Rufusreich

The Serpent Clan
"Forked tongues only! Humans not welcome." (Recap #3 of 3)
  • The doors to Xul-Jarak turned out to be guarded by six snaky dudes: yuan-ti, to be precise. The yuan-ti were defeated, but the party suffered under two significant sorcerous attacks: Marielle failed her save on a suggestion spell and therefore spent hours unable to stop combing her hair, and Juno Nim was polymorphed into a guinea pig. After killing the yuan-ti, the party fled to the woods. After Marielle recovered her wits, she transformed him back.
  • The party snuck into Xul-Jarak, where they found a band of yuan-ti and medusae, headed by a half-fiend medusa named Ophidius. Hiding their eyes, they charged the evildoers … with one of Marielle’s fireballs helping to clear the footsoldiers. In the middle of the battle, a 20-foot bronze serpent came up from the ground and attacked the party. Thanks to Tegan’s serious sword skills, the party prevailed, however, one yuan-ti escaped, running down into the dungeon.
  • The party searched the whole upper level and unearthed a jaw-dropping pile of treasure, including magic items, a Faberge egg, and a strange carved tray with an exotic wood-grain. Even Tegan couldn’t identify the tree which had produced it.
  • We made camp inside one of the rooms upstairs.

Next time: Didn’t we already kill all the monsters in this stupid dungeon?

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Preparation
Shopping, trudging through the Thar, and a mysterious duo.

In this episode…

  • We bought supplies, including scrolls of water breathing, darkvision, and owl’s wisdom (to resist mind control.)
  • Ishmael teleported us to the Thar, near the ancient orcish citadel of Xul-Jarak. He had briefed us last time that there was a pool in the deepest level of the castle from which the Underdark pumped its water supply—we could sneak into the Underdark through the pipe.
  • On the road we met two travelers. One was – gasp! – the mysterious hunky stranger Ishmael had claimed would one day propose to Marielle! The polite young man introduced himself as Ruggiero. He is the son of two paladins, his father being the much-mentioned Mandelbaum, paladin of Yahweh, and his mother being Varshalla, paladin of Hieronious. The mysterious little girl he traveled with turned out to be a gold dragon in human form and a friend of his mother’s. She was escorting the lad to the Monastery of Jade Harmony, where he was to undergo further training as a monk.
  • When we arrived at Xul-Jarak, we discovered it was surrounded by many statues who had clearly been denizens of the Thar. The statues bore signs warning us to stay away from Xul-Jarak, which was the new headquarters of “The Serpent Clan.” Could this have anything to do with the medusa we’d met earlier? Undaunted, we prepared for battle and approached the citadel, scene of our former triumphs….

Next log: A mess of snakiness.

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Come Into My Parlor...
... said "T.H.E." devil to the fly.

Full disclosure. I’m busy with RealLife™ these days, and I’ll probably never do the full sci-fi fantasy writer treatment on an adventure that I’m both DMing and writing. Maybe when DMTegan ascends to deity status, I’ll serve as court scribe to her intriguing original adventure. But for now, it’s bullet points through to the end of our Clement adventure.

  • Kalman confessed that he had had been visited by a devil, T.H.E. Devil, to be precise (Tiberius Hortensius Erasmus.) This devil convinced him that he, Kalman, had sold his soul to the devil in infancy, and was therefore compelled to be his minion. The story didn’t hold up under scrutiny—poor dumb little Kalman was duped by this ludicrous lie, and certainly still had his soul. He confessed further that he had spied on the party for T.H.E. Devil unwillingly … but had been painting the octagonal symbol all over town hoping the party would investigate it, learn about T.H.E. devil’s nefarious plot, and defeat him, thereby freeing Kalman from satanic servitude.
  • The party met with T.H.E. Devil, who assumed many forms, including Clement, Branwen, the rogue who brought Juno into “the biz”, Dazzle (Billy’s bard mentor), and a mysterious raven-haired hunk whom he claimed was destined to marry Marielle. Finally he revealed “his true name,” Ishmael, and the identity under which they knew him: Queequeg the Monk. Oh yes. Queequeg is the Big Bad.
  • Further, Ishmael/Queequeg revealed that everything that has occurred thus far in this adventure is a charade that he orchestrated. The alleged Helm of Sunrise, as they’d discovered, was NOT an earth-shatteringly potent artifact, but a nice little magic item that worth about 18000 gp. He planted it with the late paladin Mandelbaum, then deceived Smeerduk and his followers into taking it and sent them on a fruitless mission of conquest in Glister.
  • Why? Because Ishmael/Queequeg was allied with the drow. In the Underdark, there are three great civilizations: the drow and their allies, the duergar and their allies, and the orogs (whom no one likes.) Ishmael isn’t a drow, but wouldn’t reveal more about himself, other than the fact that he had diplomatic duties and had in the course of them come to DESPISE the three brothers Thrull, Smeerduk, and Dramuel … so getting them killed was the bonus.
  • He’d advanced the cause of the Drow Alliance by getting these orog nobility killed (thanks, party!), but his true target was a heavy hitter in the duergar faction: an aboleth named Eurypylus. Eurypylus, like all aboleths, was a potent foe. Aboleths are intelligent and cruel aquatic monsters who have many scary psionic abilities. They also have the ability to transform victims, giving them slimy skin so that they cannot leave the water for the rest of their lives. Further, they are surrounded by a mucus cloud which, if touched, can temporarily make land-dwellers unable to breathe air.
  • How to get the party down to the subterranean sea where Eurypylus lived? Why, to kidnap Clement, which was the TRUE purpose of the last several chapters. Using plane shift while in the illusory guise of a genie, Ishmael had taken Clement to the Nine Hells, where he was being imprisoned and tortured. Clement’s foot had already been severed, for fun. He promised to drop him with Euryplus about an hour before the party arrives. He has prepared Eurypylus by plying him with lies about this ersatz Helm (remember the inept duergar wizard? He worked for Eurypylus.) Therefore, Eurypylus will spend that hour trying to make sense of the contents of Clement’s shattered, psychotic mind to gain information about this Helm. The clock will be ticking.
  • Ishmael gave the party a full mission briefing (see later logs) and vanished. The party went to the Temple of Pelor, where Archbishop Olmert helped them outfit Br. Samuel for battle (an inexperienced cleric is better than none!) and performed some divinations about Ishmael. His true name (can you believe he lied?) is Dendritius, and he is a powerful mind flayer – head of a band of them who live with the drow.
  • More next log!
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Gumshoes, Again.
But with one fewer set of feet (weekend D&D, last recap)

“Watch the road, willya!! Whaddaya, blind?” screamed a cabbie as he narrowly avoiding a collision with a nobleman’s charger. Stupid humans, thought Snuffles, as he ran through the streets of Melvaunt. He could barely keep up with his mistress as she and her friends trod grimly down Sextant Street. And today my mistress is just as angry. What is wrong? Why are the humans so angry? You could cut the tension with a knife. I want an apple.

“We’ll be at the temple soon,” Lady Marielle announced soothingly.

Lady Tegan bit her lip. “I want answers, Obad-Hai damn it!”

“As do we all, fair Tegan.” said Lord William. He was Lord William now, but it felt strange whenever anyone called him that. “Just call me ‘Billy’”, he always said.

“This is disturbing on many levels. What are they doing to Clement right now, do you think? Where on Oerth (see comment) could he be?”

“He’s not necessarily on Oerth anymore,” offered Lord Juno. “Or even on this plane of existence. You saw that rift.”

Lady Tegan suppressed a biting comment and raised her fist to knock on the gold-inlaid doors of the Temple of Pelor’s hospital wing. A young sister answered and broke into a smile. “Are you – oh yes, praise the Shining One, the heroes of Glister themselves! I prayed you would come today. One of our patients has been asking for you for hours. Her name is Lisette…”

“We’re really here to see Archbishop Olmert…” Billy began, politely.

“… but of COURSE we will visit with our dear friend Lisette,” said Marielle sharply. “She’s awakened from her coma, then? Good news indeed.” The sister began to lead the party up a staircase. “You must admit, Billy, it’s a good way to gather information.” Lord Billy waggled his eyebrows at Marielle genially, then balanced his rapier on his nose for comic effect.

The elderly seer looked pale and tired, slumped heavily against a pile of pillows on her sickbed. Juno estimated she’d lost ten pounds. Lisette turned her head weakly toward them. She looked at Br. Samuel. “You’re not Clement.”

“No, ma’am. His twin brother, Samuel, at your service.”

“Where have you been?” Lisette whined. “I woke up in this bed yesterday night and these idiot clerics wouldn’t find you for me. Clement is in terrible danger!”

“During the intervening week –” said Tegan.

“A week? I’ve been asleep a week? It did feel very long…. But enough, I must tell you before it’s too late! I have had a vision! There was a monstrous red man, wearing a turban …”

“Who drew Clement to him and then disappeared through a black rift in the fabric of reality, perhaps? While a bunch of she-devils and a drow wizard kept us busy?” said Billy ruefully.

Lisette gasped. “Has it come to pass?” Tegan nodded. “I believe … this coma … I believe I was silenced! If only I could have prevented this! The sisters tell me you have rescued my son, Nikolai. I’m so grateful.” The old woman’s eyes welled up with tears. “But when you needed my help…”

“There, there,” said Tegan, patting Lisette’s withered hand. “Don’t worry. I swear by Nature herself, I shall save Clement. But what is this about being silenced?”

The seer’s eyes narrowed. “In my sleep, every day, I kept feeling a hand on my forehead, pushing me down, down under the waters of consciousness until I choked. But it was not the same hand each day. The first day it seemed like a massive orc’s hand; the reek was unmistakable. On other days it was smooth and human, or a mass of slimy tentacles. Finally, today, there was no mystic hand. I swam upward through the waters of my dream and awoke.”

The party visited with Lisette a bit longer and then asked to be admitted to Archbishop Olmert’s private chambers. They briefed the archbishop on the event’s of the past few days and asked His Excellency to do a divination for them. Pelor spoke through the old priest, and provided the following prophecy:

CLEMENT’S LIGHT IS TRAPPED IN HELL
PRISONER OF A SCHEMER FELL
DO NOT CRY OR LET HEARTS HARDEN
SOON, YOU’LL HAVE A CHANCE TO BARGAIN.

“In hell?” gasped Marielle.

Which ‘hell,’ I wonder.” said Billy. “There are many planes of existence aligned with evil….

“Gehenna, Carceri, Hades…” mused Brother Samuel desperately.

“Harden and bargain don’t really rhyme,” said Billy with a grin. His copper mane burst temporarily into flames, and he heard a celestial “Harrumph!”

Eager to leave no stone unturned, the party continued on to see Fr. Tomnein. Tomnein told them that the research on the octagonal jewels went well, and that the hapless Dramuel had proven a good source of information as they labored to reconstruct the jewel-making ritual.

“Yes, yes, Father.” said Juno impatiently. “But we have a more pressing problem…” The rogue explained the situation and asked the abbot to divine Clement’s location more specifically among the many evil planes. Oghma, the abbot’s beloved god of knowledge, spake unto them, saying:

“Clement isn’t feeling fine
In hell number three of Nine.”

“Sounds like the Nine Hells of Baator.” said Br. Samuel. “And, are the poems even scanning?” cried Billy.

Tomnein nodded and reached for one of his innumerable reference books. “Ah yes,” said the abbot. “Minauros, the third of the Nine Hells.” He passed the book. “Look here, Lord William”.

“Just call me Billy, please!” Said Billy, who devoured the information in the Book.

“Not a vacation spot, adventurers,” said Tomnein.

Lady Tegan looked stricken. “Action, dear ranger,” said Billy, “will cure what tears cannot. To Despot Marsk!”

When the party arrived at City Hall, the Despot’s secretary, Moneypenny, informed them that Lord Peuter was at home this morning. They hurried off to his grand manor house and were greeted by Lady Marsk who blathered like the mindless socialite she was and then led them to the back yard.

The Despot stood under a ten foot graffito that had been painted on the side of their elegant home: the octagonal mandala! “Kids today. Who do they think they’re messing with! I’m the gods-damned Mayor! I shall mobilize the whole police force against these vandals…”

“Doesn’t make much sense, Despot.” drawled Juno. “Teenaged vandals tend to go for toilet paper in the trees. This is massive and hard to paint.”

“No, no, rogue – at the last Council of Iron meeting we discussed these graffiti, which have appeared in several places in town. Bruil and I are sure it’s kids.” Juno rolled his eyes.

“Any dissenting opinions?” asked Billy

“Well,” said Despot Marsk. “Nanther and Leirayghon believe it’s political revolutionaries. You know how this symbol appears on the Helm you found. They think you’re being cheered on as a new ‘Clement of Saullum,’ ready to behead us in the town square, eh? Paranoid bastards.” Marsk chuckled, then grew pale. “You don’t think…”

Not the sharpest tool, thought Lady Marielle. “Let me assure you, Your Honor, you have naught to fear from us.” The nobleman melted under the sorceress’ dazzling smile.

“Quite so, I’m sure.” said Marsk. “If there is lingering revolutionary sentiment, though, it will die down now that you’ve all been ennobled and started working with my government! I’m so glad you’ve sold out!” Marsk turned red and stammered, trying to pull his foot out his mouth…

“We understood what you meant, Your Honor.” said Tegan, inwardly rolling her eyes. How had this man ever been elected Despot? Lucky we had no revolutionary ambitions to sell out. We merely cashed in.

The party talked further with the Despot about many subjects: the current legislation before the Council of Iron, logistics for the magic item that would allow Billy to vote on civic matters even when he was away on an adventure, Clement’s absence, etc. The party used a spell to clean the symbol off the house.

“One more stop,” said Billy, as he led the party to Sister Rana’s office. The cleric and art historian went over many subjects with the party, providing only two intriguing new pieces of information. Firstly, she raised Tegan’s hackles as she waxed rhapsodic about how the Helm of Devotion could be used by clerics of Oghma to “smite the ignorant” and “spread sweet knowledge throughout the realm.” And secondly, she presented statistical data that put the lie to Lord Leirayghon’s suspicions: the civic unrest in Melvaunt was no worse than usual, and a serious movement to install a theocracy like the one that had interrupted the Brestelcian royal line was absurd.

Footsore and heartbroken about their missing friend, the party retired to the Crow’s Nest for a frosty mug. They munched the peanuts from the bowl on the bar, unusually subdued. Perhaps it was this silence that allowed them to make out the sound of footsteps behind them.

“Invisible intruder!” cried Marielle.

Everyone heard the ensuing gasp. A chair toppled over, and a cry of “ouch!” rang out from the bare carpet.

Juno quickly produced a tanglefoot bag and threw it at the sound of the gasp with perfect aim. “Eww, grody!” called a familiar voice from the pile of alchemical goo. Where had they heard this voice before?

“Come on, guys.” someone said. “This is gross. I was just about to ask you to talk in private. I just, like, can’t show my face. Can we go upstairs?”

“After you show yourself,” said Billy, brandishing his Rapier of Mellifluous Swashbuckling. With a sigh, the intruder let his invisibility spell lapse, revealing himself to be … young Kalman Leyraighon!

The party cut him out of Juno’s trap and hurried upstairs to their suite. “Okay, SPILL IT!!” bellowed Tegan.

Kalman crumpled under her glare. “I tried to tell you, but I was really scared. I even painted those weird octagons all over town to give you a clue. I couldn’t save myself – I need you guys to help me, you’re the strongest adventurers I know!”

“Tell us WHAT, you moron?” said Juno Nim.

“I … I sold my soul to the devil, and now your friend Clement has paid the price. The devil sent me here to arrange a meeting with you. You gotta come, you just gotta come with me!”

The party stared at him, gobsmacked.

Kalman ducked his head in embarrassment. “Um, yeah. So, can you promise me you won’t tell my dad?”

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Clement and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day
Exit cleric, stage right. (Recap #5 of 6)

Pluarty Crow knocked on the door of the adventurer’s suite. “Come in,” came a voice from inside.

“Begging your pardon, your Lordships and Ladyships…” Tegan stiffened at her new noble title. ”...but the missus thought the cleric might benefit from some of her leek-and-potato soup. Grows the leeks herself, she does.”

“A very kind thought, Mr. Crow.” said Marielle absently. “Give her our regards.”

“She wouldn’t also happen to be a high-level cleric who created her own cure psychosis spell, would she?” Pluarty goggled at Billy, stammering. “Never mind. I was joking. Gallows humor.” The charismatic young bard sighed.

“Juno and I will take first watch, Billy” volunteered Tegan. “No use you and Marielle losing sleep. He might be like this for days.” Marielle withdrew, careful not to verbalize her fear: Clement might be like this forever.

As Tegan watched over him, Clement began to sway in the bed, in a hypnotic machine-like rhythm—eerily regular. Occasionally Clement babbled words like “grave” or “gone.” Tegan felt a powerful urge to stab something. After her four hours were up, she let Billy Bartholemieux relieve her.

During Juno and Billy’s watch, the cleric’s weary body grew still, and he pulled his hands into a prayer posture. His lips moved rapidly in his sleep.

“Creepy,” said Lord Juno. “What’s he saying, Billy?”

Billy consulted his bardic knowledge. “The Helios Prayer. See? ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’” Juno shifted uneasily in his chair.

By the time Marielle, Copernicus, and Brother Samuel arrived to relieve them, Juno and Billy were exhausted. They fell into a dreamless sleep, and arose stiff and grouchy. “Caffeine!” groaned Juno.

Tegan giggled as the men shuffled down the stairs to the Crows’ Nest’s dining room. She’d taken the liberty of ordering five cups of strong black tea.

“How’s the patient?” asked Juno.

“The same. Marielle is doing a good job consoling Samuel, too, who’s a mess. That girl has people skills in spades.”

THUNK.

An envelope had dropped from the ceiling. Billy snatched it up and opened it. It was a cheesy sympathy card, the sort that peddlers sold by the gates of Melvaunt. It was addressed to all the main party … except Clement. Before the adventurers could discuss it, they heard a cry from upstairs.

“Mon Dieu! ‘Elp! Someone ‘elp! Aidez-nous, zey are taking him! Au secours!!”

“That’s Peri!!” Tegan cried.

The trio ran up the stairs at top speed. They found “Peri” the Mace on the floor, screaming his Gallic head off, between the bodies of Marielle and Samuel. The pair were unconscious (subdual damage?) and bleeding profusely from many wounds. Clement was nowhere to be found.

“What happened, Peri?” asked Tegan, as she and Billy began healing Marielle and Samuel.

“Zere was this elf, weeth dark skin, and a rip – a sort of rip in reality? I do not know ‘ow to explain. ‘E had four ladeeez weeth him. They appeared, cast a spell of silence, and they began to attack ze pretty one and zat nice cleric!”

“Drow spellcaster, spell of silence so Marielle couldn’t call for help. I wonder who the ladies are?” said Juno.

“We ‘ave to ‘urry! Clement, ‘e followed zem! If we run down ze stairs, we can catch him!”

The five adventurers, including the newly revived Marielle and Samuel, barreled down the stairs, Billy casting haste and improved invisibility on as many people as time allowed. As they ran through the bar, they passed screaming patrons who were pointing toward the front exit.

A drow wizard. Four beautiful women with green, scaly skin. Clement marching forward, with a look of childlike glee, toward a massive floating man with red skin and a turban.

The battle was joined! Tegan ran past the foes and attempted to grapple Clement, only to be rewarded by a spell from Red Skin. Her eyes glowed with black energy, and she turned to face the party with a bloodthirsty grin…

“We’ve lost Tegan!” screamed Samuel. “The women are erinyes, a type of devil—watch out for their mind control, too!”

His warning was too late as one of the erinyes waved her hand at Marielle. Her eyes glowed black also, and she began preparing a fireball to burn her friends.

Juno Nim, Billy, and Samuel fought with brilliant tactical skill – killing all four of the erinyes in record time and freeing Marielle from her enchantment. But they hadn’t the time to reach the efreet (they later recognized Red Skin guy as one) before he opened a black rift in the fabric of reality … and he and Clement vanished. The drow wizard stood alone, next to a confused and no longer evil Tegan.

Wild-eyed and panting, the drow wizard pulled a vial from the pocket of his cloak. As soon as he had drunk the potion, another black rift in the fabric of the morning appeared, and he disappeared inside.

Lady Tegan’s body went limp and she slumped to the floor.

The silence of the courtyard only served to emphasize a hard truth: Brother Clement was gone.

“Those bastards!” breathed Juno Nim.

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Oh, Lords. (And Ladies.)
The party gets an offer they don't refuse. (#4 of 6)

Greensleeves was all my joy, greensleeves was my delight… “Classy,” said Billy, eyeing the beautiful female lute quartet in the corner. Marielle marveled at the real seed pearls set into the wallpaper at intervals.

An unctuous head waiter approached. “Ah yes, the heroes of Glister! You do Le Bruit de Cochon honor with your presence. Permit me to show you to the Princess Room, our most luxurious banquet hall. If you’d just follow me up these stairs…” Clement scratched an itch on his belly, and Tegan gave him an irritated look.

“The Princess Room. Welcome, adventurers. This gentleman will seat you and take your drink orders.” Tegan opened her mouth to speak and the new waiter made the international “shush” gesture.

The new waiter, Queequeg.

“Welcome to Le Bruit de Cochon. May I tell about specials?”

“I have an appetite for an explanation ... ” began Brother Clement. Queequeg gave him a reassuring smile but could say nothing before Branwen approached.

“At last! Typical Dunstable, forcing you to be the last teleport group. He loves to get himself set up in a faux regal pose. Preening, pompous nincompoop. Tegan, dear, really. You had five minutes more than we, but you couldn’t take a moment to fix that hair?” Tegan glowered and rolled her eyes, but managed to suppress the urge to cut the bitch to ribbons. “Now, come on. I’ve already ordered for you; these provincial restaurants are all the same anyway. You must get settled before the Duke of Dunstable’s speech. It will be an eventful afternoon…”

Marielle looked around, taking a quick census of the room. There was Lord Nanther in the corner talking to Sister Rana. And was that…? Yes! The famed sorcerer Nuklan Dorchester, a personal hero of hers! August company indeed. Before she could look around any further, the Duke began hitting his water glass with a knife, and the room came to order.

“Lords and ladies of Melvaunt, representatives of the gods, and distinguished heroes of the realm, let us begin by applauding the heroes who saved Glister—“

“With no outside help!” interrupted Lady Branwen.

Dunstable gritted his teeth. “Tegan Ashmara, Juno Nim, Billy Bartholomieux, Clement of Brandon’s Bridge, and the fair Marielle!” The committee cheered.

“Adventurers, we have many things to share with you, and an important question to ask. But before we ask anything else, let’s hear Sister Rana’s report.”

The frail cleric rose from her seat. “As our divinations suggested, this Helm is a potent magic item, but not the earth-shattering artifact the prophecies implied. A Helm of Sunrise that would incarnate Pelor and protect our city may not even exist. This is also not a Helm of Eclipse, as the orogs believed. This is a Helm of Devotion.” Juno looked puzzled. “Many of you know of the effect of helms of devotion even if you do not know the technical term. When the Theocratic Revolution occurred and King Rupert’s grandfather was beheaded, many of the powerful clerics who took over Brestelcia wore such helms. Indeed their leader, Clement of Saullum, wore a Helm of Devotion in the best known portrait of him. Understandably, the helms have fallen out of fashion among loyal Brestelcians despite their long pedigree of good uses. Further, there are no mages or clerics remaining in the land who know how to craft the octagonal jewels that power them. Therefore, the value of this helm is nil until we do further research. We hope that this Dramuel creature will be of use in this regard.” Rana sat down shyly.

“Thank you, Sister,” said the Duke. “This council has had many worries. We hoped you would triumph over the orogs, and as Father Neil predicted, you have. Bravo. We also were concerned that the helm not fall into the wrong hands. I will say, though, that His Majesty was most concerned about this unrest and revolutionary movement here in Melvaunt. He has been somewhat skeptical of the new constitution that created The Council of Iron. Sharing power with common guildmasters….”

“I have explained to His Majesty our unique circumstances. With such a large, educated middle class…” said Lord Nanther.

“This is neither the time nor the place to discuss political theory. Power sharing is fine. But we will not allow the rabble to get rid of the nobility. And you, adventurers, have unfortunately become a catalyst for trouble.”

“Now to our decision,” said the Duke. “As I implied, some parts of our proposal involve choice; others are royal decrees, and debate will not be tolerated. The Crown will seize The Helm of Devotion and your orog captive, and will contract with the laboratories of Oghma so that the divine octagon magic may be available to all religions aligned with good within our borders.” Tomnein and Neil both grinned. “In exchange for something which is useless to you, we offer you 2800 gold pieces.”

“And! Begging Your Grace’s pardon—and this nice gift basket from the noble houses of Melvaunt!” said Lord Bruil, passing over a basket containing rather forgettable magic items. Branwen snorted, and Tegan could have sworn her mother muttered the word chintzy.

“Er, yes, Lord Bruil. A lovely gesture. In any case, I hope you adventurers accept this use for the Helm, and there will be no whining?”

Juno shrugged. Seems like the Helm will be useless to us in the near future, anyhow. We haven’t the resources to pay the Oghmans to create more jewels. He spoke aloud: “We consider it our patriotic duty, Your Grace.” Marielle hid a chuckle behind her hand, while the bard raised both eyebrows in approval.

“A round of applause for my daughter’s eloquent friend, champion of Good!” said Lady Branwen, smiling nastily. The committee clapped meekly.

“Now. His Majesty is very concerned about this unrest in Melvaunt. The revolutionary fervor seems to have crystallized around you. One choice that you may make is to accept voluntary exile from the Moonsea region for five years. You will be paid in full, and no stigma is attached. We just need to remove your influence from the city. We hope, however, you will stay and serve King Rupert in a new and quite pleasant way….”

The Duke of Dunstable produced an elaborately embroidered velvet sack containing some documents. “And now we come to the inducements. As I said, you do have a choice … but King Rupert would really prefer that you stay here in Melvaunt and help stabilize the Marsk Administration by bolstering it with your popularity. These documents ennoble you.”

“Ennoble … what?” goggled Tegan.

Juno skimmed the documents. “At the baronial level, looks like. And we get our own private island to rule over jointly.”

Lady Branwen smiled. “That’s not all, elf. Leave it to your brilliant advocate to get you a little something extra. You will each serve the Crown with a second title, one particularly to your taste and which increases your power, status, and potential profit.”

Billy looked over the scrolls. “A post dealing with riches for Marielle, a post of political acumen for me, a guardianship of nature for Tegan, fleshly pleasures for Juno, and an island’s worth of ‘flock’ for Clement to tend. Ingenious.”

“I don’t trust this.” sputtered Tegan. “My mother…”

”... is quite a sinister figure, really.” said Branwen. “But one who can be trusted to look out for the interests of the Ashmara family, even its black sheep, above all else. Did you really think I’d advance the interests of the Royal Family, or a bunch of businessmen, over yours, dear?”

“Yes.” said Tegan tightly.

“Look it over,” snapped Branwen. “Read the fine print. And make an independent assessment. One final thought: wouldn’t it be nice to have a place of your own where Jacob and Seth could visit? And a title that has nothing to do with me?”

The adventurers formed a huddle and discussed the matter hotly for a time. Finally, Tegan turned to face the committee. “We accept,” she said dubiously.

A cheer went up from the table. “Champagne!” cried Father Neil. Queequeg and the other waiters began to circulate with flutes of sparkling wine and fearsomely expensive hors d’oeuvres. The chatter in the hall rose to a roar as nobles and adventurers with vested political interests tried to be the first to congratulate the newly ennobled.

Lord Leirayghon pasted a sickly smile on his face and came over to shake Billy’s hand. “Well, gosh, what fun to have some new blood on the council. And a councilman with musical talent. How … refreshing. I’m so sorry I’ve never attended one of your shows, Lord William.”

“Call me Billy,” sighed the bard. This Lord William thing has already grown tiresome, and this is the first time I’ve heard it!

Leirayghon feigned a hearty chuckle. “Ah yes! Well, nobility has earned the right to a few eccentricities, eh?” He pulled the young bard closer, whispering in his ear. “I’d be happy to tutor you in the ways of intrigue, Billy. Stick with me, and your enemies will perish in inconceivable agonies, cursing House Bartholomieux with their final breaths!”

Billy pulled away as if the councilman had used a Shocking Grasp spell. “Not my style, I’m afraid, Dornig.” Lord Leirayghon winced at the familiarity. “And, for the record, my comrades-in-arms and I will share the power of our House equally. It’s not House Bartholomieux, it’s House Cinq—named after our new group title, ‘Les Cinq d’Or.’ It’s French.”

“Mmm-hmm. Yes, French. Where is France, again? Isn’t Clement’s mace from there?”

“It’s a minor kingdom far to the west of Zamperland, renowned for….” Across the room, Billy saw Tegan turn pale as she spoke to Brother Clement. Uh-oh, he thought. “Sorry, you must excuse me, Dornig….” He slipped away quickly.

“Come on, Tegan,” Clement was saying as Billy arrived. “You’re good with animals. Pull it out. It’s driving me crazy!”

“I don’t see a worm burrowing into your hand, Clement,” Tegan said slowly.

“They feed on the dead.”

“But you’re not dead, Clement!” Billy whispered with controlled concern.

“Poor boy,” said the cleric. “I didn’t want to believe it, either. I thought all those dreams were warning me about you and all my friends, not me. But it was denial. In the last few days I’ve learned being a corpse isn’t so bad….” Marielle clutched Juno’s arm in confusion.

Clement’s eyes closed, and he staggered…

Billy stepped in smoothly and caught the cleric before he fell. “Get Father Neil, NOW!” Marielle started rushing through the room, shoving noblemen out of her way.

Tegan helped Billy lower Clement to the ground. “I didn’t know it would be so cold. So cold in my grave,” he murmured.

“Where the hell is Neil?” asked Juno.

The head waiter appeared at the door of the banquet room, white as a sheet. “How did you do that? Is it a ghost?”

“What?” asked Tegan.

“That strange, disembodied voice in the main dining room, calling for Father Neil.”

Father Neil arrived at Clement’s side, huffing and sweating. Beside him was Queequeg, who wore a worried expression as he helped examine the patient.

Neil pulled Clement’s mouth open and examined his tongue, then felt his pulse. He cast a series of divine spells over him. “Something is wrong with his mind. I sense it, but I’m having trouble curing it.”

Marielle reached into the bag of holding. “We have a bard spell that may help.”

Billy read the break enchantment scroll … and Clement began to scream in horror and pain.

Queequeg looked grim. “There were two monks at Jade Harmony who suffered from similar affliction: Brothers Athos and Portos. They were trapped in madness for weeks, until Brother Aramis arrived home to aid them.”

“Did he make them smell good?” asked Marielle.

“Aramis was trained in accupressure. He gave them a treatment … like … this!” Queequeg smiled as he remembered the technique. He pressed his fingers into Clement’s temple.

Clement’s agitation ceased, and he slumped into Queequeg’s arms. The cleric began to snore lustily.

“I not sure,” said Queequeg “but this appears to be good sign. Sleep seemed to do Brothers Athos and Portos good.”

“All the same, we’d better watch him. This is freaky stuff,” sighed Marielle. Copernicus nodded his head sagely.

“Good night, sweet Clement,” said Father Neil, making a sign of blessing on the cleric’s forehead. “May flights of angels sing thee sweetly to thy rest.” Deep in his gut, Billy felt a sense of foreboding.

Next time: Billy proves to be a prophet.

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V-G Day!
Sound the trumpets and search the bodies. (#3 of 6)

“Here you are,” said Nikolai gently, as he handed the elderly man a cup of water.

“Bless you,” the old man croaked. He took as much water as he could, then slumped back onto the cot in exhaustion.

The door of the Temple of Pelor opened, and Tegan entered. “How are the patients doing, Nikolai?”

“Surprisingly well, all things considered. We’re frontier people, and we’re used to danger. Hardy stock. Where have you lot been?”

“Our favorite part of any battle: the part where we search for treasure. We put Marielle in charge. We figured that between her greed and our skills at searching no stone would be left unturned.”

“What was that ‘bang’ I heard before?”

“Oh, that was Juno Nim disabling the trap on a chest. We had the key to a room at The Dog and Duck where a medusa had her lair. I can’t wait to see what’s inside.”

Tegan said her goodbyes and joined the party by the pile o’ loot in the main square. Lady Branwen had just cast identify and was dictating the results to Juno Nim, who was writing in a small notebook.

Billy looked over the list. Some weaponry from the orogs, a few paltry scrolls and potions, and a nice haul of cash from the medusa’s chest. He found that map of Xul-Jarak disturbing. Why did the medusa know or care about the orc/orog citadel where the party had defeated Thrull?

Lady Branwen nodded her head at each adventurer in turn (except Marielle). “Well, if we’re quite through, I really do have to get back to Melvaunt before I’m missed. Don’t mention my involvement in this battle; you’ll see why soon. Now, before I depart, a ‘preview of coming attractions.’ When you’ve gotten a little sleep – especially you, Tegan dear, you look like hell – set off on the road toward Melvaunt. Don’t use any magic to get home. You will meet some people on the road – “

“Would you just tell us what’s going on, mother!”

Branwen rolled her eyes. “You will meet some PEOPLE on the road. Pretend to be surprised and humble. Mother will take care of everything.” With a wave of her hand and some ancient words, Branwen disappeared.

Tegan turned to face the party. “In kindergarten, the other mothers brought cupcakes and punch. Mine teleported onto the playground wearing a snake around her neck, and all the kids ran away screaming.”

Before Tegan could tell any more traumatic stories about the demon that Branwen summoned to teach Tegan how to tie her shoes, the party were approached by a trio of bedraggled middle-aged women.

“Begging your pardon, Father…”

“You flatter me, my child – I’m Brother Clement, only. How may I help you?”

“We townspeople, the healthy ones that is, have been working on a feast. We wish to give thanks for our deliverance.”

“What a lovely idea. I would be happy to give the blessing. But you’re sure that you’re up to this?”

The woman looked at the ground. “People need something to do, Father.”

Clement smiled thinly. “We’d be delighted to attend. Please let us know if we can assist you in any way. Before we attend, though, we must question our prisoner.” One of the other women spat at Dramuel’s feet and burst into tears. Glaring, the other two ladies led their friend away.

“All right then,” said Juno. “We’ve logged all the loot, Marielle?”

“Precious little,” the sorceress grumbled. “I thought these guys were supposed to be the ‘big bads.’ They seem to have spent all their money on scrolls and potions in a fruitless attempt to beat us. I guess that the big item is the helm itself. Can I have it?”

“Possibly, possibly,” said Billy. “But I think we should ask Tomnein to examine it before you put it on your head, don’t you think? Curses, you know.” Marielle nodded dubiously.

“On to interrogation then,” said Juno.

The party formed a ring around Dramuel, who was bound with rope and masterwork manacles. Billy cast detect thoughts and Clement cast zone of truth. The terrified Dramuel sang like a canary, telling the full story of the orogs’ pathetic attempt to become overlords.

It seemed that Smeerduk had been approached by an elderly orog, a mystic from deep in the Underdark. He told Smeerduk the orog version of the “Helm of Sunrise” prophecy, and guided him as he assembled a party of six chosen ones. Eventually, as the mystic had foretold, the orogs discovered the paladin Mandelbaum and killed him to obtain the Helm of Eclipse. They used his Ring of Amah Zondahtkom to contact Nikolai, and chose Glister as their point of entry to the surface. Smeerduk obtained the help of orogs, earth elementals, etc., which cost him all his vast fortune. (Marielle growled upon hearing this.) The rest, as they say, is history.

Clement and his twin grilled Dramuel about the cleric ritual that allowed the creation of the wondrous octagonal jewels. Dramuel had many anecdotes and tantalizing details to share, but the two were unable to make much sense of it. Seemed like a job for the Oghmans.

Soon, it was time for the feast. A maypole had been set up, and the tables in the town square were piled high with food and drink. After Clement’s blessing, the party was delighted to dive in. Marielle giggled as she threw food into the three polymorphed dragons’ mouths. Juno impressed three young Glister girls with a little tumbling show. “Rogue gymnasts are so flexible,” one said with a grin.

“By Pelor, what eez theese!” cried Peri. The party looked up from their dinner to see the magical mace floating in the air. Unseen hands seemed to be juggling him. “Stop zee ride, I want to get off!” the mace shrieked. Without further ado, he plummeted to the ground. A dry chuckle erupted from the air, and then there was an acrid smell of brimstone. Snuffles whined and looked at Tegan imploringly.

“Weird,” said Juno Nim, stuffing his face with pigs in a blanket.

“Look, up in the sky!” cried Clement.

There, silhouetted against an inky cloud was a faintly glowing silver thistle. “I have a sudden urge to hunt bats,” drawled Billy.

As the party watched, globs of silver light fell from the sky, appearing as faint, milky images once they’d fallen to earth. The illusory creatures seemed to be Black Bones – King Raburnum’s faithful servants from the fairy realm. A phantom orchestra began to play music, and the Black Bones began to dance.

“Dinner and a show!” exclaimed Juno.

The black bones dance had them divide into four groups (called, for the nonce, Creepy-Crawlies, Slashers, Airy-Fairies, and Elegants.) The groups began fighting over a mystical crown, causing multiple casualties. Eventually, the Airy-Fairies stopped fighting and encouraged mayhem between other groups. Laughing nastily, they attacked one of the Elegants and kidnapped him, dragging him away screaming. The dance ended abruptly.

“Well, that was … different,” said Billy drily.

“You’d think Raburnum, if he really wanted to communicate with us, could find a better way to send us a message.” grumbled Marielle.

Tegan yawned. “Time for bed, modern dance lovers.” The party retired to the Dog and Duck for some much needed shut-eye.

In the morning, the party awoke to Crusoe carrying a tray of scones he’d baked himself. The party thanked him profusely and began munching. Crusoe pulled Tegan away to speak in private. He shyly thanked her for a lovely romantic fling, and invited her to visit him at the monastery any time. He gave her a sweet kiss on the forehead, and tree strode away.

Before leaving, Billy spoke to the monks to make sure they would stay until the defenses of Glister were re-established. Throughout the next few days, Billy was a tireless advocate for Glister, asking each powerful personage he met to help the town recover from its ordeal; the narrator is eliding this, but the town of Glister will never forget his aid.

It was a bright and chilly morning (not a dark and stormy night). The party strode confidently down the road to Melvaunt. Juno Nim clowned about and practiced his tumbling as he walked. Tegan admired the wildflowers by the side of the road. Billy entertained the group with his beguiling baritone voice—the draconic resonance only improved his sound. Clement and Marielle, on the other hand, were both sullen and grouchy. “How long,” sighed Marielle, “do we have to walk down this stupid road before Branwen’s ‘mysterious visitors’ arrive? I’d much rather teleport home. What a dumb charade.”

Copernicus began to hoot loudly, and the party looked up from the road. Shimmering in front of them was a silver cloud. Br. Clement fervently hoped it wasn’t another hydra…

The shimmering cloud resolved into fourteen people. Among them, Billy noted, were the entire Council of Iron, Branwen, Father Neil, Tomnein, Rana, and what looked like some high level fighters, mages, etc. At the head of the group was an imposing silver-haired nobleman in a velvet suit which looked like it cost more than House Nanther cleared in a year.

“By Yondalla’s bra, that’s the Duke of Dunstable!” said Tegan.

“Who?” asked Marielle.

“The power behind the throne. Have you ever heard of Cardinal Richelieu? Prince Metternich?” Billy nodded sagely, consulting his bardic knowledge. “If he’s here … dear gods, what did my mother do now??”

The Duke approached the party, and Tegan fell to one knee. Clement, stunned at Tegan caring for rank, followed suit, as did the whole party. “Miss Ashmara, I presume? Ah, and Brother Clement – the spitting image of Sir Ludovic! And some new friends. I so look forward to hearing about your adventures. I, of course, am the Duke of Dunstable. I trust you’ve heard of me?” Clement stammered a weak reply. “Good. Then you’ll know my time is far too valuable to be frittered away on small talk. This renowned committee, which it is my small honor to chair, needs to speak with you.”

“Excuse me, Your Gr – ” began Tegan.

“You’ll be teleporting back to the finest restaurant in Melvaunt. Now.

Looks like it wasn’t to be dried apples and jerky today … lemongrass-panko crusted sea bass, anyone?

Next time: Juno peruses the wine list.

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The Second Battle of Glister
Th-th-th-that's all, Smeerduk!! (#2 of 6)

At The Dog and Duck

“This way,” beckoned Zarielle. By Gruumsh’s balls! thought Veklar. That ass! Zarielle wheeled around to sneer at the elderly orc. “I am a chosen one, and a powerful sorceress. You are a pathetic worm with body odor. Are we clear?”

Veklar stared at the ground and continued shuffling forward into Smeerdûk’s private chambers. As soon as he saw the cleric in his golden helm, Veklar prostrated himself on the floor.

“Arise, insignificant servant of Gruumsh, your god favors you today. In my most recent divination, Gruumsh mentioned you by name. He has a job in mind for you….”

Veklar gulped. “I would give my life – “

“Surely it won’t come to that,” the cleric lied. “Now, to business. The invaders plan to assassinate me while I stand at the holy altar at 1p.m. Gruumsh has said so. But with your help, we can foil their plan. We will disguise you to look like me while I invisibly strike them with the powers of the helm. Apparently they are flying—I shall knock them out of the sky!”

Zarielle picked up the alter self scroll. “One Smeerdûk twin, coming up…”

In the woods, near the Kiefer Gate

“Okay, Heathcliff dude, it would be awesome if you could please stand behind Heathcliff. No, not that Heathcliff, this Heathcliff.” said Crusoe. The monks followed his orders, unaccustomed to his laid-back approach, holding their axes at a perfect 45 degree angle.

“We shall chop this gate to smithereens,” said the Heathcliffs in eerie unison. “Maintaining orderly and harmonic formation throughout.”

“Cool beans! Wait for my signal, though…” said Crusoe.

In the southern woods

The party continued casting spells and reading scrolls to ready themselves for the coming battle. They had originally judged that it would take them two more days of their siege on Glister to defeat the orogs, but with Branwen’s and Samuel’s help, it seemed like they might be able to achieve the objective today. They knew where Smeerduk would be at 1pm, and they could fly to within fireball range above and incinerate him! Afterwards, Samuel, in dragon-shape, would grab up his body, put the helm into a sack, and carry them away so that the party could ensure that Smeerduk could not be raised from the dead.

[Note: Part of this post was inadvertently deleted, and the rest had not been finished. Unless and until DM C. has time to get to it, DM Billy has posted below a very brief summary of the battle, since our fans may be dying to know what went on.]

At approximately three minutes before 1pm, Marielle and an invisible Lady Branwen rose into the sky and each cast two fireballs into Glister, incinerating most of the orcs and other baddies in the tent encampments, and weakening the Gate in preparation for the monks’ assault. Then the party, most of whom were invisible flew towards Glister. Marielle had not had time to be made invisible yet, and as the party flew over, she was hit with dispel magic spells, losing many of her “buffing” spells. The Mantecore took to the air and charged the party, unfortunately for that beast, as he never got to make contact, being hit by a barrage of arrows and spells.

As the party arrived over Glister, It became clear that Smeerduk was not where he was expected to be. Of course, he had cast a divination after the party’s divination, and Gruumsh had warned him. So, a mere imposter had been substituted in his place, and that poor “volunteer” lay crispily on the ground. Now, gathered together invisibly above Glister, Lady Branwen, Clement and others began to cast some last-minute spells, including a Mass Haste and spells to summon some nasty creatures to help the party. At the moment of truth, the party unleashed an attack on the evil defenders of Glister, beginning to cut down to size the elementals, orogs and mountain orcs who had survived the fireballs.

The orogs responded by letting loose their Secret Weapon: In a cloud of smoke, a 10-headed Hydra appeared. Lady Branwen warned: “Be careful! That’s the kind that regenerates its heads! Every time we kill one, two more will grow, unless….” “Oh, yeah”, said Billy, “We’ve gotta burn the stumps away with something.” “I was getting to that,” hissed Branwen. “Acid. You’ve got to use acid.” Meanwhile, it seems that some of the Orogs were invisible too, because the party was getting pummeled with spells.

Soon, the party could hear the monks attacking one gate, and Snuffles, remembering his instructions well, was throwing his scaly body against the other. The orog “Chosen Ones” began appearing one by one to attack the party. While Tegan and Juno were wracking up heavy damage against the attackers, and the summoned creatures faced some of the mountain orcs, plain orogs and elementals, Billy, Marielle and Branwen were busy trying to use acid and other attacks against the hydra. A highly-buffed Clement used nearly all his spells in an effort to locate the invisible attackers, but he finally succeeded in forcing them into view.

At first, it felt as if the evil defenders had the upper hand, with numbers on their side, the power of the helm, the regenerating, fire-breathing hydra and some clever tactics. The elementals even tunneled around under some members of the party, causing them to fall into a deep pit with the hydra! Billy, Clement and others took heavy damage, but the party’s protection from elements spells had served them very well! The tide of the battle had turned: Marielle became visible, and her Frightful Presence was the last straw to many of the surviving orcs and orogs, causing them to lose their morale and flee, as the party picked off the orogs one by one. Finally, even Smeerduk was dead, causing the last elemental to return to the elemental plane.

As the party killed off the last of the baddies (keeping Dramuel alive to question), the monks broke through the gate, helping to free and care for the human and elven captives in the town. Glister was a partly-charred mess, but it was back in the hands of the surviving captives of Glister, its rightful owners. Before even evaluating the treasure that they were finding, the party made a pyre on which to burn Smeerduk’s remains, gleefully lighting it, but watching grimly as Samuel placed the body into the flames: The Orogs were defeated, but many innocents had died.

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There's Gonna Be A Rumble!
Council of War at Doc's Drugstore... (D&D recap #1)

What a beautiful day, thought Zikzik the chipmunk. Happy, sun, happy. Oo, a berry! He scampered toward the berry bush, where a particularly succulent blackberry had recently been dislodged and had fallen. A huge foot in a silver boot crushed the berry, and Zikzik fled.

“Ohhhh, what a beautiful MOOOOOOORning,” trilled Tegan as she stepped out of the blackberry bushes. “Ohhh what a beautiful DAAAAAAY!”

“Like, Tegan? Do you know where my loincloth is?” asked Crusoe.

“It got flung pretty far, sweetie. Nice hair, by the way.”

“We’d better find it and hurry back—Billy said his Warm-Up wouldn’t take long….”

“Ah, there you are,” said Br. Clement, as the pair returned the the encampment. “We were just planning our strategy for the attack. The first step involves you, Crusoe: we’d like you to tree stride to Melvaunt using your ring. Marielle will accompany you, and you can fetch Samuel. Tell my brother I’ve missed him, and that I eagerly await our reunion!”

“Can do, holy dude!” said Crusoe merrily. “Miss Marielle, are you ready?”

Marielle adjusted her make-up in her compact mirror. “Sure thing. Let’s go.”

Minutes later, Marielle and Crusoe stepped out of a large oak tree near the city gate. They greeted the guards, and strode through the streets of the town. As they walked, they noticed a strange scene: protesters being forced into a medieval paddy wagon.

“Can you read their signs, Miss Marielle?”

“Looks like ‘Down With Marsk.’ Hmmm. I guess having this prophecy of a change in government has gotten people excited…”

Soon, they arrived at House Calaudra. A chambermaid showed them up to the large room that Lord Calaudra had set aside for the party to teleport back to. There they found Brother Samuel … sweeping the carpet. The room was filthy. There were crumpled pieces of parchment under furniture, crunchy snacks that had been ground into the carpet, foam fingers saying “We’re #1” on the floor, and large pieces of paper on the wall bearing the party’s names: “Marielle,” “Juno Nim,” etc.

“What on earth?” said Marielle.

“Marielle! Crusoe!” cried Samuel. “Oh… this. Well, the scions really have too much time on their hands. They’ve been coming over here to watch my daily clairaudience/clairvoyance casting. They try to determine each person’s kill count, to the best of their ability, and they bet on it. By the way, can you explain point spreads to me?”

“Um, okay. So, holy twin dude—Billy thinks you would be very useful to us in our upcoming battle,” said Crusoe. “Are you up for it?”

“Totally! Er, I mean, yes, by Pelor’s beard. Anything I can do to help! And, you know, there’s another person in town who might prove a formidable ally.”

“Oh?” said Marielle.

“Yes, I happened to run into Branwen Ashmara, Tegan’s mother, late last night. She was rather annoyed to be recognized. She is in Melvaunt incognito for some reason. I don’t know whether Tegan has spoken about her, but she is a powerful wizardess.”

“Dude! That’s awesome. And Tegan will be so thrilled to see her mom!”

The three chatted a bit more and then set off for Leeward House. They got the major-domo to admit them, and started walking down the opulent corridor to the main meeting hall. When suddenly….

HISSSSSS!

Their way was blocked by an agitated viper. Samuel jumped back in horror. “That’s no ordinary viper,” said Marielle. “That’s someone’s familiar.”

“Should we try to rush it?” asked Crusoe dubiously.

Before they could decide, Father Neil came hurrying down the hallway. “Shhh!” he said. “Alecto slithered out of the meeting to warn you. We have to get out of here now, before you are seen. Lady Branwen will join us shortly.” The four humans and the snake repaired to the closest tavern for a frosty mug.

Lady Branwen was the very picture of noble fury. “Honestly. You have no idea why I’m in town, what I’m doing, or what you were interrupting, so you decide you’ll just barge into a highly delicate negotiation at the WORST moment. I had to fake a dizzy spell to get out of there. Dunstable loved it. Any idea of me as a weak woman, it’s like catnip to him. Now, since you’re the spitting image of Clement, I assume you must be here…” Branwen fixed her gaze on Marielle and grew pale. “Of course. Leave it to Tegan. You must be Marielle, right?” The sorceress nodded. “My daughter has a knack.”

Lady Branwen leaned in and poked her finger with her face. “I don’t care how beautiful your elven mother was, or how thoroughly she bewitched my husband, you are NOTHING. Not a stepdaughter to me, and certainly not an heir to Castle Ashmara. You are a bastard, and bastards get nothing.” Marielle felt hot tears prick her eyes. She had always wanted to solve the mystery of her parentage, but not like this. What had happened to her mother? Why had Sir Caleb never contacted her during her childhood, when perhaps he knew she was living on the streets in Brandon’s Bridge? Her pain eased slightly when she realized, with joy, that Tegan was her half-sister. To have a family she could trust, even just one sister, was more precious than gold. And for Marielle, that was quite a strong statement.

Branwen leaned back, rubbing her temple. Crusoe jumped in tactfully and took it upon himself to brief the powerful wizardess on the tactical situation in Glister. She agreed to help the party, but only if it could be done quickly, and if her involvement could be concealed. “You’ll be glad of that, tomorrow – take my word.” she said sourly. Crusoe and Marielle agreed to her demands, and they all returned to a maple tree near the encampment by means of the druid’s ring of tree stride.

Before they could brief the party and introduce Samuel and Branwen, Crusoe went off on his second errand: fetching Queequeg from the Monastery of Jade Harmony. “I hope Tegan enjoys her surprise!” he cried as he disappeared into a plane tree.

Didn’t so much turn out that way….

Immediately upon seeing her mother, Tegan began berating her and raving with paranoid fantasies about her motives. Branwen tried to explain that she was not authorized to explain her presence in Melvaunt as she was on a “top secret mission.” But, she said, she could explain her secondary motive (taking the first steps to repair her relationship with Tegan), and a tertiary motive…

“I heard,” said the icy noblewoman, “that you had a little tangle with a nasty couple surnamed Rove.”

“Drinking buddies of yours, no doubt,” said Tegan bitterly.

“Based on my research, they weren’t well liked by anyone. I turned up a trail of debts and crimes from cities all over Brestelcia. Rove isn’t even their real name. They are called Henry and Esther Palin. I bought up these debts and negotiated that their punishment would be commuted to indentured service to me. They are knee deep in manure right now, mucking out my stables.” Juno Nim grinned. “Oh, and that’s not all. Apparently, they believe that Ashmara women are very interested in their spit. I thought I’d make that come true. As you know, I’m quite skilled at the geas spell. Now, every night, they are compelled to fill a small cask with their spit before they can sleep.” Branwen smiled nastily.

“Evil, but the woman has style,” muttered Tegan.

“Disgusting,” murmured Br. Clement.

Crusoe appeared out of a nearby birch tree, followed by eight monks. “Dudes! Allow me to present Heathcliff, Heathcliff, Heathcliff, Heathcliff, Heathcliff, Heathcliff, Heathcliff, and Heathcliff. They are Queequeg’s nephews, and they’re here to help.”

“Greetings,” said Marielle. “But why can’t Queequeg help us?”

Crusoe presented a rather formal, flowery letter in which Queequeg made his apologies.

“Crusoe, my lad,” said Billy. “Now we have a third job for you. Behold yonder puddle … could you please scry on the rogue Vuno Jem? We want to learn more about that silver box.” Clement’s brow furrowed. How had we learned about that, again? Certainly not through reading some unearthly blog. That’s right—Tegan had a dream about it. Yup, that’s right, that’s the ticket.

Crusoe cast the spell and leaned over the puddle. He described Vuno Jem and Zarielle sitting in the town square, examining the box. He heard the following dialogue before the vision faded:

“So, the stone is self-activating?”
“Yep. I’ll throw it, because I’m so good with ranged weapons.”
“Hahaha! They are TOAST!”

“Hmm,” said Clement. “A stone in the box, one that the rogue can activate, but no help with its properties. Disappointing.”

Billy asked Crusoe to provide him with his scroll of clairvoyance/clairaudience and he cast it to see the room at the Dog & Duck whose key they’d found on the medusa’s body. Billy saw an opulent room, whose closet was filled with female costumes. In the middle of the floor was a huge chest. Beside it lay a hatchet, with which someone had clearly tried to open it … but in vain.

Billy briefed the monks, Branwen, and Samuel on the plan, and all the spellcasters began buffing every one they could to a fare-thee-well, even polymorphing Samuel into a third dragon. Lastly, Clement cast a divination, asking when Smeerdûk would be creating the new jewel today. Pelor, in an oddly E. E. Cummings mood, said:

“please excuse my terse po-EMMM,
he will cast at one p.m.
for this party pelor cheers
hope y’all kick the orogs’ rears.

To battle! To battle!

Next time: We kick their rears.

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One down, 5 to go

Billy moved away from Clement, who had turned his face to the rising sun seeking Pelor’s daily favors. Billy dared not disturb the priest’s devotions on a battle day. Marielle, too, was consumed by the Introspection, and Tegan bowed to Obad-Hai for her morning celebration of the daily renewal of nature. Juno had finished the Reverie, but he was still probably er… thinking about his strumpets. Today would be an important one. The orog “woods-queen” was dead, her body burned, along with more than half of Gruumsh’s minions; and so Father Neil’s party had created a small opening. The party needed to press the advantage and free the captives held within the compounds (well, except for the orcs). Billy calmed his racing thoughts: he needed to focus and recover his own powers.

The bard cleared his mind and held the lute joyfully in his arms. The Warm-Up was his favorite fifteen minutes of the day. His fingers flowed over the strings as water over stones in a warm brook. As the fine muscles moved in his hands and forearms, his body responded to the music, and the sound formed around him. He shaped it, took it in and accepted it, and his voice responded to the strings in a warm, lyrical counterpoint to rhythmic pattern of the strings. The melody coursed through his body as the harmonies stirred his soul. Some say that the bards’ blood runs with the legacy of the wyrms of old, like the sorcerers’. Billy didn’t know the source of the powers, or how the music called them forth, but he gratefully absorbed them this morning as on so many others.

Released by King Raburnum, the party found the Wild Elf cottage burned to the ground. Billy knew that Smeerduk had raised his accursed brother and the sorceress from the dead, and that Gruumsh’s chosen had brought their elementals and other forces to destroy the party and recapture, or kill, Nikolai. Thank Fharlanghan: Luck had brought King Raburnum’s help. “Okay, General Billy,” Marielle chirped teasingly. “I think I’m ready to kill some more orogs today. I’m so bad-ass. What’s the plan?” “The girl is eager,” Juno observed. “It reminds me of this whore in Allacko…” Tegan tossed him headfirst into a maple tree.

“I don’t see why we can’t just wear them down,” said Billy. Marielle stroked Copernicus uncertainly. She never liked too much of a challenge, and Billy could tell that, despite her tough talk, she would like to finish with Gruumsh’s “chosen ones” without taking the kinds of risks that the party had taken yesterday. After all, if it had not been for King Raburnum’s intervention, this morning might not have shone so brightly.

“On the other hand”, said the bard, “the more I know about that prophecy, the more I can’t help thinking that we need to have Brother Samuel with us. And another thought has struck me. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before!” He strode up to Marielle and gave her an impish smile: “Turn me into a big copper dragon, just like Snuffles. I’ll still be able to sing and cast, but I’ll also be able to fly and do a heck of a lot more damage… mano-a-mano.” Billy took off his boots and armor, handing them to Juno. “We can give these to Samuel if he joins us.” He put the rest of his gear in the bag of holding pro tem, except for his amulet, which he would wear as a dragon. Looking back at the foxy sorceress, he took a deep breath, pushed his mop of hair out of his emerald eyes and said, with some obvious nervousness and excitement, “All right, I’m ready: go ahead.”

Marielle shrugged, trying not to laugh out loud. ”’Dragon Billy?’ Maybe that’s a good stage name for you. Now we’ve seen everything!” she said, looking over her shoulder at Tegan. The half-elven beauty took a step away from the bard, as did everyone. She withdrew an empty, dry cocoon from her spell component pouch and, still suppressing some impish laughter, she furrowed her perfect brow slightly, concentrating and gathering the forces of magic around herself. The pressure built within her, as the powers rose, and she chanted the ancient arcane words, moving her hand in the mysterious pattern of the polymorph other spell. With a barely perceptible whoosh, the transmutation took place, and Billy stood on his hind legs, covered in shiny copper scales, 15 feet tall, with tail almost as long, looking for all the world like an adult copper dragon. He flapped his wings gently, trying them out, and a sly smile spread across his wide, toothy face. He ran his tongue over the rows of his sharp teeth. He was a handsome dragon indeed (he assumed), although he felt a little clumsy.

Snuffles blinked in disbelief and took to the air in fright. A dragon! But after a moment or two, he realized that the new dragon was the same color as himself, and come to think of it, the same size! Snuffles had not seen his own face since he had changed shape into a dragon, of course, so he did not exactly realize what he looked like, but he knew he had a tail just like this dragon, and claws just like this dragon… and Tegan did not seem alarmed or hurt. Hmmm… maybe it wanted to play? Snuffles descended and pushed the dragon. Surprised, Billy lost his balance and toppled over. A funny sensation, and funny to see. The group dissolved in gales of laughter. His hide was so thick, and his muscles so strong, Billy observed, that the fall did not hurt at all. He laughed himself, snorting loudly, and got up, suppressing the urge to brush himself off.

“Excuse me”, he said to everyone, and got a little running start, leaping up into the air, and flapping his wings to generate lift. Not so difficult. “Hey, watch out!” said Juno, jumping nimbly away from the big tail. “Sorry!” said Billy. He rose up the way that he had seen other dragons do, executing a turn, and then wheeling around a few times. Currents! He could feel the air currents. Well, he wasn’t the most graceful flier anyone had ever seen, but it wasn’t hard to get the basics. “You have to use the tail to stay vertical and to start the turn,” he informed the party, panting a little with the effort. “Weird!” Snuffles circled around, trying to play with the dragon, but it seemed busy and didn’t really want to play. Disappointed, he landed and settled down to relax until something more interesting happened. Everyone was nice enough to give Billy enough time to get his b-air-ings, but after a few minutes, he could see Marielle tapping her foot a little impatiently, and he came down, landing as gently as he could.

Back on terra firma, Billy asked, “Well, now that that’s out of the way, let’s make a plan. What should we do first? Remember, Pelor told us, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’....”

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