Sword of Ruin

From the Beginning of Time through the Storm Century

But of course I can tell the Story, what do you take me for? Do you not see the mark of Brightnail on my chest, do you not hear the song on my lips? Ach, pass me that flagon and I will say the words. We are all travellers, and it is good to return to the beginning when we can. And push those sugared figs a bit closer, my dear. Now, let me see, let me see — ah, yes, I have it — just as it has been spoken by the members of my order, just as old Prago told me when I was small.

Before Time, we do not speak.

But then the first minutes washed up on the shores of the dark ocean, and a story blinked its eyes and brushed sand out of its hair. We can hear its voice even now, we listen carefully to the quiet groan of the earth, the sky, the jangle of stars in the black belly of night. We tell the Story as it tells us.

At first there were only Two. Father Order and Mother Chaos found themselves here, on tumblr_mwq90d4TZF1sppixgo1_500.jpgthis simple globe. The Story does not know if they were born here or if they came from the dark ocean, but suffice it to say that in the first minutes they were here and it was a Beginning.

And they danced.

Mother Chaos would break and tear as fast as her dark hands could move and Father Order would build and mend just as quickly. Father Order would raise tumblr_mwq90d4TZF1sppixgo1_500great towers and shining bridges with his bright hands and Mother Chaos would laugh and shatter and bring them all tumbling down.

And for a time, it was enough.

But then the Two grew bored.

“It is so lonely here,” Mother said. ” So flat and empty. I grow weary of breaking the same towers day after day.”

“As I grow weary of building the same towers,” Father grumbled. “I’m guessing that you have a suggestion.”

Mother grinned “Yes, of course I do. Let’s play a game.”

“A game?” Father mused. “What kind of game?”

“A Game of Making! Together we can fill this world with all sorts of interesting things. We’ll take turns! It requires both of us to create, but we can take turns and see who makes the most interesting thing.”

Father Order scratched his nose and grinned. He was certain that Mother wanted to trick him in some way, but it was a grand idea nonetheless. Chaos saw the excitement in his eyes and skipped in for a quick kiss before they began.

The Two joined their hands and began to make. Order and Chaos met and the first living things drew breath. The first plants and the first insects, lichen and moss, fish and fowl, claw and talon, feather and hide. Father and Mother took great delight in the making, growing ever more inventive in their competition, endless variety in the nature of their creations. And in the heart of everything that lives an equal measure of Chaos and Order, the gift of the Creators.

And for a time, it was enough.

But then Father and Mother created People.

They had many shapes and sizes, many bends and ways — different races and faces and gazes, but still all the same, all People. One strange accident made them different than all the breathing things that had come before — or one careful trick that Mother Chaos had laid carefully across the long Time of Making, a tiny tip of the scales. Where before their children had shared equal measure of Order and Chaos – People had a little more of one, and a little less of the other. They gravitated ever so slightly towards rhythm or ruin — and since they were created last, they were the most intelligent, the most elaborate — perfect pieces for a new game.

Mother Chaos crowed with delight and Father Order frowned.

Father freed his hands and sighed. “I’m afraid this last batch is no good, they will be nothing but trouble.”

“No, they are perfect,” Mother insisted. “See, some of them are building away — they are your children, just as mine are blithely breaking and shattering. New dancers, new pieces for the game, they are wonderful.”

“Yes, some of them are quite industrious, and I’ve already been surprised at some of the things they’ve built,” Father sighed with regret. “But they must be destroyed. They are ever-changing and mercurial, see! Those over there have have fallen to you and are setting fire to the tall grass — and those over there have stopped breaking rocks and started building houses. What good are pieces that change sides? No, no – they must be destroyed.”

And Father Order raised his hand to end the People, and found Mother Chaos’ hand raised to thwart him. They locked eyes and the First Argument began.

A century of storms, tireless, ceaseless battle. The first People did their best to weather it and provide shelter to all of the other creations — though many of them were lost, obliterated by the tireless wrath of Mother and Father.

And thus our world would have remained, if not for one clever child and one stupid goat.

Ah, this is my favorite part. Drown my flagon again if you please, I don’t want to pause when I continue. Oh no! Can my plate of figs already be empty?

Talespinner Marxo, Cleric of Seto, Idolobha

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The Coupling through the Ash Eon

Silence, child. It would serve you well to heed my tale. This is not some idle tale shared at a campfire or doused in taphouse ale. This is the Story, and you will tell it back to me word for word tonight when we take our evening meal, or you shall feel my hand.

Heed. Mark. And remember.

And so the Century of Storm wore on, and the People were afraid. Afraid that Father Order would triumph and they would be wiped from the face of existence. Or that the Argument itself would consume their tiny hovels and they would be lost to the wind. They prayed to their Creators, but their words could not reach the Two, they were utterly consumed by battle. The People waited for the end.

But then, one day, a Human child got lost chasing his family’s herd. A ewe, with fur as black as night, climbed a steep cliff into a hidden mountain pass. The child knew that he would be beaten if he returned home without the full flock, and in desperation climbed after the ram. His hands were cut by the sharp rocks and his knees were scraped and torn by the cruel stone. The winds began to pick up and his breath steamed against the blank mountainside. A storm was nigh, a storm was always nigh in those times. But his desperation drove him on and he climbed higher and higher chasing the beast.

The child did not know that he and his sheep were climbing the Forbidden, the secret mountain where Father and Mother made us all.

At last the child found his quarry, bleating and crying on the edge of a cliff, a knife-edge of stone. He laid his hands on her black wool and wept with relief, but he quickly realized that the pain of birthing was upon her. She could not be moved in her condition, the child had to help bring forth her lamb or flee empty-handed. The child looked up at the sky and saw the rain, saw the fire, but could not bring himself to leave his charge.

The rain began to fall. The fire began to fall. Still the child kept his hands on the weary ewe and did his best to cover her with his own. The ewe bleated and strained and struggled to bring a new life into a world. The child wept in despair and felt the fire hot on his back.

Now, there are some that say the child’s tears were what caught the attention of Father and Mother. And there are some that say it was merely that he trespassed the Forbidden. And other still claim that it was some sort of Human trick. But suffice it to say, Order and Chaos stood and looked at the child and his beast, and stopped their struggle long enough that the young lamb could be born.

“Look,” said Mother. “The Things We Made can make themselves. How strange! Was that your idea or mine?”

“I…am not sure,” Father Order said. “Another accident, surely it was your doing.”

“My doing?” Chaos raised her hand to strike her mate. “Why does everything have to be –”

“Please,” said the child. “Please, no more.”

And Order and Chaos turned from their argument to listen to the child, who approached with a newborn lamb held securely in his arms.

“My ewe is dead. She died giving birth. She gave everything that her child could live. How is it that a rude beast on the edge of a cliff has more care for her children than the creators of us all?” The child blinked away tears and stared unafraid at the two gods.

The gods were not ashamed.

“How dare you question us?” Order demanded.

“We are the Beginning and End, the Eye of the Storm.” Chaos declared.

“We do as we wish. We are as we wish. You are a child and your judgement is limited and small, a pebble next to a mountain,” the Two said together. “We have filled this world with wonder and life. All that walk and breathe and fly and swim are here at our will.”

“I see,” the child said. “You have filled the world with many creatures and many People. But you have put no part of yourself into it. You have no true children. This is why you care not for our plight.”

The child gently placed the lamb down and watched it totter about on tender legs. Then an idea came to him and he turned his face again to the Creators, Human cunning and guile as natural to him as breathing.

“Perhaps if you had True Children, you would understand. You could still your endless battle and let your creations grow and multiply. A shame it is that you continue to wage war, when your greatest Making is yet to be.”

Father looked at Mother and Mother smiled.

Chaos leaned down and kissed the child on his brow, and ruffled the newborn wool of the lamb.

“Go child. Tell the People that we do care for their plight, and your sly words have stilled our rage. You have given us an Idea, and in return the People shall have a time of peace while we consider it.”

And so the child took his lamb and climbed back down the fountain as fast as his legs would carry him. He bore the tale of his meeting to all the People, and they watched the Forbidden with hope and fear. For the storms at last fell still, but many were not sure that they had seen the end of the time of ruin.

Years passed, and still the people waited. Crops were planted, and cities began to rise. Children and lambs were born, and after a time the People began to dream that the gods had forgotten them, and would leave them in a time of forever peace.

But it was not to be. At last their came a Time. The sun and the moon stopped still in the air, and shared the sky like two empty eyes. The People and the beasts of the world felt a strange compulsion, and all began to walk – to journey until they all stood arrayed around the feet of the Forbidden. The first moment since the Time of Making when all of the Created stood together in one place.

And they waited. For a year and a day they waited.

Then all at once, a breath.

The Four came down from the mountain, strange of visage but somehow familiar to all who saw. Sun and Sky and Stone and Sea, the Four stood together at the foot of the mountain with all of Creation waiting for their words.

“We are the Four,” Sun said.

“The true children of Father and Mother,” Stone said.

“They are gone, withdrawn from this world,” Sky said.

“Their power and might bequeathed to us,” Sea said.

“Now come forth,” the Four spoke together. “Come forth and choose. For we have decided upon our first Game. One of us is greater than the others, one of us must reign. You will be our army, you will be our pawns. Choose a master, that the Game may begin.”

And the child, who was now a man, opened his mouth to speak — but found himself struck dumb. His words, his Idea had brought this to pass. And all that would follow after was to be laid at his feet, and the feet of his children’s children down the long unwinding of Time. He looked down at the trusty black ram that lead his flock, the same lamb that he had carried from the Forbidden all those years ago. With a sigh he took a knife and opened the ram’s throat, to spare him the horror that was just beginning.

And so began the Ash Eon. The time of endless battle, of cataclysm and pain. The suffering and sorrow of the Storm Century multiplied and compounded. The ceaseless, tireless clash of the Sun against Stone, the Sea against Sky, and each against the other. Generations of the people were born and died, knowing only the endless war, the endless smell of burning in the air, the tireless rain of ash.

A thousand years of ruin, all from one human’s clever idea.

Now remember these words, little human. You will speak them true tonight, say them right and clear or you will feel my hand.

Heed. Mark. Remember.

- Prose Willow, Cleric of Banu, Yellowdale

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The Truce through the First Imperial Age

And so we burned. We fought. We bled.

We danced to the dark flute of the gods. A thousand years of war.

All blamed on us, all laid at the feet of every human that survived.

The armies of the gods fought endlessly — the worst devastation of all when one of the Four would walk the fields of slaughter themselves. What mortal can stand against Sun, against Stone? The planet would have burned to a cinder, all of the People and every beast eradicated if not for the gods’ ‘mercy’. They kept us alive, each sheltered their own — their power kept us alive to continue the fight, to keep the fires burning.

That is when this planet found a name. Cynus. In the old tongue, it means ‘ashes.’

And in every army, we were the footsoldiers — the first to bleed. Humans were to blame, so each army saved a special ration of pain for our race. If not for our cunning, our adaptability, our will — there last drop of human blood would long since have been spilled on the dry ground.

But we are cunning. We can change. Our will is strong. And after a thousand years, at long last, one of our race arose to save us all. Us, and all the People of this world.

Her name was Bex. The most gifted wizard of the age, she rose through the ranks due to her wisdom and great power. Even in those days, the People would put aside their hatred if the need was great. After many years of battle, she finally found her way to the ear of Marrus, God of the Sky. Our Lord of Winds is the most clever and cunning of his siblings, then as now, and he listened eagerly to the wizard’s words when she spoke of a grand trick. A ruse that would bring his enemies to heel, at a place of his choosing, totally defenseless.

And so it came to pass. The word went out to the armies of the Four, a great meeting would be held at the Cloud-King’s behest. A truce! A chance to speak in safety for the first time in long centuries. Perhaps, the People dared to hope, an end to the endless war.

Each of the Four came to the agreed upon place, the Vale of Maranth. They each were suspicious, but also eager to turn this meeting to their advantage. The Four arrived in the Vale, and took their seats in four stone chairs prepared for the purpose.

Marrus and his servant, Bex, were the last to arrive. The God of Sky tittered slightly as he slid into his seat. “Welcome, sisters and brother! I am so glad to see you here, at this place of peace.”

“Is is good to see you,” Lady Sun agreed. “Good to see you all.”

“Yes, it has been lonely so long apart,” Sea smiled.

Stone said nothing.

“Yes, good to see you here, all comfortable in your stone chairs. The stone chairs my servant has prepared for you. The stone chairs that now hold you bound and trapped forevermore!” Sky laughed with glee, slapping his hands on arms of his chair.

Sun, Stone, and Sea seethed with rage and bellowed. The mountains and plains of the entire globe rang with their furor. Sky continued to laugh at his siblings ire.

He laughed until he tried to get out of his chair.

“Yes,” Bex said stepping calmly into the center of her trap. “You are trapped too, Cloud-King.”

“How dare you?” the Zephyr Trickster laughed ruefully. “Really, how did you do this?”

“Yes, speak quickly before we tear you apart, worm,” Jocasta murmured. “Speak quickly.”

“You cannot harm me,” the wizard said. “You are bound to my power. Of your own free will you came, of your own will you sat in my chairs of stone. Your might is caught. You cannot move, you cannot strike. If it is my wish, I will leave you here until the Unwinding of Time. Bitter, impotent, and bound.”

“I will swallow you for this,” Banu of the Black Water howled. “I will drown you and your race, your bones will waft in my waves. I sleep in your blood and will pull you down —”

“Enough,” Bex said, and the gods fell silent. “It is not my wish to bind you here. You are necessary to this world, to lock you away would only bring a slow ruin. I have brought you here to talk of Truce. You must withdraw from the fields of this world, you must agree to a Code to govern your endless game. You do not feel as the firstborn creatures of Cynus, you know nothing of heartache or sorrow. But I plead with you to hear me now, to feel one tenth of the pain you have husbanded in the creatures that fill your armies. Look upon what you have wrought and relent.”

And the gods heard her prayer. They looked one to the other, and one by one they each dropped their head in assent.

The gods and their captor spoke for many days. A careful Truce was laid, and the laws inscribed in the very fabric of reality. All of the the People waited and hoped. At last, Bex came from the Vale, alone but with a weary smile.

And then, what a time of celebration there was! That the hated blood of humanity should be the one to broker the peace was a marvel. Despised soldiers and battered slaves were welcomed into every hall, all of the People hailed the cleverness and wit of the Human.

And so it was that Bex united the great armies and lead the new Council in all matters. She taught the People of the laws that even the gods must follow, and how it could all lead to a true Balance in their world. The gods’ followers now found their deities more remote, more difficult to contact — but no less powerful when their might was brought to bear.

There followed a great time of peace, where our race, humanity, could finally take their place in pride with all of the others. We were counselors, advisors, knights, merchants, nobles. The wizard Bex had paid our debt and we were eager to move forward.

We meant so well.

But we are cunning. We can change. Our will is strong. And as we tasted the first sips of power, we found it sweet on our tongues. And so with slow patience and eager wit we found our way to it.

Was it any surprise that our cunning would again betray? That in the wake of peace and emancipation we would walk with careful step toward dominion, toward Empire?

Ah me. What fools we humans are!

- Galad Voss, Cleric of Marrus

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Catching the Scent
The Hounds arrive in Callimaco and begin their search for the illusive thief.

Scene One : On the Road
The travelers arrive on the outskirts of Callimaco at dusk, where they are briefly accosted by an enterprising gremlin who charges a toll for passage. To everyone’s surprise, Janus pays the creature’s fee [concealing the two party members inside the wagon] and the gremlin departs with it’s ill-gotten gil.

Arriving in Callimaco, they are briefly interrogated by a guard, Sally Crumble. She gives them directions to the Boarding House and the Pancake, the only two establishments open at night – and instructs Doctor Pendle-Bay that he will need Ephraim Mining certification to trade in the town.

The boarding house is un-exciting but clean, and the frazzled host Talley Gorightly makes them feel welcome. A pleasant trip to the boisterous tavern, the Pancake results in two new contacts, the proprieter Brian Cactus and a local miner, Vick Libra. The hounds learn that a very ‘friendly human’ matching Zed’s description was in town several days past, and showed a great deal of interest in the miner’s emotional health — as well as their knowledge of the Adamant Mine and a specific, near-abandoned tunnel known as the Blue Mile.

Scene Two: First Morning in Calico
The next morning, the other guests of the Boarding House are briefly seen. A half-orc scholar and a very reserved human wizard, Felice Randall. Janus approached her briefly, but was quickly rebuffed.

Later that morning, a visit was paid to the Temple of Jocasta. Three acolytes were being thoroughly whipped for slipping out the previous evening without permission by the stern and cruel, Davan Marlowe. Varvara requested admittance to the temple of her goddess and was forced to display her divine connection before the cleric begrudgingly allowed her entrance.

A short visit to the EM Facility allowed the party to trade in some of their gil for the local currency, Ephraim Mining Tokens — as well as speak with the foreman, Pegwin Bottle about Doc’s market plans.

The rest of the afternoon was split between a quick visit to the Market — and a proposition from Wizard Randall. She has discovered a sealed vault or crypt, belonging to the Maygrim family — that requires the touch of a ‘true servant of Jocasta’ to open. She implores the aid of Varvara and plans are made for the party to accompany her after dark to explore the vault.

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The Bright Empire through the Thistledown Revolt

I am as you have made me. From the earth and the stone, the blood in my heart is your blood. The quiet in my head is the mountain’s silence. I speak now only to teach what you would have me teach.

Humanity saved the People from centuries of death and battle. All was forgiven. With open arms and eager hearts we welcomed the humans into our lives, eager to see where their wit and ambition would lead us.

It lead us to the lash, it lead us to the steelbolt collar around our necks. It lead us to Empire.

Humans do not breed as fast as the ratfolk or the naga, but they make up for that with ceaseless effort. Their hands never tire of building new things, their eyes never cease looking for the next opportunity, and no other of the People are as quick to abandon their morals or their creed if profit is in the offing. After the Eon of Cinders, a Council was formed, lead by our savior, the wizard Bex. Humans were quick to press this advantage, in only a generation ten human families had grown to hold unprecedented power in the young lands the People were carving for themselves.

Ten families that would grow to become great merchants, then the nobility, then the royal blood of our oppressors. And one bloodline among them was greater still, the cursed family called Bright.

Even now there are many tales of this family, a family of mighty heroes. All lies, of course, the ill-reflection of the first Emperor’s light shining into the past to aggrandize his forebears. But they were the first to unite the great cities of Cynus, the first to put the crown on their heads, the first to put their boot on the necks of the People.

We served at the beck and call of human masters. Races that they found comely were kept in foul bondage as concubines and bond-slaves, races they found not to their liking were shut out and hunted, and dubbed ‘monsters’. We prayed in our pain to the Balance, but the gods act as they will and waited many long years before they sent our deliverance.

He was a simple farmer. A half-orc, like me. His family was killed by Imperial power, a blade buried in his back he fell to the earth to bleed out his final moments, just as many had fallen to the arrogance and cruelty of the humans.

But he did not die. My Lady of Stone lent her grace and his wounds closed. He pulled the sword from his own chest and stood up amongst the ashes of his lands.

Thistledown. Our savior, the Undying One. The one to lead the People, to pick us up from our bended knees and show us the path to our freedom.

And so it began, the Revolt. Small at first, like tiny sparks in the dry forest — but they spread and grew into a mighty inferno. We shook the pillars of heaven with our wrath, and pulled down the Brights and all the Great Houses of humanity. We sowed the fields of our world with human blood and reaped a harvest of liberty. We did not slaughter every human that we could find, though perhaps we should have. They are a vile race.

And so the Second Empire began, with Thistledown as our new Emperor – guided by a true Council of the People, as it was always meant to be.

And for a time peace was ours.

For a time.

I speak these words as you would wish, Jocasta of the Sand. Let the knowledge pass from me to the next, that these things never shall be forgotten.

-Davan Marlowe, Cleric of Jocasta

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The Mandrake's Letter

You did it!
Followed my trail without error and have found your way here, to this tiny room in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know who you are, but I honestly feel a warm glow of appreciation for you at this moment. Did you encounter many dangers tracking me down? I hope no one died!
I don’t know what Talbot told you, what sob story she crammed in your ears. I’m guessing some fa la la about the robbery and this minor, unimportant family heirloom of no particular value. Ha ha ha…don’t you hate it when people write out their laughter?
So here’s the compact — I’m guessing you were promised a tidy sum of gold to find me and bring back the amulet, well here’s my counter-offer. Take this gold and treasure and we part ways here, no worse for wear, and the finest of friends.
But if you cross me, if you decide to follow me — well, then you are a most unpleasant sort. Friendship rescinded. If you refuse my most gentlemanlike offer, then I am afraid if we ever meet I will treat you all like villains.
But I hope not! Enjoy Talbot’s gold and throw down a pint or two for me.
With much love and utmost respect,
Z

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The Eye of the Storm

After a fierce battle with ham and tolberry, where Rosemary was incapacitated due to her allergies to the delicious jam, our adventurers collect themselves and leave the tavern in search of the Eye of the Storm with hopes of finding the Sword of Ruin. It is a relatively straight path so armed with Mantel’s knowledge and discoveries; they quickly arrive at the Agnes Warehouse. The adventurers are suddenly filled with a feeling of utter nothingness; as if the area was completely void of life; the grass, while appearing normal, turns to ash at the slightest breath, and even the wind is silent.

Upon entering the warehouse, they find themselves confronted with what looks to be a snapshot in time, two dwarves and one catfolk frozen in places and covered in what looks to be a layer of black ash. Out of curiosity, Lysander approaches the frozen catfolk behind the counter and touches it with a dagger only to have the ash fall away to reveal a Burning Golden Skeleton who then wakes up the other two dwarven skeletons! After a swift battle in which Dorian was briefly knocked unconscious, everyone quickly realizes that any and all metal in the warehouse has been turned into gold; the grate on the floor, nails, dining wares, etc. The most logical option following this revelation was of course to scoop everything, including the fragments of gold bones, into the bag of holding and then to continue upstairs.

On the second floor, once again a frozen image in time of what looked to be preparations for dinner, with more dormant gold skeletons. Thankfully this time the skeletons are dispatched while they are in their dormant state, but upon searching the rest of the 2nd floor the travelers come across a shadow on the ceiling of the master bedroom that is being cast by nothing in particular in that room. Finding nothing else, the party travels upstairs to find the cause of this shadow.

Once on the roof, the party is greeted with an unnatural scene; a demon frozen in time with a single iron loop floating in front of it. What makes this scene even weirder is that there is a shadow of a sword being cast underneath the loop but with no sword to be seen. Beatrice, pulling from her vast knowledge of the planes, recognizes the demon as a wrecker demon, a chaotic creature that lives to destroy but oddly enough can not stand the site of it’s own reflection! Armed with this knowledge the party moves into place to attack, Dorian touches the loop, breaking the charm cast on this warehouse and freeing the demon, but at the last minute has a sudden thought to placate the demon and communicate. Once free the demon offers to share all it knows about the Sword of Ruin but for a trade; in it’s attempt to stay in the mortal realm it offers itself as a slave to one for a year and one day and only then will it share all it knows.

At the thought of having a demon for the slave, Beatrice prepares to accept only to have Lysander and Dorian adamantly object and attack the demon rejecting it’s offer! After a valiant fight from the travelers, the demon dissolves into nothingness leaving behind it’s bracers and a tattered cape which brings us to now……

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One Thousand Enemies

bunny.jpeg

Prologue: High Tea at Talbot Manor

As we entered the garden, the first thing I noticed was that the garden grew for status, not for the enjoyment of the manor. Even the begonias put on airs as we, a Snake Oil Doctor, a Thingfinder, a Charming Wizard, and a Briar-Hailing Holy Sprite, strode by them. The petunias seemed sad and without souls.

The food was fantastic, and especially good to go! Our hostess spared no expence; on herself. I will say the cookies were worth adding to my formulae book. The crumpets too, but for a very different reason. Gutbombs, all of them.

Miss Talbot happened to be human. Some treat it like a curse, some like a badge, but she was money. And money invited us to sit at her table. She also kind of creeped me out.

We were entreated to find a family bauble, no value, only sentiments and family memories. I’m also thinking family secrets, for five thousand gil would ensure a handsome reward to adventurers with a sense of quiet decorum. I don’t think my new friends trusted her very much.

Our quarry was a thief that took the griffon amulet, Zed Mandrake. He left his calling card, a small square token with the letter Z on it. He was last seen in Callimaco, a short wagon-ride to the west.

Then she dismissed us, like a pack of hounds after a bunny.

Scene One: On the Road

The wagon made our travels mostly comfortable. It was helpful that two of my new companions were very small, but I thought about some possible upgrades over the course of a few afternoons. I even drew some carpentry sketches to make installments with some of our reward money. More wagon, more space, more security, but that all depends if my new companions wish to continue companioning with me after the job.

The crazy pine spires were on the horizon when we came across a foolish creature that demanded a toll for passing. The wizard talked him down to a minimal toll and the wagon passed without injury. One bomb woulda made a gremlin puddle, but it wasn’t my turn to play hero. Not that day.

Scene Two: The Broken Gate, The Boarding House, and The Pancake.

We arrived at the city late at night; a tourist trap for sure. Or would have been, if the Bottle had seen my investment scheme as clearly as I had. I fully intend to buy her out of that town and tar and feather her with kindness, or maybe just with tar and feathers.

The spire-pines crushed the town like troll teeth on a bunny.

Very few buildings avoided their masticating scrutiny. Somehow, commerce and mining grooves on. Speaking of which, we were quickly shown to the boarding house and the restaurant. The boarding house was a well enough place to hang our hats (we mostly stayed in the wagon anyway) and the Pancake was a charming but sad place. The miners were salt of the earth, briny and sad. They had a potential for something more than digging but they’ve accepted the career as their lifestyle.

Scene Three: First Morning in Calico, The Temple of Jocasta, and the Ephraim Mining Company.

Woke up to the sound of dwarven children searching for acorns of the giant trees. This gives me an idea for a future enterprise to make money. Crazy and silly candy; could sweep the market. Breakfast was good; not memorable.

We briefly stopped by the Temple of Jocasta and witnessed a lashing of three acolytes by a chastising cleric. This Marlowe took his business serious as he went about it, praying as he did. We found out later that they were punished because they were caught in the act of sneaking out of the temple without permission. It’s a savage act that they receive without complaint.

The Cleric does not find us friendly, or at least, finds our character wanting. We don’t find any clues toward our pursuit, Zed Mandrake, so we press on.

The Ephraim Mining Company would be a great boon to commerce and tourism to the area if only the people in charge of it weren’t so prepared to stagnate their investment into ponds, rather than feed them into business streams. Money should be able to be free and randy, like a bunny.

We touched base with Pegwin Bottle, turned down for a meeting to invest commerce within Calico. Rescheduled for the next day unless I wanted to part with more tokens, even after she heard my symphony of business sense.

Scene Four: Dinnertime and an Oath

We’re propositioned to explore an old family household, mainly because within our party we had a paladin of Jocasta, who could open the way to explore it.

We meet later in the evening and proceed. Two denizens of the undead guard the path, but they’re easily pushed aside by our paladin’s holy might. We move down the hall and come to a room baring a magic sword and an oath. Our ThingFinder Ratkin makes an oath and takes the sword.

I am forbidden to make use of all the valuable gemstones that litter the old establishment.

Scene Five: The Adamant Mine

We persist in pushing The Bottle into allowing us to take some bats up to the Blue Mile, still under the guise of researching the place as a tourist trap. We’re given access and a guide.

The bats were amazing, tough simple minded in their task. They fly us up to the top of the mine and we enter the straight tunnel. Following it, we see the rigging and equipment of the past littered about the mile. Vick, our Old Pal and guide leads us down the tunnel without incident. We’re all as excited as bunnies as we come to the end of the line.

There is a blue net stretched across the opening of a bend in the tunnel. Some tiles are littered as if absently tossed into it. However a pattern was quickly observed. A – M – A – _ – I – N – G is the easy puzzle. Though without our own tile, Z, one couldn’t complete it. We stick the Z within the wonderword and the net falls to the floor of the tunnel.

Within, we are met with cash and prizes, which we quickly collect. Also, there is a note, which reveals the source of our reward: Zed Mandrake. He congratulates us and offers this haul as a peace offering. Our continued pursuit of him will be taken as villainy. He seems like a nice guy.

Before we can consider the implications, Vick and some other miners make to take our take. We bluff them with fake bombs and leave them stranded, taking their bat mounts. Vick broke our hearts that day. He shan’t be forgiven, unless he asks for forgiveness.

Like a bunny.

All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a Thousand enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you; digger, listener, runner, Prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.

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The Undersea Cavern - Black Hunters

The victorious hunters returned to the village circle with the rescued half-orc in tow, where he was greeted by a tearfully vicious homecoming with his parents. The other townsfolk celebrated his return and were quick to acclaim the travelers as true heroes and adventurers – many fine pies and poorly fermented beverages were shared during the celebration.

Having earned a rest, the hunters returned the Temple of the Sea-God and bedded down for the night. The witch, Beatrice, excused herself for private meditation – and after making sure she was unobserved – quickly summoned the demon the hunters had defeated back in Callimaco using her arcane arts. The demon, going by the name of Candle, quickly struck a bargain with the witch and vanished within her own shadow until such a time when he was required.

The next morning, the party gathered their gear to depart. They had lost the trail of the notorious thief, Zed Mandrake – their only clue a vague sighting to the south. The best plan they could devise was to head in that direction and pray they caught some wind of his trail. But, before they could depart Usum Casane asked them to speak with his master, Prose Willow. She entreated the party, as the only adventurers of any skill in the area to assist her with a matter of some concern.

Being devoted to the god of water, Banu, allowed the Arcleric Willow to see for many leagues across the sea, everywhere within the sea-god’s domain. But she had noticed a spot of blackness, a place her sight could not pierce. In return for the hunters’ aid she offered to seek the guidance of the gods in their quest, a perilous venture. The group agreed and they were soon making their way across the sunny bay in a magical raft made of shell and rock, propelled by Prose Willow’s faith. The cleric of Marrus, Lysander, discovered he had a tendency to sea-sickness on the journey, and was soon to ill to do much else beyond groan and hold his stomach.

At last they arrived at the spot – the ocean appeared no different than the miles of water they had crossed, but Willow insisted this was the correct location. She wrapped enchanted cords of beaded rope around their hands – the blessing of Banu would be theirs for a short time, allowing them to breathe beneath the waves.

The hunters sank into a new world – water and wave, and the sun shining through a glass ceiling. They found a few oddments, including a cow skull many miles from land. The sharp eyes of the group lead them into a narrow canyon of sand and rock, following the movements of some vicious troll-dogs. A strange system of roots seemed to be growing along the canyon walls, hidden by the sand. Following, they found their way into an underwater cavern, but filled with air. The roots were even more dense here, gray and thick. A vicious battle ensued, dealing with the vicious troll-dogs, an invisible imp, and the mad enchantments of a savage wizard who gibbered and howled threats of insanity.

After the battle they found signs of a crude campsite belonging to the dead wizard, and a cluster of dark roots and plant matter that seemed to be the source of the infestation. A node of organic red substance seemed to pulse with dire threat. The group took a few samples of the roots and returned back the way they had come – their ability to breathe underwater was soon to fade. Prose Willow greeted them and listened to their report with a serious mien — and informed them that the blackness was not gone, her vision was still limited by whatever grew in the undersea cavern.

The hunters returned to the Temple with more questions than answers…

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A Few Sights Never Seen Before

“Make no mistake, recruits. The journey upon which you are about to embark will be difficult. Dangerous. It will ask much of you. Your comfort. Perhaps even your life.”
Field Marshall Prenn was unlike anything I’d ever seen, riding his square-snouted trotter back and forth in front of formation on the first day of training. Most halflings are so slovenly. Ill-groomed. Paunchy. Pleasant. Prenn was none of these things.

“But if you see this journey through,” Prenn continued, “I swear on the honor of the Order of the Paw, you will do things you never dreamed of in your sleepy, lazy, village lives.”

“Things like diving to the bottom of the ocean to scout out some underwater evil at the behest of a water priestess.” He didn’t say that last part, actually. He probably meant fighting trolls or some such thing. Prenn probably wouldn’t have agreed to this madness at all.

But I have more to prove than Prenn, so here I am, dropping rapidly into the watery darkness below. I’ve never had much use for gods—I don’t doubt they exist, they just never seem to pop around when they’re needed—but I dearly hope that the sea god’s magic holds up its end of this deal. I reach the bottom quite quickly. The advantages of swimming in chain mail. The only advantage of swimming in chain mail, I suppose? And probably not an advantage under normal circumstances. Anyway.

In a field of seaweed near an underwater trench, the keen-eyed bird man finds a cow skull. It seems a bit out of place. I’ve heard of sea cows, but I think they are a different thing entirely from the moo-moo cow variety, which tends to prefer drier climes.
At the base of the trench, two more things that do not belong: Troll-hounds. We follow them back through the murk, back to a cavern entrance beset with thick, wooden roots and vines more suitable to an ancient forest floor than a seabed. It’s quite ominous, like something from the stories, expect that the stories are never underwater. No turning back now, I suppose. Mission abandonment could result in withdrawal of divine favor while we are still 100 feet below the surface.

My old gemma used to say that every biscuit has two sides. I’d correct her, explaining that every biscuit has three sides because— geometrically speaking— a biscuit is a cylinder, and then she’d cuff me one to the jaw, which I thought was unnecessary because I was really just trying to be helpful, but anyway, what she meant to say was that everything has a little good and a little bad which is exactly the case with this cave. The good? It’s full up with breathable air and our movements are no longer encumbered by water. The bad? It’s also full up with troll-dogs, a mad, spindly wizard fellow, and to the sorrow of the bird man’s left leg, a demon with sharp teeth and a gift for sneakery.

It’s a quite a good tilt, in my limited experience with such things. This non-uniformed rabble is beginning to function like something resembling a unit. I even bark a few coordinating orders along the way, doing my best impersonation of ol’ Marshall Prenn. Near battle’s end, the paladin offers the wizard a chance at surrender. He respectfully declines, howling some madness about shadows or dark forces and what all.

It occurs to me that Sugar will need yet another bath. Good dog.

At the cavern’s far end, we find the wizard’s strange shrine—a pulsating tangle of roots and tangle, the source of all the strange undergrowth that has no place here, like so many other things.

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