The battle was won but the heroes were far from being safe. Maggie and Roman were down for the count, viciously attacked by Rylos Goan who lay dead with his face fully melted. Nolofinwe quickly administered first aid to his comrades before they could bleed-out and die. During the brief respite, Nolo and Arien tried to plan how they would escape with their unconscious friends, particularly with the heavily muscled body of Roman Kahn. In a sudden moment of recall, Nolo remembered he had a single remaining healing potion and administered the contents to Roman.
The barbarian awoke in an instant, still in his rage condition left over with his last stand against Goan. He roared, grabbed Nolo by the neck, and lifted him off the ground. While choking, Nolo noticed Roman’s eyes looked like that of a cat and his exposed teeth showed long fangs.
“Ro…man….it….is….Nolo… friend,” Nolo struggled to say as Roman slowly crushed his throat.
“Roman!” Arien shouted as she ran to her lover’s side. She touched his arm and cast a spell. A brief shower of cold water issued from her hand and onto Roman’s face. The effect broke his rage. Immediately, Roman released Nolo and stood there a moment to calm himself.
Nolo, slowly standing up and rubbing his neck, spoke, “We need to get out and now.” He gestured to Maggie’s body, indicating for Roman to carry.
Roman ignored him, looking at the dead body of Goan at his feet. He picked up a blade from the ground, knelt before the corpse, and started to saw off the head. “No!” Roman shouted. “I will not let this creature live again. I will have his head!”
“Oh, Roman,” Arien gasped.
From all around, and from no particular direction, the trio heard a soft-spoken, yet raspy, voice speak, “You must leave Burran! There is nothing here for you but death. Go away and live.”
“I think that’s our cue to leave,” Nolo said.
“NO!” Roman shouted. He ignored the threat and continued to claim his prize. Suddenly a bolt of greenish light struck Roman. He fell unconscious, unable to complete his goal.
“Leave Burran now,” the voice spoke again. “There is nothing but death for you here.”
Nolo and Arien looked at each other and jumped into action. Arien ran to Maggie, and with the help of Jarra, attempted to lift and carry their fallen assassin. They failed. Nolo stabilized Roman and tried to lift and carry Roman. He too failed.
“Leave Burran now or die,” the voice echoed in the room.
“Oh be quiet!” Nolo spat in frustration, “We’re trying to leave.” He felt a strange surge of magical energy close to his arm.
Again, Arien and Jarra tried to lift and carry Maggie. And again they could not. Arien thought she noticed that Jarra was barely trying to help. Perhaps, Arien thought, Jarra’s fear was getting the best of her or was there something else involved?
“Jarra, honey,” Arien said, “I need your help here. I need you to give it all you got! Heave!”
In the meantime, Nolo, instead of trying to lift Roman, decided to drag his body to the staircase. Once there, he thought for a moment. He tried to lift Roman again but realized that he, in his human form, would never have the strength to carry his comrade. “That’s it! How silly of me for not thinking of it before,” he whispered. He closed his eye and began to shape shift his body into a large ape.
Finally, Arien and Jarra were able to lift the petite body of Maggie and carry her to the staircase along with Nolo.
“You will die in Burran if you do not leave,” the voice echoed.
Arien rolled her eyes and sighed. “Now dear,” she said to Jarra, “We got the easy part done with but now I’m gonna need all your help to get Maggie up the stairs. Okay, honey?”
“You know,” Jarra said, “I remember Master Goan keeping some strange potions in his private office. I think he stored them in his locked safe.”
“Well child,” Arien said, “Why didn’t you say something earlier. Lead the way.”
Nolo, in his ape form, jumped up and down, made some high-pitched howling sounds, and pounded his chest. For a moment, Jarra forgot where she was, and giggled at the hairy beast. Nolo lifted up Roman’s body and went upstairs. Arien and Jarra, struggling to carry Maggie, were right behind him.
Once upstairs, Jarra led the duo to Goan’s office. She showed them the locked safe. When asked, she did not have a key nor did she know where her previous master kept his keys.
“They’re probably on his dead body,” Nolo concluded. He and Arien sighed in unison.
Jarra mentioned that she would be willing to go back down and get them. She did not seem afraid of the voice or of the green magic lightning attacking her. Arien refused to allow it. Instead, Arien used her Acid Splash spell to melt the lock. Upon opening the safe, the three of them discovered, to their delight, four healing potions.
Quickly Nolo and Arien administered to potions to their fallen comrades. Roman, once again woke up along with Maggie.
Roman quickly assessed the situation and growled in frustration. He lost his trophy and feared that Goan may return. While Nolo rummaged through Goan’s personal office, stowing away anything that looked valuable, such as parchments and scrolls, Roman knelt down in the center of the office and, using his finger dipped in his own blood, drew a strange symbol on the floor. It was a symbol his mother taught him to use when a task was uncompleted. It was a symbol of three interlocking triangles, all connected, but with no beginning or end.
“Vengeance,” Roman whispered. He sprang up, growled, grabbed and lifted Jarra, and ran out the front door. His three friends followed behind him.
Roman did not get very far. Right outside, Shora Craghammer and her guards were investigating the dead, broken bodies of the children strewn across the front of the building. Immediately, the four heroes were stopped and questioned. Without hesitation, Jarra ran towards the guards, crying and screaming about how the heroes killed her friends and Master Goan and how they planned to abduct and use her in ghastly ways.
Nolo and Maggie were shocked in silence by her betrayal. Roman, had he not been completely spent and exhausted, would have flown into a rage. Arien, while surprised, kept her composure and quickly acted as the representative of the group. For each difficult question Shora and her guard’s asked, Arien answered with persuasive tact. She partially told the truth of what had happened, excluding the fact that it was Nolofinwe’s spell that slaughtered the children. But Arien did explain that the dead children were controlled by the monster, Goan, and that their deaths were unavoidable at the time. She invited Shora and her guards to investigate the building and see for themselves. Through it all, Jarra continued her accusation against the heroes.
Shora sent a couple of her guard’s into the building. After several minutes, they returned and confirmed Arien’s story, to the dismay of Jarra.
Jarra quickly changed her tune. She rushed over the Arien, crying and sobbing, begging for mercy and forgiveness. She claimed she was so scared and uncertain about everything that had happened. She claimed Master Goan had controlled her for so long, she didn’t know who to trust or believe. Arien forgave her. Roman privately snarled to himself.
Shora, while believing the heroes, still insisted that they stay in a single place for further questioning. She told them that they were to return to the Chain Ward and wait for her to speak to them again tomorrow. The heroes agreed.
The heroes returned to the Night Glow with Roman demanding a hot bath. Arien quickly paid the innkeeper for another night and for Roman’s request. Nolofinwe, now being associated with his new friends, was forced to pay for his own room at the Night Glow even though his home is in The Stalk.
After a quick tryst with Arien in the bath, Roman spoke to Jarra in private. The conversation was short but intense. He told of his mother and how she taught him the importance of trust and the danger of betrayal. Roman pointed out that Jarra had betrayed him and his friends two times. The first time, he was willing to forgive. But the second time was one too many for Roman to allow such a dangerous person near himself, his lover, and his friends. He threatened her that if she betrayed him and his friends again, he would have to cut off her fingers. He gave her a choice – leave and never be seen again or stay and never betray the group again lest she have to accept the consequences.
“Do you want me to leave?” Jarra asked Roman.
“Yes,” Roman answered, without hesitation.
“But where would I go? You killed all my friends,” Jarra whined.
Roman did not fall for that trap. “We didn’t kill your friends. They’re still alive. And you have many homes to go back to.”
“No I don’t. You ruined it. I have no place to stay,” Jarra spat.
Roman smirked. “You cannot play me for a fool, girl. You are part of the thieves’ group in this town. You have a large family and many places to stay. But if you insist on staying with us, you need to ask yourself how much you value your fingers.”
“What?!” Jarra spit. Within a second, her tone and demeanor changed to that of a vicious child of the street. Roman recognized such beasts and knew she was too dangerous to have around.
Roman grunted. “Tomorrow morning, I want you gone and I don’t ever want to see you again. Do you understand?”
The next morning Jarra was gone.
Just like last time, Arien started to panic for the little girl. She wanted to go out and look for her, but this time Roman stopped her. He convinced Arien that Jarra had made her choice and there was nothing to be done about it. Arien huddled against Roman’s chest and cried, but she accepted Jarra’s absence as destiny.
In the morning, Shora visited the heroes. She told the story of what happened after the heroes left to return to the Night Glow. Three of her guards found the large hole in the basement of the orphanage and attempted to climb down and investigate. But in their spelunking endeavors, they were attacked by strange and evil magic in the form of green bolts of lightning. One of her guards died while they tried to escape.
Shora believed there was something truly dark and evil underneath Burran, something that has been in the shadows and hidden from average folk. She feared that it had been around for a long time and the heroes had inadvertently poked at it. Since they were the ones that killed the manticore, Shora asked the heroes to investigate the trouble. Arien, speaking for the group, agreed to Shora’s request.
Afterwards, Roman went to the storage facilities and picked up his manitcore corpse. Roman, with the large dead body, led by Nolofinwe and followed by Maggie and Arien, went back to the Stalk region and walked to Haldo’s Hides. He entered the establishment by himself and was able to convince Haldo to work on the manicore, particularly extracting any poison and converting the spike tail points into javelins. As Roman started to leave, he notice a large tapestry on the wall made of various skin patches. One of them, a small square piece of red skin, had a tattoo of a left-handed gauntlet held upright and four octopus-like, black tentacles wrapped around the palm. Roman instantly recognized the symbol and it took all his willpower from going into a full rage.
Roman demanded Haldo to tell him where had gotten the patch of skin and when. Haldo, bewildered, explained that over a year ago, a young warrior type with blonde hair approached him with a dead red kobold and wanted it stuffed. Haldo refused the task. Angered, the warrior left the carcass lying on the ground and left in a huff. Roman asked if the warrior was still around, but Haldo seemed to think he had left Burran a while ago. Roman demanded, as part of the manticore deal, that he be able to take the patch of the red kobold skin from the quilt. Haldo obliged and gave it to him…