A Fistful of Coppers

Into Earthfast

Nightal 8, 1482
As I sit here writing, Carric is attaching a rope between a big defaced (literally, the statue is missing its face) dwarven statue and the knob of the door he and Starch are trying to block shut. It looks like a big spider web. I suppose it will do the trick. If I listen hard enough, between their debate about the rope, I can almost make out the muffled screaming of the duegar they left in the room down the hall. It’s been quite an interesting journey thus far. I should start at the beginning.
We got here easy enough this morning. Well, easy enough because we had Delwyn with us. He was like a lost ship to a lighthouse. Somehow he knew exactly where to go. As if he’d been here before, but had no recollection of it. We followed no path, but the route we took was direct, exact, and showed no sign of having been traveled for a very long time.
Once we entered the complex, it became clear how massive it was. I’m not really sure if we are currently in a gatehouse of sorts, that will open up into a vast dwarven city, or if we are in fact, already there; the city being located under the ground.
As we initially moved through the complex, it became clear that the only way to go was locked. Beau had somehow managed to wander off, and it was quite comical watching Delwyn and Starch rattle the locked portcullis in their vain attempt to open it. Carric was standing behind them muttering the word “friend,” I think it was in elfish, and I think he expected something to happen with the lock, but I’m not sure what, and nothing obviously happened. I’d picked up a few lock-picking skills in my travels and was able to pop the lock fairly easily once everyone else had tried. Who needs Beau?
We moved easily through several rooms. They appeared to be empty barracks, lavatories, storerooms and the like. We found two lockboxes and had yet to find Beau, the first opened easily, the second not so much. The poison needle bit painfully and delivered quite a punch, knocking me on my ass….who needs Beau indeed. After that, I told Carric he was in charge of locks until Beau showed back up. As we were discussing where he’d possibly gotten off to, three gray skinned dwarves appeared out of nowhere. Literally, like, they were invisible and materialized in the room with us and attacked.
Between the surprise and the poison, I was fairly useless, but I think they all keep me around from my pleasant conversation skills, and the rest of the group made short work of the duegar. That’s what Delwyn said they were. Duegar. A race of dark dwarves. They can turn invisible, grow twice their size, dislike magic users and white skinned dwarves. We found this note in one of the rooms we had searched through.
They don’t tell us anything.
We’ve been posted here on guard duty for three weeks now, with no sign of furlough. The longest I’ve ever been here before this was two days. They don’t tell us anything, but we hear things.

The rumor is that a battle is going on in the mines. Word is we’ve been posted here not only to keep people out of the city, but to keep whatever’s in there from escaping. It must be bad, but they don’t tell us anything.
I don’t know whether to be disappointed or relieved.

We rested for a bit after that and then continued to the next locked door. One that I refused to touch with a ten foot pole. So Delwyn and Starch used their combined arm strength and brain power to hammer the door down. I think they must have announced our presence to the whole complex, because once the door was open and we headed down the hallway, we were face to face with what seemed like 100 duegar.

I don’t remember how, but the party got split. My spell was resisted and 5 of the 6 gray dwarves that were supposed to be spelled ended up chasing Xiang and I while the rest of the party was in a side room. As the two of us were retreating, I tripped over Beau! For once I was pleased to look into the glassy eyed stare of our micro-mini-murder-machine,and the three of us dispatched the duegar infesting the hallway and made it back to our friends.

Starch had somehow managed to take one of the little monsters alive and was attempting unsuccessfully to threaten some information from him, using Delwyn as a translator. Not wanting to interrupt the wonder twin’s fun, I moved out into the hallway with Carric to keep watch while they water boarded the gray dwarf.

We found a storeroom that hadn’t been raided and continued to move down the hallway away from Starch and Delwyn. Beau and Xiang headed through a kitchen and we met on the other end. I guess Delwyn and Starch just left the gray dwarf and caught up to us because we were all back together again in the next room.

This one was the one I’m sitting in now. Two stone statues of dwarves flanked the far door. Carric and Delwyn moved in to investigate and five more duegar materialized out of nowhere. Again, with a bit of a struggle we made short work of them. Delwyn was flipping around the room like a dwarven river dancer and not to be outdone, Starch had some sharp moves of his own. Poor Carric’s spells kept failing him. I need to ask Delwyn if duegar have some ability to deplete a person’s magical ability.

So anyway, here we are. Beau found another note in the other room and shared it with us.

The men are changing.

We’ve been cooped up in this fortress for over four years. Our food supply is low, even with us organizing hunting and foraging parties to scour the cavern and beyond. Although in truth, the men will not venture outside of the cavern anymore. All they bring back are toadstools and vermin.
Worry and lack of sleep have left the men a pallid gray in color. Tempers are on edge, mine included if I’m being truthful. Flintfire found that out the hard way when he suggested we flee our posts and make for the lands outside the cavern.
We didn’t even take the trouble to bury him after, just threw him down the chasm. I don’t expect we’ll have any more suggestions to abandon our duty.
After Beau read out loud, I questioned Delwyn some more. I figured duegar were like what a drow is to an elf, but Delwyn says no, that sometimes if the situation is right, dwarves like him can turn into duegar. I’m still reeling from that bit of information. Note to self, keep an eye on Delwyn. Never know what could happen if we keep him out of the sun for too long.
So here we sit, preparing to rest. I can definitely hear that guy hollering now…well attempting to holler, he’s kinda muffled. Wonder how Starch’s going to handle that one, since Beau wants to kill the guy. Should make for an interesting evening!

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Love & Rats

Carric could tell that the woman wanted something more from him than to “take care of these dreadful rats”. Perhaps it was the way she drooled a little as she admired him, or the sensuous way she limped through her home to show them to the basement. Most assuredly her toothless smile spoke subtly of her wanton desire for him. But Carric knew he could not indulge in such things. He could not afford a romantic entanglement, no matter how tempting.

The group, minus Avienda and Xiang, had left to go in search of supplies when they had come across the woman. Gray haired and hunched over, sweeping the street in front of her house, she noticed Carric as they passed and stopped the adventurers. Breathing heavily – Carric could not be sure if it was from the effort of sweeping or from a newly awakened passion – she explained to them that her basement had recently been infested by huge rats and she was too frightened to enter. The heroes, being heroes, decided to help her.

She beckoned to them to follow as she entered the little house. Inside they immediately noticed the strange decor – Shag carpets ran throughout the house. Art fashioned from luxurious black velvet adorned the walls. As they passed the bedroom, Carric could see that its ceiling was inexplicably covered with a large mirror.

The woman showed them to a door which opened to a set of crude steps leading down. “I hope you don’t mind if I stay up here while you gentlemen go down. I can’t bear to come near these vile creatures.” She winked her one good eye at Carric.

They made their way down in to the dark and musty basement. Carric cast a light cantrip on his staff so they could find their way. As they reached the bottom of the steps, Starch commented to his companions. “She seemed nice. Reminds me much of my grandmother.”

The basement turned out to be more than just one room, actually consisting of a few discreet storage areas, filled with crates and barrels. They did find several giant rats which they dispatched handily. When they finally came to what seemed to be the last room to clear, they discovered another set of steps down. Cautiously making their way down the narrow steps, they came face-to-plant with two huge and grotesque plant creatures. The monsters shambled towards the party, vines lashing out at them, trying to grab at them. One managed to pull Carric in to its grips, slowly constricting around him. Starch came to Carric’s rescue, calling down Bahamut’s wrath. After a short but frenzied combat, the creatures were reduces to small piles of plant matter.

The group explored the small sub-basement and realized that the abominations had broken in to the area from an adjacent sewer line. They set about repairing the damage in hopes that it would prevent any further intrusions. Elsewhere in the room, they found food stores, a locked chest, and other evidence that made it appear the room was often occupied, not just a deserted basement room.

They made their way back upstairs to assure the home’s owner that she need not worry about the rats anymore. When they told her of the plant monsters and asked her about the room in the sub-basement she gave Carric a coy look. “Oh, that’s just where the smugglers stay.”

Carric gave he a puzzled look. “Smugglers?”

The woman shrugged and grinned wickedly. “Why don’t you stay for dinner and I’ll tell you about them…”

Carric cleared his throat nervously. “I… uhh… I’m sorry but we really must be going. Early start tomorrow and all that….”

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Dretchlor the Unrelenting

The demons, that’s what Starch had said they were, had appeared out of nowhere. Then, once slain, they reanimated and attacked again. Xiang was not lying when he spoke of evil emanating from this spot.
We made our way through the trees, the mansion finally emerging through the mist. The ground around the house was strewn with debris, the windows darkened with filth. The roof was missing several shingles, which littered the ground. The remains of an old wagon turned on its side lay to the east. A nearby tree had toppled onto the overgrown path to the house.
Dutch decide that he and the Redshirts would stay behind and watch for anyone or anything to leave the house. I attempted to peer into one of the windows near the front entrance, but the window was much to filthy to see into. We circled around to the back yard of the mansion searching for a side entrance or broken window to sneak into. We found a small wooden door in the back which opened easily enough with a little help from Starch’s boot. We cautiously entered a small room with an open doorway covered by a drapery on the far wall. As we stood there listening, Starch picked out the language to be goblinoid. Pulling the curtain aside we came face to face with what appeared to be an acting troupe of goblins in completely outlandish costumes. The room had a hazy air about it which I immediately recognized by the smell. Talcum Powder. All the goblins had powdered wigs on! While I am a big fan of theater, not so much goblins and we attacked. What we had anticipated to be an easy fight turned out to be quite difficult. It seemed the goblins were imbued with some sort of demonic power. they seemed to call down some blackish-purplish energy as they increased in size and ability. It was all we could do to keep on our feet!
Setting up a watch in this room, I strummed my lyre as the party bound their wounds. Carric found a not wrapped up by the harpsichord in the corner.
My artifacts have returned. The disturbance from the Chalice is worsening; I fear it will drive me mad! Worse, still is the effect it is having on the skull. The creature is restless, and I fear it will soon try to make its escape. I have dismissed all of the servants to protect them from what is coming.
Xiang nodded his head sagely at the mention of the Chalice and the swamps. I kept waiting for him to do an "I told you so dance, " I even had some background music prepared for him to dance to, but he never did.
Starch lead the way down the narrow creaking hallway and we discovered something that we soon realize to be a regular feature in this mansion. Pit traps. Poor Starch was in front of me and then he wasn’t . He toppled into a silvered cage that was suspended in the ceiling of the mansion’s basement level. Fortunately for Starch, he wasn’t allergic to silver, it was a short drop and a bit of rope and assistance allowed him to return to us on the first floor.
Making it down the hallway and avoiding the other pit traps we came out into a large library. Compared to what we had so far seen of this mansion this room was quite inviting—and occupied. Turning the corner of the row of books was a dwarf. She stood no taller than Beau and her mustache rivaled Delwyn’s. She introduced herself as Kilgoria of Clan Fangcrunch. She was a hunter who had chased some “scaly beast” into this mansion several days ago and had become quite enamored with the books and had stayed. And stayed, and stayed. For several days. Losing all interest in her prey, ignoring the presence of the powdered goblins and apparently oblivious to the fact that she was in a stranger’s house. I looked over a Carric and shrugged. I really have to get him to teach me that message cantrip. Instead, I moved with him to a different section of the library. He claimed he sensed no magic in the room holding the dwarf to it. She was pleasant enough to talk to , but absolutely no help in our quest for the rams head. She offered no resistance when we investigated the books with her. It was just curious that she was there. But then , as we continued on through the mansion, we discovered may curious things. As I continued to pick through the books (a small part of me sympathized with Kilgoria) I found an interesting one. Bound all in red, the title was “To Catch a Soul Thief.” it was full of blank pages save one which read: True Name of Protection: Armor.
Leaving the library and Kilgoria behind, we made our way into what must have been a bedroom, sparsely furnished. The walls however were stunningly beautiful, artwork depicting demons and angels, knights and great battles between good and evil decorated them.
As we continued on through the mansion we found another crumbled note:
My artifacts have returned. The disturbance from the Chalice is worsening; I fear it will drive me mad! Worse still is the effect it is having on the skull. The creature is restless, and I fear it will soon try to make its escape. I have dismissed all of the servants to protect them from what is coming.
Again, I looked at Xiang-Chi. Again, I saw nothing but a poker faced blank stare. Had it been me, the obvious reference to the Chalice in the swamp that the Lizard King was looking for would have been all I needed to serve up a big helping of “I told you so,” to all our friends. But, nothing, nothing at all, and what exactly, I wondered did the note mean when it talked about the creature being restless? We would all soon find out.
Continuing on through the mansion we came to a room you would expect in every mansion; the bar. Surprisingly dust and cobweb free, this room was also occupied by a rather sociable and rather drunken knight by the name of Galantis. Seems that Galantis had lost his honor somewhere along his way in life and somehow stumbled here into this mansion. Again, this man appeared to have been here for several days, oblivious to the fact that he was in someone else’s house, drinking someone else’s whiskey, lounging on someone else’s couch, surrounded by someone else’s powdered goblins! He spoke about lost honor, and asked us to play the harp in the corner of the room. It was a beautiful instrument, but not one I have ever played before. Starch however, sat right down and started plucking out a tune. The drunken knight was pleased, but otherwise he proved largely useless, like most drunken knights that hang out in haunted mansions tend to be.
Heading down into the basement, we found many rooms that were similar to the ones on the first level. There were many more paintings and frescos adorning the walls and ceilings, of demons and white knights, that told epic stories of battles between good and evil. In one of the rooms there was a large storage trunk and lying near it a dead body of a young man. He was flat on his back and covered in stab wounds. Further inspection proved he had been there for about a week. There was no other identification on him, and he didn’t attempt to come back to life, nor was he wearing a powdered wig. We moved onto the storage truck and found another note:
The emanations from the Black Chalice have surely woken the creature. It taunts me now, night and day, never letting me get any rest. I have not slept for a week… I’ve taken as many precautions as I could think of to prevent the beast from escaping or failing that, to ensure it can never leave this place. Woe unto any still here should the creature get free.
I didn’t even bother looking in Xiang’s direction….what’s the point, he’s no fun.
Still no sign of the Ram’s Skull, we made our way into another spacious room. Again, the scent of talcum powder tickled my nose as we discovered another large group of goblins in wigs rehearsing for a play. Obviously not ready for an audience, the battle was joined. Again, these goblins seemed to be possessed by some evil spirit, a demonic force that made them much more powerful than they should have been. We caught a name, “Madame Buttwaz,” who I imagine was their director, or at the very least their choreographer, but she managed to escape us deeper into the mansion.
Moving on we discovered an elderly, ragged looking woman who called herself Jossa. She was a mage who had for some reason been drawn to the evil powers of the mansion. Clearly she had been here for some time as she spoke with much knowledge of the building and its current and former residents. In return for a sizable payment of gold, which we had luckily found here in the mansion, she gave us some very useful information. The mansion contained 4 artifacts. They had been created and placed here in the mansion by Chesterbatch and could be used to weaken the demon that was inhabiting the mansion. The demon’s name was Dretchlor. I noticed Xiang visibly shudder when she spoke his name. She told us we were to look for a candelabra, a glass globe, a jug of water and a book. When Carric pulled the red-bound book out of his knapsack, Jossa smiled with recognition.
I snapped my fingers, “Madame Buttwaz had a candelabra we have to find her again.” Working our way back the way we had come we found the remnants of the goblin troupe still practicing. Amazingly enough, they had understudies to take over the parts of their slain comrades. “Madame, we need your candelabra,” said Starch.
“Not my directing stick?!!” She cried in her high pitched whine, and then grinned slyly. “What will you give me for it hmmmm?”
I kid you not, Starch said, “how about a song? A song by a Sister from a nunnery named Sister Sledge. It’s called We Are Family,” and damned if he didn’t start belting out this song about being a family with a bunch of sisters. It was amazing. I think maybe that harp we found in the other room had some magical properties to in after all. But I digress. Buttwaz was tickled to death with Starch’s song. She called over her musical director and 3 stage hands, they all had ink quills and parchment and were copying down lyrics as fast as Starch was singing them. She thanked us profusely, handed over the candelabra and invited us back for a private showing once her play was produced. I’m really not sure what else you could say about all that, except for that we now, blessedly had 2 of the 4 items we needed to defeat the Dretchlord, whoever he was.
Backtracking again, we found a small chapel in the back corner of the basement of the house. The silver cages from the pit traps upstairs dangled above us. Figuring this was a fortified a place as any, we set up watch and rested through the night. Thankfully, no one disturbed our rest.
In the morning we found another goblin who extracted more money from us, again more money we had found in the mansion, and gave us the globe we were searching for. Xiang was becoming more frantic at this point and started opening random doors. We found several closets as we followed him through the maze of a mansion. Many of them containing stores of candelabras, and water jugs. Pausing long enough for Carric to cast a detect magic spell, we continued through the house allowing him to pick the magical jug out from among the plain ones.
Opening one of the closet type doors we found a room with more beautiful frescos in it. This room was smaller than the others and contained a skeleton in fancy shiny armor. Moving carefully into the room, Starch inspected the corpse. It was grasping a parchment paper. Pulling the paper out from its hands, Starch read out loud:
I cannot fight the creature any longer…
I have sealed Dretchlor the Unrelenting’s true names into four Relics, should he escape.
I’ve safeguarded them in the following locations:
-True Name of Protection is in the Library
-True Name of Health is in the Linen Closet
-True Name of Regeneration is in the Dining Room
-True Name of Resistance is in the Larder.
The true names have power to those that hold them. Without them, the creature may be able to be destroyed.

Again, I looked at Xiang and opened my mouth to speak. He interrupted me. “The items need to be destroyed. The only way to defeat the demon is to destroy the items. We saw that room in our travels. The tub with the acid. Perhaps the items can be destroyed there.”
We had seen a tub the day before on the first level of the house. We had puzzled over the reason for its existence. Perhaps Xiang was right, perhaps we were to bring the items there to destroy them. Moving back through the maze of a mansion, we came into the room through a different door than the one we had used the day before. As Starch opened the door, we heard an ominous “click,” he manage to jump out of the way as the entire tub of acid came flying in his direction. “So that’s what it was for!” Exclaimed Carric. I’m so glad he was there with us at that moment to explain things!
I looked at Xiang again. “Now what?” Wracking my brain for a solution, I suggested. “Remember yesterday, we were in that hallway where we were all hearing voices? Voices that promised us wealth, power and answers to prayers? Maybe we need to be there? I cannot think of another spot in this house that would be helpful at this point. Unless maybe you want to go back and have a drink with Galantis?”
The party agreed about the strange room, not the drink with the drunken knight, and we trekked back through the mansion to the room I had mentioned. Ignoring the voices in our heads we made our way down the side passage, past fonts of holy water and into the room. Circular in nature, with a round pool of gray looking ooze in the middle, the walls of this room were curiously bereft of the artwork and frescos we’d found in all the others. As Xiang made his way down towards the center, a long slimy tentacle swung up and attacked. Once we had fought off the ooze, Xiang again looked into the pool of water. In the bottom lay the Golden Ram’s Skull. Before he could reach down to grab it, a hideous demon emerged from the pool. He spoke to Xiang like he knew him. Speaking of time they had spent together in the monastery and how good it was for the demon to be free of his shackles. He thanked us for freeing him and for bringing the Relics to him. Xiang hollered for us to run as Starch hollered to bring the items to the holy water fonts we had passed. Closest to the door, Carric bee-lined to the fonts with Starch and myself close behind him. Glancing over my shoulder I saw Xiang being scooped up by the beast. Horrified I watched him bite both Xiang’s hands off at the wrist and then drop him back to the floor.
I moved into the next room to see Carric attempting to burn a sopping wet book, while Starch, a broken glass globe under his boot was taking his sword to the candelabra. I lifted the water jug over my head to drop it down on the stone tiles as Xiang came stumbling into the room, bloody stumps where his hands had been. The regeneration idol in my pocket grew warm at my side as his hands began to magically heal. “We need to run, now,” he said, matter of factly as always. “The front foyer, with the holding glyph, hurry.” I dropped the vase, watched it crack and ran, as my life really did depend on it, to the front door with Xiang.
We turned to make our stand. I helped Xiang tie 2 punching daggers we had found in the mansion onto his stumps. While they were gradually healing, his hands would not be hands for a while longer, we were not sure how far behind us the demon was. Carric reactivated the holding glyph we had discovered earlier, Starch readied his sword and we waited. Moments later the Dretchlord appeared in the foyer. The battle was epic—we won of course. When it was all said and done, the demon beast shrank down into the Golden Ram’s Skull. Xiang walked over and unceremoniously stomped the idol to dust. Thus ends the Saga of Dretchlor the Unrelenting.

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Bastian Carric Raventree's New Time Lord Powers
Carric's apology

—took place after the time traveling escapades

After far too long, Carric finally realizes that Avienda is being unusually quiet. After several hours of thought he realizes she must be mad at him and he seeks her out in private, knocking on her door.

Carric knocks again, louder
Cracking the door and looking out to Carric’s smiling face, Avienda sighs, “I have nothing to say to you Bastian.”
“Stop calling me that! Can I come in?”
“I’ll only stop calling you Bastian if you agree to start calling me Donegal.” Opening her door, Avienda ushered Carric inside.
“I’m…I’m so confused. Why would I call you Donegal?” Carric frowned with confusion as he entered. He made himself comfortable in an overstuffed chair by the ornate fireplace, then looked around the room as if noticing it for the first time. “You know, this really IS a nice room.”
“Anyway. Why are you upset with me? Because I didn’t warn Donegal?”
Avi shrugged. “It is a nice room. I’m entitled to some luxury seeing as how this day or the next could be my last. You know, I really do have other things to do considering the circumstances.” She starts pacing, “you know, things like tracking down the bastard that murdered my father, things like that you know.” She stopped pacing and looked right at Carric, “and you do know. Because, I told you about those things,” she pointed to herself in emphasis. “I thought I’d found a friend in you. I let you in on my secrets. How long have we known each other? Traveled together? How many places have we seen together, and you,” placing her hands on either arm of Carric’s chair, she leaned in. “You can’t even bother to let me know your real name?”

She stood back up. “So yes, call me Donegal, it will help me remember where I stand, as I count down the days till Lastfall burns to the ground.” Eyes slightly blurry she turned quickly away as she attempted to regain her composure.

Wide-eyed, Carric looked like he was literally trying to push himself back, through the chair.

“You’re blowing this way, way out of proportion. I already explained that my real name IS Carric. But it’s ALSO Bastian.” Carric paused a moment. “But even as dense as I am, I know this isn’t really about my name.”

Carric got up and fixed himself a drink from the wet bar, which was situated near the soaking tub. He turned back to face Avienda. “I haven’t told you or anyone much about my past because, quite simply, I’m hiding from it. My past puts YOU in danger. It puts everyone around me in danger. A guy like Swain won’t care who else gets hurt. Maybe it was wrong to keep that from you, but that was the decision I made.” Carric turned away from Avi and gazed out the window, in to the night. “And maybe I’m not just trying to hide from my past… maybe I’ve been trying to forget it. We may not be able to change who we WERE, but we CAN change who we are.”

Leaning up against her canopy bed, Avienda looked at Carric and sighed. “Maybe you haven’t learned how this whole thing works. Quantum did say there wasn’t much ticking up there didn’t he?” She gestured towards his head. “You and I, Xiang, Starch, Beau, hell even Delwyn. We’re a team.” She walked over towards the soaking tub and pulled a lever on the wall. The wet bar and tub rotated away revealing a blank wall with a chalkboard. She started drawing. “Here’s me. (beautiful stick-figure) The captain. Here’s you. (stick-figure, eye patch, no beard) You would be the First Mate. Everyone else,” smaller stick figures, “crew mates. Now, the Captain, and the First Mate,” she winked at Carric, “we tell each other everything. Somebody like Swain messes with you, you let me know, and vice versa. You have something icky in your past, you tell me. That way,” she crossed her arms, “if someone from your past shows up, and he’s all sweet-talking and good-looking,” she sashayed around her room, “I’ll be prepared! I’ll know enough to tell him to jump ship! Keeping secrets from me is not protecting me Carric! I can take care of myself. Papa always said that knowledge is power. The more I know, the better off I’ll be.”

She tossed the piece of chalk over to him and settled down on the bed pointing towards the chalkboard. “Now that that’s taken care of, I have questions. Why did Quantum pull you aside? What did he say? If we had been unsuccessful at saving Beau what would have happened to him? If you had warned Donegal in time how would this current time be different? How in the hell are we supposed to save ourselves from dying outside of Lastfall?”
Carric rolled his eyes when Avi drew his stick figure and again when she referred to Kal Morrigan, but otherwise kept his tongue. He knew better than to interrupt her when she was on a roll. When she had finished, he got up, walked over to the board and added a glorious full beard to the figure representing him. Setting the chalk down, he turned to face her.

“You know, you’re right. I should have been more forthcoming about all of this. I’m sorry I wasn’t.” Carric walked over and sat next to Avi. “As for Quantum, he gave me a gift.” Carric pulled up his sleeve to reveal a gold bracelet with an odd looking round adornment on it.
“He said I can use it as a sort of focus for my natural chronomantic abilities. I’m thinking about adding the title ‘The Timelord’ to my name.” Carric let his sleeve fall to cover the bracelet. “As to your questions about Beau and the possible fate of Lastfall… I don’t have any answers that I’m 100% certain of, but I do believe we had no choice in making sure events played out just as they did. I don’t think it would have ended well for Beau, especially, if we had done otherwise.” Carric shrugged. “I’m still new at this chronomancing stuff.”
Grabbing his hand as to get a better look at the braclet, “so how does it work? Can you travel through time like Quantum? Can you make two of you?” She looked around her room for a second bearded version of Carric while she waited for an answer.
“No, I can’t travel through time… or at least I don’t think so, not yet anyway. I can stop time briefly though. And I can heal injuries by essentially sending someone’s body back a few minutes to a point in time before they were injured. A couple other things. I’m nowhere near as powerful as Quantum though.”

“Can you do me a favor though? I don’t really want the others to know, at least not yet. They might be sort of put off by it after our experiences with chronomancing…”

“A couple other things? Like what? I won’t say anything. Promise.”
Carric muttered a few words and made a circular gesture with his finger.

Avienda looked inquisitively at him. “A couple other things? Like what? I won’t say anything. Promise.”

Carric got up and walked over to the wet bar.

Avienda looked inquisitively at him. “A couple other things? Like what? I won’t say anything. Promise.”

Carric fixed himself a new drink.

Avienda looked inquisitively at him. “A couple other things? Like what? I won’t say anything. Promise.”

Carric walked back over and sat down next to her and sipped at his drink.

Avienda looked inquisitively at him. “A couple other things? Like what? I won’t say anything. Promise.”

Carric was half way through his drink when she finally stopped asking.

“That’s a Time Snare. Whoever I cast it on tries to repeat something they just did or said for a minute or two. I can also reduce our need for food and drink for days at a time, or delay the effects of a poison.”

Avienda punched Carric in the arm, hard. “You should have gotten me a drink too!”

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Harpers
Avienda's apology

—takes place the evening before the party heads out to the Chesterbach Mansion

Making her way back down the stairs after she and her party had retired for the evening, Avienda smiled a greeting to Yerom who was wiping the down the bar and closing things up for the evening. Making her way to him and pulling up a stool, she slid her silver pin across the counter, maintaining contact with it and began hesitantly. “Yerom, I was wondering if you and your wife might have time to speak with me privately about this.” Looking up from the pin and into Yerom’s eyes, “I just don’t feel right about so many things that are happening, and could use your guidance.”
Yerom smiled warmly. “Of course.” He stowed his rag beneath the bar and turned to grab two glasses and a bottle from the collection behind the bar. Setting the glasses down, he poured a generous portion of dwarven whiskey into each. He reflexively looked around the bar to ensure they were alone, then smiled again. “What’s on your mind?”
Greatly appreciating discretion, Avienda took a drink and continued, “well, for starters. When did you join the ranks? Did you and Elocin join together? Why did you even join in the first place? I want to know from someone whose been at this longer than I why it’s important to do what you are doing.” She swirled her drink and laughed quietly. “Loaded questions, I know. But I want to hear your story. I want to hear about how you are making a difference, making things better. Because, more than anything that is what I want to do.”

Avienda made certain to leave the word Harper out of her conversation.
Yerom swirled the bottle around. “My story, eh? We may need more liquor!”
Setting the bottle down, he thought for a moment before beginning to speak. “I grew up poor in a small, nameless village outside of Nashkel. Pretty much everyone there worked in the iron mines, and I was no different for a while. My pa was long dead; it was me, my ma, and two younger sisters. I worked double-shifts to try and keep bread on the table, and my ma and sisters did odd jobs around the village to help out.
“Things were hard, but we got by. Well, mostly. Sometimes when things were particularly tight I’d turn to thieving. Not very often, and I’m not proud of it. I’d usually hit this grocer in the village. I’d either steal some bread, or something small I knew I could turn to cash real fast.
“One night I go in and I’m creeping through his store and there, right in the middle of the floor, is a table with a huge loaf of bread on it. And get this- wrapped up in a red ribbon and bow like a name-day present or something!
“So I’m standing there kind of flummoxed when the grocer steps out of the shadows. He just looks at me for a minute, then says ‘Go ahead. That’s what you came here for, right?’ And I’m just standing there slack-jawed; confused and embarrassed in equal measures.
“Well, he must have been surprised that I didn’t run off right away, and he can see I’m real upset, about to burst into tears if I’m being honest. So he just walks over, tears off a piece of bread for each of us, and hands me one.
“Well, that when the waterworks started. I told him how sorry I was. I told this fella about my ma and sisters, working in the mine, my pa, everything. I must have apologized for stealing from him twenty times over, snot running down my face the whole time…”
Yerom chuckled. “I must have looked a sight, ‘cause this man, Aiden, who didn’t know me from anyone, walks over and gives me a big old bear hug. He had on this green felt vest and smelled like cedar; I’ll never forget it. Of course, when I pulled away there was a big old tear-and-snot stain on that vest, but anyway.
“He tells me to come to him if I’m ever desperate enough to steal again. He tells me to have my ma and sisters come by if they want some honest work for fair pay. He did just enough to help keep us afloat without making it seem like charity, and I’ll never be able to thank him enough.
“I think my ma was kinda sweet on him too, but that never went anywhere. I found out why much later on. Years after, there was some big commotion in Nashkel. Some guild out of Baldur’s Gate was sabotaging the Nashkel mines, trying to raise the price of steel and cause a war or something. I didn’t understand it, and understood even less why Aiden said he had to go there.”
Yerom swirled the last of the liquor in his glass before draining it down. “Turns out he was a Harper the whole time I knew him. He went to Nashkel and never came back. Some friends of his came looking for him after he was gone. They told my ma to keep the store ‘cause that’s what Aiden would have wanted. I told them I wanted to go with them, and learn to be a Harper like Aiden. The rest is history, as they say. I met another Harper-in-training, got smitten, married, and made a father. I ended up here, trying my best to live up to the ideals that were shown to be by a stranger all those years ago.”
“That’s such a touching story Yerom, thank you for sharing it with me,” Avienda smiled graciously. “So, you were a Harper-in-training. When did you know you weren’t in training anymore?” She leaned her head on her hand and sighed. “When Sister Garaele invited me to join the Harpers, I was so thrilled. My father always spoke well of the Harpers.” She chuckled softly as a memory suddenly drifted to her mind, “he always said that Harpers have a knack for turning up at the wrong time, in a place where they’re neither wanted nor expected and plunge into whatever trouble’s afoot.” She smiled wistfully at the thought of her father. “I’ve always thought that we were to live and die to keep the balance. That no kingdom should be allowed to grow too big. Rulers shouldn’t grow so strong that they seek to take knowledge and power from others…” she trailed off looking at Yerom.
“I just don’t feel like I deserve to be a part of this. What your Aiden did,” she paused shaking her head, “that was heroic. The stuff of stories. I, I don’t know,” she struggled with her words, shifting in her stool. “We stole some artifact out of a museum for the Duke of Lastfall. It didn’t feel honorable, it didn’t feel heroic, I don’t feel like my father would be proud of me. I feel like some common mercenary, not the Harper he used to create grand tales about.” She fumbled with her silver pin, “I just don’t know what to do. I was hoping for some words of wisdom.” She smiled up at the barkeep sadly.
“Here’s the funny thing about adventures. Looking back on them, it’s easy for anyone not involved to see them as heroic, grand fights of good versus evil, full of honor and good deeds and all that other horseshit. The reality, as you well know, is that adventures are HARD. They’re full of discomfort and pain and loss, self-doubt and quarrels and any number of other unpleasant things. It’s difficult, what we do. If you’re in it for the glory, you’ll probably be disappointed. If you’re in it to do the right thing and uphold the ideals of the Harpers, it makes all the uncomfortable campsites and self-doubt and battle wounds a bit easier to bear.

“There’s no easy answer here, I’m afraid. Trust in yourself and your companions is the best advice I can give.”
Avienda leaned over her glass and looked at Yerom, “But what are the ideals of the Harpers, Yerom? I feel like maybe that’s why I came to you. Tell me what makes you and I different from every other adventurer out there in the world? I have some vague recollection from Sister Garaele,” she waved her hands around her head indicating a fuzzy memory, “but I don’t know what I’m doing this for! I hear what you are saying, and I don’t think that I am in this for the glory, but I do think that you and I,” she gestured back and forth between the two of them, “have a higher calling. So why? Why wear the pin? Why do you harp?”

Looking down at her empty glass, she smile sheepishly, “this stuff is good, it’s going straight to my head though!”

Yerom considered the question. "Hrmm. Big-picture, the Harpers believe foremost in balance, I think. Our tenants are that no being should feel powerless, yet also that too much power leads to corruption. People should be free to live their lives without fear. The rule of law aids peace and fosters freedom, so long as those laws are just and enforced with empathy and understanding. Common-sense stuff, really.

“Now as it applies to Lastfall, it actually gets simpler. The Zhentarim threaten the city, and the entire region. Under their rule, mining and timbering would increase tenfold, and workers would be made virtual slaves by the mining contracts they’d be forced to sign. The landscape would be decimated; used up just like the people to further the greed of a few. I’ve seen areas where the Zhentarim were allowed to operate unchecked; it was nowhere you’d ever want to be.

“Now this mummery with the statue that’s got you all a-twist, that’s all it is. A show, a political maneuver. Not all fights are fought with rapiers and spells. This stroke weakens the Zhentarim hold on the Thieves’ Guild, and by extension the city. It forces one of the Zhentarim’s own into a position of possibly giving up information. And it keeps what could be a valuable artifact out of their hands to boot. Not bad for a night’s work.

“The Duke, and your Lord Burl, are decent men who try to keep the peace and rule justly. If that ever changes, well, be assured they’ll find their Harper allies not so friendly anymore.”
Relief flooding onto her feature, Avienda smiled and shook her head as Yerom spoke. It was a great comfort to hear him speak out loud the Harper’s ideals and the honesty with which he spoke put her heart at ease. “Yes, I’ve heard that before, somewhere, it’s a song I think,” she started humming than sang out quietly,

Fight not always with blade or spell
The slower ways are surer
Aid freely given, friendship and trust built
These things evil cannot abide
It shrinks away from what it cannot destroy
with fire or blade..

“Thank you Yerom. Thank you very much.”
Avienda basked in the comfortable silence for a few more moments. Rising slowly from her barstool, she wished Yerom a good night and headed back towards the stairs. One foot in front of the other she slowly made her way up. Pausing outside Carric’s door, she thought more on what Yerom had said. About the Harper’s values. How she needed to have more trust in her companions. How she had to embrace them as her crew.
She debated if the euphoria she was feeling was a result of the pleasant conversation, or the dwarven whiskey. Deciding that she didn’t care either way, she knocked on Carric’s door, and whispered loudly, “Carric? Caa-rric?? Are you sleeping? I want to talk to you Carr—icc,” she sing-songed his name as she waited.

After nearly a full minute of singing, Avienda heard grumbling coming from within Carric’s room, and the sound of movement. A moment later, the door swung open and Carric stood there in a nightshirt and an annoyed look. “What… have you been drinking?” He poked his head out the door, looking left and right, then pulled Avi in to the room and closed the door.

Avienda, her face flushed and eyes shining, grinned at Carric, “nice night shirt. It ahh, shows off your legs.” She giggled, “I’m not drunk, I’m just,” she paused thinking, “happy. I need to tell you something important, oh and do you have parchment and a pen? I need to dictate something and you to write it down.” When Carric didn’t move to fetch a writing utensil, she shooed him, “hurry up! Before I forget!”
Carric’s lack of movement spoke volumes.
“Pleas-s-s-s-e Carric! This is important!” Avienda went to cross her arms, but stopped, looking at the sorcerer imploringly.
Carric sighed. “Well… my penmanship is better than yours.” He walked to the desk, sat, and pulled out ink, quill, and paper. “Let me guess. You’ve come up with a new song right?”
She laughed, “no silly!” Folding her hands in front of her she stood near Carric, the faint smell of dwarven whiskey tickled his nose as she began.

“Dear Delwyn, I think you are a very thoughtful and caring dwarf. You try really hard to keep everyone together like a crew should be kept. I also think that you are very hard to understand sometimes and I’m sorry I am always so condescending to you. Wait,” she looked over at Carric, “do you think Delwyn knows what the word condescending means? It is a pretty big word…” she trailed off. "Arghh! I’m being condescending again!’

“Alright, try this one, “Dear Starch, you are excellent with your sword and shield. I’m sorry that I sometimes,” she paused, “scratch that, that I all the time, make fun of you behind your back.
And think that your part time job should be that of a jester. Please forgive me. Ok!” She rubbed her hands together, “I’m on roll, this is getting easier!”
She took a deep breath, stood up straight and continued, “Dear Beau, while you scared the life out of me when you threatened my life, I am sorry that I assumed the worse about you. Maybe you were just adjusting your daggers and not contemplating killing me. I will do my best to think the best of you in the future.” She grinned over at the sorcerer, “are you getting all this Carric?”

“Dear Xiang-Chi,” she tapped her lip thinking, “ummmm…how about this, I’m sorry that I haven’t taken the time to get to know you better. You are obviously an introvert with some major psychological issues. Please forgive me. Phew! This apologizing stuff is hard!!”

She scooted up onto the desk sitting on her hands and looked at Carric. “Dear Carric, I’m sorry I called you Bastion all the time and was so stubborn when you tried to explain or apologize. I’m sorry I’m so bullheaded and un-trusting. I’m sorry I roll my eyes at you all the time, and I’m sorry I’ve been trying to bait you into an argument at every turn. I want to,” she paused to think her words through, “I want to, I don’t know, string up a new sail with our crew.” She shrugged. “Could you help me deliver these letters? Do you think it would help?” She stood up a tad shakily and started moving towards Carric’s door.

Between the speed with which she spoke, and the slight slurring of her words, Carric barely managed to keep up. When she got to “Dear Carric” though, he stopped writing and only listened. When she had finished, he smiled and shook his head. “Avi… there’s no need to apologize to me. I know you don’t really mean anything by those things. I can’t believe you feel it’s necessary. I think kind of see us as being beyond needing apologies. Like family. Now, let’s go deliver these letters.”

Carric carefully folded each one, placed them in envelopes, and wrote the recipient’s name on each.
Each letter contained the following:

“Avi is drunk and a bit weepy, and I’m pretending to transcribe her apology to you. But I’m terrible at it, so please, if you read this in her presence, just nod, smile, and say thank you. Side note: We need to keep her away from Dwarven Whiskey from now on. All the best, Carric.”

Carric gathered up the envelopes and followed Avi out of the room. “Maybe we can just slip these under their doors since it’s so late. No point in disturbing anyone (else’s) rest, right?”

Avienda paused and looked at Carric, “It’s just that, I was talking to Yerom and he reminded me how important it is to trust in my companions. I thought apologizing would be a good way to start.” She shrugged, “ahh, Are you going to um, put some pants on before we go?” She raised an eyebrow grinning.
Carric looked down at his tanned and muscular legs. “Well, I suppose. Gimme a sec.”

View
Meet the Redshirts

It was the morning of the second day after the museum heist, the day the party was to depart for Procampur once again to seek out the vision troubling Xiang. The companions had their traditional breakfast at the Copper House and were preparing to leave when Lord Burl arrived. The militia captain was accompanied five others; two humans, two elves and a gnome, varied in their appearance except for the dark red uniform tunics they all wore.
The companions had spent the last two days well. Xiang focused his energy on recovery; the monk was nearly 100% and ready to confront whatever awaited him in the forest surrounding Procampur. Carric and Avienda had explored the town, meeting or re-acquainting themselves with its residents and merchants as they shopped for supplies. Beau and Starch had also bought provisions and equipment for the journey ahead, but both were more secretive on how they’d otherwise spent their time.
Delwyn had spent a good deal of time at the Duke’s mansion, delving into the mysteries of the silver statue from Earthfast with Ianni and Baerron. They had made some progress, but Delwyn was glad he’d have another few days to research the statue before it needed to be returned to its owners. He was also guilty about not accompanying his friends on their next journey, especially one so important to Xiang. He hoped the monk understood that the mysteries of Earthfast were as important to him as the golden ram skull was to the monk.
Delwyn was therefore delighted to find out that Lord Burl did not intend to send the Peanut Butter Squad out alone. Burl dismounted with the others and greeted the party. “Good morning to you all. I bring you greetings from the Duke, and a wish for a safe and successful journey. To that end, we would like to send along a group to assist you in your travels.
“As you obviously know, the Duke has been leaning heavily on your services during this Zhentarim crisis. It occurred to us that having a group of adventurers such as yourselves on our permanent payroll makes a good deal of sense. Thus, we’ve culled from the ranks of the militia and other specialists known by the Duchy to form this band. We’re calling them the Redshirts. We’d like them to travel with you, to aid you as they can and to learn from you as well. They will be no burden; in fact, I’m sure they will prove their usefulness.
“Please meet Darnell Duval, known as ‘Dutch’, the leader of the Redshirts. Dutch is an able fighter and an excellent battlefield tactician.” The human nodded respectfully to the party. He wore twin scimitars at his waist, and had a crossbow slung across his back.
Burl continued introductions. “This is Blaine, our heavy fighter.” This human, almost as large as Starch, was encased in heavy plate armor that looked like it had seen plenty of use. He held his full helm in his hands; above his shoulder protruded the pommel of a greatsword. He gave the party a curt nod.
“Next is Anna, a wizard of no small skill.” The gnome blushed modestly. She stood less than four feet tall and wore traveling clothes under a harness that held innumerable pouches and containers. At her back was a fierce-looking crossbow scaled to her size.

“Finally we have the brothers Dillon and Mac. They may look alike, but their skills could not be more dissimilar.” What Burl said was clearly true. Mac wore a holy symbol of Lathander over studded leather, and carried a brightly-colored shield also emblazoned with his god’s symbol. A shortsword was sheathed at his waist and a longbow and quiver was slung across his back.
Dillon stood back a step or two from the others. He also wore studded leather, but his was dyed a deep blue that was almost black and matched his pants and boots. He carried a longbow that looked to be a twin of Mac’s, and wore a rapier and dagger on his belt. Avienda thought he looked like a tall, thin, elven version of Beau, and smiled at the image.
Burl introduced the party members, then continued. “To be clear, the Redshirts will accompany you as a support team only. They will aid your travel and watch your backs, but I want this to primarily be a learning mission for them.” He looked pointedly at Dutch as he said this.
Beau pulls his hood down a little hiding his face even more. Uncomfortably meeting the group of strangers. He pulls a sheet of paper from his pocket and writes something on it. Then folds the paper and quickly shoves it in his pocket. Few moments later Carric feels a tug on his robe near the pocket, as if someone were trying to get his attention Carric gives the Redshirts a perfunctory greeting and turns to Lord Burl. “Might we have a word with you in private Lord Burl?”on.
Burl nods, and said to the Redshirts, “Give us a moment, won’t you?” After they’d moved to a discrete distance, Burl waited to hear what the sorcerer had to say.
Carric cut to the chase. "What’s this all about? Why the “green” shirts?"
Beau replies to Carric, “It just does not feel right, and I have some business that needs tending to. If everything is on the up and up, then you have plenty of muscle and I can be spared. However if this is a trap…” Beau pauses, “well you will all can handles these hired thugs.”

ooc: figured Beaus discomfort in the situation was a good reason for him to stay in Procampur, explaining his absence at the live session.
Burl rolled his eyes. "Several reasons. One, certain members of your party made it explicitly clear after the museum incident that they resented being at our beck and call. While the Peanut Butter Squad can’t be replaced, hopefully we can nurture this group to perform similar functions for the Duchy as needed. What better way to do that then have them accompany and observe you in action? Two, your friend Delwyn was very concerned that he would not be able to accompany and aid you, and we thought that having reinforcements would better your chances of success, as well as easing his mind.

“Speaking of the museum, I never had the chance to give you the reward you were promised.” From his saddlebag he pulled six small sacks, handing one to each of the party. Within are assorted small gems, which Carric was expertly able to estimate to be worth 500 gold.
Starch listened stoically as usual his face betraying his building anger, “Enough is enough.” He huffed quietly eyeing up Beau and Carric, “We need to stop questioning Lord Burl and the Duke on every decision they make or we should just part ways with them now. This hostility and questioning of authority has gotten out of hand. He sends us alone and we complain that we don’t have enough information or help, he gives us help and we bicker about that. I’m done with it.” Starch turns to Lord Burl “I for one am glad to have the extra help along thank you kind Lord.” He turns to the rest of the party, “We should make haste the evil that holds the Rams Skull won’t wait for us to bicker half a day about whether or not to accept this gracious offer.” With that Starch walks away and greets the Red Shirts properly doing his best to make them feel welcome.
OOC: He’s got a point there Mr. Eaves Saint Eavesdropper. :)

Carric absentmindedly took the sac of gems, then listened to Starch’s strange outburst with a befuddled look. “Uh… all I did was ask what this was all about.”

He then turned to Avienda, Xiang, and Delwyn. “What do you all think?”

Starch is indeed responding to Carric asking to “whats this all about? Why the green shirts” which as far as I can tell was not part of a cantrip. In the furture we may want to use italics or an underline when there is an A and B conversation going on that not everyone is privy to.
Xiang rises after his two day slumber. The mediation did wonders for his aches and pains as he sets his sights on this skull and the evil which has hold if it. As he enters the area he find some of the members milling about and a group of strangers in red. Nodding to starch " I am sorry if I am late , where is everyone?"
Avienda rolled her eyes behind Starch’s back as he stood on his soap box. Grinning wickedly at Carric she made kissey faces in Starch’s direction as he walked away from her to meet the Redshirts.
Shrugging towards Burl, Avi bowed graciously. “Thank you for the generous offer of help Lord Burl. We will do our best to babysit,” she shook her head, “train them properly! Come on Carric, new friends!”
“Well met Xiang glad to see you back to your agile self!” Starch remarks with a hearty slap to Xiang’s back. "The group you see before you is the “red shirts” they are a group, not unlike our own, of adventurers that the Duke and Lord have put together to back us up in the field. As a thank-you we will be instructing them on the finer points of adventuring, kind of like an apprenticeship. Once they learn what they can they will be a team much like ourselves. This will allow them to work in service of the Duke and lighten our load." Starch turns to point to Carric and Lord Burl, “Carric and Beau are talking to Lord Burl over there bellyaching about getting help. You should speak with Lord Burl before we leave and he will give your cut of the reward money for our work at the museum. In the meantime let me introduce you to the reds.” Starch goes about introducing the group with about the same detail as Lord Burl had.
Walking back towards the Redcoats with Carric, Avienda whispered to him, “if we are the peanut butter squad they should be the Jelly.”
Carric, clearly surprised that Avienda and the others were being so agreeable, shrugs and follows the rest.
Beau said nothing to the Lord, no belly aching here!! just cynically watching all that happens. Beau is not even close enough to Lord Burl to talk to him without screaming, have I mentioned Beau DOES NOT trust this guy.
When the oppurtunity presents itself Avi will lean in to whisper to Beau, “I don’t trust it either. It’s safer to play along for now.” She looked around at the group, and winked at Beau, “we could take them!”

View
Earthfast Statue
Delwyn's discovery

It was mid-morning when the party arrived at the Duke’s residence. The reception foyer was abuzz with the typical business of the day, but as they entered they were immediately recognized by a page. The man approached them with a smile. “The Peanut Butter Squad! How good to see you!” In a quieter tone, he continued. “Lord Burl was hoping you would come; he’s asked me to bring you directly to him. With your permission, of course.”
Carric nodded at the page. “Of course. Lead the way.”
Avienda rolled her eyes and grinned at Carric, “remind me again how we got saddled with that title? No wait, never mind it’s not a story I wish to re-live!”
As Beau followed page and the rest of the party he paid extra attention to every shadow and detail of the castle. Hidden his uneasiness as best he could he maintained his composure enough to leave his weapons sheathed. The page led them through the wide halls and down several stairways, further and further from the more busy and populated areas of the mansion. They found themselves in a stone corridor several floors below ground. The area was brightly lit by fresh torches in brass sconces on the wall, but the dust and cobwebs betrayed this as an area of the residence that was little-used. They arrived at a large chamber with walls of stone that had been set up as a makeshift laboratory. Several large wooden tables held beakers full of multitudinous-colored fluids. Several pieces of apparatus unfamiliar to the party were scattered about, some only partially unpacked. On a table in the midst of all the equipment stood the silver statue they’d taken from the museum.
A female gnome was rushing around the room, directing assistants on the setup of this piece of equipment or the arrangement of those vials. She orbited around an old dwarf who stood stock-still in the middle of the room, gazing at the statue pensively while chewing on the stem of a pipe that had long since gone out. Off to the side stood Lord Burl, who brightened when he saw the companions and came over to greet them.
“My friends, you all look much-improved from when last we met. Xiang, it is good to see you back on your feet! Has Avienda related to you how she heroically carried your body across the rooftops to safety, heedless to the thugs and assassins in her way? I’m sure it’s a story you’ll hear many times! I’m glad you’ve come; we’re just about to begin our research.” Turning, he called over his shoulder to the gnome and dwarf. “Ianni? Baerron? Please come meet the ones who obtained the statue for us. I’d like you all to meet Ianni Zangrup, an expert on icons and devices, and Baerron Hjalmund, a researcher who specializes in dwarvish civilizations.” He introduced the party members to the two scholars.
Carric greeted the newcomers with a slight bow. “I know you haven’t had much time to study our hard-won artifact, but have you gleaned anything useful from it yet?”
Staring hard, Carric scanned around the room, searching the equipment for any sign or portend that would give him insight on what exactly the Duke and his lab-coated technicians would be doing with the Earthfast statue.

Noticing Carric’s look and realizing what he was doing, Avienda attempted to cause a distraction to give the sorcerer the time he needed. Brushing past Carric, Avienda moves into the room. “Ianni? Baerron? It’s ever so nice to meet both of you. My name is Avienda Al’Meare, and these are my companions,” she gestured behind her to the rest of the group. “How long have you known the Duke and Lord Burl? Have you found anything out about the statue yet? Were you successful in making it roar?” She winked at Lord Burl. "What is all this stuff? She moved further into the room, reaching out to touch a beaker full of a vibrant pink colored liquid.

Xiang will follow in behind Avienda nodding to the new gentlemen and taking a seat , preferably in a corner , looks tired and in need of rest since his meditation had been interrupted
“Please don’t touch that! Don’t touch anything!” The gnome practically lept onto Avienda’s back. “Some of these materials are… well, dangerous. And until we know what we’re dealing with regarding that-”, she nodded at the statue, “-we must treat it with the utmost caution. You understand, yes?” She looked up at the bard with spectacles that made her eyes look comically enormous. Meanwhile the dwarf simply observed with a mildly curious expression, like he was watching an experiment.
“I understand, yes. Utmost caution, yes,” Avienda tried to school her face and drop the grin on it as she looked down at the gnome. Kneeling, she whispered conspiratorially, as if talking to a child, “so, what have you found out about… that?”
Ianni looked slightly affronted by Avienda’s patronizing tone and conspiratorial nature. She stepped back and addressed the room. “We’re just about to begin physical and arcane testing, but Baerron is almost certain the artifact is indeed from Earthfast. Earthfast! Right Baerron?”

The old dwarf nodded.

Ianni continued. “We’ll of course try to detect and measure any magical aura the piece may have, and after we’ve analyzed any findings we’ll begin the physical tests. We’ll thoroughly check it for any secret compartments or exotic materials or other anomalies, and then time permitting, we’ll verify its composition and age, although I’ve been told that under no circumstances must any visible harm come to the statue.” She looked disappointedly at Lord Burl as she said this last part. Beau has tried to find a shadow in the room, and is hiding in it watching everything intently and suspiciously with his hood pulled up and his hands in his cloak close to his daggers… just in case.
Brushing her hands off as she stood up from her kneeling position, Avienda addressed Burl after the gnome had finished her speech. “Why do you need us here? With this one at the helm,” she nodded her head towards Ianni, “seems like you have everything more than under control.”
“Because while both Ianni and Baerron are well respected in their fields, I think both would agree that they don’t have the experience of dealing with relics and artifacts in the field that you all do. And because we are short on time, the more trusted eyes I have on this, the better.”
Avienda looked around at the members of her party puzzled, which ones had experience with relics and artifacts? It certainly wasn’t her. Shrugging, she nodded at Burl, “of course, I completely understand. Carry on.”
After hearing Burl’s comment about the group having experience with relics, Beau begins to watch every move Lord Burl makes. From the shadows he just watches hands still in quick reach of his daggers, though he would never attack unless attacked first
Carric again uses the Message cantrip targeted at Avienda.
“Perhaps we should offer to take part in this research. If we are mistaken about Burl, then we should take part. If we’re right, and he’s a traitor, what better way to keep an eye on what he’s doing? What do you think?”
“I think that makes sense, but I am very out of my element. I’ll follow your lead.”
Carric turned to Lord Burl. “I won’t speak for the others, but I’m intrigued by the mystery of Earthfast and would be happy to aid in whatever way is best. Perhaps my knowledge of the arcane arts will prove useful.”

Avienda moved up at well, standing close to Carric, “I would like to help as well,” she glanced down at the gnome, “I just don’t want to touch anything I shouldn’t so perhaps you could point us in the right direction?”
Delwyn steps forward looking at the statue. “Damn right man. Damn right to like all of it. It’s from Earthfast, and it shouldn’t be harmed in anyway man. It’s a relic. Maybe not like capital R relic or anything, but it’s from Earthfast.”
Xiang stands " this dwarven mission has to wait. I have had a vision which compels me to find it. The golden skull , the one we found information on. It is the hands of a dark evil . Being house in a mansion not far from here. I will need help but will go alone if need be. What say you friends?"
Beau steps from the shadow, “I’m in, when do we get out… I mean… when would you like to depart?” The halfling sighs and under his breath mutters, “I feel safer dealing with known evil, at least I know they are trying to kill me.”
Avienda whirls to look at Xiang and blinks in surprise at his subtlety (or lack thereof) If she had the ability to use the “message” cantrip she would say to Xiang, “you’re bringing that up right now? Here? In front of all these strangers? Really Xiang Chi?”
As she does not have the message cantrip, she will just stare at Xiang in surprise and wait to see how the rest of the party handles this new turn of events.
Starch piped up, “Xiang as I already stated I would delight in the opportunity to do Bahamut’s work by aiding you in your quest. Perhaps you could fill Lord Burl on what you know he might be able to fill in some of the finer points?” Starch states and then notices the look of surprise on Avienda’s face, “What’s wrong did I bump into something again? I didn’t hear a crash or feel anything?” Starch himself is now hurriedly spinning around trying to see what he’s knocked over now.
Avienda face palms.
.Delwyn, shocked at xiangs sudden outburst looks confused. “Are skulls ever in the hands of good people man? How do you know it’s so nearby, what does it do? This idol is from Earthfast and is the key to finding it, a lost dwarven metropolis. There lies the answers to my saving, to my powers. Perhaps there I can help more people, or help people more. This is not a quest I’ll abandon lightly.” A stern look of seriousness vanishes from Delwyn face and he now appears to be oblivious to the fact that he spoke an entire paragraph eloquently and succinctly.
Avienda looks to Carric and mouths the words, “what in the seven hells is going on?”
With a slightly embarrassed look, Carric turned from Lord Burl to Xiang. “Of course you are free to do as you wish Xiang – as we all are – but perhaps you should meditate on this first. Just a few hours ago, you were dead. You, and we, have not even had a chance to get any significant rest. And now you want to immediately rush off, possibly in to danger, because of a vision? Folly.”
Delwyn sidles next to Carric and whispers, not terribly well, but enough not to include lord burl in audible range hopefully "uh… I’m like kinda married to this earthfast quest thingy because of a vision actually… And I’m like kinda definitely very determined to see it through
Xiang looks over the group with a confused look " We are now so secretive that we can speak in present company?" Looking to the Lord and his people. " WE have done EVERYTHING , this lord has asked of us and now we have hesitancy? I don’t know anything of you lost dwarven kingdom, however I know that life will go on if it is not rediscovered until later. There is no immediate danger coming from this place, or is there? " Looking over all of them again he brings his gaze on the dwarf. " It seems your are connected to this Idol, my friend, perhaps one could even say it has a hold on you? you spoke very clear and different then you normally do , just a moment ago. I would say it might be best for some investigation into this place before you head there, In the end i cannot make you see what I saw as my soul headed for its final resting plane, but I can assure you there is an evil and its threat is real and present. I don’t know the mansions location, but I will find it. My fear is many will die in the wake of this darkness, That cannot rest on my shoulders, I will not allow it! Many have already suffered from my mistakes and this skull, No more will ." With that Xiang sits down again still weakened by the curing spells.
Delwyn looks like a dog who heard a noise that puzzles him. "Whoa man I uh… I like don’t get it. Why didn’t you say something before but now just kinda blurt it out for everyone here? We probably shoulda maybe had this conversation like earlier maybe? I’m pretty confused, what do you mean we’re like so secretive to talk in present company now? I think you might still be maybe partly dead and aren’t all together here yet man maybe?
“..and uh, what do you mean many have like suffered from your mistakes and that rammy skully thing? What mistakes did we make man?”
Lord Burl stepped forward, hands raised. “Please, peace. This group has been through too much together to fly apart now. Xiang, if this vision you speak of is real, you are correct in the danger it may pose. That is where you must go.”

Burl turned to Delwyn, who stood by as Ianni was waving some sort of wand around him. “Delwyn, you obviously have some sort of connection to this statue, and probably Earthfast itself. If Xiang and the rest can spare you, I’m sure Ianni and Baerron would like to speak with you in more detail. Quite possibly we all would learn more about Earthfast and what may lie there.I don’t mean to split the party, but it seems your destinies diverge here. Once Xiang and the rest have dealt with the threat of the golden skull, they can return here where hopefully we will have a plan for how to proceed with Earthfast. What are your thoughts on the matter?”, he asked the group.
Xiang listens " The past is the past and has no need to be spoken here, just know that this skull has caused ruin where ever it goes.. I must end this. I would have brought it up earlier however i was , well dead and then needed to rest for I was in no shape to speak. "
“Well yeah the past is the past but like maybe you should like contrive (he means confide) in your other friends if not me. If not only to help share the burden man then at least to like warn them what they could be up against. What we could be up against man. You seem upset that there are secrets and yet you like have your own man. I’m not like judging or anything man just trying to help.”
Carric responded to Delwyn, but loud enough that the others would hear. “It’s the ‘rushing off’ part that is folly. We need to rest, regroup, and most importantly contemplate and discuss what should be done.”
In response to Lord Burl:

“That may be a reasonable solution, but it obviously depends on Delwyn.”

Avienda looked to Delwyn, “Are you planning on staying here alone Delwyn? I thought we had expressed a desire to stay together, at the Inn, remember? Are you comfortable now to stay here alone?” She looked to Carrick for backup, “Are we leaving him here?”
“I think that’s up to Delwyn. But perhaps we should all discuss this elsewhere. I don’t see any reason to burden Lord Burl and the others with… such things. Lord Burl, would it be too much trouble if we discussed this elsewhere before making a firm decision?”
Slightly shaking her head in agreement, Avienda waited to hear what Lord Burl or Delwyny had to say.
“.. I dunno. I’m pretty damn interested in this thingy statue but that doesn’t mean I won’t take a few minutes to chat with the other peanuts.”
Avienda shuddered and rolled her eyes.
Lord Burl gestured towards the door. “Yes, there are plenty of empty chambers you can use; most of this floor is unoccupied. Please take all the time you need to discuss among yourselves. We’ll be here.”
Carric thanked Lord Burl and left the lab in search of an empty room, hoping the others followed. Once he located a room some distance away, he ushered everyone in and closed the door.

“I didn’t want to discuss this in front of anyone outside our group.” He glanced at Xiang. “Because I believe in discretion.” He pulled off his backpack and started rummaging through it. After a moment he pulled out a small wooden box. Carric opened the box then held it out for the others to see. Inside were two highly polished purple stones with runes on them. “These are the Sending Stones that we discovered in the sewers. The bearer of one stone can communicate with the bearer of the other over great distances.” Carric looked at Delwyn. “Delwyn, if you are compelled to stay here, we could leave one of these stones with you. I have reservations (OOC: not really) about you staying here, but at least with one of these, we have a way to communicate. What do you think?”

“Oh yeah, the walkie talkies man! You know, where you can walkie but still talkie with them? Sounds good to me. I’m kinda like hoping to get another vision from this statue and I’m really concerned they’re gonna accidentally hurt it or something. If you guys are good without me for this mission then yeah I’m like OK with that.”
Xiang follows the group , entering the small the Carric chose. Looking at Delwyn like he is from another planet " walkie what? Perhaps the statue is the best place for you"
Avienda grinned, “yes, that’s perfect.”

She turned to the monk, "Xiang-Chi, I would like to accompany you on your journey. However, after last night I am in no condition to leave right away. Could we spend the eve at the Copper House and leave in the morning? If you insist on leaving right away I obviously won’t stop you, but I won’t go with you either.
“I didn’t state we should leave now, I am sorry if you miss understood me. I just stated we need to go as soon as we are able. " look toward Delwyn " and not go off and fun a lost dwarven city first "
Carric handed one of the sending stones to Delwyn. “I have studied these stones and learned that they can only be used once per day, so I suggest we only use them in an emergency.”

Carric turned then to Xiang. “I’m with Avi on this. We should try to find this mansion you speak of once we’ve rested.”

View
After the Assassins Attack

Avienda heaved Xiang’s body up and over the parapet, then quickly climbed up after him. Spying the open trap door, she dragged the monk over to it and yelled down. “This man needs a healer, NOW!” She slid Xiang into the hole, and was relieved to feel those below grab him and carry him away.
She slid gracefully after him to find herself in a wood-paneled room set up as a healing ward. The white-robed men had already laid Xiang’s body on one of several cots scattered about the room. An older man with a gray beard was directing several younger clerics as they stripped the monk and examined his wounds. Avienda was about to tell them he’s been poisoned, but saw the men already knew and were moving to drain the venom from his wounds.
Above her she could still hear the fighting going on. Looking up, she saw two of the militiamen at the parapet, reloading their crossbows. Between them, Beau fired his short bow at something, then leaped over the parapet and out of her view. She thought about rejoining the fight, but was wounded herself and exhausted from carrying the monk’s body across the rooftops. If the remaining party members and militiamen couldn’t stop the remaining assassins, then they could just come and get her here.
As she finished that thought she heard the militiamen above cheer. One of them called down, “It’s over, we won.” The other was trying to wrestle the fallen guardsman through the trapdoor; several clerics rushed over to relieve him of his burden. The older priest gestured for them to lay him beside Xiang, and then feverishly directed his assistants as he tried to revive both of the fallen.
The rest of the party straggled in, looking much the worse for wear. Delwyn was dragging one of the assassins with him. He claimed to have choked the man unconscious and brought him in for interrogation. However, when the guardsmen examined him they found him dead, a white froth spilling from his mouth.
One of the younger clerics addressed the party. “We’re glad the rest of you are safe. Lord Burl is on his way and should be here within the hour. In the meantime, who requires healing?”
Ignoring the cleric’s question, Carric gestured towards Xiang with a worried expression. “What about Xiang? Will you be able to save him?”
The cleric glanced over his shoulder with a worried expression. “Father Berman is an expert on poisons; Lord Burl had the Duke bring him in incase something like this were to happen. If anyone can save your friend, it’s him.”

Avienda moved to stand near Xiang, being careful to stay out of the way of the clerics as they worked. A viscous purple liquid was oozing from Xiang’s wounds, mixed with blood. Suddenly, the monk’s body began to spasm and shake violently. The clerics hovered over him, working frantically.

Suddenly Xiang took a huge gasp of air as his eyes snapped open. Avienda smiled with relief. “Thought we’d lost you there!” She nodded towards the older man. “You owe Father Berman here a world of thanks. Lord Burl thought the assassins might try and make another move, and had the best poison specialist in the duchy standing by. Don’t you feel special?” she asked with a grin.
Relief over the safety of her friend replaced the adrenaline coursing through her body. Slumping to her knees Avienda felt her vision begin to blur. “I’m glad we all made it,” she murmured as the poison began to take effect.

The clerics eased the bard onto another of the cots strewn about the room. Father Berman continued to work on the fallen militiaman, but several of the other clerics tended to Avienda and the rest of the party as needed.
Delwyn, caked in blood, finds chair to sit in. He waits patiently for the appropriate time to reveal that they have succeeded in their mission.
Carric slumped down on to one of the empty cots near Xiang. Not being nearly as hurt as the others, he also waited to be tended to.
Xiang looks around obviously trembling. As his nervousness subsides he begins to speak in a broken , tired voice. The skull……… We must, … I know where it is . Xiang pauses and begins to tremble again " He is there! " reaching up at Carric and grasping his arm " We must face him, the mansion is waiting …." with the last words he passes out again ,

Shocked, Carric leaned forward. “Xiang? What are you talking about? What mansion?” If he doesn’t respond, Xiang gently shakes him.

The sun was just beginning to peek over the city’s rooftops when Lord Burl arrived at the safe house. The clerics were still working diligently to aid the party and the wounded militia. The guardsman who’d fallen in the battle rested fitfully upon his cot. While not as resistant to the poison as Xiang had been, the clerics still felt he had a good chance of recovering fully.
Xiang lay upon his cot, slipping in and out of consciousness. He frequently mumbled about “the skull” and “the mansion”. The rest of the party was recovering well. Avienda was conscious and feeling much improved. Delwyn, Beau, and Starch had all been cleaned up and had their various wounds attended to. Only Carric still suffered; he was almost certain the small bloodstain on his robes was never going to come out.
Lord Burl consulted briefly with the lead cleric, Father Berman, in hushed tones. At the end of their conversation he game the cleric a small smile and patted him gratefully on the shoulder. Burl then briefly visited with each guardsman, thanking them for their bravery in the fight. Finally, he approached the party.
“I understand you’ve had an eventful evening, to say the least. Tell me, were you able to successfully retrieve the statue?”
Carric nodded his head tiredly. “We were able to retrieve it, though we weren’t prepared for all that we faced.” Carric nodded towards Xiang. “I hope it was worth it.” The sorcerer fixed Lord Burl with a suspicious look before continuing. “And it wasn’t just the thieves guild we fought on the rooftops either, despite what you told us.” He gestured towards the body of the assassin. “We were all nearly killed by THAT thing and two others just like him. What they hell are they?”

Burl looked over the body of the dead assassin before continuing. “They’re members of an assassin’s guild. A death cult, to be more specific. They have ties with the Zhentarim, and are used for the most important and difficult tasks.” Burl smiled sardonically before adding, “You should be flattered.”
He turned his attention back to the party. “May I see the statue? Were you able to examine it at all in the museum?”
Coming to Carric’s defense, Avienda shook her head and gestured around the room. “You obviously were expecting the worst. It would have been nice of you to fill the rest of us in. Especially since we were the ones putting our lives at risk.” Crossing her arms, she glared at Lord Burl.
Beau steps from the shadows, hair still smoking from the fireball. “Excuse me, Lord Burl, we just risked our lives for this statue some of us barely made it here. You are very quick to ask for the statue. Did we take it to protect it, or did we steal it for you? I apologize for my forwardness, but like I said we barely made it here.” Beau looks up at Lord Burl with a stone cold straight face as he asked the questions.
Burl met the Avienda’s gaze. “I was prepared for the worst; there’s a difference. I didn’t know these assassins would strike again here, but it seemed a good possibility.” He shrugged. “It’s what I’d have done.” He looked over at the halfling, but I assure you the statue is exactly what I told you it was, Master Tumblebelly. It belongs to the Mining Guild as I described. I’m meeting with one of their representatives in three day’s time to personally return the statue to them. In the meantime, we will examine it for clues to the location of the lost city of Earthfast. I know that you all have been through a lot this night; probably more than you bargained for, and for that I apologize. As I said, these are desperate times. But take solace in two things. One, you will be well-rewarded for your efforts. And two, the fallout from the Thieves’ Guild will more than likely give us leads that will allow us to take the fight to the Zhentarim for a change. You have done well. I will arrange a suitable reward with the Duke in the coming days. I have much work to do examining the statue and observing the Thieves’ Guild, but you’ve certainly earned some time off to relax and recover yourselves. Just be cautious. I doubt the assassins could mount another attack anytime soon, and the Thieves’ Guild will be too worried about their own problems to seek vengeance on you. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t those out there who wish you harm."
Arms still crossed, Avienda continued, “I won’t argue semantics with you Lord Berl. If you prepared for the worst, you should have prepared us for the worst as well. And the bottom line is that you didn’t.” Shrugging herself after Burl finished speaking of desperate times, rewards and what not, she looked over at the paladin. “Just a well paid group of mercenaries now aren’t we Starch?” Leaning back on her cot she closed her eyes. “Your hired help needs their rest Lord Burl. Thank you for the healing. I’m sure we would have met our fate that much quicker without it.”
Burl smiled sadly at Avienda. “We all have our roles to play, my dear. Is what I did much different than what the Harpers ask of you? Live long enough, and you may find yourself in the position of asking the same of others yourself.”

He turned to the rest of the party. “If you’ll give me the statue, I’ll leave you in peace. I have a very short window to research it before returning it. You are all welcome at the castle anytime; I can have rooms set aside for you there if you’d like.”

Delwyn glances at Carric and Avienda, nods ever so slightly to the bag of holding on his hip and shrugs unsure of whether or not to make lord burl wait for a bit before he is given the statue.
Carric notices Delwyn’s furtive look and gestures towards him. “Go ahead Delwyn. Let’s all take a look at it.” Smiling wearily towards the cleric, Avienda spoke cryptically, “I trust your judgement Delwyn, do what you think is best.”
Delwyn carefully removes the statue from the bag and is captivated by it. He doesn’t move to give it to the Lord, though he isn’t making an effort to keep it from him.
Carric observed Delwyn’s strange reaction, and leaned forward to take the statue.

“Delwyn? You ok?”

“Hmm…? Oh. Yes, yeah I’m good man. Here’s the statue burly man.” Carric grabs the statue before Burl gets his grubby mitts on it. Depending on the lighting in the room, he casts light on his staff so they can all get a good look at it.
Burl moved in close to also inspect the statue by Carric’s light. (He makes no move to take it.)

“What do you make of it? Did you notice any peculiar markings on it? Did the statue do anything while you had it?”
Carric replied, “I was the first one of us to touch it. I don’t recall anything unusual about it, but we were… busy… at the time.”

From her corner, eyes still closed Avienda quipped, “If you stand on your head and put your finger on your nose while you’re touching the statue it will roar like a lion. You should try it Burl.”
Ignoring Avienda, Burl continued to examine the statue. “It’s a beautiful piece to be sure, but otherwise it looks unremarkable. Is there any inscription on the bottom? Is it the weight you’d expect from a solid silver statue?”
“No… no inscription that I can make out. Delwyn, since this is a dwarven artifact, can you tell us anything about it? Would a dwarven artisan have hidden anything in or on it? Is there any significance to the figure depicted?”
“Well man I can tell you a bit about it I think anyways… Well it’s like definitely more than sorta maybe from Earthfast and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen similar things before. I uh, kinda get a feeling this thing wants me to go back there. Other than that I don’t know man, its more familiar to me than it should you know?
Ignoring the group of men clustered around the stolen piece of silver, Avienda made her way over to Xiang’s cot. Sitting on the floor beside him, she reached up and grabbed the unconscious monk’s hand, muttering to herself. “We all have our roles to play dearie, the Harpers may put you in a similar position. Who the hell does he think he is, assuming to know what I would or wouldn’t do? The nerve of some people.” Looking up at Xiang’s still face, she patted the hand she was still holding. “I’m sorry Xiang, you don’t need to listen to me rant, you do need to get better and wake up though. I saved your sorry-ass Xiang Chi, so you owe me this one.” Leaning her head along the side of the cot, hand still entwined with Xiang’s, Avienda drifted into the afternoon as she listened to her companions drone on about silver statues and Earthfast.
Cracking one eye , Xiang smirks and looks up to Avienda . " Death will make one require rest. " continuing to whisper " I have seen a vision which makes the circle complete. The skull, golden ram’s head skull, that we saw mention of in the museum. That skull is evil, or being used to progress evil. A shadowy figure, one who as my sprite was on its final journey, attempt to devour me. Whatever or whoever is in possession of the skull, they plan to use it for dark purposes. I have seen the location of this skull and as soon as my body heals I plan to go and face this evil. I dare not mention this to the rest for I am way too tired to deal with debate that may ensue. So instead I rest and pretend to sleep so they will not pester me. If you wish to mention it to them, since you are so very fond of arguing with them, feel free. Now if you’ll excuse me I am supposed to be in a coma or something," With that Xiang winks and closes his eyes returning to his meditation .
Stifling her laughter and concealing her broad smile, Avienda whispers back, “you are such a bastard! I do not like to,” the word argue died on her lips as she leaned back and smiled again. “Thank you for confiding in me Xiang Chi. When Burl leaves I will, converse with our comrades.”

Lord Burl looked curiously at Delwyn. “You’ve seen similar statues before? Where? And what do you mean it wants you to ‘go back there’?” He shook his head in confusion. He stood and stretched his back tiredly, then sighed. “I had hoped the statue would provide us with answers instead of more questions. Nonetheless, I need to take it back to the Duke’s castle. Any or all of you are welcome to accompany me; as I said, rooms can be provided for you.” He looked at Delwyn. “And any assistance you can offer would be most appreciated.”

He looked over to where Avienda was whispering to the seemingly unconscious Xiang. “Father Berman tells me Xiang Chi will recover quickly, the guardsman less so. I can have Xiang moved to the palace, or he can remain here with the clerics a bit longer; whichever you prefer. If there’s nothing else, I should get going.”
Carric spoke up, “Lord Burl, if it’s all the same to you, we’d like to join you in a few hours time after we’ve had a chance to rest. May we meet you at the duke’s castle later today?” Using the message cantrip he targeted on Avienda: “Back me up here. We need time to talk without others around.”
Standing up and glancing at Carric, Avienda smiled, “yes, Lord Burl we can meet you later to discuss the statue in even greater detail. Please, take it with you, after all, you and the Duke were the ones we stole it for right?” Looking down at Xiang’s still body she continued, “It would probably be best to leave Xiang here with us in the competent hands of your master clerics.”

Burl shot Avienda an odd look. He turned to the rest of the group, saying “You’ve more than done your part, and I’m grateful. I’ll have your reward ready when you arrive at the Duke’s castle. Otherwise, you’re free to do as you please, although again-”, he looked at Delwyn, “-your assistance in investigating the statue would be most appreciated.” He stood and picked up the statue. “Thank you all again. I will see you at the castle. And please be cautious when you travel. I doubt the Thieves’ Guild will trouble you, nor will the assassins have time to send more of their numbers. But the Zhentarim is not without resources, and I fear we’re beginning to irritate them. Please be safe.” With that, he turned and left.
Beau spoke up, “maybe I’m a little paranoid, but did that seem odd? He was quick ask for the statue and was prepared for everything that happened but did not warn us of anything.”
Avienda growled at Carric, “I’ve told you before to stay outta my head Carric! I don’t like being whispered to when I can’t whisper back! What’s so important that you couldn’t speak in Burl the Great’s presence?” Grinning at the sorcerer, Avienda waited.

Gesturing towards the clerics bustling around the room, Carric sighed heavily, “please! Could we please have these conversations in private?!” He drew out the word ‘private’ as he spoke it.
Still waiting for Carric to speak, Avienda grinned down at Xiang then and steps backwards 5 steps through the doorway behind her. Making a grand bow at the waist, she ushered her companions into the room, closing the door behind them. Returning her gaze to Carric, she fluttered her eyelashes and smiled winningly…still waiting.
Delwyn was a tad sullen the statue had left, but moved to talk with his friends without hesitation.
Carric entered the room closing the door behind him. Once they were in, he found a chair and gathered the party around him. He continued in a lowered voice, mindful of those in the next room. “I don’t know exactly what’s going on here…. and I’m not saying that Burl is anything other than what he seems… but I AM starting to think we’ve been too trusting of him. Do you all agree that we should be concerned about him?”
“So, uh, just to be on the like up and up here guys, I had some weird feelings when I had our little statuey thingy. I think I have kinda like an idea man of where the entrance to the path to Earthfast is. I think some answers about my experiences and my deity may lay in that journey man. It sounds like it was a great dwarven ciity and I’d like to see it…again maybe? I don’t know man, it was a pretty spooky and crazy experience. That being said I’m starting to think we need to be more cautious around the burlyman. I don’t know that he’s bad, but I don’t know if he’s good.
Carric shook his head, “I could tell there was something about the statue that left you troubled. What do you mean ‘again’?”
“I don’t know man. I kinda feel like maybe I’ve been there before, maybe as a wee one or uh… I… I just don’t know. Maybe the guy in the sky who saved me was there and he’s sending me a message man. I don’t know.”
“Delwyn, didn’t you tell us before that you had memory loss? Do you think that statue is trying to trigger something in your brain that you forgot but didn’t really? We should go back with Lord Burl and see if he will give you a chance to look at it some more. He seemed to want your help.” Avienda shrugged, “of course that could change once we get to the Duke’s house. If I read him right, we aren’t getting anywhere near that statue again for a while.”

“I… I dunno. I just had some spooky visions when I touched the statue and my tattoo tingled as well. Im like pretty sure its a memory. The problem is I’m not sure whose memory.”
I don’t trust Burl either. The man meets with us in tool sheds, works directly with the Duke who cannot even keep simple secrets, like the fact that we are Harper agents from his cabinet whom he claims to not trust, and he hired us to steal an artifact from the museum in his town." She rolled her eyes. “He’s completely trustworthy just as we’ve always known him to be. But in the end, what does it matter? He asked us to steal something for him and we did. He played his role, we played ours.” She looked around to make sure she had her audience before continuing, “Xiang Chi has had a vision. The rams head artifact that we researched during the museum heist is some evil artifact being used for some nefarious end. I believe he would like to seek this item out and has an idea of where to look. I for one would like to stop being Lord Burl’s lap dog mercenary and go and do something heroic for a change.”
Smiling at the sorcerer she continued, “so to answer your question, no I don’t trust Burl. But I never really did. He gave us time off, let’s use it.”

Carric found himself sympathizing a bit with Lord Burl, who had also recently been the target of Avienda’s tongue lashings, but otherwise didn’t take the bait. “I’m actually in agreement with you. It does seem like we have some time before Lord Burl will be able to tell us more about this statue… though he has said he needs Delwyn’s help.”

“Lovely to agree with you as always Carric,” Avienda winked. “Delwyn, you should head over to the Duke’s residents and see what more you can find out about your connection with the statue. Did you want the rest of us to come with you or no? We could always go and collect our reward,” she made quotes with her fingers as she said it, “and then leave you to investigate further. Just be careful how much information you divulge. That shouldn’t be too hard for you right?” Opening the door and leaning her head out of it she continued, “I think Carric is right, Xiang seems to be in fairly good shape, I’m sure he could continue over with us. Do you think it’s wise for us to take up Burl’s offer of room and board? It may be smarter to blend into the city than to sit under his prying eyes.”
“I feel like we should all go, but not necessarily stay overnight at the castle. If we don’t trust Burl 100%, it’s probably note wise to stay there…”

“Sounds good to me.”
“Me too. Um.. Am I supposed to stay in the castle though? You know, the like maybe possibly dangerous possibly super friendly castle?”
“I doubt that Lord Burl would require you too. And if he does… well… that would certainly seem suspicious wouldn’t it?”

“I think it would probably be safest if we stagger our exit from this safe house and head to the Duke’s.”

Avienda will stagger her exit so she leaves with Xiang. Leaning in to appear to be helping him down the street and speaking quietly, she’ll ask, “tell me more of your story Xiang. You said you had a vision, and suggested that finding this skull will make the circle complete. I saw that skull in the vision we had when we were time traveling. Right before I found our bodies outside of Lastfall. Could we stop that from happening if we find this thing and destroy it? I want to go with you. I think the rest of the group does to, if you’ll have us.”
Following Avienda out the door he responds " I had a vision , of a dark figure wearing the mask, I felt his evil. I flew over the mansion where he is located, I feel like this is where we need to go, well where I must go. There is darkness all around us I feel, shadows , we must be very careful, I feel like we are not safe. Perhaps we should speak of this to Carric, apparently nothing gets past his eagle like eyes, He should be able to spot the evil before it even comes close to us." Xiang smiles again and continues to walk with Avienda
Avienda frowned at the monk, “don’t get upset with Carric, Xiang. We all had a rough night, he was trying to make light of the situation. Like I said, we only spoke briefly but I felt as if the rest of the party wanted to travel with you. I think after we collect our payment,” she sighed heavily when she said this, “and let Delwyn investigate the statue more thoroughly with Lord Burl, we should be able to settle in for the night at the Inn. After that, the worlds our oyster. I for one would like to shake the dust of this town off my boots. You never answered my question though. Do you think this vision you had correlates with the vision we all had when we time traveled?”
Xiang looks at her with a funny expression " I have no ill will toward Carric, It was my poor attempt at humor. I am still working on that." Xiang ponders her question for a moment " Not sure honestly, if the visions are connected. I know that the horror that took my soul over in that moment, is something I will not shake for a long while. If they are connected that can’t bode well for us or these lands. In the end I hope that our friends will come, I dread tackling that evil spirit by ourselves." Xiang continues to walk with Avienda to the Dukes house joining everyone else.

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To the Safe House

Pulling a clip of bolts from the dead man’s body, Avienda shoved hard with the tip of her boot and sent his corpse over the edge of the roof to tumble the 40 feet to the ground. “Here,” she tossed the clip to Beau as they continued to make their way across the rooftops, “I’m sure you’ll need these.”
Watching her companions Avi marveled at their abilities. Beau and Xiang were like shadows moving through the night, and for all their heavy armor, Delwyn and Starch were masterfully keeping up with the rest of the party. Carric well, she chuckled, he was Carric.
If Burl’s instructions were correct, then safe house was just beyond that next set of rooftops. Delwyn had made sure and detached all the roof cross-beams—surely they had enough of a lead on those pale faced cretins.
Visions of a warm cot and a warmer whiskey danced through her head as she crested the rise of the rooftop in enough time to see Xiang crumple to his knees, a wicked looking crossbow bolt embedded in his chest. There wasn’t even enough time for her to cry out to the rest of the party as one ripped through her side as well. Her vision blurred as the poison began to take effect.
Looking up she saw the pale faced bastards that had been trailing them, “How did they manage to get so close to us so quickly,” she thought as all hell broke loose.
Bolts and spells screaming over top her head, Avienda pulled off her head scarf and tied off her own wound as best as she could. Leaning over Xiang-Chi she felt for a pulse, listened for breathing, found neither and worried. The light from the safe house roof twinkled in the distance. “Damn it Xiang, this isn’t the way the story is supposed to go. Outside of burning Lastfall remember? That is such a better ending!” Gathering her strength she concentrated on the incantations necessary to cast her spell as she laid her hands on Xiang’s chest. Speaking the words for her invisibility spell out loud, she hunkered down and took in her surroundings.
Usually she could tell from outside cues whether this spell had worked or not. All her companion’s efforts, however, where focused on the assassins. Carric and Beau were trading fire for fire, Starch had moved up to exchange blows with one of them and it looked like Delwyn was wrestling? Yes, he had an assassin around the neck and was slowly bringing the man to his knees. Everyone was, however slowly and painstakingly, making their way towards the safe house.
Still hunkered down Avienda stole a glance at the assassin that had shot her. She thought, maybe there was a look of confusion on his face as he searched for a target that was no longer there. “We’re going with it Xiang,” she mumbled to the unconscious monk. As confident that her spell had worked as she could be, Avienda hoisted Xiang’s lifeless body onto her shoulders and started making her way towards the safe house.

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Hangin' Around

Carric was second-guessing his life choices. It wasn’t the huge centipede creatures or the bloated, sewage eating monstrosities that brought him to this point. Nor was it the lizard creatures, the giant spiders, or the sentient oozes. Not even the basilisk that had nearly turned poor Beau in to a stone statue had made Carric examine himself so profoundly. Murderous animated suits of armor? No problem. Thugs and mysterious assassins? Nary a second thought. It was the cold hard cobblestones thirty feet below him that were giving him pause. They looked so… hard and far away. And though he didn’t think it was possible, they looked even more unforgiving than Avienda. Looking down, his legs dangled below him as his body swayed slightly, and he thought about those cobblestones as the numbness in his fingers increased. Hanging from a wooden plank that spans the gap between a pair of three story buildings will do that.

I really should do something else. Settle down, open a shop somewhere. Maybe find a wife and have a couple kids. A boring life. I nice, safe, boring life.

His strength was waning and he was just losing his grip when a large gauntleted hand grabbed his wrist, hauled him up, and unceremoniously tossed him over to the western building. “How can anyone so delicate be so clumsy?” asked Starch as he easily traversed the plank and crouched down next to Carric. Still shaken, Carric said nothing as Starch helped him to his feet, and they continued on towards Lord Burl’s safe house.

Creeping along the rooftop, they encountered more members of the thieve’s guild. This wasn’t the first such group they had run in to this night, and they made short work of them. Thankfully, this time, Carric had solid ground (rooftop) below him on which to fight.

More worrisome was the three all too familiar assassins that were casually pursuing them. Avienda looked back in the direction they had last been seen, and observed them creeping along the rooftop not too far away. “Removing the planks doesn’t seem to slow them down.” she said to no one in particular. They didn’t seem to be in a rush either, but were definitely getting closer. “We have to keep going. We need to get back to the safe house, hopefully before they reach us.”

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