First Foray into the Brinestump Caverns

Having completed their investigation of the two wrecks, and battled the guardians of the second, Walthus leads them up the distributaries of the Soggy River deeper into the marsh until they come up to within a few dozen yards from a fifty foot high cliff that rises along the marsh’s southern border, its face a thick tangle of jutting rocks and bright green vines and nettles. A curtain of these thick nettle vines partially conceals a cave opening at the base of the cliff. Walthus, a bit unnerved by the skeletal warriors at the last wreck, does not seem all that eager to explore the cave. He offers to stay behind and watch over the boats and their packs and gear.

Jethrik says, “I don’t recommend using the alchemists fire to clear the nettles!”

Remembering painful nettle stings from his childhood, Toshio gets one of the skeletons’ swords and cuts the nasty plants away from the cave entrance. Keng joins him using his axe and they easily clear away the nettles to reveal a 10 foot wide and 7 foot high entrance.

Jharad smiles at the pile of nettles, “Those make excellent arrow shafts.” He carefully sets aside a large amount of Keng and Toshio’s trimmings to put away in his pack later.

Jethrik takes out his club and holds it aloft. A soft glow emanates from the top.

“Very nice” says Toshio. “Can you do that for our weapons, too? I cannot wield this mace while holding a torch.”

“Sorry, no” Jethrik shrugs.

Watching Jethrik produce light on the tip of his club Jharad suggests, “We should have a second source of light as well. Who has a second source of light?”

Toshio offers his sunrod to Zeyala.

“Don’t trouble yourself,” says Zeyala. “I have one of my own.” As she lights the sunrod she mutters, “Gods only know why I bother to carry these things.”

“I guess because you knew you’d be exploring caves.” Jethrik offers brightly.

Zeyala forgoes reminding Jethrik that while the range of her vision is severely limited she can see just as well in the dark as in the light.

As they begin making their way into the cave, Jharad makes invisible arcane marks on the walls every so often to help them find their way back.

Ten feet back another narrower tunnel opens up on their right, heading off to the southwest. The main cave continues to the south for another ten feet before it veers to the east.

“Let’s go this way,” Toshio suggests, pointing to the south.

Keng goes where Toshio points thinking to himself, “Go here, go there… better be some frackin’ treasure in this cave, the boats were worthless.”

The ceiling gets even lower, forcing Keng, Jharad, and even Toshio to have to stoop down at times. Moisture drips down from the ceiling constantly to make slippery pools and rivulets on the floor. About 50 feet from the entrance the main cave bends again to the west and the entire floor at that point is covered brackish waters that must have collected from the rains of the last few days that have not yet had a chance to seep into the rock. It is difficult to tell how deep the waters are or how far they extend without entering them and looking around the bend in the cavern.

“Well, no sense in drowning – at least not yet. Let’s try the drier way, and we’ll come back to test the waters later.”

Jharad begins drawing a quick map of the area on the inside of his cloak. Using only his finger, elements of the cave appear and mark the garment with a ghostly white glow. “Good idea,” he comments.

Backtracking to the side cavern they find that they can only travel down it in single file. About 25 feet down it opens up into a larger cavern roughly 15 feet across and 30 feet wide. Because Zeyala and Jethrik are brining up the rear, their lights don’t do much to illumine the cavern, but Keng, who is in the lead, can see perfectly well, and what he sees is an enormous hairy, red-backed spider feeding on the carcass of a giant gecko in a corner of the cave. The spider is not at all happy to be interrupted, it drops the gecko and spring at Keng biting into his left leg. Jharad considers firing an arrow at the beast, but does not want to hit Toshio. He waits for Keng and Toshio to maneuver around the spider so room opens up to engage it. The spider springs back and Keng with his axe and Toshio with his sword both try to hit it, but to no avail as it skitters away from their blows. Keng, Toshio, and Jharad all begin maneuvering around it to catch it between them.  Zeyala casts guidance on Jharad as he passes by her.  Jharad enhances his blade then steps up and quickly stabs the spider twice with it, the second delivering an arcane mark of a large X. The spider rushes in and bites Keng on the arm, but its poison doesn’t seem to be effecting the mighty half-orc. Before the spider can leap away again, Keng buries his axe in its head, right between its bulbous eyes. The giant spider drops, curls up, and rolls onto its back, quite dead.

“Keng, please let me examine the bites from that spider,” says Zeyala. “Blessing from the divine,” she prays as she transfers a ball of glowing warm energy from her hand to Keng’s wounds.

“Thank you Zeyala,” groans Keng.  Shaking his head to clear his thoughts as he feels strength seep back into him and the wounds miraculously close. ”I hate spiders,” he growls.

Jharad wipes spider goo from his blade with a summoned rag. “I figured you would just saunter up and step on it, Keng,” he says. Smiling he summons another rag and hands it to Keng for his axe.

Keng gladly accepts the rag and chuckles at Jharad’s joke, although it comes out as a low rumble much like a growl.

Turning to Zeyala, Jhrad says, “Timely guidance again Zeyala. Um… thanks.” This last work comes awkwardly, as though from a small child learning to speak. In retrospect, this may be the first time any of the group has heard Jharad use the word at all.

“You are most welcome, Jharad” says Zeyala.  “Though I am simply the channel for the divine.”

Jethrik begins scanning the cave for magic but finds none.

Toshio says, “Keng should be up front. We need his darkvision there.”

“I agree. Lets us your healing, Zey, before we use our potions,” adds Jharad.

There is no treasure or anything else of interest in the spider’s cave aside from the giant gecko carcass. Beyond that is another tunnel that splits into two – one going southwest and the other going southeast.

“Left, Keng, if you please.”

The passage going off to their left in the southeast direction seems to empty into the main tunnel of the cave network but on the far side of the section completely blocked by the pools of water. In this section the tunnel slopes down at a slight angle to the east but only a third of it is full of standing water.  The floor is slippery but they are able to move along without any problems though they do have to step with care. After 40 or 50 feet the tunnel opens up into a cavern about 35’ at its widest and 70’ long. The whole southern rim of the cavern and particular the southeast part of it lies underwater, and that part seems to curve around to the north. Passages also lead out from the north and far western ends. Scattered throughout the cavern, Keng can see four inert skeletons sprawled upon the floor. They are all wearing the same kind of armor as the skeleton that attacked them at the wreck of the Kaijitsu Blossom.

Jharad whispers to Toshio. “We should assume these things will rise. I suggest we get ourselves in a good position to receive them, then Jethrik and I can wake them up with arrows: you and Keng in front, Jethrik and I in the middle slightly behind, Zey behind us. What do you think?”

“Good plan.” Jethrik whispers. “I’ll take the one on the left. You get the one on the right.”

“Good idea, but let’s smash all of them before they can rise, rather than letting them start after us,” Toshio says. “I don’t like skeletons. They don’t rest as they should. Take up positions to smash these on my signal. We can each smash one, with Zeyala standing back.”

Meanwhile, Keng, not stopping to listen to the others, walks over to the nearest of the skeletons and with his great axe smashes it to bits. He turns back to Toshio and says, “Just to be sure.” Right at that moment the three other skeletons in the cave begin to rise up, and even from the waters of the flooded parts of the cavern two more skeletons arise. Unlike the other skeletal samurai, these ones are unarmed and reach out with grasping bony fingers to claw at those who have intruded upon their uneasy rest.

One of them immediately rips into Keng with both claws. The other four skeletons converge on the rest of the team, and within moments Toshio and Jharad are lying on the cavern floor bleeding to death. Only Jethrik’s quickness and the fact that he is a smaller target spares him from any bloody wounds, while Zeyala’s position at the rear gives her a moment’s respite.

“By Pharasma’s divine light, return to slumber!” shouts Zeyala. As the flare of Zeyala’s radiant light touches them all of the skeletons in the cavern collapse and rise no more.

There is no time to be relieved however, for Zeyala sees that Jharad and Toshio are dying at her feet, and Keng’s bloody wounds make it evident that even he is in no shape for another fight should any more skeletons come lurching out of the darkness.

Zeyala stands next to where Toshio and Jharad are laying and calls Keng over. “Power of the divine, heal and awaken my friends.”

Jharad sits up, feeling like Keng sat on him. Focusing on the half-orc he says calmly, “It never hurts to spend a little time preparing before rushing into battle. Next time lets do some of that. What do you think?”

“Yeah. Maybe.  But it worked out!” Keng replies. “Where’s the treasures?”

Toshio groans as he sits up. “Of all the stupid… How do you live long enough to breed?” Immediately Toshio regrets his words. He can feel that the poison of his anger and the abusive words erupting from it has a created a cloud of evil, blocking the divine light that he normally feels shining from within.

Taking stock of the situation, Toshio looks around and sees the now destroyed skeletons. “How did that happen? And next time let’s do that sooner, whatever it was, eh? Zeyala, thank you for healing us. I admit, I feared the worst as I lost consciousness. How much healing power have you got left for today?”

“And here I thought you brought me along for my fighting prowess,” she says with a wink.  ”My powers are still fairly strong. I can cast heal spell on a single person three more times, but my ability to heal the group is waning. Perhaps two more times.”

“That’s all for today,” Toshio says after assessing. “Let’s go back to Proudstump’s home and recuperate. In that place of safety Zeyala can expend the rest of her healing on us if she’ll be so good, and we can rest. Tomorrow we can continue the exploration of these caverns. For now, I’ll be glad to get back into the sunlight.” He starts to lead them back to the boats.

Jharad scans for magic in the cave before they leave, as does Jethrik. There is no magic to be found however.

Toshio is quiet on the way back to the boats, ruminating on his sudden loss of grace.

“So we return in the morning?” queries Keng. “I want to finish what we started here!”

Toshio pauses for a moment. He realizes that Keng doesn’t seem to have a full grasp of the situation. “Keng, we will go back to the cave tomorrow, when Zeyala will have her full healing abilities restored – just in case. We won’t leave the job unfinished.”

Changing the subject, Toshio looks Keng in the eye and says, “And speaking of not leaving things unfinished…” He pauses, considering his words, and then bows at the waist, saying, “Please accept my apologies. What I said in the cave was thoughtless. In my anger I let my words cause more injury. I am sorry, Keng.”

“Sorry for what?” asks Keng.

Jharad, who had so far remained silent since leaving the caves, says, “For implying that half-orcs are too impulsive and asking how you live long enough to propagate your own species.” He smiles widely at Keng.

“I don’t believe you need to trouble yourself with our discussion, master elf,” responds Toshio coldly.

Jharad laughs at Toshio’s reaction.

Toshio tries to ignore the rude elf’s intrusion, and instead gives Keng his full attention, as befits the situation. Turning back to Keng he adds, with proper contrition, “But the wizard is correct. That is why I am apologizing.”

“I thought the remark humorous as befitting fellow warriors,” Keng responds. “You worry too much.”

Toshio looks puzzled for a moment, and then hides it. “Ah, well. Yes. Perhaps I do.” He stands, wondering internally what to do next, then hastily adds, “Anyway, I’m glad you were not offended” before turning to something – anything – else that’s going on in the room.

Just then a raucous burst of flatulence is heard from Jharad.

Jharad looks over at Jethrik, who is busily looking innocent, and says calmly, “Do you really want to start that game gnome?”

“Hey wizard,” yells Keng! “I learned me some magic” Keng then waves his fingers and says, “Expeluranus,” while he lets out a huge burbling fart!

Once the group gets back to Proudstump’s shack, Zeyala uses the last of her day’s allotment of channeling. After channeling her healing energy, Zeyala says, “I think that should take care of everyone. Anyone still wounded?”

When everyone has been treated, she continues, “I respect the dead, but I don’t like them waking up and trying to claw my face off.”

Toshio says to her, “Excellent. I was hoping we wouldn’t be too much delayed. Thank you for your help, Zeyala.”

“If there’s nothing else for this evening, I need to pray and get rested for tomorrow,” says Zeyala.

Toshio responds, “Yes. Please do so. There is no time like the present, eh?”

Before heading up to the Proudfoot’s guestroom, Zeyala approaches Keng and with complete sincerity, she says quietly to him, “Keng, your strength and determination are valuable assets, but perhaps we can come up with a more effective strategy when tackling our next foe. It was only because I was in Pharasma’s favor that she gave me the power to cast off those skeletons. She is fickle when it comes to healing and death, and I know not if she will grant me similar blessings if we come across more undead. Tonight I must pray for her guidance.”

Jharad spends some time the day before finding a suitable prodding stick (makeshift staff) to take with them the next time they visit the caves. He spends the rest of the day working on thistle arrows.

The Longshank Farm

Just as Slorb said, it proves easy to follow the Soggy River out of the Brinestump Marsh and below a bridge over the Lost Coast Road and on into the farmlands.

Still a good distance from the farm and approaching it at night, Reta says to Chuffy, “Youz, scouts out da perimeter of da farm. I wanna know everyting der is ta know. And stay well clear of da animals… dey can smell you from a good distance. Don’t gets too close.”

She has Slorb and the women stay well enough away hiding in some bushes or trees while the rest of them wait for Chuffy to return.

“Okay Boss,” whispers Chuffy as he scampers towards the farm. After a few minutes, two dogs within the fenced in yard on the far side of the farmhouse begin barking. The humans inside are soon up and lighting lamps.

A minute or two after that, Chuffy’s disembodied voice whispers from the darkness. “Me saw a couple of mangy doggies and hear some men folk in the big house. No doors on this side. All facing away. We can take them before they can get ready,” says Chuffy.

“How many men?” Drubbus growls.

“Wat about da chimney? Can we use that? And we should wait till dey is sleepin again.”

“Where are you? And how many men?” asks Mogmurch. Drooling slightly, he adds “Any children, or (slurp)… babies?”

“No babies, only mens,” says Chuffy. ”Even though me can’t be seen, those dogs smells me. Maybe I try to move quickly and get to chimney and climb.”

“Well, you dummy,” Mogmurch says snidely, “kill the dogs when they sniff too close!”

“Well now,” Drubbus grumbles, “he’d have to get purdy close ta kill dem dogs, won’t he? ‘N deh’d a started barking well afore den, eh?” Drubbus squints his eyes. “Nah. Deyz gonna bark no matters what’n we duz. What we need ta do is make da longshanks tink da dogz is just barkin at da moon or sumptin. If we had some meat, we could toss it ta the critters and dey’d fight over it. Da longshanks’d tink any barkin’ was over da meat. Den maybe we’d be close enough ta do sump’n.”

“Yeah, that’s much better,” agrees Chuffy. ”Make them chase after meat. Then me can climb the chimney.”

“Let’s us go find someone easier to eat” chimes in Mogmurch.

Reta looks hard at Drubbus then shakes her head, giving up the idea of feeding him to the dogs. ‘Too much trouble,’ she thinks.

“We needs a diversion. Slorb will get close enough to make da dogs bark den run away. Da rest of us will climb up to da roof and down da chimney to surprise da hoomans as soon as dey come back inside der house.”

“Ha ha ha! Good idea, Reta! Good idea!” Mogmurch says enthusiastically. Mogmurch loves the idea of Slorb being chased by the dogs.

“Me likes that one too!” cackles Chuffy from the shadows.

“Wait!” says Slob. “I’m needed back in da house to watch ova da bitches. An’ besides, yous need me knowledge. I can also bone da human tongues. An’ if I can check da heavy hidin’ space I can help yous ruk betta just as I did fe da last chief. Let Chuffy get da dogs barkin’. He’s invisible an’ so da dogs iz gonna stench him but da humans won’t be able to check him evun if he’s standin outside da fence.”

Reta snorts disappointment as she really wanted to see Slorb running from the dogs, but he makes a good point. “Ok, Chuffy yer bait. Let da dogs sniff ya so deys starts ta barkin a lots. Den run aways and climbs somewhere safe if dey sets da beasts on ya. Join us soon as ya can. Da rest of us will climb da house and go down da chimney when da dogs are barking at Chuff’s. Got it?”

Mogmurch nods agreement.

“Is der a nudder way in?” Drubbus asks. “Might be good to have two ways in. If not, chimney it is.”

“Not good,” whispers Chuffy.  ”Doors all on far side of buildings,” his voice trailing off as he heads towards the dogs. He heads through the fields to the south of the farmhouse sneaking up towards the shack that is southeast of the dog’s location. He clambers up on that as the dogs begin their ferocious howling once again. Through the shutters of the farmhouse he can see lamplight and the humans soon pour out into the dark yard with weapons and torches raised high. Chuffy crouches down on the far side of the roof of the outhouse, just as the invisibility granted by the potion wears off.

As Chuffy heads off, Reta leads the others to where they can climb up the chimney of the house. She times their arrival to soon after the dogs begin to bark again at Chuffy. Only Reta is able to climb up, while Drubbus, Poog, and Mogmurch are only able to scramble up a little way before slipping and falling on their butts.

Chuffy has his own problems on the other side of the house. From the roof, Reta sees that Chuffy has become visible and is hiding on top of the outhouse. Three human men with torches have come out into the yard and are shouting at the dogs and each other in their language. One of them is in hide armor and has a crossbow, another is in a breastplate and helmet and has an axe, and a third is in padded armor and has a pitchfork. Reta readies her bow in the darkened cover of the roof.

Drubbus continues to scratch the chimney with his fingernails, as does Poog, while Mogmurch finally manages to scramble up to the roof by Reta within the shadows cast by the chimney. Down below, the farmers are putting leashes on the dogs and getting ready to open the wooden gate. They seem to be speaking to people still inside the house, at least one other man.

Mogmurch looks down at the others. He almost taunts them with a laugh for their inability to climb, but then remembers that they need to be quiet for now. Instead, he says nothing but sticks his tongue out at them and grins mockingly.

Poog, disgusted with the entire affair, decides to creep to the front corner and cover the entrance with fire bolts. Drubbus follows.

The farmers open the gate, their respective weapons ready to attack anything that might leap out of the shadows at them.

Chuffy climbs down from the outhouse and runs south across the field, drawing his dog slicer as he goes.

Reta starts shooting at the farmers with her shorbow. Her small arrow embeds itself in the latch as the farmer with the pitchfork was opening it. He jumps back with a yelp but the latch is open and he kicks the gate open. Shouting and pointing, the other two farmers raise their lanterns and point to the roof.

Mogmurch lobs a bomb down on the farmer by the gate, hitting him square on the elbow as the farmer lifts his arm to shield himself. The explosion tears into that farmer and his two fellows as well as the dogs. None are mortally injured, but they the wounds are painful and now they are clearly yelling about goblins (as the goblins recognize the human word for themselves). Mogmurch laughs gleefully as the bomb explodes! The shouts of pain from the longshanks and whimpers from the dogs delight and encourage him as he readies the next bomb.

Poog rushes from the corner of the house to get within range of the farmers. He unleashes a fire bolt that hits the farmer by the gate, eliciting another shriek of pain from the unfortunate.

Drubbus follows after Poog and cast entanglement on the yard, causing all the grass and flowers in the yard to reach out and wrap themselves around the farmers and the dogs. Both dogs, and the farmer by the door, however, are able to keep themselves from getting caught.

The farmer in the pelts runs screaming back into the farmhouse. Though they have to struggle through the grasping grass and flowers, the other two are also able to make it back inside. From just within the door, a horn blares out into the night to alert the surrounding farms. The two dogs bound out of the gate and past the animated plant life and attempt to sink their fangs into Poog, who is the first goblin in reach. Poog is able to scuttle back and twist out of the way, but it is certain that unless stopped the two burned and enraged dogs will tear him into pieces.

Seeing that no dogs or humans are chasing him, Chuffy stops running and begins creeping back towards the farmhouse, ready to stab anyone or anything that comes near him.

Reta looses another arrow and wounds one of the dogs attacking Poog.

Mogmurch looks over roof, trying to decide what will burn best. Then he thinks about the animals and looks to the barn to the west of the farmhouse. “There’s just gotta be easier food ta get than dese guys!” he complains. Already the goblins can hear horns answering in the distance from other farmhouses.

Poog screams, “Da dam dawgs. Help!” Poog launches a firebolt at the closest dog while he tries to back away towards the rear of the house followed closely by Drubbus.

The dogs are right on Poog’s heels, nipping at him, though one gets a fang pulled out when it gets caught in Poog’s chain shirt.

“Letz kill da dawgs, or de’ll track us.” Drubbus suggests. “Den we hightail”

Chuffy heads back to the corner of the farmhouse, following after Poog, Drubbus, and the dogs.

Reta begins to climb down the chimney taking Mogmurch with her.

“Aaiiee!” shouts Mogmurch as he’s pulled down by Reta. He is surprised to be pulled down just before throwing a bomb. He makes sure the bomb won’t go off in his hand and does his best not to fall, but doesn’t try to resist. Getting into it he quips, “Hehe! All da girlies like to pull me down!”

Poog makes for the horse corral and slams the gate behind him. Poog cowers behind the fence whimpering in fear and wets himself.  ”Dawgz, horrible dawgz.”  He turns and looks through the slats at the snarling dogs.

“Bastard!” Drubbus mutters to himself (although that might not mean the same thing in goblin). He squares his stance and swings his scythe at the closest dog but with a swish the scythe passes over its head.

Chuffy shrieks and charges the dogs. He swings his slicer at the nearest one. The dog yelps in pain as a gash is opened in its side.

Reta, giggling, charges. She swings at the same dog wounding it again.

“Horns!” Mogmurch shouts, frightened by what the horns may bring. Ready to run, but not alone, he tugs on Rita. “Let’s go! We can circle around ‘em and steal food from the easier farms!”

“Dat’s what I was thinking too… but we has got to kill da dogs first. Dey will be able to sniff us out!” Reta shouts back.

Poog panting behind the gate, also hears the horns an knows it will bring many long shanks to kill them. He panics and runs across the corral, heading for the woods where the females were left hiding. He screams, “Follow me we are going back to the swamp!”

Reta screeches, “Poog you ingrate! Stay here and help or we will all hunt you down like these dogs!”

Mogmurch sticks with Rita. He saves his bombs and elixirs, but draws a weapon and tries to hit a dog with his club. His strike connects but only seems to anger the dog, which turns on him.

“Da udder farmers iz gonna has more dogz anywayz!” Drubbus gripes though he also charges the dogs but his scythe fails to hit.

The first dog snaps at Mogmurch who succeeds in leaping away from it. The second dog goes for Chuffy, who is also able to dodge away.

With Chuffy and Reta slashing away with their dogslicers and Mogmurch clubbing them, and Drubbus hacking at them with his scythe the goblins finally manage to put the dogs down.

Poog keeps running for the tree line. He gathers the women folks together and says, “Longshanks are coming. We wait here for the others but be prepared to run.”

“Time to flee,” hisses Chuffy as he heads towards to tree line. He looks solemnly towards the dog carcasses saying, “Such a waste of lovely meats.”

Mogmurch was about to suggest they raid the chicken coops before they go, but instead he cuts a hunk of meat off the nearest dog. “Okay. Let’s get outa here before more of these and the longshanks show up!”

Reta also hacks off a chunk of dead guard dog and runs for the tree line.

Drubbus quickly hacks off a leg and follows the others.

Slorb is aghast when they return. “That’s all yous got! Just some hunks hof dog meat!? An’ now da longshanks iz afta us.” The horns and baying of hounds can still be heard in the distance. “Oh woe! I iz afraid dat we iz gonna af to return to da clearin. We might…” He hesitates as waves of grief and trepidation threaten to overwhelm him. “I iz afraid we might af just go to wurk. Aiii, wurk! We iz gonna af rebuild an’ chek fe ourselves until da fresh opportunity arises fe us.”

The Troll Cave

Fortunately for the goblins the boggards were not able to find them during the day, when they all lay sleeping with no guard set as Slorb had simply smoked himself into a stupor and then fallen asleep along with the others. It is frighteningly evident, however, that the boggards of Brinestump Marsh are on the warpath and calling to each other in their search for the goblins that raided their muddy homes. Like giant bullfrongs, the boggard’s croaking and trilling fills the marsh.

Gwa… Gwa… Gwa… Gwa…

Kero kero kero kero

Gwa… Gwa… Gwa…

Slorb whines to the others, “We cannot stay in da swamp! We must hide. We must chek da fresh turf where we can be safe. We should go to da caverns. Not da ones wiv da cursed warriors, but uva caverns. Or else we should leave da swamp an’ check some isolated animal shack. We could take hit ova an’ stay dere fe a time.”

Reta, who is fresh after not smoking any of the leaf and having a good night’s sleep, screeches, “Everyone up now! We move to the caverns and setup home there. We leave in 10 minutes, Lets go!”

Chuffy slowly sits up and rubs his eyes. “Night already?” He blows his nose into his sleeve then makes his way towards Reta.

Poog grabs two of the goblin women and skeedaddles.

Mogmurch gets up slowly and helps his mate up, then follows Reta (glaring at her back and wishing bad things upon her).

Before leaving for the caves along the southern cliff, Poog heals Reta, Drubbus, and Chuffy so they will all have a better chance of surviving whatever fights might await them. He even has to begrudgingly use up a charge from his wand of healing to do this, as Zarongel is stingy in passing on to his devotees the power to heal. Healing magic is for lesser gods, gods of longshanks (humans) and longears (elves).

By midnight they reach the cliffs and find a likely cave. It seems to be empty but a foul stench of rotting fish, pee, crap, and some other unnamable aroma emanates from it to the goblin’s delight. The entrance is fairly narrow, though a veritable grand hall to the goblins, but it seems to open up into a larger cavern.  Mogmurch and Drubbus take a few more sniffs, and then realize that the pungent stench is that of a troll, and one that may still be around.

“Well, dats dat.” Drubbus whispers “Time to get movin.”

Reta grins wide then leads them inside to look for the troll.

Drubbus makes the Druidic sign for blessing the dead and backs away.

Reta looks back sharply at Drubbus and motions for him to follow her.

“Yeah Drubby,” says Poog. “You am Retaz go first.”

Mogmurch watches them go in, but doesn’t walk away himself.  He stands where he was, waiting to hear the chomping sounds from within as Reta and Drubbus get eaten by the troll. As he pictures what’s about to happen, it occurs to him that maybe a big, strong troll could be a good ally. What doesn’t occur to him is how to make that happen without getting eaten.

“Ah… yeah. This is a troll cave,” says Mogmurch. “We ain’t even ready to scrub a troll. Let’s go.”

“Me don’t like this one bit,” whines Chuffy. “Why not look for empty cave?”

Reta stops, turns and gives them all a sharp look. “Any of youz not come with me will be my offering to our new friend. Slorb, wait outside wit da others. Chuffy, Mogmurch, Drubbus, youz come wit me. Now!”

Poog obsequiously says, “Retaz Ima cominz and havez yuz back!”

Chuffy shrugs and follows after Reta. “I wish I still had my ladder and bullhorn,” he mumbles.

“Okay, okay…” replies Mogmurch. “Whatever you yell, Reta. I’m comin’ cuz I don’t wanna be an offering.” And he does come – but he’s careful to let the others go in first.

Howz she gonna feed me ta da troll if shez ded? Drubbus wonders to himself. He follows, but he’s definitely going last and not very closely at that.

Mogmurch pushes the others in front of him. “You hear ‘er! Get going!”

As Slorb and the women slink back to the underbrush, Mogmurch, Drubbus, and Poog all scramble to be last into the cave, each eyeing the others and slowing their pace until at last they are deadlocked into a standstill at the cave entrance. Only Chuffy, dogslicer in hand, is right at Reta’s back as she explores the cave and is relieved to hear nothing and no one. Drubbus sees Chuffy readying his weapon and does likewise, shifting his scythe to a ready position. Wondering why he is being so stupid, he moves ahead of the others while trying to maintain stealth.

Reta continues forward, inspecting the cave carefully. She is calm, for a goblin, and looks around with eyes wide open. She sees that the bigger cave is 30’ by 40’ large. It could accommodate all the goblins, though it might be a little too cozy in the long term – esp. if they had to share it with a troll, assuming they could even convince the troll to let them stay. The troll’s nest is of course a filthy mass of weeds and rotting blankets (stolen of course). Strewn about the cavern are bones and skins of various animals and probably missing travelers. Among this mess can be seen coins of various types, a few potions, a light hammer, and to the goblin’s horror a number of scrolls containing the cursed writings of the longshanks.

To Reta, seeing that the cave is empty causes more fear than if it were filled by the troll. She pauses, thinking what to do next. One thing for certain though, the troll may return at any minute. “Chuffy, Mogmurch… Go guard the entrance. Yell in here if da Troll is coming.” She then begins collecting as much ‘treasure’ as she can quickly (potions, the hammer, coins…). “Da rest of you, help me do this quickly. New plan, we are getting out of here.”

As Chuffy and Mogmurch check outside, they hear the heavy stomping of a large creature as it crashes the underbrush off in the distance. The troll is already on its way! They both make a run for it along with Slorb and the women.

Poog is too scared to grab anything and wants to leave right away. “Weez needz to leavez now!!!” he squeals.

Drubbus takes the time to grab the two closest available potions and then zips out of the cave.

Reta lets them all get out before her, picking up the hammer and a potion on the way out.

All of the goblins make it into hiding among the rocks and underbrush surrounding the cave before the troll comes into sight. The half-ton mossy green monstrosity lurches out of the treeline and seems to be singing something in its deep gravelly voice in the language of the giants. It carries a mangled deer over its left shoulder.

Bland skuggor rider ett odjur.

Som ett svart träd.

Griper hård på en mäktig hammare.

Ut för svaga Iomeden blod.

TROLLHAMMAREN!

TROLLHAMMAREN!

Trollhammaren sveper igen!

Hugga ned, broder igen!

Hör det sista ropet -

Trollhammaren är här!

TROLLHAMMAREN!

Han är inte en människa.

Inte bräcklig och svag som dig.

Du ska vara maktlös.

Inga ögon ser din ätt.

TROLLHAMMAREN!

TROLLHAMMAREN!

Sedan mörkret övertog.

Räds den frostens kalla fingrar.

Som griper tag och får leva

Under kommande vinternatt.

TROLLHAMMAREN!

TROLLHAMMAREN!

TROLLHAMMAREN!

The troll stops at the entrance to his cave for a moment and stops singing. He sniffs the air, looks around, and then charges into his cave. After a few moments a horrendous roar issues from the cave and the troll charges out again howling, presumably, for the blood of the thieves whose scent lingers so strongly in his lair and who took off with his hammer and three of his potions. The goblins, meanwhile, have scrambled away into the darkness and slipped quietly across a nearby stream and so the troll is unable follow their scent. He smashes his fists into the ground in helpless rage and stomps up and down shaking the earth, but after awhile he lets forth a final wail of anguish and returns to his cave, shoulders slumped in defeat.

Once they are safely across the river Reta gathers them around. “Drubbus, yous check these trolly things. Whats they do? The rest of ya listens up. We gonna leave da swamp and find a nice fat hoomun farm wit da animals dens. We is gonna slip in at night all quiets like and kill da hoomuns. Den da farm and animals den is ours. And don’t yoose worry about da horses. I kills dem wit dis!”  She holds up the magical dogslicer, ‘Gorge of Gluttons’, and growls (though it sounds much more like an owl’s screech).

“Well,” Drubbus says, “Dat was stupid, but profitable.” He grins as he eyes his potions. He casts detect magic on them. He finds that the hammer, while very well made and of a size for longshanks and not goblins is not magical. Of the two potions he grabbed, one seems to have the power to heighten one’s senses for a time, while the other makes the imbiber invisible. The potion Reta grabbed enables the consumer to feel as though they were still enjoying a cool shade even while under a hot sun.

“Da hammer’s just a hammer. Nice job, smarty pants. Grabbed a hammer that’s too big for ya ta swing. Has a familiar ring, don’t it?” Drubbus whines. “Your potion is stupid too. If you drink it, it’ll feel like a cool shady day, even in da steamy heat. Whoop de doo. I got da good stuffs! Dis one’ll make me invisible and d’is one will make me all sharp eyed and stuff. Ha ha!”

Poog looks at the invisibility potion slyly and starts to move closer to Drubbus.

Rage boils in Reta’s eyes and she chucks the hammer at Drubbus, with intent to kill him.

Mogmurch, about to try to snatch away the invisibility potion, instead jumps back to stay clear of the flying hammer, letting out an “Eep!” in alarm.

Drubbus tries to pull Poog into the path of the hammer but he easily jumps away. The hammer sails over both their heads.

Reta growls, “Next time I kill you Drubbus. You will not speak to me that way, or you die. Now tell me exactly what you discovered, or you die!”

“I tole you what I found!” Drubbus screams. “I didn’t pull nuttin’. The potion you grabbed is just to keep cool ‘n comfy. Maybe you should drink it now!” Taking a breath he says, “My potions are great. I can turn invisible and I can gets da eyes ‘n ears of a fox! I dunno how long, doh.” He sounds a bit disappointed at that. Glancing over at the hammer, “And I think I said something about that stupid hammer being too big for goblinz.” He smirks.

Reta snarls then sheaths her wicked weapon. Forcing a lopsided smile that causes one eye to twitch she gestures with her finger for Drubbus to approach her. “Come here Drubbus, show me the juice which makes ya disappear.”

Drubbus takes a few steps forward. He takes the invisibility potion out and holds it up. He gives Reeta a hard look. “Here ya goes. Now whenz ya hold it, get a good grip. Really wrap your paw ’round it or it’ll slip away. Don’t bear down to hard though, or yull smash it all to pieces.”

Reta looks at Drubbus quizzically, not fully trusting him, but takes the potion as he suggests. She then carefully hands it to Chuffy saying, “Youz will use dis to gets inside da hooman house and unlocks da door fer us.”

A grin breaks across Chuffy’s face as he takes hold of the potion. He looks off in deep thought for just a moment, then back towards Reta and Drubbus with a nod.

Turning back to Drubbus, Reta hands him the potion she grabbed from the Troll’s treasure without a word and turns away.

Poog pouts a bit having wanted to taste the potion himself.  He obsequiously says, “Yeaz Reta dat is great ideaz!”

Drubbus turns to Chuffy and hands him the potion of perception. “Here, scoutin’s about seein’ n hearin’ too. Hold em til ya really need em. No clue howz long dey lasts.”

Reta asks Slorb, “Where is a farm, far away from da other hoomuns? Tell me!”

Poog giggles wildly, “Yez weez killz dem all!”

Mogmurch licks his lips, thinking of all the tasty animals he’ll eat, and maybe even a tender baby human, too!

“Dunno if I likes this.” Drubbus grumbles. “Soldiers can become farmers… maybe our farmer has a bright sword? Maybe if the farmer don’t show up in town, the guard comes out to checks on himz. This may work out, like burgl’in a troll cave… then agin… it mayn’t.” Drubbus uncurls from his customary slouch, rising to his full height and sets his overbite.

Reta slaps him hard and screeches, “Stops making trouble! We will creep in at night and kill da farmer and eats his children.”  Then looking at Slorb she says, “Show us where da farm is!”

“Yeah!  Hehehe!” laughs Mogmurch evilly.

Drubbus rubs at the slap. Hopes da stoopid hammer’s cursed, stoopid female.

Poog giggles and kicks Drubbus in the rear end. “Yeah Drubbie, shuts the hells up, ya big chicken.”

Drubbus says some ancient words and a 5-gallon glob of water appears over Poog’s head. In the next instant it drops down on him.

Poog splutters and rubs vigorously at his face he then shrieking dives onto Drubbus and starts wrestling with him.

“Get ‘im! Get ‘im!” Mogmurch cheers to neither in particular. He’s happy to watch the fight regardless of who wins.

As Poog and Drubbus roll around in the dirt, Slorb rubs his chin and thinks. “Da longshanks farms iz all ova on da uva side hof da road dat runs along da swamp. all we af do iz keep walkin dat way.” Slorb points east out of the swamp.

Finally Drubbus grabs Poog by the balls and gives them a ferocious twist. Poog grabs his genitals with a wail and rolls around on the ground screaming.  Then gets up and dusts himself off as if nothing happened. “Youz a dirty fighta Drubby but plenty funny!”

Don’t Boggard That Flayleaf My Friend

The next night, after using the spells granted him by his demonic patron Zarongel to heal Reta, Poog says to her, “Lez find soma place to hidez and rezt up.”

It isn’t only shelter that the goblins need however. As Reta ponders, the growling and gurgling of all their empty stomachs can be heard.

“Let’s eat Slorb,” mutters Drubbus, eying the (late?) Chief Gutwad’s now quite bedraggled advisor.

Reta ponders for a moment the day when she will lead her tribe. Then in response to Drubbus she says flatly, “No. But we do needz ta eat. Drubbus, you go forage for some foods and take Mogmurch. Stayz together. Be quick and bring back enough for all of us. After we eat then we go to where we can rest and gain our strength backs up. The rest of youz, keep your eyes open and don’t wander.”

Slorb slinks up to them and says, “Bah! Dere iz plenty hof peeps in dis marsh we can take grub from. Dere iz da bunch hof boggards not far from ‘ere an’ we might be able to pik dem off. Boggard legs iz quite tasty yous nah. Thun dere iz some scrags we could burn hout closa to da shore. I’d say we go afta some fishermun but few spitz down ‘ere anymore, an’ dey usually spitz in massiv numbers an’ iz well armed. Dere may be da marsh giant or two we could lift some tings from too. I fink dere may be some furtha south.”

Drubbus gives Slorb a long, angry look. “Maybe youz kin live another day.” Turning to Reta he says, “Sounds like boggard legz iz on da menu, but I don’t think you should send just two only. Letz get the whole raid… such as we iz.”

“Yez, dat sounds deliciouz. Mogmurch, youz stay and watch da wumun and Slorb. Da rest of us will gets some fud.”

Reta gathers Poog, Drubbus, Chuffy and Slorb to her and says, “Slorb, draws us a map in da dirt to where we find deez bogards.”

Slorb obliges and with a stick he sketches out the directions to the boggard’s lair in the mud. It turns out they are not too far away on the banks of one of the many branches of the Soggy River. “Da boggards live on da banks hof da riva in da mud. Dere iz just one knot hof dem, though dey as da breedin pond fe dare tadpoles nearby. Those iz heavy eatin too but certainly guarded. Yous must be tricky about dis. Dey iz tough warriors. Dey iz dig frogs an’ can stay underwata fe da long bells an’ move through da marsh wiv ease. Watch da waters carefully so dey don’t ambush yous. Beware dare sticky tongues, an’ do not be frightened off by dare terrifyin croakin. If yous can catch one hof dem on jays, dat iz gonna be heavy eatin fe us all. But if dey cat-sh yous, thun dey iz gonna be da ones to as da feast.”

“Eyez doan wanna go hunting no smelly frogs, lez stay here an rest,” whines Poog.

Reta nods then screeches, “We sneak up to dare turf an’ chek one on jays. Kill it quik an’ bak we spitz. Lez go, yous iz wiv me,” she points to Poog, Drubbus and Chuffy.

Drubbus scowls at Slorb “We eats legz one way or other. Better not be sendin’ us on some fooley or sumpin.”

Reta leads them to where the boggards live by the river, sneaking through the marsh. When close enough she begins looking for one who may be alone and far away from the rest. They stick together though as they are low in numbers right now. Though patience is almost unknown to Reta, she has them wait for a good opportunity for she knows that rebuilding her tribe is of paramount importance and getting food for travel is the first thing they must accomplish.

Reta’s patience pays off. They come across three boggards squatting outside a muddy mound on the bank of one of the many winding branches of the Soggy River. They are dressed only in loincloths though they do have their crocodile tooth studded clubs are within reach. They seem to be squabbling over a roll of flayleaf that they are passing around to smoke.

The goblins are practically invisible and silent as they creep through the brush except for the Chuffy (oddly) who brushes up against some of the reeds causing them to sway. The boggards stiffen a bit and look over towards the bed of reeds.

Drubbus sinks lower into the grass and holds still. Reta glares at Chuffy and stands perfectly still, watching the boggards. Chuffy grins and shrugs, but says nothing.

Poog also comes to a standstill. Then he feels an attack of the giggles coming on. The only way to stop them is to concentrate on creeping forward without making a sound. He slowly places one foot down carefully not breaking any leaves or sticks and moves towards the boggards.

After a moment the boggards shrug and go back to passing around the flayleaf. The goblins are able to creep through the abundant underbrush up to within 30’ of them. Poog looks at Reta and mimes crawling forward by walking his fingers across his palm and then shooting them with his burning hands by wiggling his fingers towards them. Then he raises an eyebrow quizzically at her as if asking her permission. Reta smiles wide and evilly as she nods agreement.

Poog pushes past the reeds and runs up to the boggards to catch all three in a fan of burning flames that erupt from his splayed fingertips. Two of them are singed and they yelp in shock and surprise. The third ducks just in time as the flames roar over his head and back. The boggards blink, shocked. They see that the last of their flayleaf was burned up as well! Shock quickly turns to outrage even as Chuffy’s dart and Drubbus’ slung stone hurtles past them. Drubbus grumbles a long string of explicatives as his sling stone sails pathetically wide of the mark. Reta sprints toward the nearest of the boggards but stumbles just as she reaches them and her attempt to slash him with the Gorge of Gluttons goes far astray, cutting off the tops of some nearby reeds that fall all around her and the boggard.

Poog looks at his smoking fingers and then shakes them like he is shaking off drops of water. He then shakes his head and giggles and starts shooting firebolts as he backs away from the enraged toad-men. The first one singes the nearest of the boggards who had ducked from his initial blast of fire. Chuffy’s second dart hits another boggard at about the same time. Cackling, Reta swipes again at the boggard in front of her and this time draws blood. Drubbus throws his sling down and kicks it in the mud. “Hey!” he says to himself, scooping up the oozing filth. He charges the boggard in the middle of the group and smears the vile mess into it’s huge, bulging eyes as it attempts to get up, thus thwarting its attempt to grab its weapon. With a frustrated croak it dives off the bank into the Soggy River. The other two boggards are able to take up their clubs as they get to their feet and the one injured by Reta takes a swipe at her. Reta jumps back and then lunges in again, slashing at him as he gets to his webbed feet, once more drawing blood. The boggard swings wildly at Reta but comes nowhere close to hitting. The remaining boggard on the bank has similar bad luck against Drubbus.

Poog’s second firebolt goes astray, but Chuffy’s dart hits the one now floating in the river off the riverbank. The dart sticks right above his nose, the boggard swipes it off and then dives beneath the water. Reta slashes her chosen victim a third time, once more drawing blood. Drubbus, swinging his scythe, also manages to scratch the other boggard still on the shore.

Reta says, “Killz this one, we only needz one!”

Drubbus yells, “Everyone help Reeta!”

The boggards finally begin to get in some blows of their own. Drubbus is hit but the blow is absorbed by his dirty hide armor. Reta, however, is hit hard in the gut. She realizes that another couple of blows like that one and she will be food for the boggards rather than the other way around. Then the boggard in the river lets forth a loud and horrifying croak. Chuffy visibly quakes in response to it.

Poog screams his outrage at their combined impotence and hunger! He shoots more firebolts at the wounded boggard. Chuffy hits the one in the water with another dart. Having had enough of Chuffy’s darts it dives beneath the surface and swims away. Drubbus hits his foe again with his scythe, inflicting another nasty gash in its rubbery hide, causing it to dive off the riverbank and disappear beneath the river as well. Reta also hits again and the last boggard staggers away from her croaking in fear and trying desperately to retreat to the riverbank so it can dive away.

Poog sends another firebolt careening after the last boggard but it zips past the creature’s head. Chuffy’s dart catches the boggard in the throat and it falls dying in the mud of the bank, its webbed hand reaching out only inches from the water as it gurgles and dies.

Grinning evilly, Reta looks around to be sure the other two boggards have indeed swum off. Licking her lips she says, “Letz gets this ‘ting back to camp so we’z all can eats it!”

“Do we need ta lug da whole ting back? Or jutz da legs?” Drubbus ponders, his lack of initiative toward anything not involving violence, food or sex asserting itself. “N’ what did dees dudes have over here any wayz?” He wonders poking around where the boggards were squatting.

Reta stops and looks at the dark hole. “Maybe we’z can bring some’ting else back with us too. Letz see what they have in der hole.” She then steps up and peers inside.

“Maybe dey gotz more boggardz in dere! Don’t poke the hornets nest ya eeget!” Drubbus hisses.

Reta sees that the interior of the round mud hut has three reed cots and lots of reed baskets and clay pots. Right by the cots are three suits of boggard sized leather armor and skins. The hut is about 30’ in diameter in the middle of which is a fire pit with a hole in the thatch roof directly above it. The muddy floor is covered over in places with reed carpets.

Seeing that there is no immediate threat Reta and the others search the hut and find that the baskets are full of salted fish and beetles, enough for the goblins to survive for days. In one basket they find what seems to be three ounces of flayleaf that the boggard’s had collected. They also find an escape tunnel under one of the carpets that undoubtedly opens on the other end beneath the Soggy River.

“Can weez livez herez?” asks Poog?

Reta lets out a “skreetch” of excitement. “Takes da food, quick. I gots da leaves.” With that they hurry out and return back to camp with their spoils. She passes out some fish to the others on their way back and munches on a dried beetle herself.

“But Retaz, whyz we can’t stay here?” Poog persists.

“Cuz da udder two boggards got away, an der be more somewherez, maybe.” Drubbus grumbles. “Best get away wid whot weez got.”

Reta responds, “We needs ta feed da females… and Slorb. And dis place is too small for all of us. Come on… lets go.”

Reta leads them back the way they came. Upon their return they find that Slorb has managed to get the goblin women and Mogmurch to put together some makeshift huts and a spiked fence.

“I sez dat Slorb keeps lookout for the daytime! We need some rest after all this hubbub!” Drubbus grumbles. “An’ I think weez done plenny for a night. Letz crash now an find some shelter tomorrow night!” He then picks up a handful of flayleaf and brings it over to some likely she-goblins. “Hey, lookie what I brought back for ya.”

Poog says, “Yez I jest wanna sleep.”

While contemplating his options, Chuffy unconsciously pops a boil on his face. After momentarily rubbing the pus, he sucks it off his fingers.

“Yessss,” Chuffy whispers.  ”Rest now, find new home when dark comes again.”

Meanwhile the goblin women and Slorb have crowded around Drubbus to get their hands on some of the flayleaf.

Mogmurch eats all the food he can, and sneaks some into the shadows for later. After that, he grabs some of the leaf to smoke. It almost crosses his mind to wonder about their shelter, but the thought dances out of his head almost as soon as it entered. Besides, shouldn’t their new leader, Reta, be doing something about that? Mogmurch does spend some time thinking on that. He doesn’t like Reta being leader any more than he liked Slorb (and Slorb’s still making problems!) – but he’s pretty sure he couldn’t take her in a fight so he doesn’t challenge her.

Poog goes off to sleep as he needs his rest for tomorrow.

Reta also chooses not to partake of the flayleaf.

Chuffy is sad because he missed out on the flayleaf. He approaches Slorb with outstretched hands. “Me wants some if you’s can spare.” He eventually gets a roll of flayleaf for himself and pretty soon he and Drubbus, Mogmurch, Slorg and the goblin women are able to get quite stoned before they crawl into the makeshift huts to sleep through the day.

Homeless

The longshanks of Sandpoint are too busy putting out fires to send out any patrols to look for the goblin murderers and arsonists. For that matter, they know better than to send anyone out into the night looking for goblins. So it is that Reta, Poog, Mogmurch, Drubbus, Chuffy, and Slorb (as well as Mangy and Chuffy’s goblin dog mount) make the long walk back to Brinestump Marsh. However, when they get within sight of Licktoad Village things there do not seem well at all. Down the path they see torchlights in front of the village gate, the silhouettes of armored warriors, and the shouts of goblins. As they watch the gate is broken through and the silent armored warriors pour into the village.

“Perhaps we should wait here,” suggests Slorb fearfully.

Poog let’s out a quiet hiss, “Yesssss.”

“My mate!” shouts Mogmurch as he runs to rescue her.

Chuffy remains silent.

Reta says, “Idiot” and lets Mogmurch run into the village.

Drubbus runs after him. “Fool! Don’t assume she’s dead! Do something rash, and she’ll have to find a new mate.”

Torn between choosing his mate and self-preservation, Mogmurch stops near the gate, trying to see just what’s going on and if Rempty still lives. It seems as if all the warriors have gone inside, so creeping up to the gate he looks within. The goblins inside are firing arrows from behind their huts and from the rooftops at the invaders but it doesn’t seem to be having any effect. The longshank warriors clamber up onto the walkways and route the defenders. Mogmurch sees that goblins are jumping over the walls and fleeing into the marsh. Perhaps Rempty is among them! Then he finally notices that the invaders are not actually carrying torches. The four “torches” are actually balls of softly glowing light floating just above them. As he looks what appear to be laughing goblin skulls appear within the lights. One of the skulls turns towards the gate and a moment later several of the warriors do as well. Then Mogmurch sees that these are no longshank warriors at all – or at least not living ones. They are undead – the animated bones of long dead human warriors in strange armor and bearing slightly curved swords like none usually seen in Varisia. At least half a dozen of the skeletons start back towards the gate, right at Mogmurch!

Mogmurch notes which way the goblins fled into the marsh as he turns and beats a hasty retreat himself away from the gate and the warriors. Drubbus and Mangy follow as they dive back into the underbrush. The skeletons and their eerie floating allies follow only as far as the gate but then turn back to continue their attack on the village itself.

Drubbus attempts to find the others, “Let’s try to gather up anyone that’s escaped from the village.”

Mogmurch was thinking the same thing. Careful not to make any noise that might attract their enemies, he slips into the bush with the rest of the party to find the escapees.

“Yes, lets,” hisses Reta. She then giggles from nervousness and leads the group off to gather what tribes members they can find.

Poog and the others follow.

Creeping through the marsh at night is no problem for the goblins and eventually they come to a clearing amid the moss shrouded cypress trees of the marsh. A dead stump lies in the center of the clearing and it has long been a place for the Licktoad tribe to regroup if by chance they should be forced to flee their village, as has just occurred. Unfortunately, it would seem that one of the great predators of Brinestump Marsh has lain in wait here. As they come to the clearing they can hear goblin screams and muffled cries of help coming from it. From behind the cover of the boles and knees of the cypress trees they see that it is the dreaded Lotslegs Eat Goblin Babies Many, the giant spider that has long stalked the Licktoads. The spider is busily wrapping up at least a dozen goblins.

“We needs ta do summin!” says Drubbus, stating the obvious. “Anyone got anymorez fireworks or anythings?”

Chuffy pulls out his bullhorn and moves off in a perpendicular direction from the others shouting into his bullhorn trying to sound like a much larger and scarier monster. This startles Lotslegs who leaps for the trees, dodging a firebolt from Poog and one of Reta’s arrows.

Drubbus says, “Reta, got a spellie for ya!” and he casts hide from animals on her, so she can assassinate Lotslegs.

“Tanks Drubbs!” says Reta as she circles to the right assuming the spider will drop down in front of them.

Mogmurch lights his last remaining Desnan candle and fires it up into the trees overhead in a vain attempt to hit the spider before it can jump back down on them.

Chuffy continues moving in the same direction yelling into his bullhorn.

Lotslegs spews webbing from its spinnerets at Poog but the sticky mass comes nowhwere near to hitting him.

Poog keeps trying to hit with firebolts but misses again.

Reta climbs the tree to get at the spider.

Drubbus runs into the clearing to start cutting the captive goblins free of the webs.

Mogmurch, abandoning the Desnan candle, throws a bomb at the spider and hits, injuring it. Sparks rain down on Reta to her consternation.

Chuffy, not sure what else he can do, runs into the clearing to help Drubbus and Slorb free the web-wrapped goblins. It turns out that all of them are goblin women, a dozen in all, including Mogmurch’s mate Rempty and Drubbus’ wife Gupy Wartbits.

Lotslegs climbs up higher into the tree to get away from Reta (who apparently it can see just fine), firing its webbing at Mogmurch as it does. This time it hits, and Mogmurch finds himself engulfed in the sticky sheets of spider silk.

Poog’s next firebolt hits the spider square in the belly.

Reta climbs higher to get at the spider, but her swing at it misses.

Mogmurch finds that he is unable to extricate himself from the webbing.

Having had enough of the goblins with their fire and bombs, Lotslegs leaps for the next tree over and heads back to its lair.

Reta screeches, “C’mon lets follow and kill da thing for good!” and starts after the beast.

Drubbus shakes his head and helps another grateful female remove her… webs.

When Mogmurch is freed he follows the others to finish off the spider.

Chuffy follows after Reta. He draws his dogslicer as part of his move action.

“Don’t be stoopid Retazzz, wesah donwanna getz stuck in itz lairz!”

“Ah crapz,” says Poog and trots after the others.  ”Wesa gonna beez in trouble.”

Drubbus realizes he lost something, somehow and trots off after the others. Not knowing what else to do or where else to go, Slorb and the goblin women follow Drubbus.

Lotslegs keeps to the treetops but the goblins are able to follow it back to its lair. On one occasion it does briefly elude them, but Drubbus is able to track it by the ichor dripping from its wounds upon the soggy, mossy tree branches. They finally arrive at its lair, a deadfall of several old trees. Somewhere in the mass of fallen rotted trunks and branches the wounded spider lies in wait.

“Well, I ain’t goin’ first! Maybe we can burn it out.” Mogmurch inventories his bombs, acid, and fireworks, then selects the paper candle and readies it.

Reta does not charge in. She takes time to evaluate the deadfall. Climbing onto the top of some overlapping trunks she gets a line of sight on the spider down below among the fallen limbs and brush.

Chuffy draws his dog slicer while following Reta towards the lair.

Mogmurch follows Reta, looking for a good place to throw things (like acid).

Drubbus readies his biggest firework.

Poog moves up next to Reta to get into position to use his last firebolt

In the end it only takes a single shot from Reta’s bow to finish off the already gravely wounded Lotslegs. The spider folds up its legs, rolls over on its back, and lies quite still. When they are sure it is really dead, the goblins are able to move in and search the lair. Scattered among the trees are dozens of bodies, some of which are goblins, but a few of which are humans. Among the bodies they find 24 gold pieces, a small masterwork light crossbow with 11 bolts, a single pearl, 4 potions, and a wax-paper sealed package containing six pieces of taffy.

Slorb and the goblin women come up and look over the shoulders of Reta, Poog, Drubbus, Chuffy, and Mogmurch, with many oohs and aahs. Slorb declares, “Ha! This will become the beginning of our new Licktoad treasury! Now we only need to find a new place for our village, a more secure and secluded place. Hmm, I think I know of a place. The home of Old Megus the Swamp Witch. No one’s seen her for months. Maybe she’s dead or moved on. If so, we can take over her place.”

Drubbus pokes Slorb with the firework he was preparing for the Lotsalegs, “Pretty quick to write off the old chief, and start barking in his stead, eh? Let me confer with me collegues and see if they approve of your recommendation.”

Reta takes the taffy and a potion. Eating one of the pieces and passing the rest to Chuffy she says, “Agreed. And Reta Slayer of Lotsalegs will be chief!”

Mogmurch lets them argue. He spends his time loading up the loot, starting with the potions and the crossbow.

Poog grabs a goblin maiden and sneaks behind a bush for some gratuitous recompense for saving them. He finishes in less than 30 seconds with a squeak. The goblin maiden gives him a dirty look as he heads back to the group and asks,  ”Reta what should we dooz now?”

Mogmurch suggests, “We need a new village. Old Megus’ place might work. But maybe a farmhouse far from the longlegs’ would be better. And we could eat their food!”

Reta considers and then announces, “Yez, we will go to Old Megus’ place.” With that she leads her village to what may be their new home.

It takes a few hours to slog through the marsh to the Old Megus’ shack. Still, they arrive well before dawn as goblins are well suited to picking their way through the undergrowth in the pitch black of the marsh. What they see is a sagging one-story shack sitting in a clearing, its walls dingy with age and encrusted with delicious lichens and fungus. A partially collapsed shed sits just to the northeast, while small pouches, twisted knots of feathers, and dangling wind chimes made of bones hang from branches and roof edges alike.

Reta screeches, “Slorb you stay and watch the women,” clearly not counting herself among them, “we will check the shack first.”

She then draws her wicked blade and leads the small group towards the shack.

I could stay with the women! Drubbus thinks to himself as a scowl runs across his face. Then he falls in with the others.

Mogmurch gets his bombs ready and follows behind their new fearless leader, muttering “Hehehe. Burn and boom!”

The shack seems to have only two doors: the front door on the east side, and a back door on the southwest side. On the north side is a trail that might lead to the coast. The shed has mostly collapsed but there is still a door standing on the western side facing the house.

Reta says, “Chuffy, sneaks up and check the front door. Druubus, Mangy smell anything?” She then nocks an arrow to cover Chuffy.

Chuffy smiles and nods.  He slowly makes his way to the front door.

“I know he smells, but I have no idea if he smells…” Drubbus grumbles.

Mangy sniffs around and bristles. Something is inside the shack but the goblin dog is unable to pinpoint exactly where or say what it is.

“He’s onta sump’n. Best keep you goggs sharp!” Drubbus warns.

Chuffy hears nothing and finds no traps, but the front door is either locked or jammed.

Reta waves them all back to her then she says with a wicked smile, “Mogmurch burn da frackin house. Smoke whatever it is out to greets us.”

“Let’s just burn it down!” says Mogmurch with no attempt to stay quiet or stealthy.

Mogmurch starts looking around the shack for himself, trying to find the best spot to start a fire. He gets a vial of alchemists fire ready for use.  As he works, he sings his song in happy anticipation of the fire:

“Things go boom when Mogmurch throws

Much more fun than using bows

Sometimes when the boom boom blows

Is not my fault – that’s how it goes.”

Trying to look like a true fire-starting expert, he mutters to himself “Now, where’s the driest stuff to light up?” Once he’s found it, he lights it without the alchemists fire.

“Why don’t weez toss a couple o’ deez firebombs inta a winder?” Drubbus whines “Eazzier dan a fahr, ‘n dere will beez plenny o’ smoke ‘n sparks. Maybe da shack don’t burnz down needer.”

Mogmurch jolts to a stop and looks at him. “You got fire bombs?” he asks eagerly. “Well, throw ‘em, then! I’m keepin’ mine fer later.”

Drubbus takes his largest firework and readies it. “Whooz a gunna open a door or winder?”

“Let me gets outta the way first,” says Chuffy. “Me likes things burning, just not me.”

“I gots dis,” says Reta. She kicks down the door, which was not locked but simply swollen shut with moisture. The door slams into the floor in a cloud of dust and fungal spores. The entire shack shakes and rattles alarmingly. When things settle down, Reta sees that sheets of fungus grow along the walls and floor, and also on the numerous gourds, twigs, and bones hanging from the ceiling on sinew and string. There are doors to the north and south and across from the main door an entranceway into another room to the west.

While Reta kicks in the door, Mog finds a heavy stick and bashes in the shutters of the nearest window. “Whack! Take that, window! Whack!”

Mogmurch stops hitting the shutter and comes around to where the door crashed in. He pokes his head past Reta to see inside. “Okay. Get the fire ready. We’ll pull the door shut again after you throw it in, so all the smoke and fire’ll be inside. Unless you wanna crack that other door first.”

Reta puts up her hand and says, “Wait,” then looks further into the shack. “Nobodyz in der… Let’s checks it out.”

She then switches to her dog slicer and leads the group into the shack. To their alarm, they find that simply moving through the shack causes the walls and floorboards to creak and groan. She says quietly. “Watch those,” pointing to the doors to the north and south then walks to and looks thru the opening to the west. She sees what might have once been a longshank’s living room though now the sagging benches, broken table, and narrow cupboards are overgrown with more fungus and mold. An old brick stove sits against the west wall and there are two doors to the north and one to the south.

Reta points to Mogmurch and motions for him to open the door in front of him (to the south). She then backs out from the west doorway towards the south door. Reta also looks at Mangy to see where the dog is paying its attention.

Chuffy picks his nose, then his butt, and then he draws his dogslicer and heads inside.

Feeling pretty safe, ‘Nothing’s happened yet, right?‘ Mogmurch tries to open the door but finds it is also swollen shut and so has to kick it open. What he finds is the witch’s bedroom complete with a large bed, its sheets thick with mold and puddles of water from the leaky roof. To his horror, he sees that numerous ruined books lie stacked nearby, their contents, thankfully, destroyed by the damp.

Mangy growls and glares at the storage shed.

“I thinks we need ta check out that nasty ole shed. Mangy don’t like it none,” says Drubbus.

Reta says, “Storage Shed… now,” and moves outside. She motions for the rest to cover her and goes to kick in the door of the shed. Before she can reach it, three dire rats, rats the size of small dogs, hurtle at her from the sides of the shed, two to the north and one to the south.

Drubbus comes out of the shack, kicking Poog out of the way. He lights up his skyrocket and aims it at the two rats to the north. The rocket shakes and begins emitting a handful of sparks that causes the rats to stop their charge and draw back.

Reta attacks the dire rat on the south side of the shed. “Kill Dem!” She hits it with the Gorge of Gluttons, opening a wide gash in its side.

Mogmurch stays back, looking for a chance to throw a bomb at the rats.

Poog moves to flank Reta and casts his last firebolt, killing one of the rats to the north.

The wounded rat facing Reta and the remaining rat to the north turn tail, literally, and flee into the underbrush.

A few seconds later Drubbus skyrocket takes off, hitting the shed and exploding into a multi-hued shower of sparks and rotted debris that forces the goblins to duck for cover. “Well, we don’t haffta worry bout dat shack no more.”

Reta looks angrily at Drubbus then leads them all back in to investigate the rest of the shack.

Suddenly, Chuffy, who is still inside the shack, hears a scuffling from the other room, the one on the western side of the shack. From out of that room pours a roiling mass of crazed rats who go for him and also Mogmurch and Mangy who are just outside the door.

Mogmurch runs and hides behind Reta. Once there, he drinks one of his healing potions.

The rats continue swarming over and feasting upon Chuffy and Mangy.

Poog throws his hands in the hair and begins uttering guttural sounds, “uh huh ugh ump urn uh huh ugh urp grrr,” his hands glow with a dull sickly green light and he then throws his arms out in front and screams, “Zarongel!”  A blast of negative energy is cast forth and it kills many of the rats composing the swarm, but not enough to totally disperse it yet. It occurs to Poog that if he keeps using negative energy he can destroy the swarm, kill all the rival goblin heroes and then get all the women and become the new head of the tribe.

Reta moves away out of his range, draws her bow on him and says, “Stops dat! Now!”

Poog shrugs as he follows the others, “It beez okay Retaz. I jest helping az best az I could.”

Chuffy runs out the shack and flees from the ferocious rodents. Drubbus follows him.

Poog is struck by a sudden panic attack. He realizes that the rats are going to engulf him despite his efforts. Poog turns, and shrieking like a little child, flees as fast as he can go!

By the time the goblins are able to regroup, it is clear that they will not be able to find a new home by daybreak. Under the circumstances, they are forced to find meager shelter in the hollowed out trunks of dead trees or fallen trees. Being nocturnal the goblins sleep through most of the day, but when they awaken they are faced with the same dilemma. Where can they go where they will be safe from the other predators of Brinestump Marsh?

“Why is we hangin’ aht inna swamp anyhooz?” Drubbus complains. “I never liked no swamp! Let’s go see sumpin’ new.”

“But the swamp has food. Lots of food,” says Chuffy.

Rokuro’s Letter

After reaching the harbor and unloading their cargo, Toshio returns the boats to the owners. He makes sure to tell how much help the boats were. In addition, he hands 5 silvers each to the owners of the two boats they used as a token of his appreciation for their use. This is an unexpected but pleasant surprise to the two fisherman, as they had not expected any recompense for what they saw as practically a civic duty to lend boats to the watch to get rid of the goblin scourge.

To the others, indicating the chest and other items, Toshio says, “Let’s take this to Ameiko. I’m sure she’ll be willing to hold it for us while we make our reports or take care of other business. We can gather at the Rusty Dragon when we’re finished to divide the items. Sandru will probably be there, and we can enlist his help in selling those items we won’t put to use.”

He helps carry the items to Ameiko’s tavern and stays just long enough to see that they are safely kept. Ameiko is quite relieved that they have all safely returned and amazed that they have brought back such treasures from the Brinestump. She readily agrees to keep the chest, armor, sword, and crystals for them in a locked storage room next to the wine cellar.

Jethrik heads out to get a bath and hire a laundress at the Pixie’s Kitten. As there is some extra scrubbing involved, he tips handsomely. Afterwards, he returns to the Rusty Dragon for drinks and dinner.

Keng, however, heads over to Rovanky Tannery to see if Shalelu’s pouch is ready. It is in fact ready. Keng sees that it is of fine workmanship and the embossed crest of the Andosana family matches the specifications he gave. He checks and makes sure that the fishing line and hook, and the flint and steel are indeed inside. All of it costs him 3 gp. Then he returns to the Rusty Dragon and settles in for something to eat. Ameiko brings him a roast goose with applesauce and a tankard of ale. When asked about Shalelu, however, she shakes her head sadly and tells him that unfortunately Shalelu has still not made an appearance.

Keng closely examines the pouch and finds it very nice. He is glad he got it and hopes Shalelu will like it. He wonders again where she is and how much longer he should wait before he takes a job as a caravan guard and departs. He puts the pouch into his pack and settles in for the evening at the inn.

Jharad had said little on the return trip, being deep in contemplation of the events that had transpired since his return to the area. Since it is midafternoon when they get back to town, Jharad visits Koya first for a long overdue conversation. He finds her in her wagon, parked with Sandru’s two wagons in the Sandpoint Market a block away from the Rusty Dragon.

“Oh Jharad! You’re back from the marsh! The horror is over now I hope?”

Jharad smiles at his sister, “For now, yes. I think that marsh will always be home to some denizens or other whose intentions are against Sandpoint. I think regular scouting and clearing expeditions are warranted. I am sure Toshio will suggest as much to the sheriff. The Licktoad goblins are no more as far as we are aware. Their village has been cleared. That map we found lead us to some shipwrecks that may to linked to Ameiko’s family also – and to some undead which we also cleared. It is all very interesting. I am sure there is more to follow up on.”

“There always is. There always is.” She ruffles her Harrow deck and gazes down on them, then back into Jharad’s eyes. “There is always something dying and something else being born. They cycle is beginningless and endless, for all we know. Maybe even Desna herself does not know if there is truly a beginning or end to it. When you last saw me, I was a woman, now I am an old lady.” She laughs ruefully. “I am sure you have changed to, though with the fair folk it is a slower change.”

She pauses and then says, “I do wish, however, that I had been a better follower of Desna – a true explorer like mother. Did you know that she went as far north as the Land of the Linnorn Kings and as far south as Qadira? I’ve never gone beyond the borders of Varisia. I fear I have squandered the years allotted to me.” She shakes her head. “Well, enough of sad regrets. You must tell me about Kyonin and the elven wizards and magi.”

“There is always time, Koya – until there is not. If you wish to travel then travel; I may be tempted to travel with you actually.”

Smiling, his mind turns to the forests of the elven homeland. “My time in Kyonin was wondrous. To be surrounded by those of my own race, immersed in the culture of my birth. It was familiar yet alien. Like visiting a life I should have had, not knowing whether to have missed out is for the better. Or not. Truth is I am glad to be home yet Desna’s will is strong and the wanderlust has grabbed me. If nothing else was learned from my college experience it is that what I did learn is but a few grains of sand lost in a beach stretching beyond view in either direction. I would explore that beach in both directions for as long as I walk this plane of existence.”

As Koya listens her hands repeatedly cut the Harrow deck in her hands. She even does a one-handed cut, which Jharad remembers her attempting to learn when she was a young girl. Now her hands are quite deft as she cuts, riffles, and waterfalls the deck. Laying them out face down on the small silk covered table in front of her and scooping them up again. Her eyes never leave Jharad’s. “Well, it may be that we will get a chance to travel if there was any truth in my earlier premonitions. But whither to, and whether the journey will be one of good or ill, I cannot say. People believe these cards are magic.” She stops shuffling, having stacked all the cards together again. She frowns at them. “They are not. They may focus the spellcasting of the wielder, and sometimes they may channel messages to us from the spirits or the gods or fate. Most times, however, my readings are just based on my ability to read people and guess their true desires and fears. My fortunes are simply the telling of tales that the images suggest to me that may be relevant to the inquirer, but they are tales of the usual cycles of ordinary life played out more times than perhaps even the gods can count infused with just a bit of drama to make things interesting but enough hope to allay people’s fears and allow them to make the right choice. I don’t presume to tell the future but only of what can be if people will only dream larger dreams but also keep their wits about them. Still, on occasion I can perceive the immediate outcome of certain choices, and by immediate I mean within the span of time it takes to burn a stick of incense from Tian Xia. Maybe Desna will grant me greater foresight in response to my prayers in days to come. Still, what I felt back at the inn the other night seemed like a true seeing. Something is about to be discovered and we may all get our wishes. And you know what they say about wishes…” She grins, reminding Jharad of the little girl and beautiful young woman she was not so long ago by his reckoning. “Be careful of what you wish for,” she finishes and cackles melodramatically. She swiftly pockets the cards and stands. “Why don’t we go to the inn brother of my heart? I am thirsty and maybe your new friends are waiting for you.”

Jharad agrees and so they walk together to the Rusty Dragon. On the way there, Jharad casually asks about how Shalelu is doing these days.

Koya chuckles. “Oh yes, I remember you had a crush on her in the days before you left. We haven’t seen her for a few months, but she is still around. You don’t need me to tell you that a few months are but a moment to an elven ranger. I believe she has been spending time with her human stepfather at Fort Rannick by Hook Mountain. She may be there, or on her way here now, or patrolling some other parts of Varisia.”

Toshio and Zeyala, in the meantime, go to the sheriff and report on what was done in the marsh. In addition to the basic facts, Toshio notes, “The halfling, Proudstump, noted that just because the caves had been cleared in part the day before didn’t mean something else dangerous hadn’t moved in. Sandpoint could apply that lesson to the whole marsh. I think it would be wise of us to send patrols through the marsh from time to time, so no monsters get the idea it’s a safe place for them. We could even do similar patrols in the areas surrounding the town. I know it would mean more time and effort, and especially more training, but it would be good training for the guard in the first place. And I’m sure it would be worthwhile.”

Sheriff Hemlock chuckles good-naturedly at this suggestion. “That would be a wonderful idea, Toshio, if we had the man power. You know we only have about a dozen full time watchmen, and of those only three or four of you are ever on shift at a time. The rest of the milita are only three score and some, and they are just farmers and fishermen with spears who we can only call away from their work during an imminent crises. Why do you think we had to put out a bounty just to call in adventurers like that half-orc and Jharad just to get rid of the goblins? As for the marsh, frankly, I think you all got lucky. You could just as easily have all been wiped out and never heard from again. It’s a good thing you did take Zeyala or it sounds like you would have been. My thanks, good lady,” he bows in her direction. “Most days the fishermen follow their trail and are never harassed. I have no doubt that sending patrols along those trails will not come up with much either – during the day when the dark things are hiding in their holes. And if they go in at night – well, I doubt they would come back at all. Sorry, Toshio. Now that the Licktoads are taken care of and you’ve destroyed their skeletal guardians that the goblins disturbed, I think the marshes are best left alone.”

“Sheriff, I made a terrible mistake back at Proudfoot’s home,” admits Zeyala. “I put myself in grave danger because of my lack of experience. This creature had me fooled. I was unable to pick up on its cues and it cost me dearly. If not for the others, I surely would have perished. However, I believe I erred on the side of law which I will continue to follow, though I will be more cautious in the future.”

Sheriff Hemlock takes a moment to consider this. “I think Toshio did rightly in conducting a search when he did. It certainly turned out to be the right call. But I commend you on not wanting to disturb Proudfoot’s privacy. I don’t really see any way you could have known it was not Proudfoot. You never met him before, and you were expecting an eccentric recluse. What cues could you have picked up on? That he wanted to be left alone? The real Proudfoot wants to be left alone. Rest easy Zeyala. You too, Toshio. You both did what you thought was right, and fortunately it worked out. It is a good thing you were all there looking out for each other, and in the caves as well. Is there anything else you need to tell me?”

Toshio responds, “Yes, sheriff, I need to go to Magnimar. I mean to set out either tomorrow or the next day. It’s very important that I go, so I apologize for not being available for the watch. I will, of course, report back as soon as I return.”

The sheriff smiles and says, “You have certainly earned some time off. Go with my blessings.

Jharad enters the Rusty Dragon with Koya and joins Keng. He speaks up to Ameiko, “Ales all around over here.”

Settling into his chair he says, once they receive their ales, “Now this is better. A nice tavern, good drink. No wading around in flooded caves, animated bones and goblin innards. A toast to clearing the Brinestump of at least a few of its nasties.”

Keng nods and replies, “Nice inn, good ale.”

Jethrik enters and joins the others, dropping into a seat where he can admire Ameiko. He lights his pipe and blows long trails of smoke that take the shape of multicolored moths that circle the candles and disappear in a shower of sparks when they hit the flames. ”Hmm, now that I have a little coin to jiggle in my pouch, I may have to find some trouble in a real town instead of this backwater.”

Keng looks at the bard and asks perplexedly, “Why do you want to find trouble?”

“To see if it can handle me!” Jethrik grins.

Keng scrunches up his eyes trying to understand the bard. He shakes his head as if to clear his thoughts and the finger bones woven into his dreadlocks make a soft whispering rattle. He takes another large drought of ale and replies, “I hope you find small trouble then.”

“The Shadow is what you seek. In Magnimar. Lots of trouble to be found there,” says Jharad with an evil grin.

“The Shadow,” asks Keng? “What is that?”

“A district in Magnimar. The bad one,” responds Jharad calmly as he takes another drink. He directs a big smile at Jethrik.

“Does this shadow land have women and fighting?” asks Keng.

“Probably more of both than you want or can handle.”

“Grrr, speak for yourself elf! This shadow land sounds interesting! Let us leave for it in the morning!”

Sandru, who has just walked into the tavern overhears this and says, “Stop goading your companions in mischief good elf. The Shadows will only get you a case of clap and perhaps a lump on the back of the head or a knife in your kidneys, and you won’t even see it coming. If you are serious about having fun and aren’t simply looking for squalor, then go to the Lowcleft district, or The Rubble. That’s where you can get some value for your well-earned coin. Plenty of exotic adventures to be had there if you know what I mean.” He winks and moves on to the bar to greet Ameiko.

Keng spews ale all over the tabletop at this comment.  ”You humans love to talk! Yack yack yack. The only knife that will be sticking is mine. Elf! Let’s us pillage these shadow lands together and leave our names in blood across them!”

“He’s got a point,” agrees Jethrik. “Besides, I know some folks in Lowcleft and had some good audiences there.”

“Well, this sounds promising,” says Zeyala who had made her way over to Keng and the others and had been listening in on them. ”Fighting and women. Not to mention Keng going around, sticking with his knife. What are we waiting for?”

Zeyala orders ale and then takes a seat near Koya. “Nothing like drink and friends,” she says while lighting up her clay pipe.

In response to Keng, Jharad writes his full name (in Elvish) in thick blood in the air so that it begins to drip down onto the table. “Done,” he says calmly, leaving it to drip for several seconds before whisking it all away with the wave of his hand.

Keng laughs and say, “Elf, I like you. You are amusing!”

Jharad smiles and says, “Sandru is right though, we would have a much better time in the Rubble. Looks like we are going to Magnimar. Zeyala, Jethrik, you in?”

“The people of Magnimar would be heartbroken if I stayed away.” Jethrik says with a wink and a flourish.

Toshio is not eager to share his reasons for the trip to Magnimar, so when he entered the inn with Zeyala, he approached Ameiko at the bar while the others were busy talking at their table. A smile crosses his face and stays there as he enters – Ameiko just has that effect on him. “Hello my friend,” he says cheerfully. “How have you been since we left? Has there been any news worthy of note?”

Ameiko smiles back in the midst of pouring a mug of ale from the tap. “All is quiet thanks to all of you brave heroes.” She winks and hands him the ale.

“We’ve got some tales to tell you, but I think Jethrick might be upset if I gave away the ending before he had a chance to make a full epic of it. Suffice it to say, you were only mostly correct about letting the dead lay. But as you can see, we made it back alright. The rest will have to wait until tonight. And thank you for holding those items for us, by the way.”

“It’s no problem. The least I can do for you all,” she replies.

Toshio casually adds, “I am going to Magnimar tomorrow, or maybe the day after. Is there anything I can bring back for you from the city?” he offers cheerfully.

She thinks about this for a moment. “Well, I certainly liked the fan you gave me. A beautiful piece – and it came with a story! Those are two of the things I like the most. If you find anything else like that I certainly wouldn’t refuse it. But please don’t trouble yourself.”

“Oh, no trouble. But I’ll keep my eyes open, just in case.” Toshio is smiling inwardly because he’s thinking of the Tayagama he plans to acquire – a long collection of classic tales to share with Ameiko. Of course the family copy is too large and expensive for him at the moment, but maybe Sandru can help him get a lesser copy Toshio can use. Toshio also hopes to find something artistic, pretty and functional for her – if he has any cash left after taking care of his responsibilities. ‘No trouble?’ he thinks to himself. ‘I wonder if you have any idea how much trouble I’d go through to please you. And none of it would seem like trouble to me.’

“Oh, and speaking of trouble,” asks Toshio aloud, ”Could I trouble you to use a private room? I don’t think the common room is really the place for us to be discussing the contents of that chest.”

She nods and points to the closed door of the private dining room. “Use that room when you are ready. I’ll make sure no one disturbs you and will bring your drinks and dinner in there myself. I’ll also bring the chest and other things up out of storage when you’re ready. Though perhaps you or Keng could help me haul it up.”

“Thank you, Ameiko. You are always the most gracious of hostesses,” says Toshio when the arrangements are complete. “You could join us if you can pull away from your other customers,” Toshio suggests hopefully (although he knows there’s little chance she’ll be able to). “You might find some of the things interesting.”

“I’ll peek in if I can. It will be a busy night I think, but Jorgi and Mirelinda will be able to take care of things for a bit.”

Toshio turns to see that all the others are present. “I’d better go rally them up before they drink too much.” Playfully he adds, “Or maybe not. My share might be a bit larger if they’re liquored up, neh?” eliciting a laugh from Ameiko before walking over to join the others at their table.

Toshio joins the others, overhearing their plans to all travel to Magnimar. He has to stop himself from cursing. He even takes a moment to calm his angry thought. ‘Oh great!’ he thinks to himself. ‘It’ll be a cotton-picking parade, with everyone going. Too bad it’s not something I can put off a while.’ Toshio keeps to himself that he’s really not eager for company on his trip. However, he can’t deny that it’s foolish to travel alone, even in such relatively tame lands.

Toshio says to the others, “Before splitting our items we should go to a more private room. Perhaps even before we discuss such things further.”

It takes a few minutes to get Ameiko’s attention as the Rusty Dragon has been steadily filling with townsfolk. The atmosphere is far lighter than it was, now that the Licktoads have met their end and no further threats on Sandpoint seem imminent. More than a few farmers and townies offer toasts to the good health of Toshio, Keng, Jharad, Zeyala, and Jethrik. Ameiko is a whirlwind of constant motion. She practically juggles and spins her many cups, mugs, glasses, and even whole bottles. At times it is almost certain that she must be using mage hand as she hurtles a bottle in the air and it hovers long enough to pour its contents into the row of glasses she slides beneath it. At times her concoctions actually glow and sparkle, and for the ladies in the room who request white wines or more delicate fruity drinks she throws in flowers that actually bloom as the drinks are presented. Clearly Jharad and Jethrik are not the only masters of prestidigitation. Ameiko is not only quick and precise in her movements, but seemingly tireless and has evidently memorized a repertoire of exotic mixtures worthy of an alchemists’ formulary originating from Cheliax to Qadira and perhaps beyond. She does require help lifting a new and very full keg into place, but Jorgi is right at her side to help. There are moments when a customer is overlooked for a bit too long or she forgets which drink goes to whom, but her charm and wit bring quick forgiveness and it is clear that everyone present is quite mesmerized by her performance and eager to be in her good graces. In short, she is the consummate hostess and tavern keeper, the life of the party that is held every evening at the Rusty Dragon. During a brief lull, Ameiko sees that Toshio and the others are ready and as soon as she is able she breaks away to lead them to the private room prepared for them.

As the others head over to the private room for dinner and the division of loot, Zeyala pulls Koya aside. “Koya, the foray into the caves was exhilarating,” say Zeyala.  ”Frightening as well. I knew there were things that will stir the dead, but to see it first hand… Oh, there is so much more out there I want to know and experience.”

Koya nods, “Oh yes, once you get off the beaten path things can get quite hazardous my dear.” She cackles a little in jest –the melodramatic cackle she uses at times when doing her wizened crone routine for clients.

“There is still much for me to learn. Did you hear of the creature at Walthus’ home?” Zeyala asks.

“I don’t believe you’ve had time to tell me of what happened there. I heard something about a shapeshifter. Sorry, but I have no knowledge of such things.”

“I know you have been longing to see more of the world,” says Zeyala. “That is what I want as well.  The others were talking about a trip to Magnimar.  It will be nice to visit my home, as it’s been such a long time since I’ve been back. I was hoping to travel in the opposite direction and to see new lands, but I suppose that will come in due time. We should get back with the others to learn what we came away with from those caves.”

When Zeyala and Koya enter the private dining room, usually dark lit but now with a few extra everlasting torches brought in for more light, the doors are closed and the roar of the revelers in the main room is slightly dulled. On the table, the chest and other items brought back from the Brinestump Marsh have been set down for the perusal of the company, including Sandru, Koya, and Ameiko.

Sandru, with the keen eye of a Varisian caravan merchant, helps them evaluate the worth of the items they have recovered from the cave. Jharad and Jethrik both use their skills and training to determine the exact properties of the magical items.

Five of the potions are determined to be potions of cure light wounds. Toshio, Jharad, Keng, Zeyala, and Jethrik each are given one of these.

Two of the potions are determined to be those that cure moderate wounds - Toshio and Zeyala are given these.

Three potions are for lesser restoration. Jethrick, Zeyala and Jharad are given these.

The ring of climbing is given to Keng.

The wand that can identify magic items with 19 charges left is to be sold. They can probably get 142 gold and 5 silver for it to be divided among the five.

At this point Toshio raises the issue of starting a group fund if those present wish to consider continuing to work together. This discussion is tabled until all the items are evaluated.

The masterwork chain shirt can be sold for 125 gold. Also to be divided.

The masterwork cold iron wakizashi can be sold for 335 gold and Toshio suggests using the proceeds to pay for repairs to the wakizashi with the shrikes on the blade, and then split the balance.

11 Desnan candles, and four skyrockets can be sold to Sandru for 127 gold and 5 silver, he will then sell them somewhere other than Sandpoint (where fireworks are now forbidden by order of Mayor Kendra).

The 3,820 silver and 421 gold pieces in the chest are to be divided.

Sandru determines that the various pieces of fine jewelry are worth 560 gold pieces in total and this too can be divided.

The jade and cherry wood chest itself is worth 250 gold.

Sandru doesn’t think the crystals from the cave would bring in more than 20 gold.

The broken masterwork kikko armor Sandru doesn’t think will be worth the cost of fixing. He suggests throwing it over Junker’s Edge, the cliff on the north side of town overlooking the beach below.

The enchanted wakizashi with the broken hilt is determined to have the ability to cast shield other once per day on someone chosen by the wielder and touched by the blade. It is unusable, however, until it is fixed. Sandru admits to being out of his depth with such an item and suggest that they bring in Das Korvut, the foul mouthed but quite proficient blacksmith of Sandpoint, who is out in the main room drinking whisky and ranting as is his wont.

“Yes please, Sandru,” says Toshio. “Good idea to consult Das Korvut. And how convenient that good Korvut is right here in the Dragon!”

Sandru laughs, “The gods do indeed like to have things fall into place when it suits them. Then again, it is a tavern. Where else would Das be but here in his cups?” Sandru heads out to find Das.

Ameiko marvels at the items, especially the chest, armor, and sword. “Toshio, these things must have come from Minkai, the land our grandparents came from.” It is then they remember that no one has told Ameiko about the names of the two shipwrecks. The nameplates of the Kaijitsu Star and Kaijitsu’s Blossom are behind the chest and still quite dirty, so she has not yet had a chance to look them over.

“Yes!” Toshio says with a smile. “Don’t they fire your imagination? They bring to mind all the tales Opa told me of the old country. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to travel there and see that country in person?” He pauses briefly here as his inner eye wanders to those far off lands.

Jehtrik pushes his face down into the pile of coins “Nom, nom, nom!” lifting his head up again he spits a few coins out. “Delicious! But I don’t think we found everything in that chest. Ameiko, look at the names of these vessels. They are from your family! This may be more money than has ever crossed my palms, but it’s not enough to keep people around after death to protect. There must be a hidden compartment with a letter or something that will explain all this. The story simply can’t end here!”

Bringing himself back to the here-and-now Toshio says, “Yes, these things are not all we found. We came across two wrecked ships as well.” Toshio brings out the nameplates for Ameiko’s examination, brushing them off a bit. “It seems your family once owned a pair of ships. The Kaijitsu Blossom and Kaijitsu Star. We found both in the marsh. Not much left, unfortunately, but at least the names were clear enough. Did your parents ever speak of owning ships?”

Ameiko is quite taken aback to see the nameplates. “Ships? I only remember my father being in the glass blowing business. I didn’t know we ever owned any ships. Of course I knew my grandfather had brought the family over from Minkai long before I was born, but no one has ever sailed from there. And these ships were beached in the Brinestump Marsh?” She shakes her head. “I have always loved stories, but here is story I wish to hear more than any other. Yes, let’s check this chest over again thoroughly.” She pulls the chest over to her to begin looking and then stops and looks at Toshio, “With your permission?”

“Oh, of course! If you can find anything to help us unwind this mystery, by all means, examine the chest.”

As Ameiko looks over the chest, attempting to find any concealed compartments, Sandru leads Das Korvut in. The smith’s breath reeks of whisky but he seems steady enough on his feet. He scratches his balding scalp and asks, “So what do you want me to see?” Sandru hands him the wakizashi. Das stares at it intently for a moment. Tests the balance, takes it by the hilt, and then takes a few swipes with it. He looks at the hilt more intently. Sandru tells him about the magical properties of the sword. The blacksmith whistles and says, “Well now, this is a mighty fine blade. Frackin’ A. Repairing this shite will cost you. Blades like this will go for 6,000 gold or more.”

“Can you repair it?” Sandru asks.

Das scowls. “Does a werebear shite in the woods? Frack yes I can repair it!”

Sandru and Das then dicker back and forth about the price until Das refuses to go any lower than 600 gold. The whole time he keeps examining and fiddling with the hilt. Then he brings the hilt up to look more closely at it. “Huh. What the frack is this?” he asks no one in particular. He then unwraps some of the sharkskin wrap from the hilt and begins to unscrew the end off the pummel. A small scroll tube falls out but Sandru catches it before it can hit the floor.

Sandru’s eyes widen for a moment as he looks at the tube. He closes his hand over it and says to Das, “600 gold it is then. One of us will come by your place tomorrow with the sword so you can begin repairs. Thank you so much for joining us in here to look at it. In appreciation for your discretion, I think Ameiko will be happy to offer you drinks on the house tonight, right Ameiko.”

Ameiko, having given up on the chest, looks up at Sandru and then to Das. She nods, “Just don’t bankrupt me Das, and don’t start any fights.” She leads him back out to the main room and gives instructions to her staff. Das taken care of she returns to the room, closes the door and walks over to Sandru who opens his hand and holds up the tube.

“This tube is made of mithral,” he says quietly. “Shall we see what it contains?”

“Hold on a moment,” Ameiko says. She then casts detect magic on the tube. “There is no magic here that I can sense. Open it up.”

Sandru opens the tube and unrolls a letter written in the characters of Tien on fine paper in black ink. She gasps. “It’s a letter from my grandfather!” She holds out her hand to silence any questions and reads the letter to herself. When she is done she gulps and then gazes at each person in the room, taking their measure. “I think I may need your help in this. Sandru, Koya, I know I can trust your counsel on this. Toshio, Jethrik, you are both dear friends so I would have your advice as well. Jharad, Zeyala, I know you are both trusted by Koya and so I would have your advice and perhaps help as well. Keng, you have shown us all that you are a courageous and honorable warrior. You have already saved many lives, including those of my dear friends on several occasions over the past few days. Though I do not know you well, I would have your advice and help in this as well if you are willing to give it. Please do not share with anyone else what I am about to share with you.”

She then proceeds to translate the contents of her grandfather Rokuro Kaijitsu’s letter into Common:

My son, my heir. You know now that I have kept secrets from you. You were always a perceptive son, and while you may not understand my reasons for secrecy. I hope that you realize it was necessary. Know that I was not angry with you for opening the warding box – I was angry with myself for withholding the truth from you and forcing you to seek out what I should have given to you. The words I spoke to you were from anger with myself, and it shames me to think of them now. I write this note as an apology, and to beg you to leave these secrets to history.

The next few days will be the most important I have faced in many years. If our family’s enemies have, as I hope, forgotten us, I shall reunite with you and your wife, and your mother and I shall reveal the truth to you. But if they still seek the contents of the warding box, I fear that I may not speak to you again. The box holds our family’s greatest treasure, so I have returned it to Kortun’s care, and it shall remain hidden in the secret third vault under Brinewall Castle – obscured from our enemies. I hope and pray. I will not grant our foes the satisfaction of killing me themselves – if it comes to it, let my death, by my own hand, be my final act to protect you, so that our enemies believe our line ended.

I have instructed Tsutamu to keep this letter from you, delivering it to you only should I fail to return as I hope to. If I can, I will reveal all to you myself. If I cannot, this final missive from a father to a son must suffice as an apology in place of an explanation, and you must destroy this letter, flee to the south, and never return to Brinewall. If our enemies find what I have hidden, there will be nothing here for you. If they do not, they will lie in wait forever for your return.

I hope to see you again soon, my son. But my heart tells me I will not. I am sorry to have failed you. But I am proud of you, and I know you will survive this old man’s shame. You are strong, and you must remain so. For if you are reading this and I am gone, know that our enemies will never stop searching for us, and that is why I cannot reveal the truth to you until I know there is no chance of them finding us again.

Rokuro Kaijitsu

Sunday, 29 Desnus, 4687

Sitting comfortable in the back Jharad says casually as if he has known all along, “That wakizashi is the Whispering Shrike. Its previous owner was Tsutamu, Rokuro Kaijitusu’s bodyguard. I remember them both when Sandpoint was established. The letter was clearly intended for your father, Lonjiku, Ameiko.” Smiling at some long ago memory he adds, “He was an overly earnest young man when I knew him.” Pointing at a the faint watermark on the letter he says, “That is the mark for Brinewall. The letter must have been written there. This is quite a family mystery.”

Sandru says, “Brinewall was a colony about 500 miles north of here on the coast. It was founded over 250 years ago, but an unknown scourge destroyed it on the first day of Sarenith in 4687, just a few days after the date on this letter. No one goes near it anymore as it is believed to be haunted, cursed, or both. Caravans going that way to the Lands of the Linnorn Kings give it a wide berth. Please don’t tell me you’re thinking of going there and looking for this lost family treasure in the dungeons of Brinewall Castle.”

A fierce smile comes over Ameiko’s face. “That is exactly what I am going to do.”

Jethrik stands tall, relatively speaking, “You’ll need a person of intelligence on this raid… quest… thing…”

Keng adds, “Well I came to Sandpoint looking for work as a caravan guard but so far I have fared much better protecting you all. I will go too.”

Toshio quietly watches Ameiko’s face while listening to the responses of the others. He is silent a while, reflecting on the various pieces of information in the letter. Slowly, he enumerates aloud the points of the letter that caught his attention. “Your family has a treasure, left in Brinewall, but your grandfather thinks it should be left alone, untouched. I don’t recall ever meeting your grandfather. That means he never got to see his son again, doesn’t it? And your father never got this letter because poor Tsutamu died in the swamp, failing to deliver it. That must have been terrible for him. And so your father never knew of his father’s respect for him. How terribly, terribly sad.”

He pauses to consider further. “This warding box… what could it be?” he asks, mostly to himself. He looks again at Ameiko, quite pointedly. “And most importantly, your family has determined enemies. As the last of your family, that makes them your enemies. Very personal enemies.”

He stands, places his hands on Ameiko’s shoulders and looks her in the eye as he says, “You once said I should let the dead be. I now say that you, Ameiko, should let the dead be. Don’t go to Brinewall. Enemies that can wait forever are waiting for you. Don’t go. That is my advice.”

He steps back to his seat, and as he settles he adds, “But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stay away. Not if I learned that my family had mysterious enemies. I’d need to learn who they were, and why they wanted my family. My family came here with yours. So if you choose to go, it will be my honor to go with you, the Izawas serving the Kaijitsu again, as ever.”

“And they say I chew the scenery,” Jethrik mumbles.

“Hey wait a minute,” Keng says. ”Are we going to Maginar for some fun or heading off on another quest right away?” He turns to Jharad with a raised eyebrow.

Jharad smiles at Keng’s enthusiasm. Turning to look at Ameiko he says, “That depends on Ameiko.”

“What do you have in mind, Ameiko?” Toshio asks. “Can you hold off until I get back from Magnimar?”

Ameiko looks to Sandru. Sandru shrugs and says to her, “You know I won’t refuse you Ameiko, though it is against my better judgment.” He looks to Koya and Jethrik and says, “It seems our caravan will be heading north with extra passengers and formidable new guards.”

He turns back to Ameiko. “It will take a few days to plan and prepare. Provisions and supplies must be purchased, and we will need at least one more wagon if not more.”

Ameiko smiles and gives Sandru a brief hug. “I knew I could count on you Sandru. I will, of course, finance this expedition; so don’t worry about getting more wagons. I also will need to make sure my house staff at my estate and employees here at the Rusty Dragon will be able to take care of things while I am away.”

She turns to Toshio, “I don’t want to delay, but there is no rush. So please do what you need to do in Magnimar. When you return we will set out for Brinewall.

Jharad turns to Keng with a big smile saying, “And there is your answer my friend.”

Keng smacks the table hard in affirmation and buries his head in the tankard.

Jharad then says to Toshio, “So what is your business in Magnimar. Will you need assistance?”

“Assistance?” replies Toshio. Looking at Sandru he says, “I don’t think so, unless Sandru needs another wagon brought from the city? But company on the road is always welcome, neh?”

Second Foray into the Brinestump Caverns

It’s still dark out when Toshio goes around to the others, waking each in turn. He notices the spot Keng had slept on is empty, and finds him waiting outside, already geared-up. “No breakfast for you, Keng? It’ll be a bit before the others are ready, even without a hot breakfast.”

Jethrik walks outside with a cup of tea. He lights his pipe and blows a long spiraling smoke trail. “Going somewhere so early? Ugh, duty calls, I suppose!”

Going back inside, Toshio makes sure the others are getting ready. “Can anyone here cook? You might not like what I’d do for breakfast, ‘though it would be nourishing.”

Over breakfast Zeyala announces, “Pharasma has granted me her blessings. Even before I completed my evening prayers, I could feel my powers growing, and that’s not all.  Watch this.” She begins rummaging around, and then finally asks, “Walthus, do you have an empty bucket?”

Proudfoot nods, goes upstairs to rummage around in his storage room and comes back down bearing a wooden bucket.

“Pharasma, quench our thirst,” she prays. With her chant, the bucket fills up with clean, pure water. “There’s more.”  She points to a plate with a loaf of moldy bread on it and says, “Pharasma’s blessings.” The bread becomes fresh as if it had just been baked.

Proudfoot laughs and says, “Bright, that’s defo a neat trick.”

Jethrik looks at the bread with a bit of uncertainty  ”Maybe so, but I ain’t eatin’ it.”

“Suit yourself,” says Zeyala and cuts off a slice.

Jharad happily eats his fill of breakfast, during which he commands, “Luz,” and tosses a lighted stone to Jethrik. “Ask and you will receive master comedian.”

A warm glow appears over Jharad’s head. “What a bright idea to study that!” says Jethrik.

“Can you set the rest of us up like that?” Toshio asks. “We certainly need the light. Except Keng, of course.”

“A caster may only have one light cantrip going at a time.” Jethrik shrugs “Which is why it’s good that Jharad has it available today.”

“Pity. Well, at least it’s something,” says Toshio.

“Actually, I don’t need light either,” says Zeyala. “You remember when we were rowing through the fog? You could see maybe ten feet? Fifteen? Then everything beyond is obscured? That’s how it is for me. I can see up to that rock,” she says pointing to the wall some thirty feet away. “Beyond that, its all fuzzy and impossible for me to make out.  However, to that distance, I see equally well in either light or darkness. Actually, there’s no difference for me. That’s why I was able to last as long as I did with Jharad when the lights were out. And I wasn’t overly relying on my other senses. I could see everything in that arena, though not much beyond.”

After a few moment she adds, “Pharasma blessed me with the ability to create water and purify food. I’m sure she would grant me the ability to cast light. I never thought of asking her because I never had a use for it. If you think it’s useful, I could appeal to her in my prayers to gain that ability.”

Toshio responds, “That would be useful, at least to some of us who don’t have such advantages.”

After they’ve gotten ready and eaten (he keeps things short, but waits until there’s enough light to see by), Toshio gets them to the boats. “Here we go again. No need to rush though. Let’s see what the marsh shows us as we make our way.”

As they head over to the boats they see that a white fog has rolled in almost lazily before dawn, and covers the ground as the world wakes up. The sun rises as they row, casting a slow spread of light that filters through the cloud and turns it to a red-gold as time passes. The mist recoils as if it was alive and remains as a stubborn thin blanket across the ground while the sounds of birds and animals begin to filter through the cool crisp air. The fog creeps and crawls, following the edges of twisted trees and stagnant water. (Adapted from Bits of the Wilderness: Into the Swamp, p. 30)

They find the caves easily enough through the fog with Proudfoot’s sure guidance. He warns them that even though they killed the giant spider that had been there another denizen of the marsh might have moved in so they should be on their guard. Jharad casts a new light spell on a new stone found at random just outside of the cave. Likewise, Jethrik is copying Jharad’s trick of using light on a stone and floats it around him.

They find the caves abandoned except for the rotting carcasses of the spider and the gecko it had been devouring the day before when they came upon it. The cave where the skeletons had attacked them is likewise empty and still.

At the shore of the flooded area, prodding its depths, Jharad says quietly “Toshio, we should investigate this pool before turning our backs on it and moving on. At least a couple skeletons had risen from its depths before.”

Jethrik replies, “Right. Good idea. Can you use your light and mage hand to do so? Keng, please keep watch on the other entrances. The rest of us will watch the water, in case anything stirs.”

Jethrik sends his stone below the surface of the water to illuminate it without reflecting the light. The pool of water turns out to only be 3 feet deep, and currently devoid of any skeletons or anything else of interest that can be seen by the light of the stone.

Jharad says, “I will check it out, cover me.”

“Wait,” says Zeyala. “A little insurance.” She reaches out and touches Jharad on the arm.

He wades out into the middle of the flooded area and carefully makes his way around the corner to see where it leads. He constantly probes in front and around him with the staff to check for sudden drops. He discovers that it soon ends in a cul-de-sac and so quickly returns to report and asks, “Jethrik, dry my pants if you would. I have not the skill today to perform such things.”

Jethrik snorts and giggles.

Toshio says, “I only see your lights… no threats. Let’s go on to the west. Standard order, please.”

Looking at the northward passage in the middle of the cavern Jharad says. “This passage most likely connects with the fork we passed before entering this cavern. That leaves the passage at the far side. What do you think, Toshio?”

Looking back from close to the western cave mouth, Toshio says, I agree. I think this is our next path to explore.”

Toshio leads them to the western opening. They find it leads into a narrow tunnel only about 5′ at the widest and roughly north for 40 feet. It ends in another partially flooded cavern and in the middle of it another skeletal samurai sits motionless atop a large jade and cherry wood chest.

Keng mutters to Toshio who is standing next to him, “I see another skeleton laying on the ground ahead. I hate those damn things. Perhaps we attack from afar to test if more will rise? If they do, you and I move just inside the cave for a flank attack while the others fight from the safety of the tunnel mouth.”

“Good thinking, Keng.” Turning to the others, Toshio whispers, “Another skeleton is ahead. We should cast any fortifying spells now. Keng and I will move left and right of the tunnel so the rest of you can hit it with blunt arrows. When it is close enough, Keng and I will intercept and flank it so it can’t reach the archers. If other skeletons rise, Zeyala can be ready with that trick she did yesterday. Questions or ideas?

When they are ready, Toshio moves to the right of the passage and lets Keng move to the left.

Jharad takes the lighted stone in hand he intones “Escudo” and a shimmering translucent shield encompasses him. Then moving in to cover Keng and Toshio he readies to fire at the skeleton.

Before Jharad can get in position the skeleton leaps off the chest and draws its decidedly non-rusty wakizashi. He points the tip of the blade at Toshio, as if issuing a challenge, and then slashes at him, cutting his left hand deeply.

In a fury, Keng hacks at the skeletal champion and takes off its right foot, causing the thing to limp but not otherwise impeding its continued efforts to kill Toshio.

“May blessings of Pharasma guide your hands!” shouts Zeyala.

Jharad drops his bow, draws his morningstar, simultaneously charging it with arcane energy, closes with the skeleton and proceeds to batter it with his weapon, releasing a discharge of electricity that crackles around the undead creature, causing it to spasm and clack its jaws.

“Somebody buy that guy a cheeseburger!” Jethrik quips.

Toshio swings his flail at it, intending to smite it, but the skeleton recovers from Jharad’s blow and ducks beneath it. It then thrusts its sword into Toshio’s stomach. The noble paladin falls, a pool of blood spreading out beneath him.

Jharad shouts, “Keng flank it.”

Keng shifts to his right, attempting to get around the skeleton. He hits it again, but fails to cut through its armor or break any more of its bones.

Then, incredibly, Jethrik sneaks in between Jharad and Keng and bashes the skeleton with his club in the knees, causing it to collapse to the floor and lie still. The evil energy that kept it animated dissipating at last.

“Golly,” says the gnome. He stands numbly, swishing his club back and forth practicing the motion of striking with it.

“Toshio!” shouts Zeyala as she moves to his side. “May your wounds be healed,” she prays.

Once more, at the touch of Zeyala, Toshio revives. “Toshio, take care! You are still wounded,” says Zeyala.

Toshio is eager to examine the wakizashi used to wound him so, but makes himself stay still. “Of course, of course. Thank you again. I’ll just wait ‘til you’re done. Unless someone wishes to hand me that keen-edged blade?” he says, gesturing to the wakizashi.

Zeyala applies another healing touch to Toshio. “You’ll probably feel better after you’ve had a chance to rest, but that should take care of you for now,” she says.

As Zeyala tends to Toshio, Jharad begins casting detect magic on the chest.

“Thank you, dear lady” says Toshio weakly. He pushes himself into a sitting position. “I feel terrible.”

Looking around he sees that the skeleton has been undone. “Good work, Keng” he says nodding in gratitude. “Thank you for covering me.”

Keng looks down at Toshio and seeing he will live says, “Let me know if you would like some weapons training. You’re actually supposed to block an attack.”

“Oh no, not at all” replies Toshio. “It was all an elaborate ruse, intended to open the way for your successful assault. See how well it worked?”

Keng laughs at Toshio’s excellent retort, glad he is alive. Keng extends his hand to help him up. “Let’s go make sure the elf doesn’t blow us up!”

“That was funny,” Jethrik says. “You said something funny! I landed a killing blow in combat.” He shakes his head. “What a day!”

Jharad comments slowly while concentrating on finding magical traps, “Yes it was quite a feat to see Jethrik leap into battle like that. Who knew its weakness would be the knees.”

“What?” asks Toshio, a bit confused for a moment. “You were the one to finish it off? Oh, well then… I’m sorry I missed it. Well done Jethrick. Please tell me how it came about.”

Standing back up Jharad says, “No magical traps that I can detect, though if I were making the trap it would be undetectable by that manner. Unless Killer here,” he motions to Jethrik, “has some more tricks up his sleeve I suggest Keng opens it. Unless Toshio would like to lull it into submission first, since that worked so well just now.”

“Yes, please!” says Toshio with exaggerated enthusiasm. “I’ll just set it up to… oh wait! Zey hasn’t enough healing power to save me from a monster like that chest. I guess you’ll just have to open it without my help.”

Keng growls, “You all are a bunch of women!” Keng then strides quickly over to the chest to throw it open. The rest of the party can’t see but he does grimace and cringe slightly as he does so…

Jethrik darts between him and the chest. “Let’s take the whole thing back unopened. The chest itself is valuable, so we don’t want to leave it behind.”

Toshio says, “Of course we’ll take it. But let’s take a few moments to explore its contents here – or rather, in the sunlight. But even before that, we need to finish checking the rest of these caverns.”

“Keng, Jethrik has a point,” says Zeyala. You’ve been asking about treasure. The chest itself could probably fetch a share amount of coin, as long as its not damaged.”

“Jethrik, if it’s trapped,” asks Zeyala, “what could happen if the chest is opened?”

“Anything.” Jethrik shrugs. “It all depends on how badly the owner wants to protect the contents, or avenge the looting. I’m thinking that whatever is in there is valuable enough that these guys,” he points at the skeleton, “stuck around after they were dead just to protect it. So who knows? Poison needles, powerful spells. Anything could be set to go off when the chest is opened. Safest thing to do is take it back to town and get a burg… locksmith to open it.”

“Fine…” grumbles Keng, “I will carry it.”

Jethrik, having made his point and not wanting to stay between a half orc and his treasure, turns his attention to the skeleton and its weapon. “Hold up the fancy knife,” Jethrik asks Toshio.

Toshio moves to pick up the wakizashi and examines it. “You joke right? This is a wakizashi, not a knife.”

Jharad puts out a hand to stop Toshio from picking it up. “Toshio, let me discern the blade’s powers and possible negative factors before you handle it,” he says as he directs his magical detection towards the object and its previous owner.

Jehtrik and Jharad both determine that the blade is emanating a faint magical aura of a type associated with abjuration magic. Abjurations are protective spells that create physical or magical barriers, negate magical or physical abilities, harm trespassers, or even banish the subject of the spell to another plane of existence. Gnome and elf both discern that not only is the blade enhanced for combat but it can also cast the spell shield other once a day when the magical command word to do so is uttered. The blade itself is of an incredibly beautiful design. It is etched with images of seven shrikes perched on a coiling branch that runs the length of the blade. Unfortunately, the blades hilt (Toshio knows it as a tsuka) has not weathered the passage of time as well as the blade itself, and when it fell to the cave floor it became loose. The resulting loose grip due to the broken pommel will hinder anyone who tries to wield it until it is repaired.

Nothing else of magic is detected in the cave, though the skeleton is wearing broken down masterwork kikko armor, the kind of armor Toshio had previously been wearing. A bronze key is also found on a chain around its neck.

“With a good deal of polishing – and a mending spell, that armor may be quite serviceable again,” Toshio says.

Jharad says, “Okay Toshio, you can pick the sword up now. The weapon is enhanced for combat and can cast the shield other spell once per day. The pommel is broken, but can be fixed by a simple cantrip.”

“I think ‘tang’ might be a more appropriate word” comments Toshio, already checking to see just what needs to be fixed.

Ripping the key off the skeletons neck, Jharad hands it to Keng saying, “See if you can beat the chest open with this.”

“Funny elf,” Keng says. But he does take the key and puts it around his neck. He also takes the first and middle knuckle bones from the samurai skeleton and put them in his pouch with the goblin chief’s.

“Keng, this was a samurai. Please don’t defile it by making trophies of its parts. He deserves better. It’s not a respectful thing to do.” Realizing he’ll get nowhere and not ready to get into a brawl or drawn out discussion, Toshio just shakes his head, wondering at the practices of foreigners.

Toshio finishes his examination of the blade (as well as he can in the dim light), sheaths it and tucks it into his belt in an easy, unthinking motion. “Let’s leave the chest until we check the rest of the cavern. It will be safe enough until we come back, and I don’t think we’ll be long.” Toshio also plans to get the armor when they come back for the chest.

“Agreed,” says Jharad and readies himself for further exploration.

They find that the northern tunnel out of the cave where they initially fought the skeletons goes on for about 35’ before branching to the right and left. The right hand passage curves around for 15’ and joins the tunnel they took south from the spider’s cave. The left hand passage continues for 20’ to the only unexplored cave. This cave is only 15’ in diameter. In it a number of glittering crystals protrude from an island surrounded by a pool of dark water of unknown depth.

Keng says, “Those crystals might be worth something.”

“Jethrick or Jharad, can you do that light trick again to plumb these waters? But be careful – I’m developing a dislike of such ‘calm’ pools.”

Jharad steps up next to Keng and floats his lighted stone out over the water and crystal island. “Go on Keng don’t be a woman,” he quips and smiles widely at the half-orc.

Keng snorts, “I can’t swim.”

Jharad lets out a loud guffaw at his friend, and then quickly quiets down. “Who would have known, given the way I have seen you dive into a mug of ale.”

Getting back to business Jharad asks Toshio, “Okay, what now?”

Toshio requests, “Jharad, check the depth with you light, please.”

Jharad steps up to edge, next to Keng and maneuvers the light stone into the water to test its depths.

“Jharad, can you also detect for magic?” asks Zeyala.

The lighted stone shows that the depth of this pool is 5’. It appears to be empty at first, but then there is a movement in the water as the light disturbs something in its depths. Before Jharad can respond to Zeyala, translucent watery ooze surges up out of the water in an attempt to engulf the feet of Jharad as he stands on the pool’s edge.

Jharad pounces and electrifies the ooze with his morningstar.

Keng begins hacking at it with his axe until it is nothing more than small quivering pieces that soon lie still. Then he yells, “Burn it!”

Jharad wipes ooze goo from his morningstar with a summoned rag then does a sweep of the cavern with detect magic. “I am not detecting any sources of magic in this cave, Zey,” he replies.

Keng wades over to the center island and starts filling his pack with crystals.

Toshio wades across and collects the crystals, careful not to fall in. “Let’s go back and get the chest.”

“With the chest and these crystals, we should have a nice little war chest,” Zeyala says.  ”I can’t wait to see what’s inside.”

Outside, once the chest is opened, it’s obvious that many objects (mostly fireworks and potions) have been removed from numerous slots in the chest’s well-lined interior – the handiwork of the Licktoad goblins. However, the chest still holds (what they later determine to be) five potions of cure light wounds, two potions of cure moderate wounds, three potions of lesser restoration, a ring of climbing, a wand of identify with 19 charges, a masterwork chain shirt, a masterwork cold iron wakizashi, 11 Desnan candles, and four skyrockets, in addition to 3,820 silver pieces, 421 gold pieces, and various pieces of fine jewelry that Sandru later tells them are worth 560 gold pieces in total.

The crystals collected in the cave turn out to be worth 20 gold pieces in total.

Jharad says, “I will take one of the moderate healing potions. That wand is redundant for me. I suggest we sell it. The cold steel knife also, unless Toshio needs a second one.”

“Before we split the treasure, I propose that we first set aside general items that benefit the group as a whole,” suggests Zeyala. “Like those potions. What do the rest of you think?

“I agree,” replies Keng. “I would like the climbing ring. We sell the rest and split it evenly.”

“Jharad, I’m in agreement about the wand. We definitely should sell that,” Zeyala says.

Jharad nods, “Agreed.”

“Agreed,” says Tosho. “And good thinking, but let’s do so in town.”

Jehtrik says, “Yes, I think we should all carry a potion of curing. Heaven forbid someone should need healing when you are not around, or perhaps even you yourself. I’ve already done well on the treasures” He pats his new chain shirt. “You folks get first dibs. Although, I really like the idea of these fireworks” Jethriks flashes a mischievous grin.

Toshio says, “I think I’ll need a strong healing potion if my luck doesn’t improve. Maybe a weaker one, too. I’d prefer to keep the cold steel blade. I’ll replace it with my own, normal blade. But I’m sure the cold steel will be more useful to us than just steel.”

Jharad looks at the cold steel knife and the magic one already in Toshio’s belt. “Do you really need both?”

Toshio responds, “Unlikely, but it is better than my current blade, and I don’t know that I can afford repairs to this one. Until it is fixed it is not a good choice.”

Keng snidely adds, “More isn’t always better but if it makes him feel better let him have his toys.”

“Mr. Proudfoot, would you like a lift into town, or shall we drop you at your home?” Toshio asks the halfling hermit. “We’re heading to town after seeing you safely to your home, unless you’d prefer to come with us.”

“Ay think I’ve ‘ad blewdy-nuff advente fe de past few days, ta dead much. Please juss drop me off at my place so Ay tinnie get some welt and tend ter me pets.”

Keng asks Proudfoot, “You crazy hobbit living out here all by yourself! Do you need anything fixed before we leave you be?”

“Nah, I’m sound. Ta fe ask’n. All ay want now is some peace and mumtip.”

As the boats are heading back to Proudfoot’s, Zeyala says, “Keng, I mean not to lecture, so please do not take this the wrong way, but I would ask that you show just a bit more restraint. We’re all excited to learn the contents of the chest, but trying to throw it open by brute force was risky and could have been potentially dangerous. The traps that Jethrik described should serve as warning. Think of how a fireball would render any treasure inside the chest, let alone those of us standing near it.

Keng rolls his eyes and keeps paddling.

“Then you disagree?” She asks?

“I take it one day at a time,” says Keng.

“Thank you for your honesty,” says Zeyala.

The Kaijitsu Blossom

Once back in Sandpoint, Toshio gets a couple of rowboats from townsfolk who can spare them without losing income. He says to the others, “We haven’t much time, so be quick about your preparations. We need to be back at Proudstump’s before dark, and it’s a goodly row to get there. Jethrick, will you handle the shopping for Proudstump? You’re closest to his size. Maybe Zeyala can help you pick something fash…” He remembers Zeyala’s limited eyesight and decides not to finish that suggestion. “I’ll see you back at the boats when you’re done.”

“I’m sorry, Toshio,” says Zeyala. I didn’t catch the end of that.”

“I said I’ll see you back at the boats when we’re done in town” replies Toshio in an attempt to dodge her real question. Toshio is quite aware that Zeyala dresses in fine fashion. He’s completely unaware that she accomplishes that on her own and he’s not about to ask, for fear of giving offense.

As Jharad is attending to something in his pack he responds over his shoulder, “He was suggesting that you could help pick out something fashionable.”

“Hmmph” mutters Jethrik. “I’m at least 6 inches taller than Walthus.”

“Will you just…” Slightly frustrated with this bit of triviality and seeing a way out of his earlier gaff, Toshio turns to Zeyala and asks, “Will you please help him with Proudfoot’s requests? I have no eye for fitting such a one.”

“I’d be more than happy to help, if Jethrik will have me along,” she smiles. “However, I can’t be totally sure I can pick out what’s best for a halfling who lives in a swamp.  Perhaps something suitable for when he comes to town.”

Toshio smiles in relief. “Excellent. I’m sure you’ll pick what’s suitable.”

They get back to Proudstump’s home about an hour before sunset. Proudstump proves to be a fairly good cook, serving them ample helpings of catfish and dirty rice. He opens up the guestroom as well as bringing down the sheets into the main room for those who will be sleeping there. Though there are many disturbing croakings, hootings, and howlings heard from all directions throughout the night, Proudstump explains that many of those are just frogs, owls, and alligators and that they should pay none of it any mind. Aside from that, the night passes peacefully enough without anyone or anything disturbing Proudfoot’s shack. The next morning they are treated to breakfast, as Proudfoot poaches the eggs brought to him the night before.

After breakfast, Proudfoot offers to take them to see the shipwrecks. With two human sized rowboats they are easily able to accommodate Toshio, his four comrades, and Proudfoot. On the way he tells them that the wrecks have been there since long before he ever arrived in the Brinestump Marsh nearly five years ago. He guesses that they’ve been there for decades. The first site is the one just downriver from the Licktoad Village, the place where the Licktoad’s apparently found their first set of fireworks. They are disappointed to find that the goblins apparently burned it after finding the fireworks, as all that is left are charred timbers. What they do find is intriguing enough however. A fragment bearing the name of the ship: the Kaijitsu Star. Jethrik takes the fragment to show Ameiko.

The second site is also very close to another one of the inlets into the marsh, though much further south along the coast. Walthus points to a strange tangle of branches, and they see that it is in fact the moss-covered ribs of a wrecked ship. The ruined ship lies on its side, split down the middle and mostly sunken into the mud and murky water. A search of the wreck reveals it to be of a similar style to the Kaijitsu Star but larger. Though intact it appears to have been looted long before. As they are leaving, something catches Jharad’s eyes and he stoops down and picks up a verdigris-encrusted nameplate that reads Kaijitsu’s Blossom. As they gather around to look at it they hear sound of something (or rather several somethings) rising up out of the muddy waters behind them. Turning they see three skeletons, covered in weeds and muck, advancing on them. Their helmets and armor are broken and rotted but recognizably of the same style previously worn by Toshio. All three of the skeletal samurai draw rusty short swords of a similar make to the one worn by Toshio.

Toshio was considering the possible implications of the nameplates of the second wreck when the skeletons interrupted his thoughts. He quickly adjusts his thinking to the combat. “Keng, let’s flank the first. You take the right, I’ll go left. Try to maneuver so that the second two are blocked behind the first. Now we’ll see if these blunt weapons we bought were worth it!” Toshio finishes with a smile, genuinely eager to see what his flail will do against the skeletons.” To the others he says, ”Conserve your spell power if you can. We may have greater need. Walthus, stay back, and keep an eye out for other threats.”

Toshio notes the arms and armor. ‘At least they had good armor sense when they lived. Maybe I can check the tangs and stuba after the fight to get a clue as to who these once were.’

“I can make out two skeletons,” says Zeyala.  ”Are there others?  How far away?”

“Three skeletons! There are three!” shouts Toshio.

Jharad pulls a blunt arrow and fires it at the skeleton furthest from them, destroying it when the blunt arrow smashes its spine and causes the rest of its bones to collapse inert back into the murky water.

The two remaining skeletons attack Jharad and Toshio who ably dodge away from their blows.

Zayala stabs at the one attacking Jharad, though a spear proves very ineffective against skeletons as there is nothing to stab but bone. She runs behind Jharad, Toshio, and Keng, to see if she can get around to the other side of the skeletons.

Jethrik moves up between Toshio and Jharad and clubs at one; but the blow is absorbed by its armor, rotted though it is.

Toshio destroys the one that attacked him, shattering it with his flail. He slogs over through the mud to get behind the last one that is still attacking Jharad.

Keng also advances on the last remaining skeleton but is unable to find good footing in the mud and comes nowhere near to hitting it with his morningstar.

Walthus stays by Zeyala, axe held ready to defend her in case more skeletons pulls themselves out of the surrounding much to attack.

Jharad drops his bow and shifts over to flank the remaining skeleton along with Toshio. He draws his morningstar and swings down upon it but his attack is thwarted by its armor.

The skeleton strikes before Jharad can withdraw his arm and slashes him along the forearm with its wakizashi, leaving a painful though not fatal wound.

Zeyala moves to Keng’s side and touches him to confer divine guidance upon him.

Jethrik tries to club the last skeleton but finds that it is pretty agile and hard to hit.

Toshio also finds the last one a difficult target.

Keng however, smashes it to tiny splinters with his morningstar, after antipicating its movements as it weaved and dodged the blows of his comrades.

The fight over, Jethrik regards the nameplates of the ships. “So I had it backwards. They weren’t delivering a treasure. They were coming to bring one back to whereever they came from.”

“Are you referring to the tavern owner?” asks Jharad.

“Don’t you think?” Jethrik replies.

Keng looks confused. He gets his gear cleaned up and makes ready to move along.

Toshio says, “I don’t know. So far we don’t know where they came from, or which way they had been going. Ameiko has never mentioned any ships owned by the family, so I wonder if even she can tell us anything about them.”

Toshio sees if there are any arms and armor pieces that may be salvageable, or that may satisfy his curiosity about armor types but doesn’t find anything worth bringing back other than the three rusty wakizashis and the helmets, that might be worthwhile as curiosities.

Jharad recovers his arrow and bow, cleaning them both up. He then takes a few minutes to sketch a map of the area and wrecks. Afterward he says, “Okay, I am ready. Let’s go.”

“Agreed,” says Tosho. “Let’s get back to the boats and visit that cave.” he finishes cleaning his gear, hefts the salvaged swords and helmets, and then leads the others back to the boats.

Once back on the boat, Zeyala says, “Perhaps we came to close to these wrecks and disrupted the dead from their sleep. I’m glad to be moving on.”

Keng says, ” We should have burned them.”

Jharad laughs, “I think I am going to start calling you Torch.”

“Aye,” says Toshio. “And maybe we should get you some magical means of starting your fires on all these damp, rotting things.”

Keng nods and says, “Yes, that would be good.”

Saving Mr. Proudfoot

In the morning, Toshio ‘happens to be near’ the Rusty Dragon sporting his new banded armor and heavy flail. He gives Ameiko a friendly smile and a “Good morning, miss.” She smiles back and returns his greeting.

Jethrik shows up the next morning, slightly hung over, hoarse from shouting tavern songs and sporting a black eye and a hickey. He holds an artistically arranged bouquet of flowers out to Ameiko, “Remember me,” he implores. “Should I fail to return. And know that so long as I live my thoughts will be with you.”

“Oh Jethrik, you are so sweet,” says Ameiko taking the flowers. She bends down to kiss him on the forehead.

Jharad hands a bundle of arrows to the gnome and smiles at his black eye, “Here. Blunt arrows work better on skeletons. Have fun last night?

“Me?” Jethrik looks a little shocked. “I am a bard, I was working not having fun! It was the town that had fun!”

Toshio says, “You should take time to enjoy your work. You helped everyone else have fun, so why not you also?

Jethrik rolls his eyes. “You have no appreciation for what it is to be a performer!”

“Clearly not” says Toshio, amused by the strength of Jethrick’s response. “I’m sure I’ll learn more of it as time goes by and I get to watch more of your performances.”

Jharad gives the map he inscribed to Koya before they leave in the morning. She is quite pleased with it and tells him to please take care in the marsh.

Keng shows up looking bad assed in his new breastplate, greaves, helmet, and masterwork great axe.

Jharad smiles at the group, all adorned in their new gear. Stepping up to Keng with a grin he motions to touch the new helmet and says, “If you will allow, I think you will like this.”

“What are you doing?” Keng asks with obvious suspicion.

Jharad smirks saying, “Trust me.”

With a command word, “Cranio!” he touches the new helmet and its shiny newness is replaced by blacks, whites and shades of grey to depict a half-orc sized skull.

“Now you look bad ass.”

“I like!”

Despite the late night reveling, Zeyala appears refreshed and vibrant.  Her cloak is worn open, with her tattoos showing in sharp contrast to her new chain shirt.  Her face is veiled with a bright orange scarf, while a violet one adorns her left thigh.

“Good morning friends,” she says.  ”Thank you both, Keng and Jethrik, for your wonderful performances last night.”  Still smiling, Zeyala ask, “So, have we decided on a course of action?”

Toshio considers heading to the cliff that overlooks the marsh to get the view from there, but Jharad says, “What about tracking that creature from the bridge, to its lair? At the least we should see if there are any more of them to be rid of. Any more could be a serious threat to this area.”

Toshio says, “I think the road, to Ashen Moor, to the northern trail would serve us best to reach Proudstump’s cottage, eh? Do any of you know a better way? Anyone have ideas of how to approach Proudstump? He wasn’t very forthcoming with me yesterday.”

 ”I think what he wants is to have his foot fully healed.” Jethrik suggests. “And of course Zeyala needs to be careful in how she uses her arts. Its not an easy situation.”

Jharad says, “I suggest letting Jethrik approach him. After all they do see eye to eye.”

“Yes.” Jethrik growls. “I do feel I have a certain understanding where he’s concerned.”

Toshio says, “Yes, I think that’s a fine idea, Jethrick. You start the conversation. We’ll stay a few feet back so he doesn’t get nervous. If he lets you in or shows any sign of warming up, we’ll join you right away.”

They arrive at Proudfoot’s shack without incident. When Jethrik knocks, it takes a very long time for Walthus Proudfoot to respond. Just before Jethrik turns away to consult the others about what to do next he hears the creaking of the floorboards and a familiar and tired voice on the other side of the door grumbling and then asking, “Yis, oo is it?”

Jharad comments quietly, “He does not sound good.”

“Hello, Mr. Proudfoot.” Jethrik calls out. “Your visitors from yesterday are back. We thought we ought to check on you and we need a little more advice.”

Jethrik could swear he hears Walthus say, “Oh sod it.” Then the halfling hermit speaks up, “Bright, aren’t yous kind ter come all de way back e’yer ter check up ed me? Come ahead in then.” He opens the door to let Jethrik and the others in. He does seem to look a little better than he did the previous day, though still a bit shaky. “Ay am feel’n scutty. Would yous like ter ‘uv some tea?”

“Tea would be very nice, thank you!” Jethrik answers brightly. “You seem improved since last we saw you.”

“Well, I’ve ‘ad bags o’ sleep. Juss beun ly’n in bed sleep’n. Yous tinnie gather around de table in thuz. Sorry ’bout dat but I’ve only got de one chair.”

The dining room, such as it is, is to the right of the main room, but the table, being for a halfling, is low enough that the others beside Jethrik can simply sit on the floor beside it. Walthus bustles about in the pantry gathering tea and mugs and getting the pot boiling on the simple wood-burning stove. He offers to let Jethrik sit in the one chair. From beyond the other interior door in the main room they can hear the songs of birds.

Jharad sets up in back as he did before and breaks out ‘Wizard Chess’ for Keng and himself. They both put down their packs and commence to play while the others talk with Walthus.

“E’yer we bowl. I’ll ‘uv a kettle o’ swamp tea fe yous in juss a little while. So as yous tinnie see, Am scutty and juss need a few days more rest. ‘Ow did things bowl wi’ de goblins? Did yous find dem?”

“May I be of service?” Jethrik asks, “I hate to put you through the trouble. Although, I was noting the bird songs. It must be what drew you to this place.”

“Nah ta,” Walthus waves Jethrik back to his seat. “It’s nah up ther shute at all. Ay guess Ay should be up and about at this hour. Yous like me birds? Yis, Ay keep a few sparrows and uvver small pets in de uver room.”

“Perhaps when you are ready, you will introduce me to your pets,” Jethrik replies as he takes a cup of tea. He doesn’t know what swamp tea is, but figures that since it hasn’t killed Proudfoot it should be drinkable.

Jharad also accepts a cup.

“Thank you for your hospitality,” says Zeyala. “I would love a cup.”

Keng declines the tea.

Toshio also accepts tea. He checks the scent (as he would with any tea), as it’s not vile he tastes just a mere sip. Toshio is pleasantly surprised at the quality of the tea. He sips it contentedly, still listening and relying on Jethrick to carry the conversation and get Proudstump’s info about the map.

Jharad also smells the tea and then asks, “What is in this?”

Walthus answers, “Oh, its juss a tea made from some shrubs wi’ white flowers dat grer ‘ereabouts. It’s got some medicinal properties, so I’ve beun brew’n it fe de last few days.”

Walthus asks again, “’Ow did things bowl wi’ de goblins? Did yous find dem?”

Jharad replies from the back, “We killed them and burned down their village.”

“Short and to the point, hmm?” comments Toshio. “Maybe Jethrick can tell more, and also inquire about the map?”

“Ah, yes.” says Jethrik mourning the death of his moment. “That’s the story in a nutshell. If you’d like the particulars, I have composed a very entertaining epic of the days events…” he finishes more hopefully!

“Tar, but maybe some uver time. Wuz thuz sometin yous wanted ter ask me about?”

“Oh, yes!” Jethrik brightens. “Thank you so much for asking. Toshio, you were curious about that map, weren’t you?”

“Yes. Mr. Proudstump, we’ve acquired some additional information about the marsh, shown on this map. Can you tell us anything about these locations?” Toshio indicates the two shipwrecks and the cave.

“Oh bright yis. Thuz ay de occasional shipwrecks dat wash up ed de shore. Nowt tew special about dat, and o’ cose thuz ay caves ed de cliff. Ay dun kun anyth’n special about deez. Whuz did this map come from?”

Zeyala and Toshio both find it rather odd that the self-proclaimed “Warden of Brinestump” is being so vague about the map. Hosk certainly didn’t seem so reticent to talk about the marsh and its landmarks.

Jethrik answers Walthus, “It’s a copy of a goblin map we found in their camp. The caves and the shipwrecks are, in fact, special. We think that the caves hold undead. We were hoping you could warn us about the extent of the danger and if there are other creatures to be alerted to.”

“Oh thuz ay bags o’ frightful things in deez marshes. Mostly large snakes and giant bugs. If yous want undead, you’ll ‘uv ter explore de Bleaklow Moor. Not a gewd couple undead in de marsh, simply because thuz aren’t a gewd couple people e’yer, and na ‘uv beun.”

“I beg your pardon, sir? There are no good undead in the marsh because there are no good people in it?”

“Nah, nah. Ay arl bottle and glass, thuz aren’t any people so thuz aren’t any undead.”

Zeyala leans in and coyly says, “But surely the Warden of Brinestump knows all the ins and outs of the marsh. I’d love to hear more about these landmarks.”

“What’s ter kun? You’ve got yer wrecked ships e’yer and e’yer and some caves over e’yer.” He jabs his finger at the map. “Not much more Ay tinnie tell yous. Onna scutty dee i’d offer ter guide yous, but i’m dead not up fe any ‘ikes rite now.”

Jethrik persists in asking, “These undead would be warriors who were travelling on a ship that was lost here. Their armor and weapons would look unusual to us.”

At that moment there is a thump from the ceiling and Walthus spends the next few minutes cursing about all the damn rats and raccoons in the marsh and how he’s thinking he might need a cat or two to get some peace.

Jethrik looks up. “Perhaps my companions and I should look into that thump for you.”

“Nah need. I’ll check it out later.”

Keng looks at Jharad across the chess board and asks, “Do you understand a word coming out of that fat hobbit’s mouth?”

Jharad is about to answer then looks up where the thump came from. He nods his head in that direction to Keng and dissipates the chessboard. “How about we check it out just in case.”

Keng nods back to Jharad and silently gets up and moves to investigate the sound.

Toshio looks up at the ceiling in the direction of the thump. “A rat?” he asks rhetorically. He ponders what it could really have been, but doesn’t want to offend their host by challenging his claim – not yet.

“Sir, we were told that you were the ‘Self-Proclaimed Warden of The Swamp.’ As such we were hoping you could provide more information to us. Our purpose here can only help make your swamp safer. Your help could truly make the difference between life and death – maybe even your own.”

Toshio instantly regrets his choice of words. He hadn’t meant to sound threatening, though his words may have come across that way. Still, if the halfling feels in any way inclined to help, even if due to Toshio’s slip… He lets it slide and waits to hear what comes next, ready to apologize if he is misinterpreted.

Walthus is clearly taken aback by Toshio. He doesn’t seem so much offended as at a momentary loss for words. “Well I say! It’s not that I don’t want to help.” Then he sees Jharad and Keng coming around the table to investigate the noise. “Oh there’s nah need fe dat. It’s me own ‘ouse and I’ll check it out. Juss wait e’yer please.” Being closer to the door he darts out and heads for the stairs to the upper floor. “I’ll be rite back. I’ll call yous if Ay need elp. Ay think Ay tinnie take care o’ a little rat dough. Er evun a bigger one.”

Keng follows Walthus up the stairs, suspecting a trick.

Toshio lets Keng follow, waits a moment as he tries to decide what the best course of action is, and then follows Keng and hopes for the best.

“Well, we’re all on our feet! Why don’t we all come along?” Jethrik says with a bit more determination than lightness in his voice.

Walthus turns at the top of the stairs and sees Keng and the others following him. He looks quite affronted. “Wa’ ay you’s lot do’n? Ay invited yous into me ‘ouse fe some tea, but ay am not invit’n you’s lot ter come parad’n through me bedchamber. Ay think maybe teatime is over. Please go about yer business so ay tinnie go about mine.” He gestures towards the direction of the front door clearly inviting you all to take your leave.

Zeyala says to the others, “I think we better take our leave.  It is in fact his…”

Keng continues to move up the stairs to stand next to Walthus and gently lifts him out of his way. He says, “You aren’t looking well hobbit, I think you are hiding something.”

When Zeyala sees Keng grab Walthus, she pleads, “Keng, please put him down.  We have no authority. Toshio!”

Keng sets the squirming halfling  down and then moves past him into the upper floor to look around.

Walthus is outraged and begins to sputter. He opens his mouth to say something to Keng but then shuts his mouth. Keng sees that there is a hallway at the top of the stairs that turns to the right and three doors along it. All the doors are closed. Nothing seems out of the ordinary and no further sounds are heard. Finally Walthus regains his voice and quietly says, in a voice nevertheless choked with indignant fury, “Dead bright. Be me guest. Make sure yous bowl through all me rewms and all me things and find any rats er squirrels er raccewns er uvver beasts yous tinnie. Dun yous tinnie take dem wi’ yous whun yous leuv. I’ll wait yous downstairs until you’re done.”

Toshio doesn’t like the options, but he suspects Keng’s instincts are right. Having followed Keng up the stairs he embraces this choice, though it may bring offense. “Please forgive us. We will leave after we ensure nothing is amiss. You are our best hope for detailed information about our task, you are recovering from injury, and if something isn’t right we would feel terrible if we had left you alone in a dangerous situation” Toshio explains authoritatively. “If it is rats, we’ll be gone quickly after apologizing. If it’s more, we will deal with it, then leave you in peace.” He gives a nod to Keng, indicating for him to continue.

Zeyala follows Walthus to the settle. Toshio also stays with their host, not comfortable leaving Zeyala alone with him at the moment. Feeling like they may actually be intruding, he keeps quiet, waiting for things to resolve. He stands at the base of the stairs, not far from Walthus and where he can protect Zeyala if necessary. He suspects that he will soon be apologizing, but wants to keep her safe if things turn ugly.

Zeyala kneels near Walthus and says, “I’m sorry for this intrusion. Something is happening in the swamp and we need to know everything we can. It’s just that some of my associates have methods of their own to gather information.”

“Bright worever is ‘appen’n in de marsh is not ‘appen’n e’yer,” Walthus says grumpily and looks away pointedly from both Zeyala and Toshio.

“I’m sorry, Zeyala,” says Toshio. “But as I said, we have a concern and need for his safety. I’ll be happy to apologize and make amends if it proves to be nothing.”

As he is speaking, Toshio’s curiosity gets the better of him and he opens his inner awareness and finds that he is indeed in the presence of something or someone evil. Toshio tries not to show his alarm, and keeps trying to determine its source.

Upstairs, Keng, Jharad, and Jethrik search the rooms off the hall. The first one is a supply room full of tools, hunting supplies, and spare halfling-sized weapons, including three handaxes, a longbow, 40 arrows, and two small suits of leather armor. The second room seems to be a guest room, but sheets cover all the furniture. The last room would seem to be Walthus’ well lived in bedroom. No rats or other animals are seen, nor any more bumping or thumping heard. But the windows of Walthus’ bedroom is open and there are plenty of places where creatures from the marsh could get in and hide.

Keng growls, “Little runt is hiding something.”

Downstairs, Toshio feels that there is a single evil aura somewhere in the room. Walthus looks up and must have seen something in Toshio’s look for he says, “W’s wrong wi’ yous? Why are yous giv’n me a laughin’ look. Am de one be’n put out e’yer. Dun yous look down ed me.”

Upstairs Keng asks of Jharad and Jethrik, “Can either of you detect magic?” Keng looks out the window of Walthus’ bedroom. Keng sees that it would be very easy for an intruder, animal or otherwise to climb in with the windows open as they are. Though he also sees that the shutters can be closed and barred shut.

“I can,” Jharad replies. He casts a simple cantrip and begins scanning the room. He quickly picks up on the presence of magic somewhere in the room but it will take a moment to discern its power and to pinpoint its location.

“Whatever made that thump could have left through this window.” Jethrik looks out through it as well.

At just that moment, a lower panel of the northwest section of the bedroom wall is pushed out by something behind it. And it is then that Keng, Jethrik, and Jharad realize that the two bedrooms of the upper floor are both the same size even though the guest bedroom starts a bit further south on the hall.

Downstairs, Toshio responds to Walthus, “What? I’m not looking down on you or anyone here.” Raising his voice so the others can hear he says, “We should all be alert though. There is something evil nearby!”

Even as he speaks, Toshio pinpoints the aura of evil – and it is centered on Walthus!

Jharad replies as he spins around towards the new presence, “And I believe it just found us.”

Kengs turns and crouches, knife held mid-ready in his right hand edge pointing away from his thumb.

From out of a crawlspace behind the wall of the bedroom, another Walthus emerges. He is dressed not too dissimilarly to the Walthus downstairs, but this one wears a cloak and has an axe in his belt. Jharad sees that the faint magical emanation is coming from the cloak.

“Walthus?” Jethrik says loud enough to be heard throughout the house. “How did you get up here?”

Toshio looks at ‘Walthus’ (?) accusingly as he gets his heavy flail ready. “Are you sure you don’t have any more information to share with us?” Toshio is giving the clear, if unspoken, message that this is the time for ‘Walthus’ to come clean before things come to blows.

Keng sheathes his dagger, grabs the bedspread and leaps upon the hobbit-thing. He yells out at the top of his voice, “Let’s capture it!”

Walthus deftly dodges the bedspread as well as Keng. Like the goblin chieftain he is small and very agile. “Please dun! Am walthus! De real one!”

Jharad holds up his hand to Keng, saying quietly, “Wait.” Then to the upstairs Walthus he says, “What happened, tell us quickly.”

Keng backs down, gathering himself to be ready to grapple again if need be.

Downstairs the other Walthus lunges at Zeyala, transforming even as he does from halfling into a hairless, leathery biped with a face dominated by unsettling whorls and slits instead of actual features. He grabs her and whips her around so that she is in a headlock and facing Toshio. Three hollow tongues flash out from three different slits in its faceless head and sink into her neck and begin throbbing with blood. Zeyala’s eyes go wide and she almost screams but then passes out with a look of shocked incomprehension. The thing looks up, retracts its tongues, and says, in perfect Common, “Do not move Toshio. I can kill her before you even swing your flail.”

Upstairs, Walthus says to Jharad and the others, “Faceless stalker. I’ve beun ‘id’n from ‘im.”

“Well, that’s the other way…” not bothering to finish the thought, Jethrik starts moving down the stairs shrugging off pack and shield.

“Set her down and leave while you can, thing,” Toshio says with all the menace he can muster. “If she dies, you die. This is your only chance to live. Walk away.”

Keng looks at Jharad and asks, “What do you want to do wizard?”

Jharad responds, “Something has our friend, we take it out,” and with a smirk starts heading downstairs.

Keng has an idea, and so he climbs out the window instead.

The small faceless creature starts moving around Toshio, careful to drag the unconscious Zeyala between them. As it reaches for the handle of the front door it says, “Don’t interfere human. Once I am outside and put a distance between us I will let her go, but don’t make a move until I am clear.” It opens the door.

Upstairs, the real Walthus heads for the storage room to get his longbow.

Jethrik digs into the pouch on his belt removing a treat shaped like a bear and a feather. “Coochie coo,” he says, tickling the bear which disappears in a mist that rockets over to the shape shifter and attaches to its ribs. “Laugh damn it!” Jethrik mutters.

The creature immediately collapses into a fit of hysterical laughter, consequently dropping Zeyala.

Letting his anger take him more than he’d like to admit, Toshio smites the vile, treacherous creature with his heavy flail, hoping for a one-blow kill. As he swings he shouts, “You should have put her down while you could!” The blow hits the creature in the chest and knocks it against the doorframe but does not kill it.

Jharad vaults over the bannister to land in the middle of the main room. His hand brushes his dagger and it flashes with arcane power as he plunges it into the belly of the beast. Black ichor pours from the wound, but it still flails about, continuing its awful inhuman chortling.

Keng jumps out the second story window, lands hard but manages to roll to his feet without any major injury. He sprints to the front door, kicks it in and attacks the shape shifter who is laughing hysterically on the floor, burying his axe in its back. Yet still the creature continues to laugh and to attempt to dodge away from its many attackers.

On the stairs, Walthus comes down with his longbow strung and ready and an arrow in hand. He stops by Jethrik’s side but sees that there are too many others in the way to attempt to loose an arrow at the thing he called a faceless stalker.

“You’ve stolen your last life, creature!” yells Jethrik.

Toshio lays into the creature again with his flail.

Jharad stabs at it again, but this time it’s leather jacket blocks his blow.

Keng continue to beat upon the shape changer. He roars, “Now your face looks better!”

After Keng’s blow to its head the faceless stalker reels back and slumps against the wall. It waves its arm feebly to ward Keng, Toshio, and Jharad off. The fight has clearly gone out of it.

Toshio scowls at the thing. “Somebody please bind it. And don’t forget that it can change it’s size as you do the ties.”

Addressing the thing he says, “If you resist at all, you die. If you attempt to change shape, you die.” Toshio stays ready to finish the thing, just in case, but allows room for someone to move in and tie it up.

Toshio is glad nobody else got hurt, but the need to deal with another prisoner is inconvenient at best. As he contemplates what to do now, he says, “Who can heal Zeyala? Quickly, take my potion for her.”

Sandpoint may need a bigger jail, thinks Toshio. Or sturdy gibbets. I wonder how the mayor and sheriff will deal with these.

Toshio lifts up Zeyala’s head and pours his healing potion into her mouth, a little at a time, and messaging it down her throat. Zeyala coughs and sputters as the potion bring her back to consciousness. In her confusion, she yells out, “It’s not! Where?!”

Jethrik says, “I appreciate that it would be evil to kill this thing. But it’s also too dangerous to bring back to Sandpoint and too dangerous to keep in our care. I don’t see how we should deal with it.”

Jharad ties up the creature but says to Toshio, “I agree with Jethrik, bringing this back to Sandpoint would be a mistake. Just because it speaks clear Common, does not make it any less of a monster. Look what it tried to do to Zey.”

Toshio says, “It would have been easier if we had killed it, true. But it’s surrendered now, and that’s not an option any longer. Since we can’t drag it with us through the marsh, we’ll have to take it back to Sandpoint’s jail. That stinks, but I don’t see a better solution. Besides, what’s a little inconvenience to the like of us?” Thinking a bit more, Toshio adds, “The thing is badly hurt. I doubt it will try anything foolish in that condition.”

Looking at the halfling Jharad asks, “What can you tell us about this thing and what happened here?”

“Toshio, don’t be a fool,” Keng interrupts Walthus’ response, “This monster held Walthus hostage, tried to kidnap Zeyala, and tried to kill us. It deserves no mercy.” Keng walks over to cut its throat with his large dagger.

Jethrik sees the dagger, “No Keng! Don’t!” he impotently cries.

Jharad steps back to give Keng more room.

Zeyala calls out, “No Keng, wait! Despite what it did to me and what I’d like to see done to it, there are rules we must follow.”

“There aren’t no rules in a knife fight!”

Somewhat surprised at Keng’s attempt to execute the faceless stalker, Toshio interposes himself between the half-orc barbarian and the prisoner. “It is not your place to execute a prisoner, mercenary!” Deeply unhappy with the situation, Toshio makes a visible attempt to calm himself, hoping that Keng will also pause. “If anyone here has authority to do so, it is I.” He looks each of the others in the eye. “Jharad, finish binding it” he says curtly. His eyes show that he’s reached some decision. “I agree it deserves little mercy. If it hadn’t surrendered our jobs would be easier. But it did surrender, and we can’t kill our prisoners, no matter how inconvenient. We’ll take it back to town and turn it over to the sheriff.”

Keng’s eyes begin to turn red but then clear. He looks at Toshio and says, “You may have your woman’s way with this thing now but if it so much as breaths wrong I will kill it.”  He grabs his pack and walks out the door.

Jharad calmly responds to Toshio, “It is bound, though from what we have seen of its abilities they are of little use.”

Zeyala simply looks at Toshio and gives an affirming nod. She then asks, ”Other than me, was anyone else injured?” No one else, however, was injured in the brief fray.

Toshio warns, “Please do not do a healing that could make the thing a threat again. Not yet.”

“Don’t worry about that,” reassures Zeyala. “Though once we decide what we’re going to do, I’ll provide some healing for the real Walthus and myself. “

Looking once again at the halfling, Jharad says, “I believe you were about to share some information which may illuminate our situation.”

Walthus comes down the stairs to stand with the others, though he keeps his arrow nocked. He glances nervously in the direction of the creature, then looks at Jharad and begins his story.

“This th’n attacked me de dee before yestidee. Ay wuz out in me back gardun tend’n ter me snakes whun this th’n came over de wall. We fought fiercely and Ay managed ter wound it wi’ me axe. It wuz also bittun by me snakes, but not before it pinned me and begin drink’n me blewd juss as it did ter her.” The halfling shudders at the memory, and it can be seen that his throat too is marked by bites. “Whun me snakes bit it, Ay managed ter break away. Ay fled upstairs and ‘id in me saferewm. Since dun I’ve lain up thuz try’n ter recover. Ay could ‘ear it rummag’n around in de kun but it wasn’t able ter find me. Mostly it juss rested from its wounds and de snake venom as bright. Ay knew it wuz only a matti o’ time before it made a more thorough search and found me. Dun you’s lot showed up yestidee. Ay awoke whun ay ‘eard de sound o’ yer voices. Ay thought ay wuz saved. Ay would ‘uv called out but ay wuz tew weak still. Dun ter me ‘orrer ay ‘eard it speak’n wi’ me voice. Ay realized dun dat it must be some kind o’ shapeshifty. Whun yous left ay truly despaired. Ay tried ter sneak out dat night, but it ‘eard me and came up de stairs. Ay slates ‘id again and fortunately it wasn’t able ter find me saferewm, but Ay wuz more desperate than ever. Ay needed water and food, and it dun knew dat ay wuz about. This morn’n, while it wuz serv’n yous tea, ay saw me chance. If Ay could get out de window Ay could ‘ide and meet yous down de trail outi sight o’ me home and tell yous wa’ ‘ad ‘appened. Unfortunately, Ay got de window opun partway but fell back. Ay waited ter see if anyone ‘eard me, and whun Ay realized it wuz com’n back up Ay crept into de saferewm again. Ay would ‘uv leapt out de window but ay didn’t kun if ay could take such a fall in me condition. De rest ye know. Ay also dun like de thought o’ any cold-blewded kill’n, but dat th’n, once it slips free and Ay can se it can, wul try fe us blewd again. Ay don’t kun if it tinnie become bigger, but it could defo take ed me form er dat o’ yer gnome er maybe a dog er firkin. If yous take it into Sandpoint you’ll endanger everyone thuz. If yous let it bowl e’yer iddle try fe me again, er maybe iddle come afty yous. Ay vote yous ler rus finish it off.” He stretches the bow taught and aims the arrow at the most likely place for its heart.

From outside they hear the sounds of wood chopping…

Jethrik isn’t sure what to say (there’s a rarity) but he watches the creature closely and has a hand on the pommel of his rapier.

Toshio seems frozen, deep in thought. It seems a long time to him, although it was really only a few seconds, before he speaks again.

“Jethrick, please come with me.” He hauls the thing up and pushes it ahead of him out the door. Jethrik follows in respectful silence, knowing that some roles require solemnity. Toshio makes sure the door closes behind Jethrik. Jharad follows them outside, and though Toshio hears door open and close again and the extra footsteps, but figuring that they all have a good guess of what he has in mind, he doesn’t turn to check. Toshio just doesn’t want any others around if it would trouble them. He knows Jethrick would probably want to avoid it, but Toshio wants to use his credibility as an accurate storyteller. Otherwise he’d let Jethrick stay behind if he wished. Toshio sees Keng chopping the wood but ignores him, too, intent on getting the wretched task over with. Keng stops what he is doing and follows, especially since he saw Jharad tagging along.

Outside, Toshio tucks away his flail and draws his katana. Still moving the thing ahead of him, he guides it around to the back wall enclosing the real halfling’s garden. As he walks, he explains, “Not everyone needs to see this, and it’s my responsibility alone. I don’t want them troubled as I am. But I need one witness, in case any questions are asked. You don’t need to watch the actual deed. But I need someone to see that the thing wasn’t mistreated, and to verify the end.” He doesn’t check that Jethrick is keeping up, but assumes that he is doing so. Toshio continues at a quick pace, not wanting to give himself time to change his mind and not wanting to give the thing a chance to make more trouble.

When they are outside the garden, Toshio pushes the thing into a kneeling position. Without hesitation Toshio swings his katana and decapitates the creature. He pauses after the cut, and then looks to make sure the unfamiliar monster is dead and not regenerating, troll-like. “Dead, yes?”

Jethrik examines the creature to ensure the wound is not regenerating. He sees that it is not. “It was a difficult thing, Toshio, but a lot of people are safer for it.”

Keng, seeing that the monster is dead, nods his head. Turning to Jharad he says, “Pretty boy does have a pair.”

Jharad comments, “We should have questioned it first. Unfortunate.” He turns and walks back to the front door.

Toshio cleans his blade and sees that all but Zeyala and Walthus had come outside with him. Toshio shouts at them, “And who’s with Zeyala?! Are you all so sure that’s a halfling too with her?!” He pushes past them and runs in to make sure she’s still okay, as angry with the whole situation as he is with any of them for leaving her. It probably really is a halfling – he hopes.

In response to Toshio’s concern, Zeyala says, “I’m fine. I’m fine. Despite the encounter, my wounds are mostly healed,” she adds. “I’m fine to carry on.”

Toshio relaxes visibly. “I should have words with the others for leaving you, but right now such words would probably end badly. I am glad you are safe.”

Keng returns to the woodpile and continues chopping wood for Walthus. The pile is four times larger than when he started.

With the creature disposed of, Zeyala is free to call upon her healing power. Her wounds close over though she is still sore and feels tired due to the blood the creature drained from her. Though she had hoped she would be able to help Walthus, his current state is also due to blood loss that only rest or more powerful magic than she can call upon now can cure.

Walthus proves to be a much more gracious host than his imposter, as well as a grateful one. He takes the cloak off his back and offers it to whichever of them could best use it. He explains that it is a cloak that will enable the wearer to resist harm and that it can be adjusted even for you “big’uns.”

Jharad accepts the cloak from Walthus only to examine it closer to understand its specific magic in detail.

Keng, having finished replenishing Walthus wood and smelling food, reenters the house.

Jharad finishes examining the cloak and announces, “Yes, this cloak will help the wearer resist all sorts of spells, ailments, poisons, even assist in dodging environmental harm. This would be helpful for any one of us, but I suggest Keng be the recipient. He is, after all, the one we keep placing foremost in harms way.”

Smirking, to Keng he translates, “I just said you should have it because you get hurt more.”

“Pain is just weakness leaving the body,” Keng says with a feral grin showing off both his tusks. He does however take the cloak with a nod of thanks.

Toshio can’t help but come out of his foul mood a bit, hearing Jharad snipe at Keng like that then rub it in by “translating.” A slight smile graces his face as a chuckles escapes his lips.

Walthus also offers to make them lunch and tells them they are free to stay at his place as they search the marsh, even overnight if they wish. “I’ll feel a lot safer wi’ you’s lot around anyroad.” Finally, he informs them that by the shore he’s hidden away a little rowboat. He can take himself and maybe Jethrik and one of the larger folk, but that is all. He will be happy to take them over to the two shipwrecks which are both easily reachable by boat. The caves, however, he knows nothing about, though when he’s feeling better he tells them he’ll be happy to take them over to the cliffs.

Toshio muses, “Two ships and a cave. What say we work north to south? But, as nice as it would be to save the time, I’m not eager to split the party by sending some by boat.”

Turning to Walthus he says, “Your offer to guide us is very kind, Mister Proudstump. We will gladly take you up on the offer. However, I think we brought no supplies for overnighting, here or elsewhere. And we should let the sheriff know before we stay overlong.”

“As yous wul,” Walthus responds. He tells them they are always welcome to visit and he will help however he can.

Toshio asks Walthus, “Is there anything you need from town? We would like to return to your hospitality tomorrow night. It would be easy enough to bring things if you have need.”

Jharad comments, “We should grab another boat. Sounds like getting to the shipwrecks and maybe caves would be best by boat. We could row one from Sandpoint back to here by the evening.”

Toshio agrees. “I’m sure there is a suitable boat in town that we can use, so we can all get to the sites more quickly and without splitting up. Let’s also be sure to load up on provisions for a few days. And we’ll get enough so we don’t eat Mr. Proudstump out of his own home.”

“Yes,” agrees Zayala. “I’m sure there’s someone who could lend us a boat, or at least rent one to us.”

Keng thinks to himself, I hate boats.

Walthus does, in fact, ask for a few things from town – mostly new clothes and some other odds and ends for the house. He even offers the pay them the 10 gold that he estimates it will all cost.

“You can pay us when we get back,” says Toshio.

Tales Are Told

Back in Sandpoint, the goblin is turned over to Sheriff Hemlock and locked up until an interrogator can be found. Jharad also returns his borrowed equipment to the garrison and puts on his own gear.

From there, they cross the street over to town hall to settle accounts with Mayor Kendra in regard to the bounty. She pays them, as promised, double on the previous bounty for Chief Gutwad’s head and for each goblin ear. She even counts the ears of the prisoner. The total comes to 1160 gold. In addition to that, they count out 167 gold and 329 silver pieces in the red chest and found on the person of the chief and in the secret stash that Jharad had located. The mayor also confiscates the four skyrockets, but she does give them 100 gold for them.

“I think this town has had quite enough fireworks for this season,” she says.

Of the other items there is a brief discussion as to what to do with them.

“There is nothing here I would like to keep,” says Jhard. “As for as I am concerned, it all should be sold and divided, except for the healing potions. They should go to Toshio and Keng.”

To no one in particular, Zeyala sighs, “I do adore this pin, but I am determined to explore beyond the borders of Sandpoint, and for that, I’ll need coin.” Reluctantly she places it with the other items to be sold off.

Jethrik also expresses his reluctance to sell the magic arrows or the masterwork chainmail shirt that can be cleaned and repaired.

“Although we agreed to share the wealth, perhaps something can be worked out, Jethrik,” says Zeyala. “It does seem a waste to just sell off something that can be put to immediate use, like those potions.”

“I’ll do my best to square the difference.” Jethrik says with a slight bow. “If nothing can be worked out, than…” he makes a show of holding back tears, “we’ll have to liquidate.”

It is agreed, then, to give the potions to Toshio and Keng, to allow Jethrik to take four of the magical arrows and the masterwork chain shirt as the major part of his share, and to take the red chest, hairpin, and fan to Maver Kesk, Sandpoint’s wild haired jeweler to get the items appraised.

Fortunately for them, Koya, Sandru, Daviren Hosk, and Ameiko show up at town hall to congratulate the conquering heroes.

Daviren makes an offer to “have a little talk” with their prisoner. He cracks his knuckles and smirks cruelly as he says this. “You see, I used to hunt the little buggers. That’s why there are no more Bonegrinder goblins around. Nothing left of them but the ears that I’ve collected, preserved, and nailed up to the rafters of the stable. I even inscribed their names on the ears, because writing down their names is one of the worst things you can do to them in their way of thinking. Yes, I know goblins well, and I’ll be happy to get your prisoner to talk and interpret his jibber jabber for you.” This offer to interpret for the prisoner is coolly accepted by Toshio and the sheriff.

Sheriff Hemlock then asks Daviren to take a look at the map on the back of the fan, as he might recognize the goblins scrawl and he also knows the landmarks of the Brinestump better than any other present. Daviren examines it and nods. “Yes, I think I can make sense of this.” Toshio suggests that Jharad work with Daviren to duplicate the map. That way Jharad can use his illusions to confirm the map’s/Hosk’s descriptions and ensure as much accuracy as possible. After that, the fan can be sold. With Hosk’s help, Jharad transcribes the map onto vellum.

Daviren also offers them tips on how to pickle the head of Chief Gutwad. “Too bad, you didn’t bring back the whole body. I should show you sometime, but long ago I pickled Chief Whartus of the Bonegrinder tribe after I did him in, and you can see him now in a large bottle back at the stables.”

Sandru looks over the items and gives his own professional opinion of their value. All in all, he believes they should be able to get 350 gold for the chest, hairpin, and fan. They should also be able to get 83 gold for each magic arrow, 250 gold for Chief Gutwad’s bow, and 19 gold for the six throwing stars found in the chest. As Sandru appraises these items, Koya takes care of any lingering bruises by calling upon her own ability to channel the healing power of Desna. She also uses her magic to mend the chainmail shirt for Jehtrik, though it will still need to be cleaned.

After the shares of the treasure are determined and the coins distributed, Keng, Jethrik, Jharad, and Zeyala go out to sell what they are going to sell, and to get Jethrik’s new chainmail shirt cleaned and polished. They agree to meet with Toshio and Daviren back at the Rusty Dragon after they learns what they can from the goblin.

***

Back in the garrison’s interrogation room, the goblin, whose name is Kavak, is not at all reluctant to tell Sheriff Hemlock, Toshio, and Daviren what happened the previous night. In fact, Kavak is nauseatingly ingratiating and a very bad liar.

“Hit all started da few weeks ago whun Scribbleface, that’s wot we call ‘im now, wuz found to as committed da forbiddun act hof writin. We drove ‘im hout into da swamp an’ tore down iz turf. That’s whun we found dat e had also bin stockpilin fireworks dat he’d recovered from da site deepa in da marsh. Our chief wuz intrigued, an’ so e sent hout five volunteers on da mission to retrace Scribbleface’s path an’ brin bak more fireworks. Dey found da wrecked human ship an’ brought bak from hit da chest filled wiv fireworks an’ da fan wiv da map hof da marsh showin where we could chek more. Da five goblins wuz sent hout again several days ha bit lata on an’ dey returned wiv several crates hof treasure an’ evun more fireworks. So we’ve just bin playin around wiv those fe da while. It’s da most wicked we’ve had in da long bells, an’ dey didn’t belong to anybody. Nor wuz we tryin to hurt anyone. Fe real, we weren’t!

“Well, last night an army hof skeletal warriors, dressed dig ‘im,” he indicates Toshio, “invaded our village. Our bravest heroes wuz cut down as dey fought bravely to save our bitches an’ childrun an’ borrow dem bells to escape. We did our fittest to hold dem off, but dere wuz too many hof dem an’ dey wuz too strong. Dey went door to door killin any goblin dey could chek. Before dey could kill us all, Chief Gutwad in iz yorkie wisdom realized dat dey had spitz fe da treasure. E ordered those hof us who remained to return to dem all da treasure stored in da village treasury. Da skeletons gathered hit all up an’ split. Dey must as returned to da caves to da south where most hof da fireworks came from.”

Kavak then begins begging and pleading to be let go. “Please, I neva did anythin to yous. I wuz just defendin me village an’ me chief. We Licktoads don’t mean any harm. We just dig fireworks! Who doesn’t!? An’ I neva evun participated in any hof da attacks on da road. Can I go now? Please!? Is it coz I is a goblin?”

***

Back at the Rusty Dragon, empty now as it is in the middle of the afternoon when most people are working, Toshio and Hosk relate Kavak’s story to the others. With Kavak’s story in mind Jharad makes a map with Hosk’s help that reveals four locations. One is the Licktoad Village. The second is a site downriver of the village that is the site of the first ship wreck. The third site is much farther off to the southeast of the village and is another shipwreck. The fourth site is a cave complex due south of the third site along the cliff overlooking the marsh.

Hosk looks at the map and says, of the third location, that it may be around the home of Old Megus. “She was some kind of swamp witch but it’s been a long time since she came to town. Many folk believe its because she used witch magic to turn into some kind of swamp zombie and now she’s stalking Brinestump looking for people to eat.” Hosk finds this a bit funny, but not too funny. “I didn’t know Old Megus and won’t speculate on what she may have done or what may have happened to her, but there are certainly some fearsome things in the Brinestump.”

Jharad smiles and says, “Looks like it is back into Brinestump for us.”

“Yeah, but undead samurai. I’m not sure that like the sound of that,” says Zeyala. “As for the goblin, it’s evil. Kill it or let it rot in prison.”

Keng says, “I like the idea of re-killin’ some undead!”

“So we may find the other five goblins, undead warriors in stylish armor, or both. Whatever is there, we’ll need to clear any threat to Sandpoint. I won’t speak for the others, but it seems we’ve got a good group already gathered that could address this – if they’re agreeable to going back into the marsh.”

“I can’t think of anything more foolish… I’m in,” says Jethrik.

“I’m in,” barks Keng!

Toshio is most pleased that they’ve all volunteered. “That’s good. Very good.” He tries not to smile as much as he feels like he’s smiling. “Then let’s get ready, and I’ll buy the first round of drinks this evening. We can figure out how we’ll split any of the treasure we may find over a few pints. Then we can rest up and start tomorrow.”

Jharad looks over at Keng, “Looks like more ale for us,” and smiles.

“Aye! Let’s have a drinking contest with pretty boy!”

“You mean Jethrick?” Asks Toshio, knowing full well what Keng means. “I think you underestimate him,” he adds, smiling.

***

Jharad goes to the jeweler to sell the fan, and then to Savah’s Armory to buy a morningstar, and 20 blunt arrows, 10 of them small sized for Jethrik. He also buys two trip arrows and 10 thistle arrows. At the Pillbug Pantry he gets a couple of healing potions. At the General Store he picks up a notebook, ink, and pen, silk rope, and masterwork bowyer’s tools.

Back in his room at the Rusty Dragon, Jharad gives thought to getting or making gifts for Koya and Shalelu. He can’t think of what to do yet for Shalelu, but for Koya, he makes a detailed map of “The Battle at Licktoad Village.” It graphically details the village and their fight.

***

Toshio heads over to the local armor smith and hopes there might be a suit of banded mail that would fit him. Although he doesn’t want to give up the family armor, he’s practical enough to accept the better protection. Not quite recalling what his teachers said about the weaknesses of undead, the looks for a heavy flail as well.

Toshio also checks the family home for any written stories he might share with Ameiko. In the library of his home Toshio finds a series of volumes written in the Tien language with Tien ideograms. It is a lavishly illuminated set of codices whose value Toshio can’t even guess. They are The Improbable Saga of Jinsen Tayago and His Astonishing War with the Oni, or more simply, the Tayagama. Toshio remembers that Jinsen Tayago was the hero of stories he was told as a child, this must be the original source of those stories. He had forgotten about them when he apprenticed himself as a paladin of Iomedae when he turned 13 and hadn’t thought about them since. Paging through a couple of the volumes, Toshio sees that there is more here than he will be able to take in in only a few hours. This original story is actually a cycle of 100 poems, though they have long since been converted into popular songs and plays, its episodes being frequent subjects of Minkai artwork, and many pithy bits of wisdom are actually drawn directly from this enchanting, if fanciful, legend. It tells the story of a whimsical and work-shy farm boy in the fantastical land of Nihon (a thinly veiled stand-in for Minkai), who is recruited by a kami to battle the hated one who, having conquered seven of the eight kingdoms of Nihon, are intent on ruling the eighth as well. Tayago nearly always prevails through humor, perseverance, and happy accident. The poetic cycle abounds with wit and high adventure, much of it obvious artistic and comic exaggeration. For instance, in the opening lines of the first poem, the kami so startles Tayago that he runs across a pond on lily pads, his feet never touching the water. (adapted from AP 49 The Brinewall Legacy, pp. 71-72 )

After shopping for the necessities, returning his old armor to the manor and again shopping (this time unsuccessfully for the story book), Toshio considers the ivory fan as he comes across it again in the shop. Toshio spends the money to buy the fan. It’s a good opportunity to please Ameiko, with the artistry of the fan itself and the story it can lead to. ‘Too bad I didn’t think to ask for this as a portion of my share in the treasure’ he thinks to himself as he shells out the money. He takes time to get it wrapped, and includes a nice ribbon from the local tailor (long enough to be reused by Ameiko is she so chooses).

He goes early to the Rusty Dragon to find Ameiko. “Hello. I was thinking of you, and how disappointed you seemed to miss our trip into the marsh. So I got this for you. It’s one of the items we recovered from the goblins.” After she opens it, he lets her look it over a bit, and then gently turns it to show the map. “It’s got this map on the back, which mars it a bit. I’ll get that cleaned off for you, of course. But I thought I’d show it to you first. All the adventure of this day seems to be tied to this map.” He lets her imagine what that adventure might have been, and what it might lead to before he says, “If you’d like, I could tell you our story. Or what there is of it so far.”

“You are so kind Toshio.” She graciously accepts the fan the Tian-Min way by taking it in both hands and holding it up before her. “I’d be very happy to hear it, Toshio. Please don’t change the map on the fan though. I like it just as it is, which is to say, part of the story.”

With her eager consent, Toshio relates the events of the day, highlighting the good choices made by each of his comrades and doing his best to make them sound heroic. He doesn’t neglect himself in the telling, but spins his role as one of support and guidance for the others, trying not to display too much ego.

“And so this fan, with it’s map, seems to be leading us on to new adventures. I’ll have to tell you of those when we return” he closes. “Of course, if you change your mind you could always come with us…” he adds hopefully, aware that she is unlikely to accept. If not, he says “Then I look forward to telling you what transpires when we get back” and goes to join the others in celebration.

“Toshio, I really don’t see any need for you or the others to return to the marsh. The Licktoads have been taken care of. And you were all very fortunate to have come back without any great harm to yourselves. Why go looking for any more trouble? Let the dead keep what is theirs. It is probably better not to trouble them.” Even as she says this, however, Toshio can tell that there is a part of her that does wish to go with them. He gets the feeling that she is speaking from her head but her heart is saying something else.

***

Coming downstairs into the main room of the inn in the early evening, Jharad sees Toshio speaking with Ameiko, and Keng sitting by himself. Jharad interrupts Toshio and Ameiko to buy two ales and sits down next to Keng, sliding one across to him. “Describe the best tasting ale or grog you have ever had, I want to show you something,” he says.

Keng nods his thanks and ponders Jharad’s question. Frankly he is uncertain how to answer, nor certain he trusts the elf wizard.

“Best tasting ale eh? Odd question. I like the Shoanti Fire Ale. Quenches the thirst and cuts the dust has a bite to it with wild Ashanti peppers.”

“I have a talent to make things taste… different. Better or worse, sweet or sour. Like most magic the change is not permanent, but will last long enough to enjoy food the way I want. I wish I knew the taste of your Shoanti Fire Ale, I would change this brew to match it. Magic is good that way. Or at least it can be. There exists, of course, bad magic. But I try and stay away from that.”

Jharad takes a sip of his ale, pausing before he says what he really wants to. Lowering his voice slightly he says, “I have a favor to ask of you. It is personal and I am entrusting you to keep this between us. I knew a woman some time ago when I was last here which I was rather fond of. You might call it a crush truth be told. I am not sure, however, that her feelings for me were matched. Or whether she will even remember me now for that matter, though I doubt either of our appearance has change in the last 30 years. When I do see her next though I would like to give her a gift… to show that I at least remember her. Since you seem to know her now more than I, I would ask your suggestion as to what that gift might be.” Looking into Keng’s eyes Jharad adds, “You do know whom I am speaking of, yes?”

Keng looks blankly at Jharad. He is not used to subtlety and isn’t following him at all especially with the big change in topics from ale to women. He squints his eyes and shakes his head and asks, “Are you trying to trick me again?”

Jharad cannot help but laugh out loud. After taking a moment to compose himself he says smiling, “Keng no, I am not trying to trick you. Simply put I am asking for your help. I like Shalelu and would like to give her a gift. Do you have any suggestions?”

Keng, caught with a mouthful of ale, sprays it out in a great mist while slamming his mug down on the plank table sloshing half it’s contents across the wood and blurts out a loud gaffaw, “You like her!?” Realizing he has shouted and is making a scene with three quarters of the tavern looking over at them leans forward and lowers his voice, “you mean ‘like her’ as in lay with her!?

Jharad attempts hiding his head as he brushes his hands through his hair. Cleaning up the mess with a quick spell he responds, “Elven relationships are much more… subtle than that. But for you, in essence, yes I like her that way. Now please, can we keep this a bit more quiet?”

Keng waves his hands as if clearing the air, “My apologies Jharad, It was the surprise of an elf asking a half-orc for woman advice that caught me flat-footed.”

Keng is quiet for a time sipping his ale. “She is a ranger and enjoys long periods of time alone in the wilderness living off the land. She likes things that aid her survival. I in fact am having a small leather pouch made with her family crest tooled in it and filled with some fishing line, tinder and flint as a gift for her.” Keng then looks at Jharad expectantly.

Jharad seems lost in thought for a moment then says, “A very nice gift, I am sure she will appreciate that.” Again he looses himself in thought and then drains his ale mug. Without a word he gets up then returns with two more. He sits and slides one in front of Keng as thanks and finishes out the night talking of killing goblins, defeating undead and other simple pleasures.

***

While shopping for armor and the healer’s kit, Zeyala also picks up a handpainted deck of Harrow cards from Magnimar for Koya. She also buys a small teakwood box to place it in and some fancy paper to wrap it. Zeyala presents the gift to Koya saying, “Thank you, for so much… for everything. I can never repay the kindness you’ve shown me, but please accept this as a token of my appreciation and our friendship.”

“Oh my dear, thank you so much.” She unwraps the present, opens the box, and flips through the cards with real delight. “You are so thoughtful. You can never have enough decks you know. Each one has its own spirit and expression.”

***

When the others arrive and they all sit down together for their supper Jharad says to them, “There are a few points I wanted to bring up regarding tomorrow’s foray back into Brinestone. First is that we might consider getting some blunt weapons. Swords and arrows are not weapons to be used against skeletons. Secondly I think we should return to the bridge where we were attacked by that dog-legged creature. It may be worth while tracking it back to its lair to see what items it may have collected from the less fortunate.”

Toshio is relieved to hear Jharad bring this up. He was feeling a bit ashamed of himself for not recalling his lessons on battling undead, and Jharad’s confirmation that blunt weapons are the ones to use puts him at ease. “Right you are. I’ve already acquired an appropriate weapon. I’m sure everyone will make sure they are also ready in that way.”

Jethrik laughs. His volume is quite surprising from such a small frame. “There are a few points I want to bring up, and the have nothing to do with the swamp! Drain your mug, wizard and worry about tomorrow when it comes!”

Toshio says, “Before you are all too sloshed, there are some points I wanted to discuss as well: the splitting of treasure, in particular. I don’t want us to be fighting or even grumbling amongst ourselves over silly things like money.”

“I propose that we split all coin and saleable items equally among us upon our return. Items useful to the party will be given to the person best suited to aid the party with those items. How does that sound to each of you? Do we need to add more detail to the arrangement?”

Jharad, already a bit drunk, raises his glass to Toshio, “To our leader, may he always… wait, may he never… damn, how does that go? Never mind, I agree.”

Toshio, seeing that the business items are finished, lets them go. He raises his glass in return. “Well said, friend” and drains the glass.

Growing more sober, Jethrik says, “I was happy paying for the items I got, but I can see the wisdom in your approach. It would work well should we continue together over some time. I guess I hadn’t considered that a possibility, but there seems to be a lot going on in the swamp. What comes after that I wonder? But I will go along with the consensus. I don’t want anymore than is my due, and I’m happy showing a friend some generosity.”

Toshio continues, “And of the saleable items, like that hairpin, if someone wishes to buy them, they can do so our of their shares, of course.” Jokingly, he adds “And if two or more want the item, we can duel for the right to buy it, neh?”

Zeyala joins in the merriment.  She orders herself a mug of ale and lights up her clay pipe.  ”I think it would also be sensible to set aside some coins that can go towards supplies that would be of benefit to everyone, namely potions and other means of magical healing,” says Zeyala.  ”Just my two cents,”

“Good thinking. Such supplies should come from our joint purse,” agrees Toshio.

“Ah frack it,” says Keng. “Whatever you bastards want to do is fine with me,” he yells out, “Barmaid more ale!”

Keng is clearly feeling the ale now and clambers up onto the plank table and begins to stomp his feet in a deep bass rumble reminiscent of horese galloping across the plains.  ”Hear my drinking song and join with me,” he bellows out to the tavern!

“The grass grows high

We harvest when its brown

Our throats are parched and dry

Drink boys drink it down

“The enemy draws near

We meet to knock them down

We Shoanti know no fear

Drink boys drink it down

“Women for the taking

They wink and pull their skirts down

For them there be babies making

Drink boys drink it down

“And when I lay cold in the ground

My days done my mates face frown

My lips no longer make any sound

Drink boys drink it down.”

He drains he tankard and throws it into the fire. “A round for everyone,” he yells and tosses a few coins at the barmaid. “Drinks more drinks! Tonight we celebrate for tomorrow we may die!”

Toshio joins in as well as he can, and loudly. But when it gets to the part about women for the taking he stops, not wishing to offend the good women of the company. Feeling awkward for the potential offense to the women, and awkward for stopping mid-song when he’d been boisterously involved a split second before. He lets it pass and continues just as loudly with the following verse (hoping everyone lets it go).

Zeyala claps along to Keng’s song. When he gets to the second verse, she laughs out, “Making babies, huh?  That’s something I know a thing or two about!”

“Don’t tell me you’ve little ones hiding somewhere?!” Toshio asks. “Ha ha! Lovely as you are, no doubt you’ve had your share of suitors!”

“No,” she laughs. “No little ones yet.” She winks and puts a finger to her lips saying, “You don’t expect a girl to share all her secrets?”

After everyone is done cheering for Keng’s hearty drinking song, Jethrik jumps up on a table and floridly elaborates the tale of our mission in the Brinestump Marsh. Strongly emphasized, the powerful wisdom of Zeyala, the wily tricks of our powerful wizard, Toshio’s authority and fearlessness in battle and Keng’s awesome power in dispatching hordes of snot monkeys.

Toshio always appreciates a good performance, and this is no exception. The nice light that Jethrick casts on each of them in the tale helps. Toshio leans back, sipping his drink, and appreciating the telling.

Jharad sits back, claps at both Keng and Jethrik’s performances and enjoys the rest of the night.