III

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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Session 12: Goblin Alchemy

13 March (Continued)

“Shall we get to it then?” Bhavik asked of his new companions. Aramis nodded, slowly growing accustomed to the shifter.

“Since I quite failed at leading us through the other areas, I could possibly help us sneak into these doors,” suggested Azal glumly.

The warden patted her clumsily on the shoulder. “We should head south first. I’ll listen at the other door, just in case,” he said, indicating the eastern exit. Then he walked over to it and putting his ear to the wood. He heard something moving around, a kind of squelching noise, muted by distance and the door itself.

As the tiefling crossed the mulch chamber, Bhavik whispered, “A creature stirs within the chamber beyond.” Aramis and Azal looked back at him, the former pocketing the bright sunrod, and plunging the large chamber into the dimness of the violet light from the glowing fungus on the walls. The shifter continued, “I still say south first.”

Azal nodded and tried the stone door, finding it to be stuck fast. She frowned at the door and Bhavik asked, “Is it locked?” She shook her head, and stepped aside as the two men moved up to try to force it open by main strength. It gave after their first shove. “Be on your guard,” suggested the warden as they gazed into the darkness beyond.

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Session 11: What Lies Beneath
Character Roster Shifts

13 March (Continued)

Owen and the hobgoblin Maelgrek headed out, leaving Erky alone in the violet luminescence provided by the strange fungus with two desperate adventurers. Azal bit her lip worriedly. “It doesn’t matter. We’ve still got to go after Talgen!”

Erky said, “Auch…I don’t see thaht’s the best idea, lass… Suren he hahd his…quirks, but Owen was the only seasoned warrior among us…”

“I want to go to the surface first,” asserted Aramis. “Maelgrek, the hobgoblin, told me about what’s down there.”

The dwarf muttered, “It had a name..?”

“Yes,” said the priest, nonplussed.

“But…what if we’re too late..?” insisted the tiefling. She slumped to the floor miserably.

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