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DarK_RaideR

Nerd Fitness D&d: A campaign diary

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In light of the ongoing pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, @Jarric, @Raxie, @Starpuck, @Wild Wolf and yours truly came up with the idea about this thread. As you may or may not know, we've been running a text-based D&d game via Discord for a while now and keeping the narrative channel's log on a shared Google doc. It is not updated regularly and I doubt many people still have the link or check often for new content. While social distancing has increased our gaming pace lately, we're still far from managing to pull off a "live" online game session. Which sucks, because not only it would be great fun, we thought we'd love to also livestream it for all you fellow nerds staying home. So instead, we came up with the idea for this thread as a compromise alternative. We'll be posting some hearty chunks of game content for you to read, while also being around to answer questions and provide some "behind the scenes" info, kind of like watching a movie with director commentary turned on. Maybe post some images and maps in between, if you'd think it helps. Hopefully it will keep people staying home busy and entertained.

 

Disclaimer: We are running and old classic module, so if anything does sound familiar to you, please put your comments under a spoiler so you don't ruin any surprises for the players. Thank you.

 

So, without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to...

 

P.R.I.D.E.

Party of Ridiculously Interesting and Daring Explorers

 

 

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Cog

Modron Cleric of Chauntea

Cog is a rogue modron cleric of Chauntea, godess of agriculture and farming, played by @Jarric and according to him, a literal healbot. Modrons are cute little automatons native to Mechanus, a parallel plane of existence that’s all about ultimate law and order. Understanding only logic and connected to a collective hive mind, the modrons function as literal cogs to the grand machine of Mechanus. However, every machine can malfunction every now and then; when that happens, a modron might get disconnected and go rogue. Such is the case of Cog, who was rescued by a group of adventurers and taken to a temple of Chauntea, where he struggled to grasp concepts like individuality, emotion and faith. Cog was somewhat of a slow learner, but since he also couldn’t grow old and die, he had all the time in the world to learn. Now a full blown cleric and with his saviours way into retirement, Cog has been sent out to learn more about the world and return the favour by helping someone in need just like he was assisted by the faithful in his own time of need.

 

 

 

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Arkaryn Riftripper

Tiefling Bard

Arkaryn Riftripper (or just Ark, for short) is a tiefling bard, played by @SheriffWolfpool. Tieflings have a bit of fiendish blood in them and that manifests in their devilish charm and occasional diabolic physical trait like horns and/or a tail. Just like the player handling him, Ark is pretty light-hearted and somewhat of a newbie when it comes to things like combat mechanics, but also extremely fun loving, cheerful and enthusiastic.

 

 

 

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Penemue Alya

Aasimar Warlock

Penemue Alya is a fallen aasimar hexblade warlock played by @Raxie and she's every bit as complicated as her description feels like because #angsty_teenage_goth_edgelord. The aasimar are the opposite of tieflings, mortals with a bit of celestial in their bloodline. The fallen aasimar are, you guessed it, corrupted ones that have fallen from grace. This may have to do with Penemue being a warlock, meaning she essentially made a deal with some powerful otherworldly entity, trading her soul for occult knowledge and power. The hexblade part means her entity of choice (or circumstance) was one from the shadow worlds and she emphasized on the power side of things over the knowledge part.

 

 

 

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Jyotika

Fire genasi Barbarian

Jyotika is a fire genasi barbarian played by @Starpuck. Her bloodline has a bit of the Elemental Plane of Fire and its primordial powers in it, but instead of channeling it into fireballs as a scholarly spellcaster, she lets that fire rage in the heat of combat while providing me with a fertile ground for puns like these.

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4 hours ago, DarK_RaideR said:

In light of the ongoing pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, @Jarric, @Raxie, @Starpuck, @Wild Wolf and yours truly came up with the idea about this thread.

 

Lies, @DarK_RaideR deserves all the credit for this idea.

 

4 hours ago, DarK_RaideR said:

Modrons are cute little automatons native to Mechanus, a parallel plane of existence that’s all about ultimate law and order.

 

"Cute" depends on the edition...

 

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I'll hold off on a full backstory until we've got a bit of narrative posted, but D_R has done an excellent job of summing him up!

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Introduction: The Broken Tankard Inn

 

It is perhaps ironic that the Faerûnian continent in the world of Toril has come to be known as the "Forgotten Realms" for it has been anything but quiet. For many ages, mighty empires, shadowy organizations, powerful creatures, world-rippping magic, natural disasters and even the gods themselves have been shaping Faerûn.

 

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Our tale begins in the Dalelands, a region that could be described as a miniature of the Realms and their history. For centuries, the Dalelands were nothing but a loose assortment of independent cities stuck between the massive empires of Cormyr and Sembia, the elves of Cormanthor and their underground drow relatives, as well as the assembly known as the Harpers and their dark enemies, the Zhentharim.

 

With so many powerful forces around, it should come as no surprise that the Dalelands have been a constant battlefield for clashes big and small, whether they included vast armies or shady operators. Most recently, Cormyr and Sembia traded ground there, before the ruined elven capital of Myth Drannor resurfaced to join the fray, in turn drawing the -also resurfaced- Shadow Empire of Netheril into the conflict.

 

The clash ended with most of the Dales in ruins. The floating citadel of Netheril crashed into the ruins of Myth Drannor, wiping out both in a blast of magical energy. Cormyr and Sembia were forced to cease hostilities after a prolonged stalemate and what was left of the Dales after the Great Rain caused the nearby Sea of Fallen Stars to rise and submerge entire cities under its waters, coalesced to form the Dales Council.

 

The residents of the Dalelands have always been a proud, independent and self-sufficient folk who place high value in working towards the common good. The area has always been a popular hub for adventurers of all sorts, but while open to outsiders, locals are slow in trusting them.

 

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One such group has made its way to the town of Shadowdale, or at least what's left of it as it is being reconstructed, drawn by rumors of strange happenings in the nearby village of Orlane. Even for Dalelands standards, they are an unusual lot: a modron, a tiefling, an aasimar and a fire genasi. Still, they've been made to feel pretty welcome, at least compared to what they're used to elsewhere. On a bright autumn morning of late Highsun, the eighth month of the Calendar of Harptos, they are enjoying their breakfast at the Broken Tankard Inn before setting off on their trip to the village of Orlane.

 

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The smallest member of the group, Cog, is a curious sight to behold even in this outlandish company. His body is a ball, almost perfectly spherical and perhaps two and a half feet across, with spindly arms and legs protruding from the sides. In the centre of what is presumably his face, is one large eye. The eye appears disturbingly organic compared with the rest of Cog's metal form.

 

Cog is a modron, a mechanical being from another plane. He is also clearly an adventurer, judging by the mace hanging at his hip. He wears heavy chainmail, if "wears" is in fact the correct word - it appears to be riveted to his body. The mail is adorned with a single emblem, depicting a sun in shades of silvery blue.

 

Cog sits in silence and eats his breakfast, methodically and without distraction, as if efficiently completing the task of eating is his only concern in this moment.

 

There's an audible 'Yeerraarrraww' from the chair beside Cog.    Slumped over the table, hood of her cloak currently covering her flame-bright hair, is a young fire genasi woman.  As she lifts her head up from her pre-breakfast nap, her arms stretch out wide as she continues the over-exaggerated yawn.

 

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A foot kicks up to tip her chair back onto just the back two legs as she looks around the establishment.   Her eyes land on some of the remnants of Cog's breakfast, and she reaches out a hand colored like dark ash, and moves to snag one of the remaining bits for herself; a wry grin painting across her features as she does so.

 

"You took too long... now your bacon's gone... That's what happens!"

 

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"Oohp. 'Scuze me. Pardon me." Came the deep voice of the tall and lean tiefling as he tried to scoot past the fire genasi. He thought about lifting her legs up to move past her but decided against it. Even he wasn't that stupid. Although she was smaller, she hit like a hammer...ridden by a manic dwarf....lit by dragon's fire. So, he squeezed behind her, going to the next chair instead. Arkaryn Riftripper was what you would call eccentric but absolutely, 100% charming in the same breath. He was also a Tiefling. Despite the curved, ram-like horns that protruded from his forehead, Arkaryn was handsome by the very definition of the word. His dark brown hair was a mess atop his head and the scent of wine could still be smelled on his breath. Clad in light armor made up of some leather and heavy cloth, he also wore a sleeveless coat that hung down past his knees, showing off his tattooed arms and a dark red shemagh around his neck.

 

Arkaryn, or Ark as he liked to be called, flipped the chair around and sat in it backwards, resting his light blue colored arms on the back rest.  He had a bit of a hangover. Someone last night bet him that he couldn't play the lute when he was smashed drunk but the joke was on them...he could play the lute in his sleep. Where is that pesky lute, anyways Ark thought to himself. 

 

Eyeing his round, one-eyed companion, Ark spoke,"Heya, Cog... my friend, buddy-ol-pal. Got anymore bacon? I'm STARVIN."

 

Cog looks up to face the young, blue tiefling, "Answer: Negative, Arkaryn. However I am sure the tavern keeper can provide you with some. And you as well, Jyotika," he continues, addressing the fire genasi.

 

"But...you don't actually need the bacon, do you?" Or does the bacon grease help groove the gears?" Ark shrugged his shoulders trying to ignore the rumbling in his stomach.  Maybe he would just charm the tavern keeper or one of the barmaids to get himself some free bacon. Who was he kidding, though. He could get free bacon for the whole party! 

 

"Don't you guys move a muscle. Uncle Ark is getting breakfast for EVERYONE.." Ark said, winking at Jyotika as she rolled her eyes.

 

"Unless he's paying for it, he's not coming back with anything other than a tall tale and a cheap excuse," replies Jyotika once the tiefling is out of earshot.      She then glances toward the modron as he continues to eat- her expression is pretty easy to read; intense curiosity with a dose of boggled confusion. "Have you seen Penemue yet this morning?"

 

She lets the chair tip back down and reaches out to poke a finger at the tankard on the table.   Her fingertip prods a few times, then she takes the tin cup into both hands, letting the heat of her touch warm up whatever swill might be in there.  "This works great for tea. Not so much for ale," she muses at the modron.

 

There is a crash at the bottom of the stairs.  “WATCH IT!” rings out sharply through the breakfast din.  Penemue Alya gruffly makes her way through the room. Her clothes and hooded cloak a mosaic of faded mismatched black from being washed and hastily patched too many times.  Her sleek leather armor is also well used, but unlike her clothes it is obviously meticulously kept. Her hood is down, revealing a mess of unkempt pitch-black shiny hair, which seems to catch the light from every angle.  She isn’t beautiful, per se, but her features are oddly flawless, even her unbrushed hair somehow does not look out of place. While her demeanor appears groggy, her complexion reveals no dark circles, and her eyes shine with a dark almost unnatural glean.

 

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Penemue is hopping on one foot pulling her boot on and has a piece of bacon hanging from her mouth as she stumbles up to the modron and gensai. “Those dwarves really need to watch where they’re going…” she mumbles under her breath as her fingers twitch over her recently polished quarterstaff.  As she finishes the bacon, she looks around disappointedly at the pair’s empty plates, rubs the top of Cog’s head as if to ruffle his non-existent hair, winks at Jyotika, and shoves her way between them at the table. “I ate in my room this morning so I could work out some tweaks I noticed yesterday in my crossbow.  Where’s the rest of the food?! I’m still starving.”

 

Arkaryn steadied the large plate of bacon and eggs on a wooden platter and sauntered his way back over to the table, grinning from ear to ear and whistling a familiar tune. "Did someone say they were starving? And by the way, Penemue, it's nice of you to join us, sleepy head. I see your usual pallet of black and dark grey is out in full bloom this morning." 

 

He sat the plate down in the middle of the table and moved back towards his chair, but not before he snagged a thick slice of bacon. "And please, don't get me wrong. Black looks good on you." Ark smiled with a mouth full of chewed bacon. He eyed his three companions and said, "Dig in. Compliments of yours truly!"

 

Jyotika reaches for the new batch of bacon, but pulls her hand back short.  "What's this gonna cost me Ark?" The look on her face suggests she's well aware it's not going to be a financial trade agreement on this, but in the end, the smell of fresh bacon wins over and she snags a piece up anyway.

 

"So we've got to decide between  two routes now, right? I was thinking about it last night. "  She points at Cog. "I'm betting he really doesn't like water.   Probably can't swim even! And then, rust? That could be a thing? We should take the forest route.  It's drier." Her eyes focus entirely on the Modron during this theory- as if she were intentionally avoiding eye contact with the others.

 

Arkaryn chuckles at his fiery friend. "Well, since we didn't agree on 'payment'," Ark says with air quotes, "then we can just pretend you said 'yes'," adding more air quotes, "to singing a song with me on the road. And don't worry too much, I'll just have you sing the chorus with me..." The smile ridden across the blue tiefling's face was priceless. 

 

"Also..." Ark said, looking directly at Jyotika's hair. "Miss Flame over here won't be burning down the dry forest, will she? If not, then the scenic route sounds fine to me!" He reached for another piece of bacon but Penemue quickly slapped his hand away.

 

"Thanks for the table service, Ark." Penemue mumbled as she snatched some more bacon out from under him. "What took you so long? Lost your lute?" She said through a wry smile in between bites as she pulled the instrument from her pack and put it in front of her. "You know you really should be more careful with this thing.  I found it in potted plant outside our rooms." Penemue looked questioningly at Jyotika and chuckled to herself, suspecting the genasi might have had something to do with this misplacement. "You're probably lucky it didn't end up in a chamber pot instead with the way you were playing last night, honestly." 

 

After finishing off a few more slices of bacon and taking a long sip of tea that smelled suspiciously tinged with whisky, Penemue said "I think Jyotika's got a point.  We wouldn't want our little metal man getting stuck in the mud. Imagine the disorder that would cause!" She elbowed Cog at the last bit, trying to get a rise out of him. "Plus, why not keep a low profile while we can? No use having people be able to ID us on the road if we can avoid it."

 

Ark looked back and forth from Penemue to Jyotika and mockingly laughed with an eye roll. "I knew one of you birds had my lute!" Then he mumbled under his breath, repeating the line "you're probably lucky it didn't end up in a chamber pot instead with the way you were playing last night" in a higher pitched voice. 

 

He reached for his ebony and gold colored instrument and slid it towards him, thankful to have it back in his hands. He positioned it neatly in his lap and hoping no one would notice, sniffed the lute making sure it really didn't end up in a chamber pot. When it was confirmed not to smell like the inside of a dirty goblins battle armor, Ark began to strum the chords softly, humming a tune.

 

"I don't believe that I would rust, Jyotika," Cog responds, taking a single piece of bacon to exactly replace the rasher the genasi had stolen. "Clarification: my armor may eventually rust, however that can be replaced. My body would not rust."

 

"With regard to our navigational options: the river and main road are likely to afford us a safer passage. I am however happy to defer to the consensus of the group."

Cog sits and eats silently for a moment, as if in thought, before looking up again.

 

"Question: Penemue, why do shake my head or push me with your elbow when you speak to me? This is not a custom I am familiar with."

 

"Just to get you to ask ridiculous questions like that", Penemue responded with a snort.

 

A sharper glare fires out at Arkaryn when mention of burning forests is brought up.  Jyotika narrows her eyes. "No." She turns back to Penemue then, smirking slightly and then lifting a shoulder up in a shrug.  "Wasn't me. I wouldn't dare touch something he's had his hands all over." She licks her lips clean of the last of the bacon and then watches the exchange between Aasimar and Modron.   "But can you swim?" she asks again, seeming very intent on selling the group away from traveling by river proper.

 

"The modron ask the question, the Aasimar answers with cheer. The fi-er-y barbar-ian looks over with a jeer. "Wasn't me" she says, but I think I know betterrrr-scared of the river, she's afraid of getting wetterrrrrrrrrr!" Ark sings the made-up song just to annoy Jyotika.

 

Cog stares at Penumue for several seconds, with an expression that suggests his brow would be furrowed were it not a single sheet of metal, before saying, "Answer: I am not built to move efficiently in water, however I am able to swim should this be required. In this case..." he begins to continue, before being cut off.

 

Three... tw- no, it doesn't even make it to two.    The reaction is immediate as Jyotika stands up and launches the contents of her nearly full tankard right at the tiefling.    The stale morning ale drenches the bard as the genasi's temper fires up. "Now who's wetter?" The tankard is dropped then, no care for it being on the floor, as the ashen skinned woman turns on a heel and stomps out of the tavern.  "I'll be ready outside!"

 

Ark licks his lips and ignores the cold shower of ale thrown at him and continues his made-up song: "Aaaaaand, the jokes on you little flame, I like the taste of alllleee-uhl! You tried to get ah rise out of me, but it was an epic faaaillll-uhl!" 

 

Even if he got punched this next time, Ark thought to himself, Worth it with a sly grin.

 

Penemues uses the opportunity to snag the rest of the bacon on Jyotikas plate, and after a moments hesitation off of Arks plate as well. "You definitely had that one coming. Looks like we are going south." She said dryly as she walked out behind Jyotika, brushing some splattered ale off of her shoulder as she went. "You two coming or what?"

 

Ark looks at his round, one-eyed friend and lets out an exaggerated sigh, “Well, Cog, Buddy-ole-pal. I suppose when the ladies say it’s time to go... then it’s time to go.” And the Tiefling Bard slung his lute across his back, licked the palm of his hand, and swept his hair  back into a more exotic looking mess. “How’s my ‘do?” He asks the modron with sincerity, then smirks and heads out the door with a pep in his step.

 

"Very good Arkaryn," says the modron, as he stacks the breakfast plates neatly, gathers his bags, and follows with a stiff, mechanical gait.

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Part One: On The Road

 

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Leaving Shadowdale behind you, you follow the road to Tilverton heading southwest. The first few hours take you through well-traveled woods, the road cutting a clear path through the trees and generally making you feel safe enough that you don't have to concern your head much with scouting ahead or worrying for threats and ambushes.

The rest of your march, roughly 5 or 6 of the 8 hours you travel, is done in a much clearer area outside the Cormanthor forest, with fields and low hills comprising the calm landscape. Shortly before sunset, you decide to call it a day and make camp, expecting to spend the following day travelling south off the road and hopefully reach the Moonsea Ride before the same time tomorrow.

 

As the party began to set up camp, Arkaryn chuckled to himself. He had completely forgotten about Jyotika singing with him on their march. He had been so self absorbed that it slipped his mind. Now was a good time to remind her. And he had just the song for the occasion! It was a little diddle that Ark's dad had taught him when they would travel together called "The Travelers Odyssey". The chorus went like this:

 

"The roads we travel go all around, but when you're with friends you needn't be down. You needn't be dowwwwwwn!

 

Wipe that frown from your weary face, it's more a journey than a gung-ho race. Than a gung-ho raaaaace!

 

Enjoy the air and the scenic views  and enjoy the tunes of the wise old muse. The wise old muuuuuuse!

 

For he speaks from the heart and sings songs of splendor, give into the music with a voice so tender. A voice so teeeenderrrrrr!"

 

And then Ark would strum his lute with reckless abandon as the song picked up pace. When he would travel with Otivull those many years ago, the dragonborn would sing with such gusto that Arkaryn would sometimes need to quiet the boisterous warrior. He chuckled again. 

 

"Hey, Miss Flame. Remember when you 'agreed'," Ark put in air quotes as he said the word, "that you would sing with me in exchange for yummy bacon this morning?" Ark swung his lute around and already had his hands in playing position. "How 'bout we get this party started, yeah??" And before she could answer, Ark began playing the song with a toothy grin.

 

Thankfully, it was a long day of travel - and that gave Jyotika plenty of time to eventually 'cool off'.    About half way through their full day march, she started talking to Arkaryn again... occasionally.

 

Among the group, it seemed that Arkaryn was capable of earning the longest silent treatments from the genasi.    Cog rarely riled her up, and when he did, it seemed that the polarity of their personalities took most of the sting out of her fire rather quick.  Penemue- that was an odd one. Thus far, it seemed the two females shared enough in common that they rarely grated on one another; though wagers might be made if ever the day came to put that to test.

 

So when the gregarious tiefling reminds her of the agreement, she turns to him with double raised eyebrows in a 'you sure about this' gesture.   "You got the bacon before we had terms. I hardly think that's an agreement. Besides I don't know the words." After a pause, she shrugs. "If you got a drum, I'd hit that at least."

 

Ark looked at Cog for some backup, knowing the modron would remember the conversation. In that moment, though, the Tiefling decided to take a small victory when it was presented. Especially with his barbarian friend "...BUT! You're in luck. I always carry more than one instrument!" 

 

Ark stopped playing momentarily and went over to his traveling pack and pulled out a single faded brass colored drum, the same one he would use his prehensile tail to bang on when he had his hands occupied with his lute. Being a bard, Ark trained with the violin and lyre as well, he just preferred the lute over those other instruments at the end of the day. The lute was also the favored instrument of his father as well.

 

Ark handed over the drum to Jyotika saying, "Now, uh....don't go burning this up, yeah? It's the only drum I got. The beat's easy to follow along with, too. Every break in the lyrics just tap it twice and during the chorus you can hit in a 1-2-1 sequence." As he was explaining this though, he could see the loss of interest in drumming and quickly laid out layman terms. "Uhhhhh, just make it up as you go. This is about having fun, anyways, right?"

 

And with that, Ark sat down, tuned his lute with quick precision, then began to play.

 

Penemue had sensed the tension easing between the bard and the barbarian as they walked on through the day with some relief, so she eyed the exchange regarding the drum warily.  She didn’t particularly care about either of their moods on a personal level but wanted the group dynamic to stay relatively stable for combat efficiency. A moments hesitation between party members could mean the difference between life and death.  Penemue would never admit it, but she didn’t mind the song the pair of them managed to play together. The way the genasi played the drums gave a sense of aggressiveness to the song that the tiefling tended to lack on his own. 

 

Penemue leaned up against a tree, leaned her head back and tapped her foot along with the beat. She grinned to herself and gestured towards the modron.  “Hey Cog, why don’t you join them? I’m sure your music would be spectacular.”

 

"Response: Unfortunately I am not trained in the use of any instruments, Penemue. But thank you for the suggestion that my music would be spectacular," says Cog, innocently. "I will prepare a meal while Arkaryn and Jyotika perform."

 

Cog turns stiffly, and sets to work building a fire and preparing a stew. As the meal nears completion he starts to speak softly, making slow, precise gestures over the pot.

 

The fire gradually turns a deep blue in colour, and tiny creatures then start to fly from the flames and into the stew. To anyone close enough to examine them closely, these creatures appear to be some form of insect, but rather than natural insects they seem to be mechanical, or perhaps powered by clockwork.

 

Penemue shook her head and approached Cog "Not being trained is why it would be so fun. I'm sure you could make it work just banging some rocks together. Maybe throw in some dance moves. It would be..." she trailed off as she noticed what was in the stew "Errrr, Cog, what exactly are you making...?????" she said cautiously as a look of mild disgust crossed her face.

 

Cog turns, although his hand continues tracing symbols over the pot.

 

"Answer: It is beef stew Penemue," and after a moment, apparently realising that something further is needed, "I am praying to The Gentle Flame to purify the food. She sends the insects to do so."

 

Penemue, in a rare moment of visible discomfort, gulped and exclaimed "Is that what you've been feeding us this whole trip?!"

 

"I have cooked several different meals whilst we have been traveling. They have all been purified in this manner however. It is safest to ensure that all food is purified before consumption." Explains Cog.

 

"Clarification:" he continues, "The insects do not form part of the meal, they merely clean it. They will disappear once they have finished their work."

 

"Sure... whatever you say little guy." Penemue says, noticeably much calmer after the clarification that they had not in fact been eating mechanical insects hidden in their food. "Tell your Calm Fire person or whoever it is thanks for cleaning it up for us.  Much appreciated. Let's dig in."

 

"I will pass your thanks on to The Gentle Flame, Penemue," says Cog, as he ladles the stew into bowls. "She is a wise and powerful deity..." he goes on, as he attempts to explain his faith to his aasimar companion.

 

"Uhuh" Penemue responded dismissively as she took her mess kit bowl carefully from Cog. She ate it quickly, mumbled something under her breath about Ark having first watch, and fell asleep next to the fire while the little modron continued to speak, too involved in his explanation to notice as she began to snore softly with her bowl still on her lap.

 

Whatever it was that Cog did to the food, Ark was thankful to have the modron around for all the home cooked meals. As he and Jyotika finished up the song, Ark thanked her without the slightest bit of sarcasm in his voice. The fire Genasi had a knack for banging the drums. Knowing that he was still wired, he had offered to take first watch for the group. Ark tended to be a night owl anyways. He always enjoyed the peace and quiet at the end of the night. 

 

As the fire crackled, the Tiefling Bard was drawn into the flicker of the flames. It reminded him of a time when he and Otivull were hunting down a goblin rogue who had been killing travelers as the came in and out of Ruinspoke. It took them three long days to track him down and finally bring justice to the innocent families that were slain by the ugly green humanoid. The battle wasn’t easy either. Ark wasn’t a pushover but he also wasn’t the warrior that his Dragonborn friend was. This was when Ark learned how to properly use the Ray of Frost spell. He was able to freeze the shifty goblin at his legs and Otivul finished him off with a blade to the chest. He quickly snapped out of his trip down memory when Jyotika spoke.

 

Jyotika didn't interrupt the conversation between Cog and Penemue, but there was an audible snort-chuckle at 'Gentle Flame Person' that brought a devilish grin to her face.    Still, the food was good, and Jyo was hungry.    

 

After several spoons of it, and noticing that Pen just conked out on the still talking Cog, she glanced over.

 

"What is this deity you speak of Cog?   Is there another name this Fire Goddess goes by?    Maybe I know her."

 

Cog looks up from talking at Pen's sleeping form, apparently pleased at the interest in his patron deity.

 

"Her most common name is Chauntea, Jyotika. Our denomination worship the aspect of Her which is The Gentle Flame, but you may have heard of one of Her other aspects, such as The Grain Goddess, The Great Mother, or She Who Shapes All."

 

"Graaain?" replies the fire genasi.  "A grain goddess has an aspect of fire?  I don't buy it. You put a fire to a field a wheat, and all you've got is ash and despair.   And even gentle flame's have the potential to be devouring." The last spoonful goes down and she sets the bowl aside.   "Doesn't make much sense to me."

 

"Chauntea is a goddess of grape and grain, of hearth and home, of farmers and of gardeners," responds Cog, almost as though reading from a script.

 

"Her domains include community, agriculture, and the preservation of nature. We worship The Gentle Flame of the hearth, which warms our brethren and brings us together. We protect one another as a community, and The Gentle Flame protects us."

 

Cog looks up from his speech, and adds, "the Gods are powerful beings Jyotika, and they can represent many disparate things."

 

"Yeah yeah.  They might teach you that.   I haven't seen it to be all that true.    You'll figure that out too someday." Jyotika looks up at the strange spherical ... construct like thing. "Maybe?" she offers with a shrug.   "Anyway- thanks for cooking." A glance is thrown toward the tiefling. "Wake me up when it's my turn for watch."

 

It is a few hours past midnight and almost near the end of Arkaryn's watch when the bard's sensitive ear picks up a suspicious rustling in the foliage around the group. Pausing to listen better, he believes he can also hear a low animalistic huffing too. As he shuffles around the makeshift camp to wake up his companions, a voice is heard in the distance, somewhere on the other side of the road of where you've set up camp:

 

"Alright, nobody move! We've got hounds and a bunch of crossbows aimed at you, so don't try anything funny!"

 

Ark harshly whispers to his companions, "They're on the other side of the road. There's at least 2-3 of them from the sounds of their voice but I'm not absolutely sure of the actual number." The tiefling bard grits his teeth and narrows his violet colored eyes to see beyond the campfire.

 

Cog's large eye flicks open at the noise, and he rolls on to his front, watching for intruders. Whispering a brief prayer he clutches the blue sun emblem adorning his armor, and then throws a tiny disc towards Ark.

 

The disk latches onto Ark between his shoulder blades, clicking and whirring as it does so, before projecting a shimmering barrier of force around the Tiefling's form.

 

"Be careful Arkaryn," Cog calls back softly.

 

As the bard brings the warning to the group, and Jyotika hears the call of the enemy, a large, annoyed sigh escapes her lips. Ark's quick whisper about location is heeded, and she turns her eyes in that direction.     

 

She slowly stands up, but makes no move toward the glaive at her side just yet.   Instead, she holds out her right hand, palm up and offers a few words in Infernal and gestures flame into her hand.    It dances there, content and unflinching just like the woman who holds it.

 

"Who dares to disturb the devil's children?" she calls out in the described direction, with a tall posture and weight to her hissed words.

 

Feeling confident after receiving the magical shield from Cog and the fire barbarian puffing up her chest, Ark decided to give Jyotika a little boost. Plucking a simple string from his lute, the Tiefling Bard sent her some musical encouragement with a smirk on his face. "Kick ash and take flames, Jyo!" 

 

What he lacked in martial prowess, Ark more than made up for in supporting his comrades in battle. Afterwards, he sneakily crept towards Jyotika as a “just in case” alternative and yelled out, echoing Jyotika, “THE DEVILS CHILDREN!” He anxiously awaited the next move.

 

"FIENDS!" a voice shouts back in the Common language, accompanied by a sharp twang sound. Mere fractions of a second later, a crossbow bolt digs itself into Jyotika's left shoulder. In the darkness, you hear the frantic barking of several dogs charging your way.

 

Penemue hears the whizzz of a second bolt fly just above her head and barely miss here. Were she standing though, the outcome may have been totally different.

 

Before she can feel glad for her luck, Penemue is assaulted by some large canine that bites her right arm and locks its jaw in. The sting of sudden pain hits her nervous system like a shockwave and the adrenaline wakes her up in an instant.

 

On the other side of the camp, two more large dogs jump out of the darkness and force Jyotika to the ground, barking and growling in rage.

 

Penemue stared momentarily in shock at the bite in her arm, it had been a while since she had been caught so unaware and off guard by an assault.  Shaking it off, excited at the prospect of battle, she locked eyes with the canine who had attacked her as she stood up. With a crooked smile she pointed at the creature in front of her as an almost imperceptible whisp of black smoke shot from her chest just above her heart and slithered its way into the canine's chest.  She then grasped a small metal pendant she wore around her neck and quickly wound and unwound the long chain it hung from around her finger. She calmly whispered richly toned otherworldly syllables as what appeared to be water poured from the fist clutching the pendant. The water coalesced around her in a thin sheen, completely covering her body before solidifying into a frosty blue glow.

 

Cog pushed himself up from the floor, muttering quickly to himself as he did so. A metalic hand reached out to touch the unconscious form of Jyotika in front of him. As the hand touched a blue flame flashed across Jyo's body, and some of her wounds began to knit together as though being mended by invisible smiths.

 

Satisfied that he had pulled Jyotika from immediate danger, Cog circled round Ark to stand surrounded by his allies, and prepared to defend himself.

 

It happened fast.  So fast. One moment, Jyotika was taunting the enemy in hopes they'd change their mind, and the next she was facing teeth and claws that tore so fast and deep into her that her world spun and darkness overcame her.  

 

Darkness that reminded her of past nightmares.     

 

"Not yet child," she thought she heard somewhere in the recesses of her consciousness.    

 

Then  there was the gentle touch of fire upon her wounds...  fire? But different. Not hers, something else. Sounds from the camp began to warble back into a more wakeful  awareness, and what followed was the all familiar fire in her belly, welling up past the point of containment.

 

Her growl came before anything else,  and then she reached for her weapon as she moved to stand up and unleash that rage on the nearest opponent.     "Aaaagghhh!! Die!!!" It would be one of the hounds that faced this wrath as she slashed her glaive at its throat, murderous intent in her gaze.

 

Ark was used to skirmishes, but this one took him by surprise on how quickly it escalated. More often then not, he was thankful for Cog and his healing spells, and getting their pissed off barbarian back in the right was the right call. 

 

The Tiefling Bard wiped a bit of sweat from his brow and plucked another string from his  lute and muttered, “ A mistake was made with this dumb hound, rip it to shreds to this sweet sound!” As the words were said, the air seemed rigid as a beam of clear blue light, almost invisible, shot out of Ark’s lute and wrapped itself around Penemue like a gust of wind.

 

Since Jyotika was raging on the dog nearest her, Ark decided to belittle the other one hoping to take it out of the fight. With a slight chuckle, he cried out, “Hey Fido, you flea-ridden, sonofabitch! Cats rule and dogs drool!” Once again, the air surrounding Ark became rigid and an unforeseen vibration rocketed towards the other hound.

 

Adrenaline has consumed Penemue and she barely notices the crossbow bolt in her shoulder.  Without hesitation she reaches out her hand from the ground and quickly whispers darkly harmonious words. A beam of crackling purple energy shoots from her palm towards the only remaining canine.  Just as she the beam reaches the dog the pain from her shoulder flares, causing her to suddenly jerk and miss her target. Cursing, she remains on the ground and frustratedly mutters another incantation.  Her eyes flash blood red as a small shadow in the form of a string, barely visible in the firelight, darts from her temple and winds itself around her quarterstaff.

 

Having seen Penemue's shot go wide, Cog circled round to engage the final dog which was still locked in combat with Jyotika. Picking his moment carefully, Cog waited until he was sure the dog was distracted before loosing his mace and bringing it down on the creature's head with a sickening crunch.

 

Turning briefly to his companions, Cog called out, "Are you able to see the other assailants? My vision is limited in this darkness."

 

Jyotika's answer for the modron is non-verbal.    Her glaive clangs to the forest floor as she starts a slow-to-rev-up charge toward the nearest combatant in the tree line.   She bends to scoop up one of her javelins as a vicious growl bellows out from her the pits of her stomach.     

 

Some of the underbrush snaps and cracks, almost as if wincing away from the rage-filled bootsteps of the genasi.   "Aaaghhh!" is the exclamation to her point on 'seeing the assailants' as the javelin fires off into the dim-darkness of where he takes cover.     There's an odd sounding thwud-twang-an-ang sound as it strikes into a tree rather than flesh, and the barbarians scowl deepens.

 

Insults were Ark's thing. He even had a journal in his pack filled with ones he'd heard from others as well as the plethora of insults he'd come up with himself. The light blue skinned Tiefling was annoyed that the hound shook off his mockery like it was water and he attempted another juicy mock towards the assailant that Jyotika was charging towards. But first, Let's fuel that fire, Miss Flame! Ark thought to himself devilishly. 

 

With a hard strum on his lute, the aggressive fwong of the strings echoed around the campfire, and he yelled out, "Let the fire of your rage consume you and the fear of the hiding coward be true!" The pale, translucent energy shot out of the ebony and gold stringed instrument and swept over the dewy grass, encircling the fire Genasi.  

 

Then, Ark yodeled out, the audible blast projecting into the night, "Hey you in the busheeeeeeees! On a scale from 1-10, you're proper screwed now!"

 

"Shit. Shitshitshitshitshitshitshit" goes the bandit as the enraged genasi closes in. He lets a bolt fly at her general direction, but it's badly aimed, a snapshot to cover his retreat, and goes wide. Meanwhile, another bolt swishes just above Penemue and connects with Cog's metallic core, making a dull clang before dropping to the grass.

 

After hearing the arrow wizz overhead, Penemue jumps to her feet.  Seeing most of her party going after the bandit to the west, she focuses on the bandit to the east. Penemue does not abide leaving survivors. As she nears the bandit she again reaches out her arm and, feeling the surge of the music Ark had played surrounding her,  shouts angrily in war-trumpet-like syllables. The energy that blasts out from her palm connects this time, smashing into the bandit with an audible crack.

 

Unable to see the remaining bandits, Cog   held a hand to his holy symbol and uttered and concentrated for a moment. His hand glowed with a flickering blue light, which he quickly transferred to the head of his mace.

 

Holding the mace aloft like a torch, Cog ran to follow Penemue towards the bandit to the east.

 

Without her glaive, and with the javelin still stuck in a tree, Jyotika relies on her own god given weaponry.   She charges toward the fleeing bandit with nothing but her bare hands. As Ark's inspiration reaches her ears, a wicked grin splits her lips open to reveal gritted teeth as she closes the last bit of distance.   Both hands reach out toward the bandit- fingers closing tightly around each of his wrists as she yanks down to halt any further attempt at moving. Her grip clenches tightly so as not to lose hold of her quarry, as her eyes meet his and repeat the bards words.  "Proper. Screwed."

 

Another mockery denied and the usually happy-go-lucky Bard was pissed. As Jyotika took off after the bandit towards the west, she was able to subdue the fleeing coward with her barbaric strength. Ark decided to make use of an attack this time- something that could take this poor bastard out of the fight. 

 

He sprinted to where Jyotika had grappled the bandit and shouted, “Don’t mind the cold, Miss Flame, this guys iced!” Something Ark learned a long time ago, was a spell called Ray of Frost. It took him months to get it nailed down but once he did, it became a game changer. He closed his violet colored eyes and concentrated, allowing a coldness to spread out from his diaphragm. It traveled up his chest and shoulders and slid all the way down to his fingertips revealing goosebumps across his body. With his left hand on the neck of his ebony lute, Arkaryn opened his eyes while strumming all 7 strings of the instrument at once. A frigid, snowy blue beam of energy shot out with enough force to buck the Bard backwards slightly and blasted its way towards the grappled bandit...

 

"Demon spawn!" the contained man grumbles, more with hatred than fear. Jyo feels a stinging pain on her side follow that statement, but it barely registers with all the adrenaline pumping in her system. Few steps further, Ark sees the man has drawn a knife from his belt and managed to slide it between Jyotika's ribs to draw blood.

 

Meanwhile, the other man seems to cower away from the light and the approaching duo of Cog and Penemue. Still, the bolt he fires to cover his retreat still somehow strikes true, slowly but surely turning Penemue into a living pin cushion with all the bolts sticking out of her.

 

Barely aware of the bolts and only feeling the rush of battle lust pouring through her, Penemue runs after her attacker at full speed. She sees she is not fast enough to catch him with her quarterstaff as he runs away and so instead decides to return the kindness of a bolt for a bolt. Penemue grabs her crossbow from her back and fires. The bolt flies true as it lands squarely in the bandits stomach - a satisfying yelp escapes the bandits lips. Penemue is relieved, but in the back of her mind she begins to realize how injured she in fact is.

 

Cog continues to follow Penemue, a look crossing his mechanical features that might just be concern for the wounded aasimar. As the light from his mace illuminates the area, he spots their attacker-turned-quarry rushing away from them.

 

Asking Chauntea again for assistance he raises his hand, and a small section of floor seems to twist and open as if being unscrewed. A bust of radiant fire leaps from the floor, but the bandit is quick to dive out of the way as he runs.

 

As quickly as the hole appeared, there is now no sign that this patch of grass is any different to any other.

 

There's a sharp hiss from Jyotika as the wrestling match continues between her and her opponent.   The dagger wedged into her side starts to stain crimson as hot blood drips down its handle, but it causes her not a moment of hesitation in her state.

 

She draws her head back at his words, though it's not in recoil.  A flash of a moment later her forehead is rushing toward the man's face, her aim intent upon his nose.   The ashen colored skin of her brow makes contact with a sickening crunch as it strikes its mark, and she pulls back with a feral grin and his blood streaking down her face and across one eye.

 

"Jurha," she spits out in Infernal as her eyes lock on his.

 

Ark had rough evenings from time to time. Especially as an entertainer. He had been to some inns and taverns where despite his skill with singing and playing instruments that the handsome Tiefling Bard was booed off stage with the occasional fruit or vegetable being thrown his way in hateful displeasure. Tonight.. was one of those nights. Whereas he wasn’t being booed off stage or called “horned freak” or “devil kin” he was watching his companions being overrun by a pair of sly bandits and their hounds. Two mockery fails and a missed frost beam were sending Ark into a downward spiral of self pity. Why wasn’t I able to contribute more?

 

Seeing Jyotika stabbed in the side sent him over the edge. Even though her rage masked her pain, Arkaryn saw the pain. And it made him angry. “Get back in the game, Miss Flame, Get back in the fight, I’ll heal your wounds and make everything alright!” Ark shouted, playing a sensual melody on his lute, plucking the top three strings with his index and middle finger . A gold colored light erupted from the chorus and embraced the fire Genasi like a warm blanket, healing her almost completely as the knife wound closed up without sign of an entry point.

 

Ark closed his eyes again, focusing on the coldest pits of hell as he called forth another ray of frost. The chill snaked it’s way down his spine all the way to the tip of his tail this time and caused the tall Tiefling to shiver just as he erupted with a frost beam that was twice the size of the last. It wasn’t one hard strum, but three powerful strokes in succession played with anger and after the last onslaught of 7-string madness, Ark yelled out in disgust.

 

The bandit shouted back at the same time, saying something along the lines of “shite aim” but Ark’s aim was true. The frigid frost beam shot directly into the bandits mouth, freezing his vocal chords and the rest of his internal organs. His beating heart broke into pieces as the coldness overcame the rapid flutter of its beat and the bandit was no more. Ark managed a wry smile, finally satisfied with the outcome. He winked at Jyotika and looked back at the dead, frozen corpse of the bandit, and said, “Brain freeze... that’s gotta jurha.”

 

Jyotika had a look of surprise on her face. “Oh yeah, I speak infernal too!” The Tiefling said with a grin that split his entire face.

 

Penemue tried to ignore the ever growing pain eminating from each bolt in her body as she tried to continue to pursue the last bandit. She would not let him get away no matter the cost, she could not allow him to live. A bolt flew past Penemues head, but the near miss barely registered as she reached out her hand once again as she grasped her pendant and horsely growled "namandla", which despite her tone nevertheless somehow still sounded almost melodious. The energy that flew from her palm this time seemed to carry her desperation and anger with it, slamming into the bandit and cracking his skull open. He fell to the ground without a sound and remained there. Penemue, satisfied that the battle was won, slowly sunk to the ground as well and began examining her significant wounds.

 

While the battle has ended for the party, the rage still coiling around Jyotika's veins keeps its grip on her a moment longer.   It's Arkaryn who gets the brunt of it, thankfully though, it is just a dagger like glare and a biting comment.

 

"Obviously!  You /are/ a devil's child!" she snaps at the tiefling.   And as soon as that venom is spit, she seems to gain a better hold on herself.   A hand goes to her ribs where the still tacky stain of blood remains - but no wound.   She knows who healed that last one, and so it turns into a semi-apology. "I'm just surprised you managed to hear /me/ speak it over all that damn strumming."

 

Thank you's didn't come often from Jyotika -not unless you knew how to read her.    She glances down at the body at her feet and then squats low to start searching him over.   "I'm sure they're fine with Pen over there, but our other two manage their asshole?"

 

Penemue removes the bolts from herself with a grimace and holds her hands to her chest whispering "okwelpha". Her hands glow a soft comforting yellow, like the sun, and the glow spreads through her body. As the glow spreads it changes from a comforting glow to a harsh blood red and when it reaches her extremities it quickly flashes a deep, more ominous crimson, before dissipating. Penemue looks at her wounds as they begin to close, they won't stitch up completely but it is enough for her to ignore the pain for now. She gets up and begins rummaging through the bandits pockets.

 

Ark holds his grin throughout the entirety of the minor lashing he was getting from Jyotika. He knew she meant well, she just had a very awkward way of showing it. He mutters under his breath quietly, "say it, don't spray it, sister."

 

Ark glanced over his shoulder to see that Penemue had dispatched the other bandit but had fallen on her knees, with a few crossbow bolts sticking out of her, and it seemed as if the battle was finally over. I'm just glad I was first watch, Ark thought to himself, because that coulda been a whoooole lot worse had they got the jump on us!

 

"Lemme know if you find anything good, Jyo, I'm gonna go check on your girlfriend..." And the tiefling scooted away towards Penemue with a haste that only warranted the the wrath of a raging fire genasi had he not gone quick enough

 

As she searches, Jyotika's fingers come across the unmistakable sensation of loose coins and from the belt of her foe she recovers a small pouch. Though about a dozen, the coins are actually of low value; 16 copper ones, in total. Square-ish but with somewhat rounded corners, they look a lot like her thumbnail in shape as she brings them closer to investigate. Each coin has the rough image of a woman's side portrait stamped on one side. Other than that, she finds a small bone whistle, probably used to send a signal or help train the dogs these men were with. In terms of gear, the man has what's left of his leather armor, a decent set of boots and belt, the knife he stabbed her with, a short bladed sword, his crossbow and 8 bolts left in a quiver strapped to the side of his belt.

 

Penemue is somewhat luckier in comparison: her victim's gear is the same, except he doesn't have a knife and after firing most of his bolts, only has 2 left in his quiver. However, his pouch does contain 7 golden coins; more valuable, thicker and stamped on both sides. The woman's portrait can be seen in somewhat better detail compared to the copper coins and the opposing side of the gold coin is stamped with the image of a lion standing on its rear legs. On top of that, she discovers what appears to be a worn piece of paper, several times folded over.

 

The paper is dated 1485 DR, half a decade ago and it is one of the standard "adventuring licenses" that are common in the neighbouring kingdom of Cormyr. Knowing your recent history, that was during the whole Cormyr-Sembia-Netheril conflict in this region, so either these men were hired as spies and freelancers at that time or the license functioned at that time as a mercenary contract. Whatever the case, that is now in the past and apparently these men were left behind once the war was over, using the skills and knowledge of the surrounding land they had gained to waylay travellers such as yourselves.

 

Cog approaches Penemue as she crouches over the corpse of their would-be attacker.

 

"Query: Penemue, do you require me to examine your wounds? I have no more magical abilities available until dawn, but I am trained in mundane dressing of wounds." He intones, matter-of-factly

 

Jyo offers one more quick dart of a glare at Arkaryn as he gets the last word in and heads off to the other side.    After gathering up the few cheap coins and pocketing them, she snags the bolts still left in the quiver and moves to join the others.

 

A quick once over of Penemue earns a frown  from the genasi. "You okay?" Oddly enough, it would be both of the ladies that are stained crimson from the wounds delivered by the raiders.   "That guy had shit on 'em. Just a handful of coppers." An annoyed sigh follows as she looks down at her state of dress. "I need a bath. And fresh clothes."

 

As Ark studies the condition of his companions, his stomach rumbles loud enough for everyone to hear. "Soooooo, I know we almost just died there, but is anyone else hungry?" He smiles sheepishly, looking directly at Cog.

 

"It's middle of the night Ark!   Sleep is required. " Jyotika growls, "Great! Now I sound like the modron."  A second huff follows as she moves back to take a seat nearer the fire, and get it stoked again.   "I'll keep the next watch."

 

“Hold up... you mean to tell me that you guys don’t have an appetite after a battle?” Ark looked around to blank stares. “Really?!” He said exasperated with his mouth agape. The group started to disperse and go to their own spots near the camp fire. “Guys? It’s a victory feast!” The hungry bard yelled out. So, he decided to walk back over to the pot where Cog had cooked dinner and tried to fish out any leftover dinner because he was hungry.

 

Penemue touches one of her wounds and winces towards Jyotika and Cog. "I'll be OK," she said,  "nothing a good sleep and a big breakfast can't fix." She glances at Ark and adds "a big breakfast in the morning", rolling her eyes. "This guys got some money" she says as she adds the bandits bolts to her quiver, "and take a look at this." Penemue holds out the adventurerers license. "What do you guys think?"

 

Ark walks over to Penemue at the mention of an "adventurers license" with a bowl of leftover food and comments with a full mouth, "That's interesting. I've seen something like that before." With a big gulp, the tiefling swallowed his food and spoke again, "Maybe not one this old, but something similar to it. Do you think these thugs were hired to hunt us down?" Ark looks back at the dead men in the field along with their hounds.

 

Thinking to himself, Ark knows that's probably not the case considering the lack of enemies. Had they been hired to kill the group, there would of surely been more enemies. Right? "Nooooo...on second thought, I don't think they were hired to kill us. It seems to sloppy." And with that, he dug his spoon back in the bowl and took another large bite.

 

"They probably have had nothing better to do than rob travelers since the war ended, poor saps didn't know what they were in for tonight." Penemue chuckled, causing a sharp pain to shoot through her side. She breathed in sharply and hissed, feeling a bit light headed but not wanting to show it. "So that was fun, right? Anyway, I'm going back to sleep, lots to do tomorrow." With that  Pen gingerly laid back down next to the fire, this time she did lay out her bedroll first, and was asleep with her head buried beneath her blanket before anyone had time to respond.

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I'll give you that, you're all pretty creative in dealing with situations and have subverted my expectations several times, as all players do. Never thought you'd try to intimidate a bunch of bandits that attacked you in the middle of the night.

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Part Two: A Day In Orlane

 

The rest of the night is uneventful as you take turns sleeping and standing guard. Once the morning comes and you resume your travel, you head south through an uninhabited region with no untoward experiences. Finally, the track meets the Moonsea Ride and you notice it crosses the road to create a barely noticeable crossroads. An old, dilapidated wooden sign barely stands nearby, the word ORLANE written in elaborate letters confirming your destination is a bit further to the south-southeast. Moving along, the scenery gradually turns to prosperous farms surrounded by fields of grain or pastures for cows and goats. You follow the path as a cluster of buildings and trees becomes visible ahead, with the stone walls of a temple beyond. At the outskirts of Orlane, a large grove of elms is visible to the left, while several wooden buildings border the road to the right.

 

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Jyotika had been quiet for much of the days march.    She didn't have that sharp edge about her mood, though, this was just ... quiet, perhaps introspective.     No complaints were made through the hike, but when the telltale signs of civilization start to show, her demeanor warms again.

 

"I want something sweet to eat.   A hand pie, or maybe a puff pastry.  Something soft. These dry rations have been ... overly chewy this time around."   As they close the distance some more, she looks to her companions. "If the tavern has an inn room, Pen and I get dibs on the bed!"

 

"And here I thought you wanted to bunk with me, Miss Flame" Ark mentions with a smile. "I'm even ok being the little spoon."

 

Ark's stomach rumbled. This was beginning to be a growing problem. He always felt hungry! And you wouldn't know he ate five times a day due to his leanness. The march had been somewhat boring with the group keeping to themselves for the most part. From time to time, Ark would pluck at his lute as they walked but his creative side was drained.

As the group enters the town, or what you could barely call a town in Penemue's opinion, the aasimar hangs back somewhat.  Ever since leaving her home town a few years ago she rarely traveled outside urban settings. She could easily pass for human and her semi-ambiguous moral compass and lust for conflict tended to align well with the underbelly of most cities.   She glances at a girl churning butter on her porch and scowls judgmentally. That could have been her in another life, had things not gone the way that they had. This village reminds Penemue of home and her parents - her ridiculous parents who refused to move to the safety and ease of the city just so she could have a yard to play in. Her parents who chose to surround themselves with the simple country community who understood nothing outside of their limited experiences.  Her parents whose choices ultimately caused their own death. 

 

Penemue looks around moodily and wonders what digging into the local rumor mill might uncover.  She's not sure what help if any these rural townsfolk will be. Hoping there would be a wizard or some changelings to fight soon, she trudges along slowly in the shadows. 

 

The conversation snaps her out of her thoughts and she rolls her eyes at Ark.  With a semi menacing glare, Pen coils her pendant around her fingers and says "I'd be careful, don't want your lute to go missing again now do you?"

 

"And if someone takes my lute then how am I supposed to get us a discount on our lodgings?" Ark fires back with little to no weight behind the words. "Maybe Jyotika can bang on my drum and that could suffice? You could always take over and sing songs, Pen? Yes, let's switch rolls this evening. YOU guys, "Ark said pointing at Jyotika and Penemue, "can play the bard. I'll be the scowling dame, brooding in the corner."

 

At the release of his words, Ark sighed. "Sorry. I'm just hungry. Jyo mentioned hand pie and my mouth started watering."

 

"We are /literally/ fire and ice to each other Ark.   You and your bunk couldn't handle me," huffs Jyotika in response to his teasing.

 

"Besides, let the townsfolk earn their keep.   They're trying to feed themselves and their families.   You want to woo a discount off someone, make it one of those snobby high class places that would rather feed their scraps to the alley rats, than offer it to a starving beggar."

 

There's just the faintest hint of that advice coming from either personal experience, or a rarely shown side of altruism from the genasi.

 

"You'd be surprised what I can and can't handle my fiery barbarian friend..." Ark says with a devilish grin. "But you are right about one thing. Maybe schmoozing a discount off these folks isn't the best idea. I'll use my charm elsewhere for the time being." The bard turned his attention towards Peneume and quickly raised his eyebrows up and down in quick succession.

 

Much of this conversation appeared to go over Cog's head, both literally and figuratively for the small modron, and his face remained blank. Seeing the spire of the temple on the far side of town, he made a mental note to find out if the villiagers were fellow worshippers in the morning.

 

As the conversation died down, he turned to the group and announced, "I will enquire for directions to an inn where we might stay tonight."

 

With that he marched off to the nearest person he could see sat on their porch, stopped in front of them, and spoke.

 

"Query: could you please direct me to an inn in town, where my companions and I might find lodgings for the night?" he asked, and proceeded to stand, motionless, waiting for a reply.

 

Completely ignoring the tiefling, Penemue barely stifles a snort as she watches Cogs interaction.  She knows as the most normal looking of the bunch she should probably be the one asking questions, especially in this backwater town, but the aasimar has no real interest in speaking with the locals. Instead, she watches intently as the villager questioningly looks over the little modron, enjoying the obvious discomfort the human is in.

 

Cog marches through the attractive flower gardens that surround the wooden home ahead and the small barn beyond it. As the teenage girl sees him approach, she pauses her churning butter, intrigued at first, but once Cog speaks to her and she sees the rest of the group not far behind, her eyes widen and she runs into the house, slamming the door shut behind her. Shadowy forms are visible and observing you behind closed curtains.

 

"Wellll....that went as smoothly as we could've hoped for." Ark explained with dripping sarcasm. "At least Cog asked nicely." The tiefling bard scratched the back of his head and yelled out, "Excuse me? We don't mean any trouble. We just need somewhere to sleep for the evening. My friends and I are here to investigate the disturbances that have been going on and it's hard to do that when you don't have a full belly and a warm bed to sleep in, ya know? We will pay for the information if that helps? Or if money isn't your thing, I can sing and dance for you!"

 

Ark put on his best smile and coaxed the group to do the same.

 

Cog looked up at the door quizzically, and then back at Arkaryn's respond with equal confusion.

 

At Ark's indication, wishing to behave correctly in these unfamiliar circumstances, Cog gave his best smile. A large fixed grin spread across his spherical form, appearing almost like a saucer for his giant cyclopean eye.

 

There's an audible huff from Jyotika at this, "Forget this!"   And with that, she turns away from the spectacle, draws her hood up and over her wild red hair, and starts walking further into town.    Her head tips down and her shoulders roll slightly forward; the posture of someone trying to look small and hating it. Anyone that she might get near enough to offer a question, gets a simple, civil enough,  "Which way to the tavern?"

 

Penemue remained in the shadows in the back, staying silent until the modron began smiling at Ark. That was too much for the aasimar, at which point she began laughing harder than she had in days, nearly doubling over.

 

The door opens for a few inches and a man appears behind it dressed in simple farmer's clothes. He casts a confused glance at the smiling modron, then the laughing Penemue and finally sets eyes on Ark. "There's the Golden Grain Inn just ahead in the crossroads, then left of that and across the bridge is the Inn of the Slumbering Serpent. Suit yourselves"

 

“Th-thank you!” Ark cries out as the door suddenly shuts again. He looks over at Penemue who is still laughing and joins in with a chuckle. The laughter was contagious! “Should we tell Jyotika that we have options now or let her gruff her way around some more?” 

 

The Tiefling sets out into the heart of the town wondering which in would work best. He decided that whatever one had the better food menu would be the best choice. “C’mon, Cog, lets get a move on, buddy. Oh... and you can stop smiling now. Your scaring the children.”

 

Penemue finally collects herself, and wiping tears from her eyes says, "Seriously what did you guys expect in a place like this? Have you looked in a mirror lately?" She says this directed mostly at Cog but glances at Ark as she says it as well. "We're lucky they didn't come at us with pitchforks, they're never going to trust us. Jyo seemed to have the right idea just running around town trying to appear normal until we found something, although honestly we might have gotten a quicker answer just scaring information out of them. Probably would have been more fun, too." She pauses and realizes that might have been a bit too sinister-sounding for some of the members of her party and quickly adds "Just a bit of a scare nothing serious, anyway what's this Slumbering Serpent Inn? Sounds as good a place as any."

 

Meanwhile, Jyotika has moved ahead to the crossroads, passing a large, whitewashed wooden building and farm to her left, where several cows calmly chew their cud in front of the barn. Three little girls who were playing in the yard pause their game to curiously look at the fire genasi. To her right, a nondescript square wooden building has heavy shutters closed over the windows. The door looks stout, but is open and no people are visible around, while behind it stands another low, long building.

At the crossroads, she comes across a large wooden inn. It is decorated with carvings of sheaves of wheat along the eaves of the roof. The inn was whitewashed at one time, but much of the paint has peeled. A sign picturing a cluster of wheat and a pitcher of beer or ale hangs over the door. A corral and stable, apparently empty, are off to the side. As the rest of her group catch up, they identify it as the Golden Grain Inn they were told about

Moving left between the barn/house and the inn, the four travellers head north across a small bridge. To the right hand, a large, colorful sign pictures a red dragon with its head resting contentedly on its paws. A plume of smoke rises from the serpent's nose and its eyes are closed. This inn looks smaller and older than the Golden Grain. Several beds of flowers brighten the front, however, and the large middle-aged woman sweeping the porch looks cheerful as she greets you with a friendly wave.

 

As Ark and his companions walk about the town, an open door catches his gaze and he nearly trails off from the group to investigate, curious as to why the door is open and why there appears to be a lack of people around it. Though, the Tiefling’s stomach rumbles and his hunger gets the better of him. He decides once he’s settled in that he would venture back out to explore the town a little more. With the sun going down soon, the weather was perfect and Ark knew he would appreciate the fresh air later. 

 

When the group comes up to what appears to be the Slumbering Serpent, the warm welcome they receive surprises Ark. Generally, his companions and himself, because of their odd looks, aren’t usually taking a liking too right off the bat. Ark waves back with a smile of his own, “Helllllllo! The flowers are beautiful,” the bard says pointing at the array of floral in front of the inn.

 

The woman bustles down the porch steps to greet you. "Hello, hello, welcome! My name is Belba, Belba Cralloon, nice to meet you. Come in, come in! It's almost supper time!"

 

Having been rounded up by her companions, Jyo is right there front and center when the cheerful woman waves them in.   She blinks a bit, turns her head to the side, and then lets out a wide smile. "Oh that's great news! What's on the menu for tonight?"   She even goes so much as to side-step around Ark to get up to the front of the dinner line. "I like your sign. It's really nice. The little dragon breath puffs are a really nice touch."

 

Penemue nods curtly at the the innkeeper and steps in behind her group. The smell of dinner does raise her spirits a bit, however and she manages a bit of a smile once they are shown in the door.

 

"Heyyyyy, no cutsies, Miss Flame!" Ark says playfully. Her picks up his speed a little and as him and Jyotika come up to the door, they both enter at the exact same time, with both the barbarian and the bard being pinned down in the open door frame. Ark lets out a hysterical laugh and turns his body so Jyotika can enter first. "Just kidding...ladies first!"

 

"Glad ya do, love, got a bunch o' stuff to suit yer fancy as well as yer purse" Belba tells Jyo with a smile that turns into proper laughter once she and Ark get stuck in the door. Once inside the L-shaped building, you find yourselves in a cozy, cheerful 45*45ft common room, lit and warmed by three fireplaces. To your right is the bar and behind it, a door leading to (you assume) the kitchen. Stairs at the far end lead both up and down, while the room itself features three classic round tables and a large, long, monastery style common table in the middle, around which 8 patrons are enjoying a drink or two.

"Watch yer mouth!" Belba snaps at one of the patrons, then returns her attention to you. "Take a seat, travellers. I got mushroom stew for a couple o' silvers, some boiled chicken with veggies for eight silver or just chicken broth soup for five copper, then there's the smoked pork and cheese with some wheat bread on the side for a gold. Plus I can get you some fruit for dessert if ye'd like. For drinks or rooms, you can tell me or my husband Ollwin" she says, pointing towards the bar and the man behind it.

 

Ark goes wide eyed at the mention of smoked pork. The bard literally had to wipe his lips to keep from drooling in front of the lovely Belba. "Three questions, Mrs. Belba: Number one, How much for a room? Number two, how much for a round of ale for my friends and I? And number three, are you in need of an entertainer this evening? I'm not sure if you noticed the sexy lute I'm carrying but I've been known to sing songs and tell fantastic tales of sword and sorcery!" 

 

Ark whips his lute around and plays a quick diddly for the innkeeper to give her a taste of his musical skills. "The maiden was kidnapped by her evil twin brother as they fled to a kingdom far from their fair mother. A handsome knight sought after the two and on a mighty steed he rode with an armor of blue to save this maiden from an untimely demise. It was a battle against darkness with light on the rise!" As the tiefling continued to play he got a weird look from the table that Belba had quieted mere moments before.

 

"Chicken dish for me.  Mom always told me to eat my veggies and it's rare to get 'em on the road."    She procures a coin out of her pouch and hands it over to the woman. It's a full gold piece, which she nods, "Throw an ale on there and keep what's left.   Thanks for the welcome." Food ordered and table offered, she gives a somewhat arrogant grin as she pulls her hood back to let her fiery hair cascade down over her shoulders once more.

 

Penemues mood continued to visibly improve as the meal options were described. "I'll take the pork!" She said a little too enthusiastically for her own liking, and quickly added with a sigh, "I guess that doesn't sound half bad"

 

As Pen settles down for a meal she pulls the 7 gold from her coin purse that she had taken off of the bandits corpse a few days beforehand. "Don't forget about these spoils of battle!" She says excitedly, always happy to reminisce about a good fight. "We should enjoy ourselves tonight before getting to work tomorrow."

Cog orders the mushroom stew and, as it appears to be custom among his companions, an ale.

 

When Belba next comes past he speaks up. "Query:" he states, somehow pronouncing the unusual punctuation, "we have heard that there has been some strange activity in this area; can you tell us anything about that?"

 

"Whew, you lot are a handful!" Belba says at the hail of questions and orders. "Alright, first thing's first, we'd love some music in here, so help yourself young... man. As for drinks, it's 5 coppers a pint o' plain ale, a silver if ye want the darker stuff. Then there's malt, brandy and our pride of the establishment, home brewed wine we make ourselves! Now I got a mushroom stew, a chicken and two pork servings, any chance you'd like to reconsider yer drinks?"

 

"It'll be a dark ale for me" Pen says, settling back into her chair.

 

"A plain ale will be fine for me," answers Cog, simply.

 

Jyotika glances at Penemue with a little grin, "Dark ale for me too.  Something nice and rich."

 

Ark smiles at the reply that music is always welcome. "I'll take the pride and joy, please and thank you, Mrs. Belba."

Ark then looks at Jyotika and promptly says, "I'm gonna do my best not to make you angry this evening, so..." Ark walks over to a table on the other side of the inn, and then hollers back with a smile, "I'll just be over here!"

 

Jyotika offers not even a glance toward the tiefling as he confesses his strategy.   But once he arrives at his new spot, and hollers back, she throws her arm up and gives a big thumbs up gesture without even looking in his direction.

 

Belba's husband, Ollwyn, pours the drinks as his wife disappears into the kichen through the door behind the bar. Moments later, he comes to your table and puts down the drinks as Cog asks his query about what is happening in the area.

"Oh, you're here to see into that? Thank the gods!" he says, apparently with relief. "Something sinister is at work, I'm telling you" he adds, lowering his voice. "Orlane used to be a happy, fertile place. I mean, it's still fertile, so it was strange when some families started to pack their things and move to less fertile places... Then people started to outright disappear! Some homes were found abandoned, with food still on the table or crops unharvested in the field. Then it got weirder, because sometimes the families returned after a week or two, but they seemed... different. Some were never heard of again. It's all cast a heavy veil over Orlane, for sure."

 

"How often have people been leaving?" Penemue said offhandedly between huge sips of ale, some dribbling down her chin as she added "And how exactly are those who returned different?"

Jyotika nods along to Pen's questions, "And no one else has bothered looking into it at all?"

 

"Sometimes once a week, maybe once a forthnight... other times once a month... there's no steady pace, but people disappear I'm telling you, and if they ever return, they seem really... aloof. They'll trade a few words, but they'll mostly stick to their stuff. Never socialize, never show up for a drink, that kind of stuff. We've told Misha at the temple and Zakarias, the mayor here, but I doubt they've done much... say, did any of them summon you here to look into this?"

 

After overhearing the conversation with Ollwyn, Ark walks back over to the table with his companion, sipping his "pride and joy" drink with satisfaction and asks the man, " 'Scuze me, sir, but do these aloof people tend to stick to night time ventures? Are they allergic to garlic...or holy water?"

An eye roll follows from Jyotika at Ark's questions.  "They're allergic to tiefling bards is what it is! And so they steer clear of places where one might be performing!"    She turns back to Ollwyn. "All ages disappearing? Just adults? How long they stay gone for?"

 

"You know, as many times as you roll your eyes at me, I'm surprised they haven't rolled out of your head!" Ark spits back with his tongue jutted out. "MOCK-AH-REEEE BURN!" 

 

There's a brief pause as the bard collects himself and he looks at Ollwyn intensely. "In all seriousness, we want to help. We weren't summoned here. We heard rumors of a possible vampire infestation or something maybe more dangerous, like an evil magic user. Any specific info you can give us would be most helpful."

 

The praise does indeed back up the wine's quality, matter of fact it may well be one of the best Ark has ever tasted. His words though do seem to trouble Ollwyn. "Vampires and mages? Heavens help us!" He then turns to Jyotika. "All ages, yes. Sometimes entire families all at once. Those that did return showed up after a week since disappearance, maybe two"

 

"Well I for one would definitely like to go have a uhm... word... with someone who has returned..." Pen says, trailing off as her eyes follow another patron who has begun eating the steaming mountain of food in front of him.

Cog speaks up, following Penemue's train of though, "Query: Would you be able to identify someone who has returned recently? Supplementary: and where we might find said person?"

 

"The family living just west of the temple was the latest one to disappear and show up again. Might want to pay them a visit. If you really want to get to the bottom of this though, you might want to visit ol' Ramne across the street with your findings. He's a hermit living in a shack just past the grove and only visits on occasion to purchase supplies, but I sense he's a good man and more than he seems."

 

"Hermits are good folk, usually.  I'd say lets stop there first since it's just nearby," offers Jyotika with a look to her companions.  "After we finish our food and another round. Because that march was exhausting and I am still thirsty."

 

Ark agrees to Jyotika's plan with an emphatic nod as he takes another sip of his delicious drink. He had to get some of this to go!

 

The bard turned towards the barkeep, "Sorry to alarm you about the vamps and mages, Ollwyn, they're probably just rumors anyways." Ark said smiling warmly. "I did have another question for you, though. On our way here, we saw a long building with the door wide open that seemed to lack inhabitants... is it abandoned? Is there anything you can tell us about that building?

 

After some back and forth detailing, Ollwyn recognizes the building Ark is talking about. "Oh that would be Grover's place. He's the constable here, supposedly looking into the same thing you are. The long building behind his quarters used to be a barracks where guards of visiting caravans would stay."

 

"That sounds like as good a starting place as any" Penemue shrugs, "Do you guys want to check it out now or wait until morning?"

 

"We should wait until morning. It is impolite to disturb someone unexpectedly in the evening," responds Cog, with a tone that might put you in mind of a child reciting a lesson.

 

Jyotika levels an unamused gaze at the modron.  "It's just past dinner. And the place we're looking to poke into is the boarded up barracks anyway.    Maybe some ghosts will be in there at night!" The tone suggests either teasing, or real curiosity.

 

“I’m down to busts some ghosts... after dinner.” Ark adds in taking the last sip of his drink and smacking his lips with a smile.

 

"For once we agree, Ark. I'm certainly not going anywhere until I've eaten" Penemue mumbles moodily, continuing to stare down various dinner-eaters across the tavern.

 

You all enjoy a tasty dinner and drink, except maybe Cog who doesn't bother with such concepts as long as the nutrients provide sustenance. With your belly full, you request to pay up, only to find that it's on the house as long as Ark does indeed perform for the staff and patrons once you're back. You leave that for later, alongside making any room arrangements, and slide out into the night towards the buildings that drew your attention as you were passing by.

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Part Four: Investigation

 

With Cog well aware of the noise he's making as he walks around, armor or not, the little modron keeps its distance as the rest of the group slithers towards the long building that used to house the former barracks. The door is unlocked and with a quick peek inside, it seems like an empty, abandoned building.

 

"Shall we?" Pen says to Ark and Jyo, raising her eyebrows as she does so

 

"You want me to go first in case something swings in our direction?" offers the genasi.  With a grin, she takes point without waiting for their answer.

 

Penemue falls in behind Jyo and enters the dark barracks

 

You sneak into the unlit building to find it completely empty. Dust dances in your nostrils and a faint smell of mould tells you this place hasn't been taken care of in quite a while.

 

Ark whispers as he enters the building behind Penemue, "Looks like this place has been abandoned for sometime...watch out for giant rats." The bard jokingly says with a half grin.

 

"Just start looking around.   Carefully and all." Jyotika suggests to the others as she moves in one direction to explore and search any tables, desks, or lockers that she might find in it.

 

"Well that was productive. I'm out." Pen says as she hops down the steps and walks towards Cog.  "Nothing to see here little dude, thanks for keeping an uh... eye out." She says to the modron and chuckles to herself as she does. "Do you all have any interest in a nightcap before we call it?" She shouts back over her shoulder.

 

Jyotika scrunches up her face a bit at the lack of anything interesting.   A huff follows, "I mean. We're in town. Shouldn't let opportunities for such things pass us by, right?"     She steps up toward Penemue as she leads the way out of the dusty building. "I'm in."

 

"It is no problem Penemue, I am happy to help," Cog calls after Pen, toddling his way after the group, his chainmail clinking and metal joints creaking with each step.

 

Ark follows the group, taking another quick peek behind him towards the empty building. Hmmm. Very odd that there's nothing in there but mildew and dust. The bard thinks to himself. "Nightcap sounds good to me, Pen. I need to get the joints loose for a few hours of singing songs and telling stories anyways. No need to thank me for the free lodgings either. I know you all love me." He cries out loud enough for everyone to hear and begins whistling a tune.

 

With nothing to be found at the old and apparently abandoned barracks, you make your way back to the Slumbering Serpent Inn. The clientele is more or less unchanged and Belba welcomes you back, saying she's eager to hear a song or tale from Ark before the patrons leave for their homes and she has to close up the common room. You may have another drink if you wish, free of charge of course as long as the bard puts up a show. Regarding accommodation, you're told there's a lavish guest room with a big double bed above, a private guest room with a single bed in it, three rooms with two beds each and two rooms with three beds each.

 

Pen orders another dark ale and settles into a chair in the corner, waiting to see what Ark had in store for the crowd that evening. Her position is primed for an easy getaway to bed in case his tunes are not to her liking.

 

Jyotika moves to take a seat next to the aasimar, mimics her drink order and then tips her chair back to rest on the back two legs while she lounges.     "Think it's worth asking any of these other folks what they've heard about? I mean, Ark has to go do his thing. And well, Cog might be a little too... abrupt?"  She's about to comment on what Pen is but cuts herself short with an, "Agh damnit. I just volunteered myself didn't I?"

 

"Probably not a bad plan. I'm not going to be able to sleep yet but I'm also not particularly interested in hearing another one of Arks performances, so I'll take this half of the room if you want to take that side?" Penemues gestures vaguely at the two sides of the room and shrugs.

 

The tipped chair creaks as Jyo lets it slam back to all four legs.   A hand reaches out to her tankard and she pulls it back to draw a tall swig.   "Got it." And with that, up she goes, taking the liquid courage with her, to one of the tables on the other side of the tavern.  Switching moods like one might change a cloak, she offers a warm smile and bright, eager eyes to those gathered there. "Mind an adventurer at your table?  I came in with the bard- he puts on a pretty good show to be honest. But I could share with you some of his best flops too."

 

As Ark sets up to perform and the others  start talking to patrons, Cog orders a plain ale and takes a seat where he can observe proceedings. He takes his time looking from one customer to the next, staring at each slightly longer than is comfortable, as though examining their behaviours.

 

"That's a weird way to hype up your friend" one of the patrons tells Jyotika. "Does that metal ball do tricks?" another one asks in a low whisper, while casting a side glance at Cog and trying to avoid the modron's inquisitive stare. "Adventurers, eh?" another one chips in.

 

Jyo offers a half shrug.  "The modron? No tricks there, heh.   We're still teaching him what humor is."       She sets herself down at one of the chairs and a chuckle slips free,"It'd be a trick in itself for him to even understand the gesture of a trick.   But yes. We came down here on some rumors. What's your take on the things going on around here?"

 

Ark, more than happy to perform for the good patrons of the Slumbering Serpent Inn, unpacks his array of instruments and then heads up towards the front of the inn. He took to his own efforts and moved a few tables around to set up a would be "stage". Clearing his throat, Ark made his presence known. "With the approval of the lovely Mrs. Belba, I would like to perform for you fine people this evening! Would you like a song?" The tiefling asks as he strums his lute and raises his right eyebrow. "Orrrrrr, I can speak of a tale of adventure?" He strums his lute again and raises the left eyebrow this time. "I shall let the good people decide!" He shouts with a toothy smile.

 

"Do something without words, we're having a conversation here!" one of the patrons jokingly answers Ark's question, with the rest cracking a hesitant smile at the remark. "Things are weird miss" one of the other patrons tells Jyo in a low voice. "You here to find out the root of it, yes?"

 

The genasi focuses in on the one most open to the discussion, leaning in a bit closer and offering a nod.  "We are. We're going to get a start in the morning, but hearing the tales from the locals, the first hand witnesses, can be a lot more informing than what the officials might be willing to say.   What've you seen?"

 

"People change. Become reclusive. Some disappear without a trace. Some insidious evil is at work, I tell ya!"

 

"You know anyone personally that went missing?   Or can ya tell us about anyone that's recently returned but different?"  Jyotika asks the talkative one. "It all from a single area, or is pretty widespread?"

 

"It's not like Orlane's that big of a place" the patron answers the genasi's question. "You should definitely go see the carpenter, big square house to the south east edge."

 

Something without words....So, just play the lute then? Ark asks himself slightly annoyed. Fine. my throats a little scratchy anyways. And with that, the bard begins to strum his lute to a playful melody.

 

Penemue approached a person nearby her that seemed quite entrhalled by Arks performance, put on her best interested face, and said "He's quite good isn't he?" Rolling her eyes to herself but continuing to smile, hoping the small talk would open them up to deeper conversation.

 

"He's better than what we usually get" another patron tells Penemue. "Which is nothing"

 

"I've been traveling with him for a while now, we though made our way here not just to entertain actually." The aasimar says, "We wanted to see if we could lend a hand with the disappearances you've been experiencing lately. Do you know anyone who has gone missing?"

 

Ark continues to play the playful melody then ups the tune a little to see if anyone is actually paying attention. He starts picking the strings with reckless abandon, jamming out on the lute and banging his head in the process. As he picks up the beat, the tiefling uses his tail to fwhop the drum he set out next to him creating an aggressive sound usually only used in the thick of battle. With his eyes closed, Ark quietly clears his throat and ends the jam session, yelling out, "...As we drift asleep in the creep of the SLEEPING DICK!"

 

The discussion dies down as Ark's song reaches its crescendo, followed by an awkward silence. "Language!" Belba's voice pierces the air

 

Ark winks at Belba with a smirky grin, "As you wish, m'lady." And goes back to playing the soft melody he had been playing before his sudden outburst.  

 

"Carpenter.   Will do. Thanks for the suggestion."   At Ark's outburst of lyrics, Jyotika goes wide eyed and turns her head to face him- her bottom jaw lowering in a look of total 'I can't believe you just did that'.   She clears her throat and takes a big swig of ale. "Well, with that, I think I'm ready to call it a night. Thanks gents. We'll see if we can't get to the bottom of things for you."

 

The thread of Penemue’s conversation, had unfortunately been lost in the commotion and the patron she was talking to did not offer any additional information. Sensing a dead end, Penemue followed Jyotika up to their room.

 

You all retire to your rooms for the night, Ark and Cog in one two-bedded room, Penemue and Jyotika in another. For the first time in a few days, you get to sleep out of your armor, on a soft bed with a decently fluffy pillow and a warm blanket.

 

"Alright, Cogster, let's cuddle up, big guy! I hear it's gonna be a coooooold evening." Ark says with a grin.

 

The night is uneventful and the next morning dawns with a slightly chilly, but still sunny day ahead. Boiled eggs, oat bread and some hard cheese are up for breakfast as you decide how you'll start your investigation today

 

Jyotika was up early this morning and trying her best to be quiet as a mouse.  A glance went back to the still sleeping Penemue and she hoped that the aasimar would remain in that state just a while longer.   As she sat in front of the very small mirror that the room housed, she twisted her body to look at her left side, lifting up her shirt to inspect a tattoo that was there.   Her face crinkled a little at the sight of it, and one hand ran over the strange rune marked on her dark skin. A 'huff' escaped her lips as she let the clothing drop, then she hurried to gather her things and rush downstairs.    Food made everything better. And they had a busy day ahead on top of it.

 

Meanwhile in the next room, Cog rolled out of bed, causing enough noise to make up for Jyotika's silence as he did so. After a moment of still contemplation sat on the edge of the bed he clanked across the room and headed downstairs towards breakfast.

 

Ark, barely moving in bed, called out to his round, one-eyed friend, "Be a doll and bring me up some breakfast would ya, Cog? Pretty please?" and the tiefling closed his eyes again. He always felt MORE tired when he woke up from a night of light drinking as if he didn't sleep fully.

 

"As you wish, Arkaryn," responds Cog, and proceeds down the stairs to order breakfast for himself and a second to take to Ark.

 

Joining Jyo at her table, he asks "Where should we start our search today, Jyotika? Perhaps the acolytes at the temple would have useful information?"

 

Jyotika looks up from her morning ale, "Hey Cog.   I was leaning toward the carpenter as our first stop.   Sometimes I feel like the common folk tell the straightest story.   If the acolytes say the same thing, we'll be on a lead. If they spin it different, well..." she shrugs.   "There's also the constable, Grover? So three stops."

 

Penemue stumbles down the stairs, her hair an unkempt mess on top of her head. "Sorry, I needed to sleep in after all that traveling. A mattress really is so much better than a bedroll. Did I hear mention of questioning the carpenter? I'm not going anywhere until I've had some strong tea but after that, I'm ready to go."

 

Once breakfast is done, you hit the road and head to the other end of Orlane, towards the carpenter's home and shop. Tracing your steps back to the west entrance of town where you arrived from, you approach the Golden Grain Inn and turn east. Travelling along the southern and more populated side of town also serves in seeing what the place is like and what shops are available.

 

Just south of the Golden Grain Inn is a new building, outside of which hands a sign with a spinning wheel and a loom. Several bales of wool are stacked on the wide porch, but no people are visible. Past that, the next establishment displays a gem-encrusted ring on a sign outside. The doors and windows are open. The building is small, but looks extremely sturdy; the shutters and doors are of heavy wood, reinforced with iron bands.

To your left hand as you move on is an exceedingly run-down structure of wood near the lake shore. Faint traces of a former paint job cling to small parts of the walls, but in some places the bare wood has started to rot. A fenced walkway leads from the road to the back of the house, and horse manure is scattered liberally about.

 

The road turns slightly southward and to your right hand is a fairly well-kept establishment with an assortment of farm implements and cooking utensils on the wide porch. The door stands open, and a well-painted sign depicting a pot, a plow, a sack, and a lantern hangs over all.

 

To your left is a small, square building that appears to have been freshly whitewashed. Heavy curtains hang over the windows, and the door is shut. Behind it, on a small peninsula heading into the lake is a house set well back from the road and partially screened by a pair of medium-sized elms. This is by far the most imposing house in the village. The walls seem to have been regularly whitewashed and the roof gleams with new wooden shingles. A wide porch crosses the entire front of the house, and columns of wood support the overhanging roof. The columns have been carved into leafy patterns by a skilled craftsman.

 

Turning back east, you walk across some empty farming space for a bit until you come up to a small bridge. Right before the bridge stand two buildings. To your left, a sign crudely depicting a needle piercing the seat of a pair of pants hangs before the establishment, a small, ramshackle building in need of considerable repair. A shutter hangs loosely, shingles are missing from the roof, and the walls show signs of rot in several places. To the right is a house in desperate need of repair. The front door, porch steps, and visible roof supports are missing. The barn is in even worse condition, but the many chickens in the yard suggest that the place is indeed inhabited.

 

Right after the bridge is obviously the smithy, though no sign hangs there. The shop part of the building is unwalled, and two brawny lads operate a bellows while a giant of a man hammers thunderously upon a piece of metal that will soon become the blade of a shovel. Soot and smoke abound. Past that, you find yourselves at a crossroads on the south-eastern side of Orlane

 

To your left, the doors and windows of this large building are boarded up. A sign lies face-down in the weeds before the porch, which may be reached by climbing three broken steps. The roof has several gaping holes, and the general appearance of the place suggests that it has been long abandoned. Behind it is a farm house, the smell of which area identifies it as a hog farm.

 

The other building to your left and across the road looks like a moderately prosperous farm. The house and barn are in good repair, although several flower gardens that used to bloom in the yard have become choked with weeds. A strapping youth is splitting wood in the yard beside the house. South of that stands the exact opposite: a decrepit farmhouse with a collapsed barn. Doors and shutters swing freely here. The whole appearance is one of abandoned desolation. Weeds choke the yard before the house.

Finally, you turn right and come across the entrance of the carpenter's store, identified by the wooden board in the shape of a saw thet hangs before the well-constructed building. The front part of the structure is unwalled, and inside of this breezy area the carpenter is at work. Many tools (saws, hammers, nails, prybars, etc.) are scattered about, and some boards are mounted on sawhorses.

 

Jyotika had moved to the front of the pack as they maneuvered through the city, eyes taking in the various buildings and their state of upkeep.   The best kept of the town gets a longer glare before she finally pushes ahead. Once they're at the intended destination, she glances over her shoulder, shrugs it and then steps forward.   "Morning in there. Got a minute to spare?"

 

Tables, chairs, and desks—all of exquisite craftsmanship—may be seen in a casual inspection as Jyotika enters the carpenter's store. The table that is presently under construction, however, is much more shoddily put together, as are the pair of chairs the craftsman has just completed. The latter await a coat of stain, whereas all of the other furniture is finished. Raising his gaze above his work, he meets the sight of the genasi with a hint of suspicion. "Morning. Want to buy something?"

 

Jyotika steps forward a bit more.  "Not at the moment. We're actually here to see if we can help sort out the curiosities going on.   Locals at the tavern said you'd be a good start as far as that goes. The people going missing, then coming back not right..."   She tips her head back at the others. "We're just some adventurers looking to do some good, and usually it's the general hard working town folk that want to shoot you the straightest answers."

 

Penemue puts on her best smile and walks forward next to Jyotika, "You seem to be very talented at your craft." She says, looking around the workshop, "Everyone in town must come to you. Have any of your customers been among the ones who have gone missing?"

 

"I'm just here making furniture" the man responds. "Anyone can walk in and buy something I made or place an order. I  just mind my own business, I know nothing"

 

Ark chimes in, "Sooooo, you don't mingle with the other patrons of the village? You just sell your items and be done with it?" Ark feels like the carpenter may be hiding something out of fear. Maybe he really doesn't know anything.

 

"Do you have any family? If you do I'm sure they must really appreciate all this fine work you must be able to do for your home." Pen adds

 

"What's my mingling or my family have to do with any of this?" the carpenter asks, in a tone you're not sure whether it's confused or irritated. "You come into my store, clearly not interested in purchasing anything, asking all these weird questions and armed to the teeth when we have a constable you should be taking to instead"

 

"Answer:" Cog pipes up, "We are trying to ascertain why people in this village are going missing. We are asking everyone in the village for information that may be useful. Question: have you been outside of the village recently?"

 

A curious set of eyes gets thrown up first to Penemue, then to Cog, and when the carpenter answers, she adds in a quick, "We wanted to talk to a non-official first on the matter, in case the officials run a stream of bullshit."   She offers a smile, "Folks at the tavern said you'd be a good one to talk to."

 

"Tavern? What tavern? I don't go outside much"

 

Jyotika looks between the conversationists, eyes narrowed into a pinch for a moment.   A moment of 'oh' crosses her features. "Oh... hmm. Sorry about that. Right. So, how long have you been earning your trade here in this town?    Any particular pieces that sell well for ya?"

 

"Uhm... did some work at the temple... and the Golden Grain Inn. Those paid off well, were both construction and furniture. Might wanna go ask your questions over there if you're gonna just take up my time with all your intrusive questioning"

 

"OK well, we didn't mean to offend you just trying to be friendly while getting to the bottom of this issue plaguing your town. See you around." Pen says as she starts walking away, holding back her eye roll until she is squarely facing away from the carpenter.

 

Cog stares at the carpenter for a moment longer, taking in his defensive demeanor, and then turns wordlessly to follow Penemue.

 

Pen waits until they are out of ear shot and says "Well that was strange. I have a feeling we will definitely have to circle back to him at some point. Want to go chat with the constable? Hopefully that will be a more productive conversation."

 

You make your way back westwards across Orlane, almost to the point where you first arrived from. The constable's office is the square building in front of the abandoned barracks you explored last night, the one with the shuttered windows but the open door. Knowing now who dwells here, the open door might be explained as a way to pick up calls for help and respond immediately.

 

Inside are three men, two in practical clothes and banded mail armor with a sword on one side of their belt, a crossbow on the other and a shield strapped across their backs. The third one is actually wearing heavy plate mail armor. He too is carrying a sword and shield, but leans against a spear which he seems to be using as a walking stick and support for now.

 

"Hail to thee, newcomers" one of the two similar-looking men greets you. "Welcome to Orlane. My name is Grover Ruskadal, constable round these parts, so you best stay on my good side and avoid trouble. What brings you to these parts?"

 

Jyotika raises first one brow, then the other, at the robust greeting.   "Well, that was forthright at least." She glances to Penemue then, pinching her lips together to stifle a chuckle.  "Can't say we'll avoid trouble as we're actually looking to help out anyone trying to solve their trouble. Generally you have to face the beast you're hunting and all that."

 

"True, true" the constable says, sharing a chuckle with the other two. "Though I'm afraid you won't find lots of beasts to hunt in Orlane. Maybe the forest's a better case. What exactly is it you're after?"

 

"We came here after hearing rumors of some disappearances, some folks in the tavern seemed concerned about it. They mentioned some even came back acting strange? We want to help however we can. Maybe a fresh set of eyes will give a different perspective on these goings ons." The aasimar offered.

 

"Yes, uhm, that is why I called my friends here for backup" the constable says, casting a glance at the other two men. "Name's Hulbar" says the other man in banded mail armor "and this here's Donavan. That tavern you mentioned... You staying at the Slumbering Serpent?"

 

"Answer: yes sir, that is where we stayed last night," says Cog, stepping forward and looking up at the Constable. "We are keen to help solve these disappearances, if you can assist us with any information you have."

 

Penemue winces at the last, "er or if you can let us know how we can be of assistance to you"

 

"Holy c... that thing speaks!?" goes the third man

 

"You can lay low while we lead the investigation" the constable says. "Maybe ask around at the other tavern too, the Golden Grain Inn. People might say other stuff to outsiders. But try not to upset the populace that much"

 

"What about the carpenter?   Was he one of them that went missing and then returned?" asks Jyotika at this point, sending a quick half glance to the cleric.

 

"Why him specifically?"

 

"We spoke to him earlier. He seemed secretive, and as though he did not like us asking questions," responds the modron, flatly.

 

"Probably had another fight with his wife" deduces the constable. "Good thing you didn't talk to the blacksmith across the street from there... Talk about a man with a temper"

 

"So do you have a list of who's been taken and come back then?"

 

"Listen up, no one's been taken , alright? Like, that old man Ramne might disappear for a few days, maybe someone wonders where he's been, then he shows up again absolutely fine. Does that mean he was taken ? Don't believe everything you hear, especially over several mugs of ale"

 

Penemue furrows her brows and says, "I see, fair enough. What sort of line of questioning do you suggest we take with the patrons of the golden grain inn?"

 

"People have become closed and suspicious, so prodding them will only make them clam up more. I say relax, don't be so inquisitive, blend in and their curiosity will eventually make them come up and talk to you with tales of what's going on."

 

At that, Jyotika can't contain it anymore.  An explosive, "Hahahahah!" escapes her as she tips her head back.   "Blend in... hah..." she fails to catch her breath at first. "That was a good one... haha."

 

"Yes, well..." the constable stammers, as he realizes how that sounded. "What I meant was, try not to be so proactive. Let them come to you"

 

"Yes, because a tiefling, aasimar, modron and genasi are SOOOOOOO approachable. We get what you're saying, Constable Grover. But we're here to help. And if we wait on you all to come'a'knockin', than it may be too late to make a difference if you catch my drift." Ark explains with an encouraging smile.

 

"Do your part and we'll do ours. Now off with ye" goes the constable, waving you away

 

Jyotika puts up a hand, waving him off.  "It's fine. But like Arkaryn said, we're not the most readily approachable.   And just sitting around mingling seems like wasted time to me. Anyway. Have you kept any track of whose gone missing and returned?  So maybe we can spot patterns in the behavior of those who've come back?"

 

The constable lets out a low, disappointed sigh at Jyotika's request. "Damn outsiders never know when to stop, do they boys?"

 

And then draws his blade.

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Part Five: Combat at the Constable's Cabin

 

"Whoa, whoa!" Ark cries out, lifting his hands in the air. "Don't you think that's a little drastic, Constable Grover?" The tiefling catches the constable's gaze, wrinkles his nose, begins slightly waving his hands in a relaxing pattern, and then winks with a toothy grin. "We're all friends here are we not? We all like ale, yes? I'm assuming we all like a good, loooooooooong night with a busty woman too, yeah?" Ark tries not to look towards Pen and Jyo, but can't help a side glance their way. "What say we put down the weapons and maybe just chat about life over a pint of frothy ale? And being you're the constable and we your guest, we can agree that you're buying, yeah?" Ark holds the constables gaze, his violet colored eyes flashing a goldish hue for a brief second. "We are your allies, Constable Grover. Not your enemies."

 

"We only have the town's best interests at heart, we don't want any trouble" Pen adds, while she simultaneously clenches her fist and clutches her pendant, a soft glow building in her eyes.

 

"Right, right..." goes Constable Grover, cautiously lowering his sword. "Might as well grab some drinks at the Golden Grain Inn across the street, right?"

 

Ark claps his hands together excitedly and exclaims, "Yes! That sounds like a wonderful idea! So, you grab your coin purse...and maybe have your men put away their swords as well, and we can all walk over to the Golden Grain Inn together, yeah? Any special drink recommendations for my comrades and I?"

 

"There's some great local wine, made here in Orlane. Though you can have a beer instead if you prefer. Or brandy, I guess. Shall we?"

 

Somewhat puzzled, the two men behind him also lower their weapons cautiously and await your cue to head towards the Golden Grain Inn

 

Jyotika's initial reaction was a half-sincere sigh, as if she were saying 'oh darn, a fight'.  But then Ark spun his words and now here they were, about to go have drinks with the man who just pulled swords on them.    Her mouth drops and she stares at Ark for a moment as the constable agrees to the offer...  "Well, actually.  Ya know, I was thinking.   Why doesn't one of us run over, get some ale or brandy, and bring it back here.   More intimate.   And we won't bother the fine folks at the Inn with any of your rowdiness, eh Ark?"

 

"Yes, here seems like a better place to get to know our new friends" Pen slowly adds, catching Jyos intentions. The glow slowly fades from her eyes, but her tense posture remains.

 

Ark looks at Jyotika and with a firm nod, agrees to her idea. “Yes, that’s a perfect idea. Why bother the townsfolk at the inn when we can get to know each other better here. How bout you go fetch the brandy and be back in a jiffy, Jyotika? And I can continue conversation with the constable here?” Ark secretly hopes no one wants anything in particular because the point of the charm is not to drink with the tamed but hostile constable, but to get more info out of him, and the spell would wear off eventually.

 

"I will help you carry the drinks, Jyotika," says Cog, walking slowly towards the door and out onto the main thoroughfare.

 

"Yeah, sure Ark," answers the genasi.  Her eyes, however, turn toward Penemue with a 'keep an eye on him' look.    Cog gets a nod from her as well, "Great.  Thanks."

 

Pen locks eyes with Jyo and gives a quick, almost imperceptible wink of understanding as the genasi and modron turn to leave.

 

“Sooooo, Constable Grover. About those missing people...” the Tiefling starts in with a warm smile. “Do you have an account of all the people that have gone missing, let’s say in the last month? Jyotika is right. There could be a pattern here.” Ark eyes the constables henchmen warily, seeing a somewhat exhausted look on their face.

 

Jyotika and Cog head across the street and into the Golden Grain Inn, which seems pretty busy at this time of day with a dozen patrons seated in its common room, albeit pretty quiet and focused on their drinks. "Step right up, newcomers!" the barman's booming voice echoes from behind the counter. "Name's Bertram, what can I getcha this fine morning?"

 

Cog steps up, his one large eye peering up over the bar at the barman. "Good Morning Sir, we were hoping to purchase a bottle of brandy to take to a new friend of ours," he says, simply.

 

“Making friends already eh little… metal ball… thing?” The barmans’s cheerful tone slowly turns to confusion and awkwardness, not knowing what to make of the modron.  “Wonder who made friends with your new faces so quickly? Why don’t you bring them over, first rounds on me.”

 

"Perhaps later," responds the modron, trying to ensure that their plan stays on track, "We would like to take them a gift first."

 

Jyotika steps up beside the modron more protectively as the barman starts to get awkward.   "Thanks, but just the brandy and we'll be on our way.  We're planning a couple days stay, so we're sure to be back for a meal at some point."    She takes a quick inquisitive glance around the patrons, trying to ascertain if there's any unusualness going on.

 

Cog pulls two copper pieces from a pouch in his armour, and pushes them over the bar towards Bertram. "That is very kind of you," he responds, "may the Gentle Flame watch over you."

 

"Gentle Flame... that does ring a bell, but I'm not sure which one" Betram seems to talk to himself as he pockets the coppers. Just then, the sound of several pots and pans clanging is heard from behind the door, followed by a frustrated grunt. Bertram turns around with a raised eyebrow but before he can do much, the door opens ever so slightly and an arm pops out holding a bottle of dark liquid. "There's your brandy, boss. Gotta go clean up my mess" you hear a voice from inside, before Bertram takes the bottle and the door is closed again. "There you are, enjoy with your friends" he says, turning to you as he offers the bottle of brandy.

 

Jyotika's eyebrows go up at the commotion in the back room, one hand twitching ever so slightly toward her belt dagger.   When the arm comes out and hands the brandy over she lets out a notable sigh of relief.    She nods toward the door at Cog, then starts walking away from the bar.  Once outside, she looks to the often perceptive cleric, "Something seem weird back there?"     And without waiting for an answer, "I could've sworn I smelled fish cooking, and that's not a proper breakfast item."

 

"Answer: he seemed quite friendly," responded the modron, unhelpfully. "Jyotika..." he continued, slowing as they approached the constable's house, "Arkaryn cast a spell on the constable. When the spell ends he may be as angry as he was when he drew his sword on us. Query: should we persuade the other men to leave before he regains his senses?"

 

Jyotika looks to her companion, nodding.  "That'd be nice--- If I thought we stood a chance in succeeding.   But I don't think they'll walk from their boss.  And here's the thing.   Judging by the constable's reaction, he isn't on the up and up.   Trouble is, he does carry some authority around here.   Not that any of that bothers me as far as cracking skulls goes, but it's going to make the rest of this task either a whole lot easier, or a whole lot harder.   Maybe the carpenter was acting like he was, because the constable had him blackmailed to play dumb.   Anyway.   I think we should just be ready to fight.   No way out of it once that spell clears... right?   Though if we can just knock em out and lock 'em up - it might go further in keeping the town somewhat on our side?"

 

"I would rather avoid violence of we can, Jyotika. That may well not be possible, but if we can separate the constable from the others I believe it would be worthwhile," says Cog, as he turns to enter the house.

 

Meanwhile, back at the constable's cabin, Ark and Pen are busy trying to dig up any more information. "I've tried to put a list together, but there's also people from outlying farms that were gone for a bit, not just Orlane" Constable Grover responds. "Let me see what I can dig up..." he adds, as he starts rummaging through his stuff around the cabin

 

"Do you truly believe something is amiss, Constable Grover? Or is this all just some big coincidence?" Ark asks as he swallows what the constable says, prying the man for his true feelings

 

"Well I've noticed no pattern to suggest any plan" Constable Grover says, while still looking around his stuff. "If it's not a coincidence, it's something that's sporadic and chaotic so far". The two men simply nod to what he says.

 

"What are your plans for investigating these matters? It's hard for us to help without being able to figure out where we would best fit in to your efforts." Penemue asks, trying to maintain a friendly, helpful tone.

 

"I... uhm... I'm trying to set a trap!" Constable Grover responds, still trying to find something amidst his not-so-many belongings "Yes, a trap... catch them in the act and all... that's why I called in reinforcements here, you see..." He then stops, as if pondering something. "Maybe you could help with that. Spread out our forces to cover more ground. I mean... it's not like I have a specific place I expect them to strike next, so better be on the lookout across all of Orlane"

 

"A trap, huh? Interesting idea, Constable." Ark responds, stroking his goatee. "What did you have in mind as far as our min-strike forces? Maybe you should come with my group and I? It would be good for the townsfolk of Orlane to see the Constable working together with the new arrivals, dontcha think?" Ark asks with an encouraging smile.

 

"I'm not sure people are that trusting of outsiders these days" says Grover, an eyebrow raised. "And a large group might draw attention. Plus will be difficult to hide. Might be better if we spread out far enough to cover a wide area but close enough to signal each other and overwhelm our target. Like skirmishers, or guerilla fighters, you know?"

 

"Yes..yes...I'm familiar with both of those terms. And a solid idea nonetheless. Should we start the festivities now or wait till closer to sun down?" Ark asks, looking at Penemue then back at the Constable.

 

"Speaking of the townsfolk being wary, the carpenter seemed especially bothered by us. We hope we didn't do any lasting damage on that relationship. Do you know of any way we might be able to make amends with him, or what might have caused such a reaction from him so we make sure not to step in that again? It's such a small town and we will likely be here for a while so we are sure to see him at least in passing frequently so we don't want that to be a burned bridge." Penemue asks.

 

"He'll be fine... All will be fine. Speaking of which, where's that brandy? We should be celebrating!"

 

As if on cue, there's a soft rap on the doorway before Jyo and Cog enter in.  "We're back.  Everything going alright in here?" asks the genasi with a look around the gathered.       She holds up the bottle and gives it a little wiggle.  "Brandy."

 

"Right! Everything alright!" Jyo hears Constable Grover from behind some stuff in his cabin. The two men are still around, weapons drawn but lowered. "Sadly, I ain't got more than a couple of glasses" he adds, rising up to face your reunited group

 

“Glasses, shmasses. Nothing like a good chug from the bottle itself!” Ark implies with a crooked smile. “But maybe pour the glasses first so you don’t all get my cooties...” the Tiefling bard says with a raised eyebrow.

 

"Why would I mind that?" the Constable says, with a genuine look of surprise towards Ark's comment as the bottle is passed around. The brandy is sweet and strong, a caramelized tint on top of the alcohol's kick. "I mean, there's so much more we're going to share down the road." Suddenly, your stomach tightens and your head feels like it was hit with a sledgehammer. Penemue loses her footing and drops to the hardwood floor while Ark, no stranger to strong drinks and hangovers, drops to one knee before falling over unconscious. "You see," the Constable continues, his face an expression of pain too as he sends the bottle flying to shatter on one of the side walls "at first I thought you were being too inquisitive and wanted to get rid of you, but now I think you'd serve our faith well instead"

 

The Constable draws his sword again and stumbles forward to slash at Jyotika, but between both him and her struggling with sudden cramps and aches, the blade never connects with anything but the chair next to Jyo, which is dropped to the side as the Constable grumbles under his breath.

 

Behind him, his spearman raises his shield in a defensive pose and tries to find an opening so he can stab at Jyo from the rear. Again, the Constable's stumbling doesn't make it an easy job and when he finally strikes, the handle grazes the Constable's shoulder, reducing its stopping power so it barely scratches Jyo's armor.

 

As her companions drop from the offered brandy, Jyotika's features flush with anger.   The constables words though bring that rattling kettle to boil over.   With a fierce growl, she reaches back and gathers her glaive up and shoves a madness fueled strike right at the constable's gut.   At least, where his gut had been a moment prior to his stumbling about.   The wicked blade comes up hitting nothing but air, and Jyo's gaze hardens even more at that.

 

"You will join, or you will DIE!" shouts the swordsman as he lunges forward in an attempt to strike down the enraged genasi barbarian. Jyo turns out to be lucky in her misfortune, as her polearm may not have struck true, but it does swing in an ark good enough to redirect the sword's blade, parrying the blow.

 

Cog hesitates for a moment, trying to work out what he can do for his unconscious friends. At a loss he turns to face the swordsman, and whispers a few short words as he raises his hand. The floor beneath his attackers seems to fold away at an impossible angle, and a gout of flame bursts forth.

 

The swordsman yelps in surprise and pain as the not-so-gentle flame chars him all the way up to his waistline.

 

"You think you command flames?" grunts the Constable. "Wait and you'll see!" he adds as he throws himself forward in another failed attempt to slice Jyotika with his blade

 

"Shut up and take them out, Grover!" the spearman behind him barks, this time striking true to draw hot blood from the enraged genasi

 

"I AM THE FIRE!" roars Jyotika as she twirls her glaive around just once to reposition, then steps forward into a heavy slashing thrust aimed at the constable's right hip.

 

The blade of Jyo's glaive slices right at the constable's hip joint, cutting through flesh, bone and sinew like a hot knife through butter. Blood splashes onto her and the constable's torso, as the man drops to the ground with a final scream of panic.

 

"Damn you, outsiders!" shouts the remaining swordsman, waving his sword with more desperation than skill between the loss of his ally and his own burned skin

 

Seeing his spell's success, Cog repeats the incantation one more time. This time though, the swordsman knows better than to get burned twice and is able to sidestep just before the gout of flame shoots out.

 

Now without the constable's body between him and Jyotika, the spearman has a clear enough view to aim his next stab and the tip of his weapon strikes true, right into the raging genasi's right shoulder

 

Jyotika's grin widens as the constable falls, her grip on her glaive tightening with satisfaction.    The space within the office is small though, and as she feels the spear tip slide into her shoulder, she turns on the new assailant with a primal yell.   In a quick movement, the glaive arcs around and slashes toward the spear wielder with a whoosh of raw energy aimed at his midsection.

 

Once again, Jyo's slice rewards her with another spray of blood across her face and chest as the glaive cuts behind her target's chainmail armor. The spearman grunts in pain, but braces himself and prepares to strike back

 

Meanwhile, his sword-wielding friend desperately hacks at the raging genasi, his attention completely drawn by her antics despite Cog's magic actually damaging him. Another slice, another cut and Jyotika is hurt, but still in the fight.

 

Cog tries again to summon holy fire and end the threat from the swordsman, but he’s wised up to it and jumps away easily.  Deciding to change tactics the modron pulls out his mace instead, hoping to force the swordsman to show his back to Jyo.

 

Having found a spot to aim for, the spearman jabs again and this time, the metal goes into Jyo's flesh all the way to the wooden haft, splitting muscle from bone. A stinging pain finally registers with her raging head and with it, it's like a crack in the dam; all the pain from all the previous blows comes crashing down, the overwhelming input clouding her vision in a red blur as she collapses senseless to the floor.

 

The swordsman turns to Cog next, the only one still up and fighting. Not sure how to take down this strange creature, he strikes a tentative blow that simply clangs off Cog's chain-link encrusted metal frame

 

Seeing Jyotika fall, a moment of panic shows in Cog's eye. He circles the swordsman, and as he does so utters a prayer.

 

The blue sun emblazoned on his armour glows brightly, and that light spreads down Cogs arm and leaps onto the genasi's prone form. Seeing the healing magic take effect he continues to move until he is face-to-face with the spearman, an attempt at defiance crossing his features.

 

Much like before, the spear-wielding man tentatively jabs at Cog, attempting to find some sort of weak spot he can aim for, only for his weapon to harmlessly prick the chain links of Cog's plating

 

There's that touch again- that warmth that spreads from the outward.   It's an odd contrast to the heat of her own blood and rage, and it stirs her gently awake.    The sounds of combat and the telltale metal KA-LANG striking off of Cog bring her back to her senses, and the journey from aware, to once more enraged is almost instantaneous.   Her hand reaches out for her glaive even as she stands up, and with one quick step she's pushed herself closer to the spearman, but turned the blade itself on the swordsman swinging at her cleric.

 

The blade carves a long wound across the swordsman's chest and he drops to the floor with a scream that's quickly drowned by the gurgling sound of blood flooding his throat. 

 

Free to move around a bit now, Cog focuses his attention on the single remaining enemy and carefully sidesteps to circle him so he and Jyotika are opposite each other, with the spearman caught in the middle.

 

The man cautiously turns around, trying to keep both Cog and Jyotika in his field of vision. It's not an easy task, especially with his long polearm in this narrow space, but at least his left arm does turn the shield to his side just in time to receive the impact of Cog's mace.

 

Realizing his predicament, he spins around into a defensive position and cautiously retreats closer to the exit. Once he has his back to the wall, he points his spear towards the unconscious forms of Ark and Pen. "Stop right there! Or your friends get it!" he shouts

 

Seeing her unconscious friends in peril, Jyotica grips her weapon tight with both hands and instead of an answer, she lunges forward. The working end of her glaive digs itself deep into the spearman's belly, making the best of the momentary lapse in his defenses as he was waiting for a response. There is a sickening, squishy sound as she twists the blade, his intestines slashed as the sharp end is turned to face upwards. The spearman hunches over, his weight supported by the spear and with a final grunt, Jyo slashes upwards, cutting him open from bottom to top and spilling his insides onto the floor before his carcass also falls on top of them and the lifeless body of the constable.

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Part Five: In the aftermath of the fight

 

It takes a few, long moments for Jyotika to pull herself out of that blood haze.    When she does, she turns first to Cog.     "Are they okay?"   She glances between Penemue and Ark, as if in thoughtful consideration.  And then she kneels down next to Arkaryn and starts rapid fire smacking his right cheek.  "Hey!  Hey!  Wake up!"    Another glance toward Cog, "You wake up Pen."   Clearly, she took the safer bet.

 

The pain was somewhat distant at first. Then, with each twack that echoed in Ark's ear, the pain went from hot to scorching. The tiefling flickered his eyes open and then they grew wide with confused fear when he realized Jyotika was repeatedly smacking him in the face, yelling "wake up!"

 

"Whoa! WHOA! Pineapple! Pineapple!" Ark yelled out as he tried to scoot away from his barbarian friend.

 

Jyo narrows her eyes at the tiefling as if thoroughly confused, then grows a frown.  "The constable and his thugs are dead.   You and Pen missed the whole fight.   We should probably figure out what to do next."   A pause, and a softer spoken question, "Are you okay?"

 

Ark looks about the room, taking in the gory mess and dead bodies laid about the small space. "What in the...wow...really??" He then looks over to where Penemue lays as Cog tries to wake the Aasimar from her unconscious state. "Holy hell, you guys took all three of them on?! Color me impressed!" Then it hits Ark. "Wait a second....the fuckin brandy is what did this didn't it?" He grunts with displeasure, realizing how foolish it was to be so brazen with the liquor. "I'm doing ok, I guess." Ark responds to Jyotika, rubbing his reddened cheek and reaching out a hand to her to help him off the blood soaked floor,

 

Cog shakes the fallen aasimar awkwardly by the shoulders, moving from side to side seeking signs of life. "Please wake up, Penemue," he says flatly.

 

"Yes Arkaryn, it was the brandy," Cog says, turning towards Ark. "I believe I should purify all of our food and drink for safety from now on. Speaking of safety, are you able to barricade the door while we recover?"

 

Penemues last semi-conscious thoughts were of cursing the brandy and sensing an impending fight. She woke with a start and, smelling the gore, jumped to her feet. She inadvertently not-so-gently pushed Cog out of the way, readying for battle. "THERES SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE DAMN BRANDY" she shouts as she begins to grasp her pendant. She  then looks around shakily and, seeing the three bodies, calms a bit. "Wow I guess I was out for quite a while... Seems you guys got on okay without me though " And looking back Cog "Thank you for waking me metal man, sorry if I got a little rough there. You really cleaned up here, huh? Didn't think you had this level of violence in you. I'm proud of you." She winks at Jyo, recognizing most of the handiwork as hers, but wanting to make sure Cog felt a part of the bloodshed as well, it being so seemingly out of his character..

 

"That's alright Penemue, I am unharmed," replies Cog, "Those men presented some challenges, but we overcame them. I do not understand why they attacked us though."

 

Jyotika gives Ark a nod of her head, then reaches out her hand to meet his.  With a grunt, she hefts him up then brings a hand to her bloody shoulder to fight off the wince that accompanied the helpful gesture.  "Because they are corrupt assholes.   Said something about joining their faith."   She carefully steps over the slop on the floor.   "Wonder if the carpenter knew that, but was afraid to say anything.   When the lawfolks are the problem, it tightens lips pretty fast."   She marks that sentiment by spitting on the downed Grover.

 

"Because they're assholes that's why" Pen says at the same time Jyo speaks. She laughs to herself at their similar assessment as she gives the constables corpse a good kick. She nods at Jyo's conclusions and adds with a pout, "Can't believe I didn't get to fight at all. Ugh. Glad you're all okay though."

 

"Jyo, you might wanna get that shoulder taken care of my friend." Ark says as he notices the wince from the fire genasi when she helped him up. The bard nods at Cogs suggestion for purifying all food and drink from here on out and responds to the modron's request. "I'll get to barricading the door. In the meantime, you three might want to search their pockets for anything interesting."

 

"Yeah," answer the genasi shortly.   "Honestly, I don't feel the greatest just now.   I took a really bad hit and I think I blacked out a minute there."   She turns her attention to Cog at this admission.  "You.  Right?"    Her lips purse in thought as if trying to decide whether or not to say more.  "Flames are different.    From what I'm used to I mean.   But.    Thanks."

 

"You are most welcome, Jyotika. I was... worried when you fell." Cog replies, as though trying to describe an unfamiliar concept, "And... relieved to see you back on your feet."

 

Following Ark's suggestion Cog crouches next to the Captain, and starts to methodically go through his pockets and those of his men.

 

Cog finds a total of 3 gold coins among Constable Grover's remains, 5 gold coins on the swordsman's waist pouch and a meager 14 copper ones in one of the spearman's pockets. What's more interesting is the dead men's gear, now that he has a chance to observe it more carefully. The swordsman's shield seems to sport an elaborate decorative pattern that originally looked like some sort of celtic knot, but upon closer inspection, the knots appear to end in serpetine heads

 

Likewise, the spearman's weapon is decorated with a metallic snake figure, wrapped around the base of the spear's tip

 

Also, all three men carried shields and are dressed in scale armor, which now seems all the more suspicious given the ongoing reptile pattern, with the spearman's armor standing out as especially well made, iridescent scales reflecting different colours of light as it strikes them in various angles

 

Cog divides the coins into 4 neat piles on the table, and indicates for the party to take their share. "Hopefully we can put these to a good use."

 

Pen picks up one of the long swords and twirls it around "Thank goodness, finally a real weapon! I don't know why I was hanging onto this stupid stick for so long" she says, slashing the sword through the air a few times satisfactorily.  "Ugh could use some cleaning though" she scrunches her nose and, after unceremoniously yanking the scabbard off of the swordsman, sits at the table with Cog and begins wiping the sword down. She looks around at everyone and says to herself "I think we all could really use a cleaning actually…"

 

After making a makeshift barricade near the door, Ark settles back with his crew, looking at his share of the loot. "I feel bad for taking these coins because I was knocked out during the fight, so, Cog and Jyo can take my share." The tiefling says with sincerity. He then sniffs his arm pits at the mention of "cleaning" and nods in agreement. "I second the cleaning idea. I smell like a horses arse."

 

Satisfied with her cleaning job on the sword, she sheaths it, places it on the table, and gets up again. "Yeah you two hold onto the money. I'm happy enough with this new gear" Pen agrees, as she starts unfastening the plain scale mail from the swordsman. "Does anyone want to take a look at this armor? It looks pretty interesting." She says, gesturing down at the spearman as she removes her leather armor and stretches.

 

Jyotika shakes her head and pushes the coins back at Ark.   "Just keep them.   Someday the situations will be turned and I ain't offering you mine!" 

 

"Oh that reminds me, here." Pen throws 7 gold coins on the table "Since Ark has been earning our food and rooming with his uh... many talents, you all should take your share of this gold we got off the bandits a few nights back as well since we didn't have to pay the Slumbering Serpent with it."

 

With a huff Jyotika reaches out and picks up the spear.  "This thing stuck me real good.    Kinda fancy for the constables hired thug, right?"   She turns over in her hand once, twice, a third time to feel the balance.    "Where the hell are we gonna go that isn't going to get these townspeople up are ass about what we just did here?"

 

"I don't know if I would have much need for the shimmering scale armor but I suppose I'll take the coins then. I never did peg you for someone to share properly, Jyo." Ark says with a smirk and a wink at his barbarian friend. Then, as Penemue puts the other coins they earned from the other night into the mix he says, "I feel like with all this money being thrown at me that I may need to use one of my many talents to strip and dance for you, Pen. I can assure you that these hips don't lie..."

 

"You do what you need to do Ark, but I'll be over here examining this armour so you'll be audienceless" Pen says gruffly as she settles into a chair with her back to the tiefling, puts her feet up on the table, and begins inspecting the iridescent armor on her lap. "Oh and, you did make sure that you locked the door before barricading it, right?"

 

Looking about the room as the others rest, Cog discovers a sack in the late constable's desk that contains 21 gold and 88 silver coins. Jyotika tends to her wounds as good as she can, then focuses on examining the spear and trying it out. Arkaryn and Penemue inspect the shield and armor respectively. By the time the little modron produces the sack to announce that was all he could find, his friends are positive of the snake-themed items' magical nature.

 

After spending some time looking the weapon over, Jyotika lets out a grunt.  "It's too simple for my tastes.    Cog?  You take it.   You wear shields anyway, and I'd rather keep use of my glaive."    She hands the spear over to the modron.  "Besides.  I'm still pissed at it for messing up my shoulder."

 

"Yeah, you can have the shield as well, Cog. It would just be a hindrance when I play the lute anyways." Ark says, walking over to the modron and handing over the shield. At the same time, Ark tries to nonchalantly lock the door before Penemue notices he did everything to barricade it besides securing that little detail.

 

"Look at you all ready for battle my metal dude!" Pen exclaims sardonically, but not without a hint of affection, when she sees Cog with the spear and shield, but adds with seriousness "You're a really good asset in this team I'm glad you're suiting up. Speaking of which," the aasimar pauses ask she dons the magic scale mail, "I should be getting a little more protection myself if the constable was any indication of the way things will be going around here." She snorts and nods towards the tiefling "And I saw that, Ark."

 

"Even after resting up a bit, I feel like death warmed over for some reason.   So you're gonna have to be our wall of defense if any more shit gets stirred up today."    Jyotika points to Arkaryn and Penemue then.  "And you two.   You're cut off until this is resolved!"

 

Penemue stiffins and turns abruptly to Jyotika "I most certainly am not, Jyo. Lucky for me I've got my own stock and after a day like today I'll be needing to dip into it. You can have some if you ask nicely." Pen sticks her tongue out at the genasi with a poorly concealed grin and straps a shield to her pack. "We should clean this mess up before leaving. Cog, did it look like there was room for all of uh.. this in the bedroom?" She says as she gestures vaguely at the bodies. "And was there a sink anywhere? If we can get some of the blood off maybe we can prevent an immediate mass panic here."

 

"I will do my best to protect you all," responds Cog, seriously, gripping the new spear and shield.

 

Turning to Pen, he responds to her questions. "I believe they will all fit in the bedroom Penemue. Or the cellar. I am not sure how best to clean up however, and I am not sure that any ruse will be effective for very long with the constable missing."

 

"Yeah this will be noticed sooner rather than later no matter what we do, but any time we can buy is better than nothing. The cellar seems like a good option, we can maybe cover the door with a carpet or something too." Pen responds.

 

"We have about 12 hours before the town begins to notice the absence of the constable, so, I suggest once we're done stashing the bodies, and cleaning ourselves up, that we make our way to the hermit and see what we can dig up." Ark says walking over near the dead constable. "Pen, wanna give me a hand in throwing this sack of meat down the cellar?"

 

Jyotika just glares at the tongue from Penemue then shrugs and moves to start cleaning up the mess.   "Whatever you three decide then."    The answer comes curtly and with little enthusiasm- but perhaps that better than the other usual option.

 

Relieved of their armor, the corpses are now managable enough to be carried around and with a bit of teamwork, you are able to hide them in the cellar below, which seems to be mostly empty.

As part of your rest and regroup break, you were able to clean yourselves a little bit, though the bloodstains on the floor remain and it will take a thorough clean up to remove. You realize such a task would require a lot of time and might draw even more unwanted attention, so you leave the constable's cabin as is and hope for the best.

 

Author's note: Thanks to @juliebarkley for reminding me to update this, with minimal comments and everyone seemingly starting a game of their own, I'd figured interest on this had waned and forgotten to update it.

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Part Six: Getting to know the locals better

 

As soon as you exit, you turn left towards the long building of the abandoned barracks, trying to avoid the busier streets and especially the Golden Grain Inn. Circling around the first building you saw when you first entered Orlane, you head north until you reach the river bank. While the current doesn't look all that strong, the river is wide enough to require a good swim;doing so might draw more attention and in your current, heavily armored state is bound to be a challenge, potentially a deadly one. The only way across seems to be a bridge to the east of you. As you look around to ascertain the situation, you notice three young girls behind the fence of the nearby dairy farm looking at you inquisitively.

 

At the sight of the small girls, Jyotika stops short and puts on her best, most genuine smile. A hand comes up just to waist level and her fingers wiggle in a way.  "Hello!   We're uh- part of a traveling circus." She reaches over to shove Arkaryn up front to finish the sell.

 

Thrown into the spotlight, Arkaryn gives the three girls the biggest smile he can muster. He was pretty sure he might be the very first tiefling these children have ever seen. "Hello, girls. What a beautiful day it is, yeah? Are you three fond of juggling by chance?" Before they can answer, Ark rummages on the ground and finds three smallish rocks and begins to fling them up end of end as he juggles the pebbles with expert skill. Then, with a flick of his tail, he adds another rock from the ground and begins to juggle all four at once. As a finishing touch, the bard throws all four rocks into the air and catches three in his outstretched hand as the fourth one lands on his horn making a thud sound and falling to the ground. "TADAAAAAA!" Ark yells out, hoping to have impressed the children.

 

The children all stare at the tiefling bard's tricks, completely drawn in and with a big "yaaaaaaaay" in the end, until another girl, this one in her early teens, rushes to them from the farm's building to shush them back into the house. "I'm sorry" the girl says with a courteous smile "hope my little sisters didn't distract you from something important"

 

“Not even in the slightest.” Ark responds with a wave of his hands. “But before you go, do you mind if I ask you a question?” the bard says with sincerity and concern.

 

"Uhm... Yes? I mean, no. Hah, I mean, ask, I don't mind"

 

Jyotika looks between tiefling and girl and back, eyes narrowing as if trying to piece together something.

 

“My names, Arkaryn but my friends call me Ark. My companions and I are new around here but we’ve come to investigate some strange disturbances...” Ark looks at the girl with his violet colored eyes, “and was wondering if you might know anything about what’s going on? People seem to be very stand-offish around here when we ask about it.”

 

"But where's the other man, the one with the hood?" one of the younger kids pipes up, before her older sister shushes her. "Hold on, mister Arkaryn" the teenage sister turns back to address him. "I'll get my sisters inside and tell my dad to come see you." With that, she ushers her three younger sisters back into the farmhouse.

 

"I hope this proves wise, Ark. Getting more people involved at this point may not be the greatest idea.". Pen says

 

"We should perhaps move on, before the girl's father returns," adds Cog

 

"I mean, what if there are answers to be had?"   Jyotika looks between the others.  "We could just try to be upfront soon as he comes out.   We could use an ally."   A pause.  "Or at least an open ear.  He's probably just a farmer. With four little girls. He's not going to start anything."

 

"I'm inclined to agree with Cog. Though we would have to BOOK it because if he sees us running away that might be worse, but I just don't want him alerting the other townspeople to where we are headed, and seeing our current state...and our newfound weapons and armor" The aasimar says, gesturing down to her shiny scale mail.

"I guess you're right though Jyo, he isn't isn't going to start anything hopefully." Penemue adds reluctantly with a shrug.

 

Few minutes later, a man in common farmer clothes and a wide straw hat comes out of the barn, waving at you from afar. He walks towards you and even starts talking before he's fully up close "Howdy there, fellas! Name's Nowell, Nowell Graven. M'daughter Krissy said you wanted to talk?"

 

Pen sighs to herself and steps forward, knowing she is the least strange looking of the bunch, and says as gently as she can muster "Hi there! We hope we aren't interrupting your day too much. My friend here can't resist a chance to entertain. We have been inquiring around town about the disappearances that have apparently been going on. We came here hoping to help with the situation but being outsiders as we are, everyone has been pretty reserved in offering any information."

 

"Reserved?  That's not the word I'd use Pen."  Jyotika turns toward the farmer.  "Things are bad here.   Real bad.  It even has its hooks into the very people who are supposed to be looking after the rest of you.   We need someone to shoot us straight.   And hopefully, with some luck, you can be that someone."

 

Pen shrugs in half agreement, "Some definitely less reserved than others in their resistance to our help." She looks hopefully at the farmer, this would either get them solid information they desperately needed or possibly turn into a fight, and either outcome would definitely improve Penemue's day.

 

"People been goin' crazy in Orlane alright. Lot o' suspicion around. Which is why I think outsiders like you might be the answer. 'fraid I can't help y'all much, but you're welcome to come inside for cheese and tea if you want"

 

"That's very kind of you, Mr. Graven, but we were on our way as it was. Maybe before we leave town we will stop by and take you up on that offer of cheese and tea." Ark chimes in with a smile, sensing the anxiousness of his companions. "Thank you so much for your time."

 

"You might wanna drop by the mayor's house while you're at it" the dairy farmer says, scratching the back of his head. "Think Zakarias used to be a travellin' troublesolver like yerselves. Same with Alan an' his wife, they own the farmhouse north o' the Slumberin' Serpent Inn. Might wanna hear out Vilma too, ol' woman knows all the gossip but can't promise most of it gonna be true. Her house is the one in the lil' grove by the lake as you head towards the temple." Nowell pauses, if his head hurts from processing all that information. "And I'll be here if you wanna talk. You take care now" he adds with a tip of his hat, before spinning on his heel to return home

 

Jyotika lets out a sigh heavy with relief, then turns a somewhat cocky grin to her companions.  "See!  Upfront and honest worked!"   She shifts her weight from one hip to the other, bringing a finger to tap at her lip in brief thought.  "I vote Zakarias.  He used to be an adventurer.  And he's got a great name."

 

"We should definitely check him out, but since we've come all this way let's still hit up the hermit first." Pen suggests and looks around the group to see if they agree

 

"It would seem most efficient to visit the hermit first," concurs Cog

 

Jyo gives a nod.  "Hermit it is."

 

"Wait, where are we going again?" Ark says sheepishly, trying to contain a grin.

 

Taking great care to avoid the Golden Grain Inn, you head to the nearby bridge and cross it, immediately taking the path on your left towards the grove where you've been told the local hermit's shack is in. The narrow trail winds among majestic elms, at times disappearing into thick shrubbery. The bushes between the trees are dense, rising to a height of eight or ten feet. The elms themselves average 75' tall, and they are the only trees here. They are widely spaced, allowing much sunlight to pour between their ancient boughs. On the far side of this small grove, you notice a ramshackle shack.

 

Jyotika took up the point spot as the group continued on to their goal.    As the trees enclose the trail they're on, she pauses to look up at them in a rare show of reverence and awe.  A smile crosses her features as she eyes the door, "I feel good about this."   A hand gently pats one of the elms as she walks by it, "Well done old man."     When she finally reaches the ramshackle old shack, she glances over her shoulder at the others.   A soft rapping follows.  "Hello?   We'd like to talk to you about what's going on around here.  Hopefully, we can help."

 

An awkward moment passes, during which you hear some noise and a rhythimic tapping from inside the shack, before the door creaks open just a little bit. As the sunlight falls on the slice of opened space, it reveals a bent and graybearded old man leaning on a gnarled piece of wood, too long to be called a walking stick or cane but also too short to make a functional staff. His bald head is a stark opposite to not just his beard but also a fuzzy furry thing on his shoulder, from which a pair of gleaming eyes with an elongated snout between them appear to look at you. The old man raises a cautious eyebrow as he inspects your rather unusual group. "Yes?"

 

"We are looking for Mr Ramne; would that be you?" Cog says, looking up into the man's face. "We are investigating the unusual events in town, and we wondered if if you were able to provide any information."

 

"Must be really unusual to attract a group of characters such as yourselves" the old man says, quickly adding "no offense meant. I'm Ramne indeed, and this here's Whiskers" he says, rubbing the head of what appears to be a ferret on his shoulder. "Do come in and tell me about yourselves, what you've found" he tells you, as he pulls the door open further.

 

"Yeah, we get that a lot," Jyotika adds with a cocky shrug and a grin.  "No tricks, right?  We've kind of had our fill of tricks already today."

 

"Really? Oh dear..." Ramne says in a troubled tone as Whiskers scuttles across to his other shoulder. "I would hear what you have to say. Right here even, if the idea of stepping in makes you uncomfortable."

 

"Let's chat here and see where it takes us, no offense meant. We've had quite the day and what trust I had of anyone here has been worn away. I'm Penemue." The aasimar cautiously reaches out her hand to shake the hermits hands, hesitating long enough that it is obvious that even this is brushing up against her limits of trust for now.

"Understood" says the hermit with a slight nod, gently shaking the aasimar's hand. "Nice to meet you, Penemue. Now, if you'll give me a minute please..." Ramne adds, before retreating to the inside of his cabin. A few moments later, he returns with a simple wooden chair he sets down by the door. "Old age will do that" he says, taking a seat. "Can't stand up for too long. So, tell me what you wanted to chat about"

 

"We have heard that some of your community have gone missing, while others have disappeared for a time and have returned behaving unusually." said Cog, looking at Ramne, his eye now level with the hermit's face. "We are looking for any information that can assist us in discovering what is causing these disappearances."

 

"Also... has your constable always been a corrupt and terrible man?   Or has whatever "this" is," Jyotika offers with fingers coming up to accentuate the this, "done something to make him a raging asshole intent on harming those who seek to help?"

 

Penemue crosses her arms at the mention of the constable and and watches the hermit carefully for any signs of dishonesty, concealment, or hesitation.

 

"Ah, I see you have already met Constable Grover..." the old man picks up. "And from the sound of it, things didn't go well. But although he did not 'disappear' a while back, he did leave for an unusual mission further than his usual stomping grounds, so he may have ended where the other were too and changed. Tell me" he turns his gaze to the genasi "what would your guess be about what 'it' is and what it does?"

 

Jyotika looks a little taken back at the sudden spotlight granted here.  "What?   The it?   Well."   She clears her throat and pinches her brows together.  "When the Constable turned on us, he mentioned becoming part of the faith, or cult or something.   So, someone is shaking the minds of the folk here.   We also know we got fed a bottle of poisoned brandy by the keeper of the Golden Grain, and he didn't know the constable was sending us to fetch one.   So that guy is kind of on my list now too."

 

"He's on my list now too, Jyo." Ark explains, putting a hand to his stomach and remembering how the poisoned brandy made me feel. It was a miracle he was alive and owed a tremendous amount of gratitude to his barbarian and cleric friends. "Basically what my genasi friend is saying, Ramne, is trust is hard to come by these days and we've encountered more bad then good since we arrived here."

 

"Everyone's on my list until they prove otherwise. I didn't think we'd be welcomed here with open arms but being poisoned by where we almost stayed the night wasn't exactly the sort of thing I was expecting either." Penemue grumbles.

 

"Of course you weren't expecting to be welcomed, it's not everyday the locals get to see a devil, a fire geenie and a one-eyed automaton" Ramne chuckles to himself "or at least that's what most people will probably mistake you lot for. You may be onto something though" he says thoughtfully, scratching his beard and then the little weasel's head. "Something's certainly shaking the minds of people here. You only mentioned the Constable at first though, now I hear aboud the Golden Grain Inn too. Who else have you been in contact with while in Orlane?"

 

"The carpenter seemed to be in on whatever it is too, he didn't say or do anything to indicate as much aside from mentioning he worked on the Golden Grain Inn and the constable being particularly defensive of him, but my gut feeling is he's involved as well." The aasimar responds.

 

"Very well, very well..." Ramne nods his head hearing Penemue, a hint of satisfaction in his tone. "Is that all?"

 

"Well..." Penemue continues, briefly looking around at her companions before going on, "the constable seemed to be faith driven, and the carpenter mentioned he had worked on the temple as well so I'm betting this is originating from there, or that it at least is strongly involved."

 

"Good thinking. Very reasonable" Ramne mumbles. "So have you been to the temple as well?"

 

Jyotika hmms, "I think the carpenter might have been less willingly involved and more affected by proxy.  If it's the temple and the Golden Grain, he might have been sucked in just by being there.   Had we stayed there and had drinks given us that first night, who knows what would have happened."

 

"Probably not be talking here now I'd hazard to guess" Penemue says to Jyotika with a snort, then turns to Ramne and responds "And no, after our previous interactions we wanted to check in with some other people less involved in the town before barreling into the unknown. Which is why we came to you."

 

"I see. So you want my input on the situation then? Some information on what has happened, yes?" the old man says, still caressing the head of his furry little companion. "And I'm assuming once you've pieced together the entire picture, you'll be wanting to stop whatever's causing this... situation, hm? Alright then, one last question for you: why? Is it some reward you're after? Glory? What drives you, beyond the obvious payback, of course"

 

"It is the right thing to do, for us to help people," Cog responds before the others can speak. "The Gentle Flame teaches that we must protect communities, in order for all beings to thrive together."

 

Penemues fists clench tightly as she says in a low tone, "My village was destroyed as a child and I don't want to see that happen to any other town." Clearing her throat she adds more clearly, "And fighting is what I do best.  I can't say no to a challenge."

 

Jyotika raises a curious brow at the hermit's question.  What might have been a sarcastic response is halted however, by the quick answers of her two companions.   It was Penemue's in particular that drew a longer, more dedicated pause from the genasi.   A more hardened exterior comes over her again as she folds her arms.  "I don't like assholes with bad ideas.  And that's what it seems like we have here."

 

"I umm," Ark thinks about it a moment and ponders exactly why he is here. Why he is fighting for people he does not know and likely don't give a rat's ass about him or his companions. "Ok, so, bear with me, I know this'll sound corny. But, I truly believe I am destined for more then bar room ballads and sing-a-longs. I had adventured with a very good friend of mine years ago and loved the danger and excitement of being on the road. I also kind of enjoyed helping folks in need. Finding my purpose in disposing the world of evil, one bad guy at a time seems like the right thing to do. My father wanted to leave a legacy of song. I want to leave a legacy of even more epic proportions." Ark realizes he had been talking for far to long, and clears his throat, finishing with, "Errr, I mean, I do it for the babes and the beer!" Giving Ramne a wink and smile.

 

"That is good to hear" Ramne says, apparently satisfied with all the answers. "Well, miss Fire over there's got the right idea" he goes on, pointing a finger at Jyotika "There's some kind of cult at work, abducting people and somehow converting them to their faith, corrupting Orlane one soul at a time. I've been keeping tabs on them for a while and indeed" his gaze shifts to Penemue "the temple here seems to have fallen to them. It's only a forward hold though. So what I suggest you do is poke around that temple, see if you can find any leads pointing towards their real headquarters."

 

"Do you have any guesses of what may be behind all of this?" inquires the aasimar.

 

"That's what you're out to find. Looks snake themed though" Ramne says with a chuckle, eyeing all the gear your group has on display.

 

"Thank you very much for the information," says Cog, earnestly. "Do you know which other individuals have been influenced by this cult? Or any other persons who may be able to aid us?"

 

Penemue unconsciously grasps at her serpent pendant as she says with a start "Just to be clear not all serpentine things are related around here". She pauses and uncomfortably readjusts her tunic to ensure her scar is well covered as Cog asks his questions.

 

Jyotika glances toward her aasimar companion at Pen's sudden commentary.   A momentary head tilt follows, but she lets it go and nods toward Cog.  "Honestly, if there's someone who's a bit of a ... leader among the town?   That hasn't been affected?   Because..." she clears her throat, "It might be good to get someone like that in a place that could keep things settled down."

 

"Ye best be off to see the mayor then, Zakarias" says Ramne in an almost triumphant tone, as if he just made a grand discovery. "I'm pretty sure he's still pure of mind. The rest, you'll have to see for yourselves, unbiased. Now go and perhaps we'll talk again" he says, standing up from his chair and gently moving the rickety door to close it.

 

Penemue nods firmly and begins to step back from the door, not allowing the relief at finding a probable ally in the town show through.

 

"Thank you again," Cog calls out to the closing door, before turning to head towards the mayor's house with the rest of the party.

 

Taking great care to avoid the public eye, the group circles the northern side of Orlane, keeping a distance from the Slumbering Serpent Inn until they're at the base of the hill where the temple is built. Passing by a shabby farmhouse and barn, the team gets to the southeastern cluster of buildings, the neighbourhood where they formerly met the local woodworker. This appears to be the industrious side of town, with the blacksmith at work and a weaver or tailor's shop near the small bridge.

 

The only structure that looks out of place in this cluster is the northernmost one: The doors and windows of this large building are boarded up. A sign lies face-down in the weeds before the porch, which may be reached by climbing three broken steps. The roof has several gaping holes, and the general appearance of the place suggests that it has been long abandoned. Trying not to cross eyes with anyone, you stride quickly through and head towards the building that has been indicate as housing the local mayor

 

This house is set well back from the road, and is partially screened by a pair of medium-sized elms. This is by far the most imposing house in the village. The walls have been regularly whitewashed and the roof gleams with new wooden shingles. A wide porch crosses the entire front of the house, and columns of wood support the overhanging roof. The columns have been carved into leafy patterns by what appears to be a skilled craftsman.

 

Jyotika comes to a stop and lets out a huff. "Anyone else have a hard time thinking he's not going to be an asshole based on how perfect his house looks?"

 

Penemue snorts in amuses agreement. "Oh yeah, I'm fully braced for an asshole. But hopefully he's not a brainwashed asshole, just a regular full of himself mayor or something. We should stay on guard though either way."

 

"Even if he's not an asshole, let's all stay away from brandy of ANY SORT!" Ark exclaims, having PTSD from their previous engagement. "I'm not sure I'll be able to ever drink the stuff again in good conscience."

 

"I will purify anything we eat or drink," says Cog, "to ensure that we are not put in the same danger again." Cog turns, and heads forwards towards the wide porch and front door.

 

"Good thinking, little guy. I don't know how tolerable our tiefling here would be without being able to drink some of the best liquor!" Penemue says, then turns to Jyotika and adds "I'll give it a whirl. Opening the door to one of you lot might give him a bit of a start." She then walks up the porch and knocks firmly on the front door.

 

Her mouth falls wide at that, and Jyotika looks to Arkaryn in a rare show of supreme camaraderie. "Did she just call us the strange ones? Huh!"

 

The door is answered by a middle aged but well kept woman with bright, intelligent eyes and ash blond hair kept up in a practical knot. She is dressed in her everyday clothes, not the type that would indicate housekeeping staff but not shabby commoner or fancy aristocrat either. "Hello there! May I help you?"

 

Penemue puts on her warmest smile as she says "Hi! Sorry to bother you at your home, my friends and we're hoping to speak with Zakarias about the troubles this town is having. We think we can help."

 

"Of course you do" says the woman with a hint of excitement, eyeing the others behind Penemue. "Adventurers and all, eh? Well, I hope it's out of kindness, because there's not much money Orlane can offer you for it. Anyway, look at me, being a terrible hostess holding you at the door. Come inside!" she says, opening the door and inviting you in.

 

"We do not require money," says Cog, emerging from behing Penemue, "We just want to help." With that he steps forward to enter the house.

 

Her mouth half open to protest falls shut with an almost audible thud of teeth as Jyotika eyes the modron. It doesn't halt the eye roll that follows, but she doesn't verbalize any disagreement out loud at least. A deep breath is taken afterward, and then, letting it out slowly, she makes her way in right behind the modron.

 

Penemue, shocked at how quickly this interaction unfolded and a little taken aback and Cogs forwardness looks back at Ark, shrugs her shoulders, and follows.

 

The woman leads you inside to a simple but decently decorated living room, offering you seats before she retreats to prepare tea. On her way, you hear her summoning Zakarias to come see you, as well as a couple of other names to come help her. Moments later, two energetic little girls run by the living room and rush into the kitchen, followed by a man who walks in to meet you. Unlike the usual chubby or old community leaders, this one seems to be in good shape despite his middle age and some strands of silver appearing on the edges of his short-trimmed beard. "Greetings, adventurers!" he says as he walks in, offering a handshake as introductions are made. "I am Zakarias Ormond, mayor of Orlane. What brings you to my house?"

 

Jyotika steps in but doesn't take one of the seats, choosing to look around for exits and windows should things go south quickly here. "Um," she pauses as the two little girls run by. "Rumors. About town specifically. But maybe you should tell us first what's going on?"

 

"We've had a helluva day so far, Zakarias," Ark implies as he presents his companions and himself to the mayor, knowing they looked tired and a little disheveled, "And we're just trying to get to the bottom of all this."

 

"Ah, wish it were that simple" the mayor says as he sinks comfortably into an armchair. "Get someone to point you towards the monsters' lair, slay them all and get the treasure! You remind me of my own days spent adventuring. No, there's something far more sinister at work here... but don't let me point you towards any specific direction with my theories, think it's best if we get a fresh perspective first. You, as outsiders to Orlane, have that unbiased view." As if on cue, the women who answered the door appears with a teapot and cups, serving you one after the other before she too takes a seat.

 

The genasi turns her head in a curious tilt, her brows furrowing in consideration. Then, she takes the tea and gives it a sip. "Thankfully, we went to the Slumbering Serpent. We thought it looked more our speed. Which is good, because ..." she sighs, chugs the tea rather uncouthly, and then looks at the man. "The Constable and his two guards are dead. Quick version - we went to talk to him. He went from hesitant to violent, so Ark here charmed him. Cog and I went to fetch something to drink for our newfound friends, and we were donated some brandy by the barkeep at the Golden Grain. The brandy was poisoned. The constable attacked. We defended ourselves. And here we are." She looks back toward her companions with a somewhat apologetic shrug. "It had to come out eventually, and might as well offer it to the big dog in town."

 

"You did what you had to do" Zakarias states, before taking a sip of his tea. "Even tried to solve it in a non-violent manner first. I appreciate that. If it's any consolation to you, Constable Grover never had any guards, assistants or deputies" he says, pausing to gauge everyone's reaction. "Is that all?"

 

Penemue's eyes go wide at the revelation that the constable had no subordinates, and stifles a small gasp. "We should figure out who those men were in that case." She says. "But that may be a separate line of conversation. Whoever they were, they were no good and that's enough for me to know for now. In any case, we also are quite sure that the temple has something to do with everything. It's where we were thinking of looking next to continue to unravel all of this. The carpenter seemed at least tangentially involved or maybe accidentally caught up in whatever this is and worked on both the Golden Grain Inn and the temple. And the constable seemed to suggest a cult was involved. The hermit was inclined to agree. He seems to have a good head on his shoulders and is who actually directed us towards you."

 

"Iiiiinteresting" says Zakarias as he takes another sip, his eyes set on Penemue above the edge of his cup. "Oh Zakarias, you asked for an unbiased viewpoint, right?" his wife says with a side glance at him.

 

Ark mumbles to himself with the news that Constable Grover had no guards , assistants or deputies working for him and Penemue spoke up before he could react to the news. The bard sat back, intently listening.

 

"You'll have to excuse my husband, he's a little wary of the hermit, that's all" his wife says, turning towards you all. "You seem to have spoken to him, so please share what he told you" she adds. Zakarias adjusts himself on the armchair and puts the teacup down "Well you've named a few of the people I suspect right, so I guess we might as well hear you out on this one" he says

 

"To be fair no one becomes a hermit because they're good with people, so it's not surprising he may give off some off-putting vibes." Pen says with a sarcastic smile that she unsuccessfully covers with a sip of tea.

 

"The hermit suggested we check out the temple to see if that leads us in the right direction...what do you think about that, Zakarias?" Ark finally speaks up, hoping the mayor expands upon the hermit's advice.

 

"Ramne believed that the temple was a forward hold, but that the cult's headquarters was elsewhere," continues Cog.

 

A sudden look of concern crosses Cog's face. "Oh dear, I said I would purify our food but I have not purified the tea," he says quickly, before dropping his eyes to the tea tray, raising his hands, and starting to speak in a soft, strange language.

 

"Oh uh, here you go. Thanks little dude" Pen says as she places her half drank cup back on the tray under Cogs hands.

 

Jyotika looks at her empty cup and bites her lip. "Well shit."

 

Ark smirks at his friends. "I'm not gonna say that SOME OF US learned our lesson, but it's definitely the handsome one of the group." The bard implies, looking down at his untouched cup.

 

The couple stare inquisitively at the modron doing his little ritual, but do not seem alert or offended. "I understand, after that poisoned brandy you mentioned. Looks like you learned a lesson there, better safe than sorry" says Zakarias with a condescending smile. "It's interesting he pointed you towards the temple though. See, I've been suspecting him as the mastermind behind all this, but haven't acted on that due to lack of evidence. Normally I'd suspect he's trying to throw you off, but I'm fairly certain the priests are among the corrupted. So it doesn't make sense he'd backstab his own." The mayor pauses, seemingly lost in his own train of thought as he scratches the beard on his chin. His wife turns towards Jyotika. "What's your gut instinct tell you?" she asks her directly.

 

The genasi blinks at being asked something directly. "Me? My gut?" She pauses, "I think the tea was fine. I didn't get a feeling the two of you were part of the whole thing." She pauses, blinks, then drops her mouth open, "Oh. About the weirdness?" A hand comes up to run through her flame bright hair with some annoyance. "I just wanna find the guys responsible and beat the crap out of them. The temple and the tavern are definitely infested. But we haven't delved into either of those places yet. Carpenter worked for both so by proxy. " She looks to Penemue. "I say we go crack some cleric skulls."

 

The aasimar chuckles and says "I couldn't agree more"

 

"Figuratively, I hope" Zakarias chips in, pouring some more tea into his cup. "You did well with the constable, trying to reach a non-violent outcome first. I would assume you understand my position if I had to justify a group of strangers rushing into the temple and murdering everyone"

 

"We certainly would try to keep the violence to a minimum or non-existent, but we will not shy from defending ourselves if need be." Penemue says firmly

 

"We would always rather avoid violence where possible," says Cog, his eye not moving from the ritual he is performing over the tea. "Do you know how many people we should expect to find in the temple?"

 

"And if violence is an absolute must, then maybe I can soothe the scene with serenading song before there's bloodshed?" Ark says more to himself than anyone else. His fingers begin to twitch every so slightly as the urge to reach for his lute and play something takes over.

 

"Appreciate it. Don't want to risk estimating a number though" says Zakarias, looking at Cog. "If evil has taken root in there, I wouldn't be surprised to find reinforcements on top of the usual staff. Wouldn't want to send you there underprepared." As he speaks, his wife lays her hand on his. "Oh Zakarias, you're getting the adventurer's itch, I see?" she says teasingly

 

"Does that mean you're going to come with us?" Ark asks with some interest, with slight curiosity as to what the mayor is made of. "We wouldn't want to compromise your position as the mayor, but it also may help to have your support, too."

 

Jyotika looks between her party and the mayor, a half grin tipping upward. "He's more important here, minding the city. Once this business is flushed out and cleared up, he's going to have a lot of rebuilding to do. And yeah- if some of those clerics are wrapped up against their will, I'd like to free them from that control."

 

"Imagine the chaos if this place somehow becomes mayorless too. There would be even more panic. We promise we'll come back and tell you everything in extra adventurous detail though" Penemue says with a grin and a bit of sympathy, thinking that she would never want to give up adventuring and be stuck in the mayor's shoes.

 

"And we will certainly try to free any acolytes if we are able to do so," adds Cog, agreeing with Jyotika.

 

"Lovely. Are you headed there straight away or staying for lunch? No poisons or purification rituals" the mayor's wife chuckles. At the mention of lunch, you do realize your stomach is somewhat rumbling. Between meeting (and fighting) the Constable, Ramne and now these people, it's been quite some time since your breakfast.

 

Jyotika's stomach betrays her and a hand reaches down to clutch at her gut. "We should eat . It'll give us strength for whatever is to come."

 

"Yes I'm starving" Penemue agrees.

 

Ark looks at his companions then back at the mayor's wife. "So what's cookin' good lookin'?" He says with a toothy smile.

 

Jyotika comes up beside the bard and gives a quick elbow to his gut. "Manners Ark! By the nine hells, her husband is right there."

 

“I was...just...being... polite!” Ark huffs out between short breaths, grabbing his stomach and giving Jyotika a questionable look. “Contrary to belief, I don’t try to screw everything on two legs, ya know..” He adds with seriousness.

 

After a tasty lunch with Zakarias and his family (his wife, two daughters you saw running into the kitchen and his two teenage sons) you say your goodbyes and head back out to the street.

 

Author's note: Posting another update in honor of our recent "live" online game. That'll be hard to summarize once the story catches up...

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