Xymor

The Escape Part 3 - Sharlin the Charlatan

The Escape Part 3 – Sharlin the Charlatan

Nolofinwe, Maggie, and Zufem returned with the little derro. Nolo expressed his unease about where they went and who saw them.

“You need to trust your instincts, Nolo,” Roman said. “Do you think you were followed?”

Nolo thought for a moment, wading through his adrenaline-filled thoughts, trying to determine which were based on fear or reason.

“We should probably go,“ Nolo finally said. “Trouble’s coming.”

“Right,” Roman acknowledged. “Then let’s get ready to go.”

“I’ll go check outside and watch,” Nolo said, going out into the yard. He hid behind the dilapidated fountain in the center of the yard. It gave him a clear view of alleyway, the only apparent way in and out of the yard.

Garlin, the derro, felt uneasy about his surroundings, who he was dealing with, and what he had just heard. Then he saw the unconscious bodies of Carsa and the mayor. He started to go into a panic.

Roman was about to subdue the little creature, in his own way, but before he could act, Arien and Maggie decided to interrupt Roman’s attempted action in a completely different manner – to beat the little creature. Although Roman had seen much pointless brutality in his life, this was one of the few moments that shocked him. Roman had to grapple and hold Garlin in his arms just to protect the derro from the oncoming thrashing from his frustrated female companions.

After Garlin calmed himself and the ladies backed away, Maggie decided to leave and join Nolo outside to keep watch. Roman released the little creature and instructed him to heal the mayor, Gargen Stonefellow. Garlin, still uneasy, created a strange mud-like concoction that smelled liked rotten sauerkraut. The stench nearly made the heroes throw up and even made Zufem gag. Garlin smeared the mud on Gargen’s face and made a prayer to Sharlin. The dwarf mayor immediately awoke.

While the concoction did seem to wake the mayor, Roman had his suspicions. Gargen still thought Carsa, the Halfling, was his daughter. Roman questioned Garlin’s abilities and even asked Arien if she thought the derro had true powers or not. Arien admitted she wasn’t able to make that determination as she knew nothing of divine rites and powers granted by gods. Yet, Garlin was convinced he communed with his goddess and healed the dwarf.

“Who is that,” Roman growled at the mayor, pointing to the unconscious Halfling.

“That’s my daughter,” Gargen spat. “You killed her brother! My son!”

“What does she look like to you?” Roman asked.

“What? My daughter!” Gargen responded.

“Does she have hairy feet?” Roman barked.

“Honey dear,” Arien said, placing her hand on Roman’s shoulder. “Let me ask the questions. Gargen, what race is your daughter? Is she a Halfling?”

“What?” Gargen was confused, looking back and forth between Roman and Arien. “Are you mad? Of course not. She’s my daughter. She’s a dwarf.”

Red flags went up in the minds of Roman and Arien. Roman wasn’t convinced in Garlin’s healing abilities and demanded the derro to call upon his deity, again, and break the curse on the mayor. Garlin was insulted that Roman didn’t believe in the healing powers of Sharlin, and would have refused to comply, but he was afraid that the dark elf woman would start beating him again. Garlin made more of the foul-smelling concoction and smeared it over the dwarf’s eyes. The derro made an extravagant prayer to his deity and lavish hand gestures of holy rites. The heroes washed the mud away from the dwarf’s face only to find that Gargen still saw Carsa as a dwarf and daughter. Nothing had changed. To Roman and Arien, Garlin was a fake, peddling a false goddess with no power. Sharlin was a charlatan.

Roman was so angry and frustrated that he contemplated popping the head off of the little derro, and maybe even taking down the troll.

The gentle knock on the door broke his concentrated fury. “Um, we’ve got trouble coming,” Maggie whispered behind the door.

Roman punched Gargen out. The dwarf would probably wake up with a massive headache. He then picked up the mayor and Carsa. Arien tried to persuade Zufem that it was in his best interest to help the adventurers. But Zufem refused and chose rather to wallow in his own filth and meaningless lifestyle.

Roman and Arien left Zufem’s home, leaving Garlin behind.

The heroes saw Burran guards running in the alleyway towards them. Among the guards, they saw Shora Craghammer. The heroes had to run, but they had little options. There were only three other doors in the yard, and none knew where they led.

To give them time, Arien, using her magic, opened a portal to a nether realm, bringing a vile web only a great and powerful spider could produce. She coated the alleyways with this web to make it difficult for the guards to pass. Nolo spoke to Mother Nature, and prayed for her fingers to grab hold of his enemies. The ground in the alleyway shook. Out of the ground came wicked-looking weeds and vines, ready to grasp anyone foolish enough to travel down the alleyway.

The combined spells gave the heroes enough time to find a way out. They discovered one of the doors led into a home, occupied by a lone mother and toddler. In the back of the mother’s home was a small window that led to another alleyway. In the midst of the mother’s protest and the giggling toddler, the heroes rushed through the house and climbed through the window. The alleyway they came to paralleled that of the other alleyway that led to Zufem’s yard and home. They assumed the guards would probably be coming from the south end of the alleyway, but they saw nothing yet. The group started running down the north direction of the alleyway. It made a sharp turn and the heroes stood before a very ornate door. It was not the typical kind of door the heroes saw in the Dark Corner.

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The Escape Part 2 - The Conspiracy Grows

The fight with the ravenous bear was quick but not without casualties. The beast had clawed Nolofinwe in the face and chomped down on his left shoulder. Its sharp teeth broke through the muscle and bone, nearly biting off the elf’s arm. Blood was everywhere. Roman responded by rushing in with his glaive and piercing the beast through the heart, instantly killing it. But it was too late for Nolo. He was at death’s door and his friends did not have time to administer what aid they could for him.

Another bear came rushing towards the heroes from the other side of the court yard. Roman picked up the limp and blood-covered body of Nolo and ran. Arien carried Carsa and Maggie shouldered the mayor as they followed the barbarian out of the mayor’s property and into the streets of Burran. Fortunately for them, the pursuing bear lost interest in the chase when it found easier prey – street trash.

In their escape, the heroes briefly encountered patrolling city guards. Arien attempted to persuade the guards through her guile and manipulation, but Roman was impatient and felt the ruse was not working. A battle ensued. The heroes would not be stopped and the guards were quickly taken care of but not killed.

During their escape, the three briefly stopped when it appeared safe. Arien administered her last healing tonic onto Nolo who awoke with a start. He had hoped his dream of being home with his family was real, but truth has a way of crushing dreams.

Zufem was not pleased, to say the least, when the heroes arrived at his shack with more guests. He demanded them to leave, but the heroes, particularly Roman, were insistent that they stay and that Zufem help them. Roman even offered a not so subtle threat if Zufem refused them.

“It’s too late, troll. You opened your door and let us in,” Roman said.

“What does that have to do with anything?” Zufem whined.

“If we were followed, then the spy will probably report back to his superiors and say that you are a co-conspirator to this group. And if you go and report us, they would certainly be grateful, but would also believe that you turned against your allies for a few coins since they would most certainly believe that you helped planed this endeavor.”

“And why would they think that?” Zufem picked his long nose.

“’Cause there are witnesses who will be able to testify that you met with us only a few hours before the break-in and kidnapping,” Roman responded. “And I’m sure there are many more witnesses who can say that they saw you and Nolo befriend each other in the past. Any way you look at it, Zufem, you are now involved and must help us.” Roman stared at the large troll with cold eyes. His left hand was behind his back, fingering the strap to his glaive.

“Fine!” Zufem huffed. “What do you want with me?

“A healer.”

Zufem wasn’t as helpful as Roman wanted him to be, but the troll did give the heroes information about a single priest he knew by the name of Garlin Fek, a derro, who worshipped a god named Sharlin, the Fungi of Old and Maker of Burran.

Roman instructed Zufem, Nolo, and Maggie to go and retrieve Garlin Fek while he and Arien stayed at the shack to tend to the unconscious mayor and Halfling.

Zufem led Nolo and Maggie to The Krypt, a tavern inside a large mausoleum. Sarcophagi were used for tables and gravestones for chairs. Maggie thought how Mortimer would have loved visiting this place.

It was easy for the trio to find the ugly sub-dwarf derro with his pale white skin, pale yellow un-kept hair, and glowing pale, sickly yellow eye that had no iris or pupil. He sat in the far end of the bar, nursing a mug of unknown drink.

Nolo, Maggie, and the troll approached the little beast, nearly killing him in fright. He was an anxious, wiry, little man, with a fear of being eaten alive and prone to being startled. He was leery of the two humanoids and, even though he knew Zufem, was still uncertain if the troll would one day eat him whole. But once Nolo was able to reassure the little derro that they had come to talk and needed his help, Garlin Fek’s mode changed in a flash.

He rambled on about his new-found faith and how he believed he was a choice vassal of his new god, Sharlin. But he was still uncertain whether he should accompany them or not, until Maggie suggested an offer of free drinks, particularly Fizzy Elders, if he came with them and offered his help. Garlin Fek, the derro cleric, could not refuse such gracious tithes and offerings to the holy church of Sharlin, that, of course, being his body, and so agreed to go with the heroes.

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The Escape Part I - The Plan Goes South

Captain Hartik Froth knew the battle was lost. All of his men were down and the barbarian had folded the Halfling lord, Krik Stonefellow in two. But Hartik noticed something odd about his assailant’s actions. He needed to know before they took him out.

**

Back on the third floor, Carsa Stonefellow and her guard ran and Arien gave chase. The two Halflings reached the door to the stairs when the guard burst into flames. He screamed and fell to one knee. The flames vanished as quickly they appeared. The guard only had minor burn marks on his body. Carsa looked up from the guard and saw Arien flicked her wrist to brush away smoke and sparks from her hand.

“Now, ya gonna tell me ‘bout Vermelda, or do I have to whoop ya like a rented mule?”

Carsa backed away towards the door.

“She’s the one who gave us this job?” Carsa replied.

“Job? Do go on.”

“Run, my lady!” the guard shouted as he stood up. Carsa turned and dashed for the door.

Arien drew her crossbow and fired, hitting the back of the guard as he shielded Carsa and giving her enough time to run through the door and out to the stairs. He fell dead when a bolt punctured his ribs and heart.


Hartik grabbed Roman and the two wrestled.

“Why did you kill the Halfling but not my men? What is it you want?” Hatrik struggled to yell at the barbarian.

Roman’s response was a roar. It was followed by Carsa’s scream of despair when she saw her brother’s limp body. “Krik! No!!”

Sharg entered the lobby. “Dorothy?!” he said, shocked.

“This isn’t what it looks like,” Maggie replied.

“Sharg!” Hartik shouted, struggling with Roman. “Run! Go get help. Go get Craghammer!”

“Why, Dorothy?” Sharg said, his eyes watered as he backed out and follow his captain’s order.


As Arien hooked her crossbow to her belt, she felt an odd, subtle chill around her neck. The jewel embedded in her throat began to glow. Something was wrong. Someone or something else was there. She hustled towards the stairs.


Roman tossed Hartik aside. He scowled at the dwarf guard, ready to pounce on him.

“Stay close, my liege!” Hartik shouted at Carsa. “We must help your father escape.”

Carsa’s eyes widened at Hartik.

Maggie had snuck around to the dwarf’s back. She grabbed the section between his neck and shoulder and pinched her fingers. Hartik fell to the ground like a sack of bricks, unconscious.

Roman raced up the stairs towards Carsa.

“You don’t know what you’ve done,” Carsa screamed as Roman grappled her, pinning her arms to her back.

Nolo!” Roman shouted. “Knock this bitch out, before I snap her neck.”

The mayor slowly slumped down the stairs to his son’s dead body. He knelt and wept. “I will avenge my manor,” he said, taking hold of a nearby sword.


“Hello, my lovely,” spoke an alluring voice behind Arien.

She spun around and saw a beautiful, tall, drow woman with radiant white hair. Her dark skin was smooth and perfect and her eyes glowed red.

The strange woman approached Arien. Her movements were slow, deliberate, and alluring. She reached out an arm. Several thin wisps of purplish-colored tendrils of energy extended from her fingers and tried to wrap around Arien’s neck. The half-drow violently shook her head and the wisps dissipated.

“A spell?” Arien whispered. She was confused.

The sorceress knew she should run, but a part of her couldn’t resist this woman. She was beautiful, captivating, and mysterious. Arien needed to know more about her.

“Who….who are you?”

“An ally. A friend. A lover,” the woman smiled.

Arien placed a hand on her crossbow. “Do you work for these Halflings? Are you working for Vermelda too?”

“Neither, my lovely,” her voice was as sweet as honey. “I am not here for them but for you, pretty little child. I am here for you and I can help, if you let me?”

Arien fiddled with the strap holding the crossbow.

“Help? How?”

“Follow me and I will show you,” she grinned, showing her white teeth. Arien’s heart skipped a beat. The strange woman backed away and walked down the hall.

“I…I have…friends,” Arien could not take her eyes off of the gorgeous creature as she followed.

“You don’t need them. There is no help for them. I can only save you, my lovely little kitten.” The drow stepped into one of the rooms.

Arien’s lips curled. “I don’t think so, not without my tiger.”

She turned and ran through the doorway to the stair. She heard a vicious snarl, like that of a wild beast, behind her.


At seeing Arien alive and well, Roman grabbed her and kissed her.

“Oh, good,” Nolo said, “She’s alright. That’s a relief.” He and Maggie stood over the prone body of the mayor who Nolo had knocked unconscious.

“So what now, boss man?” Maggie asked.

Roman wiped saliva from his mouth. “We need to get out of here, fast. Maggie, you carry the mayor. I’ll carry the Halfling woman. We don’t have much time.”

“But then where to?” Nolo asked. “Do you even have a plan after…”

“We go to the Dark Corner,” Roman interrupted. “We go see our ugly friend again.”

“Honey, dear,” Arien said to get Roman’s attention. She quickly told the others of her encounter with the strange woman upstairs.

“Should we see who she is?” Arien inquired her friends.

“I don’t know about this,” Nolo spoke up. “Something doesn’t feel right about this. We should just leave.”

“Do you think she can help us?” Roman asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe she can give us more answers.”

“Or more questions,” Nolo whispered under his breath.

“Fine,” Roman decided. “Let’s see who this drow woman is and be quick about it. Lead the way, Arien.”


Excerpt from “The Heroes of Xymor: The Criminal Years Vol. 1, Chapter 26: The Stonefellow Incident,” by Archmage Hannibal Kahnhari, Head Scholar and Headmaster of Ravencraft School of Sorcery and the Dark Arts.

The next series of events are not exactly forthcoming based on the little evidence. Most of the historical accounts of this minor event are from oral tradition such as bard songs and tavern storytellers. Very little is written on any sort of documents. Due to all the various incarnations of this single event, it is difficult to determine exactly what happened to the Heroes. What can be gleaned from all the different sources is that something grand occurred. The Heroes must have encountered the Drow temptress and fought her at the top level of Stonefellow Manor. Arien-gil Bihari faced the Drow magic to magic, casting wild and powerful spells at each other, while Magdalen of Aldingham jumped from shadow to shadow slaughtering the Drow’s demons with the aid of Nolofinwe of the Tasartir Clan using his nature magic to summon great tree spirits. All accounts tell of Roman using his great strength with the combination of Nolofinwe’s magic to vanquish the Drow by lifting her and throwing her into a magic portal of her own making.

It is odd that such an apparently important event has very little documented evidence. Yet there is one single document that is nearly 500 years old. It accounts a single interview from someone who claimed to be a descendant of Nolofinwe, but gives no name. The document is practically illegible, being faded and the language archaic at best. What can be deciphered is something about the heroes falling into a trap; Magdalen succumbed to her weakness of closed spaces and fell into a near comatose state; Arien’s acid magic failed her; Nolofinwe’s great wisdom could not help them escape and Roman Khan ran around the hallways searching for a key.

Most scholars dismiss this ancient document. It is believed to be lies, perhaps written from one of the many enemies of the Heroes to discredit their achievements. Based on the fact that no name is associated with the interview, that the recorded actions seem uncharacteristic of the Heroes, and that there are no other similar stories, orally or written, the document must be false.


The four companions ran down the stairs. Arien led the way to the back of the manor where they originally entered. As they stepped out and sneaked across the courtyard, they heard the roar of a vicious beast. They turned and saw a giant bear that appeared to be very angry and very hungry. Arien tried to use her magic to distract the creature while the group hurried to the exit, but it did very little. The companions knew the fight was inevitable…

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Never Poke an Angry Tiger

Roman glowered at the Halfling guard who rushed to attack him. The barbarian waited, like a crouching tiger, until the guard was in range, and then leapt forward with a spin of his ten-foot glaive. The guard didn’t even know what hit him as he fell to the ground, unconscious. Roman looked up and snarled.

Up on the third floor landing, looking down on the lobby ground floor at Roman, were four people.

“Bloody hell, he’s big,” whispered the posh-looking male Halfling.

“We’re under attack!” shouted the gruff dwarf, Hartik Froth, the captain of the guards. He had fought many men like Roman and was indifferent to barbarian’s demeanor.

“Stay behind me, my lord Krik,” Hartik said to the male Halfling. “You and your sister need to stay with your father and protect him. Me and my boys can take care of this fiend.”

“This may not be the best of time for this,’ said the Halfling woman.

“What was that Carsa?” Krik asked.

Carsa had already slipped behind the nearly comatose mayor and passed through the door.

Maggie scampered in and hid behind the statue.

Nolofinwe came running into the lobby, speaking in his strange ancient tongue and weaving his hands in odd ways. When he stopped moving, he made one last motion with his arms that appeared to indicate something upwards. For the briefest of moments, time stood still and all in the lobby thought they heard the rushing sound of wind, but felt nothing. Then the earth beneath those who stood on the third level platform started to lightly shake. Krik held onto the railing, looking at the ground in bewilderment. Hartik grabbed hold of Gargen Stonefellow to steady his lord from falling. The stone floor underneath their feet cracked open all around them. From the cracks, thousands of hairy and barbed weeds and vines swiftly sprouted out and started to wrap themselves around Krik, Hartik, and the mayor.


Arien had to leap back to avoid Carsa racing through the door. To Arien’s surprise, Carsa stopped and looked around. She double checked herself to make sure her invisibility spell was still up. It was. Carsa sniffed the air and listened. The Halfling must have either heard or smelled Arien.

The guard in the hallway started approaching Carsa. “My lady…”

Carsa swiftly held up her hand to indicate to the guard to stop moving and be quiet.

Silence.

“I think there’s someone else with us,” Carsa whispered. She looked directly at Arien.
The floor suddenly rumbled.


Roman jumped over the unconscious body and rushed towards the stairs. The tiger was loose.

The single guard on the stairs didn’t have a chance against Roman’s tiger. He fell to the ground like his comrade, unconscious.

The weeds and vines had warped themselves around the legs, arms, bodies, and necks of the three on the third-level. They could not move. But when Hartik saw another one of his soldiers defeated by a simple brute, his adrenaline took over and he ripped through the plants like paper.

“To me, my boys!” Hartik shouted. “To me! We are under attack! Protect your liege!”

He hurried down the stairs to engage Roman.


With Carsa and the guard distracted by the rumble, Arien used that time to speedily dart past them and down the hallway.

“Wait,” the guard said. “I think I just felt something.”

Carsa drew her sword.

Arien continued down the hallway towards one of the closed doors. She needed to create a distraction. Still invisible, she opened a door and stepped back further into the hallway. She had hoped that the two of them would believe that whoever was invisible went into the room.

Carsa and the guard approached the opened door. The Halfling, still standing out in the hallway, peered into the room. The distraction didn’t seem to be working.

Then the three of them heard Hartik’s call and the sound of battle.


Roman and Hartik engaged in battle on the stairway.

Just as Roman wanted, Hartik focused on the barbarian. Roman had hoped that he would be the main target, while Nolo and Maggie rushed in and out from behind him and attacked the gruff dwarf. Unfortunately, his companions had difficulty penetrating the captain’s armor. Two more guards came out of the second floor door and engaged the barbarian.

While Hartik focused on Roman, he just couldn’t hit his mark. With one of his swings of his battleaxe, he nearly hit one of his soldiers. Roman took that opportunity to take down the two new soldiers. He did not kill them. Hartik was beginning to sweat.

Krik had finally released himself from the vines, drew his sword, and jumped down the stairs to help the captain.

“You shouldn’t have come,” Krik shouted to Roman. “You’re a dead man now.”

With the motion of a sly fox, Krik moved forward and stabbed Roman in the side, right between two of his ribs. He quickly moved behind Hartik out of Roman’s range. Krik giggled.

Roman roared. He was hurt badly, but the tiger would not go down that easily.

Hartik tried to follow up on Krik’s attack with a massive swing from his battleaxe at Roman’s neck, but, to his embarrassment, his palms had become too sweaty and the hilt slipped from his hand. The axe flew in the air and landed on the stairs. Maggie moved in and, while trying to penetrate the captain’s armor and failing, she kicked the battleaxe down the stairs and away from Hartik.

Nolo had grown tired of trying to bash the captain with a staff. He spoke in his ancient language of magic, readying a spell. He slammed his fists together and slowly pulled them apart. In between his hands emerged a flaming sword. In a fluid motion, Nolo struck the captain of the guard in a burst of flames. Hartik screamed in anguish. His white beard and hair were partly burned and half of his chest turned black from the scorching.

Nolo’s weeds and vines disappeared.


Arien knew her time was running short. With the cry for battle in the distance, Arien let loose her supernatural missiles, pummeling Carsa with force magic. With the casting of her spell, Arien’s invisibility ended. The two Halflings saw her and rushed into the attack.

Carsa ut a minor wound to Arien’s arm, doing more damage to her dancer’s dress than her actual flesh. The sorceress cast another volley of magic missiles at Carsa, instantly followed by an acid splash spell that hit Carsa and the guard behind her. The Halflings shrieked in pain.

To Arien’s surprise, Carsa leapt back and started to run away. The guard followed her.


Hartik roared in anger as he pulled out a dagger from his belt. He swung the blade with all his might against Roman and, just like his battleaxe, the dagger slipped out of his hand and flew down the stairs. The Fates were not with the captain of the guard this day.

Krik couldn’t believe what he had seen. ‘If you want something done right, do it yourself,’ he thought. He darted in next to Roman and stabbed the barbarian in the side again, only a few more inches lower than the last wound. Roman grimaced in pain. His wounds were deep. Blood covered his chest and back. He would need healing soon. Krik leapt back behind Hartik and out of Roman’s reach.

The Tiger was tired of the stinging wasp of a Halfling. It was time to break the little thing’s wings. Roman chased after the Halfling noble. He dropped his glaive and reached for the little man, grabbing him by the neck and leg. Krik tried to squirm out of Roman’s grip, but was no match for the strength of the Tiger.

Gargen, the mayor of Burran, who had been trapped by the weeds and vine on the third level, was now freed by the ending of Nolo’s spell. He still seemed feeble or drugged as he stumbled to the railings.

The Tiger raised the little man’s body over his head and roared.

“Hartik,” Gargen mumbled. “Help me.”

Krik squealed in absolute terror. The Tiger readied his knee.

“My Lord! Run!” Hartik shouted.

Down fell the little man. The sound of bone snapping echoed through the lobby.

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The Alarm Sounds

The Alarm Sounds

The guards, staff, and residents were filled with much confusion in Mayor Gargen Stonefellow’s mansion upon hearing screams from both the kitchen and the second floor. A concerned dwarven guard from the third floor walked downstairs to check on those inside a second floor room. Still invisible, Arien slunk behind the guard to see what was inside the room. It appeared that it was a meeting room of sorts, with a fireplace, table, and bar. Inside were another guard and a female maid. As they looked for the source of the scream, one of the guards told the one from the third floor to go back upstairs to commiserate with a Captain Hartik Froth.

Stealthily, Arien followed the guard upstairs, where a larger dwarf captain ordered the guard to tell him what was going on. After telling his account to the captain, the guard and captain eventually exited. Arien saw multiple doors down the hallway, but another guard lingered there, preventing her from opening a door unnoticed. As a diversion, the half-drow began to collect the glowing fungi from their sconces and piled them in the far hallway corner. The guard turned the corner to investigate, and Arien slipped past him down the hall and again, unnoticed, opened the last door at the far end of the corridor.

Upon entering the room, Arien saw that it was an opulent bedroom, decorated with bookshelves, a chest, a wardrobe, and in the corner, a bed. An aged dwarf was sleeping there. As she perused the contents of the room, suddenly the door to the room opened, and the Captain stepped through. He walked up to the bed and started to rouse the old dwarf from his slumber, telling him that they needed to get him to safety. As the pair lumbered out the door, Arien followed.


Roman, Nolofinwe, and Maggie swiftly hid the four bodies in the cabinetries of the kitchen. Afterwards, they continued to sneak through the hallways of the mansion. They found themselves at the small waiting room that was the entrance of the mansion. Maggie listened to the closed door that led to the large lobby with the statue and stairs, and heard voices. There was another door close by that went into a mudroom with hanging coats, cloaks, and boots. Roman had an idea of distraction and deceiving the people in the lobby with the use of boots and coats, but it was quickly abandoned.

Off in the distant, somewhere in the mansion, the three heroes heard a whistle. Roman and Maggie heard such clarions before in their life, and Nolo was smart enough to deduce what it meant. They hurried into the mudroom and closed the door. While hiding, the heroes heard the whistle call become louder and louder until it came from in the waiting room.

“Intruder! Intruder!” someone shouted behind the door. The whistle blew.

Roman’s blood started to boil. He knew this meant one of two things. Did someone discover one of the bodies either in the kitchen or the bedroom?

Nolo saw the snarl at Roman’s lips in the dark room. He could see the shadows of anger and wrath slowly take hold of his savage friend. He was about to whisper something and perhaps take hold of Roman, but it was too late.

Roman kicked opened the door and rushed the lone dwarf solider. The dwarf, surprised by the huge brute that came at him, nearly swallowed his whistle. Roman used his glaive to trip the solider and almost bashed his head in with the butt-end of the spear. Nolo and Maggie came running out of the mudroom and knocked the solider unconscious.

The barbarian saw the whistle on the floor. It had fallen out of the soldier’s hand and slid across the room. If the guards did not find the unconscious bodies, then there was only one other reason for the alarm. Neither Nolo or Maggie could account for Arien. Where was she? Why had she not caught up with them? Was she still invisible? Or was she… Roman envisioned his love being imprisoned, tortured and slaughtered for their entertainment. If a single white hair was plucked from her perfect head, then Roman swore that Burran, no, all of Xymor would burn.

The tiger was close. Roman could taste blood. He could only hear the sound of a furious storm. His skin tightened and burned. He breathed heavily and his grip on his glaive nearly snapped the pole in two.

Where was Arien?

“Roman, you alright?” Maggie whispered.

For Roman, nothing was right.

Roman growled at his friend. With a roar, he rushed into the large lobby.

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A Little B & E

The heroes had snuck into the court yard of the Mayor Gargen Stonefellow’s mansion via the servant’s entrance. Arien had cast an invisibility spell on Roman while she disguised herself as a roaming dancer. Nolofinwe cast a spell he called, “Pass without Trace,” which allowed all of them to silently move on any surface. Maggie used her professional skills to stay hidden in the shadows.

Maggie attempted to unlock the back door that entered into the mansion. Arien and Nolo stood by her side while Roman stayed a few feet back, keeping an eye on the court yard. Suddenly, the door flung open with a large, shocked and angry dwarf on the other side.

“Uh, I can explain this,” Maggie meekly said, still holding her thieves’ pick.

The dwarf growled and pulled out his halberd. Arien cast a quick fire spell but missed. This was the moment Roman feared most. They needed to take the guard down quickly before he could raise the alarm. He had to act.

Roman rushed forward, leapt over Maggie, jumped through the doorway, and clothes-lined the dwarf to the ground. Roman’s invisibility disappeared. With the dwarf prone, it was easy pickings for Nolo to smack him across the face with his staff. But it wasn’t enough to shut the guard up. Maggie drew her rapier and stabbed the dwarf guard, incapacitating him. She didn’t kill him, but used a secret technique she learned that knocked people out.

“We are committed now,” Roman whispered.

The heroes, with the unconscious guard on the floor, stood in a hallway. There was a door in front of them, and to the left and right of them. Both ends of the hall turned in the same direction.

Roman and Nolo quickly started to tie up the guard. Roman had to stop Nolo’s knot-tying.

“Where did you learn to tie a knot?” Roman asked in a gruff whisper. “An eight-year old could tie better than that.”

“I’m nervous. I’ve never…”

“Give that to me,” Roman forcibly took the rest of the rope away from Nolo and finished tying up the guard.

“Arin and Mags, each of you sneak down one end of the hall and look around the corners,” he whispered his orders.

“You want me….”

“Shhh,” Roman interrupted Maggie. “Quiet, everyone. Speak in whispers and keep your eyes and ears open. Quickly now.”

Arien casted an invisibility spell on herself and snuck towards the left-side of the hallway. Maggie snuck down the opposite side. Arien came to a dead-end with closed doors. Maggie saw that the hall continued and made another turn. She returned to Roman as he was lifting the dwarf’s body over his shoulder.

“What do you want me do to,” Maggie asked in a mousey voice.

“Keep looking around,” Roman snapped under his breath. His face was turning red with the heavy weight of the dwarf.

“Right, right. I’ll go.” Maggie raced back down the hallway.

“Nolo, check the doors,” Roman ordered.

Nolo went to the door in front of them, placed his ear to it, and listened for a moment.

“I think I heard people behind that one,” Nolo whispered.

Roman snarled. “What about that one over there,” he gestured to the door on the right.

Nolo listened, but heard nothing behind it.


Arien decided to investigate the doors, starting with the furthest one first. She slowly turned to knob to make sure it wasn’t locked. It wasn’t. She then carefully and gradually opened the door, but only a couple of inches. Inside she saw a mid-size dining room, with a long table in the center. Two posh-looking Halflings sat at the table, both of them complaining about their meal. A servant stood at the opposite side of the Halflings, listening to their complaints. He turned and noticed the open door. His eyes narrowed. He casually walked over and closed the door in Arien’s face.


“Okay, slowly open that door,” Roman whispered to Nolo. “You better be right about this.”

Nolo opened the door, which was unlocked, and peered inside. He saw three beds – two on the far end and a single one to the right, occupied.

“There’s a woman sleeping in there,” Nolo said a bit too loudly.

“Back up,” Roman snapped. “This is what you’re going to do, Nolo. You got a knife?”

“A knife?”

“Yes, a knife.”

“No, I don’t have a knife.”

“What do you mean you don’t have a knife?”

“I only have a Shilelagh.” Nolo held up his staff with pride.

Roman was not amused. “Here, grab that knife from the guard’s belt. See it there.” Roman positioned the guard’s body so Nolo could unsheathe the knife more easily. “Now, you’re going in first.”

“I am?”

“You need to sneak in and right up to that sleeping woman. I want you to just stand over her with the knife ready.”

“Okay.”

“Don’t wake her. Don’t touch her.”

“Right.”

“Just watch her. If she wakes up, you need to grab her, gag her with one hand, and hold that knife to her throat with the other. That should keep her quiet until we can deal with her then.”

“Right. Okay.”

“You understand?”

“Yeah.”

“Then repeat what I said.”

“Go in there and stab her.”

Roman was not amused.

Nolo chuckled. “I got it. This is a piece of cake. Don’t worry. I got this. It’s not like I’m going trip and fall or anything.”


Arien, miffed by getting a door closed in her face, returned to Roman and Nolo. She saw them go through one of the doors and quickly rushed towards them. Once she reached the room, she saw Nolo sprawled out on the floor, his left leg pinned under his right and his rear end arched upwards.

Roman was not amused.

The woman in the bed was slowly getting up, rubbing her eyes and confused as to what was happening. Roman tossed the dwarf’s body across the room, nearly missing Nolo, leapt towards the woman and grappled her, one hand around her mouth shut, one hand holding both her wrists, and his body pinning her down. She flailed and wiggled, trying to get away.

Nolo slowly stood up.

“Tell that bitch to be cool,” Nolo said.

“Bitch be cool!” Roman intensely whispered.

The woman flailed more.

“Tell that bitch to be cool!” Nolo almost shouted.

“Bitch! Be cool!”

“Tell that bitch to be cool!”

“I said, bitch! Be cool!” Roman showed her his fangs.

Arien closed the door and left back down the hallway. She returned to the previous door she investigated and weighed her options. Suddenly, the servant from inside came out with a tray of food, grumbling to himself. He walked down the hall and passed through another door. A minute later, the servant returned with a new tray of food and walked back to the door that led towards the dining hall. Still invisible, Arien snuck into the dining room along with the servant.


Maggie explored more of her side of the hallway but found very little of interest. She discovered another hallway that led towards a couple of doors but not much else. She narrowly escaped a passing servant by hiding in the shadows and found herself petrified in fear. She was alone and lost. Maggie started silently crying, missing her friend, Mortimer.


Inside the dining hall, Arien hid in a corner, invisible and listening to the Halflings as they ate. Most of their conversations consisted of bland and purposeless topics, mostly of complaints about the food and drinks. They were acting liking petulant, bored, rich kids.

They demanded different food and drinks.

“Yes, of course, my lord and lady,” the male servant bowed. He turned and walked to the door that led out to the hallway where Arien came from. For a second, she thought about tripping the servant, but reconsidered it as that would probably end her invisibility spell.

“I’m tired of this food,” said the male Halfling when the servant left the room. “I’m tired of this place,”

“We have to wait until Vermelda tells us otherwise,” the female Halfling said.

“But the food here is so horrible. How are we suppose to live on this dung they call food? ”

“I know, but soon we will get what we want. We just need to be patient and do our part.”


Maggie heard the sound of a bell ringing, which came from behind a door she stood close to. She listened to the door but heard nothing more behind it. She opened the door and stepped out into another hallway with several more doors around her. The end door opened. Maggie jumped into the shadowy corner of the hall and stood very still. A Halfling guard came out in the hall and yelled back through the door, “If you see Bouldbast, tell him I went to do the rounds.” The Halfling hurried along towards Maggie. He completely ignored her and walked through the door Maggie came from. She sighed in relief. She wondered where her friends were. And thought about making a run for the exit and forget the whole operation.

The bell sound rang in the hall again. This time, Maggie could tell it came from behind one of the doors right next to her.


Roman and Nolo stepped out of the servant’s bedchamber, silently closing the door. They left behind an unconscious, naked dwarf tied to a bed and covered with sheets and blankets. The woman was naked and tied to her bed underneath the bedcovers. She was fast asleep but when she woke up, she would have the worst headache of her life.

The two decided to sneak down the hall towards where Arien went. They had hoped to meet up with the ladies.

They heard a bell chime.

“What’s that?” Roman asked. He stopped moving.

“I don’t know,” Nolo shrugged. “What do you think it is?”

“If I knew what it was, would I be asking you?”

“Sounds like a bell.”

“Oh really?” Roman sarcastically spat. “What else can you tell me about it?”

“I think it came from down the hallway.”


Maggie listened to the door. The bell rang from behind it again. She leapt back, slightly surprised by the sound and readied her rapier. No one came through that door.

Behind and to her right, the door began to open. Maggie was surprised this time. She tried to leap back into the shadowy corner, but it was too late. The servant from the dining hall stepped out into the hallway with a full tray for fresh food and drinks. He looked up and eyes widened.

Roman and Nolo turned a corner around the hall and saw Maggie standing over and unconscious body of a human who appeared dressed at a servant. A plate of food and drinks were scattered across the floor. Maggie, holding her rapier, was trying to close the door in front of her and lock it.


The Halflings in the dining hall were becoming impatient. The male Halfling got up and headed towards the door where the servant left. Arien had a feeling that something was wrong. Her friends were somewhere on the other side of that door. She knew that whatever was happening to them, having the Halflings involved would not be a good thing. She quickly rushed towards the door on the other side of the dining room and opened it. It led out into a large lobby with a statue in the center and a flight of stairs to her right. The stairs lead up to the roof of the three-story building. At the second floor was a single door as well as only being a single door at the third floor. Arien saw several murals of underground images hangings from various spots of the wall. She also noticed a lone Halfling guard standing next to the statue. He became aware of the open door, straightened his back, and waited, as if expecting someone to walk through.

The female Halfling gave a start when she saw the door mysteriously open by itself. The male Halfling stopped and stared at the opened door, scratching his head.

“That’s odd. How did that happen?” he said, while walking towards the invisible Arien and the open door.

Maggie was struggling to keep the door closed while attempting to lock it. She then realized that someone on the other side was trying to open it. Before she could react to that realization, the door slammed against her head, knocking her back and on her butt.

Roman was standing next to a door down the hall from Maggie. He had positioned himself ready to attack anyone that came through. He thought he heard someone in the room behind the door and figured it would be prudent that keep watch on that door while Maggie did her thing with the lock. But he had not expected Maggie to fall and knew he couldn’t get to her fast enough to deal with whatever knocked her down.

Nolo started to rush forward towards Maggie, but she showed her true abilities to the new member of the group. Within a blink of an eye, Maggie hopped up on her feet, kicked up her rapier into her hands, and whirled her body around like a dancer towards the woman who forced the door open. With her right arm, Maggie hooked under the woman’s right arm, bent her forward and over, and stabbed her in the side. As the woman fell, unconscious, the rapier withdrew from her body but very little blood was spilt.

From inside the room, which Maggie quickly realized was a kitchen, came a scream.


“What was that?” the female Halfling asked, clenching a dinner knife.

The Halfling guard, in the lobby, came rushing to the dinner hall.

“Is everything alright, my lord and lady?”

“Well, bloody no,” the male Halfling snapped. “We haven’t gotten any proper food or good wine yet.”

“But the screaming…”

There was another scream behind them, coming from the lobby. Arien had snuck out and went up the stairs. When she reached the second floor, she screamed. It was enough to grab the attention of the two posh Halflings and the guard.


Upon hearing the scream, Nolo felt adrenaline course through his body. For a brief moment, he felt invincible. He felt as strong as Roman, as fast as Maggie, and potent as Arien. He wanted to prove himself to these new companions. He wanted to show Roman that he was not a bumbling boob but a powerful and wise druid. He continued running forward, using his momentum to jump over the unconscious bodies and move around Maggie to pass through the door. He was going to stop the screaming one way or another. He was going to be a hero to his new companions.

The scream came from a fat woman in the center of the kitchen. She held a knife in one hand and the head of a rabbit in the other. Nolo knew exactly what to do:

He grabbed a bag of flour from the table and threw it at the face of the screaming woman. A huge poof of flour dust burst all across the room, making her cough instead of screaming. He rushed forward, zigzagging back and forth to create the illusion of a ghost cloud of flour and knocked her out cold…..

Or so that is how Nolo wished it had happened.

Nolo grabbed the bag of flour and it slipped from his hands and exploded in his face. He was blinded for a second and coughing with flour going down his lungs. The woman stopped screaming to stare at Nolo’s stupidity. That moment gave Maggie to rush forward and knock the woman out.

“Roman!” Nolo shouted in as loud of a whisper he could. “You better get in here!”

Roman lumbered into the kitchen with an unconscious man over his shoulder. He dropped the body and surveyed the scene: four unconscious servants, Maggie breathing heavily with her rapier drawn, and Nolo covered in flour from head to toes.

Roman was not amused.

View
Not In Kansas Anymore

The heroes arrived at the Mayor Gargen Stonefellow’s mansion.

A twelve foot tall wall, made out of a grayish-colored cemented fungi mush, encircled the mansion. The mansion, a three story tall building, was built with the same fungi mush, carved directly out of the Burran mushroom foundation. Here and there were remnants of blue, red and yellow pigments that at one time decorated the outside of the mansion, but the images faded long ago. The heroes noticed the building grew smaller towards the upper level and made it appear to have a terrace high above, but there appeared to be no doors or railings. The heroes also noticed that there were no windows in the upper levels.

It was mid-morning.

“So, what’s the plan, big man,” Nolofinwe asked.

“We need to know how many guards and servants we’re dealing with,” Roman responded. “We need to recon the area and find entry points and figure out all possible ways to sneak in. Perhaps we could gather servant clothing’s and get in. Nolo, I want you to do your shape shifting thing, maybe a cat, and go around the left side of the wall. Maggie, I want you to investigate towards the right side. It looks like that’s where the gate entrance.”

“What? You want me to go?” Maggie asked with trepidation in her voice. “By myself?”

“Yes,” Roman said firmly.

“Um, ok. But…”

“You’ll be fine,” Roman interrupted her. “I believe in you.”

“Right,” Maggie sighed and slowly walked towards the right of the wall.

Nolo knelt down, whispered some ancient word unknown to his friends. His body began to glow and shrink until there was nothing but a pile of his clothes, tools, and packs. A black cat with white stripe above its eye emerged out of the pile of clothes. It meowed at Roman and Arien and raced off towards the left of the fungi-made wall.

“And what ‘bout me, honey?” Arien asked Roman, ready to act.

“You stay here with me,” Roman replied. “We stay hidden in this alcove and wait for them to return.”

“What?!” Arien was indignant. “I should go out and…”

“No. The less of us involved the better. We wait.”

Arien huffed and folded her arms across her chest.


Nolo-cat arrived at the rear of the mansion and discovered the servant’s entrance. Close to the doorway was a large dumpster meant for trash and waste. A woman servant was disposing waste from a chamber pot into the dumpster. She ignored the black cat with a white stripe walking past her. Nolo-cat took shelter in the shadows of the buildings across the gate and he sat watching. When the woman was done with her task, she used a key to open the servant’s entrance door and stepped through. Nolo-cat waited close to an hour but nothing else happened. He returned to Roman and Arien before he was forced to change back to a human.


Maggie snuck along the wall. When it bent, she peered around the corner and saw that Roman was right about the main gateway. It was about seven yards from where she stood. For a moment, Maggie was tempted to run back to her friends, but she knew better to return with such little information. She continued walking along the wall until she came to the gate. There she was able to see the whole palace and the court yard around it. The grounds were mostly barren with green and red lichens sprouting in spots. The windows of the palace were all barred. A large ornate wooden door led into the mansion. Maggie noticed an armed Halfling walk passed one of the windows inside the palace.

Behind the gate and to the left was a guard house. Standing in the small building was a short, beardless and bald dwarf who did not seem ashamed of his overly large pot belly. He was not very handsome, even for a dwarf. Yet with all the faults of his physical appearance, the dwarf did seem very comfortable with the halberd in his right hand.

The dwarf immediately noticed the petite half-elf woman and couldn’t keep his eyes off her. Maggie hesitantly approached the gate. She was timid and meek, fidgeting with a strand of red hair. She wasn’t sure whether she was acting or actually nervous.

“Um, hello there,” Maggie squeaked to the dwarf.

The dwarf instantly puffed out his chest and cleared his throat. “Hi, can I help you, little lady?”

“I, um hope so,” Maggie looked down and moved some stones with her feet. “I, um, well, have you seen my puppy dog?”

“Have I seen a dog?”

“Yeah, I lost my puppy dog. I think it ran away somewhere around here.”

“I’m sorry, little lady,” the dwarf frowned, “I haven’t seen any dogs around here. You might want to find it before nightfall, before we let out the bears.”

“Bears?”

“Hmm. Scary, big bears.”

“Oh, okay,” Maggie said. She looked like she was about to cry. “I hope I can find him then. Bye.”

Maggie continued walking along the wall and was about to turn the corner when she heard the dwarf shout at her.

“Hey, little lady!”

Maggie froze. She thought of running or disappearing in the shadows. She even thought of cutting the dwarf’s throat and escaping. She heard Roman’s disapproval growl in her head.

Maggie turned around and saw the dwarf guard gesture for her to return.

“I told you there ain’t no dog running around here,” the dwarf said.

“Um, well, maybe he ran down this…”

“What’s your name, little lady? What’s your dog’s name?”

Maggie instantly recalled a play she remembered.

“My name is Dorothy.”

“And your dog’s? What does he look like?”

“My puppy dog’s name is Toto. He’s black and fluffy. He’s so cute. I just need to find him.”

The dwarf rubbed his chin. He kept looking at Maggie’s hand that was twirling her red hair. He wanted so badly to smell her hair.

“I know Toto ran this way. I think he even ran through the gate,” Maggie said.

The dwarf snorted. “Not likely. I have eyes like a hawk and…”

“Oh, please, please, please, can I look around the palace, pretty please. I won’t cause any trouble, I swear.”

The dwarf couldn’t resist her teary eyes. He sighed.

“Well, I can’t let you in, but you know what. I’ll go look myself, just for you,” he smiled. “Wait right here. I’ll be a few minutes.”

The dwarf left the guard house and walked out the court yard looking for a nonexistent dog. Maggie was frustrated. The dwarf distrusted him and she just wanted to get back to her friends.

Fifteen minutes passed before the dwarf returned.

“I’m sorry, Dorothy, I didn’t see your dog. I even checked the bear pens. Thankfully I didn’t see anything in there either. I just don’t think he’s here.”

“But he has to be. I just know it. Maybe he got into the house.”

“I seriously doubt…”

“Please! Would you just check for me. Please, please, please,”

The Dwarf sighed again. “Alright, alright. Wait here. I’ll go check.”

The dwarf left again and entered the mansion through the large ornate wooden door. Maggie quickly raced back to her friends.


Nolo had changed back into a human when Maggie returned. She was out of breath and stressing out.

“Report,” Roman said to Maggie.

She quickly told her encounter with the dwarf.

Roman seemed disappointed with the report. He expected more from the half-elf.

“What kind of thief are you?”

“Not a very good one,” Maggie snapped back. “Besides, I’m a grave robber, not a thief.”

“What the hell is the difference?!”

Maggie huffed.

“Nolo, turn into a dog,” Roman commanded.

“What?” Nolo was surprised by the order. “A dog? Wait, now. Can’t we talk about…”

“No time. Mags said the guard will be back anytime. Do your thing and go with Mags.”

Nolo rolled his eyes and changed into a black, fluffy dog.

“Your name is Toto,” Maggie told Nolo. She ran back to the gateway with Nolo-Toto at her heels.

The dwarf had not returned when they arrived.

“Oh good, he’s not back yet. Okay, Toto, squeeze through the gate and go to that door over there. When it opens, run in. Got it?”

Nolo-Toto barked in response. The little black, fluffy puppy dog ran across the court yard and crouched along the mansion wall, right at the doorway entrance.

The door opened. Nolo-Toto waited for the right moment. A leg stepped through. Not yet. The dwarf’s body came through. Maggie waved to the guard with a smile. Nolo-Toto’s rear-end wiggled. Wait for it. The dwarf waved back. So close. His other leg came through. Now!

Nolo-Toto rushed past the dwarf and snuck into the mansion. The dwarf never noticed.

The dwarf hurried over to Maggie. “Dorothy, I’m sorry again. I didn’t find your dog in there.”

“Really?”

“My name’s Sharg. Um, you know, um, I’m off tonight and was wondering if….”

Nolo-toto found himself in a small waiting room that had a table and chairs next to the walls. He saw a couple of closed doors. One of them started to open. Nolo-Toto quickly ran to hide under one of the tables, but it was too late. The servant that had entered the waiting room saw the little black dog.

“Well hello there,” the servant said, knelling down towards Nolo-Toto. “You must be that little puppy Sharg was looking for. You sure are a cute little guy.”

Nolo-Toto sighed mentally, embarrassed with his predicament.

“Come on out from under there. Here, you want some scraps?”

The servant took some food from the tray he was holding and held the food out to the dog. Nolo-Toto snarled and the servant backed away.

“Oh, okay. Not very friendly, are you. Well, guess I can’t blame you. Maybe that little girl Sharg mentioned is still here. You wait here, okay?” The servant left the mansion to retrieve the dwarf guard.

Nolo-Toto noticed the servant had left the door he originally came from open. He raced through and entered a large chamber with a statue in the center and a flight of stairs at the far end. Nolo-Tolo was tempted to investigate more, particularly up the stairs, but he feared of getting lost or trapped. The idea of getting trapped somewhere and being forced to change back into a naked human did not appeal to him. He ran back into the waiting room.

The servant exited the mansion and shouted to Sharg that he had found the dog.

“Really, Bandar?!” the dwarf shouted back. “That’s great news. He must have been hiding from me.”

Sharg let Maggie through the gate and both of them ran to the mansion and entered the waiting room.

“See, there he is,” Bandar point at Nolo-Toto sitting under the table. “He’s not the friendliest dog.”

“Toto!” Maggie shouted and Nolo-Toto leapt into her arms.

“Now, here’s the plan,” Maggie whispered into Nolo-Toto’s ear. “Once we’re outside, I’m going to let you go and you need to run around like crazy and make these guys give chase.”

Once out in the court yard, Maggie released Nolo-Toto. He was a very bad puppy. He followed and stayed at Maggie’s heel and even licked Sharg’s face in friendship. Maggie was not happy.

“Don’t know what Bandar was talking about, but this dog is really nice,” Sharg said, scratching Nolo-Toto’s ear.

Maggie huffed.

“Say, um, have you given any thought about tonight? Will you be at the Night Glow?”

“Maybe,” was her response.

Sharg looked disappointed.

Maggie and Nolo-Toto returned to Roman and Arien to give a full recounting.

“So what’s the plan now, big man,” Nolo asked, while putting on his clothes.

Roman thought of all the different strategies and plans that could possibly work. He wanted more time and information, but they had very little of both. He preferred the idea of a night operation, but he had no interest in dealing with bears. He thought about getting sleeping poisons and chunks of meat for the bears, but that was a risky game that could fail and cause worse problems. He thought about sneaking through whatever sewage system the mansion had, but realized Maggie and Arien probably wouldn’t follow through with such a disgusting operation. Perhaps scale the walls? Someone would fall, Roman thought. He knew there was only one course of action. He remembered an old adage his mother once told him, ‘You can’t catch a tiger cub, unless you enter the tiger’s den.’

“So, what’re we doing,” Arien asked.

“A little B and E,” Roman replied.

View
Crossroads

Roman stepped out of the taxidermist establishment, clenching the patch of red leather in his fist. His emotions ran wild and confused. It had been so long since he last saw the image of the gauntlet fist with tentacles. His blood felt like it was boiling, his muscles twitched, and his eyes burned with the intense hatred of a demon. He wanted to kill everyone and scorch the world around him until he found his true enemies. For a brief moment, nothing else mattered to him but to seek the masked man and the tall fellow. Then he looked up and saw the face of Arien and his heart wept. The tiger within him soothed.

“You find what you wanted?” Nolofinwe asked, breaking Roman’s emotional thoughts.

Roman responded with a grunt.

“Well then, back to the orphanage. It’s not terribly far from here. We should probably…” Nolo started to walk.

“No,” Roman interrupted.

“No?” Nolo was perplexed, as were Arien and Maggie.

“I will not jump down an unknown hole and chase an enemy that I do not know. I have learned my lesson from my past and I will not do that again.” Roman stashed the leather skin in his sack. “Nolo, you said you knew a witch.”

“A witch?” Nolo thought for a moment, puzzled by the question. “Oh, you mean the troll sage, Zufem.”

“Whatever.”

“He’s far deeper in Burran,” Nolo explained, “in the Dark Corner.”

“Then we go to the Dark Corner first,” Roman ordered.

“Very well, but I must warn you that it’s not the most pleasant of places in Burran.”

“It matters not to me,” Roman responded, “Lead the way.”

The four heroes, led by Nolo, traveled further into the giant mushroom. After an hour of walking, they arrived to the Dark Corner. The buildings were crowded and dilapidated. Trash and refuse littered the streets. There was a stale, unmoving stench of bodily waste, smoke, and death that the heroes could almost taste. The place was eerily silent, other than the occasional rat scampering underneath the trash or the stealthy cat giving chase. Arien noticed, buried under a pile of trash, an old, emaciated man whose skin had turned gray due to age and malnutrition. He watched Arien with a toothless grin and chuckled as she walked past. Further down, Maggie, in the rear of the group, stopped. For a brief moment, she swore she thought she heard a woman’s scream in the distance. It sounded like someone being attacked. She stood there for a moment, but heard nothing else. She hurried along to catch up to her friends.

Finally, Nolo led his comrades to a dark alley.

“He’s down this alley,” Nolo instructed. “But there’s no light here, so maybe I should hold your hand and lead you, Roman?”

Roman envisioned a fist in Nolo’s face. He snorted and snarled at his druid friend. “Arien, light my pole,” Roman said, holding out his glaive in front of his lover.

“Why, of course, love,” Arien cast her light magic on the tip of the bladed shaft. Bright light illuminated 20 feet around them.

Roman grunted again and gestured for Nolo to continue onward.

Nolo smirked. “Just offering.”

The alley was narrow and slimy, and led to a small courtyard full of garbage and waste. There were flies and gnats almost as thick as smoke and the smell almost made Arien throw up her breakfast. Maggie thought she saw a large pile of trash move. She stared at it for a second and concluded that it must have been her imagination.

Nolo walked up to a door to the left of the courtyard and gently knocked.

“Zufem,” Nolo whispered. “It’s Nolofinwe.”

There was no response. Nolo knocked again, a little harder.

“I need to talk to you about what you told me before.”

The heroes heard moans and grunts behind the door. Nolo turned to his friends and tried to give them a reassuring smile.

The door opened. Standing in the doorway was a large, old, green troll with huge tusks. He looked tired and worn, holding a clay jug. He took a drink from his jug and asked what Nolo wanted.

“These are my friends,” Nolo gestured, “and they would like to know more about your theories.”

Roman had suddenly realized that this troll may not be who he was looking for and that Nolofinwe had misinterpreted what Roman wanted. He wanted a wizard, a magic-user, or someone who dabbled in the dark arts. But Roman played along, and allowed his friend to lead the conversation.

Zufem invited the heroes into his home. It was a small and cramped room full of trash and it smelled of body order and waste. Arien had had enough of the smell and cast a spell that deodorized the room and made it smell like fresh flowers and perfume. The troll didn’t seem to notice, but Nolo and Maggie appeared relieved.

“Now, what is it you wanted?” Zufem asked as he sat on a pile of his own garbage.

Roman spoke up before Nolo could respond. “We are looking for a way deeper into Burran, and I had hoped you could tell us what you know.”

Zufem wasn’t able to help the heroes in learning anything about the Burran Orphanage, the thieves’ guild of children, or the satyr. But he was so interested in learning what the heroes knew, that he even took out quill and parchment to take notes. “Tell me what you found,” he inquired.

Roman silently sighed in frustration while Arien began to tell their recent adventure at the orphanage and their battle with Rylos Goan. Zufem seemed very interested at the mention of the undead satyr. He commented that satyrs were not themselves masters, but typically servants to a master. But yet, since this was a satyr that possibly had come back from the dead, he could not say for sure whether the satyr at the orphanage was truly a master or not. He had never heard of an undead satyr until now. He also commented that the greenish lightning that attacked them may have come from a Will-O’-Wisp – a nasty little creature of undead nature.

“Do you think any of this is connected to your theories,” Nolo asked.

“All of this appears to give me more evidence to the idea,” Zufem said with excitement as he continued writing. “Blast it! I ran out of parchment.”

“I have some here,” Nolo said as he reached into his sack and grab the parchment he had taken from the orphanage. He started to hand them to Zufem when Roman noticed something.

“Nolo, where did you get those?”

“At the orphanage,” Nolo relpied. “They’re just blanks.”

“No, they’re not,” Roman exclaimed. “Did you even look at them?”

“What?” Nolo turned the parchments around and noticed the writing. “Oh.” He said meekly.

“What are they?” Arien asked.

Nolo quickly studied the writings and deduced them to be scrolls of magic. One of them could open any lock, magical or otherwise. The other scroll contained a spell that protected the user against plants.

Roman laughed at the spell of protection. “Plants? Ha! What a worthless spell.”

“Oh honey,” Arien interjected, “you’ve never been to the Calerian Forest, have you?”

“Calerian Forest?” Roman snorted.

“Oh yes. There’re giant man-eating Calerian Fly Traps as tall as buildings. Some even mimic food and water to trick wary travels into their death trap. I’ve even heard of some using illusionary magic to lure weak men into thinking that there is a willing nymph to be had, and then snap, they’re plant food.”

Roman looked bewildered. “I’ve never heard of this Calerian Forest you speak of, nor heard of anything like these giant plants. They sound like children’s stories.”

“What do you mean you’ve never heard of them before?” Arien asked with a hint of annoyance. “Everyone knows of the Calerian Forest and the dangers within.”

Zufem’s laugher interrupted the two. “This is exactly my point! You’ve been traveling together but you now notice how different you are from each other?”

“What do you mean?” Arien asked.

“Each of you comes from a different world, or different plane of existence, or perhaps a different reality altogether,” Zufem began. He told the heroes his theory of how the Duergar were able to cross over to other worlds and realities in order to capture slaves. He explained that everyone in Xymor came here as slaves and that almost no one here was a native of these lands. These slaves were brought to Xymor to mine the caverns for magmium.

“Well, if all of this is true,” Arien began to ask, “Then how come we all speak the same language? If we’re all from different realities, as you say, then surely then each of us would have different tongues and we wouldn’t be able to understand one another.”

Zufem shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s a theory after all.”

“And what do they do with the magmium,” Roman asked.

“They use it as a fuel source to power their portals and travel to different worlds.”

“How?”

“I don’t know,” Zufem answerd.

“Are there many of these portals or just one?”

“Again I don’t know, but I do know there has to be one in Shukalgau.”

“Shaka-wha?” Roman tried saying.

“Shukalgau.”

“Shak-a-laka?” Maggie tried to pronounce.

“Shukalgau.”

“Shakakhan,” Arien said.

“Shakalalagaga,” Nolo added.

“It’s Shukalgau, you fools!” Zufem shouted. “It’s where the Obsidian Palace and The Gray King resides, the seed of the duergars’ power. There must be one there.”

“And why do all of this?” Roman asked. “What is their plan?”

“To rule all realities.”

There was silence in the room.

Zufem started writing again, mumbling to himself. “All of these pieces are starting to come together. Yes, yes. It’s making more sense now. With this undead satyr adding to the fact of Gargen Stonefellow’s children being halflings and the sickness spreading in town….”

“Halfling children?” Arien interrupted.

“Yes, the mayor of Burran, a dwarf, has halfling children,” Zufem replied. “And the sickness started right as Stonefellow announced his halfling children.”

“A dwarf having halfling children?” Roman was confused.

“Maybe they were adopted,” Arien guessed.

“That’s not what he said,” Zufem pointed out. He continued scribbling in his notes.

“Perhaps, it’s time for us to go,” Nolo said.

“Yes,” Arien added, “I’m still confused. Let’s just kill the thing living under the orphanage.”

The heroes thanked Zufem for his time and left.

“So, now off to the orphanage, right?” Nolo asked, as they walked out of the alleyway and back onto the street.

“No. There is a halfling I want to speak with,” Roman said.

The other three companions sighed.

The heroes traveled back to the Chain Ward to look for Paff, the halfing that tried to sell Roman maps the day before. Roman grabbed and picked up the halfling and carried him back to the Night Glow. Back at their room, Roman tried to convince the halfling to give up his maps, particularly the map to an old temple that Paff said might have a hidden portal that could take people back home. The connection between what Paff said about the map and Zufem’s theory was too coincidental for the heroes to pass up.

During the course of the negotiations, Roman let it slip that Goan was dead. The news greatly saddened Paff. He said that Goan was a pillar of the community and took care of the forgotten children. The heroes knew otherwise. Paff then told the story of how Goan used to travel through Xymor and one day faced a black dragon. During the battle, the black dragon used its acid breath and melted Goan’s face.

By this time, Arien’s patience wore thin and she agreed to buy the temple map for 10 gold pieces, thus sparing Paff the hell of adventuring with them at Roman’s insistence. Roman thought she may have been upset at the thought of Goan killing a black dragon.

As Paff began to leave, he mentioned that he used to be an adventurer like the heroes and that’s how he lost his one leg. He told a story about how he faced a mummy to protect his village and became a hero afterwards, but at the high price of losing his leg. The heroes didn’t seem very interested and shoved him out of their rented room.

“So now, we have a map,” Nolo said. “Are we going back to the orphanage now, or are we going to follow this map and find this portal?”

Roman grunted. “Let’s go back to Inner Ward Gate.”

Once at the gate, Roman sought out Shora Craghammer. He wanted more information.

Craghammer told the heroes more about the mayor, Stonefellow and his children, Krik and Carsa. Several months back, the mayor introduced the city to his children that he had supposedly kept secret for many years. Or course, the community was surprised, not only that he had kept them secret but that they were also Halflings. But the people really didn’t think too much about it. Perhaps, the people thought, they were adopted or it was magic. In either case, the majority of the community accepted the children without much question. But Craghammer pointed out to Roman that ever since the children became known, Mayor Stonefellow’s presence in the city had been dwindling and that his halfling children had starting taking on the responsibility of the mayor’s duties. Craghammer admitted that she had not seen the mayor in over a month now. She also added that there was a new sickness spreading in Burran.

Roman thanked Craghammer for her time and led the heroes to the other side of the gate.

“Maybe there’s a Halfling conspiracy,” Arien wondered. “There was that little antagonistic interrogator back at the orphanage.”

Roman grunted.

Nolofinwe seemed a bit flustered. “So, what are we doing? Are we going to the orphanage? Are we following the halfling’s map to that temple? Or maybe to Shakalakagala and to the Obsidian Palace?”

“Roman, honey?” Arien touched his arm, expecting an answer.

Roman stood in the middle of the street, silent and in deep thought. Pieces of a great and complex puzzle were in front of him, and he did not know how they fit together, if at all: the undead Satyr; the Obsidien Palace; the ruined temple with a portal; the curious case of Stonefellow; the sickness of Burran. The heroes stood at crossroads and their next choice was crucial.

Finally, Roman had decided.

“We break into the mayor’s palace, learn who these Halfling imposters are, and rescue Stonefellow,” Roman said.

He started walking.

Nolofinwe, Arien, and Maggie looked at each other, bewildered and shocked by Roman’s response. They stood there in silence. Then Maggie smirked with a glint in her eyes and ran up to walk alongside Roman. Arien smiled to Nolo and rushed up to her lover and held his arm. Nolo watched Roman, Arien, and Maggie walk away and wondered to himself what he gotten himself into. If he wanted to leave them, now would be the time. He knew next to nothing about these three people, yet something drew him to them. Would they be able to give him the strength to find peace and balance over his wife’s death? Would they help him find a way home and back to his clan? And more importantly, would these crazy people be able to help him find his daughter?

Nolofinwe shrugged to himself and hurried to catch up to his newfound friends.

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To the Victors Goes More Hardship

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?”

Jarra nodded.

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…

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The Man With The Melted Face

Long into the future, in a land far, far away…

Roman, Arien, Maggie and Nolofinwe found themselves staring down a hidden staircase in the Burran Orphanage. Arien, still invisible due to her sorcery, sneaked down the staircase into a basement. Her footsteps aroused the suspicion of a thug hiding behind some crates and she quickly exited to warn her companions. The heroes spent some time debating their next move until Roman kicked down the secret door and announced to those waiting in the rooms below that he was coming down.

The companions filed into the basement where they came under attack by the thug and several orphans that darted from cover. Roman leapt through the air to land in front of the thug and struck him down while the rest of the companions used their magic and might to render the orphans unconscious. During the battle, they noticed one of the orphans was the missing Jarra. Arien went to her and questioned the child. Jarra admitted that a man named Rylos Goan ran the orphanage and used the children as thieves. However, Goan gave much of the riches gathered to the “Dark Thing” in “The Pit”.

Despite their weakened state, the heroes decided to press on into the next room, reasoning that leaving the thieves den occupied would only cause further trouble later. After Maggie picked the lock to the next room, Roman flung the door open to come under attack by Goan and more orphans. A dark satyr in the back of the basement quickly jumped down a black pit in the corner of the as Goan and the orphans viciously attacked Roman. The barbarian fell to the onslaught as the others fought off their enemies. Nolofinwe revived Roman who called a retreat.

However, their foes gave chase. Maggie was caught and struck down by Goan and his minions. The remaining heroes decided to stay and defend their fallen comrade. Roman fell to Goan’s rain of blows, but Nolofinwe was able to cast a poisonous spray to finally send Goan to his death…

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