Good Omens

Chapter Six
Queen Tishra

The Intrepid Six intrepidly pressed forward. Almost instantly, the cave system gave way to a large, open room that seemed, perplexingly, far too large to fit underground at the level by which they had descended. Yet, exist it did indeed, for they were standing very firmly within it.

Nevertheless, the more perplexing part of that large, open room was that which was contained by that large, open room. Torches lined the stone walls and dotted the floor, illuminating the area as if daylight were pouring in from somewhere unseen. Great stalagmites and stalactites reached up and down, as if vainly trying to reach each other. Past these pillars was a deep, wide chasm, cutting a swath in the room from side to side, creating a barrier to the huge, ginormous, and otherwise very, very big creature shackled to the far wall.

It was a humanoid, in that it had two arms, two legs, and an upright posture. Alas, the general rotting grossness of undeath had robbed the creature of having two full arms and two full legs, as large patches of flesh were entirely, grossly, absent. Since it was, as previously stated, really, really huge, it’s partially exposed, decrepit cranium was mere inches away from the cavern ceiling. At its feet, encircling the being, was a ring of perplexingly glowing symbols. Around its wrists, ankles, waist, and head were huge iron bands, also inscribed with perplexingly glowing symbols. And from various parts of its body came pipes and tubing, leading to various other parts of the cave, snaking through walls, floor, and ceiling, disappearing perplexingly into places unknown.

Along with being humanoid, bound, undead, on tap, and very, very large, the creature was also very, very angry. While it spoke no intelligible words that could be discerned, it screamed and raged vehemently against its bindings. It screamed and raged with such force that the cave itself shuddered, sending dust and small debris showering down upon the Intrepid Six and a multitude of battle-ready foes.

Realizing that there were face to face with a multitude of battle-ready foes, the Intrepid Six burst into action with the incredible lentor that one would expect when surprised by something totally unexpected, such as a gargantuan and very angry undead being on tap.

At first, the battle was promising; each of the Intrepid Six continued their tried and true battle tactics with great success. Yet it seemed that for every creature felled, two more rushed in to take its place. It wasn’t until Jane outwardly voiced her exhaustion that the group faltered, pulling their sights away from the enemies before them to look about the cavern once more.

And what they saw may or may not have caused soiling of pants.

More deformed, ungodly creatures began to literally crawl out from the walls, manifesting that universal, instinctual nightmare of being overrun by generally unpleasant beings. Waves of undead clawed up from the chasm in impossible numbers, and monstrosities too hideous to describe poured out from the crevices around them and advanced with unnatural speed. The Intrepid Six gathered closer and closer to each other, instinctively inching their way back toward the entrance. As another wave of grotesque, reanimated corpses lunged at them, a brilliant flash of light streaked out before them, rendering the creatures into a fine, soft powder, which was admittedly a much more desirable state.

All heads turned to see where the arch of miraculous light had originated, and from a shadow-cloaked corner emerged none other than the long sought after Lost Queen Tishra.

“RUN. NOW.”

Even had she not been the Lost Queen Tishra (which she wasn’t, as she was now Found Queen Tishra), the Intrepid Six did not need to be told twice. With a seventh in their rank, they ran with the fervor of a herd of cats in a particularly wet rainstorm. They scrambled wordlessly back through the cave tunnels, to the entrance, and back into the open (yet only slightly fresher) air, where the bard immediately began to squeak at the top of her lungs.

“OPEN THE GATES! OPEN THE GATES!”

Found Queen Tishra began to fumble with a leather bracer upon her arm, which lit with a magical brilliance. Light poured out, not wholly unsimilar to the light they’d witnessed before, which she waved for the Plague Guard to see. The guards pacing the wall sprang to life and set to opening the gates. Without missing a single step, the Intrepid Six (Plus One) bounded over the broken bodies of the previous inhabitants, collectively doubling over into deep breaths on the other side. The portcullis slammed down behind them, after which the Plague Guard quickly gathered around then and collectively saluted.

Colonel Lionel, roused from his tent by the commotion, was the first to approach Found Queen Tishra. A few words passed between them in the twilight, and then the Intrepid Six were ordered to join him in his tent. No sooner had the tent flap fallen when fervent, excited chatter filled it to the brim. The queen and colonel immediately took to reporting on the state of the kingdom, revealing that the queen had sent the order to find the heroes. Five of the Intrepid Six immediately took to debating amongst each other about the meaning of the creature in the cave, and Mal immediately took to drinking. The debate grew more and more heated and more and more enigmatic, as each person’s contribution of knowledge and speculation proved only to reveal more questions and absolutely no answers.

While the creature was obviously of some order of immortal, its specific identity was unknown; while the creature appeared to have been held captive there for eons, the metal tubing was rather new; while the queen insisted that she would have been told immediately of such a thing below the lake, it would be impossible to complete such an endeavor in complete secrecy.

“Well,” the bard spoke to her five comrades, “we do have a Special Friend with knowledge of things… above us.”

“If you are speaking of Mr. Les,” the colonel responded, despite the fact that Dan was specifically not speaking to him, “I think that would be an excellent idea.”

“I agree,” suddenly added the Mal, “we should press on. I am sufficiently buzzed, I must say. What is this beverage I’ve been drinking?”

There was a collective pause.

“Actually, Drow,” the colonel said “you’ve been drinking from the spittoon.”

“Ah,” he responded, “I see.”

With the calculated, practiced calm that can only be achieved from a lifetime spent in a realm of murder, torture, and giant spiders, Mal fumbled for his water canteen.

Despite the fact that it was past sunset, the Intrepid Six, the queen, the colonel, and a regiment of Plague Guard stepped out toward Mayim, intent on reaching Mr. Les as soon as was possible.

“Your Majesty,” Dan tapped the queen’s hand as they prepared to set out, “How do you know Mr. Les?”

The queen motioned for Lionel and his guard to give her a moment of privacy. “Not many people know this, but Amopholes is a heavenly being.”

“Oh,” Dan replied, “I know.”

“Oh. Well,” replied the queen, “I think it best if the Plague Guard not know.” Dan nodded earnestly.

“He also has an evil twin,” Mal added, “who would make a great task master for mindless beings.”

“Well,” the queen said thoughtfully, “I would imagine that if there are heavenly beings, there would also be…opposites.”

“We met one of those ‘opposites’ in your absence, and he was not nice. At all.” the bard said gravely, “that is why I was reluctant to take orders from a mysterious somebody. Which might have possibly somewhat sort of caused a stand-offishness with your Plague Guard.”

The queen nodded, “It’s alright Halfling, I understand.”

“Oh, and you’re also part of a prophecy,” Dan replied candidly.

“Yes, well— what?” the queen asked.

“Yeah! You’re number eight, that’s why Amopholes sent us to look for you in the first place.”

“I’m number eight?”

“Yeah!” the bard counted aloud as she pointed to each of the Intrepid Six, “then there’s Rhys—you haven’t meat him yet—and you! We are… the Magnificent Eight!” The queen was unsure whether she should feel amused or speechless. Dan continued despite her confusion. “And there’s this tablet! It’s awesome and shiny! It’s great and—well, you’ll see.”

“But we’re going to have to fetch it,” Sprinkles corrected.

“And possibly cross that Jorreth guy again,” Mal added.

“Okay?” the queen asked more than stated.

“You don’t understand, Your Majesty,” Dan said with gravity, “He makes the mage seem pleasant.”

Quickly stifling what might have been laughter, or perhaps a sneeze, the queen matched the bard’s weighty expression, “That sounds horrible, Halfling. Although, I would advise you not to upset the mage.”

“I could have you flame broiled, you know,” Sprinkles hissed intently.

“I’ve not been flame broiled before,” Dan replied pluckily, “so why not?”

The mage held up a hand, and a small fireball flashing into existence above his palm. It was quickly extinguished, however, as the queen stepped in.

“Please,” she said with the force and intent of warrior royalty, “do not wear on my patience.”

An awkward silence swooped down and began to feast upon the group, but mercifully, Mayim could be seen in the distance. The queen raised the hood of her cloak, instructing the group to refer to her as “Len” when near people who were not already privy to her identity. It was near midnight when they reached the house of Amopholes, and were met at the threshold by a relieved but still nervous Rhys.

“I’m so glad to see everyone back!” he said, “Mr. Les has been looking forward to speaking with you.”

The queen turned to Lionel and his Plague Guard, and directed them to wait outside and keep watch over the house and property. With a salute he and his guard fell into practiced watch formations, fanning out with a directed purpose that spoke of their extensive training. The rest entered at Rhys’s beckoning, and were greeted by a pleased Amopholes. The queen stopped short when she saw him, her face momentarily draining of color, at which point she said, “I am so sorry.”

Amopholes, understanding her intent, waved and hand a replied, “I did what I still believe was right.” Refusing to let it become a topic of discussion, he pressed on, “With the Halfling in the group, I’m sure you’ve been told a bit about your destiny?”

“Yes,” she replied, “the Halfling has said…enough words.” Either ignoring or not hearing the bard’s sudden solemnness, followed by a mumbling of “My name is Dan,” the queen continued her conversation with the angel.

“Why me?” she asked.

“Why any of us?” he replied, “These are forces beyond my understanding.”

Realizing the futility of her question, the queen moved on, and began to describe the undead monstrosity discovered in the lakeside caves. Questions and answers went back and forth, as Amopholes tried to understand very specifically what had been witnessed.

“It was bound in shackles bearing the same language as the tablets,” the mage explained, “there was also a long and convoluted array of tubing draining the…if it were human, I would say blood, but I am unsure what one would call the essence of that…thing.”

“God goo,” stated Jane.

The mage gave and irritated sigh and massaged his temples. “Yes, well, whatever you want to call it—”

“God goo,” corrected Jane.

The mage massaged his temples a little harder.

“Say it,” encouraged Jane. “God…goo…” she said slowly, for the benefit of his understanding.

“…” another sigh, “…God goo,” the mage surrendered.

While generally not of the schadenfreude sort, Dan was unsuccessful in stifling the delightful giggle bubbling up from her throat. Jane’s look of satisfied accomplishment endeared her even further in the bard’s heart.

“Anyway,” Sprinkles said with some determination, “with all my knowledge, I’ve never seen anything draining the humors—”

“God goo!” interrupted Jane.

“—of a godly being,” the mage finished.

“And its flesh was rotting, sloughing from its body. And the eyes…” Kryss spoke with an almost reverence, “I saw the deepness of infinity.”

“Like the cosmos?” asked Dan, “Or the Void?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Nothing immediately comes to mind, but for something of that power to be chained…” Amopholes spoke aloud as the thought, “Tell me, how was it bound?”

Excited chatter arose once more as everyone scrambled to describe its bindings further. Dan did her best impression of A Very Large Thing, the mage insisted that the bindings were celestial, Jane, Sora, and Kryss peppered the conversation with remembered details, and Mal whittled a piece of wood. It wasn’t until Amopholes specifically asked for a description of the runes that the Drow entered the conversation. With a piece of charcoal he began to replicate the runes he could remember upon the floor, while the Eladrin began sketching in his spellbook.

Amopholes stared intently, nodding now and again as his attention toggled between the two elves. Then his eye went wide. “STOP!” he shouted, frantically kicking and smudging the charcoaled runes on the floor and scrambling to take the pen from the mage. All eyes were upon him, questioning his uncharacteristic outburst. He took a moment to collect himself, and then explained, “That is one of the most ancient summoning rings of which I know. Even writing it down is dangerous.” The adventurers all exchanged glances. “Someone has incredible control to bring something of this power from another plane and bind it in place. We need the tablets; we must know more about this.”

A severe hush fell over the household as everyone let the seriousness of the new information set in. It was then that the bard had another of her awesome, brilliant, epic, and totally stellar ideas.

“Hey Kryss,” she said, holding her outstretched instrument, “hold my lute.”

Confused but curious, Kryss reached out and took the wooden device. Dan looked at her. She looked at Dan. Dan looked at her even harder, and everyone looked at Dan. Her shoulders slumped, her brilliant idea apparently not producing the expected stellar outcome. “Okay,” she said to the rogue, “you can give it back now.”

Everyone now looked at Kryss. After a stern glare from the queen, she gave it back; but not before giving it a quick strum, producing a sound very similar to the mating call of a constipated mongoose. With a look of worry, Dan grabbed it from the rogue’s hands and strummed it again herself. The lovely, melodic sound of a well-loved lute hummed through the air. Dan breathed an audible sigh of relief.

“What…was that?” asked Jane, speaking for the group at large (except Mal, who never looked up from whittling).

“I just…wanted to see what would happen,” Dan replied with what might have, to the untrained eye, look like sheepishness, but was most assuredly not anything at all like sheepishness.

The queen now massaged her temples, and looked to Amopholes for sympathy. However, he appeared only to be completely and totally amused and enamored by the ways of these mortals. “We should really decide on a course of action,” she sighed, searching for something, anything, to bring the focus of the group back to the issue at hand. Everyone agreed that the Temple City should be sought in the morning, but that in the meantime, a good, hearty snorfest was much needed by all. Rhys would be rejoining the group along with the queen, but Amopholes would once again stay behind.

“But only if the Plague Guard stays with you!” Dan insisted.

“That is the queen’s decision,” Amopholes stated, “I’d be surprised if she wanted no other protection.”

“Then you’d be surprised,” the queen piped in, “While the Plague Guard is trained, this group is proven. I will go with them, and this regimen of guards will stay with you.”

The Intrepid Six, Jane in particular, was honored by her words of confidence. Placing his newly whittled creation into his pack, Mal spoke aloud, “What is this… fuzziness inside? It’s weird.”

“It’s exactly that,” explained Dan, “it’s the Warm Fuzzies.”

“What?” Mal was genuinely confused.

“It’s like getting drunk, but without the alcohol. Or spittoon.”

“Oh,” he said with what seemed like earnest understanding.

Since everyone seemed to be on a good and friendly note, Jane the Ever Inquisitive decided that this would be a great time to ask a question that had apparently been bouncing around the interior of her skull for some time.

“So, Kryss. What’s up with, you know…the weird reaction you’ve had to some of this?”

Kryss’ faint friendliness was abruptly returned to shadiness, “I will tell you my secrets when
you tell me yours.”

In what was likely not the rogue’s intention with said statement, Dan’s eyes brightened and a large smile spreading across her cheeks. “Yeah! Let’s do that!” she said with a clap and a hop, “I mean, we’re fighting and maybe even dying together, and I don’t even know any of your last names!”

“Or first names,” quipped Sora with a nod in Sprinkle’s direction, “in the case of the mage here.”

The queen now buried her face fully into her hands. “Oh gods,” she groaned, “this is going to be a long trip.”

Amopholes, laughing aloud, calmed himself and then spoke, “Before you go, I have some gifts for you.”

With a speed that was audible, the rogue and bard snapped their heads in his direction. Kryss leaned in, obviously intrigued, and Dan’s eyes threatened to fall out of her skull with delighted suspense.

“I have three rings,” he said, “If you are able to fully concentrate your mind for a period of time—” Dan’s shoulders fell with disappointment and murmured curse, “—you will be able to communicate with the bearers of the other rings.”

“Mof should keep one!” Dan said with a raised hand, as if giving vote.

“And I should keep one,” said Kryss.

“No offence, but no way in hell,” the angel spoke. “Her Majesty should take one, and I feel most comfortable giving the third to the cleric.” He placed a ring on his own hand, handed another to Found Queen Tishra, and the other to Sora. “Rest well at the inn tonight, and preparations for your travel will be made in the morning.”

Bidding adieu to the celestial, the group traversed the quick walk into town and into The Blue Lagoon. Inside, a fairly old and rotund Most Definitely a Barkeep perked up, unused to customers so late into the night—or in this case, so early into the morning. As his eyes fell from person to person, revealing a full party of eight individuals, the barkeep could not hide his greedy excitement at the financial prospects.

“Good evening! Come in, come in!” he said, signaling them closer to the counter. “How can I help you fine folks?”

Rhys stepped forward, procured from his pocket a small identification card, and slid it across the bar to him. The Most Definitely a Barkeep furrowed his brow, picked up the card, and let out a vocal groan of disappointment. “Alright,” he said with the enthusiasm of an admonished three-toed sloth, “no charge for persons on official state business.” He stood, preparing to show them to their rooms, when a small hand slapped three gold coins onto the counter. Hearing the sound of money, particularly gold-minted money, the barkeep stopped abruptly and turned around. A hat hovered just above the level of the counter, revealing two big eyes framed in curly auburn hair. He leaned over, and saw the bard smiling up at him. “I was hoping for some nicer rooms,” she said.

The Most Definitely a Barkeep smiled very wide, and moved with an excitement that seemed impossible for his age and girth. “Right this way! Right this way!” he said as he waved the group down a different hall and up a flight of stairs, “These are our finest rooms! The finest! Just right for important officials on important official business!” He opened two adjacent doors revealing two adjacent rooms.

The rooms were spacious, well kept, and inviting. There were six beds in each, with enough room for a seating area in the center. They were nothing compared to the palatial estates she’d slept in, but nor were they the dank, smelly hay lofts she’d also experienced. “What are the breakfast accommodations?” she asked.

“What would you like?” Most Definitely a Barkeep asked, trying hard to simulate customer service skills.

“Pancakes!” Dan declared with enthusiasm.

“I have no idea what those are,” he said, “but I will find someone who does and make them for you!” Too excited about his gold waiting downstairs to deal with the actual customers any longer, he asked (more stated) if the rooms were acceptable, then hobbled down the hall and down the stairs without waiting for reply.

Claiming the room on the right for the women of the group, and specifically the bed closest to the window as her own, Dan jumped onto it and sprawled out. The two elves made it known that they would be meditating in the common room downstairs, leaving Rhys with the entire room. As the rest of the group filed in and set about preparing for the night, Kryss slipped out and back into the hallway. She reached the stairs, her intent unspecified but not wholly unpredictable, and began to descend. (Un)Fortunately, at the fourth step down she crashed face first into a solid object. She stepped back, unsure what she had collided with, for there was nothing she could see that could possibly reasonably hinder her descent. She reached a hand out and felt it—an invisible barrier, as solid as any brick-and-mortar wall she’d ever encountered. Baffled, she stood for a few moments, trying to discern the meaning of it all. As she did so, a disheveled and obviously drunk man stumbled into the hall below, and began to ascend the steps in the predictably unpredictable manner of a stumbling drunk. While it took more time and effort than most, the drunken man made it successfully up the stairs, past the half-elf, and down the hall to his own room (minus a few copper, courtesy of Kryss’ special knack for monetary osmosis) without ever encountering any invisible walls. Deciding this was not a natural phenomenon, Kryss turned and re-entered the room.

Sora and Jane slept soundly, Found Queen Tishra sat staring out the window into the night sky, and Dan lay wide awake upon the mattress, doing her utmost to wait patiently for the Sand Man, which, to the untrained eye, looked a lot like a one-sided pillow fight. The two still-awake adventurers looked at Kryss, who then explained that, evidenced by a magical forcefield at the stairs preventing her from leaving, that they had all fallen into a devious trap.

“Ah,” the queen said with a smirk, “Amopholes said that might come in handy.” Kryss gave a cold stare. “Tell me Kryss,” the queen continued, “have you ever heard the tale of The Scorpion and The Turtle?”

“Oh! I have!” Dan sat up quickly, raising and waving her hand as if to be called upon. “I’ve heard it!”

“You are a part of this group,” the queen continued, ignoring the bard, “but we all have a tendency to act in our nature. The mage is cantankerous, the Drow prefers the darkness. Dan,” she looked to the bard now, “you are very enthusiastic, and Kryss…” she paused for a moment, “you steal shit.”

A moment passed between the two women, Kryss’ cold stare never warming.

“You know why that wall is there, rogue,” she continued, “and I will advise you, that if I find your hands in my belongings, you will be missing those hands.”

Dan had begun rummaging through her pockets, and procured another gold coin. She held it out to the rogue with earnest sympathy, “Here you go!”

Kryss looked to her now, the coldness seeming less cold. “Not necessary, but thank you.” Kryss then turned, and once again exited the room. She returned to the stairs, sat on the floor, and prepared to hunker down for the night and prey upon other passing drunkards. But her plan was short lived, for not but fifteen minutes later, she found herself being lifted and carried by the queen. She carried her back into the room, placed the coldly stoic half-elf upon an empty bed, and then retrieved a length of rope from her pack.

“I don’t know what your intention is,” Kryss stated flatly, “but I’d be careful if I were you.”
Deciding that caution probably was the best course of action, the queen promptly coldcocked her on the side of her head, rendering her completely and thoroughly comatose. She then securely bound the rogue’s wrists and ankles, and returned to her perch at the window.

Morning finally dawned without further incident, and the queen was the first to wake. She approached the soundly sleeping rogue and shook her awake.

“On your best behavior, or we will find someone else to deal with the prophecy.”

With a scowl the rogue muttered, “I’d like to see you try.”

Refusing to validate the statement with a response, the queen simply untied the rogue and set about rousing the rest of the Magnificent Eight.

As they reconvened downstairs, they were greeted by a slightly younger, yet more rotund man, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Most Definitely a Barkeep from the night before. “Good morning,” he stated as he watched them file out from the corridor. “I have no idea what these are, but I was told these are for you,” he said as Dan passed by, handing her a plate stacked high (for a Halfling) with pancakes. “And here is this thing,” he continued, handing her a small glass jar of amber goo, “called ‘sai-ruhp’.”

Dan quickly sat and gleefully dumped the entirety of the syrup onto her pancakes. As she consumed them with the unabashed elation of a, well, Halfling, while eating, well, pancakes, the rest of the group ordered and were served their breakfasts and beverages. When their morning meal was complete, they gathered their belongings and trekked the short distance to the city gates. Awaiting them was Colonel Lionel and a handful of Plague Guard, as well as two small, covered wagons, each drawn by two horses with a driver.

“We have secured these for your travels,” he explained, “I hope they serve you well.” Rather than salute, the queen reached out, pulled the colonel forward and hugged him with a word of thanks.

“No hard feelings?” asked the rather sticky bard as she tossed her pack into the wagon.

“No hard feelings, Dan,” Colonel Lionel replied.

Deciding that all but the essentials should be carried in one wagon while they rode together in the other, the Magnificent Eight officially started their journey west, back toward the Temple City of Blesshu. According to the queen, they were at least four days’ travel from the city by wagon, well over a week by foot. As the heroes settled in and the wagons lurched forward, a sense of anticipation and purpose filled the atmosphere. A few hours passed in silence, the queen spending the majority of her time staring out the wagon’s rear and into the sky.

“We will be traveling together for quite a while,” the queen broke the silence, pulling her attentions back into the interior of the wagon. “I suppose proper introductions are in order. I am Queen Tishra. There was once a time in Rondalon when the barbarian tribes were amicable, and trade was frequent. That was when I met Rowan, and we fell in love. We married quickly and I have been the Queen since, and the rest of my story you know from there. Now, I would like to know you who are.” She looked around at the seven faces surrounding her.

“I do too!” Dan said eagerly, never one to miss out on story telling.

“Why don’t you go first then,” the queen responded, “we’ve heard a bit about you, Dan. Why are you here?”

Considering the level of anonymity she’d experienced since coming to Rondalon, Dan brightened tremendously at the queen’s words. “You’ve heard of me?!” she asked excitedly.

“We are not ignorant of bards,” she replied.

Standing up, removing her hat, and bowing in the courtly manner, she announced, “I am Dandelion Sandleford, Queen of Minstrels and Minstrel of Queens.” She replaced her hat upon her head.

“Queen of Minstrels?” the queen asked.

“Yes!” Dan said with a proud smile.

“Is that a figure of speech?”

“Yes,” Dan said with a drop of her shoulders, “but I have played for many a queen before!”

“I’m not sure the men at the brothel count,” the mage asserted.

Dan, visibly stunned and then visibly angry, was preparing the cleverest, wittiest, cuttingest retort, but was quickly redirected by the queen.

“But Dan, why are you here on Rondalon?”

Being a cultured and refined bard, Dan knew never to let a monarch’s question hang, so she turned back to the queen and responded, “Short story? There was a ship sailing here.”

“Well yes, I presumed that’s how you all are here,” the queen specified, “but who are you?”

Having never actually been asked that question before, Dan was slightly taken aback. “Well, I’m a Halfling born to a Halfling family. I didn’t feel at home anymore, so I took to the road. I had a knack for songs, so barding fell in my lap. Literally.”

“Eh?” uttered Jane the Ever Inquisitive.

“My lute literally fell in my lap. That’s how I found it.”

“You found it?” the queen asked.

“Yes,” Dan confirmed. “You know what? Sora,” she turned to the cleric, “does this mean anything to you?” She handed her lute to the Dragonborn.

Sora, somewhat startled by the question, took the lute from the diminutive bard’s hands and began to look it over. She saw a familiar symbol upon the back and detected a faint, whispering essence about it.

“There is something special about this lute,” she replied sagely as she handed it back, “you should treasure it and take great care of it.”

“I already do!” Dan said cheerfully.

“May I see it?” the queen asked. Without hesitation, Dan thrust her lute at her. The queen also turned it about, looked it over, gave a slight “hm,” and handed it back. “So you’ve been traveling ever since?”

“Spent more years on the road than not, Your Majesty.”

“So it is. And what of you, warrior? What brings you here?”

“Nothing nearly so interesting,” she said plainly, “I was chasing a bounty, but it got away.”

“So you are a mercenary?” asked the queen.

“No,” Jane corrected, slightly ruffled, “bounty hunter.”

“Big difference,” nodded the bard.

“Fair enough, I can respect that,” the queen replied.

“And as he eluded me,” Jane continued, “I sought something else to do, and these fine people caught my affections.”

“And Rhys,” the queen turned to him, “who are you?”

The farmer-turned-warrior startled slightly as his name, then nervously looked the queen in the eye. “I am actually from Grindalon. I was one of the refugees that fled with Kat, but decided to take up arms with this group. I’ve been with them since.”

“How unexpected,” said the queen, “this must be strange for you?”

He nodded humbly. “Yes, it is. I never would have thought I would be in the queen’s guard.”

“You certainly appear to have a knack for it,” Jane said. Rhys sat a little taller after that.

“And you Drow? What brought you to the surface?”

Mal looked at the queen, his discomfort audible in his voice. “I, uh, made the mistake of making friends with a Duergar, who is crazy as hell. He’s a rune caster who ended up trying to do favors for me, and it got me in some…trouble. He’s still down there, and if I ever go back, I’m in a lot of trouble.”

“I am impressed. I mean no offense, but in my limited experience with the Drow, they tend to be so stubborn they’d rather die than seek an alternative to their usual ways. You seem to be demonstrating a better judgment.”

“Well, I tried the stubborn bit for a while. Till he went on a quest for The Black Mushroom.”
“The Black Mushroom?” the entire group asked in unison.

“Yes, he believes there is a deity named The Black Mushroom that he must find. Unfortunately, this led him to a worse than usual part of the Underdark, which led to…as I said, trouble.”

“Would that have anything to do with the events here on the surface?” asked the queen.

“What? Oh no, he’s insane but not capable of anything like that. You’re lucky.”

The queen gave a cold stare, and an awkward silence once again began to prey upon the group. Confused of his misstep, the Drow threw glances to and fro to his companions. With a gasp he realized his transgression, and immediately launched into damage control.

“What? Wait, what, no! I didn’t mean it like that! I just—I, ARG! Surfacers! You’re communication is so bizarre! I just, I—” realizing there was no way to skim this over, he slumped his shoulders and said, “I am sincerely sorry for your loss, your Majesty.”

Hoping to help him recover from his social disgrace, Dan pointed to the necklace which she so often saw him fondling. “Is that what this is about?”

“Eh? Oh yeah. He’s kind of…in it.”

“There’s a deity in your necklace?” asked the queen.

“No, the Duergar. The one who seeks the God of All Mushrooms.”

“So…he communicates?”

“Sometimes. I try to ignore him.”

“What’s he doing in there?” asked Jane.

“I can’t pretend to understand him.” At this, Mal took a bit of wood from his pack once again and began to whittle.

“And Sora,” the queen now turned her attention to the cleric, “what of you?”

“Melora sent me here,” she began, “While I was raised by warriors, that was not the life I wanted. Obviously I had picked up some martial skills, but it was not my path. A wandering priest came through our town, and I liked what his path offered him,” she paused a moment, as if reflecting back on meaningful memories. “Then, one day,” she continued, “I stumbled upon a shrine of the goddess Melora, and it just…spoke to me.”

“Spoke to you?” asked the queen.

“In the metaphorical sense,” Sora specified. “So I sought out training in the ways of the cleric. I now feel that my goddess may have been worried about the life in this place, and directed me here.”

The queen nodded thoughtfully again, trying to read the strangely stoic yet empathetic Dragonborn.

“What of you…” the queen trailed off, “Sprinkles, I believe they call you? Please give me something to call you. I have a feeling that name didn’t come from you.”

“There is power in a name. Sprinkles will work fine,” the Eladrin spoke in his usual, haughty manner.

“If you insist.”

“I insist on nothing. You can call me whatever you choose.”

“He’s been like this the entire time,” Jane said to the queen, obviously annoyed.

“Yes, well, he’s not the first mage I’ve met,” she replied, then returned her gaze to the mage “Is there anything of you that you will share, so that I can begin to cultivate a trust in you?”

“No,” the mage said plainly. “If I tell you my story, you would trust me less.”

She raised an eyebrow, but left the matter to rest. She looked then at Kryss. “And how may I ask, did you end up here?”

“Revenge.”

The queen’s eyebrows both rose the time, “For whom?”

“For an unwarranted death,” she spoke bluntly, with an edge of aggression “for my father, by the hands of a demonic cult.”

“A demonic cult? Would that have anything to do with that…thing we saw?

“Doubtful,” she replied curtly.

“And the tattoos?”

“Brands. From when I was a part of that demonic cult.”

The queen, for a brief moment, seemed sympathetic toward the half-elf. “I see. I suppose I have a little more respect for you then.”

She then looked again at the seven faces around her, taking mental inventory of her newfound comrades-at-arms. With a nod of satisfaction, she addressed them as a whole, “As long as we are all friends now, we should simply focus on preparing for what lies ahead.” She turned around once more, returning her gaze out the back of the wagon and toward the sky, her hand unconsciously, longingly caressing a small, golden necklace.

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Chapter Six

(5th day of Eleint, 1371 DR, Lake Muckity-Muck, Afternoon) We have delved deeper into the Cave and encountered a full battle formation of almost defleshified undead. At the far end of the cave appears to be some form of undead entity about 100ft tall. It appears that the entity has been bound in this cavern by something of immense power. There were many pipes and tubes going into and coming from the entity. It looks like the lifeblood of this entity is the source of the lakes power and it has recently become corrupt. This might also explain the recent plague of undead. During the middle of combat the queen shows up to the party and rushes us out of the cavern running towards the gates. She flashed some form of magic bracer and the gates opened quickly. We met with the captain of the guard and headed back to Amophalese to discuss the runes.

(5th day of Eleint, 1371 DR, Mime, Evening) We discussed the current situation while I copied down the scenes and runes for future examination. It was decided to travel back to Bless’hue to obtain the last tablet for the queen. We retired to an inn in Mime, I staked out the common room for the evening to complete my notes and rest.

(6th day of Eleint, 1371 DR, Mime, Midnight) There was a loud clunk on the stairs.. I still am not quite sure what happened. It was most likely a drunk.

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Chapter Five
Lake Muckidimuck

After an eventful evening of first drinks, first tastes, and first aid, Amopholes decided that, of the various foods presented to him by the bard, smoked cod (of all things!) was his favorite. He found alcohol to be incredibly bitter, and he greatly disliked the “goofiness” it put in him, for it disrupted his very important concentration; Jane and Dan assured him, however, that this would change in time.

The following morning consisted of a quick meeting; Amopholes had been unsuccessful in his attempts to decipher the Prophesies, and it was quite clear that the eighth tablet was vital to their mission of Saving All The Things. Finding Queen Tishra (formerly known as Probably the Queen, aka Maybe an Amazon) was henceforth put at the very top of their To Do List of Very Important Things. With no real clues to work on, the Intrepid Six decided they would see what could be found in the city. Considering that Amopholes was still wounded and weakened, he was in no position to defend himself. Wanting to play the hero, or perhaps rethinking his most recent life choice, Rhys decided he would stay behind to protect the angel and his homestead.

In yet another amazing show of semantic UNdubiousness, the city of Mayim was actually exactly that; a city near the water. It was a costal municipal with a familiar and delightful smell of fresh, open sea, and if one listened, had the comforting sound of moving water and birdcall. It was a bustling hub of trade as befitting a port town, and as such had its fair share of taverns, curio shops, and most importantly, anonymity. The Intrepid Six immediately set about asking the local townsfolk if they had seen anyone matching the description of the Lost Queen Tishra, but as Amazons are unmistakable, it was quite clear quite soon that Lost Queen Tishra had not passed through this town. The only useful bit of information found had to do with the lake by which the undead infection seemed to originate. It had always been popular among the menfolk, was owned by a merchant guild, and was unceremoniously closed to customers three weeks prior to the Six’s arrival. Otherwise, Jane and Malaggar had no luck with the local blacksmiths, Sprinkles had no luck with the local drunkards, Dan had no luck with the local sailors, and Sora had no luck with the local authority.

Kryss, on the other hand, had found quite a bit of luck with the local degenerates. It was luck of the unfortunate variety. Looking to acquire more shifties to enhance her natural shiftiness, the rogue had expressly and purposely sought out the dirtiest, dingiest, grubbiest, scariest, most sinister alley the city had to offer. Which of course, was chock full of the dirtiest, dingiest, grubbiest, scariest, most sinister townsfolk the city had to offer. What started out as a mutually shifty business transaction and information acquisition soon turned into a sticky predicament.

“Sorry, my pretty, but you’ve picked the wrong alley,” the larger of the three brutes said as he grabbed the half-elf around the waist and shoulders.

“Get the fuck off me or I’ll shank you all!” she hissed at them with an unnerving calm. Having had their share of bar fights, alley fights, fist fights, knife fights, and lovers’ quarrels, said unscrupulous characters were unfazed.

In an unexpected bought of strength, the half-elf wrenched herself free of his grasp, managing to put a few feet’s distance between them. Without missing a beat, Kryss pulled a dagger from one of the many and varied hiding places upon her person, and threw it with amazing accuracy squarely into the rounds of his trousers. With a shriek that belied his newfound fate as a castrato, the ruffian fell to his knees, gripping the affected area. Not wanting to share in their comrade’s fate, the other two ruffians fled with a kind of speed that can only be mustered when true fear grips a man’s heart. While one ruffian disappeared into the shadows, the other ran the length of the alley, directly into the arms of a city guard who had come to inspect the disturbance. Finding no escape route for herself and not wishing to be put in a position to explain herself, Kryss dropped to her knees and feigned a terrified sobbing that truly belonged on stage.

“Over there! Those men!! They grabbed me and, and—”

Completely believing she had nothing at all to do with any kind of shady dealings whatsoever, the guards looked in the direction of her pointing and ran, expecting to find some huge and monstrous specimen of criminal intent. Once they had passed her, the rogue calmly stood and strode out of the alley, passing the third ruffian as he was being shackled and read his Rondalon Rights. Deciding now would be a lovely time for a drink, she turned a hard left and stepped into the local tavern, The Blue Lagoon.

Upon entering she noticed that all of the patrons, as well as the bartender, were pressing their faces to the windows on the far wall with extreme intensity.

“A bottle of wine, please.”

No response.

“AHEM. A bottle of wine, please.” A grumble about copper and a dismissive wave toward the bar by the bartender, and Kryss placed her copper on the counter, taking a nearby bottle. Curious as to what was so interesting that a bartender would untend his bar, Kryss now approached the window and craned about for a look.

With a great view of the city’s main street and gates, it was clear what was monopolizing everyone’s attention: a group of six militant figures, marching in formation toward the city forum. They were robed in solid black from head to toe, with strange, white masks covering their faces with nodules covering their mouths and noses. Their lack of facial expression was somewhat unnerving as they peeked from underneath the hoods. They stopped just outside the city assembly, where Sora was filing a missing person’s report.

Dragonborns being less frequent in these parts, she apparently stood out to these robed soldiers.

“Are you Sora?” came the muffled voice of what was apparently their leader.

“Yes…” she said hesitantly, the town guard beside her looking also ill at ease.

“We’ve been looking for you!” the muffled voice seemed excited, “We weren’t expecting you in town! Colonel Lionel sent us to find you and talk with Mr. Lees.”

“I don’t know a Lionel or a Mr. Lees.” Sora said, calmly but cautiously.

“Then what are you doing here?”

“Looking for our friend.” Sora began to describe a likeness to Lost Queen Tishra (holding back the “queen” detail).

It was about this time that Sprinkles, having moved on from his original idea of hitting up the local drunkards, saw these militant figures in their unnerving, white masks. A crowd of townsfolk had gathered a few paces down the main street, but he pressed his way through with vindication, headed in the complete opposite direction, directly for the city docks. A confused Jane and Malaggar had exited the blacksmith in time to see him passing and give him a questioning look, to which he replied, “Enforcers!”

Enforcers of what, exactly, neither Jane nor Malaggar had any idea, so their questioning looks continued to question.

“Look,” the robed soldier interrupted Sora with a quick wave of hand, “we all need to go see Mr. Lees. Where is the rest of the group?”

It was about this time that Dan, having thoroughly irritated the local boatmen, was making her way back into the city streets. After nearly being bowled over by the mage, she looked down the lane to Jane and Malaggar, with a questioning look of her own. Malaggar the Ever Nervous notched an arrow, and Jane simply shrugged with genuine perplexity and pointed to the crowd that was now blocking the main thoroughfare.

Completely intrigued as to what could possibly have made the mage so uneasy, Dan leapt into the mob head first and began elbowing knees and vying for a front-row seat. After an impressive slalom through feet and legs, Dan was finally able to get a clear view of the spectacle ahead, although her hat had been knocked irritatingly slightly askew. A few paces before her, from under the rim of her disturbed hat, she saw a regiment of six militant humanoids talking with a very apprehensive Sora. Unsure what this situation meant, Dan began to ponder and straighten her hat.

It was about this time that Kryss exited the tavern via the main entrance, which put her squarely into the center of the main street and in clear view.

Heavily tattoed half-elfs being less frequent in these parts, she apparently stood out to these robed soldiers.

“Hey!” came another muffled voice from behind a mask, “I think that’s Kryss!”

“Oh good!” said their leader, “Let’s find the rest of you!” With a precision that showed a much higher level of training than Town Guard, the six robed figures turned a tight ninety degrees and began to march further into the city. The mob of feet and legs surrounding the bard made way and parted, leaving Dan standing alone, slightly ruffled and with her hat knocked even more irritatingly askew.

“What is happening?!” she shouted with something that could have been construed as annoyance as she attempted to straighten her hat once more.

“Who is this Mr. Lees that we are being taken to see?” Sora said conspicuously and loudly, hoping to alert the rest of her companions.

Upon hearing “Mr. Lees,” Dan abruptly stopped correcting her hat, tilting her head to see from under its wide (for a Halfling) brim.

“Hey!” Dan called out to the soldiers, “Is his middle name ‘Mof’?”

The leader of the six stopped mid step, realizing that the hat he nearly stepped upon had feet. And spoke.

“Uh,” he said, putting his foot back down, “we don’t know his middle or first name, we only know him as ‘Mr. Lees.’ We came to talk to him, he’s been helping us figure out what’s going on here.”

“Tall guy? White hair? Goatee?” Dan described as she resumed adjusting her hat.

“Yeah! That’s him!” said another mask-muffled voice.

“Oh yeah!” Dan said cheerily as her hat finally sat properly upon her noggin once more. “I know him!”

“OH!” one of the robed figures exclaimed as it nudged its fellow. “You must be the famous Dandelion!”

Dan beamed with the radiance of a thousand suns upon a thousand gilded palaces. After mumbling something about finally meeting someone on this continent with an appreciation for music, she bowed, then pointed towards the docks and said, “Sprinkles ran that way.”

“Who’s Sprinkles?”

“You know we travel with a mage, right?” said Dan.

“What’s his name?” asked Sora, finishing the bard’s sentence for her.

“You don’t know his name?” asked the leader.

“We’re testing you.” Sora said with a stroke of brilliant improvisation.

“We know enough about mages not to give out their names without their permission.”

Dan’s shoulders slumped. She could almost swear that Sora’s did too.

“That’s why we call him Sprinkles,” she said with an exacerbated sigh. “He’s a right ray of sunshine. You’ll love him.”

“Hopefully he will meet us there, we’ve got to hurry. Things are getting out of control,” the soldier saw Jane and Malaggar now that the crowd had dispersed. “Drow, we’re here on official business from Colonel Lionel; just come with us and we can explain.”

Relaxing his bow and following in suit with the rest of the Intrepid Six (Minus One), they all marched in a somewhat orderly fashion past the city walls and towards the home of Amopholes.

Rhys was the first to exit the estate, brandishing his sword in a disorganized way. “It’s okay,” the soothing voice of Amopholes called out behind him, “that’s the Plague Guard, they’re here to help.”

Rhys relaxed and stepped aside, allowing Amopholes to step out of his door as the Haphazard Eleven crossed the field toward his home. He stifled a laugh and shook his head as he watched six of the figures, severe and austere in their black robes and mysterious masks, being followed by the world’s most skittish Drow, ducking and halting with a bow in his hand. Beside him was the knight, her stride evidencing her cool confidence as she watched the Drow out the corner of her eye with perplexed amusement. Next walked the rogue, keeping a safe distance between herself and anything that could possibly be law enforcement. She was followed by the Dragonborn, calm and cool in the face of uncertainty, likewise keeping a safe distance from the robed soldiers. Skipping in and out among them all was the Halfling, her enthusiasm palatable. And, of course, nowhere among them was the Eldarin, having decided to forge his own path yet again.

A hushed and quick conversation ensued between the six Plague Guards and Amopholes. Apparently, a ‘disease’ had taken hold in the areas surrounding Lake Muckidimuck, causing chaos. A direct order by a one Colonel Lionel constituted finding six certain intrepid individuals and bringing them immediately back to their holdings at the lake. After some further introductions as to who was who and where they were going, it seemed that following these Plague Guards back to the plague they guarded was the closest thing they had to a lead.

As the Haphazard Eleven made their way westward toward Lake Muckidimuck, it became clear that along with the lack of overhead soil, the existence of the large golden skyward orb commonly known as “the sun” was having quite an unsavory effect on the Drow. He seemed preoccupied with shielding himself from as much light exposure as possible, ducking and halting from tree shade to tree shade, occasionally leaping behind a bush. And he did so with such surliness that it rivaled the mage. Dan was unsure if it seemed particularly hot to him; the vast majority of caves and underground areas she’d experienced were quite cold and damp. Perhaps then, it was that lack of dampness—he feared becoming like a shriveled frog? She considered dumping her water skin over him, but was interrupted by the backside of one of the Plague Guard, the rebound of which made it known to her that they had ceased their march and had arrived at their prearranged location.

Concluding her newest conference with the ground, Dan stood and looked about. A huge, thick stone wall ran the perimeter of a large area, easily big enough to be a small town in its own. Directly before them was a large metal portcullis, through which a limited view of the interior landscape could be seen. There was indeed a large lake, which was rather purplish, putrid, oozy, and just generally grody. A few trees dotted the seeable landscape, but there was evidence of moderate deforestation. A few buildings stood, but for all appearance seemed abandoned and in disarray. And there, at the foot of the portcullis, just short of freedom from the walls, was a massive pile of mangled bodies.

Various other Plague Guards were milling about, every one of them looking on edge and uneasy. A few were stationed on the walls, pacing in a slow and nervous manner. From a small, metal-reinforced door to the left of the portcullis stepped a serious man in the garb of a Plague Guard, but wore no mask. He strode forth and stepped before the six guards accompanying the Intrepid Six (Minus One) and suddenly brightened.

“Oh, wow. I wasn’t expecting my men to return so soon with all of you,” he said with a slight tone of surprise. “My name is Colonel Lionel, and I head the Plague Guard here in Rondalon. I’m very glad you were able to report here so quickly.”

Some nods but mostly blank stares on the part of the Intrepid Six (Minus One) prompted the colonel to continue his explanation.

“You are probably wondering why we need you here in the first place. I received specific information that the six of you—” he trailed off as he met the eyes of each of the adventurers. “Where’s the mage?”

“Where indeed,” said Jane, who had been keeping a look out for the missing Sprinkles since departure.

“You guys scared him off,” said the bard, unvarnished.

“Ah, that’s right.” Colonel Lionel said with a nod of understanding. “You are not of this continent; you probably have never seen a Plague Guard before. Yes, we can look a little intimidating.”

“Yeah,” Dan gestured to her face, implicating their masks, “yeah this can be a little scary. A lesser being might be frightened of it.”

“I apologize for any inconvenience or false impressions my men may have given you. We were asked specifically to summon you as apparently your group can help us solve whatever has caused the troubles here at the lake.”

“So you were told about us by who?” asked Jane.

“You don’t know who summoned you?”

“They said YOU did,” corrected Dan.

“So what made you think we could help?” asked Jane.

“I’m sorry,” Lionel said, “but if you don’t know who called in the order, it’s not something I can share.”

“Really?” Jane asked, arms crossed, “Come on, you can let me in on it.”

“If there is any reason that you would need to know, I would let you know. But I cannot go against the security of the nation.”

“We are helping you to secure the security of the nation.” Jane said as she leaned in a little closer, in an obviously threatening way.

“Look, I’m sorry.”

Dan didn’t like this guy. If he was the head of the Plague Guard, as he said, then who was above him and how was he getting his info? After all, very few people knew of the Intrepid Six (Minus One) in this harrowing adventure of less than a week. And in and those brief five days, some of those people proved to be rather unsavory.

“So mage, do you trust me yet?” Lionel asked a nearby bush.

Sprinkles stepped out, having impressively successfully trailed the group all the way to Muckidimuck.

“Not entirely,” he walked to the rest of the Intrepid Six. “Suit, please.”

Sora too asked for respirators for the group, but Colonel Lionel insisted that they were just for show; that whatever was infecting the others was not airborne, and they had tested the theory themselves. He would, however, give a cloak to those who requested it “due to the sacrifice of his own men.”

In a world first, Dan agreed with the mage. This colonel was not to be trusted; he required civilians to do his work, would not debrief these civilians, nor afford them the same protections he offered his own people. It was not sufficient for Willies, but Dan definitely had a strong sense of distrust, and she didn’t get that very often.

The adventurers began to question Colonel Lionel further, requesting all manner of interesting, pertinent, and useful information, but he knew very little that the Intrepid Six did not already know for themselves. The menace within the stone walls consisted of traditional Shamblers, those that fell apart at the seams, those that disintegrated to dust upon re-death, those described as “men gone feral,” and the curious habit of severed body parts to reanimate independently of the rest of the corpse. The guard had likewise taken to the habit of burning any and all remains. They then asked him what specifically he knew of the specific locale and the Plague Guard’s role in recent events.

“We were summoned when the city guard closed down the lake,” he explained. “The merchants and residents of the area started going mad for no reason. Whatever happened killed most of the guard; when we got here the gate was locked, and it was closed on uninfected people who had tried to escape. Within the walls was utter mayhem. The people were murdering each other, biting each other, eating each other. It was horrific.”

They saw now that the majority of the mangled bodies at the gate were covered in red blood, not ichor, and showed no signs of reanimation. A fleeting streak of horror ran through the bard’s heart as she imagined their terror. The Drow pointed out the distinct lack of birds—both songbirds in the woods nearby and the carrion-eaters one would expect in a place so dense with death. Further probing of the Colonel’s knowledge proved that he believed the incident to be isolated, and that searches of local graveyards showed that the previously dead did not arise, only the freshly dead. With nothing more to extract from the Colonel and with no other leads to point them in the direction of their Lost Queen, their previous quest of was shelved. The Intrepid Six decided there was nothing more to do except to boldly go where this Colonel Lionel and his Plague Guards were too chicken to go before.

The Intrepid Six were then informed that there was only one way to cross the wall, and that upon return, they would only be allowed in one at a time, and only if deemed “uncontaminated” by the Plague Guard.

And Dan didn’t like it at all. But apocalyptical plagues and reanimated dead offered a myriad of experiences that would be otherwise rather hard to come by, so she marched with the others through the side gate and into the quarantined city.

Once inside and able to see the entirety of the area, it was clear that there was very little to do; most of the buildings had been ransacked and sat open, and several seemed to have suffered structural damage. A relaxing swim was out of the question, which left them with only one real option: exploring the cave leading under the lake, where Lionel said the lake’s love potions were brewed.

It was everything one would expect a cave to be. It was enclosed, made of stone, long and winding, dark, and damp. It also smelled of strangeness and death. It was the strongest scent since Snifflehelm, but it was a completely different flavor of rotten that could not be attributed to corpses alone. Several of the group prepared light sources, both of the mundane and magical variety. Shadows flickered across the floor and earthen walls.

And a shuffling of feet was heard. Soon after a mindless groan resonated from somewhere nearby. Out of the shadows a pair of Shamblers entered into the circles of light, followed by two obviously diseased and dead, reanimated hounds.

Jane rushed to the front, to meet the creatures before they reached the group. The Shamblers and hounds alike lunged, but were thwarted by her sword in an impressive display. Stepping forward to help her, the mage lifted his staff above him and then forcefully brought it back to the ground. A wave of thunder erupted from the site of impact, blasting the foes back and reverberating off the stone walls.

Dan had to admit. This guy had style.

Utilizing the few seconds Jane and Sprinkles had bought them, the rest of the Intrepid Six had readied their attacks. Lances, arrows, daggers, and melodies flew. Just as it seemed the foes had been dispatched, the remaining hound lifted its head and let out a long, hideous howl—a note and timber strangely familiar, yet alien all at once. From the depths of the cave two more of the undead beasts sprang out, their fangs deflected once more by the knight’s deftly wielded blade.

The creatures fell quickly and the battle was soon over, but they had taught the Intrepid Six a very important lesson; there were new and unpredictable things in the depths of this grotto.

A slow trudge further into the cave and around its first bend revealed a large and very old stone door. There was nothing of note about it, other than it was no longer capable of closing; the slow growing mineral deposits of dripping water had melded it back into the earth from which it was carved. The room beyond was small, partially a natural formation and partially carved by humanoid hands. Two more earthen corridors led to the room, one straight before them and another to their right. The room contained a few wooden tables and a smattering of chairs, along with various broken glass containers. In the center of the room, carved out of a single large piece of stone that seemed to rise uninterrupted from the ground, was a large cauldron. Above and around it were metal pipes and tubing of various dimensions, snaking around the floor and ceiling, disappearing into the walls. There was a space below the cauldron, where it seemed the fire necessary for boiling was stoked. There were no carvings, no etchings, no words or symbols anywhere around to indicate the nature of the cauldron, its users, or its creators. Dan inspected the stonework, and noted that it seemed more like a crucible in construction rather than a simple alchemical cauldron. In an amazing display of predictable unpredictability, Kryss climbed up and into the cauldron.

Before any of the baffled fellows could ask her reasoning, a low, loud rumble was heard. In fact, ‘heard’ would not be the most apt description, as the rumble was more felt. When the rumble ceased, footsteps were heard echoing through the caverns.

Jane quickly turned the wooden furniture into a makeshift barricade, blocking the right side passageway ground to ceiling. Another rumble was felt, and the footsteps seemed closer. A tense moment of silence passed between them all. The Eladrin whispered to himself, and a sphere of flame erupted in the passageway ahead of them, blocking it to potential foes and lighting the area behind it.

Standing in a neat, orderly formation in a cavernous space ahead were four undead humans, two of which were armed with bow and arrow. On each side was yet another plague hound, and before them were two ghostly beings. Whereas the reanimated dead so far were grisly, in various states of decay and rot with their internal bits often in plain sight, these two beings were less than corporeal. They still had the appearance of being diseased, even decaying, but their physicalness seemed less than certain.

To add to the strangeness of seeing that which was thought to be mindless appear to exhibit military maneuvers, one of the ghostly beings actually spoke.

“Protect Barakhana!” it shouted, and then it and its fellow lunged forward, passing completely unharmed through the mage’s magical fire.

Putting the matter out of their minds, the Intrepid Six burst into battle. Jane dashed forward to once again meet the enemy head on, her bravery and valor clear by the confidence of her movements. With an ease that showed he was far more comfortable with a bow than with words, the Drow sent a steady stream of arrows through the narrow stone corridor, peppering the foes as they hit the corridor’s natural choke point. The mage, with an intense concentration apparent on his brow, scorched and singed the undead with his dancing flames. Strumming more impossible sounds from her lute and taunting with voice and action, Dan disrupted their advance, giving Kryss and Jane ample opportunity to sink metal into flesh.

The battle was short lived, but was followed by yet another rumble. This one felt closer and was loud enough to for audibility. The Intrepid Six traded glances amongst each other, each wondering with trepidation what could be causing such tremors. Then, as the rumble quieted, the echo of hushed voiced floated into the room, speaking unintelligible words in an unintelligible language.

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Chapter Five

(5th day of Eleint, 1371 DR, Miam, Mid-Morning) We arrived in the town to no fanfare. I began by picking up a pair of maps of this blasted place. Quickly after purchasing the horribly overpriced map I visited the local tavern looking for information. The plague lake apparently was a popular spot prior to the local merchants guild purchasing it and closing it off about 2-3 weeks ago. There has been no sighting of the queen so far. Shortly after I left the bar 5 black clad armored thugs marched into town and detained the party. I put myself out of their range of control and followed them to the angels home. After a short meeting they were marched off to the lake compound and escorted inside. Unfortunately my presence was detected and I was instructed to enter the undead prison compound as well. He denied us even the most basic of protections. If I encounter this man again, he will most likely not survive the encounter.

(5th day of Eleint, 1371 DR, Lake Muckity-Muck, Afternoon) Shortly after we entered the lake compound we were accosted by waves of undead inside a set of caves filled with broken alchamical devices.

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Chapter Four
Jorreth

Rhys gave a genuinely nervous smile as he closed the gate. Being that these past few hours had more adventure in them than the entirety of his previous life combined, he was quite shaken. The idea of a barrier between him and the outside world, however feeble it may have been, was so obviously a boon to him and his morale that no one questioned his actions (or intent). Instead, they turned their attention now to the much-talked-about-and-now-finally-seen Temple City of Blesshu.

As one may have guessed, the theme of semantic dubiousness persisted. The city was only a city because it was bigger and grander than any other municipality they happened to have wandered upon so far. This is to say, it was nicer than a populated outhouse and was decidedly not a keep. The city itself was built around a central temple, and in the starlight of the predawn hours, it seemed absolutely and entirely devoid of life. Any life. There were no people, no animals, no carrion eaters. The only living things within the city walls other than the Intrepid Six (Plus One) was a potted plant; a potted plant that was, judging by its state of mild dehydration, on its fourth day without water. Dan decided that the whole thing gave her a good, solid case of The Willies. It had been a while since Dan last experienced The Willies, and not wanting such an experience to go to waste, she pondered on it a bit as her fellows tried to piece together the mystery of The (Empty) Temple City of Blesshu.

A thorough search of the city was made. The guard station was not guarded, the market place had no marketers, and the houses were not housing. In the center of the small market square they now stood within was a peculiar statue of peculiar shape and peculiar form. It was carved of stone—several stones to be exact, then placed together in such a way that no particular shape could be distinguished. It was a statue commemorating “light” and “goodness,” at least by the inscription at its base. Considering that “light” and “goodness” are not tangible things of tangible physical form, Dan conceded that this was an acceptable shape for the statue, and found no fault with which to critique it. Kryss however, apparently wanted a closer look and scaled the statue under the guise of “a better vantage point.”

As they walked through the town, certain impressions were made on some. It seemed as if the entire town had a lingering magical residue, as if there was, at one point not so long ago, a great and powerful spell cast about the place. The adventurers felt the presence of this aura more and more strongly as they reached the central temple, where it had been deduced that the catacombs must lie beneath. It was a protective magical aura rather than a destructive one, and it seemed this protective power was now concentrated on the central temple, and held its door soundly shut. This further enhanced The Willies which perturbed Dan, as she knew that temple doors did not close and lock except in the case of Very Bad Things. Considering that an angel had but hours before warned the Intrepid Six (Plus One) of The End, Dan was certainly certain that some Very Bad Things had (or were going to) happened here.

Being a woman of questionable nature, Kryss decided that lockpicking would be the best approach to opening the doors. She was quickly rebuked by the fact that the stone doors had no locking mechanism. Sprinkles strained very hard to deduce the magical properties of the place, and Malaggar remained confused by the lack of ground overhead. Jane and Rhys decided to try the obvious, and knock. Needless to say that there was no answer, which further heightened the aforementioned case of The Willies. Being a woman of faith, Sora decided to pray. Dan thought this to be the most likely tactic to enter a protected place of worship, but before Sora could even finish kneeling she was suddenly in tears, her sobs unexpected yet unmistakably true. Dan was openly taken aback by such a display of emotion by the usually calm yet fierce Dragonborn, and asked “What’s wrong?”

“Something’s happened,” she said, her usual air of peace colored with sorrow, “I feel a deep sadness.”

The pieces began to fall into place as she saw the temple door shudder ever so slightly. Dan took the lute from her back and in the Dwarven language, began to sing a comforting song, beseeching Avandra’s help to aid whoever this temple was trying so hard to protect. Without explanation, the entire group suddenly found themselves nearly overwhelmed by sadness, as if the temple itself were mourning the loss of something extremely dear. The doors slowly swung open, revealing an empty house of worship.

As the wave of grief subsided, Malaggar spoke aloud. “I’m confused,” his voice subdued, “what’s going on here? What is this?”

“The temple mourns,” Sora explained, “something awful has transpired here.”

A moment or two passed, and feeling more themselves, the Intrepid Six (Plus One) carefully entered. The temple, for the first time in this narrative, what exactly what it was said to be. It was indeed a temple, it was indeed grand, and it was indeed beautiful; even if not the most grand or beautiful Dan had seen. It was made of stone, had a central aisle with a lush, velvety purple carpet, and wooden pews at even intervals at each side. The outer walls boasted humble, yet exquisite stained glass windows of faceless, genderless beings. Between the pews and the outer walls were stone pillars, each with a simple yet elegant carving of yet another genderless, featureless being, holding in its hand a candelabrum. Within each arm of the candlesticks was a most unusual candle, which emanated light from its entirety, rather than simply from a flame at its top. (This, of course, was of very vital interest to the rogue, who took only minor prodding from the Drow before she climbed a pew in an attempt to acquire these unusual light sources. (Un)Fortunately, these glowing sticks seemed to be rather permanent in their fixtures, and Kryss walked away empty handed, save for some minor burns on her fingertips.) Strangely, the temple gave no indication of to whom it was dedicated; there seemed to be no definitive evidence of who the priests of this temple prayed to, nor had any indication through its art or architecture of belonging to any particular faith. Wanting to better understand what exactly this temple was and what had caused it to emanate such an utter sadness, Dan strolled up the aisle and to the dais for a better look. There, behind the pulpit and against the far wall, were four thrones with four statues seated upon them.

The statue on the far left (Dan’s left, not the statue’s) was a depiction of the High Merchant. She wore the modestly regal robes to be expected of someone important yet not of royal stature. The statue to the right of her caused Dan to blink, rub her eyes, look, blink again, and rub a few more times. (It might be construed by someone of less worldly experience that Dan was in disbelief, but being a woman of worldly experience Dan was most definitely not in disbelief, but only had a speck of dust in her eye.) The statue was a perfect likeness to Probably the Queen (aka Maybe and Amazon), except, of course, this rendition of her likeness included clothing. To the right of Statue Probably the Queen, was a statue in the perfect likeness of King Rowan. A fleeting pang crossed Dan’s heart as she remembered the unfortunate lot that had befallen him. To the right of Statue King Rowan was the statue of a man, in slightly more regal and courtly attire. Dan recognized that this must be a depiction of the local regent; he sat in a strange position, with his right hand cupped upward and his left hand resting upon it, index and middle finger outstretched. Finding this a peculiar position for a peculiar statue in a peculiar temple, Dan leaned in for a better look. There, on the Statue Regent’s two outstretched fingers were grooves, as if something was meant to rest there.

“Sora!” Dan exclaimed, “The rings go here!”

Sora came closer and inspected the statue, also seeing the worn grooves of Statue Regent’s fingers.

“Hmm…” she said. “I thought she meant take the rings to the actual regent.”

“She said ‘take this to the Regent at the Temple City,’ and this is a statue of the Regent at the Temple City.” Dan explained in a most earnest voice, “She was a very clever queen.”

Still doubtful, Sora looked sideways down at the diminutive bard.

“Are you sure about this?”

“What’s the worst that could happen? Nothing! And then you can just take the rings right back.”

Seemingly satisfied with this, Sora took the two connected wedding bands from her pocket and slowly, carefully, and ever so cautiously, slipped them over Statue Regent’s outstretched fingers.

Then, magically and mysteriously, nothing happened.

The Intrepid Six (Plus One) were quite ready to be disappointed, but then, magically and mysteriously, something happened.

The Statue Regent’s hands began to lower, causing the rings to slide back off (to which Sora deftly caught them). As they lowered, his two fingers curled back in until his hands were neatly folded in his lap. Having only ever seen simple wooden automatons during circus acts, Dan found this to be quite impressive. But before she could vocalize the impressive impression this statue-contraption made upon her, the dais behind them began to slide slowly away, with a hard and heavy grinding sound. Everyone gathered and watched as it slowly revealed a wide, deep set of stairs descending into darkness. A quick breeze seemed to flutter up from the darkened abyss below, and Dan abruptly found her heart aching as if it would break. It was a strange sadness; a sorrow that was deep and true yet not her own, as if a thousand souls with a though woes had finally found an ear to whisper. It was unlike anything Dan had ever experienced, and she tried very hard to listen to it, to learn from it, but it was a hard lesson indeed.

It was about this time that the outside wind, which had picked up unnoticed after they had entered the temple, began to rise. First it was a whistle, then quickly began to rattle the windows. Looking out to the predawn sky, Malaggar spoke with an ominous tone. “That is not natural. We need to move. Now.”

Without a moment’s hesitation Jane stepped down first into the dark corridor and lit her torch. Seeming to feed off of, or be comforted by Jane’s stalwart and brave spirit, Rhys followed quickly behind her. The rest following in tow, the Intrepid Six (Plus One) descended into the catacombs below.

The first thing to be noticed within the catacombs was the sheer and absolute lack of coffins or remains. Or dust, or disarray, or any of the general creepiness that is generally assumed to be part in parcel of something called a “catacomb.” The room was far more spacious than anyone had anticipated, was neat, orderly, and simply, yet skillfully ornate. The walls and pillars of the room were etched with more faceless, genderless beings that Dan could almost swear seemed somehow angelic. Once again, no clues hinted at the temple’s dedicated deity, only that it was a temple of “goodness” and “light.” But before Dan could ponder very deeply about the Rondalonian habit of overstating the quarters of the living while understating the quarters of the dead, Malaggar called out to his comrades.

“Hey, I’ve found a button. I think it’ll close the dais behind us.”

Normally Dan would find a mysterious button in a mysterious building to be quite an exhilarating find, but the residual sadness pounding at her heart, combined with the oddities of the catacombs took up every inch of squishy thinking folds that she had. Hearing no protest from his fellows, Malaggar pushed the button and, as expected, the dais above them slid back into place with a loud, deep grinding sound.

With torches in hand the Intrepid Six (Plus One) began to cautiously make their way forward through the tombs. Jane, followed closely by Rhys, stepped forward and continued through a small, narrow path into another large room, which seemed to contain yet another large room within it. Before her was a thick stone wall, stretching from floor to ceiling and leaving only a small corridor with which to walk around it. Even more strangely, there were obvious doors, also stretching from floor to ceiling. Yet even more strangely, the entirely to the wall, edge to edge, floor to ceiling, completely uninterrupted by the doors, was covered in ornately carved words.

These words were very obviously, ornately, specifically and precisely etched, unlike the rest of the temple and all its shapeless ambiguity. The language was unknown to both Jane and Rhys, and she called over her shoulder to the rest of her group.

“Hey, do any of you read unusual languages?”

Feeling both a need to stay close and a fair degree of curiosity, the rest of the Intrepid Six (Plus One) gathered near Jane, their own torches casting eerie glows and dancing shadows upon the carved surface. Sprinkles examined the writing, leaning in and occasionally touching the script. He seemed deep in thought, yet made none of those thoughts known to the others. Sora also intently studied it, throwing her gaze up and down its entirety.

“It’s not Draconic,” she said, “but it is still very, very old.”

Dan took a few steps back, trying to get as much of the script into her sights as possible from her vertically challenged viewpoint. She stared at it, scratching her head, trying to make sense of the arrangement of the symbols.

“Wait…” Dan said slowly, “I recognize a few of these.”

“Really?” asked Sora.

“Yeah…” she stepped closer, pointing to particular character made of circular strokes. “That means ‘people,’ like a collection of people. And that one,” she pointed to another nearby character made of sharp, intersecting strokes, “means ‘danger.’ And this one over here,” she inched to her right and pointed to yet another character of upward strokes, “means ‘good.’ This one here means—”

“Bad.” interjected Sora as Dan pointed to another character of downward strokes.

“Yeah. And not just bad,” Dan almost whispered.

“But evil.” finished Sora.

Dan nodded. “And this one means ‘victory,’” she pointed to another character of upturned strokes, “and that one is—”

“Death,” Malaggar stated as he saw the short, violent strokes of the next character.

Dan nodded again, slowly, as she scanned the wall for anything else familiar. “Oh,” she said, “and that one means—”

“Knowledge.” said Sprinkles as he observed the squared strokes she pointed at.

It was a strange and collective realization that whatever this was, each of their respective languages had derived from it. While none could read it, each could see a certain familiarity within its chaos. Dan found it to be both exhilarating, and reminiscent of The Willies.

And no one noticed that while they scanned the wall of script before them, the half-elf stood silently behind them; an expression of apprehension and foreboding darkening her tattooed face.

“Well, let’s see what’s in there, shall we?” Jane said with her usual earnest and simple cheer. She put her armored shoulder against the door and began to push.

“Let me help,” offered Rhys. Together on a three count they heaved mightily against the stone door.

The door first seemed like it would open, as it gave an inch or two under the two warrior’s combined strength. However, an inch or two was all they got, and the door gave no more. Behind her, Dan heard a slight, metallic noise and saw an unlit sconce shudder. “Hey, pull those sconces!” she called out.

“SHH!” the Drow suddenly scolded the group with severity. He held a hand up for silence, his eyes and ears straining against the darkness of the corridor to their right. “Footsteps,” he whispered back, “we have company.”

From around a corner, into their weak torchlight came several armed, armored, and walking skeletons. Dan inwardly congratulated herself on her accurate prediction of Very Bad Things, and the rest of the Intrepid Six (Plus One) readied their weapons. As battle ensued, Sprinkles made a most remarkable move, and walked right into the forefront of the battle, blasting the decrepit foes with fire. Doing what bards do best, Dan pulled her lute and struck a song.

“I think you have to pull the sconces at the same time,” Dan said to Rhys as he stepped up to one of the sconces.

“No, I think they have to be lit first,” he placed his torch low and watched it light.

“Oh good! Now the other one!” Dan called above the sounds of clashing steel and bone.

Sora heard her call and, being closer to the second sconce than Rhys, lit it with her own torch. “Now PULL!” Sora called. They both wrenched back on the sconces, and once again the low, deep grinding sound of stone sliding upon stone was heard. The large inscribed doors began to slowly open inward.

Before the doors could fully open, a smaller door at the end of the left corridor crashed open, and more self-propelled skeletons, sword and shield in hands, stormed through the door. Proving to be growing into his role as a warrior, Rhys readied himself and took a stand, blocking the foes from reaching the back of his companions.

Battle clanged and crashed on all sides, and Dan played on. No sooner had the large stone doors pulled fully open than Kryss disappeared inside. Unable to leave the battle, the rest of the heroes fought on.

When the final skeletal foe crumbled to dust, the Intrepid Six (Plus One) dusted themselves off and joined Kryss in the enigmatic room. It seemed lit by an unseen source, and the entirety of the interior, including the ceiling, was covered in the same strange language as on the outer wall and door. And there, at the back of the room on an elevated platform, they saw her, clutching a large, silvery tablet as if she could not, nor would not, ever let it go. Several of the group would have questioned Kryss and her choice to flee the battle, except that, inexplicably, each of them was impulsively drawn to other tablets at the back of the room. It seemed as if the tablets were the only thing they could focus on, and each focused on a different of the eight tablets present. Each in turn, drawn in by the curious feelings, picked up a tablet and inspected it. Dan, however, quickly ran up and snatched ‘her’ tablet, hugging it close as if it were her oldest and bestest friend.

A loud boom and crash was heard, as if a small explosion had taken place near the entrance of the catacombs.

“Not good,” observed the Drow.

Slow, steady footsteps were heard, as if a single person had decided to take a leisurely walk. Although why any good, sane person would ever want to take a leisurely walk through a place of final resting, much less after a small explosion, was completely lost on Dan, and those darn persistent Willies danced and little louder.

A faint “fwoosh” was heard, and a silhouette could be seen at the end of the corridor, slowly nearing the enigmatic doors between them. The mage ignited a ball of fire just before the creature, hoping to deter it from entering. The being, however, simply walked through it, dispelling it as it passed. A slow clap was heard, followed by a sinister yet refined voice.

“Thank you. I couldn’t get that door open on my own.”

The being entered into the mysteriously lit room. It was a very distinguished looking man, with dark, regal facial hair and a short, dark ponytail knotted cleanly behind his head. His skin was exceptionally tan, a particular shade of darkened bronze that did not come naturally to most. His eyes were a deep, dark blue that bordered on black, and from his back protruded two black, feathered wings.

“Hello,” the being said with a calculated, cold politeness. “My name is Jorreth, and I’m here to help. We’ve been looking for these—they are going to help us,” he paused, as if looking for the proper word, “fix what is happening.”

Dan stood stock still, hugging her tablet, and inwardly cursed herself on her accurate prediction of Very Bad Things. This being, she somehow knew, was pure evil. She knew this being had something, if not everything to do with The End.

“Okay hoss, what do you want?” asked the Drow, aloof as always.

“I want those tablets.”

The being began to walk up the stairs to the platform they all stood on, holding their respective tablets. A feeling of overwhelming anger suddenly washed over the bard. This being was in some way responsible for that which Amopholes was seeking to stop; this being was in direct defiance of Avandra; this being was exactly why Dan was there.

“No,” Dan spat with a startling amount of venom for one so small. Two more words left her mouth, letting Jorreth know exactly what she thought of his ‘wants’:

“Fuck. You.”

With a small flinch of surprise, Jorreth stopped his ascent. “That attitude,” he seethed, “needs to be corrected.” With a wave of his hand a force slapped the Halfling across the face; but her newfound fury made her more defiant than before, and she refused a reaction, only keeping her eyes level on his.

Seeing that times were indeed dire, Sprinkles suddenly dropped to one knee, and slammed his tablet with all his strength against the edge of the stairs. A smack resounded as stone hit stone, yet the tablet remained in one piece. Jorreth smirked, seeming to revel in the failure of this act of rebellion. Trying his hand at something now, Malaggar threw up a cloud of darkness around him.

“Oh, how cute,” mocked Jorreth. He snapped his fingers and the Drow’s darkness was dispelled as easily as the mage’s fire.

“How the hell did you even get in here?” Dan seethed at him, “I know you shouldn’t be here.”

“A few thousand years can do things to locks.” Jorreth responded.

“Well, you have us at a disadvantage,” Malaggar said with a flippant air, “if you want us to give it up on the first date, you can at least tell us more about yourself.”

Jorreth tilted his head, seeming to calculate the Drow’s words. “Fair enough,” he said, “I am trying to keep things the way they should be. I usually don’t do this, but you should just hand them to me. Or I will just have you killed.”

“By what?” challenged the bard.

“By me.” Jorreth said simply. “I usually like to be a bit more devious, but time is of the essence.” With a speed no mortal could match, Jorreth was upon the group, mere inches away from Jane and Rhys. “I am going to ask one last time that you hand those over,” he met each of their eyes, “or I will take them by force.”

“Who do you serve?” Dan asked, ignoring his threats.

“I have the luxury of serving myself.” The dark archon raised his hand and each of the tablets began to glow a deep orange. Then, miraculously, each of the Intrepid Six (Plus One) began to glow white.

A guttural growl escaped from Jorreth’s lips, his face showing outward rage. He began to strain, obviously concentrating very hard on holding on to the tablets. The walls of the room suddenly went ablaze; six of the seven heroes suddenly felt the need to act, and Kryss fell to the floor in a writhing, whimpering heap.

Malaggar, with a swiftness that had not been seen until now, deftly loosed an arrow from his bow. It sailed cleanly, accurately, and beautifully, into the dark archon’s shoulder. A low cry and a wince proved him vulnerable.

“Where is the Raven Queen in all of this?” Dan shouted.

Jorreth chuckled. “You have no idea.”

Rage still seething from her pores, Dan struck an angry chord, followed by a dirge, impossible sounds flowing from her hands as they strummed the four strings of her simple lute. The seven heroes seemed to glow brighter, tendrils of white light lifting off of them like steam.

Jane took her moment, stepping forward as she brought her sword upward, slicing through the dark angel with an arc and spray of blood. “You should really learn to play nice.”

Her empathy ever present, Sora reached out to help the fallen Kryss to her feet. The half-elf only snarled with a feral mindlessness and scrambled away. With his spell now readied, the Eladrin stepped forward, raised his hand, and uttered a single command: “Sleep.”

Jorreth tried to resist the command, but he could not fight it with his attention so divided. With an angry, guttural utterance in a language none of them recognized, he summoned a ball of ice and hurled it at the mage before slumping over.

Everything went white.

After a brief time, the whiteness faded, revealing the Intrepid Six (Plus One) to be in roomy, yet dilapidated house.

Before them stood Amopholes.

He seemed a little worse for wear; he had a few new cuts and burns, and his right eye sported a deep gash that, had luck not been on his side, would have surely rendered it blind. Even viewing him from the front, one could tell by the redness creeping over his shoulders and around his sides, that his back was caked with blood.

And his wings were gone.

A fierce pain stabbed at Dan’s heart; this was not the kinds of Change she had hopped for.

“Well, that was interesting,” Amopholes said in his kind, eloquent voice. “You found the tablets, but I see we only have seven. If the eighth tablet is still there…” he trailed off, “it means she didn’t make it.”

“Who?” Dan asked, trying to hide the quiver in her voice.

“Queen Tishra.”

“She refused to come with us.”

“I know…” he seemed distant for a moment, “but she was to meet you there, that tablet was for her. I’ll see what I can find out. In the meantime, we will do the best we can with just seven.” He gave a small sigh. “Well, it seems you finally met Jorreth.”

“He’s an asshole,” Dan said with resolve.

“That is one of the nicest things he’s been called in a few millennia.”

“I could think of some other things.”

“I have no doubt, Halfling.” (To which Sora gave a snicker.) “Our kind always works under the orders of a master,” Amopholes continued, “But he…doesn’t follow the rules. From what I can tell and for reasons I don’t understand, he wants to destroy the world.”

“So he can recreate it to his will?” Dan offered.

“There is no way that he has enough power to do that.”

“Not even with these?” she asked, holding up the tablet she’d still been clutching.

“No, not even with those,” he said with a slow shake of his head. “Wait, you can’t read those, can you?”

“No,” replied Dan, “but I take it it’s in Supernal?”

“Hmm. Well, we can read it, and it’s in a language of the gods,” he seemed to contemplate the proper explanation, “but it’s only possible to read them when you have all of them.”

“What are they?” Sora asked.

“Prophesies. And each one is destined for someone. If the queen didn’t get it, yet no one else did…”

“Then she’s still alive?” asked Dan.

“That would be my assumption, but…I can’t find her. She seemed so close; I had supposed she was with you.”

“So then, we should go find her,” said Malaggar.

“That would be quite important,” Amopholes responded. “I’ll see what I can discern from the tablets myself.” He quickly explained to the Intrepid Six (Plus One) their whereabouts, letting them know that he often liked to walk among the mortals, and therefore had this modest house on the outskirts of a city on the eastern shores of Rondalon. Despite his friendly, comforting tone and his insistence to the matter at hand, Dan could not pull her eyes away from the bloodstains across his back and shoulders.

“Amopholes…” she said as she stepped closer, “are you okay?”

With a smile, he patted the little woman on her shoulder. “I’ll be okay,” he said. “I can no longer help you in the ways I did before, but I am not done yet.”

Despite herself, tears welled in the corners of her eyes. She lowered her face in an attempt to hide it.

“On the bright side,” he said, seeming to understand her grief, “I always wondered what it was like to be mortal.”

Perhaps it was the confirmation of her fears, or perhaps it was the silent strength this fallen angel still radiated, but the tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Do you know what this occasion calls for?” interrupted the Drow, “We have to get you drunk.”

Dan suddenly perked up, lifting her still wet eyes to Amopholes’. If this was the Change he had been handed, then she would do everything she could to turn it for The Better. “YEAH!!” she said with enthusiasm. “There’s SO much stuff I have to show you now! Like eating! Eating is SO AWESOME!”

Amopholes actually let out a hearty laugh, and patted the Halfling on the head, “Yes, yes. I must admit that’s always been on my list…”

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Chapter Four

(5th day of Eleint, 1371 DR, City of Blessyou, Midnight) With the gates slammed shut by Reese behind us the town itself looks deserted in a very organized fashion. After checking the town’s food storage it looks like this town populace was consumed by a massive protection spell guarding the temple. The doors of the temple appear to have been shut tight. The protection spell seems to be holding the doors against evil. The bard begins to sing a melancholy ballad and the doors open. We slip inside and the doors shut behind us. The spell protecting this place appears to have adopted us and wrapped itself around us. We headed towards the dais looking for a way into the catacombs beneath the temple. The dragon slid the rings onto the statue of the magistrates fingers and a path into the catacombs opened up before them. As we descended into the basement of the Temple, an unnatural wind began to blow very loudly above. As we ventured beneath we came across a pair of doors flush with the wall covered in writing older than draconic. The symbology in the writing would indicate that most of the religions of our land are descended from this one. I suppose if the implication that something old and evil is bound beneath this temple then it being far older than anything believed currently makes sense if the angelic creatures story is true and Ragnarok is upon us. I still worry about what forces are at work here. As we studied the doors skeletons came charging around the corner of a near by hallway. Combat Ensued. During combat the thief opened the doors to the anti-chamber we were studying the doors of. We were drawn into the anti-chamber towards 8 tables and enticed to pick them up. A moment later we began hearing footsteps from where we had come. A dark angel approached thanking us for opening the chamber of the tablets. He seemed rather upset when we each began to be filled with some form of holy energy and was easy to pacify with a simple sleep spell. As the dark angel fell to the floor he chose to throw an ice shard at me, pitiful creature. The next Moment we were in the house of the angel Amopheles. Apparently the queen is still alive and we need to find her. This will not end well.

(5th day of Eleint, 1371 DR, Home of Amophalese, Morning) Amophalese is now human and the ladies are fawning over his newly discovered needs. They have headed towards town to aquire goods for his new form.

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Chapter Three
Amopholes

The light was quite bright at first. Not eye-destructively, searingly bright, but bright enough to cause adequate squinting and smushed facial expressions as our heroes, civilians in tow, emerged from the darkened tunnel. The area was quite mountainous. Not soul-crushingly, drastically vertical, but mountainous enough to cause a few sighs as the travelers realized this was not going to be a pleasant stroll. It was also quite forested. Not paranoia-inducingly, creepily overgrown, but forested enough to cause a bit of relief as the group realized that this trail was well hidden and their presence stood a good chance to remain unknown.

A surprisingly short distance was covered when the path forked into opposite directions. One path continued mostly northward, and the other path veered off in an awkward angle to the southwest. It was here, at said fork, that Cat addressed the party. She informedly informed them that while the north path most definitely continued on to Blesshu, the southern path lead to a coastal city called Ellon. The coastal city of Ellon was apparently well suited for the life of farmers and peasants, and considering the disposition of the refugees in tow, bearing in mind that they were farmers and peasants, Cat believed that leading them there was the best course of action to take. A small and enormously underwhelming debate took place, and the vast majority of the refugees agreed that farm life suited farmers much better than the pious life of piety. Thus it was decided that the party should split. Cat and the refugees trekked south toward the aforementioned coastal city of Ellon, while our heroes trekked north to the much-talked-about-but-yet-to-be-seen Temple City of Blesshu. The heroes were suddenly a septet and ceased being a sextet, as a man calling himself Rhys asked to accompany them to the much talked about Temple City. He apparently was not fond of farming, and decided to try his hand at a more adventurous lifestyle.

The aforementioned trekking northward was rather uneventful and dreadfully dull and slow. A sense of monotony and security threatened to consume our traveling party, but mercifully and not entirely unexpectedly, the signs of impending battle took hold. The forest became devoid of all noise, and a flock of nearby song birds took flight and scattered. Shambling out of the overgrowth on either side of the path was a group of aptly named Shamblers. These Shamblers, however, seemed slightly different. That is to say, these Shamblers did seem somewhat less shambly, wore armor, and carried weapons.

Despite the slightly less shambliness and slightly better armaments, the mindless adversaries were deftly dealt a more permanent state of death. As per usual for the mage, the bodies were stripped and examined. When Sprinkles lacerated key points on the corpses to procure yet even more dangerous goo to stow away in the folds of his robes, he found that they did not bleed. Let it be made clear that this time, when the permanently dead aggressors were said not to bleed, the literally did not bleed. Curious, confused, and just plain tired, the group let the matter go, and gathered the bodies for funeral pyre.

Malaggar began to scout the area for a suitable place with which to make camp, and came upon a strangely coincidentally perfect spot, complete with a fire pit, a natural perimeter, and rather even ground. With nothing better to do than to continue being a bard, Dan struck up a slow and soothing song, which she felt was the perfect preparation for a good, sound, much needed conference with the Counting Sheep. Before she could finish her song, she heard a voice. It was not the perpetually irritated voice of the mage, nor the peaceful voice of Sora, nor the continually perplexed voice of Malaggar, nor the simple but sincere voice of Jane, nor the matter-of-factly and rarely heard voice of Kryss, nor the false bravado of the newly acquired Rhys. Whose voice was this then, one may wonder? And that is precisely what Dan did wonder. She especially wondered this as she realized that it was not her ears that heard this voice: the voice had been directly detected by the squishy folds of thinking-parts that sat between those ears.

“Good idea burning the bodies,” it said in an oddly friendly and cultured timber, “but it wouldn’t have mattered for those ones.”

“I just heard a voice in my head,” confessed Sora.

Dan might have been secretly relieved to know that she was not insane, but Dan already knew that she was most definitely not insane, so she was certainly not secretly relieved.

Ignoring the incredulous sounds being made by the others at Sora’s confession, Dan pondered a moment over the entirely new experience of earless hearing. Deciding that if the squishy folds of her thinking-parts could understand unheard communication, it might be possible for the squishy folds of her thinking-parts to project unheard communication, and she thought as loudly as she could. That is to say, she looked slightly constipated.

“Who are you,” she thought very loudly, “and what can you tell us of what is happening?”

“I am Amopholes,” the unheard voice responded, “I do apologize. I realize none of you know who I am and most beings cannot see me.”

A sound which can only be described as a “fwoosh” was heard, and in the center of the grove a being popped into existence atop a very pretty, and slightly burny stone. The being stood to its full height, the stone returning to its previously non-burny state. This, as one could imagine, was quite a surprise to our Intrepid Six (Plus One).

“I am Amopholes,” the being reintroduced itself to the group at large. The voice, when heard through the physical ears, was also strangely friendly and cultured. It was a suitable timbre for the voice, for the being was also in physical appearance quite refined. The being looked to be a finely aged human, with a white goatee, mid-length white hair, and air of kindly dignity. Contrary to any known human, however, he had large, white, feathered wings, white eyes, and leather armor of an unnatural luster.

“I am Sora,” the Dragonborn introduced herself. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Amopholes nodded a polite gesture of acknowledgement to her, seeming to recognize her as a woman of faith.

Dan, who had since regained regularity and now saw the bearer of the mysterious voice before her, approached the being, although she felt compelled to keep a respectful distance. “My name is Dandelion,” she said with a surprisingly erudite politeness and bow.

A moment’s pause occurred, as if she were looking for the right words to say.

“What has happened,” she asked with an unexpected and strange solemnity, “that an angel should feel the need to descend from the heavens?”

“It takes great energy for me to manifest,” Amopholes replied, “and I don’t want them to know I am here, but it seems I have no choice.” His voice took on a grim earnestness as he continued, “Things are happening far sooner than they were supposed to. By thousands of years. You haven’t heard of me—I am no one of import; but you must get into the Temple City and into the catacombs. Continue to burn the bodies as you can and I will do what I can to protect you.”

With the solemnness still apparent on her face, Dan posed another question to the angel, “May I ask who you serve?”

A small smirk appeared on Amopholes’ face. “That’s an interesting question that, if I say the wrong thing, would give you more power over me than I would ever put in the hands of anyone walking this earth. But I must still insist that you hurry, and you might be able to stop this from getting any worse.”

“What is this thing that we must stop?” Dan asked.

A look of severe foreboding swept over his face. Dan’s eyes widened as she realized what he meant.

“Yes,” he said, as if acknowledging her inner thoughts, “the end of everything. Forces that shouldn’t be moving are moving. The best I can do at this point is to make certain that we win.”

“So there’s some serious shit going on upstairs?” Dan asked with incredulity.

“Yes,” the angel responded, “and there is also serious ‘shit’ going on downstairs.”

“These things don’t happen on their own,” Dan thought out loud, “something other than mortals has either purposely broken protocol, or is knowingly allowing it to happen.”

Amopholes began to flicker, like a candle resisting to be extinguished. Sensing that time was short, Malaggar unexpectedly spoke up.

“Archon,” he said “this may be a rare thing for my kind, but is the way ahead clear? Can you keep the Spider Queen from seeing me?”

“You’d be surprised how many of your people have spoken with my people,” Amopholes explained, “and you are in no danger from the past, at least for now. Going forward I cannot promise you’d make it safely, else I would not be here. I’ll do what I can to protect this grove tonight.” He flickered again, more severely this time. “My time is short, they will find me soon.”

“Go to safety,” Dan’s voice unusually grave, “don’t risk yourself for us.”

Amopholes was gone.

The stone and trees that had previously created the unusually perfect perimeter now seemed to silently hum a lullaby, giving a calm aura of comfort to the campsite. Curmudgeoning as curmudgeons oft want to do, the Eladrin decided that he should not only take first watch, but that he wanted absolutely, positively nothing to do with anything that even remotely seemed like it could possibly be hallowed ground. Thus, he banished himself to silently walk the perimeter while the others prepared to bed down for the night. Upon curling up most comfortably into her bedroll, Dan realized that the resident curmudgeon was not the only one who seemed to find the campsite’s comforting aura of comfort to be less than comfortable.

“Why are you afraid of the campfire?” Dan called out in a loud whisper to Kryss, as she seemed to search for a sleeping spot that was not touched by an angel. Her question was met with silence. “Pssst,” Dan called out again, “hey, Kryss, I’m talking to you!” More silence. Dan began to contemplate this unusual behavior by the usually indifferent half-elf, but soon fell to snoring instead.

An uneventful night passed and the Intrepid Six (Plus One) continued their journey along the mountain path. Everyone felt a sense of urgency and pushed along with resolution, hoping to cover as much ground in as little time as possible. As the stalwart group pressed on, a small issue nagged at the bard: being a Halfling, her legs were half the length of the average human. This meant that her gait covered half the distance of the average human. This meant that her feet had to travel twice as fast as that of the average human. Being a Halfling and therefore having no real use for a sense of urgency in her life, Dan was unaccustomed and found this most disagreeable. Not wanting to slow down the group or disappoint their newfound celestial ally, Dan struck up a debate on how best to remedy the situation. Sora, with a stroke of brilliantly brilliant wisdom and a dash of kindness, decided it would be quite easy for her to carry such a small load. With a sweeping motion that hinted at her true strength, she scooped Dan up and placed her on her shoulders.

Now, Dan had never before had the experience of riding piggy back on a Dragonborn before, and she found this occurrence to be absolutely, categorically, unquestionably and unequivocally awesome. So awesome, in fact, that she took the lute from her back and shared her overwhelming feels with the world.

This proved to be a less than stellar idea. Between the debate and song, a group of Shamblers had managed to circle, unnoticed, around them. Dan was punctually and rudely plucked from her most awesome perch, and placed very gently upon the ground with a tremendous crack and thump.

A battle ensued, and for a while, it seemed that it was nothing more than the obligatory encounter with which to create tension when telling a narrative. It turned out, on the other hand, to be a cleverly crafted plot twist. First and foremost, as the seven warriors battled these mightiest of foes, the shambling undead aggressors did not bleed, just as in the previous battle. Secondly, when these Shamblers were felled, their eyes went vacant where once before was a slight hint of overtly homicidal murder. Thirdly, after some moments in this vegetative and deceptively defeated state, they arose. Again.

This of course, was wholly unexpected and astounding.

As one would imagine, certain theories began to abound at how to fell these enemies permanently. The first idea was to sever the head from the body. In following through with this hypothesis, Kryss not only decided to remove an enemy head from its matching frame, but she made the extraordinarily logical conclusion to pick up the head and put it in her pack. The others were apparently oblivious to the absolute intelligence of this decision, for they immediately voiced their concern at what an undead head in a pack could potentially do. But it wasn’t until said head began to chew through the pack in an attempt to bite Kryss in the ass that she realized her idea might, in fact, bite her in the ass.

With a lovely rendition of the Heebie Jeebie Jig that even the bard could appreciate, Kryss dropped her pack resolutely to the ground. Despite the fact that her precious shinies were still within the bag, she began to profusely flail at it with her dagger. Proving to be a very stubborn and resourceful head (and refuting the theory that a disconnected head would cease to aggress), it actually began to bounce and roll, eventually freeing itself from its confines. It then bounced and rolled right up to Kryss, and sank its teeth into her ankle.

Seeing how Kryss’ course of action had unfolded, Jane decided to do something completely different. With a most impressive display of martial prowess, she rendered a Shambler helpless to the ground. She then lifted her heavily booted foot, and brought it squarely down upon something utterly not the Shambler’s head, twisted her ankle, and had a very important meeting with the ground about the state of martial affairs in the far kingdom of Ormun. Apparently not an admirer of meetings (or possibly the far kingdom of Ormun), the previously felled Shambler rolled over and bit into the fleshy, unprotected backside of Jane’s knee.

Seeing how Jane’s course of action had unfolded, everyone else decided to stay the original course, and simply continued to wail upon their foes with various weaponry. Upon their second felling (well, third, technically, as to be undead in the first place one would have to had passed prior to undeadness), the aggressors came apart at the seams. Literally. Where once a body stood, body parts now piled.

It was at this point that a collective conclusion was drawn: these were not, in fact, Shamblers, but some new kind of undead menace of unnatural nature.

Alas there was little time to ponder the ramifications of such a discovery, for they had an angelic appointment to keep and allies in need of aid. After a hurried and makeshift, yet successful attempt at curing Kryss and Jane of the poisons delivered from their undead bites, and after burning the body-bits of their repeatedly fallen foes, it was past midnight when the Temple City came into view, rising above them in the distant hills.

As they neared closer to the city, suspiciously suspect facts bashed the Intrepid Six (Plus One) upon their heads. Figuratively. Where a bustling (albeit sleeping) city should be, an empty ghost town there was. No windows were lighted, no fires where lit, no candles cast glows, no signs of life emanated. The city gate was left wide open, and all was silent. No buzzards or raven gave account of carrion; no dishevelment gave account of mass panic or revolt. The residence had simply ceased to reside.

Amopholes was suddenly beside the group as they looked in through the city gates. He seemed haggard, worn, as if the past few hours had weighed heavily upon his body and spirit. His left arm and wing were lacerated and bled freely, and his breath was slightly labored.

“That explains it,” he said, “There’s no time, just hurry.” He began to flicker.

“Are the people in the town alive?” Sora asked.

“I don’t know, but you’ve already met some of them. You need to get inside, as I can’t.”

“You’re blocked?” Jane asked.

“Yes.”

“How is that possible?” asked Dan.

“Temples of one deity are barred to the servants of another.”

Seeing his pain, though he tried to hide it, Dan attempted to find a way to aid this celestial. “Will a prayer help you?”

A weak smile spread across his face, poised for a response, but was interrupted by a loud boom. His right wing was suddenly ablaze, and a psychic scream resonated in the heroes’ minds before he disappeared.

With a renewed sense of urgency, the party ran into the gates. Looking over their shoulders, they saw yet another wholly unexpected sight: Rhys had slammed shut the gates behind them, and threw down the latch.

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(2013-06-08) Chapter Three

(3rd day of Eleint, 1371 DR, Road to Blessyou, Dusk) We finally escaped that blasted tunnel. The cleric decided that the refugees will travel with Kat to the temple leaving us with one of the farmers named Reese. I don’t trust the man as far as the halfling could throw him sadly the decision seems to not be mine. As we traveled down the road we encountered five armed zombies. Combat ensued. Shortly afterwords we started to prep the bodies. Stripping them, and placing them on the pyre. I was going to take a sample of the infected blood for examination except the corpses had been exsanguinated prior to their attack. While doing this examination an angel of some diety of some sort name Amophalese spoke to multiple members of the party in their heads. Then appeared before us to say that we needed to travel to the catacombs under blessyou. He would protect us as much as he could but we are headed for ragnarok. He apparently is going against his master. He prepped a small circle of safety for a nights rest.
(4th day of Eleint, 1371 DR, Road to Blessyou, Dawn) We head out and the hallowed ground of the small camp dissipates. I am glad of that, it made me very uncomfortable. We head out to blessyou. Shortly after we headed out the dragon picked the halfling up like a child and carried it on her shoulders. An hour or so after we broke camp we were ambushed. Combat Ensued. After burning the corpses we headed toward the temple city of bless you. Two of our party were poisoned by the flesh gollums.
(4th day of Eleint, 1371 DR, Gates of Blessyou, Midnight) We arrived at the gates of a deserted town. It appears to have been deserted in an orderly fashion. Just short of the gates, the angel Amophalese appears ahead of us with sever battle wounds. He was apparently in the middle of a battle and faded out after telling us to get into the catacombs again. We moved inside the gates and Reese slammed the gates shut behind us.

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Chapter Two
Castle Grindalon

It was late into the afternoon when the adventurers arrived at the outer grounds of Castle Grindalon. It was a pleasantly feces-free farm village, complete with beds and tables and sealing-wax, cabbages and apparently, a king.

But mostly, it had peasants and farmers, who wandered about doing that which peasants and farmers generally do, especially when graced to live in a town where the dirt was actually dirt, the inn most definitely was an inn, and the mutton was not considered a delicacy.

At first they took no notice of the six adventurers who stood there at the city gates, having a surprisingly calm debate about the merits of seeking the local authority as opposed to running through the streets vociferating of the walking dead. As the debate grew louder and more heated, however, a few townsfolk stopped to scratch their heads at the suspicious-smelling and now suspicious-sounding sextet. It was not long before a townswoman with an air of authority stepped forward and gave voice to that which many had been thinking.

“I don’t want to give you guys any alarm,” she said, “but I need to make sure you aren’t here to cause any trouble. People standing around at gates look kind of suspicious, and I will call the guards.”

Startled to have their zombie-induced-panicking-citizens versus zombie-induced-panicking-authority debate interrupted, all heads turned with a snap so quick it was nearly audible. Dan stepped forward to face the still nameless townswoman (as best a Halfling can face a full grown anything not also a Halfling), and with an attempt to match the woman’s authority, asked “Who is in charge around here?”

“King Rowan.” The woman answered flatly, unimpressed.

Dan tried harder. “Can I speak with King Rowan?” she questioned with a better attempt to match this woman’s authority.

“Ah, yes, just let me—NO. No you cannot see King Rowan.” The woman crossed her arms.

“But we are adventurers! On a mighty quest!” implored Jane.

“No.”

“We just came from Snifflehelm…?” Jane offered as more a question than proof of importance.

“Yeah. I know. I could smell you five miles back” the townswoman quipped.

“Are we welcome in your town..?” Jane asked, suddenly realizing diplomacy was not her strong point.

“Are you from Snifflehelm?” asked the woman.

“No!” she suddenly brightened up, “We are from another continent!” she offered in a boisterous attempt at once again sounding impressive. But alas, the woman simply stood there, impressively unimpressed.

Unused to being flouted as such and unused to being denied a courtly audience, Dan tried even harder.

“I demand an audience!” she exclaimed abruptly with a superlative attempt at authority, puffing up as big as a three-foot-eleven Halfling could. Which is to say, she now stood three-foot-eleven.

“What?”

“I demand an audience!” she repeated, “With your king!” she added for clarification. “This is a matter of great import, and as a person of import, I implore you to take me to your king!”

The townswoman studied the diminutive Halfling a moment. She had a lute on her back that was nearly as big as she, and a feathered hat that threatened to swallow her head were it not so puffed at the moment. Whether it was pity, amusement, annoyance, or a genuine belief of the importance of her message, the townswoman found herself defeatedly throwing her hands in the air. The Halfling’s chutzpah had apparently won this most witless battle of wits.

“You know what? Fine. We could probably use a little more entertainment here anyway” the townswoman said. “Alright. But you’ll be escorted.”

“That’s fine.” Dan said, exhaling all the puffiness her attempts at authority had infused her with. “Thank you for being so accommodating.”

With a slight chuckle and a nod, the woman indicated for them to follow as she began to trudge through the town. Intrigued as to why these six rag-tag strangers were being escorted through town, the whole of civilians (although small in number) began to take notice and follow suit toward the castle walls. Noticing this, the knight clapped her hands and exclaimed, “Oo! A parade!”

Judging from her enthusiasm, Dan realized that until this very moment, Jane had been denied the unabashed bliss of partaking in a parade procession. Feeling it to be cruel and unusual to deny any single living soul the unabashed bliss of partaking in a parade procession, Dan immediately struck an energetic tune to add to the unabashed bliss of this impromptu parade procession. Perhaps tipped off by the unabashed bliss of an impromptu parade procession, there suddenly appeared two heavily armored and armed guards blocking the path (to the unfortunate detriment to the aforementioned unabashedly blissful impromptu parade procession).

“Cat!” scolded Guard the Tallest, “What are you doing? No one can see the king right now.”

“Well, they said they are here to see the king, and well…” the woman trailed off. “You know, I have no idea why I’m allowing them to see the king. That little one over there, she just…I don’t know…” she said haltingly.

“Wait, why can’t we see the king? What’s up with the king?” Jane interrupted and inquired inquisitively, throwing glances between Cat and the two guards.

“Um, well, uh…nothing is uh, wrong with the king…um…it’s just that uh… tonight he is otherwise occupied” the Tallest offered as he shifted in a particularly awkward way. “And it’s just one of those things that we just know that on nights like tonight, no one disturbs the king.”

“What kind of night is it?” Jane asked genuinely.

“Uh…we don’t talk about it” replied the Tallest, shifting even more awkwardly.

Realizing that this course of conversation was going painfully slow at best and absolutely nowhere at worst, Dan turned her attention from Jane and Guard the Tallest to Guard the Shortest. He had been, and continued to be, completely silent. He also had been, and continued to be, a Dwarf. Following the logic that someone who had been and continued to be a Dwarf stood a very good chance of speaking Dwarven, Dan decided it was time to showcase her linguistic prowess and began to regale Guard the Shortest in his (presumably) native tongue. She of course honored his sense of pride by commenting upon his most majestic and substantial beard, then honored his ego by reminding him of what they say about guys with really big beards. Hoping she had sufficiently, albeit metaphorically, buttered him up enough, she then posed the question of why the king was so indisposed. A brief moment passed between them, and Dan was given her answer. A single word casually disguised in a beardy cough.

It is a marvel, really, the Dwarven language. It reflects so adequately the nature of the peoples who speak it. It is stoic, yet poetically beautiful; strong as stone, yet capable of being molded into works of artistic glory; capable of the warmth of the earth in spring, as well as the harsh frigidity of the frozen mountain in winter. But through its many facets, it is always one thing: utilitarian. Guard the Shortest had effectively communicated in a single, cough-disguised syllable an act that human poets create euphemisms to describe; an act that the elven poets create euphemisms to describe its euphemisms.

Dan blinked a moment, unsure she had heard correctly. Then, with eyebrows raised, she gave a long, slow exhale of realization. “Ooooohhhh.”

“Oh? Oh what?” Jane the Ever Inquisitive asked.

Dan signaled with her finger for the knight to come closer.

“What? What is it!?” Jane the Ever Inquisitive asked even louder.

Dan signaled with her hand for the knight to come closer.

“WHAT?!” Jane the Ever Inquisitive practically shouted.

Dan signaled with her arm, her other arm, her head, a foot, and if gravity would have allowed it, her other foot, for the knight to come closer.

Jane leaned in, and Dan whispered, “The king is… getting his groove on.”

Jane provided positive evidence to the theory that her skull was indeed thicker than her plate mail, and stared blankly, then all too knowingly, at Guard the Tallest.

Realizing that, for lack of a better term, the gig was up, Guard the Tallest understood that secrecy was no longer an option, and immediately switched tactics to damage control.

“Well, thank you Cat! You’ve been a great help! ” he speedily said suspiciously loudly and suspiciously cheerfully. “We can take it from here! Everyone else can go home!” The six adventurers were then ushered quickly along the road in a slightly smaller, slightly less blissful, slightly less parade-like procession, the guards quite obviously wishing to put distance between them and the local townsfolk.

Upon arrival at Castle Grindalon, it became quite obvious that either semantic dubiousness was contagious, or the peoples of Rondalon were completely illiterate, for the Castle was not a castle. It would be more adequately described as a keep, and even that required a certain suspension of belief with which even a stunted cave troll would have difficulty. However, it did serve as the home of the ruling monarchs, and it was made with materials that one might also construct a castle of if nothing more suitable could be found, so for the sake of continuing this narrative, we shall continue to call it “Castle” Grindalon.

Upon arrival at “Castle” Grindalon, the Intrepid Six were unceremoniously shepherded into the far corner of the modest grounds, and into a small room. It was a sufficiently functional room, as it had standing walls that successfully supported a ceiling, several straw mattresses that seemed relatively free of rodent activity, a table that was remarkably level, and a set of chairs that seemed capable of keeping one’s rump off of the floor.

“This is a small keep,” the Tallest offered in preemptive apology, “I’m sorry we don’t have anything more impressive. But if you are here to see the king and queen, this is where you are going to have to stay tonight. I gather you have figured out what’s going on,” another uncomfortable shift, “and trust me when I say its best that you stay inside for the evening. We aren’t going to lock you in, but that’s my recommendation.”

Terribly confused by Guard the Tallest’s apparently sincere and deep aversion to speak even in hypothetical euphemisms, or even hypothetical euphemisms of hypothetical euphemisms of the subject at hand, Dan decided this must be somehow tied to local customs. Wanting to understand the local customs of a current locale, as bards are oft want to do, she questioned the Tallest further.

“Is your queen a mantis? Is there to be a gruesome death afterword, of which we mustn’t speak?”

“If that were the case,” he replied, “the king would have been dead a long time ago.”

Eyes widening with the realization of the implications should this hypothetical question hold true, she pressed further. “When was the last time you saw the king?”

“This morning.”

“Are you sure it was the king?”

Guard the Tallest was quickly becoming the opposite of amused. “Pretty sure,” he stated flatly. Dan’s shoulders dropped in deflated excitement.

“Are there any bathing facilities?” chimed Sora in a brave and altruistic attempt to change the topic of discussion. “Somewhere we can freshen up and not smell like…Snifflehelm?”

“Er…yeah,” stammered the Tallest. “I wish we had thought of that earlier. I suppose we could bring you some soapy water in about an hour?”

“Hey Sprinkles!” jumped Dan, obviously having another absolutely, totally, and completely stellar idea. “Can you conjure us some water?”

The Eladrin, his delicately-boned face usually displaying a well-cultivated expression of abject apathy, flickered with anger that seemed reserved exclusively for the bard and her absolutely, totally and completely stellar ideas. “What do you take me for?” he sputtered. “Some conjurer of—of cheap—”

“Water?” Jane offered in a sincere attempt at helpfulness. This, miraculously, only drew the Eladrin’s antagonism away from the bard and put it squarely on her.

“That,” he spat with a glare, “is a priest’s job.”

“I have met many a wizard and mage,” refuted Dan, “and they have a propensity to conjure all kinds of wondrous and useful things, and right now water would be very wondrous and useful.”

Guard the Tallest took this spat to be his cue to exit, with a quick word of parting. Guard the Shortest (who still continued to be a Dwarf) seemed highly amused by the discord, evident by the small chuckled that left his otherwise stoic face as he followed his more vertically endowed comrade out the door.

“I was in a town once,” Malaggar piped in to the wash-debate, “where they had a very useful and successful dogwash using prestidigitation.”

In another astounding feat, the Eladrin now made angry faces at the Drow. If looks could kill, Malaggar would have died the brilliant death of a thousand stars.

“I can make you look clean,” Sprinkles seethed, “I can’t make you be clean.” With a quick motion, Malaggar was suddenly alive with the brilliance of a thousand starts. He was head-to-toe, front-to-back, gleaming, polished chrome.

Realizing that chrome was not the most flattering color, or perhaps worried the Eladrin would break his statuesque face and/or have an aneurism should the current course of dialogue continue, the subject at hand was dropped with a very real and loud allegorical thud.

The sun had set at this point, and as it is common knowledge that rogues are inherently nocturnal, Kryss began to get restless. She had been, up to this point, relatively quiet, choosing to observe her surroundings and companions rather than partake in troublesome conversation. “I’m going out,” was all she offered as she walked toward the door.

“Me too,” said the bard, “I want to look for a bathhouse or something.”

The rest of the group did not protest. Perhaps they secretly hoped that Dan would find actually find a place of bathing. Perhaps they secretly hoped Kryss would find a lot of shinies. Perhaps they had realized in their short time together that it was pointless to try to stop a rogue from sneaking or a Halfling from curiosity. Or perhaps the pungent odor, nearly visible in its thickness as it emanated from six individuals in a very small and windowless room, was enough that the group welcomed their voluntary departure. Whatever the reason, no one objected that the two women should walk out into the night, alone, in a strange place, against the advice of the local guard.

The two women, fairly comfortable in their safety, began to search the nearby grounds by starlight. They were modest grounds—there was in fact a ground, but the things upon the ground were somewhat lacking in grandeur. But before either of the women could muse very deeply about the philosophical implications of calling a collection of somethings upon the ground a ground, Kryss was promptly knocked unceremoniously to the aforementioned ground with a curt grunt. Probably spared the impact that sent Kryss downward by virtue of her shorter stature, Dan now found herself clutched by the collar and held at knifepoint by a very tall, very muscular, very irate, and very naked woman.

“WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?”

“Well, this is a new experience…” mumbled Dan as she tried to re-gather her wits about her. “I’m just here for the party,” she offered, “I’m the entertainment!”

“Nice try. Everyone in this kingdom knows the king can barely handle me as it is,” replied the woman.

A sudden understanding of the situation dawned on Dan: either this was the queen, or the king was being held hostage by Amazons. Dan also realized that—silly humans and their incessant need of euphemisms, Probably the Queen (aka Maybe an Amazon) had completely misconstrued what “entertainment” meant.

“No! Do you see the lute?” Dan pointed over her shoulder to the lute on her back, “The lute! The lute!”

“I repeat, why are you here?” growled Probably the Queen (aka Maybe an Amazon) through angrily clenched teeth.

“Can’t you smell?” insisted Dan, “We just came from Snifflehelm; we came in a hurry to tell you some serious shit is going down, and, and” she stuttered, “and I was just looking to take a bath…” Dan trailed off, her voice rising to a nearly inaudible pitch with something that, to the untrained eye, may have possibly looked something like sheer terror, but most absolutely and certainly was not sheer terror.

Probably the Queen (aka Maybe an Amazon) seemed to consider these words a moment, then released her grip on the bard. “Go back to your room; the king will meet with you in about five minutes.” She stepped casually over the still-grounded rogue, and disappeared around the corner from whence she sprang.

Sora the Ever Alert, had heard some of the commotion from within the room and decided to investigate. She came upon the rogue and bard just in time to see Kryss dusting herself off, and Dan—due to the shadows and starlight, and most definitely not due to sheer terror, was looking a little pale.

“What the heck happened to you?” Sora asked.

“I was just accosted by a giant angry naked lady,” explained the bard with an expression that, to the untrained eye, may have suggested that something possibly along the lines of soul-scarring trauma had recently occurred, but most definitely was not an expression of soul-scarring trauma, as said trauma would have required a prerequisite terror, of which Dan was absolutely and totally devoid.

Sora the Ever Alert and also the Ever Considerate escorted the two back to their quarters. A quick recap of the brief events ensued, at which point Sprinkles said, “You should have said the safety word.”

Dan was unsure if, given the wizard’s previously proven propensity for dead bodies and bondage, he was offering her earnest advice, or if he was subtly revealing that deep down, way way deep, deep, deep, all the way deeeeep down, he had an inkling of something that might of resembled a sense of humor.

After a bit more pushing and a stern reminder that the king would arrive any moment to hear out their tale, Sprinkles finally agreed to lend his arcanic talents to making the group look presentable and smell like something other than the backside of a gastronomically compromised skunk after eating an expired broccoli and cheese omelet. As if on cue, there was a knock at the door with a king on the other side.

“I apologize,” he started, with a knowing look at the most definitely not traumatized bard and the slightly dusty rogue, “that’s not normally how I like to greet guests here at Castle Grindalon. We don’t get very many guests and you happen to arrive at the wrong evening. I only have a few minutes, so what brings you here?”

“Long story short,” began Sprinkles, “the people of Snifflehelm had acquired an item of questionable safety. It caused the death of some, and then caused them to rise again.”

“They were zombies,” added the bard nonchalantly from somewhere beneath the wizard’s left elbow.

“Yes, they were,” agreed an exacerbated Sprinkles, “but that is a crude way to put it.”

“Excuse me,” the bard corrected herself, “they were undead.”

“Yeah, but it is Snifflehelm,” responded the king with an air of dismissal, “they deal with things like this all the time.”

“Yes,” agreed the wizard, “but there is the issue of contagion. We found that in four hours it had spread to areas very near the castle.”

“And we don’t know how they acquired this item,” added Jane.

“We believe they may have acquired it at this castle from a wealthy merchant,” Sprinkles stated.

This bit of information suddenly seemed to catch the king’s attention. “A merchant?”

“Yes. From what we gather he had been beaten, robbed, and had his inventory looted, which included the substance in question. It is a purplish liquor, and seems to cause…zombism.” The wizard seemed to flinch at his own use of the z-word.

“And it was ritually and hermetically sealed, because I saw the thingimajiggy on the top.” Dan stated with extreme significance. “With the scribbles on it.”

“Yes, that would be an apt description,” agreed Sprinkles.

“And you are saying that this liquid caused the dead to rise?” questioned the king.

“Not entirely,” the wizard explained, “The symptoms start as a foaming or frothing of the mouth, much like a rabid animal. This is then followed by sudden and fierce aggression.”

“And their blood was all wrong,” chimed Dan.

“And it seems that it enters the body through the skin,” added Kryss.

“It seems that skin contact with both the substance and the infected causes the disease to spread within two to five minutes,” continued the wizard.

“Wow,” the king said with genuine surprise. “You say this was brought by a merchant?”

“That is how it appears by the evidence made available,” continued the wizard, “and that merchant was coming from this direction. Whether he stayed in your realm or not is questionable, but he did come from this direction.”

“When did this happen?” the king asked him.

“It appears to have happened within the last three days, by the state of the corpses.”

“Oh Gods,” breathed the king, “I hope it wasn’t Rolla.”

A collective “What?” filled the room.

“Most find Rolla to be a charlatan, a purveyor of snake oils and false talismans, but he actually happens to deal in the actual and legitimate potion trade,” explained the king. “He would travel about and come through here, and sell us great potions of actual value. For friends or people he holds in high esteem, he actually has a variety of very valuable items. He came back through the kingdom a few days ago while the queen was out, and supplied me with certain potions which I regularly purchase from him.”

Giving yet more proof positive of the Janian Cranial Thickness theory, the knight began to giggle like a school girl. A heavily armored and sword-wielding school girl, but a school girl nonetheless.

After more words and explanation of Rolla, the Merchant formerly known as Merchant Unknown, and some cordial words of parting, the king quit their company. An awkward and uncomfortable silence threatened to settle upon the room and its inhabitants, but thankfully Malaggar took the opportunity to voice a thought that had been fluttering through his head for some time now.

“I just can’t figure out you humans. Your kings are so nice. If this had happened where I come from, we’d be hanging from the ceiling.”

“I’m guessing that’s why you left,” came an unusually insightful quip from the bard.

“Yeah, yeah it is…” Malaggar responded as his had drifted to the pendant around his neck.

An otherwise uneventful night passed, and upon waking the next morning, the group was escorted through the interior of the castle and to the throne room. Which is to say, they crossed the lawn and went next door. After a few genial greetings, the group once again gave a full and detailed account of the proceedings of the previous two days, as they pertained to bluish-purple ichor and shambling corpses. The king and queen seemed genuinely shocked at the shocking bits, genuinely sad and the sad bits, and utterly mortified of the news that their supplier of aphrodisiacs had met an unseemly end. While the king understood the potential severity of the group’s tale, he made it known that the kingdom had a more pressing matter to attend to. And once again, as if on cue, the king’s aforementioned more pressing problem began to press.

A loud thud was heard, followed by a flurry of footsteps. Two soldiers popped their heads in and said with a telltale air routine familiarity, “Sir, they’ve done it again. They’ve breached the wall.”

The king sprang up with a look that conveyed concern for the well-being his subjects and loved ones. The queen sprang up with a look that made everyone concerned for the well-being of the aggressing party. Malaggar was the first one out the door, considering his Drow-induced propensity to remain in the rear, and duly noted that the castle walls had clearly been subject to repeated and shoddy patchwork. Guard the Shortest sprang into action with clearly well -rehearsed duty, and brandishing a somewhat impressive battle axe, stood before the king in a show of protection. The queen, Guard the Tallest and the Intrepid Six (technically Intrepid Five as the Sixth member was already on the exterior, commenting on the clearly repeated and shoddy patchwork of the castle walls) sprang out into the courtyard grounds (read: lawn), ready to do battle.

What ensued next was not our heroes’ most glorious of battles. While the queen proved her talent with a greatsword to be awe-inspiring and very barbarian-obliteratingly effective, Malaggar proved that despite his natural state of being a ranger and his talent at bar darts, he was, on occasion, prone to disastrously poor and embarrassingly off-mark bow shots. Luckily, it appeared that the queen either had a very high pain threshold or a very good poker face, as she simply plucked the arrow from her back and continued her very effective barbarian obliterating. The castle guards did their best to keep up with the queen, Jane seemed unable to jockey a good fighting position within the battle, and everyone else of import to the narrative managed the very important and very impressive act of not dying.

As the battle went on, it became apparent that the castle walls had been breached in two locations, and a small force of more barbarians was threatening to attack their rear. Fortuitously, these barbarians, in keeping with the tradition of semantic dubiousness, were not very barbaric and posed little threat to the Intrepid Six, and even less threat to the queen and her very large, very impressive pointy. It did so happen, however, that during the course of this second wave of battle, three of the attacking “barbarians” proved to be Shamblers. Technically, considering that being either of those two things is not mutually exclusive, it should be said that they proved to be barbarians and Shamblers. As the queen’s very large, very impressive pointy deftly hewed through a barbarian-but-also-a-Shambler, the all too familiar spurt of all too yucky purple goo splashed forth.

“Is this the stuff you spoke of?” she asked the collective.

After a quick and collective affirmation, the queen did something that was most uncharacteristic of her: she showed visible and unmistakable fear. All color having blanched from her face, the queen abandoned the battle at hand and ran back into the throne room with an exclamation of “The king!” As the battle at this point was drawing to an inevitable close, with an ending that was sure to be less than happily ever after for the barbarians-but-also-Shamblers, Jane decided she would be most useful in aiding the queen, and followed her. It was around this point that Malaggar, who had since climbed the castle walls for a more advantageous archering position, was able to look through the second wall breach and noticed something strange in the distance.

“Everyone we got company! There are a lot of barbarians heading towards the breach in the wall—I don’t know if they are zombies but there are a lot of them!”

A plan was hatched and the remaining Shamblers were dispatched. Sprinkles soon set upon a clever illusion to make the castle walls appear both breach-free and properly rebuilt. While Sora and Dan ran to join Jane and the queen, Malaggar remained on lookout and Kryss remained to defend the wizard. Having passed through the throne room, through a back exit, and down a long, dark hallway, Sora and Dan arrived in time to see the queen, Jane, and guards hesitate at a doorway.

“What do you want me to do?” Jane asked with an unusually soft tone of sympathy.

“What you have to,” the queen replied, “but leave Rowan to me.”

As all piled into the room, the reason for Jane’s sympathies emerged. There, in the center of what was meant to be a safe room, was a large puddle of purple goo dotted with shards of broken glass. There, standing among the goo were five Shamblers. Four of them were also guards. One of the guards-and-also-a-Shambler, was also, quite sadly, a dwarf. The fifth Shambler was also, quite sadly, a king.

A somber battle began, and all followed the queen’s wishes to do no harm to the king-turned-Shambler. He was quickly subdued by the queen and a few feet of rope, with an order to a nearby guard to ensure he stayed subdued. Malaggar and Kryss shortly joined the battle, and it was quickly over.

It’s hard to describe the sorrow of a woman of such strength, but sorrowful indeed was the queen; a sorrow so deep that, despite her successful efforts to show no outward display, it touched every remaining soul in that treacherous safe room. The queen approached her husband, and for a few moments, watched the snapping, writhing creature that he had become. From a hidden place in her belt, she withdrew a small, ceremonial blade. A quick, merciful stroke ended his suffering, but only seemed to intensify the queen’s. Taking the king’s crown in her hands, a silence befell the room.

“If you go up the stairs to the back,” the queen herself was the first to break the stillness, “there is a trap door that will take you to the surface. If you continue past the ladder, you’ll find a tunnel that will take you northwest of the city.”

“I’m sorry your highness,” Jane stepped forward, sympathy and respect in her tone, “but before we can go, what do you know about this?”

The queen explained the origin of the fluid to be a lake a great distance away, known for its magical properties. The lake’s liquid had apparently been prized by alchemists for its myriad of positive effects bestowed upon the consumer of the potions it made. Being considered poisonous in large amounts, the area was heavily monitored, with only a select few allowed to enter. The queen guessed that something must have corrupted either the lake or the latest shipment of the potions derived from it.

Considering the magical nature of the offending substance, the Intrepid Six (minus one Eladrin) decided that this was information valuable to a wizard. The queen climbed the ladder at the back of the safe room, the trap door of which, as luck would have it, opened to the surface not but fifteen feet behind Sprinkles. She saw what appeared to be a solid castle wall, and for a brief, merciful moment, surprise was the reigning emotion. “Did you just fix the wall?” she asked.

“No,” the wizard replied, “It only looks like I did. But I’m hoping the shambling horde about fifteen minutes out will think that I did.”

The queen’s face took on an accustomed look of sternness. “Shambling horde?” she repeated. The queen quickly climbed a nearby stairwell to the top of the castle walls and looked out into the distance, in the direction the wizard had indicated. The rest of the group, still in the safe room below, took this time to converse through the vertical tunnel and inform the wizard of what they’d learned. The queen, satisfied that she understood the situation, returned to the trap door to speak to the six adventurers.

“It doesn’t matter whether they think you’ve repaired this hole or not,” she said. “They will just make a new one. This castle’s not going to hold.”

“What about the people?” Dan shouted up, remembering the spectators of their impromptu parade the day prior.

The queen whistled loudly, a preordained tune to convey a practiced message. Within a few minutes, the woman known as Cat approached, having seen some action by the state of her clothes and breathlessness. “My queen, we saw the horde coming. We’ve done our best to keep everyone safe, what should we do?”

“Lead everyone down through the tunnels and take them to the temple city of Blesshu.”

Cat gave a quick gesture of respect and sought to the queen’s bidding. The wizard and queen descended through the trap door and rejoined the group in the safe room. She pushed a hidden switch, and a section of nearby wall slid away to reveal the escape tunnel she had spoken of. “Follow path to the northwest, you will come up in the mountains about a day and half’s journey to temple city.”

Footsteps and voices were heard, and Cat proved to be very quick in a crisis. She entered the safety room and approached the queen, with five citizens in tow. Sensing that there had been higher expectations, Cat saluted the queen once more. “When the barbarians first arrived, a few panicked. When we saw the horde, most panicked, and quite a few fled town on their own volition.”

A nod conveyed the queen understood, and she gestured for Cat and the refugees to enter the tunnel. She looked over the Intrepid Six. “Can you make sure these people make it to the city safely?”

“What?!” came the startled reaction of all but the resident curmudgeon.

“Are you staying?” asked Jane.

“Yes.”

“But…he would want you to go,” softly pleaded the bard.

“He may have wanted me to,” replied the queen, “but I don’t want to. There’s nothing left for me.”

Once again, an uncharacteristic solemnness was evident upon Dan’s face, the usually carefree and childlike features hinting at a far different reality.

“But you don’t have to worry,” continued the queen, her tone revealing a sympathetic understanding. “I won’t turn.”

“Are there any messages you would like us to take to the Temple?” asked Sora, offering a final rite to the queen.

The queen walked over to the king’s body, taking the wedding band off of his finger. Doing the same with her own, she pressed them together. A small click could be heard, and the rings, each bearing their own insignia, now fit together to make a new one. She returned, and placed the rings into the cleric’s outstretched hand. For a flicker of a moment, the hardened exterior of the queen gave way, revealing a closely guarded tenderness beneath.

“Keep these together, and take them to the reagent at the Temple City.”

With a few admiring words of farewell, the Intrepid Six entered the tunnel with Cat and her refugees. The queen pressed the switch once more, and the section of wall slid back into place, finalizing the fate of the warrior queen they left behind.

After a few hours of quiet, solemn trudging, the group emerged at the surface through a small outcropping of stones. The sun had risen to mid-day, and a rocky, mountain trail could be seen a few paces ahead. Knowing another day and a half until safety stood before them, and with civilian lives in their hands, the Intrepid Six pressed forward.

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(2013-05-11) Chapter Two

(2nd day of Eleint, 1371 DR, Grendleon Outskirts, Evening) We arrived at the outskirts of Grendleon finally. Its not the wealthiest place I’ve passed through but it is certainly a lot wealthier than Snifflehelm. The bard in her ultimate wisdom demanded to see the King of the realm. Two soldiers A dwarf and a human stopped us from approaching the keep. Apparently they decided we were threats to the kings privacy. We were rather forcefully escorted to a room inside the keep and warned to stay in our room. Apparently the king is working on an heir and is only capable of doing so once a month. Most bizarre.

(2nd day of Eleint, 1371 DR, Grendleon Keep, Evening) Within 5 minutes of the guards leaving the bard and the rogue decided that listening to the guards was a bad idea and started exploring the castle. The bard and rogue were summarily accosted by the nude Queen with a dagger and sent back to their room. The King arrived a few minutes later to debrief us in the situation in sniffleheim. He left shortly afterwords to disrobe his wife, with a promise to have a more formal meeting with us in the morning. Apparently the king needs a potion to mate with his wife. Very odd.

*(3rd day of Eleint, 1371 DR, Grendleon Keep, Morning) We were escorted into the throne room. The queen looking very deadly with her longsword across her lap. A few minutes of discussions followed and ended abruptly with several large booms from outside the walls. Two guards rushed in alerting the King and Queen to an attack as the barbarians breached the outer wall of the keep. We went outside and combat ensued.

Some of the barbarians were infected by the goo. After they were quickly dispatched The Queen and most of my traveling companions headed downstairs while I rebuilt the outer walls with an illusion. The Queen reappeared a few minutes later and enlightened me that both she and the king consumed the purple humor regularly with only positive effects. She believes that the lake in the nearby mountains that the fluid is sourced from must have become corrupt. After peering over the walls at the oncoming horde she believed the keep had no chance of survival from the incoming zombie horde. She escorted us into an escape tunnel in the keep basement.

(3rd day of Eleint, 1371 DR, On the road to Blessyou, Afternoon) We emerged from the tunnel in early afternoon.

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