Xymor

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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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 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 4 - Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire

The Escape part 4 – Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire

Mags! Check the door, and quick,” Roman said. The two bodies he carried were starting to get heavy.

Maggie investigated the ornate door. She discovered that it was locked and had strange glyphs inscribed on the wooden surface. Arien attempted to identify the glyphs, but learned nothing from them. They were of a sort of magic she was not familiar with.

“Either knock or kick the door down,” Roman spat. “Time is of the essence and we’ve got little of it.”

“I’ll knock,” Nolofinwe offered. He pulled out a scroll from his bag, walked up to the door, and began to speak the magical words from the parchment. As he spoke, wisps of smoke slowly flowed from the scroll. The scroll in his hand felt hot and began to shake. He held on to it and continued the incantation. The smoke intensified and began to coalesce into a large orb at a single point in front of the door.

Nolo spoke the last phase, “Sadiq’aw eaduww , sanadkhul bialquww,” and the smoke instantly formed into a giant fist and smashed into the door. The sound of an explosion could be heard from several blocks away. Nolo’s scroll burst into a puff of flame and smoke and disappeared.

As the door swung open by the force of Nolo’s magic scroll, another explosion occurred – the glyphs erupted in a blinding flash of white light and a blast of bitter cold engulfed Nolo, Maggie, and Arien. Roman had been just far enough away to avoid the trap. Nolo and Maggie were overcome by the sheer coldness of the trap and fell unconscious, gravely injured. Arien sustained lesser injuries, as she stood further back from the blast.

The two survivors saw that behind the door was a hallway that led into someone’s house. At the end of the hallway was a screaming air genasi woman, running towards them with a dagger. Maggie woke up from the sound of the screams, leapt to her feet and readied herself for a fight. Roman was ready to lop the woman’s head off, but Arien immediately recognized her as Skye from the Bowling Boulder. She was able to stop Roman and Skye from fighting and convinced Skye to help them.

Skye agreed and led the heroes into a room. Roman placed the mayor on a bed and flung Carsa’s body onto the floor. Arien had carried the unconscious Nolo and gently placed him down. Maggie then administrated first aid on the druid, stabilizing him. This was the second time in a single day that death had come for Nolo, but again the elf narrowly escaped its hungry grasp.

Skye told the heroes to stay in the room. She closed the door and locked it. This set Roman off. For him, being locked up by strangers was just as bad as being chased by city guards. At the intense protest of Arien, Roman backed down from the perceived threat, instead readying himself in the event that things went poorly.

The three heroes heard a knock from beyond the door and in the hallway. Then they heard the muffled sounds of a conversation. Pressing her ear against the wall, Arien was able to hear the voice of Skye talking to what sounded like one of the city guards.

”Roman,” Arien whispered, “Skye just talked to the guards. She sent them away. She didn’t betray us. She’s on our side.”

Roman held his tongue. He reluctantly relaxed.

Maggie gave a sigh of relief. “’Bout time someone helped us. I’m starving and need a nap.”

Skye returned bringing her husband. He was a dapperly-dressed human with a top hat and very pale face. Maggie recognized him as the owner and bartender from The Krypt. Roman immediately distrusted him.

His name was Morgath Gravesend, and he was not as upset at the situation in front of him as Roman thought he should be. Roman recognized his host as a very dangerous person. He knew there would be a game of wits and manipulation at play.

Arien explained to Skye and Morgath all that had transpired in the last several hours – the break-in at the mayor’s manor, the kidnapping of the mayor and Carsa, and their escape. She had told them far more information than Roman cared for, but he held his tongue again. She pleaded her case to their host and asked for their help to find a healer for the mayor or, if nothing else, a single evening of rest.

Morgath agreed to give them shelter and to cure what ailed the mayor under one condition – that the heroes give him the halfling woman. Arien looked at Roman, unsure of the answer. For Roman, there was no love lost between he and Carsa.

“He can have her,” Roman shrugged. “But we need to question her first.”

“Agreed,” Morgath quickly responded.

Roman woke Carsa up and began to interrogate the fat Halfling.

Through tears of fear, Carsa told her story:

“My brother and I were just simple thieves in the Dark Corner. We were homeless. We were hungry. We were just trying to get by. Then we met Rylos Goan. He seemed alright. He wanted us to help him train orphans; to build a group of sneaks and thieves. It was a perfect operation – pretend to run an orphanage, but really training the children to be thieves. The kids would just steal small stuff like food and coins, but nothing really big. Everything seemed good. Me and my brother finally had a home and a place to belong – a family. We were safe.

“But then, one day Goan brought a Satyr to the orphanage. His name was Cyro. He wanted the children to start stealing gems and jewels and other expensive things. He even wanted the children to learn how to fight and mug people. In return, Cyro promised that he would put me and my brother in absolute control of Burran. He said we would become mayor Gargen Stonefellow’s children. It was too strange for me. I didn’t want anything to do with it. And then Cyro warned us that he was an emissary for someone called Vermelda. He said Vermelda would be displeased if we refused. My brother and I didn’t believe him. We wanted nothing to do with him. And then the dreams started. They were horrible! I was tied down and slowly eaten by giant rats with black eyes. I can still hear the terrible screeching noise they made. My brother and I would wake up with bite marks, but nothing was there. And the dreams would always end with a cracked, whispering voice saying, ‘Obey Vermelda and change your fate.’

“This went on for seven nights. We couldn’t take it anymore. We couldn’t sleep. We were being tortured. So we had to do it. We had to go back. We were forced to help Cyro. And when we did, the dreams stopped.

“Goan took us to Stonefellow’s manor and, just as Cyro told us, Gargen embraced and kissed us as a loving father. He treated us as if we were his children just returned from boarding school. It took a day for me and my brother to adjust. One day, we were city trash and night stalkers. The next, we were nobility. But we were smart. We learned how to adapt. As Cyro wanted, we used the house as a place to store stolen goods, sort them, and then ship them to the orphanage where they would lower them into the pit. What they did with the goods, I don’t know. I swear. That’s all I know. Please let me go. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

Morgath Gravesend laughed at her plea.

Skye and Morgath took the Halfling woman away, to an unknown fate. While he pretended he didn’t care, Roman was uneasy with the agreement, but he knew they had little choice in the matter.

Skye offered the adventurers private rooms and food. Nolo was awake by this time and he and Maggie took up their host’s offers of hospitality. Roman and Arien decided to stay with their captive mayor. Morgath had yet to heal Gargen and Roman did not feel it was safe to leave the unconscious dwarf alone.

An hour later, Morgath interrupted Roman’s rest, seeking conversation. Morgath led Roman to a private study. There he gave Roman an offer. He knew about Roman’s trip to [[Haldo’s Hides]] and about Roman’s interest in a blonde warrior. Morgath said he had information about the warrior and perhaps where to find him. He would be willing to part with the information in exchange for a certain troll.

“You mean, Zufem,” Roman stated.

“Yes,” Morgath smiled.
“And I am to bring him here? How?” Roman gruffed.

“Here, yes. How? That is up to you,” Morgath continued to smile.

Roman stood in silence, hand rubbing his chin as if in deep thought. He grunted. “I’ll see what I can do.”

As Roman left, he knew they were in a far more dangerous place than he first thought. ‘Perhaps it would have been safer had we been caught by the city guards,’ he thought to himself.

During the evening, Arien had a strange dream.

The young half drow found herself in a camp that her people, the nomadic Triv, had put together on one of their many journeys. She followed the sound of a jig being played on a violin, and it led her to a tent. As she peeked inside, she saw her human father playing the instrument joyfully, a smile on his face. Her drow mother was there, too, swaying to the music hypnotically. Arien-gil also began to dance to her father’s playing. She felt happy.

Suddenly, it seemed the tent disappeared and Arien spotted a black dragon flying towards them. It came to a halt above them, the beating of its enormous bat-like wings making a deafening whooshing sound. In the blink of an eye, the dragon spewed forth greenish-gold acid from its mouth, hitting Arien’s parents directly in their faces. Their skin made a sickening sizzling sound as it began to melt off.

“Noooo!” Arien screamed, turning her gaze from her parents to the dragon hovering over her. As her eyes pierced the dragon’s, Arien saw that the beast’s face was morphing into her own. Arien gawked at the drow-dragon in horror…

The sorceress awoke in a panic, sharply inhaling the stale air of the room while sweat dripped from her body. The frail dwarf mayor still slumbered at the other end of the bed, while her barbarian lover was passed out on the floor, mumbling something in his sleep. In that moment, Arien felt an aura of evil around her, and shivered. A single tear fell from one of her golden eyes as she tried quietly to console herself.

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The Escape Part 5 - The Conspiracy Against the Conspiracy

The Heroes of Burran woke to the smell of bacon. Maggie leapt out of bed haphazardly dressed, ran down the hall and passing by Nolofinwe’s door, pounding on it, shouting “Bacon, bacon!” Downstairs, Arien, Roman, and the mayor awoke to Morgath’s voice as he opened the door.

“Breakfast is ready.”, he said cordially. Arien would have liked to have stayed in bed because she had not slept well the night before. However, soon she and Roman made their way down the hall towards the kitchen, mayor in tow.

When they arrived, they found Maggie and Nolo at the table, gorging themselves on heaps of bacon.

“I trust you slept well?” Morgath inquired.
Not wanting to be rude, Arien replied, “Yes, of course. Thank you very much.” Roman grunted. Maggie looked up from her plate briefly and nodded her head. Nolo didn’t hear the question over sound of Maggie’s crunching and the mayor’s protests.

Once everyone had eaten and completed their polite small talk, Morgath walked over to Mayor Stonefellow and spoke some words of a language none of them recognized. When he finished, the mayor looked as a though a shade had fallen from his eyes. “What is going on here?” he said. Whatever enchantment had held his mind captive before, had now been broken.

The adventurers now had to decide what to do next. They explained their story to Gargen and all that had happened. Upon hearing the account, the mayor offered them safe passage through the city, once he had returned home and ordered his guards to protect the group. During the conversation, the mayor told a story about a light-skinned, dark-haired woman who came to visit him in the middle of each night while he was in bed:

“I had terrifying dreams. I shudder just to remember them now. They were more nightmares than dreams. I dreamed of demons crawling out of the dark and forgotten depths of Xymor to torture and kill me and all the people of Burran. These demons would then rise-up all the dead only to be tortured again. The dream was so vivid and real, I could almost smell the decay of death that was all around me.

“I couldn’t take it anymore. I was afraid to go to bed. I refused to sleep. I thought I was going insane. I started to get sick and weakened. But one night, when I contemplated ending it all, she came to me. She was a vision out of the heavens. Beautiful is a word that would not do her justice. She was a goddess and she told me her name was Allatha. At first, I thought I was dreaming again, but she caressed my face and told me it was all real and that she came to save me. She was real. She laid her hands on my brow and all the fear and pain I had felt in those weeks washed away. Her touch had healed me.

“She then told me that my dreams were in fact visions of the future. The demons were real and coming to Burran. But she said she could hold the demons at bay, preventing them from killing me and destroying Burran, if I made offerings to the dark lords. If I gave valuable riches, particularly gems and jewels, it would appease the dark lords and hold the demons back. My children, or, whom I was forced to believe were my children at the time, readily agreed to help with the offer. They set up the whole operation – they organized the shipments to the manor, appraised and categorized all the valuables, and then scheduled out shipments to a place in the Dark Corner to be offered.

“Allatha also told me that I should grow a mushroom garden from spores she gave me. She said that the mushrooms would provide added protection against the dreams. When I did everything she asked, the dreams stopped. Allatha appearance were less frequent as well, occasionally, she would still come to me and talk. She always came when I started to worry about the dreams returning.

“It all made sense to me then, and now in a strange way, it makes more sense. With what you’ve told me, it was all a con job, wasn’t it?”

Roman gruffed . “It looks to be that way.”

This new information concerned Roman. He realized that they had not completely saved the mayor from danger, but only eliminated one piece of the puzzle, that being the Halflings. The mayor’s true threat was Allatha and she was still out there. Arien suggested that this woman may be the same woman as the dark elf she encountered back at the manor.

“It could be,” Roman said. “From what Gargen said, this Allatha seems to possess magical abilities.”

“Enough to use illusion and enchantment, I say,” Arien added.

“We cannot return you home, the way I had hoped,” Roman said to Gargen.

“What?” the dwarf was surprised. Actually, everyone in the room was surprised.

“The threat is still out there,” Roman said. “To return you now, would simply allow these con-men to either reclaim control over you or they run away and hide in the dark corners of Burren, waiting for a new opportunity to strike. All that we have done here will be for naught.”

“What do you have in mind?” Nolo asked.

“I have a plan to capture this Allatha and learn more about who threatens Burran and her allies. First, Morgath will return Mayor Gargen to his home. Morgath will say that he had found the Mayor in a ditch or something and helped him. Gargen will act as he had before the enchantment was removed. He will grieve for the loss of his children and worry about his dreams returning. He will worry about the demons coming. Can you do that, Gargen?”

“Yes, but I don’t…”

“Us four,” Roman interpreted, gesturing to his friends, “will stay at a safe house. Some place not too far from the manor, but secluded enough from suspicious eyes. While we are there, Gargen, you will talk to your most trusted guards and tell them the truth of the situation, perhaps Shora or Hartik. You will tell them all that has transpired and what we are planning to do.”

“Yes, Hartik,” Gargen added, nodding his head, as if he knew what Roman was planning.

“Then before nightfall, Gargen, you will send one of the people you trust to come get us. We will sneak into the manor, hide somewhere in your bedroom or close to it, and wait for Allatha to come to you. Then we will come out and capture her.”

Gargen continued to nod in approval.

“How do you know this Allatha lady will come out?” Maggie asked.

“She will,” Roman said. “Her agents are dead or gone. The mayor is distraught with grief and fear. Her control over him will appear to have waned. She will come in order to reestablish that control. She has obviously spent a lot of time and resources to create such an elaborate con, I don’t think she would be willing to give up on it that easily.”

“Well, now this all sounds fine and dandy,” Morgath interrupted, “but you’re ignoring one important part of this plan.”

“Which is?” Roman asked, though he knew the answer.

“What do I get out of all this?”

“What do you want?” Arien asked.

“You would certainly will be well rewarded, Morgath,” Gargen added.

“I have no need for money,” Morgath said. “But perhaps there is one thing. Roman, I wish to speak to you in my private office.”

“Now wait on second…” Arien stood up.

“It’s okay,” Roman said. “I’ll talk to him.”

While in the office, Morgath and Roman made a deal.

“During your account to Gargen, you mentioned a satyr named, Cyro.”

“Yes,” Roman answered.

“Now I am more than aware that the pervious deal I offered you was less than appealing, am I correct,” Morgath smirked.

Roman shrugged.

“I understand men like you have a difficult time betraying those who have helped you in the past. Allow me to amend that deal then. Instead of the troll, I want the satyr.”

Roman had to force back a chuckle. “You want the satyr? Dead or alive?”

“Oh alive. Quite alive, please.”

“Is that it?”

“If you agree to capture the satyr and bring him here, then I will gladly go along with your plan and I’ll even give you the information about that blonde warrior you may be interested in.”

“Sounds reasonable enough,” Roman agreed.

The deal was set with a shake of a hand. Roman knew this man was very dangerous.
The plan was set into motion. Morgath took Mayor Gargen home while Skye led the heroes to an abandoned home close to the manor. By dusk, a guard arrived and told the heroes to follow him.

During their walk to the manor, they came upon a courtyard that had a large fountain of a beautiful woman. Surrounding the statue were gnolls, throwing mud and waste at it. For the heroes, what the gnolls were doing was an act of evil and something had to be done to stop them. Even though the heroes didn’t recognize the statue or knew of its meaning, it needed to be protected.

The heroes jumped into battle.

View
Of Fairies and Ferrets

The heroes of Burran had vanquished the gnolls with Maggie’s final blow to their leader, cleaving his body in two with her rapier. The upper body slowly slumped down to the ground, with the squishy sounds of flesh and fluids sliding out of place. The legs and lower body stood upright for a few seconds, rocking back and forth, blood and flesh oozing out of its open maw, until it fell back and let loose the rest of its contents on the ground. Intestines, organs, and blood splattered everywhere.

“Impressive,” Roman remarked, wiping away chunks of flesh from his face.

The heroes stood silently in the court yard, to catch their breath and survey the carnage they created.

“What’s that?” Nolofinwe pointed to the statue they had just protected.

A strange fog began to belch forth from the base of the statue. There was no wind, yet its movement of its tendrils was meticulous and precise. It reached Arien and Nolofinwe first and engulfed them in thick mist.

Maggie looked over to Roman. “What is that?” she asked.

Roman only shrugged.

She slowly approached where the fog encased her friends. Tiny wisps of mist had reached her and started to encircle around her legs. She tried to kick them away. But the more she scattered the misty tendrils; the more of them appeared until she too was engulfed in the mist.

“What witchery is this?” the dwarf guard shouted. He gripped his halberd tightly and took a step away from the fog.

Roman took a step forward, unafraid, and entered the thick fog.

Each of the heroes of Burran found themselves motionless and cold within the fog. The freezing bitterness they felt grew stronger as time went on. The coldness started with shivers and then bit through their skin and dug itself into their blood and deeper yet into their bones. They could almost feel ice encasing their body. And then they felt the chill delve deeper than their body and straight to their souls. Yet, fear and pain was not at the forefront of their thoughts. Each of them sensed a feeling of serene resignation in their souls. When they finally accepted these feelings and did not fight against them, the adventurers suddenly awoke standing in the courtyard with the fog gone.

Each of the heroes had been touched by an unknown being, and each of them was blessed with a unique gift.

“What was that?” the dwarf guard asked, looking at the statue.

Roman grunted. “We should get moving and now. We’ve spent enough time here as it is.”

Arien, however, knowing she had been gifted with something, turned back to face the statue. She noticed an inscription on its base. It read: “Muerath – Watcher of the Dark Crossing.” With a humble bow, Arien spoke softly, “Thank you, my Lady.” With that, she turned to follow the others as they exited the square.

The heroes arrived back at Burran Manse, not as sneaks but as guests. It was odd for them to walk through the halls of the manor, passing guards who would salute or servants who would bow to them, when less than 48 hours ago, these same people would either run away or fight.

The dwarf guard led the heroes to Mayor Gargen Stonefellow’s bedchamber, and to their surprise, he had fallen gravely ill. His condition had worsened the morning since last. He lay in his bed, coughing black mucus. Commander Shora Craghammer and Captain Hartik Froth were there to meet the heroes and questioned their current course of action. Through Stonefellow’s coughs, gurgles, and moans, Roman elaborated his plan, but Hartik doubted the operation would work and feared that the mayor would die before morning’s light. But Shora gave the benefit of the doubt to the heroes and pointed out that, within days of their arrival, they had discovered multifaceted secrets that no one else had the slightest clue about. With hesitation, Hartik agreed to go along with the heroes’ plan.

At Roman’s request, a servant girl let him handle her pet ferret. Through the use of a ritual, taught to him by his pirate mother, Roman spoke to the ferret and gave it explicit instructions to stay hidden under the dresser, in the corner of Stonefellow’s bedchamber, and to keep watch during the night. Then Roman directed everyone else out of the room, to lay in wait in the room across the hallway.

“But how will we know this woman will come if we’re all hiding in the other room?” Hartik asked.

“The ferret will tell us,” Roman replied.

Everyone looked confused.

“I will see through the ferret’s eyes and I will hear through its ears. I will become one with it, as I am one with the beasts of the earth.” Roman cast another ritual and his senses become one with the ferret.

Throughout the evening, Nolo, Maggie, Roman, and Arien stayed hidden in a room across the hall. Arien lay down on one of the beds in the room. She was exhausted, and felt like she hadn’t slept in several days. As of lately, her sleep had been laced with nightmares that felt like they sapped part of her soul. She hoped tonight might be different, as she closed her eyes and quickly fell asleep.

While the others slept or meditated, Roman stayed vigilant and watched the inside of the mayor’s bedroom through the eyes of the tiny beast. Most of the heroes took the opportunity to rest. While they slept, Roman occasionally cleared his throat and coughed, spitting up tiny specks of black mucus. He grimaced at the realization, but said nothing.

In the middle of the night, Nolo woke from his elvish trance with the snap of his finger.

“I think I’ve got it. It might work,” he said to no one in particular. “Roman, can we go see the mayor? I think I may be able to help.”

Roman led his druid friend into the bedchamber. Nolo knelt next to Stonefellow’s bed, reached out and touched the dying dwarf. His condition had worsened with the hours. His skin was pale and sunken. His breath was painfully labored and black mucus oozed out of his mouth and nose.

“He won’t last through the hour,” Roman remarked with sadness.

Nolo ignored his barbarian friend. He began to chant in his ancient elven tongue that he learned from his clan elders and reached over to grab the dwarfs’ hand. Small greenish sparks flickered along the surface of the joined hands. As Nolo chanted, tendrils of red smoke rolled out of his mouth and slowly slithered across his arm like a snake. They passed through the spark and burst into a yellow mist with spiny legs that almost resembled a spider’s. The yellow spider-like mist walked towards Gargen’s face. Nolo’s chant became more intense. Sweat beads rolled down his face. Stonefellow started to make gurgling sounds that Roman recognized as the death rattle of those close to passing on.

The mist spider stopped at Gargen’s head. With its misty legs, it poked at the black mucus and then at his nose. It then started poking at the dwarf’s mouth. Gargen made one last breath attempt, opening his mouth wide and breathing in. More black mucus poured out, but the yellow spider was able to slip down into his lungs. The dwarf’s eyes opened and he sat up. With his free hand, Gargen grasped his throat, acting as if someone was choking him. Nolo stood up, still holding onto the mayor’s hand. His chant started to echo in the room. His eyes grew bright yellow. His hair began to rise from the power of nature coursing through him. The sound of a crack, like that of wood snapping, resonated in the room and then suddenly Gargen started to violently vomit up gallons of black mucus onto the floor at Nolo’s feet.

Mayor Gargen Stonefellow was cured.

Meanwhile, Arien awoke from another horrendous nightmare to a familiar sound.

“My lovely. Wake up. I’m here,” said the female dark elf.

View
The Witch

“It is I, my lovely.”

Arien rubbed her eyes. “Wha…what are doin’ here,” she asked quietly so as not to disturb her companions, who were sleeping nearby. The dark elf female standing at the foot of the bed blinked.

“I tried to get you to come with me before, but you didn’t follow,” she said with a sad look in her eyes.

Arien felt herself become irritated. “Actually, my friends and I did follow a bit later, and what did we get for our troubles? Locked in a room, that’s what.”

The strange drow woman looked puzzled. “What happened?” she asked.

“We got in that room where you had been, but a gate of bars came down from the ceiling and caged us in. Poor Roman nearly strained a shoulder getting us out! By the way, who are you?”

“My name is Sollene… look, I’m sorry about the incident with your friends, but you need to know that a great evil has come to Burran. That black stuff you saw come out of the mayor? That’s the work of Vermelda and her demonic forces. Allatha has been visiting the mayor nightly to keep these forces at bay, but it’s been difficult.”

Arien felt confused and uneasy. “Demonic forces—like that satyr?”

“Uh, yes, like Cyro. Arien, I need you to come with me so we can commune with Vermelda and put a stop to this,” Sollene insisted.

The word “commune” stuck out to Arien like a sore thumb. As far as she understood it, communing was not something she wanted to do with an enemy. Suspicion bloomed in her mind, though she couldn’t take her eyes off of Sollene’s beautiful face and body.

“I don’t know,” Arien hesitated. “What about my friends? Why can’t they come to help stop Vermelda?”

With a slight smile, Sollene responded, “You are special, Arien. Only you have the gifts and powers needed to take on Vermelda.”

Arien’s eyes narrowed, “How do I know I can trust you?”

Sollene spread her hands. “Well, I guess you don’t,” she offered.

It wasn’t enough. If Arien was going to leave with this woman she needed a better reassurance. Suddenly, she realized that she had a modest detection spell memorized. She had almost forgotten about it because she hadn’t used it in a long time.

Arien needed to stall for time. “Give me a minute,” she said. “I just need to check one thing for my safety…you understand.”

As Arien’s hands began to weave, Sollene backed up, startled. The half-drow sorceress began to chant in an exotic language.

“Ich liebe meine Katze, Schwarz und Weiss. Geschirrspülmaschine!”

When she finished chanting, Sollene’s body emitted a faint purple glow. It was a sign that Arien’s transmutation spell was working.

“Show me what you really look like,” Arien demanded.

Sollene hesitated. “I don’t think you’ll like what you see,” she answered.

Arien’s thoughts flew by swiftly. Why was Sollene so reluctant? Was she really an obese troll or something?

“Don’t worry,” Arien began, “I’m pretty open-minded about these things…”

But before she could finish speaking, Sollene’s drow disguise melted away before her. The creature that stood at the foot of the bed resembled a harpy without wings. Out of the thing’s mouth came a cackle and unintelligible, yet threatening words. Out of the hag’s outstretched hand came forth a ball of magical force, hitting Arien squarely in the chest. Before returning fire, Arien screamed, “Everyone, wake up!”

Then she unloaded five glowing otherworldly missiles at Sollene. Each of them found its target, and the witch hollered in pain. “You bitch!” she shrieked at Arien.

The rest of the heroes, along with the dwarf Hartik, quickly came to and joined in the fray.

Roman and Nolofinwe were stopped at the door to the room by two glowing will-o-wisps, allies of the witch. They managed to make it into the room, with Roman tackling with hag and Nolofinwe and Maggie assisting in the battle.

But though their blows struck true, the witch eventually escaped by magically disappearing. Her destruction would have to wait for another day.

View
Leadership In Question

The witch, Sollene, was gone; teleporting to parts unknown and the heroes had defeated her will-o-wisps. They had saved Mayor Gargen from whatever blight and evil plans Vermelda and her minions had for him.

When the dust settled, Roman discussed the situation with Mayor Gargen and Hartik Frothin private.

“Roman,” Gargen spoke, “you and your friends knew something was truly afoul in my household and you were the only ones willing to do something.”

Hartik huffed but said nothing.

“You saved me, Roman” Gargen continued, “even though you knew nothing about me or whether there would be any reward in doing so.”

“I did not do it for rewards or treasure,” Roman flatly responded. He began to wonder why he really did it in the first place.

“Nonetheless, my giant friend,” Gargen smiled, “You have my eternal gratitude. My house is yours, and whatever I can do to offer any assistance, all you need do is simply ask. I am at your service.”

“Sleep would be nice,” Roman said.

“Then by all means, use my bedchambers and rest.”

“I will not disgrace your room with my presence,” Roman said. “I am not worthy. Besides, you do not want my smell in your bedchamber.”

Gargen chuckled. “You are much nobler than you look, my giant friend. Very well, you and your friends can use the guest room.”

“Thank you.”

“But before you leave,” Gargen said, “There is one more matter we need to discuss. That witch is still out there and who knows what else. What do you suggest we do?”

“I would suggest you double or triple your guard patrols and keep everyone on alert. Have your guards question people and drop the names of Sollene, Cyro, and Vermelda. We want these villains to know that we know who they are, and that we are hunting them now. We want them on the run. We want them to come out of their dank, hiding hole and into the light. And once they are in the light, we pounce on them.”

After their discussion, Roman returned to his friends and the heroes took a much needed rest.

Before he fell asleep, Roman thought of all the adventures he and his friends had been through in the last few months. He wondered why his friends had made him their de facto leader. He never thought himself a leader of any kind. He knew he wasn’t very bright, intelligent, or charming; qualities he believed made a person a leader like his mother. He only did what he thought was right and if anyone followed him, then so be it. It was their choice.

When he was a pirate, his mother was his captain and he was trained to take orders without question. He was never taught to give orders, and now he had people looking to him for life and death decisions.

“What right do I have to make those decisions,” Roman thought. “Why would these people listen and follow an idiot like me? Don’t they know I’m just a buccaneer? They’ll end up dead if they keep following me, just like my mother. Sigmarus! I will find you and I will spear you through the heart. No, I will need to leave these people soon. I have found a trail that may lead to Sigmarus and I can’t ignore it. No, they can’t come with me. It’s too dangerous, and I certainly won’t allow Arien to follow me. I’m sorry, Arien, but I can’t bear the thought of Sigmarus plucking a single hair from your head. Very well then, it is decided. In a few days, after we’ve dealt with this Vermelda joke, I’ll go back to Morgath and begin my hunt for the white mask, alone.”

Roman finally fell asleep.


The heroes awoke to the loud sound of banging on the door.

“Roman!” Hartik shouted behind the door. “The city is under attack.”

Nolofinwe was the first to leap up from his meditative state. “Roman, wake up,” he said. “Something’s wrong!”

Maggie woke up with a strange tickle in her throat. She didn’t feel very well, but thought it simple fatigue from the last few days.

“No rest for the weary” Roman moaned as he got up. He wished he had a bottle of rum.

Arien stayed in bed and asleep as Roman, Nolo, and Maggie went to the door to speak with Hartik.

Hartik informed the heroes that an army of foul beasts was rampaging through the Dark Corner.

“If it wasn’t for our doubled patrols, all of Burran might have been overrun by now,” Hartik commented. “We’ve been able to contain them in the Dark Corner, but it’s taking our entire resources just do to that. We don’t know how long we can last. Buildings are on fire and there is smoke everywhere. The screams of mercy and death are deafening. Innocent people, women and children, are being slaughtered and there is very little we can do about it. We need your help.”

Nolo’s face turned pale and his expression stone cold. Flashbacks of his family’s massacre replayed in his mind. He ignored the pain of his bleeding, clenched fist. For Roman, he heard the roar of the tiger and felt his heart beating at triple the normal pace. The image of the triangle of vengeance burned in his mind’s eye. It was time for him to fulfill his dark oath of death.

“What are we waiting for?” Maggie sang, twirling her rapier. “Let’s go kill ’em all.”

“Oh Roman,” Arien finally spoke up, breaking everyone’s train of thought. She slowly pulled herself up out of bed. “I don’t know if I can go. I’m so tired. I didn’t get any rest and I don’t think I have much power in me.”

“What do you mean?” Roman asked.

“The last couple days, I’ve had these horrific nightmares. They seem so real. They give me no rest and I can’t regain my powers because of them,” Arien confessed.

“Roman, what do we do?” Nolo asked.

Again, Roman questioned to himself why these people sought his council, but he let it pass.

“It sounds like you are afflicted by the same curse as Gargen was. If that’s the case, then there is only one person I know who might be able to help…again,” Roman said with a grimace. He hated the idea of having to make yet another deal.

“Morgath,” Nolo whispered.

“Yes, him,” Roman confirmed.

“But if he’s in the Dark Corner…” Nolo started saying.

“Then maybe he’ll need help,” Roman finished for Nolo.

“Then let’s go,” Maggie piped with a wicked smirk across her face. “My rapier is thirsty.”

The heroes gathered their things and headed out to the Dark Corner.


When the four heroes arrived to the Dark Corner, they discovered that Hartik did not exaggerate.

The slums burned and smoke covered the tops of buildings like a thick shroud. All around them, they heard the constant screams of men, woman, and children, the clash of steel upon steel, the breaking of glass, the crumbling of buildings, and the ever continuous explosions. The streets were littered with the dead and ran red with blood. It was a war zone.

“Well, ain’t this place charming,” Maggie commented.

“Did I underestimate Vermelda?” Roman whispered to himself, as he surveyed the carnage.

“They listened to me. They followed me and this is what I wrought upon Burran. I am no captain; no leader. I am only a harbinger of death and destruction. What have I done?” Roman heard the tiger roar in anger and he almost lost his control.

A touch on his shoulder broke him out of the coming rage. It was Nolo. “Roman, you alright? You seemed…distant there for a moment.”

Roman nodded.

“I wonder if Zufem is alright,” Nolo said.

“I’m sure he’s fine,” Roman said. “He’s tough and can handle himself. Besides, he’s a troll. You think you’ve killed him, he’ll just grow back again.”

“Trolls can do that?” Maggie asked.

Roman just rolled his eyes.

“You think we could check up on him after Morgath?” Nolo inquired.

“Maybe,” was Roman’s only response. He thought about enlisting the aid of the troll, if they were able to find him, but quickly remembered that Zufem was a lazy bastard and probably couldn’t be bothered.

The heroes tried to sneak through the slum to avoid any unnecessary fights, but weren’t as successful as they wanted to be. They encountered a group of vile goblins and bugbears, which the heroes quickly dispatched. But Roman knocked out and captured one of the goblin leaders. He thought perhaps the thing could be a gift to Morgath, after the two of them interrogated the little beast.

When the four companions arrived to Morgath’s home, they discovered the front door ajar. Cautiously, they approached and entered the house and found three bodies in the entrance corridor. The first was a dead carcass of a strange hybrid creature with the body of a bird of prey and the head of a stag. The second was the bloody corpse of a gnoll. The third was the motionless body of Skye.

Arien quickly rushed in and knelt down next to Skye’s body. Arien fought back tears. Her friend was dead. She noticed puncture wounds on Skye’s neck and her body felt cold to the touch.

Nolo investigated the three bodies and realized that the bird creature and the gnoll had probably died long before Skye. It seemed odd to him. “What happened to Skye?” he thought.

“Mags and Nolo, look around the place,” Roman ordered. “Hopefully, Morgath is still alive and around here somewhere.”

While Roman stayed in the entrance corridor, Nolo and Maggie split up to investigate the house. Arien picked up her friend’s body and carried it to a guest room. She laid the corpse down onto a bed and cleaned the blood off of her friend’s stiff face and combed her hair.

Suddenly, the front door burst open and an abominable creature stood at the entrance with a snarl. It was a giant, blue-black furred panther with six legs and two tentacles from its shoulders. But what nearly threw Roman into an involuntary rage, were the three duergars that stood behind the giant panther, ready for battle.

“Nolo!” Roman shouted, “We got guests and I’m gonna need your healing!”

View
Who Let the Dogs Out?

Roman rushed into the living room, threw the body of the goblin across the room, and hid against the wall next to the entrance corridor. The displacer beast had not noticed the heroes and Roman hoped the beast and the duergar would lose interest and leave. Maggie hid on the opposite side of Roman; her rapier drawn and ready for action. Arien disappeared into the other room and ran upstairs. “Good,” Roman thought. “If we have to fight, I don’t want her involved. She’s too weak for this.”

Nolofinwe snuck up to Roman and, as silently as possible, whispered a prayer to his Mother Earth for healing. “Mháthair leigheas an lucht créachtaithe.” His hands glowed green as he placed them on Roman. The barbarian felt a surge of purity and strength flow through his body. His bruises and cuts miraculously healed and disappeared.

At that moment, the displacer beast cautiously strode into the living room, sniffing the air. Its tentacles slithered above its back like hovering snakes. Multiple spikes at the tip of the tentacles were covered in dried blood; a sign of a recent kill. But what made this panther-like beast unnerving wasn’t the extra pair of legs or the tentacles, but rather its shimmering appearance. The displacer beast’s ability to project an illusion, that of multiple, shifting reflections of itself, was a natural defense. It made it difficult for the heroes to focus on the creature.

The three heroes held their breath and stood motionless.

“Shoo, big kitty,” Maggie thought to herself.

The beast slowly lifted its head and turned to Nolo, locking eyes on the druid. Its tentacles whipped out and struck the elf. He fell to one knee in pain.

Roman roared. He leapt out of his shadow and attacked the beast. The tiger was loose. “You will not hurt my friends!” he bellowed. He slashed the six-legged panther. It snarled at the raging human, saliva oozing out of its clenched fangs.

Maggie jumped out of her hiding spot and stabbed the beast, but it ignored her. Its sole focus was on its true rival – the raging tiger of a man. Tentacles slithered and whipped around the barbarian, seeking weak points. Roman twirled his glaive to defend himself, while trying to find openings to reach the body of the panther-like creature. The two feral animals furiously fought for dominance.

Nolo was badly hurt. He grabbed hold of his necklace totem and made a short prayer: “Chun an marc Guí mé, leigheas do sheirbhíseach.” His body radiated in a green aura and his wounds began to heal. He felt the energy and courage of a bear surge through his body. He jumped back up and ran to a corner of the room.

Roman and the six-legged panther fought on; their speed and brute strength was blinding and brutal. The slithering tentacles continuously struck Roman as he slashed at the beast. But Roman was at a disadvantage; the beast’s illusionary images made it difficult for him to focus on exactly where to strike. He noticed a piece of furniture move somewhere to the left of him. His instincts knew what was coming. He had dealt with such things before, but dared not to lose his concentration on the displacer beast. Roman knew things were going to get ugly for him and his friends.

All of a sudden, three dwarf-sized duergars appeared in the room. They had used their natural ability to turn invisible, snuck in the room, and placed themselves, strategically, around the heroes. One stood before Nolo, trapping him in the corner. Another appeared next to Roman where he had seen furniture move. The final duergar materialized in front of Maggie, blocking her from the displacer beast.

The appearance of the duergars made Nolo instantly react. He smacked the butt of his staff on the floor and a wave of thunderous force radiated outwards around him. The whole house shook followed by a loud boom. Chairs, tables, paintings, and anything else not bolted down, flew across the room. But the spell’s force had little effect on the duergars or the displacer beast. It even hit Roman, but he, like the duergars, shrugged off the spell.

The duergars’ surprises were not finished. Without warning, the duergar next to Roman began to grow in size. He magically grew from a four-foot tall dwarf to a ten-foot giant. His body nearly took up a third of the room; his head almost hitting the roof. Roman briefly stopped his assault on the displacer beast, turned to look at the giant, and sighed in resignation. The large druergar swung his mighty warhammer and walloped the barbarian against the wall, leaving a huge hole. The house shook again. When the dust and rubble settled, Roman stood before the giant and the monstrous panther; his body bloody, bruised, and nearly broken. The raging tiger roared and Roman leapt back into the fray against the oversized duergar and displacer beast.

The battle raged on.

Roman fought valiantly, but he knew that he was no match for both the displacer beast and the giant duergar. Maggie tried to run away and hide from the duergar that hunted her, but he followed suit and would not lose sight of his prey. The duergar that cornered Nolo had severely wounded him. Nolo didn’t stand a chance against the dwarf. Roman felt fury; Maggie felt fear; and Nolo felt desperation.

Nolo sensed the impending doom upon him and his companions. Was all to be lost in this moment? Were their adventures at an end? Is this how the heroes of Burran, the heroes of Xymor, were to end? No. Hope was not lost, especially for those of faith. For men like Nolo, hope was just as deadly a weapon as the sharpest blade. For him, hope could never truly be killed as long as true believers held on with all their might, and he held on to that hope.

The duergar bashed Nolo in the shoulder and the druid was gone.

Nolo saw himself in the woods of his clan. It was night and the full moon shone brightly through the leaves of the trees. The air was chilly and silence surrounded the young wood elf. He was alone with no light, weapon, or food. And then he saw the wolf. It was a noble creature; strong, mighty, and fearsome. It snarled at Nolo. The would-be druid wanted to run away, but his father, Angrod, had taught him not to be afraid but to be respectful. “Nature is not the enemy – the enemy is the intentions of men,” he heard his father say. Nolo knelt on one knee and bowed his head to the wolf. The noble creature stopped snarling. It cocked its head and started to wag its tail. Nolo saw that instead of suspicion in the wolf’s eyes, he saw joy. The noble creature leapt towards the kneeling wood elf.

Nolos opened his eyes and quickly dodged the duergar’s warhammer. He then realized he was in the middle of a spell and spoke the last incantation: “A ligean ar na madraí amach!”

All around the room there appeared large, bright blue portals crackling with mystical energies. Everyone stopped fighting, surprised by the sudden appearance of the strange gateways. The duergar next to Nolo slowly approached a portal, his face only inches from the magical, oval-shaped sphere.

Nolo smirked and whispered, “Attack.”

The duergar didn’t know what hit him. He found himself on the ground, contending with a large, rose-colored, ethereal fey in the shape of a wolf, attempting to tear off his arm. Blood sprayed everywhere as the wolf sunk its teeth deeper into the duergar’s arm, coloring the wolf’s fur a deeper crimson-red. The wolf relished the taste of the dwarf’s blood and flesh, and snarled in ecstasy.

Out of each portal leapt a similar, wolf-shaped fey which in turn attacked the other duergars and displacer beast.

The six-legged panther was no match for the fey wolves. One jumped over the panther’s body, snapping at the tentacles and pinning them to the ground. Another wolf rushed in and cruelly tore open the displacer beast’s neck. The wolf buried its muzzle down the panther’s throat, attempting to eat it from the inside-out.

Three more wolves pounced on the giant and knocked him to the ground with a loud thud. Again, the house shook. They then proceeded to tear out his gut; gory entrails and spongy organs splattered and flew across the room. It was a feeding frenzy and the wolves loved it. The giant screamed for mercy, realizing he was being eaten alive, but no mercy was given. The duergar gurgled his final breath and died in agony.

The duergar that hunted Maggie wasn’t as lucky as his comrades. One wolf grabbed a hold of the dwarf’s arm, pinning him for a moment. Another wolf bit down on the duergar’s groin and began to chomp its way up the dwarf’s mid-section, relishing the taste of flesh and fear. The duergar howled in pain, realizing he was being eaten alive like his giant friend, but more slowly. Even for Maggie, this was a disturbing sight. Yet for a few seconds, she watched the suffering, writhing dwarf with a sick glee. But eventually, she had enough. She granted the duergar mercy and pierced him through the heart.

Roman saw that there was still one duergar still alive. He reacted before the wolves had a chance to finish him off. He rushed in and knocked the dwarf out.

“Hold,” Nolo shouted and the wolves stopped their assault. They looked towards their master, covered in blood and gore, wagging their tails.

The three heroes sighed in relief and took in much needed breaths. The battle was over. It would seem fate was not done with them yet.

Arien with nary a scratch on her, appeared, carrying two books. She surveyed the carnage and gasped, “Is everything alright?”

Roman, badly beaten and bruised, shook his head and rolled his eyes. He took a deep breath to calm himself.

“Can I keep one?” Maggie asked Nolo, while playing with the pack of fey wolves. “They’re so cute.”

“They will need to go back home in an hour or so,” Nolo responded, rubbing his shoulder. “Besides, I’m not sure they’d make good house pets.”

The sound of a slow clap interrupted the heroes. They turned around and saw Morgath causally standing in the hallway, unhurt.

“Nicely done,” he said.

“Where the hell were you?” Roman asked.

“In my secret chambers. Come. This isn’t the first time they attacked and they will be back,” Morgath gestured for the heroes to follow.

“Morgath!” Arien interjected, with a pained expression on her face. “Skye – she’s…”

“Dead, yes, I know.” Morgath interrupted nonchalantly. “Ah, well, there will be others.”

At this response, Arien’s mouth dropped open. She didn’t know what to say.

Morgath looked at Roman. “Come.” He gestured again.

“Wait,” Roman said. “Nolo, pick up the goblin. I’ll carry the duergar.”

“Yes, bring them,” Morgath said. “They may be tasty.”

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Into the Basement

A long time ago in a land far, far away…

Roman, Arien, Maggie and Nolofinwe stood among the dead duergars and displacer beast as Morgath Gravesend nonchalantly offered them asylum. The heroes followed him in his study, toting both an unconscious duergar and goblin for later questioning. Morgath pulled at a combination of books on his shelf and mumbled arcane words under his breath to open a secret spiral staircase leading down. Before the heroes of Burran could descend, he made them promise not to touch anything. They all agreed, with Roman being the most hesitant.

At the bottom of the stairs they discovered several beings emaciated and chained to the walls. One was Carsa Stonefellow, whom they traded to Morgath earlier. The other was a blonde human that Roman assumed to be the one mentioned by Haldo. They noted that they all had puncture wounds, which indicated to them that Morgath was a vampire, and this is buffet.

Once safely at the bottom, the heroes requested that Morgath remove the curse from Arien that was similar to Mayor Gargen Stonefellow’s. They also related their encounter with Sollene and her morphing into a horrible hag. Morgath promised to heal Arien, relate further information about hags and allow them a night’s rest in his chambers, as long as they went back to The Krypt and returned with food and water for his “pets.” In addition, he wanted a bottle of fine wine and hard cheese he had stashed. Roman nearly refused, worrying that Arien would be too exhausted for the trip. But Morgath offered her to stay with him while the rest of the group headed out. Roman balked at the idea, but Morgath assured the barbarian of his lover’s safety. Roman, Maggie and Nolofinwe headed out to the Krypt. The Dark Corner was in ruins from the vicious assault of vile creatures of the depths of Burran.

Meanwhile, Morgath offered Arien comforts, but made her promise to keep a secret until her companions left his home. Arien promised to keep the secret in return for Morgath providing them solace for additional nights. Morgath agreed and opened a vault in the floor. A sarcophagus rose from it. Morgath opened a side drawer and pulled out pillows and blankets for Arien before it slipped back into the floor. Morgath then tried to offer Arien to replace Skye as his companion. In return, she would be able to shed the shackles of mortality. Arien refused and brushed the vampire away to get some much needed rest.

Back on the streets, the heroes encountered two bird-like perytons. The creatures didn’t notice them, but flew down an alleyway where Zufem lived. As the companions silently moved through the streets, they heard sounds of battle down the alley. They crept closer to find Zufem battling the perytons, along with gnolls and goblins. Several of the fell beasts were already killed, but the troll looked to be exhausted. The heroes rushed to the rescue, helping Zufem eventually destroy all the creatures, except one peryton that flew away…

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