Hearts of Stone

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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Interlude 1: The Caravan

Things are relatively quiet for the ten days it takes to get from Old Town to Concord. Dave is approached just outside Old Town by another drow on a spider, who talks with her for a while then leaves, taking Chitter Chitter Fang Fang with her. Dave skips happily up to the caravan and joins the rest of the party.

Meanwhile, Hayes has a letter written in draconic. Soreth offers to translate it – for a price. A stranger none of the party can remember in a hat and cloak offers to translate it, explaining that he is a scholar of sorts.

After a brief stopover at Twisp, a small herd of a couple of dozen sheep starts to follow the caravan. Safety in numbers, no doubt. The halfling shepherds display an interest in X7-09, but then he is fairly unusual.

Dave spends the trip helping out and doing odd jobs, and makes a point of befriending the guards. In the evenings she sits with Hayes, discussing a book with him. X7-09 begins keeping a journal of his travels, and can be seen flipping backwards and forwards through it, reviewing previous days' entries.

Ssh'ta gives his heavy cloak to Dave, and acts as a night watchman for the caravan throughout the journey. The caravan master is pleased with this as elves have night vision.

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Episode 5: The Tomb of Iskelet

Having disposed of the drow and their spiders in one way or another, the group conducts a thorough search of the complex.

Ssh'ta begins playing his flute softly, and wanders into one of the "spider stables" where he finds a cluster of four webbed bodies. These turn out to be local peasants – charcoal burners and the like – lacking both treasure and interest, so he leaves them be. The Fox discovers one holdout spider, which webs him, but Dave kills it outright with a well-placed arrow. X7-09 ransacks the drow bunkroom, finding socks (which Dave appropriates), a few silver pieces, some soap – the sort of thing you might take with you on a short camping trip. Kowalski loots what they have taken to calling the "officer's quarters", finding one blank notebook (which he will later give to Dave, who will later still give it back) and another book written in elvish script, which he does not read (and which Dave will acquire later). X7-09 enters the evil shrine, where he finds a dwarf-made axe whose blade is buried in the stone altar. He pries it loose and wanders up to join Hayes, who is still in conversation with the king skeleton, Iskelet. Hayes berates him for bringing the axe, and orders him to put it back; he attempts to do so, but snaps the haft – as no-one sees this, he puts it carefully down on the altar and walks off. Except for Kowalski, the party regroups in the entrance chamber and readies themselves to leave. Kowalski can be seen approaching the king skeleton and engaging it in conversation, but he is too far away and speaking too low for anyone to catch what is said.

Outside, it is raining again. Dave collects up some bedclothes as improvised protection for Casila, whose court finery is not holding up well under the night's events. Hayes donates some clothing and leather armour he liberated from dead drow earlier. And they set off back to the inn, mindful that it is nearly midnight and they have a caravan to catch in the morning.

They are walking back through the woods when they discover they have a stranger in their midst, a well-dressed man wearing a fox mask and two rapiers. He begins to glow, and those nearest to him – Dave, Ssh'ta and Chitter Chitter Fang Fang the drow riding spider – find themselves reliving their worst memories. Chitter webs this stranger while Ssh'ta shoots an arrow at him; he falls, apparently unconscious and paralysed, and Dave takes advantage of this to set fire to him. However, freshly-exuded and sticky spiderweb does not burn well. Chitter is not the most introspective of creatures, and picks up the body to eat later. In the absence of further orders, she takes up residence in a nearby tree. Dave stands watching.

Ssh'ta, stung by who knows what vile reverie, runs off into the forest. Hayes feels no loyalty to anyone in the party, and stomps off towards the caravanserai, using a smouldering turnip to light the way. X7-09 follows, and after a short hesitation, so does Soreth. Dave doesn't fancy the idea of a night alone in the woods, so cajoles Chitter down out of her tree, and they pick up the trail as well, Chitter carrying the webbed and unconscious stranger. Back at the inn, they settle in for the night, Dave and Chitter in the stables (the latter scaring the horses more than somewhat), the stranger webbed to the ceiling, and everyone else in their rooms.

Comes the dawn, and everyone is awoken by the bustle of a merchant caravan getting ready to depart. Late arrivals have brought packages; Ssh'ta leaps down from the roof (where he has spent the night after tracking the party back here) and takes possession of an adorable wolf cub, sent to him as a present by a so-far secret admirer. Hayes takes possession of a letter from the Archmage addressed to "the Fox"; this proves to be written in Draconic, and Soreth offers to translate later. The looted weapons are sold to an arms merchant in the caravan.

Meanwhile, the webbed stranger in the stables calls: "I am Alron Stormwatcher, nobleman of the Dragon Empire and agent of the Archmage! I demand that you get me down from here!" The stable boy flees, and returns shortly with three caravan guards. These decide that fighting a giant spider hand-to-hand for possession of a nobleman is not in their job description, but brighten when they realise they can get bows and shoot the blighter from safety. Dave orders the spider to lower Alron to the ground, where he is quickly cut free. A debate ensues over whether Dave and Chitter can join the convoy – on the one hand, Dave is a drow, and nobody really trusts drow, their spiders even less so. On the other, Dave does have a valid ticket.

Hayes resolves the problem by playing dice with the guards, staking Dave's right to follow the caravan at a distance against their meagre coinage. He wins, and Dave and Chitter are granted permission to follow at a distance, while Hayes pockets the two silver the guards had between them. Hayes demands as payment the book in elvish from Dave, who currently has it; she declines to hand it over.

Alron, AKA the Fox, soon learns that there was a letter for him from the Archmage, but not where it is currently. And in this state, the caravan sets off; it's two days across open country to Twisp, and then eight days to Concord, the first four through wooded hills. If there's any trouble en route, that's where it'll be.

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Episode 4: Dragonbreath

New readers begin here…

The party has pursued the drow who kidnapped their companion, Casila, to an old tomb complex. As they hack their way through the inhabitants, the drow leader teleports away with Casila, unfortunately landing just outside the entrance where she is shot by Ssh'ta and shield-bashed prone by Hayes Agar. Dave pulls Casila free of the dogpile, but the drow grabs Casila's ankle…

Now read on…

The drow patrol leader teleports away with Casila, and Hayes collapses into the mud, cursing. Kowalski hacks at the spider in front of him as more spiders the size of horses erupt from the southern passage into the entrance chamber; his target is shaken. Hayes leaps up and slides under the abdomens of two giant spiders blocking his way deeper into the complex, rolls to his feet, and charges into the guardroom, using the bench where the drow were sitting to launch himself into the air. Dave the dark elf drops another spider with a well-place arrow. X7-09 swipes at a spider, misses, and the two chitter at each other, presumably exchanging insults. The Fox runs back across the hall of skeletons and stabs the remaining spider in that area, inflicting prodigious amounts of damage on it.

A hitherto-unseen spider barrels out of the south passage from the entrance hall and barges past everyone there, moving at top speed towards the injured drow. Ssh'ta repeats Hayes' manoeuvre coming from the other direction, ending up outside the complex, and shoots at the drow leader's spider; his arrow is deflecting by thick chitin and does nothing. The drow swings herself onto its back as arrows from Ssh'ta and Dave fly around her, and the pair scuttle off into the forest out of sight. Casila runs back towards Dave, as she has no idea what else is out there in the dark, and she knows both the elves can see in the dark.

X7-09 misses his spider again, and it returns the favour with its web attack - this is probably because Ssh'ta is barging past it at the time. Soreth tries to bite the throat out of one of the two spiders in melee with her, but fails – possibly because they don't really have throats. Ssh'ta shoots a spider but fails to hurt it. A spider lands an impressive bite on Soreth, but its poisonous fangs fail to penetrate her armour and scaly skin.

X7-09 misses his spider yet again and chitters at it. It sits, then shakes its head, to the bemusement of the rest of the party – at least, those who can see what is going on. Inspired by this, Dave shouts "Sit!" in drow at the spiders, and some of them do so. Soreth misses her spider again as well, or more accurately fails to penetrate the thick chitin with her claws. Kowalski taunts his opponent (by gesture) so well that it rocks back on its legs, bemused. The two spiders facing Soreth miss her, one with a web and one with a bite, and Ssh'ta takes advantage of this to race up behind one and punch it, killing it.

X7-09 makes soothing noises at his spider – then brains it with a surprise axe attack. Soreth loses patience with her lack of progress, and it is at this point the party learns she has a breath weapon, as she breathes fire at the spider she has been trying to hit for ages. The spider dodges aside, leaving the burst of fire barreling out of the entrance room – fortunately, there are no walls to block its path and reflect it back at Soreth. The danger zone contains X7-09, who has just produced his pet chamaeleon, Pascal, and offered it some choice morsels of spider; Dave the dark elf, who is playing happily with her new spider friend; and Kowalski. All of them dodge aside, as does Casila – who is actually outside the danger zone, but doesn't know that and doesn't want to find out where it is the hard way.

Kowalski moves over to Casila and says "So ye're what all the fuss is aboot, are ye?"

Back inside, the Fox and Hayes note that the skeletons' shields are emblazoned with the sigil of the Lich King, and that they keep looking at the backs of their shields. The Fox sidles up next to one and finds writing on the backs of the shields, which he doesn't understand. Hayes is charging through the hall of skeletons at full tilt, glancing into the exits as he passes them. Along the north wall he spies a bunkroom, a storeroom and a room with a fountain in it; on the south, what looks like a private room at an inn, a blood-spattered room containing a pit full of bones, bodies, and giant spiders; and a red-lit room containing some sort of dark idol. The Fox notes that the skeletons are all human, equipped in the fashion of some five centuries previously.

"Why is this tomb so well-lit?" muses Hayes. "More importantly, why has it got a drow outpost inside it – one the skeletons tolerate?"

Hayes slows to a halt at the end of the hall, where he can see a crowned skeletal figure on a throne, in ancient chainmail with a longsword across its lap. It inclines its head at Hayes, who is smiling and approaching in a non-threatening manner, and beckons him closer. Hayes warns the others not to approach, and the Fox mentally adds this warning to the screams and explosion noises coming from near the entrance, and charges dramatically back towards the guardroom, where Soreth and the spiders (good name for a rock band, that) are still flailing ineffectually at each other. Kowalski walks in from the entrance hall and calls: "D'ye want some help wi' that, Red?"

"No!" calls the dragonborn. "I've got this!" Soreth misses again, and the Fox charges onto the scene yelling "For the archmage!" and killing the larger spider, missing it once with a rapier but connecting fatally with the second stab.

Outside, Dave asks his new pet spider if it would like to be called "Chitter Chitter Fang Fang", and takes its movements as an affirmative. He feeds it some choice pieces of dead spider, that being what there is to hand.

"Hey," says the Fox, to no-one in particular, "There's a statue back there that looks just like Kowalski."

Meanwhile, deep inside the tomb, Hayes and the skeleton king, whose name turns out to be Iskelet, are deep in conversation…

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Episode 3: Tomb Raiders

The story so far… Meeting in an inn the night before travelling to Concord, the party drives off an attack by drow, only to find it was a decoy allowing their travelling companion Casila to be kidnapped. Learning that the drow based themselves in a nearby tomb, the party follows, overrunning the drow pickets and pushing on in search of the missing girl…

Now, read on…

It has been raining softly but steadily for some time, although it stopped briefly during the fight. Ssh'ta begins playing his flute softly, as he does when not otherwise engaged.

It starts raining again, and the Fox releases his borrowed horse, Susan, to return to the caravanserai and his rightful owner. "Dave" the dark elf tries to dance off with Susan, but Susan is having none of it and canters off into the dark.

The party quickly enters the tomb, and X7-09 hears quiet voices from up ahead. The party is debating whether stealth or outright assault is the better approach when several factors make the decision for them. First, the Fox surges forward, loudly crying "For the Archmage!"; second, Ssh'ta plays his flute with renewed vigour, reflecting the combat he expects is about to start; and third, Hayes moves across the entrance chamber and into the next room. This proves to be a guardroom where four drow are playing dice, with a dog-sized spider dozing near the table. Hayes shield-bashes the nearest drow into oblivion, throws her corpse aside and sits down in her place. "Good evening," he says.

While the drow are still stunned by this, X7-09 follows its master inside and lays about it with an axe, killing the dozing spider. Ssh'ta walks up and punches another drow, shaking her. The Fox is now getting into the swing of things, and with a yell of "For the Dragon Empire and the Archmage!" he runs, flips and rolls acrobatically across the pile of crates and barrels along the right-hand side of the room, where he taunts a third drow before running her through with his rapier.

X7-09 chitters at the Fox. Kowalski resolves to learn spidertalk so that he understands what X7-09 is saying. Meanwhile, "Dave" the dark elf is dancing and beatboxing in the entrance chamber, a little dejectedly as no-one is dancing with her. Ssh'ta moves over to one side, and Soreth the dragonborn charges in after him, grabbing the drow he punched earlier and slamming her into the table before trying to bite her throat out. "Dave" raps "Move bitch, get out of the way," and Soreth glares at him. Hayes suddenly has a turnip in his hand and tries using it to gouge out the eye of the drow sitting opposite him, who is so far untouched. Sadly, turnips are not the weapon of choice for this strategy, and no serious damage is done.

It is at approximately this point that the party learns the importance of checking the side passages before you advance, since both the other passages out of the entrance chamber now fill up with a flood of spiders, ranging in size from "dog" to "warhorse".

"Hey 7," says Kowalski, "How do you say 'the better-tasting one is in there' in spider?"

"CHITTER cit cit HIIIISSSSSSS," replies X7-09.

"Hmm," says Kowalski, "Isn't that how you say 'Please eat me, I'm the tastiest?'"

By now, Kowalski and Dave are surround by giant spiders, who are slashing and biting at them with abandon, shaking Dave. Meanwhile, in the guard room next door, the Fox finishes off his opponent. The surviving drow, having seen these murderhobos kill three of her friends and their pet spider in as many seconds, decides she doesn't like these odds and flees deeper into the tomb, calling something in drow. The Fox pursues at best speed, yelling "For the Archmage!"

Dave recovers and stabs a spider with her shortsword, shaking it; Hayes produces another turnip from somewhere and hurls it at the shaken spider hard enough to kill it. Dave turns to the next horse-sized spider and calls in drow: "Sit!" Surprisingly, the spider obeys.

"I'm glad you're making friends," calls the hard-pressed Kowalski, "But could I get a little help here?"

Dave readies her bow and obligingly kills the spider chewing on Kowalski's armour. Hayes, meanwhile, wanders off the the left rear corner of the guardroom, where there is a bed and a footlocker, which he loots methodically, ignoring the fighting around him. Soreth picks her drow up gently by the throat, and says she'll kill her unless she calls off the spiders. She croaks something in drow, and the spiders stand down.

Kowalski says, "This is MY spider, do not kick, bash, poison, cause harm to, blast with magic or kill it." He then jumps acrobatically onto its back as if he'd done that before, and sits atop his spider, monarch of all he surveys.

The Fox finds himself in a corridor flanked by statues, and overtakes the fleeing drow, skewering her as she is about to dive sideways into a chamber of some sort on his right. Several things now happen at once; first, another drow and a spider charge out of a chamber on the left. Second, the Fox notices that the corridor opens out into a larger one, which recedes farther than he can see into the distance, and is flanked all the way by armed skeletons, standing upright and ready for combat in a way that they usually don't. Third, he hears a soft thunderclap from the room to his right. Finally, something disturbing attracts his attention – no-one else can see what it is, but they do hear his cry: "I work for Kowalski! Don't kill me!"

Outside the entrance, a drow suddenly appears in the downpour, holding a struggling Casila, and whistles, presumably to call her riding spider. Acting with his usual fluid grace, Ssh'ta shoots her with his bow, staggering and wounding her. Soreth slams her captive into the table and really does bite her throat out this time. Hayes, now manic, charges through the confusion and hits the drow from an angle, spinning her around; she falls into the mud, Casila falls on top of her, then Hayes falls on top of both of them, not caring much for either. With his free hand, Hayes pulls another turnip from somewhere and readies it. X7-09 follows him faithfully.

Kowalski tries to intimidate his spider, and predictably fails, as it is roughly four times his weight. Ssh'ta shoots it, causing it to rear and throw Kowalski into a nearby brazier. Ssh'ta shoots the spider beside the Fox and he charges the remaining drow, killing her too. The skeletons appear unbothered by this.

Outside, Dave seizes Casila's arm and drags her out of the dogpile – but then the drow reaches out a hand and grabs her by the ankle…

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