III

Session 18: Aggressive Introductions
In Which The Heroes Breach The Mountain Door

19 March (Continued)

Bhavik found Azal back at the Griffon’s Nest, absorbed in one of Belak’s Journals again. As he sat at her table, she passed a pair of parchments across to him and he looked them over. They appeared to be requests for help with rewards attached. The first was from a Baron Althon, offering a reward for weapons with the mark of Durgeddin the Black – crudely depicted on the bottom of the page. Perhaps, mused the shifter, this was why Sister Alonsa had seemed hesitant to help them find the Stone Tooth. The other bill was a bounty from Sir Miles Berrick – the mayor of Blasingdell – for the orcs harassing the populace. The creatures were thought to be holing up in the hills north of the town, and hearsay placed them in the Stone Tooth itself. The warden sighed and tucked the pages away, ordering a meal and a drink to wash it down.

After a few minutes, two middle-aged men – a pair of shifters – eyed Bhavik appraisingly from a nearby table. “Thought I knew everyone around here,” said the older one. “Are you not of the tribe? Tell me, boy. Who is your father?”

“I am Bhavik,” the warden said, avoiding the question. “Who are the two of you?”

“Akar,” answered the same man. “This is my brother Wanza.” The other man nodded in acknowledgement.

“Well met then. It is my mother through whom I would be known, and her name is Akuti,” said Bhavik, not without pride.

The men scowled and looked at the young man skeptically. “Really,” Wanza said. “Never heard that traitor shat out any brats ‘fore Karma caught her up and the Great Ulfe had his revenge.” Akar frowned at his brother’s choice of words, but he didn’t say anything more.

In a cold voice Bhavik said, “This establishment, I fear, is not fit for the conversation we should be having now. Is there somewhere less crowded the two of you would like to continue this?” He stood slowly, staring down his new acquaintances.

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Session 17: Arrival in Blasingdell

19 March, 103 CY

The adventurers arrived in Blasingdell, late afternoon. It had been raining most of the day, but the three had been quiet even before the weather turned bad, each lost in their own thoughts. The sight and even the smell of the mining town was a welcome break from the wearying travel. Erky Timbers, who’d come with them in the hopes of setting up shop in the town as a professional alchemist thanked them for the escort and broke company with them to seek his contacts. The adventurers then approached a three story stone and wood structure with balconies ringing the outer walls. The image of a griffon rampant facing a clutch of eggs adorned the sign-board hanging over the front entrance. The three entered the building and shook off the rain.

A local woman welcomed them to the Griffon’s Nest, introducing herself as Helda, and seeing the three to an empty table amongst the locals. She took their orders and saw them filled swiftly. With food and drink in them, Aramis thought to ask about his sister in law. He described Iva to the bar wench, but she claimed not to have seen anyone matching the description. Dejected, Aramis lapsed back into silence for the rest of the meal.

After they’d finished eating, they ordered a round of drinks and started asking the nearby locals about the Stone Tooth. After a few drinks and some amiable conversation, a man called Tomms suggested they try either the Scholar’s Nook or Moradin’s Forge. The bookshop, he explained, was owned by a man called Ashrem Dewitt, and the temple was headed by Sister Alonsa, a priestess of the Allfather and descendant of Durgeddin the Black.

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Interlude: Farewell
In Which Aramis Learns that Adventurers Can't Go Home Again

by Darth Krzysztof, from a conversation with godfear

Aramis left House Hucrele for the shrine, quickly told Sister Corkie where he was going, then set off for the ranch.

He arrived a few hours later at the ranch house. No one was in sight, but that was hardly unusual. Probably out in the fields, he thought. “Sheep don’t herd themselves,” his father was fond of saying. Well, Mother or Iva might be inside… He shifted the weight of his pack and went up to the house. It was strange to knock on the door, after all his years of living inside, but he felt it best. “Hello?” he called. “Anyone home?”

“Aramis?” his mother’s voice answered from inside.

“Yes, Mother. I’m back.”

The door opened to reveal Amerie Shepherd, holding little Henri. Her eyes seemed wide at the sight of her son. After realizing that she was staring, she said “Come in, sweetheart. I wasn’t sure when to expect you back.” She stepped aside to let him in.

“Thank you.” He walked to the table and set his pack down against one of the legs, but didn’t sit down yet. He could already tell that something was wrong.

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Interlude: Ale
In Which Bhavik Hears an Interesting Tale

by godfear

Dinner had been…awkward.

After Aramis had gone off to speak with the Hucrele girl alone, Bhavik had made a hasty departure. Azal told the warden that she was returning to the shrine, but he wasn’t entirely comfortable in such close quarters with the tiefling and her afflicted…lover? Bhavik wasn’t entirely sure what the relationship was, but it seemed intimate, and he felt like an intruder to a private conversation, even when she was just sitting near the young man. He’d asked Madame Hucrele’s maid where he might find lodging, and the girl had directed him to the Ol’ Boar Inn.

He pushed through the door and entered a rustic common room with a handful of what he guessed must be farmers. A bear of a human man stood behind the bar idly cleaning a well-used mug, and he looked up as Bhavik entered. “Ain’t seen you here before,” said the barkeep while fixing an appraising eye on the shifter. “Welcome to the Ol’ Boar. Name’s Garon. What can I get fer ye?”

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Interlude: Sharwyn
In Which Aramis Receives Another Confession

by Darth Krzysztof

When dinner ended, Sharwyn asked Aramis to stay and talk. To her relief, the cleric agreed, saying she needed to hear what he had to say, too. He followed her up the stairs and out onto the second story deck, where they could see the sinking sun, take in the cool air of early evening, and stay out of everyone’s way.

She took a chair next to the railing, and Aramis pulled another chair close to hers before sitting in it. He leaned forward and locked his eyes on her, saying “What’s on your mind?” in that calm, smooth voice she knew so well.

That won’t do, she thought, and said “You go first.”

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Session 16: The Outcast

15 March (Continued)

Aramis smothered his flaming mantle and Azal helped out. “Are you okay?” she said.

“Fine,” he lied. With the fire extinguished, he looked around the room once more to consider its contents. “Anything else interesting in here?” he asked. Then he spotted a row of several brown-leather bound tomes with their spines marked with the letters “K D” and pulled one off the shelf from the center. Scanning its contents, the priest determined it to be some sort of journal dated 97 CY. Scribblings and formulas related to botanical experiments, fertilizer, philosophy, and several references of the name “Gulthias.”

Azal, who’d been peeking over the cleric’s shoulder pointed at the name and Aramis nodded. “The tree that produces the healing fruit is called the Gulthias Tree. Maybe it’s named after a person?” He returned the volume to the shelf and said, “We can look at these later.”

Bhavik nodded, “We should go.” He glanced out the door to the south. “I think we’re close. Very close.”

“Yes,” intoned the priest. “South seems to be our path.”

Azal concurred, “The quicker we get there the better.”

Bhavik led the group out of the study filled with nature’s lore and crossed the chamber to the south, warily surveying they grove before them, sword in hand. Aramis held the sunrod high to illuminate the area. Pale, spindly briars coated with tiny barbs pressed close. The violet light above cast nauseating shadows on the earthen floor, creating the illusion of movement among the branches, though no wind blew there.

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Session 15: Edge of Twilight

15 March, 103 CY

Having begrudgingly spent one more night recovering from their encounters with the bugbear gardeners, the three adventurers made their way back through the quiet galleries. The destruction of the goblinoids apparently went unnoticed during the rest of the previous day and night. Making their way back to the northernmost arboretum where the flail-wielding goblin’s body still lay, Bhavik and Azal examined the wooden door there that appeared to provide the only path forward.

“Certainly there are greater dangers yet ahead,” said the warden. “We should proceed with caution.”

The priest nodded, “Agreed. Azal, would you check it for traps, please?”

“Sure,” replied the tiefling, setting about the task.

After a few moments she reported it clear, and Aramis sparked a sunrod that he’d found in Sir Braford’s backpack. Bhavik opened the door to reveal a short, narrow hallway to leading south, the western wall of which opened into a larger chamber after about twenty feet. All was still and quiet.

Bhavik looked back over his shoulder and said, “Aramis, let’s just run the room and deal with the fallout as we go.”

“Fate wills what it will,” intoned the cleric.

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Interlude: Confession

by Darth Krzysztof

Aramis had too much on his mind, but he was too exhausted to keep his eyes open. He stretched out a hand and gently shook Azal awake. “Wake up,” he said softly, trying not to wake Bhavik. “It’s your watch.”

The tiefling raised herself up on one elbow and yawned dramatically. ”’Kay,” Azal muttered. “I miss anything?”

Aramis shook his head. “It’s been quiet. Well, the Citadel’s been quiet; you haven’t.”

“What do you mean?”

“You were saying Talgen’s name, over and over.”

“Was I?” She rubbed sleep from her black eyes and dragged herself upright. “I must have been dreaming about him…”

“Are you in love with him, Azal?” Not ‘do you love him’, Aramis thought. We both love him as a brother, at least…

Aramis knew her well enough to see her blush; most people would have missed the response in the redness of her skin. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she announced, her voice laced with warning.

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Session 14: Persistence

14 March (Continued)

After fleeing from the bugbear gardener and up the vines into the recently deposed hobgoblin chieftain’s throne room, the adventurers took shelter in one of the abandoned chambers near Goblintown. Aramis whispered prayers to the Raven Queen, beseeching his goddess to heal their wounds. She answered his pleas, and with their bodies restored, their determination returned. They made their way back to the hole that led back down below and heard voices from down below. Clearly, the goblins had posted another guard at the entrance to the grove level.

In a low voice Aramis asked, “Azal, do you have any alchemist’s fire left?”

She looked through her pouches and then shook her head dejectedly. “I can’t find it,” she said.

“Blast,” he replied.

“Aramis, crack the sunrod and let’s go,” suggested Bhavik. He motioned for the others to follow him down the hole as he began to descend.

The cleric waved Azal ahead of him then sparked the rod to life, immediately concealed it beneath his mantle. Unfortunately, the bright flash apparently drew attention from down below. “They’ve seen the light,” translated Azal. “They know we’re coming.”

“To the fray, then!” shouted the warden in challenge.

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Session 13: The Gardener
Or "Pruning Shears of Doom"

13 March (Continued)

Nodules of luminescent fungus hung from the ceiling and walls, and grew in clumps upon the flagged floor. The vaguely nauseous light illuminated the portions of grand bas-relief carvings on the stone walls that were not covered with the self-same fungus. The carvings all consisted of dragons in various stages of raining fire down upon terrified humans, elves, dwarves, and other people. Soil and compost covered half of the chamber’s floor, which allowed a variety of wan grasses to grow. A bench containing simple gardening implements stood along the west wall.

Bhavik moved cautiously into the room and listened at the nearby northern door with Azal close behind. Aramis watched the room to the south while the scouts did their thing. “Seems clear,” the warden said softly. He then stepped over to the bench to examine the tools. Noticing another door on the eastern wall of the gallery where the hallway widened considerably. “Azal, try the door?”

“East or south?” she asked, indicating another door at the far end of the gallery.

“The nearer, I think,” he replied.

The tiefling stepped up and examined the door closely. “There is a noise coming from the other side, but it isn’t locked or trapped. Want me to try and sneak in?”

Bhavik looked over to Aramis, who held the sunrod. The cleric nodded to them both and pocketed the bright alchemical light. With the sunrod stowed, the only light came from the dimly glowing fungus. The warden moved up in preparation to charge any threats when the door opened, then Azal slowly opened the door with nary a creak.

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