The Cupboard is Bare

Trials of the Black Wolf

Upon arriving in Underbrush, Dig and Samus separated from the group to discuss some matters. With Raslin as the only group member who had been to the town before, everyone else followed his lead as he sought out some acquaintances of his, Altin & Merlin Greenbottle. He had no trouble finding them, and the pair hospitably invited everyone into their home for dinner and for the night. Altin shared with everyone what had happened, with Mayor E’s mysterious death, Dig’s unfortunate inability to save the mayor (and his subsequent exile), and the slightly-too-coincidental timing of Dug taking over as mayor along with all of the happenings with the government in Da-Yen. The city is split on whether things are improving or getting worse, but most of the locals seem to believe things are getting worse.

Some time spent the next morning in the markets and visiting with the guards confirmed what Altin had said. The people who were new to the area seemed quite pleased with what was going on, while the people who had always lived there were not faring so well. Many of them had even moved away, as evidenced by the empty booths in the local market.

Desiring to see what was going on in Tan-Gen and in Raslin’s hometown, and desiring to meet with Cosette, the group left for Tan-Gen. With some effort the group found Niovara, a member of the Sparrows, and requested an audience with Cosette. They were informed that Cosette does not generally take visitors. When told that the group felt Cosette might be in danger, Niovara said that Cosette seemed to sense the same and that this is why it is hard to visit her. Niovara informed them that a series of tests has been set up that must be passed before one can visit Cosette. If they wanted to try the tests they were welcome to meet her at the outskirts of town at dusk.

The group desired to try the tests and met Niovara. After perhaps 45 minutes of walking into the dense forest with no apparent path they arrived at a hidden door built into the side of a low hill. Above the door was a message, encoded with various arrows, that read, “Seek to Atone, Seek to Serve, Seek the Truth, Find Purpose”. Upon decoding the message, the door opened. Across a small room they found another door decorated with a relief carving of a sphinx. Upon approaching, the sphinx’s face animated and presented the group with three riddles. The group had no trouble with the sphinx’s riddles, and was granted access to the ensuing tests.

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The Long Road Home

After clearing the halls of Headmaster Gretch and his servants, and ending the experimentation on the dead wizards that was taking place there, Pippa’s Gang returned to the Citadel of the Moon to discuss things with Anthony. Anthony appreciated their work. He was concerned to learn that Gretch had been operating there with a portal, but felt good that they had slowed his progress by taking the crystal. He asked if the group would like to formally own the property as an ally within his territory. After hammering out some details the group agreed and paperwork was drawn up to transfer ownership of the home and the caverns under it to Pippa’s Gang.
When asked about the meaning of the phrase about the Autumn of Blades Anthony knew that it was an antiquated way of measuring years (the year of blades, the year of scythes, the year of shields, etc) but he was not sure what the current year was by that reckoning. He was not familiar with the part of the phrase about the chaining of the Black Wolf. The two parties agreed to look into it independently. Anthony gave the group a one-time-use pendant that would allow them to reach Anthony, or him to reach them.
At dawn the group rode south to Ferrell’s Keep where they caught a barge that was able to get them to NebelStadt before dark. The group took care of some odds and ends, Cavalier bought many bags of acorns, Pippa acquired an interesting fiddle in exchange for an ent costume, and Marthis had an interesting conversation with Ziah Sig, the Elder of the Black Sparrows in NebelStadt. They had various conversation about the best way for Marthis to handle the issue of Fargrim’s imprisonment. Marthis also casually mentioned that they were seeking the meaning of the Black Wolf. Ziah Sig became silent for a moment, then explained that the Black Wolf was the tribal name of Cosette, the Elder of the Sparrows in Tan-Gen. However, no one had used this name for her in a number of years. He promised to also look into what the writing could mean about the ‘chaining of the Black Wolf’.
The next morning the group crossed the river to Pan Findel to seek Fargrim’s release. With some effort they eventually came to the home of Lady Helja herself. In their private meeting Marthis came clean about his past, his murder of a local nobleman, and his efforts to reform with the help of the Black Sparoows. Lady Helja expressed her appreciation for the work of the Sparrows, but also explained that this appreciation had to remain hidden in order to avoid problems. She summoned Javier, captain of the guard, in order to resolve the issues of Fargrim’s false imprisonment and how to handle Marthis.
The release of Fargrim was acquired with relative ease. Much more heated was the debate over the appropriate handling of Marthis. In the end, Cavalier suggested that he be released into Cavalier’s care. This idea seemed to strike a chord with Lady Helja, who agreed that Marthis could go into exile provided that Cavalier took joint responsibility for his actions. Javier was furious, but the decision stood.
Upon leaving the estate the group heard a commotion from the south gate of Pan Findel. They went to see what was going on and found a Halfling woman trying to enter the city. This, in and of itself, was not a problem. The problem was the cheetah she was trying to bring in with her. At first the guards staunchly refused her access to the city while the cheetah was with her. Partly through the efforts of Cavalier and Dig, the mood of the crowd turned and they began to heckle the guards, asking that the woman be allowed entry. In the end the guards relented, allowing the woman and her cheetah to enter.
The woman introduced herself to the group as Liska and offered to help them in their journey south to find out what was going on in Tan-Gen and Underbrush. The next morning the group began the long trek south. Along the way they met Samus, Dig’s nephew, who had come seeking Dig. Samus implored Dig to return to confront his brother, Dug, who was acting as mayor of Underbrush. Dig was eager to return home and see what was going on, but expressed his full faith that Dug would handle things in the best interest of the town.
After a small mishap in Pan Bazaar the group made their way through The Rest Stop, through the woods, and into the region of Tan-Gen. Right away, Raslin and Dig, who both grew up in the area, recognized that the road had been redirected to bypass Tan-Gen through Underbrush. Upon arriving in Underbrush, the group discovered that indeed much had changed. The town was larger, commerce in the ‘foreign’ section was booming while commerce in the ‘local’ section of town languished. The roads had been expanded by removing a number of houses (Dig’s among them). A number of much larger houses had sprung up and, perhaps most notably, the Mayoral estate had been expanded significantly.

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A Lizard's Tale
The Story of Frank

“There is no higher honor or calling than to serve Master Gretch”. Frank could hear his mom’s words in his ears almost like she was there speaking them right now. Even as he heard the raiders crashing through the halls of his home, Frank looked around at Master Gretch and his two siblings and knew he was in the right place.

He had been hatched here in these halls. He remembered from the earliest time how he and the gnoll children would have rivalry games with the orc children. They would see who could run the halls the fastest and they would have contests of battle and strength. The halls would ring with shouting and laughter! Every now and then someone would get hurt. Frank remembered one time when he was hurt very badly. Of course his mother had been the first to arrive. But shortly behind her was Master Gretch himself! He always came when someone was hurt. He truly cared! The pale wizard with jet black hair had used magic to heal Frank on this occasion, and this just reinforced the words of his mother. Frank knew there was no higher calling than to serve Master Gretch!

As Frank stood in the room the memories flooded back. He remembered the first time he had come into this room. Master Gretch had gone on a trip when Frank was a young lizardfolk of perhaps 10 years. After everyone had gone to bed the older lizards shook Frank awake. Frank felt nervous as they led him down the hallway, through the experimentation room where they stood now, and into the room with the portal. Frank remembered the awe that he felt the first time he saw the crystal, seated on the tripod, and the portal to the abyss floating above it. The older lizard, Eddie, pushed Frank forward and made him take the crystal. The portal disappeared. The other lizards laughed and laughed and ran back down the hall. Frightened, Frank dropped the crystal and ran as well.

Oh, did Frank get it when Master Gretch returned! Frank was called into the room alone with Master Gretch, who scolded him severely! But there was always a twinkle in the wizard’s eye. He spoke of the importance of keeping the portal open in case it were needed, but Frank could tell he had not violated a major rule. Soon he found that the Crystal Joke, as Eddie called it, was a right of passage. He had truly become one of the clan! Over the years they would have fun playing the Crystal Joke on Master Gretch, sometimes getting caught, sometimes not. But Frank always knew the Crystal Joke meant he was part of something great.

But that changed with the first raiders who came into their home. A group who was trying to attack Master Gretch! They had repelled them, but it was costly. Frank’s mom was killed, along with Eddie and many of Frank’s friends. This memory brought Frank back to the current moment. They had been hearing the sounds of battle in their halls. They were hearing doors opening and closing, and feeling the shift in the ever-present wind. He knew that a new group of raiders were approaching. Then he heard them kicking open their doors! Kicking them! They weren’t even locked! Didn’t these monsters have any respect for his home?

Suddenly the sound of the alarm rang out through the halls. If they had gotten this close, it meant they had killed Mother Winfrey, who lived in the house and who had introduced Frank to the fire-drink that the orcs loved. It meant they had killed his friends in the halls. But they had also seen the signs of Master Gretch’s power! The dead wizards along the walls. The writing of warnings on the walls. And they had blundered into the alarm. A smile crossed Frank’s scaly lips. He and his friends raised their javelins. Whoever walked through the door would pay. But then they heard an orc voice call out, apologizing for his error. Frank didn’t believe it (and he would find out later it was the voice of the raider called Cavalier). But it was convincing, and Master Gretch told them to stand ready, but not to attack on sight just in case it was old Pudge, drunk on too much fire-drink again.

When the door swung opened the raiders looked surprised. They saw the shelves of chemicals and materials. They saw the low experimenting tables with the four dead wizards from Clearwall. Frank could tell one of the raiders (the one they called Raslin) recognized one of the dead wizards (the one called Gordon who had died in an accident two years earlier). Frank looked over at Master Gretch, who looked surprised. Frank had never seen Master Gretch look surprised before! But then Master Gretch smiled and said, “Ah, our guests have arrived!” Then to the wizard Raslin he said, “You must be Raslin! Dean Milton seems to think you’re worth pursuing.” Then to Frank and his friends, “Try to keep Raslin’s body fresh”. He clapped his hands once and left the room to depart through the portal.

Then the battle was engaged! Master Gretch had imbued the dead wizards with life and they rose to help attack the intruders! A spate of bad luck tipped the battle in favor of the intruders early on, but Frank battled on valiantly. Then Frank saw her. The one he learned was called “Pippa”. She spoke some words to him and Frank new instantly that she was not like the other raiders. She was a friend. But why were the people she was with so mean? At first Frank fought against Pippa’s friends, but Pippa said not to. That they were OK. Surely any friend of Pippa’s was a friend of his. But Frank was still torn as he watched the one called Marthis kill one of his friends, then two of the wizards. Then he watched the one called Cavalier, the nasty one who was breaking their doors, as he killed another of his friends. As he stood there, torn, Pippa told him to go home. But this WAS home! Didn’t she understand! Frank sat down and cried. It was all he knew to do. Even Corbin, the shadow demon who lived in the walls, was not enough to turn the tide of the battle. Frank sat and sobbed as he watched the raiders kill his friends, one by one.

Finally the battle was over. Frank was alone. But Pippa came over and spoke kindly to him. She asked about Master Gretch. Frank loved to talk about Master Gretch! She asked what was in the next room. “The next room!”, thought Frank excitedly. I can show her the portal! This can be my new clan! Pippa said they would like to see the portal and Frank took her into the room and showed them the low tripod with the orange crystal. Frank had never understood how the magic could go through the crystal to create the portal above it, and he could tell that Pippa and her friends were impressed. Then Frank made a decision. He would show her the Crystal Joke. She would be his new clan. Laughing, Frank picked up the crystal and the portal disappeared. Then he replaced it and it reappeared. He did this a few more times, smiling at Pippa the whole time.

Then the mood changed. Suddenly Pippa and her friends started talking about taking the crystal. Or even breaking it! No, no, no! To joke with Master Gretch was one thing. But to steal his crystal? This could not be. Pippa tried to convince Frank to let them take it, but he could not betray Master Gretch. Then the one called Raslin did the unthinkable. He took the crystal. Not as a joke. For real. Frank attacked. He knew the odds were against him. But he had to fight for Master Gretch.

The one called Marthis attacked him. Fortunately for Frank, the halfling was clumsy with his staff and knocked himself out with it. Encouraged, Frank fought on. But eventually Pippa’s friends dealt him a mortal blow. Betrayed and alone, surrounded by his enemies, Frank dropped to the floor. He remembered his mom and Eddie. He wanted to say something, anything, to bring honor to his clan. But all he could do was look at Pippa, with tears in his eyes. With labored breath he said, “We were friends… I showed you the Crystal Joke….”. And then he closed his eyes. His home, once filled with the shouting and laughing of wrestling children, was silent.

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Blowin' in the Wind
or "The Tale of the Phantasmal Bourbon"

After defeating the hag and raiding her bourbon, the group moves through the illusory fire and wall and descends a set of stairs. Marthis hears a slight breeze coming from the other side of the door at the end of the hall and, while checking it more closely, finds a trap. He handily disables the trap and the group moves into a cross hallway. The hall is noticeably colder than it was upstairs, and there is a soft, chilly breeze blowing from left to right, even though they are underground. The group is not particularly quiet in inspecting the door at one end of the hall and they find that they alerted two Gnolls who were sparring in one of the rooms. The battle was heated, especially considering that they were tired out from battling the hag, so the group dragged the bodies back into the hags’ house and rested there.

Upon waking the group went back into the hallway. They moved through what appeared to be a mess hall and into a large empty room. In this second empty room they noticed that the breeze came to a halt. As they moved around they room they could tell that the breeze actually flowed out through both doors of the room rather than flowing through the room. This led Dig to suspect that they were either at the source of whatever was blowing the breeze, or they were at the farthest point from whatever was sucking the air toward it.

Opening the door to the room they stumbled upon a group of orcs who were enjoying their own glasses of bourbon in what appeared to be a study. After taking one more swig of their drinks, the orcs rose and joined the battle. Marthis killed the first orc to approach him in true kung-fu style and Cavalier held the front line valiantly while Dig healed and Raslin attacked from behind. Thinking quickly, Pippa deceived what appeared to be the strongest orc, causing him to believe that he had become trapped in a giant glass of bourbon. While he was excited at first, he quickly realized that this was a condition that would cause him to drown. The group handily dispatched the weaker orcs while the leader frantically removed his armor to avoid drowning in the phantasmal bourbon. By the time he was freed his allies had fallen and Pippa’s gang was able to defeat him as well. Inspecting the room for a place to bury the bodies, Dig located a pit trap under a rug. He also noticed a false floor in the corner which was filled with treasure. Here is where he also buried the orc bodies.

Moving boldly into the next room the group discovered that the noise of the battle had alerted a trio of Gnolls and another quartet of orcs to their presence. They became pinched from both sides and were about to decide that flight might be the appropriate course of action. But Raslin used burning hands in a last ditch effort to take advantage of the fact that all of the orcs had tried to rush through one door at the same time. He killed one, distracted one to the point that his axe stuck in the door, and damaged the others so severely that they were easily killed by his companions. Emboldened, the group remained for the fight. While there were some close calls, a timely suggestion spell from Cavalier turned the gnolls against each other, buying the group just enough time to finish the job in the room.

With the immediate threat vanquished the group took longer to look at the room. The breeze had picked up a little bit and was going toward a door in the opposite corner of the room from where they had entered. On the wall near that opposite door was written, “The walls listen”. In exploring the room where the orcs had been they found the floor to be made of white and black stones in a spiraling pattern. on the wall of this room was written “Upon the sixth day of the Autumn of Blades, when the Black Wolf is chained, the Ancient One shall return.”

The group was concerned and confused at these writings on the wall, but deemed it unwise to rush on without resting. So they settled in to sort through all that had happened.

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The Citadel of the Moon
Last time I offer you any bourbon...

As dusk approached Pippa’s gang arrived at Ferrell’s Keep. It was on the other side of the river so the group took the official ferry, which was well guarded and run, to reach it. The town sat atop a low hill and was surrounded by an earthen wall. The sun had set as the group approached the gate. A human boy of perhaps 10 years was begging near the gate and Cavalier generously gave him a gold piece and offered to buy him a beer. The boy seemed excited and took his cane to hobble off and ask his dad. The group noticed a sign at the gate that read “Entrance after dusk is by the invitation of 2 uniformed guards only.”

Upon venturing further in to the city they find themselves a bar where they decide to step in for a drink. Whilst Cavalier and Marthis hitched their horses outside, Raslin opted to ride his horse into the establishment and cause a ruckus. While not immediately kicked out of the bar, he was refused service until he took the beast and hitched it outside with the rest. Settling in to the bar, the party notices Lia and Fenton across the room and catches their attention. While speaking with Lia, the gang learns that Fargrim, the proprietor of the Weary Sailor in the Birel’s countryside has been arrested for interfering in the investigation into the murder of a nobleman in Pan-Findel. Marthis, appalled at Javier’s audacity, states he cannot bear having Fargrim’s fate on his conscience. Lia and Fenton state that they are following at a distance to attend Fargrim’s “trial” and learn where they hold him after he is sentenced. They also offer to take the mounts that had been loaned by the Birels back to their estate.

Knowing that they still need to make their way to Lord Anthony’’s manor the group find themselves more permanent mounts, including a Mastiff named Bruno for Raslin. Heading north, Pippa’s Gang moved swiftly towards the area where Esther had said they would find Lord Anthony’s manner. After several hours’ journey, they stumbled upon a large wooded area that seemed to stand out to them. Sending Marthis ahead to scout out the woods, he returned to inform them that he had seen vampiric sentinels in the woods, and that they had indeed found the manor.

Entering the woods, the group was followed by these hooded figures as they followed a sunlit path through to a home standing among some ruins. A strange message was found on the door of the home stating that it was legally in the possession of Pippa’s gang for the next 3 days, and that they should be wary whom they grant entrance. Naturally curious, Dig strikes up a conversation with one of the hooded vampires in the woods and attempts to learn more about their kind and about Lord Anthony. As twilight settled a strange transformation happened around the manor as what once was ruins now became a cathedral-like manor. With the transformation came the arrival of Esther and Lord Anthony himself whom the group recognized as the beggar boy from Ferrell’s Keep.

After introducing themselves, Marthis bluntly asks Anthony what they have been summoned for, what was of such interest to him about the drow guardians they had slain. After some beating around the bush, Anthony reveals that there was a book that had been left in the temple for safe keeping, hidden from a cult known as The Forty-Two. He impresses upon the group the importance of the book and the danger of this cult, telling them that they are very dangerous, and are seeking this book as it is one of two books needed to summon an evil entity known as The Ancient One. After probing their minds, Anthony discovers that the group is indeed in possession of the book after having defeated the drow, who were in charge of guarding the book and the trapped soul of a Gnomish necromancer named Neblin. Now that the book is found and the Necromancer is released it is important that the 42 not receive the book and the Neblin not obtain a proper body, which is surely what he was seeking in the graveyards.

Anthony requests a favor of the group, as a sign of the trustworthiness. North of his estate, which he refers to as the Citadel of the Moon, there is a small home. He believes that a group affiliated with the 42 and with Clearwall College is using this home as a front for an underground operation of some sort. At any rate, they have been a thorn in his side for many years and he would love to have the area ‘cleared’. The group leaves one of Raslin’s tomes in the house so they will not both be taken if the group is lost, then they head for this house.

Upon arriving they see that it truly looks like a farmhouse. Marthis climbs silently onto the roof and the rest of the group knocks on the door. An elderly woman inside insists that the group leave, but they will not be dissuaded. Cavalier explains that they are on a beer tour and the woman explains that she really prefers bourbon. Somehow the group talks their way in by asking if they can try some of her bourbon. As the woman makes her way into the kitchen, a brief moment of clarity reveals to Raslin that she is actually a hag. The wizard is able to coordinate Pippa’s Gang to an attack, though not before Cavalier helps himself to some of the woman’s bourbon. After a fierce, though oddly silent, battle the group defeats the witch. They explore the small house and find that the fireplace is giving off no heat. Dig Underhill reaches in and finds that his hand passes through the back of the fireplace and into a set of stone stairs descending into the earth.

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Books and Clubs

While settling in at the East Fork Inn Pippa’s Gang joined in the revelry when it is announced with great exuberance that the road circumventing Tan Gen had been completed. This was a great accomplishment for Da-Yen as it would help them reclaim control on the secessionists in the southeast. However amid the hubbub, it seemed Dig was more troubled than excited about the news, considering that it appeared his brother, Dug, had been instrumental in the opening of a new barracks for Da-Yen in the region of his hometown.

Upon waking early in the morning Marthis and Raslin, depart from the inn to set about some errands and social calls. Their first stop was at the den of the Black Sparrow monks to speak with Callie and ensure that Pim was well received and to hear what news she had of the order. She informed him that the order had been flourishing, though they weren’t without the usual concerns that came with the order’s sometimes less-than-legal dealings. After spending an evening with Pim she was confident that he was exactly the sort who would make a good Sparrow.

The pair ventured from the den to Grok’s Rocks to make a quick acquisition of a new spell focus for Raslin. He purchased a sparkling diamond, which Raslin managed to haggle down considerably, pointing out some perceived flaws in the gem.

Their purchase made, the two moved on to Mayor Bellwyn’s home, where they were met by Pippa, and greeted by a one of the mayor’s servants. After exchanging pleasantries the servant gave a tentative acceptance of Raslin’s request to peruse the mayor’s library, in spite of the Mayor still sleeping of the celebration of the night before. The trio soon found themselves poring over book after book in hopes of uncovering some clue as to what the strange tome Raslin absconded with from his college. During their research, they discovered some interesting history books. One was on Raslin’s college of Clearwall and made reference to the founder, Headmaster Gretch, who founded the college as an option for aspiring wizards who were not accepted by the snobbish high elves at the colleges in the Great Wood. Interestingly, Raslin had never heard this name, in spite of the fact that Clearwall was always celebrating its history. In this same book, near the chapter about Clearwall college, he also noticed a chapter entitled “Dark One out of the North Woods” that seemed to reference a powerful demon that came out of the North Woods. They also uncovered three books in the same strange abyssal language that seems to make up the bulk of Raslin’s tome. During their investigation, mayor Bellwyn joined the researchers and after a short conversation regarding the origin of the books, which belonged Bellwyn’s father, he agreed to let Raslin take the books, if for no other reason than to be rid of the books (and of his increasingly unwelcome company).

Cavalier too visited Grok’s Rocks where he placed an order for silver and iron powder, which Grok informed him could be ready the following morning.

The group, deciding they had achieved what they came for, settled in for the evening and took some time to unwind before finding their room and going to sleep. After two nights without being bothered by it, Raslin was again visited by the strange dream that has dogged him since the battle in the graveyard.

Having rested and acquired Cavalier’s order at Grok’s Rocks, the group set forth to Ferrel’s Keep, pursuant to the request of the vampire Esther who had visited them a few days prior.

As they began their journey, Pippa’s Gang stopped briefly to admire the mountains and waterfall on the edge of town. Carrying on, the group traveled along the mountain paths, when suddenly they were set upon by the hobgoblin who they had fought with on their way to Great Fork just a few days before, now accompanied by more hobgoblins as well as a ferocious ogre.

Marthis just barely noticed their attackers before their javelins rained down upon them, as he quickly scurried up the face of the crag they attacked from. Raslin set up his defenses but, while riding around the ridge to gain a line of attack, he was quickly struck down by the ogre. Marthis climbed his way up the cliff to go toe-to-toe with the chief hobgoblin, but was too winded from his climb to manage to land any blows. As he retreated to recuperate and launch another attack, he was gravely wounded by the chief hobgoblin. Meanwhile Cavalier launched his own attack, charging up the hill on his mount to attempt to shove their assailants down to the path and possibly even down to the river below. Unfortunately, they saw him coming and were able to sidestep his charge. Seeing his friends desperately injured, Dig leaped into action, quickly providing aid to Raslin and Marthis. Pippa too, came to the aid of her friends, and charmed the ogre who became docile and ceased his attacks. Feeling revitalized, Raslin jumped to his feet. He still did not have a good line of attack, but the friendly ogre lifted him above the ridgeline while he cast a spell, quickly dispatching a hobgoblin with a searing gout of flame that erupted from his outstretched fingers. Still feeling dazed and timid, Marthis took his time before rejoining the fray, casting a quick dart from within the folds of his robes, striking one of the goblins. Dig continued his efforts to bolster his friends’ health, while Pippa continued her assault on the hobgoblins. The group eventually dispatched the hobgoblins, while the ogre began to leave the melee altogether.

Deciding they could not afford another encounter with him (as they just had with the hobgoblin chief) they began their attack on him. Pippa infiltrated the ogre’s mind, making him believe he was suddenly trapped in a lightning storm and breaking the charm she had placed on the ogre. The ogre grew furious with Pippa for charming him, but before he could attack her Cavalier commanded him to remain in place, suffering even more from his mind’s torture. Before he could break free from Cavalier’s command, Pippa told a knock-knock joke so funny that the ogre could not help but laugh, even through the fury that had built within him. Doubling over in hideous laughter, the helpless ogre quickly succumbed to the lightning storm and the group’s assaults. Pippa’s gang licked their wounds, gathered their loot, and prepared to move on to Ferrel’s Keep.

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On to Great Fork!

While staying in Riverbend, Pippa’s gang is visited by an unusual guest. A vampire named Esther, who was not shy about admitting she was a vampire, sought out the group at Mika’s pub and informed them that her Lord, Anthony, had requested that they pay him a visit. He had some questions about why they had defeated the drow. She told them that they did not need to come immediately, but that it would be best if they didn’t draw out the time too long before the visit.

Meanwhile, Marthis overhears a sad conversation between Burton and his wife. When asking about it the next day, he is told by Burton of the whole town of Riverbend having been transplanted from Golden Bay in the south. They were fishermen there for generations until Da Yen’s power play with the Golden Bay Treaty. Under the treaty, the elves of Narsül Ilphukiir inexplicably gave up their rights to fish the Golden Bay and this authority was given exclusively to only one group of fishermen in the region. The people who now live in Riverbend were driven out and traveled north, being rejected in town after town, until finally the Birels invited them to settle in their region.

WhenJavier‘s group declared that they would be heading back to The Birels, Pippa’s Gang decided to go west to Great Fork. They employed a dwarf and a human to ferry them across the river. Just before reaching the bank the ferry was ambushed by hobgoblins and bugbears. After a fierce battle on the ferry the group defeated the raiders and made their way to the bank. They then began progressing toward Great Fork where they checked in to the East Fork Inn.

Marthis introduced Pim to Callie, another member of the Black Sparrows, who agreed to let him stay with her. Raslin made his way to the magic shop where he met an elf named Iados. Iados donated the use of a tongues scroll to explore Raslin’s books. It appeared to be an instruction manual on summoning a demon called “The Ancient One”. Written in Abyssal, the front cover simply reads “Don’t Panic”.

Returning to the Inn, Pippa decides to horn in on the local entertainer’s act. Vondal, the dwarf, reluctantly allows her to join him. But Marthis, exercising some new skills, enveloped the poor minstrel in magical silence, sending him raging off the stage as Pippa wowed the audience in the large bar.

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Stone Cold Marthis Monk

After clearing the graveyard at Plumly, Dig sets to work putting the graves back in order while everyone else returns to the public house to rest. Raslin has a dream in which he has returned to the underground cavern at Clearwall college. He, and a mystery person of his same size, deliver his two tomes into a circle of other wizards and the group, lead by Raslin himself, begins the rite that lead him to steal the tome in the first place. As the dream progresses, he sees the same sinister creatures through an opening portal. But then he sees something much larger, much more powerful. In his dream he feels powerful and comfortable… at home with the other wizards. He wakes to see the wisp of smoke fleeing into the pipe over the wood-burning stove in the corner. Reverence is standing by the stove, thinking it had been clogged when she saw the smoke in the room. The dream is gone, but the tempting feelings of power remain with Raslin like a child’s temptation to enter into a forbidden room. The dream repeats itself two more times that night.

Upon rising the group is able to inform Kithri that her town should be clear and the graveyard is sanctified. Once again Pippa’s Gang are hailed as heroes! After letting Dig take a short nap the group decides to leave for the last nearby town, Riverbend. They decide to take the more direct, cross-country route rather than taking an extra day and traveling via The Birels. Marthis purchases a horse for Pim, who is determined to come along and who is becoming more and more enamored with Marthis with each passing day.

As they leave Plumly, Marthis notices a distant traveling group with two uniformed individuals moving north toward Plumly from The Birels. He assumes this group to be Javier‘s group trailing him. Fortunately they are traveling by the road and do not see Pippa’s Gang going the opposite direction, though a short altercation between Cavalier and Dig nearly gives them away.

Moving on through the tall, prairie grass the group travels uneventfully until they are ambushed by a group of hideous birds the size of turkeys. Six of the animals flock out of the grass and swarm the group, biting and diving at whatever is convenient. Raslin recognizes the animals as Cockatrice and is able to warn the others that their bite can temporarily turn individuals to stone. The battle is heated with the group being able to keep their strength about them and fend off the paralysis of the animals until finally Marthis succumbs. With one final, labored blow he is able to kill the last of the birds, but then his body turns to stone in striking position.

Faced with a very heavy version of their party member, the group decides to take him along with him on Cavalier’s horse with one of them walking alongside to balance him. They go as far as they can and then camp. Very late in the night (much later than the night before) Dig, who is keeping watch, sees a wisp of smoke enter the camp from the same direction that they were coming. It settles over Raslin, who is once again visited by the same dream.

Upon waking the party presses on. Slowed by their heavy, monkish burden they have only gotten into the late morning before they hear voices and horses coming from behind them. Assuming it to be Javier and his men, Raslin uses a spell to disguise the stone monk as their gear strapped to a horse. With some smooth talking, a little pressure in the form of some legal language reminding him that this is not his jurisdiction, and the help of the fact that nobody told Javier that Marthis had a dragonborn traveling companion, the group is able to convince the constable that they are not Pippa’s Gang. Visibly frustrated, Javier explains why he is seeking Marthis and asks them to please be on the lookout. Then his party presses on toward Riverbend. A short while later Marthis thaws, and there is a bit of a discussion amongst Pippa’s Gang as to what exactly the monk has done. Before long they realize that virtually all of them would be arrested or killed if they returned home, and they press on as well.

Around lunchtime the group arrives at Riverbend, a fishing village atop a low bluff. At the base of the bluff there is a bend in the river Fluss Ungart where the water slows and is very shallow. Many of the villagers are in the freezing cold water tending their nets. In the distance upstream the group can see the walled city of Great Fork. They can also see Javier’s horses at the pub. This gives them pause. While they are standing in town a fisherman named Burton passes by. In order to evade the guards, Marthis asks if he can help him fish. Thrilled to meet another fishing enthusiast, Burton takes the monk with him and spends the balance of the day having a one-sided conversation about fishing. The others ask to meet the mayor. Burton calls out to the mayor, Tuck, who is one of the individuals fishing in the water. The mayor climbs the bluff and, upon being asked, he takes the group to the graveyard.

When asked he confirms that their graveyard was disturbed, but only mildly and only one evening about 5 nights ago. They attributed it to wild animals and didn’t think much of it. Doing some quick math the group realizes that 5 nights ago coincides with the first night after they defeated the spider witch. Dig tends to the graves while everyone else heads back to the pub, where Tuck has promised free room and board as thanks for them consecrating the graveyard.

Cavalier is the first to arrive at the pub, which is run by a halfling named Mika. At first all he sees is Javier‘s group dining at a table, but he hears rustling behind the bar and peeks over to see the barkeep working behind. She fetches him food and drink and goes back to work. Listening in, Cavalier is able to tell that the level of frustration is very high amongst the guards. They were just sure that they were tracking Marthis’ group and really felt dismayed when it turned out not to be the correct group. After some further griping, Javier and the other uniformed individual, who is wearing robes, disappear into the lodging part of the building while the four underlings go outside to get the gear from the horses.

Finding himself alone in the room, Cavalier goes over to inspect the items left at the table by the group. The most notable item is a bound package where Javier was sitting. It seems to be filled with paper documents. Looking around to confirm that no one is watching, Cavalier spills an ale onto the parcel and returns to his seat. Upon returning, Javier is furious, but nobody is able to pin the crime on Cavalier so they all return to the lodging room. After dining, the rest of the group retires into their rooms, only to discover that it is actually more of a barack-style room and they are sharing their quarters with Javier’s party.

Meanwhile, the fishing day is done and Marthis requests the kindness of a room for the night with Burton. Happy to have someone to talk to about fishing, the villager complies. When they arrive home he has one of the 6 kids set another place at the table. His wife, Jelen, also seems thrilled that Burton can talk fishing with someone other than her. After a hearty dinner, Burton’s family settles in for the night with Marthis sleeping outside, after insisting that the youngest daughter not be the one sent outside on his account.

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Why Me?

Pippa’s Gang eventually finishes re-burying the bodies and grooming the graveyard at Plumly. Kithri went back into town to have a meeting with the elders while various PC’s wandered around the graveyard looking for clues. Between the group of them they are able to determine that the aura of evil is still hanging over the graveyard at least as strong as the previous night, and that its source is arcane necromancy, not any sort of divine magic. As the group heads back towards town they meet Kithri, who is returning to the graveyard with Vondal, the father of Zephyr, who is the teenage orc boy who died recently of disease and whose body went missing last night. The two of them are going back to the graveyard to mourn. Vondal shows an obviously deep-seated prejudice against wizards, but nonetheless expresses his thanks to Pippa’s Gang for being present to help. Kithri implores the group to remain another night to help, as the council could not think of any ‘Plan B’ if the group was not willing to remain.

Everyone returns to the village to rest up and to make plans for what they expected to be a long evening. Entering the one tavern in town, which was obviously where the council meeting took place, the group, with Pippa taking the lead, meets a friendly elderly orc named Taney who runs the establishment. He offers food and drink on the house. When Raslin asks about anyone here who can set traps, Taney says he knows just the person and that he’ll go get her. He walks to the front door, opens it, and shouts out calling for Reverence, who shouts back and comes quickly. When the orc walks in Raslin explains his desire to set a trap using flour, which Taney happily provides, in order to perhaps see any invisible figures working in the graveyard. Reverence seems quite excited to have a plan and tells them to meet her at the graveyard after she gets her trapping gear.

Soon they have all met at the graveyard. Vondal is not in a talking mood, but Kithri likewise seems excited to have a plan. The group scouts out the graveyard and settles on a strategy. They will dig a grave at the end of one of the rows that has not been dug up yet. Reverence sets trip-wires running to three nearby trees. In each tree she hangs a shortbow with an arrow tipped with a bag of flour. Upon triggering the trap, the idea is that a string will pull a post that is holding the bow armed, causing it to fire its load at the fake grave. The group excitedly sets to work digging while Reverence and Kithri hurry back to town to get the needed items. When the group next looks up they see the whole town coming out to the graveyard in a solemn procession. They gather around the mock-grave, and the priest stands at the front to give a mock eulogy. They all throw flowers on the grave and return to the town.

With the trap set, Reverence returns to town to have dinner in the tavern. Pippa returns to the tavern and, after learning from Taney that ‘The Bloody Ear of Dunbarrow’ is a favorite in this town (as it was at The Birel’s), she leads the group in a chorus. The entire bar rises for the last verse and sings in unison with her and cheers at the completion of the song. With the mood obviously lifted, Pippa sits down to eat with Reverence. While they are talking, the door opens and a tired Pim enters. Seeing Pippa he makes his way over and, after the formalities, asks if she knows where Marthis might be. He is directed to the graveyard and, though it is nearly dusk, he begins to make his way there.

Meanwhile, at the graveyard, Marthis, Raslin and Cavalier have settled on a watch order. Marthis has climbed into the tree. Raslin has made friends with a local squirrel, named Damakos, who is going to help them watch but isn’t so good at staying awake and who has taken up a perch sitting on Marthis’ shoulder. Cavalier is resting against the base of the tree. When he arrives, Pim expresses that he had been quite concerned that the group had left. With no family left in the area he feels there is nothing for him here. He is awed by the strength and grace shown by Marthis and desires to join the order if Marthis is any sample of what its members are like. He asks them not to leave the region without talking to him. He then returns to the town to sleep.

Explaining that her groups lacks any significant outdoor skills, Pippa asks Reverence if she will help them keep watch for the night. She seems honored to do so and joins them at the graveyard. Before the first watch is even over, at perhaps about 11:00, Cavalier hears the same scratching sound that Dig had heard the night before, but coming from much closer. Damakos also hears it and begins chittering loudly, which wakes the whole party and causes the sound to stop. The whole graveyard is disturbingly silent for several minutes before the scratching resumes. Those with darkvision can see the grave from which it is coming but are not able to see any individuals or any wisp of smoke at the grave. Raslin creates the image of an orc in mourning by the new mock-grave.

As everyone readies themselves, a movement at the edge of her field of vision catches Pippa‘s eye. Coming out of the shadow of darkness over the graveyard she sees an orc boy that she would estimate to be a teenager. He steps cautiously into her field of view, and looks first at the image, then directly at the party. He then steps silently back into the darkness. Obviously uncomfortable stating what she’s seen with Reverencepresent, Pippa does a horrible job communicating to the others what she’s seen. Eventually, Reverence realizes that she has seen the raised body of Zephyr and she collapses against the tree hugging her knees. She declares that she is aware it is not really Zephyr, and that in a few moments she feels she will be ready to do whatever needs to be done, but she is obviously very distraught at the thought of fighting what her senses tell her is Zephyr.

A battle ensues between several skeletons and zombies of orc, half-orc and human bodies from the graveyard but Zephyr himself remains hidden in the dark. Raslin climbs into the tree to manually fire the rigged shortbow, but proves to be a better wizard than archer. Just then a series of four blasts of light fire out of the darkness toward Raslin, burning him in his perch in the tree. Then the figure of Zephyr steps into his view. Zephyr sees the other members of the group, but his gaze is fixed on Raslin. As he moves decisively toward the tree he flicks both wrists simultaneously and glowing blades emerge from his hands. Raslin takes this opportunity to climb higher into the tree.

Just as he reaches the base of the tree, Zephyr is attacked by Reverence, whose hunting knife strikes true. However, even though she knows it is not truly Zephyr, the trapper is overcome. She drops her knife and becomes ill on the battlefield, clearly unable to continue fighting the one who so recently was taken from her community. Zephyr himself fires another blast of light from his left hand into the tree, striking Raslin. He clearly intends to do the same with his right hand. A streak of light begins at his elbow and travels to his hand but seems to ‘hang up’ there and the spell fizzles. Zephyr does not speak but is clearly frustrated by this. He begins climbing the tree, but Marthis climbs as well, hot on his heels.

At first the monk is not able to dislodge Zephyr, but he distracts him enough that Zephyr is not able to strike Raslin with his sword or grab his legs. Having climbed as high as he can go, Raslin strikes back at Zephyr with his witch bolt spell, which seems to take a heavy toll on the orc. Cavalier and Pippa are able to hold off the remaining zombies and skeletons at the base of the tree, keeping them from coming to Zephyr’s aid. Eventually Marthis is able to grab hold of Zephyr’s legs. At first Zephyr holds fast, hanging from the tree while the monk hangs from his legs. But with a second effort Marthis dislodges them both and they fall prone at the base of the tree.

Zephyr lands flat on his back facing Raslin‘s backpack. Even from the top of the treeRaslin can see the orc’s eyes grow wide as he looks at the pack and then looks with renewed intensity toward Raslin. Zephyr moves to stand, obviously intending to redouble his efforts to attack Raslin, but Cavalier is ready for him and strikes him with a radiant blow that ends the orc’s state of undeath. The zombies collapse in a heap, the scratching stops, and a bat that Raslin had killed reverts to its form as a small demon.

After a few seconds of quiet Zephyr’s body begins to convulse violently. A wisp of smoke leaves his body through the mouth and nose and floats away into the night sky, leaving Zephyr’s body calm, though beaten and bloodied, on the ground. After she regains her composure, Reverence apologizes for her inability to help. She is obviously very embarrassed by what happened and returns quickly and quietly to the town. Raslin goes to pick up his backpack and sees that the spine of one of his tomes is visible through the top of the bag that he had left open. He assumes this is what caught the interest of whatever was inhabiting the body of Zephyr.

The evil aura that has hung over the graveyard begins to dissipate and the group returns solemnly to town while Dig remains at the graveyard burying the bodies.

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Dem Dry Bones

After watching Pippa’s Gang defeat the demon and his small cohort of skeletons, Gro’thuk declares that he thinks it would be best for him to move his tribe back north to their winter settlement until the issue here with the graveyards can be resolved. He also tells the group of two other settlements where they have had issues with their graveyards being disturbed, one to the east and one to the south. Dig spends the bulk of the day grooming the graveyard and blessing it. All of the members of the team hep except Pippa, who cites her musicians’ hands and heads back to the settlement to find something to eat. She enters the great hall and finds Lia waiting for her. Raslin also returns to the settlement to gather provisions.

In the late afternoon, having rested, gathered provisions, and groomed the graveyard, the team travels east. They crest a hill just beyond the Orc graveyard and see a large obelisk in the distance. They ride their horses closer and notice that the door in the base of the obelisk is open. A few from the group are able to see that there is a large figure standing in the doorway, but they do not have an angle to see what it is.

The group comes to a stop to discuss what to do and Cavalier shouts to the obelisk asking who is there. They then see the head of a large, skeletal bull reach around the corner and look toward them. Several members of the group dismount to try to sneak closer and several others ride through the open field to find better position. Lia rides wide in the open area to see more clearly what is in the door and she sees a gigantic skeletal orc riding on the skeletal bull. The bull prepares to charge at Lia, but Raslin creates an illusory copy of Cavalier in the way.

As it charges the bull attempts to gore the illusion. The force it puts into the gore meets with nothing but air, which puts the bull off its stride. It continues its charge, but Raslin‘s illusion stalls the bull just enough that only the Orc is able to attack Lia. The orc and the bull both strike some powerful blows against the group, but in the end Raslin’s magical assaults and Marthis’ blunt attacks bring them down before they are able to do serious damage.

Dig, Pippa and Raslin lead the way in exploring the obelisk. The base of the obelisk is made up of 5 chambers. The two chambers to the left and the two to the right still contain the bodies that were buried there, but they have obviously been disturbed. The chamber at the back of the obelisk is obviously the honored spot. It has a low wall with the inscription “Taurian” on it. It is apparent that there is a spot where a body should lie and a spot where the favored animal of that warrior should lie. Both bodies are missing and the group presumes it is Taurian’s skeleton they have just defeated. This also seems to confirm what they saw in the orcish graveyard, which is that whatever is looking for bodies seems to prefer adults, stronger individuals, and more recently deceased individuals.

Lead by Dig several members of the group groom the graves and repair what they can. Cavalier, using his ability to sense evil, informs everyone that there was a faint sense of evil when they entered and that it is fading. Rather than groom the tomb to his normal level of perfection, Dig agrees they should move on to the town they are going to. They ride until dusk and arrive in a small village, which they learn is called Plumly. The village is made up of 14 huts around a common area. All of the people come out to see the riders approaching the town. When they arrive, the first to speak to them is Kithri, the half-orc mayor of the town. She confirms what the group has heard: the town’s graveyard has also been vandalized.

Most of Pippa’s Gang desires to sleep, and Kithri confirms they are welcome to sleep in the houses of her people. But Dig and Marthis convince them they should go up and at least look at the graveyard. Kithri is surprised, but agrees to show them up there. She shows them the way then immediately leaves, obviously uncomfortable being at the graveyard at night. They can see that the gate has been forcibly opened and that some of the graves have been dug at a little, but the worst thing is that Cavalier detects a very heavy aura of evil over the graveyard. Dig tries to bless the graveyard but does not feel that he is able to make any difference.

Marthis, Dig and Cavalier remain at the graveyard while the others return for the night. During Dig‘s watch of the night he hears a sound like rustling leaves, but too constant to be leaves, at the far side of the graveyard. He wakes Cavalier, but the paladin does not seem interested, though he agrees to stay awake while Dig checks it out. The cleric walks through the graveyard, lantern in hand, toward the sound. Eventually he finds himself 60 feet away from the last line of graves on the far side of the yard. Right at the edge of his lantern’s bright light he is able to see what looks like a wisp of smoke hovering over one grave. The sound seems to be coming from within the grave he is looking at. As Dig watches he is able to see the dirt begin to fall in. Something inside the grave is digging its way out.

He runs back to the others, who feel satisfied that they’ve learned what they came to learn and begin to make their way back to town. Flabbergasted, Dig returns with them, all the while arguing that they need to make their way back to the graveyard immediately. They wake some of the members of Pippa’s Gang, scare the crap out of some of the locals, and have an intense debate about whether they should return immediately. In the end, Cavalier makes an offer they can’t refuse and all remain in the town resting for the night.

In the morning, the group and Kithri are brought up to speed. DIg takes the mayor out to the graveyard to find roughly 1/3 of the graves have been totally dug up. Bodies lie all over the graveyard in various states of disarray. Kithri immediately makes her way to a particularly fresh grave and, becoming panicked, runs all over looking at the bodies before declaring that Zenith is missing. She tells the cleric that Zenith is the son of one of the townsfolk who fell ill just recently and was buried not one week ago.

The two go back to Plumly and fill everyone in again. The whole group goes out to the graveyard. The aura of evil still hangs heavily over the area, but they are able to re-bury all the bodies that are there. When they are done, they find that there are three other bodies unaccounted for in addition to Zenith.

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