Xymor

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.

View
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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Sad Little Orphans

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

Roman, Arien, Maggie and Nolofinwe decided to investigate an orphanage in Burran with the hopes of finding the lost Jarra. Maggie had discovered a Thieves Cant symbol that indicated the building was a thieves’ den, but the group pressed on. Roman climbed to the top of the roof and made his way down a chimney. Nolofinwe transformed into a cat and peered inside one of the windows where he saw young children running in the halls. Arien turned herself invisible and peered inside. She saw a hooded man with part of his face heavily scarred sitting at a desk and talking with several children. And Maggie knocked on the front door.

One of the young girls opened it and invited her inside. Maggie stayed in the doorway but quickly came under attack. The man rushed forward and punched her in the throat as several of the orphans jabbed her with their daggers. She pulled away and the orphans followed her outside, eventually drawing enough blood to drop her to the ground. Nolofinwe soon arrived and created a thunder bolt that killed all of the children in one vicious wave. He then healed Maggie, and with the still invisible Arien, they entered the orphanage.

Meanwhile, Roman found himself in the kitchen area with three orphans. He rushed out and knocked out a girl and growled at the others to flee. The reunited group then used a key to open a secret door that led to a descending staircase…

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Child Killers

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

Roman, Arien, Maggie and Nolofinwe battled against a sword mage, dust mephits and small children in The Stalk district of Burran. During the fight, Arien cast web on the ragged boys, making them easy pickings for the rest of the group. As the dust mephits fell in battle, they exploded into clouds of dust, temporarily blinding some of the companions.

As the sword mage continued to dodge behind a corner after casting his spells, the heroes moved forward to confront him. He teleported to the rooftop to escape the onslaught, but Roman and Maggie followed him up. Meanwhile, Nolofinwe turned into a mushroom armored elk to run around the building in hopes of cutting off the attacker’s retreat. However, Roman caught the awaiting sword mage by surprise on the roof, badly injuring him so Maggie could deal the final blow.

After the battle and a search of the bodies which turned up an ornate key, they continued to the orphanage where Arien hoped to find the missing Jarra. Once there, Maggie tried peering into the window, but found they were blocked. She then noticed a triangular smudge on the building indicating that this was in fact a thieves’ den…

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Heroes of Burran

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

Roman, Arien, Maggie and Nolofinwe discussed the local temperament of Burran while enjoying drinks in the Bowling Boulder. A patron interrupted their conversation to invite Roman to take up a bet to lift the boulder inside the bar. Only the owner, an orc named Gangor Fist, had ever been able to lift it. After much cajoling, Roman accepted the challenge. Arien noticed that the orc secretly undid a latch that hooked the boulder to the floor before lifting it. With this knowledge and his strength, Roman easily lifted the boulder and tossed it into the spore stomping pit. Betting money exchanged hands and Roman enjoyed his payment of free drinks. They drunkenly left the bar after a night of carousing and dancing to crash at the Night Glow.

The next morning, Maggie woke to find Jarra missing. She and Arien went to search for her as Roman and Nolofinwe decided to head to Haldo’s Hides. Roman was approached by Paff in the Chain Market, who claimed to have a map of a temple that could, might possibly, contain a portal to the surface, as well as treasure. In exchange for an even split of any treasure, he would give them a map of the place and lead them there. Roman brushed him off and after getting their paperwork in order, the entire group headed to The Stalk to do their individual business.

While they were travelling toward an orphanage to see if Jarra was there, the heroes came under attack by several young, dirty boys. The children were joined by a sword-wielding wizard and two dust mephits. The group shook off the sleep effects of the mephits as Nolofinwe caused the ground to sprout forth vines to entangle the wizard. Arien shot her magic missiles at him, only to be rebuffed by his shield. Roman throttled one of the boys and threw him into the wizard before a mist surrounded the wizard and he teleported away. Meanwhile, Maggie attempted to battle three additional boys that tried to sneak up behind them. The dust mephits then blew blinding dust into the air, causing Nolofinwe to lose his sight…

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Slaying the Manticore

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

Roman, Arien, and Maggie continued on their journey to the city of Burran in the caverns of Xymor. Roman, still enraged from a battle with bullywugs, grabbed Ich-Tell by the throat, held him over a high waterfall and accused him of knowing about the bullywug ambush. The pathetic cultist swore innocence and with help from Arien’s soothing voice, Roman roughly released him. They all jumped down to the ledge below with the help of Arien’s featherfall spell.

They eventually arrived at a beach where beggars emerged from tents. Arien offered to help a young human girl named Jarra and soon there was chaos on the beach as the rest of the poor mob wanted help also. Arien shooed them all away as the blind ferryman arrived. For the price of a ruby, Dargoll agreed to transport them to Burran, which was an enormous petrified mushroom jutting up from Black Lake.

During the journey, a manticore attacked. It shot tail spikes at the heroes, eventually killing Ich-tell. Arien continued to blast the creature with her sorcery, enraging it. It flew directly toward her and landed on the boat. Roman flew into his own rage and jumped on the back of the beast while trying to choke it. Meanwhile, Maggie darted in and out of the melee, eventually using her rapier to slay the beat.

The group made it to Burran where the guards at the gate were surprised to see the manticore slain. They directed the companions to the Bowling Boulder tavern. Inside, the heroes noticed that word of their deeds had spread among the townsfolk. To their surprise, they were approached by an elf they recognized from their times in the magmium mines. Nolofinwe introduced himself, saying that he escaped from the mines by using his druidic powers to change into a mouse and slip past the guards. He was deeply saddened to hear of Mortimer’s death and agreed to guide the others throughout Burran…

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A Sad Goodbye

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

Roman, Arien, Mortimer and Maggie searched the lair of the now dead Jax Newlife. As Arien examined the glowing orb on a pedestal made of clawed hands, Mortimer picked over Jax’s body. He found the necromancer’s wand of magic missiles, two bone darts and a pouch stitched with an image of a humanoid wearing stag antlers. The image resembled Arcano, a creature that Mortimer saw in his dreams when he first acquired his own magic powers.

Mortimer opened the pouch and pitch black smoke poured forth with ethereal claws to surround him. Maggie tried to knock Mortimer away, but found herself under attack. Arien cast magic missiles at the claws, causing some to dissipate, but it did not help much. Roman attempted to chop off Mortimer’s hands, but only managed to knock the pouch away. And still the smoke poured out, targeting Mortimer. Maggie tried to stab the pouch, but was again attacked. Arien blasted it with firebolt causing the pouch to close, but only after in consumed the smoke, the claws and Mortimer himself.

Roman picked up the pouch and encouraged his dispirited comrades to move on. Outside the chamber, they triggered a trap filled with white mold spores. Ich-Tell fell into the pit, but was rescued before succumbing to the spores. They continued following Ich-Tell to Burran, but were interrupted by a group of bullywugs. The vile creatures proved no match for the heroes and fled once they realized the battle was hopeless…

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Slaying the Necromancer

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

Roman, Arien, Mortimer and Maggie continued their battle against the undead army created by Jax Newlife in the caverns of Xymor. A mummy continued trying to frighten the raging Roman to no avail as it took a solid beating from the group. Eventually, Maggie struck the creature in a vital spot, causing it to unravel into a pile of ribbons. The skeletons in the cavern continued raining arrows, but were soon put back to death.

The group continued after Jax, but soon had to face an animated rug made of humanoid skins. It was eventually cut to shred after trying to strangle Roman. Maggie snuck forward into a chamber where she spotted Jax hiding behind a pile of rocks with his wand of magic missiles in hand.

After reporting her findings, the companions moved in to attack. Arien and Mortimer tried to distract the necromancer as Roman charged in for the kill. Jax attempted to again flee and blast his way out, but he could not withstand the might and magic of our heroes…

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