You’re gonna be in trouble if you don’t get the **** outta here.”

“Okay,” Billy said. He pointed at Harley. “C’mon! Harley, c’mon! C’mon!”

“All right!” Daryl Green said.

“You need to go … you need to go to Kidd Brewer Stadium,” Chris said. “That’s where the evacuation is taking place.”

“The Rock?” Daryl Greene said.

“Yes. The Rock.”

“Hoorah!” Daryl Green said. “Am I right? App State!”

“God damn it, Daryl,” Chris said.

“There must be a game going on!” Daryl Greene said.

“Hell yeah!” Daryl Green said.

“That’s all that driving!” Daryl Greene said.

“Get to Kidd Brewer Stadium!” Chris said. “Get to Kidd Brewer Stadium.”

“Tailgating two-point-oh,” Daryl Green said.

Daryl Green realized that Chris was scared when he told him about the evacuation and the incident. Everyone else had noticed his fear as well.

Billy got Harley into his pickup truck and they left at a reasonable speed, Harley puking out the window while drinking more PBR.

Both Daryl Greene and Daryl Green headed out of the parking lot for Kidd Brewer Stadium. As they’d picked up a 24 pack of Bud Light and still had over half the case left, they didn’t have to make a pit stop.

* * *

Around the same time, I was at the Appalachian Mountain Brewery with one of my pilot buddies, Roger Stanfield, and an artist I knew in Boone: Josh Hardy.

Roger liked to be called Maverick. He was a lot older than me, being 48. He’d also done some time with the U.S. Air Force, having reached the rank of Major and a jet pilot before retiring. He was a little shorter than me, and a little better looking. Where I was skinny, he was a brick, and very strong. Probably that Air Force training. After retirement, he’d gone into the commercial aircraft trade. That’s how I knew him. We both found ourselves often in Boone.

Josh was a lot taller than either of us, standing about six and half feet, and being solid. He was much better looking than either of us and usually ended up going home with a girl when we hung out. He was an artist and, like me, kind of a nerd. I’d seen some of his art and thought it was really cool and, since he was my age, he was easy to hang out with.

“So,” I said with my terrible lisp as we sat drinking our beers. “We gotta find three … three girls who like us! Don’t forget: call me ‘Ace.’ Call me ‘Ace.’ ‘Cause I’m a pilot.”

“Why do we call you ‘Ace’ again?” Josh asked.

“‘Cause I’m a pilot,” I said.

“Do you sirs want another pint?” the bartender asked.

“Ah yes!” I said. “Thanks! Yes!”

“Which one would you like?”

“I like the dark. That gold. Dark Gold? Whatever it’s called.”

“The … the Black Gold?”

“Yes, the Black Gold. Yes.”

He gave me an odd look. I’d been there a few times but that guy was always surprised just how awkward I could be. He was probably surprised I still couldn’t remember the name of the beer I liked. He might also have thought the alcohol would loosen me up, but it never really did.

Josh still pretended he didn’t know us too well.

“You two want another drink?” the bartender asked the others after he’d gotten mine.

“Yes,” Roger said, ordering the Black Gold as well.

“It’s the Black and Gold,” I said. “Is it Black and Gold? Black Gold?”

“Black and Gold every night,” the bartender said.

“I’ll have a cider,” Josh said.

“Oh, God damn it!” I muttered.

The man got them their drinks.

“Only nerds drink that stuff, you know,” I said, lisping as usual. “Why would you drink that? The women don’t like it. You have to drink the … the porter. That’s what the girls like.”

“I mean … Mervin … does it look like he has trouble with the ladies?” Roger said.

“Porter?” Josh said.

I looked at Josh.

“How do you do that, by the way?” I asked.

“Maybe he’s born with it,” Josh said.

“Are you talking about yourself in the third person? Again?”

“You call yourself Ace!”

“Sh. I’m a pilot, God damn it!”

Josh looked around. He got up from the table and signaled one of the bartenders. Then he went to another woman on her phone who he talked to. She ignored him.

“Oh, he’s gonna get her!” I said. “She’s not that good-looking though.”

“No,” Roger said.

“I think he likes the plump ones that aren’t interested,” I said.

Josh walked to the bartender and asked them to put the news on. They had just gotten a new wide-screen TV at the place. When the man asked which channel, Josh asked them to put on the Charlotte station. The bartender changed to the channel and turned up the volume.

The headline at the bottom read “Breaking News: Eastern Seaboard Attacked.”

“Oh no, the Russians are finally invading!” I said.

“What?” Josh said.

The ticker read on: “This is not a test. Repeat: this is not a test. The United States Government as issued a mandatory evacuation for the following Eastern Seaboard States: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Call your local authorities for evacuation information.”

“Mandatory evacuation of the state?” I said. “The hell?”

The woman read out the same message over and over and over.

“We are under attack,” the woman read. “When we know any more information, you will know. We do not. Call your local authorities. Figure out how to be evacuated.”

I opened up my flip phone and dialed 911. I got a busy signal.

Roger had opened his phone and was calling someone as well. I noticed the bar was getting empty. Everyone looked nervous and scared.

“Hey, where are you going?” I called to one. “Where are you going?”

No one answered.

The bartender told us they were closing. I dropped money down for the beer I didn’t drink. Then I heard a police car pull up, sirens blaring. We went outside and saw the police car weave in and out of the people leaving.

“Evacuation at Kidd Brewer Stadium!” came over the loudspeakers. “Everyone to Kidd Brewer Stadium. Please go to Kidd Brewer Stadium. Do not stop. Do not go home. Go to Kidd Brewer Stadium.”

We got into Josh’s Ford F-350.

“I have to go home before I go to Kidd Brewer Stadium,” Josh said.

“Where’s home?” I asked. “Where do live?”

“Just down the street,” he said.

“That’s fine,” Roger said. “I’m gonna call my buddy, Phil.”

That’s when I noticed a girl standing behind the brewery by the picnic tables. She was leaned over by one of the picnic tables, puking profusely.

“Help me,” he muttered between puking. “Help me.”

I pointed her out to the two others in the car.

“What should we do, Maverick?” I asked Roger.

The police car stopped, lights still flashing, and the officer got out to check on the woman.

“Okay, she’s good,” I said.

“It looks like she’s getting help,” Roger said.

Josh later told me he thought he’d heard someone calling him from the bar. He checked to make sure he had everything. There was a shriek from the police officer and he fell to the ground. The woman jumped on top of him.

“The ****?” I said. “The ****?”

“Ooo,” Roger said. “He’s getting lucky.”

“No!” I said. “No, he’s not getting lucky. This is bad. Where’s his partner?”

There was a crunching sound coming from them.

“Wait in the car,” I said to Josh. “Wait in the car.” Then to Roger: “C’mon. We’re pilots!”

“All right Ace, let’s go,” Roger said.

I looked more carefully as we approached but couldn’t see anything though the officer was jerking and it looked very … strange. The crunchy sounds continued. It was the weirdest sex I’d ever seen.

“I should’ve helped her,” I muttered.

“No, he dead!” Josh called. “Just … get back in the car!”

“What?” I called.

I tried to look more closely. It didn’t look like sex, actually.

I went to the police car, got into the driver seat, and closed the door. I motioned for Roger to join me. Then I called to Josh we’d lead him to his house. I pulled the automobile in front of Josh’s 350 and, siren blaring, we left the parking lot.

I led him to his house, driving down Winkler’s Creek Road to Winkler’s Meadow Road, where there were duplexes and apartments. Josh had a big house at the near end of the street. When we arrived, he went in while Roger and I waited outside. I noticed the shotgun and told Roger I knew how to use it.

* * *

About the same time on King Street, Salama Pöllö, aka Jake Miller (don’t ask) was performing. He was young, wore a strange headdress, and had his face painted gold. He was naked except for a loincloth and had symbols painted all over his body. Hobo Joe Johnson was also there, a beggar who often roamed the streets of Boone. He was older, being 68 with thin gray hair, leathery, tan skin, and a single eye. His left eye was missing and had been for some time. He walked with a walking stick and wore old clothing and pushed a cart. He enjoyed Salama’s playing and the two were both street people so had bonded over new people coming to the school every year that didn’t like them. Freshman and tourists hated them.

Not far away, Matthew White, a junior at Appalachian State University and member of the baseball team, was heading for Boone Saloon. He was very tall, being 6’8”, and solid. A strong man, he was also very smart. He passed the two every Friday night but never paid the two much mind, though he was not rude to them. The smell and the awkward panhandling both held him off.

White went on to Boone Saloon to have a drink with his buddies. There weren’t a lot of students there or anywhere in town during the summer session. He wasn’t taking classes but had an apartment nearby so he stayed all year in the town.

On the street, a friend of Salama’s, in charge of the anthropology department at ASU, approached so he renewed his dancing act. However, Hobo Joe realized there was something wrong with the man. He shambled towards them strangely. It seemed a little early for someone this drunk to be out and about, but it was not unheard of.

As the shambling man came under one of the lights on King Street, Hobo Joe saw a lot of blood on him.

“Well, that ain’t right,” he muttered.

It was too much blood for it to be his own. The entire front of his clothing was covered in crimson.

“Salami, I think there’s something wrong with that guy,” Hobo Joe said.

“The Professor?” Salama said.

“Yeah. He’s got too much blood on him.”

Salama saw it was not his professor and there was too much blood. He and Hobo Joe backed away from the shambling man. When they turned, they saw two more shambling people coming from the other way. Hobo Joe ran across the street at speed.

“C’mon Swami!” he called.

Salama ran after him as the men slowly followed. They stopped on the other side of the street and looked back. Salama didn’t think they were normal humans and didn’t think it was a prank or a crazy murder. Then they saw more and more of the things heading their way.

Inside the bar, Matt White was drinking and having a great time. He hadn’t seen anything on the street. Then Hobo Joe burst into the saloon, pushing past the bouncer at the door. He looked scared. That’s when Matt noticed the people shambling towards Boone Saloon. He figured they were drunk. Then Salama ran in.

“There’s a bunch a Haitian zombies!” he shouted.

“What the hell you talking about Swami?” Hobo Bob said.

Salama ran towards the back of the bar, telling everyone there about the Haitian zombies. The bouncer grabbed him by the shoulder.

“Sir, I’m going to need to ask you to leave,” he said.

“I will leave but not that direction,” Salama said.

“We don’t have a back door.”

“I have my rights!”

The bouncer was taken aback and Salama broke free and ran to the back. Hobo Joe just sat down at the bar. Matt stared at them. The bouncer came at Salama and grabbed him again.

“I’m being oppressed!” Salama cried out. “The white man has come to get me!”

Both Matt and Hobo Joe knew the painted man was white.

“Boy, what are you talking about?” Hobo Joe said. “You’re whiter than I am.”

Eight people were at the windows of the bar, tapping on the glass and trying to get in. All of them were covered with blood.

“Nope,” Matt said. “Where the back door at?”

“Hey, bouncer man, look at the window,” Hobo Joe said. “Where’s my drink?”

“Bouncer bouncer bouncer!” Matt said, getting up. “Dude! Dude! Dude!”

He got to the bouncer and pointed to the window. The bouncer pushed Salama towards the bar and looked. Then he headed for the door.

“We’re closing soon,” he said to the people outside. “Y’all need to leave!”

He started to open the door but Matt stopped him.

“Do you not see the blood on them?” he said. “You need to lock this door.”

The man did. He took out his cell phone and called the police.

“Bartender, where’s my booze?” Hobo Joe said.

“You don’t have any money,” the bartender said. “I ain’t giving you no booze.”

“C’mon man, I just need a drink.”

The bartender found a shot glass on the bar and gave it to him. He drank it.

Matt noticed the glass windows were starting to crack. He ran back to the pool tables and grabbed a pool stick. The bouncer was dialing and redialing 911 over and over again. The bartender advised everyone to back away from the windows. Other patrons were also on their phones, desperately trying to call the police. Matt looked around for another way out but there were none.

He went to the bar.

“Do you have a gun behind your counter?” he said.

The man just looked at him. He looked terrified.

“God damn it,” Matt said.

People started to grab pool sticks. Matt started to push tables and chairs against the windows.

“Hey, barkeep, can I have another drink?” Hobo Joe said.

The man ignored him.

Several people helped Matt pushing tables and chairs against the windows. Then they heard glass breaking off to the left. The two men beating on it actually fell through the shattered window and crashed to the floor next to the bar. The bartender hopped over the bar and grabbed a pool stick. The other shambling guys heard the sound of the glass breaking and turned, still banging at the air, and headed that way.

One of the two men who broke through started to slowly get to his feet while the other crawled. Matt rushed them and brought the pool stick down on one of their heads. The man fell onto his side but he was still moving. It obviously hurt him but he showed no feeling. Salama tried to hit the other with a femur he carried but slipped in spilled beer and fell.

“Why’re these drunk dudes breaking into the bar?” Hobo Joe said. “Shouldn’t they be breaking out of the bar … if they’re already drunk.”

Matt punched at the zombie she’d just hit but missed the thing. Salama got to his feet and headed beyond the barricade. The two zombies got up and moved into the room. Everyone backed up to the very back of the place. Some of them were trying to find their way out.

“You gonna help?” Matt shouted at the others. “Either you help or we all die here!”

None of them moved so he threw another punch, connecting with one of the zombies and knocking it back to the ground. Meanwhile, Hobo Joe ran over to the pool tables and grabbed a pool ball.

“There’s too many!” Matt said.

One of the zombies tried to bite him, lunging at him, slipped in the same beer that Salama had slipped in, and fell to the ground. Then the bouncer fled the place, making a beeline for a window and jumping out of it. Matt took the cue and fled the place as well. Salama followed. They looked back and saw the zombies cutting off half the rest of the people there. Hobo Joe snuck out of the place carefully, grabbing a bottle of liquor as he went.

He caught up to the other two, running down King Street. They noticed people were running towards campus. They saw a mass of people fleeing towards Kidd Brewer Stadium and headed that way.

* * *

Billy and Harley took a detour after leaving the high school.

“Let’s go get Denise!” Billy said. “She’s cute. We’ll need breeding stock.”

Harley just looked at him. Then he turned and puked out the window again.

“She don’t listen to no radio,” Billy said.

Harley puked out the window some more.

They drove to the repair shop where Denise “Danny” Valerie Abbott worked. She was a broad-shouldered woman with black, pixie-cut hair and green eyes. She was of mixed race and worked as a mechanic. She wasn’t there, of course, so they went to her apartment.

“Don’t you listen to the radio?” Billy said. “You never listen to the radio. C’mon, we gotta get to … where we going?”

“What are you boys talking about?” Denise said.

“It’s that place at ASU where they play football?”

“The stadium?”

“Thank you. The stadium. We gotta go there.”

“Why?”

“Because things are going on.”

They took her to the truck and he turned on his AM radio.

“This is not a test,” the man on the radio said. “I repeat: this is not a test. Our United States government has issued a mandatory evacuation for the following Eastern Seaborne states.”

North Carolina was mentioned. The local blurb said for people to go to Kidd Brewer Stadium.

“Right now?” she said. “I’m working.”

“It’s a evacuation!” Billy said. “It’s a evacuation!”

“****,” she said.

“Just grab your wrenches and shit and lets go. We gots to go! The cops told us. They didn’t even arrest us. Look how drunk I am and I’m driving! He’s puking out the window! You can ride in the back. Just push that carcass aside and get in!”

She got into the back seat of the extended cab truck, pushing aside what appeared to be a deer carcass, and Billy drove them, at the speed limit because he was very drunk, towards Kidd Brewer Stadium.

* * *

Daryl Green drank two more beers on the way to Kidd Brewer Stadium. They saw dead people on the ground with people on top of them, apparently eating them. They had to avoid the ones in the road. Daryl Greene followed behind him and ran over some dead people, jacking up his truck a little bit. They saw a woman and her daughter running from the zombies. The woman led the girl by the arm down River Street.

Green stuck his hand out the window, signaling Greene to stop. He pulled up beside her.

“Jump in the back of the pickup!” he shouted at her.

She climbed into the back of the truck with her daughter and Green sped away. He didn’t even open up the back window of the cab.

* * *

While we waited for Josh in front of his house, I turned off the siren. Then I pulled the shotgun out and found it only had a single shell in it.

“Is there more shells anywhere around here?” I asked Roger.

“Let me check the glove box,” he said.

“Okay,” I replied.

He found five more shells in the glove compartment and put them into the weapon. Then I put the shotgun back into the clamp that held it.

“Where is he?” I muttered. “He’s taking so God-damned long. Can we just meet him there?”

“I mean, he’s your friend,” Roger said. “I don’t care.”

That’s when I noticed someone walking down the street towards us. I rolled down the window and called to the man, telling him we were to get to Kidd Brewer Stadium. Then I noticed where his stomach should be was torn out and there were no intestines at all.

“This is a dead man walking,” I said. “Dead man walking. Dead man walking.”

I rolled the window back up.

“We did see the girl eat that cop,” Roger said.

I looked towards the house. There was no sign of Josh.

“Shall I check on him?” Roger said.

“No,” I said.

I put the car in gear and turned around, driving away.

“Whoa whoa whoa,” Roger said. “Should we not just check on him?”

“Did you see the dead guy walking!?!” I shouted. “Did you not see it!?! It’s a dead guy!!! Dead man walking!!!”

It took me some time to calm down as I drove towards the stadium.

“It’s a ****ing zombie,” I said. “You can’t kill it. We gotta just drive away.”

* * *

Josh, meanwhile, had gotten his plate mail and exited the house. He saw a man with a missing stomach and noticed the police car holding his pilot friends was gone. He tossed everything in his truck and left as well.

* * *

Daryl Green, Daryl Greene, Billy, Harley, and Danny soon arrived at the stadium. Billy told the officers he’d been drinking and asked if that was okay. Harley just puked out the window. When Daryl and Daryl arrived, drinking beer while they drove, Green offered the cops a beer.

* * *

We soon arrived at Kidd Brewer Stadium. At the bottom of the stadium was a police car barricade with four cars. There was just enough space for a single car to get through. I lowered the window and leaned out.

“Whosever car this is, is dead,” I said.

He looked in the car and then motioned us in. That seemed surprising to Roger.

“Oh no,” I said. “Something bad has happened.”

The police were waving other cars in as well.

Josh arrived shortly after that.

It was after that when Hobo Joe, Salama, and Matt White ran up and through the barricade.

Cars were parked all over the place in the parking lot at Kidd Brewer Stadium. White tents were set up on the football field and a helicopter stood on either side of the goalpost.

“I can fly that,” I said when I saw the helicopters.

“I think it already has a pilot,” Roger told me.

“Oh.”

Ten police officers were at the gates to get into the stadium, using their cars to block the entrance. Roger and I got out of the police car. I brought the shotgun and looked around for pretty woman. I spotted Josh and called to him. He was wearing some kind of armor or something.

“Don’t I look like Sauron?” he said.

“I didn’t see that movie,” I told him. “I read the book. Where’s your sword? Do you have a sword?”

“No, it’s a mace!” he said, showing me a large, gaudy weapon.

At the gate, we met Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford. He was a solid man with a mustache. He seemed to know Hobo Joe, which surprised me.

“Hey Crawford, how’s it going?” the bum said.

“God damn, Hobo Joe,” Chief Crawford said. “I’m surprised you made it.”

He stopped us, including all of the people I’d been writing about and I noticed there was a pretty girl with our group. That was Danny.

He told us the evacuation process had no protocol. He said the eastern seaboard was hit by a Russian chemical weapon that had infected people on the coastlines mostly, but the fallout was spreading westward.

“Is it zombies, sir?” I asked.

“The ****?” Daryl Green said.

“Why is that man speaking gibberish?” Hobo Joe asked, pointing at me.

Chief Crawford said the white tents were there to quarantine us before evacuation. He said a helicopter came about every 30 minutes and we would be getting out of there in a couple of hours as it was backed up. He noted FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) had come to help in Boone but obviously as it was the entire eastern seaboard that was hit, the Agency was very spread out. Not only was this the evacuation spot for Boone, but also for all the neighboring counties as well.

“I know how to fly a helicopter,” I said.

“We have plenty of pilots,” Chief Crawford said.

“God damn it,” I said.

“Ace, slow your roll, buddy,” Roger said. “Slow your roll.”

Chief Crawford handed us off to Sgt. Joe Knapp.

“Hey Joe, how’s it going?” Hobo Joe said to him.

He told us Sgt. Knapp would escort us to a FEMA tent to be quarantined and after that we’d be placed in a waiting area up in the bleachers until the helicopter was ready to take us.

Daryl Greene tried to hide beers in his jacket when he found out they wouldn’t allow alcohol in the quarantine tent.

Sgt. Knapp led us to the FEMA tent where we met Dr. James Strickland, an older gentleman with glasses who was the lead scientist there. I immediately didn’t trust the man. He broke us up into twos to go to different tents. I tried to be with Danny, who I’d not even been introduced to yet.

Daryl Greene and Daryl Green were conferring about hiding their beers. He called Daryl Green first, pairing him up with Matt. Then he picked me, putting me with Daryl Greene.

God damn it! I thought.

I’d been hoping to be with Danny. Instead, I was with a redneck.

“I’m Ace,” I told Daryl Greene. “I’m a pilot.”

I spit in my hand and held it out, figuring that’s how rednecks shook hands. Daryl Greene seemed impressed and shook my hand. He offered me some chaw.

Billy got paired up with Harley.

“That’s good ‘cause we’re like cousins,” Billy said. “We’re also half brothers.”

Josh was put with a blonde woman and her daughter. They paired off the rest of us in twos or threes. They thought Hobo Joe was a zombie for a minute and ended up putting him with Salama. Roger ended up with Danny and I was quite envious.

In the tents, they took a swab from the inside of our cheeks and scraped some skin off the side of our necks. It was not pleasant. They told us they were testing for human rabies which had come from the chemical weapon on the eastern seaboard. I asked how long it would take before the tests were in. The man said it would be an hour.

“Daryl, you ain’t got rabies, do you?” I asked.

“I ain’t got no rabies,” the redneck replied.

* * *

The doctors didn’t tell Hobo Joe or Salama anything, just took the samples and get them out of the tent. They also didn’t tell Roger or Danny anything.

“What the **** is happening?” Danny said.

She bit the nurse’s finger as she swabbed the inside of her cheek. Roger tried to pull the woman off the nurse.

“You are a zombie!” the nurse screamed. “You just bit me! I’m going to be a zombie!”

She ran out of the tent.

“YAS *****!” Danny said.

Roger drew his Glock.

“What are you doing?” Danny asked.

“Uh … Denise, it was?” he said.

“Yes.”

“What the ****?”

“I’m not taking this shit!”

“What shit?”

“I don’t know what the **** is going on─”

“What shit?”

“─put her finger in my mouth─”

“You just bit a human!”

“Whatever!”

“Are you a dog?”

“She doesn’t have a right to put her fingers in my mouth!”

There was screaming outside.

“She’s going to try to come in here and kill both of us!” Roger said. “We gotta get out of here!”

* * *

I saw the nurse burst out of the tent.

“There’s a zombie in the tent!” she screamed.

I headed over to the tent with my shotgun followed by Josh in his stupid movie Sauron armor. I burst into the tent.

“Where’s the zombie!?!” I yelled.

“I am not a zombie!” Danny yelled back.

“Oh! Hey! Wait. She’s a zombie?”

“No, but she had to bite people!” Roger said.

“She had no right to be putting her fingers in my mouth!” Danny said.

“She seems kind of like … she can talk?” I asked, confused.

“Who is the one with the undead!?!” Josh said, bursting into the tent.

“So, you’re not a zombie?” I asked Danny.

“No,” Danny said.

“Hi, I’m Ace,” I said to her, holding out my hand to shake hers.

“The ****? No!” she said. “I’m not shaking hands.”

“She’s talking back and zombies don’t talk,” I said.

Police Chief Crawford entered the tent, gun drawn.

“I don’t think she’s a zombie,” I said. “I don’t think she’s a zombie. She’s talking.”

“Ace!” Roger said. “Gun up! Like, drop it!”

He held his gun up.

“Who are you?” Danny said.

“My name is Ace,” I said. “I’m a pilot.”

“A pilot?” she said.

“What the **** is going on?” Josh yelled in a strange, deep voice.

“This is Sauron,” I said to Danny, rolling my eyes.

Roger put his Glock down on the ground.

“Chief!” I said again. “Chief! I don’t think she’s a zombie. Listen.”

I turned to Danny.

“Talk,” I said to her.

“What?” she said.

“See?” I said.

“You all need to leave,” Chief Crawford said.

“Gladly!” Danny said.

“Okay!” I said. “Okay, c’mon. Let’s go!”

“I’m not going with you!” she said.

“This evacuation process has become compromised!” Chief Crawford said. “I need everyone to leave!”

“Everyone out of the tent!” Josh said in his deep voice.

“Walk with me like you don’t know what’s going on,” I said to Danny. “Walk with me.”

Sgt. Joe Knapp said he was going to escort us back to the gates. I looked around like I didn’t know where the zombie was. We headed for the gates.

“Something’s going on,” I said to her.

“Why did they swab my mouth?” she asked.

“Because they’re checking to see if you’re infected. Look, I saw a guy walking and he had no guts, okay?”

“What?”

“Yeah, it was like empty. And I said okay because … zombies.”

“What are y’all talking about,” Josh said in that deep voice.

“What the **** is wrong with your voice?” I asked.

“I gotta stay in character, man!” he said in his normal voice.

“Are either of you ****ing for real, right now?” she asked.

“Yes!” I said. “I don’t understand it, but I’ve watched a lot of movies. So, when it came, I just drove away.”

“Sci-Fi doesn’t give you a degree in the paranormal!”

“You’re right. You’re right. It doesn’t. But I know my eyes. And I saw what looked like a dead guy walking.”

We reached the gates.

“I don’t know this woman,” Roger said to Sgt. Knapp. “I don’t know why she chose to bite your nurse. Can I please continue with the evacuation as planned?”

“You swear you don’t know this woman?” Sgt. Knapp said.

“I swear, I’ve never seen her before today.”

“Okay.”

Josh had noticed a bunch of people approaching from the side, coming down the road beside the stadium. There were at least 15 of them. I was still trying to convince the girl of what had happened to me, telling her the man I’d seen had no guts.

“He couldn’t have been alive,” I said. “There’s no way.”

“He was walking?” she asked.

I nodded.

“So, I drove away,” I said. “I’m not hero.”

“Oh shit!” Josh said in his own voice.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“There’s a lot of people coming down now!” he said in his deep “Sauron” voice.

“Coming down what?” I asked.

He pointed.

“Oh shit!” I said.

“Back in the stadium!” Sgt. Knapp said. “Back in the stadium right now!”

“Officer Knapp!” I said, pointing out the dead guys.

He nodded and yelled at the other police officers.

“Okay, let’s go back in the stadium,” I said.

“Mike, Trent, over here!” Sgt. Knapp called.

I didn’t see Roger but went back into the stadium with Danny.

“Who are they?” she asked me when I pointed them out to her.

“I don’t know but they don’t look like they’re friendly,” I said.

“Let’s get outta here!” Josh said in a deep voice.

“What is with this ****ing voice of yours!?!” I asked.

“Shut up Ace!” he yelled.

“Okay, that’s your regular voice.”

As we ran back in, we passed Chief Crawford. He did a double take as if he wondered what we were doing back in there. Then numerous gunshots erupted from the gate so he ran in that direction.

“I will trust you,” Danny said to me. “I don’t like you but I wanna live!”

* * *

The rest of our group had been escorted into the bleachers. They saw the people coming down the road and heard gunfire.

“What is that?” Hobo Joe asked.

“I don’t like it,” Salama said.

“Well, I know you don’t like it but what the hell was it?” Hobo Joe said.

Some of them noticed a blood stain on one of the white medical tents down on the field. Hobo Joe pointed it out to Matt and he started to head that way.

* * *

Roger pointed out the bloodstain on the tent to me.

“Shit!” I said. “Hey, Lord Sauron, maybe you should go check that out!”

I pointed it out to him.

“Clearly there’s a problem over there!” he said in his fake deep voice.

Roger headed down that way, Glock in hand. Josh followed him.

“I’m Sauron!” Josh yelled.

“Oh God,” I said.

Danny headed to the tent and I followed her.

We ran into the tent. The blonde mother was over the little girl, eating her.

“Head shot!” I hissed. “Head shot!”

I aimed the shotgun at the woman’s head, trying to get a really good shot. Roger fired, grazing the woman in the gut. The bullet struck the daughter in the head.

“Rest in peace,” Roger said.

“Jesus Christ!” I cried out. “Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s get out of here!”

The woman had blood all over her mouth. I aimed at her head and fired. The blast blew her head off and I worked the action on the weapon, sending a smoking shell flying through the air. The body crashed backwards.

“Nice shot, Ace,” Roger said.

I just nodded.

It had gone very quiet. There were no more gunshots. Danny heard a shriek from somewhere.

* * *

Daryl Green had run down to the gate during all the commotion. He planned to return to his truck for his rifle. But he was unnerved by the silence that greeted him when he got there. There had been gunfire but all was quiet now. He saw only one police officer still on his feet of the dozen or so who had been there. The man shambled towards the gate, holding his side where he bled from a wound. It was Sgt. Joe Knapp.

“Help me,” he muttered. “Help me.”

“Hey, how’s it going Joe?” Daryl Green said.

Four zombies were heading their way. Daryl Green went to Sgt. Knapp and started to take him towards his truck.

“We need to get to the chopper,” Sgt. Knapp muttered. “Where? Where you going?”

Daryl Green turned and headed back into the stadium. He saw zombies coming from the top of the hill over the stadium as well.

* * *

Matt ran up to us.

“You know I could fly one of those helicopters,” I told everyone around me. “IRL. IRL.”

As we exited the tent, we saw zombies shambling in through the gate. I pointed and cried out. Daryl Green was helping a wounded police officer in our direction.

The nearer of the two Chinook helicopters had its engines roaring and propellers spinning.

“Ace!” Roger said. “Ace! Ace!”

Nine zombies were coming down the hill on the opposite side of the football field. The FEMA people were all already in the nearer helicopter. It took off.

“****!” I said.

* * *

Over by the still-grounded helicopter stood Hobo Joe and Salama.

“Hey, Swami, can you fly that thing?” Hobo Joe said.

“No,” Salama said.

“Damn it,” Hobo Joe said.

* * *

“Ace, you thinking what I’m thinking?” Roger said to me.

“Does anyone know how to pilot this!?!” Salama yelled at us from where he stood near the helicopter.

“By that I mean can you pilot that helicopter there?” Roger asked.

I nodded.

“Let’s move towards the helicopter!” Roger yelled. “We’ve got a pilot!”

We all headed for the Chinook. Several zombies were coming down near the scoreboard.

“We gotta lure them away from the helicopter!” I said.

“Yeah, that’s a great idea!” Daryl Greene said.

“All right!” Roger said. “All right. Listen. I’m going to go over to the left and start shooting. You get to the helicopter.”

“Okay!” I said seriously. “Be careful, Maverick. Be careful.”

“All righty,” he said.

I saw Hobo Joe jump into the helicopter even as Roger headed off to our left. Salama got in as well. Then Roger fired a couple of shots from his Glock. All of the zombies headed for him while the rest of us continued towards the Chinook. Daryl Greene reached the helicopter first.

“I know how to fly a helicopter,” I told everyone around us. “I can fly a helicopter.”

“Like **** you do?” Danny said.

I looked at her and then looked at my shotgun.

“Just cause you blew a *****’s head off doesn’t mean you can fly a helicopter!” she said.

“We gotta get outta here!” Josh said in his weird deep voice.

Josh climbed into the Chinook, followed by Matt, Daryl Green, Danny, and finally me. As I got inside, I called to Roger to keep shooting. A zombie looked at me and then headed back towards him when he fired again. As I made my way to the cockpit, I heard another shot fired. I looked out the window and saw Roger running perpendicular to the Chinook so I waved him away but he kept running in a path that didn’t take the zombies any further away from us. I kept motioning for him to get them further away.

Salama was chanting and praying or something. I kept gesturing for Roger to move away from us further.

When he was finally far enough away, I flipped the switches and the engines roared to life. It was very loud.

“Here we go folks!” I yelled.

I’d never flown a Chinook before and I did my best to get the engines going and get us off the ground, but it took me a while. Roger sprinted back and leapt into the Chinook and I kept working to get us aloft. The zombies were focused on us now.

“I’ve never actually flown this kind of helicopter before!” I called.

“Oh that’s really good to say!” Daryl Green said.

Roger climbed into the cockpit.

“Maverick!” I cried. “Help me!”

He couldn’t. He knew nothing about helicopters.

The zombies were crossing the field towards us and I finally got the Chinook off the ground. It lifted into the air and I took us up about 200 feet. Once we were hovering, I leaned into the back.

“Where are we going?” I shouted. “Does anybody … where are we going?”

“Are you drunk?” Daryl Green yelled back at me. “Are you drunk, buddy?”

“I only had two beers and that was an hour ago!” I said.

“You wanna be drunk?”

“Yes!”

We headed west. Roger checked the fuel and found the Chinook had a full tank. We listened in on the radio frequencies and started hearing coordinates for evacuation centers and places of safety on various radio frequencies. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1979-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Kyles-Deadworld-One-Shot-Escape-from-Boone
Basic Roleplaying System: Deadworld Session Eight - Arrival at Roanoke http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1978-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Eight-Arrival-at-Roanoke Wed, 07 Dec 2016 22:24:33 GMT Monday, December 5, 2016 (After playing the *Basic Roleplaying System* original setting “Deadworld” with Camilla Ekker-Runde, Ambralyn Tucker,... Monday, December 5, 2016

(After playing the Basic Roleplaying System original setting “Deadworld” with Camilla Ekker-Runde, Ambralyn Tucker, Ben Abbott, Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, James Brown, Kyle Matheson, Hannah Gambino, and Katelyn Hogan Saturday from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.)

On July 20, 2015, Dr. Jumin Han, who called himself Dr. Daddy, Lisa Weiss, and Alexa Suarez were all kidnapped by a couple of men over the course of the day. The three were all snatched up and driven somewhere and placed into a room with the windows boarded shut. There were three simple beds in the room and a couch but little else. The room had a connecting bathroom though the mirror had been removed and the shower curtain was tied to the rod with string.

Dr. Daddy, as he preferred to be called, was a tall, slim, Korean surgeon from western North Carolina. He was 28 years old and just starting out in the medical profession but already well thought-of. He was quite wealthy, which explained why he had been kidnapped.

Lisa Weiss was a pretty young redhead of about 20 who was a writer. She was a little over five and a half feet tall and very slim. She had numerous tattoos on her arms. She also spoke in a British accent. Though her family wasn’t wealthy, they were distantly related to some rather rich Weiss.

Alexa Suarez was tall and slim. She was Hispanic with dark, black hair. Secretly, she was a spy, which she figured accounted for her own kidnapping.

The two women and the man all found themselves without their phones and other possessions, including the pistols both Miss Suarez and Dr. Daddy had been carrying. They didn’t even have their wallets or I.D. The kidnappers seemed to know what they were doing as they never appeared without masks. They always entered the room together and one of them always had a gun in his hand.

As soon as the three were all conscious, they were told by the two men that so long as they didn’t try anything, they would be fine. They just wanted money from people who knew them and then they would let the three go.

“We’ve got nothing against you,” one of them said. “But if you try to mess around with us then we will hurt you.”

They were given changes of clothing and fed three times daily with bland but acceptable food. They had toiletries like soap, shampoo, and toilet paper for their use, but nothing that could be used as a weapon.

It only a couple of days after the kidnapping when they heard the two men arguing. They could hear the sound of a television or radio from somewhere else in the house but they couldn’t make out any of the words in either case.

A week went by. Then two. It seemed a lot longer than kidnappers would hold people.

One night there was a loud, vicious argument from somewhere else in the house. Then they heard a door slam and a car roar away. After that, only one of the men brought them their food, laundry, and the like. It was the same man every time. Once, he forgot to wear his mask and he looked haggard. After that, the food got worse. They only got water instead of milk or soda and the food became more like snacks instead of actually cooked and prepared meals. Another night, there was a hollow crash from somewhere else in the house that they thought sounded like a flat screen TV hitting the ground.

Also over the course of their imprisonment, Miss Weiss and Dr. Daddy hooked up. It was late at night and they thought Miss Suarez was asleep, though she wasn’t and watched the whole thing. The sex was good for both of them and provided a much-needed release. Miss Weiss initiated the encounter and Dr. Daddy didn’t seem to care one way or another.

They had been held, they thought, for almost a month when the kidnapper who’d been caring for them by himself came into the room, gun in hand. He wasn’t wearing his mask but he hadn’t been for some time. He pointed the gun at them.

“Look,” he said. “Look. You guys gotta go. You gotta get outta here. I’m-I’m gonna leave. I want you to count to 50 before you come out. If you don’t … if you don’t wait, I’m gonna shoot you! So … so just wait. Count to 50 and then … I’ll be gone and you guys are free.”

He backed out and closed the door. They didn’t hear the bolt or the lock, which they were used to.

They waited. About 20 seconds later they heard a single gunshot from somewhere else in the house. Dr. Daddy headed out the door directly after that though the other two waited another 30 seconds or so.

Dr. Daddy found a hallway with two other bedrooms, all the doors open and the rooms obviously slept in. He found a living room with a smashed big-screen television. Nearby was a radio plugged into the wall with nothing but static coming over the speaker. The kitchen was practically empty. Cupboard doors were open and when he quickly checked the refrigerator, there was nothing in it but condiments. All of the dishes were clean and put away however.

He found the kidnapper in the bathroom just off the hall. The man lay on the floor in front of the toilet. There was blood all over the sink and the medicine cabinet from where the man had blown his brains out with his pistol. He was quite dead. His cell phone lay next to him, smashed.

Miss Weiss arrived a few moments later while he was examining the body. He searched the body and found keys in the man’s pocket, along with a wallet with some cash, though no ID. He pocketed the money.

Miss Suarez, meanwhile, searched the other bedrooms and found her .45 semi-automatic pistol, a Desert Eagle semi-automatic pistol, and their wallets, purses, and possessions taken from them when they were kidnapped. Unfortunately, all their cell phones were dead as they had been sitting for weeks without a charger.

Miss Weiss picked up the bloody .45 semi-automatic pistol from the dead man’s hand and shoved it in the back of her pants. The barrel was still warm.

Dr. Daddy left the house and saw it was a small, single-story building with a propane tank beside it at the end of a long drive. There were numerous homes and houses down by the main road and he could smell the ocean. He went back into the house and looked for a land line but there wasn’t one.

Miss Weiss tried the sink and found they still had fresh water.

It was mid-morning.

“Let’s go to the ocean,” Dr. Daddy said.

“Let’s look around the house,” Miss Weiss suggested.

The obvious rental house was separated from other houses and homes in the area by a thick tree line. They could see what appeared to be a sound some ways behind the house. There was a garden hose on the side and a shed in the back with a push-mower and rakes.

They walked down the long driveway to the road. They could see more houses to the right thought the area to the left was completely overgrown with trees. A white SUV was coming down the road from the left. It looked like of beat up.

* * *

Manuela “Manny” Rodriquez was driving the somewhat torn up white SUV they were still using. She was Hispanic with long black hair in a braid, and dressed like a mechanic with a backward-turned baseball cap. Jonathan Franks was dozing in the passenger seat in the front. He was an incredibly handsome, tall man with brown, curly hair. Dr. Mikīl Wolfgang sat in the back, watching the passing terrain nervously. He had white hair and wore a white doctor’s jacket. The driver’s side window was still broken out in the vehicle since they’d been attacked by triffids, and they were still using a doughnut tire on the front passenger side. There were bits and pieces of triffid stuck in the grill, a smear of triffid ichor on the front, and the windows were all slimed with dry venom. But it was still running fairly well.

It was August 14, two days since they had visited the village of Wickwold and then been attacked by triffids before stopping at the village of Craft, where a zombie had bitten Courtney Dean, the fourth member of the group. She had disappeared the night before, not even leaving a note. Their other companion, Lindsay Mungham Fang, had left just that morning, heading inland from their camp on Wright Memorial Bridge between Point Harbor and the Outer Banks, seemingly disgusted with all of them.

The GPS was still off and on but Manny had figured out how to get to Roanoke Island, where Miss Bateman had said she was heading before they’d gotten separated. They had found their way around Elizabeth City and made their way to the Outer Banks via State Route 158. They were on South Croatan Highway in the area of Nag’s Head, having just passed Jockey Ridge State Park, when they saw people standing on the side of the road.

The slim red-headed woman wore skinny jeans and a tank top with a shirt over that, open and the sleeves pulled up. The Asian man wore long pants and a white doctor’s jacket. The other woman wore a tank top and jeans as well.

* * *

The white SUV slowed to a stop on the road next to the three, who were on the passenger side of the vehicle. It looked like it had seen better days but the engine sounded good. It looked like they’d been off-roading.

“Where are you heading?” Miss Weiss asked.

“Heading to Roanoke,” Manny said through the open passenger window.

“Roanoke … Rapids?”

“Island.”

“What happened to the car?” Miss Suarez asked.

“Yeah, what happened?” Miss Weiss asked. “What’d you guys do?”

“There were like these giant plant creatures or something,” Manny said.

“Plant creatures?”

“Yeah, they were, like, chasing us down!”

“Do you not know vhat’s been happening?” Dr. Wolfgang, the old man in the back, asked.

“No!” Dr. Daddy said.

“We’ve been enslaved and trapped for a month!” Miss Weiss said.

Dr. Daddy opened the back passenger side door and climbed in without a word. The older man with the German accent and the nice suit just looked at him.

“I’m a doctor,” Dr. Daddy said. “Or whatever you want, I can be it.”

Dr. Wolfgang’s eyebrows raised.

“Vhat?” he said.

“So, you’re a doctor too?” Dr. Daddy said. “We can be best friends.”

“That’s right,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Maybe we should get in,” Miss Weiss said, following Dr. Daddy and slipping into the far back of the car.

Manny put the car in gear and drove them through Nag’s Head. The numerous rental houses they passed all seemed empty of life. There were no other cars to be seen. Before they reached State Route 64, where Manny knew they would exit onto the large bridge that led to Roanoke Island, they spotted another man walking down the left side of the road, his back to them.

The man was tall with ginger hair and a horseshoe mustache, they saw when he turned to the sound of the car. He wore camouflage pants, a green tank top, and army boots. A camouflage jacket was tied around his waist but they could see a large knife on his belt and a pistol tucked into the back of his pants. When he turned completely towards them, they saw the M1 rifle in his hands. He took a knee and kept the rifle pointed in their direction though it was not aiming at the car.

Manny slowed the car and went to roll down the driver’s side window until she remembered it had been shattered. She stopped the car some 10 feet from the man, trying to keep the piece of metal that held the windshield in place between her and him.

“Don’t shoot!” she yelled. “Don’t shoot!”

The man pointed the gun a little more in the direction of the car.

“You civvies?” he called.

“Yeah,” she said. “Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. We’re all civilians here.”

Dr. Wolfgang looked over and saw that Franks was asleep again. He guessed the man was using sleep as a defensive mechanism to cope with everything that was going on.

“Where you going?” the soldier asked.

“Are you from Fort Bragg?” Manny asked.

“God, no.”

“What’re you doing out here?”

“If I could answer that, I probably wouldn’t be here.”

“Well, we’re heading to Roanoke Island. Where are you heading?”

“Why?”

“I mean … safety in numbers, right?”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Safety from what?” Miss Suarez, in the back, asked.

“The plant creatures?” Miss Weiss said.

“There is a disease going round that is … making people … grabby,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“What do you mean?” Miss Weiss asked.

“They’re like zombies,” Manny said.

“They attack you?”

“Yes. And there’s plants that apparently attack you and, like, monkey things … I don’t know. I heard it.”

“Is this like a zombie scenario?”

“You have people in there that don’t know what’s going on?” the soldier said.

“Yeah,” Manny said. “We just picked them up.”

“We were captured for a long time,” Miss Suarez called. “Didn’t have any connection with the outside.”

“I was captured with these two,” Miss Weiss said. “I still don’t know why; what we have in common. Please explain what’s going on. Right now. Because we’ve been trapped for a month and we don’t know what’s going on.”

“Listen here, lady, I don’t like sitting in one spot for too long,” the soldier said. “So either I join you or you drive on.”

“Ah, get in!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Who said that!?!” the soldier said.

They heard the sound of another car approaching coming from the same direction the white SUV had come. The soldier pointed down there road where a gray jeep drove towards them.

“Put your gun down,” Miss Weiss called. “You don’t know them.”

“Are you being followed?” the soldier asked Manny.

* * *

Dani Bateman, who had been traveling with Jaiqwan Jayshawn Skadooter, had found the young black athlete missing one morning. His yellow Porsche 918 Spyder was gone and a note, spray-painted on the asphalt near the building they’d taken shelter in, read simply “See you *****es at the beach. Doot-doot!” She had continued on without the man, who had found too much spray paint in a hardware store and filled the trunk of his car with all of it.

Miss Bateman was a Native American with tan skin and brown eyes. Her hair was long and pulled back into a braid. She was also very tall and built like a model.

She had stumbled across Elizabeth Tolini, one of the people she’d met at Duke University after the meteor shower, and the two of them had continued on in the latter’s jeep as it was in somewhat better shape than hers. They continued to head for Roanoke Island, where Floyd Wayne had told her he was heading. Miss Bateman was surprised at the amount of gear the other woman had: a sniper rifle, a crossbow, a black leather skin-tight outfit, and a dagger.

Miss Tolini had dark brown hair and dark brown eyes with olive skin. She looked Italian or Mediterranean.

They were driving on the Outer Banks when they spotted a white SUV ahead.

* * *

Manny looked into the review mirror and thought she recognized the jeep of the Elizabeth Tolini, who had been in the strange experiment with them at Duke University.

“Are you being followed?” the soldier asked again.

“What?” Manny said.

“Are you being followed? Shall I fire now?”

“No no no no no! That jeep looks familiar. It’s … uh … whatsherface?”

She shook Franks.

“What?” he said. “Why do you keep waking me?”

“Do you know this person?” Miss Weiss said. “Can this person help us?”

“I was asleep,” Franks said, looking at the soldier. “Where do you keep finding these people? Holy crap! I’ve been to sleep like an hour! What the hell? We haven’t see people in, like, what, two days and you suddenly find, like, five or six people. What the hell?”

“Wasn’t she in an experiment with us?” Manny said.

Franks looked at the approaching jeep.

“Which one?” he said. “Which girl?”

“The only girl besides me that escaped,” Manny said.

“Oh yeah.”

“Crossbow girl.”

“Oh. No, she had a sniper rifle.”

“She had a sniper rifle?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh.”

He remembered Manny had been unconscious with the zombie bite when they had fought off the strange creatures attacking the farm.

“She has a sniper rifle,” he said.

“What?” Manny said.

She got out of the SUV. She waved at the other car and called out. The jeep slowed down and stopped and she recognized Dani Bateman and Elizabeth Tolini. Skadooter was not with them.

“Did you finally kill him?” Manny said. “I wouldn’t blame you.”

“I’m going to miss that crack head,” Franks quipped.

Both Miss Bateman and Miss Tolini got out of the jeep.

“You know these too?” Miss Weiss asked Manny.

“Yeah, she was in an experiment with us,” Manny said, indicating Franks.

“Yeah,” Franks said.

“These are agreeable people?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Are they safe?” Miss Weiss asked.

“I mean … as safe as …” Manny said.

“Safe as a hole in the head,” Franks said.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Miss Bateman said. “Unless you give me reason to. So, yes, I’m safe.”

“I can tell you all for a fact,” the soldier said. “The longer we sit here, the worse it could be. So, we need to get moving or y’all need to get moving. I don’t care. But we do not need to be sitting here right now.”

“Okay,” Miss Tolini said.

Miss Weiss noted she would stay with the SUV as she’d known them longer though Miss Bateman was very, very pretty.

“Get in the car,” Manny said to the soldier. “Let’s go.”

“Which car?” the soldier said.

“I don’t care! We got room in each one!”

He opened the back door of the SUV while Manny and Franks got back into the front. Dr. Daddy slipped out of the door the soldier had opened.

“Wait wait wait wait,” Miss Bateman said. “Where are we going?”

“Just follow me,” Manny called.

The soldier looked Dr. Daddy up and down.

“You some sort of doctor?” he asked.

“I can be,” Dr. Daddy said.

Oh my God, Miss Bateman thought.

“Ain’t no ‘can’ in this world,” the soldier said. “Either it is ‘do’ or ‘don’t.’ You a doctor?”

“He do a doctor?” Miss Bateman called. “He do a doctor? It’s either do or don’t?”

“Just get in the car!” Manny said. “C’mon!”

“You don’t speak good,” the soldier said to Miss Bateman.

Dr. Daddy turned from the soldier and walked to the other vehicle without a word.

“Are you going the same direction?” Miss Weiss called. “Well, **** you, Daddy.”

“I didn’t know that was your dad,” Dr. Wolfgang said to the girl.

“Let’s go,” the soldier said. “Wheels up.”

He got into the white SUV.

Dr. Daddy slipped into the back of the jeep and the two women got in as well.

“Well, I’m not okay with any of this,” Miss Suarez muttered. “But I guess it will do.”

Manny put the SUV in gear and they headed off down the road followed by the Jeep. Franks leaned back and tried to go to sleep again.

“So, do you not know what’s going on here?” Dr. Wolfgang asked the two in the back.

“No,” Miss Suarez said.

“It seems zhat … uh … a zombie outbreak has occurred,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Zombies?” Miss Weiss said. “How did this begin?”

“It seems a meteor dropped some kind of device?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“You don’t know what’s going on?” the soldier said.

“We’ve been kidnapped for a month!” Miss Weiss said. “I’ve been trying to tell you!”

“Oh my ****ing God! You’re telling me people got kidnapped before all this shit went down?”

“Does it not happen all the time?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“It’s just very ironic, I think,” the soldier said.

“Well, please, just tell us,” Miss Weiss said.

“****ing zombies!”

“I … I still don’t understand. What do you mean: zombies?”

“Zombies. Aliens. Plant monsters.”

“Plants and zombies?”

“It’s everything!”

“The plants are new but … yes …” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“New to you!” the soldier cried out. “I fought that shit from day one! ****ing Intel didn’t know what the **** it was. Sent us green boys out there. Lost half my God-damned squad and now I’m running to the ****ing beach! **** this!”

“It sounds like you’ve been through a lot and I’ve very sorry─” Miss Weiss said.

“Oh, I’ve been through a whole lot of shit,” the soldier said.

“Well, we don’t know what’s going on,” Miss Weiss said.

“So, it seems like a zombie outbreak and those who are bit …” Dr. Wolfgang said.

The soldier drew his semi-automatic pistol and held it up.

“Anybody in this car bit?” he said.

They all looked at each other.

“I ain’t ****ing around,” he said. “Anybody in this car bit?”

“I swear,” Miss Weiss said. “I swear.”

“By anything!” the soldier said. “I don’t give a **** what it was. Were you bit by anything?”

“No!”

“Bugs. Dogs. Humans. I don’t give a ****. Have you been bit? What about this guy? He’s sleeping a lot! This guys sleeping a lot!”

“I’ll be honest. Daddy that one time. That was just a thing.”

“Daddy bit you? Who’s daddy?”

“Just one time. I swear to God. I swear to God. It was consensual.”

“Sexual? Or worse?”

“I’d rather not go into the details but I’m not infected.”

“You better go into the details right now.”

“There are things getting out of control,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Oh, it’s about to get way out of control if somebody don’t tell me who got bit!” the soldier said.

“I swear, whatever you’re talking about, I do not have it,” Miss Weiss said. “I swear. This is the first time I’ve heard of anything like this.”

“She was bit by another man that was not infected,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Was that the guy that got out of his car and went to the other car?” the soldier asked.

“Yes!” Miss Weiss said.

“Yeah, that guy’s ****ing weird,” the soldier said, holstering his sidearm again.

He decided to keep an eye on Franks though.

* * *

In the jeep, Miss Tolini thought she saw a gun being swung around in the other car for a few moments. She wondered about that.

* * *

“I need to know everybody’s names,” the soldier said. “Give me first name. Give me last name. I don’t really care. But I need to know your names when shit goes down. So, my name is Abraham. You, creepy old dude. What’s your name?”

“I … you call me Mikīl,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“I’m gonna call you Mike,” Abraham said.

“All right,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Driver, what’s your name?” Abraham asked.

“Manny,” the woman replied.

“Manny, that’s easy,” Abraham said. “Okay, sleeping guy. I might just call you sleeping guy, but you can give me a name.”

“Just call me John,” Franks said.

“John?” Abraham said. “Is that your name?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

“No, I’m joking. I’m joking. It’s Jonathan. But just call me John.”

“I got it. Girl that may have been bit … that I will shoot any second if I find anything going crazy, what is your name?”

“My name is Lisa Weiss,” she said.

“Lisa. All right. And you?”

“Alexa,” the last woman said.

“Alexa, okay,” Abraham said. “Hold on. Wait. We gotta back this shit up. Y’all was kidnapped?”

“Yes,” Miss Weiss said.

“Y’all need to talk about that shit ‘cause that don’t make no ****ing sense. Who gets kidnapped? What’d y’all do?”

“I was taken when I was walking to my car after I’d gotten a coffee from Starbucks.”

“Who’d you piss off?”

“I’m not sure. My family isn’t that rich. I’m not sure what they would want from me.”

“So, you pissed off so many people you don’t know which pissed off person kidnapped you?”

“Eh,” Franks muttered. “Seems legit.”

“I don’t know how to explain this but we need help to get out of here,” Miss Weiss said.

“All right, hold on,” Abraham said. “There is a pattern here somewhere. Alexa, who’d you piss off?”

“There’ve been a number of people,” she replied.

“All right, so y’all piss off a lot of people,” Abraham said. “Just so happened, they wanted both y’all. All right.”

He thought a moment and realized the name Weiss might make her related to Barry Weiss of “Storage Wars,” who was supposedly quite rich. Rumor had it he had relatives in North Carolina.

“Wait a second,” he said. “What was your last name … Lisa …?”

“Weiss,” she said.

“You got money?”

“No.”

“Don’t lie to me. You got money?”

“Okay. I will admit that my extended family has quite a lot of money but … my mother married an Arab so … we’re not …”

“That was probably the worst thing you could’ve told a soldier. I ain’t gonna lie. Don’t ever tell a soldier that your step-daddy might be an Arab. Don’t ever do that.”

“So, I am related but, I swear, I’m not part of that family, so I don’t know what─”

“Alexa, you got an Arab in your family too?”

“I’m not Arab!”

“Vhat does an Arab have to do with this anomaly?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“I’m sorry, I’m trying to play detective right now but I ain’t too good at it,” Abraham said.

“You got that right,” Franks muttered.

“Shut the **** up, John!” Abraham said.

Manny continued to follow the highway as it bore to the right and become S. Virginia Dare Trail. They passed other houses and buildings while the others talked in the back. The Jeep followed behind.

“I don’t think people are concerned with race right now,” Miss Weiss said. “People are concerned with the zombie outbreak.”

“Zombie. Plants. Aliens,” Abraham said. “I don’t know what the **** it is. I been without a squad for about five days. Shit got ****ed up.”

“Vhat happened?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Yeah, it happened. I didn’t like it!”

“No. Vhat happened?”

“Vhat happened? I’ll tell you vhat happened. ****ing everybody around me was dying. I don’t know how to explain it. Them plant mother****ers came out. We dealt with ‘em before. But they were stronger this time.”

“Did you kill them?” Miss Weiss said.

“Way stronger,” Abraham went on. “Kill the plants? Hell, no! We didn’t kill a ****ing one of ‘em! We were firing and firing, reloaded, reloaded, called in missile strikes. Missile strikes didn’t even come in! And we all just ran. I ran. I thought people was behind me. I heard footsteps. Then I heard less footsteps. Then I heard no footsteps. Next thing I know, I’m going to the ****ing ocean. If there’s some ocean mother****ers out there, then fine! But, least it ain’t gonna be God damned plants! I seen what them plants do. I don’t want none of that.”

“Is that the ocean that we see far away? Is it that ocean?”

“That ocean? Hell, yeah, that’s that ocean! I want to get the **** outta here!”

“No, he’s going to the Pacific Ocean,” Manny quipped.

“No, I want to go to the ocean!” Abraham said. “I want to get the **** outta here!”

“Pacific Ocean?” Franks muttered. “I thought we were going to the Gulf.”

“Ve are heading to ze Roanoke?” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“We’re going to the ocean,” Miss Suarez said.

“All right,” Miss Weiss said.

“If there’s some seaweed mother****ers out there then fine!” Abraham said. “I’ll deal with that. But I ain’t dealing with whatever them ****ing bush mother****ers is. I ain’t doing that no more! Killed everybody! **** that shit. Anybody got a drink in this mother****er? Like, some liquor in here. Tell me you found some liquor.”

No one said anything.

“It’s the God damned apocalypse!” Abraham said. “You ain’t got no alcohol?”

“If this is the apocalypse, I’d like to have Twinkies,” Miss Weiss said.

Franks picked up a bottle of rum on the floor by his feet and handed it to the man.

“Oh, ***** tits!” Abraham said. “I need that.”

He took a swig of the white rum but it was very rough going down. He closed it back up and handed it back to Franks.

“Y’all got any whiskey?” he asked.

“No, I’m sorry, ve vere not looking for us to get swasted,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

Franks took a sip of the rum and put it on the floor.

They crossed a bridge to Pond Island, passing rental houses on the right. The left side, to the south, had low growth and shrubs but no buildings. Amidst the overgrowth, Manny and Dr. Wolfgang spotted more of the triffids standing not far from the highway.

“Ze plants!” Dr. Wolfgang said, remembering their last encounter with the things. “Ze plants! Dodge zhem!”

Once pointed out, the rest saw the dozen or so triffids, scattered in the bushes on the left side.

“Do. Not. Stop.” Abraham said. “Keep going!”

“Oh, I know!” Manny said.

They heard the rattle of the triffid’s clatter sticks even over the sound of the engine.

“**** that shit!” Abraham said.

“Wait, are these the plants that you were talking about?” Miss Weiss asked.

“Hell yeah,” Abraham said.

“Ve must avoid zhem!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

They left Pond Island and headed across the long bridge that, from what Manny could remember from the GPS, led to Roanoke Island.

* * *

In the second car, Miss Tolini noticed the triffids. She had never seen their like before. But she remembered hearing about them. She knew they were poisonous and very dangerous, though ones in a place like this had probably had had their stings docked, making them harmless. There was something else strange about them but she didn’t not remember what. Then they were passing onto the long bridge to Roanoke Island.

* * *

The bridge was vacant without any signs of wrecked or damaged cars at all. It was flat for a good length of the time and then rose up some way to allow the larger boats through, obviously. As they crested the spot where it was highest, they saw what looked like a roadblock made of cars about a hundred yards ahead.

“Stop!” Abraham said. “Stop the car!”

Manny braked to a stop. The other car stopped behind them.

There was no sign of any people at the spot where a half dozen cars had been parked to block the road, one of them turned on its side.

Abraham got out.

“Why are you getting out?” Manny asked.

Abraham crouched by the SUV and pointed his gun at the roadblock. He took out his binoculars and scanned the area. He saw no movement and no sign of anyone.

“Ve have to move the cars!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

Dr. Wolfgang climbed out and started to walk down towards the roadblock. When Abraham noticed the movement, he was surprised to see Dr. Wolfgang heading down the bridge towards the barricade.

“What the **** are you doing?” Abraham yelled at the man.

“I’m moving ze cars!” Dr. Wolfgang yelled back.

“Do not. Go towards. That blockade!” Abraham yelled.

“You don’t know why there’s a roadblock!” Miss Weiss called from inside the car.

“I want to find out why there’s a roadblock. Get down.”

There was a suburban area or condos huddled together to the right side of the road where the bridge met the island near the roadblock. A marina was also tucked in between the road and the houses.

“It’s probably just protection for the town,” Manny called to Abraham. “I mean, they’ll see we’re real people.”

“Ve have to move ze cars,” Dr. Wolfgang called again.

Miss Tolini climbed out of the jeep and came up to the SUV.

“We will move the cars once I know it’s safe,” Abraham yelled at the man, who had moved up about 10 yards. “Get back here. I want you to scout it while I move forward.”

“Oh … Okay,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

He walked back to the SUV as well.

“Just drive,” Miss Weiss said to Manny.

“They’re just being cautious,” the other woman replied. “It’s probably good.”

Franks got out of the car.

“Maybe there’s a reason for the roadblock,” Miss Weiss said. “Maybe we shouldn’t move the car. Maybe we should just turn around.”

Abraham turned around and saw Miss Tolini behind him. He had barely heard the woman walk up. He crouched and pointed his rifle at her for a moment, then lowered it.

“Calm down,” she said calmly.

“What are you doing out of the car?” he asked.

“I was wondering what I could do.”

“Are you a ****ing cat?”

“What kind of question is that?”

“Had a guy in my squad. Called him ‘Tippy-Toes.’ You know why? He’d always ****ing get you. Every time. Pranks? ****ing crazy.”

“Pranked?”

“And he was a great dancer. Hella-fag though.”

He looked at her.

“There’s a blockade ahead,” he said. “Did you not see it?”

“I see it,” she said.

“We’re scouting it out. Because, one thing I’ve learned, some of the worst things you can face is people right now.”

“Zhis is true,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Okay,” she said. “So …”

“I don’t know even why I trusted all y’all right now,” Abraham went on. “I shouldn’t have. But here I am, so we’re going with it. It’s almost like a GM made me into this situation.”

“A G-what?” Franks said.

“Are you coming along?” Abraham said to the woman.

“Yeah,” she said.,

“A G-what?” Franks asked again.

“Do you have a weapon?” Abraham asked the woman.

“Uh-huh,” she said.

“What is it?” he asked.

“All I have on me right now is a dagger.”

“Go get a real gun. Time is important. I don’t know how long it’s going to take for them plants to catch up to us.”

“All right. Hold on.”

She returned to the jeep and opened the back, taking out her Accuracy International AW sniper rifle and pocketing a couple of the magazines for the weapon. She walked over to the man with the gun raised onto her shoulder.

“Why … do you have this?” he asked.

“Well, you see, daddy had interests,” she said demurely.

“First of all, I’ve heard the word ‘daddy’ more than I should have this entire trip. But I’m going to let that go. New plan: you watch us with the scope of that rifle.”

He turned to Dr. Wolfgang.

“You’re coming with me,” he said to the doctor. Then he turned to Franks. “You’re with us as well, right?”

“Yeah,” Franks said.

“I saw you get out of the car. You want to do something now?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“What do you want from me?” Miss Tolini asked.

“You see anything with the scope of that rifle, I want you to whistle,” Abraham said. “Can you whistle?”

The woman whistled loudly. Abraham nodded.

“Real quick, while I talk to these three what we’re going to do, formation-wise, you tell the rest of the car what the ****’s going on, because I’m sure they’re confused as **** right now,” Abraham said. “All right. We need to all be on the same page. Military training, all right?”

“Okay,” Miss Tolini said.

Miss Weiss got of the SUV followed quickly by Manny with her pump shotgun. Abraham looked at her weapon with approval and then told everyone to squat by the car so they could plan what to do. He saw Miss Weiss had a semi-automatic pistol. Franks had a Glock and a baseball bat.

“I’m going to do my best to describe everything in civvie terminology,” Abraham said. “I know none of you have been in the military so I’m going to try not to do that. If I accidently slip up, tell me to go back and re-explain what the ****’s going on, okay?”

He looked at Miss Tolini.

“You’re going to be on overwatch, okay?” he said to her. “Overwatch the scenario. You whistle, tell us things are going up. I’m going to need somebody to watch her back because she’s looking forward the entire time. Is there anybody that can watch her back the entire time we’re on this mission?”

Miss Weiss raised her hand.

“I’m taking these two with me,” Abraham said, indicating Dr. Wolfgang and Franks. “Can you watch her?”

“Yeah,” Miss Weiss said.

“You got something? What have you got? You got a gun.”

She took out a .45 semi-automatic pistol. It looked like there was dried blood on it.

“All right, that’ll be fine,” Abraham said. “If anything goes wrong, you tell her and she can help you with whatever scenario is going on in the back. You two. What have you got? I see you’ve got a pump shotgun on you. You hiding something Alexa, what you got?”

Miss Suarez took out her own .45 semi-automatic pistol.

“I knew you was packing from the first time I saw you,” Abraham said. “Some person named Alexa definitely have a gun. Only met one other Alexa and they had a gun. Just saying that. It was in the military. Kind of shouldn’t count, but it does. Anyways, what is that? What have you got?”

“M1911,” she said.

“You want to come with us? We’re going to scout the area.”

“Information is always my game.”

“Okay. Fantastic. I think the shotgun would be good for close quarters. I would like to have you with us but since you’re the driver and you seem to know these people, I think you should back up our sniper. Just in case.”

“Aw,” Manny said.

“I think four should be good enough and I want more than one gun covering our sniper,” Abraham went on. “Does that sound good. Is everyone clear on what we’re doing? I don’t know where them other two mother****ers are.”

He looked back and saw that Miss Bateman had slipped into the driver’s seat of the other car and Dr. Daddy had gotten into the front passenger seat. They appeared to be chatting.

“If you two can convince them to help you guys out,” Abraham said to Miss Weiss and Manny, “with the guarding and stuff, be my guest. I’m not talking to anybody named Daddy.”

“Well, only one’s named Daddy,” Manny said.

“They’re both Daddy as far as I’m concerned. They’re both weird. Anyways.”

He looked at them all.

“Is everybody clear on what they’re doing?” he asked.

“How long do you want us to do this?” Miss Tolini asked.

“We’re checking the blockade,” Abraham said. “All we’re doing.”

“Okay.”

“We’re going to move the cars to make a path.”

They heard the engine of the other Jeep start. Abraham crouched and spun around, gun pointed towards the Jeep.

“What the **** is wrong with you?” Miss Bateman called from the Jeep.

“I’m trying to keep us alive,” he replied.

“I’m not doing anything!”

“You made a sound.”

“Oh! I made a sound?”

“I respect your defensiveness and your assertiveness but we don’t need this violence right now,” Miss Weiss said. “So please?”

“I’m just being cautious, you ****!” Miss Bateman said.

Miss Tolini climbed up onto the top of the SUV and lay down there, pointing her sniper rifle down towards the barricade across the road ahead. She lined up and looked through the site. Miss Weiss climbed up behind her and sat there, watching her back. Manny positioned herself by the left front tire of the SUV near the car door.

“Hey, turn off the car,” she called to Miss Bateman.

“Why?” the other woman called back.

“Because it makes noise!”

“What’s wrong with noise?”

“It attracts things.”

“****!”

Miss Bateman turned the car back off.

Abraham looked over the four men who were walking towards the blockade. He was the only one with a rifle and two other had pistols. Dr. Wolfgang was unarmed.

This was a mistake to bring you, he thought of the doctor.

They got about within 40 yards of the blockade when Abraham stopped them.

“Me and Alexa are going to post up here,” he said. “You two move the center car so we can go through. We will cover you. Got it?”

“Yes,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

Franks nodded.

“You guys can move the cars?” Abraham asked.

“I think so,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

As they headed on down, Abraham put his rifle to his shoulder and Miss Suarez aimed ahead, covering the men. When Abraham realized the pistol was out of range, he told her to go about 20 yards ahead of him. She nodded and headed up behind the other two men, stopping some 15 yards from the cars.

Dr. Wolfgang and Franks reached the barricade and saw the opening in the center was probably not quite wide enough to admit the SUV. Dr. Wolfgang headed around the right car and, as he moved around the car to get to the driver’s side door, he saw several bodies lying on the ground on the other side of the blockade. There was a great deal of dried blood around the men on the pavement. He counted a half dozen men dressed in rough clothing and still clutched sporting rifles in their dead hands. All of them lay just the other side of the blockade. He looked more closely at them and saw they appeared to all have been facing away from the blockade, towards the island.

It looked like the corpses had been shot with high-caliber rifle bullets. They appeared to have been walking away from the blockade, inland, when they were gunned down from the front, possibly from towards the marina.

Franks had not moved past the blockade but also saw the bodies. He turned and headed back towards the others.

Dr. Wolfgang opened the door of the car and put the manual transmission into neutral before taking off the parking brake. As he got back out of the car to push it, a shot rang out from somewhere nearby. The windshield of the car shattered.

“Zhey’re shooting at us!” he cried out.

A second shot rang out and a large hole appeared in the door to the car.

Further out on the bridge, Franks dived to the ground, hitting the asphalt solidly.

* * *

“What the **** was that, Elizabeth?” Miss Weiss said from atop the SUV.

“It was a gunshot, sweetie,” Manny said, moving back to get cover behind the SUV.

Miss Tolini didn’t answer. She was scanning first the barricade and then the marina. As she focused on the marina, she saw the shooter. A man was laying on the deck of a boat anchored in the middle of the marina. It was a small hard-topped boat between 20 and 25 feet long with twin engines. The man wore all white or had a sheet draped over him and was lying in the white bottom of the boat, effectively camouflaged. She could see the rifle in his hands and guessed he had a scope upon it. He was working the action on the bolt-action rifle as she looked.

“Go to the army guy,” Miss Tolini said to Manny. “Ask him if I should take him out. There’s a guy on a boat.”

“Elizabeth, can you see where that’s coming from?” Miss Weiss asked.

“Yes, I do.”

* * *

Abraham and Alexi peered over the wall that ran along the north side of the bridge. It was not much cover, being only a couple of feet high with a further metal rail running along the top of it to the height of about three and a half feet, but it was something. Both of them saw the man in the boat in the marina, but they were still over a hundred yards away.

Dr. Wolfgang crawled around to their side of the barricade and in their direction. Franks lay on the bridge between them and the barricade. Manny was crouch-running their direction from their cars.

Abraham crouch-ran down the bridge to the barricade. He looked back towards Miss Tolini.

“Take him out!” he yelled. “Boat!”

* * *

Miss Tolini saw the sniper, who obviously also heard the shout, start to aim towards the cars. The blast when she fired was the loudest thing Miss Weiss had ever heard in her life. Unfortunately the bullet missed, punching a hole in the deck of the boat near the man.

In the other car, both Miss Bateman and Dr. Daddy were startled by the sound of the report.

“Elizabeth, what the ****!?!” Miss Weiss cried out. “I’m right beside you! Can you warn me next time?”

Miss Tolini didn’t really hear her over the ringing in her ears. She worked the action on the sniper rifle as quickly as she could and tried to bring it back onto the target. She got it in time to see the shooter aiming right at her.

She rolled off the SUV away from the shooter, trying to dodge, but the bullet struck her in the right wrist and blood spewed out of the terrible wound. She crashed to the asphalt and lay still. Miss Weiss pulled off her shirt, revealing her tank top and tattoos. She slid off the SUV and tried to tend to the woman.

“Dr. Daddy!” she cried out. “Help me!”

In the Jeep, Miss Bateman saw everything happen. She turned to look at Dr. Daddy and saw the man was looking out of window of the car, apparently daydreaming. She started the Jeep.

“Dr. Daddy, you need to help them!” she said.

The man left the Jeep, running to try to help the girl. He saw that Miss Weiss had not done a very good job of binding the wound so he pushed her aside, took off the dressing, and bound the wound himself. The woman was unconscious but she was at least stable.

* * *

Abraham heard an engine start somewhere back up by their cars. Franks got up when he passed the man and followed him, pistol in hand. They saw Dr. Wolfgang get up and crouch-run back towards the cars. Miss Suarez was close behind Abraham. They got to the barricade. Manny arrived a short time later.

“Cover my east,” he to Miss Suarez. Then to Franks: “Cover my west.”

Miss Suarez realized the man was facing kind of northeast. She and Franks watched to either side of him as he stood up and started aiming with his rifle.

Abraham saw the shooter laying on the boat deck. He shot the man, hitting him in the left arm and saw blood splash across the deck of the boat. The man didn’t move so he shot him again, the second bullet striking him in the head. There was more blood and he didn’t see the man move at all.

“No movement,” he said to the others after he ducked back down.

* * *

When Dr. Wolfgang got back to the others, he found Miss Tolini on the asphalt. He checked the injury and found Dr. Daddy had done a good job of tending to her wound. Miss Weiss moved away from them and crouched down near the corner of the car, trying to see better.

* * *

Abraham got binoculars out and scanned the boat. The man had not moved. He also scanned the shore. There were numerous condos, apartment, and homes. It looked like a subdivision of some sort. He saw no movement.

“Alexa,” he said. “Cover me with the M4. I’m going to make sure I confirm the kill.”

“I’m not … um … okay,” Miss Suarez said, taking the rifle from the man.

“Just do your best,” Abraham said.

He looked again and scanned the boat once more. The man in it was not moving and the puddle of blood was getting wider and wider. He watched for 30 seconds. There was absolutely no movement.

“Done,” he finally said. “Gimme the M4. He’s out.”

He stood up fully and started to walk back to the cars.

“We got him,” he said. “Confirmed kill boys. Let’s go home.”

“But wait, was he the only one?” Franks asked.

“I hope,” Abraham said. “I don’t know, John. I really don’t. But we’re gonna go.”

Then he looked back at the barricade.

“Sorry,” he said. “Boys, let’s move these cars.”

They went back to the barricade. Manny looked the cars over but most of them had flat tires and the gas tanks were punctured. Abraham had Franks and Alexa move the vehicles enough for them to get through while he covered them with the M4. Then they returned to their own cars.

“Oh my God, what the **** happened?” Abraham asked when he saw Miss Tolini.

“She got shot in the arm,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Shot in the arm? How bad is it?”

“She’s going to be out for a while.”

Lisa Weiss was kneeling nearby with the pistol in her hand, watching the others. Dr. Daddy had returned to the jeep.

They loaded Miss Tolini into the back of the jeep along with Dr. Wolfgang. Miss Weiss was the last one back into the SUV, still looking around carefully before she loaded up. Abraham conveyed to the group they should loot the man who was shooting at them. He noted they would have to get into the water to get to him.

They drove down to the Pirate’s Cove Marina, at least according to the sign, and then into the area of condos and houses on Sailfish Drive. They saw very few cars in the driveways or parking lots. There was evidence of hasty evacuation with open doors and garage doors on several of the places. There were boats at some of the docks that had been sunken and most of the docks were empty. The shooter’s boat was anchored where the marina met the sound about a hundred feet out in the water.

“Is the threat neutralized?” Miss Weiss asked as they got close.

“Hell, yeah, it is,” Abraham said. “That just became my 30th confirmed kill.”

“Can anyone swim besides me? Because I can swim.”

“Are you proposing to go out to the boat?”

“I can.”

“Go ahead. Get on his boat and drive it back to the docks.”

She put down her pistol and climbed into the water, swimming slowly out to the boat. She had some difficulty getting up onto the boat as her clothes weighed her down but she finally made it up onto the bloody deck. The boat proved to be a small one with a single deck area and a small door that led to a tiny cabin. The name on the back of the vessel was Manteo Dreams.

She first checked the body. The man was dead, having been shot in the arm and the head. He had a Springfield M1 Garand rifle that looked like it belonged in a museum. A new model scope had been attached to it. The man wore white as if he was trying to camouflage himself on the deck of the boat. Searching the body produced three more magazines for the rifle and a key on a small key ring with a cork on it.

She opened the door to the tiny cabin and saw it mostly consisted of a cushioned floor, for sleeping, no doubt. She found food, mostly beef jerky and canned food. There were jugs of water as well as a lot of bottled water. A microwave was built into the boat. A few crayons lay on the floor and the man had written on the walls. It was mostly gibberish but she could make out “I will protect Virginia” and “They won’t take her again.”

She climbed back out and found the key fit in the boat. It started immediately and appeared to have about ¾ of a tank of gas. She carefully pulled the boat into the dock near their cars, bumping it roughly against the tires set into the sides of the dock. The others helped secure it to the dock.

They examined the boat and realized it would be a little tight for nine people. The cabin was only large enough to comfortably hold three. Up to five could probably sleep there if they didn’t mind being cozy. There was room enough on the deck of a half dozen more but they would not have any protection from the elements. The food in the boat would probably keep them all fed for at least a week.

Franks looked around but the little boat was probably the biggest left. They loaded all of the food and water into the suburban. Miss Weiss also showed them the rifle she’d found.

“I found this on the body,” she said.

“May I have that?” Abraham asked.

“Yes, if you know how to use it,” she said.

She also handed over the magazines.

“Dani, what about this Floyd guy?” Manny asked.

“What about him?” Miss Bateman said.

“Who is he? Why is he here? Where’s this Floyd fellow?”

“Dead guy’s not him, is it?” Franks said.

Manny had noticed another Honda Pilot parked not too far away. The vehicle didn’t have any keys in it but she took one of the wheels off it to replace their own blown tire. She put the doughnut wheel back into their own vehicle.

Abraham slow clapped her.

“Hey!” she said, standing up. “Hey!”

She walked over to the man and took a swing at him. Abraham leaned back, dodging out of the way of the blow. Then he held up his hand to high-five her. She reached up to his hand but grabbed it, pulling it down and getting in his face.

“You don’t do that again,” she said.

She turned and walked away.

“You’re more bad-assed than half the guys in my squad,” he said.

Miss Weiss just watched, wondering about the sexual tension that was already developing between the two.

They decided to split up and search houses in an attempt to scavenge useful items. It was only about 11 a.m. so they had plenty of daylight.

Franks and Manny headed off and started to search the nearby houses. Abraham called after them, telling them they needed to decide who was going to watch Miss Tolini.

“One of y’all can figure that out,” Franks called.

They walked away.

“I vote the nurse watches her,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“Who’s the nurse?” Abraham asked.

Dr. Wolfgang nodded at Dr. Daddy.

“What kind of doctor are you?” Dr. Wolfgang asked Dr. Daddy.

“Surgeon,” Dr. Daddy said.

“I’m also a surgeon. What’s your specialty?”

In the end, Miss Bateman and Dr. Daddy said they would stay with Miss Tolini.

“Who wants to group up with me?” Abraham asked.

He ended up going with Dr. Wolfgang while Miss Weiss and Miss Suarez went together. They split up and searched the place until the late afternoon.

The houses appeared to have been abandoned in a hurry. In most cases there was rotten food, some toys, and other nonessential items in the places, often littered on the floor as if the residents had left in a rush.

Miss Weiss and Miss Suarez were not able to find anything of great value except some bottled water and pop. Franks and Manny found a lot of valium, some pot, and other medical supplies, including a great deal of gauze, medicinal alcohol, pain killers and aspirin, and the like, as well as a small stash of medicinal morphine. There were also a lot of Band Aid brand bandages. Abraham and Dr. Wolfgang found a great deal of liquor. They found whiskey, gin, vodka, rum, and such in great amounts, apparently abandoned by the owners of the houses.

They regrouped at the cars.

“If people have already left here, I think we need to as well,” Miss Weiss said. “I think we need to take the boat to wherever we need to go.”

“All I’ve got to say is the first person we saw here shot at us,” Abraham said. “So, I don’t think we should do anything anyone here did. That’s all I got to say.”

“So, are you agreeing with me? I don’t think we should stick around to find out because they might be hostile as well.”

“All I got to say is the first person we saw here shot at one of us, hit one of us. I ain’t trusting that shit. If they all ****ing left, we’re staying.”

“Why are we staying?”

“No no no no no,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Ve should leave and go to ze other side.”

“Aw hell no!” Abraham said. “We already got a blockade. We can block this ****ing bridge harder than they ever did. And we ****ing snipe the mother****ers. You saw me snipe the mother****er on the boat. I can snipe any mother****er. Especially you give me a rifle. Especially a rifle like that mother****er had. I can snipe any mother****er.”

“I’m able to compromise on staying here for tonight,” Miss Weiss said. “And just tonight.”

“Where are we going after that?” Manny asked.

“Here?” Abraham said.

“In one of these houses,” Miss Weiss said. “We have fortified the blockade so we have a safer place here tonight.”

“The blockade is fortified but I would at least say we all stay in the same condo so we’ll have protection around us,” Abraham said.

“Yes yes,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “We should move the next day zhough, so that ve are not in a compromised position.”

“What the **** did you just say?” Abraham said to him.

“What he’s trying to say is that he agrees with me,” Miss Weiss said. “We should stay the night.”

“Nod your ****ing head if what she’s said is correct,” Abraham said.

“Tonight should be fine,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “But tomorrow, we should we should work a better plan.”

“That makes a lot more sense than whatever the **** you said before,” Abraham said. “I swear to God. That is not what you said before.”

“I mean, I only knew Alexa and Dr. Daddy, here today,” Miss Weiss said.

“I’m just going to say this right now,” Abraham said.

“I mean─”

“We need a new name for ‘Dr. Daddy.’ I will not call that mother****er Dr. Daddy.”

“Okay, will it be better for you if I call him Dr. Han.”

“Yes! Any ****ing name other than Dr. Daddy. Listen, I’m from the military. I don’t call anybody ‘daddy’ any ****ing day, hour, minute, second of the ****ing day. I don’t do that. No one is daddy to me.”

“Let me say, I spent the last month with Alexa and Dr. Han, and I─”

“Dr. Han sounds ****ing fantastic.”

“I didn’t know any of you until today so I’m willing to spend one night here but we’ve got to get a move on tomorrow morning.”

“But where?” Manny asked.

“I’ve asked myself every ****ing second why I’m even here,” Abraham said. “I shouldn’t be.”

“I agree,” Dr. Wolfgang said to Miss Weiss.

“But where?” Manny asked again.

“Ze other side of ze island,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Vhere it’s more …”

“Are we not camping out?” Abraham said. “I thought we were camping out in that condo that he said.”

“Yes. Tonight we camp out and tomorrow─”

“Let’s get that shit prepared right now,” Abraham said.

“And tomorrow─”

“I don’t give a **** about tomorrow! If we make it tomorrow, then we decide tomorrow. But as far as I’ve seen, you don’t know if you’re going to live five minutes from now.”

“Is true. It’s crazy.”

“Yes, it is true! Okay? So, we ****ing plan for now and if we make it to tomorrow─”

“He’s very defensive, yes?”

“You’re ****ing German, yes!?!”

“I will agree,” Miss Weiss said. “But he’s all we have. Abraham is probably the most qualified person here. The next qualified person here is in the car, unconscious. So we need him.”

“I have fought since day, mother****ing, one,” Abraham said. “I don’t think anybody else can say that.”

“No, I help people,” Dr. Wolfgang said. “You shoot people.”

“Who do you help?”

“The people that have been shoot.”

“So, I shoot them, then you help them?”

“Let’s not get into an argument,” Miss Weiss said.

“Before they became─” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“No, let’s get into an argument,” Abraham said.

“Before they became mutant beasts, I helped people to become─”

“Can you talk in more English than what you’re doing!?!”

“I speak English!”

“I don’t hear English! Oh God!”

“Do you not understand the words out of my mouth!?!”

“If we were born 60 years ago, we would be ****ing fighting each other, do you know that!?!”

“What!?!”

“Can we please put aside our differences and fortify a place in one of the condos?” Miss Weiss said.

“I have no problem with this man,” Abraham said.

“Okay.”

“But he does not drink whiskey and he does not carry guns. And for me, that is a problem!”

“I don’t mind ze vhiskey,” Dr. Wolfgang said.

“He’s not American and he’s not carrying a gun,” Abraham said. “He thinks he can fight everything with his ****ing fists!”

“Abraham!” Miss Weiss said.

“And he thinks he can heal with no medical solutions at all!” Abraham said.

“I drink ze alcohol because I find ze alcohol!” Dr. Wolfgang said.

While the argument continued, Franks started to fortify one of the condos.

“It is not continuous Octoberfest for you!” Dr. Wolfgang said. “Without me being on board as well!”

“We need to find a sanctuary,” Abraham said.

“Yes!”

“So, let’s go find a mother****ing sanctuary.”

“Yes.”

“We agree on that. Yes, you German ****! We agree on that.”

“You illiterate bastard!”

“I am not illiterate! I read what my CO tells me to read and nothing else! I am not illiterate!”

They all set to work helping Franks fortify one of the condos. He had gone into another of the nearby condos and found furniture to use to block the front and back doors. Since the condo was one of three in a building, all of them up off the ground with room underneath to park the vehicles, they were able to move some of the furniture from other condos into the one they were in. Each of the condos had three bedrooms and apparently enough beds and the like to sleep 12, so there was plenty of room.

They blocked the doors and windows near the bottom and also blocked the stairs that led up to the upper floors. Everything was done by nightfall. Though there was no electricity in the place, the water still worked. They also found a lot of scented candles and the like.

They spent the night of August 14, 2015, in the condo. Miss Bateman and Dr. Daddy hooked up in the master bedroom where they slept. Abraham and Franks slept on the lower floor, keeping a tentative watch, and placed Miss Tolini on the couch. Manny, Miss Weiss, and Miss Suarez shared another bedroom. Dr. Wolfgang got his own room where he thought he heard something from the master bedroom.

The night passed uneventfully. ]]>
Max_Writer http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1978-Basic-Roleplaying-System-Deadworld-Session-Eight-Arrival-at-Roanoke
<![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