Tales from the Tabletop

The Journey Part 3
Sleepwalking to Success

The mercenaries deal with the fallout of their clash with the swan maiden. Answers come in a dream. Spring Brambles discovers a secret from his past. A ritual is performed.

5 Desnus, AR 4742

Yorkshire and Kegra draw blood from the infant swan maiden. It produces only half a vial of blood. Felicity provides magical healing to stop the bleeding, but they realize the child needs ongoing care to survive. They decide to take it back to the caravan, understanding that this could draw out the mother, which might be helpful if they need her blood, too. Felicity leaves a detailed note in Sylvan.

Back at the camp, the party is lectured by a furious and frightened Khoda. He is angry that they fought the swan maiden and stole its child, which he claims could provoke the wrath of the Verduran fey. He also reveals that the infant's blood won't work in the ritual, and neither would blood from the corrupted swan maiden. Keg is angry at his tone and reveals his secret plan for her to steal the swan maiden's cloak. He denies this. 

The party then confers with Captain Aurelia Volus. She says that Khoda is overstepping his bounds and promises to talk with him. Keg makes sure she is aware of the plot to steal the swan maiden's cloak. After the Captain leaves, Keg confers with the party on what they should do if things go south. They agree that they are willing to flee, although Felicity wants to make sure the infant is taken care of.

That night, Felicity takes first watch and manages to avoid nodding off. The rest of the party, however, is contacted in their dreams by the swan maiden. Keg does her best to throw Khoda under bus, pinning all the blame for the incident on him. Miette is angry at the swan maiden's initial hostility, when she apparently mistook the party for poachers. 

The swan maiden recognizes Spring Brambles, who was part of a ritual performed by a circle of druids. Spring is able to convince her that the party aren't her enemy. He also learns that he was created with the purpose of serving as a conduit for cleansing corruption from the swan maiden. She tells the party that the ritual can still be cast, and asks them to bring the bronze dragon to a nearby clearing.

6 Desnus, AR 4723

The next morning, Keg tries unsuccessfully to plant the infant's blood on Khoda. The rest of the party catch Felicity up on what happened in their dream. They also tell the kobold leader, who conveys it to the dragon. Keg conspires with the rest of the party about planting the blood on Khoda, to make sure that he is the patsy for any angry fey.

A chastened Khoda arrives to apologizes. While Keg distracts him, Yorkshire plants the blood. As Captain Volus arrives, Felicity explains that the party has found the solution to all their problems. They bring Khoda and Volus up to speed.

Before setting out for the clearing, Felicity visits Bator and Quinius to thank them for keeping watch the night before. She and Bator agree to get a drink together when they reach the town of Wispil.

While the two guards rest up at the kobold camp, the rest of the caravan and the sickly dragon Da'laxyria travel to the appointed site. Once home to a circle of megaliths, it appears to have been stricken with a magical explosion some years ago. Spring Brambles takes his position in the center of the circle, realizing that he stood here a few years ago when the druids' magic went awry. They are met by the swan maiden and her servants the satyr and the pixie.

The rest of the adventurers are tasked with using their skills to help in the ritual. Felicity uses her pan pipes to call out to elemental spirits for aid. Kegra locates the source of the infection, and Yorkshire attempts to draw out the corrupted fragments which float over Spring Brambles' head.

Under Kegra's guidance, elemental energies surge around the shards above Spring Brambles. A light lances out of the vine leshy and shatters the corrupted fragments. There is a blast that knocks everyone off their feet. As the dust clears, the dragon and the swan maiden are cleansed.

While everyone involved in the ritual is exhausted, that doesn't stop them from partying after the successful ritual. Spring tries getting drunk. Yorkshire shows off trick shooting. Felicity gets information from the satyrs about where she might find her relatives, but she has trouble keeping up with the full-blooded satyrs as the partying goes on.

Kegra avoids the celebration and finds that Khoda, too, has stayed away from the celebration. She lures him down to the nearby creek and then attempts to drown him. He struggles mightily and she is forced to beat him with her sap, before finally smashing his head against a rock in an attempt to make the murder appear as an accident.

When his skull cracks, however, his entire body proceeds to dissolve into sand. This was not something Kegra was told would happen when she took this job!

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The Journey Part 2
The Swan Maiden's Secret

5 Desnus, AR 4742

After examining the sickly bronze dragon, the adventurers are tasked with collecting components to help Khoda create a cure for the fey corruption. They need a vial of blood from a powerful swan maiden. The kobolds tell them one dwells nearby, alone and unfriendly, which is not typical for such creatures.

Kegra is given a secret mission by Khoda to acquire the swan maiden's coat, likely at the cost of the fey creature's life.

Despite the warnings, Felicity is determined to try to talk their way into getting the blood. Instead, the fey creatures open fire on the "trespassers." A desperate battle breaks out between the party, the swan maiden, and its servants — a pair of centaurs, a warlike pixie, and a satyress who thinks little of Felicity. It becomes clear that the swan maiden herself has been corrupted somehow.

The party manages to slay the two centaurs, but suffer grievous wounds themselves, with Spring Brambles nearly slain. The swan maiden retreats with the satyr and the pixie. The adventurers scour the area, discovering some plunder… and an infant swan maiden.

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The Journey Part 1
Into the Woods

A group of mercenaries were hired in Absalom to escort a mysterious floating wagon driven by a Taldan captain and a Qadiran mage. After a week of traveling, the caravan has crossed the Inner Sea and traveled up the Sellen River to reach the Verduran Forest.

The caravan consists of Guard Captain Aurelia Volus, a Taldan officer with traces of elvish heritage and a southerly accent; Khoda, a mysterious Qadiran mage with an even stranger pet bird; Sergeant Quinius, a veteran Taldan soldier; and Bator, a young recruit in the Taldan Army. The mercenaries include Felicity the Satyrling bard; Kegra the Half-Orc ranger and her wolf companion Shepard; Miette the Catfolk sorcerer; Spring Brambles the Vine Leshy shifter; and Yorkshire Kalvin the Halfling gunslinger.

4 Desnus, AR 4742

After a long day of travel, the party discusses guard duty assignments for the evening. Felicity, as she has been doing the last few nights, volunteers for first watch and invites Bator to join her. Spring Brambles volunteers for third watch with Quinius, and Kegra takes the middle watch. The half-orc makes an early night of it to get ready.

Felicity joins Miette in prowling around the campsite, eventually discovering a worn silver locket in the dirt. While Miette beds down on top of the wagon, Felicity chats up Bator. Yorkshire, meanwhile, polishes his gun Betty before bedding down.

Felicity and Bator have an uneventful watch, and she wakes up Kegra for the second shift. The half-orc's wolf companion Shepard notices something amiss in the woods. The two investigate and see small shapes conferring with each other in a strange tongue. Kegra returns to camp and tries to rouse people with a low whistle. Bator and Captain Aurelia emerge from their tens and Yorkshire Kalvin is roused to wakefulness, but Felicity and Miette remain asleep.

When no ambush immediately develops, Kegra, Shepard and Bator go to investigate. Yorkshire goes to wake the sleeping ladies, and decides the fastest way to get them both up is to fire his gun. The loud crack of the musket sends Felicity stumbling up cursing, while Miette springs to wakefulness. The strange creatures panic and flee at the sound, and Yorkshire gets chewed out by Aurelia, Khoda, and Felicity for the noise. Keg inspects the creatures' tracks and determined that they were a group of kobolds. During the rest of her watch, Kegra hears some strange far off noises, but nothing draws near.

5 Desnus, AR 4742

The next morning, half the party is bleary eyed. Felicity manages to scrounge some coffee from Bator.

They proceed traveling north, with Kegra and Shepard in the lead. Around mid-day, they stop for lunch. Kegra and Felicity go to fill water skins at a nearby stream and Yorkshire Kalvin takes his pony to be watered. They notice that just across the stream is a ruined campsite that looks like it has been ransacked. A pair of ettercaps emerge from the tents and rush them.

Yorkshire's pony takes a scratch but the halfling himself is able to dodge the attack and graze one of the creatures with a shot. Felicity starts up a series of insulting quips to inspire the others and Kegra moves to engage an ettercap with her nodachi.

Miette leaves the caravan to go help, but another threat emerges — four giant spiders hiding amid a giant web in the trees. Miette uses entangle to snare the spiders in a viney web of her own. But one of them manages to break free and attack, wounding and poisoning her.

Spring Brambles hangs back to guard the wagon with Aurelia and Khoda, while Quinius and Bator move to help.

Yorkshire reloads his musket and gets bitten by an ettercap, but shakes off the poison. The shot goes wide, though. Felicity tries to daze Yorkshire's opponent with an ear-splitting scream, but it resists the effect. Kegra continues to battle her opponent while Shepard moves in to help.

Miette backs away from the giant spider attacking her and blasts it with magic missiles. Bator gets between her and the spider, while Quinius looses arrows at the other spiders trapped in the trees.

Kegra cuts down her ettercap and moves to battle the one going after Yorkshire. The halfling withdraws and climbs up onto his pony, which rides back to a safe distance. Unfortunately, his musket misfires. A third ettercap comes charging into the fray, drawn by the cries of the others. Felicity retreats, too, and casts cure light wounds on Yorkshire.

Bator cuts down his spider, and Quinius kills one in the trees. Miette fires more magic missiles.

Kegra kills the second ettercap and then positions herself in front of Felicity and Yorkshire, bracing her nodachi for attack. The remaining ettercap charges and she slices it in two. The celebration is short-lived, however, as the two remaining giant spiders wriggle free of the vines and come down after Keg.

Shepard wounds one of the spiders and Keg cuts it down. Felicity tumbles past the other spider, kisses her brass knuckles to empower an arcane strike, and then finishes the creature off with one punch.

After cleaning up the gore, Felicity and Kegra inspect the ruined camp. There is little of value there, but the tracks tell an interesting story. The humans at this illegal logging camp were led away by satyrs before the ettercaps showed up. Shepard follows the tracks up into a fork in the road. The tracks head northeast, following the stream.

The party regroups at the caravan, where Aurelia and Khoda are arguing in Qadiran about which path to take — the more direct northerly route, or the northeast path. They put it to the mercenaries for a vote. Felicity is very eager to head northeast in the direction of the satyrs, and the others agree. The bard heals up her wounded companions with a wand of cure light wounds and they continue northeast.

The sun seems to drop low on the horizon earlier than expected as they enter a section of the forest that seems strangely sickly. Spring Brambles talks with one of the trees, who says that the sickness has been around for a while. It seems unrelated to whatever issues the leshy itself is suffering.

Shortly after the tree conversation, the party hears the sound of approaching wing beats. They scramble for cover, but there is little to be found between the river and the cliff. Spring Brambles and Felicity are caught out in the open, and Yorkshire's pony gets agitated.

A huge dragon descends to ground level. It's scales are a yellowy metallic color tinge with a sickly green patina. It roars at them menacingly and speaks a strange language that no one can understand. While the others prepare for a fight, Felicity pastes a big grin on her face and greets the dragon with arms thrown wide in a welcome gesture.

This seems to bring the dragon back from the bring of hostilities, and it speaks again in its strange tongue. Behind the party, a half-dozen kobolds drop out of a tree. Their leader approaches and speaks in pidgin Common.

They demand that the one who created the terrible noise the night before come forward. Yorkshire rides his pony out from under a tree. After a bit of negiotiation, he agrees to stop his "boomstick" away, which placates the kobolds.

The little creatures explain that their "god-king," the dragon, is sick and needs "plant medicine." They insist that the party help cure him. Seeing no other option, Felicity promises that the group will help and they shake hands on this "truce-truce." The kobolds insist on leading the caravan somewhere and the shadows grow long.

The party regroups to follow them, with Felicity trying to assure them that everything is under control.

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The Cyphermage Dilemma
Pathfinder Society

A band of Pathfinders must thwart a villainous pirate's kidnapping scheme in Riddleport.

More details coming Soon!

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Welcome to Chateau Cardona
Raven's Journal

Four unlucky adventurers get in over their heads while investigating the disappearance of the dwarf Khurda Caskbringer.

More details to come!

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The Year the Russians Stole Christmas, Part 1
December 1958

Dramatis Personae

In December 1958, three elite agents have been sent on a mission of utmost importance — rescuing Santa Claus from the clutches of the KGB in time to save Christmas. The agents are:

  • Max, British MI6: An international man of mystery, talented at infiltration, high speed pursuit, tactical operations, and talking himself out of trouble (and into people's pants).
  • Evie, French SDECE: An accomplished assassin, familiar with small arms combat, demolitions, covert operations, and (much to her regret) Max.
  • Tilda, Elvish SWIPE: An elf from Santa's Worship, she is talented with assembling all manner of gadgets, infiltration, and a dash of holiday magic. 

Special Delivery — Leningrad, December 1958

Having infiltrated Soviet Russia disguised as Coca-Cola delivery truck drivers on a goodwill mission, the agents have arrived at a restaurant in Leningrad to meet with their contact, Capt. Leonid. However, just as they approach him, KGB guards burst through the front of the restaurant and start shooting up the place. The captain is wounded.

Evie tells Max to evacuate the captain, while she lays down covering fire with her Manurhin pistol. Max hurries through the kitchen, urging staff to flee, and burst out into the alley to warn Tilda, who is idling the delivery truck. An army truck pulls up at one end of the alley and starts disgorging troops.

The scar-faced blond woman leading the KGB forces orders half her squad to chase Max and the other half to concentrate on killing Evie. The woman then retreats out the front.

Evie is wounded, but proceeds to gun down all three KGB paramilitaries trying to shot her. This unnerves their comrades, who have circled around behind the French assassin on their way to the kitchen. Evie shakes up a Coke bottle and knocks the cap off on the edge of the table, spraying soda everywhere. Then she proceeds to fill it up with vodka from the captain's glass, assembling a molotov cocktail.

In the alley, Max tells Tilda to back the van towards the KGB trucks as fast as she can. The elf proceeds to charge it backwards but stop just short of ramming. Since the back of the truck is open, crates full of Coca-Cola hurtle outwards, smashing into the truck and crashing onto the ground. KGB troops scramble backwards from the flying glass and soda. One crate bashes through the driver-side window.

Tilda brings the truck back to to pull up beside Max. He pushes Leonid into the cabin then tells Tilda to leave if he isn't back with Evie in just a moment. He ducks into the kitchen.

In the restaurant, one of the guards charges Evie and bashes her with the butt of his rifle. The other two run into the kitchen and spray bullets ineffectually at Max. 

Evie snaps her assailant's neck and then collects his AK-47. Meanwhile, Max calmly guns down the two remaining KGB guards and acquires his own AK. The two of them share banter as they hustle out to the delivery truck.

Another army truck has pulled up at the other end of the alley and is starting to offload more troops. Max considers trying to steal it, but Evie prefers to set it on fire with her Molotov cocktail. Max lays down some fire with his AK-47, dropping several of the guards. They then pile into the delivery truck with Max taking the wheel.

As one of the finest wheelmen in Europe, Max artfully maneuvers the bright red Coca-Cola truck past the burning military vehicle. Several more KGB vehicles give chase, including a smaller, faster car driven by the blond woman that Max has taken to calling "the Tiger" because of the stripe-like pattern of her facial scars. She doggedly pursues them until Max catches up with a convoy of Coca-Cola trucks and disappears into the herd.

Obligatory Flashback — London, Three Days Ago

The three agents met in a CIA safe house in London, where they were briefed by a Mr. Sturges from America. He lays out the situation — the Russkies have kidnaped Santa Claus.

Since the Coca-Cola Company first made contact with Santa in the 1930s, he has become an important intelligence asset for the U.S. and its allies. The Air Force has been publically radar tracking Santa every Christmas since 1948 as a cover for his real activities providing details on Soviet troop deployments and military infrastructure.

However, a few weeks ago a commando team attacked Santa's Workshop and abducted jolly old Saint Nick aboard the Russians' new nuclear submarine. The elves of Santa's Workshop Internal Police Executive (SWIPE) reported that the attackers, five women, had supernatural strength and agility. The CIA believes that they may be operatives of the KGB's secret vampire research project, which is headed by the mysterious Colonel "K."

Whatever Colonel K wants with Santa Claus, it cannot be good for the West or the Coca-Cola Company. So the agents will be infiltrated into the Soviet Union with the task of finding where Santa is being held and freeing him. SWIPE will evac the team via reindeer once Tilda activates her special candy cane flare.

Mr. Sturges tells them that their only lead is the submarine captain Leonid, who reached out to Western intelligence that he has a tip on the Santa operation. They are to meet him at a cafe in Leningrad in three days' time.

The Plot Thickens — Leningrad, Now

Once they are no longer being followed, Max takes them to an abandoned section of Leningrad still not yet rebuilt from the war. Out of sight of prying eyes, Evie and Tilda tend to the wounded Captain Leonid, who is in danger of bleeding out. The two ladies are able to save him, however.

While they wait for him to gain consciousness, Max rifles through his pockets, retrieving a book of Russian fairytales, a medal, and a railway schedule. The book has a dog-eared page turn to the story of "The Death of Koschei the Deathless;" in the margins someone has scribbled a Moscow street address: "1755 Yezinka St." 

Max recognizes the medal as the Order of Lenin, the highest civilian honor in the Soviet Union. It's plausible that Captain Leonid received it for the K-3's successful mission, but strange that the award wasn't publicized. Even stranger is the weird symbol scratched into the back of it. Tilda recognizes it as a magic rune that allows whoever placed it there to track the location of the medal. She theorizes that the rune could potentially be reversed, to track whoever put it there.

The Moscow train schedule has the arrival times for trains from the Aral Sea area circled in it, with no further notes.

When Leonid finally comes to, he is grateful for the rescue but seems to have second thoughts about working with Western spies. Max persuades him that this is bigger than nations or ideologies, it's about saving Christmas for children around the world.

Leonid explains that the Soviet Union's first nuclear sub, the K-3, was launched over the summer. After a shakedown cruise, their first mission was to transport a KGB team to the North Pole. This was most unusual, even more so given that the KGB agents were all women, not typically allowed on submarines. When one of Leonid's sailors got a little too familiar with the lead agent, the blond woman with the scars, she twisted his head off with her bare hands.

After reaching the North Pole, they breached the ice and the five KGB agents departed. Three of them returned with an unconscious fat old man that they stowed away in their quarters. When the K-3 returned to port, they offloaded the unconscious fat man and sealed him up in a special coffin-like cage. A KGB Colonel with strange, wild eyes and a scraggly beard was waiting to collect him. Leonid managed to overhear the scarred woman address the man as Colonel Koschei. 

Weeks later, Leonid was summoned to Moscow where he received the Order of Lenin in a private midnight ceremony, with the disturbing Colonel Koschei personally awarding the medal to him. After that, Leonid began to make inquiries and pursue his own research. He was eventually put in touch with a mysterious old woman at 1755 Yezinka Street, who confirmed his suspicions and urged him to seek help outside the USSR. She asked that he direct the agents to her.

Leonid understands that the mission to the North Pole was to abduct Santa Claus, or Grandfather Frost as he is known in Russia. He IDs the scarred woman as Katya Kolenko. But he is most concerned about this Colonel Koschei, a name known to every Russian familiar with their folklore.

Koschei the Deathless is the villain of countless legends, an immortal wizard whose soul is sealed away inside an egg inside a duck inside a hare inside an iron chest buried below a tree stump in some unknown island. Unless his soul is harmed, he cannot be destroyed. He is constantly seeking power (and collecting princesses) in the old tales, and Leonid fears what he might do with Santa.

Asked about the train tickets, the submarine captain says that there is a top secret weapons research base on an island in the Aral Sea. He believes that is where Koschei's soul has been hidden and he's learned that the colonel has ordered for a special shipment to arrive from Aral on the 10:00 P.M. train several days hence.

Max asks Leonid about the marking on his Order of Lenin, whether it was present from the start or whether it turned up later. As far as he is aware, the marking was there right from the start. Leonid admits that he has found himself unable to discard the medal—it is strangely "precious" to him. Max grabs it and immediately tosses it across the warehouse, where it lands with a tink. Leonid makes a clumsy grab for it, but otherwise doesn't chase after it.

Evie and Max make arrangements for Leonid to flee the country, and then the trio prepare to take a train to Moscow. Sifting through their cover identities, they decide it is best to pose as tourists from France.

Address to Nowhere — Moscow, December 1958

It takes a day by train to travel from Leningrad to Moscow. Max spends the time chatting up Tilda, who shares a bit about life in Santa's Workshop. 

After arriving in Moscow, they make their way into the historic district where the old woman's house is located. They amble at a gentle pace, visiting various sights and shops to keep up their cover as tourists. Max notices that Tilda is fascinated by the Russian nesting dolls and quietly buys a set while she isn't looking in order to gift them later.

As they travel, they become aware that they are being tailed by a woman with short brown hair. Max and Evie suspect that this is just a standard KGB minder following them because they are foreigners. While the two ladies vanish around a corner, Max arranges to stumble into the agent as she hustles to follow them.

Speaking in broken, French-accented Russian, he apologizes to her for his clumsiness, then begins praising her beauty. His increasingly inappropriate comments leave the woman flustered and then embarrassed. She finally extricates herself from the conversation and retreats.

Max returns to catch up with the ladies, casually flipping through the wallet he'd filched from the woman when they'd bumped into each other. Quietly relieved that he didn't recognize her, Max pockets her rubles and her KGB ID, then pitches the wallet.

The trio arrives at the correct address, 1755 Yezinka Street, but only find a snow-covered empty lot wedged between two blocks of old townhouses. They find some graffiti on one of the townhouse walls facing the lot, advising them to "come back at midnight." They also question a nearby sausage vendor, who says that a house used to be there but it burned down years ago. Locals claim to hear the old woman who lived there during foggy nights, but the vendor avoids the area after dark.

He directs them to a nearby pub, where they plan to wait until midnight. The bartender, a burly, bald middle-aged man named Ivan, proves to be friendly and talkative. A veteran of the Great Patriotic War of 1941 -1945, he visited Paris during the post-war negotiations and is happy to chat with these French "tourists." He keeps a German helmet hanging over the bar, the bullet hole in it clearly visible.

After an enjoyable evening, the trio make their farewells and stepping out into the cold night air to find that a thick fog has settled on the city. It is time to return to the address and see if the old woman will show herself.

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Escape from the Fallen

Prologue

A horde of monstrous humanoids calling themselves the Empire of the Fallen has been steadily expanding from their stronghold in the center of the continent in an unstoppable wave of conquest. The remaining free peoples have banded together to stem the tide, but they have not been able to overcome the Empire's powerful half-dragon generals.

Hearing reports that an army was advancing on a key strategic position without its general, the alliance sees an opportunity to strike back. But it proves to be a deadly trap, with the king himself cut down in his golden armor.

Two survivors of the massacre awaken amid a pile of bodies…

Chapter 1: Among the Dead

The first to come to consciousness is the halfling sorcerer Dinard Clickyfingers, who finds himself half-buried by the bodies of other allied troops. The corpses are piled up in the courtyard of an estate. A lone goblin picks through the bodies, occasionally carrying parts off into the house. Two more goblins are hunched over a large wooden chest nearby, bickering over the plunder. 

Dinard waits until all three goblins are presents and then draws upon his sorcerous powers to cast sleep. The goblin picking through the corpse pile falls over, as does one of the looters. His compatriot simply giggles "More for me" and digs into the loot chest.

Dinard hears soft breathing nearby and realizes his sleep spell affected one other creature: a young human woman garbed in the tattered remains of a battle nun's habit. He gently awakens her and then points to the lone conscious goblin.

The cleric girl retrieves the sword from the snoozing goblin by the body pile. Dinard tiptoes on his little hairy feet to get right behind the distracted goblin. When the young battle nun tries to join him, however, she hooks her foot on one of the bodies and sends it clattering to the ground.

The goblin cries out an alarm and flees into the building, taking a wound in the process. Dinard chides the young woman on her carelessness. She introduces herself as Sister Ekaterin and retrieves a shortsword from the chest of loot.

Goblin reinforcements arrive and Dinard uses his magic to call up an obscuring mist that surrounds and follows him. After a failed swing at the goblins, Sister Ekaterin retreats back into the mist with her halfling ally. She casts bless to bolster their prowess against the little green monsters.

A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues, with the goblins venturing into the mist to hunt the heroes. Sister Ekaterin fights back with steel, while Dinard tosses around acid splash. After more than a minute of fighting, the goblin reinforcements are vanquished. But the toll on the adventurers is great, with both suffering serious injury.

Sister Ekaterin calls on her protector god, the Aegis, to heal them both. They scavenge more supplies from the chest, recovering a pair of potions of cure light wounds. Dinard finds a masterwork shortsword, which he passes to the battle nun. She switches her previous sword to her off-hand, and claims a dagger as well. She also retrieves bedrolls, rations, and other camping supplies. they also take the time to finish off the two sleeping goblins.

Surrounded by a courtyard wall with the sound of gnoll patrols outside, their only choice is to enter the house. A trail of blood from where the bodies were dragged from outdoors leads off to the right. The two adventurers decide to go left instead.

After nervously checking the door for traps, they step into what appears to be the pantry where rations for the army are being stored. One of the burlap sacks moves, and they go to investigate. Inside is the frightened goblin who raised the alarm.

Dinard intimidates him into revealing that the goblins work for a troll chef who is preparing food for the army. As far as the goblin knows, the only way out is past the troll. Dinard explains to a gung-ho Sister Ekaterin that trolls are serious business and can only be killed with fire or acid. He kills the goblin with acid splash as an example. They concoct a scheme to douse the troll with lamp oil and set him on fire. Dinard begins to catch on that Sister Ekaterin is zealous but a little… slow.

Chapter 2: Troll a la Dinard

Taking the hall to the right, the duo notice that the blood trail stops at a door. But the hall itself continues on. Dinard would prefer to skip the bloody door, but Sister Ekaterin insists she has a duty to investigate and destroy the evil within. She peers through the keyhole and sees a troll in a chef's apron clutching the bleeding stump of one arm. Once Dinard confirms for himself that the troll is wounded, they agree to open the door together.

Dinard's first act is to toss the lamp oil onto the troll. Sister Ekaterin steps forward to stab him, having cast bless and divine favor. The troll is surprised to see food offering itself up to him. He reaches over the battle nun to claw the halfling with his good arm. Dinard staggers backward, badly hurt.

The sorcerer uses a strip of his own clothing to create a burning wad that he tosses onto the troll, setting him on fire. Sister Ekaterin continues to jab him with her swords, and a follow up acid bolt from Dinard finishes him off. Surveying the kitchen, they find his missing arm boiling in a pot—he was apparently cooking parts of himself.

Sister Ekaterin criticizes his culinary skills: "Zee gobleens 'ave no cuisine."

A thorough search of the kitchen reveals that one of the apron hooks by the fireplace is actually a hidden lever. Dinard insists that the battle nun pull it. She is reluctant, as her Mother Superior had warned her not to tug on strange levers. Dinard protests that he can't even reach it himself, so she gives it a pull. It reveals a secret passage in the back of the main oven. 

Chapter 3: Words in the Dark

After they put out the fire in the oven, they investigate the passage. Sister Ekaterin casts light on her holy symbol to guide them in the dark. Apparently the tunnel was used as a means of disposing of ash. However, it keeps going deeper down, where they come across emaciated bodies of humans who had died from starvation.

A journal on one of the bodies reveals that these were members of the manor household who hid down here during the goblin invasion. They weren't able to take the tunnel to safety, however, because of a dangerous creature in the caverns below. They were trapped in the dark and suffered a grim fate. Sister Ekaterin makes the sign of the Aegis and performs last rites over the remains.

Completely spent from their battles above, the two adventurers decide to make camp near the bodies. Dinard uses mending to repair the damage to his snazzy outfit. He takes a look at the battle nun's tattered red and black habit and offers to fix it as well. She takes him up on the offer and he gently runs his hands over her torn clothing to knit it back into one piece.

Dinard notes that Sister Ekaterin doesn't seem to have met many halflings. She admits that he is the first one she's spoken to at any length; she's spent most of her life cloistered in her convent.

He offers to answer any questions she might have about halflings. She asks if it it's true that the reason halflings don't wear shoes is because the hairs on their feet are sensitive like whiskers on a cat. Dinard says that he prefers the feel of dirt under his toes, but agrees that the hair on his feet is sensitive. He asks her about her obscure god, the Aegis.

She tells him that the Aegis is a god of protection who guards civilization from monsters and disorder. Dinard asks her to tell him a fable from her religion before they go to bed. She relates the tale of Saint Ekaterin the Undaunted, who held a pass single-handedly against an army of hobgoblins to protect a vulnerable village. Sister Ekaterin took the saint's name as her own when she was invested in her order.

She hopes to follow in her hero's footsteps and die a glorious death in battle against the enemies of civilization. Dinard argues that they can do more good surviving rather than martyring themselves. Sister Ekateri is unconvinced.

Chapter 4: Horrible Hooks

After an uneasy rest in the tunnel, they rise and have a cold breakfast. They have no choice but to press on and confront whatever creature lurks below. Faced with a fork in the tunnel, Dinard's "clickyfingers" lead him to the right, where they come across an underwater river. Unwilling to brave the murky water, they backtrack and try the other path.

They come across the bodies of a pair of professional bounty hunters who were contracted to deal with the monster but fell prey to it. based on the notes from the hunters, the creature is believed to have come from the Underdark.

They scavenge some gear from the bodies, with Sister Ekaterin swapping out her chain shirt for an enchanted breastplate. Dinard retrieves a necklace of fireballs. They also pocket another pair of cure light wounds potions.

As they near the creature's hunting grounds, Sister Ekaterin casts several buff spells: bless, divine favor, and shield of faith. Despite these precautions, the hook-armed monster catches them by surprise in a deadly ambush.

Sister Ekaterin tries to keep it focused on her, while Dinard summons up another obscuring mist for cover and pelts it with acid splash. The cleric and the creature trade blows, but it eventually gets the better of her. Through the mist, Dinard hears her cry out and fall to the ground with a clank.

Left to his own devices, the halfling sorcerer retrieves the biggest bead from his necklace of fireballs. He tosses it high up, hoping to hit the large creature but miss the young battle nun. The explosion badly wounds the hook horror, but it also dislodges some stalactites from the cavern ceiling. The debris misses Dinard, but one stalactite impales the wounded monster, killing it. 

The halfling scampers over to Sister Ekaterin and feeds her a heeling potion. She comes to and is impressed with his handiwork. She calls upon the Aegis to heal them both, but she must channel the holy energy several times before her own wounds are sufficiently cured.

Dinard pauses to collect one of the hook horror's eyes as a rare trophy. Sister Ekaterin says she collects things herself, but has to give them away because she's not allowed much in personal possessions. 

Chapter 5: The Blackguard's Tomb

They travel further down the tunnel until the natural walls give way to worked stone. Sister Ekaterin recognizes it as a catacomb, like the one beneath her convent. An inscription on the wall describes this as the tomb of Jondar, a local hero who was once a great paladin but turned to evil. He is buried here with his followers. Sister Ekaterin gets the tingling sense that undead are nearby.

They attempt to move quietly through the crypt undetected, but fail almost immediately. The risen body of Jondar, muttering and clanking in plate mail, confronts them. Dinard casts obscuring mist while Sister Ekaterin uses her last spell to cast bless. The skeletal champion lets out a howl to summon reinforcements from the catacombs.

Jondar badle wounds the cleric in their first exchange of blows. Next, he uses foul undead powers to afflict the battle nun with supernatural fear. She cries out and runs, leaving Dinard to face the deathless knight and his two undead cohorts. He attempts to hide from them in his mist, splashing them with acid when they draw near. Eventually, the two mindless skeletons push him towards the wall of the tomb.

Sister Ekaterin shakes off her fear, which is immediately replaced with shame. She chugs her last remaining potion and then dashes back towards the battle. "I'm coming to help you, Monsieur Clickyfingers!"

Dinard uses another bead from his necklace to destroy the two mindless skeletons in a blast of fire. Jondar howls for more and gets another pair of reinforcements. The halfling uses his final fireball bead against the skeletons, but barely scorches them.

The battle grows more desperate as Dinard takes another wound and is disabled. Sister Ekateri channels the power of the Aegis to harm the undead, but it is not enough to destroy them. She realizes her shortsword is of little use against the bony monstrosities. Thankfully, the armored Jondar skeleton proves to be top heavy and keeps falling flat as he lunges at her with his longsword. 

Wounded and faced with nothing but bad options, Sister Ekaterin seizes the last healing potion from Dinard's belt. She then smashes it over the prone figure of jondar, causing steam to rise as the necromantic energy is burned from his bones. Dinard, barely conscious, complains at her theft of his potion.

Faced with two remaining skeletal warriors, Sister Ekaterin uses the cantrip virtue to bolster Dinard enough that the halfling can withstand the stress of casting acid splash without lapsing into unconsciousness. They continue this until he is able to bring down both remaining skeletons and they are once again alone in the crypt.

Epilogue: Reprieve

Sister Ekaterin uses Dinard's pearl of power to recall a spell she uses to cast cure light wounds on him. Now more awake, he tells her she was "awesome" and admits that he thought they weren't going to make it.

The battle nun says that she was confident they would make it through, because she knew there had to be a reason the Aegis saved her when so many of her sisters fell in battle. She says that the halfling was right, they still had some greater purpose to serve. Dinard questions whether they accomplished anything beyond merely surviving.

They plunder the weapons and armor from the body of Jondar, which are to heavy for either of them to use. After stowing the gear away, they carefully make their way up through the crypt to the graveyard at the surface.

The graveyard is located on the edge of the occupied village. They are able to dodge the remaining patrols to make their way back to the nearest allied city. There, they are questioned about the tunnel as their superiors realize it could be a back door into the enemy's encampment.

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Servants of the Empire
A Star Wars Story

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

The destruction of the Death Star has ignited a full scale rebellion against the Emperor's New Order. Unless the insurrection can be stamped out quickly, the entire galaxy could be thrown into chaos. Of primary concern is ensuring that the seditious teachings of the ancient Jedi do not fall into rebel hands.

To that end, Lord Darth Vader has dispatched an elite team from Imperial Intelligence's secret Inquisitorius Division to hunt down a Jedi relic that has fallen into the hands of a rebel sympathizer. Inquisitor Lyrien, Inquisitor Trosk, and Agent 42 have tracked the relic to a docking bay on the smuggler's moon of Nar Shaddaa. But instead of their suspect, a freelance archaeologist named Elidan, they walk in on a blaster fight.

A light freighter takes off just as they enter, while two rebel pilots are retreating towards their X-wings while a gang of pig-faced Gamorrean thugs led by a Wookie advance on them. Lyrien attempts to use her sorcerous power to yank the blaster out of one of the pilot's hands, but his grip is too strong. Noting the interlopers, the Wookie sends two of his goons after her.

The Gamorreans tell the Imperials that they are intruding on Master Glorka the Hutt's business and need to leave or get cut up. To make a point, one of the pig-men carves into Lyrien with his vibroaxe. 

The party cows the thugs into submission and Lyrien pulls the X-wing to the ground with the Force. Unable to get much from the pilot, they give him to the thugs while taking the astromech R25 back to their ship, where ZR-38 inducts it into the ship.

After collecting a squad of stormtroopers, they follow the astromech's information to a distant, nameless star system. They decide to land away from the temple and approach through the forest.

Lyrien and Agent 42 attempt to ambush the two guards. The agent kills her target in one shot, but Lyrien's is more troublesome. Agent 42 tries to lure the rebels out into a trap, but all they run into are wild animals.

They follow a wounded rebel inside, to a fog-filled room which tests their emotions and mental state. Agent 42 gets pulled into a flashback from her cadet days, where she is tormented by Colonel Narl. Lyrien hits on the idea of overwhelming the space with rage.

They make it through the room and into the main chamber, where Elidan and the Jedi Warden are conducting a ritual with the Abaan Chrystal while a squad of rebels guards the area. They get into a firefight while the Inquisitors try to close with the Jedi.

Trosk tries to fight the Jedi, but is ambushed by the old man's pet spider. Lyrien comes to his rescue and together they confront the lightsiders. Agent 42 and the surviving stormtroopers focus on taking out the rebels and the spider. After all their other foes are slain, Lyrien ends things by frying the old Jedi with Force Lightning. They collect the Abaan Crystal, release the trapped dark side spirits, and then escape.

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The Doomsday Protocol

The crew of the Star-splitter responds to an emergency distress call, only to stumble across a hidden planet with a sinister secret.

More details coming soon!

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Blades in the Dark
Ursula's Journal

Ye want to hear the story again of how we saved the County of Barstoi? No? Well too bad! Sit yer arse down and listen up! Ye might learn something.

So when I left off, we were on our way back to the count's manor to give the good Captain Varga the full run of what we'd uncovered about the fucking vampire cult the high priest was running from the House of Solace. We were debating whether to wait until three o'clock to investigate the ossuary under the temple, or to go looking in the woods for the fucking vampire lair. 

That was when me and creepy Shen spotted the werewolf perched on the nearby rooftop, watching us. He wasn't attacking us, so that dusky elf Victor called out to ask if he could help us find the missing boy. The werewolf began leaping rooftop to rooftop, but slowly, leading us through the town until he finally went over the wall near the gates. 

We scribbled down a note with the information for Varga and had one of the guards take it to her, with the news that we were investigating a threat in the woods. From there, Tiny picked up the werewolf's scent and led us through the dark forest until we could see a fire through the trees. That's when we decided to take it fucking slow and quiet like.

That was also when I made me first mistake and didn't put me helmet on. That's the first lesson: always cover your head!

I took point, riding on Tiny, while Victor moved second and Arlaia and Shen brought up the rear. (Heh, "rear." If it weren't for the scaly tail, I'd say that Shen's got a good arse. The elf, too, if you're into that sort of thing.)

Anyhoo, the fire was from this little campsite in a small clearing. A werewolf was standing watch while a strange man chanted and waved his hands around the fire. Nearby, a small child-sized shape was tied up. The cultist finished his fucking spell and four fucking skeletons with big fucking pikes and shields crawled out of the earth. The damn things moved to set up a perimeter and immediately saw Tiny.

I dashed it to pieces with me ax and the battle was joined. Oh, it was a pretty sight to see. That corpse-fucking cult leader tried to blast me with dark magics, but missed. Victor made a break for the kid, while the werewolf moved up towards us. Took us a while to be sure the wolf was hostile. Took us even longer to realize it wasn't the same werewolf as before!

Arlaia did her best to keep the werewolf distracted, while I tried to make a run at the cult leader. But two more of those bloody skellies moved in to cut me off. I got past 'em, but one of the bony bastards got a good stick in with his pike. Shen went after them while me and Tiny charged the cultist. I took a swing at him, but he was still standing and smote poor Tiny with some really nasty magic.

That's where I made me second mistake: I should've tagged the priest with me fucking Hunter's Mark than and there, but I hesitated. The lesson being, once ye commit to an attack, commit to the hilt and don't hold back.

While all that was going on, Victor blasted a skeleton apart with that flashy electric magic o' his, then got ahold of the boy. He pulled off the lad's gag and blindfold and confirmed he was the count's missing son Dmitri. That's when three more bloody cultists came charging out of the woods towards the elf.

Meanwhile, Arlaia and the werewolf kept playing hide and stab, while one of the fucking skeletons skewered Shen with its pike even as he kicked the arms off the other.

I had Tiny tear into the priest with tooth and fucking claw, but even so the fucker managed to slip away into the woods. Let me tell ye, I so wanted to hunt that bastard down right then for hurting me poor little bear. But I took a quick look at the situation, and remembered that a dwarf always gets the job done. 

So I wheeled Tiny around and rode up to take the boy from Victor. From there, I started to make was the Beastguard calls a strategic withdrawal, but paused to take a swing at one of the skellies fighting Shen. Lopped his head off, but the fucking thing was still dancing around.

This was me third mistake, and it was nearly the end o' me. I forgot to use all the tools in me disposal. I wasn't going to leave me squaddies behind, that's not the Beastguard way. But I've got more than just an ax.  I should've pulled back to a safe  distance and gotten out me bow to support the retreat.

Instead, Tiny and me were just sitting in the middle of the clearing with out arses hanging out for the cultists to stab. And stab they did! After Victor used that misty step o' his to run, the three cult thugs came charging into the clearing and one o' them got Tiny good with a pair of daggers. Me poor boy went down hard, and I had to hop off him with the little lord over one shoulder. 

With the cultists closing in, two skellies going after Shen, and that fucking werewolf prowling around our escape route, things looked pretty fucking grim. I was bleeding pretty bad from where that pike had stuck me, snake-boy was in worse shape, and the dusky elf wasn't much better. Couldn't see Arlaia, but I heard her now and then fighting that lycan bastard.

Then Shen knocked the skeleton on the left apart with his staff and punched a fist right through the bony little shit on the right. He asked for the lordling and I handed the boy over to him. Then the monk just dashed through the trees. The werewolf tried to go after him, but Victor got between the two of them. That elf may be shady as fuck, but he's got a brave fucking heart for sure, and a head for the mission. 

Now with me bear unconscious and three cult bastards charging at me, ye might be forgiven for thinking the worst. But I know a bit o' nature magic, and that made all the difference. I uttered a quick spell to patch up Tiny's wounds enough to get the poor bear up on his feet. Then I was in the saddle again and we were racing away as fast as his big legs could take us while I pulled out my bow.

That fucking cult priest chose that moment to reappear and set this nasty wall of fire to try to cut off our escape. The three other cultists drew close enough to start taking shots at us. 

Tiny took another dagger in the arse, but me brave boy kept going. This other fucker with a crossbow got off a spectacular shot through the trees right at Shen's jugular. But the snake-eyed monk didn't even look back as his free hand reached up to snatch the bolt at the last second. He complimented the archer, snapped the bolt in half one-handed, then wished us all good fortune before dashing off through the forest faster than I've ever seen any human go. He had the lordling tucked over his shoulder, and was moving so fast the corpse-fucking cultists could never catch him.

With the count's son safely away, it turned into a nasty fight with the cultists who now just wanted to kill us out of spite. The werewolf tore into Victor, biting him hard, but Arlaia kept tagging the fucker with silver tipped crossbow bolts. The elf, nearly dead, finally skewered the wolf with a silver sword and put an end to him. 

I had me own problems. I finally slapped my Hunter's Mark on the priest and tried to take a shot at him while Tiny put some distance between us. But I wasn't solidly seated in the saddle and when I twisted I took a tumble and ended up in the dirt with me damn bear dashing off into the dark. Mr. Jacketful O'Fucking Knives decided to have a go at me. I was in a bad way by then and Tiny was taking his time coming back to me.

That was when our wee gnome friend popped out from behind a tree to put a crossbow bolt right between the fucking eyes of that fucking priest. With their leader dead, we scared the three other cultists into running. I let mine go, as I'd promised him a chance to escape, but Arlaia kept taking potshots as they ran. Crazy lass was cackling the whole time. Got a bloodthirsty streak a mile wide, that one.

The dead priest was dressed in the red cassock of a Pharasmin inquisitor, and the werewolf corpse had changed back into our old friend the fucking half-elf chirurgeon. We tossed both bodies over Tiny's back and searched the campsite. We found some creepy cult texts that Victor deciphered. It talked about anointing and sacrificing the little lordling tonight at the witching hour as part of a ritual in the temple ossuary to curse Count Neska's line and allow the whole fucking county of Barstoi to fall into the hands of agents of the Whispering Tyrant. They were even coordinating with other cultists all the way down in godsforsaken Vyrlich! 

The forest fire the false inquisitor started was growing by this point, and we wanted to get back before the high priest had a chance to talk his way out of this. So we packed things up and then set about tracking down Shen and the lordling. The monk might be fast, but he was out of his element in the woods and got turned around. 

When we got back to the town, the Vische fire department was racing out to deal with the forest fire. And can I say that I am seriously impressed that this little fucking backwater actually has a fire department, with druids and a custom wagon and everything. That's practically a dwarvish level of civic organization, so my compliments to the Count.

We made a beeline right for the count's manor. Along the way, we noticed that the friendly werewolf was back, shadowing us on the rooftops until we got close to the manor. Then he gave an approved nod and vanished.

Inside, we brought Captain Varga up to speed and she took us to see the count at once. We laid it all on the table—the cult, the plot against him, the high priest's treachery, all of it. Count Neska doesn't seem like the time to get loud when he's angry, and he didn't. Instead he got cold and quiet, ordering Varga to take her knights to the House of Solace and wipe out the cult. I asked that they spare the Acolyte Ottos, but he and Varga were already aware of him. 

The count invited us to stay the night in his manor and had this really fine feast cooked up for us. We got our 2,000gp each, plus the boon he'd offered. Plus, Ottos was able to get Victor started on some sort of treatment for lycanthropy. 

Then we got to sit back and rest up while Varga and her lads took care of the high priest and his followers. They fucking burned down the House of Solace, drove a stake through the high priest's heart, and mounted the cultist heads on pikes.

So that's the story of how we became the big fucking heroes of Barstoi and lived to drink another day! 

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