Adventures in Thargothras

Session 15
A Rescue Party

The plan to rescue Seralyn had two parts, and luckily not all characters were required as fewer things went wrong than anticipated. 

Bean, Susan, Detective Siba, and Ellen Moore took a wagon laden with tinctures through the woods in hopes of running into the Citadel, while Deneit, Caleb, and Svalina stayed out of sight. Svalina manifested just long enough to possess the goblin who waylaid them, and guided the wagon to the entrance. Once there, a hobgoblin guard brought the four with the wagon inside for interrogation and processing. During this interview, Svalina used her goblin host to get the entrance guards drunk, including her borrowed body. Once the guards were sufficiently inebriated, Caleb and Deneit snuck inside, followed by a discorporated Svalina. After disposing of a goblin whose attention had been caught, they waited for the hobgoblin to march downstairs and Svalina possessed him as well. From there it was a simple matter to gain access to the dungeon cells and bypass the salt basilisk ("Janet"), only to find that Seralyn was no longer in her cell.

The plan shifted to finding both Seralyn's location and the location of her gear. The gear was found with Tugruk in his room, and the goblin chief volunteered to assist in the search. After hearing that Janet may have escaped, he willingly took a blindfold, allowing Caleb and Deneit to move behind them without as much fear of being caught. The first stop was a storage room near the doorway leading to the dungeons, where Tugruk did a cursory search before being frightened by the sound (Ghost Sound) of a walking basilisk. He headed off to look for Janet's keeper Bornik, while Svalina, Caleb, and Deniet were left alone to search the storage room more thoroughly. Seralyn was found under some loosely piled sacks of who-knows-what, and Caleb took out some thoughtfully purchased invisibility scrolls. While Caleb, Deneit, and Seralyn quietly proceeded to the entrance, Caleb continued his Ghost Sound to raise a false alarm and drive wandering goblins out of the path. Svalina, still in the guise of the hobgoblin, ordered the four new prisoners to be released immediately, and everyone headed to the door, a few bottles of alcohol poorer, but with Seralyn in tow.

While it was not shown, the rescue party and their gear are assumed to have arrived safely in Whitefield in the afternoon of the 14th.

Bad news

Susan wished she had volunteered to go with Seralyn to the Goblin Citadel. She didn't trust Karst on account of him being a goblin, but she knew that, and she knew Seralyn had gone to goblin lands before and returned unharmed, and so far this goblin hadn't shown hostility, so Susan had graciously stayed behind to keep an eye on the goblins still inside their patchwork fortification. And to talk to Caleb, which she rarely had the opportunity to do anymore. Caleb hadn't been able to follow Seralyn because he'd failed to hide his spellcasting, and the look of dread on the little goblin's face when he realized he was in the presence of not one, but two witches, he'd emphatically denied Caleb the opportunity to join. It was, Karst had explained, for the safety of all, as Queen Negost was unsettled by witches. Susan now realized she should have inquired further into that, but she was eager to find out what Caleb had been up to, and to share in kind. She should have gone with her gut, shouldn't have second-guessed herself. Too late now, but not too late to go in after her, with a few friends and friends of friends in tow. A rescue team, just like in the stories and the action plays.

On the plus side, she was now getting to spend more time with her childhood friend. He had his own spellbook now, but Allen hadn't yet taught him how to fly or summon lightning. Too bad. Those spells would be handy right now. Caleb had also spent a long time learning about the stars and their positions. Susan supposed that spending all day in the Observatory must get pretty boring if any of that stuff started to sound interesting, but she changed the subject politely enough when he started on the movement of constellations. When he started talking about his new friends, she became very curious indeed. Especially when he started talking about Catherine. Catherine Stoky, daughter of Jack Stoky of Stoky's Textiles, lived in Whitefield, but word of her beauty had reached to the edge of the barony. And from the sound of things, Caleb had been working very hard to get her attention. He was even asking Susan for advice, which he hadn't needed for the three months or so when she'd dated him at fourteen, so she told him to just be his sweet self, tell jokes but not all the time, and if it was meant to be, he'd win her over. That's when he told her he also liked Elaine, a Hearthfire acolyte, perhaps more, but didn't think he could impress her as easily. Gods, two years ago he was almost too afraid to talk to women he hadn't known for half his life or longer, and now he wanted two, and damn if he didn't have a chance at either if he'd just be more confident in his ample charms. She tried to tell him that being a wizard wasn't just a play-act, it was his world and his life, and he was no more a farmer than she was. But he didn't get it. He was too focused on making other people think he was a real sorcerer instead of just accepting that he was one and owning his destiny.

After that conversation, she'd gotten to tell him about her progress in the militia, her new dog, her little brother starting to grow up and talk about joining the militia, too. Then she told him about her boyfriend Sten. He wasn't very romantic, or super bright, but he had big, strong, gentle arms and he didn't smell as bad as some of the other men in the militia. She didn't meet a lot of people outside of work anymore, and he seemed a better pick than most at the time. The look of surprise on his face when she'd kissed him after a long sword practice (just the two of them, of course. She wasn't going to risk rejection in front of everyone) was adorable in its own right, and when he leaned forward to kiss her back, grabbing her shoulders with the same intensity as he'd held his wooden training sword (right up until she kissed him, and he dropped it), the moment had been magical. Caleb didn't seem as enthused, but it served him right for making her listen to all that stuff about the other two girls. Then she told him about how great she'd gotten with a shortspear, and stood up to show him a spinning move she'd practiced, and he agreed that it looked quite intimidating, especially with the scream at the end, and she was vindicated again.

But none of that mattered when Karst came back to the ramshackle encampment alone. Susan didn't speak Goblin, but according to Caleb's translation, the conversation had gone something like this:
"Where's Seralyn?"
"Please don't kill me! She was captured and imprisoned! She convinced the Queen to take my people back, but then the Queen decided to keep her for ransom! Please don't kill me! It wasn't my fault!"

…At which point Susan felt a weight in her stomach like a pile of lead. She should have been there. She should have helped Seralyn fight her way out, laying her life down if necessary. After all, if the things she heard were true, Seralyn alone was worth ten of almost anyone else in Radimyr. Maybe more. Something had to be done immediately. Leaving Karst to gather his fellows, (no point in asking how to get to the Citadel, no goblin ever gave that out to non-goblins), she went to gather a few friends of her own, starting with Ellen Moore, her healer. Ellen would know even more people, being the second-highest ranking Hearthfire in the village. Grabbing Caleb by his shirt, she marched southeast to Whitefield. No time to waste.

Session 14

My apologies if my notes are sparse. I am working largely from memory, and the session was rather short.
Allen, Felicity, Joshua, and Skyler flew on their giant bats for eight hours, stopped on the hills on the south side of the Greywall Mountains, where they were attacked by three hill giants, who were quickly dispatched, interrogated, and slain. The next day (Quintar 13), they entered Silverhold, where Joshua and Allen went to the Gravetender temple in the lowest levels of the city. Joshua received an electrum token from the one of the resident priests. Allen studied the frescoes, and other facets of the architecture. Meanwhile, Felicity sought out local independent breweries in hopes of finding new business partners and expanding her product line. Skyler was… I honestly can't remember what Skyler was up to. Probably trying to sell giant/goblin jerky to dwarves.

Erosia recounted his meeting with his new assistant a day earlier, during which he was somehow generous, contemptuous, and efficient. And very clear in his orders to make an undead-proof morgue.

Seralyn was led by Karst to Negost's underground citadel. Caleb, being another spellcaster, made Karst uneasy, so he was told to stay behind with Susan Jordan to wait for her return. Naturally, he followed her in secret for as long as he could, but eventually lost her and was forced to retrace his steps back out of the woods. Seralyn was blindfolded for the majority of the journey to keep the location of the citadel a secret.

In Negost's throne room, Seralyn pleaded a case for peace with the Goblin Queen, only to be rebutted. Apparently, Negost sides with Kellored in his interpretations of Satcotaar's will and the goddess's habit of only granting her favor to the victor of a previous conflict. Kellored plans to win a war against Viridonia to gain power before going after his true target – the elven provinces in the east. After some heated exchanges, Negost had Seralyn imprisoned in the deepest cell in the citadel's dungeon.

Later that night, Seralyn was visited by the ghost of Svalina Bire, who wishes to help Seralyn escape as part of her plan for revenge against the goblins responsible for her death – Tugruk and Negost. Tugruk is to be left alive but humiliated and demoted, and Negost, well, her fate is still undecided.

And that's about where we left off.

Karmic adjustments:
+1 to Allen for killing the giants to prevent further depredations, bringing his score to 18
+1 to Erosia for generosity towards his manager, even under the guise of selfishness, bringing his score to 13
Felicity remains at 10
+2 to Joshua for bringing Simon's body for burial as his first priority, and a further +1 for drawing fire from the giants, bringing his score to 10
+5 to Seralyn for minimizing the risk to others in her diplomatic expedition, attempting to preemptively end a war, and shaking Negost's self-confidence and Tugruk's confidence in his queen, bringing her score up to 24
+1 to Skyler for killing the giants without undue cruelty, bringing his score to 13
Vaelin remains at 11

Goblin Politics

Ividay, Septar 3, 926 (about four years ago).

A pair of hobgoblin soldiers roughly shoved Svalina Bire into a dark room with a glowing ceiling, and removed the black bag from her head. Hisses of disgust and contempt filled the room, nearly masking a few gasps of fear. At the other end of the room, a goblin in glowing face-paint stood, and the room fell silent. A spear's butt to the back of her knee forced Svalina to kneel, and armored hands on her shoulders kept her down. The goblin with the face-paint spoke first.

"Elf-witch! Do you know who I am?" All the faces in the room turned to Svalina.
"I don't know your name, but I'm guessing you're the queen I've heard so much about today." This was a lie; her captors had told her countless times today that she would "face the wrath of Negost Dreadtongue, Goblin Witch-Queen of the Forest," and so on. But Svalina knew that goblins loved knowing their names were on the lips of others, and to tell Negost that she'd been referred to by title would direct some of the goblin's anger away from her and toward her captors. The threats against her were vague, but she was certain there would be retaliation for what she had done. She should have killed the goblins and been done with it, she kept telling herself. Any attempt to teach a goblin empathy was a lost cause.

"I am Negost Dreadtongue, Goblin Witch-Queen…" Great. This was going to take a minute if she was going through all of her titles. Svalina noticed that her captors left out a couple. Svalina waited patiently for Negost to finish.
"…and Supreme Ruler of all goblins within a thousand miles. Do you know why you're here, Elf-witch?" Well, Svalina thought, time to put my brilliant brain to good use.
"Greetings, Negost Dreadtongue," she replied, making sure to keep all of the titles in the right order. "Goblin Witch-Queen of the Forest, Slayer of the Gilded Elk, Conqueror of the Cave of Leeches, Burner of a Hundred Dogs, Climber of High Mountains, Moon-kissed, Mistress of the Arcane Flame, Blessed of Nerith, Chief of the Broken Daggers, Subjugator of the Spider Faces, Bloody Boars, Dead Voles, Centaur Choppers, and Yellow Vipers, and Supreme Ruler of all goblins within a thousand miles. I'm Svalina Bire, representative of the Owdi Triumvirate of the Vastwood. And I suspect I'm here for the reckless audacity of defending my home and friends from your underlings' unprovoked attack?"
Negost's expression had slowly turned from contemptuous to impressed, showing only a hint of surprise when the Owdi Triumvirate had been mentioned. Clearly she knew whose servant she was dealing with. Her face returned to contempt at Svalina's sarcasm at the end, but Svalina wanted her to know that the charge was ridiculous.
"I'm sorry, perhaps your Goblin is a bit rusty. You said 'friends,' but I'm certain you meant to say 'pets.' I suppose our language requires a stronger tongue to pronounce."
"I know what I said. And just because you only see the creatures of the forest as food doesn't mean that's all they can be. But for all your intelligence, you'll never be more than primitive savages if you can't learn that. Now, is this a real trial or are you just out for elven blood? Because I'm pretty sure you're supposed to charge me with something if you bothered to drag me all the way here. I take your silence on the matter to mean you admit the attack was unprovoked." 
"I admit to no such thing. You set fire to the clothes of a team of foragers, sending them home naked after they shot a few rabbits? A bit of an overreaction, don't you think? And what kind of friend is a rabbit, anyway? They don't talk, they're useless in a fight, and they're too small to do any work. For that matter, how are they even useful as pets? As anything other than a meal? But who am I to try to understand the mind of an elf? I may as well try to look for the deep blue of a lake inside a rain puddle. Do you deny the charges? Because I have a great many witnesses capable of speech, and it sounds like all you have is a handful of prey creatures and patrons that don't care enough to protect you." Negost's grin was terrifying. "And you've been rude to the real queen of the forest. Tsk tsk. Perhaps a stay in our dungeon will teach you a lesson about meddling with us."
"The Owdi will hear about this when I get out!"
"Then they can take it up with me and I can tell them what happened. I take your silence on the matter to mean you admit to attacking our hard-working food suppliers under flimsy pretenses? Take her to the deepest cell until she apologizes properly!"
Oh, shit, thought Negost, as her guards dragged the screaming elf back into the hall. Lost my temper again. It helped her reputation among her people, true, but sometimes led to some diplomatic mishaps. The Owdi were not a force to be trifled with. Better to be safe and kill her before she could tell them. Then again, if the elf-witch made it here, then either they weren't really all-seeing in the forest, or they knew and did nothing to stop the events that unfolded, so maybe they weren't going to be a problem anyway. Still, another witch in the woods could lead to a power struggle later down the line. It was not unheard of for a nongoblin of significant power, even one as revolting as an elf, to become a goblin monarch, for a time. Best to be rid of her, and claim she was beaten unconscious and carried out into the woods. There, all planned out. Now to find someone to do the sneaky work.

A few days later…

"Tugruk Bonearm, wasn't it? Explain to my why you've made this appointment on such short notice, and insisted, nay, demanded that my guards let you enter my private chamber?"
"Your majesty. my boss, Chief Snapjaw of the Spider Faces, is planning a coup against you. I thought you ought to know."
"Is that so? And how does he expect to accomplish this?"
Tugruk straightened his back. "He plans to have you poisoned at the Eclipse Festival Feast on Pasaday night, and run you through with his blade while you're in a weakened state. He has promised one of your guards a discreet promotion a month or so after she slips giant squid ink and demonscale into your food. While you're stiff as a plank and your magic is dulled, he knows you wouldn't be able to stop him. Does that answer your question?"
"This is a very serious accusation, and you stand a lot to gain if he is removed from power. Do you have proof of any of this?"
"'Tis true, your majesty. I would become the new chief by another's hand, and in doing so would become one of the most powerful chiefs for a thousand miles in any direction. As for proof, I can give you the name of the guard he chose. But I came here at great risk, so if I may be so bold, I would have compensation."
Negost's eyebrows raised even as her eyes narrowed. "And what would you have for compensation? Be aware that any payment I promise you can only come to you after I confirm what you've told me."
"Money is always nice, but I have ambition, and a plan. I want my promotion, and I want it on my terms, and I want your cooperation in response for saving your life."
"You presume much. What is your plan, should my guard confess?"
"Offer her the same promotion sooner, or better, to poison Snapjaw instead. Feign paralysis, and if we time things properly, when he stands to attack you, he'll freeze up right after he draws his sword, I'll stab him in the back in front of everybody, and I become leader of the Spider Faces, and your Left Hand."
"I see. Ambitous, indeed. And why would I trust a Left Hand who would so willingly betray his chief? You'd be Left Hand whether he died or I did. Perhaps you think me easier to slay? Tell me truly, why should I trust your ambition to end so close to the top?"
"Your majesty, to speak frankly, I cannot defend the throne were I to take it, and I'd rather be the Left Hand of a powerful Queen than the Left Hand to a horse's ass."
"Ah, so it's personal, is it? Does he not treat you well?"
"I am paid well, but his stupidity is only outmatched by his brutishness and skill at arms. If he were king, he would rule poorly and our people would be gone from these lands in two generations. I cannot let this happen to my grandchildren."
After a long silence, the queen nodded.
"I see. Very well, I accept your terms. You will give me the name, but while I confront my guard, I need a little more proof that your loyalty is not based in cowardice. I have a matter that needs to be tended to discreetly. Once we have completed our tasks, we can work out the details of your future. Are you willing to risk death or curses to serve your queen?"
"Anything, your majesty."
Negost pursed her lips. "Good. Walk with me." she purred as they left her chamber together.

Session 13
Bats, orcs, and goblin forts

On Alvsday, Quintar 11, the day before half the party gets back to Whitefield, the other half of the party is accosted by stranglebarks as they pass through the Vastwood, along the Theomehtar River, (and later the River Ohron as the two rivers join) on their way north to the Western Headlands. After sorting that out, using some clever teleportation tricks and nonlethal tactics, they escape and slay the eldritch creatures quickly.

At the shores of Lake Audrey, the party decides to scout in a counterclockwise fashion around the lake in order to locate the home of Granny Willow, the storm hag with which they are loosely acquainted. The only structure in sight is more closely investigated by an invisible Skyler, who takes note of a circular hut with a high, conical thatched roof, orbited overhead by stormclouds that match the description of storm elementals. Also present was a troll, seen fetching firewood from outside. Having delivered his findings to Allen, Felicity, and Joshua, they decide to look for a bat cave and camp out when they find one.

As the sun sets, a few giant bats are seen leaving a nearby valley in the hills, where the party also discovers three orcs in bat masks guarding a cave, the entrance to which is covered in a wide net. Approaching peacefully, the party negotiates with the orcs to purchase eight bats (three female, five male) at an inflated price, and camp for the night. Skyler goes out hunting with Gurgamang (f), while the other three stay with Burvil (m) and Slosk (m), one of whom shows a greedy, if foolhardy, streak. The next day, they begin their flight to Silverhold.

On Felsday, Quintar 12, Seralyn hears about the recent goblin attacks and immediately fetches Caleb Ekhart to accompany her to try and make peace with the invading tribes. The two find themselves followed by volunteer militia to have shown up to warn her, and to protect her in case something should go wrong. After some very tense conversation with their leader, Susan Jordan, Seralyn comes to the understanding that they will be tagging along, and makes the best of the situation by instructing them to look as non-threatening as possible when she approaches the goblins. They comply, and when they find the ramshackle goblin fort, she is greeted by two goblins, representing portions of tribes that briefly marched under Ignidia's banner. Karst, who represented the Stonedrakes, explains that they are unsure of whether their loyalty to the Spider Faces and the goblin cause overall will be questioned, and does not want to risk civil war or execution by showing up after so much lost time. Seralyn volunteers to talk to Negost on his behalf, should he lead her to the Goblin Queen, and Karst accepts.

The session ends there, resolving the events of Quintar 12 for 6 party members. The activities of Erosia and Audreyn are still unresoved, but Audreyn's destiny currently lies separate from everyone else, so her narrative is predetermined until she returns with Dame Zelcir.

Karmic adjustments:
Allen remains at 17
Erosia remains at 12
Felicity remains at 10
Joshua remains at 7
+1 to Seralyn for risking her life to speak to the goblins directly and trying to minimize risk of casualties, bringing her score to 19
+1 to Skyler for assisting in the nightly hunt and +1 for his bonding with Gergamang, bringing his score to 12. Gergamang is now an optional contact, should he pursue further friendship.
Vaelin remains at 11

An unlikely assassin

Joysday, Quartar 7, 930, somewhere on the plains between Radimyr and Draganyr.

It was the middle of the night, and Cruxer was beginning to fear he was lost. On a basically flat plain, with mountains looming a dozen or more miles behind him to the west, and presumably the sea, to the north. 
He'd been hired for his skill at tracking humanoids, but he was not especially gifted at it. His other skill – the reason he'd been chosen for his last mission - was interrogation, and it was of no use to him here, unless he wanted to interrogate a deer on the whereabouts of a massive quantity of goblins, and a few humans. 

Then, the scent of goblin hit him, carried by a southbound breeze. Cruxer instinctively crouched into a predatory stance. There were rumors that his family had been once tainted with barghest blood, and that their uncanny sense of smell was a lingering vestige of that line. Cruxer didn't know for sure, but he believed it was as good an explanation as any for the way he felt and acted during the hunt. Curling his bare toes into the soft earth, between the roots of the thick green and yellow grass, he tightened his calves and launched into a sprint, following the scent as it was joined by smoke and cooking meat. In the far distance, campfires appeared, and the outline of tents under the green moonlight.

Having witnessed his quarry's location, he stopped running, as a rabbit does when hiding from a hawk, and crouched hastily so that his back no longer showed above the grass. Slowly, he waddled between the blades in a wide curve, inching ever closer to the largest tent, until he was almost inside the encampment.

By a combination of skill and sheer luck, he evaded the gaze of the few who remained at the camp. A few goblins, reeking of sweat and dried fungus-paint, a handful of humans, smelling of fear and warm steel, and another smell he did not recognize. A spicy, smoky odor, mixed with animal blood and something chemical. This smell came from the largest tent, and so Cruxer was able to place the smell as dragon. The sensation of a new scent washed over him, and he gripped his sword, a short blade hammered from iron that had never touched rust or flame, but which still held a razor edge, and listened at the cloth farthest from the entrance for what transpired within. He heard only a deep breathing, rumbling but raspy, only a few feet from his ears.

Cruxer was not a professional assassin, but he had learned a few tricks of the trade from his elder trackers over the years. With one hand tightly gripping the handle of his sword, unsheathing the blade in utter silence, he used his other hand to gently cup and pluck a ceramic orb from a belt on his shoulder. His hand guided by instinct and experience, he tossed the orb high into the air, to have it land beyond the firelight, but close enough to catch the attention of anyone on guard. The orb shattered with a vague snapping sound as it imploded on impact with the ground, and, predictably, several footsteps followed, leaving the camp to investigate the noise. Leaving the general's tent unguarded and vulnerable, if only for the few seconds he needed to get the job done. Curling a finger beneath the edge of the tent, letting a sliver of light escape, he readied himself.

In a series of movements so smooth and quiet that the untrained eye would see only one motion, and the untrained ear would hear only the rustle of fabric in the wind, Cruxer threw the cloth of the tent upwards, somersaulted into the room, letting the cloth fall behind him, and raised his sword to plunge into Ignidia's chest. What he hadn't planned for was a human woman standing on the other side of the opulently carved oak cot, glaive in her hands, striking the sword from his grasp in a roundhouse swing. Cruxer jumped back and drew his backup weapon, a slender dagger of elven make, purloined from one of his elders on a hunt gone badly. Noting that the general still lay unconscious, he reassessed his target priorities and dashed forward around the cot to strike the human. Her glaive brushed his ribcage as he closed behind her reach, and his dagger unerringly stabbed into a gap in her mail. Evidently, she hadn't had the time to dress in her full armor, which lay in a stack beside another, far less beautiful cot at the side of the room. The dagger's blade slid under the human's left arm, in a clear vector to her heart, and stopped, hitting something hard before it could pierce her skin. Cruxer reflexively pulled the dagger back to his chest, and glanced down to see that the end had broken off, leaving it useless for piercing strikes. Flipping it in his hand so that the blade pointed downward from his fist, he readied a quick jab at the human's face, but he never got the chance. Pulling her glaive to suit a close-quarters fighting style, she lunged forth and plunged her blade into his unarmored throat. The glaive bent and pulled her to her knees as his body went limp.

Letting go of her weapon, satisfied that the threat had ended, the human woman reached into her armpit and removed a short length of dagger-blade and a broken sending stone, kept where it would not be seen, but less secure than she had hoped. This was the stone that connected her to her precious daughter Seralyn. How would she coordinate with her daughter now? Hopefully, she could contact her father to send a message her way, but that could put more lives in danger if he were to expose himself. By the time he could get a message safely out of Port Westvale, Seralyn may have found her uncle and given him the dud stone, leaving him alone again without knowing her mistake. And because of her strict instructions not to initiate contact, it could be weeks before the mistake could be corrected. But there was a gilded lining to the situation. Ignidia would now trust Wilhelmina completely, and might tell her more about the grand plan at work, like why they were heading south after meeting with Kemassu's vessel….

Session 12
"Fuck this town"

On the morning of the 9th, the party decided to split up, with Allen, Felicity, Joshua, and Skyler heading south toward the Mystics of Burall, and the rest heading north to Highridge to sell unwanted gear and turn in the corpses of T'Lara (for a reward) and Aivar and Sir Caspin for a proper burial. Cash was divided to reflect the value of found equipment and put everyone closer to an equal standing financially. A handy haversack found on Simon's body was wanted by both Allen and Erosia, but since Allen is going to where he can buy one, he sold it to Erosia for a large gem and some cash. Joshua is taking Simon's body to Silverhold after the party has regrouped, or so goes the plan.
The journey took just under 8 hours for the northbound characters, and almost 10 hours for the southbound characters.

For those heading south, the PCs made it to the Mystics of Burall without incident, spoke to Urojani, and began shopping. To increase their line of credit, they accepted a job to retrieve several live shock beetle specimens. That night, their task was completed superlatively, as they returned with more than twice the minimum number of specimens, and a brood mother as well. Their plan is now to take their newly gained loot and travel to the Ohros Swamp, up the river, and into the Western Headlands, doing what they can to scout Lake Audrey for Granny Willow's home and defenses, then look for bat caves.

For those on the way to Highridge, the northbound party members ran across six apparent bandits on a natural footpath, carrying bags of coins. Erosia cowed them with displays of power and then offered them the chance of money and threatened to kill the beloved (and powerful) Bandit King, despite knowing nothing of this person's skills or abilities. Three of the bandits returned to the woods while the other three agreed to give the PCs a very wide berth.

Once in Highridge, the party was able to sell all of the mundane, non-masterwork gear at full price, as well as all of the unclaimed gems under 100gp in value. Audreyn was also able to sell the two suits of full plate at higher than half price, citing their historical value to the dealer while Seralyn dealt with Aivar.
Seralyn expressed worry that T'lara's body might not be treated well by the bounty officers, so she delayed the process while Erosia made inquiries and explored the town. Erosia learned that while service was generally quick and reliable (and quite responsive to bribes), he decided that he deplored the general population and atmosphere. On the way, he paid for services from the local Gravetenders, commissioned two new scalpels, and got drunk with Vaelin in a local inn-and-tavern until Audreyn and Seralyn found them.

During that time, Seralyn and Audreyn took Sir Caspin's body to his family, and consoled his mother as best they could before being politely ejected for her to mourn. Seralyn then tried to find information about Aivar, specifically any family he had, in the hopes that his remains could be sent to them, but no information could be found by mortal means. Using the boon granted by Ortrul for putting the shades to rest, she spoke to a Vanth and was told of some living family in the Elven Provinces to the east. Eventually she and Audreyn returned to the alley where they agreed to meet, but from there had to track down their male companions in the nearby inn-and-tavern. Stories were exchanged, and, satisfied that T'lara's body would be well-treated, Seralyn collected the bounty and split it with the other party members present. Then they rested.

In the morning, having heard rumors about town that Baron Wersil was to leave town, they investigated and witnessed him and many of his soldiers preparing for a journey to Staygate, along with a man calling himself Lord Vincent, to see the King about expanding the kingdom to include a new barony under Lord Vincent's rule. A few party members were introduced to Lord Vincent, who greeted Seralyn with a kiss on the hand, and whose own hands were checked by Vaelin (to prove he wasn't a rakshasa). Vaelin also took the time to interview him briefly, and learn a bit more about his origins and intentions. Seeing no red flags, Vaelin wished the former baron of Narsiik the best of luck in his endeavors before excusing himself. Audreyn, Erosia, Seralyn, and Vaelin then decided to travel with he and the baron to Whitefield, at which point Audreyn would continue the journey as Dame Zelcir's personal guard and champion. While the journey from Highridge to Whitefield only took two days (during which the bandits remained hidden), it is estimated that the whole trip (including a 10-day stay in Staygate) will take 27 days, and Dame Zelcir will return with Audreyn and Gabriel Button on Joysday, Sextar 7.

Once in Whitefield, the party split up. Erosia tended to his finished hospital. Seralyn heard about some goblin attacks and decided to investigate (alone). Vaelin was made aware of a man named Eyeth, who had entered the village seeking an escaped prisoner called The Viper. 
Vaelin's hook was resolved first. After some creative detective work (investigating abnormalities in food sales), he singled out Sheldon the Cooper as the man harboring this fugitive. Setting up a perimiter watch, he waited until the right moment to confront Sheldon, who was visibly nervous and untidy with hiding evidence of his crime. Fed up with the awkwardness of Sheldon's explanations, The Viper exposed himself, explained how he'd manipulated Sheldon (offering to tell the most interesting stories he'd ever heard in exchange for food and shelter), and told Vaelin that he would not be arrested willingly. Vaelin accepted the challenge, and a fight ensued, with Vaelin victorious, much to The Viper's unpleasant surprise. The shapeshifter was tied up and taken to the Keep's dungeon, where Vaelin interviewed him further and offered him a job. The Viper is so far undecided.

The session ended on the evening of Quintar 13th, but the events of Quintar 12th with Seralyn still need to be resolved.

Karmic Adjustments:
Allen remains at 17.
+1 karma to Erosia for paying for something nice to be placed on T'Lara's tombstone, and another +1 for buying a round of drinks for the whole tavern, bringing his score up to 12.
Felicity remains at 10.
+1 to Joshua for agreeing to hold and deliver Simon's remains to Silverhold, bringing his score to 7.
+1 karma to Seralyn for going out of her way to honor the dead, bringing her score to 18.
Skyler remains at 10.
-1 karma to Vaelin for dealing lethal damage in a nonlethal combat, but +1 karma for offering to redeem a criminal at his own effort and expense, leaving his score at 11.

Breaking Out
As told by The Viper

So there I was, incarcerated. Again. I'm not going to go into how they caught me, because it's not really all that important. You know what? Screw it, we have time, and it'll provide a little atmosphere.

So there I was on the Old Road, as you people call it. I've seen older, but hey, if it's the oldest one you've got, you have every right to call it that while in the confines of your own country. Sorry, I digress. I was on the Old Road, because even when I'm on the run it's a lot faster to stay on the road when you can, and I only travel at night anyway, because nobody watches the roads at night unless they're in some town or city. The small places like this one you walk around, because they notice everybody who comes through and it's not that much farther out of your way to take the detour. Bigger places, they're just watching to make sure no one's coming up to the gates with an army or a huge glowing sword and as long as you keep your hood down and don't draw attention to yourself, you can blend in with whatever crowd is clogging up the entrance, which, conveniently, is also the exit. You know, in Estardana, they have two gates right next to each other, one for people going in, and one for people going out. Did you know that? It makes moving through a lot easier, but it's a trade-off, see, 'cause it makes the walls twice as easy to breach if the city ever gets attacked. Not that Estardana's had a war any time in the last fifty years, so maybe they just aren't worried. Who knows? But with the smaller towns like this one, they don't even bother putting two gaps in the fence, because what's the point? They don't have so many visitors, and at best they have a wooden wall to keep out animals and raiders, but the bigger walled cities all do it, like their queen commanded it or something. Maybe she did, I don't know. I went to buy things, not to study history.

I'm getting off track again. So I was on the Old Road, between here and Highridge, oddly enough, going through the woods to Highridge so I could buy a horse and escape to the south. I figure I could lose the authorities once I got to the Whispering Barrens by riding my horse in one direction, leaping off, and leaving a set of footprints going backwards or looping around a few times, and then make my way to Estardana again. You should have seen the look on my cellmate's face when I told him that plan, and the look on my face when he told me Estardana has an extradition treaty with Viridonia. I tell you my face looked just like this…! It's okay, that was a joke, you can laugh. I know I always look the same with this mask on.

I asked one of the other inmates and they said my plan would have worked because it's Estilica, not Estardana, that has the treaty, but I'm not taking chances on that. I'm going straight for the elf-lands where I know they don't prosecute for crimes against humans and I'm just going to rent myself out as a self-defense instructor, adopt a child if I can find one, and retire at the ripe old age of whenever the hell I feel like it. Where was I?

Right, the bandits. Yeah, of course this was about the bandits. I mean, there I was, just marching my happy ass through bandit turf, without paying the toll because like I told the guy in the tree, he can shoot all the warning shots he wants, but I'm not paying two copper, let alone two gold, when I can protect myself from anything in those woods. So I just keep marching through, in the middle of the night because what do I care, I can see in the dark and humans can't. Well, if you know about the bandits, and you obviously do, you probably know they have this guy who calls himself their king. You do? Well, you can see where this is going, then, can't you? So it turns out this one can see in the dark, maybe he's half orc or half ogre, but whatever the case, he wears a mask, too, and a wooden crown. I suppose he wears it so that everyone can tell it's him. You know, in case there's some other guy walking around the woods in a moss-green cloak, near seven feet tall and weighing eleven or twelve stone, because people like that must be oh-so-common in human lands. He introduces himself as the Bandit King, in case I hadn't heard of him or the crown didn't give it away, and says the toll has doubled for me. I say "No thank you, I'll just be on my way, because I don't need to pay for protection, I can protect myself."
Then he says "No, the toll is to feed my soldiers and maintain our gear and keep the roads clear."
So I say "Fine, but you should have your sign say that instead of 'For safe passage, place two gold coins in the bowl' because that's rather misleading and if you didn't want the law-abiding citizens resenting you so much you'd-" but then he cut me off by smacking me in the head with the back of his fist. Well, I'm not one to get in a fight when I don't have to, except that that's actually wrong and that's exactly the kind of person I am, so after I pick myself up off the ground I go for my long knives, which are probably sold on the black market by now, but I had them at the time and he and I start to circle each other in the middle of the road. Now, I figure no one's around but bandits for miles, so I don't want to kill this guy, even if he is a wanted criminal and even if killing him makes me the new Bandit King because what could I possibly want with an army of bandits to feed? So I think, I'll fight this jerk until he goes unconscious, but I'll pull a few blows so I don't kill him, and I'll just take the chance that he won't kill me, either.

Well, let me tell you, that fight did not go as planned. He's got some kind of chainmail that goes stiff when a blade comes too close. I mean, magic, of course, but that's not the effect I normally see and it's pretty effective. But that's not all. Even when I do manage to get a hit in around or through his armor, he's just not bleeding right. I've been in a lot of fights, so I tend to notice little things like that, and I see this guy's wounds closing up. I have something similar, but his wounds are healing as fast as mine and aren't even leaving scars, so now I'm guessing he's half troll. He's too small to be a full troll, and he's too well-spoken to be a young troll – I don't want to sound speciesist, because I'm not, but let's be real, even the smartest trolls don't exactly line up for linguistics education and then become bandits. So he's hard to kill, which, combined with his girth and strength is probably why they made him the leader instead of some fragile con man, and when I realize what I'm in for, that's when I get my first pang of regret. But we're already fighting and as long as I can keep dancing around him long enough, I'll be able to win.

So we're going at it for a about a minute, and I'm feeling pretty good because once I'm in combat for more than about half a minute I'm almost unstoppable from there. He's swinging this iron-shod club at me, and for the most part I'm getting out of the way, but he gets a couple good hits in, and I'm a little dazed, and that's when at least a dozen other bandits jump out of the bushes and wrestle me to the ground. I can handle a few peripheral attackers when I'm a little bit into my dance – I'll tell you about that later – but not against this many guys. So they hold me down and let this guy whale on me with that giant club of his, and I can feel my ribs breaking, which is almost as painful as when they mend wrong a few seconds later, and then they just tie me up and carry me to the edge of the forest and leave me tied to a tree. They let me keep the mask because they're scared of what they see underneath, but they take my knives and bracers and necklace of flesh hardening and all of that, and in the morning, one of the city guards with this ridiculous braided goatee knows just where to find me, and pretends like he's not in league with a bunch of wanted criminals and drags me to the bounty office and asks if there's a bounty on me and of course there is because I'm The Viper and at this point I'd broken out of prison three times already and resisted arrest and escaped custody and all that eight or nine times, so I've got a record, you know. So anyway they look at my mask and peek under it to make sure it's me and I'm still hogtied from the night before with ribs and shins that healed all crooked and I can hardly breathe, let alone resist as they cart me off in a wheelbarrow – for crying out loud, the bounty office has more than one wheelbarrow, I guess dead bodies are more common than they should be for a bounty office – and he takes his gold and the whole time he's carting me to Heslan Penitentiary,  he's talking about how he's gonna use the money to buy the fanciest drinks he can get his hands on and if there's enough left over he's going to go play dice with some friends and we both know it's illegal and we both know I can't report him because I don't know his name, and even if I did, he'd deny it and they'd take his word over mine, and like he said he doesn't even need to bring it up, because we share this look and this moment and I can't stop staring at his stupid goatee braid like thinks he's some Ankhtephian prince from thousands of years ago and he probably either lost a bet or thinks it's cool as shit and I can't tell because he doesn't look self-conscious but maybe he forgot it was there so it could go either way… I'm drifting. Okay, we had this weird bonding moment where my feelings for him became a cherished and personal hatred, totally unrequited because this guy just sees me as a way to make some extra money and a chance to gloat.

So we get to Heslan Penitentiary – an ironic name because not a single soul in there is penitent in the least – and he talks to the guards at the front door and they congratulate him but they're clearly jealous, and they let him wheel me in to see the warden, and I'm in too much pain to say anything while he looks me over and they strip me down to my loincloth and take my mask, but once they determine it's not magic, they talk about whether to sell it, but one of the Warden's aides says that it's against the rules and they just stare at him like he's turned bright blue and he says "Look, selling rings and knives and small stuff is all well and good but someone's going to recognize the mask and then we'll have the baron on our asses. We have to let him keep it or put it into storage for real." and they look at me like I'm already dead, and they know I know they're all on the take, but just like Goat-braid I can't go over their heads and report them because they'll just deny it, you know, so I work my face muscles to look extra creepy so they'll give me the mask back instead of having to look at me, and it must have worked because the next thing I know the warden himself is sliding the mask onto my head and telling Goat-braid to return the wheelbarrow and go home. Then two of them haul me upright, and the pain is almost blinding because I'm so stiff and sore and broken. If I were human, I'd be covered in bruises, because fucking Goat-braid must have hit every single pot-hole and uneven cobblestone between here and the bounty office, but I can't tell if that was intentional or just habit. Anyway.

The next few days are uneventful, they set me up with this great big bear of a cell mate instead of putting me into solitary, which was a supremely stupid move on their part, but I'm smart enough not to say anything because if there's one part of my reputation that I don't want to precede me here, it's that I can't get up to my full ability unless I'm fighting someone one on one. So I ask this guy to do me a favor and break my legs in exactly the places they broke the first time and he's a nice enough guy and he helps out, and it hurts like a bitch but now I can set them properly before they heal, so now that I know I can trust this guy I have him repeat the process for the rest of everything that didn't heal properly, and spend a week or so swindling my way through the general population until I can get my hands of a shiv. Everyone thinks I want to kill someone, and maybe I hinted that I had it out for one of the guards – and I do, but Goat-braid doesn't work here – and I get one and the first thing I do is go back to my cell and sharpen it as much as I can without drawing attention and then dig into my own muscle to get all the bone splinters out so I don't get bone spurs or anything and then I give the shiv to Juro - I think that's what my cellmate's name was, he didn't talk very clearly – as payment for services rendered and he just laughs and mumbles something about how he needed to vent some anger anyway, but he takes the shiv because you don't turn down payment in prison and we start to become friends.

Now I know I've spent a lot of time with the setup, for the action, here, but like I said we had the time and honestly I think it adds to the story, since there are a few recurring characters here. But it's okay because now we're back to the part I was about to start with.

So there I was, incarcerated again. I've got a giant musclehead for a cellmate, who, as far as I can tell, is in for something involving violence and poor impulse control, and we're surrounded by petty thieves and patsies and anyone unprofessional or unpopular enough to get caught. At this point Juro and I have been talking for a while, and I've already hatched a plan to get out, and he's in on it. See, when the guards aren't looking, we've been sparring in our cell. There's not a lot of room, but we've only been practicing fisticuffs and I've told him as long as he doesn't break any bones I don't tell him to, he doesn't have to pull his punches, and I'll do everything I can not to hurt him, just tap him, but I have to keep swinging at him or it won't work. It took a while to explain it to him, but after I messed up and socked him in the hip he understood. We had to take a break for a day or so while he recovered from that, but we kept practicing and today was the big day.

So I think I mentioned a bit about my combat style but I haven't really told you how it worked, so here goes. If I can explain it to you faster than I did to Juro, I'll count that as a win. So, whenever I'm in a fight with one person, or at least focusing all of my attacks on one person, I start moving faster and getting stronger. It takes a long time to build up, and wears off really fast, so I have to concentrate, but as long as I keep swinging, I get better and better. It's magical, and it's because I'm not human. We'll leave it at that. What's important right now is that Juro and I were in the mess hall, and we both know that if this fight isn't convincing, we'll be caught and separated to keep us from conspiring again and he knows I'm better at escape plans than he'll ever be so he's not having that. We also both know that if we just end up beating the crap out of each other, we'll be separated and wounded, and might both go into solitary, and neither of us are having that. So we start slow. He bumps into me, my food spills. I swing the first blow, into his shoulder. Just a love tap, but it "gets his attention" and he turns around. Now we both put our fists up, and, bless them all, the other inmates start moving tables out of the way and cheering us on. Now Juro and I have talked about this for hours and hours every night, so we know what is and is not allowed in this fight and he's totally into it because there's a lot more allowed than not allowed and he hasn't had the chance to swing a chair at anyone in forever, so that's the first thing he does, and he swings wide and high and I duck like a pro and jab him in the belly with the tips of my knuckles and it's on. The guards know better than to break up a fight until someone is unconscious or dead, but a couple come over to watch and shout wagers at each other and that's fine because the disappointment when they can't collect will be satisfying for me. So Juro and I trade swings and blows like that for a while until I test my strength by breaking his chair. I do. Now that we know where we're at, we start the part we choreographed but weren't able to practice from our cell. It's all mental from here, and I know I'm going to have to give him a lot of verbal reminders, but this is our only shot, so we have to get it right or start over in three years when they let us out of solitary. He remembers to back me up against the wall opposite the bars. We trade blows, I go in for a tripping move and say "Jump!" and he jumps but he's really heavy and doesn't jump very well, and for a split second I'm afraid he's going to land too soon and I'll have to break out of the infirmary like I did in Eldermarsh, but he's better at it than he looks and it really impresses the crowd so we decide to give them more of a show, with him trying to trip me and grab me and pick up more chairs to throw at me, and when I get to the point where I'm shattering chairs in mid-air, I give him a nod and say "Back!" and we start edging our way to the other wall, where a set of iron bars is the only thing between us and the main hallway, and if we can get past the guards and get out the door and keep running long enough to hide, we can go our separate ways as free men. He walks backwards, feigning the defensive. I'm pushing forwards, still barking little hints about where I'm about to strike because now I know I could really hurt him. We get to the bars and I say "Duck!" but he does it a little too slow and hit his shoulder and his arm goes limp, but now I have his undivided attention and when I say "Duck!" again, he ducks like his life depends on it and my fist goes into one of the bars. Now, like I said before, I'm magically strong and agile at this point, but if I don't at least try to hit my opponent it all goes away. But I found a loophole where I can think really hard about hitting someone while lining up a punch to hit something behind them, and keep what I've worked up to, but I have to strike out when my target is still there. It's tricky, but it works well enough that I break the bar behind him instead of his face. And, because now we're on the same page, it works three more times before the guards catch on that I'm a total monster now and to their credit as smart, rational people, but to their discredit as effective prison guards, they all step at least a dozen feet from the gap in the wall that I've just created. That's when I shout "Now!" and Juro and I both leap through the hole and start running down the hallway and the guards realize how dumb they are and start chasing us. Now, to keep my strength and agility from fading, Juro and I are still slapping at each other and he's getting hits in because I'm running too fast to dodge them, but they don't really hurt anyway, and as soon as we leap through the hole there are about fifty guys behind us who want freedom as badly as we do and they get in between us and most of the guards and Juro and I have a good head start. We make it all the way to the door and I use the last instant of my super-strength to rip it off its hinges. The guards on the outside see a big iron double-door get kicked open and land in the street and they hoof it, which again is a credit to their sanity and a discredit to their work ethic, but it works for me because now Juro and I are being shot at from a much farther distance, and the guards are missing because they're probably afraid to look at us directly. The last I see of Juro, he's running into an alley behind a whorehouse and I'm still running in a straight line, looking for a good place to peel off and disappear. I'm experienced enough to know that a straight, empty alley is not what you look for when you want to disappear, so I find a nice crooked one and go for it, but I learn to late that some prick in the town guard knows the layout better than I do and set up an ambush. He learns too late that when I'm running at full speed and hold my fist up, I hit pretty hard. So here I am with an unconscious town guard, probably still being chased by prison guards, and I'm still wearing nothing but a loincloth and a mask. I only have less than a minute, but I strip that downed guard to his underclothes and put them on myself. They don't fit me, but it's a better disguise than nothing, and the helmet covers most of my face down to my chin, so as long as no one looks into the eyeholes and doesn't see that I don't have visible eyes, I'm fine. I drag him a little further out of the way, grab his halberd, and run down the alley the way I came, just in time to join the prison guards, who are slow from their armor, in chasing myself down the street. I make a point of shouting "This way, we'll cut him off!" and they fall for it, and I run a little slower and a little slower until I'm in the back and then I let them run into what I can only presume is the endpoint of that little crooked alley and I head to the edge of town, the same way I came in because I don't know Highridge that well. Well, there's only one guard stationed at the gate since the alarm bells went off all over town, and I figure I can talk my way past one guy or fight him if I have to, and if someone sees me I'll just take off into the woods again and pay the toll with barter because the stolen uniform I'm wearing has to be worth something, so I walk up to this guy thinking I'll tell him he's needed for the chase and I'm his relief or something and I know it's not very plausible and I'm cursing myself for not thinking this far ahead and then I'm close enough to see this guy's face. Not the whole face, because again the helmet covers most of it, but the chin is exposed. I don't know if this was good luck or bad, but I've run into fucking Goat-braid and I have half a mind to show him how I feel, and while I'm not the kind of guy who gets into fights when I don't need to, that's incorrect because again, that's exactly the kind of jerk I am and I walk up to him, check behind me and by Felclef's good graces, there's no other watchmen in sight. So I point my borrowed halberd at him and tell him "I'm checking for impostors and would he please remove his helmet" because I want to see the look on his face before I break his nose, and he does, and now that I know for sure this is the guy, I take off my helmet and he sees my no-face and his eyes get as wide as fried eggs and I rush in to trip him and he doesn't even resist he's so scared, and I bring my heel down and feel his nose crunch through my boot, but I know how to pull my kicks so his skull's not broken and I leave him conscious to nurse his face while I run off into the woods. When I get far enough into the trees that the city gate's out of sight, sure enough, there's a bowl of gold coins and an arrow in the road, and I start to take the armor off to leave as barter when I feel a lump in my shirt and what do you know, there's a handful of silver in the pocket and I don't feel bad about leaving the rest of the outfit behind and just hanging on to the halberd, you know. I made it most of the way through the woods before I fell asleep because healing factor or no, breaking out of prison and running for your life on an empty stomach is exhausting. I found a comfortable spot out of view of the road and when I woke up, I was down to my skivvies again, and the halberd was gone, but one of the bandits had been kind enough to leave me this brown felt cloak as a blanket. Sorry it smells like wolf piss, but beggars can't be choosers, am I right? After that, I made my way here. Tell you what, you let me stay here another night and I'll tell you about the couple of years I spent as a Balthian pirate….

Session 11
Out of the darkness

Neriday, Quintar 8, 930

After resting outside the dungeon, and hiding the loot they had gathered thus far, the party returned to the south entrance and made their way back to the room in which they had slain the goblin-wraiths, from which they headed north. Joshua found another hidden treasure inside a giant statue of a snake. They kept marching north, into a room with an open pit, a giant suit of animate armor, and a few bugbear zombies, which were dispatched efficiently. They explored a secret door on the south wall of this new room and discovered, to everyone's surprise but Skyler (who had scouted this room already), a magic circle containing a glowing skeleton:

Allen summoned a badger to explore the room to test for traps. When the badger was unharmed, he commanded it to fetch a bone from the skeleton. The moment the skull left the inner circle, Alad appeared through the door and initiated a parley. After some long negotiations, a bargain was struck. The party could help themselves to the rest of the treasure in the dungeon, and the undead within the rooms would not attack them, even if attacked themselves. Allen would stay inside the circle at Alad's mercy as insurance, and a few of the party members would carry some of Alad's bones as insurance as well. The mutual trust turned out to benefit everyone, and the party gathered thousands of gold pieces' worth of gold and silver, as well as a few trophies, and the gear from previous adventurers. The wraiths were dealt with as well. When the party returned to make good on their end of the bargain, they removed all of the bones at once, allowing Alad to break free of the tethers trapping him inside his manse. His new flesh coalesced around his bones, and he was reborn as a bodak, his spellcasting ability intact, but his power over his environment lost. Alad and the party waited until sundown (during which treasure was distributed, and Vaelin was cured of his mummy rot using the scrolls bought at the Cloister), discussing his future plans and accepting their request for help in dealing with the shambling mounds created by the recently opened bleed gate to the south. In return, the tower would be explored, cleared of any traps or guardian monsters, and Alad could live inside of it unmolested, so long as he didn't revert to his ways of necroturgy and diabolical pacts. He made short work of the creatures, and after some struggle to find a suitable entrance, treasure was found and distributed, and the party had time to explore. It was strongly speculated, based on the color scheme and some of the treasure found, that the tower belonged to Shi-Domas or one of his favored servants.

The session ends on the morning of the 9th.

Karmic adjustments:
+1 karma to Allen for allowing himself to be used as collateral for the safety of his friends, bringing his score to 17
Erosia remains at 10
Felicity remains at 10
+2 overdue karma to Joshua for spending so much downtime helping his allies instead of working on his own interests, bringing his score up to 6.
+1 karma to Seralyn for destroying the wraiths on their own terms and letting them keep their dignity, bringing her total to 17
+1 overdue karma to Skyler for risking his life scouting the dungeon alone, bringing his score to 10.
Vaelin remains at 11

Trial by file

Joysday, Sextar 27th, 924. The Cloister.

The young woman excitedly marched through the white marble halls, just careful enough not to scuff the thick burgundy carpet that seemed to lead him onward. Under her arm, just visible under her over-loose robes, given to her only hours prior by one of the senior staff members, was a scroll case. This was her first task as a new scribe, to deliver this scroll case to the office of Thomasine Marshall, as instructed by none other than Cecily Coke herself. She arrived at the door, which was plainer than she expected, and spent a few seconds more than she meant to deciding how and where to knock, how many times, and whether that was a part of her first impression that would actually matter.

Three short knocks later, a voice from within called "It's open." The young woman squared her shoulders, smiled wide, and entered. The office was dark, with a high ceiling, lit by a single tiny window at least twenty feet above her head. The side and back walls were filled with shelves, and the shelves were filled with leather and wood boxes. Blue boxes, brown boxes, green boxes, and a single red one high up on a shelf, visible above a stack of paper to the right. Dust hung in the air, highlighted in a white shaft of sunlight from the window. Behind a desk, her face obscured by a stack of dusty books, was, one could only hope, Ms Marshall. Her shoulders, graced by long, straight, brown-gold hair, were visible, and she was wearing the traditional red and grey vestments in veneration to Satcotaar as a member of his Exemplars. After an uncomfortable silence, she closed her book and leaned over to peer quizzically at her visitor.

"What's your name? I don't remember meeting you."
"Grace, miss. I'm one of the new scribes this year, and let me just say I am so honored to meet-"
"Grace? Grace!" Thomasine interrupted. Grace stopped talking, visibly startled. "…Thank you, but I don't need the formalities right now. What do you have under your arm that is so urgent?"
"Oh, sorry miss. Miss Coke gave me a file for you and said it had to do with your hobby, miss. I-"
"Please, Grace, we are not at war, I am not your commanding officer, you do not need to say 'miss' in every sentence. We are not so formal at this institution as you have been led to believe."
"Oh, I'm sorry, mi- ahem. I… I was told to give you this file a-and I-"
"Grace." Thomasine interrupted again, this time with a dollop of resignation dressing her voice. "Don't apologize, you're not in trouble, I just want to know if that file is what I think it is and I don't want you wasting your breath calling me 'miss' over and over. Call me Marshall or nothing, the latter preferred and by the gods quit standing there quivering and hand me the damn tube!"
Grace complied before she knew she'd been ordered. 
"Sit, Grace."
Grace obeyed, plopping herself onto the nearest chair, which was off to the side of Ms Marshall's desk and angled to face perpendicular to both the door to the office and the desk Ms Marshall sat behind. The arms of the chair, a fine lacquered pine once polished to a shine, were dusty from disuse. Had Grace been more observant, she might have noticed a book-sized rectangle on the seat cushion that the dust had left untouched.
Thomasine eyed the novice scribe, taking in the oversized robe, the tense smile, the fear in the young woman's eyes, which were pointed straight forward at the shelves on the side wall. Then she turned back to the scroll case, untied the string, popped the end open and reached inside. As she unfurled the pages of this new document, she frowned. "Do you know what this is, Grace?"
"I was told only that it had to do with a hobby of yours."
"Are you nervous, Grace?"
"…Yes, Marshall."
"Don't be nervous. You have much to learn about how we do things here, and the first lesson is this: Formality is for visitors. Satcotaar's beard, there's a naked man walking around here somewhere, and he outranks you even more than I do. Loosen up. The second lesson is that as a scribe you are but a pawn among our office holders until proven otherwise. Better that you here it right away before you start developing delusions of personal agency. For instance, did you think they gave you the wrong robe by accident? They didn't. It's a joke aimed at me, and she'll regret it, because I'm already thinking of a way to get back at her."
"But a man gave me this robe!"
"I'm sure he did, but he doesn't make mistakes, and he knows that following an order without question from her is a good career move. Now take these and put them on the desk behind you." Thomasine handed Grace the documents from the tube. Grace looked at the title page. Blood and Fire, a compilation of songs written of the most villainous Red Reaver. She looked at the desk, and saw that the stacks of paper on top of it were taller than the desk itself. She stifled a gasp, and without thinking, turned to face Thomasine, who was glaring in her direction. Had Grace been more observant, she would have seen that Thomasine was glaring past her at the desk, but instead she was more nervous than before.
"Wait, I've got it." said the Exemplar. "Do you have any other assignments today?"
"I, er, I don't think so." mumbled Grace.
"Well then, congratulations." answered Thomasine, in a tone that was anything but congratulatory. If anything, it should have called to mind the tone of a judge passing sentence after a defendant had accidentally confessed to several crimes in an attempt to profess their innocence of a misdemeanor. "You're getting promoted to my personal assistant. You're not going to be used against me for a very long time, and you can help me with the stuff on that desk. It's all Red Reaver stuff. See that box?" She pointed at the red box Grace had seen before, still visible on the shelf. "That's what I had when I moved in. That's my hobby. The rest is people trying to help. You're going to go through it and separate the unique manuscripts from the duplicates, and place them in two stacks. Here," she said, pushing past her new assistant and pulling two drawers completely out of the desk. "use these until I find some better boxes for you to use. I don't care if this takes you a year and a half to sort and another five to fact-check it all, as long as you keep working, and you keep working for me. And no, this isn't a punishment, it's for your own good, because as long as you stay busy, you're immune to all of our stupid politicking, and trust me, sister, this is not a game you want to start playing until you know all the rules, all the players, and who's on what team. Pull up that chair and sit down. Forget everything you know about the Red Reaver, because you're going to learn more than you ever thought there could be. And it's all very difficult to verify, because most of the knowledge we collect here is about interaction between mortals and the gods, and the gods with each other, and the Red Reaver didn't do a lot of interacting with any god, even Satcotaar or Nerith. I'm only interested in him as a war historian. So, as this project goes on, if you need to check a date, check a fact, anything, you'll have to go down to the archives, or look through the Canon, or even sift through the Apocrypha until you can confirm or refute what you've just read. By the time we're done with this, you'll know this building's libraries better than the overseers themselves. Oh, and it'll be difficult, because there are as many stories about the Red Reaver as there are about ghosts, demons, and brave young knights in shining armor, and since he's older than the Age of Chaos, half of them are next to impossible to disprove. Do what you can, and we'll thank each other later. And -" Thomasine paused to squint at Grace. "…Hold on, have you asked the question yet?"
"What question?"
"The question everybody asks when they start working here. About the old building."
"Oh, um. No, I didn't. What happened to it? Was one of the gods angry about something you wrote?"
"That's a popular story, and it's really easy to see why, but that really wasn't it."
"What was it?" asked Grace, not hiding any curiosity.
Thomasine leaned down, her lips barely an inch from Grace's ear. "What I heard is that the Acorn tried to kick a scribe out of the building for insubordination, but missed and kicked the wall instead, and it cracked the building in half. I believe it, too. The might of the gods, even a fraction of it, is a powerful thing, Grace. Now," she said, straightening her posture. "I recommend you start with the short stack in the corner." she continued, pointing her finger at a foot-thick stack of vellum. "We've a long day ahead of us."

Decades later, as she finished her tenure as Chief Document Age Verifier, Grace still remembered that day as the hardest she'd ever worked in her life.


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