Codex III-Chapter 1

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Cresting a hill, the party and Kyrnyn got their first sight of Hammerdine. The city sprawled out before them. Even Amara, who was from the decently-sized city Eskele, was a bit awed. The city walls were the dominant feature from this distance, a large gray series of stones that ringed the inner city. But since they had been finished, centuries ago, the city had expanded, and now much of it lay outside the protection of the walls themselves. The skyline was dominated by a squat building sitting near the center, surrounded by other large buildings. Off to the east, however, another large building sat just inside the walls. Rynn gave a small whistle. All his journeys on the death side of Jenoa had not even given him any experience with a city this size. Darkcrest was rumored to be quite large, but he had never visited it. Khaska was probably the most visibly affected, the Maha’i cleric gaping at the sprawling metropolis before him. Jevereshk was nothing compared to this massive city.

Kyrnyn smiled at seeing his friends in such awe. “Hammerdine is a great city. Built over the centuries. It’s outgrown the walls made to fight the Tlerian empire.”

“Looks like they’re building a new set of walls,” Rynn said. Indeed, at closer look, it was obvious that new walls were being put up around the city.

Orensland, however, seemed unphased. “It’s a big city. Many opportunities for us, but I’d like to get rid of this rotting head if at all possible. Come! Let’s find the Kletheira Merchant House and tell them that Jonathan of the Wastes is dead!”

“We will not take credit for killing him,” Jenika said.

“Yes, yes. You’ve all made that quite clear. But they need to at least know that he’s dead, right? Maybe they’ll still be happy enough to reward us with something.”

Another hour of travel put them at the gates of the city proper itself. The guards themselves were not that concerned with the party, letting them pass. It was obvious that trade between parts of the city, including the barrier between the inner and the outer cities and all the construction crews working on the new wall, made watching people enter the city almost impossible, so the party was able to enter without incident. Orensland asked about the Kletheira Merchant House, and after the group was pointed in the right direction, they also managed to find an inn only a few blocks from the Merchant House’s headquarters. Kyrnyn accompanied them, and got his own room at the inn, but dropped his equipment in his room and then immediately left. There was a temple to Heironeous in the city, and he wanted to pray in a sacred building and report in to his superiors.

After settling in, Orensland made a beeline for the Merchant House headquarters. If Jenika didn’t know any better, she would have thought he was trying to get there without any of the rest of the party present, but they all followed. Khaska and Jenika specifically made sure they did not loose him.

The headquarters was quite ornate, the workmanship of the building quite exquisite. It was right next to a stables, also owned by the Merchant House, and there were many different people coming and going or just milling around the courtyard. Orensland was about to ask one of the people where he might find an official, but suddenly a booming voice cried out.

“Orensland! Rynn! Hello! It is good to see you!” Laalarash had been standing off to the side speaking with someone, when the party arrived. The heavyset man came over. “Khaska! I thought you would have gone back to your people.” He was clearly surprised to see the Maha’i.

“It is true, that I have been called on a strange path,” the cleric said. “But I am pleased to walk it with friends.” He held out his hand. “And to see old acquaintances.”

Laalarash paused momentarily, but then smiled and shook the cleric’s hand vigorously. “And I must say, you’ve upgraded your outfit since I saw you last.” He rapped on the plate armor. “Your suit suits you. Suit suits!” He laughed at his own inadvertent joke.

“I’m glad you came. Did you manage to track the goblins?”

“We did,” said Rynn. “The situation has been dealt with.”

“Oh wonderful. Wonderful! And Haalak, that’s our boss, he has been expecting you. Come, he will want to meet you!”

“That would be wonderful,” said Orensland. “But who do we talk to about a reward?”

“Yes, yes. The head. Haalak also knows about that. He is the one to talk to!” The big man shuffled off, and the party followed suit. They were quickly ushered into the building proper from the courtyard.

Haalak’s office was very ornately decorated. Tapestries and art adorned the walls, and the carpet was very fine and well-embroidered. His desk was of some dark wood, polished to perfection. Its fixtures were solid gold. He himself, a tall, dark-haired elf, was wearing fine vestments. A silver chain hung around his neck, a symbol of Fharlanghn dominating jewels woven into the chain itself. The elf stood as Laalarash entered.

“Haalak, these are the heroes I spoke of.”

“Ah,” said the elf. “Khaska of the Mawkhavi Maha’i, Rynn Fowler, Amara of Eskele, Orensland the elf, and Jenikah of Shinadoh. Welcome to the Kletheira Merchant House.” He rang a small bell sitting on his desk and a young man appeared from an adjoining room. “Wine, for our friends. One virgin drink.” The boy bowed and left.

Amara was a little taken aback. The rest of the group was as well. “How do you know all of our names?” the sorceress asked.

“It’s my business. You five were instrumental in saving the outpost, Laalarash, Gorgoreth, and the caravan. I made sure to ask Laalarash and the others about all of you. As I understand it, things might have gone very differently had you not been there. For that I owe you my thanks, and the Kletheira Merchant House is in your debt.” The young man returned carrying a tray with wine glasses for each of them. Khaska took the virgin one, which the boy pointed out to him.

“I was also told that the goblins who attacked were in possession of the head of Jonathan of the Wastes?” continued Haalak, indicating that they should sit on the chairs across from his desk.

“That’s right,” said Orensland. He held up a burlap sack he had been carrying the head in since Hillsdale. “Gorgoreth said there would be a reward?”

Haalak smiled. “There is indeed.” He indicated for the young man to take the bag, and he did so, though grimacing. Haalak had him take it to another official of the Merchant House, for identification and verification.

“I’m not sure,” Khaska interjected after the boy left, “that we should be taking credit for that.”

Haalak’s smile flattened for just a moment, then the corners of his mouth turned up even higher than before. “Whatever you feel comfortable with, but I offered the reward for two reasons. One, for the brave people who could track down and kill Jonathan. Second, to assure us, and others who travel through the Wastes, that he really is dead. If the goblins killed Jonathan, and you took care of the goblins, I think it stands to reason that you deserve the reward for killing him. At the very least, you deserve part of the reward for bringing us his head, and assuring others that they will be safer traveling through the Wastes now. Jonathan was a blight on all traveling through the Wastes, a bandit with little honor or remorse. But, as the head of the Kletheira Merchant House, and as the person in charge of the reward, I offer the entire reward to you, full well knowing that you did not actually track down and kill Jonathan.”

The merchant leader moved on without much of a pause. “Also, I assume you will be in town for at least a few days? If so, I would like to invite you for dinner tomorrow night, here, courtesy of the Kletheira Merchant House. Also, I understand that Dragonrider Reitman has personally invited you to come visit with him at the local chapter of the Knights of the Silver Dragons. I can have one of my servants escort you there directly at a time of your choosing. If there is anything else we can do, don’t hesitate to ask.”

Eryx (DM)
First, a matter of housekeeping. As discussed previously, we will be using the “Variant: Upkeep” rules from the DMG p. 130, instead of figuring out individual meals, staying at inns, etc. In game time, it has now been one month. It is now the end of April and you need to pay upkeep. For Rynn’s good rolling and helping feed you on your travels, you may all knock 5 gold off of whatever you intend to pay. All the adventures you’ve been having so far took up about 2 weeks, and travel to Hammerdine took another 2.

Second, just for fun, I would all like you to do at least a bit of world creation. Pick a spot on the map, create a character, make up an organization, something. Thevarou has done wonderful, over-the-top amounts of world creation, and I don't want this to seem like it's my game with his major input. Please create one thing in the world as part of your post this time. I look forward to seeing what you have to create.

Haalak is being very kind and generous to you. It’s clear your defense of the outpost has won you a friend in the leader of the Merchant House.

You would have had ample time on your way to Hammerdine to get the statue of Boccob appraised, and having looked at the spellbook you can tell that 61 pages of it are useful spells. (The last spell appears to be Scrying, but as the spell is incomplete with only 3 of the 4 pages readable, those readable pages are useless.) If you sell both of them, you can get 7,050 gold (4k for the statue, 3050 for the useful pages in the spellbook). Also, the reward from Lord Yellman was another 500 gold worth of gems. He also sent a letter he would like you to deliver to his son, who should be training somewhere with the Hammerdinian military. If you wanted to sell the scrolls of Charm Person you would get 38 gold.

What do you want to do next? Will you accept the full reward for the head, the partial reward, or none of it? Will you come to dinner the next night? After finishing with him, what else will you do? It’s about 2 p.m. Also, Hammerdine is definitely in the category of “metropolis,” so anything you can afford, you can find and buy.

BlackWolf
At this time, Rynn will be going with the "poor" upkeep option. He likes "living on the street or in the woods" and is generally satisfied with such. But he'll be upgrading to "common" when we pay next as I expect most of the time will be spent in Hammerdine rather than in the wild.

Rynn has no problem accepting the full reward from Haalak since the elf is fully aware of the circumstances. I also vote we sell the statue and spellbook, since no one has a real use for either. As for the scrolls, they could be used so we should keep them if anyone wants them.

Once we've figured out the money situation (so I know how much I've got available), Rynn will want to make a few purchases and look around the city. He'll definitely want to attend the dinner; Haalak is a very well informed person, so he could be a great ally.

I will do my bit of world creation when I have a little more time. But I wanted to get this post up so we can start determining the money situation.

Thevarou
Khaska would probably go with the same upkeep options as Rynn. He's not too demanding in terms of quality of accommodation (save moral quality!), and is quite good at fending for himself in the wilderness. On the same note, he favors selling the objects that are of no use to the party. He also will not object to accepting the whole reward if Haalak is not inimical to such, though he might warn against making such exceptions in the future; the Kletheira Merchant House does not want to provide an incentive that could wind up provoking conflict over who will deliver something 'wanted' (for example, someone could have attacked the party, taken the head, and turned it over, conveniently skipping the part of his story where he robbed or killed random adventurers).

Khaska, having worked for the trading company in the past, is honored by the invitation and will readily attend; in the meantime, he might explore the city, taking note of similarities and differences to the culture he knows (might be the best time for him to have the encounter we've talked about). Khaska is also eager to take up Dragonrider Reitman's invitation to visit the Knights' chapter, but will converse with the party about when would be best to do it.

Eryx (DM)
I've been asked to clarify the invitation by Dragonrider Reitman. You would all probably know that the Knights of the Silver Dragons follow a code of honor and ethics, much like bushido, The Code of the Good Dragons. One of the tenets of that code is to respect and honor everybody and treat everybody as equals, from an orphan on the street to the emperor of the Tlerian empire. If you were invited to meet with a Dragonrider, the invitation will be honored. There might be some haggling about when would be convenient (Reitman is, after all, a high official in the Knights and probably quite busy), but at the very least you would not be turned away if you showed up at the chapter and asked to see him, or at least schedule an appointment to do so.

Also, since BlackWolf, Thev, and Sayya (through IM) are okay with taking the full reward money, and I'm like 99.999% sure that Orensland will concur, the entire party will receive the full reward of 2500 gold. Why just give you so much money? Well, I've been waiting to tell you this for several months, just because it's awesome, but I rolled for your treasure from the goblins and rolled first a 100, then a 99. I was like "…" The odds of two such high rolls right off the bat were so small that I talked with a friend of mine and we came up with this unique way of getting you treasure (but not forcing it on you). Happy hunting. The dice have been very nice to you so far in this campaign. Stastistically speaking, the other shoe may drop any time. *gives evil DM laugh*

Also, for completing the quest given by Lord Yellman to stop the ettin, and for successfully solving the riddle, you also all get 500 XP. By my calculations, you should all be level 3 by now. Gratz!

DeltaWolf

Jenika would go with “common” upkeep, though I don’t know what that comes to.

Unless there are things that the party is wanting to do… Jenika would want to meet with Dragonrider Reitman (or make an appointment). Also she would take up Haalak’s dinner invintation.

Eryx (DM)
I have updated the General Campaign Rules page with the upkeep rules, so you don't have to go digging for them every month of in-game time. "Common" upkeep, DeltaWolf, is 45 gold per month.

BlackWolf
Here are my world building offerings: Loremaster Onasus and the Tribe of Enadul.

DeltaWolf
Thaks DM :)

Thevarou
I second the thanks! And, in fact, after reviewing the descriptions of the services bought by each level of upkeep, I'm inclined to believe that Khaska would actually lean toward "Poor" upkeep, even in the city.

Eryx (DM)
FYI, the wife and I are headed out of town for a family reunion, so I will not be able to post until next Thursday or Friday.

Crosis

Hey! Sorry for replying so late, I was on my own kind of vacation. And I'm posting real quick, I'll do a more detailed one later, which will include the "create your own part of the world" post.

Good guess, Eryx! Orensland is willing to take any and all money that is willingly thrust under his nose. I believe that gives us all a grand total of 2,010 gp (7040 + 500 + 2500 divided by 5) each, some of which in gems. I think my intentions for the money have already been addressed. That Handy Sack could really come in handy at this point.

As for the XP, I get the feeling I didn't update my sheet once or twice. Do you have any idea where I really should be? I'm assuming I'm upgrading to level 3 as well. I'll deal with those details later, because again, I'm in a hurry right now.

BlackWolf
Well, it seems like the consensus is to sell the things as suggested. Rynn will take his share (2,010 gp) and make some purchases: a Handy Haversack, a masterwork composite longbow (strength rating +2), some arrows, and materials for crafting 2 shortbows.

The ranger is keeping his cherished longbow which Arandur guided him in creating (yay for the haversack making it easy to carry stuff), but he realizes there are better bows out there. At this time his skill is not good enough to create a bow like he one he's buying, plus he admires the craftsmanship of others.

After we have the dinner with Haalak, Rynn is hoping to spend at least a week focusing on crafting a shortbow. He wants to practice the craft (plus having an extra shortbow could be handy). Eventually he wants to craft his own masterwork composite bow and then get it enchanted into a magic weapon.

Sayyadina
Sorry about the delay on my part: my netbook suffered an untimely demise, and the new computer just got here. Amara will hang on to the scrolls, since compelling people to like you is always fun. She would probably have settled for poor upkeep for the month spent traveling, but will most likely pursue more of a "Good" lifestyle in Hammerdine. She won't make any purchases yet.

Amara is definitely interested in the dinner with the merchant house, as well as making as many connections with the Knights as she can in. If there are any sorcerers (preferably not too pesky) that work with the Knights, she would seek them out, and depending on how things are going with the Knights possibly even offer herself as an apprentice sorceress under the Knights. Most of all she's interested in speaking with more of the Knights' dragons, if possible, or getting to know Ziranethsrana better. If there's any sort of arcane library in Hammerdine, Amara would probably look into that. Since she prefers to be a bit more formal, she would likely send a note with a servant to Reitman asking if and when it would be convenient for her to visit before doing anything else Knights-related.

Eryx (DM)
I'm working on the post, and want to have it up tonight. Crosis has done his bit of world creation but asked me to help get it up on the wiki. I give you Tjavan.

Thevarou
This is me being a linguistic nerd, but would "Tjavan" be pronounced "chah-van" or "tyah-vahn", or something else altogether? Just curious :)

Crosis

I was thinking something closer to the first. Namely, the first sound is a hard ch, almost j sound. I wish I could give you the actual letter I'm talking about, but I'm afraid I don't know my linguistics very well. :D

The party paused, but Orensland quickly stepped forward. “We would love to accept your gracious invitation as well as the full reward.” Then he stopped, and looked at the others, but nobody seemed to disagree with him. He turned back and nodded.

Haalak cracked a small smile and clasped his hands behind his back. “Tomorrow night, then. I usually take dinner at about 5:30 pm. Would that be acceptable?”

“That sounds wonderful,” said Amara, throwing out her most charming smile. “We’ll see you then.”

“I look forward to hearing of your adventures and getting to know you better.” He rang the bell and scribbled a note as the young man entered again. Then he removed his ring and pressed it into some melted wax. “Has the head been verified?” The young man nodded once. “Good. Then escort our friends down with this note to Master Renderall. He’ll know what to do with it.”

The elf looked at the party. “Master Renderall is our accountant. He will be able to give you your reward. Is there anything else I can do for you today?”

Amara pursed her lips before speaking. “I wondered what would be the best way to get a note to Dragonrider Reitman. I would rather not just go barging into the chapterhouse without at least some warning.”

Haalak smiled. “Quite right. But I think you’ll find the Knights an amicable lot. For all their militancy and Hammerdine basically requiring high taxes to subsidize their efforts, which I agree with by the way, nobody wants Arkenos to destroy … well, anything, and the pinch those taxes create on businesses like ourselves. Well, they are an honorable lot, and their Code of the Good Dragons means that they wouldn’t turn you away. But, how about you write a letter up and I will have a courier deliver it. It might get more attention coming from a well-respected merchant rather than a random traveler. They get a lot of letters and visits from people who are, well, just looking for attention.” He winked.

Amara laughed. She liked this elf who talked too fast too much, yet seemed to be well-mannered and quick to think on his feet. It hadn’t occurred to her that just showing up at the Knights with a story about meeting a Dragonrider might be not well-received. After all, Reitman probably wasn’t waiting anxiously at the door for them. “That sounds like a good idea,” she said.

The elf gave a quick bow. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have much to accomplish today. Please,” he motioned towards, “follow Chad and he will take you to Master Renderall.”

Getting the reward money was quick and efficient. While the accountant was counting out their reward, Amara wrote a letter to Dragonrider Reitman, and Chad took it and promised to have it delivered with all expedience. Master Renderall was very gracious to the party, and soon they found themselves outside the merchant house headquarters with a substantial amount of platinum. Orensland was nearly giddy with excitement.

“What are you going to spend yours on?” he eagerly asked.

“I’ve got a notion to begin working on a bow, to increase my skill,” said Rynn.

“All that platinum and you want to make your own bow? That’s it?” The rogue was incredulous.

“Not only that,” Rynn said. “I think it might be a good investment to buy one also. My skill at making them is not yet as my skill in shooting them.”

“You are quite the marksman,” said Khaska. “I am glad that you are with me.”

“Let’s go see what the market has to offer!” said Orensland.

“I think it would be better if we sold Stondylus’ spellbook and the statue first,” Amara said. She looked at Orensland with her head slightly cocked. “More money to blow all in one place.”

“Ah. Not a bad idea. Lead the way, my sorcerous friend!” Amara made sure her back was turned before she rolled her eyes.

“Actually, I’d rather go myself. I want to spend some time with the wizards and their arcane libraries. How about I promise to bring all the money to you tonight, if I can sell it by then.”

“You’re just going to run off and sell it?”

The sorceress seethed at the rogue, who was apparently unaware that he was treading on personal matters. Jenika reached out and touched his shoulder. “If she wants to spend some time in the libraries, let her.”

Khaska also stepped forward. “Leave her alone in this matter, my friend. She seeks information about her powers and wishes to explore her destiny. That is a solitary path.”

Amara was a bit surprised at the way the Maha’i seemed quietly forceful about it. He nodded to her, then turned back to Orensland. “Come! Let us see if we might find a bard? Perhaps hearing some of the songs of ancient lore will cheer you up.” He led the rogue away.

Rynn had watched the exchange with amusement, but followed after Khaska and the others. Amara was left alone. She had noticed that the Maha’i had led Orensland away from their inn, and made haste to return, grab the spellbook, and leave.


The wizard’s guild of Hammerdine was housed in a decently sized building, and it had been easy to find. City guards were most helpful, something she found rather unusual. It had taken several attempts at asking various random cityfolk before someone merely suggested she ask a guard. On her first attempt, she was directed right to the wizard’s guild building. The guards in Eskele would likely not have been as helpful. She filed this random fact about Hammerdine away in her mind.

It didn’t take her long to find someone willing to talk to her about buying a wizard’s spellbook. Such spellbooks were in high demand, and she was able to get a fair price for it. The statue of Boccob was less interesting to them as a guild, but some asking around found a wizard who was a devout worshipper of the God of Magic, and the statue was also exchanged. Amara made sure to get writs of purchase to pacify Orensland as to the amount of money that exchanged hands. It was then that she asked if she could peruse the arcane library the guild had. The apprentice wizard she was working with this whole time seemed a bit confused by that.

“Um, I do hate to be rude,” the young man said, “but what purpose would you have in perusing our library.”

Amara shot a withering glare at him. “Personal reasons, mostly. Research into my powers. There’s a reason I don’t need a spellbook.”

A look of confusion passed over the young man’s face, but then he opened his mouth. “Oh,” he said. “Oh.” He pursed his lips. “Let me check with Magus Silverman, the head librarian. Normally only guild wizards are allowed, but he might make an exception.” He executed a quick, yet formal, bow, and left her. It didn’t take but a few minutes, but he came back and escorted her directly to Silverman’s office, just outside a room she glanced in filled with books and scrolls, where many wizards were hunched over desks meticulously copying or studying.

The half-elf wizard was kind and had her sit in his office. His hair was beginning to gray around the temples, and he had a soul patch on his chin. His desk was cluttered with various books and scrolls, the main portion of it dominated by what looked like a ledger sheet. The apprentice wizard remained outside the office. “So, a sorcerer, are you?” He said. “What need have you to study spellbooks and tomes of arcane lore?”

“To be honest, I was hoping to find books on dragons and their humanoid offspring.”

“Ah, think you might have a bit of dragon’s blood in you?”

“The thought had crossed my mind.”

“Well, we have a few tomes that I would be willing to let you peruse, tomes that may be of use to you, but I have to be honest, very few learned men adhere to that theory of sorcerous magic anymore. The books are old and not considered as important as they were when they were first published. Some of the newer works might be of more interest to you.”

“Why are they no longer considered important?”

“Oh, they’re important in a historical sense. But those theories are just not held as widely.”

“Why not?” Her face was an unreadable mask, something she had long practiced at boring meetings, dinners, and in the face of idiotic suitors attempting to court her (more like court her father’s money, at least the ones from the lower Citadels). But inside she was being crushed. Was draconic ancestry not the source of her power?

The wizard shrugged. “The number of dragons in the world intermixing and having humanoid children has obviously gone down. There are only 54 dragons left, maybe some eggs here or there under the direction of the Knights, and they are not having children. Yet the number of sorcerers does not decrease. Another theory must be found.”

“Are there any theories that have gained ascendency?”

“Not as of yet. But I am a wizard, and an academic one at that. I fear that aside from giving you access to the books you seek, which I do willingly, I have not much to teach or even in common magically with a sorceress such as yourself.” He stood. “Come, I will show you the area of the library you should peruse and a few of the books you should read. But your best course of action might be to go to the house of Solus Hiddel. He runs sort of a training camp for sorcerers out of his mansion. He’s a very powerful sorcerer in his own right. He would have more insight into the source of your power than we wizards, I’m afraid. As you are probably aware, we take a more theoretical and academic approach to magic.” He smiled. “Sometimes I envy your sorcerers for your ability to simply …” he cocked his head, looking for the right word, “create magic.” Then he shrugged. “But I’m sure it has its disadvantages, too.”

Not allowed to take any of the books from the library, she spent several hours looking the tomes on draconic lore over, but Magus Silverman was right. The books that spoke of draconic heritage were ancient and covered with dust. Books that spoke of sorcerous power coming simply from innate ability, such as divine spellcasters, wizards, bards, and others, were of more recent date and represented the most current scholarship on the matter. Discouraged, she left, but not before saying goodbye to Silverman. He was gracious, and wished her well in her quest for understanding.

It was late, the sun had disappeared behind the buildings but had not yet set. So she headed back to the inn. Rynn and Orensland were playing a game of dice with one of the other patrons, Jenika and Khaska were off to the side, eating dinner and talking. Amara ordered some food from a passing waitress for the inn, but before she could sit with the cleric and the monk, she felt a tap on her shoulder.

“Amara Palladila?” She turned to see a Knight of the Silver Dragons.

“Yes.”

“Excellent! I have been sent by Dragonrider Reitman, who received your note. I have already talked to your friends. I am to inform you that you are welcome at the Hammerdine Chapterhouse of the Knights at any time, but that Rider Reitman himself would like to meet with you on Thursday in the morning, at 10 am. Would that be acceptable to you?”

“Why yes, yes it would,” she said. That would be the morning after their dinner with Haalak.

“Then we hope to see you then,” he said. “Markus preserve you until then.” He saluted her with his fist against his chest, then turned smartly and left the inn.

Suddenly more pleased than before, Amara sat down next to Jenika, across from Khaska. Orensland immediately came over to see how much she had sold the statue and spellbook for, and they divvied up the money. The rogue seemed mockingly offended that she obtained the writs of purchase, but, then smiled, and genuinely thanked her before returning to the game.

Amara poked at her food for several minutes, still slightly down from the experience at the wizard’s guild. The excitement of the proposition of meeting Dragonrider Reitman again wore off as she began to reflect on the events of the day. Her mood soured as she ate, and Khaska asked what was wrong. She explained the events at the guild to him, and her findings in their library. His face kept its typical illegibility.

“One’s destiny is not unraveled in a day. The path we walk is sometimes as important as the destination itself. I have no doubt that you will come to greater understanding of your purpose in time. The discouraged man has lost his way before beginning, as we say.”

Amara looked at him quizzically. “Wait? How did you know what I was going to look for this afternoon, right after meeting with Haalak?”

The Maha’i’s ears dropped down to his head, and he looked down at his empty plate. “When Dragonrider Reitman came, I wanted to hear what he and that wizard were saying amongst each other, so I cast Comprehend Languages on myself just in case.” He looked at her. “I heard most of your conversation with the dragon, but eavesdropping was not my intention.” He gave a wan smile. “At least, not eavesdropping on you.”

“You don’t trust the Knights much, do you?”

“My kind and them have,” he paused, searching for the right phrase, “not been on friendly terms for some time now.”

“Why?” He sighed.

“It is a long story, and I have no talent like the bards of my people to do it justice.”

Amara paused, then decided that opening up wouldn’t be that bad. “I don’t trust them because of what they have done to the dragons, and how they are militarizing the entire world.”

Jenika frowned. “Wait. Are you saying you would rather the dragons be free? Or that we not be prepared to defend ourselves against the Dark Times? I was always told that I would be one of those that would defend our world during the Dark Times. Many members of my order have signed on with the Knights to defend Jenoa. I would think that this militarization is a good thing.”

“I suppose,” said Amara, “but at what cost? My home city is extremely militarized. It is not a pleasant society to live in. I hope the Knights do not turn the world all that way, even if we fight back the forces of Arkenos.” She looked at Khaska. “That is why I do not trust the Knights, even though our defense clearly rests in their hands.” There was a slight pause. “So what is this story that you do not want to tell?”

Reluctantly, the Maha’i told the story of Tawru, the Maha’i Paladin who had been betrayed by the Knights and killed by them. As he told it, Rynn and Orensland came over from their game. “I had never heard that before,” Rynn said. Ranna was sitting at his feet, seeming more melancholy, her mood seeming to mirror that of her ranger master.

“That is why the Maha’i of the wastes do not trust the Knights,” the cleric finally finished. The rest of the group was somber.

“It was hundreds of years ago,” Amara finally said. “All of the Knights who participated are dead. Though, I wonder how this is remembered in their history.”

Khaska snorted. “They probably do not even remember Tawru.”

Rynn was scratching the top of Ranna’s head. “Well,” he said, “I’m glad you shared that with us. It helps me understand you better, my friend. But it is getting late. Orensland and I were going to the market early tomorrow morning.”

“Yes,” the rogue said, a grin splitting his face. “Time to spend our money!” Both Rynn and Orensland stood. “Good night, my friends.”

“Markus keep you safe,” Khaska intoned. Amara merely raised her glass, and Jenika gave a small wave. A few minutes later, Amara also went to bed.

Jenika was serious, and now she was picking at her food. “Do you think that might happen to me?”

“What?”

“Just seems the stuff out of legend. Betrayal. Friendships gone awry.” A whisper, now. “Killing a friend of yours.”

Khaska stared long and hard at the monk, the silence filling the air between the two of them across the table. “You are thinking of Kaylee.”

Jenika nodded.

The cleric’s face was stoic. “There are no easy answers to such questions. As I said to Amara, one’s destiny will unfold. I have pledged myself to help you, as have the others of our little party. If it is written in the sands of time that you should face Kaylee as enemies, you will not do so alone, though may Markus grant that friendship be restored.”


The group left to explore Hammerdine the very next morning, right after breakfast. Amara took her leave of them, and Khaska made sure that Orensland did not pester her. There seemed to be no need, as the rogue merely gave a jaunty wave as the sorceress left, which relieved the Maha’i.

The market wasn’t completely crowded in the morning, their innkeeper had said. It was true. There were throngs of people, but space was not necessarily tight among the different vendors. Rynn and Orensland were both interested in the same thing, and were able to locate a magical items vendor after about an hour of searching. Coin exchanged hands, and the two were outfitted with new Heyward’s Handy Haversacks. Orensland immediately dumped most of his unnecessary trappings into it, keeping just a dagger at his side. Rynn kept his bow shouldered, the familiar way it rested on him comforting to the ranger.

Khaska was able to find a blacksmith that worked with the local wizard’s guild, and made arrangements to have his armor enchanted fully, the pieces that had been made by Bric Thosten back in Hillsdale still not bearing the extra armor enchantment that had originally been possessed by the armor. But it was as he exited the blacksmith’s shop that the Maha’i, quite surprisingly, ran into another one of his kind.

The two Maha’i looked at each other, Khaska’s mouth hanging slightly open. Then he shut it, straightened, suppressed an incipient thrill of excitement, and spoke in clear, crisp Maha’i.

“Greetings, my brother, in the name of Tawru. I am Khaska Nzaidullek Mawkhavi Tereshkven.”

The other Maha’i stared blankly at him for a moment of incomprehension, then sighed. He spoke, but when he did so, it was in common. “I’m not interested in hearing it. Markus was not one of us, and I am not a traitor to my race for saying so. Good day!” The other Maha’i turned deliberately away and left.

Khaska was very startled by this rude reaction, and was very much confused. It was only later that he was given an insight into the exchange, and why this fellow Maha’i had reacted this way. It was several hours later, when they passed a group of Maha’i standing off to the side. One was atop a box, shouting to be heard over the din. A handful others were standing to the side, praying in a dialect of the Maha’i language that Khaska had a little difficulty understanding at first.

“Dragonrider Reitman refuses to listen to us, for his mind is darkened like all the others. He has been poisoned by the lies fed by his order, following in the footsteps of the liars who have hidden the truth. The Knights of the Silver Dragons do not have faith. They do not understand the truth! Markus, our most noble savior of Jenoa, founder of the Knights, was of our kin, born of the gods! And in the coming years, as Arkenos grows ever closer, he will return, triumphant! He will cast down the false Knights, and in glory and triumph he will drive back once again the dark forces from Arkenos, and thus will begin the reign of Markus, which will be glorious and will last a thousand years!” The speaker saw Khaska, and pointed.
“You belong to a glorious race. Only by joining yourself with the Order of Faris Attineen will you be worthy to stand in the presence of Markus when he returns from the realms beyond! Join us, my brother!” Then he spoke in his Maha’i dialect. “Join us, my brother!”

Khaska turned and walked away. He had never before heard such blasphemy in person and was not interested in hearing any more from those that had left the Maha’i in the wastes and since became bitter enemies of the queen of Jevereshk. “Come,” he said to his companions. “I do not wish to hear any more.” Rynn led the way, pushing through the growing crowds. As they left, Khaska heard one more invective hurtled at his back.

“May you burn in hell when Markus comes, and may his glorious radiance consume you who are not worthy to stand in his presence.”

The cleric looked straight ahead and did not acknowledge the preaching Maha’i again.


A small demonstration of her magical ability managed to get Amara into the house of Solus Hiddel. She was quickly ushered into the house after casting a small cantrip, where she was met by another sorcerer.

“Have you come to learn from Master Hiddel?” the tall, regal-looking human asked as he glided in.

“I’m not sure how long I will be staying, but I thought at least a visit would be worthwhile.” The young man did not ask her to sit, but instead stood as she shared as much with him as she dared, basically, that she was from a city that did not look favorably upon sorcerers and she had come to Hammerdine to learn what she could about her heritage.

“And how did you find out about us?”

“The wizard’s guild sent me here.” He laughed briefly, then covered his mouth.

“Why would you go to the wizard’s guild?”

She straightened. “If you must know, I had recently come into possession of a spellbook, and since I obviously don’t need one, I thought I could get some money out of it. The wizard’s guild seemed a logical place to try to sell it. While I was there, I read some of their scholarly works on sorcerous power, and when I inquired about sorcerers, they told me about Master Hiddel.” Her explanation done, she glared at him.

He was not smiling any more. “I apologize. That seems reasonable. For a moment, I thought you were under the delusion that wizards could teach sorcerers.”

“Wizards are not frowned upon as much as sorcerers in my home city. Yet I tried it. Total failure.”

He changed the subject. “Did you learn anything from their library? I have heard it is quite extensive on matters of arcane lore.”

“Just that they seem to think sorcerers do not get their powers from draconic heritage, something that I had always been taught in my hometown. I think it’s one reason sorcerers are not trusted. If the only dragons left are evil, that casts doubt on sorcerers.”

“So, you still think that sorcerers get their powers from dragons?” He was smiling again.

“I am unsure,” she gave him another withering stare. “It seems to make sense to me.”

This time he laughed out loud, and did not try to hide it. “The myths and legends of the countryfolk. Ah,” he smiled again, “how little you understand.” He shook his head. “You would be welcome to study with us, but you will be disabused of your foolish bedtime stories very quickly under Master Hiddel.”

“I’ll think about it,” she tersely said. He explained to her what apprenticeship might mean, but made it clear that each “student” was to be self-sufficient. When she asked him what benefits she would gain by being a student of Master Hiddel and his other apprentices, he merely shrugged.

“Master Hiddel is a well-known and well-respected sorcerer. Hammerdine is very interested in his students to join their army, under the Knights of the Silver Dragons. Having your name associated with him would open doors.”

It was obvious to her that apprenticing herself to Master Hiddel would be less about gaining understanding of her powers and more about joining a prestigious club. “I’ll think about it,” was all she would say. The thought of meeting Dragonrider Reitman still loomed in her mind. She hoped she would be able to meet and talk with Ziranethsrana again, even if that was unlikely. The conversation with the young man ended, she left, barely containing her disdain for his arrogance and rudeness.


The group seemed rather grumpy when they assembled for dinner with Haalak. Khaska was disturbed because of both the pushy missionaries of the Order of Faris Attineen and how he had been mistaken for one of them – not to mention the Maha'i that could not understand his tongue. Amara was steaming at the young sorcerer from Solus Hiddel’s mansion. Yet the sorceress was quick to make sure they were all assembled and ready to go on time. They arrived a few minutes before 5:30, and were ushered into an elaborate dining room. Haalak joined them a few minutes later, dressed in some fine clothing again. He was accompanied by Laalarash, and had servants bring out an elaborate meal. They all made small talk, and the party found themselves again describing their adventures with the gnomes, and also the encounter with the cursed cleric, Kyrnyn. Laalarash was overjoyed to hear of their adventures, but Haalak seemed more reserved, though he was grateful to hear that they would be meeting with Dragonrider Reitman the very next day. Finally, after the dessert course had been served, did the elven merchant move on to more serious matters.

He dipped his hands in a bowl of water in front of him and wipped them on his napkin. Then he folded his hands and rested them on the table, just in front of the plate. “I would again like to thank you for your help defending the outpost. It likely would have been a total loss, and though I wish the gnomes responsible could be held accountable, that seems unlikely. We will put out a reward for them, and perhaps some bounty hunter will take up the cause, but if they have a skyship, tracking them is next to impossible. I harbor no illusions that they will be found.”

“To be fair,” said Khaska, “I do not think they were responsible directly.”

“No?” Haalak asked. “One of the guards was dominated, you said it seemed so, as assessed by the wizard accompanying Dragonrider Reitman. Yet by your own admission, this Nathan character was not any kind of wizard or sorcerer. He would not have been able to dominate anybody. It stands to reason that Greydale, who was either a wizard or a sorcerer, was partially responsible.” Then he waved his hand. “But no matter. The past is gone. It is of the future that I wish to speak.” He leaned forward. “I know that you do not wish to take credit for killing Jonathan of the Wastes, but you were instrumental in discovering that he was dead, and after fighting goblins and an ettin, you are clearly no average travelers.”

“Now,” he stood up, “I want to make one thing absolutely clear. I do not want an answer tonight. In fact, I do not want an answer at all. Any response you give to what I am about to say will be impulsive, and first impulses are seldom wise.” He clasped his hands behind his back. “I have authorization from the main headquarters in Tidewater city to offer you employment in the Kleithera Merchant House. Quite simply, we find it is good for business to have some ‘heroes’ on our payroll, and you certainly fit the bill. Your duties would be simple. Escort a caravan here, a merchant official there, all on our dime. You would be figureheads, really, more than anything. Traveling the continent over, seeing new lands. It would not be terribly dangerous, at least, not more dangerous than traveling anyway.”

“So please, think on it, but I do not want an answer now. You could be famous, and we can help with that. Help you earn the recognition your deeds deserve. And in exchange, you help us with some minor escorts and other such tasks. Really, I cannot describe your day to day duties under such an arrangement, because they really will vary from time to time. Khaska can speak to how our caravans operate, since he was accompanying Laalarash and his caravan through the wastes. I imagine that most of your work would be of similar kinds of tasks, more ceremonial guards than real mercenaries. Figureheads, if you will.” He had been pacing, but now stopped at the door. “Now, thank you for the good company. Please, think on my offer. Laalarash will be able to answer any other questions, but I have business to attend to so that I may wrap up the day’s affairs.” The elf gave a polite bow, then turned and left. The party asked a few questions of Laalarash, who also made it clear that he was not to accept a final answer this night, but were really not able to glean any more information. Laalarash would be their point of contact with the Merchant House if they decided to join, and it would be a two-year contract.

Rynn was intrigued by the possibility of such wanderings. Khaska knew that the merchant house dealt fairly with its employees. The others weren’t so sure, but said that they would think on it. They discussed it amongst themselves on their way back to the inn, where Amara promptly headed to bed, wanting sleep for their meeting in the morning.

They all slept that night in anticipation of the meeting in the morning. Meeting personally with one of the famed Dragonriders of the Knights of the Silver Dragons, by invitation. It was a rare opportunity indeed.


Amara practically shoed them all out the door at 9 a.m., wanting to be early to this appointment. If possible, the sorceress was going to try to see Ziranethsrana again. They arrived at the Hammerdine chapter of the Knights a good twenty minutes early.

The same Knight that had delivered the message was waiting for them outside. He saluted again with his hand to his chest as they approached. “Welcome to our chapter. Dragonrider Reitman is expecting you. Please, come with me.” With that, he turned and walked through the open gate, under an open portcullis. The group followed him, Rynn leading the way, followed by Amara. Khaska brought up the rear, hesitating ever so slightly. He was wary of entering the chapter, but steeled his resolve to step through.

However, as Amara and Rynn stepped through the end of the entry arch, the ground under their feet began to glow, and a gong sound could be heard. Immediately their escort whirled, drawing his sword. Several other nearby Knights sprang to action, also drawing their weapons.

“Whoa,” said Rynn, raising his hands defensively. Ranna dropped to a crouch, growling. The Knights quickly surrounded them, more pouring out of the nearby buildings in the chapterhouse, some not even fully armored, but all armed.

“What is going on?” Khaska demanded, stepping forward and pushing Amara back. The Knights nearest to him looked ready to spring on him at a moment’s notice.

“Stand back! Stand back!” came a woman’s voice. The Knights parted, but warily, as Quilleh approached. She was rubbing some kind of ointment on her eyes as she came closer, and looked at the group warily. The moment was tense. Orensland was prepared to draw his daggers, though little good it would do against what seemed to be a substantial portion of the Hammerdine chapter of the Knights. Jenika was also tense, hands up in a defensive posture. Then Quilleh relaxed. “They are fine. False alarm.” She glared at them. “Waste of a perfectly good spell component. An expensive one, too.” She whirled away, and the Knights relaxed and began to return to their previous activities.

The party’s guide slammed his sword back into his sheathe. “I apologize for that. Security measures designed to keep out enemies.”

“What enemies?” Amara asked. She was clearly shaken.

“To be honest, I do not know. When we take the oaths as paladins, we are told that there are wards among most of our chapterhouses. Sometimes a demon will try to sneak in. We are taught that if we hear that gong sound, we are to respond immediately, because the chapterhouse is in danger.” Amara immediately grew suspicious. Such a powerful ward would not have malfunctioned, but unless one of her companions was a secret demon, a thought she found unlikely, there was no other explanation. “Please, follow me. Again, I apologize.”

Dragonrider Reitman joined them in a sitting room. Their guide executed a quick, formal bow, and then turned and left, shutting the door behind him. They were alone with the famed Dragonrider.

“I sincerely apologize,” he said. “The wards sometimes do malfunction, it seems. But come, sit. I have been informed of your adventures from my associate, Sir Nicholas.”

“Yes,” said Khaska. “He was instrumental in aiding us in the fight against the ettin. His bravery was unmatched in that fight, even entering the fray when the two sides of the ettin were warring with each other.”

“Very good.” Reitman seemed proud, and smiled. “I am glad he acquitted himself well. And I was right. You are not just adventurers. You are heroes. Who knows what roles you will all play in the coming Dark Times. And for what you have done to help the people near Sir Nicholas’ monastery, I thank you.”

He talked with each of them, asking questions, taking time to get to know them, interested in Rynn’s background as a ranger on the death side of the moon, Jenika’s training in the monastery of Shinadoh, and Orensland’s journeys so far. Then he turned to Amara. “And you, my lady, I fear I did not treat you very well when we first met, but time was of the essence.”

“Were you able to track the fugitive?” Amara asked.

Reitman shook his head. “Unfortunately, the trail went cold. Elial,” he paused for a moment, as if to say more, then caught himself, “Elial is missing again.”

“What were his crimes?” asked Khaska.

“His crimes were committed in centuries past when he lived in Dreqorun, but his power has grown. The Knights have been asked to track him down by the elven government, a standing agreement that has lasted since from before I was born.” He turned back to Amara. “But, in my haste, I feel that I did not give you an opportunity that you very much desired. This was rude of me and I apologize.” He clapped his hands and a young woman in acolyte’s robes came into the room. “If you are amenable to it, Acolyte Magda will take you to see Ziranethsrana, who will not harm you, and cannot say anything that is against my will.” He stroked the dragon orb hanging around his neck.

Amara’s eyes opened wide, and she nodded, mumbling a thanks before practically falling over her own feet to follow the acolyte.

The Dragonrider turned to Khaska. “And now Khaska, of the Maha’i. I spoke of my confusion over how your people are reluctant to help the Knights with even trivial matters. I wished to ask you this, in person. Why is this so?”

At that moment, the flapping of great wings came from outside, thundering wind blasting the building they were in, heard from even the room they occupied, which had no windows. Reitman clapped his hands again and another acolyte appeared.

“Whichever Dragonrider has arrived, send them in to see me immediately.”

He turned back to Khaska, whose face became nearly unreadable. Rynn reached down, almost as if to comfort himself by touch Ranna’s fur. Jenika and Orensland shifted uncomfortably. “We do not trust the Knights because of your betrayal of one of our own,” the cleric said.

The Dragonrider seemed genuinely surprised. “Betrayal?”

With great care, and emotion bordering between incredulity and anger, but also with respect and control, the cleric told Dragonrider Reitman of the tale of Tawru that he had repeated just two days earlier to his companions. Like them, Reitman’s reaction was one of shock and depression. But midway through the tale the doors burst open and another Knight, also a human, came striding in. Hair jet black with streaks of gray, this human was shorter than Reitman. Accompanying him was a small halfling, dressed very well, with red hair. The halfling looked almost bored.

“Well met, Gerald!” the man said.

“Well met, Michael!” Reitman replied. The two grasped each other’s wrists, their armor clanking against their gauntlets.

“The ward were tripped, we were nearby and came to see if assistance was needed.”

“A false alarm. It was these good people here, actually.” With that, the halfling suddenly seemed interested.

“You had a wizard verify they are not … enemies?”

“My assistant from the university of Dreqorun, Quilleh. Yes.”

“Excellent then. I think that I will have a bit to eat from your commissary and be on my way to Tir’Kon.”

“A task for Dakk?”

“Yes. I am to inspect the troops. I am told that their gryphon riders are growing more skilled in aerial combat every day.”

“Very good. It was good to see you.” The two again clasped hands, and Rider Michael saluted the party, then turned and left. The halfling went with him.

Reitman turned back to Khaska. “My apologies. You have told a tale that obviously means a great deal to you and your people, and it was interrupted. Please, continue.”

When the Maha’i was finished with his tale, Reitman pursed his lips.“I do not know this tale. It has not been told me by those who know of our history. But I swear to you that I will give you full access to our chapter library. If this Tawru was one of our number, there will be a record of his service. I will grant you full opportunity to search our archives. Sir Ing is a wise and meticulous librarian. He will know how to help you find any records of Tawru.” He stepped forward holding out his hands. “Arkenos and the Dark Times are upon us. Will you help me to do what we can to heal the rifts between my order and your people, so that we may join and defeat Arkenos?”


The acolyte took Amara down several hallways. The sorceress was flabbergasted at this opportunity. Eventually, she came to a large doorway which was barred from the outside. Two Knights stood guard outside, and it took both of them to lift the bar that locked the iron door. The doors swung ponderously open, and Amara was ushered in.

It was a small room, with a functional bed, a table with two chairs, a mirror adorning one wall, and not much else. Sitting at one of the chairs was a regal looking elven woman with blue hair.

Ziranethsrana.

Amara immediately bowed. “Forgive the intrusion great one,” she said in formal Draconic. The doors swung shut behind her, and she could hear the crossbeam being lowered into place. “Dragonrider Reitman said you would answer my questions and that I could speak to you, but I do not wish to give offense to your greatness.”

The dragon laughed, a light, pearly laugh that seemed so out of place given what she actually was. “You give no offense. Was it you that tripped the ward?”

“It may have been.”

“Of course it was you. Who else could it have been? One of your friends?” The dragon laughed again. “The Knights, they do not even remember what the wards are for. In the early days, they worried that there were other dragons, and that those dragons would try to free me and the others that have been enslaved.” As she said “enslaved” her dainty elven voice gave way to something much more dark and sinister, a hint of her true draconic identity.

Suddenly the sounds of the crossbeam being lifted could be heard again. The doors swung open, and Amara, who had still not gotten up from her kneeling position, was able to see the small feet of a halfling shuffle in. “I’ll be back in an hour or so,” a voice came. “Stay here!” Then the voice laughed. The door swung shut and locked again.

“Great Keldarian, this is the one that tripped the wards,” said Ziranethsrana to the newcomer. “She has come seeking knowledge of her heritage.”

“How interesting. How very interesting,” said the halfling, also in draconic. “Rise, Zira. Rise, young lady.” Amara then noticed that Ziranethsrana had also knelt before the halfling, but they both stood up.

“I am Keldarian, the red. And what is your name, young one?”

Amara trembled a little. She was now standing in the presence of two of the remaining dragons on the entire moon.

Eryx (DM)
So, are there any questions or things any of you would like to specifically discuss with the people you are interacting with? This would include Reitman for Amara, even though she’s not currently with him. And Reitman has specifically asked something of Khaska, namely if he wants access to the chapter archives, and if the cleric can do something to help heal the rift between the Maha’i of the Niktean Wastes and the Knights.

Haalak has basically offered you a position as figurehead guards, but the commitment would be for two years. From his description, you would mostly be glorified caravan guards, “good for business” as he said, to have genuine heroes on their payroll. What do you all think of that? You can talk it out over this gray box, and likely the next one, so you do not have to make a decision on this immediately.

What will you do next? What do you want to talk about? You all have the ear of Dragonrider Reitman, even though this (exceptionally long) post focused seemingly mostly on Khaska and Amara. Also, how would the party react to the circumstances with each other, with Khaska’s encounter with the Maha’i in the marketplace, and Amara being able to talk with the dragon(s) directly?

Crosis
I'm not sure how uppity and happy Orensland would be in the presence of a Dragonrider. They're kind of on opposite ends of societal ranks. Needless to say, he doesn't have anything to say. He's just going with the flow. That includes the caravan offer. Although it sounds kind of boring (could you elaborate, Eryx? Will we be questing and everything while guarding caravans?) he will follow the group wherever- he doesn't have anything else to do.

It sounds like we're going to be in town for a little while longer. Orensland would consider doing a performance involving slight of hand (apparently you can use those skills to perform- neat, huh?) Probably in the inn he stays at. He might even get free room and food, if he does well enough. If this is ok with the DM and the general plot, here's a Slight of Hand check:

19 (6 + 13)

It could bolster reputation if I do better in the future. But it's a start. Juggling flaming torches, coin tricks, whatever.

As for my remaining money- I'm not sure where to find additional weaponry in the player's handbook or DMG. If I can afford a +1 light crossbow, that would be a nice purchase. Otherwise, I'd like to save up for Gloves of Dexterity +2. Those could really come in handy.

BlackWolf
Rynn still feels somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of being called a "hero". He was just doing what he thought was right at the time. Caught up in these thoughts, he won't have much to say to Reitman. But the ranger is glad and optimistic about how the Knight is willing to hear out and work with Khaska.

As for Haalak's offer, the idea of such traveling indeed intrigues Rynn. He likes traveling the world and seeing new places, and he likes helping people along their way. But on the other hand, these travels would likely be focused on the main roads rather than wilderness; so the exploration factor may be somewhat limited. Also, Rynn isn't used to having duties of a contract, so not being able to just wander off feels slightly restricting to him.

If he were by himself, Rynn might be more likely to take the offer. But with the group, he's more interested in what they decide. He'll mention that the job would give them opportunities to see the world and this might fit in with everyone's goals (although perhaps least with Amara's). If the group is opposed to taking the job, then Rynn will drop the matter — he has no strong desire to take it.

Once they are done meeting with Reitman, Rynn is eager to start work on his shortbow. He figures the others will have things they want to do while in the city, so he's hoping to get a good week of work done on crafting. Here's my craft check:

  • Craft (bowmaking): 25 (rolled 16 + 9 bonuses)

The craft DC for this is 12, so the progress is 300 (25 check x 12 DC) which exactly matches the silver price for a shortbow! Hence at the end of the week Rynn will have completed the bow. I'll wait to mark this on his character sheet until we get the DM confirmation; in case something interrupts Rynn's progress.

Sayyadina
I'm still working out what Amara will be asking both Reitman and the dragons. With regard to the job, though, Amara would most likely be interested in taking it as long as there still will be time she can spend alone, with dragons, or with Master Hiddel in Hammerdine between outings—she sees renown and reputation as very useful tools.

Thevarou
Khaska’s first days in Hammerdine have been overwhelming for him. Not only is it the largest city he’s ever visited, but it’s a foreign culture – and adding to that the encounters with the other Maha'i and the telling of the story of Tawru – twice – he’s somewhat emotionally shaken. What contributes more is Reitman’s seeming doubt of the veracity of the Tawru’s story, inviting Khaska to research it out in the libraries of the Knights. He will take up the offer, though he is concerned about what might happen if the Knights have no record of Tawru.

Despite this drawback, Khaska believes Reitman’s desire to mend the wounds between the two nations is sincere (Sense Motive: 6 + 3 = 9). This puts Khaska in the unusual situation of determining what actions on the hands of the Knights would heal the relations with the Maha'i, which will leave Khaska speechless for a bit. After a pause, he’ll say, “If what I judge to be your sincerity is indicative of the attitude of all the Knights, I could foresee future friendship. I am but one, though, and have no authority.” He paused, thinking. “We have a saying: ‘Others forget the dark, but we wear it on our faces.’ You would have to show your sincerity to my whole race, for we all remember. With regards to what this might be, I would have to think. Might I return to speak with you later?” That said, he would that DR Reitman for his hospitality, asking if he could return after a lunch and some errands to peruse the Knights’ library.

During the time he’s free around lunch, he’ll get something to eat and make a few stops. First will be to the bazaar, where he will buy a masterwork +1 scimitar. Next he will pass by the Kletheira Merchant House in order to send his letter to the High Council of his seminary in Jevereshk and his old scimitar back to his father, its original owner, via Jevereshk and the desert city of Artabbek. After this, he will return to the library to seek out the information the Knights kept on Tawru, including membership rolls and any information about the founding of Laishtek.

He would also want to converse with the rest of the party about working for the Kletheira Merchant House. Though he knows them to be trustworthy and that they pay well, Khaska is not quite keen on returning to their employ, as he just left it; then again, he has no other specific plans. Therefore, he would likely call upon the Gods for guidance as to how he could figure out the meaning of his visions. One night after spending time in the Knights’ library, however, it will occur to him (perhaps in a vision? :D Your choice as to how this goes, just that Khaska will need a reason to include himself in the quest at this point) what the Knights could do to earn the trust of the Maha'i.

After contemplating how to word this, he will settle on this: “With Tawru the enmity between our peoples sprouted, and to kill a weed one must pluck it up by the root. If you wish to earn the trust of my people, you must help [me] find and restore the missing Horn of Tawru, which has been lost since his death, to its proper place above the throne of the High Queen of Jevereshk, beside its twin.”

DeltaWolf

Jenika will go along with what the group wants to do (as long as it's legal), however, she is not in favor of joining the caravan. Other then that she will stay silent.

“Amara Palladia, greatness, of Eskele.”

Ziranethsrana spoke with great reverence to the other dragon. “Great one, I met this sorcerer several weeks ago. My rider apparently thought his actions rude, so has granted her an audience with me.”

Keldarian laughed. “Well, what a surprise. Locked in a room with two dragons.” He took a step forward. “Are you frightened?”

“Only a fool would not be. Yet I refuse to let fear dominate me.”

“A brave one, you are. Why would Reitman want you to talk to Zira?”

“His motives I cannot presume to know, sire. When we encountered each other previously I expressed a desire to converse with Ziranethsrana, but our time was limited due to Reitman's business. Perhaps he feels that he dishonored his agreement and wishes to rectify it.” She gave a small smirk.

“We were hunting Elial,” Ziranethsrana said.

“The rogue sorceror? I assume you were unable to catch him. I'm sure my rider would have been informed. They have been looking for him for some time.”

“Let us move on,” said Zira. “If this human desires to speak to dragons, we had best make haste in our conversation.”

“Yes. No telling how long Matthew will be at breakfast. Amara of Eskele, what would you ask of us.” Keldarian sat down, and Zira did the same. Amara was left without a chair, looking at the blue-haired regal elf and the foolishly grinning Halfling, his legs swinging in the air and not touching the floor. The sorceress remained kneeling.

“I fear that my inquiries will be myriad, but I will try to impose some sort of order to them. What signifies the tripping of the ward? Does my power then truly stem from draconic heritage?”

Keldarian laughed yet again. “You tripped the ward and they still let you in?” He looked at Zira. “Your rider is even dumber than I expected. Yes, that means you have the blood of dragons in you. A white one, I would venture to guess, because of the color of your hair.”

“That may not be true,” Zira countered.

“Well, it might be the dominant strain, then.” His eyes narrowed. “It might be a silver dragon’s though.” He stared for a moment. “Go on.”

“It’s just that, I’ve been researching sorcerous magic, and right now the prevailing theories from both the wizard guild of this city and the sorcerer’s apprentice I spoke to dismissed it as, well, rubbish.”

“Those fools know not of what they speak,” said Keldarian.

“As if they could understand the mysteries of our ancient race,” Zira responded. A single drop of dragon's blood a thousand generations removed would still convey power beyond their paltry imaginations. In your case, at least, your power stems from the blood of a dragon which flows through your veins.”

“One last question,” Amara continued, “if you will permit. Do you know, then, how best I might learn and expand my abilities?”

It was Zira who answered. “Magic for one like us is different than for many others. Wizards study and learn, bards sing the music of the cosmos, clerics are granted powers by the gods, but we … Ours is inborn. It is innate.”

“You must exercise your abilities,” Keldarian intoned. “Stretch your mind. Only this will increase your powers. It is not something that can be readily taught.”

The sound of the crossbeam on the door moving came through the thick iron of the huge doors. A few moments later they swung open. “Come, Keldarian. I would like to make Tir’Kon by night fall.”

The red headed Halfling gritted his teeth. “Coming, Rider Matthew.”

Zira got up from her chair and bowed. “Farewell, great one.”

“It was good to see you sister. Good luck.” He left, and the doors were pulled shut again, and the bar’s slamming down resounded in the room. Amara did not take the chair that had recently been vacated by the great red dragon.

“Now,” said Zira. “Were there other, more theoretical questions about your heritage that I might answer?”

“I know not which color of dragon lies in my ancestry, be it white or silver or another. Yet I still wish to make the most of my potential. How might I learn more of the abilities I might gain?”

“To answer that question, first I must know what you have already done to learn of them.”

“As much as I've known, but this is distressingly little. What started as accidental unleashings of my magic I have learned to tame into controllable fire and light.”

“Common occurrences for a sorcerer or sorceress newly coming into their magic power.”

“Beyond experimentation, though, I know not how to move on from here.”

“Experimentation will always be a good thing. Your power is yours and yours alone, and only you can discover its true nature and extent.” She stepped forward, coming closer, her face growing serious. “You had best leave, before my rider decides to end our discussion. I hope this has been instructive, little one.”

“With your permission, great Ziranethsrana,” Amara bowed, then turned to go, then realized that the doors were barred from the other side.

“Allow me,” the dragon said, walking to the doors, and pounding on them three times, then pausing, then two more. Amara was quite sure the force would allow the knocks to be heard even through the thick steel doors. They were rewarded with the sound of the bar being lifted, and they stepped back as the doors swung inward.

“Farewell, Amara Palladia of Eskele,” the dragon intoned.

“Farewell, great and powerful Ziranethsrana,” Amara said. The Knights guarding the dragon beckoned her, and she was able to glance as the blue dragon one last time as the doors swung shut.

“I hope,” puffed one of the Knights, “that I don’t have to open this bloody door again for the rest of the day!”


Khaska was taken aback by the abruptness of the opportunity that was presented to him suddenly. In his wildest dreams he had not hoped to have the ear of one of the Dragonriders of the Knights of the Silver Dragons. The moment left him speechless, until Orensland poked him. “Go ahead,” the rogue said. The cleric looked from him, then back to Reitman, who was still holding his hands out.

Khaska took them. “If what I judge to be your sincerity is indicative of the attitude of all the Knights, I could foresee future friendship. I am but one, though, and have no authority.” He paused, thinking. “We have a saying: ‘Others forget the dark, but we wear it on our faces.’ You would have to show your sincerity to my whole race, for we all remember. With regards to what this might be, I would have to think. Might I return to speak with you later?”

“You are welcome any time, Khaska of the Maha’i,” said Dragonrider Reitman. “Before you leave today, let us at least introduce you to Sir Ing. Though, I am curious what you mean about wearing darkness on your faces.”

“Oh,” the cleric said. He pointed to the markings on his face, his fingers knowing exactly where his fur was dark. “It may be easy for you to forget the evils of the past, but the fact that we have these spots on our faces means that we are always reminded that there are evils to right.”

Reitman nodded solemly. “Your race is wise, then, and I can tell you have taken their lessons to heart.” He looked at the rest of the party. “It does my heart good to see heroes such as yourselves.”

Rynn frowned at this. He didn’t much like being called a “hero.” He was just doing what was right. However, Rider Reitman noticed the ranger’s face drop.

“What is it, Rynn my friend? You frown when I say such things.”

Now it was Rynn’s turn to shuffle uncomfortably for a moment or two, but always a straightforward man, he looked at Reitman. “You called us heroes back in the Wastes, and do so now, but I am not sure that title is what we are.”

Reitman boomed his laugh. “Sometimes when I run into folks like yourselves I call them ‘adventurers,’ for that is what they are. People who seek adventure. You, a cleric of the Maha’i, intent on mending rifts between your people and others, a ranger who goes out of his way to help others with his skills, a monk raised to help defend those weaker than herself, and a rogue who …”

Orensland got extremely uncomfortable and looked down at his feet, but Reitman continued after a brief pause.

“Who allies himself willingly with such folk, and a sorceress who is concerned with all life, including chromatic dragons. No, you are not merely adventurers. A hero is someone who does what is right, no matter the cost. You have proven yourselves people of such mettle. Not all heroes have songs sung about them for thousands of years, but the gods smile on them nonetheless.” A young acolyte came into the room with a scroll. The dragonrider nodded at the young lady. “However, now I have other business to attend to. It has been an honor.”

That ended the formal conversation. They were escorted to the courtyard to wait for Amara to finish her conversation, though Khaska was taken to meet Sir Ing first. As they milled about, Dragonrider Matthew came out, still trailed by the redheaded Halfling. The Knights present all saluted, and the Dragonrider returned their salutes with one of his own. The Halfling strode to the center of the courtyard, and the group noticed that everybody gave him a wide berth. The reason for this became apparent, as the Halfling shifted and morphed, growing from a diminuitive figure that barely came higher than anybody’s knee to a great red dragon, ancient, powerful. Smoke filled the air, emanating from his body as it morphed, and the smell of sulphur reached everybody’s nose. The transformation took just a few seconds, until Keldarian the red stood before everybody. His eyes, molten orbs that seemed to glow, swept over the crowd. Matthew mounted him, strapping himself in the harness specially constructed for the rider, and with a furious pumping of wings the two of them lifted off, blasting the courtyard with wind and sending dust everywhere.

Amara came out a short while later, and all of the party was extremely curious to know what had happened. She told them the basics, but was clearly thinking deeply about something. Khaska shushed them after a minute or two and they returned to the inn without pestering her too much. Amara went straight to her room.

“Wonder why she’s being so secretive?” asked Orensland.

“Probably unnerved by talking with a few evil dragons,” said Jenika. "I think anybody would be."

"I wonder if she was able to get what she wanted from them," Khaska said.

Orensland shrugged. He went to go order some food, and the others joined him. Rynn pulled out some bowmaking materials that he had purchased the day they had run into the Maha’i preachers and began to work on it while sitting at a table. Khaska excused himself and left to go check on his armor. Orensland sat around looking bored, and Jenika pulled her feet up onto her chair and closer her eyes, meditating. After a few minutes, the rogue went to join a card game in progress. But that soon split up as well. Bored, he pulled out a coin and began flipping it through his fingers, tricks his father had taught him. Some slight-of-hand went a long way in the rogue business.

A human sitting nearby nursing an entire jug of ale started to watch him. The man had jet-black hair under his wide-brimmed hat and was sporting several days worth of beard. “Hey, you’re pretty good at that.”

“You think?” Orensland continued to flip the coin around, making it vanish from one hand, then appear in another.

The man smiled. “I do indeed. You should start performing,” and with that, the man tossed him a silver coin.

“Thank you!”

“You are welcome, Mister …”

“Orensland.”

“Orensland. I’m Seth Mytor.”

“Pleased to meet you Seth.” The rogue and this inn patron struck up a conversation until Seth managed to convince a waitress to come look at Orensland’s tricks. The young lady was also impressed, and suddenly Orensland wasn’t as bored anymore. He was still showing off when Khaska returned bearing a new scimitar, as well as some parchment. He sat down to write while Orensland and Rynn admired it. Rynn inquired what he would do with his old one, and Khaska replied that he would be sending it back to his father in the Niktean Wastes. Amara returned from her room, and sat with the group.

They discussed the offer from Haalak. Orensland and Jenika were both quick to protest. “I’ve rather enjoyed our questing together. This job sounds boring,” the rogue said.

“I think that something being boring is not how we should make our decisions,” said Jenika, “but I agree that joining up to be glorified caravan guards does not seem like a good idea at the moment. Khaska has his research to do.” She looked at Rynn. “It seems you would have the most experience with this sort of thing.”

Rynn nodded. “I’ve escorted a few caravans and traveling groups in my day, though nothing this formal. I prefer the open road and exploration myself. I feel that I would be too bound by the contract, but I will defer to you all if you so desire to join them.”

Khaska’s ears were flat against his head. “I must admit, I do not want to return to their employ so soon after leaving it, though they are fair and would treat us well.”

The group all turned to Amara, who was still lost in thought. She realized it a moment later, and snapped her attention fully back. “I must admit that I would like to stay in the city for a while. I will be going to a sorcerer to whom I may apprentice myself, and that will be a priority to me. I also feel that a binding contract would be restrictive.”

“Then it’s settled,” Rynn said. “So who wants to go break the bad news to Haalak?”

Khaska said that he would be going there later that evening, but did not want to be the one to tell Haalak. Nobody else volunteered, so Rynn said he would do it. Khaska was finishing wrapping his old scimitar and composing a letter to go with it. The ranger continued to work on his bow until the cleric was ready, then they left. Orensland, by then, was showing his tricks to the waitresses’ young children, who had been sitting in a corner for some time while their mother worked. Jenika was watching, intrigued by how he handled not letting the children know the “magic tricks.”


Haalak was disappointed, but understood. He wished the two of them well, and assured Khaska that the scimitar would be delivered as requested. The elf would not accept payment.

As they left the main building, a man approached them. “So, it was you twos that killed Jonathan o’ the Wastes and his men?”

“We did not kill them,” Khaska said. “But we did bring his head. He was killed by goblins we were tracking.”

“Ah, so let the goblins do yer dirty work for ya, eh?”

“It was not our dirty work,” said Rynn.

“But you took the credit for it!” The man smiled, a grin filled with crooked yellow teeth. “That’s the spirit!” He slapped Rynn on the back and gave Khaska a handshake before disappearing back with some others who were loading things.

As they exited the Merchant House’s complex, Rynn turned to Khaska. “There was something off about that man?”

“Who, Haalak?”

“No, the man who asked about Jonathan. Seemed he wanted something for us. He came right after us after we exited the building.”

The cleric paused. “I did not notice anything, but if you think the man was looking for something from us, then I believe you.”

The ranger pursed his lips, lost in thought. Ranna trailing him, he continued back to the inn. Rynn wondered what that man had been after them for, why he wanted to speak to them so badly.


The next few days were a bit of a blur. Amara, deciding that her negative experience with one apprentice did not mean Master Hiddel was not worth pursuing, petitioned to work with him as an apprentice. She interviewed with the sorcerer himself a few days later, when she could meet with him, and he assured her that he would get back to her in a few days time.

Rynn continued to work on his bow, and had made remarkable progress.

Jenika followed Orensland around, partially out of curiosity, partially out of boredom, and partially to keep the rogue from stealing anything. The rogue managed to buy a few more knickknacks to do his sleight of hand performances with, and kept people at the inn and in the marketplaces entertained for some money.

Khaska spent most of his time in the library at the Knights chapter, working with Sir Ing.


Sir Ing was an older fellow, who moved slowly and ponderously, but maintained a quick wit about him, his white hair falling down to his neck and his gnarled hands still swift and sure in handling the myriad volumes in the library. “Can’t swing a sword like I used to,” he said on their first real session together, “but can serve the order just as well cataloguing and ordering our records.”

The first item of business was narrowing down the search frame. Khaska did not know the exact years that Tawru would have served, but he knew that it was around the time of Hammerdine’s war with the Tlerian empire, or so the legend went. After looking at the records, the name Tawru was found rather quickly.

“Looks like he was here, my friend,” Sir Ing said, slamming down a dusty ledger. “Arrived in 52DT.563, granted status as a full Paladin immediately. This is an interesting time of the Knights to study. First, the war with Hammerdine and the Tlerians. First real time we decided to pick one nation over another, something we don’t do often. Then it was only a few years later that the Dragonriders voted to change the Code of the Good Dragons. Only time that’s ever happened. It used to be that the gold dragons were symbols of loyalty. But it was changed so that they are the symbols of honor. Not quite sure why that was the case. Refrun Skaggi was Grandmaster then, a dwarf who had served in this very chapter during the war with the Tlerians. Anyway, I do doddle on.” He smacked the side of his head. “One too many hits to the head, I’m afraid.” Khaska smiled. He liked this Sir Ing.

Their findings making their search more focused now, the two of them began to pour over the records of the time. Several things became obvious. First, Tawru had been a well-respected member of the group. Several ledgers bore his own mark on them as advancing Knights within the order, something Sir Ing said could only have come from one of the leaders of the chapter. Second, the chapter head, a Likran Treewind, relied heavily on Tawru. It was Khaska that made the discovery that made him wonder if the stories of Tawru’s mistreatment while among the Knights were true. It was a certificate signed by Sir Likran Treewind and Sir Tawru Khimmak Tova Nem Rujdha, pledging their support for Hammerdine in the war against Tleros and condemning the aggression from the empire to the North. Likran was signed as the head of the chapter, and Tawru was signed as the second-in-command.

“I can see this has shaken you,” Sir Ing said, after the discovery had been made. He placed his hand on Khaska’s shoulder. “What can I do?”

The Maha’i’s voice was shaky. “What do you know of this Likran Treewind?” Khaska knew that this man was likely the one who had slain Tawru. The head of the chapter. “Was he a dragonrider?”

“No, I’m sure of that. Dragonriders are actually rarely heads of chapters. We like to keep them more mobile. But if he was chapter head, there will be more detailed records. I’ll be right back.”

Sir Ing left to go get another book. The records for the chapter heads were more meticulously kept, and he had no trouble finding the record of Sir Treewind. “It looks to me like after the war he was reassigned to a monastery on Thanor, at the edge of the Deathlands. No, not reassigned. He voluntarily gave up his post to go to the …” the Knight paused.

“What? What is it?”

“He wasn’t reassigned to a monastery, he went to go build one. The Tawruian monastery.” Sir Ing looked at Khaska. “It looks to me like he named it after your hero.”

Khaska frowned. “Where is this monastery?”

Sir Ing left to go find another book, returning. “It is in the hills by a city named Twilight. We abandoned it over a century ago. I know not what has become of it since then, but the records of the monastery have been transferred here. I guess because our chapter was the one that founded it. Sadly, they have never been catalogued.”

“May I see them?”

“Yes, of course.”

Sir Ing was right, there was no order to the books and scrolls from the monastery. The took up an entire bookshelf, back in a deserted corner of the library. Khaska had to be careful with the oil lamp far away from the everburning torches in the room, and eventually Sir Ing just let him have one.

Several days later, he came upon the personal journal of Likran Treewind. It was obvious that nobody had known what it was. A scroll had been shoved in its pages, and Khaska put the scroll down to read the leatherbound book.

It detailed much of the events that confirmed the stories that Khaska had been told of Tawru. He had been a Knight, had been mistreated by some of the order, had abandoned his post during the Hammerdian war with the Tlerian empire, and had been slain shortly after the war with the Tlerian empire had ended. Khaska was overjoyed. This was the evidence that Sir Reitman would need!

Then, as he went to shut the book, his eyes were drawn to the scroll. He picked it up and unraveled it, looking down at the signature towards the bottom. It too, had been written by Likran Treewind. He began to read.

Eryx (DM)

I would like all of you to roll spot checks.

Orensland, you have to roll a performance check, not a sleight of hand check, for things that you perform. I’m inventing a new category for Performance and am going to assume that you get a +2 (synergy) from your Slight of Hand ranks. So basically, you rolled a 12. From your little shows at the inn and elsewhere over the course of the week or so this post covers, you were able to earn 6 silver coins.

Rynn is quite certain that man in the courtyard of the Kletheira Merchant House was specifically looking for him and Khaska. Is there anything specific you want to do with regard to that? Also, it’s been 5 days, so the bow is well on its way to being done.

Amara has not heard back from Master Hiddel, but the interview went well.

And sorry, Sayya and I are still working out the dialogue between her and the dragons. I’ll put that in sometime in the next day or so, just going over it to make sure we’re both happy with what happened (we did an in-character conversation over IM and just aren’t done converting it yet). But I wanted to get this up because this is a Khaska-heavy post, and Thev is going out of town.

I have sent the document that Khaska is reading to Thevarou. He will decide what to do with it, and the information contained therein. Also, the changes he made to the last post were with my permission.

BlackWolf

  • Spot Check: 24 (rolled 18 + 6 bonus)

Rynn will focus on his bow, but tell the group to keep an eye out for that person. The ranger wonders if the man was associated with Jonathan somehow; if so there could be trouble. Once his bow is done, he'll do a little investigation:

  • Gather Info: 21 (rolled 18 + 3 bonus)

Crosis

  • Spot Check: 13 (rolled 7 + 6)

Yeah, I don't think I'll be seeing the guy. Unless he comes up to me, too.

You're the DM, but this is what I read under Sleight of Hand- "You can also use Sleight of Hand to entertain an audience as though you were using the Perform skill." Your call, though.

Also out of boredom, I'm thinking Orensland would also try to get to know how the underground of Hammerdine works. Not that he's looking to join them, but maybe they could offer a few pointers on how roguery is employed in this particular city and the consequences for getting caught. And who knows? Maybe he'd find out more about the shady guy we're keeping a look out for.

Eryx (DM)
Crosis, you are right, and I missed the performance aspect of the Sleight of Hand. With a 19, over a 5 day period, you earn 41 silver, assuming you're performing daily.

And you have no idea if you're looking for the guy working at the Kleithera Merchant House or not. I just asked for a spot check. :)

However, looking for info on that guy in the Hammerdinian underworld is a good idea. Roll a Gather Information check.

Also, Sayya and I have finished the dialogue between her and the dragons. It's been posted above.

Crosis
All right! Money! Not a lot, granted, but it's still fun to get something :D

Gather Information: 7 (4 + 3)

Goodness gracious. I thought you said the rolls would even out over time.

Thevarou
If Rynn believes that there’s something significant about the man that met them outside the Knights’ chapter, he’ll believe him and will keep an eye out. However, Khaska will be quite preoccupied, to say the least, by other matters. (I’ll talk with Eryx about this before I post anything specific.)

Spot: 9 = 4 + 5

Eryx (DM)
I guess I could do this over email, but I trust you all to be good players and act according to what YOUR character knows, not what others know. Obviously if we were sitting around a table in a standard game, you would be privy to this information anyway. As DM, I rolled all your characters Sense Motive rolls (one of the rolls I reserve for myself).

Jenika and Amara are both able to tell, as soon as Khaska gets back, that he has been deeply shaken. Something has very much disturbed him, but he is trying to put on a good face about it. Will the two of you do anything about this information?

DeltaWolf

*Spot: 8 (2+6Mod)

Jenika would ask him what is up, but if he doesn't want to talk about it then she will let it go.

Eryx (DM)
After seeing that this had grown entirely too long, I'm splitting this chapter up.

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