Business and Pleasure

Lamashan 17 Moonday waning moon

7 units of hard maple bought for 560 gp sold for 616 gp on the 17th

1 unit of Ravenmoor wine worth 250 gp  – sold for 375 gp on the 17th

Lamashan 18 Toilday waning moon

1 units of glass for 500 gp – sold for 625 gp on the 18th

1 unit – flayleaf worth 600 gp – 720 gp – sold for 900 gold on the 18th

Jewelry and other items sold. The proceeds are then distributed to the party.

Ameiko invites Toshio and Jethrik to accompany her to the armorer to see if she can sell her leather armor for something better. To her delight she is able to get trade it in for a discount on a mithral shirt made in the elven village of Crying Leaf in the Mierani Forest to the north. On the way back to the inn they are disgusted to see that burrowing among the offal in the alleys of Roderic’s Cove are cockroaches the size of cats.

“Ugh. Why have they let their town get so filthy?” exclaims Toshio.

Keng heads to the general store where he buys some supplies that he foresees will be useful in exploring Brinewall Castle, things like a silk rope (he trades in his hempen rope), climbing gear, and other items. On the way back he is approached in the street at dusk by a streetwalker, a dark haired girl, with only a couple of teeth missing but whom otherwise has retained her beauty despite her hard life. She winks at Keng and asks if he’d like some company.

Keng looks at her and finds her somewhat repulsive. He grunts and mutters and finally manages, “Ah… no… not at this time.” He fishes out a silver piece and hands it to her saying, “May your spirit guide you.”

The girl is amazed at Keng’s generosity. She happily takes the coin and backs away saying, “Thank you kind sir, thank you!” and then runs off down the street.

Zeyala visit the temple with shrines for various deities and finds that it does indeed have a space dedicated to Pharasma. As she lights a votive candle and offers a prayer a dark haired girl in a low cut dress with a gap tooth but otherwise still retaining some of her youthful beauty comes in, drops some coppers into the offering box, and offers a candle as well. She smiles shyly at Zeyala and then leaves without a word.

Afterwards, Zeyala goes to the armory and trades in her chain mail shirt and the sickle from Ravenmoor for a mithral shirt made in the elven village of Crying Leaf in the Mierani Forest to the north. The armorer laughs and tells Zeyala that she is the second woman to make a trade for such armor that day. He points to the items traded in by the other woman. Zeyala recognizes Ameiko’s enchanted leather armor. The armorer confirms that indeed it was a Tien woman, accompanied by her samurai retainer and his gnome servant.

“Smart woman,” laughs Zeyala. “If one is traveling between towns, it never hurts to take precautions.” She thanks the proprietor and heads out to some of the other shops to buy a scarf for herself and some incense for Koya.

Jharad, meanwhile, breaks away and heads to the apothecary, intent on selling the blue whinnis poison he acquired in Ravenmoor. For a time he is troubled by three stray dogs that shadow his path but in the end they go running off into an alley, probably to chase a rat or one of the ginormous cockroaches sometimes spotted among the offal of Roderic’s Cove. The apothecary happily takes nine of the ten vials of poison off his hands for 540 gold.

When Keng returns to his room at the inn, Jharad and the others have not yet returned. He can’t help but think of the woman in the hallway. Then he notices that there is a rhythmic banging noise coming from the suite upstairs. It is almost as if someone or something was hitting the door every few seconds. It is not a very loud noise, but because it is quiet in the inn it is easily noticed. Keng becomes increasingly annoyed at the banging sounds coming from upstairs. This is somewhat heightened, although he won’t admit it to himself, by his curiosity about what and who is in that room. Against his better judgment (some might say that is a stretch) he decides to go up and investigate. Still wearing his armor and taking his axe he heads as quietly as he can upstairs to the door and puts his ear to it and listens. There is no sound coming from the room except a slight scuffling, like someone walking back and forth, and then the door is thumped as though someone were bumping up against it. The same pattern repeats again and again, scuffling, thumping of the door, scuffling, thumping, scuffling, thumping… It is already getting dark outside, and now inside the inn, but there is no light coming from beneath the door. Keng kneels down to look through the keyhole. Being able to see perfectly in the dark, he sees that it is the smaller of Baron von Luden’s servants. She seems to be walking into the door, and then backing up, then walking back into the door again, over and over and over. He cannot see her face only the middle part of her through the keyhole, but she seems to be wearing nothing more than lace undergarments of red silk.

Keng’s eyes widen as he takes in the fair complexion and shapely contours of the beautiful young girl within the suite. Again, Keng finds himself unable to stir as he takes in what is clearly the most desirable girl he has ever seen in all his travels. He knows he must have her at any cost, and can’t break away from the keyhole even when he hears the sounds of someone coming up the stairs behind him. Fortunately, it is the innkeeper’s son Pavo who has come to uncover the everburning lamps in their wall sconces. He doesn’t see Keng until the stairwell is lit up, but when he does he shakes him by the shoulder and whispers, “Hey, stop that. We can’t let you spy on our guests. The baron would be furious, and him you don’t want to cross.” Pavo backs away as Keng is finally able to tear his eyes away form the keyhole.

Keng regains his senses but now he notices that he is still feeling the effects of this uncontrollable desire and that it seems to be caused by a musky but pleasant scent that pervades the stairwell outside the door to the suite. Now he remembers that he smelled it the other night in the hallway too when the baron and his servants passed him by but he thought nothing of it until now. The innkeeper’s son is also coming under its effects. He is standing still and staring past Keng at the door, his eyes glazing over.

Keng shakes his head in an effort to dispel his clouded lusty thoughts and pieces together the effects from the previous night. He realizes he is experiencing some kind of spell and spells never lead to anything good. He tightens his gut in an act of will and quickly heads back down the hallway, easily lifting the young boy in his arm as he passes, “Boy we need to get out of here now.” He proceeds down to the second floor where he releases Pavo explaining, “There is an ensorcellment spell up there. We were almost ensnared. You saved me. I saved you. Now we are even.” He hands Pavo a silver and says, “Speak not of this to anyone, only ill will come if you do.”

Keng heads downstairs to the public room looking for the elf. He must share what just happened. Seeing the others gathered around for dinner, he walks over to the table and looks around carefully to see who is nearby. He hunches over the table and leans in so he can whisper to them. “I was in Jharad’s room putting away and organizing my new gear. I heard a rhythmic banging coming from upstairs that went on and on without stopping. It became quite annoying. I went upstairs and it was coming from the baron’s room. I was concerned because the banging was coming from the door and perhaps someone was trapped inside. I peered through the keyhole and saw the smaller servant pacing back and forth into the doorway. I became ‘aroused’ again but was saved when the innkeeper’s son came upon me and pulled me away. I noticed a musky smell in the hallway similar to what occurred last night when they passed me and first ensorcelled me. The boy started to feel its affects too, so I grabbed him and we quickly went back downstairs where the effects wore off us both. I paid him a silver piece to hold his tongue. Something is very wrong inside that room. That servant is not of this living world.” Keng finishes his story and looks around.

Toshio has a number of thoughts and questions. ‘Why didn’t Keng just knock on their door so he could ask them to be quiet? Keng’s spying through keyholes is going to make trouble for the whole caravan. Has Keng now changed his mind and wants to confront them for spelling him the other night? What does Keng want done, if he’s so troubled?’ All this passes through Toshio’s mind in a flash, but he holds his tongue. Considering the troubled relationship he has with Keng, Toshio thinks it better to let the others lead the discussion.

Jharad looks directly at Toshio, only guessing at why he is not replying to Keng. Curious that only Keng seems to be bothered by the baron’s presence he decides what to do. Standing he addresses the group, “I would like visit the baron to both ask if there is anything I can do for him while we are both staying under the same roof and to ask him to have his servants keep down the noise as it seems to be bothering my friend Keng here. Toshio would you mind accompanying me?”

“I’d be happy to help” Toshio says to Jharad. “Shall we go now?”

“I think that would be foolish. And the Baron isn’t the only wizard in the world using erotic spells.” Jethrik objects. “It’s kind of an obsession with some.”

Toshio looks at Ameiko with a big smile and says, “Wish us luck. A couple of highly skilled diplomats like us may need it.”

Ameiko smiles back at Toshio. “Of course. Good luck dealing with our noisy neighbors. If that doesn’t work we’ll just ask the landlord to talk to them. They’ll quiet down for a while and then resume. Then we’ll call in the watch. They’ll quiet down for a while and then resume. At that point we will have to kill them.” She is, of course, being sardonic.

Keng, not catching the subtleties of the civilized lands, nods his head in agreement.

Jharad catches Ameiko’s eye and smiles widely, “Yes that is the course of action I was planning,” and heads up the stairs after Toshio.

“Well, if anything comes of this adventure,” says Zeyala, “I’m sure we will be made aware. Have fun,” she says with a smile.

As Keng, Toshio, and Jharad are heading towards the baron’s room, Zeyala mutters softly to herself, but still loud enough to be heard by Ameiko and Jethrik, “However, I do believe I might cast a spell on an uninvited peek through the keyhole on my door, or at least a jab with a pointy stick.” She lets out a little giggle as she lights up her pipe.

Ameiko also giggles. Then she leans over to ask Jethrik about this new tale he’s working on.

“I’m so glad you asked! I’ve been running it through my head on the long ride out here and I think it is finally ready for it’s debut. If I may be so bold, I have dedicated it to you; my good friend and mentor!” Jethrik bows. “It is called the Lovesick Squire, being the true and tragic farce of the romance between a paladin and a werewolf.”

“Scene 1 The Paladin promenades into town with his retinue; his destrier wearing it’s least patched caparison, the servant boy that polishes the pommel of the paladin’s short sword, 14 chickens, 2 maids and a gnome bard.

“Scene 2 Wherein the Paladin spies the tavern wench and falls madly in love! He compares her to Iomedae in a soliloquy that attempts to be flowery and epic, but is in fact scatological and farcical.

“Scene 3 The Paladin surprises the tavern wench with an ardent proposal, which shocks her so much she turns into a werewolf and runs away!

“Scene 4 The Paladin tracks down his love… but in fact is mistaken and woes a common mutt instead (which humps his leg before it is shooed away).

“Scene 5 Iomedae blesses the couple. The paladin is transformed into a riding hound for the bard. The happy couple is surrounded by puppies.

Zeyala nearly spits out her pipe and begins choking in a fit of coughs.

Ameiko’s eyebrow’s arch from the moment she hears the theme of the play. As Jethrik goes on to describe it she looks increasingly shocked but also bemused. Finally she stammers, “Uh, I, uh… I’m flattered that you would dedicate this minor opus to me, but… well, I fear some people… in our company… might take offense.”

“Let’s find out!” and Jethrik hops up on the table and gives his performance. As he does, other patrons begin to filter into the inn. They seem to be a rough crew: sailors with bandanas or knitted caps, tight fitting breeches but billowy loose-sleeved shirts, studded leather vests, golden teeth and earrings, an eye-patch or two, and cutlasses at their sides. They are led by a man whom the innkeeper addresses as Captain Grudge. He is wearing a blue frock coat with gold trim and a matching tricorn hat, out of which hangs his blonde dreads. His beard is likewise braided. A rapier hangs from his belt. By his side is a dusky Garundi woman with white braids wrapped around her head. She is wearing golden-hooped earrings and loose fitting silken clothes of yellow and black. She bears a whip by her side and around her neck is an amulet bearing three outward pointing daggers, the sign that she is either a devotee or even a priestess of Calistria. Among the crew there is also one who is an elf. He bears a longsword and is wearing masterwork studded leather and has a wand tucked in his purple sash. Captain Grudge and his crew take seats at nearby tables and fill up the bar, but after ordering drinks they begin to listen attentively to the gnome’s tale. It is not long before they are roaring with laughter, throwing silver coins at Jethrik, and otherwise showing their appreciation of the farce.

As Keng, Toshio, and Jharad head upstairs they hear the rhythmic thumping from the upstairs door. It is evident that the smaller servant is continuing to walk into the door over and over again. As they head up the stairs they see that Pavo, the innkeeper’s son, has returned to the door at the top of the stairs and has just opened it with the master key. Before anyone can do or say anything to stop him, he pushes open the door. Like a snake grabbing a field mouse two fair and shapely hands reach out, grab him by his collar and jerks him into the room. The door slams shut behind him.

“Uh oh,” rumbles Keng. “Well at least now we have a good reason to intervene.”

Jhrard gives out a quick barking laugh before sobering up. “I think maybe this falls under your purview of ‘rescuing the innocent’ does it not Toshio?”

Toshio jumps to the door and pounds on it, shouting, “Open up! Release the boy!” Toshio notices the musky scent and for a moment his mind drifts to Ameiko and how much he’d like to… but then he shakes his head free of such indecent thoughts. The mental discipline instilled in him as a paladin but above all the divine providence of Iomedae enable him to keep his longings at bay and concentrate on the task at hand – freeing the boy!

Jharad calls down the stairs, “Keng I believe we will need you for this after all,” and then moves to back up Toshio. He also smells the musky perfume that fills the landing outside the suite door. Nearly threescore years of erotic dalliances with the bawdy wenches of Varisia and the delicate yet flirtatious elven maidens of Kyonin all come rushing back to him at once. Yet, as the vulgar humans say, “You can’t con a con-man,” and elves are masters of enchantment. Jharad discerns that the scent is magical in nature and the realization allows him to close his mind and heart to it and return with full awareness to the present moment.

Keng nods and his long strides make quick time up the stairs. He reaches into his belt pouch and ties a handkerchief across his nose and mouth. Unfortunately this precaution is not enough. The perfumed scent of the young woman within the suite pervades the landing and top of the stairwell. The thin strip of cloth is not enough to shield Keng from it. All he can think of is that he hasn’t had a piece of tail since leaving Urglin, and even then the best he could aspire to there were the more human looking of the orc-blooded tramps of that city of exiles, outcastes, and degenerates. Keng slows his advance up the stairs and stands still, eyes glazed over, lost again to his imaginings of the possibilities just behind the green painted door at the top of the stair. Keng manages an, “Oh baby…” and is helpless to move beyond that.

Toshio and Jharad see that Keng has come to a stop, overcome by the enchantment. From within the door are muffled cries and whimpers. There is the sound of clothes ripping and then bodies falling on the floor and against the door. The door is firmly locked once more, and the boy was still holding the master key when he was dragged within. Toshio proceeds to try to kick in the door while crying out for someone to call in the authorities. Jhard also lends his boot to the cause. Unfortunately the door is fairly sturdy and resists their first three attempts.

It is not long before the innkeeper is bellowing up the stairs, “What’s going on up there?!” He turns to a serving girl and says, “You heard him! Go get the watch!” The girl quickly hurries away to find the watch.

From inside the boy weakly cries out, “Go away… I’m fine… don’t tell my dad…” His voice is then muffled again.

Upon kicking the door the fourth time, the lock breaks and the door is driven hard into the back of a young girl in red underthings of silk and lace. She is entwined around Pavo, kissing him deeply. His shirt has been torn off and discarded and he does not seem to at all mind being ravished by her. His eyes are startled and more than a bit outraged by the paladin’s intrusion. As for the girl, she does not seem to have even noticed that a door was just kicked into her backside.

To Jharad, the girl’s blond hair, long lithe build, and tapered ears look very similar to Shalelu. Understanding the magic that is at play here, Jharad clearly sees that the boy and Keng are both enthralled against their wish. He grabs the girl about the waist and tries to pull her off of the boy saying, “I think we have had enough of that now.”

In Toshio’s eyes, the figure, complexion and hair of the girl looks awfully similar to Ameiko. In fact, he is afraid to turn her over even though he knows Ameiko is downstairs. He senses no evil in whoever it is. ‘Well, that’s a relief.’ thinks Toshio. ‘Ameiko is not mine,’ Toshio reminds himself, just in case he is deeply hurt when he turns… whoever… around. Toshio sets his feelings aside and reaches out to help Jharad pull her away. “Let the boy tell me he’s fine when he’s away from this scent!”

Jharad and Toshio succeed in pulling the woman off the boy. She whimpers and struggles but otherwise says nothing. The boy does cry out though, “No, what are you doing! Go away! Leave us alone!” He scrambles to his feet, jaw set and hands curling into fists.

“Pavo!” shouts the innkeeper. “Is that you! What are you doing up there!” The innkeeper can be heard tromping up the stairwell, where Keng still stands trapped in a reverie.

The girl, in the meantime, writhes salaciously in the arms of the elf and paladin.

Jharad ignores the innkeeper and boy, focused solely on trying to keep his wits about him as he grapples with who appears to be in his arms. He wrenches her away from Toshio, at first intent on removing her from his grasp. Then rallying his senses completely he slaps her hard across the face, though doing so brings a grimace of anguish to his own. “Tether your powers now girl or next I will move to truly hurt you,” he says in anger. She says nothing but only looks at Jharad in mute shock and surprise.

Toshio winces with the slap and reminds himself again that this is not who it seems. “Let him go!” Toshio gestures to Keng. “And stop this magicking! Show us who you really are.”

Keng, finally having shaken the enchantment, walks over to the girl, grabs her hair, pulls her head back to look at her growling, “What are you? Why are you spelling us?” Her only response is to moan and close her eyes as if in ecstasy as he pulls on her hair.

Keng sees a vision of beauty:  Long golden hair that shines like the sun on earth. There seems to be a glow that lights all around. Her eyes are the deepest blue of the high desert sky. Her features are more handsome than pretty, strong and confident. Her body is voluptuous yet muscular and Keng knows she will be a tigress in bed. He can barely contain his desire.

Now, though, it is the innkeeper who is standing stock-still just below the landing, his eyes gazing into space and a slight smile on his face. “Oh,” he murmurs. “Heh, yes, yes…”

Pavo, his son, however, is not so entranced. Instead he is enraged by the abuse being heaped upon his beloved. He hurls himself at the half-orc and hits him in the face screaming, “Let her go! You’re hurting her!” This in spite of the fact that the girl is actually rubbing herself up against Jharad, who is still holding her, and if anything seems to be enjoying Keng’s rough housing.

Keng snorts at the boys feeble attempts to hurt him, instead he grabs the boy by his collar and hoists him in the air, “Be still boy.” He carries him out of the room and hustles both Pavo and the innkeeper back down to the second floor where he quickly explains what is happening about the door bumping and the malodorous lusty spell. He says, “Keep watch here and let no one pass, except the baron if he returns, while our paladin of Iomedea sorts this out.”

With less chaos and distraction in the room Jharad relaxes just a bit with a heavy sigh. Allowing this all-too-familiar effigy to continue rubbing up against him he looks Toshio in the eyes with a wry smile of understanding. With a tone of commiseration he asks with one word, “Ameiko?”

With eyes of understanding the paladin nods ever so slightly.

Nodding in return Jharad replies, “Shalelu,” and hopes they never speak of this again.

As Jethrik is finishing up the humorous introduction of the “hero” of his tale to the assembling pirate crew (to the growing alarm of Ameiko and Zeyala) he catches out the corner of his eye one of the serving wenches running down the stairs leading to the inn’s rooms on the second floor and above that the baron’s suite. She crosses the public room in a panic, though the pirates are too engrossed in Jethrik’s tale to notice, as is Ameiko, and Zeyala can’t see her anyway. She leaves the tavern and with his sharp gnome ears he hears her calling desperately for the watch as she runs down the street. Jethrik uses dancing lights to cover the pause between the first and second scene and spins to Ameiko and Zeyala. “Check upstairs, the boys are in trouble.” He spins back and takes up the tale again.

Ameiko and Zeyala are off like a shot. Captain Grudge and his woman exchange glances, as they obviously heard Jethrik’s aside. They whisper something to their elf companion (maybe the first mate?) and he quietly follows after Ameiko and Zeyala.

Ameiko and Zeyala arrive at the foot of the second floor stairwell just as Keng is trying to explain to the innkeeper and his son something about a “malodorous lust spell.” At the top of the stairwell, the door to the third floor suite is open and within the two women see Jharad and Toshio interrogating a squirming captive that Jharad is holding.

Ameiko advances up the stairs and then her eyes widen. She shakes her head and then proceeds but then stops again. Her jaw drops. “Toshio! There’s two of you?! Is it another shape shifter?”

Oh gods! I hope he never speaks of this, especially to Keng,’ thinks Toshio. Toshio turns to look at the other (real?) Ameiko with a feeling of horror. He doesn’t want her to see what’s going on! His face pales as he realizes there’s no avoiding it now. Then her words register – she saw him in the creature – and his spirits lift again. “Don’t know. It isn’t explaining its actions!” he says in answer to her question.

Jharad’s eyes widen slightly and he snorts out a giggle. Under his breath intending only Toshio to hear he says, “Care to explain my friend, or shall I?”

Toshio replies with a smirk, “I don’t think I can. You give it a try!”

Smirking to Toshio then addressing the women at the bottom of the stairs, Jharad says with as much authority as he can muster, “Both of you please retreat back to the common room immediately. Toshio and I have this well in hand, but if you approach any further you will put us both at risk. Please trust us now and leave.”

Up to this point, Zeyala had been standing behind Ameiko, lost in erotic reveries like Keng, Pavo, and innkeeper had been. Hearing Keng’s exhortation close at hand she returns to the present. “Keng?!” says Zeyala uncertainly. “What is Jharad doing to you? Wait…what?” she stutters as she looks at Keng standing nearby. ”I know my sight is dismal, but what I’m seeing is not right.  Who’s the real Keng?  What have you done?” she asks.

Jharad’s face turns to stone as he stares at Keng, then blurts out a guffaw before sobering himself again.

Keng blinks rapidly for a moment looking at Zeyala with his head cocked, then says,  ”Zeyala, it is I… the real Keng that stands here next to you. That creature back there is some sort of sexual predator and easily affects those around it with powerful thoughts of lust. The fewer nearby it while we sort this out the better. Please go downstairs with Lady Ameiko… for your safety,” he adds. He then lightly takes her hand and places it on Ameiko’s shoulder and says, “Please lady, take her downstairs.”

“Predator?” Zeyala mumbles. She looks back at Jharad holding down Keng, then to Toshio, and then finally towards Keng standing near to her.

“A sexual predator? Lustful thoughts…” says Ameiko slowly as she works it out. Then she blushes furiously, turns around quickly, and drags Zeyala with her away from Toshio, Keng, Jharad, and the creature.

Zeyala can feel her face flushing red as well as Ameiko pulls her along back downstairs. ”Gods forbid,” says Zeyala.  ”On this, I will remain silent.”

As she begins to catch her breath, Zeyala says to Ameiko, “I think I need a drink…or a smoke… or both.”  She then lets out a hearty laugh.

Ameiko says to Zeyala before they get back to the common room, “Lets you and I please agree to never speak of this. I fear the others will find out, and if Jethrik does he’ll probably include all of us in his next ribald tale. Bad enough he’s lampooning Toshio to a den full of pirates.”

The innkeeper and Pavo, however, are still standing at the foot of the stairs. The former says, “Uh, Keng, the girl is Baron von Luden’s servant. Maybe it is best that you just leave her in the room and lock the door again.” He looks to his son and asks, “Wait, what were you doing in there?”

“I’d like to hear your explanation, too,” says Toshio, “but locking you up until the watchmen arrive wouldn’t trouble me. You can explain your actions to them if you won’t answer to us.”

Pavo gulps and looks to his father nervously. His father seems in no mood for any more nonsense. The boy begins, “Well, I came up to uh… uncover the everburning lamps and someone was bumping up against the door. I… uh… paid it no mind at first and left,” he says this eyeing Keng and then proceeds, “But I was worried that something might be wrong so I came back later and opened the door to check. Then she dragged me into the room and attacked me! She ripped my clothes off and uh… anyway, that’s when those two,” he points up the stairwell to Toshio and Jharad, “burst in and uh… rescued me. That’s the long and short of it. Really!”

“Hmm,” says the innkeeper, “seems to me like you were trying to poke around in another man’s business, and a paying guest at that! Now we need to fix things up right and proper before the baron gets back or he’ll burn this inn down around our ears. He’s no one to trifle with.” The innkeeper visibly shudders.

Keng says to the innkeeper, ” Wait here. As I said before, keep watch here and let no one pass, except the baron if he returns.” Keng then heads back upstairs enters the room and shuts the door. He grabs the creature pulling it away from Jharad and throws it into the corner of the room growling, “Stay put, do not move and answer our questions!”

Jharad says, “Keng stop. Truthfully she probably likes that.”

Nodding in agreement with Jharad, Toshio says, “Yes. Now that the boy is safe let’s let things calm now and hear her answers, or let’s leave her locked and alone until the watch arrives.”

Keng shrugs his shoulders and steps back just behind Toshio and Jharad, crosses his arms and glares at the creature. He asks, “Does anyone know what she is and what she really looks like?”

The baron’s servant picks herself up. She has a questioning expression on her face. It is clear that she does not understand and does not know how to respond anymore. Apparently grappling and hair pulling make sense to her, but being violently hurled away does not. Nor does she seem to understand the Common tongue. She stands and stares at them mutely, questioningly. Then her face begins to squirm and shift like molten wax. Now all three of them can see her in her different guises – as Shalelu, as Ameiko, and as an athletic blue-eyed blonde haired woman. In these guises her red silken lingerie does not change except to conform to her different physiques.

“M…m…master!” she cries at last as she continues to shift from one form to the other. Then she hurls herself through the shutters of the window overlooking the front of the inn. A servant girl screams outside as they hear the body crash into the cobblestones below and there are shouts of men as well.

As Jethrik is getting into the scene wherein the paladin meets the tavern wench and launches into a farcical love struck soliloquy, the elf return and whispers something to the captain and his woman. The captain nods and a sly look comes over the faces of all three. The elf sits back down behind the captain, who returns his attention to Jethrik’s tale. Now, however, he seems to be scheming more than listening. Soon after the elf returns, Ameiko and Zeyala reenter the public room, they are both blushing and seem to be embarrassed about something as they quietly resume their seats.

Because Jethrik is orating and the pirates are being fairly noisy in their hooting, hollering, laughing, and other expressions of mirth and enjoyment they do not hear the shutters of the third floor suite bursting open or the body hitting the cobblestones outside the front door of the inn. They do hear the servant girl screaming outside (the one who went for the watch) and the startled shouts of men (who may be watchmen). The pirates also hear this and run for the door and front window, and then they pour into the street to get a better look.

Toshio goes downstairs quickly – ready to lay on hands for healing if the thing survived the fall.

Jharad sighs, “Well that’s not good,” and runs downstairs after Toshio.

Keng walks over to the window and looks out.

Outside the inn door, the servant of the baron picks herself up off the cobblestones. She does not seem to be hurt at all. The servant girl with the two members of the Roderic’s Cove watch in half-plate and armed with halberds back off and then stand stock still. As the scurvy band within the inn pour into the street to gather around they too begin to slow and come to a standstill, all staring in undisguised lust at the servant. Even Captain Grudge comes under her spell. Only a few pirates resist it, including the elven first mate and the captain’s woman.

Zeyala, Jethrik, and Ameiko attempt to wade through the crowd to get outside.

This time the servant’s changes are apparent to everyone. As in the room above, her appearance shifts into a kaleidoscope of genders (though mostly female), ethnicities, complexions, hair and eye colors, and physiques. Through all the changes she is dressed only in a raggedy loincloth and a wrap around her breasts. She looks to the night sky and wails in anguish, her fists at held rigidly at her sides.

As Toshio and Jharad finally make it outside, Captain Grudge and his crew finally break free of the intoxicating enchantment they walked into by coming near her. Reason, however, has not returned. They eye each other and begin to draw weapons. The two watchmen back away and lower their halberds. It is clear that a riot over the girl is about to ensue.

That is when her screaming stops. She stands catatonic and the changes end as well. Now she appears in what is likely her true underlying form – a petite woman with a shaven head and mismatched eyes, blue and gray. Her skin has a waxy sheen, but underneath it is ashen and cadaverous, and in some places such as around the neck and limbs there are obvious sutures.

Then the baron appears with his larger servant at his side. He murmurs something to the large servant who doffs his cloak and cowl to reveal a face and body dressed in loose fitting purple breeches and tunic. His face and limbs are loosely wrapped by scarves but it is plain to see that underneath his complexion is also livid and marks of suturing can also be seen.

In the light of the street lamp it can be seen that the baron is shocked and even blushing to find that that the nature of his servant has been revealed. Then he reddens further in anger. “How dare you! Get away from my servant! Pleasure, to me! Business, make sure no one interferes!”

The girl servant, Pleasure, turns at the voice of her master and starts to walk towards him. The male servant, Business, forms his hands into two mighty fists and lumbers towards her.

Keng is watching the entire scene from upstairs. He murmurs, “By the gods! What the frak are those things?” He carefully backs away from the window so as not to be seen in the baron’s room and walks downstairs to the common room. He looks around for Jharad and Toshio and follows them outside.

Jharad smiles in full realization and nods in amusement at what damage this creature could cause to a civilized town. He murmurs under his breath, “Pleasure and Business… no imagination at all.”

“He has pleasure with that thing?” Jethrik shudders. “Bleh! I’m not picky, but I prefer live women.”

Jharad replies, “You have no idea, my comedic friend, until you have been under her thrall. A single one of those could easily double the traffic of any brothel. As long as she sees only one customer at a time, otherwise the results could be catastrophic.”

Based on her initial encounter with the smaller servant, Zeyala cast resistance on herself, then not knowing what the creatures are, she cast detect undead on Pleasure and Business and discerns that they are not undead.

Toshio lets the baron collect his things. Seeing Keng, he says quietly, “Still want to talk to them about the noise?”

“Nope. You?”

“Nope. Not me.”

Jharad adds, “I’m good.”

Toshio says, “Unless the inn keeper is upset for his son, I’m happy to drop it.” He pauses before asking innocently, “Buy you guys a drink?”

Still staring at Pleasure and Business Jharad absentmindedly responds, “Definitely,” and heads back into the inn.

“I’ll get the second round!” Keng agrees, “Lead on!”

Meanwhile, Captain Grudge and his crew slink off, disenchanted with the corpselike pallor of Pleasure, and not wanting to tangle with Business or his master. Baron von Luden looks as though he might cast some terrible spell but then thinks better of it as he is approached by the innkeeper who sinks to his knees begging forgiveness and then pulls Pavo down beside him to also beg forgiveness. The watchmen then intervene, demanding to know what is going on. Eventually things are sorted out to Baron von Luden’s satisfaction. He is given a full refund for his stay and that very night he leaves in his carriage to head bck to Ustalav with both his servants and the large iron trunk they came with, this time unmistakably jinging with coin.

Back in the common room, Toshio has the first round of drinks brought over.

Zeyala finds an empty seat, takes a lengthy draw on her pipe, and chases it down with a pint.

Jethrik looks around, clearly annoyed that he was so thoroughly upstaged. “Okay, so what happened?”

Ameiko gives Toshio an anxious look and then looks away sheepishly.

Toshio’s glance catches Ameiko’s, but he doesn’t notice her turn away – he’s too quickly turning away himself (blushing deeply). “Good ale, eh?” he says to change the topic (and ignoring Jethrick’s question.

Jharad smiles at the gnome, “This one you will not get your tall tale hands on I am pleased to say. Just accept that you will never hear the full story and leave it alone, for I am certain that none of us want any of what occurred parodied in one of your lewd performances.” After a pause he adds, “But you are certainly welcome to drink with us,” he finishes with a wide grin and fills the comedians mug with ale.

 

 

Roderic’s Cove

Lamashan 15 Starday waning moon

Sandru’s caravan arrives in Roderic’s Cove towards the late afternoon of Starday, Lamashan the 15th. It is a small town of little more than 1,000 people situated on the Varisian Gulf at the mouth of the Chavali River. Being such a small town there is only one inn, one brothel, and three taverns. The inn is actually a large building connected to the town’s lighthouse and is called Sailor’s Rest. The brothel is called The House of the Golden Dawn and a sign outside its swinging doors announces that within can be found all the erotic, exotic, and even esoteric pleasures that could be wished for in all of Varisia. On either side of the brothel are two of the town’s taverns: Pirate’s Booty, and Port of Call. Across the street is the third tavern, The Fat Gull. The brothel and taverns are only a few blocks away from the lighthouse-inn on the waterfront.

As they ride into town, Jethrik informs those who have not visited it before, namely Toshio, Keng, and Jharad, about its history. “Roderic’s Cove was founded about seventy years ago as part of the wave of emigrants leaving the city of Magnimar, led by the notorious privateer Sir Roderic. Looking for a smaller and less structured way of life, they founded such communities as Riddpleport and Roderic’s Cove. Most of these outposts did not survive, falling prey to native creatures or the countless other rigors of frontier life. Despite attacks by the bandits and goblins of the Churlwood, not to mention countless pirate attacks, the town flourished. Approximately 10 years ago the pirate captains of Riddleport finally decided that Roderic’s Cove was too juicy of a plumb not to pluck, and brought the town under their control.” (from Roderic’s Cove)

Keng enjoys listening to the bard tell the tale of both Ravenmooor and Roderic’s Cove. The Shoanti use oral histories and storytellers are considered to be in great esteem by the tribes. Perhaps this is one reason Keng feel so protective of the gnome and keeps a close eye on him. “Jethrik,” he calls out once the gnome has finished the story, “Roderic’s Cove is run by pirates?” He checks that his axe is loose and free to raise.

“Run by… running from.. .one of those things,” Jethrik responds.

Sandru laughs. “Don’t worry. The pirates, privateers, and smugglers won’t bother us. This is a safe haven for them, as of course is Riddleport. I’d still be wary of press gangs however, so don’t wander about alone and certainly not drunk. This can be a rough place, but not nearly so bad as Riddleport, which is why we are going to avoid that place entirely and go straight to the Velashu Uplands when we leave here.”

The morning they arrive in Roderic’s Cove Jharad feels perfectly miserable. Refusing to eat anything he simply huddles inside of a wagon wrapped in a blanket and sweating.

“Uh oh.” Jethrik notes, and runs off for Zeyala “Zeyala, can you help with illness as well as wounds?”

“Jharad, let me take a look at you,” says Zeyala. ”I think I can prevent your condition from getting worse,” she adds. “But I don’t think I can cure it. Let me get my healer’s kit,” she says. “Perhaps it will be enough to help your bodies own defenses fight off the disease.”

Jharad smiles weakly and says, “I will be all right, just need a day’s rest is all. I feel like I have fought off the worst of it already. But thank you for your concern.”

Nevertheless, Zeyala provides Jharad with some quinine powder to dissolve in his water and Jharad’s fever does indeed break that night.

After setting up camp just outside of the small town, Ameiko and the others head for Sailor’s Rest. Once there, Ameiko gets a private room for herself, as does Jharad so he can recover. Since Ameiko decides to take a private room at the inn, Toshio takes a room across from hers – the better to be nearby in case of trouble.

Keng grabs a piece of floor outside the door of Jharad’s room. He doesn’t leave except to run errands and bring Jharad food.  The innkeeper provides him with some blankets and a pillow but only charges him a couple of silver.

Zeyala chooses take a space on the heated floor with blankets and a pillow supplied by the inn. Jethrik also takes a space nearby to watch Zeyala’ s back.

That night Sandru joins Ameiko and the others at the Sailor’s Rest for piping hot bowls of fish chowder, pitchers of ale and wine. Jharad remains in his room so Keng takes food to the elf. The half-orc then eats outside the door. The inn fills up with other travelers, many of whom are merchant seamen, but most of these drift away as the evening wears on, except for those staying at the inn, less than a dozen all told.

Around midnight, long after the last drop of ale has been consumed and all but a few candles have been snuffed out, a carriage can be heard riding up to the inn. An elderly man wearing tailored breaches, a light green silken shirt, dark green surcoat, an embroidered robe, and a fancy fur-lined cap walks into the inn. He twists his monocle and looks about until approached by Pavo, the innkeepers son, who has stayed awake to see to the needs of those just going to bed. The young man seems to recognize him immediately and bows deeply, saying, “Baron Luden, it is an honor to have you visit us again. We have your suite ready for you.” The baron is then escorted to his room and both Jethrik and Zeyala overhear the baron say, “My servants will bring my things through the servant’s entrance in the back as usual. Make sure the door is open for them. We do not want any… disturbances.” “Of course, Baron, of course. It will all be as you wish,” replies the young man. The baron is then escorted to the second floor, down the hall, past where Keng is sleeping outside the door to Jharad’s room, and then up another flight of stairs to the entrance to a private suite on the third floor. A little while after that, the carriage is taken around to the back of the inn and two servants can be heard entering through the back way.

Jethrik has heard of a Baron Viktor von Luden before. Curious, he slips out of his blankets and peeks around the corner in time to see down the hall as the two servants come in and then head upstairs.

On the second floor, Keng had just drifted off to sleep when he is awakened by the passing of the innkeeper’s son and the baron. The innkeeper’s son comes back downstairs and seeing that the half-orc is watching him he whispers, “Sorry to awaken you, but an important guest has just arrived. His servants will be bringing his things up soon but after that you should be able to sleep in peace.” He returns downstairs. Not too long after that, the two servants pass by Keng. He raises one eye a mere slit and silently observes the servants passing him. Both are wearing long cloaks, leather gloves, and hoods drawn down over faces that also seem to be wrapped in scarves. It is too dark to see their eyes. Apart from their attire, the two figures are very different, in that the first is much taller and heavier than Keng, perhaps a couple of heads taller and twice as heavy. He (if it is a he) carries a large metal trunk by the two handles on its side. His tread is steady and seems to strain the planks of the inn’s floor. He doesn’t even seem to be breathing heavy or straining at all with his burden and doesn’t say a word to Keng or acknowledge him in any way. The second figure is much smaller and slighter, perhaps even smaller than Zeyala and most certainly thinner. This figure is not carrying anything at all, but seems to cock his (or her?) head at Keng in passing. As this second figure passes and turns to him, Keng finds himself overwhelmed with tantalizing erotic fantasies. He can’t help but wonder what vision of exquisite beauty is hiding beneath the second figure’s cloak and scarves. He realizes that he would do anything to make this woman his, but is unable to even move so wrapped up is he in the possibilities of rapturous pleasure that could be his for the taking. When Keng is finally able to come to his wits and stir, he finds that both figures are gone, though he hears the creaking of the ceiling overhead, undoubtedly caused by the first figure.

Keng is speechless and uncertain what to do. He gets up and quiet as he can goes into Jharad’s room. He wakes Jharad up tells him what just happened. “Elf, something ain’t right tonight,” Keng says. “Some important guest just arrived with a giant and sorceress as ‘servants.’ I think the sorceress just ensorcelled me!”

Jharad sits up in bed slowly, his fever in the process of breaking. With mild humor he asks, “Ensorcelled? How exactly were you ensorcelled Keng?”

Keng excitedly relates his story. “Elf, this masked person looked at me and my cock grew to the size of a giant redwood! I thought it would lift me off the floor and I could drill for diamonds in the highlands! I was about to rise and take her right there in the hall but I was unable to move!” Keng crosses his arms smugly and continues, “That is how I knew I was ensorcelled. If I was myself I would have ridden her ‘til the morning light.”

A few seconds of awkward silence passes before Jharad bursts out laughing. Then shaking his head he stands and wraps his blanket around him to ward off the cold. “Well my friend, either that is one hell of a dream you just had or there truly is something worth seeing in the hallway. Lead the way.”

Keng actually looks worried. “I forgot to mention she was attended by a enormous giant, easily two heads and a hundred pounds heavier than me! He was carrying a great wooden chest I bet I would have a tough time carrying. We should tread carefully.” He continues, “Perhaps we should seek the others’ council first?”

Sobering from the images brought about by Keng’s hallway fantasy Jharad replies, “Maybe we should just let this one be for the night. You and I are not exactly the quietest, and the thought of the five of us trying to investigate a giant and his wood-inducing companion down the hall in the dead of night does not strike me as the best course of action. How about you just slumber down inside the room for the rest of the night and we look into this further with the light of morning?”

Keng momentarily looks off into the distance fantasizing about wild stallions rutting across the desert, then shakes his head, his bone beads lightly clacking, “I fear I am still in her grip. Aye, you are right, this puzzle may be best suited for the light of day.” He throws himself down on the floor in front of the door with a loud thud, and then looks sheepishly at the elf and shrugs, “I will guard the door so you can sleep well.”

“Much appreciated my large friend. I will sleep better knowing you are there,” Jharad responds and settles back in bed to sleep off the remainder of his fever.

Lamashan 16 Sunday waning moon

The next morning they all gather in the common room for a breakfast of bread, jam, porridge, and cider. Jharad is still feeling a little light-headed and weak but is definitely better.

“We had an important person arrive last night in our modest, little inn…” Jethrik says to the others in conspiring tones, “Baron Viktor von Luden from Ustalav, himself! He is a powerful wizard and a merchant trader. He’s got two odd servants with him at all times. One is big and bulky,” he pats Keng’s arm, “and the other slight and graceful,” he puffs out his chest. “Both are as silent as the grave and their hands and faces are covered at all times! Very mysterious!” He finishes with a giggle, obviously amused at his own melodrama.

Smiling mischievously, Jharad says, “Keng had an encounter of his own with them last night,” leaving it open for the half-orc himself to finish.

Somehow in the light of day Keng doesn’t feel quite so proud of his experience. He tells the group a much simpler version, “I was outside Jharad’s room pretending to sleep when they all walked by. The ‘Baron’ was quite well dressed and his two servants completely covered. One was a giant of a beast, easily two heads taller and 100 pounds heavier than me carrying a large locked wooded chest with ease. The floor creaked under his weight. The smaller one ensorcelled me so as I could not move. I went into Jharad’s room and we decided to wait until this morning to discuss this.”

Toshio asks Keng, “Do you want to confront them about being ensorcelled?”

Keng is uncomfortable by the question. He shifts around in his seat and puts his spoon down. Looking at Toshio and the others he replies, “I don’t think this man and his servants are to be taken lightly.”

“Certainly not, but if you feel they’ve wronged you, we should at least talk with them about it. It needn’t come to blows or spell-casting. They’ll probably apologize or at least offer an explanation.”

“I agree,” says Zeyala. “There are rules about using magic against another’s will. As Toshio said, ‘An explanation is warranted.’”

“Uh…” Jethrik interrupts, “Here’s the thing about that. Before you start a negotiation, you should be clear on what you want. In this case, maybe all you want is an apology. Still, I think you need to be very clear about that. This wizard, as you say, is not to be trifled with. Obviously, this chest that was being carried in, well, he couldn’t take chances with it, could he? So his henchman was proactive in protecting it. Seems rude to me, but if that’s the explanation, is that sufficient? Or are you looking for more?”

“I am pretty sure Keng knows exactly what he wants,” Jharad quips. He seems barely able to keep back fits of laughter at each question and comment to Keng’s story.

Jethrik looks around the room nervously.

“Ease yourself, Jethrik,” says Zeyala. “I’m not suggesting we come off like the Chelaxian Inquisition. Inquiry is not unwarranted… or at least some investigation,” she adds as a wicked grin breaks across her face.

Jharad continues, “Yes Keng, do you feel you were wronged? Was it hard on you? Maybe it engorged you with rage and you would like to do something about it?”

Keng is now very uncomfortable. He squirms in his seat and briefly consider throwing his porridge at the elf. Instead he just glowers at him. Then he mumbles, “I ain’t got no issues.”

Not surprised by Keng’s reaction, Toshio replies, “Well, that settles it. Let’s just enjoy breakfast then and not make trouble where it’s not needed.”

Patting Keng on the back in friendly comfort Jharad clarifies for the others, “From what Keng was telling me last night the ensorcellment the more diminutive minion placed on him severely heightened his sexual appetite, specifically for ‘her’ I would propound. I can only assume it was done to curb his curiosity in their activities.”

“What a very odd spell.” Jethrik observes.

Keng adds, “Yeah, something ain’t right, but those three scare me.” Then looking at Toshio seeking to take attention away from his embarrassment he adds, “Never seen you so eager to back down from something nefarious.”

“Hmph. Nefarious?” replies Toshio. “So far it just seems rude. If you weren’t bothered by their actions then I don’t see any need to confront them about it.”

Zeyala laughs out loud. “Oh Keng. I don’t know how bad I should feel for you. I guess it could have been something much worse. If you’d like us to drop it, then we shall.”

Keng just shrugs and continues eating.

Toshio nods at Zeyala’s comment, and resists the temptation to needle Keng.

Sandru walks in and spotting his companions he joins them at their table. “So, did I miss anything big?” he asks.

Ameiko glances briefly at Keng and replies, “Something came up last night, but on further consideration it was probably just a private matter.”

“And the matter probably isn’t as big as Keng would like you to believe.”Jethrik snorts.

Just then, Baron von Luden comes into the common room, followed by his large servant, who is still carrying the large metal trunk. There is no sign of the smaller servant. The baron sits apart at a private table in a corner, and his servant stands by his side. The baron orders some porridge and juice but nothing for the servant. He eats rapidly and ignores everyone else present. He soon leaves with his servant to the visible relief of the staff.

Sandru nods knowingly. “Oh, Baron von Luden and his mysterious servants. I am sure Jethrik has already filled you in about him, or at least as much as anyone knows. Best to give them a wide berth.”

After breakfast Toshio, Jharad, and Keng accompany Sandru and Ameiko on a walk around the town, keeping out of the way but watching those around them. Since it is Sunday, a traditional day of rest and religious observance, most of the shops are closed and market day is not until Fireday. Sandru is happy to give a tour of the town to Ameiko and the others. Zeyala and Jethrik have of course visited before several times with Sandru and Koya and so they remain at the inn. Sandru does note the jeweler and the goldsmith shops that he will visit to sell the jewelry and other items he has in the strongbox. There are also two carpenters and four shipbuilders, one of whom he hopes will buy the lumber from Galduria. Finally he points out the wine merchant’s shop and the alchemist/apothecary, to whom he hopes to sell the wine and flayleaf. If they are not interested he might try to sell those items directly to the taverns or the brothel. There are also two temples in town, one for Gozreh and one for a myriad of deities though Desna is prominent, and other smaller shrines. Cayden Cailean, the drunken hero, and Calistria, the savored sting, are of course worshipped in the taverns and the brothel respectively, and those places are open on Sunday. Finally, Sandru points out that there are two general stores where they might find supplies and gear that might help them in exploring Brinewall.

No other incidents mark the day, nor does anyone see or hear anymore of Baron Luden or either of his servants.

Justice in Ravenmoor

Lamashan 13 Oathday full moon Hunter’s Moon

An hour before sunrise Viroic, Ornigaard’s father sounds a horn to call all the villagers to awaken and gather at the festival field. As it is the horn blown when goblins or trolls attack the village, the villagers are fairly quick to respond. Jethrik then calls them to the stage. He stands on a table in the front center of the platform. Weariness shows in his face and posture. Curtains are strung up behind him and cloths cover things laid out on the tables around him. The people murmur angrily at this, wondering what new devilry the strangers have stirred up, but Vioric hushes them and says that it would behoove them to listen to what Jethrik has to say. He then joins Toshio, Jharad, Keng, Zeyala, Koya and Lisette who stand nearby. Koya is dressed in the formal vestments of a priestess of Desna, white robes with black trim and a matching silken cap. Lisette is now dressed in Zeyala’s black silver trimmed cassock.

“People of Ravenmoor,” Jethrik begins in his stage voice, “I and my friends have uncovered a terrible conspiracy in your midst. For years, you have been made victims of greed and corruption. Those who swore to protect you have instead held you in thrall and leeched your strength, work, and wealth away from you. The corruption you have feared for so long was not natural – it was brought here by those who would control you.”

The villagers murmur again and look to each other, wondering what the gnome could possibly mean. A few however, such as Vioric nod, as they had suspected something had been wrong all along.

“Last night, my friends and I nearly became victims ourselves. We were attacked by the ringleaders and had to defend ourselves. I am very sorry to report that many of your fellow townspeople were slain in the fight.” This assertion elicits gasps of shock and now the villagers look to each other to see who is missing. Several edge away from Jethrik’s companions, as if afraid they might be attacked at any moment.

Jethrik quickly continues, raising his voice to be heard over their shocked outburst. “However, these townspeople were part of a cult! A cult that tried to kill one of my friends: Toshio a paladin of Iomedae. And when they failed to take him for a sacrifice they took one of your own, Ornigaard!”

At this Ornigaard shouts, “It’s true! They tried to kill me!”

Vioric hushes the boy but then turns back to the crowd and says loudly, “It’s all true! Listen to him! These strangers saved my boy at great risk of their own lives!”

This silences the crowd who now eagerly await Jethrik’s further explanation. Some in the crowd, notably Skender the ferryman and the two men and the woman from the house of the woman they executed, start to move towards the back of the crowd. Shel’s parents are notably absent.

Lisette nudges Toshio and whispers, “See, some are getting ready to run. I’ll bet you they are the ones I tracked to those homes last night.”

Jethrik continues, “We were forced to slay several of the cultists to rescue the innocent boy of this town. He was bound and gagged on the altar of their demonic god. This cult would have killed any of you to further its insanity. They have killed in the past. I am sorry to have to present this horror, but you need proof. Here is the body of the missing tax assessor found in the ringleader’s own home!”

Jethrik walks over to a table, hops up on a bench and folds back a blanket covering the face of the clerk. Gasps of horror rise from the crowd (though the gnome also uses a cantrip to to augment this reaction).

He continues, “And other victims known only to their gods.” Jethrik moves slowly to the other tables, hopping along benches and folding back the blankets to reveal the other victims. He pauses briefly looking down at the remains with grave consideration. The crowd is now very quiet, though here and there the sound of retching can be heard.

“This cult brought death and corruption upon you and more! They stole the tax money that was to be paid for your town. And they stole from you!” Jethrik spills the contents of a coffer over the side of a table, making a glittering shower of coins. “Now! We return to you, this gold that is rightly yours!”

The villagers are amazed by this and once more begin to murmur among themselves.

“And who was the chief ringleader? The mayor himself! Or something that was controlling him. Ladies and gentlemen, you may not wish to see the demon that wore your mayor’s skin. And yet, I must show it to you as proof that evil was at work in your midst. Avert your eyes if you must!”

Jethrik waves a hand using his magic to tear down the curtain hiding the thing that was in the mayor’s body. The crowd again gasps in horror and dismay. Several women and children shriek, and a couple of young women even faint at the sight. Older men reach for their hearts and even some younger men flinch and look away.

“Other monsters he had in his employ. This thing was playing the part of his brother Leonard!” Jethrik waves and another curtain falls revealing the corpse of the faceless stalker propped up on a wooden plank.

The reveal of Leonard causes one young girl to begin vomiting, a second to pass out, and third to curl up and begin rocking while babbling incoherently.

“And this creature was hiding in the fallow cornfield, a foul monster weaving webs of corruption.” With another wave of his hand a third curtain falls to reveal the corpse of the aranea.

Now the crowd begins to express its outrage, though not at Jethrik but at the lies and grotesque monstrosities that walked in their midst taking advantage of them.

“We regret the lives of those lost. And those we had to track down and execute to contain a deadly disease. We did our best to contain your loss. This means, however, that there are still cultists in your midst. We will report all these crimes however. The proper authorities will deal with them and you will have justice. We will not reveal them now, for fear that grief will turn to anger. We wish justice and healing for your town, not anger and more blood. The curse is broken, your treasure is returned. Be at peace! Forgive those who were misled by these demons. It is what Desna would have us do.”

Keng nudges Jharad, and whispers, “The gnome is good, eh?”

Trying not to show much emotion for fear he might ruin the bard’s tale Jharad quietly responds, “Indeed.”

“What do we do now then?” asks the villager named Erol.

Vioric answers him, “We must hold a village counsel among ourselves here and now. We need to elect a new mayor first of all.” Vioric and the members of the elder council come together before the stage while the other villagers begin talking in small groups among themselves as they await word from the council.

“That was a very persuasive speech, Jethrik,” says Zeyala as Vioric and the other villagers discuss what they must do. “You definitely won over the crowd. But I cannot accept waiting to reveal the cultist. Those remaining must answer for their crimes and it must be at the hands of their peers. They may have evaded us last night, but that does not absolve them from their crimes.  Any delay would be irresponsible.”

“Revealing their names now would restart the battle.” Jethrik sighs wearily. “The town might lynch them. The cultists might attack us. There would be more blood. Let them slip away. Let us slip away. I am done with the killing. It may not be what the Hellknights would want, but it is merciful. If you feel differently, you address the crowd. However, my power is spent. If something were to start now, I don’t know what I could do to help.”

“If the cultist move onto another village and take other innocent lives, is that merciful?” asks Zeyala.  ”If there was no intent to finish this, then we should not have started it.  While the crowd is still gathered and receptive, we should ask them if they would like to know whom among them is a cultist.  If not you, then yes, I will ask them.”

“We started it to save Toshio from being sacrificed, we broke the cult and contained the lycanthropy. The cultists probably will move to another village, but who’s to say they will continue with their evil? They’ve seen where it leads. I believe that people can be redeemed. If you feel otherwise, do as you must. But I stress again. I don’t think we can defend ourselves as we are. Our spellcasters have not had sufficient rest. We are not ready for another fight.”

“You can try to justify it, but the reason why it started doesn’t matter. How it ends, does,” says Zeyala. “It should be there decision to make.”

“I’m with Zeyala,” says Toshio. “The cultists need to repent or face justice. If that’s at the hands of their fellow villagers, so be it, and it seems right. If they turn on us, we can handle them. But they should not be allowed to spread their evil.”

Suddenly, the bruiser known as Jeb whom Keng fought the day before, shouts to Jethrik and his companions, “How can we be at peace? You tell us that we still have demon worshippers among us? Could there still be further things like this?” He gestures to the dead monsters on display. “You must tell us who they are!” He pounds his fist into the palm of his other hand and curls his lip, glaring at his neighbors. The other villagers also begin to cry out, some even begin denouncing their neighbors as demon worshippers and witches. Festering resentments now turn to open accusations.

Koya hops up on the stage and cries out while waving her starknife over her head, “Devotees of Desna! Hear me! I am a true priestess of Desna! Your faith must not come to nothing, but can be restored. My companions have killed the monsters, killed the high priest of Desna’s ancient foe, and killed those who have murdered in Desna’s name. Those who are left were deluded and could possibly be converted to the true teaching of Desna. Please be calm and consider. You have been in a nightmare but are now being given the chance to awaken. Dream of something better!”

This gets the crowd’s attention. Vioric and the elders then take the stage and declare that they will renew their faith in Desna right then and there if she can show that she has the favor of the goddess. To prove herself, Koya withdraws two scroll cases that begin to shine with a holy light. She announces, “I have here the Seven Scrolls of Desna! I will give you the direct word of the goddess! Come gather around me and I will hear your oath to serve the goddess. I will cast a zone of truth so that no false oath may be given. We will all then know who cannot in all sincerity renounce Ghlaunder and truly embrace the Desna.”

The elder council readily agrees to this and bid all the villagers to gather. In the name of the Song of the Spheres, Koya casts the spell and then leads all the villagers in an oath to renounce the demon of parasites and infection and to instead take faith in the goddess of good dreams and good fortune, travelers and the stars. Altogether they vow to dream a new life and take up a new path with the sun, moon, and stars as their witness. Only one is unable to say the words, Skender Cardzi, the ferryman. Shel’s parents are notably absent, as they did not appear that morning and are likely still recovering from their wounds. Skender is pulled aside by Vioric and Jeb and held fast until the ceremony is over.

Koya ends with a final dedication: “We respectfully dedicate all our merits now gathered to the great goddess Desna. We extol the benevolent gods. By this we offer them the enjoyment of true liberation. May heaven, earth, and the land be auspicious and purified. May the weather be seasonable and the wind and rain come as appropriate. May there be a fruitful harvest of the five grains and the plants and trees flourish. May the four seas be calm and all people enjoy their daily lives. May the august light of the Song of the Spheres protect us, enable the life journeys of your clergy and followers to be free of obstacles, foster freedom and benevolence, help both gods and humans, enable us to advance in our good deeds, dream of bright futures, and travel new path to greater joy.”

Vioric and Jeb pull Skender over to face Koya, Jethrik, Shalelu, and the others. “What shall we do with him then?” asks Vioric. “And what of those who were not here, Saul and Anya Lupescu? It was they who tried to kidnap your friend Toshio for sacrifice, and then when they were shown mercy they sent their daughter out again to kidnap my son.”

“For my part, I think that is for you, the village elders to debate and pray upon.” Jethrik replies. “Ask Koya what Desna would have you do. This is your chance to live a better dream.”

Toshio puts in his two coppers worth. “You are right. It should be up to the people of the village. I would prefer that their evil be ended now, but if the villagers choose to set them loose on the world, then any evil they commit will be on the villagers’ hands.”

“I agree as well,” add Zeyala. “I think it is best for the town to determine their fate.”

In the end, after much deliberation, Vioric is chosen by the elders to be the new mayor and appointment is confirmed by a vote of all the farmers present (meaning the heads of landholding households). Vioric also informs Shalelu and the others that the provisions they need will be confiscated from the Lupescus and given free of charge for Sandru’s caravan in gratitude for all that has been done for the town.

Koya informs Vioric that she has decided to stay for a couple of weeks at Ravenmoor so she can teach he and the elders from the Seven Scrolls and help them to restore their church until another priest of Desna can be sent. Shalelu promises to try to find and send them one if he can find any during his trip back to Galduria to meet with Jeminda Anikee so he can turn over the tax money, the evidence of Elias’ fate, and also the Kriegler Book. He will also provide her with a full report of all that occurred. As for Lisette, she decides that her place, for the time being, will be in Ravenmoor to look after Koya.

Keng says, “By the gods! Can we eat now?”

Smiling, Toshio tells Lisette, “I, for one, will be quite happy knowing you are keeping an eye on Koya. You’ll both do great things here.”

“Thanks for your confidence. As I said, I feel that this is where Desna wants me to be. I hope you are not too disappointed that it was not Iomedae whose path I now seem to be following.”

“No need to feel that way. It would have been the icing on the cake, but I’m just pleased you’ve found a good path, a good cause, and a place where you can be a good influence on others,” says Toshio encouragingly.

Jethrik moseys over to the ranger affecting a casual manner. “Shalelu, I was just thinking that there’s a lot more to the story than we have seen here tonight. Any chance I could look over that book for some backstory? I’d just look it over for as long as I have until you need to turn it over to the authorities. I wouldn’t want to cause any fuss, after all.”

Shalelu smiles and readily hands over the book. “You are more than welcome to read as much of it as you can before I leave for Galduria tomorrow. I am sure we would all be interested in learning what has really been going on in Ravenmoor, and whether the corruption started with this mayor, or some earlier one, or even with Iola Kriegler herself.”

Later that afternoon, Vioric asks Shalelu to please bring Skender and even the Lupescus back in chains to Galduria to face the magistrate there – though probably they will ultimately be sent to the Justice Court in Magnimar due to the magnitude of the crime of participating in conspiracy, demon worship, human sacrifice, and the murder of a tax collector. There they will most likely reside in the deepest levels of the Hells beneath the Pediment building so a confession can be tortured out of them before being convicted and crushed upon the wheel and then hoisted atop a pole in the public square for the scavenger birds to peck at while they slowly die of pain, dehydration, and exposure to the elements. Shalelu of course is not expected to take them to Magnimar but only so far as the jail in Galduria. Shalelu unhappily agrees, not being particularly endeared to human “justice” but only on condition that Vioric assign a couple of trustworthy men to accompany them. Once that is settled, Vioric directs Jeb and another brutish farmer to drag the Lupescus from their home and to lock both them and Skender in the stocks for the night. This is done and of course immediately the village children come out and enjoy themselves by hurling rotten fruit, mud, and even excrement at the demon worshippers.

Toshio may not feel warmly toward Shalelu, but he doesn’t envy her that trip.

As promised, provisions are delivered to the caravan. Arrows are also provided to fill the quivers of any who need them. A bushel of Ravenmoor’s flayleaf is also included, taken from behind the derelict farmhouse just before the building was put to the torch. Some local wine vintages are also sold to Sandru at bargain prices for sale in Roderic’s Cove.

As Sandru assesses the values of the loot, Toshio tries to be nearby so he can watch and learn. As the caravan resupplies he also tries to listen in on the dealings, and generally to get a good understanding of what a caravan master does.

“You keep quite busy, caravan naster. It’s tiring just watching you. How did you come to choose this line of work?”

Sandru stops for a moment and looks at Toshio with a grin, “I used to be caravan guard like you are now. Maybe someday you’ll have a caravan of your own. Heh. Actually, I don’t think that’s your line. You seem more the crusader type. I imagine one of these days you’ll hook up with the Knights of Ozem in Lastwall or perhaps join the Fourth Crusade in Mendev. That’s the type you strike me to be. Myself? I was an adventurer before this. I explored some of the many Thassilonian ruins in these parts and recovered enough lost treasures to put this caravan together. Koya was kind enough to join me. She practically raised me and my brother you know, so it made the caravan more of a true home. Adventuring was fun, but this is more profitable.” His smile fades and he looks to the darkening eastern sky. “And a lot safer,” he ends quietly.

“Really? Caravans are more profitable? I guess all the stories I’ve heard aren’t true after all. I imagine the steady routines of a caravan must be good to work with. Then again, this particular caravan trip seems to have had more than its share of trouble.”

Sandru smiles ruefully. “The stories you’ve heard? From old wives and friends of a friend’s cousin? No, you only hear the wild success stories, but you don’t hear abut the hundreds of other adventuring parties who didn’t make the big score – they just disappeared. And yes, this caravan has seen more than its fair share of trouble. I’ve gone up and down this route for years and haven’t seen so much trouble. Maybe the gods are sending it our way because we have the means to fix it, but as for me?” He pats the crate of Ravenmoor wine that he is loading into his wagon. “I’d rather make 50 or a 100 gold selling wine or hardwood or dried fish rather than have to fight giants or the undead because I went looking for trouble in the wilds thinking to make the big score. Hmm, of course…” Sandru’s eyes stray over to where Ameiko is helping pack one of the other wagons, “that is exactly what we’re doing now isn’t it? Heading off into the wilds after the big score. Except that in this case it’s Ameiko’s family legacy, so at least its not just greed or wanderlust driving us on.”

“I’m not so sure wonderlust, or something like it, isn’t what’s driving Ameiko.”

Sandru gives Toshio a piercing look. “You grew up with her in Sandpoint didn’t you? Did she ever tell you what she was doing when she left home when she was 16? Maybe you should ask her sometime.”

Keng helps the teamsters load the wagons. He keeps an eye on Shalelu for a time she is free and when he sees her alone he approaches her. He tries to be subtle but ends up stomping over to her and then stands looking at her until she acknowledges him. He then says, “You are leaving again?”

“It would seem so. Have no fear, though. When my errand is done I will ride north again to rejoin you all.”

Keng is quiet for a long time, clearly he is ill at ease, and has more to say. “M’lady, I find civilization confusing.”

“Please, Keng, just call me Shalelu. I am not nobility, not among elves or humans, just a humble ranger. And yes, I find what human’s call ‘civilization’ perplexing as well. Instead of regulating their birth rate they breed like rabbits and then have to ravage the countryside just to survive. Instead of dwelling in harmony with their environment they cluster together behind stonewalls. They bind themselves with all kind of rules and laws and taboos to control one another but mainly, it seems to me, to protect the property of the wealthy and enable them to become even more wealthy, usually to the detriment of those who have little or nothing to begin with. Then they appoint as their rulers not those who have actual ability or a benevolent regard for the people but those who have simply had the good fortune to be born into certain families. On top of that they expect everyone to respect these rulers and their grandiose titles as though they really were capable and benevolent. The whole human way of life seems to be nothing but delusion and fraud piled upon delusion and fraud, and at the core nothing but naked ruthless ambition and blind greed.

“The Shoanti, at least, try to live in small sustainable groups, and if a leader is not up to the task he can be challenged by someone young and vital and visionary enough to do a better job, and they live in harmony with the land by making the most of what little they have. They have no books of laws and precedents they have their traditions, personal honor, and the wisdom of their elders. Yes, that is more sensible, though they are still not as refined and gentle as the elves.

“I would even say that the orcs or more comprehensible than these ‘civilized’ Chelaxian humans. The orcs are brutal and savage, but they make no bones about it. They are straightforward and you know where you stand with them. They have no pretentions and do not cover up their depredations by labeling them as taxes or fees or tolls. You know they will just take whatever they can get. And they don’t call their wars holy or just, they just do what comes naturally to them with no apology to anyone. The orcs of Belkzen are indeed vile and dangerous, but unlike the Hellknights and politicians of Magnimar and Korvosa they are easy to understand. They are wild predators who only understand strength.

“Still, I should not be too harsh. There are good men and women among them, and their striving for order is an attempt to be fair and just, even if it is too often twisted to low ends. Perhaps someday they will outgrow their ‘civilization’ and discover the true liberty, personal dignity, and benevolence that the elves discovered long ago.”

Keng scuffs the dirt and mutters a few times trying to form a coherent thought. He sighs and looks at Shalelu a long time, then nods his head. “Aye,” he says. It is as I thought. If you can hardly understand them then they are incomprehensible to one such as me, a barbarian from the Cinderlands.”

He turns and looks at the others working and milling about and pauses when he looks upon Lissette who is speaking with Koya. “M’l… Shalelu… I fear I have wronged the were wolf. She did fight to save us.”

Shalelu frowns, “Yes, you should apologize to her. That was discourteous of you. We all perhaps owe her our lives for jumping in, even if it was the behest of Desna.”

Keng hesitates again, and then continues, “I also am not sure how I can be around the paladin without killing him. He is irritating lording it around us all the time and like as not making bad decisions nearly to getting us killed several times. As you say, in a Shoanti tribe, he would be quickly challenged. What should I do?”

“Yes, his idealism is taking him in strange directions. I am sure that he means well, but he does bear watching. Fortunately for us, it is Sandru who is truly in charge of this caravan, and Ameiko who is in charge of this expedition. I would go to them if you should have any more concerns about Toshio. These are dangerous territories we are going to be traveling through, including Roderic’s Cove, and so we must try not to fight among ourselves.”

As everyone is gathering around the campfire for dinner, Keng approaches Lisette and says, “Lisette, I owe you an apology for my insult. You risked much to save us. I am in your debt. If you ever have need please send me a message with this,” Keng cuts off one of his dreadlocks with a bone trophy woven into it and hands it to her. “I will come to you and provide such aid as I can. This token may be passed down to your children and honored by my line until it is used, as is the way of the Shoanti. Please accept this token of aid as my apology.”

Lisette’s eyes widen. She takes the token in both hands and says, “I don’t know what to say, but thank you, Keng. I accept your apology and this token.” She smiles awkwardly, not sure what else to say and then sits and contemplates Keng’s gift.

Toshio is surprised quite pleasantly. Keng is keeping him on his toes with a mix of misbehavior and unexpected civility. Keeping all that to himself, he just smiles, pleased for both Keng and Lisette.

Zeyala smiles at this.  ”Keng,” she says. “You have taken your first step into a much larger world.

Keng has no idea what she is talking about as this gift is known to the Shoanti, but knows some form of polite response is required for those in the civilized lands. He forces himself to smile but unfortunately it looks like a snarl. “Thank you,” he says. He then looks towards the elf to gauge if his response was adequate, and from Jharad’s smile and nod it would seem that it was.

After dinner, the distribution of the various items taken from the derelict farmhouse and the mayor’s manor that were not restored to the villagers or to be taken as evidence to Galduria are discussed.

Jharad starts, “We have collected quite a bit of this blue whinnis poison. If I am correct it has the effect of rendering one unconscious and is not systemically invasive long term. I plan to keep a few of these on hand but there is more for anybody else who wishes.”

Keng says, “I will take one.”

Toshio says, “I think poison is a dishonorable way to defeat a foe. I won’t use it. However, I’d rather have it in your possession than sold, to end up with gods know who.”

Replying to the paladin, Jharad says, “These would fetch quite a profit though, which would certainly help fund our expedition.”

“I know. I know,” says Toshio. “And it’s certainly tempting, but the harm isn’t worth it. You use it justly, and I won’t need to worry that it may be put to evil purposes.”

Sandru grimaces and says, “Like press gangs in Roderic’s Cove out to recruit some new deckhands? No, I have to agree with Toshio. It would be better to either destroy them or use them ourselves against our enemies.”

Ameiko adds, “I do like the idea of knocking out people rather than having to kill them.”

Jethrik looks through the pile of loot and pulls aside a few items, including the rubbings of Thassilonian script from the mayor’s manor, a potion to cure moderate wounds, two potions of shield of faith, a vial of antitoxin, and two vials of the blue whinnis poison. “I’d like to lay claim to these, if there are no strong objections.”

“Be careful with those,” says Zeyala. “You could accidentally poison yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

“I bet one of those will come in handy to me,” says Toshio, indicating the shield of faith potions. “May I… ? Also, a healing potion would be nice. Just on case. I seem to need healing a fair amount. If you’ll forgive the greed I’d like to hold one of those, too.”

Toshio points to the Galdurian wine taken from the mayor’s home and asks, “Is that wine worth so much that we shouldn’t enjoy it ourselves? If it’s not so valuable, let’s break out the glasses and share it here in the caravan.”

Sandru says, “Those bottles are worth 15 gold each.” He shrugs, “I am certainly not against drinking them now in celebration of your rooting out a cult of Ghlaunder.”

“Most definitely,” says Zeyala. “When we reach our destination, the rest should fetch a good price.”

Jharad pops the cork of one bottle and takes a big swig before passing it around. He then opens 3 more to pass around.

“About the pearl, Jharad,” starts Zeyala. “I will not deny that I am intrigued by it.”

Jharad removes it from his pouch so they can both look at it and says, “Yes, a pretty thing isn’t it. It would serve either of us well by its use.”

“I pray that Pharasma will grant me more power to work healing,” says Zeyala. ”You excel at magic and combat. My usefulness drains with my positive energy.”

Smiling Jharad responds, “It is good then that the wand and sickle will be useful to you then. For me I am just happy I was able to find something as useful as this pearl out of this ill begotten place.”

Keng grunts and swipes traces of ale off his mouth, “I got crap out of this raid. A few potions is all. When are we leaving for someplace with better pickings?”

Sandru, who is busily appraising the jewels that were found, looks up and says, “We will be in Roderic’s Cove shortly. There we can sell these jewels and other items and split the proceeds in accordance with the contract. Then you may buy whatever more useful items you may need there before we leave the civilized lands for the Velashu Uplands. Now looking all this over I would say this gold necklace you found is worth 120 gold, the jewels in this strongbox are worth about 550 gold in total. In addition to that, before they burned down that farmhouse I had them pack up the alchemists lab as it would be worth 200 gold. I also had that flayleaf behind the house harvested. That should bring in 600 gold in Roderic’s Cove, and they don’t even have any laws against it there, so we don’t even have to smuggle it in.”

Shalelu looks up and asks, “How much would that quilt taken from the crawl space in the farmhouse be worth? I am taking it back to Galduria as further evidence but I am curious.”

Sandru replies, “Well that could bring in as much as 50 gold to a collector of folk art, but as you say it is evidence.”

Toshio lets the night play out as everyone tells their tales of the Ravenmoor events. He shares the wine Jharad has opened, but is careful not to have too much.

Some time later in the evening Jharad approaches Shalelu as she stands the second watch and says in a low voice, “You have a long journey ahead of you. That is unfortunate as I was enjoying being around you once again.”

“As I told Keng earlier, I will be returning from this distasteful errand as soon as I can. I don’t like to think about what may be done to those I am going to turn over to Magnimar. All one needs to do with evil is eradicate it. I see no purpose in the grotesque displays that humans seem to go in for.”

“All in the name of justice as they see it,” replies Jharad. Changing the subject he says with a grin, “Well I will try and keep an eye on things while you are away, of course ready to shoot our paladin in the arm again should things get out of control.”

Shalelu laughs but then sobers quickly. “I also told Keng earlier that we are about to cross into dangerous lands. It is better if we don’t fight among ourselves. I worry that Toshio and Keng may come to blows. Please keep that from happening while I am gone.” She reaches out grips Jharad’s shoulder with an earnest look.

Still smiling but with a serious tone Jharad replies, “Of course. Keng I consider a true friend among those I travel with and I have been looking out for him for some time now. He and Toshio may have a reckoning at some point but I will keep that from happening until the time that unity is no longer needed to complete our tasks.” Taking her touch as affection he too reaches out and cups the back of her head in his right hand with a single caress of her hair. Quickly realizing he may have completely misread her intentions he removes his hand and takes a small, awkward step backwards but says nothing.

Shalelu reaches out and caresses Jharad’s cheek but then withdraws her hand. With a smile she says, “I look forward to getting back to you all. I hope that we will all be able to spend time again to deepen our friendships.”

Lamashan 14 Fireday waning moon

By staying up late into the night using cantrips for light, Jethrik is able to read through the relevant portions of the Book of Kriegler. He learns that Iola Kriegler, the town’s founder, had actually been a priestess of Desna at one time. In the story told at the festival, she went on a vision question to save Ravenmoor from a supernatural blight. What the festival story did not reveal was that the visions she chose to follow were not from the goddess Desna, but from her ancient enemy. Iola fell victim to Ghlaunder’s dark visions and she was led to a strange commune of his followers deep in the Churlwood, from whom she learned of a ritual that would ensure good harvests in return for giving the spawn of Ghlaunder a place to safely grow – her body, her descendants, her village.

Accompanied by two faceless stalkers disguised as human druid advisors, Iola returned to Ravenmoor a changed creature. But while her flock worried about her, they could not dispute the miracles that she worked, and the harvest that year and every year since yielded enough bounty to keep the villagers provided and safe. Iola, now a priestess of Ghlaunder, recruited select members of the village into her inner circle of allies. She formed a hidden cult within the populace who helped mask the truth from the others. As Ravenmoor grew increasingly isolated, the strange beliefs and traditions in town became more and more distorted, and the worship of Desna grew increasingly perverted into a mockery of her faith.

Iola eventually paid for her bargain with Ghlaunder when her body gave birth to one of the Gossamer King’s spawn, but not before giving birth in the preceeding years to several children of her own. The Kriegler line would rule Ravenmoor for decades, both as mayor’s and as secret spiritual leaders, and each of them eventually bore the Gossamer King’s spawn in a gory ritualistic death in the wee hours of the morning. Now and then, a particularly astute villager would discover the truth, but the cult was always quick to silence such folks before they could spread the word.

And so, over the generations, Ravenmoor has stagnated. In the end, the Kriegler line dwindled to a single member, the mayor Andretti Kriegler, whose brothers were actually faceless stalkers. Andretti, however, was sterile. Without the ability to continue his line, he knew that the line of the Gossamer King’s spawn would come to an end as well. Visions granted by his dark god made it clear that should he allow this to happen, Ravenmoor would not only suffer greatly, but his immortal soul would be denied is proper place in the Gossamer King’s court in the afterlife.

And so Kriegler began researching a cure for his condition. He hoped that by performing a number of fertility rituals centered around blood sacrifices that came to him in visions he could cure his sterility and father children to carry on the Gossamer King’s legacy. The initial sacrifices were Founder’s Feast Queen’s who refused to be indoctrinated into the cult, or else villagers who were not cult members but were aged or infirm. To cover these sacrifices up the victims would be temporarily replaced by one of the faceless stalkers, who then either feigned deciding to move out of town to seek their fortunes elsewhere or faked a death after a few months passed. Still, the mayor worried about testing the limits of the non-cultist’s faith in the counterfeit worship of Desna and, even worse, make them suspect that there was more to their beloved “Dream Tender” than they were led to believe. The arrival of a tax collector named Elias Kyle less than 24 hours before a ritual was scheduled struck the mayor as a divine sign, and though Kyle struggled and managed to kill one of the cult’s faceless stalker allies, in the end his sacrifice went exactly as Kriegler had planned, down to luring new sacrifices to town for the next few rituals, for what could be better than sacrificing strangers from outside who were non-believers?” (adapted from Feast at Ravenmoor, pp. 1 & 17)

That morning, Toshio makes certain to rise early and complete his devotions, and then carefully checks his gear. He finds some busy work to do and makes sure he’s near Ameiko’s wagon before she comes out for the day. When she does he greets her with a cheery, “Well, good morning sunshine! How are you this fine day?”

She smiles back at Toshio and says, “Well, you’re certainly in a good mood this morning. It’s nice, you deserve to have a good day after all you’ve been through.”

“With luck, the rest of our trip will be as nice as this morning. I can’t help wondering what we’ll find, though. Doesn’t it make you eager to get on the road and reach our destination? I should probably keep that curiosity in check – but I can’t.”

Ameiko laughs, “Eager to get to our destination? As opposed to being stuck on a hill during a flood while stalked by werewolves, or mired in a village with demon worshippers trying to sacrifice us? Yes, I am very eager to get away from all this and to Brinewall to find out what my family locked away there and then to get back home where I belong.”

“You’ve certainly made a good place for yourself back at home. But sometimes I see a look in your eye and I think, maybe, you might wish you were somewhere else. I think our trip may be just what you needed. Hey! Just for fun… what do you think it could be that your family left?”

Ameiko looks pensive and says, “I have no idea what could have been left. Our family’s ‘greatest treasure’ in a warding box hidden in a secret vault. What could be so important? What could my family have been running from?” Ameiko shrugs and shakes her head. “Your guess is as good as mine Toshio. But yes, perhaps I did need an excuse to get out of Sandpoint and see the wide world once again.”

Toshio keeps an eye out for Koya. When she has a moment he approaches her, making sure Lisette isn’t within earshot. “Good morning to you, Koya. May I take a moment of your time? Before the caravan departs I wanted to make sure to wish you well while you finish putting the town to rights. It’s a wonderful opportunity to help them, ‘though you’ll be missed from the caravan.

“I also wanted to put in a word for Lisette. I’m really happy for her. This is a good chance for her to set some solid roots down in a place that can really use her help. It will be great for her and for the town, and serving Desna here will give her the purpose and focus she needs to stay on the good path. But I wanted to ask you to keep an eye on her, for her sake. She says she’s staying here to keep an eye on you, or rather, to make sure no harm comes to you. I’m sure that’s her intent. But she really is going to need someone to be her ally and keep her on the right path, too. I was hoping you’d be that someone and keep an eye on her, even as she’s protecting you. I’d feel better if you’d do that.”

“Oh have no fear, Toshio. We will look after each other. You did well, when all is said and done. The Harrow told me that things could have gone disastrously or gloriously. Thank Desna’s stars they went gloriously, though not without much horror and pain. Still, your courage and belief in her despite everything and even the face of the disdain and threats of some of your own comrades was what won her trust and enabled her to change her path. Our patron goddesses seem to have once more allied to help a mortal soul. Probably Iomedae knew that Lisette was too wild at heart to ever be a true devotee of hers, and so she sent Desna to reach out to her to fulfill what you started. I couldn’t help but notice that even her wolf form is changing now. She is a silver wolf with golden eyes! A real beauty.”

Before the various people go their separate ways, Toshio makes a point of finding Shalelu. “Hey, thanks for not shooting me this time,” he says with more than a bit of irony in his tone.

Shalelu grimaces but chooses not to reply to Toshio’s gibe.

He immediately feels a bit guilty for teasing her and adds (with sincerity), “But seriously, be careful on your trip. You’ve got prisoners and some help that you really don’t know how far you can trust. Sleep lightly. And good luck.” He may not be over being shot, but he still respects her overall intent and ability.

“Thank you for your concern, but I have been patrolling and safeguarding these parts since before you were born. This is not the first time I have escorted loot and dangerous prisoners through the wilds. I am sure it will not be my last.” She nods curtly to him and rides over to check on the three prisoners.

After saying her goodbyes to Ameiko, Sandru, Keng, and the other members of the caravan, Shalelu rides off on a horse provided by Vioric. Her saddlebags are loaded with Ravenmoor’s back taxes, the Book of Kriegler, Elias’ signet ring, his light mace, his notes found in the mayor’s manor, and the quilt from the farmhouse. Accompanying her are the villagers Jeb and Zandaru, also on horseback. The three prisoners, Skender and the Lupescus (who have been given healing potions so they could endure the trip to Galduria), are bound in chains and each tied to one of the horses so that they must jog along behind them.

Once Shalelu has left, Vioric, his family, and the other elders of Ravenmoor thank Toshio and the others for all they have done to free the village of Ghlaunder’s corruption. Ornigaard gives Toshio a hug and tearfully asks him to please come back someday. Lisette, now dressed in a homespun peasant dress, also hugs Toshio, and though she doesn’t ask if he will return she does give him a kiss on the cheek and thanks him again for all he has done for her. Koya also says very warm goodbyes to everyone in the caravan, as does Vankor who is staying behind with her.

Once the goodbyes are all finished, Sandru gets the caravan moving out and headed to Roderic’s Cove. Koya can still be seen waving from outside her wagon, with Lisette at her side, as the departing wagons turn down the path leading away from Ravenmoor and they are lost to sight.

It turns out to be an unusually warm day, but fortunately they are not as plagued by mosquitos as would be expected. This would seem to be a sign that Desna is indeed looking after them and keeping the influence of Ghlaunder at bay. The rest of the day’s journey is delightfully uneventful. They camp at night under the stars and waning moon and are able to sleep peacefully through the night.

Evidence of Atrocities

Returning to the derelict farmhouse they see that the house’s windows are all boarded up. Twisted and entwined vines of dead ivy drape the rotting columns and broken boards of the rickety porch creating a thick curtain of vegetation. Even still the constant hum of insects fills the air. A door hanging from rusty hinges is barely visible through the thick drapery of ivy. As they push their way past the vines up to the door they see a deformed human skeleton on the boards, mostly overgrown with vines.

Before going inside, Jethrik once more casts the light cantrip on the copper piece he had earlier given to Toshio. Past the creaking door is a large room dominated by a cold hearth. Between the mostly collapsed internal walls and separate jumbles of crumbled furniture, it seems that this large room may once have been several smaller rooms. A rickety ladder leads to what looks like an upper loft above, visible through several large holes in the overhanging ceiling above. A large wooden cage sits in the southwestern corner of the room.

Atop the ladder is a five-foot-high crawlspace, which runs along the western facade of the farmhouse. The windows here are all boarded up, but the slits between the boards still afford anyone inside a fine view of the western and southern fields surrounding the house. A closet here contains a fair amount of discarded junk, including a quilt richly embroidered with scenes of sacrifice. The embroidered designs depict mosquito masked cultists and stirges circling a central figure covered in black tumors caressing a bound prisoner. The embroidery depicts the victim smiling pleasantly as a ghostlike form leaves his body and accepts the embrace of the cancerous cult leader. Other scenes depict flourishing crops beneath the watchful gaze of the sacrificed victim’s spirit.

To the left of the main room is an entrance to a smaller room littered with broken chairs, old straw-filled mattresses, and water-stained quilts. Some burnt out candles perch by the boarded up window. Shalelu warns anyone from going into the room and points out that the extensive water damage has rotted the floor to the point where it would surely collapse under their weight. Nevertheless she uncovers a pile of rags near the door to reveal a strongbox inside of which are various pieces of jewelry that might be worth a considerable sum.

“This perhaps will pay Ravenmoor’s taxes if we find nothing else,” says Shalelu.

On the right side of the back wall of the main room is a door leading into a long room that is empty save for a large mound of compost covered in tiny black mushrooms heaped nearly to the ceiling in the southeast corner of the room, recognizable as the same ones that were enjoyed at the Founder’s Feast. As the light of Toshio’s coin illumines that corner of the room the pile seems to twitch and Shalelu hisses at him to cover it up and back away. It seems that the mushrooms are growing upon a sickly greenish-brown slime. Jethrik realizes what it is, having heard tales of such slime molds. He tells them that it is a type of ooze that exists in symbiosis with fungi, mildew and toadstools in deep forests and caves, and even sewers. They can move about and strike at their prey, infecting them with a deadly fungal rot. They are also quite resistant to fire. It is decided to give the slime mold a wide berth.

To the north, an old kitchen seems to have been repurposed into some sort of indoor garden. A workbench cluttered with pottery stills and glass alembics stands below small alcoves filled with vials and beakers. Dozens of clay vessels rest haphazardly on wooden boxes, each sprouting neatly-pruned shrugs or large, exotic mushrooms. They appear surprisingly well-tended, given the state of the rest of the building, though the roots of several have burst through their pots. Closer examination of the plants reveals that they are a large collection of poisonous mushrooms and other strange fungi, including several containers of a pale blue mold that Jethrik identifies as blue whinnis. Jethrik further informs them that while eating blue whinnis in its natural form causes only mild discomfort, when its toxins are extracted and concentrated the result is the blue whinnis poison that can knock people out. Apparently this is what the cult has been coating their sickles with. Also present are four strange puffball-like spore cases, gray and the size of a man’s fist. No one is able to identify these. Among the four is a fifth recently emptied spore case. Continuing their search they turn up, eight doses of blue whinnis poison, five vials of alchemist’s fire, two potions of shield of faith (+2), two potions of neutralize poison, and a potion of cure moderate wounds.

On the east wall just past the kitchen area is a secret door leading to the backyard. On the north wall is a door opening into a windowless room with a single unlit brass lantern hanging from a rusty nail on the northern wall. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of moths crawl through the ceiling’s rafters and on the moldering curtains of boarded up windows, the disturbance of their movements causing eerie shadows to wiggle on every surface. Old floorboards have been ripped up in the room’s corner, allowing a flight of earthen steps to lead down into the ground. The moths flutter about Toshio’s lighted coin but other than being extremely irritating they pose no threat.

The stairs leading down into the basement are thick with webbing that has to be cleared out of the way before they can proceed. Down below they find a small low ceilinged room decorated by curtains made out of a mix of thick sheets of webs adorned with countless dead insects. Most of these are flies and mosquitos, some of which are quite large. At the far end of the room sits a low wooden table on which a hideous shape crouches – a human-sized statue of an insectile monster made from cornhusks, dry branches, rags, and bones. It is obvious to them all that the statue is an idol of Ghlaunder. The floor of the room is an uneven layer of moist soil and earth, and three shovels, their blades caked with earth, lean against the sides of the stairs.

Closer inspection reveals not only that parts of the idol of Ghlaunder have been splashed with blood, but that a dozen cult robes and mosquito masks lie under the table. They also smell a faint stink of rot and decay, a stink that’s stronger near the floor. Shalelu, Toshio, and Kengh dig a little with the shovels and soon find the source, for it is here that the cult hid several bodies of unfortunate travelers over the past several years. Many of them are nothing but skeletons now, but a few are much fresher. The freshest still bears a full head of red hair and wears a suit of ruined nobleman’s clothes. The cause of death was likely the enormous gash along his belly where the cultists eviscerated him and stuffed him with cornhusks and a few dead stirges.

“I fear we have found Elias,” states Shalelu solemnly.

Going out the secret back door they come to the small patch of flayleaf in which the stirges had been nesting when they first came to the farmhouse. Beyond that there is an outhouse and a fetid muddy cattle pons buzzing with the sound of gnats. Its surface writhes with a thick layer of wriggling mosquito larvae. The stench of rot emanates from the maggot-filled corpse of a dead ox calf that lies half-submerged on the edge of the pool, tangled in the vegetation.

To the south of this is the barn out of which came the misshapen villagers that attacked them when they first arrived here. Holes peforate the roof of the old barn, while streaks of bird droppings and smears of dark red stains decorate the portions that remain intact. The dilapidated remains of a sagging hayloft drips with accumulated rainwater, while at the barn’s back wall stands a makeshift, candlelit shrine crowed with an enormous set of mothlike wings of moldy canvas. Scattered throughout the barn are human bones, mostly hands and feet. They also turn up a gold necklace, a masterwork light mace emblazoned with the symbol of Magnimar typically given to tax collectors who have duties that may take them to dangerous areas, a pearl of power (1st level spell), and a hand of glory.

Back at the manor they find evidence something that Elias had left behind. In one of the bedrooms a scrap of paper had been stuffed into a slit in the mattress where the bed is pushed against the wall. One side of the paper contains an order from the city of Magnimar for the collection of 500 gold in back taxes from Ravenmoor, while on the other is a crude map of Ravenmoor with several buildings circled – the trading post, the weaver, the ferry, and Kriegler Manor.

In the master bedroom belonging to the mayor, a more thorough search by Shalelu and Jharad locates a loose floorboard, beneath which is a large red chest containing the town’s funds. With the mayor’s key they open it and find 720 gold in all. Also in the chest is a century-old leather journal that bears the inscription, “The Kriegler Book” on its title page. Written in several different hands, it is a chronicle of the Kriegler family, starting with Iola herself. The book contains the full story of Ravenmoor’s fate, but it is dense and difficult to read and may well take a week or two of study before full sense can be made of it. There is one final piece of evidence in the chest – a small leather pouch containing three potions of cure light wounds and a silver signet ring. Jethrik easily identifies it as a typical Magnimarian government clerk’s ring, traditionally used by tax collectors and clerks to seal minor government missives.

Keng asks Shalelu, “M’lady would it not be good now to burn the old farmhouse and outlying buildings now to purify them before we leave? So they’ll not be a temptation and loci for further debauchery once we leave?”

Shalelu answers, “We need to unearth all those bodies and put them to rest properly. Perhaps some can even be identified and word taken to their kin. But yes, then the farmhouse and barn should be burned down. We can do it tomorrow after we meet with the villagers.”

Death Squad

Nocking another arrow Jharad looks around the glade for any further threats and calls out, “Everybody okay?”

Keng snarls and raising his head back and throwing his arms out to the sides emits a huge victory howl! In this he is joined by Lisette, who then goes over to Toshio and begins licking his wounds.

Keng finds the mayor’s right hand and then kneels and collects a finger from it. He also cuts the mosquito’s proboscis stinger as trophies. Once that is done he moves to the other side of the altar and cuts off a length of the spider-thing’s leg. “This will add pleasant sounds to my dreadlocks don’t you think elf?” He cares nothing of for wounds of Toshio or the boy.

Jharad laughs as Keng howls and takes his trophies. “Yes, Keng, although I have to say that in a few days the smell may overpower the pleasant sounds. I would suggest you find another use for your trophies by that time.”

Keng gives the elf a baffled look, “Elf do you know nothing of battle trophies? Of course we cure it before wearing. Otherwise would be barbaric.”

“Gather close friends,” calls Zeyala. First, she touches the wand to Toshio. She then whispers a prayer as healing energies flow from her.

With the threat of Ghlaunder and his cult finally over, Lisette transforms herself into a bipedal humanoid wolf. In a gruff voice barely suitable for human speech she says, “I am glad you are all safe and that I was able to help,” she glances briefly at Toshio and then tells her tale. “I did not actually follow you here. After I left last night I wandered into the forest. I did not know where I should go, for I realized that I no longer had a place in the world. Then, deep in the woods, I met an elven maiden in a black dress with green markings like a swallowtail butterfly. She smiled and held her arms out and led me in a dance. ‘You are home wherever your feet or paws take you,’ she said. I don’t know why but I felt comforted by that. ‘Would you follow me?’ she asked. ‘For there is a village that should be mine but has been stolen from me and corrupted. You could even help those who have helped you, and it would be a great favor to me.’ I felt that I would be happy to do anything for this maid and so I accepted. Then the woman sprouted butterfly wings colored like her dress, and her silken dress billowed out and became a starry field. That is when I woke up and realized that I had been dreaming. I was on the edge of a marsh and it was almost mid-day. A large dragonfly was watching me and then flew off, rested again on a nearby fern and looked back at me. I realized I was meant to follow it. As a wolf I followed it all the way here until I came upon your caravan. I watched all during the day and when night fell I crossed over the river. I think I scared the ferryman almost to death, though it was not my intention. Then I wandered into the fields and I watched as Keng and Jethrik came through. Curious I followed them to see what they were doing, but I ran off when they spotted me. I am sorry if I frightened you. I returned to watch the pathways of the village and then I saw that girl,” Lisette points to the head and torso of Shel resting by the altar, “and her parents in those mosquito or stirge masks come to the bridge. The parents hid beneath the bridge just before Toshio arrived. I realized then that they were conniving some kind of ambush but I also scented the presence of the rest of you. I thought it was not yet my time to intervene and I was right. You took care of them easily enough, and I ran off again when Shalelu spotted me. I found you again up by that manor house and followed as you came to the farmhouse. It was then that I feared for you enough to come out of hiding. I realize now that the elven maiden was Desna. She appeared in my dreams to lead me here.”

“Thank you for your help, Lisette. You really pulled us out of an ugly situation,” says Toshio.

Jethrik bows to Lisette cupping his hands. He holds them out to her and they start to glow softly with an arcane fire. From the fire a rose rises up and takes shape. “Thank you for coming back and saving us.”

“You are welcome.” She takes the rope up in her clawed hands and admires it.

Listening to the discussion but not taking part in it, Jharad takes notice of Shel’s blood splattered all over Shalelu. Using arcane power he gently removes it from her body with small gentle passes of his hand while she talks. Almost as though he were brushing away dust or dirt but not quite actually touching her. Then with less intimate and more forceful, quick movements he proceeds to do the same for Ornigaard, Keng, himself then the rest until the the ground around them is spotted with the blood and gore which only a minute before was settling into their armor, clothing and hair.

As Jharad finishes, Toshio says, “Thank you. I wasn’t looking forward to cleaning all that off. That’s a big help.”

Ornigaard is now trembling and hiding behind Shalelu. “Aren’t werewolves evil?” he asks.

“True,” says Lisette. She looks to Toshio again, “But he showed me that I had a choice. I could turn away from evil and embrace life and freedom.” Lisette looks upon her silvery-gray fur with her gold tinged eyes, “I now serve the Song of the Spheres, the traveler and sender of good dreams.”

Zeyala gives Ornigaard’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “Toshio can sense good from evil,” she says. “Do not fear this girl.”

Ornigaard does not seem convinced. Shalelu asks, “And what of those you bit here? Will they transform into a pack of Desna worshippers?”

“Oh! I… I don’t know,” Lisette responds. “I must have bitten three or four of them. If any of them were infected by the curse of my kind.” She turns to Toshio, “What shall I do? I forgot, I can’t fight without possibly spreading the curse.” She hangs her head. “We must track them down. I can sniff them out from the trail of blood, but then what? Do we kill them? Do we wait to see if they change on the next moon and then kill them? Or can they be saved like I was?”

Toshio responds. “I don’t trust those cultists to change their ways. If they are allowed to live they’ll do terrible evil, I’m sure of it. I think we should hunt them down now and end it, but Shalelu is the closest thing to an official authority left to this town. She should make the final decision.”

Shalelu says, “That’s true. I guess as an appointed agent of an official of Magnimar that does kind of make me the one who must decide. I think that if Lisette can track down those cultists she bit, then she should go and find out where they live. Then we can…” she pauses and looks around and then smiles. It is a fierce smile. “Look, they were all cloaked in mosquitos when we came upon them, but look at the edge of this glade. They came here in robes and masks and then disrobed. Lisette, you could use these to recognize the smell of all the cultists who ran couldn’t you.” Lisette nods. “Then the solution is clear. It may take a while but I doubt any of us will sleep well after all this anyway. We will track down each of the cultists to their homes, starting with those Lisette wounded, and then drag them out and execute them as demon-worshippers one by one until all two dozen or so are accounted for.”

“Now that’s a plan! Ain’t that what I said,” Keng rolls his eyes.

“I am in agreement to finish off those cultists,” Zeyala says. “Perhaps it was against their will they became followers of Ghlaunder, but then their fate was already sealed. If they could not resist that lure, the curse of lycanthropy will be far worse.”

Jharad looks grim at the thought, abandoning his usual aloof countenance. “I do not see a better way to handle this myself so yes, this is the plan,” he replies.

Toshio nods to Shalelu’s assessment. “It’s am ugly task, but yes, it needs to be done. If they’re not evil, we won’t harm them unless they do something requiring a forceful response. Once we find the cultists I can check them and their families to see who is actually evil.”

Not liking what Shalelu’s fierce smile might say about her character, Toshio adds, “It’s not just the cultists who will be affected, so let’s be careful not to cause any suffering or anguish if it can be avoided. When executions are needed, we’ll do them quickly and as painlessly as possible. We don’t want any of the surviving villagers to think we’re the bloodthirsty ones around here if it can be avoided.”

Jethrik looks around him stunned “Are you nuts? Do you think Desna sent Lisette to this town to massacre the populace? What about wolfsbane? It worked for Toshio!” He shakes his head. “Look I don’t know what to do, but killing 20 people just can’t be our first option.”

Toshio responds, “Our first option was to resupply peacefully. Our second option was to keep from letting them kill us. Our third and current option is to keep them from killing us in the night. Option three has the agreeable side benefit of preventing them from killing other innocents or spreading their evil. We’re not killing the whole village – just the evil ones, and especially the evil ones that may become werewolves. I think you’ll agree that if these cultists become werewolves it would be bad for everybody.”

Lisette adds, “Also, Toshio was not the servant of a demon when we sought to cure him, and as for myself, I confess that I thought only of myself but I had never gave my heart to Jezelda. These people are already pledged to evil, and now I have infected them with a means to even more power.”

“I’m going to be sick.” Jethrik whines, looking pale or even bleached he sighs. “There is no time for debate then… we’d better do this.”

Lisette suggests that they collect the rags wound around the discarded masks so she can get the scent of those other than the ones who fled bleeding from their wounds. The first two of the three bitten by Lisette are found within the corn maze. They appear to be two brothers in their late teens. The one is helping the other to walk.

Toshio rushes to finish the two off. He regrets the necessity, but there’s no sense in dragging it out. A retreating foe is still a foe. They are easily dispatched.

Lisette transforms back into wolf form and picks up the scent of the third cultist bitten. This one made it out of the maze and ran past the decrepit farmhouse to the road. She looks back to Toshio and then to the farmhouse and whines a query.

Shalelu says, “Should we find the cultist now, or search this house first?”

“Is there necessity to complete our gruesome task with haste?” Jharad asks. “Lets search the house and barn while we are here and then be about this. I doubt our victims will be leaving the village.”

Toshio says, “We should go after the cultist that was bitten. If there are any in the farmhouse, they are hiding – not running. And they don’t have such potential for evil. Lisette, we’ll follow you. After the cursed ones are dispatched. Then we can be more deliberate.”

Keng looks at the elf and rolls his eyes, “I think Pretty Boy is starting to like the killing. Now he is going to have to find another maiden to save to get back into his goddess’ good graces.”

Toshio ignores Keng.

“If they are to die by our hand, then we are doing the will of Pharasma,” says Zeyala.  ”She calls them to stand in judgement, at our hands they are delivered. Do not think it good or evil, but a necessity.”

Jethrik grips his bow hard enough to strangle, “Oh shut up and get this over with…”

Abruptly, Lisette transforms from wolf into woman. Standing stark naked in the moonlight she turns and glares at Keng. “We are not doing this because we enjoy killing, Keng.” Tears appear in her eyes. “As Zeyala said, it is a necessity. It is necessary because I was so eager to save you,” she points at Keng, “all of you, that I became careless and inflicted the curse that is my birth rite. Now let us do what needs to be done.”

“Then you do it,” Keng snarls back at her. “And get gone with you when you’re done, cause if I see you again I will make sure you infect no more.” He quickly fakes a move towards her but she has already turned away, changing into a wolf once more and swiftly following the trail so that the others need to jog to keep up.

Jethrik uses mage hand to slap Keng in the back of the head.

Chuckling, Jharad jogs next to Keng. “You are such a charmer, it must be a gift.”

Keng guffaws at this. “Indeed, my village always said I was too easy going.”

Shalelu looks at Keng with a stern look and a ranger sign that means, “Be still and silent, for the enemy is near.”

While sorry at Lisette’s distress, Toshio couldn’t be prouder that she’s understanding what is right and making good, responsible choices. Not only that, but she’s carrying that over to her interactions with others (such as Keng). Yep – Toshio is pretty pleased with Iomedae’s influence on Lisette.

Lisette leads them back to the main path through the eastern side of the village. Ornigaard points out his home just down the road towards the south bridge. Lisette indicates that the path the cultist took is in that direction as well. It turns out that the cottage they are looking for is the first on the right hand side of the road as they travel south, fortunately it is not the Ornigaard’s home, which is closer to the bridge.

Shalelu says, “We should take Ornigaard home first. There is no need for him to be present for our scouring of this village. Why don’t you keep watch here, I’ll take the boy back and return to you. Then we can go in.”

“Okay,” says Toshio. “Don’t be long, and call out if anything new turns up.”

Shalelu does in fact return quickly. “The boy’s parents did not even know that he had been lured away. I promised Vioric that he would get the full story tomorrow, but that for now they should all remain inside and stay vigilant until the morning, admitting no one, even a neighbor. It seems that Vioric has long suspected that things were not right here but had no one to confide in, and was too afraid to risk the censure of his neighbors if he spoke out. Now back to the matter at hand.”  Shalelu looks to the short path leading from the main path to the village. In the moonlight she sees the bloody trail of the cultist who fled back here to their home.

Lisette transforms again into her human form but remains crouching in the shadows by the path. “More than one of the cultists is here. I think four. One of them is the last of those I bit.”

At the end of the short path is a farmhouse with a little fence in front, within which are three geese. Lantern light can be seen through the cracks in the shutters.

Jethrik grumbles, “We could go along the west side of the house and go through the shutters there. It would save us the hassle of dealing with the guard geese.”

Toshio says, “Let’s storm the place through the windows. No need to kill the geese if they don’t bother us.”

Keng replies, “I am hungry. “Let’s hurry up and be about it.” Then he turns to the elf and the gnome and says, “Ever had roast goose? I plan to ‘take’ a few on the way out in payment for our troubles.”

Without waiting for any further plan, Keng charges towards the house, hops over the gate, scatters the geese from his path and makes a leap into the closed shutters in an attempt to smash through them and attack anyone inside. Unfortunately he fails to break through the shutters and falls back into the yard, whereupon the geese attempt to peck at him. It is fortunate that a helmet is part of his armor.

“Damn! So much for a plan!” says Shalelu as she runs to the southwest corner of the house to make sure no one tries to escape out the back or from one of the side shutters.

Jharad smiles and shakes his head. He then knocks an arrow and covers the northwest corner of the house.

Jethrik cover the south side of the house. He has his bow ready.

Toshio follows Keng, abandoning any more detailed plan. He tries to scan for evil if possible – he doesn’t want to harm any innocents.

Lisette runs alongside Toshio and once within the fence around the front yard she growls at the geese.

Zeyala follows behind Keng, Toshio, and Lisette as they head for the front door.

Keng picks himself up and swears. He kicks at the geese sending one tumbling across the grass and stomps over towards the front door and starts hacking at it.

It takes only a moment to hack through the flimsy door. Inside the candlelit hut Keng sees four peasants huddled around a table to the right, two men and two women. They all seem to be in their mid-twenties. One of the women is putting bandages on the leg of the other. The two men jump out of their seats, fists raised but otherwise unarmed. In the far left corner a gaggle of children look on, three toddlers and two older children probably around six years old. They are lean and dirty and one of them has a black eye. All appear very scared and the toddlers begin to cry as Keng, eyes blazing, crashes through the door with his greataxe.

Keng yells out, “Nobody move! Toshio, which one has been bitten?”

Lisette brushes past Keng into the house and with her nose points to the woman with the bandage. She looks back at Keng and Toshio and barks.

The two peasant men look at each but a fatalistic and determined look comes into their eyes. One of them grabs up the chair behind him and holds it out. The other grabs a jug from the table to throw it. “Kids, get in the bedroom and locks the door!” the first calls out. The children however are too frozen in fear to move right away.

The two women huddle together while the men ready themselves to resist any attack.

Toshio enters and scans each of the peasants for evil. Having taken their measure regarding evilness, Toshio confirms to Keng the identity of the bitten villager. “That one. The others can be left. Keng, take her outside please.”

Axe held crosswise before him, Keng approaches the peasants with a fierce look. Though shaken, the two men refuse to back down. One tries to fend Keng off with the chair while the other hurls the jug at Keng’s head. Against the first’s timid attempt to strike him with the chair, Keng simply uses his axehead to turn the chair into kindling. The jug he simply ducks. It smashes into the wall next to him. With the hilt of his axe he knocks the two men aside and then grabs the bitten woman by the scruff of her neck, pulling her away from the other woman who tries to futilely to hold onto her. Lisette growls with fangs bared to keep the other three peasants from following, while Keng hauls the woman outside and throws her on the ground. “Kill her and be done with this vile business, I am hungry and tired.”

“Lisette, are you sure this is the one?”  Toshio asks. Lisette nods. Toshio continues, “Hold her down.” When she is positioned, Toshio strikes off her head with his katana to the cries of despair and wails of anguish of the three other peasants watching from the doorway just beyond Lisette. All three sink to the floor, despondent.

“You will kill us all now?” asks the remaining woman in a low voice.

Lisette goes to the pile or rags from the discarded masks that Zeyala had carried over from the maze. With her teeth she removes three rags and places them on the corpse of the woman Toshio has just executed. She then takes out three more rags and lays them at the doorstep of the house and glares at the occupants. She turns and whines a query at Toshio.

The remaining woman begs, “Please, at least let my children and my cousin’s children live. They have done nothing. They are innocent!”

“All those innocent and free from corruption will be spared,” answers Zeyala.

Toshio’s thougts are awhirl. He calls “Shalelu, I need you over here!” When she arrives he takes her aside and quietly asks, “Must we kill all of them? These three are barely tainted with evil, but with no auras. It is more of a barely felt sense of petty mortal evil and their contamination, probably from their participation in cult activities. They may turn from it now that their leaders are dead. And those children will need some parenting, too. I will do as you think best, though, if you think we need to root them out entirely.”

Shalelu nods and gives it some thought. “This is indeed difficult. Leave those children to be raised by demon worshippers? Or slaughter their parents in cold blood and give them cause to hate those they will grow up to see as oppressors from Magnimar? The Hellknights would slaughter them all without hesitation, but we are no Hellknights. I have…” she hesitates but then continues, “spent much of my life fighting against those who worship demons and their attempts to corrupt, contaminate, and destroy all who come in contact with them. I would say it were better to arrest and execute all the demon worshippers and to arrange for their children to be fostered by others. But we don’t have the resources to do that. And it is true, that these deluded souls may be redeemed with better guidance. My suggestion is that we leave these for now and let Lisette lead us on to identify the others, or at least their homes. Then we should finish our search of that farmhouse and the mayor’s manor. In the morning we should gather all the villagers together and tell them what has occurred, identifying publicly who the cultists are. If they riot we will cut them down. There are, after all, little more than 100 people living here – and how many are men of fighting age? And how many of those have we already killed? I think it more likely that if we present the evidence and make our case the vast majority of them will be shocked and horrified and will repudiate the worship of Ghlaunder. Jethrik and Ameiko are good at weaving credible and moving tales. You are also someone who inspires confidence and trust. I think you can sway them. Also, Koya is a true priestess of Desna, and she can invite them to worship Desna as she should be worshipped. The cultists will then have a choice if their neighbors will permit. They can convert, or they can be banished into the wilderness or even executed by whoever we can establish as the interim authority in Ravenmoor when we leave.”

Keng leans on his axe observing the discussion. He is no magistrate or constable and bored and hungry.

Relieved, Toshio says “Good. Then Lisette, will you guide us to the others?” With a wry smile he adds as they head off “And who knows? Maybe you’ll be the one to keep them on the path to good! Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

When told of the plan, Jharad merely nods, accepting the plan, especially if it gets them closer to finishing this gruesome task.

Lisette leads them to four more houses. At the last she transforms back into human form, though modestly stays in the shadows. “This one belongs to the ferryman. He is one of the worshippers of Ghlaunder too. That is all of them. There are two living in the house up the road, three living in that house, one over there, and the ferryman’s home here. If we gather all the villagers together tomorrow I can easily identify them.”

Shalelu nods. “Very well then, lets return to that farmhouse and search it, and then the mayor’s manor. Let’s take our time and be thorough. I don’t want to overlook anything that might help us find out what happened to Elias Kyle, the previous tax collector. It would be good if we could find the tax money owed to Magnimar as well.”

Battle in Ghlaunder’s Glade

Keng is the first one to enter the maze. He sees immediately that the webbing he and Jethrik encountered before was the outer wall of the maze. He sees that it’s not thick webbing though, more like cobwebbing than anything else, and he may be able to push through it if need be. Still, he worries that it might be stronger or stickier than it looks. When he enters the maze he sees no sign of the fleeing cultists and the kidnapped boy. He can turn either right or left. The right passage curves around out of sight as does the left, but about 15’ past the entrance on the far side of the left hand way there is another passage going deeper in. All the passages through the corn seem to be about 15’ wide.

Keng stops, confused as to what to do next. He just can’t seem to make a coherent thought. He is so tired – all he wants to do is lie down and rest. His breathing is labored and he looks down at himself and he is bleeding in several places. ‘Right or left? Left and in seems better but how to be sure? I wish the elf were here; he’s smart. I should wait for the others to catch up. Maybe someone can help with a healing too…

Finally the others catch up to Keng. They see that under the light of the full moon the maze has an eerie look due to the sheets of webbing composing its walls the pallid fungus that grows amid the corn. It makes it seem as if countless figures draped in gauzy sheets were cavorting just out of sight in the murky undergrowth.

“I have a few tinder twigs on me,” whispers Zeyala.  ”We could use it to light a torch so Keng could burn away these cobwebs.”  She shoots him a wink as she says it.

Keng’s eyes light up with talk of burning.

Tersely, Toshio indicates the way to go and puts them in order. “Left,” he points. “Me and Keng up front, Jharad and Zey behind, then Jethrik. Heal Keng, please. Let’s go.” He leads them to the left, Whispering Shrike ready.

“Toshio, I need a few minutes to rest first,” sighs Keng as he slumps to the ground.

Toshio halts his advance, surprised by Keng’s admission. “But they’re… Okay, what can I do to help?” He scans the area for evil, trying to stay vigilant while Keng recovers.

From within the maze, Ornigaard screams again. “Toshio! Anyone! Help!” This cry is followed by a truly blood curdling shriek, as if the boy saw something that would tear away at even the sanity of a trained adult warrior.

Jethrik fidgets. ”Hey, I really don’t give a crap about this kid, but shouldn’t we at least try to save him?”

“We’re coming!” Toshio shouts back. “C’mon, Keng, pull yourself together. Can you move at all? Let’s move on at least little bit, slowly.”

Jharad looks to say something in response to Toshio’s shout but grimaces and shakes his head.

Keng quickly retrieves his last healing potion and gulps down the contents. He feels better as some of the wounds he sustained start to knit themselves back together in a tingly and ticklish way. He is still weak from blood loss and the sheer multitude of injuries sustained from the fight with the effigy, but he also starts to feel his second wind coming on though.

Jharad reaches into his pouch and pulls out a couple of potions. Handing one to Keng he says, “Drink this.”

As Keng drinks it, Zeyala takes out the wand confiscated from the manor and touches it to Keng, saying the word of divine power inscribed on its handle. It turns out that the wand grants Keng a full recovery from the blood loss inflicted by the stirges and the wooziness of the poison sickle that struck him. He is still very torn up from the sickle-claws of the effigy.

Jharad hands him the second potion, “This too.” With that consumed, the last of Keng’s many wounds heal over and disappear completely.

Keng stands up, shrugs his shoulders settling his armor and then cracks his neck, “Better. My thanks. Let’s move!”

As they head down the leftward passage and then take the sharp right side passage deeper into the maze they find themselves more and more plagued by the mosquitoes that infest Ravenmoor. The buzzing of them grows louder and louder as a the parasites emerge from the undergrowth and congeal into a dark hungry cloud that completely blocks the way ahead. Then the ravenous swarm begins to move towards them faster than any of them could possibly run except perhaps Keng if he were not burdened by armor.

Realizing that this swarm could quickly overtake the group, Jharad reacts with heroic speed and leaps into the center of the gathering swarm as he speaks the word of power, ‘Chispak!’ As the swarm completely engulfs him he screams in agony as thousands of tiny needles pierce his flesh and steal his blood. Jharad spreads his arms wide and his entire body erupts in lightning and sparks, destroying all but a few of the pests – now no more than a lingering nuisance that can be easily swatted away.

Toshio is awestruck by this display of power!

“Holy frack,” exclaims Keng! He rushes over to Jharad and lifts him away to the rear and says, “Elf! Are you okay?”

“Let me lay hands on him,” says Toshio. Keng lays Jharad down so that Toshio can minister to him and stop the residual bleeding.

Jharad weakly pulls out his last bottle of healing and drinks it whole, recovering fully from the bites of the swarm.

Jharad gets up, “Better… Let’s go.”

Shalelu with bloody sword in hand and Lisette still in wolf form with fangs dripping gore join them, though the latter sniffs around and whines. Warned by her acute sense of smell, Lisette alone is not surprised when Leonard Kriegler bursts from out of the wall of the corn maze right by Keng. As he swings his sickle at Keng he transforms into a leathery rugose creature with no hair or facial features except for three sharp and hollow tongues that flicker in and out of the center of its face – a full grown version of the creature they encountered in the Brinestump Marsh. He slashes Keng’s back open but before he can strike again Lisette sinks her fangs into his leg and pulls him off his feet.

Toshio immediately crosses past the two elves to strike at the faceless stalker, jumping over its attempt to hack at his legs with its sickle. When Toshio slashes down however, the thing reaches up and grabs Toshio’s wrist, pushing his wakizashi up and away so that it ends up cutting Toshio in his own forehead.

Zeyala rushes to Keng’s side and confers upon him her last spell to cure wounds. It does not quite heal over everything, but Keng does feel able to fight.

Jethrik, to boost morale, quips, “With a face like his, no wonder he wanted another.”

Chuckling at Jethrik’s joke, Jharad steps back 5′ while loosing two arrows at the stalker behind Shalelu. The second hits the creature in side but it does not seem to be a mortal wound.

The faceless stalker rises to its feet, dodging aside Lisette’s attempts to bite it, Keng’s axe, and Shalelu’s shortsword. Toshio, however, manages to slash it across the ribs with Whispering Shrike, but once again it is not a mortal blow. The stalker swings and punctures Keng’s breastplate, but though it draws blood the wound is not too deep.

Keng screams, “I am tired of you Leonard. Time to meet your maker!” Keng swings his axe from low to high with all his might into the monster and so returns the favor of leaving a bloody gash down the creature’s side.

Lisette sinks her fangs in again but this time fails to pull the creature down.

Shalelu continues to stab at it with her shortsword, wounding it in the left hand.

Toshio gets the killing blow, slitting its throat with Whispering Shrike. It falls in a widening pool of its own foul ichors.

Jharad quickly scans the now dead stalker for magical emanations and finds that his sickle is magically enhanced and in his belt pouch are two potions for healing wounds. Jharad quickly grabs the potion vials, putting them in his pouch. The sickle he grabs and says, “Couple of healing potions I just grabbed, and this sickle is imbued with magic. Anybody want it for now?”

“It might serve me better than my dagger,” says Zeyala. “I dropped my spear near the effigy.”

Once more Ornigaard tries to call out from deep within the maze, but this time his cry is muffled, as though someone were holding his mouth shut. However, a sticky sheet of thick webbing now blocks off the passageway deeper into the maze that they were going to follow. The webbing is 10’ in at the point where the passage turns to the left. The only choice now is to cut directly through the damp corn and weeds, or follow around the outer passages either to the left or the right in the hope that it another way into the center of the maze can be found.

“Let me see that sickle for a moment,” Toshio requests.

Jharad is about to hand the sickle to Zeyala but then gives it to Toshio at his request. Toshio tries to cut the web with it, not wanting to hazard Whispering Shrike.

Zeyala calls upon Pharasma to channel positive energy. As Zeyala’s healing energy washes over them all, Jharad looks to see if either Keng or Shalelu require further healing.

Toshio is frustrated in his efforts to cut through the web. Even with the magical blade of the sickle, he only manages to cut a couple of strands out of scores of translucent but powerful strands blocking their way.

Keng starts hacking at the webbing with his greataxe. In less than half a minute he cuts through all the strands. “Okay, let’s go,” he announces.

“Nice work, Keng” Toshio says with a smile. “Let’s go,” he says in agreement and steps into the opened passage after handing the sickle back to Zeyala.

“Let’s find his lordship of lies, I have a few things that need doing.” Keng closes ranks with Toshio following him on his right side.

Jharad slaps Keng on the shoulder with approval and follows him and Toshio further in.

Beyond the web the passage continues to curve around to the left and then turns right for a short distance whereupon the passage branches off to the left and right. The left hand passage dead ends after 15’ but the right curves around until they come to a place where there is a side passage to the right but the way ahead is blocked by another web. As with the other web, for all its tensile strength it is hard to spot in the moonlight and Toshio has to actually reach out to keep Keng from stepping into it.

A stooped crone with a twisted smile steps around the curve of the passage behind the web and into view. At first sight she appears to be wearing a gauzy diaphanous robe that shimmers in the moonlight. As she gets closer to the other side of the web the horrible truth of her garment is revealed. She is cloaked in thousands of mosquitos. She cackles and whispers something arcane, waving her hands in a circle, saying to Keng, “You wouldn’t harm me or destroy my precious work would you?” She gestures to the web. “Don’t let them do so either.” She gestures to Toshio and the others.

“Pardon us milady,” says Keng. “Your web is quite wonderful. I have never seen its like and beauty! We mean you and yours no harm. We have business with the mayor of this village. Could you direct us to him please?”

Jethrik points at the old crone, “No one wears bugs after Iomedae’s Day.”

Jethrik’s wit causes Keng to look again and shake free of the enchantment. “You bitch!” rages Keng. His eyes glow bright red and he begins swinging his axe with powerfully with reckless abandon in great figure eight arcs into the webbing.

Jharad relaxes a bit watching Keng in action. Placing his hand on Jethrik’s shoulder he says, “Nice one, I thought we were going to have a show between Keng and Toshio for a second there. But this is more fun.”

As it looks like Keng is breaking through the web, Jharad circles his hand in front of himself and speaks the word, ‘Escudo.’ Instantly an invisible field of force comes into being, hovering in front of the elven magus to shield him from harm. Jharad then readies his bow against the crone for when Keng finally breaks through the webbing.

Seeing how easily Keng is able to cut through her webbing, the old crone transforms herself into a large bloated humpbacked spider a little bigger than a human with a sinister gleam in its multiple eyes. As Keng is about to cut the last strands of her web she invokes another spell in wheezy sibilant tones with her fanged mouth. Keng feels a buzzing in his skull and for a mere instant Keng’s eyes get heavy but he blinks off the effects of the spell that passes harmlessly through him so fast that one would miss it if they weren’t watching carefully. He is able to easily hack through the last of the webbing opening the path to the spider monster. He bellows at it, “Come get some!” but the spider-thing has already scuttled away at great speed around the curving passage through the corn.

Keng yells to the others, “Come on! Let’s go!” He moves fast following the spider not paying attention to where the others are. His rage makes him reckless.

Toshio tries to keep up with Keng, but not so recklessly. The others follow in behind them.

As Keng turns the last corner he sees a thirty-foot diameter glade at the center of the field of looming vegetation. The ground is stripped down to bare earth and soil is heaped in a ring around the glade’s perimeter. Two bonfires burn at the eastern and western sides of the glade, flanking an enormous twisted mass of roots topped by thick slabs of timber that sits at the glade’s center. The boy, Ornigaard, is bound to the altar, naked except for a ragged loincloth and festooned with mosquitos. His eyes drip tears and bulge with terror, but webbing seals his mouth. Behind the altar, around the north perimeter are what look to be around two-dozen cultists, all clad in nothing but mosquitos. They are all frenziedly chanting, Shel among them, her eyes glaring in ecstatic fanaticism. Looming over the boy is Mayor Kriegler, clad in white robes, his silver medallion of Ghlauder shining on his chest, and with a spear upraised to plunge into the child’s heart. He cries out, “That which sleeps within must still be fed. Only blood can contain the land’s corruption.” He looks up as the spider-thing skitters into the circle and whirls around to cast a new web directly at Keng.

The web entangles the raging half-orc and greatly hampers his movement and ability to attack, forcing him to take a moment to break through it.

Behind him, Toshio can hear in his mind and heart a very different chant, one often heard in the halls of the Temple of Iomedae in Magnimar, “The Chant of the Paladin.” It gives him courage and reminds him of the presence of the Goddess of Paladins. With ‘The Chant’ running in his mind, Toshio makes for the mayor to smite his evil out of this plane, shouting “For Victory! For the Heart!” It is clear to all that he is happy to be joining in righteous battle! In the back of his mind he recognizes Shel and hopes her end is relatively painless. Though the mayor leaps back, Whispering Shrike draws blood with Toshio’s first strike, leaving a bloody wound from left shoulder down to his right side.

Mayor Kreigler cries out in indignation, “You fool! You come to save the boy but the salvation of one will doom all to starvation!” As their high priest is assaulted the cultists begin shrieking and crying out for Ghlaunder to come down to save them from the infidels.

Having stepped back into the midst of his followers, the mayor calls upon Ghlaunder to evoke a wall of wind between he and his followers and their attackers. Instantly, hurricane strength winds begin blowing upwards like a curtain separating the mayor and his followers on the north side of the altar from everyone south of it, including the spider-thing.

Shalelu rushes past Keng and stabs the spider-thing with her sword, but finds it is too well guarded by defensive spells and its own chitinous shell.

Zeyala finds her way into the glade and reaches out to touch Toshio to confer divine guidance upon him for his struggle against the mayor.

Jharad enters the glade, and looses a fake-silver arrow at the spider-thing. The arrow strikes home and the creature reacts in pain and surprise.

Unlike the others, Lisette chooses to go straight through the walls of corn. Nimble and swift, she breaks through into the crowd of cultists in the north end of the glade and begins ripping into any unfortunate enough to be within reach of her powerful jaws.

Once again making light of the horrors they are facing, Jethrik comments, “Eight legs? That reminds me of my 16th birthday party,” he growls lecherously. “You can fill in the details…”

The spider-thing grabs Shalelu and pulls her into reach of its fangs, but it is unable to bite into her before she wriggles free of it.

With reckless abandon, Keng attacks the spider monster. Bite this bitch!” Keng rages as he buries his axe in the bulbous mass of the spider-thing.

Toshio gauges the wind wall’s strength and figures he’ll get bowled over if he tries to cross through it. But he also know spells don’t last forever, and he’ll get to the mayor eventually. Meanwhile, he joins the flanking attack on the spider-thing. ‘Better to finish off the foe you have than chase uselessly after the one you can’t reach‘ he thinks. Like Shalelu, however, Toshio finds that the spider-thing is well warded by its magic and thick shell.

Having a moment’s respite, Mayor Kriegler retrieves a potion from a pocket within his robes and gulps it down. After doing so a shimmering field of magic envelopes him.

Shalelu slides around the spider-thing, getting a chance to stab at it again and again from the side and rear as it tries to fend off Keng and Toshio. She finally manages to draw blood, but the wound seems to be but a pinprick to it.

Zeyala continues to lend her support to Toshio, this time infusing him with the virtue of the life force that she is so attuned to.

Jharad, Realizes that this spider creature is a magical beast known as an aranea. In his studies back in Kyonin he had learned about these sorcerous shape-changing intelligent giant spiders. He had also learned their weakness. Jharad buries his next arrow deep into its brain housed in the hump on its back, instantly killing it. Turning, he looses a second arrow at the mayor, but it is easily deflected up into the sky as soon as it hits the wind wall. The arrow clatters back down on Ornigaard, tied to the slab just in front of wind barrier. Fortunately it does not land on him point first.

On the other side of the glade, panic starts to spread among the cultists as Lisette continues her rampage. She tears flesh from another and is oblivious to any and all blows from their sickles. Many of them drop their sickles as they flee through the walls of the glade.

Jethrik retrieves his flask of alchemist’s fire, in anticipation of hurling it at the mayor or his followers.

Shel, however, retains her sickle, shoves her way past those who are fleeing, and leaps through the wall of wind, which instantly blows away her living garb of mosquitos. She lands on the altar and raises her sickle shouting, “Ghlaunder, accept your sacrifice!”

Keng rushes the altar, swings his greataxe and cleaves Shel in half at the waist, her two halves fall away from the altar and into the wind wall, and so gore is sprayed all over the grove like a crimson fountain.

Toshio takes quick stock of the situation; the spider is dead, Shel has been put down, and Ornigaard is safe (at least for the moment). He calls out “We’ve got some unfinished business, mayor” as he leaps through the wall of wind to smite the evil being! Unfortunately, his swing is thrown off by the high winds of the wind wall and he comes nowhere near to striking the mayor.

Mayor Kriegler backs away from the paladin. “In the name of the Gossamer King, be still!” he cries while brandishing his unholy symbol at Toshio. Toshio, however, is too strong of will and blessed of the Iomedae to be phased for even a moment by the mayor’s spell of holding.

“I’ll free the boy,” says Shalelu as she begins cutting Ornigaard’s bonds. “Be brave child! We are here to save you.”

Zeyala reaches out to confer guidance on Keng.

Jharad joins Toshio beyond the wind wall, loosing a single arrow at the mayor that goes wide.

With the cultists fleeing, Lisette turns her attention to the mayor. She clamps the mayor’s left leg in her powerful jaws and pulls him off his feet.

Jethrik puts away the alchemist’s fire, seeing that his friends are all too close to the mayor and the cultists have fled. He moves through the wind wall and says to the mayor, “All your friends are gone, so we came by in case you were lonely.”

Keng puts an arm across his face to protect his eyes and charges through the howling wind wall towards the mayor snarling, “Time to join your evil demon-queen in hell!” He recklessly attacks the mayor with all his rage fueled might. The mayor tries to roll out of the way but his right hand is badly cut by the axe.

Toshio presses his own attack and slashes the mayor across the right leg with Whispering Shrike. The mayor’s eyes widen in shock and then he passes out from pain and blood loss. Soon after the wind wall dies away.

Even as Keng raises his axe to deliver the coup de grace, the mayor awakens. He shrieks in pain and thrashes about in a fit before bursting open in a shower of gore as a monstrous mosquito the size of a man crawls out into the light of the moon.

The first thing the creature does is spear Toshio in the gut with its long flexible stinger –tipped proboscis. It immediately begins drinking in Toshio’s blood and the paladin feels himself weakening but even worse he feels his focus drifting away and is unable to form a coherent thought. He also feels a horrible lethargy that robs him of all will and energy. This last effect is not confined to only Toshio but is felt by all within the glade. The find themselves barely able to move so strong is the torpor caused by the presence of the blighted spawn of Ghlaunder.

Shalelu hauls Ornigaard off the altar and away from the creature. She tells him, “We will protect you boy, stay behind me.”

Lisette, fighting the urge to just lay down and give up but at the same time further enraged by Toshio’s peril, bites into one of the creature’s legs, causing it to jerk back in pain.

Still heartened by Jethrik’s earlier quips, Jharad nocks a thistle arrow and looses it, hitting the creature in the head. It certainly gets its attention though the hit doesn’t kill it.

“That’s a bug improvement in your looks mayor,” Jethrik quips as he fires an arrow at the giant monstrous mosquito. The enchanted arrow taken from the goblins hits very close to where Jharad’s arrow hit, causing the creature to shake and chitter.

Also able to resist the aura of stagnation around the creature, Zeyala maneuvers past the altar and bonfire to the thing’s rear. It is aware of her but its stinger is still sunk into Toshio and so is unable to do more than flutter its moist and crumpled wings in annoyance. “All must face the judgment of Pharasma!” she shouts as she slashes at the creature with the sickle taken from Leonard. The creature quickly shifts its bulk away from her however, and her blade passes by it harmlessly.

Reeling, but not so overcome by the lethargy that he would let the thing escape, Toshio draws on what power Iomedae grants him. He grasps the thing’s proboscis in his left hand, and with his right hand he brings Whispering Shrike whistling down on it! He does cut it, but is unable to sever it with his first blow.

Keng is still in the throes of his rage, especially now that the mayor’s true self has emerged. He swings his axe down into the mosquito demon. “I have had enough of you!” His blow lops off the creature’s head.

As the creature collapses, the waves of lethargy cease and Toshio is able to pull the stinger from his stomach, though he falls to his knees, sick and disoriented by the creature’s venom. Within moments he recovers, the blessings of Iomedae helping him to throw off what would have caused anyone else to pass out.

Battle Behind the Derelict Farmhouse

The trail of broken cornstalks and trampled undergrowth of the fleeing cultists leads the group to the back of a derelict farmhouse. By the light of Toshio’s illuminated coin and the light of the full moon, they see that it is rotting and covered with weeds and its windows are all boarded up. The whole place stinks of rot and the air is filled with the constant drone of insects. To the east there seems to be an opening in the thick weeds and wild corn that grow all around the place, the entrance to a path through the wild corn. Directly in front and to the left is the back of an outhouse. Against its southern side a wicker and gourd scarecrow of a moth-winged woman leans, probably another twisted effigy of Desna. A small patch of thick reddish-brown flayleaf plants, reaching heights of nearly six feet in places lies to the right of the outhouse. There are also water barrels at the corner of the house by the plants. Beyond the outhouse there seems to be a muddy pool and beyond that lies an old barn with holes perforating the roof.

Keng asks, “Can we burn stuff now?”

Toshio tells them, “Okay, stay together. First we clear around the house, and then we go in. Let’s check the barrels first – I don’t want anyone jumping out of them – then the outhouse, the barn and the house. When this is all clear so there’s no obvious ambush from behind, we’ll take that path.”

As they step out of the corn and into the backyard a grotesque and bulbous shape with eight spindly legs shifts atop the back corner of the farmhouse and sends forth a sticky line of webbing that lands at Keng’s feet. The thing chitters in frustration.

At the same time, Jethrik sees that the serrated leaves of the flayleaf are rustling and something chitters within them. He also notices the pumpkin head of the Desna effigy, now alight with a ghastly fire that seems almost hypnotic, turning towards him and the others. A side of the ivy covered back wall of the house slides open to allow silent stirge masked cultists to come forth, sickles in hand and charging along the narrow space between the house and the flayleaf. Finally he notices the door of the barn across the way creaking open as vaguely humanoid shapes begin to emerge and lope towards them with a hideous hooting and slobbery chortling.

Jethrik shouts,”Don’t look at Desna!” and then looses an arrow at the spider-thing on the farmhouse, though the shot goes wide. The malformed hunchbacked shapes from the barn race across the yard clubs in hand. In the moonlight it can be seen that they are stunted and malformed, with pointed ears, fanged mouths, and misshapen eyes.

Four stirges fly up from the flayleaf patch and dive for Toshio and Keng.

Atop the farmhouse, the spider-thing begins whispering arcane words of power that begin to lull Keng and Zeyala to sleep in spite of all that is happening. Zeyala succumbs and drops to the ground. Keng, however, shakes his head, grips his axe tighter and throws off the waves of slumber directed at him by the sorcerous spider-thing.

Shalelu moves out of the cornfield to get a clear shot and looses an arrow at the spider-thing but her shot also misses as the creature skitters around so as to be a moving target.

Jethrik hurriedly slaps Zeyala awake. “How’d you know I was into the rough stuff?” quips Zeyala. ”Thanks,” she adds.

The four stirges circle in and one of them attach itself to Toshio even as he cuts down a second, while a third attaches itself to Keng who was unable to fend it off with his axe, the two stirges begin siphoning blood from their respective victims while the last buzzes around them looking for its own chance to attach itself to one or the other of the two warriors.

Still behind the corn, Jharad tries to move forward to help the others and cast a spell on the Desna effigy, but finds himself unable to move, held in thrall by the supernatural fires burning within the pumpkin head of the effigy.

Giving full vent to his boundless rage, Keng leaps at the animated mockery of Desana and brings his axe down on it with all his might. He misses the pumpkin head, but his blade rips through its rags causing the hay it is stuffed with to spill out around its feet. This doesn’t seem to slow it down however. It lashes out with claws fashioned from sickle blades. Sparks fly as its first blow scrapes along Keng’s breastplate, but another slashes him across the face and to his dismay Keng finds himself infused with waves of overwhelming fear that cause him to cower before the effigy.

The twisted men from the barn, in the meantime, cautiously advance and reach a position just a couple of yards behind the effigy.

Zeyala doesn’t bother standing. She crawls up towards Keng, drawing her dagger as she does. She reaches out to heal Keng. “Pharasma, heal his wounds.”

Toshio, having learned well from previous attacks, wedges Whispering Shrike between himself and the stirge drinking his blood and shears it in half in a spray of blood.

Then the cultists move in, one of them hitting Keng with an overhand chop that slices deeply into his wrist. Keng starts to feel dizzy not just from blood loss but from whatever poison coated the sickle of the cultist’s blade. The cultists attacking Shalelu gets nowhere close to her, and the one attacking Toshio hits but is unable to slash through his banded armor. Jethrik is also hit in the side and though the sickle fails to penetrate he feels the blow like a hard punch in the ribs. Another cultist, however, stands entranced by the Desna effigy, having failed to avert his eyes from it.

Suddenly a murderous howl erupts from the wild cornfield and this seems to startle everyone, including the cultists and loping monstrosities. A lean silvery-gray beast with shining reddish-gold eyes races from the corn just west of Shalelu’s position and hurls itself at the cultist attacking Toshio, ripping a bloody chunk out of his leg.

“Hurray Lisette!” calls out Toshio, recognizing her as she joins the fight.

The spider thing reacts to this new turn in the battle by vanishing in thin air.

Shalelu casts aside her bow, draws her sword and lays into the cultist before her. “Toshio! Your lover has returned to save you!” she says, without any irony or teasing in her tone. With a perfect strike she stabs her shortsword into the belly of the cultist in front of her. He staggers back in shock, though does not yet fall.

Jethrik reaches out to confer a healing touch upon Keng, whose wrist wound immediately closes shut.

The stirge gripping Keng is shaken off as he continues to cower away from the effigy, but the second stirge hovering around him lands and begins to siphon blood.

Lisette’s appearance and ferocious attack allows Jharad to break free of the hypnotic effect of the effigy. He acts quickly, running through the corn towards Shalelu. Still within the cornfield for concealment he peeks out and produces a vivid cone of clashing colors that envelops the space between Shalelu, Zeyala and the Lisette. The three cultists in front of he and Shalelu drop to the ground unconscious but the cultist in front of Zeyala turns away just in time to escape its effects.

The deformed men from the barn turn their attention to Lisette, whacking at her sleek form with their clubs, but she pays no attention to them and continues to menace the cultists around her.

The effigy, having frozen Keng in fear with the unnatural power of its touch, continues to rip into him again and again with its sicke-claws.

Zeyala, still on the ground, reaches out to Keng and again confers upon him healing power to keep him in the fight.

Toshio cuts down the stirge buzzing around Keng’s head.

With half of their number unconscious, and another badly wounded by the werewolf, the remaining cultists fight with renewed desperation. One succeeds in slashing through Shaeleu’s studded leather cuirass, but miraculously fails to even scratch her. The other two turn their sickles upon Lisette, but she is invulnerable to their blades.

Shalelu counterattacks and manages to wound, though not kill her assailant.

Jethrik draws his rapier and tries to stab the last stirge, but he finds that they are not so easy to pin down.

The last stirge is shaken off by Keng.

Jharad whispers to his bow, imbuing it with the power to fire more rapidly. He then sends two arrows at the cultists threatening Lisette but both miss by the width of a whisker.

Keng manages to stand and bellows a war cry of the ancient Shoanti, “Garn!” He swings his axe into the scarecrow with all his might. Unfortunately the blow that would have disemboweled a human foe merely passes harmlessly through straw and cloth.

The three deformed villagers all attack Lisette with their clubs but it is no more effective than the sickels of the cultists.

Lisette responds by savaging another cultist, leaving him to bleed to death in the dirt.

Relentlessly the effigy continues clawing at Keng, who is now staggered and on the verge of passing out from blood loss as the power granted him by his rage begins to ebb.

Once more Zeyala reaches out to heal Keng and keep him on his feet.

Toshio hates to leave the accursed stirge, but turns his blade on the effigy, trying to cut its clothing so its straw filling can’t hold together. He succeeds but the effigy doesn’t seem to be in any danger of falling apart despite its robes being cut to ribbons and its steady loss of straw.

The last two cultists standing continue their attacks, but the one fighting Lisette is too frightened of her to get in a good hit, while the other manages to stumble into Shalelu’s blade and receives a mortal cut to his right wrist.

Lisette continues snapping at the last cultist attacking her, but this time draws no blood.

Shalelu quickly dispatches the other cultist and then reaches down and pulls Zeyala to her feet.

Jethrik tries again to stab the last stirge and this time does manage to poke it, but not hard enough to kill it. It bobs away and then dives at Keng. Keng tries to swat it away with his axe, but it dodges and attaches itself to his leg to resume drinking his blood.

Jharad looses two arrows at the effigy that whistle past Keng’s ears. The first shot smashes into its pumpkin head and all but shatters half of it. The second arrow sticks in what stuffing remains and otherwise seems to do no harm.

Keng, unbowed and stubborn as a green spotted desert tick, slashes at the effigy with his greataxe. ”You son of a bitch,” he yells as his greataxe shears through what remains of the effigy’s pumpking head, putting out its arcane fire. The twisted mockery of Desna collapses in a heap.

Abandoning their weapons the deformed villagers attempt to grab Lisette, but the nimble wolf easily eludes them.

“It’s not much Keng, but I pray it is enough to keep you on your feet,” whispers Zeyala as she confers blessing upon the half-orc barbarian to strengthen him.

“May the blessing of you goddess shine on you, my thanks,” Keng replies wearily. “Now, let’s finish this.”

Toshio puts his recently acquired experience in dispatching stirges to use and helps Keng finish off the one that’s menacing him.

“Thank you pretty boy, you can be my personal bug hunter,” Keng says with a friendly grin. He slaps him on the shoulder, “Now let’s finish this off so we can have a chat with the mayor.”

Even as Keng is speaking, more cultists emerge from the house, one of them carrying a frightened Ornigaard in her arms. They run across the yard for the entrance to the maze, joined by the cultists first bitten in the leg by Lisette. As they run, Ornigaard sees Toshio and the others and starts to flail about shrieking, “Toshio! Sir Toshio! Save me!” His arms dislodge the stirge mask of the cultist carrying him and she is revealed to be Shel. Then all five cultists and the boy disappear into the maze, leaving only the deformed villagers to carry on the fight.

For her part, Lisette tears a bloody chunk out of one of the deformed villagers trying to grab her.

Shalelu, having only three regular arrows left in her quiver casts a spell and nocks one of them, which is magically replaced in her quiver. “Go! Rescue the boy! Lisette and I will take care of these!”

Pointing to the kidnappers, Jethrik cries out, “Hey! Pick on someone my size!” Jethrik readies his bow again and says to the others, “Look out guys, there’s still a spider about.”

Jharad immediately races for the entrance to the maze.

Despite his fatigue, Keng goes after him and actually passes Jharad and enters the maze first.

The deformed villagers finally succeed in grabbing hold of Lisette and wrestle the wolf to the ground, she snaps at them in vain and growls in rage and frustration, though they are still unable to really hurt her.

“Your fate is with Pharasma,” says Zeyala to Shalelu and Lisette as she makes her way towards the maze.

“Help Lisette, Shalelu,” calls Toshio as he heads into the maze with Jharad and Keng. “We’re after the boy!”