Hearts of Stone

Episode 14: Wyvern Riders
Near the Anvil Road, 20 May 216

The party quickly loots the bodies of the fallen Glitterhaegen marines, and retires to their camp to wait for dawn. After some debate on how to track flying creatures in the dark, a combination of Soreth's extraordinary sense of smell and Ssh'ta's invocation of the High Druid so that he could talk to the trees allows the group to track the wyvern (for that is what it was) to a nearby farmstead.

Here, they find a group of ten wyvern mounts, watched over by a handful of orcs lazing near a lakeside gazebo. While X7-09 stealthily approaches the wyverns, Hayes openly approaches the leading orc (recognisable by his plate corselet) and challenges him to a game of cards.

"Who are you and what do you want?" asks the orc, who unusually for an orc isn't shooting first and asking questions later.

"That's a very good question," answers Hayes, who as an amnesiac doesn't know either answer. "What are you doing here?"

The orc explains that he is looking for another orc named Fangrot. Hayes offers the services of his burgeoning intelligence network, and says he did see an orc while looting a living dungeon some weeks ago. This intrigues the orc greatly, but after a short discussion of the dungeon it becomes clear they are talking about different orcs. Meanwhile Soreth moves up to another wyvern and notices there are more orcs in the farmstead; simultaneously Ssh'ta observes one of them watching him from cover and realises the party has been outflanked.

Valore invokes an icon and calls "Here boy!" to the gazebo, which uproots itself and lumbers towards her, barging aside the orc leader. Ignoring the mayhem to follow, Valore, his followers, Kowalski and others clamber into the now-mobile gazebo and help themselves to its supply of cucumber water. Zadok the priest blesses the gazebo, which becomes less dreadful and shinier.

Meanwhile, X7-09 leaps from cover onto the back of the nearest wyvern with a shout of "YEEEE HAAAA!". The wyvern promptly bucks and throws X7-09 into a pile of rocks nearby, causing its companions to take flight and scatter over the lake.

"Is that dwarf-forged with you?" the orc asks Hayes.

"No," says Hayes, sitting on a rock. "Look, we can talk later, you'd better sort this out."

Balthazar Rook, who unlike X7-09 can actually ride flying mounts, charges from cover and leaps into the saddle.

"That's my wyvern," says the orc leader.

"It's my wyvern now!" shouts Balthazar.

"Your funeral," shrugs the orc, as the wyvern erupts into a blinding ball of claws, teeth and poisonous stinger. He calls sharp orders in orcish, and the other wyverns circle around, heading for the farmstead to pick up their riders.

Balthazar invokes his own icon connection, and his fox mask causes the orc and the wyvern to associate him with their most pleasant memories.

"Come with me if you want to live," the orc leader says to Hayes. Hayes, Soreth and Balthazar are offered seats on orc-ridden wyverns and disappear into the sky, leaving the rest of the group somewhat perplexed.

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Episode 13: The Death of Matteus Fulmens
Anvil Road, 19 May 216

The 18th of May 216 found our heroes deciding on their next move, as they have a choice of three quests before them.

First, they could investigate the disappearances and dismemberments in and around Dwardel. No-one seemed especially interested in that.

Second, they could investigate the Archmage's secret facility under the town hall. A couple of people wanted to look into this, but the consensus was that it isn't going anywhere and they can always come back to it later.

Third, they could investigate rumours of orcish spies encroaching on the Artalin estate. This has the advantage that their patron, Countess Casila, has specifically asked them to do it, and it won the vote by a tidy margin.

So, having collected rumours from travellers and barflies, and decided where they thought the orc spies were, they gathered up their numerous followers, horses, and a cart, and set off early on the 19th along the dwarven trading route towards Anvil. The day passed uneventfully, but during the second watch of the night, Vor (one of Valore's followers) noticed a large batlike creature with a long tail circling the party's camp before heading off to the north-east. At roughly the same time, Villen (Balthazar's squire) noticed movement in the bushes to the south. They party woke up, tooled up, and after a brief debate set off in pursuit of the latter, elves to the fore to take advantage of their superior night vision, Boris temporarily assuming the form of an owl.

This led them to a small ruined building in the woods just off the road, wherein flickering light from a fire could be seen, and low voices in discussion could be heard. New party member Aditi and Ssh'ta stealthily approached the nearest door with the intention of eavesdropping, but this plan was rendering obsolete by Soreth breaking down the door and discharging her breath weapon into whoever and whatever was inside.

This proved to be Decanus Matteus Fulmens of the Duke of Glitterhaegen's Marines and the remains of his patrol, who have been following the party for several weeks pending instructions from their commander. Three marines were instantly incinerated by Soreth's fiery breath, and seconds later two were smashed into a bloody pulp by Hayes' ferocious charge and shield bash. Aditi slipped in behind them and tried to stab Matteus himself, while Valore dropped a brick on him from her vantage point 20 feet in the air above.

With all his men obviously dead, and a conviction that this was not going to end well for him, Matteus set off a Blast spell in the middle of the room. Only Balthazar was seriously wounded, although several others were blown through the doors. Matteus took advantage of this to flee the building, only to be caught in a Fear spell from Boris, who had flanked him moving up through the woods in owl form, which impelled him to even faster flight. Sadly for him, Hayes charged from the building and tackled him, while Boris summoned a female construct and Ssh'ta also joined in the melee. Low on mana and badly injured, Matteus still put up a good fight, but alone against a party of seventeen he stood no chance once pinned, and after battering him unconscious, Hayes slit his throat.

As far as the party knows, there are no surviving witnesses.

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Interlude 2: Cultists and Griffins and Bears, Oh My
26th April 216 to 17 May 216, Marblehall

Meanwhile, near Dwardel…

CULTISTS

On his first night in the area, X7-09 is approached after dark, during his sleep cycle, by two bald men in red, hooded robes.

"You see!" hisses one. "It's him, the one from the dream!"

"Shall I paint him red, then kill him?" whispers the other.

"Nay!" says the first. "Wake him! He will help us destroy the Archmage! Then shall the way be clear to our final victory!"

X7-09 wakes, and enquires how the destruction of the Archmage may be accomplished.

"The Archmage has a secret facility under the Town Hall! Help us destroy it and surely the Archmage shall be discomfited!" says one robed figure.

"The dream was clear about that!" agrees the other. "Well, relatively clear. I think. Although I'm not sure why gherkins are involved."

"You doubt the veracity of the Sacred Gherkins?"

"Never! I simply fail to understand their purpose."

"Perhaps it is not for the likes of us to understand."

AND GRIFFINS

After arriving at Dwardel, Balthazar stows his helmet and shield with the cart and, flying low with Lord Fluffington III, heads to the forest where he throws some meat into the middle of the road. Balthazar then sneaks up a tree to watch, leaving Fluffy in the middle of the road with a letter and a collar tied to his leg.

At length, Decanus Matteus Fulmens and his men approach cautiously through the gathering dusk. They approach the griffin with care and produce equipment; the griffin suffers them to muzzle and leash it, clearly they are familiar to it. Matteus recovers the letter and reads it aloud to his men.

"It's addressed to the Duke of Glitterhaegen," he begins. "Blah blah blah… You have my deepest apologies, a mistake occurred as my master Alron Stormwatcher told me to leave the city in the company of his companions using the mount waiting near your estate. However, I instead found the remains of my horse being devoured by a griffin with this collar. Assuming this was now my ride I set off in haste; it was only upon arriving in Dwardel that my master contacted me, making me aware of the error, and Fluffington must have gotten loose. I apologize and request your forgiveness. Yours Faithfully, Sir Balthazar Rook of Baron Stormwatcher's personal guard."

"What do you think, Decanus?" asks one of the marines. The Decanus frowns.

"We're not being paid to think," he says at length. "Caius, you know how to ride this thing, yes?" Caius nods. "Very well, take it back to the Duke; deliver the letter and collar to him as well. Explain to him what's happened and ask for further orders; one of us will be here in a week's time to guide you to wherever we are by then. We will continue to follow this group until ordered otherwise – I don't know what His Grace wants us to do, and once we lose their trail we'll never pick them up again."

"Sir," Caius acknowledges with a salute. He mounts the griffin and takes off.

"Galen," says the Decanus, "Find us a camp site, close enough to scout this out in the morning and far enough away that whoever left the griffin doesn't find us. No fire tonight, marines, but we'll make up for it at the next village, I promise."

Balthazar waits until he is certain they've gone, then slides carefully from the tree and makes his way back to town.

AND BEARS

Further away, Hayes and Soreth have made camp. Hayes is now sporting a bearskin cloak with the head still attached, which he is wearing as a hat. He is thoughtfully chewing a raw turnip; Soreth has lit a fire with her breath weapon – one perhaps a little larger than intended – and is now biting pieces off a small, cute, furry, and still struggling forest creature.

A bear approaches, the gold chain of an envoy swinging about its neck. It rears up on its hind legs at a respectful distance and speaks.

"Good day traveller, are you the one known as Hayes? I have been sent as a messenger by the High Druid herself, to ask what may be given in exchange for the life of the Elf that wronged you. He is of interest to the High Druid and carries a power she would rather stay in this world. Is there any information the Druid can give you about herself or the Elf that would sway your thinking?"

Hayes grins and takes another bite of his turnip, considering his next move.

OH MY

In the Library: Valore is reading the Book of the Creed, looking for references to things like hidden relics and whatnot, and also sends a letter to the main church of the Creed asking for a new priest for Dwardel. Boris and Pascal (X7-09’s chamaeleon, who is clearly more than he seems) are looking at the magic books left by previous generations of Artalins. Silmaria is learning Martyn Artalin’s improbably large collection of bawdy drinking songs, while Boris looks at the pictures and drools.

Everyone notices that Martyn spends most of his time in the Library. In conversation with him they learn that Marblehall is said to be haunted; during the plague which ended the 12th Age, part of the family walled themselves up to avoid infection – and starved to death, refusing to trust the wandering cleric who came to heal them because he was of lowly birth. Their ghosts still haunt the east wing.

Martyn remembers Casila before she was kidnapped as "a lovely young girl, very studious, perhaps a bit odd – likely because she spent more time with Amberlith than was seemly for one of her station, and picked up wild ideas".

The Library itself has a wide range of books, but focuses on dwarven culture, Imperial history, geology, and salacious bardic songs – that last focus is due to Martyn.

By virtue of being in and around the Library a lot, and noticing what books go in and out of the Library when, the above party members notice that Casila is a voracious reader whose favourite topics are ancient history, arcane magical matters, and architecture.

In the estate grounds: The Fox aquires a warhorse and barding, then spends his time riding around the local area and inspecting the Artalins' residence. He learns that the locals believe that there are orcs spying on them, no doubt finding out the lay of the land for the inevitable invasion by the Orc Lord, who is somewhere in the northern wilderness. Dour men in travel-stained cloaks sitting in shadowy corners of taverns swear this is so. Casila asks the group to conduct a sweep of the area and verify this; bringing a couple of orcs in for interrogation would be ideal…

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Episode 12: Winter Ale
Dwardel and Marblehall, 24-26 April 216.

The party is now in one of the safest areas in the Dragon Empire; House Artalin is not famous for its warriors or wizards, but it is immensely wealthy and powerful, and if anyone messes with it, the Archmage and the Emperor come down on them like a ton of bricks.

Scouting around the town, the adventurers learn the following:

1. The local dwarven brewery is haunted.

2. There has been a rash of disappearances in and around the town. Some of the missing are found, dismembered as if by some large beast; some are not.

3. There is some sort of secret facility below the town hall. Some say the Archmage sealed it up during a visit 50-60 years ago to contain subterranean monsters; some say he also created the monsters. X7-09 maintains his sources confirm the latter and that they also say the monsters are responsible for the disappearances.

After settling in, X7-09, Valore, Boris and Silmaria escort Casila to a joyful reunion with her cousin Octavian, the House Artalin Factor in Dwardel and de facto ruler of the town, although he is careful to defer to the mayor in public. Octavian is delighted to see his lost-lost cousin again, and entertains the group at length while his lackeys send word to Marblehall for an escort. A few hours later, this arrives and takes them with due pomp to the family seat, where Casila is again welcomed joyfully and an impromptu feast develops.

In a bloodless coup, Casila takes over the County; she is the rightful heir, and her Uncle Martyn never wanted to be Count anyway. Mindful that she is a woman in a time of little gender equality, and hasn't been seen for a decade, Casila determines that she needs to score some political points, rally support, and demonstrate her capability in short order. To this end she enlists the party as her retainers, gives them little badges to prove it, and unleashes them back into Dwardel, reminding them that it belongs to her now so collateral damage needs to be kept under control, and asking them to invite her old friend Amberlith, landlady of the Giant's Flagon, the only inn in town, to visit her in Marblehall. As her retainers, they are entitled to free board and lodging at Marblehall, and will be otherwise rewarded too; in return, there are a few little jobs she'd like done, once they have finished the business they say awaits them in Dwardel.

Having passed on the message to Amberlith, Valore and X7-09 decide that the first order of business is the haunted brewery. It transpires that one of the temples in town follows Valore's religion, the Creed of Pytus, and that the local priest has tried exorcism without success. After a daytime tour of the brewery to familiarise themselves with the layout, our heroes settle in to wait for the ghosts to arrive. This they do in due course, causing Zadok and Silmaria to flee in terror and a shaken Boris to declare "I'm never touching another drop."

Volare and X7-09, however, are made of sterner stuff and ask the ghosts to explain themselves.

"We were told there would be Winter Ale," they moan. X7-09 locates this and pours out generous tankards of the stuff, while Valore prays to Pytus for guidance and gains an intervention allowing the immaterial ghosts to drink their fill. Their unfinished business resolved, the ghosts fade away.

GM: You now have the run of Marblehall, including its extensive library. Valore is researching the Creed of Pytus, Boris and Pascal (X7-09's chamaeleon, who is clearly more than he seems) are looking at the magic books left by previous generations of Artalins, and Boris and Silmaria are reading Martyn Artalin's improbably large collection of bawdy drinking songs.

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Episode 11: Pub Lunch
Between Anvil and Glitterhaegen, 22-23 April 216

The testament of Rosie Frost, barmaid at the Travellers' Rest, regarding the events of 23rd April 216.

I don't want no trouble, sorr, and anyways Oi was behind the bar and didn't see much of what 'appened. But Oi did serve 'em all afterwards, so Oi did get a good look at 'em. What was they loike? Well, there was a forgeborn, you don't see many o' them around 'ere, an' there was a knight on a griffin, an'  two elves, an' a lady – 'ighborn she was, you could tell just by lookin' at 'er, even it she was dressed funny – an' a bard, pretty thing she was an' no mistake, an' a angel with a flamin' sword – no, I mean it was on fire, flames runnin' down the blade. Oh, an' they 'ad a tame wolf with 'em as well.

Now before they arrived we only had two visitors, it bein' slow for a Saturday fer some reason; Dicias the elf and a merchant called Charrid, they's both regulars. They was takin' a wagon-load of weird stuff to that apothecary in Dwardel, what's 'is name? Lucius, that's it. Moi dad – 'e's the landlord y'see – 'e was afraid it might blow up, so 'e made 'em park it a long way from the door, an' what do you know? No sooner did these strangers turn up than it did blow up! Charrid said later as the forgeborn 'ad started fossickin' around in the back o' the cart, an' it was 'im what blew it up.

Oi tell 'ee, Oi never saw a calmer 'orse than Charrid's that day. 'E just kept on drinkin' from the trough, 'e didn't mind when the cart blew up an' not even when the griffin came an' stood right next to 'im. What? Oh yes.

So anyway, the forgeborn walks into the pub, smokin' a bit from the explosion, an' I sees the knight lift 'is purse an' some sort o' book, then 'e throws the book in the fireplace an' it burns up. No, Oi din't try to get it out, what use is a book to me? Oi can't read. Let it give us a bit o' warm Oi sez, useless things them books. The forgeborn comes up to the bar an' asks for a point o' oil, an' Oi sez "Olive all right?", an' 'e sez yes, so Oi pours 'im a tankard full o' olive oil an' then 'e sez 'is purse is missin', an' 'e stomps back outside an' chops Charrid's 'and off with an axe. Vicious, that forgeborn is Oi tell 'ee, vicious. Charrid sez that knight gave 'im a purse to pay for 'is losses, which 'e thought was fair enough, but then this forgeborn comes up and yells at 'im about stealin' 'is purse an' chops 'is 'and off.

The angel an' one o' the elves was up on the roof, to drink in peace they sez, which normally moi dad wunt allow, but Oi seen what 'appened to Charrid an' Oi decided to keep me views to meself. Anyway, they started hollerin' 'bout 'obgoblins, then there was a big fight outside – they said later some 'obgoblins 'ad attacked the pub, an' there was certainly bodies outside when we dared come out again – three with their throats cut an' one stuck on a branch on that tree there, if you looks you can still see the blood. Oi don't mind cleanin' the pub Oi sez, but Oi'm not doin' the trees an' all.

Then they comes back inside, cool as you please, an' orders lunch like nothin' 'ad 'appened. They buys Charrid's 'orse off 'im – for a fair price, mind you, not that 'e would've turned anything down at that point – an' fixes 'is arm as best they can. Then the 'ighborn lady, she asks Dicias an' me all sorts o' questions about Dwardel an' Marble'all, so Oi reckon that's where they was goin'.

A job for Charrid you say? Bless you, sorr, 'e surely needs one, what with losin' 'is 'and an' 'is liveli'ood in the same day. Why you can ask 'im yourself, 'e's just over there…

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Episode 10: Marines
Near Glitterhaegen, 21st April 216

Report prepared by Decanus Matteus Fulmens, Legio III Adiutrix, 21 April 216…

Sir, I beg to report as follows:

Pursuant to your orders, we set out along the road from Glitterhaegen to Anvil in pursuit of the griffin "Lord Fluffington III" stolen from the Duke of Glitterhaegen and the suspected thieves, and by dispensing small sums of money (separate accounts attached for reimbursement) we were easily able to determine their route.

Approaching by stealth we were able to observe the group before committing to engage, and discovered it to consist of:

  • A knight bearing the livery of Baron Stormwatcher's household troops. He wore a closed helm and could not be identified. This individual was riding the aforementioned griffin, together with an unidentified woman of apparent noble birth.
  • A recently-shaven dwarf, accompanied by a dwarf-forged construct soldier.
  • A rav'malak female – previous reports had not mentioned her.
  • One high elf wizard accompanied by a wood elf musician and a female human bard of uncommon beauty. The wizard's presence was expected, hence my own assignment to the patrol.

There was no sign of the dark elf known as "Dave", Hayes Agar or the dragonborn Soreth. These may or may not be accomplices in the theft but did not take part in the engagement to follow.

We moved parallel to their track through the woods at a sufficient distance to avoid discovery, and blocked the road ahead of them. We observed them encounter an awakened bear – its status was recognisable by its chain of office and its ability to speak. After a brief conversation with the wood elf, the bear moved on, back towards Glitterhaegen. We did not detain it for questioning as the chain of office clearly marked it as a diplomatic envoy.

The bear was clearly on friendly terms with the wood elf, but we could not hear what was said without breaking cover, and mindful of the primary mission, we held our position.

As the party approached, we prepared ourselves for combat and made our presence known, requesting that the griffin be handed over to us – I was hopeful that the situation could be resolved peaceably and indeed several of the party, including the mounted knight and the bard, attempted to parley, but the dwarf-forged immediately attacked us in melee, presumaby on the dwarf's orders, and supported by the rav'malak; negotiations therefore stalled. While the bulk of the patrol engaged the dwarf-forged, a small flanking party approached the griffin from the right flank but were driven off by arrow fire. (Munifex Septimus was gravely injured and will require extensive sick leave; we were lucky he was not killed, and I have sent him back with this letter and an escort of two other Munifexii, leaving me with 9 effectives including myself.)

Meanwhile the enemy high elf had cast several spells, including what appeared to be summoning mystical ghost zombie snakes and some means of whispering into all the patrols' ears at the same time that he was not wearing anything under his robes. However, the discipline of the Legio held firm and we continued to fight.

Under close attack from the rav'malak, who swooped on me with a greatsword, I was forced to reveal my arcane abilities but managed to drive her off. At this point the knight took to the air on the griffin, claiming that he had been given it by Lord Alron Stormwatcher, who as you will recall, sir, has not been seen for a number of years and whose death has been rumoured on several occasions, and that "this is not the griffin you are looking for".

At this point it was clear to me that we could not effectively pursue the griffin once it became airborne, and that the remaining arcane offensive options available to us risked serious injury or death to the griffin and its riders, at least one of whom claimed to be noble born – and thanks to my service in Glitterhaegen I was able to recognise that the knight's livery and heraldic emblems were indeed those of the Stormwatchers. I therefore gave the order to disengage and we retreated in good order.

We will follow the group at a safe distance but will not engage without further orders, as to do so might set the Duke and the Stormwatchers at odds. I recommend however that Baron Stormwatcher be requested to explain his family's involvement if any, since the markings on the griffin clearly identify it as the missing animal. Should you wish us to engage the group I request reinforcements, especially archers, as I do not have the numbers to best them by the honourable means I know the Legio would wish me to use.

I have the honour to remain, sir, your humble and obedient servant,

Decanus Matteus Fulmens, Legio III Adiutrix
Given under seal this day, 21st April, year 216 of the 13th Age

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Episode 9: Death from Above
10-20 April 216, Glitterhaegen

Emerging from the inn they so carelessly set on fire a few moments ago, the party is starting to make good its escape when they notice a horde of demons descending on them from the skies.

Dave shoots one with her bow, but to no effect. Ssh'ta does likewise and misses, while Caliban (who has transformed into a full-grown dire wolf) growls in intimidation. Soreth employs her fiery breath on the boss demon, who is much larger than the others, and one of his minions. The party has a healthy respect for this weapon, and is horrified to see the smaller demon merely shaken, and the larger one completely unaffected. Kowalski's beard, however, being worn by the large demon as some kind of trophy, is completely incinerated.

A pair off demons grab Soreth and carry her off. A second pair repeats this with Dave. The Fox is incapacitated by a mighty slash from a demon claw, and falls. Seeing this, another demon turns towards Silmaria, who taunts him thus:

"Your mother was an angel, your father drank holy water and I have the proof!" Visibly shaken, the demon bursts into tears and tells her she is mean.

Kowalski's armour turns the claws which strike him, and Caliban is hit, but so lightly it seems the demon was almost trying to pet him. Casila is not so luckily and suffers a serious wound, as does Boris; both of them have several demons attacking them. Boris then recalibrates his googly eyes and sprays mystic zombie ghost snakes out of every orifice imaginable (and unimaginable). Silmaria looks at the terrifying scene and shudders, and even the demons of hell pause, taken aback.

Kowalski is suddenly enveloped by something black, smoky and unwholesome, which makes him very difficult to hit. 

X7-09's voice goes deep and booms with rolling thunder as he speaks: "Greaav oneuk leave wiavh avhouke lat have avaken, avhe ukacrifice lat have liwo be greaav shum uklaveuk freukh gijak burnun avownuk agh avreaukure go go dijak avhe ciavausan!"

The largest demon replies: "Well make your $%^&* mind up! Right lads, three for four. Let's ride!" The demons begin to take off, leaving the party and the town behind as they fly off. Before leaving, the one next to Ssh'ta speaks as it hands him a package.

"We're not done here, shortie. Take this, I like a challenge."

Sensing that X7-09 is about to "repair" the injured, Ssh'ta unfurls the package over the Fox; it turns out to be a cloak of invisibility. Unable to see the Fox, X7-09 turns his attention to Casila.

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" she asks, closely followed by "That hurts!" At this point an angelic being, previously seen approaching in the distance, lands next to the pair and picks up Casila before X7-09 can do any more damage. Casila now appears wreathed in holy fire, which does nothing for her state of mind. Boris (who can actually heal people) moves up and says:

"Icanhealz. Lay on fingernailllleeerrrr hans yes hansss." He sets to work.

"Are you sure you have to put your hand there?" asks Casila. Possibly because he is laying on hands in the wrong place, Boris fails to heal Casila and moves on to try his luck on the Fox. After this, the Fox appears to be stable, so with the last of the demons gone, the party drapes him over the dire wolf and follows his directions to an alchemist, where he is partially healed but advised he needs at least 10 days' bed rest. The alchemist can't help Casila, whose wounds are less severe, but says she will need no more than 5 days' rest.

Wandering around town, they see Soreth stomping back through one of the gates, covered in gore, chewing thoughtfully on what looks like a piece of demon, and muttering under her breath. Ssh'ta returns the cloak to a dark alley and begins playing a sombre tune. It starts raining.

Valore somberly gives the ashes of Kowalski's beard the last rites, then picks up Cali the dire wolf pup. The pup now appears to be on fire; Ssh'ta looks concerned and cries "Caliban!", whereupon Valore is picking up a full-sized dire wolf.

Over the next ten days or so, while Valore preaches and collects alms, and Kowalski works as a healer and bouncer at a nearby inn, the party exchange information. Having lost Dave, Ssh'ta and Boris decide to take the others into their confidence and reveal that they have been charged by the Elf Queen to return Casila to her family, whose estate is between Glitterhaegen and Anvil. It transpires Casila was kidnapped by drow as a young girl, and spent some time with them before being recovered by the Elf Queen. As her family are wealthy and influential nobles, her Highness believes returning the girl is both morally correct and politically useful.

Hayes turns up a few days into their recuperation period, and the dungeon heart is duly sold, on the basis that at least Big Bad Barry will now follow someone else.

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Episode 8: All at Sea
31 March 216 to 9 April 216 - Concord and the Midland Sea

The odd convoy leaving Concord for the nearby docks hurtles through a nearby wood, surprising a mercenary archer called Nishanja who has stopped for a brief rest and a snack. The Fox peeled off as they passed Concord and disappeared inside briefly, so what Nishanja sees approaching before he is hauled aboard the cart is this: The cart itself, driven by Boris with Hayes in the back holding the dungeon heart; Soreth, X7-09 and Kowalski on foot; Dave and Silmaria riding a stone fin as it cuts through the earth; about a dozen armed half-orcs screaming threats and insults; and behind them, Ssh'ta and Cali, with Casila catching up and The Fox spurring a recently-acquired horse some way behind.

While they are figuring out what to do next, a bearded man going the other way runs towards them, pursued by a red dragon.

"They're early!" he calls. "Run! Run!"

"Who, us?" Silmaria wants to know.

"No!" calls Beardie. "The drakes!"

What was in Hayes' mind at this point will never be known, but he throws a turnip at the bearded fellow and kills him outright. "Nailed it!" he crows. The dragon turns lazily to follow the cart. "Kill-stealer," it accuses.

"Oh, another challenger?" asks Hayes, beckoning in the traditional martial arts fashion. The dragon affects not to notice and begins a conversation in draconic with Soreth, who is after all a red dragonborn. Meanwhile Boris has decided that the dragon might be female and rubs his long fingernails together in excitment, and Silmaria sings an ode to the marvellous dragon… "Oh wonderful dragon! Your power is so mighty! Your scales so shiney!" and so forth.

Breaking away from Soreth, the dragon uses its breath weapon to wipe out all of the half-orcs, then lands and paws at the bodies, looking for something interesting to eat.

Boris casts confusion on the living dungeon following Hayes, attacking it with illusory mystic ghost zombie snakes. Dave and Silmaria step off the dungeon's fin as it submerges and climb aboard the cart. By now, they can see that the port is in flames, and hovering over it a little way out to see is a large stone building festooned with dragons, who occasionally launch themselves off it for a strafing run of the docks.

Soreth asks the dragon why it and its friends are attacking the port. "For the lulz, obviously," it replies. The Fox calls out something to it, and it moves over to talk to X7-09.

"Your colleague back there," it begins conversationally, "Tells me that you are full of valuable treasure. Is this true?" X7-09 denies this and opens his chest compartment to reveal a chamaeleon and not much else, before pointing out that the Fox appears to be a noble and probably has gold on him. "Hmm," says the dragon, which is now joined by a pair of friends curious to know why it is talking to these inferior creatures. After a brief exchange with the Fox in draconic it loses interest.

The party debates whether to hitch a ride with the dragons on their flying whatever-it-is, but decide against it on safety grounds.

Now, they're approaching the docks, and Hayes peels off in disgust. Finding a small, single-person craft he throws his few possessions aboard and casts off. Assuming treachery, Ssh'ta shoots an arrow at him. X7-09 runs after Hayes and attempts to join its master, but is unable to clamber aboard in time. Everyone except Hayes boards a merchantman at the docks, and exploring it they find a skeleton crew cowering below decks. Persuading the sailors that they can protect them from the dragons, they cast off as well and head for Glitterhaegen, singing a selection of sea shanties. Nishanja the archer watches them sail off, the richer by two horses.

The voyage of some 625 miles takes about 9 days and is uneventful except for the Fox attempting to throw X7-09 overboard. This does not go down well, but by the following morning it is (literally) forgotten. The dungeon, now dubbed Big Bad Barry, continues to follow Hayes, thus answering the question of whether living dungeons can swim.

Arriving in Glitterhaegen, except for Hayes who is a day or two behind the others, the party splits up. X7-09 goes off to sell loot, Silmaria seeks out an alchemist to appraise the value of the dungeon heart, and the Fox goes off on some secret errand. The rest of them go to the nearest pub, where Boris requests a fine beer and a fine lady, and Dave affects to buy ale but actually drinks cranberry juice.

Soreth decides X7-09 has been holding out on her, since she killed all the goblins inside Big Bad Barry but he collected and sold all the loot. This escalates into a fight, with Kowalski and Silmaria selling tickets and collecting bets. Boris sends mystic ghost zombie snakes into the ring for a little extra pizzaz. However, when Soreth breathes fire over X7-09, he realises he no longer has his axe – did he mislay it aboard ship? Has someone stolen it? Either way, he turns and runs, to general disappointment.

At this point the party realises that perhaps using fiery breath weapons inside a wooden building is a bad idea, as the pub is on fire. They emerge in pursuit of X7-09 – and stop, as they become aware of a horde of demons descending from the skies.

One of them is wearing Kowalski's beard.

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Episode 7: The Living Dungeon, Part 2
31st March, Year 216, 13th Age. Near Concord.

It's the evening of 31st March, and Casila has come to one of the city gates of Concord to wait for her companions' return, watch the sunset over the sea, and wonder what tomorrow might bring.

Suddenly, the Fox hurtles past, closely followed by a horse and cart, heading for the docks. A giggling Boris is at the reins, with Hayes in the back; Hayes is holding something red and pulsing, partially wrapped in a cloth. It is about a foot across, and vaguely heart-shaped. They disappear from view, and a second or so later, a group of people run past on foot; Soreth, X7-09, and Kowalski. A little way behind them, what looks like a giant shark's fin made of stone cuts through the earth, leaving a huge furrow in the road; Dave and Silmaria are balanced precariously on it, Silmaria singing soothing lullabies and Dave shouting "Cowabunga!" Behind that is a warband of half-orcs, waving weapons in the air and shouting grisly threats.

As the strange procession recedes into the distance, Ssh'ta sprints up to Casila with his wolf pup, Cali. "No time to explain," he pants. "Follow that cart!" Then he is gone, running after the rest.

Slowly at first, but with increasing speed, Casila runs to catch up.

TWO HOURS EARLIER

We left our heroes exploring their first living dungeon, which had broached a little way outside Concord, and in melee with a few surviving goblins. Although they put up a stiff fight, one goblin and one hobgoblin is no match for this party and they fall swiftly to the blades of X7-09 and the Fox, leaving the group in possession of the battlefield.  Dave wanders off to the dead skeleton they smashed earlier and picks up an arm bone.

"Query: Dave-type ally: Why arm?" asks X7-09. "It's for a joke," Dave explains. "Do you find it humerus?"

They then explore the rooms, finding a few weapons in a smithy – Dave picking up a crossbow – and a gold-topped wand, a few coins, and some silver candlesticks in a crypt, which Hayes appropriates. An apparent altar room with a stone statue in it appears to have no loot, so they wander out again. This leaves one opening they have not explored; an iron grate leading into what at first seems a treasure room, wherein a gently pulsating chest sits on a plinth surrounded by runic inscriptions. Naturally, Hayes marches right up to it and opens it, finding within a beating heart about a foot across.

"Aha!" he exclaimed. "The heart of the dungeon! Right, I'm having that." With no further ado he yanks it from the chest, causing the whole dungeon to writhe violently; Kowalski loses his footing and falls. As he recovers his feet, the party runs for the exit – a stone mouth some 15 feet across – only to find it slam shut before they can reach it. They put the heart back, and the mouth opens. After a brief discussion, the rest of the party moves outside while Hayes wraps the heart in a cloth and ties all the party's rope to it. Moving outside and gathering assistants, Hayes explains. "As soon as we pull the heart out of the chest, the door will close, so we only have one shot at this; we have to get the heart out before the door closes, because after that we can't open it again without someone inside."

A fierce debate ensues about whether someone should be left inside just in case, who it should be, and – if it were Soreth – how much she would be paid for doing that. While this is in progress, Boris and Silmaria turn up and join Kowalski and Dave, who are sitting watching, eating popcorn and trail mix. Dave begins to fashion a grass beard for Kowalski. Ssh'ta also wanders up and begins to play softly; it starts raining.

"Buy a girl a drink before you get her wet," Dave admonishes.

Hayes and company give the rope a brisk yank and get the heart about two-thirds of the way out of the dungeon. Soreth jumps inside before the mouth can close and restores the heart to its resting place, whereupon the mouth opens again.

On the second attempt, they get the heart all the way out before the mouth closes. "To the pub!" Hayes crows triumphantly, and off they trot, Hayes intending to make for the docks and commandeer a boat. Behind them, the dungeon shakes mightily, raises its head into the air, and submerges into the earth with a roar. It begins to follow the party, underground. A stone fin breaks the earth behind them and follows Hayes, who has the heart.

"You have a new pet!" Silmaria calls.

"It's adorable!" Hayes shouts back.

Dave flips acrobatically onto the fin, shouting "Cowabunga!", and Silmaria joins her, singing soothing songs to calm the dungeon down. A group of heavily-armed half-orcs running the other way stop, and watch open-mouthed as the group passes. Hayes waves elegantly at them, and Boris offers a heartfelt wink.

"Hey boys," Dave shouts, and winks. She asks the half-orcs what they are doing.

"We're here to loot the dungeon," they explain. "What are you doing?"

"There's nothing in there," the party call back. "Except goblins, and we killed all of those."

The half-orc leader shouts: "You b*st*rds! Boys, they killed Gothmog! Get 'em!" They begin to chase the group.

"Who are we selling the heart to?" asks Silmaria, conversationally.

"Haven't gotten that far yet," Hayes admits. "We'll figure it out."

"But it is valuable, right?"

"It better be!" shouts Soreth.

At this point Hayes spots a cart nearby and commandeers it. Boris (who can actually drive a cart) pushes him aside and seizes the reins, and the parade makes off at speed…

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Episode 6: Living Dungeon, Part 1
31st March, Year 216, 13th Age

On the late afternoon of March 31st, Year 216 of the 13th Age, the group arrives at Concord. Dave is now wearing Calisa's cloak, while she is in more practical drow leathers and Ssh'ta's heavy cloak. Kowalski's beard has been shaved off in the night by an unknown assailant. As they approach the gates, there is a minor earthquake in the hills to the northeast, which they quickly realise is a living dungeon breaching the surface. 

While this is going on, the halfling shepherds who have been following the caravan driving a small flock of sheep approach X7-09 and demand payment. When he claims ignorance, they explain that their master was paid half up front for two dozen sheep to be delivered to Concord, on the understanding that X7-09 would pay the rest on delivery. The construct offers a ludicrously small amount of money, which in fairness is all he has. The halflings consider remonstrating with him, but baulk at the thought of engaging the party in fisticuffs on the basis that they will get beaten to death, and instead stomp off muttering, intending to get the best price they can for the sheep locally.

Entering the city, the party pauses on the outskirts and considers their next move. They decide that if they move quickly, they can loot the living dungeon before anyone else gets there. Ssh'ta is in one of his melancholy moods again, and he and Casila opt to find an inn and procure lodgings for the night. Dave dashes briefly into another pub, and then the main group departs.

A mile and a half outside town, they observe a stone head about forty feet across shaking itself in the air, then lying flat. Behind it, a proportionately large stony body wriggles itself into the ground, seeking comfort no doubt, much like a large reptile. Moving closer, they discover a fanged, open mouth about 15 feet across, and enter. Most move in cautiously, but the Fox has a flair for the dramatic, and throwing away his hat and cloak, leaps onto X7-09's shoulders and declaims: "The Fox has arrived!"

Unimpressed, Hayes stuffs a turnip in Dave's mouth, which Dave munches. Soreth calls out something in draconic. They gather in the entrance chamber, flanked by flaming braziers. X7-09 runs forward along the main corridor, and is mobbed by goblins leaping from chambers on either side of the corridor, all of whom miss him. Soreth toasts most of them, but a couple dodge out of the blast. One larger one gets away; the Fox jumps on him and stabs him with two rapiers. Briefly shaken, he reacts by impaling the Fox on his short spear from below, causing prodigious amounts of damage.

After briefly contemplating attacking the goblin in melee with the Fox, Dave shoots another one with her bow and the Fox kills his opponent with a mighty thrust, while Kowalski drops another opponent with his battleaxe. So perish all enemies of the party. Hayes now enters a side chamber from which some of the goblins came and finds it to be a crypt. While he is looting this, the skeleton inside comes to life and stabs him, but is quickly despatched. X7-09 moves among the fallen, collecting their weapons and becoming increasingly disappointed at the lack of other loot.

Kowalski moves deeper into the dungeon and, at the limit of his vision, observes a lone goblin making offensive gestures. He steps back and casts deflect on himself, going blurry as a result. Meanwhile, the others are arguing fiercely about the division of the loot from the goblins, while Soreth wades through the roasted goblins towards the chamber opposite Hayes looking for loot. She pauses to pick some bits of goblin off her feet and nibble on them.

Meanwhile, pausing only to glare at his stabber's corpse, the Fox runs forward along the corridor to engage the lone goblin, and notes another mob of goblins hiding in side chambers on either side of the corridor, clearly intent on ambushing anyone who attacks their colleague. The Fox changes direction towards the chamber with fewer goblins; they all mob him regardless, but neither side is able to injure the other.

Kowalski calls: "Soreth, target rich environment, and they have quite a bit of loot with them!" This attracts her attention, and since it worked so well last time, Soreth runs up and uses her breath weapon again, burning seven of the nine goblins and very nearly the Fox as well. The two survivors step back, awestruck…

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