Kingmaker International

Clandestine Indescretions

Clandestiny tore through the wood bark of the hut’s roof. She was invisible still, but you could feel the heat coming off of her forehead.
“What the (insert colorful yet unladylike metaphor) just happened! How the (insert colorful yet unladylike metaphor) did a simple snatch and grab turn into a royal cluster(insert colorful yet unladylike metaphor)!”
Ping nodded humbly, “Sho shorry! Forgifnesh, preash! It wuzsh’a dorf! Eee Crayshee!”
Clandestiny turned her heat onto the dwarf, “Holy (insert colorful yet unladylike metaphor), OX! You stupid (insert colorful yet unladylike metaphor)! What the (insert colorful yet unladylike metaphor) were you thinking! Please, oh PLEASE tell me you didn’t do it on purpose! Tell me that you aren’t that (insert colorful yet unladylike metaphor)-all stupid! Please tell me the spell simply ran out and you DIDN’T just pop into the largest group and start (insert colorful yet unladylike metaphor)ing swinging!”
Ox tucked his furrowed brow and grumbled, “Does this mean you aren’t going to heal me?”
“Wha… what the (insert colorful yet unladylike metaphor)?” Clandestiny gasped in utter shock, “Heal you? Is that… are you… you stupid (insert colorful yet unladylike metaphor)ing DWARF!”
Kelthak’s booming voice shook the hut, “ENOUGH!” For a moment, there was silence, then Kelthak continued, “Ping… watch the door!”
“Shoor ting!” Ping pulled a star from his pouch and peeked out the entrance.
“Clan… cool your engines and heal the Dwarf!”
Clandestiny grumbled but pulled out her wand obediently and went to work.
Kelthak turned to Ox, “And Delur… SLAP!” Ox rubbed his cheek and decided to keep his mouth shut about it.
“Ok… Now lets figure out how we’re going to salvage this mess!”

After Clandestiny had settled down and pulled out her wand of healing and Ping took a position at the door to watch for any activity, Kelthak addressed the troops. “All right… tactical appraisal. Where do we stand, where to we go?”
Ping joked from the doorway, “We up shit cwik. We going stwaight to Herrol!”
“All right,” Kelthak replied, “How about a more optimistic tactical appraisal?”
“We cover the dwarf in dead fish and have him run,” Clandestiny suggested as she emptied another charge from her wand of healing, “They’ll chase the dwarf and we can sneak out the back.”
“Dat not work,” Ping said a grin,“We got no fish!”
“Then we’ll paint the dwarf’s face white,” Clandestiny suggested again as she emptied another charge from her wand of healing, “We toss him out the hut, they’ll think he’s a travelling mime, and in their rage to destroy him we can sneak out the back.”
Ox grumbled but Ping giggled, “I rike you Crandeshiny! You make me raff!”
“Nobody is sacrificing the dwarf, and nobody is sneaking out the back!” Kelthak growled, “Now quit fooling around, people! We have a serious situation here and we need a serious game plan. Ox, what are your thoughts?”
“Ah think that since they ain’t assaulted us yet,” Ox surmised, “Then they’re doing the same thing we are – gathering their forces and contemplating a strategy.”
“Dey no contempwading anyting!” Ping decwared, “Dey taking oders fwom da Big Guy! He come out of hiwlside… ooh! He a big wizard?”
“Wizard?” Ox exclaimed.
Kelthak shook his head, “Lizard.”
“Das what I said!” Ping wepwied, “A big wizard! Wid a big speaw! He tewling udder wizards what ta do now. He berry angwy at dem!”
“Oh great!” Clandestiny whined as she emptied yet another charge from her wand of healing, “As if we didn’t have enough troubles right now!”
Kelthak ignored Clandestiny, “Can you see what they are doing now? How many of them are there?”
“Iss pwetty dawk,” Ping stwained to see, “But dey widing torshes now! Rotsa torshes! And mow wizards are coming fwom da udder huts! Der are eight wizards now, pwus da big wizard… Wait! He sending two uv da bigga wizards outside troo da tunnel. I ting dey going to bwock ouw escape! Oh, dis is bad!”
Kelthak nodded somberly to himself, “Hmm… torches you say… Consolidate forces, block escape routes, equip for a siege… next step is to attack in force to overwhelm the defenses. With troops in the back with torches we lose our advantage in the darkness. Won’t be long before this hut is up in flames. So what do we do now?”
“Counter attack!” Ox exclaimed, shaking his ax.
Kelthak shook his head, “There’s too many of them. They’ll surround us and cut us to pieces.”
“Then we fight back to back!” Ox shook his ax again.
“Or back to the wall,” Clandestiny added as she emptied another charge from her wand of healing, “We can position ourselves with our backs to the palisade – Ox in the middle, you two on the flanks and me in the back singing and healing with the wand.”
Kelthak grinned, “Fight it out, then?”
Clandestiny shrugged, “We could run, try to take out the the two lizards outside, but they’ll have a strong advantage in the deep water. We’re bound to lose somebody. Besides… if we run now they’re almost certain to kill the other hostages, which is the reason we came up here in the first place.”
“What if they don’t close in on us?” Kelthak asked, “What if they try to just pin us to the wall with Javelins?”
“We’ve got bows!” Clandestiny was putting her 20 Intelligence to work, “You’ve got your magic composite bow and I can give Ox my short bow. I will enchant your arrows with Flaming, and you can pick off the lizards carrying the torches and then use your darkvision advantage over the rest. They’ll HAVE to come after us!”
Ox smiled, “That’s pretty good, you got it all figured out, don’t you lass?”
“Except for the part where we all don’t cut to ribbons and served as dinner, you dumb dwarf!” Clandestiny snarled as she emptied even yet another charge from her wand of healing.
Kelthak nodded, it was a good plan… but he had some thoughts of his own, and he wanted to hear any ideas the others might have.

He looked to the others and asked, “What do the rest of you think?”

View
Who is "Buttercup?"

Surya woke up on the white sand. The sun was high in the clear blue sky, but it was not too hot. In fact, the sand wasn’t even that hot. She looked in all directions and saw sandy dunes in every direction. She remembered travelling in a caravan through a place like this a few years prior, but that place was in Qadira. In Qadira, were the sun so high in the sky, it would definitely be very hot… and the sand would be very hot.
It was then that she noticed that she was not properly dressed – far from it. Instead of her blue silks and chamois, she was donned in a pure white gown of linen. LINEN! The same caliber of fabric worn by the acolytes of Sarenrae at the Great Mosque of Katheer. Her father had gone to great pains and great expense so that she would NOT have to wear linen with the other homely little beggar girls seeking greatness in the path of Sarenrae.
She stood in her linen dress and brushed away the sand. It fell from the dress cleanly, leaving the linen bleached white. Surya sniffed the sand still on her fingers. It too did not seem right. There was a musky, earthy smell to the sands in Qadira. The smell stained the skin of the nomadic tribes who called the desert their home and left them with a permanent taint of the desert. It was a strong scent that was carried by the strong peoples of the desert. This sand did not have that smell. This sand smelled clean.
Surya noticed what appeared to be a dark patch of vegetation in a depression off in the distance. Were the day as hot as it should have been, she might have thought it to be a mirage. Were the day as hot as it should have been, she would have doubted whether she could walk the distance before succumbing to the desert. But with the gentle sand that one could walk barefoot through and the comfortable sun shining down from directly above in this peculiarly clean desert, Surya had no doubt that she could cross the distance quite easily.
The dark patch in the sand was, as she had presumed, an oasis of palms and shrubs surrounding a pool of crystal blue water. She had seen many an oasis in her day, but never one with such clean blue water. The plants as well appeared to have been tended by a gardener. The pathway into the oasis to the pool was clean of weeds and flattened as if the sand had been raked and swept.
Surya walked to the pool and knelt to take a drink. The pool was clear near the shore, but further out was as blue as the sky, reflecting the sunlight in the ripples with silver sparkles. She brought her face down to the edge of the pool and then stopped – the pool was too unnaturally clean; as clean as the sand and the well tended oasis. She did not sense that it was an illusion or a trick, she didn’t think that the water was poisoned either. Rather, she felt as if her own presence might be considered an intrusion and could be taken as an insult or disturbance – without her dwarf or ranger to back her up, it probably wasn’t a good idea to ruffle any feathers here.
When she stood from the water, she turned away from the pool only to find herself staring directly into the entrance of a large, red pavilion tent. Rather than being surprised at having a large tent materialize behind her, Surya nodded confidently to herself. This tent confirmed her prior suspicions – this was not a natural place. The sun, the sand, the vegetation, the water, and now the pavilion… none of it was natural. She could still feel the sand between the toes of her bare feet. She curled her feet in the sand and focused on penetrating an illusion, but the sand and the tent and the water persisted. If this place was only an illusion, it was an illusion that she was trapped within. There was no place to go with it but forward, so she pulled opened the flap of the pavilion and stepped inside.
The tent was gently lit by natural light, but unnaturally so. Instead of beams of sunlight bursting through gaps in the tent which illuminated the darkness, there was a blended, almost shadowless, haze of light in all corners of the tent. The sandy floor was covered by a large carpet that stretched out perfectly to every wall, and from the door the entire perimeter was piled with plush pillows and sitting cushions.
There were four well dressed individuals lounging on the pillows – two along the far wall from the entrance, and one near the far corners along each of the adjacent sides. They appeared to be nobles or opulent merchants. More likely the latter than the former, as they carried themselves in a jolly sense of camaraderie. Nobles tended to be more skeptical of others of their own stations (Nobles seemed only to be comfortable themselves in the presence of their subjects and their lessers). These four men were cheerful and talkative, although they spoke in a language that was unfamiliar to Surya.
Surya greeted the four men as if they were hosts and she was a guest in their home – which was probably not far from the truth. “Blessings of the Dawnflower be upon you!” she said with a bow of her head and her hands folded in prayer, “I beg your forgiveness for this intrusion and a lack of a gift for your hospitality, but I have found myself out of place and away from my things.”
“Be at ease, Priestess of the Goddess,” one of the men on the side instructed with a flicking gesture of the hand, “You are not a guest or a wanderer – we summoned you here to talk.”
“You summoned me?” Surya lost a bit of her courtesy, “You think to summon me? Do you know who I am?”
“We sure do,” a second man replied, “The question is, do you know who WE are?”
“No…” Surya had little trouble being as mocking as the man who had replied, “But I am sure you are just about to tell me, aren’t you?”
“But of course!” the second man replied and stood to his feet, “My name is Cassimornov. But refer to me as Dawnglow. I represent that which is truthful.”
Dawnglow had barely sat down when the first to speak stood, “I am Deritritium. I prefer to be called Greenwing. I represent that which is divine and holy.”
A third man, one from the back, stood and said, “Weyrmakin is who I am, but I prefer the name Robinswreath. I uphold that which is just.”
When the third man had taken his seat, the fourth man stood and said with a humble nod, “I am Monseratu. Call me Darkbane… and I stand against.”
Surya who was a little confused and a little amused by the pantomime occurring before her asked the fourth man, “What exactly is it you stand against?”
Darkbane replied, “That which is not Just, Truthful, Divine and Holy.”
Surya’s eyes narrowed with suspicion, “Who are you? Who are you really?”
“We’re your handlers,” Dawnglow answered, “Some call us guiding spirits or guardian angels. But in your case we are more like caseworkers.”
“You see,” Robinswreath continued, “It’s our job to keep you on the right track and make sure you don’t get all twisted and screwed up on the way.”
“Twisted and screwed up?” Surya did not like how this sounded.
“Oh yeah!” Greenwing said with a chuckle, “Like pronouncing yourself a living God or commanding your followers to build a ziggurat tall enough to reach the heavens… stupid stuff like that you would never figure you could do in a million years… but nevertheless, people do it.”
“Wait a second,” Surya stuttered, “Am I on trial, here? What is going on?”
The four handlers got quiet for a moment. They were all looking at one another wondering where to begin. Robinswreath shrugged his shoulders and nodded to Darkbane. Darkbane turned to Surya and asked, “What do you know about orcs?”
Surya snorted, “Orcs are the bane of civilized existence. They are the enemy of all intelligent races, and they are bent on the domination or destruction of all life on Golarion.”
The four handlers all nodded in agreement. “Good answer,” Darkbane concurred, “but are they evil?”
Surya snorted again, as if she was hearing one ridiculous question, “Of course they are evil! They are one of the most basically fundamentally evil creatures in existence.”
“And as a fundamentally evil creature,” Darkbane explained with her, “They are a threat to all that is good and must therefore be destroyed for the sake of the preservation of that which is good.”
“I can see the logic in that,” Dawnglow agreed, “For the protection of a good and just society, it is necessary to fight evil…”
“And not just defensively!” Darkbane exclaimed, “Goodness is not akin to naivety! You should not be forced to protect that which is good only at such point in time as evil is knocking at your door. It is necessary to root it out at the source.”
“Right!” Surya exclaimed, but then started to wonder if she was being led into a trap of reasoning, “Right…” she repeated, but less passionately. This had to have something to do with the dwarf’s quest, that much was certain.
Greenwing chimed in and said, “Let’s get off of the beaten track for a second. I have a question that isn’t about orcs. Do you mind if I interrupt?”
The other handlers nodded and gestured for Greenwing to continue. “I have a hypothetical situation for you Surya, do you know what that means?”
Surya was a bit too wary to be insulted by the possible presumption that she didn’t understand the word, “hypothetical.” She answered, “Yes, I know what it means.”
Greenwing nodded and continued, “Imagine for a moment you are hearing pleas and confessions in your temple. An old man comes to you and says, ‘I have lived a life of purity and goodness since I was a child. I have cared for the sick and poor, given money to noble charities, and always followed the will and the way of the Dawnflower Goddess.
“Now that I am old,’ the old man says, ‘I seek only the happiness of my daughter. Yet, I find that she has been beguiled by the love of a man that is not right for her. He is not wicked, but he detracts from her potential… makes her less of the person she was meant to be. She has been accepted into the Great Mosque to train to be a healer – she will save hundreds of lives in that aspect – but she has turned her back on this path for the sake of this man. I seek the blessing of the church to kill this man so my daughter may go on and live a happy life and be a healer for the church.
“Now,” Greenwing summated, “The question is, what do you say to this old man?”
Surya shook her head and tersely replied, “What can I say to this old man but convince him not to kill this person.”
“But what about his daughter?” Robinswreath asked, “What about her future? What about all the good that she may do that is lost?”
“Shall I punish a man for something that has yet to occur?” Surya answered, “What sin has he committed besides giving his love to another? Who is to say that she will not eventually follow the path of a healer anyway. The old man has no right to kill an innocent person for what MIGHT happen!”
“But this old man,” Darkbane argued, “Isn’t he entitled to some concessions from the church?”
Suryu slowly shook her head with squinted yet piercing eyes, “I am not sure what you mean.”
“What I am saying is, since he’s led such an honest and pure life, wouldn’t it be alright if we let him kill just ONE person? I mean hasn’t he earned the right after years of service to the Dawnflower Goddess?”
“NO!” Surya was horrified by the question, “Certainly NOT!”
Darkbane nodded thoughtfully, but continued, “Well, how many years of service are required then to be granted the right to kill an innocent man?”
“There is NO amount of service that is enough!” Surya angrily retorted, “We are not Chelaxians! Protecting the innocent is one of the pillars of the church of Sarenrae. The lives of the innocent are not a commodity to be bought and sold by the church. That sort of nonsense has only happened in the history books of long ago, and those of the clergy who used to trade in those rights have all long since passed on…”
“Yes!” Dawnglow exclaimed, “They’ve all passed on and now they are all peacefully roasting in a flaming pit of hell!”
“Fine, fine… we all love reminiscing about the mistakes of the past,” Darkbane interjected, “But let’s get back to the point at hand…”
“Your hypothetical?” Surya asked.
Darkbane shook his head, and his expression took on a serious nature. “No,” he replied, “Let’s get back to the orcs.”
Greenwing pressed on with the orc discussion, “Your group assaulted an orc tribe, and surprised them with a flaming sneak attack in their sleep…”
“Which was most impressive!” Darkbane interrupted.
Greenwing continued, “… and then proceeded to systematically wipe out the rest of the tribe.”
Surya nodded proudly, “Yes we did! I am not sure where the problem with this lies.”
Greenwing recoiled in shock, “Problem? There’s no problem with this… Dawnglow, do you have a problem with this?
Dawnglow shook his head, “Not me… Robinswreath?”
Robinswreath replied, “No problem for me either… how about you Darkbane?”
Darkbane chuckled, “Would have done the same thing myself!”
Surya nodded curtly and shrugged her shoulders with an air of irritated confusion, “If there is no problem, then why are we having this conversation.”
“Tell us what you did next?” Darkbane asked, his eyes had lost their playful, social expression and were staring at Surya with a piercing gaze. All four of them stared with intense expressions.
Surya knew that this was the point of conjecture right here. She did not attempt to avoid that which they probably already knew, “We took care of the females and cubs.”
Greenwing looked confused, “Took care of the females and cubs? How do you mean took care?”
“She means that they butchered them,” Darkbane explained, “Like the animals that they were… did you not?”
Surya nodded, but remained suspicious, “That’s right… they were animals, so we butchered them like animals.”
Robinswreath quickly added, “So then you ate them?”
“What?” Surya responded in disgust.
“They were animals that you butchered,” Robinswreath explained, “Killing of animals arbitrarily for the joy of killing is an act of wickedness. The only moral reason to kill an animal is for survival, be it for food, clothing, or protection. You have demonstrated your adherence to that code quite admirably in your clearing of the wilds of the River Kingdoms. Did you practice the same with the orcs? Did you skin their hides and carve the flesh from their bones for the sake of feeding your people?”
“Would it have made a difference if I did?” Surya curtly replied. She was being mocked, and she did not LIKE to be mocked!
Robinswreath nodded, “Of course it would… it would have made you a cannibal – a wicked, unwholesome savage who feasts upon the flesh of other sentient humanoids. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if you did, you would merely have been stripped of your power and title and then put onto the pathway to hell.”
Dawnglow explained, “Orcs are NOT animals and they should not be considered as such. They are sentient, rational beings that choose to be who they are. They are not bound by instinctual drive, but by a sense of free will and the pressures of their society.”
“Orcs choose to be evil,” Darkbane added, “They are not given much in the sake of options, but they do make that choice. Sure, there are racial tendencies that push orcs down a path of rage and destruction, and let’s not forget the huge social pressures that you can’t possibly comprehend. In fact, choosing a path NOT of evil for an orc is akin to a death sentence, and most don’t even considered it an option. Nevertheless it is by choosing a path of evil that makes an orc an enemy to all that is good, just, and true.”
Surya sighed, “So again, I ask… where is the problem?”
“The problem is that you killed the innocent who had not yet chosen a path of evil,” Greenwing flatly declared.
“The females and the cubs?” Surya asked.
“The women and children,” Greenwing corrected her, “But not so much the women, they had chosen an evil path as well, and not the older children either as they were already committed to a path of wickedness. But the youngest – they were still free of the sin of the orc culture.”
This was just silly! Surya could hardly believe she was being held accountable for a few stinking orc babies! “I can’t see how just a few orc cubs…”
“How many innocent lives are you entitled to butcher for your lifelong service to Sarenrae?” Robinswreath harshly interjected. “You asked that question yourself.”
“But they weren’t humans or elves or dwarves,” Surya tried to explain, “They were ORCS!”
Dawnglow jumped on this statement, “Who is to say that these orcs, freed from the social bonds of their tribe, would not have chosen a different path? Who are you to kill an innocent for something that they MIGHT become?”
Surya could recognize her own words in their argument. It was that damn hypothetical… she should have known! She had trapped herself, but more than that she realized that she had probably made a huge mistake. “Protecting the innocent is one of the pillars of the church of Sarenrae,” she softly whispered.
“Yes, it is,” Darkbane replied, evidently hearing her gentle words quite clearly, “So why did you do it? Why did you kill the orc infants?”
Surya shrugged her shoulders, “What else could I have done with them? Even if I hadn’t killed them they would have died of exposure. It was winter, after all…”
“Abandoning the innocent to die is not protecting them either,” Greenwing argued, “By our faith you should protect the innocent… how should you have protected them?”
Surya knew what the answer was but she was shocked at the question, “Are you suggesting that we should have taken them with us?”
All four handlers nodded their heads and looked to one another in agreement. “Yeah,” Dawnglow spoke, “That seems like a pretty good choice.”
Surya shook her head emphatically, “No… it never would have worked.”
“Why not?” Robinswreath asked.
“Because the dwarves never would have tolerated it!” Surya explained, “We were on mission for the church of Torag. We were trying to rectify the damage that had been done to Ox’s name in the eyes of his people. If we had come marching into the Five Kings mountains with a handful of orc cubs in tow…”
Darkbane finished the sentence for her, “It would have tarnished your own reputation with the dwarves. They would have looked upon you as sympathizers of the orcs, and they never would have agreed to set up trade routes or work your mines, or provide you with dwarven services in stone and metal.
“So instead of potentially currying the disfavor of the dwarves, you chose to butcher a few innocent orc cubs?” Darkbane concluded. “You ignored the innocent nature of these orcs and killed them with the rest of the lot in exchange for political favor and the services of the dwarves.”
There was little argument left in Surya. It seemed pretty straightforward once it was laid out on the table. She simply nodded and replied, “Yes… I suppose that is what I did. What are you going to do now?”
“Well,” Dawnglow explained, “Were this a simple cut and dry case we would not be having this conversation. You would be punished for your transgression until such time as redeemed yourself in the eyes of Sarenrae. But this is not so simply cut and dry.”
Greenwing continued to explain, “The problem is that Torag has set you down the wrong path. Torag, and all of the dwarven gods that look to him, consider orcs to be akin to demons. Killing a baby demon is no more sinful than killing an adult. But they’ve got history with orcs, on Golarion and in the higher planes as well.”
Robinswreath took it from there, “Nevertheless, Torag is our esteemed ally. The church of Torag may have put you on this quest, but they did so not realizing that there would be a spiritual conflict in your execution of it. The fact that you did not recognize the spiritual conflict, however, is unfortunate… but it is not a mortal sin.”
Surya tried to swallow in the vagaries of the discussion, “So… what are you saying then? Am I to be punished? Am I to be damned? Am I free to go? What must I do?”
Darkbane, the most direct of the four, answered Surya’s question, “You are to be tasked. You may not have recognized the spiritual conflict of your quest, but that is where the fault is with you. You need a deeper sense of appreciation for the helplessness and innocence of youths and infants. You need to understand the malleability of their spirits, and how at the earliest ages they can find themselves along any path…”
Surya knew exactly what they were implying. She turned white as a ghost and put her hand to her own belly. This couldn’t be happening!
Darkbane continued, “We need to instill upon you a nurturing sense, a motherly sense. You need to appreciate the role that is played in developing the young into pious and hardworking adults… and not just with those of your own kind, but with the other races… including orcs.”
“Goddess save me!” Surya shrieked, “You’re going to impregnate me with an ORC?”
The four handlers stared at Surya with blank faces. Darkbane stuttered a reply, “Uh… no…” Then all four handlers burst into laughter. It was a very non-celestial display. Surya went from stark white to beet red in a matter of seconds. The handlers continued to laugh and slap each other on the shoulder for what seemed a very uncomfortable amount of time. Finally, Darkbane gathered up enough composure to address Surya once more. “No… no, my dear… no orc babies for you… but could you imagine?”
The handlers, again, lost their composure and fell into hysterical laughter. Surya folded her arms and tapped her foot in irritation. “Just let me know when you are done amusing yourself at my expense!” she shouted, but doubted any of them could hear her.
Again, Darkbane recovered his senses enough to address her. “No pregnancies. Besides, it is not your own children that you need to empathize with, it is the children of others. You are instead tasked with the building of an orphanage. Sarenrae commands that you build a manor and a yard suitable enough to house and feed 500 children as well as the caregivers they require. The children must be provided with beds, food, schooling, and opportunities for work and play. The Goddess commands that this manor must take priority over defense and worship… that means no castles, no walls, no barracks, and no temples until this manor is built.”
“How am I to protect an orphanage without a castle or walls?” Surya argued.
Dawnglow shrugged his shoulders, “That’s your problem… no one said it would be easy.”
Greenwing added, “Besides, it’s not as if you will fill every bed the moment the last brick is laid. Finish the manor and quickly begin work on your defenses. Orphans will come from across Golarion, so prepare a place for them.”
“But I don’t even have any stone!” Surya continued to argue.
Dawnglow shrugged again, “Again that is your problem. Find the stone and… Oh crap, she’s coming!”
The four handlers were all at once very nervous. They started gathering pillows and straightening them in rows along the back of the tent, smoothing out their own clothes and hair, changing their postures until they were sitting straight and tall in their seats. Their eyes betrayed the deep-rooted concern and discomfort in their hearts.
Surya, once again, was thoroughly confused – as if she had been excluded from a joke or not given the same instructions as everyone else. “What’s going on? Who is coming? What does this have to do with me?”
No sooner had Surya finished her question than the flap of the tent behind her was tossed open and into the pavilion marched a young girl. She was a homely looking creature, apparently in her early teens, with large ears and nostrils for a little girl, and standing only about a head shorter than Surya herself (who was not overly tall). She wore raggedy and patchy clothes, what you might find on a street beggar, but they were stain free. In fact, her entire person was immaculately groomed – she wore her black hair in simple pony-tails but without a single hair out of place, and her skin was as smooth as café and cream without even a speck of dust to mar her complexion. She wore a small golden necklace with a charm of the Angel Ankh around her neck.
The four handlers bowed their heads as she entered, and Surya was pushed aside as the little girl brushed by her.
“Why are you still here!” the little girl hissed at the four handlers, “You should have been finished with this cleric a half hour ago.”
Ravenswreath hesitantly answered, “We thought it necessary to fully explain the circumstances of our decision to Surya so that she understood why…”
“Nonsense!” the little girl snarled, “You dropped her out in the dunes and made her wander her way to the tent so you could spend time lounging on cushions instead of tending to your duties. You four have wasted enough time here and you are late getting to where you need to be. I will not tolerate laziness, foolishness, or tired excuses!”
The four handlers stood from their cushions and humbly bowed their heads. “Yes ma’am,” they said in unison.
“Excuse me!” Surya spoke in a commanding tone.
The little girl froze like a statue, pausing briefly before slowing turning around to face Surya. Her face was smiling, but it was a smile of a tiger ready to pounce. Her eyes were warm, but the warmth at the edge of a volcano. “Yes?” she spoke with fluid, melted steel, “What can I do for you?”
“In my country, it is customary to share greetings with those people you do not know,” Surya proudly proclaimed. She was a little unnerved by this little girl, but she committed herself not to show it. Nevertheless, after she had spoken she heard Greenwing whisper to himself, “Oh hell no she didn’t…”
“In your country?” the little girl replied with a slowly intensifying frown growing on her face, “Qadira? Greetings?” Surya nodded to each question. The little girl snorted as if she were a mighty queen staring down at a humble servant girl, and not the other way around. “I seem to remember when we created that custom back a few years past… I forget, sometime about two to three thousand years ago. If I recall, I was against it – too much can be hidden in a name! A true judge of character exists beyond a name and a reputation. Nobility is in the heart, not in a title.
“Besides the fact, I see no reason to greet you… you have no need to know my name and I already KNOW who you are,” the little girl spoke the words like a stabbing of a knife, “You are the slayer of the innocent, the herald of racism, the bane of redemption. Personally, I would cast you into a pit of hell myself were it not for these confounded technicalities…”
Surya was put off by the matter of fact tone of the little girl, “Those four seem to think…”
“Those four answer to me, and I answer to the Goddess,” the little girl bowed her head when she spoke the last word, and lifted the small necklace in her blouse, kissing the Angel Ankh. “However, you have been tasked on a course of redemption. You need to learn compassion, forgiveness, and redemption… and you WILL learn these things. There is no place in the heavens for one without a sense of compassion and forgiveness,” the little girl paused thoughtfully for a moment, staring into the distance as if into nothing, “just as there is no place in the heavens for a soul bereft of humility and a sense of humor…”
Surya understood the need for humility, and she knew that her mother chastised her for the lack of it, but a sense of humor? “But I have a good sense of humor…”
The little girl shook her head, “Not you, foolish girl, ME! I walk my own course of redemption. Humility and a sense of humor are the burdens which I myself must strive for on my own the path. Do you not see this burden upon me? LOOK AT ME! Am I not humble? What is more humble than a poor child?” The little girl spread her arms for Surya, and then turned and faced the handlers. They averted their eyes and bowed their heads – it would be worse for them to lie than to not answer.
Surya, however, replied quite plainly, “Well… I think you are making an effort.”
The little girl turned once more to Surya and spoke plainly, without any forced intimidation, “To make an effort is to journey the path of redemption. Keep up the effort, and continue the journey… that is wisely spoken. Perhaps I am too quick to judge you.”
Darkbane spoke up from behind, “Ma’am, she did say something very funny, I think you might have laughed, even.”
“Was it cruel? I’ll not have you resorting to cruelty to invoke humor for my sake!” the little girl snarled, “You know I will not tolerate cruelty.”
Darkbane shook his head nervously, “Oh no, no, no! We did not invoke any cruelty, it was simply a misunderstanding! You see, she thought we intended to punish her by making her pregnant with an orc baby!”
“And this was funny?” the little girl snapped at Darkbane, who did not seem to be so enthused anymore. However, he did sheepishly nod his head, as did the other handlers. The little girl turned on Surya and sharply posed the same question, “And did you think this funny as well?”
Surya shrugged her shoulders, “I suppose, looking back now, I think it was a little funny.”
The little girl snorted derisively, then waved her hand over her shoulder. “You four… to your duties!” The four handlers began to shimmer with white, silver, and golden sparkles as bright as the sun. The Qadiraan attire disappeared from their bodies like whisps of clouds. Large fans of light, like wings, folded out from behind their backs, spreading and flapping against the tent. The tent and the carpet and the pillows themselves began to dissolve in wisps of clouds, leaving not a sandy oasis behind but a starry sky in all directions – no up, no down, no ground even to stand upon. With a few flaps of their gossamer wings the celestial beings were gone, leaving only Surya and the little girl floating in the starry black space.
“I’m assigning you a guardian to watch over your progress,” the little girl spoke frankly to Surya, “Utilize him as you deem necessary, but take care not to lead him down any unsavory paths. He has just been redeemed in the eyes of Erastil himself, so he is not starting with a clean slate. He is loyal and he is dedicated to his own redemption, and he should be able to assist you on yours.
“Don’t let us down cleric!” the little girl became more firm in her voice, “More than just your own soul is riding upon your character. You have an entire nation to grow and protect. You’ve shown you can punish the wicked, now show us some mercy, forgiveness, and redemption. Don’t screw this up! If you fail, we’ll put your little ass right on the fast track road to hell…
“… or at the very least, we’ll try another go at redemption. But this time we WILL give the impregnating you with an orc idea a go. Who knows? I may even get a good laugh out of it! That would be worth something at least.”
There was a flash of light, and Surya found herself waking down in the hold of the dwarven galley on the northward trip bound for Greenlund. She no longer wore the linen gown of the acolytes, but was donned in her silk nightgown, wrapped up in a bed of furs. She remembered every detail of the encounter with the handlers and the little girl – it was as real to her as a recent memory. It wasn’t a dream, that much was certain. She had been brought before the choirs of Sarenrae and had been councilled by the angels. There was a great honor in this, but also a great shame. Surya steeled herself to follow the path that the handlers had given her and bring glory and joy to the church of Sarenrae.
There was one more thing she remembered as well of her encounter, something that did NOT occur yet she remembered nonetheless. She knew the name of the little girl, at the very least the name that she wished to be spoken as – not the true name, which for some reason had also been given to her by her handlers.
It was true then, what the little girl said, that a person could not be judged by a name or a title, for her name was Buttercup. It was a poor descriptor of what she truly was.

View
A few notes on goats

A few notes:

The cost we paid for goats was 10 sp per goat… multiplied by 400 goats is 40 gp, not 4. Make corrections to the tally sheet if you need to

We need to set up a grain supply for Tatzlford for planting — 4 gp per family. We may want to provide goats as well, if they are not already sold out — 20 sp per family (two goats). They can feed themselves but they lack starter grain for planting. Oleg will take care of his own people… at the expense of rebuilding his tavern — Patience OLEG!

The cost for supplying food for the winter for families is a donation by the government that will be recompensed by upcoming taxes, but supplying planting grain is a loan. Payback of the loan should be 5 gp, but should not be collected upon for a couple of years (Clandestiny says at least three harvests). Grain can be sold to the Dwarves for cash if we can get a good dock set up in Fort Tuskwater (the dwarves are planning one now). Tatzlford can sell to the dwarves as well if we get a pier with riverboats made for them to ship food downstream. Farmers at Oleg’s will need to have the road built.

The farmers can use the money selling grain to buy sheep and cattle and vegetable seeds (if they so choose) from the markets in Nivakla’s crossing (again only if the road is built). An envoy should be sent to Nivakla’s Crossing to let those who operate the stockyards know that there will be high demand for cattle, sheep, chicken, and pigs but also warn them against gouging prices at the expense of our villagers — will require some diplomacy!

In the meantime, during the plowing (which will happen SOON), planting, and harvest, we are going to need to find carpenters and blacksmiths who would be willing to work for credit — until the sale of the harvest. It may be that suitable blacksmiths and carpenters already exist amidst the farming families, but we will need to enforce a set of rules amongst them solidifying the rules of credit.

View
Showered with Dwarven gifts

The Dwarves have you return the Boots, White Cloaks, and Snow Goggles. It is requisitioned Snow Gear for the Church of Torag.

The citizens of the dwarven town of Kovlar (which is about 4,400 dwarves) shower you with gifts (of a dwarven nature) – no family in the city desires to be left out. Cumulative with what has been accumulated already at the Temple of Torag as supplication to the Dishonorable way that Surya was treated, the following is provided

7000 lbs of cured meats and sausages (homemade, vary in quality from good to excellent)
45 kegs of ale (home brews, vary in quality from very good to outstanding)
36 large 30 lb blocks of cheese (homemade, vary in quality from good to excellent)
6 Eight pound jars of honey
Twenty Gallons of Maple Syrup
3 fifty pound bags of Wilken’s homemade waffle batter (just add goat’s milk and egg!)
A finely crafted waffle iron
15 hand made down quilts
24 dyed linen sheets
22 Excellent Quality, coarsely knitted wool blankets
4 sets of Leather gear for each party member (6 for Surya) – mostly styled in a “workman’s” nature
2 pair of fine leather shoes (8 for Surya) and four pair of boots for each party member
3 belts (one extra wide) for each party member
8 sets of linen clothes (24 for Surya) for each party member
6 wool sweaters for each party member
7 wool flanel shirts for each party member (all with different clan tartans)
7 wool kilts for each party member (skirts for Surya – all with different clan tartans)
6 stout crafted wooden chests with locks
24 scented candles (beeswax with varying scents)
(anything else that might come to mind?)

These are gifts from families. You are also approached by the professional master craftsman who ask you if there is any way that they could honor you with their skills – Requests?

View
Meanwhile, back at Fort Tuskwater...

It took all of two weeks for George to get “ancy” and “need” to get out exploring after the party left for the Five Kings Mountains. George grabbed Hungabungalot and put together a make shift saddle for his wolf for him. The wolf was actually very tractable to the idea, as he envied the way that George was able to ride his horse in such a close proximity to each other. “Maybe, if I work hard enough and eat all of my dinner, I will be big enough for my master to ride ME into battle… sigh…”
The two set out towards the northwest to some nearby forest plots. They headed up the Skunk River, but they didn’t go far when they came across a small group of gnomish explorers who were struggling to keep their wagon from sinking into the water. George quickly threw a lasso at the wagon and hooked a wheel. With the power of his heavy warhorse, he easily pulled the wagon to the shore.
The leader of the gnome party thanked George and Hunglikeadog and introduced himself as Narthropple, leader of a mapping and exploration team. George and Northapple got into a discussion about mapping the Stolen Lands, which George INSISTED on calling Greenland. By the end of the discussion, Nambrapple was disheartened by just how much of the Stolen Lands had ALREADY been mapped. Nevertheless, the two worked out a deal to exchange information and headed back together to Fort Tuskwater to swap information. Narmbopple was contracted by a Varisian University to thoroughly map the region, so it really did not matter HOW he acquired the information he needed, and he was more than happy to share what he had learned – which was actually quite a bit concerning the Narlmarches.
Of particular interest to the group was a towering statue of Erastil not far from the Frog Pond, and the Ruined Keep near the end of the Murque River (which Nopplebottom was reluctant to approach). The gnomes also noted on the map the location of what appeared to be a slain Unicorn with its horn sawed off lying dead in the forest. George asked, “How do you know it is not just a horse?” Nabnappa replied, “Because it is a FREAKING Unicorn, buddy! And somebody sawed off its FREAKING horn! That’s how!”
Also of some concern was the information that the further the gnomes ventured to the south, the heavier the concentration of troll encounters became. It was necessary for the gnomes to hide their wagon and explore on foot for most of the time, as this allowed them to dive into the shadows at the approach of a troll.
This news spurred EVERYONE into a flurry of cabin-fever induced activity. Jurgenfriez snatched up Hubumbalung, tossed him in his saddle bags and headed west out to the plains, Clandestiny grabbed Kelthak by the orcish ears and headed out along the Tuskwater with four of the guards. George stomped his feet and shouted at the group as they rode off, “What about me? I only got to go out for two days!”
Kelthak replied, “You make sure Akiros and his pet giant keep out of trouble.” This of course seemed silly to George, as Akiros had been loyal to a fault since the defeat of the Stag Lord, and Auchs had lost his fire when he lost his eyesite – the simple giant was content playing with his “toys” in his perpetual darkness.
It did not take long for Gordon and the Hubbubbatub to find some “action” – a prowling pack of wolves led by a fierce alpha (worg) had the audacity to try to waylay Gordon in the daylight – big mistake. Gordon and his horse plowed through the pack, to and fro, whilst Hobbitlung played a merry tune on his Mandolin and recited an epic poem (I AM helping!). When all the wolves were dead, the group buried the carcasses in the snow and flagged the berm for the Ranger to come retrieved the bodies – there were a few good pelts in that mix.
Gordon continued on towards the east while the gnome bard mapped the way. As they decided to turn south and head back (as they were quickly getting tired of the cold) they spotted an uncharacteristic rise in the terrain. It turned out to be a huge mound of earth with a dark open entrance. The two dismounted and wandered inside, only to be chased out again by a mad flurry of bats. Hunghungadung, using his KEEN intellect, built a smoky fire at the entrance of the cave and they pushed it inside. The smoke agitated the bats until they could stand it no more and fled the cave. With the gnome lighting the path and the Cavalier leading, the pair continued on…
They came to a central chamber with four directions to go and four faces on the walls in-between. Gordon inadvertently triggered a pressure plate in the center of the room, which caused the four faces to inhale a gust of air and then exhale a blast of inky darkness. Fortune was with the two as they dove for the bat cave as the inkiness engulfed the room. When the cloud subsided, they went back into the room and carefully marked out the trap pressure plate. They also came across a prior victim of the trap in rotting leathers, with rusted weapons, but surprisingly sporting a magic ring. Hohumadumb was able to identify the ring as a Ring of Sustenance, and Gordon gladly bid the gnome to take it as his own.
The pair searched the two adjacent passages first. Both were enclosed rooms with skeletons perched on the walls. And of course, the skeletons came to life as soon as they stepped into the room… I mean, why WOULDN’T they? After a few swings, a dozen skeletons were down in the dust… the bard didn’t even bother to sing about it.
In the third room, however, was a large sarcophagus that creecked open as the group entered… again, why WOULDN’T it? Out from the sarcophagus stepped a well armored skeleton that moved like it knew how to.
“A decent battle at last!” Gordon cried, as he matched the skeletal warrior sword for sword and shield for shield. Hibbobido pulled out his mandolin and began to play, as well as recite a dirty limerick. It was a well fought battle, but he defeated the skeletal warrior and claimed its magical bastard sword as his own (although it was in desperate need of some repairs).
Before retreating from the lair, Hundyaiyumba did a quick once over for secret doors, but found none. They departed together, and were immediately waylaid by a will-o-wisp. The will-o-wisp was cocky, and tried to take the Cavalier out quickly, but with two lucky swipes of his sword the will-o-wisp disappeared in a puff of smoke. Gordon turned to the bard who was cowering between his legs and said, “You know, you really are almost useless, you know!” and then hopped on his horse. The bard murmured a reply under his breath, “I have skills!”
The pair made their way back to Fort Tuskwater following the banks of the Gudrin River, crossing at the Gurdin River crossing to map the opposite side. “Why is it called the Gudrin River but the crossing is called the Gurdin River Crossing?” the Cavalier asked the Bard, but Hummusbummer simply replied, “They need to hire a new editor.” Other than a peaceful pack of grizzlies in the distance and an inept werewolf, the pair encountered no further hostilities.
Meanwhile, Clandestiny, Kelthak, and four guards traveled south along the western boundary of the Tuskwater Lake. On the second day out, they encountered a lonely shack in a copse of mangoves. As they approached the fence of this shack, a scarecrow in the garden (covered in snow) lifted a rake and threatened those who approached.
A harsh shrill voice snarled from within the shack, threatening the visitors as if they were marauding bandits and warning them to leave or die. Since Clandestiny has some modicum of diplomacy, they were able to convince the shrill voice that they were NOT in fact bandits but the newly established rulers of the area. The mood of the voice changed, and an elderly half-elf woman came outside, commanded the scarecrow to give pass, and invited the group in.
It was a pleasant visit (and nobody got tossed into the oven). The woman’s name was Elga Verniex, and she was a wizardress half-elf of waning years. As the talk progressed towards the advent of civilization to the region, she expressed her concern for her privacy, but the party assured her that no one would want to settle the area in which she lived. Towards the end of the visit, she was quite friendly, and even asked the group to do her a favor.
Evidently, on the other side of the river was a fungal patch where amazing and exotic breeds of mushrooms and conks grew. She agreed to tell the party of its secret location on two conditions – they don’t despoil the region for their own purposes and they kill the beast that guards it. The party agreed, and in return Elga marked the parties map and gave them her boat on loan and a fully charged wand of flaming arrows to assist.
The group set out immediately in the boat, and made shore on the other side. Following Elga’s instructions, they located the grotto of mushrooms… most were dead for the winter, but there were some of the more statuesque varieties that gave the region away. It didn’t take long for the guardian to find the group, either. It was a hulking monster of a fungal mass called a tendriculous! Nevertheless, with Clandestiny singing and igniting arrows with the wand, the group was able to bring the beast down at range. Clandestiny, being Clandestiny, gathered as much ichor and goo from the creature as possible before the group returned back to the boat.
When they arrived at Elga’s with proof of their success, she was most pleased. She was also thrilled at the fact that Clandestiny provided her with a couple vials of tendriculous goo, which has acidic properties. She marked on the party’s map the pathway through the forest due west that meets up with the Murque River, but warned them of the Crazy Man with the cat, and the Scythe Tree further West. She showed the group where they can find the Ruined Keep at the end of the path. She also mapped out Candlemere lake for them, but not the part where it connects with the Murque. “I don’t know that area and I never go there,” she said as it is guarded by a clan of cannibalistic lizard folk. The party asked about the troll lair as well, but Elga shrugged and replied, “The best I can tell you is that they are in the forest somewhere west of the Lizard folk.”
The party set out on horseback through the woods, moving quickly as they had a good map of the region. They were set upon immediately by a crazy loonie-bird man who leaps out from a tree onto the back of one of the guards and stabs at him viciously. The guard went down, but did not die. In the front of the party, a large puma leaped out of the bushes and tackled Clandestiny, Sebastion style. Kelthak directed the remaining three guards to take out the Puma, which they did so rather quickly (as they all have a level of Rogue) whilst he took care of the loonie-bird. Mr. Crazy man flew into a rage screaming at the other guards who were, “Hurtin ma kittie!” as Kelthak called upon a spell to light a fire on his two-bladed sword. The fiery weapon, plus a quick Human Bane on the blade, and call for Judgment on the loonie-bird was more than one crazy man can take – he was killed before he could realize that he should have never attacked in the first place. Clandestiny remarked at how similar this lunatic looks to the old alchemist near Oleg’s, Bokken.
After a few well placed heal spells, Kelthak tracked the crazy man’s trail to a hollowed tree that stinks of shit. Inside, the group finds a small beaten chest with some gold and silver (3 gp, 174 sp), two potions (cure light wounds, invisibility), and a golden locket with a woman’s face inside.
The troupe rested for the night, and got an early start the next morning. They did not travel far when they ran straight into a group of a four trolls. They retreated on their horses and the trolls gave chase. They ran only far enough to safely cast preparatory spells, and then they jumped back into the fray. Clandestiny sang and fired burning arrows, as did the guards as they approached. When they were close enough, Kelthak lit the fire on his blades, Activated a Giant-Bane, kicked in the ol’ Judgment and Charged. He took a few hits, as did his horse, but the trolls regenerating powers do them no good and soon they were in retreat. Trolls don’t run as fast as horses, and can’t dodge backshots (again, the guards all had one level in Rogue) with burning arrows, so it really was a slaughter.
By the end of the day, the group was approaching the part of the map marked with the Scythe tree. The group approached a darkened grotto that stank of decay, but were not able to locate the Scythe tree amongst the others. Kelthak, knowing the ways of monsters, determined that this tree was trying to hide alongside the others. The best way to smoke it out was, of course, to BURN it out. Once again, Clandestiny used the wand to fill the quivers of the guards with flame arrows, and they proceeded to put a flaming arrow into every tree in range. Eventually, they hit a tree that screamed.
Now, the arrows didn’t do much damage, but the fire sure did the trick. It is also important to say that trees don’t run very fast. And although it was quite certain that should the tree get its limbs on anyone it would have been a quick death, the group was able to turn the tree into a burning pyre after but a few well timed retreats. The party made camp in the warmth of the burning scythe-tree.
The next morning they awoke to a dryad (how did they know it was a dryad? Because she told them she was a dryad – otherwise the group might have just mistaken her for any other random half-naked beautiful women covered in autumn leaves prancing about in the forest) standing beside a satyr (that one was easy to guess). The dryad was happy to the point of tears that the party has slain the scythe-tree – its negative influence on the trees had been devastating in ways that only a dryad could understand. She showers the group with gifts, including a Scroll of Nature’s Ally IV, a Wand of Cure Moderate Wounds (25 charges), 2 potions of Cure Serious Wounds, and 6 Feather Tokens (tree), as well as all the gold she possesses (24 gp).
Kelthak and Clandestiny tell the two who they are and what they are doing in the forest, and the dryad (whose name is Tiressia) and the satyr (Falchos) agree to protect the forest on Greenland’s behalf and provide guidance whenever necessary. They also agree to guide the party directly to the Ruined Keep, but will not go any closer as there are wicked fey abounding within.
The Ruined Keep turns out to be just that, and it is not long before one of the guards is slashed in the leg by a gust of wind, a streaking blur, and a glint of steel. A high pitched laugh bounces from all directions. A split second later there is another gust and a blur and another guard is sorely wounded.
Kelthak nodds knowingly, “Quickling!” He casts a spell of Magic Weapon on his two blades and Shield of Faith on himself and begins taunting the Quickling. “Try me on for size you greasy little bastard! Be sure to stab me in the back so I don’t see you coming!” The Quickling took the bait and charges straight for Kelthak. Kelthak squatted low and dropped his right hand to his side to grab the Quickling as it came by. At the last possible second, the Quickling veered to Kelthak’s left. Just before the last possible second, the back blade of Kelthak’s weapon “SNNNKT” out two and a half feet to his left. Kelthak took a light slash on the leg from the Quickling’s poniard, and the Quickling suffered a deep gash to the neck from Kelthak’s two bladed sword.
The Quickling staggered to a visible halt forty feet away trying to staunch the flow of his bloody neck. Five arrows in the back later, he was dead. Clandestiny, being Clandestiny, ran to try to get as much Quickling blood as she could in her vials (and maybe stuff the rest of him into a bag for magical parts… tee hee hee!)
With Clandestiny in the lead, shining the way with a light spell she cast on her rapier (as Surya is currently unavailable for casting light) the group headed in through the entranceway of the outer walls of the ruined keep. As she stepped through the doorway the portcullis came slamming down, but luckily she dodged to the side unscathed. The group quickly tried to lift the portcullis, but were unsuccessful. A second try to lift the portcullis also failed. Somehow (even with a -10 to the roll) they forced open the portcullis on the third try and wedged it open.
There were four smaller towers in the outer circular wall and a larger tower in the center of the courtyard. They searched the outer towers one at a time. In the first tower, the party disturbed a swarm of rats that came tumbling out upon them. Swords slashed and stabbed at the little bastards, and, and dozens of rats were killed as well as dozens of little bites were inflicted, but the party managed to scatter the beasts.
But as that was occurring, Kelthak saw out of the corner of his eye a figure that was creeping around the group on the verge of an ambush. As well, Clandestiny recognized a plant rustling by that was known to be carnivorous. She quickly cast flame arrow for the guards, and they quickly split the arrows amongst themselves. Meanwhile, Kelthak whispered a spell of flaming weapon.
From opposite sides of the party the assault came. The attackers were surprised (well, I guess technically the plant WASN’T but that’s beside the matter) that their prey was ready at the defense. Clandestiny went on the defensive, singing while the guards pelted it with arrows – the fire this time had little effect, but the arrows struck true.
Meanwhile, Kelthak immediately recognized the skulking attacker as a Grimstalker, a fey WORTHY of Judgment. The poisonous claws of the Grimstalker did not penetrate the iron-hard constitution of the half-orc inquisitor, and soon the Grimstalker was running for his life. Nevertheless, he was no Quickling, and the guards with their flaming arrows made quick work of him.
Beyond the remnants of rats, the lifeless shell of the carnivorous plant and the corpse of the Grimstalker (both of which were being dissected by Clandestiny), there was little else in any of the outer towers… except for treasure, but we’ll get to that later.
The group made their way into the doorway of the inner tower. Kelthak took the lead this time, carefully examining the doorway for traps similar to the portcullis. He had only stepped a few feet into the room when a slight hiss caught his attention. “Everyone out!” he yelled and pushed the rest of the party back. A purple mist filled the room as the group ran into the safety of the courtyard. When the mist had cleared, they cautiously went back inside. Finding nothing of interest in the base of the tower but a staircase going up, they ascended the stairs of the tower.
There was soft music coming from the top of the tower. Once more, Clandestiny used the wand to prepare flaming arrows. The group opened a trap door to the top chamber of the tower and stepped through, ready for battle.
A beautiful woman with elven features in a green dress with a red sash danced and sang in the middle of the room. Kelthak and three guards were immediately entranced, one of the guards was able to fight off the enchantment but stepped away from the others for fear they would mindlessly turn on him.
Clandestiny, however, was pissed off. “BITCH! You think your going to upstage me with your drunken, tight-ass, half-elven BULLSHIT? Check this, you skank ass ho!” Clandestiny’s own dancing and singing provided a Counterspell performance that shook the others out of their spell. The other men woke from their erotic stupor feeling quite foolish… and angry. Arrows flew, blades flashed, and the head of the seductive fey came tumbling off.
As the head rolled to a standstill, the eyes looked up to Kelthak (who had made the final cut to sever her head) and her voice said, “Know that though you may have slain me, I shall place upon you a curse so wicked…” Kelthak stomped on her brain until the head stopped moving, and replied, “Sure you will!” Clandestiny, being Clandestiny, tried to salvage as many pieces of the seductress as she could and stuff them into jars.
All said and told, after searching the Ruined Keep from head to toe, the party gathered a considerable sum of loot. But for now, let’s get back to George.
George was back at Fort Tuskwater moping and baby-sitting Akiros and Auchs. He didn’t really have to do anything since Akiros could take care of himself AND Auchs. A young girl, orphaned during the Barbarian Attacks at Olegs, was taking care of the cooking and cleaning. So George just sat around and moped. Nupplerupple and his gnome buddies converted their wagon into a boat (with such speed George pretty much figured it was designed to do so) and headed down to explore the Guldrin River, so it was just George, his wolf, the girl, Akiros, and Auchs. The wolf didn’t talk much… but it LOVED George! The girl didn’t talk much either, not since the barbarian attack. Akiros just liked to brood and be melancholy. And Auchs was stupid. So other than the Owlbear, George was alone.
A few days had passed when there came a knocking on the door. Thinking it was just some farmer, George walked to the front and opened the door. There was a group of six men with horses, wearing leather armor and sporting swords and longbows. “May we enter?” they asked. George had them stable their horses and come in for some warm food… the young girl was a fair cook after all.
The leader of the group was a man named Loy Rezbin. He and his wife (not present) were in the process of leading a group of religious refugees from the country of Galt – known as the land of the perpetual revolution. The tides of favor in their region had shifted and followers of Erastil were being rounded up an executed as traitors by the revolutionary council. Loy and his wife convinced a sizable group of 100 families to abandon Galt and flee to some other country. The only safe place they knew of was the hamlet of Liberthane, managed by the good Lord Achille Parsal. Unfortunately, when they arrived at Liberthane, Achille deemed it unsafe for such a large group of refugees to settle near the border of Galt. “It was inviting reprisal!” he insisted. Liberthane, as it is, served better as a waypoint for Galtean refugees rather than a settlement.
Loy’s heart sank, but Liberthane continued, “I recently had a group of visitors from up north in a newly settled region of the Stolen Lands they now call Greenland. The leader of this new realm is a noble lady by the name of Surya, and she’s a right fine priestess of Sarenrae.
“Now, she told me up in the forests in her land there’s a huge and ancient Temple of Erastil that they have just recently purified. Now, I know they are looking for people to work the land up there, so you have a good chance of founding a colony with little argument.”
Achille agreed to care for the refugees for the time being while Loy and a group of scouts headed up the Sellen to meet with the leaders of Greenland.
Being as George was the only leader of Greenland available, he deemed it his solemn right to welcome the group aboard. They dug out one of the copies of the map and scouted for a good site for a starting colony. They wanted to be near the temple, so they looked up north near the fairy lands. They wanted to be close to the plains for farming and close to a river for travel so they looked near the Thorn River Camp. They had just about made up their minds about settling the Thorn River Camp when they asked about a little monument notated on the western boundary of the Narlmarches. George replied, “That’s a giant statue of Erastil this group of gnome explorers found. They said it’s in solid condition but just in need of maintenance and cleaning.”
That changed everything for the group. They looked instead at a place along the Skunk River near the western boundary that was in between the Temple of the Elk and the statue of Erastil. They asked about the hot springs and the frogs, and decided that there could be advantages to both in the coming years.
So it was settled, and nobody felt like sitting around. George gave Akiros a slap on the back and said, “You’re in charge bro!” and then headed out the door with Loy and his recon group from Galt.
It was quick moving as they followed natural deer trails along the river. The followed the river up through the woods 20 miles until they came to a pristine patch of timber. “Damn!” Loy spoke to the group, “Would the ship builders of Taldan get their fingers on this lot of timber!”
“YOU DON’T TOUCH MY TREES!” a squeaky voice shouted from behind.
The party, as a group, rushed to the shore of the river. “Who said that?” George called out.
A voice answered, “Those are MY trees! You touch them and you will regret it.”
Loy laughed, “Doesn’t look like you’ve got a fence around them… and you certainly didn’t plant them!”
“But I DID plant them!” the voice replied in a high pitched, angry voice. George could see the movement of what looked like a fin or a hand or a hand/fin behind a large rock in the stream.
“Huh?” Loy exclaimed, “Those trees are at least two centuries old!”
George put his hand on Loy’s shoulder, “Ok… this is the part where you shut up or you wind up getting killed.” Loy nodded in assent.
George turned back to the river, “Did you plant those trees?” he called out.
“YES!” the voice answered back.
“Ok, then they ARE yours,” George replied, “But this part of the forest is under our control. We made a deal with Perlivash, the fairy dragon – the fey will stay in the north and not harass or persecute the humans, and we will respect the forest and stay out of fey country. If these are your trees, we will respect that… but you have to respect the deal we made.”
“You know Perlivash?” the voice answered, and a little green haired head with big eyes peeked out from behind the rock, “You know I’m a fey?”
George thought to himself for a moment, “I could put an arrow right through her eyeball and she would never see it coming… heh, heh, heh…” but then wiped the thought out of his mind. Instead, he replied, “Of course you’re a fey… unless this river is populated by 200 year old rock bass that like to talk to people and plant trees.”
The fey, which George recognized from descriptions as a river Nixie, came out from behind the cover of the rock. “Are you Surya?”
George shook his head, “No, Surya is a woman. I am one of her… um… Nobles!” Yeah, I like the sound of that! “My name is George.”
“Very well, George,” the Nixie replied, “I believe you. I am Melianse. I will honor the deal with Perlivash. I will not interfere with humans as long as they respect the forest and the river and not touch any of my trees.”
George turned to Loy and his patrol, “Think you guys can handle that?”
The group nodded in assent. This was good enough for Melianse, “Very well, I will be watching the rivers and the forests to make sure you do.”
George quickly interjected, “Oh, and Melianse, if you ever see anything out of the ordinary along the rivers and streams, come let us know down at our Fort on the north shore of the Tuskwater…”
“The bandit fort?”
“EX-bandit fort!” George corrected her, “It’s ours now. Just let us know if you see something out of the ordinary or disrespectful to the forest and we will come take care of it.”
Melianse nodded and smiled brightly, “I will be sure to do just that. I look forward to seeing you again George.”
George couldn’t help but smile in return. Were it not for the fact that she was only four feet tall…
The party moved on up the river. They came to a slow bend in the river and made camp. The next morning they were up and moving again.
As they traveled on, George had a gnawing feeling in his stomach about this area of the map… like there was something important that he was forgetting… something he was supposed to take care of…
There was a rustle in the bushes and a large dragon-headed snakelike creature leaped out from cover and snatched one of the scouts in its jaws. It had taken the rider who was in the very back of the column. Another one of the monsters leaped out and latched onto the man’s horse.
The other five riders spurred their horses forward to escape, but George turned them around, “No!” he shouted, “It’s an ambush! Go back and around them!” The riders quickly obeyed, and they raced around the bank by the two beasts. George plunked an arrow into each as they rode by.
From up the river, three more that had been in hiding leapt from the bushes to give chase. The two who had been shot with an arrow were angry now and also pursuing the party down the river.
“What the hell are those things!” Loy shouted.
“Tatzlwyrms!” George shouted as he fired off another arrow. He was bouncing about in his seat as the horse ran at a full gallop, but since he was such an amazing shot, it didn’t make too much difference. Firing one arrow every six seconds, he managed to wound all of the beasts before they gave up the chase and turned away.
“LOY!” he shouted, as the Galteans had simply fled for the hills, “GET BACK HERE!”
Loy and the others returned reluctantly. “What are we doing?” he asked.
“You want a place for your families, don’t you?” George asked him. Loy and the others all nodded. George nocked an arrow, “Then pull out your longbows! We’re attacking! Shoot them ‘til they get close. Then we retreat ‘til they get tired… wash, rinse, repeat!”
“Huh?”
“CHARGE!”
It was a sound plan and executed with timid precision… that is to say the Galts typically retreated early, but they got their shots in. Soon enough a Tatzlwyrm had fallen, then two, and then three… the last two retreated but by then the Galts had ironed up their stomachs and chased them down. And the wolf helped… don’t forget the wolf.
The Galts picked up their fallen comrade and carried him upriver on their horse. They traveled uneventfully through until evening, and then made camp for the night. Through the camplight hours they talked back and forth about the previous battle and about their fallen man and his family. The Galts were amazed that any of them had survived at all. George got tired of all the whining and boasting and just fell asleep with his wolf.
The next morning they came within site of the plains. George explained which direction they could find the temple and which direction the statue was supposed to be. George also explained that further up the stream and it would start to stink from the hot springs, and the giant frogs were up there as well. The Galts insisted on being taken to the Temple of the Elk.
Jhod Kavken had been tending to the Temple since the slaying of the bear guardian. He greeted the Galts warmly and explained that Erastil had told him of their pending arrival. The Galts discussed their plans on founding a village and the location that they preferred, and Jhod gave them Erastil’s warmest blessing for it. They then asked him to give last rights to their fallen friend, which itself was a somber moment. George got tired of all of the ballyhoo and just went behind a tree to take a nap. “Wake me when you’re ready to go!”
Meanwhile, Gordon and Hogopretzel came back to the Fort after defeating the Skeletal Champion only to find the huge front door torn off its hinges. “What the hell happened?” the gnome exclaimed, but Gordon just drew his sword and charged in. He discovered the grand table had been shattered, chairs crushed, and the very bars to the Owlbear cage were torn open as if they were made of tinsel.
Again, Hoppalongalong exclaimed, “What the hell happened?” From inside the kitchen, a voice called out, “In here!”
The Cavalier and the Bard ran into the kitchen. Akiros was helping Auchs out from the trap door to the cellar – a once easy task made difficult with blindness. From below Auchs, the young girl’s voice asked those above if the monster was gone.
“Monster?” Gordon inquired.
Akiros nodded, “Another owlbear. Either daddy or grandpa, or dearly devoted husband owlbear. Biggest darn specimen I ever seen. Could have eaten a troll in two bites!”
“What the hell happened?” the gnome cried a third time.
“The owlbear in the cage,” Akiros explained, “It just started crying, and hooting. Making all kinds of weird calls. The next thing I know I start to hear owlbear calls from outside. So I put Auchs and Brindie…”
“Who’s Brindie?” Gordon interrupted.
“I’M Brindie,” the little girl, orphaned by the Barbarians, pouted.
“Hi Brindie,” the gnome cheerfully replied, “My name is…”
“Fine, she’s Brindie,” Gordon interrupted again, “Tell me now what happened to the door!”
“Like I said,” Akiros continued, “I put Auchs and Brindie down in the cellar, and then I went and got my bow. When I got up to the tower, I leaned out to see if I could see it… and there it was, charging straight up to the front door. It was HUGE! I dropped one arrow in it as it charged, but when it hit the door it rattled the whole fort, and darn near knocked me off my perch. It had busted a hinge on the door with the charge, and then it just grabbed it and tore the thing clean off. I shot it once more, and it looked up and me, snarled, and then ran into the main hall.
“I ran down to take a look at it but right as I got to the stairs I heard it rushing through the kitchen… it was coming after ME. I could see it round the corner right as I turned into the attic. I wasn’t going to wait, so I ran and jump busted through the attic window… and the bastard jumped right on after me.
“Well, I hit the ground right in front of the front gate hard and solid, and he hit the ground and slid down the hill about forty feet. Far enough for me to get a good head start. I ran inside and into the kitchen, and popped open the cellar hatch and climbed on in. I could hear him coming back in the house when I locked the hatch. I think if he’d have seen me he would have dug us out.
“Anyway, that was about twenty-minutes ago… you just must have missed him. I heard the cage give way when he let the other one go. But it’s been quiet ever since.”
Gordon snorted, “So you just hid that whole time?”
Akiros nodded without shame, “I know when I am out of my league.”
“Then you stay here. BARD! Get your Lute! We’re going after him!”
The gnome sighed, “It’s a mandolin.”
Gordon and Hackeysacklung were on the trail with full provisions fifteen minutes later. “Can you follow the trail?” Gordon asked the gnome.
He replied, “I can follow this trail!” referring to the gigantic pair of tracks plowing through the snow. They followed the tracks south for two hours when a heavy snow hit and covered the trail.
“Which way did they go?” Gordon asked.
Hibbibbitybong replied, “Beats me, I’m no tracker!”
“You said you could follow the trail!”
“Yeah, the trail left by two big owlbears stomping through the snow, not the trail of a covered path of fresh snowfall!”
Gordon shook his head, “You really are useless, you know!”
The gnome muttered under his breath, “I have skills!”
Regardless, the pair pressed on! They took their search down south along the Tuskwater until they were forced to cross the Gudrin. Hyboreaborea had a good idea then, “If we can’t track it, then maybe we should go back to scouting and mapping the area. We might be able to find its lair that way.”
Gordon nodded in agreement and the pair traveled to the Gurdin Crossing and crossed the Gudrin River. They encountered a few lone grizzly bears, too tired for a fight, and handful of kobolds (who slit their own throats in lieu of being captured), but no giant owlbears.
However, as they were approaching what appeared to be a northern branch of the Little Sellen River, Gordon heard a cry for help. “Help me! Help me, somebody please!” The cry was faint, but distinct.
“Do you hear that?” Gordon asked, “It’s a woman in trouble!”
Hughgrantalong agreed, “It’s coming from near the banks of the river!”
“Help, please, somebody!” This voice became more urgent the closer they came. Gordon shouted out to the voice, “Hang on! We’re on our way!”
Hubertubertub felt compelled to call out as well, but then realized that he REALLY WAS BEING COMPELLED to cry out! Wait… why would you cry back out to someone who was in trouble… you’d want to see what was going on first – it could be an ambush after all. Gordon knows this. He cried out though, because he’s being compelled to do so as well.
This was compelling magic… voice magic… BARDIC magic! When Hoyogoygo took a step back he could see it clearly for what it was. He could taste the enchantment in the air.
“Please! Help me! I need help, someone!” the voice was softer, sweeter, and in greater despair now.
The bard nodded and thought to himself, “Yeah, this is strong stuff!” he climbed up Gordon’s back, who was fiercely intent on getting to this voice. He took the horse down off the edge of an embankment and followed the river. They could see a cave entrance up ahead.
“You need to stop for a second, Gordon, and get your thinking straight!”
“Help me! Please, oh I need help soooo badly!”
“Can’t you hear her gnome! We have to get to her now!”
Hoddodido nodded, “Yeah, Ok… we’ll do that… but you know, this kind of reminds me of a poem I once read… There ONCE was a MAN from NANTUCKET…” The poem was short and continued only for a few rhymes. When it was finished, the Cavalier pulled the horse to a stop and then turned and shouted at the Bard.
“That is the most disgusting thing I have ever heard! Curse you for a fool, gnome, have you no shame! Have you no decency! Have you no…” Gordon stopped in mid-sentence as he realized that he had been under the skeins of a deep charm, and the gnome’s raunchy poem had just pulled him free.
Halungalom, pulled a miniature arrow from his quiver, cast a light spell upon it, leaned up over the Cavalier’s shoulder and shot it into the cave. It landed in the middle of the cave and illuminated everything inside… including a jackal headed lion/beast.
Gordon snorted, “I guess you’ve got a few uses after all!”
Halungalom nodded, “I’ve got skills!”
The beast charged out of the hole, which was just fine by Gordon, as he lowered his lance and charged to meet it back. Halungalom sat back on the saddle, facing the opposite direction, and began playing his mandolin. It took two passes with the lance, and the creature was dead. And then they checked the cave for goodies! But more on that later.
When all was said and done, all three groups returned to Fort Tuskwater the same time. Gordon and Halungalom had explored some more plains hexes, but were unable to recover the tracks or find the lair of the Owlbears.
George and the Galts found an ideal site for a new village which they intended to call Tatzlford in commemoration to the battle/sacrifice made for its discovery – they also stopped briefly to collect the heads of the five slain Tatzlwyrms.
Clandestiny, Kelthak, and the guards literally cleaned out the Ruined keep, and came to the conclusion that it might make a good local for another town (or at the very least they could pirate it for stone). They loaded the horses with loot and traveled back to the fort.
When all of them arrived at the fort, they discovered that the door had been sealed with hammer, nails, and crossboards. The attic window also had been hammered shut. Gordon explained the Owlbear attack to everyone and some were concerned while some just laughed. They pried the door open and stepped inside.
It was dark, and the place reeked of blood. Weapons were out and guards and characters were on the alert. A quick search was conducted, but it didn’t take long. There were blood smears of little hands and huge hands (no intermediate hands) all throughout the kitchen. One of Auchs little toys was found broken in the corner.
Both Kelthak and George went into tracking mode. They were able to deduce a few things. Auchs had run off. Akiros had stayed. Akiros moved a body and buried it down the hill (there was a little gravemarker with Bindie’s name on it). Akiros went to the stable and got a horse and then went off as well, following the large man’s tracks.
George and Kelthak both grabbed their horses. Halungalom hopped back onto Gordon’s horse and the four of them went after the two…

View
A couple things about Orcs

A couple of things you guys should be considering ahead of time

You are going to have a day in Highhelm to gather extra supplies. You don’t have much money but you might be able to arrange something with the Church of Torag for funding (they are funding everything else, after all). You might want to formulate a plan ahead of time and supply yourself for it.

The Captain shows you that you are going to be disembarking in badlands/plains in the dead of winter – Lake moisture and winds will make blizzard conditions; Staying warm won’t be a problem with the boots, but there are other issues with blizzard conditions.

Orcs are tough. They are NOT the AD&D “Six hit points of damage and they are dead” kind. Pathfinder Orcs have the ferocity trait– which means they keep fighting until they are at negative their Constitution in damage. So a 6 hp Orc with 14 Con will require 20 hp damage to stop him from swinging… or you can do seven points, run away, and hope he bleeds to death (and that there are no healers around).

Due to Natural Selection, there are more Orcs with Character Levels than there are Orcs with a meager 6 hp in a band. The default Character you should expect is Barbarian.

The good news is:
Orcs suffer from light sensitivity (so expect them to wander outside in blizzard conditions only at night)

View
At the Dwarven City

Sooo…

Ingr Gilrid, Priestess of Torag in the Dwarven City of Kovlar had deemed it prudent to keep the group in the Temple as guests until she could make arrangements to send the group out on a quest to redeem Ox’s name, and thereby his families name. During that time, she kept Ox under close lock and key, encouraging him to sit in prayer in her private chapel to Torag.
As for the rest of the party, she encouraged Surya to venture out into the city and meet with the dwarves, for MANY of them are mindful of the poor reception she has received. Some of those who have offended her have gone so far as to offer her gifts in return for her forgiveness… a very dwarvish sentiment. Being raised as a prima donna in a rich merchant’s house in Qadira, Surya is not beyond such sentimentalities herself. Although her complexion is one that does not tolerate the harsh wools, linens, and leather of dwarven tailors and tanners, Surya was able to appreciate the fine fur coats that were presented to her in her favor.
With the winds of good fortune blowing in her favor, Surya also sought to develop relations with the local guilds as well. She spoke once more to the mining guild, who received her quite warmly this time – taking her immediately up the gilded staircases to the leaders of the organization. They treated her with dignity and respect and took her request for dwarven miners quite seriously.
She was not at all pleased with the terms they offered – 1/3 of the take for the miners, 1/3 for the guild, and 1/3 for the landowners. This seemed a paltry share from for her OWN gold mine! The guild, however, insisted that they have learned by experience that NON-Dwarves do a pathetic job of maintaining the infrastructure necessary for a good mine, so the 1/3 for the guild was imperative for these purposes.
When she what they meant about infrastructure, they replied, “Building smelters and forges, smithies and stonemasons. Engineers, surveyors, geologists, and appraisers. The building of outer walls and fortifications. The planning and placing of roads. Not to mention funding construction of houses and taverns and shops and storehouses. Dwarves don’t just leap into a hole and dig, like kobolds. It may seem to human-folk that we chew on ore and crap gold, but it ain’t that simple… if it were, I’da lost my teeth YEARS ago!”
Before she could mention it, the Guild Leader declared, “And as for the miner’s share? Well, that’s standard. The Dwarven miner in an established dwarven settlement gets a share of ¼ of the take. This is bumped up to 1/3 for any miner in a pioneer claim… unless, of course, it’s his own claim. You go any less than 1/3 and you won’t get anyone to bite. Besides, greed makes the pick swing harder.”
Surya felt as if they were on the verge of making a deal, but the Guild Leader then said, “The only problem is the company you keep. I would never ask you to turn your back on a friend, but I just can’t do business with a… well… there’s not a good word for it. Any dwarf that associates with a human who associates with… well, its sort of a deal breaker, lass. I know it is something you may not understand, and that’s to yer credit – and frankly I’m glad to know that forgiving human folk like yerself are out in this world. But, I wouldn’t do right by the guild to make a deal with you. Maybe things will change, but I can’t see how.”
As per Ingra’s instructions, Surya kept quiet about Ox’s revival. She simply nodded her head and continued the conversation in more pleasant terms. Surya found the same circumstances when she met with the stonemason’s guild, and the smithies guild, and the jeweler’s guild, and the tanner’s and tailor’s and merchant’s guilds. They were all pleasant, welcoming the Priestess of Sarenrae whom their people had so rudely offended with open arms, good cheer, and free sausages. Yet they all balked at any future deals with a human (no matter how gentle-spirited and good-natured) who would travel with the likes of Ox Gilridslagsun.
Over the next ten days the gifts piled up at the doorstep of the Temple of Torag. With each gift was a note attached, “For the Dear Lady of Sarenrae, May the Purest Fires of the Goddess give strength to the Forge of Torag – TO ANY SLAGSUNS, KEEP YER MITTENS OFF!”
Such notes were easily respected when it came to the furs and leatherworkings that were piled at the door, but the warnings were also tacked to kegs of fine beer, wheels of stout cheese, hard candies and well cured sausages. Ox, however, was keenly focused on his redemption and was otherwise sated by the excellent beers, cheese, hearty breads, pastries, and meat from Ingra’s larder.
As for Sebastion and Ping? They did not have much money in their pockets, and not one dwarf would consider giving them a copper farthing in credit. Neither did anyone in town seem all that interested in talking to them. So they mainly lounged about in the temple common room, eating cheese, sausage, and meat pastries and drinking beer (all of which was the common fare for those living in the temple) while passing the time away playing cards with the off-duty guards.
After ten days of lingering in the city of Kovlar, Ingra declared that preparations were ready and it was time for the party to move out to Highhelm. The night before they were to set out the Guild Leaders insisted on throwing the Lady of Sarenrae a farewell feast. It was not a raucous event, but a large table was sat with many esteemed guests in attendance. Speeches were made, toasts were given, and good cheer was passed forth to all. Sebastion and Ping were also welcomed to this farewell feast, even though the two were seated nearby at the children’s table (for those Dwarves under 25 who still had but stubble on their chins). Nevertheless, they were given adult sized tankards, so it was not long that they couldn’t care less WHERE they were seated.
At the end of the dinner, when everyone was as snockered as paste but still standing, Ingra (who was a little more than drunk herself) stood at the end of the table. In what might have been a tear-wrenching speech, had it not been for the drunken drooling and slurring of speech, Ingra presented Surya with a gift as a token of respect on behalf of all the Guilds and the entire population of Kovlar:
A dwarven crafted Scimitar (+2 Cold Iron Holy Scimitar). Surya (after three tankards of dwarven ale) accepted the scimitar with all the grace of the girls from Jersey Shore. But everyone was drunk, so what the heck.
The next morning, after a few draughts of Torag’s hangover cure, the party set out for Highhelm. Ingra made sure they left very early in the morning so no one in the city would see Surya walking with Ox (which could have tarnished their good favor of her). They wound their way through town to the main tunnel leading to High Helm. Waiting in the darkness was a padded cart being pulled by a pair of mules – their taxi to Highhelm through the darkened tunnels. They traveled down the tunnel for no more that five minutes when a dwarf stepped out of the shadows and waved the cart to stop. The two drovers, called out to the dwarf, “Who are you? What do you want? State yer business!”
The dwarf replied under a darkened hood, “My business is none of yours, and I wish only to speak with one of your passengers.”
Thinking the dwarf was referring to the Cleric passenger, the drover waved him to the back of the cart. Everyone was surprised when the strange dwarf waved Ox over to speak with him.
Ox, not really having fear of neither man nor beast (except spiders… yeah, those fucking trapped door kind! Those are pretty creepy), walked to the strange dwarf and addressed him plainly, “What will you have of me then?”
“Good fortune to you cousin!” the strange dwarf whispered.
Ox beamed a smile. Toma was his favorite cousin – the two boys grew up veritably chewing on the same strap of leather. Ox’s smile turned immediately to a scowl, “Are you daft, cousin!” he hissed, “What if someone sees you talking to me!”
Toma nodded, “It shames me to hide my faith in you Ox, but I am sneaking about not for my sake but for ma and pa’s. Still, Ingra told me what you have planned and I couldn’t let you leave with out giving you this.”
Toma handed Ox a fine, blue sack (Type III Bag of Holding: 150 ft3). “Ingra said you were gathering orc heads… well, this should hold quite a few! I crafted it myself.”
Ox choked back a tear, for it was the most genuine act of kindness towards him that he had known from a dwarf since before he was cast out. “I… I don’t know what to say…”
Toma patted his cousins shoulder. “There’s some fireblade oil in there as well. Put just a little on your axeblade and it will burn through an entire fight. I wish I could do more for you cousin, but you know how it is. Anyway, go lop off some orc skulls and come back a hero! Then we can celebrate for real!” (Oil of Flaming Burst; 6 charges; 10 minutes per charge)
The two dwarves grasped shoulders in salute and then they turned away. Ox hopped onto the cart and it rolled down the cave, while Toma pulled his hood over his eyes and blended into the darkness.
I took two days to reach Highhelm, with no encounters on the way save for tunnel guards and traveling carts, wagons, and merchant caravans.
They reached Highhelm late in the evening, and they rushed through the near empty streets. Surya asked the drover where a reputable inn might be where they could stay the night, but the drover informed her that his orders were to take them directly to Captain Hoarfürst aboard the Guilded Pike, the ship that was the next vessel of their journey. So quickly, the troop journey through Highhelm’s darkened streets (passing without notice the greatest occupied Dwarven city in the world) and straight to the docks.
The Guilded Pike was a formidable Dwarven Longboat with 40 oarsmen and the complementary crew. Most were wrapped in blankets, sheltered under their oarsman benches. Captain Hoarfürst greeted the troupe as they came on board. The talk was polite and swift – Surya was given the Captain’s quarters while the rest (including the Captain) were to sleep in the shelter in the aft compartment. They had not yet fully resupplied, so they would be in dock for at least one more day. Captain Hoarfürst was intent on pushing off at the crack of dawn, the day after tomorrow. This suited the group, as there were still a few supplies of their own they wanted to procure from town.
“Before you do,” Captain Hoarfürst explained, “There are a couple of gifts that were sent ahead for each of you, compliments of the Church of Torag. And before you ask, YES… they are paying the bill for this ship as well, so you can’t rest assured that you are in good hands, Blessed be the Highfather!”
The Captain took the group to his quarters and unraveled a large tied bundle. “You’re going to be going into Orc country in about the worst time, but what’s bad for you is going to be worse for Orcs… as long as you got the right gear!”
Inside the bundle were four sets of gear. A large fur lined cloak that was as white as bleached snow (Snow cloak – non-magical, +5 stealth in snow/blizzard conditions); a pair of bone goggles that tied in the back with a long slit to see through (Snow goggles – non-magical, -2 visual Perception; immune to snow blindness), and a fur lined pair of boots (Boots of the Winterlands – magic item, see core rules).
And finally, once the sets of gear had been parceled out, all that was left of the bundle was a single compass. Captain Hoarfürst picked up the compass, “This little item is your ticket to victory… or to getting your head bashed in. About two hundred years ago a dwarven expedition into the Hold of Belkzen was led by a noble dwarven lord from the Tirriark Clan, a family from down south in Taggoret. Well, suffice to say that none returned from that expedition.
“About ten years after that expedition, the Tirriark’s decided to venture out to see about recovering the dwarven lord’s axe, and in the process maybe recover his remains as well. So, they made this little compass to search out that axe. Problem was, the compass was taking them deep into orc territory – there was no way that they were going to recover the axe where it had been sending them.
“After about 50 years of waiting for an opportune time to go for the ax, the clan leaders decided to hand the matter over to the Church of Torag. From what they say, by their recollection the axe is now in as good a position as any to make a go at retrieving it, and Ingra thinks that your search for redemption makes you the ideal candidate to do it.
“So… let the compass guide you to the band of orcs who have the axe. Kill the orcs, take the axe, find some way to bring back their heads, and then we can send you home a hero!”

View
While you were sitting around the fire...

While sitting around the fire with the other characters and their alts, Clandestiny comes up with a few ideas (aka adventure seeds) for the year to come.

Travel south to the Dwarves of the Five Kings Mountains (Ox’s homeland) and see if we can’t recruit some dwarven mining guild to come and mine for us.

Travel even further South to Qadira and see if we can’t get Surya to patch up things with her merchant father and perhaps establish a Qadira/Brevoy trade route. Perhaps the Qadiraan church of Saranrae might consider financing a religious outpost, like a monestary or a temple, in Tuskwater Keep.

Travel Northwest to the battle lines of Mendev and see if Kelthak can’t make arrangements with the Crusader leadership to offer war-weary crusaders a place where they can settle down and retire from the rigors of constant warfare (unless we need them to take up arms to defend the country, of course).

Chart the waters of the Shrike River from Tuskwater lake, and see if we can’t establish a water route to Fort Serenko, Nivakta’s Crossing, and Restov.

Visit the other River Kingdoms: Daggermark, Gralton, Lambreth, Mivon, Pitax, the Protectorate of the Black Marquis, Sevenarches, Tymon, and Uringen. Announce our founding nation to the Outlaw Council, and declare our allegience to the River Kingdoms six laws, and independence from Brevoy.

Visit nearby capitol cities and advertise the availability of free land for settling farmers. Numeria and Ustalev are too dangerous to recruit from (we wouldn’t want to attract the wrong kind of people: Numeria = barbarians; Ustalev = gothic horrors). Galt to the Southeast has plenty of people looking for an alternative life, but we would be under constant threat of arrest and beheading. A longer journey would be better, opening up a possible migration from citizens of Andoran, Taldan, and even devil weary Chelaxians. The capitols of Molthune, Druma, Nirmanthas, and Lastwall can be accessed by braving the waves of Lake Encarthan.

The nations of Ustalev, Numeria, Galt, Nirmanthas and Lastwall ALL suffer from hunger (due to either war, oppression, or supernatural causes). Perhaps we can set up trade relations with these places once the grain starts flowing INTO our silos.

Rumors have it that in the mountains of Iobaria, east of Restov, there resides a breed of tamable dragon, much like a wyvern but less intelligent. Stories say that they had once been domesticated.

There are centaurs on our eastern boundary. Perhaps they could be allies?

We need to find stone for building (limestone or granite… the GOOD STUFF!) and iron ore. We should check out the mountains to the east and see what we find.

View
So now what

It’s September, and you will soon have 200 families in covered wagons from Brevoy marching to wherever you set up as your capitol.
Winter in the Stolen Lands is like winter in New York — shitty.

I am assuming that you are going to set up at the old Stag Lord fort. Colonists are going to need to build homes prior to winter setting in or they will die. Fortunately, the Kamelands have plenty of rock and clay to build rock cabins for everyone. Unfortunately, they also need wood to frame their thatched roofs, which is not so common. Wood would ALSO help from keeping people from freezing to death and cooking food. Sooner or later you’re going to need to recruit some loggers.

And how about that food? The colonists will have enough provisions for 2 months… and then they got the munchies. Being September, there’s not much in the way of crops in the field and no way to grow any in September. If they make it through the winter, they will need food still for another 9 months as well as grain to plant their fields. Most of the farmers have either oxen or horses to pull their wagons… and maybe a goat and some chickens… but not really enough livestock to start a colony. Planting grain will be expensive for 200 families trying to plant 40 acres each.

On the positive side the Stag’s fort is alongside a VERY productive fishing lake. Should you put in a small dock you may attract some permanent fishing villagers.

And then there is the road you want from Oleg’s to Stag’s. Clandestiny gives you an accurate estimate that a 20 man crew paving with stones picked up in the Kamelands can make a road 8 feet wide (ie wide enough for one wagon) at the rate of 200 feet per day. Clandestiny or anybody else with KS Engineering can manage a maximum of four crews at a time. Paving crews can be hired in Rostland in Brevoy. Surveying a path for the pavers to follow will not be a problem if George simply takes the best path from Oleg’s to Stag’s leading the wagon train of Colonists — their wagon wheels will carve a pioneer path. A 20 man crew will cost 40 silver per day (1 silver per man, 10 silver to feed and supply, additional 10 silver for supervisors). It is 60 miles from Oleg’s to Stag’s. It will take ONE 20 man crew 1600 days of paving to get finish the road, which will cost 64,000 silver (640 gold… or about 6.4 million copper!). Four twenty man crews will cost the same but it will only take 400 days (a year +). Any more than four crews and you will need another Engineer watching full time, which will cost somewhere between 50 sp to 1 gp per day.

And then of course there are the mines… Silver, Gold, and nobody to mine them.

Throw on top of that you have no blacksmiths, no carpenters, and nobody else who does anything for a living.

The good news? You have about 5 ex-bandits who would be more than happy to serve as Men-at-arms for you. However, once things start rolling they will insist on a paycheck.

Also good news is that once the road is in you will have the best direct trade route from the sea into Brevoy. You will be a shipping power in the River Kingdoms (since you are exempt from River Kingdom’s travel “taxes”). You will gain gold and silver on a daily basis from your mines. You will be able to collect grain as taxes and either sell it or stockpile it for future colonists (they can pay the fees for your grain with Bank Loans — YOUR bank!) Specialists like blacksmiths, carpenters, merchants, and artisans will flock to your city once they learn that it is safe and there is money to be made. The long and the short of it is that once things are up and running it will become MUCH easier to grow…

Until someone decides that they want to build something out of stone (like a castle or a temple)… then you got new problems!

View
Notes on the Kingdom

1) Status quo is that you ARE a part of the River Kingdoms. Although there is no unifying ruler, there IS a council of Lords that meet (rulers of all the river kingdoms that mostly discuss trade and who has been violating any of the Six River Kingdom Freedoms). Think of them as City States with a united council. You will only break off from the River Kingdoms by force — either by your own hand or Brevoy’s.

2) Although farmers are less common in River Kingdoms than in other, more SECURE nations, they are HIGHLY valued and the soil in your region ranges from moderate to very good. Wheat and oats are grown in good soils and Rye and Barley are grown in less fertile soils. Limestone for building is a problem but there is plenty of rock and clay. Wood must be taken from the forest… but that is another problem.

3) Good point made by Brett — OATHBREAKERS MUST DIE! You can’t pervert an oath into slavery, though. If you break an oath, either you need to challenge or deny the fact or get the hell out of the River Kingdoms! That being said, people who live in the river kingdoms are dispassionate about making promises (ie they say, “I’ll do my best,” or “We’ll see how it goes,” or “God’s willing it will be,” vs. saying something like, “I promise that I will get it there on time!”)

4) Remember — YOU HAVE WHAT YOU HOLD… that goes for gold and silver mines as well

5) It is a big world and once you colonize the area, nobody knows you are securing the area but the Swordlords of the Brevoy town of Restov. You want colonists and settlers, you have to go get them or wait for Brevoy to keep sending you whatever it deems necessary.

6) INVESTMENT! Brevoy is not the only player in the game. If you are looking for a merchant house or a religious order to set up shop in your kingdom, you need to communicate that.

7) Craftsmen and Specialists. Farmers don’t build castles or temples. They don’t shod horseshoes or make bows, armor, and weapons. Farmers, however, can’t buy the things they need without money — and they can’t make money without the tools they need — and they can’t make money without someone (ie merchants and traders) to sell their product (ie food and grain) to.

I will set up the initial farmer distribution and the amount of grain they produce and the amount of tax revenue available for those farmers. But you are going to need to come up with a plan for them to work their land (ie materials, seed, and livestock) and how and where they can sell their crops (merchants, markets, and trade routes). The first year will be rather easy as you will only get whatever farmers that Brevoy assigns to you, and although SIGNIFICANTLY profitable it will not likely cause any market imbalance wherever you go. But once you start recruiting farmers, building your populations, expanding your territories, and flooding local markets with grain and meat, you are going to have to find alternative avenues of trade. However, if you are successful in protecting your farming population and word gets out about free and safe land and profits for everyone, word WILL get out! If you run the kingdom like a dictatorship (like every other civilization in early history) word will eventually get out as well.

Some of you may not like the idea of a game where you have to consider these facets (Remember, Dan, when ruling a kingdom just meant marching in with 1 million zombies under your command?) but I will keep these details as simply measures as to how well your kingdom is progressing. It will not overwhelm the entire campaign.

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.