A beautiful girl
We are ambushed by Lost Ones
Troyas does not die
Back at the Stone Anvil James, finds a new hectic bustle surrounding the combination temple fortress as he is briskly welcomed and greeted by High Priest Durkik Forgeheart as he walks side by side with a team of scurrying engineers busily scrawling notes on dirty parchment while discussing renovations.
“It is good to see you my friend. Better to know you are well. How are your fellows?”
“My honored Elder, they are well…we have only just returned from the Karak mines.”
“And what brings you here, the spirits, a blessing or a donation to our reconstruction?”
“We have dealt with the spirits, though not before they inhabited the bodies of some of the Hammerfist clan … t’was tragic that we could not save them. Still the spirits were destroyed. Rather, I would like to request the opportunity to purchase holy rituals that might aid us on further quests, these quests we partake on behalf of the Elsir Vale, to the greater edification of Moradin and the protection of Overlook.”
“James, your soul is forged-true; could your purpose be less? We will accept your donations, as they are a necessary commodity and blessing upon your quest which has served us well. The Initiates of Moradin will assist you … farewell.”
Following an Initiate James is led into a mediation and prayer chamber passing Megan Swiftblade of the Freeriders in a wide hall. For an awkward moment they spy one another before she turns away refocused on her task whatever that might be preoccupying her. Soon James arrives at the chamber; the Initiate inquires as to James’s needs and excuses himself to prepare the rituals scrolls. Shortly after he leaves other dwarves arrive suggesting they should say a prayer for the fallen Hammerfist dwarves, quickly quizzing James regarding any burial rites the brigade may have performed. As the conversation proceeds, they offer drink, accepted gratefully by James. As the prayers begin James finds his thoughts wandering … adrift to the point he nods unexpectedly. Embarrassed the young avenger struggles to focus, but finds himself unable and struggles to his feet, unsure and unsteady, when without warning he is struck a heavy blow to the back of the head as the world at once goes black.
When James wakes his head throbs hellishly … his extremities, hands and feet, scream in icy protest, numb due to a lack of circulation. His eyes open into darkness as mildew assails his nostrils. For a moment he imagines that he sees glowing eyes staring at him before his eyes adjust to the dim light when he recognizes the familiar beatific features of one of his closest friends from Brindol, fair Jalissa, Acolyte of Ishtar … she being one of the people the brigade had rescued from the ruins of Rivenroar.
“Jimmy! Jimmy are you okay? Jimmy we are undone, trapped, prisoners. We have to get out of here. Were the others with you? Are they coming? Who were you traveling with?”
Thinking hard about the flash of glowing eyes, and knowing full well that Jalissa knows the other members of the brigade James’s insights immediately lead him to guess that he might in fact be the only prisoner present; acting on this thought James asks, “Jal, my love I am fine, don’t worry yourself over me … this will be no different than that time we were cornered by those wolves in the Marth woods. We escaped then and this will be no different. We must!” James, making-up a fast ruse.
Reacting Jalissa responds, “Yes I sure you are right, but where are the others?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about them, if I were you I would worry about myself because when they get here, and they will it will be the end of you and your foolish plot. You would do well to release me now while you are still able and breathing imposter.”
Arriving in Overlook the day is dreary, the sky threatening rain. Suddenly a voice calls out behind the brigade and as a group they turn to see a familiar face. Kalad, the dwarf paladin, survivor of the massacre at the Monastery of the Sundered Chain stands appraising the brigade.
“Word on the street is that you were dead … glad to see that is wrong. Someone was looking for you, a messenger from Brindol. She was at the market, asking everyone in earshot if they knew you. She was a pretty woman, for a human, she said she was from Brindol; she sounded desperate.”
“Well, I need to get in a good meal while we are back. You know, fortification for the road weary,” offers Bhenedict. “Maybe you could join me, Kalad, and we can discuss recent happenings over a fine meal.”
Bingus adds, “I think we should get at least two of us and maybe a third to learn some important rituals, one to wake the dead, in case one us falls in the course of our adventures and it might not be a bad idea to learn gentle repose. Another ritual that might be a good idea would be a linked portal, that way we could set up the starting portal here in town and so if we needed to make it back here quickly.”
“This all sounds beyond me,” says Bhenedict. “Besides, I can’t think without a meal, Bairdyn you are with me on this, right?”
Speaking up James says, “I will research rituals at the Stone Anvil … I need to recoup in my own fashion and make my peace with the Dwarven Gods that have treated us so well. They have let me work in their libraries previously and I imagine they will again now.”
“We all have our own ways to recuperate, I will bathe and go a-wenching … then no doubt bathe again … if any of you care to join me,” says Eoffram.
Volunteering, Quill replies, “So it’s decided then, we will see to our needs and then meet up at Mountain’s Hearth tonight. I will go with you Eoffram; there are hidden corners in this city I simply must show you.”
The following day Bhenedict wakes to the sound of a loud pounding at the door of his room at the Mountain’s Hearth. Thinking it unlikely that inn’s matron, Reggen would be interrupting his slumber, Bhenedict reaches to the side of his bed clutching Ogrescrusher, his trusted hammer, before he softly (for the dwarf) pads to the door. Opening the door open wide, hammer held high, Bhenedict facing the open hall standing his full 4’ 4” in all his naked dwarven glory, there in front of Bhenedict stands a mountain of a man, north of 300 pounds, and over 7 feet tall … a gray-skinned, heavily tattooed goliath, one of the mountain-dwelling nomads.
As Bhenedict prepares to strike, the goliath steps back revealing Elder Cadrick of the Council of Overlook standing behind him.
“Ah, Bhenedict … I am, hmmm, happy to see you boy, mayhap not as happy as you by your ah, carriage … all the same, I am happy to find you in good health, I was concerned that Bram’s plots might have undone you and your brigade.”
“What of Bram, I have some words for him and some documents recovered from the mine to show you!”
“I can only guess what they may reveal, but it seems Bram has gone missing and at a most inopportune moment given that we found evidence of his complicity with the criminal Sarshan. Given this revelation of his plots and the fact that you have survived thus far I would feel better if you would accept I small boon.”
“What boon do you speak of?”
“Things have been difficult here since you left. The Freeriders were attacked. Most of them are now missing and feared dead. Megan alone escaped and she remains within Overlook, sheltered within the Stone Anvil. I would rather not see the same happen to your brigade. It is critical that you pull yourselves together and see to your security. It is with this in mind that I come to you now. This man, Ramok, is first among my new personal guard. I would sleep better knowing he is with you while you are in Overlook; keep him with you as long as you please. He will die before he allows any harm to befall you and he will take many with him before that ever happens.”
“I have no need of a bodyguard.”
“Maybe not but can you say the same for the other members of the brigade?”
“You have a point there. Very well, the giant can travel with us for a time, that way I won’t have to do all the babysitting around here. Thank you for your concern and the service of your guard. I will find the others, may we address you this evening, say over a fine dinner?”
“Of course, it will be my pleasure, and I will provide the meal. I hope you won’t need Ramok’s services but if you do you will find he is a remarkable warrior.”
Over the course of the day Bhenedict and Bairdyn travel Overlook accompanied by the imposing figure of Ramok while they search far and wide for the missing members of the brigade eventually collecting all save James. They leave him still studying at the Stone Anvil assured that all is well and that he was indeed safe within the dwarven temple. Bhenedict introduces Ramok to the others, and together the brigade travels through the markets of the Tradetown district restocking their supplies while searching for leads as to the fate of Jalissa.
Thinking aloud, Bhenedict says, “Why not we just sleep in an alley so that the villains will come to us and we don’t have to waste our time looking for them. Then we could spend the day searching out something worthwhile like the best stew in the entire Vale if it is this corner of the world to be found.”
“And drink … fine beers and ales all through the day!” adds Quill.
Grudgingly the brigade sets themselves to the work of the day. Bairdyn leading them through darkened alleys and seamy byways to the areas of Overlook frequented by the desperate and the agents of the Lost Ones while endlessly defending his character against Bhenedict’s offhand comments regarding Bairdyn’s thiefish leaning and ties; still focused enough to confirm that the Lost Ones were involved in the kidnapping and that Jalissa has not been seen since she went missing. Quill busies himself with inquiries amongst the merchants as they shop and offers beggars coppers for any leads, discovering that the Lost Ones have been laying low within the Nine Bells. Eoffram negotiates with the merchants and helps to clarify key points and narrow the focus to finding Jalissa when unexpectedly he is approached by a street urchin, not recognizing the boy at first, not until young Thurann Kenth speaks.
“Councilman Troyas, you must help me! We need to rescue Jalissa. She has been taken.”
“Thurann? What are you doing here?”… Thurann another of the villagers the brigade had rescued at Rivenroar.
“Kenth, sir … they now call me Kenth, now that my father is dead. I came to Overlook with Jalissa to find you, Sertanian sent us. He said you need to return to Brindol now, but we have to rescue Jalissa first.”
“Why did Sertanian send for us, what is going on?”
“I do not know sir, Jalissa does. I had been staying with her since I’m alone now but she’s been taken.” I have been looking for you ever since but people said you were dead and then the gnomes found me…they’ve been teaching me to make shoes.”
While they were waiting in the inn.
Quill walks over to the boy and squating down to his level whispered, “Do not listen to those who tell you you must do something. You determine your own destiny. Choose the path that will not only tell a glorious story but will have a happy ending. Love is a many splendored thing.”
The boy smiled and whispered back, “That’s what Jalissa says, ‘Love lifts us up where we belong. All you need is love!'”
Quill continued, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return. It’s in your nature, boy.”
Suddenly Quill farted and everyone looked over at him as if he had just killed someone’s favorite cat. Which is what is smelled like. Smiling he stands up and looking over at the crowd across the street calls out, “Lin! Lin! Wait up!” So saying he glances back at the rest of the party and says “I’ll meet you at the inn. I see an old friend I need to catch up with.” And off he runs.
Ramok peers across the road where he spies a dark figure peering at them from atop the slanted eaves of a door of the building across the path. The man’s face concealed within the shadows of his cloak. Following the goliath’s eyes Bingus also sees the man and points him out to Bhenedict saying, “We seem to have his attention, do you suppose he is with the Lost Ones?”
Grabbing Kenth, Bhenedict tells him to stay put and whispering to Bingus, “Stay here with the boy, keep him safe.” Then the dwarf marches across the path toward the dark figure.
Seeing this, Kenth calls out, “That is Gilgathorn, he has been helping me.”
“Gilgathorn? What is your interest here?” calls out Bhenedict.
In answer he calls out from his perch, “I’d be careful if I were you. The Lost Ones won’t be gentle with you when you find them. They’ve reason enough to kill you, even if you didn’t have a bounty on your heads. I am Gilgathorn, Thorn to my friends.”
“Gilgathorn, I repeat, what is your business here?”
“Recently, I have taken to protecting the boy. I was a witness to the kidnapping of the girl.”
“They would have got me too, if not for Thorn.” adds Kenth.
Pulling back his hood Gilgathorn reveals himself to be an elf, his face scarred by battle; he wears a patch across one eye, appraising the brigade carefully with his good eye.
“I traveled to Overlook intent on establishing a dialogue with the dwarves. Our people have been indifferent or worse for long years, nay generations, but recent events suggest that we might do better to resolve our issues and see to the matters at hand. Gnolls have been raiding throughout the Vale and these matters concern us all but here in Overlook I have found not but closed minds and hardened prejudices. Then by chance I was a witness to the kidnapping. I was too late to help the girl but I foiled the thieves’ efforts to take the boy.”
“Well that sounds convenient,” sneers Bairdyn.
In answer Gilgathorn adds, “Then too there is the matter of Sylen, he may be foolish, but it is not right that his absence should be ignored or unavenged in truth I was searching for him following the thieves when they attacked your friends.”
Interjecting Eoffram introduces himself, “Well, it would appear that you’ve earned our thanks. Gilgathorn … your name seems familiar. I am Eoffram Troyas … have we met before?”
“I had hoped that you would recognize your own blood, I am uncle, son of Troyas though we have never met, your mother was my sister. You were raised by your father with his people but I knew your brother Zefram better. I was there when your mother died and there too when Zefram was sacrificed, the same sacrifice that gave you your power. It was wrong then, and it is wrong now. You should at least honor their confidence and their sacrifice on your behalf and take care lest the Lost Ones kill you.”
“How is it that you know so much about them?” asks Eoffram.
“As I said I searched for Sylen, these thieves were also involved in the attack upon the Freeriders. I tracked them back to hideout within the Nine Bells. I could take you there.”
Interrupting Bhenedict says, “No, we are quite capable of handling the Lost Ones … it’s getting personal now. If you would just tell us where they are, and keep an eye on the boy for us, we will deal with the thieves … no offense Bairdyn.”
“How many times to I have to tell you I am not thief?” answers the halfling.
Under the cover of dusk, the brigade follows Thorn’s directions traveling to the Divine Knot within the Nine Bells, the cluster of nine temples that gives the district its name. There abandoned for years waited the Temple of Pelor which according to Thorn was now taken over by the sacrilegious Lost Ones, their new secret meeting place beyond the attention of the city watch. As the brigade moves quietly through the streets they find their way blocked by a strangely clad dark-skinned man standing in the middle of the street, painting his face white in a skull-like design.
Stepping before the party Ramok takes on an aggressive stance. “Wait!” calls out Bhenedict. “I think I might know this man.” Approaching cautiously Bhenedict calls out, “Quill?”
“Ah, ha, ha you are a very funny man to call out to ghosts Bhenedict. It is I Iroon, the groomsman of my Mistress Death…you have a need and I have come.”
“Should I kill him?” asks Ramok.
“No, no, he is with us; it is too complicated to explain. We have learned to live with it. That is Quill, or Jeroen if you would rather, but we will call him Iroon and everything will be fine. I don’t know why we put up with this farce. Clearly the man is damaged in the head. He should be taken to a healer…”
Eoffram interrupted, “or put in an institution.”
Bhenedict continued, “Yes, but he does seem to aid us when we need it and his skill with a sword or whatever has improved dramatically since he first joined our party. My head tells me that we should stay far away, but my gut tells me that there is a greater good at work here.” Looking at Iroon he asked, “And who might you be and what happened to Quill?”
Iroon replied, “I’m afraid that your friend Quill had a fatal accident and drown in his own excrement. Truly however, he had been dead for many years before you first encountered him. You have been accompanied by a shade. I have returned him to my Mistress’s embrace as she bid me. I am Iroon, Groomsman of Mistress Death, Dirge-singer. You need not introduce yourselves to me as you are all well known to me. I have consulted with the spirits of the dead and learned all I need to know about you.”
As if he had just noticed the boy, Iroon, stared at the boy with a look of…was it fear…which turned to concern. To the boy he added, “And you…do not shirk from your destiny. You are a great warrior in my Mistress’s army. You will send many to her loving embrace. You will bring peace as it has never been seen to the face of the world. I… “He broke off and turned from the boy apparently unable to look at the child.
Back to the adults he continued, “I believe that you said you were going to look for the acolyte Jalissa.”
Eoffram looked pained when and offered, “I don’t feel the stars are aligned for our best success. I say we wait until morning.”
Iroon walked over to Eoffram and held out his hand, “Give me your hand.” Eoffram hesitantly took Iroon’s hand. Suddenly he felt weak as if a bit of his soul had been taken. He jerked his hand away.
“What was that!?”
Iroon replied placidly, “I see my Mistress will bless you with a brief kiss. It is not your time to enter into her loving embrace completely. I have taken a bit of your life that I may give it back to you later when you are entering into the dark domain.”
Entering the Nine Bells, the rain that has threatened all day begins to fall. By the time they find the temple the streets are all but empty, the inhabitants of the district seeking shelter from the storm. From the outside, the temple entrance is set above a short flight of stone stairs. A flare of lightning reveals where relief carvings once adorned the temple’s outer walls, but these are unrecognizable after years of neglect and abuse.
While the balance of the brigade waits at the bottom of the stair Ramok, Bhenedict and Bairdyn approach the main doors. Bairdyn quickly searches for traps but finding none steps back when without further hesitation Ramok slams the door breaking the hinges as he rushes the temple.
Within water covers the cracked marble floor where broken freestanding frescos block four doors in the far wall. Rain pours down through an opening torn through the ceiling, where shards of stained glass cling to the edges of the hole. Beneath the opening, kneeling in a pool of cold rainwater, the young woman Jalissa waits in tattered garb, blindfolded, gagged and bound, amid the sour reek of rot, gnawed bones and wet fur.
Without pause, Ramok leaps across the pool landing near the frescos in the center of the chamber. From behind the tattered frescos to his left and right, attack dogs suddenly lunge surprising the goliath and taking him to the ground. Following behind the dogs thieves leap from behind the frescos attempting to pin Ramok down with long scythes set on poles.
“Ho, Trapspringer, leave some of them for me!” yells Bhenedict while charging into the fray but taking the time to run around the large puddle in the middle of the temple. Dogs and more of the Lost One kidnappers come rushing out to engage him from behind the frescos on that side of the chamber the force of their charge knocking Bhenedict off balance and sprawling on the dirty temple floor. Still more thieves move out from the far side of the chamber move to block off the main doors of the temple.
Trapped inside, Ramok rises to his feet swinging about with his great blade to keep his foes at bay while he howls, “YOU WILL FEEL MY WRATH!” As he turns a blood rush comes over him as he observes that the thieves have made short work of the dwarf. Nearby, Bhenedict lies helpless in a pool of his own blood surrounded by foes. Screaming, “NO ONE DIES TODAY!” Ramok dodges a dog’s attack and answers by ripping a bloody line through the dog and the men attacking him felling a handful of foes as he rushes through his attackers to the dwarf’s side.
Outside the temple Bingus sets his figurine, the Ebony Fly down focusing his arcane energies upon it causing it to grow large enough to carry him aloft. Then with his new familiar, a dragonling with golden scales, he takes to air flying towards the roof of the temple leaving Iroon to engage the Lost Ones blocking their entrance to the temple. With stealthy steps Bairdyn slips into the temple screened by Iroon.
Having never before met Snare Drum, the Lost One’s Underboss, Ramok doesn’t understand how Bhenedict, one of the heroes he had heard so much about could have been brought down so quickly by mere ruffians. Howling his rage he heals the dwarf and tries to charge but finds his way blocked by one of the thieves. Meanwhile, Snare Drum backs away from the approaching goliath hurling daggers with deadly accuracy as he retreats and begins banging on the drum from which he gained his name.
In the front of the temple there comes a paranormal high-pitched screech, as a monstrously spindly, wretch leaps from the far side of the temple … the thing in the shape of the man is barely recognizable as Andreg makes its way with inhuman speed lurching, scrambling and hopping towards the halfling.
“Brraidyn, do not think I forgot you! You havf returrnnd and I will havf youuu!” leaping the final fifteen feet the monster is upon Bairdyn in a mad dash, claws tearing into the halfling’s soft flesh spreading spray of red upon the walls of the temple.
“NO ONE DIES.” yells Ramok, now bloodied himself by Snare Drum’s attacks having endured one thrown dagger after another, and still blocked by one of the kidnappers. Reaching quickly to his side, Ramok grabs a healing potion drinking it while his opponent grinning … says, “Go ahead big-man, drink another, your going to need it.” Offers the thug, with a gleam in his eye and a sneer at his lip that gives Ramok pause, his hand dropping from a 2nd potion. Offended Ramok eases his grip on the second potion answering with steel in his voice, “I like you, you may yet prove to be worthy of the death I bring for you.”
Perched upon the rooftop, Bingus takes action moving quickly to free Bairdyn from ghoulish clutches of Andreg by unleashing his magical vortex lifting the fiend into the air. Then in the wink of an eye Snare Drum appears magically transported in a front of Bairdyn, blocking his escape and then dropping the halfling with a deadly flick of his wrist; his knife flying like lightning from the master’s fingertips biting deep into Bairdyn’s neck, nearly a death blow.
Screaming with frustration, Andreg yells, “NO, no, Bairdyn … is mine!”
Hesitating, Snare Drum turns and bangs nervously upon his drum sending new waves of courage through the gathered thieves, rallying them and summoning yet more hidden allies. From the back of the temple Bhenedict rushes to aid Bairdyn, threatening Snare Drum as he approaches while Ramok is still stymied by the thug who is now reinvigorated by the master’s drum. The rogue raps Ramok across face the with the darkwood staff of his weapon as the thug jeers, “Am I supposed to be afraid now!” Behind the jeering rogue a door opens revealing the Clevenger, James, who leaps out armed with his long spear, electricity dancing up and down the shaft of the weapon.
Ramok yells, “This one is MINE” pointing out the rogue between him and the Clevenger. “See to the others, I do not need help.”
Paying no heed, the Clevenger raises his spear stabbing outward with a bolt of lancing energy jolting Ramok with the surprising strike avoiding the rogue completely.
Confused Ramok calls out, “Huh, ah, Dwarf…what should I do? Should I kill him? Isn’t he with us?”
Answering Bhenedict yells, “I am busy; if he attacks you kill him … we will sort the dead out later.”
As Benedict races to Bairdyn’s side Bingus’s small dragon flies through the hole in the ceiling moving towards Andreg while distracting him with small but effective roars; Bingus taking full advantage catches the wretch with a spell while its attention is drawn away by the dragon. In a fury Andreg howl as magic daggers of force carve new wounds. The ghast struggles turning awkwardly in the air still suspended by the gale forces of the magic vortex, facing this new gnomish threat only to be brought down by Bairdyn who targets the monster with a ranged attack of his own.
Taking advantage of the confusion, Eoffram moves into and through the temple heading to the right of the main doors in the direction from which Andreg had come but there he is greeted by a rush of thieves who hook the warlock with their long scythes, pulling him behind the frescos at the far side of the chamber.
In the center of the temple Iroon quickly heals Bairdyn while chanting cursing songs upon the thieves. At the same time, still on the roof, Bingus directs a burning streak of fiery death to free Ramok, a sudden exploding fireball that finally kills the rogue that had vexed the giant by fighting him to a standstill. Dismayed Ramok protests shouting his rage and charges the Clevenger. Back in the front of the temple, Bhenedict catches up to Snare Drum unleashing his wrath upon the thief silencing the drum with a crushing blow from his hammer while blocking any escape enticing Snare Drum to plead, “Let me escape and our feud is over!”
In answer the dwarf says, “This was already over when we walked through the door.”
Distracted by Bhenedict, Snare Drum neglects Bairdyn who sneaking from behind stabs him viciously. As the master thief reels Bhenedict ends the melee with one final solid blow from Ogrecrusher.
Lost in the midst of all this action, Eoffram, already surrounded, takes hope as he sees friendly faces exiting the doors of the backrooms situated near him, behind the frescos, first Megan Swiftblade, who is soon followed by Kalad both racing with weapons drawn as if to his rescue, magnifying the shock as they reign deadly blows upon the overshelmed half-elf. In pain Eoffram struggles to no avail … held fast by the thieves’ weapons; then like an avenging angel of death Eoffram first sees the painted while death mask of Iroon grinning before he hears a song like no other…a deathly keen, a calling to his mistress Death, which ends the struggles of friend and foe alike dropping the half-elf and his combatants at death’s doorway; darkness swallowing the warlock completely bringing an end to his struggle.
Where Iroon stands he sees one survivor of his attack, a replica Jalissa darting between the frescos towards one of the now open doors hidden behind the damaged murals. Iroon pauses torn between aiding Eoffram who lies unconscious or giving chase to the second Jalissa; in the end choosing not to come between his mistress and her prize. He opts to chase down the assailant rather than to aid the warlock. He had seen his mistress touch upon the warlock and should she want to keep him it was her right.
Pursuing the doppelganger Iroon follows her into one of the backrooms witnessing as her nails extend becoming long vicious claws as she reaches out her arms which stretch grotesquely reaching out to the bare neck of James who lies bound forgotten in the corner room, her clear intention to rip his throat wide.
Leveling a final deadly attack, Iroon slays her before she can consummate her bloody quest and then as suddenly as it had begun the battle is over leaving five fallen thugs, four slain doppelganger assassins, three killed dogs, and two dead master thieves … one twice over.
In the aftermath the brigade rescues Jalissa yet again; she is quick to renew her fast crush upon her dwarven hero Bhenedict. Iroon saves Eoffram at the last possible moment restoring him with the breath of life he had taken earlier and in a quick search of the temple they recover some magical thief’s tools … tools unfettered by touch that could enable things such as locking-picking from a distance powered by mind and will alone.
Bhenedict is quick to point out how unfortunate they are ‘not’ to have a thief present, a matter which Bairdyn debated.