B03P06

> Chronicles > Book 3 – Part 6

Book 3 – Part 6 – Thistletop Dungeon

  • Contents (1)
    • Chapter 11: Recuperating
    • Chapter 12: Deeper Into the Dungeon
    • Interlude: Journals of Nauma Torbeinsdottir

See also: Adventure Log > Session 14, 2016-08-14


Chapter 11: Recuperating

Yriadel and her warriors were getting tired. The day was getting late and they were suffering from numerous cuts and bruises. They discussed whether to continue down to the next lower level and confront Nauma, or try to get some rest, and hope they would not get attacked during the night. In the end, they decided to rest. They left Lyrie alone in the jail cell, then they relocated to the Research Room to hold up for the night. They dragged the corpse of Monkild Kleinberg into the Goblin Art Gallery and pushed the work tables up against the door which led to the level below. They divided into shifts and lay down on the cold hard floor to sleep.

Yriadel was approached by Kyran and they held a hushed discussion about Oreg. She knew Oreg was still severly weakened from the wounds he had received in battle from Kyran. He would be no use to them tomorrow in that state. Rather than use up valuable potions on this stranger, Kyran suggested, perhaps she should just channel Freyja’s healing power throughout the entire group. If Freyja wills it, the healing would extend to Oreg, and that would foretell whether or not Oreg was acceptable in the eyes of Freyja. It was a clever suggestion, she agreed, and did exactly that. As expected, the bulk of the magical gold glow centered on Oreg and healed him almost entirely. He would sleep well tonight.

Kyran – Another Dreamlike Encounter

Late in the night, Kyran stirred from a deep sleep as he sensed someone enter the room. He tried to look around in the darkness but he could not move. Alarmed, he was reminded of the time once before when something small approached him in the night. Was this a dream? Or was there a power which had him paralyzed? And why did no one else sense the intruder?

The room filled with a chilly fog, obscuring his vision. Then a small creature settled next to him. He could barely discern the creature from the corner of his eye.

Kyran heard a soft voice in his ear. “Greetings once again, my gloomy magus,” spoke the voice slowly and lazily, and dank with boredom. “So, how did you… yawn… like the power from your Kavvála Vlímaton yesterday? I wasn’t there to see it, but I was nearby and sensed it.”

Kyran answered the question with more questions. His tone was powdered with impatience. “Who are you? Whose errands do you run? And as intrigued and ‘pleased’ as I was with the power at that moment, I care naught for this game you and your master play.”

“Eh…” the voice replied glibly, “it will do you no good to… yawn… take that attitude with me. I am merely a messenger.” The voice paused for a moment, then continued lazily. “All right then, if it will appease you – Kyran, son of Grimr, you may call me… Ganglati.” He spoke the epithet “son of Grimr” with a sneer, as if to illustrate his knowledge that Kyran was adopted. “And as for my master, as I said before, no identity will be revealed until the time is right.”

Boldly, Kyran pushed on with his questions. “So, Ganglati, please tell me, what interest do gods have in one such as I? And why now? When, as far as I am concerned, I was god forsaken the moment I was conceived in the belly of a demon.”

Ganglati made light smacking sounds with his lips, as if having just completed a yawn and a stretch. “Hmm, I must confess, you have actually impressed me with your little surprise. So you are the spawn of a demon, yes? Hmm… interesting.”

The voice paused, then spoke as if thinking out loud to himself. “This explains what that blind old woman said: you may someday face your true parents, who for a time had left our world. Yes… it would be just like a demon to travel between worlds and execute their villainous deeds.” His monologue was so painfully slow that Kyran could barely endure it.

“I assume my master already knew this,” Ganglati continued, his attention turned back toward Kyran, “but I am told very little. All I know is that my master’s interest in you is for your potential. There is a dark power deep within you, straining to get out, and if it is to be used for our purpose we must help you refine and grow your power.

“And why now, you ask? Certainly you recognize: your companions have been marked by the gods, some even touched by them. The schemes of these gods have brought you all together… hmm, like pieces on a tæfl board. Now they would move the pieces to their will. But you are different. You have been kept hidden from their machinations… until now.”

“So, then, if I follow your master, of whom I know nothing, does that make me a Tæflstaan in a game played by the gods? You offer purpose to a troubled spirit – your purpose – yet you give no clue as to the identity of the one who would use me, or of the purpose itself. So far, Ganglati, aside from… enhancing a spell, you have given little to sway me to your master’s cause.”

Ganglati chuckled. “That is right, Kyran. You do understand. You and your friends are mere game bits to the gods. Yet, from among the seven, you are the most likely to escape their control and guide your own destiny.

“And as for a clue: discover your true ancestry, and you will find the identify of my master. But hopefully that will not take so long. For now, the identify cannot be shared, lest the secret also be revealed to the enemy too soon.”

“Very well, then,” Kyran countered. “If you will, answer one more question and then I am done with this… encounter. Is your master’s enemy an enemy to the gods of my companions as well?”

“Very good question, gloomy one!” Ganglati’s voice was actually a little animated for the first time, as if the conversation finally intrigued him. “The answer is… yes. But be advised, the game is much more complex than you realize. Farewell. I will be watching…”

Dodge – Rejected By Valhalla?

In the morning, after Dodge had fully awakened and the morning maze had cleared from his mind, his thoughts drifted back to the moments of the previous day, when he had received wounds from Warchief Ripnugget and Stickfoot the lizard and thus fallen in battle. Dodge now recalled the impression that while he was sprawled on the ground dying, a celestial being floated above him, though no one around him saw it. Was it an unconscious dream or did he really witness the visitor? The being was most certainly a Valkyrie from Asgard. Though Dodge was furious at being defeated, he was calmed at the prospect of being rewarded with an eternity in Valhalla. Yet… the being had hesitated… and Dodge felt as if he and the Valkyrie had been tugged in opposite directions by competing forces. Were the gods disappointed in him, he worried? Dodge had no explanation for the dream and was anxious to describe it to Yriadel, hoping she could provide some insight.

When Yriadel awoke, she rose up and immediately began chanting her daily devotions to Freyja, caressing her holy symbol in both hands. She was clearly concerned about something unusual, foregoing a morning trip to a chamber pot to instead begin her devotions, but her friends were growing accustomed to her aberrant behavior of late as she was sensitive to visions from Freyja at the most unexpected times. After she finished her prayers (and then her morning “water ritual”), she quickly sought out Dodge – as coincidentally he also sought her.

As soon as Dodge gained the attention of Yriadel, he shared his disturbing thoughts with her. While she listened intently, she refreshed herself with some smoked fish from her rations. When he had completed his tale, she put everything down and took his hands in hers. Looking him solemnly in the eyes she began to share what she had learned through a dream of her own that very morning, relating directly to what had happened to Dodge.

“Dodge, what you perceived did in fact actually happen. Odin and Thor have indeed been watching over you, and have been pleased with your great strength and your prowess in battle. They are happy to imbue you with the madness of the Berserker. Yesterday, when Odin witnessed your end in valorous combat he ordered your soul carried to Valhalla.

“But Freyja, who rules over the Valkyries, and herself receives half the slain for Fólkvangr, disputed Odin’s claim. She argued that she had a purpose for you on Middengard, a dire purpose for which she urged Odin to join, to stand against a terrible evil that will soon threaten these lands. Heimdall and Uller share her mission, but many of the gods are either indifferent or in stubborn disagreement. Odin, though aloof, conceded to Freyja, and therefore I was allowed to save you.”

Magna – Watch Duty
Magna Morko had responsibility for the third watch. As his shift was about to end, and just before waking up his friends, he witnessed not only Dodge and Yriadel toss and turn restlessly, but he could hear Kyran talking in his sleep as he struggled to wake up. Later, once everyone was up and armored, and Magna was released from guard duty, he approached Kyran and asked if anything was wrong, but Kyran just shrugged off the matter without explanation.

Lyrie Acacia – Food & Water
While the group waited in the research room, Kyran and Magna went back to the torture prison to check on Lyrie. She was still locked safely in her cell. Her blindfold, gag and bonds were still intact. Kyran unlocked the cell door and entered. He leaned her up against the cold stone wall and removed her gag. He patiently gave her food and water. She was too weak to be defensive. Then he left her there again, and returned to the group.

Chapter 12: Deeper Into the Dungeon

Ancient Door
Dodge led the team down the stairs, which were still stained with the blood of Monakild. He turned south, then east, and saw a stone door which hung slightly ajar. Detailed carvings once covered its surface, but were defaced by chisel marks and hammer blows to the extent that only a few remnants of images remained (mostly of gemstones and crowns). The floor here was slanted toward the west.

A dim light was visible through the door.

The Hellcat’s Hall
Dodge pushed the door open and peered within. The room was partially lit by a lantern in the center of the floor. Two pillars supported the ceiling. In many places the stone walls, floor, and ceiling were caked with ancient grime and soot. Alcoves in the north and south walls contained partially damaged statues of a man in robes clutching a book and a glaive. The entire room was canted toward the west, and whatever ancient upheaval caused the complex to tilt knocked the statues from their bases so that now they leaned against the western walls of their alcoves.

Air quality on this level was surprisingly good, and temperature was a comfortable 60ºF. Kyran performed his Detect Magic ability and revealed a faint transmutation aura. He suspected that both air and temperature conditions were remnants of what once were several magical concessions toward comfort from long ago; most of the other effects (such as lighting) had long since failed, but the replenishment of air and temperature maintenance remained functional.

Trapped Hall
The group followed Dodge through the room to a door on the opposite side. He pushed that door opened and witnessed a short hallway that rose in a slope to the east. It was also partially lit by a lantern in the center of the floor. Five feet from the western door, the floor was polished and shiny, unlike the dusty floor elsewhere. A pair of stone statues depicting stern men wielding glaives stood in alcoves north and south of this section of the hallway. At the eastern end stood two stone doors, their faces carved with strange runes. Between the doors was a third alcove in which a partially collapsed statue sat. The top half of the statue was missing, leaving behind a ragged stump of a torso.

Dodge was immediately suspicious of a trap and used a javelin to prod the statues and the floor, but nothing happened. He motioned for Lee Alfsaw, who came forward and spent a few minutes investigating, but neither could he find a trap.

Bravely, Dodge stepped forward – and a trap was sprung! He tried to evade it, but his reflexes were not fast enough. Two hidden iron portcullises were recessed into the ceiling around the polished section of floor. When Dodge stepped between them, a pressure plate caused them to both drop with a clang. Seconds later, the two statues began slashing at the space between them, each cutting deep gashing wounds upon the surprised victim.

Dodge became enraged like the legendary Viking Berserkers and began striking back, as the glaives continued slashing at him. With his first reaction, he shattered one glaive with his battleaxe. He counter-stepped, and before the other glaive could wound him again he successfully broke it off the statue. He was now safe from more glaive slashes, but he was trapped within the bars of the portcullis. Before he could attempt to lift or bend the bars, the floor suddenly opened and he fell into a pit below. Luckily it was only a ten foot fall, and his wounds were minimal.

Within seconds, the trap reset. The floor closed up, presumably imprisoning Dodge below, the iron portcullis raised back into the ceiling, and the statues retracted, though their glaives were now useless.

Aiden and Glenlivet carried a statue from the previous room and set it down onto the floor of the trap. Its weight retriggered the trap, but they had positioned it so that it lay length-wise and prevented the portcullis from dropping all the way. They had a rope ready, and as soon the floor dropped again, they managed to help Dodge out before the floor closed again and the trap reset.

Dodge was fatigued from the rage, and he had two deep wounds. Yriadel took care of his fatigue simply enough with her Restorative Touch, but the wounds required strong magic spells.

Background: When Nauma first explored this area, one of her bodyguards triggered the trap and was killed by it. Since then, she and her remaining allies had taken the exploration of these chambers very slowly, with Monakild checking for traps extensively before they moved on to new areas. The polished section of floor was all that remained of the mess made after the survivors cleaned the place up—Nauma burned his remains in the temple as an offering to Loptur.

Nauma Torbeinsdottir

Observation Deck
Dodge and Glenlivet jumped over the trap, and investigated the two stone doors at the eastern end of the hall. There would not be enough room for others to join, until they proceeded through one of the doors. Dodge opened the north door and he and Glenlivet were faced with an impressive site. Within a large, circular room, well-lit, there stood a statuesque woman, and beside her an emaciated, hairless guard dog. The woman’s left arm ended with a demonic red talon. Her midriff was bare and exposed ugly scars and wounds across her belly. With the exception of her demonic hand and her scarred belly, the rest of her body is incongruously beautiful – with silver hair, violet eyes, and a shapely figure. There was no mistake – they had found Nauma Torbeinsdottir! And she was prepared for them. Obviously she had been alerted by the noise of the trap. She had already cast powerful spells upon herself to increase her abilities for the coming battle.

Glenlivet was the quickest to react. He sped into the room and was met at the entrance by Nauma’s Yeth Hound. Aiden was prepared for action. He jumped across the trap and raced into the room to meet their adversary. He saw that Glenlivet was holding off the Yeth Hound so he went straight to Nauma. He attacked with a flurry of weapons but she defended against him. She fought with a bastard sword, her face an impassive mask save for her eyes, which blazed with anger. Dodge rushed in right behind Aiden. Perhaps the flurry from Aiden distracted her, for he dealt a critical blow from his battle axe which nearly felled her in one swing. But she was a tough foe and stood her ground. She focused her strength and retaliated against Dodge – landing a blow from her bastard sword that nearly knocked him to his knees.

While Glenlivet continued to battle the Yeth Hound, and the others tried to gain access to the room, Dodge and Aiden fought against Nauma. Aiden wounded her with his hand-axe, but Dodge lost the grip on his battle-axe, spoiling his aim, and almost dropping his weapon. Nauma responded with another vicious cut upon Dodge with her sword.

As Kyran maneuvered into the room, he empowered his sword and cast a Shocking Grasp spell. He charged at Nauma and landed a successful blow from his sword. The strike also delivered a deadly shock from his spell.
Magna approached. From the doorway he shot an arrow at the Yeth Hound, but it bounced off its hide without affect, due to magical resistance.

Numbed from the Shocking Grasp, Nauma was caught off guard and Dodge delivered a damaging blow that knocked her down unconscious.

Appreciating the effectiveness of his Shocking Grasp, combined with his empowered sword, Kyran cast it once again, moved to help Glenlivet, and delivered a successful attack upon the Yeth Hound. Yet still it was not defeated. Oreg joined the fray, but his attack upon the beast was unsuccessful.

Aiden rushed over to assist and attacked the hound with his flurry, once with his kama and once with his hand-axe. Each cut went deep and the beast was finally killed.

While Yriadel took care of the wounded (Aiden, Dodge and Glenlivet) the others investigated the room. A wide stone ledge of red marble lined the curving walls of the room, which was well-lit by four burning skulls that sat in each corner. Three chairs rested in the room, and both stone ledges were covered with books, scrolls, teeth, bones, scrimshaw artwork, jars of deformed creatures soaking in brine, taxidermied animals and limbs, and other strange objects. To the north, a large round fountain filled with frothy blue water filled the room with the gentle sound of bubbling. Kyran could detect only faint magic on the fountain, it merely functioned as a perpetually full container of drinking water. The burning skulls each contained Continual Flame spells. Aiden and Yriadel reviewed the contents of the shelves and identified various holy texts, scrolls, relics, and objects sacred to the worship of Loptur. There were several notes and journals on the tables, which Lee gathered together for future study.

They inspected the body of Nauma Torbeinsdottir. They recognized her belly scars as the Mark of Loptur, denoting the carrier not only as one devoted to the Mother of Monsters, but one capable of birthing monsters from her own body. Among her exquisite gear she had a magic bastard sword, magic breastplate armor, masterwork composite longbow, a gold holy symbol of Loptur, 7 platinum Kantor Nobles and 5 gold shillings.

On a leather cord around her neck, Nauma wore a medallion. It was a silver disc inscribed with a seven-pointed star. Kyran explained that it was a Sjöhedron medallion. While worn, the medallion granted its wearer a resistance bonus on all saving throws. Once per day, it could be commanded to bestow the effects of False Life on the wearer. Placed on the neck of a dead body, the Sjöhedron medallion preserved the body indefinitely via a Gentle Repose effect.

As a final action, Aiden used his axe and cut off Nauma’s head and taloned arm, intending to carry them around as totems as they searched the remainder of the level.

L-Shaped Hallway
The victorious group ventured through the south door and entered a wide L-shaped hallway. The southern wing ended at a pair of stone doors carved with the depictions of two skeletons reaching out to clutch a skull between them, while to the east the hallway narrowed down to frame a circular carving of what seemed to be an immense stack of oversized gold coins that rose from floor to ceiling. They inspected the carving closer, and saw that the edges of the coins were carved with tiny, spiky runes, but they could find nothing else in particular.

Crypt
Dodge led the team through the south doors and into a large room. Four pillars supported the domed ceiling of this room. Several alcoves containing standing sarcophagi graced the walls, and a statue of a stern man wielding a glaive and holding a book stood at the far end of the chamber. While the first few rooms so far were fairly clean, dust and rubble cluttered this room and spider webs dangled from the corners, implying that Nauma had mostly left this room alone.

Before they had much of a chance to investigate the room, three evil Shadows emerged from the sarcophagi to attack the intruders. The experienced adventurers had fought Shadows before, they knew that only magic weapons would harm them, yet the touch from their claws would sap the warriors’ strength. Yriadel, wise and alert, reacted before any of the fighters. She stepped forward and shouted “Freyja Skade”, holding her falcon symbol high. The air glimmered with golden light as the Shadows shrieked from the glow.

Magna rushed in and started slicing one of the Shadows with his sword. He was followed closely by Dodge and Glenlivet. Kyran started blasting the evil enemy with missiles of magic from his wand. In the end, Yriadel had to channel her power a second time, and Kyran had to use a second missile, before all the Shadows were defeated. In the meantime, both Magna and Oreg were hit by the Shadows and had their strength reduced.

Collapsed Treasury
The group found a secret door in the west wall (without hardly even looking!) and went through. They followed a passage down some steps, then to a door. Dodge opened the door and looked within. The sound of sloshing water filled this room, which was nearly collapsed entirely into a large tide pool. What few walls did remain intact bore detailed and impressive carvings of incredible treasuries filled to overflowing with coins, gems, jewelry, and other items of value.

To the east, the walls depicted a carving of a towering mountain, its peak carved in the shape of a stern face just above a great palace. Below, the side of the mountain’s valley cradled an immense city of spires.

In the pool, the remains of what must have once been an incredible treasury lay in the sloshing waters. Shattered urns, crumbled stone chests, rusted bits of once beautiful armor and weapons, and other long-ruined treasures from an ancient past lay below. Most impressive of them all was a large, coral-encrusted helmet sized for a giant; the helm measured nearly five feet across, and its full-face guard bore an expression of twisted rage and fangs. The helm itself appeared to be made of gold.

As Kyran peered into the water, the gold helmet down below suddenly shifted and moved, as if it were rotating to look up at him. At first glance, Kyran thought the helmet might be the head of a golem, but on second thought he decided it was nothing more than a helmet for perhaps a long-dead giant soldier. The helm itself had become the home of a 450 pound giant hermit crab, and it reacted poorly to anyone who approached its pool. The helm suddenly rose up to release a pair of immense claws and spindly legs as the crab attacked.

With a simple command, Kyran transformed his sword into a Waraxe and swiped at the crab’s claws. Glenlivet and Dodge quickly joined the battle. The crab fought fiercely, dealing wounds to both Glen and Dodge, before Dodge issued a killing blow upon it.

Aiden borrowed Yriadel’s magic Ring of Swimming, stripped out of his gear, then dove into the pool to search under the water. He discovered that the pool was apparently connected to the river via an underwater tunnel. He also discovered a hoard of treasure: 3,500 sp, 630 gp, 40 precious stones worth 10 gp each, and a jade Amulet of Natural Armor. The greatest treasure was probably the ancient helm. Though the helm was not solid gold (much of it is bronze) it was still worth around 200 gp, but the group decided it was not worth the problem to haul its 300 pound weight up out of the hole it had been resting in for hundreds of years.

Portal of Greed
They returned through the crypt and to the wide L-shaped hallway. There they renewed their inspection of the circular carving of what seemed to be an immense stack of oversized gold coins that rose from floor to ceiling. Finally, Magna and Aiden discovered tiny, coin-sized slots, hidden in the wall to the left and right of the carving. When they inserted a gold coin into each slot, the pillar noisily ground down into the floor, revealing a secret room beyond. The pillar itself bore a Permanent Image to make it look as if it were made of gold – it was in fact made of stone. The room beyond presented double doors on its north, east and south walls.

Communication Room
They opened the north doors to view a barren room containing an upraised dais on which sat a marble throne. To either side stood statues of a man clutching a book and a glaive. A ghostly figure seemed to be seated in the throne, an image of the same man who appeared in the statues. He seemed to be addressing an audience as he moved his hands about, fingers decorated with hooked rings, but the words issuing from his phantom mouth were difficult to make out and in a strange language.

The magic which powered the harmless illusion had faded, so that all that remained was this ghostly echo. Lee listened quietly and recognized a couple words and phrases in ancient Thassilonian, which repeated over and over. “…is upon us, but I command you remain…”, “…take my final work to your graves, and let its memory be the last thing you…”

Transmutation Room
Through the east doors the group entered a round room. It contained three low tables, their tops covered with a strange and chilling selection of tools, saws, long bladed knives, and objects whose purpose was not readily apparent. A strange collection of bones lay near the southern table—too many to be one skeleton, but too few to be two.

Magna inspected the skeleton closer and determined that it seemed to have belonged to a two-headed man with what seemed to be an additional partial skeleton of a smaller man growing from the small of his back—all that remained of the last poor soul worked on here before the end came.

The surgical tools on the tables were exquisitely made, and were worth 100 gp in all. Sitting on the easternmost table was an object that, upon closer examination, was not a tool at all. It appeared to be a silver and gold seven-pointed star, one surface studded with nodules and blades, and the other featuring a thin, curved handle.

Vargdropor

Vargdropor’s Prison
The south doors were made of stone but had no handles. An indented outline of a seven-pointed star, its shape covered by hollows and slits, graced the spot where handles should be. It was obvious that the star they picked up from the Transmutation Room would fit the spot perfectly. They pushed it into the slots and it was easily twisted to open the doors.

The room was lit by a ten-foot-wide pit of flickering fire that filled the room with a strange humid heat and the smell of burning hair. The south wall bore an immense carving of a seven-pointed star. In the northern corners of the room, wooden risers each held several dozen golden candles that burned without melting.

From somewhere within the silent room, they heard an eerie, guttural voice emit a low laugh and utter the phrase to a powerful magic spell: “Epsilon Eucradies Shazbaz!”

Yriadel recognized the spell. “Oh… Fuck…” she muttered. Yriadel was not prone to spout foul words, but in this case she couldn’t stop herself, and this scared the hell out of everyone.

Only Magna and Oreg successfully resisted the spell’s immediate effects. Everyone else endured a disconcerting sensation as their body transformed into a different shape. In each case, though their mind and equipment was unchanged, their physical form resized and reshaped into that of a random companion.

Aiden transformed into the body of Lee, shrinking from 6’ 185 to 5’4” 150. His clothes now hung baggily on his frame.

Lee transformed into the body of Dodge, growing tremendously from 5’4” 150 to 6’5” 210. His leather armor and clothing were now ripping at the seams.

Dodge transformed into the body of Glenlivet, an albino half-elf, reducing from 6’5” 210 to 5’8” 165. His newly-acquired Breastplate armor magically resized to fit, but the remainder of his clothing was now too large and droopy. His strength also reduced to that of Glenlivet, so he was encumbered at Medium Load.

Glenlivet transformed into the body of Aiden. Glen was now a human, expanding from 5’8” 165 to 6’ 185. His leather armor now fit much tighter.

Kyran transformed into the body of Yriadel. He became female and shrunk from 6’ 185 to 4’11” 95. His chain shirt and his clothing sagged over his new petite female frame and he was now encumbered at Medium Load due to a lesser strength.

Yriadel transformed into the body of Kyran. She became male and grew immensely from 4’11” 95 to 6’ 185. Her leather armor, along with her dress, was now stretched to its limits, and looked quite ridiculous on her new male body.

In addition to the physical transformations, both Lee and Yriadel also suffered mental and magical effects. Lee had no magical abilities to lose, but his Charisma dropped considerably to that of Dodge’s – this would have a negative effect on his Disguise ability. Yriadel’s Wisdom and Charisma dropped to the same levels as Kyran. But most devastating to Yriadel, she lost all her spell-casting abilities, including her Healing Channel, Glitterdust, Adoration, Restoration, etc. This would have a serious adverse impact for the team.

As those six people were struggling to deal with their sudden transformation, Magna began to go through a separate trauma. He felt an urge to transform into a vicious beast, and he recalled the words of Siden Mildthreth. “Hamrammr,” she had said, “shape-shifter. Hidden deep within Brown simmers a great beast, caused by a family curse that has remained suppressed for generations. If controlled, the beast may bestow great power. But if released without control, it will bring great danger.” Magna tried to suppress the urge, but he was unable to control it, and he began to transform into a large, brown bear. Gasping in pain, he dropped his weapons. His clothing and armor ripped apart at the seams as he grew larger and larger.

Before anyone could react, they once again heard the eerie, guttural voice come from the empty room: “Epsilon Eucradies Dernesto.”

Something evil was in the room, somehow hidden or invisible, Glenlivet deduced, and it would continue casting harmful spells until they confronted it and discovered its location. Knowing he was walking blindly into danger, Glenlivet bravely headed further into the room, sacrificing himself for the team. As he suspected, his movement provoked an attack from their invisible foe. An oversized claw gashed Glenlivet’s arm, but the act revealed their enemy – a snarling, canine beast on all fours, its slender front limbs looking more like hands than a wolf’s paws.

The others seized upon the opportunity that valiant Glenlivet had provided for them. Being in a female body did not hinder Kyran. He acted immediately by blasting the creature with an eldritch missile from his wand. Dodge stepped forward, swinging his bastard sword, though his new, albino-elf body was not as strong as he was accustomed, and his off-balance swing missed. Aiden decided against testing out his new, smaller body in combat – the form of Lee – and instead cleverly imbibed his Elixir of Fire Breath. He ran up behind Glenlivet and exhaled a jet of flame over his shoulder against the beast, charring its fur and delivering great pain.

Magna’s mind was in a primitive state – and it was confused. Though he had the mind of a bear, he still somehow sensed that the wolfish beast was his enemy, and that the humanoids around him were no threat. So he advanced upon the beast and attempted to battle it like the others. Though his claws struck against the beast, its magical hide protected it from the bear’s mundane swipe.

Yriadel realized she could do little in this scenario. Although she now had the superior strength of Kyran, she lacked the proper armor or weapons to be a major threat against the beast. Her usual role as magical support was nullified without her powers. So she grabbed Tultambë, her copper whistle, from her side pouch and blew upon it to summon a copper dragon.

Oreg Vancaskerkin, the sole member of the group who had not been impacted by the Transformations, joined in combat against the beast, but his blows did no damage. Last, but not least, Lee – possessing the body and strength of Dodge – loosed an arrow from his bow, but the mundane missile bounced harmlessly off the hide of the magical beast.

The wolf-beast was surrounded. It fought back like a crazed monster, clawing and biting in all directions. Magna the bear received a wound. Oreg received two – the second one knocked him unconscious.

The heroes all continued to fight back bravely, but strikes from their physical attacks caused little or no damage. Only the magic missiles from Kyran’s wand, Aiden’s Fire Breath, and the Acid Breath from the wyrmling copper dragon caused any damage. Yriadel tried to treat Oreg’s wound but was unable to stabilize him.

The beast wounded Magna twice, with a claw and a bite. It also wounded Aiden with a claw. Sensing their plight growing more severe, the warriors started fighting with more desperation. Finally, Glenlivet landed a clean strike with his magic Scimitar. Kyran intensified his power and was able to hit with two magic missiles in the time it normally took him to cast one. Then Dodge struck with a glorious hit from his bastard sword that cut deep into the throat of the beast. It fell to the ground unconscious, blood spilling on the ground. Aiden wasted no time – he jumped upon the beast and cut off its head – ensuring a quick death.

In the immediate aftermath of the battle, the survivors quickly scanned the room in which they stood to ensure there was no more danger. Then, though everyone was very uncomfortable in their new physical forms and ill-fitting clothes, they commenced to deal with their wounds and the results of their transformations.

Magna Bear
Their first order of business was interacting with Magna as a bear! Though he didn’t seem to be violent against them, they remained cautious. They spoke to Magna in calm voices and kept their distance. They could tell that the bear was somehow facing an inner mental struggle. Finally, after a few tense, pain-wracked minutes, Magna began to transform back into his humanoid form. When the process was complete, he lay on the ground, completely naked and a little dazed, but otherwise bearing only minor injuries from his battle with Vargdropor.

Aiden (in the appearance of Lee) was under the impression that Vargdropor had cast a different spell upon Magna and that as his enchantment had now faded so to would his own. As Magna seemed to be no worse off than anyone else, he returned his attention back to the healing of his own wounds. Aiden was also strongly aware that he was in a place of evil (and that he was a bad-ass, having helped to drop a Demon!)

Kyran (in his small, female body) helped Magna sit up and handed him a cloak. Then, as Kyran warily surveyed the area and his companions, he contemplated the situation and all of the problems the Transformation had created. He thought to himself, is Magna’s transformation just a different effect of Vargdropor’s spell or is Magna really ‘Hamrammr’ as Siden Mildthreth had foretold?

Glen (looking like Aiden) joined Kyran in the aid of Magna. He was just about to hand him his cloak when Kyran did so first. “Good. We can’t let him walk around with his ‘dork’ hanging out he joked. Then Glen gathered Magna’s clothing and equipment from the entryway and placed them next to Magna. “How are you feeling? Are you in any pain?” he asked Magna. “Here is some water, a drink might help,” he said, offering him his waterskin.

“Actually,” Magna replied, while accepting Kyran’s cloak, “I was kind of looking forward to walking around with my dork hanging out, but I accept your kind offerings. Thank you.” He was still in kind of a daze and inwardly contemplating WTF just happened. After employing a few calming techniques he had learned from his training among the Blackwood Rangers, he gathered his equipment and was ready to help the others or proceed with the next task at hand.

Demon Tail
Oreg was now stabilized, though he remained unconscious. Yriadel had finally been able to successfully treat his wounds while the others were delivering the killing blow upon Vargdropor. Now, as she went about the room checking on everyone else’s wounds, she felt very awkward. Not only was she in the form of Kyran’s body – a male – but the form was much taller and larger than she was accustomed. Some noticed that she tried to cover her transformed body with her cloak – not unexpected, since her thin dress was now ripped at the seams – but something else very unusual and unexpected caught their eyes. Peeking out from under her cloak was a sinuous tail with a pointed end. It was unmistakenly demonic in nature.

Lee could tell that she was nervously trying to hide the tail: and failing awkwardly. He was guessing that the tail had appeared as part of the Shazbaz Transformation spell and had merely escaped everyone’s attention during the heat of battle. “Yriadel, what do you believe is the purpose behind the addition of this tail? Is this a cruel joke, or has Vargdropor done this to hinder your abilities?”

“Damn it…” Kyran accidentally blurted out, thereby raising suspicions that perhaps he had prior knowledge of the tail.

Aiden, travelling with these Southerners for some time now, still felt like a third wheel a lot of the time. Dodge was the most “understandable” to Aiden and he respected his common sense take on things. He asked him his thoughts on whether or not Kyran had been hiding this all along or had Yriadel simply been afflicted by magic similiar to Magna. But Dodge offered no reply. Regardless, Aiden planned to be more wary of both Yriadel and Kyran, and would second guess any suggestions for any and all party activities by either of them until a satisfactory explanation for the demonic tail was given. Demons are notoriously duplicitous and cunning, he thought to himself, so I do not see any explanation satisfying my uneasiness. Actions will be watched carefully here on out!

Yriadel replied to Lee’s inquiry, “Well, I can’t be absolutely certain, but I thought this spell was just a variation on a Baleful Polymorph – only instead of turning its victims into a newt, it turned them into the form of a random person nearby. But as it is a variation, and an ancient version at that, I guess it is possible to have other elements of which I am unaware.”

Yriadel turned toward Kyran. It was hard to read his expression, standing there in her own gracious form. “Kyran, do you have any ideas about this tail?” She could tell there were a myriad of thoughts racing through his mind. “Or… perhaps you would like to talk in private?”
Glen, upon observing this, was absolutely dumbfounded. When he heard Yriadel ask Kyran about the tail and if Kyran would prefer to talk in private he blurted out “AFTER ALL WE HAVE BEEN THROUGH YOU WOULD WANT TO TALK TO HIM IN PRIVATE?! I THINK NOT! WHAT HE HAS TO SAY SHOULD BE HEARD BY ALL!” Afterwards he just sat down next to Magna and stared into space.

Looking Yriadel sadly in the eyes, Kyran said, “Glen is right”. He looked around the room. First at Dodge, then Glen, Lee, Magna, Aiden and then back to Yriadel. “I could tell you I was cursed by some powerful sorcerer, but it is time to stop hiding the truth from my closest of friends and comrades. Though where to begin?” Pausing, he bowed his head before looking once more around the room. While it was eerily strange to be ‘looking at himself’ as he spoke, his eyes came to rest upon Yriadel’s before he continued. “As you know, my friends, Grimr and Brynja are my adoptive parents. When I left Darford years ago, it was because my… tail… began to… sprout. Fearing for my safety, Grimr and Brynja sent me away to someone whom they hoped could unlock the secrets of my past. In a way, I guess, you could say I am cursed. While my mentor was able to discern that my blood father was human and my mother a demon, their identities remain a mystery. For fear of becoming an outcast and being shunned by even you, my friends, I have kept these secrets locked away.” Kyran stopped, bowed his head and stared at the floor.

Lee chuckled out loud, then gave a sly grin to Kyran. Magna was listening intently but still half distracted with his own traumatic ‘change’. “Demon talk,” Aiden muttered wryly to Dodge.

Yriadel stepped up to Kyran and took his hands in hers. Though her magical powers were gone, the connection was still a great comfort to Kyran, despite the switch of bodies, as if her very soul emanated calmness. "Kyran, thank you for confiding your misery with us. Though I wish you had done so long ago. I still trust you, and we will help you solve the mystery of this curse.

“Now the strangeness of your encounter with Siden Mildthreth makes more sense to me. At first she could not detect your aura, then she announced that you had somehow been hidden even from the gods. So far, many of the things she said about us rings true. Perhaps there is a god who watches over you and is trying to keep you hidden until you develop your sorcerous powers.”

Kyran recalled some of the things that Siden Mildthreth had told him. How, even though the signs surrounding him were cloudy and confusing, she discerned that he was marked by at least one god who could perhaps see through his dweomer. She also perceived that he was a scion of a sorcerous bloodline and possessed an arcane birthright which he must refine and harness. Then a dreadful chill consumed him as he also remembered her other words: that he may someday face his true parents and be forced to make an ominous choice between them.

Yriadel turned to address everyone. “All of you remember, whether you believe in Free Will or you believe in Destiny, our lives are unmistakenly tangled in the machinations of the gods, like it or not. But if we all confront our fates together, maybe we can ultimately fulfill our destinies with honor and glory.”

“Demon talk,” Aiden uttered once again to Dodge.

“Thank you, kind Yriadel. Your words mean much to me. There are few things that matter more to me.” Pausing, Kyran began looking around, resuming his usual grim and stoic demeanor. (Or so it would seem – he was, after all, in the appearance of Yriadel’s attractive feminine body.) “The friendship and trust of all of you is one such thing,” he continued. “Therefore, I feel I must reveal one more secret I have kept. A… more recent one. Yriadel’s words may not be without merit. It seems that my dreams, of late, have been invaded by a minion of one such god. Which, I do not know.” Stopping briefly to take a deep breath, Kyran spoke once more, “whether he continues with us or not, Oreg must not know my secrets or what has transpired with Magna.” With that, he looked once more at each of his companions, not avoiding eye contact (an observant Lee caught a slight quizzical look when Kyran observed him).

Once again Aiden addressed Dodge. “Here we go! The demon will speak of simply sacrificing Oreg to appease the gods and keep away the bad dreams. Sowing distrust amongst us all! Next will be me as I am new to your group of friends. ‘Oh, the dreams! They are so bad! I don’t know what to do. Maybe just one more sacrifice should do it!’ Demons, and Demon bits, are no good regardless of what form they come in!”

Magna asked Kyran, “Is there something you know about Oreg that we might also like to know?”

Kyran tried to address Magna’s question. “No. But in Ullester, as well as many other cities and villages in Willowdale, and most likely beyond our region, my ‘talents’ already carry a stigma. If Oreg were to speak of my true heritage, whether he let it slip or spoke with malicious intent, it would not be good. And until we know what truly happened with your transformation into a bear, the same could be said of you.”

Glen said to Kyran "I am sorry that I blurted out and made you tell your story in front of the group but I think the stress of what we have all been through on our adventures has made me a little irritable and it just struck me wrong. I did not mean anything by my rant and I am glad you have told us as a group. I want you to know that you always have been and will always be a true friend. We will aid you however we can to find out this mystery and what our destiny is, even if it means we all end up going to Valhalla.

“As far as it goes with Oreg, I say we use him for battling until we get to the nearest town and leave him. And we don’t say any more to him than what he needs to know.

“Aiden, I don’t know about the rest of the group but as far as I am concerned you have earned the right to be an equal,” Glen added.

Yriadel stood beside Glenlivet and put her hand on his shoulder in a show of consent and respect (which actually looked like Kyran standing beside Aiden), then she turned to the group. "I wholeheartedly agree with Glen! Aiden, you are an equal among us. Though Dodge, Glen, Kyran and I grew up together in Darford, you, Lee and Magna have melded us together into a union of very diverse elements to make one very effective team. Besides, the message I received from my goddess said we are her chosen seven, and the oracle Siden Mildthreth echoed this.

“Let us all agree,” Yriadel went on, “everything we have endured here must not be shared with Oreg, or anyone else, unless we mutually agree. It will be hard enough to explain and cure our unusual transformations. Let us not make it even more frightful for our friends in Ullester by bringing bears and demon tails into the mix. By the way Glen, I hate to remind you, but Siden Mildthreth said that you and Kyran are kin to each other. So you may want to keep that in mind as we try to unravel the mystery of his curse.”

“Yriadel, I had forgotten that Siden had said that,” Glen replied. “I feel kin to all of you in some way or another and will fight till my last breath for each and every one, except Oreg. I am also curious to find out how Kyran and I are related but that will have to wait until another day. Does anyone have an idea on how to proceed from this point on getting back to our normal selves? I do not like this at all and quite frankly, this is bugging the hell out of me. I just want everything to go back to normal!”

“Again, my friends, I am grateful,” Kyran offered. “However, Glen brings us back to our greatest need. We must find out how to get back to our true selves. If no one has any objections, I suggest we move forward. We can further discuss my heritage at a future time. As for Magna, I will help you research what may have happened to you, after we are on our way to resolving our transformations. And, while I do not fully trust Oreg: I think he may yet prove himself to be good company. But, if the majority wishes to cut him loose I will not argue. Lyrie: we must discuss further. Aiden, your wariness of me is understandable and accepted, but know you this: you, as well as Magna and Lee, have blended well with us. I will fight with you against whatever fate awaits us.”

“Maybe Kyran and I can have a private moment to exchange clothing?” Yriadel suggested to the group. Then she added to Kyran, “you can show me how you have so cleverly kept this tail hidden beneath your clothing.”

“I am in favor of Kyran and Yriadel having a moment of private time to take care of the ‘issue’,” Glen offered. “I hear duct tape works wonders…”
Kyran turned to Yriadel, “yes, let us change. It is hard enough to look upon myself through your eyes, but it is made worse by seeing myself in ill-fitting women’s garments!

“And Glen, believe me when I say, duct tape is NOT the answer.”

After Yriadel and Kyran returned from exchanging clothes, the group could not help but overhear Yriadel say “I don’t know how you guys walk around with those things.”

Transformations
With regard to the transformations, Yriadel explained her thoughts that they were a result of a powerful spell cast by Vargdropor (“Epsilon Eucradies SHAZBAZ”), a sort of “Baleful Polymorph”, but rather than turning everyone into a newt, it turned them into a random person from within the same area. She suspected that the effects could be removed via a Remove Curse spell, but was unsure about any particulars. So, no other details would be known until they returned to Ullester and investigated.

“Does anyone in the group know of a higher level cleric or wizard that we could visit and see about cancelling the spell we are under?” Glen asked.

“I do not,” Magna answered, “but I hope our contacts in Ullester may be of help.”

“Anyone want to trade armor?,” asked Lee. “Was there some armor stored in the bag of holding from a conquered foe? I wonder if Arragwyn will dig my new muscles?!” added Lee, flexing his Dodge-sized biceps.

Dodge countered with, “I would like to get back to my original form ASAP! Being this weak is embarrassing!”

Kyran chimed in, “picture fits, Dodge, ‘cause you’re crying like a baby! At least you still have a penis (maybe). But I agree. Dealing with the transformation is the highest priority, when we get back to Ullester and dump Lyrie on the Forwost. And, Lee, for the time being, you won’t have to worry about someone kicking sand in your face.”

Magna added his advise, “I agree getting everyone back to normal should be our first goal once we get back to town. Remember Kyran, that body is a temple!”

“Yes, her body is a temple,” Kyran agreed, “but I am NOT letting anyone enter it. But if I get stuck in this body, I will be a lesbian! Still, though, getting switched back is a high priority.”

“Nothing against Aiden,” Glen advised, “but I want out of this body and get back into my own body. I am sure most of us want to go back to our own bodies. Notice I say most of us. Kyran, does it feel strange when you play with yourself now? And Magna Bear, you know you want someone to scratch under your chin… Can you still shoot your bow? That would be an interesting picture.”

“I guess we are going to have to carry live rabbits for Magna Bear now,” Kyran commented. “You know, for him to take care of himself after bears do what they do in the woods. And Glen (or Aiden, or whoever/whatever you are): Maybe,” Kyran punctuated the joke by rolling his eyes.

“I agree that getting switched back should be the highest priority,” reiterated Lee.

While Aiden, Dodge, Glenlivet and Lee exchanged armor and equipment, as necessary, to resolve size and encumbrance issues, Yriadel administered a healing potion to the unconscious Oreg Vancaskerkin. The potion cured considerable damage, enough to revive him, but not enough to completely heal the severe wound on his leg. He would suffer reduced speed and lowered move-based skills until additional healing could be obtained.

Room Search
Afterwards, they cautiously searched the room. The fire pit was 10 feet deep. They could see the floor through the magically sustained flames and saw no reason to enter the suicidal pit.

Each of the racks in the northern corners contained 30 eternal candles, minor magic candles that burned eternally without heat, similar to a Continual Flame spell but shedding only shadowy light in a 5-foot radius.

They found two secret doors along the south wall, each opened to a hidden alcove. In the western alcove, a single silver coffer sat on its side on one of the shelves. The coffer itself was worth about 100 gp, but the real treasure was inside, buried in a bed of fine white sand—a Ring of Force Shield. When activated, the shield-like pane of force generated manifested as a seven-pointed star—the Sjöhedron rune.

Background: The two alcoves were once used to store valuable supplies for the conjuration and entrapment of magical creatures, but when the end came to Thassilon, one of the wizards stationed here raided the chambers and fled with most of the contents.

Discussing Lyrie Acacia
The group ascended from Level 2 to Level 1, where everything appeared to be as they had left it. As they approached the room where Lyrie was held, Aiden opened the discussion.

“I want to discuss the idea of turning over Lyrie to a sure death at the hands of the townsfolk,” Aiden began. “We all agreed that Oreg was guilty of being a mercenary only, and quite frankly Lyrie is the same (maybe a bit more gung ho or maybe she is just smarter). I believe we are treating her different because we are more fearful of her magic than Oreg’s muscle! In addition to avoiding the hypocrisy of treating them differently because of fear, we may find both of them a source of help in the future (assuming they mellow a bit with the possibilities of a relationship). At the end of the day, they are talented people. Kind of a shame to let the mob have them.”

“I’m not sure Lyrie will be all that keen on joining us, with the way I dispatched that scumbag Monakild,” Lee countered. “No reason to give her an opportunity for vengeance. Then again, since Aiden looks like me right now, Lyrie might decide to take vengeance on him.”

Kyran added his voice, “Aiden, it’s not Lyrie’s magic that I fear, and I think you’re right, she may be useful to us, down the road. Had Lee not slit Monakild’s throat in front of her and then we bound and gagged her, AND THEN we shoved her cat in a bag as a hostage AND locked her up in a cell, left her by herself, overnight, STILL bound and gagged, I’d say I might trust her, somewhat. But…”

A couple volunteers checked on Lyrie and found her situation unchanged. They gave her food and water then rebound her and left her in the cell.

Kyran decided to care for Skivver, Lyrie’s cat. No cage was available, so he tied a rope around Skivver to secure him, then removed him from the Bag of Holding and gave him food and water. However, before they began talking about Lyrie, he put Skivver back in the bag. This was because he was not sure what information Lyrie could gather through Skivver’s senses. Probably not anything useful, but he was not going to take any chances. Kyran was as deliberate as he could be, doing his utmost to keep the cat from escaping. He also talked to Skivver, calmly and reassuringly, while he was attempting these steps. His precautions kept the scratching and clawing to a minimum.

Once everyone was gathered in the adjacent room, where neither Lyrie nor Skivver could hear them, Aiden restarted the conversation. “I would like to reiterate to the group, including Oreg, that I would like to leave the two of them in each others care, either here or on the road, as they desire. Neither of these people have affronted any of us personally. Their benefactor has been destroyed as well as the supernatural ‘deity’ their leader had tried to enlist to ‘assure’ them of success. The natural laws of the world and the basic laws of steadfast, brave men should be minded at all times. No real gain can be had by wanton destruction and I trust that their experience with us, The Ullester Seven, and others like us, has taught them this basic truth, ‘No matter the challenge, goodness will always triumph!’

“The more I think about it,” Aiden continued, “the more confident I am that Lyrie is no more guilty than Oreg of rash decisions that has led them to their current position. I am just as confident that turning these two over to the people of Ullester would be a… (what’s the Kimmrian word for “chickenshit”?) thing to do!”

“I too believe that is the best solution,” agreed Kyran.

Glenlivet added his voice, “I agree as well. I say we leave them here. Maybe they can kindle a relationship and no one will hear from them again…”

Lee dissented. “I disagree, since I will more than likely be a target for revenge. I am in favor of keeping her bound and turning her over to the authorities in Ullester.

“Please note Monakild’s thoughts on Lyrie and Oreg.” Lee then quoted some text he remembered from Monakild’s diary. “Lyrie Acacia and Oreg Vancaskerkin are both likable enough. Lyrie is a charmingly foul-tempered wench, but she is apparently a talented wizard and spends a lot of time with Nauma. Oreg quietly bears himself as a seasoned warrior and keeps a close watch on them both.

“Lyrie was hot for Monakild and spent a lot of time with Nauma. I’m sorry, but she will be bent on revenge, not won over by ‘goodness will always triumph.’ I’m sure she will challenge that notion the first opportunity she gets!

“Oreg appears to be someone who was being careful with Nauma’s and Lyrie’s actions, as per Monakild’s journal entry. This appears to support what Oreg told us about his situation earlier.”

Glen provided thoughtful comments. “Seems we have a dilemma going on here. I say we either let them go or put them out of our misery. I don’t think we could ask Lyrie to help us with our transformation situation as she could make things even worse for us. I agree with Aiden that we should not just turn them over to the authorities. We either leave them here or we terminate their existence. Do we need to take a vote? Majority wins?”

“Worst case scenario: these two go bad, amass a small fortune, and we come back and put them out of their misery while collecting a fortune,” Aiden estimated. “Think of them as a mutual fund. They might gain value, Yay! Lose value, ah well. But the longer you put it out of mind the more vauluable it will surely grow (considering where they are now, easy to see). Lee, if you are concerned about revenge, maybe you should rethink slaughtering prisoners? Simple vote is fine enough for me, though I’ll not take part in any killing.”

“If you have no stomach for killing, Aiden, I will gladly finish the job,” Lee retorted. “I have no problem killing a thousand prisoners if it would mean preventing one of them from harming any of us. I see that isn’t a concern of yours.”

“I am not in favor of spilling their blood at my hand as well,” said Glen. “I do know what it is like to be a prisoner or slave and that is no way to live either. I will go with what the vote says…”
“I know all about that, Glen. I was one,” Lee rebutted.

Kyran faced Lee. "Lee, Glen and I side with Aiden on this. I see no need to shed any more blood on this journey, lest it is that of goblins. Oreg has fought, and nearly died, at our side. While that does not exempt him from his part in Nauma’s scheme, to me it has earned him the freedom to walk away. I, personally, believe he could have aided us in our adventures and quests for answers, but I can see that he is not going to be fully accepted by all. As for Lyrie, I too feel that she can not be trusted among us. While she has made no amends for her part, she herself, has not personally affronted us. Therefore, I strongly believe that we all, Oreg and Lyrie included, leave as a group. When we get through the thistles, we part company with Oreg and Lyrie. Whether they go as one or separate is their choice. As for whether our paths will cross again, that cannot be foretold. But if we do meet again, I trust they will remember that we chose to give them freedom instead of sending them to the gallows of Ullester.

“Lee, your concern for our well being, as well as your own, is not lost to me."

Lee was growing tired of the debate. “If the rest of the group is in favor of cutting Oreg and Lyrie loose, then I will agree to it with reservations. I spared Lyrie because I believed we would take her to Ullester to face justice. In the heat of combat we would have finished her off, so I don’t understand the desire to let her go now. I consider her no better than Nauma or the goblins.

“My suggestion is we bind her in this dungeon leaving the ligatures loose enough for her to eventually free herself long after we have departed. I also believe Oreg has earned the privilege to choose his fate. I will support him if he chooses to join us or remain here to release Lyrie after sufficient time has passed for us to be far away from this place.

“My apologies to Aiden. I understand your reasoning and respect your opinion.”

Kyran desired to continue the debate. “The same can be said of Oreg. Had he not surrendered, he, too would have been vanquished. Thus, we gave him the option to fight with us, or be imprisoned. Lyrie did not get that choice. Yes, different situation, because we knew not what magic she possessed, but she too, had surrendered. I admit, I believed we would turn her over to Ullester, but there were doubts in my mind. I also held the thought that she would be useful to us, but I fear being so close to us would be dangerous if she does, indeed, wish to retaliate.”

Dodge provided his thoughts. “I say we leave them here to their own fate. Leave them down in the dungeon naked. Take their possessions upstairs and leave them by the front door as we leave. (What we decide to let them keep.) I think they would be foolish to try anything against us in the near future.”

Aiden crossed his arms in frustration. His tenets were centered around personal honor and slaughtering prisoners did not fit.

Magna offered his advise: “I have been listening to everyone’s comments about our two prisoners. I do not like to see any human killed unless they attempt to attack us or our friends. Both of them surrendered very quickly. The pair are no match for us and I will agree with the group if the majority wishes to free them. I think we all know this decision could return to haunt us in the future but we are more than equal to the challenge if it should happen.”

“I agree with Dodge,” contributed Glen. “Strip them of their belongings (including the cat) and take said belongings and put them in the yard. Leave Lyrie tied up and tie Oreg to where he will eventually get free. Oreg can release Lyrie and they can then find their belongings and be on their merry way. By then we will be well on our way. Vote either aye or nay and we can move on from this wretched place.”

“Aye!” shouted Aiden

“That is two ayes,” Glen said. “What say the rest of you? I want to hear the words come from your mouths.”

“Nay,” grunted Lee.

Yriadel spoke: “So it seems the majority is in favor of releasing both Oreg and Lyrie, rather than either killing them or taking them to Ullester to meet justice. I, too, stand for honor among warriors, and would not kill either in cold blood. However, I will remind you that they were both members of a conspiracy to attack and burn Ullester. Therefore, we must never admit to Eorl Aragnar, nor anyone else in Ullester, that we let these two go free.”

Oreg finally addressed his captors:

“I have heard all your words, and I thank you for your tolerance. I am truly sorry that I took up arms against you and your town of Ullester. And I am glad that I have earned your respect by fighting beside you against Nauma, and against Vargdropor, though I was defeated in that battle. I will forever stand by the oath I swore yesterday, to Tyr, the God of Justice, that I would never again take up arms against you or Ullester.

“Also, if you fear retaliation from a vengeful Lyrie, I will also swear to watch over her and keep her away from you. Yes, she desired Monakild, but I sense it was merely physical attraction, not affection. I think she may have actually been a little aggravated that Monakild remained loyal to Nauma and spurned Lyrie. I do not think she will care that we have killed Nauma either. It seems that Skivver has been unharmed, and that will go far to alleviate her anger, too.

“Furthermore, if I may ask a small favor. I would like to be the one to inform Lyrie that only through my petitions to you did you decide to spare her life. Perhaps this tactic would aid my quest to finally find my self between her legs.”

Kyran was in agreement. “I, too, agree to release them. However, I do not feel it necessary that we strip them. I do think Yriadel speaks wisdom. Ullester can never know that we allowed them to walk away. So, we leave first, given sufficient time to get through the thistles and on our way to Ullester before Oreg and Lyrie leave. I will be the last to cross the bridge and guard against retaliation.

“Oreg, I have naught against what you ask and I trust in your words and that is not something that I give lightly. I truly feel, under different circumstances, you would have aided us well in our adventures.

“As for their possessions, I have no reservations returning them. I may be in the minority, but that is my stance. I will not, however, argue against the majority.”

Magna added his voice, “Magna agrees to allow the pair to live and go their own way.” To Oreg he said, "I witnessed your bravery in battle along side of us and judge you to be a man of your word. Perhaps our paths will cross again under better circumstances.”

Lee was disappointed, and had to give his final word. “I want this on record that I wanted Lyrie to face justice in Ullester; however, I will go along with the vote of the majority.”

Aiden tried to cheer up the group. “Well played all! We have defeated the enemy and perhaps even gained some measure of additional protection for Ullester in the form of a mysterious duo of protectors! Our honor is intact and once we reverse the demonic mischief that has been done to us we should be able to look into reinvigorating our minds and bodies!”

Feeling better about his chances for survival, Oreg added his ideas. “I suggest that we free Lyrie now, then the group of us can all leave together. However, if you still fear her, I propose an alternative. You can leave her locked safely in her cell for the moment, and I will leave with you. Then when we are out of this lair, or even beyond the bridge if you command it, you can give me the key and I will return here to free her. You will be long gone through Nettlewood by the time I ‘rescue’ her, and you need never see either of us again. Nor that irritating cat Skivver. What say you?"

“I find that acceptable,” Kyran proclaimed. “If no one has any objections, I will take the key. Once we are across the bridge, I will release the key to Oreg and he will be free to go back and release Lyrie.”

“Magna is OK with that,” Magna approved. “Should we release the cat into the cell with her?”

“Works for me,” agreed Lee. “But let’s release the cat to Oreg, along with the key, after we cross the bridge.”

“As long as we wait until we have crossed the bridge, I am fine with it,” confirmed Glen.

Shadowmist

The group climbed out of the dungeon and into the stockade grounds. Though they were tired, wounded and disoriented from their unfortunate transformations, their moods were brightened by the sunshine. They were wary of attacks from goblins, but a quick inspection of the stockade revealed that it was completely abandoned. Flies swarmed around the stinking corpses, untouched from where they had fallen in battle the day before. Almost half of the food stores were missing, probably taken by the few surviving goblins as they hastily escaped.

Magna surveyed the grounds outside the stockade and discovered Shadowmist (called Gwathithroch in Magna’s native elven tongue). The once-great warhorse was in slightly better condition this day, its black coat reflecting the sun. It had apparently wandered out of the stockade in search of greener pastures, and was grazing lazily. Its wild eyes seemed calmer and the steed gave out a gentle snort upon noticing Magna and his friends.

Magna slowly approached the weakened animal and offered it some fresh-plucked grass. Cautiously, he moved in closer, utilizing his Ranger Wild Empathy ability. Eventually, Shadowmist accepted the offering and Magna stroked the horse’s neck, finally gaining its trust. Afterwards, Magna was able to put a rope on the horse, then lead it towards the bridge. He used a cloth to blindfold Shadowmist, then carefully led it across the bridge.

Farewell to Oreg

After they all crossed the bridge, Kyran sat down in the sunlight and perused Lyrie’s spellbook. He wanted to see if he could tell what spells she knew, in case there were some that had only a verbal component and could be harmful to them. He cast his Kavvála Anágnosi spell (Read Magic) and read through the spell book. He determined that she had the following Wizard Spells: (0) Acid Splash, Detect Magic, Prestidigitation, Ray of Frost, (1) Burning Hands, Mage Armor, Ray of Enfeeblement, (2) Mirror Image, Shatter. Only Mage Armor and Shatter required a material component. Kyran was satisfied that Lyrie would be little danger to the group, should she seek to catch up to them.

As the group hid Lyrie’s equipment in the nettles, Kyran spoke to Oreg. “Fare thee well, Oreg. Good luck to you on your ‘quest’. If our paths cross again, I hope it is on better terms.” Kyran handed him the key and followed the rest of the group through the tangles of Nettlewood on their return to Ullester.

Interlude: Journals of Nauma Torbeinsdottir

Later, in Ullester, though it took several hours to sort through the massive collection of Nauma’s notes and journals, they revealed the entirety of her story, and her progression from a shy, beautiful foundling to an unsettled mind and a devotee of Loptur.

Nauma Torbeinsdottir was a foundling raised by Ullester’s previous religious leader, a man named Torbeinn. Nauma’s childhood was lonely and sad. Her unearthly beauty made the other children either jealous or shy, and many of them took to playing cruel jokes on her. The adults in town weren’t much better—many of the superstitious Angarians viewed Nauma as blessed by Frigga, a sort of “reverse deformity.” Rumors that her touch or proximity could cure warts and rashes, that locks of her hair brewed into tea could increase fertility, and that her voice could drive out evil spirits, led to endless awkward and humiliating requests over the years. Poor Nauma felt more like a freak than a young girl by the time she came of age, so when Derek Visconte, a local Preton youth, began to court her, she practically fell into his arms in gratitude.

Knowing that her father wouldn’t approve of a relationship with a non-Angarian (he wanted her to remain pure so that she could join one of the prestigious Linwich Miklahofs), they kept the affair secret. They met many times in hidden places, a favorite being an abandoned smuggler’s tunnel under town that Derek had discovered as a child. Before long, Nauma realized she was pregnant. When she told Derek, he revealed his true colors and, after calling her a slut and a whore, fled Ullester rather than face her father’s wrath. Nauma’s shock quickly turned to rage, yet she had nowhere to vent her anger. She bottled it up, and when her father discovered her delicate condition, his reaction to her indiscretions only furthered her shame and anger. He forbade her to leave the temple, lectured her nightly, and made her pray to Frigga for forgiveness. In so doing, he unknowingly nurtured her growing hate.

When she was seven months pregnant, Nauma’s mind became suffused with wrath and she flew into a frenzy. She miscarried her child later that night, a child whose monstrously deformed shape she only glimpsed before blanching midwives stole it away to burn it in secret. Later she learned that as the child had been concieved in the smuggler’s tunnels below town, in close proximity to a hidden shrine to Loptur (the Goddess of Monstrous Births), the child itself was deformed and horrific. The double shock of losing a child and the realization she had been carrying a fiend in her belly for seven months was too much. Nauma fell into a coma.

As Nauma slept, she dreamed unhealthy dreams. Fueled by the taint of Loptur, Nauma became further obsessed with the cruel demon goddess and the conviction that her wretched life was inflicted on her by those around her. She came to see her celestial heritage as a curse, and the demon-sent dreams showed her how to expunge this taint from her body and soul, replacing it with chaos and cruelty. When she finally woke, Nauma was someone new, someone who didn’t flinch at what Loptur asked of her. She jammed her father’s door shut as he slept, lit the church on fire, and fled Ullester.

The locals assumed Nauma had burned in the fire, a tragedy made all the worse by the death of Torbeinn as well. Yet Nauma lived. She fled to Kantor, where she enlisted the aid of a group of killers known as the Skinsaw Men. With their aid, she tracked down Derek and murdered him. Yet his death did not fill her need for revenge. Ullester and its hated citizens still lived. Seeing a kindred spirit in the tortured woman, the mysterious leader of the Skinsaw Men gave Nauma a medallion bearing a carving of a seven-pointed star called a “Sjöhedron Medallion.” Nauma learned that she had a larger role to play, and that her dreams were a map to her destiny.

Taking the advice to heart, Nauma returned to Ullester, and found herself drawn to the brick wall in the smuggler’s tunnels where she and Derek had conceived her deformed child. Nauma bashed down the wall, and in so doing, discovered the Labyrinths of Wrath and the quasit Eraxium, also a follower of Loptur. For many months, Nauma studied under Eraxium’s tutelage. During this time, Nauma received another vision from Loptur—a vision of a monstrous goblin wolf imprisoned in a tiny room. In Nauma’s dreams, she learned that this creature, a barghest named Vargdropor, was also one of Loptur’s chosen. If she could find him and free him, he would not only help her achieve her vengeance against the town of Ullester, but he would be the key in cleansing her body of what she had come to see as her “celestial stain.” Nauma wanted to be one of Loptur’s children now. She wanted to become a monster herself.

Nauma returned to Kantor, where she recruited her first followers. Oreg Vancaskerkin was a down-on-his-luck mercenary from the lawless city of Tiersleigh to the north. Nauma encountered him in a seedy Kantor bar and he accepted her offer to serve as her bodyguard without question.

Nauma hired Lyrie Acacia primarily for her knowledge of arcana and architecture, her ability to read Ancient Thassilonian, and for her arcane magic. When Nauma offered to pay her in platinum to study Ancient Thassilonian relics, she gratefully accepted.

Nauma met Monakild Kleinberg on the streets of Kantor. They reconnected and soon confessed their shared desire for vengeance on the town of Ullester. She hired him, planning to use his link to his father to orchestrate an ambush on Ullester. (Monakild was instrumental in the attack – he led a group of Thistletop goblins into the cemetery, stole her father Torbeinn’s remains, and then returned to Thistletop so she could offer the remains to Loptur in return for the first stage of her transformation into a demon.)

Back again near Ullester, Nauma arrived with her entourage at Thistletop, marched boldly into the fortress, and offered an alliance to Chief Ripnugget, lord of the Thistletop goblins. Ripnugget, in a rare display of common sense, realized that they were more than a match for him and his goblins, and, instead of fighting, chose to listen to what she had to say. When she revealed her holy symbol of Loptur and spoke of Vargdropor, Ripnugget was shocked, but came to believe that Nauma was in fact Vargdropor’s mouthpiece, and that she had been sent to Thistletop to usher the goblins into a new age of triumph. Nauma gave Ripnugget a silver holy symbol of Loptur that looked like a three-eyed fanged serpent with tiny garnets for eyes.

In the underground level below the Thistletop stockade, Nauma reconsecrated the shrine to Loptur, which had lain dormant for many years, ever since the previous chieftain had succumbed to rabies and left Ripnugget in charge. Ripnugget had always viewed his inability to receive Vargdropor’s empathic sendings as a flaw, but after he threw several goblins who dared question this flaw into the Howling Hole, no one at Thistletop talked about it any more. Ripnugget had come to view Nauma’s arrival as Loptur’s blessing, and her weekly sermons had become mandatory for the goblins despite the fact that one or two of them would end up sacrificed on the altar if they could not offer up other goblins or prisoners in their place.

Nauma had been drawn to Thistletop by her dreams, and she had quickly re-dedicated the shrine to Loptur in much the same way Ullester would re-dedicate their own shrine a few months later. In reward, Loptur sent her three minions, lean creatures that looked like jackals with smoking red eyes and black fangs—yeth hounds. Two constantly lurked in the shadows of the shrine while the other remained at Nauma’s side. All three were completely loyal to her. When Nauma performed sacrifices to Loptur, she did so with her bastard sword, beheading the victim and then inviting the yeth hounds to feast on the body while she held the decapitated head over the altar so it could watch its body be consumed.

During rituals, all of the goblins in the complex, as well as Monakild, Lyrie, and Bruzermush, gathered in the shrine to watch and pray. Oreg attended the first service, but had since bowed out, claiming that someone needed to guard the complex during ceremony.

Although Nauma’s plan to assault Ullester didn’t quite go through like she promised, the fact that she had managed to awaken the temple, establish a link with Vargdropor, and slowly but surely opened up the ancient chambers deep below (and in so doing increased the size of the Thistletop holdings) was more than enough proof to Ripnugget that Nauma was the best hope for his tribe’s future. Chief Ripnugget became obsessed with Nauma, and his interest in his wives all but vanished, so enthralled had he become by her. While most of the Thistletop goblins personally felt that Ripnugget’s obsession with Nauma was embarrassing and even traitorous, none of them were brave enough to confront their leader with their feelings (with the exception of the druid Gugmut). Nauma knew that Ripnugget’s obsession with her had nothing to do with sexual attraction, but that it made a convenient cover to hide his real interest – he believed that she may well be the key to unraveling the mystery of what Vargdropor really was.

Lastly, Nauma encountered Bruzermush the bugbear. For many years, Bruzermush lived a lonely life as a trapper in the northern reaches of Nettlewood, periodically stalking the Lindenway for merchants and couriers to jump. The day he met Nauma, he thought the exotic-looking woman was some sort of nature spirit. He tried to catch her to sell her to pirates from Tiersleigh, but she handily defeated him without taking a wound herself. So when she offered him a job as her bodyguard rather than executing him, Bruzermush seized the chance. He had long coveted the prime location claimed by the Thistletop tribe, and now that he was there, he knew he had Nauma to thank for his turn in fortunes. He remained cruel and abusive to most others he met (including Nauma’s other allies, of whom he did not enjoy the company, but excluding the chief’s delightful goblin wives), but had taken to treating Nauma almost as a mother.

Nauma’s recent success with the ritual to offer her foster father’s corporeal remains to Loptur saw her rewarded with a promise of things to come—her left hand had been transformed into a demonic red talon. With the exception of her demonic hand and her scarred belly, the rest of her was beautiful. Yet in her madness, Nauma had come to view her silver hair, violet eyes, and shapely figure as a curse, a scar visited upon her by an angelic heritage. She wanted to shed this part of her, to become fully monstrous to better serve her new mistress.

She wore the mark of her devotion to Loptur proudly, keeping her midriff bare to expose the ugly scars and wounds across her belly. Loptur’s Mark identified her as favored of the Mother of Monsters, and while visible it improved her intimidation factor over her minions. It gave her the ability, when striking a non-evil foe in melee, to cause the opponent to become deformed in some hideous manner (cloven hoof, horns, forked tongues, and vestigal limbs like wings and tails were common deformities), though the deformity would only last one hour. Also, it was written, any offspring she might give birth to would be half-demon.

Finally, the notes outlined Nauma’s plans to send an army of goblins against Ullester and to burn the town to the ground, not only to offer it all as a burnt offering to Loptur in hopes of being made a half-fiend, but to fuel the Runewell in the labyrinths below. The runewell was empowered with the capacity to harvest wrath from the souls of the dead so as to create Eraxium’s favored shock troops—wrathspawn. Five years ago, the long dormant runewell flared back to life unexpectably, and ever since, Eraxium had taken care to nurture it. When it was reactivated, it became infused with ambient wrath. Every time a creature with a wrathful soul died within a mile of the runewell, it gained in strength. The grisly murder spree by Chopper (Jarvis Seekay) was sufficient to increase the runewell’s power.

Recently, its magic had been waning, but the recent slaughter of so many goblins above had done wonders to recharge the pool’s wrath, and lately it glowed and bubbled nearly as much as when it was first reactivated years ago. Nauma expected that when she led the second, “real” assault on Ullester—the number of goblins slaughtered alone would give Eraxium enough wrathspawn to expand her own army into the world above and begin harvesting more victims to transform into new wrathspawn.

The notes explained how the runewell could be commanded to disgorge a wrathspawn. To manifest a wrathspawn, a creature need only allow a few drops of its blood to fall into the pool—seconds later, a wrathspawn would emerge from the well and immediately attack the closest creature in which it could not scent wrath. But each use of the runewell in this manner tapped the pool of its strength. Nauma warned that if one were to overextend the runewell’s stores, it would be deactivated. She was not sure how to reactivate it, and several times stressed that the runewell should not be used much until after Ullester was razed and the deaths of hundreds of angry citizens and goblins had refilled the well.

The end of the logs are scattered, and show the ongoing degradation of the young woman’s mind. One of Nauma’s companions was killed by a brutal “scything glaive” trap, soon after their arrival. Progress since then had proceeded with much more care and caution. As a result, Nauma’s group had explored much of the ancient ruin (including a tomb, and some sort of sunken treasury beyond) and had yet to open a path to Vargdropor. Brief notes existed on the tomb, explaining some sort of “wrathful presence” in the room, as well as the treasury – but Nauma quickly determined these rooms would not lead to her goal and lost interest.

Sjöhedron Medallion

The Sjöhedron Medallion is a silver disc inscribed with a seven-pointed star. Although few know the actual significance of the star today, it was once a very important symbol in ancient Thassilon, for this star symbolized the seven virtues of rule and the seven schools of Thassilonian magic. These medallions were given to favored agents of the runelords; the medallions granted some minor benefits to the wearer, but also allowed the runelords to use those who wore them as proxies. By concentrating on a scrying device, a runelord could sense the world through the wearer’s senses, and could speak through the wearer’s voice. While worn, a Sjöhedron Medallion grants its wearer improved resistance. Once per day, it may be commanded to bestow the effects of False Life on the wearer. Placed on the neck of a dead body, it preserves the body indefinitely via a Gentle Repose effect.

To be continued…



Footnotes:
1. Adapted from: James Jacobs, Rise of the Runelords: Burnt Offerings, (Bellevue: Paizo Publishing LLC, 2007).


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By-Tor Brigade Legacy VykingValor