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wilderlands

Adventurers

Character Class Description
Rashomon Elf level 2 A dangerous looking elf.
Llyfed Elf level 3 Thin and balding elf whom also happens to be Rashomon's friend.
Hagar the Hewer Dwarf level 1 Imagine Conan as dwarf.
Nolmbork Dwarf level 1 Portly, bald, red bearded, with an epic nose. On a mission to have a drink in every settlement in Wilderlands.
Orist Elf level 1 An elf.
Rangar the Bull Fighter level 1 Titanic, dark-skinned figure wearing bull-headed helmet and a harness with countless weapons strapped to it.
Shamar Fighter level 1 Tall and slender man with magnificent black mane and a fancy looking sword. Absolutely inept at fighting.

Coldrain 20th, Spiritday

“God damn it.” Tamren muttered.

Dear reader, this letter is intended for the named thereafter: Derennan the Dwarf, Hagar the Dwarf, Nolmbork the Dwarf, and Tamren the Helmeted. Please forward it to them at your earliest convenience.

If you are one of the named, then I have to inform you with heavy heart that a client has retained our services to ensure your untimely termination. Rest assured that that we will execute our clients' wishes regarding your passing in the finest details. We take pride in our professionalism and art.

With that being said, as mandated by the Queen, everyone must be given an opportunity to purchase their right to live. Therefore, I am delighted to invite you to bid for your life no later than ten days after delivery of this letter. Should you fail to appear, we will consider that as refusal of our offer.

With love, Zenon Coke Headmaster of the Assassins' Guild

Portraits of Nolmbork, Hagar, and Tamren have just been delivered to their house—together with the above letter. Few weeks ago Zarifa invited them all, alongside Derennan, to pose for a portrait to “award them for their bravery” in returning Barad's corpse.

Hagar's and Nolmbork's portraits accurately depicted their pensive poses with two small modifications. First, their eyes and lips were crossed out with red paint. Second, both were disemboweled, with spear stuck in their belly.

Tamren's portrait showed his stoic position accurately as well. Red frown was added to his helmet, as were three tiny eye drops next to each eye slit. There was a tight noose around his neck added as well.

“Saw this one coming.” Derennan muttered.

Shadowrath 5th, Spiritday

“We must head to the guild and get this sorted.”

Llyfed the Diplomat, Nolmbork and Ranger the Wounded and Bandaged, and Hagar the Framed spent the day negotiating terms in a stone windowless, building at the north side of Hara. Like them, so have I, the humble scribe, sworn to secrecy. What I can tell you though, is that they left the Assassins' Guild with certain ease to their gait. Soon they returned with sacks full of coin, and then they left with an even more bravado that the last time.

“What did he say? We are safe until end of Dewsnap next year?”

“So it sounded, yeah.”

Shadowrath 11th, Airday

The wounded rested until they were back into full fighting fit. New adventurer join the party as well: boisterous Shamar, accompanied by his two retainers Alf and Falf.

“We have been organising expeditions to the drug den. We are seeking evidence of a drug called the Red Dragon. So far we've been creamed a few times, but I have a feeling we are at the cusp of something great...”

And so a new expedition was formed: Rashomon, Hagar, Nolmbork, Orist, Rangar the Bull, Shamar and his two retainers.

The party reached den by end of Shadowrath 11th; they went down as night fell.

They went straight to their left, through the chamber with a mountain of rotting orc corpses, past the junction with stairs leading down, and right at the junction with a looong corridor leading north.

“Watch out!”

The passage suddenly turned cold and a number of incorporeal skeletal hands emerged from the walls. They tried to reach adventurers, but luckily missed. Well, mostly missed. Two grabbed Nolmbork and he dropped down to the ground as brick.

Illustrated by kickmaniac

Party retreated, dragging the fallen dwarf with them.

“He is still breathing!”

“What do we do now?”

“Slap him a bit!”

“It isn't helping!”

“Let's get out...”

Noticeably slower now that they were carrying a fully armoured dwarf, the party took nearly an hour to get out.

“Can you believe it? Can you hear him snore? Incredible!”

Indeed, Nolmbork seemed like he was having quite a pleasant dream.

With little left to do, the party found a safe spot some thirty minutes away from the den entrance and camped for the night.

Shadowrath 12th, Waterday

“Let's go different way this time!”

The party headed straight through the archway, then left at the junction into the large chamber with bunk beds and altar with three crossed swords, then left through the secret doors, past the junction and to doors reinforced with iron bars and thick bar running across it. There was a large padlock on the right hand side.

Ultimately the party decided to head south, through the chamber with hanging cages, and into the secret room with a burning torch in a single sconce. The large wolf they killed last time was still rotting here.

Everyone stood in the circle as one of the adventurers pulled on the torch. As before, two loud clangs could be heard and a large wolf materialised in the room. The creature was hacked to pieces before it could even react. Rashomon was the one whom had delivered the killing blow.

From that moment the party had spent nearly three hours discussing what to do next. They pulled on the torch many times—to no effect—tried getting it out of the sconce—to no effect—and exclaimed how flabbergasted they are—also to no effect.

Finally, Orist or Nolmbork spoke up and suggested the party checks the cage room. Maybe something moved there? Nothing. Maybe let's go check the locked doors then?

Lo and behold!

The bar and padlock were gone!

One of them pushed the doors open...

And a lavishly decorated room presented itself!

Sumptuous purple curtains lined all the walls. Large wooden chest with gilded elements stood on the plinth in the centre of the room. Fabulously looking suit of plate mail was propped in the north-west corner. Two crossed swords and a purple shield were hung on the north wall. A small round table with eighteen candles, few still burning, was in the south-east corner.

After making sure nothing was waiting in ambush for them (as well as precautionary shooting of curtains, just to check for yellow mould), the party threw themselves at the treasure with childlike glee.

Chest was indeed safe and untrapped. It was chock full of coins, as well as few shiny gems. Suit of armour was dwarven platemail of unknown origin, but obviously of the finest make. Two swords had unfamiliar writing on them. That was soon elucidate by a simple spell known as Read Languages. One was called “Lucky” the other “Doomed.” The shield had a barely visible dragon motif.

As the party was investigating the good, Rashomon stood guard at the south side of the room. It was him whom had noticed that candles were slowly going out, one by one.

“Folks, I think we should get out soon!”

Indeed everyone got out with the valuable as quickly as they could. Hagar and Rangar, being the strongest members, carried the chest. Rashomon quickly grabbed “Doomed,” arguing that it could be named so because it brings doom to others. As soon as he grabbed it he was hit with visions of doom and gloom and nearly lost all the will to live.

But it was not everyone who got out! Shamar stayed behind, together with Alf and Falf, to cut out as much of curtains as they could. They looked too valuable to leave behind!

“Last candle is to go out! Run!”

The trio carried seven heavy rolls of top quality cloth. Shamar was the last to charge out as doors slam shut behind him, an iron bar flew out of the wall, and padlock emerged from the bar itself, as sort of liquid iron, and locked itself with a loud clang.

“We are loaded! Straight to Hara!”

Heavily encumbered, the party had reached Hara four days later.

On their way they had counted 1 247 gold coins, 101 platinum coins, and three gems.

No amount of coins had brought any joy to Rashomon.

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Adventurers

Character Class Description
Rashomon Elf level 2 A dangerous looking elf.
Llyfed Elf level 3 Thin and balding elf whom also happens to be Rashomon's friend.
Tarkus the Promising Cleric level 1 Follower of Bachontoi, God of Red Wisdom.
Beorg the Gravedigger Fighter level 1 Inspired to adventure after burying several adventurers.
Bairstowbury the Chaotic Halfling level 1 Remarkably muscular for a halfling.
Galepurse the Hapless Cleric level 1 Woefully unsuited for life of adventuring but desperately needs coin to grow his following.

Coldrain 20th, Spiritday

“Drugs in Hara?! Not on our watch!”

Tarkus the Promising found another issue to fixate on—getting to the root of Red Dragon, a drug very few know anything about. He learned about it from his adventuring friends whom had told him everything about old drug den where it was found first.

Being the type of guy to cleanse first and ask questions later, he quickly mustered forces to head to the den on the first occasion. Veterans Rashomon and Llyfed were up to it. New recruit included Beorg the Gravedigger, Bairstowbury the Chaotic, and Galepurse the Hapless.

Bairstowbury the Chaotic and Galepurse the Hapless by IdleDoodler.

The party set out in the morning; they arrived by nightfall of the following day.

Shadowrath 1st, Airday

“Should we camp and wait for the morning?”

“No, let's head straight in!”

“What's the worst that could happen? Previous expeditions did the same as well—so they told us.”

Not one member of the party had been to this place; they had to work with information they've been given by other adventurers. Despite this handicap, they managed to find poorly concealed entrance. Down they went.

Bell shaped entrance chamber was just like described: smelly, littered with animal bones and carcasses. Two decaying pig-faced humanoids were propped on spears. Third laid slumped on the ground.

Moving straight, exploring sole corridor yet undisturbed by previous parties, they ran into four-way junction. Following the left hand path led them to closed doors. Forcing them open with ease led them into large, dust-caked chamber.

Three-story bunk beds were lined alongside all four walls. A footlocker rested at the base of each. A simple stone altar stood in the center of the room; on it a symbol with three crossed swords. Vertical one pointed with blade down, two crossed ones forming and X pointed up with blades. Around the altar were six round desks, around each were four simple chairs.

Chamber had solemn atmosphere to it; as if it was oblivious to all the changes and transformations that transpired in other parts of this place. Inspecting the ceiling yielded a surprising discovery: a huge circular symbol of three crossed swords, just like the one on altar.

Tarkus and Rashomon did their best to guess its provenance. The best as in staring intently and hoping to get some sort of divine revelation. Nothing of the kind came.

Convinced there must be something else of value here (else they just spent two hours on an empty room), the party scoured the walls. Lo and behold! Elves had found an door-shaped outline hidden behind one of the bunk-beds leaning against the west wall.

As it is to be expected, they proceeded to over-analyse the situation, gently prodding at the wall, then taking out a small hammer to tap it, then taking out iron spike to chisel the wall...

Bairstowbury had enough and went straight at the wall.

Illustration by IdleDoodler.

Success!

He pushed and wall rotated, opening up into a long corridor.

The party spiked the secret passageway open, and then rotated one of the bunk beds to create an improvised barrier.

Moving on they came to a T-shaped junction, took a turn to the left, came to the four-way junction, explored all directions, and decided to go for the doors on their right.

After a bit of forcing, they managed to break into a most surprising room. All the walls were covered with floor-to-ceiling tapestries depicting larger-than-life figure dressed in purple robe with pointy hat defeating hordes of enemies. The worst offender was tapestry straight across from them.

On it the mage-like figure was as huge as titan of legend. It held a sword in left hand and staff in right. Countless number of demonic corpses were piled beneath his sandaled feet. One of the demons was on its knees, apparently begging for life.

“Hohum, do you know whom this place belonged to? Who was the previous owner, before the drug things and so?” Galepurse asked.

No answer.

No one bothered to ask.

Ever.

Prodding all the tapestries was natural first step.

West one had some give. Pushing it indicated there was no hard surface behind it.

One of the elves lifted part o it in the southwest corner. Tarkus lit up the torch and bent, while Bairstowbury got down on his knees and peeked beyond.

Illustration by IdleDoodler.

All he could see is dark chamber with something white-silvery on the ground. Halfling tied end of the rope and threw it onto the marking on the ground. That disturbed the chalky marks, but nothing stuck to the rope.

“What now?”

As the party discussed their plan for ten or so minutes, Tarkus could spot a hoof appearing from darkness. It was attached to a bright red leg. Bent hook protruded from its knee. The hoof moved left and right, erasing parts of the white-silvery material.

Adventurers dropped the tapestry.

That didn't do anything to contain the monstrosity that charged through it, ripping it to shreds, and trampling several of the adventurers in the process.

A horse-shaped bright red monstrosity was now prancing between them. Hooks pointed from its knees, spikes dotted its spine, and countless razor-sharp teeth poked from its mouth. There were no obvious eyes on its bulbous head, except two pitch-black slits.

Illustration by IdleDoodler.

The monster thrashed around, surrounded, but with little success. Party quickly took it down through combination of magic missiles and cold, hard steel.

Smell of roasting ham filled the room once the creature had been slain. Inspecting the corpse revealed that it was burning out from the inside.

Party spent nearly and hour collecting silver shavings that once formed a circle on the ground beyond the tapestry. They collected them into makeshift sacks made from pieces of the tapestry.

Backtracking to t-shaped junction, they moved to explore further west. Two doors; one locked with large padlock and horizontal bar, one unlocked but stuck. The latter was chosen.

Another bewildering room!

This one was full of cages, big and small, hanging from the ceiling. Some were almost touching the floor, some were quite high up. The only clear path was forward.

“This is a trap, if I had seen any!”

Half an hour later the party had reached other side of the chamber, unharmed.

Another stuck doors that fell victim to impressive muscle of this indomitable bunch.

“Hey, look at this...”

One of the elves had spotted a sconce with a torch in it. On the sconce was a small, almost invisible symbol with three crossed swords. Everybody readied their weapons as the elf pulled on it...

Revealing an empty twenty by twenty chamber with a single burning torch resting in another sconce. The latter was in the middle of the north wall.

The party poured into the secret chamber and readied themselves once more.

Torch did not emanate any heat nor smell. It did provide light though. Elf pulled on it and two loud clangs could be heard. A large wolf appeared in the middle of the room.

Illustration by IdleDoodler.

It didn't even get the chance to growl! That's how quickly the party chopped it down, with Rashomon delivering the killing blow.

Recovering the magic torch proved to be a fruitless effort. The party opted to explore south, instead of north whenceforth the clanging sounds could be heard from. They found a closet with bunch of spades, few long corridors, a chamber with portrait of smug magic-user reading nine books at once, and that's it.

Running low on torches, they decided to retreat, and return some other day.

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Adventurers

Character Class Description
Rashomon Elf level 2 A dangerous looking elf.
Tarkus the Promising Cleric level 1 Follower of Bachontoi, God of Red Wisdom.
Rigby Thief level 2 A thief.
Orist Elf level 1 An elf.

Coldrain 2nd, Waterday

“The warlord has banned me from leaving Ahyf. He believes I am too valuable to perish sanctifying a long forgotten temple.” Camus, Ahyf's chief priest, shared with Tarkus and Rashomon.

“I promised Hist that I would see this through. If you are still up to it then we have to figure out a way to leave Ahyf unnoticed.”

“Your dedication is commendable. Here is the plan...”

Tarkus the Promising was set on finishing what he had started, even if it'd cost him his life. Most of the brave men he had ventured to the desecrated temple with had perished already. And of those that survived only Rashomon was still around. The duo recruited two capable looking individuals: Rigby the Thief and Orist the Elf.

Winter was gnawing on Barbarian Altanis. Long sleeves became a common sight. Days were shorter and nights were blacker. The latter played perfectly into the adventurers' plan: sneak out of Ahyf few hours before sunrise.

Coldrain 4th, Fireday

The party reached the base of desecrated temple around noon. It was eerily quiet. Not an animal in sight. Air was stale and motionless, as if time itself had stopped. Ghinarian Hills were hardly the highest in the region, but being near the summit one would still expect some wind.

The idol was as they left it last time: toppled and crumbled over the long stairs.

“Let's check the outbuildings first. We don't want anyone to surprise us!”

Both stone buildings were as they left them several weeks ago. Algon's mangled corpse was still splattered at the foot of cliff atop which the temple rests. Poor thief had slipped whilst trying to escape black reptilian monster and fell down to his doom.

“Weird. No sign of decay?”

Indeed, there were no maggots nor flies. Just a messed up corpse. The party carefully inspected the body, relieved it of all valuables, and then built a simple cairn. Tarkus said a few words to guide them into afterlife.

Both Rigby and Orist had noticed how unnaturally devoid of life this place is. No birds, no game, no sounds. Nothing.

“All is safe. Let's head into the temple.”

Barely suppressing their gags at the sight of two acid-melted acolytes, the party moved onwards to the temple doors.

This is where things were noticeably different. All the walls on the outside were marred with claw marks as well as small, irregularly shaped pits. As if something had been melting the stone.

Forcing their way in only unleashed a strong ammonia-like smell, making everyone cough and heave. In they went.

Insides were even worse than outsides. All the walls and the floor were clawed and eroded.

“OK...” Rashomon muttered, puzzingly.

The closer they got to the centre of the temple, the stronger did the smell get. It was in the center where they destroyed nightmare-inducing bull-god effigy. It was in the center where Camus and Tarkus tried to close the Sinkhole of Chaos before they were chased out by slithering monstrosity.

And it was the center where they had now found a pit so deep not even dangling torch could reveal the bottom.

“Camus, what is the meaning of this?”

“I... I don't know. I do not feel strong presence of Chaos like last time. I don't understand...”

“Will you complete the ritual?”

“Yes...”

Orist did double duty as guard and torchbearer to Camus and Tarkus. Rashomon and Rigby made few rounds through the temple. Besides signs of destruction they also found a palm-sized, black, glistening scale. The thief also found a secret compartment containing three vials, two with clear liquid, and one with chunky, brown liquid.

Noxious puffs and fumes emanating from the pit disturbed the ritual several times. Camus did wrap some clothing around his face, but alas, it did not help him too much. But that did not prevent the Ahyf elder to do what he had promised.

“Done. It is done.”

“Let's get out.”

The whole ceremony took so long it was pitch black outside. Unwilling to risk their torchlights spotted, the party waited until Rashomon's and Orist's eye acclimated to darkness. Then they headed to north-west stone house, the same one they hunkered down in on their last expedition to the temple.

With the doors and windows barred, the party briefly chatted before going to sleep.

“So, priest, what do you think of all this?”

“It's difficult to say. The ceremony is completed. I do not sense presence of Chaos. But that hole fills me with unease. If it were up to me, I'd demolish the whole place. Just bring down the temple so the rubble closes the hole and whatever might lurk at the bottom.”

“How could we do that?”

“Well, there are no siege weapons in Ahyf. There might be few in Hara, but I doubt they'd take them out all the way to here just to bring down some abandoned temple.”

“And this scale? Does it look familiar?”

“I don't know... You could probably ask around in Hara... Mavis, the High Priestess of Poseidon is known to have bested Chaos on many occasions. Maybe you could talk to her?”

“And these vials?”

“Well, the clear ones look like holy water. Shang-Ta seal confirms it. I'd be surprised if it were anything else. The brown one I have no idea.”

Coldrain 7th, Waterday

“Boys, you were good, but I don't want you to get into trouble. I should walk into Ahyf alone.”

“Nonsense! Nobody has seen Rigby and Orist with you before, they surely won't suspect anything! You three go first, and the Rashomon and I will come few hours later. No one had seen us leave together, why should they be suspicious?”

Indeed, the return plan worked well.

Guards were delighted to see Camus return. Briaron, Ahyf's warlord, was too busy with recent sighting of Skandink longships to go after Camus.

Adventurers bid farewell to Camus and fetched a barge to Hara.

Coldrain 8th, Earthday

Rashomon visited both Fighters' and Wizards' Guilds to pay his dues and learn latest rumours. Tarkus found new thing to focus on: Red Dragon. He learned from newly met friends Nolmbork and others about this dangerous drug wreaking havoc on the streets of Hara.

So he went to the natural place to ask about it—the citadel. He made friends with guards and as Cleric of Law was warmly welcomed. That is until he started repeatedly asking about this Red Dragon.

“What is that? There are no drugs in Hara.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. There are no drugs in Hara.”

Guards forgave Tarkus despite being a stranger.

Rigby visited the Thieves' Guild to learn the terms. They were not favourable.

Orist spent days at the Dancing Wolf, hoping to pick up on any interesting rumours. He did witness a young man burping loudly. People around him would quickly leave and complain about burning stench coming from the man.

The elf followed the man to some house which turned out to be a scribe shop. He went in through the main doors, running into an elderly man sitting behind a pile of scrolls and books. With a little bit of charm and gentle prodding, he learned that burper is the scribe's son whom had fallen in with some bad company from northern Hara.

“Interesting.”

Interesting indeed.

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Events presented in this report happened at the same time as sessions 44, 45, and 46. We played them out via play-by-post.

Adventurers

Character Class Description
Gomm Thief level 4 Swarthy, good looking, dark-skinned thief. Sweet opium-like aroma is his fragrance of choice.
Basso Halfling level 1 A stable boy whom got tired of shovelling horse shit.
Flamthwynn Magic-User level 1 An older gentleman sporting fashionable dark blue robe with purplish overtones. Seeking arcane objects and offensive spell.
Oberon Fighter level 3 A tall, supple hunter adorned with bones and horns of his prey.
Eccy Throi Elf level 1 Wears a dark green cloak to hide his bulging muscles and crippling anxiety.
Barad the Bald Magic-User level 1 Bald, beardless, chinless, and lazy-eyed.

Thistleburn 5th, Spiritday, Late Afternoon

The day was coming to an end.

Rhovar, Rad, Amanka, Kuqhir, Neremyn, BuddyPuddingBottom, and whomever else went to cheer for the Skandink warrior at the Windgod Temple competition still haven't returned.

Nothing worrisome given that these competitions are known to last—especially when one accounts grand feast that follows.

Gomm is the only one who has returned, together with warhorse Umber Fury, to the Hydra Company headquarters.

At that time, the following characters could be found at Hydra's base of operations: Gomm, Basso, Flamthwynn, Oberon, Eccy Throi, Barad the Bald, Pinella, Herat, Paxton, and ten archer mercenaries.

In addition to them, there were also eight kids of varying age: Ithiel, Musemour, Govier, Wycliffe, Valnea, Eweora, Audrey, and Honeyie.

Here is where everyone was:

Ground floor

Oberon was training three archers in the main hall. Gomm recently arrived on Umber Fury, and was greeted by Basso whom had been tending to two draft horses. Paxton was lounging with them. It's a really hot day so they left the double doors open to let in some fresh air.

Eccy was studying in the small library in the west wing of the house. Little Govier was eavesdropping on the elf. He thought he went unnoticed. Eccy was always aware of him.

Ithiel was quietly playing cards with two archers standing guard in the lobby.

Naughty Eweora was once again going through the personal belongings of the Hydra Company officers'.

Second floor

Valnea was sitting on the deck overlooking the main hall. She was the oldest and smartest of the kids they've saved from monstrous slave-traders. Although initially interested in Kuqhir's teachings, recently she has shown much more liking for strategy and tactics.

Herat had once again caught Musemour and Wycliffe breaking into the vault. She is currently scolding them, threatening to dump them in the “Caves of Horrible Shroom!”

Audrey was silently gazing through the west window.

Barad and Flamthwynn were discussing arcane matters in the resting area. Honeyie was sleeping on the floor. He farted occasionally.

Cellar

Pinella has recently been spending a lot of time in the basement. She has been keeping something to herself.

“Well met, men of Hydra Company!”

A wiry, olive skinned man stopped by the Hydra Company's HQ entrance. He was sweaty, breathed heavily, and carried Rhovar's horned helmet under his left arm.

“I'm Thalysios, and I'm afraid that I'm bringing you bad news!”

“Rhovar and his friends were labelled heretics by the Windgod's High Priest. There was no trial or hearing given—only judgement!”

“Rhovar asked me to take his stuff and inform you as quickly as possible. I have no idea what you guys did, but leaving Antil might be a good idea.”

“Here, take the nordman's helmet. I'll take my leave now. Godspeed!”

Eccy, hearing what happened to Rhovar and the rest of the crew, stalked up to Thalysios and investigated the helmet. Alas, it truly was Rhovar’s.

“They threw him into a dark pit. Apparently some horrible horrors lurk there... Still, I have no doubt he will survive. I've seen him fight!”

“And where is this pit?!” Eccy demanded.

“Right in the middle of the temple. To be honest, I didn't even know it was there! The central ring rotates and then goes downwards.” the man took a pause to take in a big breath, and then continued “Friend, going there might not be the best idea. But if you insist, it might be wise to take off that Hydra Company armband...”

After hearing all this, Basso begun preparing the horses for departure. He also organised the crew to start packing valuables so he can evenly distribute the load between the animals. Paxton and Herat jumped to help him. Kids kept getting in way. Only Valnea understood what was happening.

Gomm rode Umber Fury around the dockland asking any ship crew he passed for passage on a boat for all the company. Two ships caught his attention. One seemed unmanned, sans the guards at the dock, while the other, shabbier looking one, had few figures lounging on the board.

An hour or so later, they managed to pack roughly one fifth of their total treasure from the vault.

Gomm found out one of the ship's would be willing to take them on for a “fair payment” and “appropriate services during the journey.” Their final destination is City State of the Invincible Overlord, but will stop at several places along the coast to restock and trade. Hara being one of them. Their planned departure is three days from now. Guards of the other ship didn't have any useful info.

Eccy approached the massive Windgod Temple. Large double doors open a little bit and an exquisitely dressed nobleman stormed out, followed by eight thuggish characters. As soon as he descended the stairs he was greeted by eight more, one of them bringing forth a majestic chestnut brown stallion.

The man jumped on the horse and condescendingly sneered at his men: “Pick up the pace! I want to reach them before Panthal's lapdogs! There is still one I have unfinished business with.” They completely ignored Eccy and briskly moved in the direction the elf came from.

Eccy stood at the bottom of staircase leading into the temple. The iron doors closed behind the man. There were roughly twenty acolytes outside, not counting a mass of people moving around.

The elf approached an acolyte and in a boastful voice said the following: “I have heard your god is a great god and that you who worship him value strength. Tell me, what does it take to join your ranks?”

“Shang Ta welcomes all, brother! Why don't you come back tomorrow at noon and I'll introduce you to my Brother who takes care of new followers like you?”

“I feel a calling. Is there no way to proceed today? Something calls me from within the temple to do battle and win glory! Is this not what Shang Ta demands?!”

“Your calling is strong! Might makes right! If you wait until nightfall I'm happy to walk you to my temple just a few streets away from here!”

“Your temple!? What's wrong with this temple here? I feel there is a great battle for me within those walls!”

“The Windgod Temple is closed to the public today. What's with the aggression, brother?'

“For what reason is it closed? What stands between me and glory?”

“It's a weekly match of champions. If you wish to participate you must compete for a full week in matches of your choice. The best fighters are then invited to challenge Brutus, the reigning champion.”

“Do you not see brother? This must be the fight to which I have been called! There is no time to lose, you must lead me to this Brutus!”

“Hmmm... How should I know if you are a worthy challenger? What deeds have you accomplished? What foes have you vanquished?”

Eccy brandished his serrated handaxe. “I have cut the scalp from many a man, and taken the head off beasts the likes of which I cannot describe! Do you stand between me and glory? My destiny lies beyond those doors!”

“Might makes right, brother. If you can submit 5 of us in a row I might let you in.”

Elf quickly took care of the first acolyte, but alas, the second one threw him off balance.

“I'm afraid you are not good enough to face Mr. Bumblebee.”

“Mr. Bumblebee, his name will remain etched into my mind as I train. Is there no other way to meet this man?”

“Probably, but I can't help you with that.”

Gomm managed to negotiate rather favourable terms: 450 gold coins for the whole company, and they set sail within two hours.

Another hour later, preparations for departure are in full swing.

Basso & Oberon were overseeing the packing process. Four mercenaries, Paxton, Herat, and Pinella were hard at work.

Barad was in the library checking if there was anything critical to pack. Flamthwynn was in the master bedroom. He packed all the potions and was now hiding under the bed, waiting for further instructions.

Gomm, whilst returning to the HQ, noticed four figures hugging the north side, and four hugging the west side. He also noticed a mounted figure with wand-like object in hand pointing at the direction of the Hydra Company building.

The thief promptly ripped his cloak, doused it in oil, tied to an arrow, lighted it, and shoot it through the upper floor widow on the west side of the building. Alas, he missed! His attempt was noticed by four figures on the west side!

Next he rode up to within 60ft and begun peppering the enemies with arrows and shouting as loud as he could “They're here, they're here, fly you fools!” His next arrow landed true, pinning one to the wall.

Gomm reared up on Umber fury and shouted out, “Dogs! You'll feel the barbed tongue of the hydra! Attackers! Attackers! Be on Guard” and then he loosed an arrow into another figure at the north side. This time it was a miss.

Mounted thief could see the north figure turn around right corner, out of sight. The mounted man was also now out his your sight. Two men by west wall charged him.

Others scaled the wall and reached the window Gomm had targeted mere seconds ago. As one smashes it a child-like scream could be heard. Another one reached in and then yanked his hand out, throwing a small girl to the ground.

Her scream was brief.

Her flight was done in a blink of an eye.

Valnea's life was gone before it begun proper.

Eweora screamed at the sight, bringing to everyone's attention that something was happening. Basso and Oberon caught glimpse of Herat running up the stairs. She turned red and yelled “NO!” like a wounded beast.

“Flamm, it's time to nut up!” Barad shouted. Flamthwynn was very content being under large, secure bed. “Well, I tried...” Barad exhaled and move to entrance chamber. He took command of nearby mercenaries and ordered the kids to get back and hide.

“Hold the doors!” he was preparing to cast Hold Portal. Mercs pressed just in time as someone tried to burst in.

Sounds of fighting were coming from top floor. Basso & Oberon heard heavy footsteps, yells, and metal clanging. And then they heard Herat's broken yelp “Sister!”

“We need help up here!” Paxton yelled.

“Die, knave!” Herat roared as she crushed the head of her sister's murderer.

Gomm was having trouble controlling his warhorse in melee, but so far no one managed to knock him down. And horse was doing fine on its own; what could few thugs do to it? Well, after it was slashed for the first time, Umber Fury decided it had enough—both of the inept rider as well as the attackers. First it threw Gomm of its back. Then it stomped the thugs into bloody mess.

Flamthwynn heard doors crack open. Then he saw unfamiliar boots snooping around the master bedroom. He held his breath.

Barad's spell went off, causing the enemies to hit the doors in vain and curse profusely. “Follow me to the center. We must gather everyone, head into the cellar and retreat into the sewers!”

Basso and Oberon finally reached the second deck only to see Herat fighting off three thugs. Pinella was lying in a pool of blood, and Paxton was lying next to hear. Musemour and Wycliffe, Valena's younger brothers were attacking one of the thugs. Wycliffe managed to drive a kitchen knife into the man's leg.

Unlike mercenaries, the kids didn't really follow Barad's commands. “Just pick them up and carry little brats!”

Herat fell to her knees, blood dripping from her cracked skull. Next blow dislocated her jaw, and she fell, lifeless, next to her sister.

At this moment, three men burst in through secondary entrance, encountering Barad and few mercenaries carrying children. One dressed in chain shirt asked:

“Is any of you Barad?”

“I'm a clerk for these folk, Reston, what are you doing here? We heard screams from upstairs.” Barad replied.

“We are here to kidnap a man named Barad and kill everyone else.”

“Well, then I am Barad, aren't I?”

Without missing a beat, the man standing next to the asking man stabbed Barad straight through the gut.

Barad went out how he'd always hoped: yelling at the children.

The man in chain went pale.

“You imbecile! We need him alive!” he grabbed twitching Barad and started dragging him out.

“Let him go!” “Scoundrels!” “Face your fate!”

Mercenaries rallied and hacked to death two thugs flanking the armoured man holding unconscious Barad.

Basso killed the thug whom had killed Herat. The surviving two pushed past the kids, going for Basso and Oberon respectively. Both thugs failed to strike the duo. The second one also fumbled, and in the process his bandanna slipped, blinding him.

As blindfolded thug stumbled, Musemour crouched behind his knees. The man stepped back, tripped over, and fell flat on his back. Wycliffe, struggling to lift Paxton's mace, just dropped it on the man's head. There he lied, dead in a pool of blood, just like the kids' innocence.

Basso killed the remaining thug on the second floor, and then called the children to stay close to him. Kids spat on the thugs' corpses and then ran up behind the halfling. Oberon checked on their fallen friends—Paxton was still alive but unconscious.

Flamthwynn, hiding under the bed, could see the unknown boots scuttle away, through doors leading to the kitchen.

Barad, in hazy confusion, could feel being slowly carried while familiar voices shouted from behind him. Mercenaries charged out, trying to rescue Barad. There they encountered three more thugs, one also in chain.

Basso ran down and reached the wide double doors used to roll out the wagon. There he could see five mercenaries fighting three attackers. One of the men in chain held Barad's limp body.

In distance he could see a mounted figure flanked by two armoured figures. The man on the horse had the evilest grin Basso has seen in life.

He took a shot.

And missed.

The man laughed.

In fact, as he leaned back to laugh he missed an arrow discharged by Gomm.

The man reined in his horse and waved the stick in his hand at Gomm—discharging a shining yellow orb, akin to small sun.

The orb flied right past Gomm, scorching some of his arm hair.

Mercenaries surrounded the thugs holding Barad and hacked them all down—but the man in chain shirt. Basso tried to hit the mounted man, but missed again.

“Your fate is sealed, knaves! I'll make sure to buy any survivors!” the man yells. Then turned around and galloped off southwards, in the direction of the Windgod Temple.

His two bodyguards ran after him, but are nowhere near as fast as his riding horse...

The polite man who stabbed Barad dropped his mace: “I yield! I'm naught but a muscle-for-hire, just like you.”

Hydra Company has successfully defended their HQ against unknown assailants.

Herat and Pinella, the sisters, have died protecting the children.

Valnea, the oldest and brightest, died from blunt force trauma after being yanked through the window.

Paxton was knocked unconscious, but is now fine. He tripped whilst fighting and knocked himself out.

Barad is now stable, after being magically healed by Paxton.

Four kids were nowhere to be found: Audrey, Ithiel, Govier, and Honeyie.

And they had one prisoner.

After checking that the assailants are gone, Flamthwynn emerged from his hiding spot to assess the situation. He offered to help find the kids or help the wounded. He is a coward, but not an evil one!

Oberon frisked the corpses, recovering 56 silver pieces, 11 daggers, 9 clubs, 2 long swords, and 2 maces.

“Gather your belonging and follow me! I shall wait not longer than ten minutes!” Gomm announced loudly.

Their captive introduced himself as Notred. ““Uh, Lord Warcrown doesn't really tolerate failure. May I join you as well?”

“Why did they want me young man?” Barad interrogated Notred.

“You probably know better than me. It isn't difficult to insult Lord Warcrown. I just know that we had the orders to get you alive.”

Gomm lead Basso, Flamthwynn, Barad, six kids, and five mercenaries towards the ship. The captain was surprised to see them return so quickly.

“I'll summon the crew once you pay. No horses. And what's with the kids?”

Gomm instructed the mercs to load the treasure, paid the captain, and then took the two draft horses and Umber fury around the dockland saying “For Sale, all offers considered. All offers considered folks, grab a good bargain on a genuine thoroughbred war horse and two draft horses. I have twenty minutes, any offers considered.”

“I will buy Umber Fury.” Eccy announced. He just caught up with the rest, having returned from the Windgod Temple. “I'll take Ithiel home.”

“You... buy him? Don't be ridiculous.” Gomm stared firmly at Eccy for a beat. Then he smirked. He patted the stallion's neck, and handed Eccy the reigns. “There will be no buying. He's yours. Ride safe. Ride fast.” Gomm thrust out his arm for a hand shake.

Eccy grabbed his hand and held it firmly. “We leave Rhovar and the rest to their deaths then? I can only hope they die with blood on their blades. Good luck in whatever land you find yourself in.”

“We weren't meant for this place, Eccy of the elves. Rhovar is Skandik, he will prevail, or, if he dies, then it will be glorious, and he will meet with his ancestors. The Gods of this land are fickle. Come with us aboard a ship and find finer pastures, of milk and honey. Raise the lad as your own. One day, you might discover you are happy.”

“I will meet my death here in this land. I know death now, and no longer fear it. I once was an elf, now I am something else. And besides, I made this child a promise. I know that were I to renege on it I would lose what is left of the elf that once was Eccy. Go well Gomm.” Eccy turned away, and helped Ithiel up onto Umber Fury.

Following the news of Hydra Company denounced as heretical association, and surviving the savage assault on their HQ, the Hydra Company had successfully boarded a ship destined for the City State of the Invincible Overlord. Eccy remained in Antil, his mind set on fulfilling a promise he had give to Ithiel.

The seamen slowly trickled in, protesting being called back so soon. Many reeked of alcohol and debauchery. Their protests were quickly crushed by the Captain's generous bribe of one gold coin to each.

It was a long, hot, and humid day. The ship lazily rolled out of the port, until making enough distance to drop down its sails and roll off into the Romillion Sea.

The Windgod Temple's massive frame loomed over the survivors; their former headquarters shrinking by the moment in its shadow.

Flamthwynn stood on the deck and looked overboard wistfully.

Gomm climbed to the crows nest for some brief respite. Up amongst the sails he can't keep Antil and its evils from his mind, so he takes his knives to a whetstone. With the scrape of steel on stone the blade gets a little sharper, and he begins to plan for the future.

Basso watched as Eccy rode off into the distance. He gives him a small wave, despite knowing very well that the elf won't be able to see it.

Oberon was resting on a rail by himself with his back facing the others. As people passed him, they left him alone allowing him peace to stare out into the ocean and be lost in his thoughts. In reality, Oberon has never been on a boat, let alone a ship, before and does not have his his sea legs. He was in pure agony, puking his brains out.

Eccy rode hard for Weststar, the place Ithiel called home. From there he will likely continue “adventuring” until he meets an untimely end.

And thus ends Hydra Company in Antil.

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Adventurers

Character Class Description
Rangar the Bull Fighter level 1 Titanic, dark-skinned figure wearing bull-headed helmet and a harness with countless weapons strapped to it.
Ervain Cleric level 1 A cleric.
Nolmbork Dwarf level 1 Portly, bald, red bearded, with an epic nose. On a mission to have a drink in every settlement in Wilderlands.
Ryan Magic-User level 1 A magic-user.
Celeborn of Revelshire Elf level 1 Hails from a distant community led by an Ent. Also potentially the ugliest elf you've ever met.

Coldrain 15th, Spiritday

After his friends broke off to interrogate their orc prisoner, Derennan went to the Pleasure Palace to face Zarifa. As usual, he had to wait for hours.

“Rank and disheveled as usual. What is so urgent? What kind of “marvels” have your brought this time? More balls?”

“Your boyfriend is dead, died lusting after more gems with which to impress you. The priest at the Temple of Poseidon says they might be able to bring him back for a price beyond our means.”

“What, that cold bitch Mavis!” Zarifa exploded “I wouldn't even let her tend to a stray cat, let alone–” her voice begun to crack “–my sweet brainiac!”

It took her a few moments to regain her composure. Once she did, she continued in her standard, condescending style.

“Where is he? When did he die? How did he die? Who was with him when he died?”

“His body is at the temple, I left money for his care. He died a few days ago, we made our way here as soon as possible. He died at the tip of an orc's spear, the orc and his companions are now dead. I and some newer colleagues were with him when he died.”

Zarifa squinted and gritted her teeth audibly. “You did well. Fetch his corpse at once. Two slaveboys will accompany you. I also want you to bring here your new colleagues. I will commission your portraits—-as a small gift for your deed.”

Tamren was the first to accept the invite, posing as follows: straight-backed, holding his sword pommel with both hands, point-down in front of him, doing his best to look stern.

“Excuse me, would you mind taking off your helmet for the painting?”

“No.”

Painter sighed and did what he was paid to do.

“So, Tamren, how did Barad die? What were you doing at that time?”

“He died a true hero! In a glorious battle against many foes, dozens fell under his mighty blows.”

Zarifa left without saying a word. Five hours later the portrait was done. It looked... Acceptable.

“You can pick it up once all have been finished.”

Hagar was next to pose. Hagar took a pensive stance of brooding power. Zarifa asked him the same questions as she did Tamren. To that dwarf replied that Barad died a good death, rushing forwards to discharge his wand at the Orc cleric, possibly saving the party thereby. Hagar stood on his right, hewing the orcs but could not prevent the spear that took him in the stomach.

Nolmbork was next to spend a day posing for the portrait. He made a big show of his wounds before assuming heroic pose with a large grin.

“Barad died protecting his comrades from a horde of fifty orcs! I was by his side as he went down! A tragedy, tragedy!”

Derennan refused to be portrayed. He was more interested in selling Zarifa jewelled scabbard and few gems they've recovered from slain orcs.

“Then take this emerald silk scarf as token of gratitude for returning my love to me. Wear it around your biceps and you will always strike true.” Derennan took the scarf and wrapped it as she asked.

Either way, by Coldrain 15th Nolmbork and Celeborn were fully rested and eager to return to the Den. They will find out what the hell is this Red Dragon mystery even if it proves to be the last thing they do in their life.

To increase their odds they recruited three more adventurers: Rangar the Fighter, Ervain the Cleric, and Ryan the Magic-User. They reached the Drug Den by evening of Coldrain 16th.

Coldrain 16th, Airday

Descending down the poorly concealed shaft landed the party in the same bell-shaped chamber as before. And where else should it take them to, right?

Three impaled orcs in advanced stages of decomposition was a novel element of this room's dressing.

“This must be a warning sign to anyone coming down here.”

“This one has a familiar pig snout... Must be the ones we slaughtered weeks ago.”

Following a brief discussion, the party agreed to investigate corridors to the east. Rangar the Bull forced the doors open with great noise. Ryan the Torchbearer, standing in the back, heard faint sounds of lute or similar string instrument coming from his left.

“Let's move.”

“Anyone has a ten foot pole? No? No one?”

Celeborn the Wise ripped out one of the spears impaling an orc corpse.

“This will suffice!”

Pressing on, they soon reached a t-shaped junction. Ignoring the right turn, they moved on, only to reach another right turn. Another junction around the corner. This time they took the left turn, and marched down the corridor until they hit end—solid doors.

“Can't hear a thing.”

“Well, open them then!”

These doors opened outwards, i.e. towards the party. They too required a bit of muscle to open. Angled walls to the left and right were lined with bookshelves, which in turn were littered with books, parchments, and torn papers. Several melted and trampled candles could be seen on the floor. Vandalised reading chair laid on its side in the south-east portion of the chamber.

Failing to find any traps, the party moved in and began combing the chamber. Nolmbork stood guard by the doors they came through.

Many of the books had proven to be of very mundane nature. This was no arcane library, nor study of any arts. Ervain did stumble upon a distinctly different leather-bound tome. Although it was missing many pages, those intact were covered with weird symbols and unrecognisable letters. Not even Celeborn could make sense of them!

Besides bookshelves, there were also three doors in the eastern portion of the room: one in the north-east corner, one in the middle of east wall, and one in the south-east corner.

“I'll pack that in my backpack.”

“Quiet! I hear voices!”

Indeed, Nolmbork heard primitive grunts from behind the closed doors. They went quiet as did the party. Rangar joined Nolmbork by the doors and then they waited. And waited. And waited.

And then doors swung open.

Four pig-faced humanoids armed with clubs. Thoroughly unsurprised and thoroughly intent on beating the party up.

Adventurers held a tactically superior position, having the orcs in a bottle neck. Nolmbork and Rangar we blocking the passageway. Celeborn was stabbing with spear from second rank. Ervain was attacking from left flank, while Ryan took out his dagger and attacked from right flank.

Celeborn and Ryan were first to draw blood. In fact, the wizard had slain an orc with a single blow of his dagger! Blood was gushing everywhere as he severed the creature's neck.

Unfortunately Nolmbork and Rangar were getting concussed by the round. Still, they stood their ground, refusing to budge under the relentless attacks of pig-faced monsters.

“Press, press you worms!” a large, mace-wielding orc roared as four more charged on, forcing those in front to fight to death.

At this moment things started to fall apart. Not because of the orc captain, for him and his scoundrels were still stuck in the corridor. No, it was because of the five pig-faced bastards that charged out from south-east doors.

Now the adventurers were completely surrounded, and what used to be a great position had started to turn into a deathtrap. Rangar fell first, his head a swollen mess. Celeborn jumped over the fallen warrior and fought off five orcs. Five! All by himself!

Nolmbork was next to succumb to the beatings. Ervain kept smashing heads with his mace; Ryan kept on slaying orcs with his trusty dagger and mighty thews; Celeborn skewered all those surrounding him.

“I'll pull out your teeth and tongue; I'll rip out your eyes and parade you down the halls!” large orc roared as he chucked a wailing piglet to the side.

“Come, I'll kill you too!” Celeborn retorted in Orcish. And he followed up on his promise by piercing the monster through he ear, and consequently, head.

Remaining few orcs scattered in panic, fleeing west and south. The surviving trio gave chase but gave up afraid of being led into an ambush or some trap. Hence they returned to the chamber.

Ryan ran to south doors and listened carefully. Celeborn and Ervain checked on their fallen comrades.

A miracle!

Both were still alive, albeit properly beaten up and unconscious.

“Can't hear a thing. Better check anyway.”

Ryan opened the doors.

Three goblins with drawn swords, and two snot covered and red-eyed orcs behind them, stared at the magic-user.

He slammed the doors shut.

Ervain and Celeborn ran and pressed them, proving stronger than the opposition on the other side.

Ryan the Magic-User remembered that he is a magic-user and not an assassin, and cast Protection from Evil.

“Stand back and let them in. We'll slash them one by one!”

“Look! Incoming from the right!”

Another group of goblins ran through the west doors, which were propped open by all the piled up corpses. An orc with an eye patch, spear, and long sword by his hip walked in behind them.

He took a stand just beyond entrance, between comatose Nolmbork and Rangar.

“Hold formation as I thought you! Ignore those at the front, go for the guy in robes! Kill him first!”

Celeborn decapitated one with an arrow, while Ervain split the skull of the other with sling stone. Alas they were soon completely surrounded and overwhelmed.

Celeborn valiantly stood his ground. He was slowly hacked to death, round by round, cut by cut.

Ervain did not fare much better. He too fought bravely until the very end.

“Good, good! No, do not stop to celebrate! Make sure they are really dead!” grizzly Orc grunted with pride.

Ryan fought with his back to the wall, slaying few more with his trust dagger before he himself was stabbed to death. He was the last to fall.

Rangar opened his eyes to a horrific scene.

Bunch of goblins slashing his allies to death. So many, so many of them. Some murky figure was standing over him, laughing.

Summoning all his strength, Rangar leaped off the ground and smashed the one-eyed orc with his handaxe.

Ryan held torch as long as he could. It extinguished with him.

Nolmbork pushed himself off the ground, dazed and with throbbing headache. Still, he was aware enough to finish what Rangar had started.

The laughing orc gasped for air. And then he slumped to the ground lifeless.

Remaining snivelling orcs fled once again. Goblins on the other hand charged at the barely standing duo.

Rangar poured out oil and set it on fire. Goblins lobbed insults until the fighter hurled a javelin at them.

Illustrated by kickmaniac

The duo dragged themselves out, leaving few more fire gifts for their pursuers.

Once outside they marched an hour through the night. The Sister Moons shone guided them to a perfect spot to rest at.

Two badly wounded warriors were barely moving. Desperate, they doffed their armours. Lighter, they marched straight to Hara, stopping only when they absolutely had to.

Will they ever find the Red Dragon?

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Adventurers

Character Class Description
Hagar the Hewer Dwarf level 1 Imagine Conan as dwarf.
Celeborn of Revelshire Elf level 1 Hails from a distant community led by an Ent. Also potentially the ugliest elf you've ever met.
Nolmbork Dwarf level 1 Portly, bald, red bearded, with an epic nose. On a mission to have a drink in every settlement in Wilderlands.

Coldrain 6th, Airday

Leaving Derennan to take care of dead Barad, Hagar and Nolmbork took their orc prisoner to their two-story house. Into the cellar of course. There they were joined by Celeborn of Revelshire, an elf fluent in orcish.

Applying well know motivational techniques resulted in new intelligence. Alas, it was not information these adventurers were looking for!

The orc in questions was a war-priest whom has brought his clan to claim the dungeon they've captured him in. They arrived just before winter, and have been fighting the other “weaker” clan whom had allied with goblins. Supposedly there is a giant ruling on the lower levels, whom they wanted to impress and ally with.

The trio rested and returned to the den. They were committed to finding the source of Red Dragon.

Coldrain 8th, Earthday

Although Barbarian Alatanis is nowhere as cold as Valon, shorter days make it difficult to get far. Still, the party reached the familiar tree with poorly concealed pit next to it. Judging it might be safer to sleep in the dungeon, and that goblinoids surely sleep at night as well, the party pressed on.

The trio acted as a special force team, rapidly clearing room by room; listening at the doors whilst one would watch their back. West they went, west. First to the chamber where they left a mountain of rotting corpses. Then through the westernmost doors.

From there they kept exploring corridors, tiptoeing and paying special attention to any possible traps. The furthest corridor terminated in a t-shaped junction splitting in two long passageways. Nolmbork could smell wet soil coming from the south.

Exploring corridors they passed before, the party found staircase leading down as well as a set of double doors they decided to leave alone. Then they backtracked and explored a spiralling corridor. That one lead them to a plinth atop which two stone legs stood. It was obviously a demolished statue, bereft of anything else. Something was written on the plinth, but everything was scratched except first letter: S.

Hearing a distant tinkle sent the party packing. Once again the backtracked to the room with corpses. This time they went for easternmost doors. This led them to another sleeping chamber, if it was to judge from all the improvised bedrolls.

Pressing on, the trio forced they way through doors reinforced with iron bars, finding themselves in a long room with pillars. The floor was littered with bones, which in turn were caked with dust.

“I better check that one skeleton...” Hagar announced.

The dead lifted its hand to protect itself against the dwarf's hammer, but in vain. Four more skeletons joined the fray. Celeborn was brutally humiliated when one of them backhanded him like a small child. Party soon laid the dead to a more permanent form of rest.

Exploring the chamber further revealed a simple stone throne on the north side. Celeborn also picked up on one pillar having different patterns than others. Closer examination revealed a depression. Pressing it with a ten foot pole opened a secret chamber with scroll case and small metal box.

Elf took the scroll case, opened it with haste, and then unfurled three scrolls found within. He couldn't read any of them, even after casting Read Languages. Hagar the Curious took the small box, inspected it, and then pressed the latch. He instantly felt two pricks, one in each thumb. It hurt; it hurt a lot. Inside was a nice looking gold ring. Was it worth it? Only time will tell.

Bursting through north-west doors led into another corridor. Inching forward to the doors on the left wall, the party heard angry muttering sounds coming from west.

The dwarves decided to head south, through the door, while the elf really wanted to check what the muttering sounds were.

Stench of rot and decay: they found prison cells. Four of them to be exact. A naked, mutilated elven corpse; a corpse of fat man in late stages of decomposition; a beheaded goblin; and a corpse lying face down underneath soiled cot.

Investigating—and by that we mean smashing open—the nearby desk produced iron ring with four large keys. Nolmbork took them and unlocked the cell with facing down corpse. He strolled right in to check on it. The corpse leaped at him with surprising agility and force. It clawed and bit him, sending the dwarf straight to the ground. Hagar and Celeborn rushed to Nolmbork's aid, hacking the undead to death.

“He is still breathing! We must get out of here!”

Pushing south revealed a torture chamber; pushing further south led them into known territory; from there they went straight to exit. Dragging half-dead Nolmbork.

By now it was pitch-black outside. They carried the fallen dwarf to safety, rested, and headed to Hara with first ray of sun. Nolmbork regained his facilities, but was still badly hurt. In other words, he was hardly in marching condition.

In a rare flash of luck, the party stumbled on patrol from Hara whom had recognised Hagar. They offer to escort the bloodied trio to Hara; an offer which the party gladly accepted.

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Adventurers

Character Class Description
Derennan Dwarf level 3 A dwarf hailing from Western Wastes.
Barad the Bald Magic-User level 1 Bald, beardless, chinless, and lazy-eyed.
Tamren Cleric level 3 Stoic paladin of Coriptis, the Goddess of Battle and Inamorata of Berserkers. Aventail hides all but his two piercing blue eyes.
Hagar the Hewer Dwarf level 1 Imagine Conan as dwarf.
Nolmbork Dwarf level 1 Portly, bald, red bearded, with an epic nose. On a mission to have a drink in every settlement in Wilderlands.

Maggotfeast 13th, Earthday

“You know what? We should go back to the den and finish what we started. Look we even have a paladin with us now! And Derennan is no joke either!”

On top of that Barad, Zarifa's Toy-Boy, also disclosed a marvellous discovery he had—a wand he recovered many months ago turned out to be a potent weapon. It was in fact a Wand of Paralysation, with a conical effect.

The quintet prepared for expedition and set out at once. They reached the familiar tree by next day's afternoon.

Maggotfeast 14th, Fireday

One of the dwarves moved the broad plank concealing the shaft leading into the den. As he did so everyone could hear loud tumbling sounds of rocks and debris falling down the shaft; as if something was lodged right underneath the plank.

Caring little for making noise—after all they are here to stop a drug ring—the party headed down. Bell-shaped entry chamber was as they left it. Filled with animal carcasses, small bones, a dead elf, and a spider husk.

Two doors to the left, two doors to the right, and an archway straight up ahead. Doors to their immediate right were chosen. A little bit of listening, a little bit of prodding, and a corridor unveiled itself.

Remembering a pit trap from their last delve, the party proceeded whilst carefully tapping the floor.

“Stop! I hear something!”

One of the dwarves picked up on giggling sounds behind the doors they just came through. Alas, everybody heard the next thing—the sound of doors being swung open.

And then Barad felt getting shot in the gut. He fell down to the ground and blacked out. Three dwarves and a paladin charged into the darkness. A mass of small brownish creatures armed with short swords and light crossbows cried and fell back into the bell shaped chamber.

Party gave chase, only to find themselves surrounded from all directions. From now on it was a bloody free-for-all. Wherever they swung something died. In return they got stabbed and shot at and insulted relentlessly.

“Look at that big-nosed dwarf! I'll have his beard!” Nolmbork could pick up between heaves and screams and sounds of metal clashing. It was dirty Goblin language. And they were dirty little goblins. And there was lot of them.

And then a torch-bearer dropped the torch.

Little did the darkness help the goblinoid bunch, for the adventurers kept swinging wildly; back to back. Nolmbork unleashed a fierce warcry, sending a bunch of small critters fleeing for their lives.

Adventurers' respite did not last even a minute. The doors they cam through and then came back from swung open once more!

“Drop your weapons or we slit his throat.” a large humanoid with leathery skin and oversized pig-face spoke in broken Dwarven as he held up unconscious Barad. There were at least six more like it, and they were well armed. Surviving goblins rallied and picked up their weapons once more.

Nolmbork The Quick-Witted explained that all of this is merely a misunderstanding and that they are here to buy some Red Dragon. That landed well with orcs.

“How much is it?”

“How much do you have?”

“A hundred and something gold coins...”

“That will do it.”

Orc dropped Barad unceremoniously, turned around and left.

“Now, which one of you was interested in my beard?”

Remaining goblins did not cry for long.

Tamren hung his head in shame. He bought his life! Instead of earning the right to live in battle! Coriptis would never even look at him; let alone sleep with him! Now he was nothing but a disgrace looking for redemption!

“Uh, are these orcs coming back? For how long do we wait?”

They got out and headed straight back to Hara.

Maggotfeast 16, Airday

“What did you do to my handsome sage!”

Zarifa Pilter, usually ice cold and reserved, fumed at Barad's beaten-up, bloodied, and battered state.

“You imbeciles! Don't you know that blunt force trauma renders one stupider?! Of course you don't, you bunch of stone-cutters! Oh my lovely sage, what have they done to you?”

The rest retreated to their comfortable townhouse where they rested, recovered, and licked their wounds.

Barad received the finest treatment at the Pleasure Palace. There he also received an offer of employment. Eight hundred gold coins a month to become Pilter family chief sage. A vizier perhaps! The only condition? He would never be allowed to adventure. Ever again!

It is unknown how he weaselled himself out of this deal, but what is know is that he snuck out in time to join the next expedition to the den.

Coldrain 1st, Airday

Winter is here. Days are shorter.

This time removing the plank caused no unusual sounds.

Bell shaped chamber was as before. Well, mostly. Five mutilated goblin corpses were hanging from the ceiling.

“Let's head left”.

A thirty foot long corridor leading to a t-shaped junction. Left again, into a four-way intersection. A door to their right, corridors in other directions. Left corridor turned left into a dead-end. Right corridor led to stuck doors behind which nothing could be heard.

Up ahead, thirty feet further, the corridor terminated in another t-shaped junction. Stuck doors at the end of both passageways. The right ones stank of shit.

“Let's head back...”

Backtracking to the first t-junction they encountered, the party turned left and followed the long corridor until they reached another doors.

Loud grunts and noises could be heard from behind.

“Brace yourselves...”

Hagar the Mighty smashed the doors open.

Four pig-headed creatures, with dumbfounded expressions on what is an insult to call face, sat around the table playing dice. Dim-lantern rested in the middle of the table. Left and right side of the chamber were lined with straw-mats on which more of the creatures were sleeping. Another doors were straight ahead.

“Charge!”

The party spilled in, breaking into right and left wing, leaving Barad alone in the center. Magic-User pointed his wand, yelled some incomprehensible words, and sitting orcs froze still. Sleeping orcs were slain before they had a chance to react. Paralysed orcs wept as they were inefficiently hacked to death.

Hagar the Curious opened north doors, “just to check it out.”

First he was hit a strong whiff of rancid alcohol that made his eyes watery. Then he realised what were the shapes in front of him. A dozen or more half-naked orcs singing, yelling, and wrestling. On north wall was a bas-relief of large war-hammer. By it was a dressed orc wielding hammer and yelling whilst holding his arms spread out.

Unsure what to do, Hagar whacked the closest orc that stumbled towards him. Alas, the monster fell and wedged the doors open.

“The wand! The wand!”

Illustration by kickmaniac

Dwarf rolled to the side as Barad unleashed his super weapon once more. Everything, including the imposing hammer-orc froze in place. Everything but a dozen orcs that didn't. Drunk, they stumbled and fell over each other, looking for weapons to fight with.

Barad's triumph lasted ten seconds. An intoxicated orc rushed out and speared him right through heart. Zarifa's lover fell dead.

Derennan, Tamren, Nolmbork, and Hagar formed a gauntlet around the bottleneck. They hacked and smashed and skewered orcs like pigs for slaughter. Drunken horde flailed and fell over each other, and then clashed against open doors as a sea of flesh, yelling & roaring. Too many to fit through, one after another they fell under the mighty adventurers. Except Tamren; disgraced paladin was missing. A lot.

A minute later they stood victorious on a carpet of corpses. Nineteen of them. And Barad. Somewhere at the bottom of the pile. Paralysed monsters were promptly executed—sans the shamanistic figure.

As they moved into the chamber, they could see what was an obvious party scene: wine spilled all over the ground, food trampled in chaos, and two dead goblins pinned to the west wall with daggers and darts sticking out of them. Several small barrels, wine or some other dark red liquid, and three sacks of flax seed were the only obvious “valuables.”

“Gag the shaman, frisk the corpses, take Barad, and let's get out of here!”

The party recovered 97 gold coins, one small lapis lazuli, one small piece of obsidian, one black onyx, one small ruby, one jeweled scabbard of fine make (possibly elven), and one magic-user corpse.

Enroute to Hara the party had been accosted by patrol heading to Violentague. Patrol was taken aback by their shabby prospect and were very disinterest in their affairs.

The party reached Hara on noon of Coldrain 6th, Airday.

“Quick, to the temple with Barad! Before Zarifa finds out!”

As if they could afford Mavis the Magnificent, High Priestess of Poseidon, whom said no to the mightiest men of Hara and paid the price for it!

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Adventurers

Character Class Description
Hagar the Hewer Dwarf level 1 Imagine Conan as dwarf.
Nolmbork Dwarf level 1 Portly, bald, red bearded, with an epic nose. On a mission to have a drink in every settlement in Wilderlands.
Celeborn of Revelshire Elf level 1 Hails from a distant community led by an Ent. Also potentially the ugliest elf you've ever met.
Oberon Fighter level 3 A tall, supple hunter adorned with bones and horns of his prey.

Maggotfeast 5th, Spiritday

“Surely there is something for us to do...”

B-team left behind in Hara was hard at work collecting intelligence, seeking new opportunities, and taking care of their newly acquired townhouse.

Myrna Blaxter offered one such opportunity to Flamthwynn and Barad the Bald. Hara's alchemist—queen's good friend if rumours are to be trusted—is concerned that Red Dragon is back on the streets of Hara. It is a highly addictive paste that leads to a zombie-like existence after sustained use.

The name comes from eye-wateringly hot belch that follows each consumption. A decade or so ago, Myrna was a member of an adventuring party that executed the brewers of Red Dragon, destroyed the recipe, and demolished their den.

She offered 800 gp worth of gems, as well as her friendship, if the party would check the old drug den for any trails.

Another opportunity came in a form of a distressed man knocking on the doors of their new home. The man sought Norwood Bode, previous owner. Hagar the Hewer and Derennan greeted him and learned that he wants to sell information about Klekless Racoba's whereabouts. You know, the notorious wizard whom had to flee Hara because of our brave adventurers and whom currently has a large bounty on his head (3 000 gp by Imrael to bring his head, 3 000 pp by Namelin to bring him alive). The man asked for mere 847 gp for this information.

Finally, Tamren dreamt the following, vivid as reality itself:

A circle of large stones atop a dark hill; a circle that runs in circles and circles; a black hole in the ground, broken round stone slab next to it; a seal of something that should be sealed; a spiral staircase covered with roots and bones and dust going deep, deep, deep; a dark hole, a blue mist, an army of many legged and many armed horrors; a pulse that makes you sick a pulse that makes you angry; a site where Paladin of Coriptis could find his glory—in life or death.

“You know what? Checking that den out could be some easy money. And it's just days walk away. Can't be that bad, right?”

Hagar assembled an A-team of Oberon, Nolmbork, Celeborn of Revelshire, and, of course, himself.

Maggotfeast 6th, Airday

“There!”

Indeed, there stood a large tree fitting Myrna's description. It didn't take a lot of searching to find a poorly concealed entrance next to it. Broken branches, an assortment of bushes and random detritus covered a solid wooden plank, which in turn covered a ten feet wide hole. A shaft led deep into the ground dropping fifty feet straight down. Old, rusty rungs were spaced along the shaft to allow persons to descend deeper into the earth. Some of the roots of the old tree have found their way into the shaft, making the descent difficult at times, and causing those lowering themselves down to be blinded to the room below.

The quartet descended, with Nolmbork leading the way.

Soon enough they entered into an oddly shaped chamber. There were doors the their left as well as right, and an expanse up ahead. The air was a mix of dampness and rot. Small animal carcasses littered the floor.

“Oh, my.”

Oberon's torch illuminated a rotting elven corpse impaled on a spear in the center of the chamber. Behind it were two more doors as well as an archway leading into a corridor.

Listening at the doors revealed very little. The corpse was in bad shape. Eyes, teeth, and tongue were missing.

“Watch out!” Nolmbork spotted a large spider dropping from above on unsuspecting Oberon. Luckily the fighter was agile enough to avoid the insect's bite. He squashed it without breaking a sweat. Then he pulled out the spear from the elven corpse, letting the latter slump down to the ground.

“Pssst, I heard something!”

Sounds of something hard hitting something soft could be heard from behind north-east doors. The quarter huddled up and opened the doors.

A corridor up ahead as well as to the right.

“Let's check it out quietly.”

Not even five steps in the party was rewarded with arrows to their faces. Celeborn took two hits, nearly dying in the process. He took out his sword and charged on into the darkness. Others followed.

They soon clashed against three pig-faced humanoids.

Celeborn ran into one holding a bow, took a swing, missed awkwardly, and then dropped his weapon. Hagar followed him, but was checked by an unexpected monster to his right. Pig-faced one was promptly turned into flat-faced one; dead on the floor.

Nolmbork challenged the biggest looking one, preventing him for chasing after wounded Celeborn. Brief but brutal skirmish ensued. The elf recovered a weapon from downed monster—which he recognised to be one an orc or similar breed. As he did so he overheard the other two discuss which one of them will get to eat elven ears.

Outnumber two-to-one, two remaining orcs had no chance. Celeborn cut down one in a single strike while others beat the other into retreat. Celeborn gave chase and stabbed it into its back as it tried to open the doors into the chamber whence the party cometh from.

“Let's frisk them!”

Two shortbows, 16 arrows, one spear, one solid wooden shield with metal rim, and eight gold coins.

“Aaaa!”

Celeborn just caught glimpse of Oberon falling through the floor in the corridor to the right of the doors.

Oberon rolled and tumbled until he hit a patch of cold soil.

“Huh...”

“Time to take out that ten foot pole!”

Hagar commanded everyone to stand behind as he taps the floor.

Nothing.

Nothing.

“Aaaa!”

Hagar's pole might have not been enough to get the trapdoor to open, but his heavy frame sure was.

He too tumbled down, nearly falling on Oberon's head.

Both found themselves in a very small area, barely five by five feet. The chute they fell through was at an angle they'd find impossible to scale without proper equipment. To their right were iron rungs leading some twenty feet above, terminating with a trapdoor.

“Listen, I have an idea!”

Nolmbork and Celeborn came up with ingenious plan. They tied orc corpse to the door handle on the opposite side, closed the doors, tied on the handle on this side, and then placed it on the trapdoor. Nolmbork the Engineer figured out the mechanism and how to keep it open!

Then they threw down excess rope. Nolmbork slowly descended, holding rope in one hand and torch in another. This was definitely a chute leading down, at an almost 60 degree angle. The fall was at least 50 feet long, if not longer.

“I am at the end...”

The dwarf gingerly sat down and then he let go of the rope, sliding down on his bum. Celeborn followed.

The duo found thyself in a very small area, barely five by five feet. To their right were iron rungs leading some twenty feet above, terminating with a trapdoor. Oberon and Hagar were nowhere to be seen.

“Uh, I might be too heavy!”

Nolmbork worried as one of the rungs squeaked under him. Hence he got rid of everything but essentials. Celeborn waited before climbing.

“I hear fighting sounds!” Nolmbork forced the trapdoors open, bursting into a chamber some twenty by thirty feet. There he found the other duo victoriously standing atop a pile of bones.

“Four dog skeletons and two bird skeletons animated when we entered. As you can see we successfully deanimated them.”

This chamber was full of doors as well. One to the west, one to the south, and one to east. But it was not doors that occupying Oberon's attention. No. It was a chest by north wall. Big iron padlock made it only more attractive. So attractive he took out his little axe and hacked it to pieces. The chest, not axe.

Inside was a rectangle of solid silver, roughly palm-sized. Its lightness suggested it might be hollow, but it had no hinges, nor any opening of any kind. Hagar inspected it closer. Ha! There was a hairline thin seam running around the whole circumference of the rectangle. But what for? Who knows; Hagar threw it into his backpack.

South door led into a short corridor, leading to locked doors, which Hagar battered down without even blinking thrice. Another twenty by thirty chamber, with a door on each wall. A ten feet wide fountain dominated the center. A small, winged cherub, spewing water from its mouth, was perched atop an evil looking gargoyle.

The moment Hagar stepped into the room, the water stopped flowing from the chubby cherub. Then the gargoyle and cherub rotated to face Hagar. Dwarf heard the following:

You take up thy knife And slice off my head Then you stand o’er me And weep that I’m dead

“Ooook?” dwarf stepped in and to the side. Upon entry, both Celeborn and Nolmbork heard the same cryptic message. The stone duo faced Nolmbork since he stood between other two characters. The elf separated to check on the east doors. Hagar took out his pole once more, and prodded the fountain statues.

The cherub sprayed both dwarves with viscous oil. And then gargoyle breathed fire upon them. The duo quickly rolled out of the chamber, while Oberon beat on them with a blanket. Celeborn hurried out of the room as well.

Backtracking into the chamber with hacked chest, the quarter went through west doors, eventually finding their way to the corridor with pit trap. They jumped over and then got the hell out of this place.

“There were no drugs here?”

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Adventurers

Character Class Description
Ert Fighter level 1 Lean and dexterous fighter with disheveled hair and wincing eyes.
Algon Thief level 1 Handsome and friendly heartthrob; shifty at heart.
Hist Fighter level 1 Young, overeager, and clean-shaven. Muscles practically bursting out of his armor.
Tarkus the Promising Cleric level 1 Follower of Bachontoi, God of Red Wisdom.
Rashomon Elf level 2 A dangerous looking elf.
Llyfed Elf level 3 Thin and balding elf whom also happens to be Rashomon's friend.
Brent Goose Cleric level 5 An eccentric, but charismatic, cleric seeking the Holy Bird. White robes and black cloak conceal his tall, frail and anemic frame. His eagle-like nose is exposed for all to see.

Maggotfeast 8th, Earthday

“Move! Quick, get into the temple!” Algon yelled at Briaron and acolytes standing guard outside.

A winged, large, black serpentine creature was incoming at great speed. Its horrible shrill could be heard for miles, waking Ert, Hist, Rashomon, Llyfed, and Dorn whom had been trying to rest during the day.

Two acolytes stood frozen; Algon, Briaron, and two others ran into the temple just as the black dragon flew over them.

House crew barred the shutters and closed the doors. Algon fled into the heart of the temple, where exhausted Camus sat on the floor. Brent Goose sat next to him, while Tarkus the Promising jumped up and ran to check where other two acolytes were.

Three clerics—Camus, Brent, and Tarkus—spent the whole day conducting a ceremonial ritual to close the Sinkhole of Chaos; a wound in the very fabric of reality festering in the heart of the temple. It should be no surprise that such endeavourment requires great effort; so much so that it left the clerics completely drained.

Tarkus ran into the chamber where one of the temple entrances was. then through the secret passageway connecting it to the other one, and then up to the stone slab acting as heavy doors. He pushed but it was so heavy!

Man of Law he is, he summoned all the strength he had left and pushed once more. As the doors opened he inhaled strong acidic smell burning his nose hairs. One of the acolytes laid on the floor, his flesh a bubbly, melted mess. Bones were exposed here an there. The man was still whizzing; his death was one of pure agony until his very last moment.

Illustration by kickmaniac

Unwilling to retreat just yet, Tarkus pushed his head out, looking for the other acolyte as well. This one was to the left; same horrible fate as the other one. The cleric let the doors slam shut. Then he ran back into the central chamber.

And what a sight had he encountered there! Algon “I'm hiding in darkness. What?” in a little alcove; Camus with a rejected facial expression sitting on the ground; Brent “I'm too weak to do anything” Goose; and others just standing there.

Tarkus the Motivational Speaker got the surviving two acolytes to join him. They ran back to the temple exit and dragged heavy stone bench in front of the doors. Then they went to other temple exit and prepared an ambush. If they go down, they'll do so on fighting terms!

Eons passed as everyone waited.

High-pitched shrill would remind them what they are waiting for.

Waiting they kept.

And then temple shook.

And then it shook again, and loud, breaking noises echoed throughout Ghinarian Hills.

And temple shook once more; and horrible scream followed.

And then temple shook for the last time as something broke into the entrance barred by Tarkus.

Algon, whom had came out of the hiding during on of the tremors, suddenly saw a flash of daylight to his right. A then a black, slithering, scaly mass filled the corridor.

There are no words that can sufficiently convey how quickly did these adventurers run out of that temple.

Standing at the edge of the cliff they could see Ert, Hist, Rashomon, Llyfed, and Dorn running out of the stone building to join them.

Tarkus and acolytes were helping Camus walk.

Algon decided to take the shortcut by scaling 40 feet down the escarpment. Still sweaty from the stress and panic, he slipped, lost footing, and fell. A wet, crunchy splash was heard by all.

Hist felt excruciating pain with every step; like his arm was melting. Ert on the other hand, felt certain weakness in his body. Adrenaline pushed them both onwards.

At this moment the party on the temple plateau learned what was the source of tremors.

A sixty feet tall eagle idol of Shang Ta had been toppled down. Its large body laid broken on the staircase: its head smashed to pieces. Wings were nowhere to be seen.

Night was about to fall any moment now.

Standing at the low plateau, they party discussed their options.

“Monsters here have a pattern. They attack us and then they leave. Maybe this one will leave too?”

“We are all wounded, exhausted, and now also without supplies. We should head back and live to fight another day.”

Tarkus and Ert decided to remain here and monitor the temple.

The rest lit up their torches and started their descent towards Ahyf. After few hours of march they found the safest spot and made a cold camp. They'd wait for Tarkus and Ert until sunrise.

The duo never came.

“Son, I cleaned your wound as much as I could. We have to get you to Ahyf as soon as possible. My notes and herbs and salves are there. I'll be able to help you there.”

Camus knew the situation was worse than that. Necrosis was already setting in. But he did not want to break Hist's spirit. Perhaps he misunderstood the young man, whom had stoically endured everything so far.

They descended from Ghinarian Hills on the morning of Maggotfeast 10th. A patrol from Ahyf accosted them. Camus was missing for more than a week and they were worried the man had fallen. No, they were not happy to learn two of their own died atop the hill.

Hist was rushed into Ahyf. His options were grim: wait next day until Camus had sufficient rest and prays for divine guidance or have surgery right now or decide how he wants to die.

“I will wait.”

On the dawn of Maggotfeast 11th Camus prayed to Thoth for divine strength to heal this young man dedicated to the cause of Law.

He laid his hands on the mans black wound.

He said all the right words.

He did all the right moves.

The scarring was gone.

But decay and rot was still destroying Hist from inside.

“Do what you have to do.”

“Can he operate with a mace?” someone less versed in surgical matters was heard.

Camus did his best.

It was not good enough.

Hist passed away due to great bloody loss following the amputation of his arm.

“How much longer shall we wait?”

“It's night, do you think we'd see it leave?”

The duo decided to retreat back to Ahyf as well.

They travelled without torches and with very little moonlight.

They too decided to cold-camp.

Much to their surprise, once the sun came up they were not where they expected to be.

Luckily for them, they could spot the temple summit a mile or so away from them.

Tarkus noticed Ert was shivering.

“Are you cold?”

“No, I'm hot... I'm burning...”

The duo hiked back to the temple; they reasoned they could find the trail leading to Ahyf there. Otherwise they'd risk weeks of meandering around the hills. Given they had no food nor water, that was a rather a risky option.

With great effort, little luck, and much hardship they party descended Ghinarian hills at the end of Maggotfeast 11th. Too hungry, thirsty, and exhausted to force march during the night, they decided to sleep and go on in the morning.

Sun woke only one of them.

Tarkus buried his friend and then dragged himself to Ahyf.

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Adventurers

Character Class Description
Ert Fighter level 1 Lean and dexterous fighter with disheveled hair and wincing eyes.
Algon Thief level 1 Handsome and friendly heartthrob; shifty at heart.
Brent Goose Cleric level 5 An eccentric, but charismatic, cleric seeking the Holy Bird. White robes and black cloak conceal his tall, frail and anemic frame. His eagle-like nose is exposed for all to see.
Hist Fighter level 1 Young, overeager, and clean-shaven. Muscles practically bursting out of his armor.
Rashomon Elf level 2 A dangerous looking elf.
Llyfed Elf level 3 Thin and balding elf whom also happens to be Rashomon's friend.
Tarkus the Promising Cleric level 1 Follower of Bachontoi, God of Red Wisdom.

Maggotfeast 7th, Waterday

“Our enemies cannot see in the dark.” Hist perched and continued “We need not fear the night!”

“Whoever they are, they also had a whole day to prepare” Ert the Pessimist sighed heavily “and a good night sleep!”

“Might makes right. Shang Ta will bless our swordarms when it finally comes time.” Hist continued, unperturbed. His heart and mind were set on cleansing the fallen temple of Shang-Ta—even if it'd spell ruin to him.

And ruin did it spell already; for Hist's grasp of reality wasn't as it once used to be.

“Hail, friends! We come to help!”

Brent Goose, Algon and his retainer Briaron, and newly recruited Tarkus the Promising, arrived to reinforce the party just before the nightfall.

“I needed just one good gig to turn my luck around... how did I end up in this situation? Ah yes, too much alcohol and stupid dice, I'm sure that bastard was cheating... but here I am with but a few gold pieces to my name...” Ert lamented in his mind as he sharpened his sword.

A crude tripwire he set up earlier—some string and a pot full of copper coins—should awake them in case anyone tries to sneak up the stairs.

“We need to agree on guard duty schedule.”

“Everyone is already exhausted.”

“No fire; we sleep cold again.”

“Perhaps elves should take double shifts? They can spot anyone approaching us in the dark.”

Henceforth, the party had decided that Rashomon and Hist would take the first night watch; Rashomon and Ert second night watch; and Llyfed and Tarkus the last night watch.

Fourteen of them crammed into the stone house resting on the plateau just north of the temple. They closed and barred both of the shutters to the north west. Rashomon sat by the sole window looking to the south-east, scanning the environment for any heat signatures. Hist, and later Ert and Tarkus, has the door guard duty. Meaning they were standing just by them in case anything tries to come in.

The sister moons were shy tonight. Howla was completely obscured, while Vannis showed only her right half. It was poised to be a dark night.

Maggotfeast 8th, Earthday

“Hist, something is happening!”

Some time during his second night watch Rashomon observed patches of soil changing colour! Soon some thirty by thirty foot area became warm, pulsating. From it three bulbous masses appeared.

The elf fired an arrow into the darkness. He heard that familiar twang when an arrow hits something hard and bounces off.

“Brace yourself!”

Unwilling to take any risks, Rashomon did the right moves paired with the right words, and two of the three skittering bulbs were stopped in their tracks. The third one burst through the doors.

Now, although there were no lit light-sources in the house, Ert could still see a round black mass, roughly up to his knees. It rammed him, hugging his left left. And then it thrust something log and sharp into the warrior's leg!

Ert could feel the blood sucked out of him.

By now other adventurers slowly began to wake up.

Tarkus the Promising lit up a torch, both to offer light, but also to use it against whatever is assaulting them.

Illustrated by kickmaniac

“It's them, again!”

A giant, deformed tick was hanging from Ert's left thigh. Its hard shell was covered in purplish-spots. And its proboscis was deep into the fighter's leg.

CRASH!

“Huh, what, eh?!”

Algon and Briaron had a rude awakening as another large insect crashed through the barred window.

By now everyone was awake.

Brent Goose kept sending thoughts and prayers as he held torch in the north-east corner of the room.

The rest fought in cramped conditions, ultimately repealing the invading insects. Six of them in total. Hist slayed three, Dorn slayed one but suffered a prick himself, Algon and Briaron crushed one as well, and the remaining two were executed in their magically induced slumber.

“I want to circle the house!” Tarkus announced as he held up the torch outside. Rashomon joined him, while Llyfed went the opposite direction.

Just as he had joined the cleric, Rashomon immediately felt something was off. And then an arrow stuck him in his back.

“Fall back, fall back!”

The trio ran back into the house, and party closed the doors and all the windows shut. It was a stone house—no one could smoke them out!

And then they waited, poised to crush whomever is dumb enough to storm the front doors.

And waited.

And waited.

“Damn, they are just taking pot shots at us...”

“Just like the last night...”

“Brent, can you help with the healing? You know many divine prayers.”

“Sorry, it's bit complicated between Kadrim and me at the moment.”

“OK...”

All but those with guard duty tried to catch few more hours of sleep.

Sun came too soon. Everyone was still red eyed, sore, and hardly well rested at all.

“I'll spend the morning in meditation. I need to center my mind before I return to that horrid place.” Camus shared wearily “Buy me some hours and I'll be ready.”

At this moment all but Hist decided to sleep through morning until noon.

Hist sat on an improvised stool and stood guard by the window looking at the summit where the temple ominously loomed over all. A perennial, dominating reminder of horrors he had witnessed last time he was here. Horrors so horrific and horrible no one believes him.

He'd see a large, rotting bull pace around from time to time. By now he had convinced himself it was all an illusion. What else might it be? They haven't seen a single animal in a three-mile radius, and suddenly there'd be an undead bull trotting around? Come on, let's get real. Illusion. Illusion it is.

Wait. What is that? No... Who is that?

A large, blood-skinned man walked through the bull. He was high up, on the edge of the temple itself. He held a longbow as large as himself in his right arm.

The man grinned, pointed his finger at Hist, and mouthed YOUR HEART IS MINE. And then he fired an arrow. It lodged deep into Hist's shoulder.

The fighter shoot back, missing. Then he yelled, and soon all hell broke loose.

“Damn, what is this, a wagon station?! Have you no manners?!” Brent protested to yet another rude awakening.

Tarkus ran up to Hist, and started shooting at the large man with his sling. Llyfed opened the doors wide open, only to be shot at by another red-skinned man. Algon went through the back window, sneaked around the house, and then hit the other man from afar.

The giant with longbow laughed heartily as he was first stuck with a pebble, then an arrow. He stopped laughing as he got an arrow to torso.

Two barbarians turned around and fled.

The party charged out of the house, giving chase. Alas! Great majority of them was in chain or plate mail, and they had to run all the way around the mountain top before they could reach the stairs leading to the temple.

Ert was slightly disappointed to find his trap disassembled and enriched with relatively fresh turd.

Blood spots on the stairs confirmed that the barbarians were here moments ago.

“They are naked and fast. We can't catch-up with them.”

“They might be leading us into ambush anyway.”

“Let's cleanse the temple and get out of here.”

Rashomon, Llyfed, Dorn, Ert, and Hist decided to spend rest of the day resting in the stone house. Hist's wound was burning. It felt like his flesh was melting away.

Camus, joined by Brent Goose and Tarkus the Promising, went back into the temple. Yes, to the accursed spot where several weeks ago party fought a bull-shaped flesh golem. There they went to close the gaping wound; a festering wound; a Sinkhole of Chaos.

Camus commanded his four acolytes to guard temple entrances. Algon and Briaron spent their time sorting through all the debris, trinkets, and coins threw out from the temple just a day before.

They found 726 silver pieces, a vial with chunky green liquid, a rolled up scroll, and a wand-like object.

Camus focused his blessings on the heart of the temple. Even disgraced Brent was of help, as was Tarkus. All three of them could feel the temple rumbling and shaking and throbbing and roaring and screaming. Except that it wasn't the temple. It was the Sinkhole resisting.

A high-pitched shriek disturbed Algon.

He looked up, to the north.

A sleek, black, serpentine figure with large wings was flying southward with incredible speed.

“I have a feeling this one will be hard to avoid” he thought out loud.

But there was no room for such wishful thinking.

The beast was coming straight for Algon.

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