Codex III-Chapter 7

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Rynn winced as morning sunlight reflected off the blade of his orcish dagger and into his eyes. The light made his head hurt due to a mild hangover. He'd spent too long brooding at the tavern the night before, and wasn't sure how much he had to drink. The events of the prior night were a blur, and Rynn cringed knowing that this likely meant he hadn't treated the bartender or other patrons very politely.

What Rynn did remember was what had preoccupied him enough to get him drinking in the first place. In fact, he was having trouble forgetting it. Turning the weapon over in his hand, he vividly recalled stabbing Zeke's kidnapper—Adam was his name, according to Khaska.

Rynn sat outside the tavern, leaning back against the outer wall near the street. He didn't pay much attention to the passers by as he recalled the incident. He didn't feel guilt or remorse over what he'd done. After all, the man had been a heartless criminal. But he wondered if it was the right choice. And more than that, he wondered if he'd done it for the right reasons.

The ranger felt somewhat alone without Arandur's guidance. What would he have done in my place? he wondered. This line of thought led him to wonder what his new friends thought of his actions. Amara didn't seem to be bothered in the least. He wasn't sure what Orensland would have thought, nor was he sure how Jenika would react once she was told. But Khaska, he had been shocked. And yet, he seemed to have a calmness about him.

The ranger was growing to admire the Maha’i cleric's patient wisdom. After a few more minutes, Rynn resolved to seek out Khaska to discuss the incident. He sheathed his dagger and then reached down to rouse Ranna; the wolf had dozed off at his feet.


Khaska had come down to the tavern level of the inn shortly before, after having finished his morning prayers and ablutions. He was wondering how long they might stay in Hammerdine before moving on to another place, probably travelling in the service of the Kletheirans; as awesome of a city as Hammerdine was, Khaska was unaccustomed to spending so much time in inns and at rest. Today he would return to the Knights’ headquarters for, though he had unpleasant memories of the library there, he would rather be studying than wandering aimlessly through the thronged streets.

It was at his table in a corner, illuminated by the rays of the rising sun that had just come over the building facing the inn, that Rynn found Khaska.

“Good morrow, Rynn. You appear to have awakened later than your wont.”

"Huh? Oh, yeah. I guess so. I was just sitting outside, thinking." The ranger seemed distracted in his response.

“I thought you looked troubled. What is your worry?”

Rynn sat down with a heavy sigh, pausing briefly to collect this thoughts. "Khaska, I wanted to ask you about Adam… you know, Zeke's kidnapper. Did I make the right decision?"

Khaska had wondered whether the subject would be broached. “You refer to…” He felt uncomfortable saying how you killed him. “… his death?”

"Yes."

Khaska breathed deeply and turned his head slightly, partially in thought and partially to look at Rynn more closely with one eye. “If I recall correctly, you said that he was like an animal gone mad, which must be killed before he causes harm or spreads his disease. Is that correct?”

"That's what I've been taught. One of the duties of a ranger is to protect the wild, to keep balance in nature. Sometimes there are animals or other creatures which must be killed. Especially those that are evil and destructive."

“There is a certain logic to that. Any who care for animals will have a similar thought. But there are also those animals that do harm unknowingly, or, having been harmed, know nothing more than cruelty. Though they may be destructive or evil, they can change. Perchance they need help, but help should be willfully given to such. Few take pleasure in evil.”

Rynn's green eyes went wide with astonishment. "Wait… are you saying you think that he could have changed? Or that he didn't want to do those terrible things he did?"

“A tale is told by my people of a great stallion, whom we called the Bearded One, that lived in our desert who was so wild that the dragons quailed before his wrath. None would go near him, for their fear was great; all those who had tried to capture or kill him had been trampled or bitten, and their own horse had joined his herd. Then Dhezga son of Khebbra saw that his nose and lips were pierced with the spines of many cacti and surmised that he knew of nowhere else to obtain water. Guessing this, Dhezga provoked the stallion until he followed him to an oasis. He bound the horse and healed his face, and then let him drink deeply of the spring-water; from henceforth he was fierce, but not cruel; firm in loyalty but quicker to trust.”

"Your people have fascinating tales," the ranger said with a chuckle. "I hope to hear more of them. Were I a bard, I'd travel to Jevereshk to learn them.

"But this… Adam was not a horse." The kidnapper's name was spoken with contempt. "He was a thinking man who hurt other people. You may be right — perhaps he could have changed with time. But I was unwilling to allow him to hurt other people in the meantime. No man changes overnight. I have no remorse for ending his life."

Khaska replied with a level tone. “It is dangerous for one man to decide who of his fellows should be allowed to live, for he knows not the heart of his fellows nor what their future might bring.”

Rynn paused to consider this idea. "Yes… I suppose you are correct. In theory. I guess I've just spent so long in isolation in the wild that I've forgotten what forms justice takes in society. When a ranger is alone in the wild, he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands.

"But how would we know if Adam would have changed his ways? He was so smug… and I got the feeling that he expected the law to have no lasting hold on him. I believe he thought his guild could free him from his crimes."

“Perhaps that is true. And I would not equate the justice of Hammerdine with the justice of the gods. I know too well to allow myself such illusions; why that is I believe I have told you.

“And whether he would have changed I cannot know, but I am wary to make myself the judge of such matters. I believe that evil is not always evil at heart. At one point I, too, may have made the same decision you did regarding Adam. Now I could not.”

"I guess you're a better man than I," the ranger replied. Reaching down, he scooped up Ranna and placed her in his lap. He scratched the wolf's head as he continued. "So then, you think I should have let him live? Should we have brought him back and put him in the custody of Hammerdine officials? I worry that Haalak might not get the information he needs now that Adam is dead."

“I worry about that as well, for many of the others in the raiding party were nothing but mercenaries. I think we should have arraigned him, and that is why I attempted to heal his injuries. But I would not call you a worse man than I for not knowing things I have recently learned.”

"It didn't seem like we had a lot of options. That's part of the reason I killed him then and there. I didn't want to take the risk. I don't know what else we could have done."

“I hoped that justice would be done if we brought him back to Hammerdine, but I cannot say what would have happened.” Khaska hesitated a moment, but had obviously not concluded what he was going to say. “I feel I should tell you the cause of my uncertainty, but it must be kept a secret.”

"What do you mean? Wait, you aren't talking about Adam, are you. Now that I think back on the last week or two, I recall that you were preoccupied with something yourself, though I never did ask about it."

“‘Preoccupied’ - that is a good word,” Khaska said, glancing at his hands resting on the table. After a short pause, he continued, “Do you remember when I told you and the others the story of Tawru?”

"Yes. He was the hero of your people, right? You said he was betrayed by the Knights."

“Yes. I told you the story I’d heard all my life.” Another pause; Khaska was wary, and looked around the tavern. There was no one near at this time, but all the same, he dropped his voice. “Then I was invited to investigate by Sir Reitman in the chapterhouse of the Knights here in Hammerdine, and I did so eagerly. I found and did not find what I sought.”

Rynn's face took on a puzzled, curious look which told that he didn't understand what Khaska was getting at.

Khaska snorted a nervous laugh, but quickly grew serious again. “That was very unclear. Let me explain. I found a personal record from the chapter head of the time that spoke of Tawru, and elf by the name of Likran Treewind. Much of what I had heard was correct, save that Treewind was a close friend of his, which we do not hear. But I read things that my people were never meant to know and that others have entirely forgotten. These are the things that cannot be repeated.”

Khaska got even quieter. “When Tawru left Hammerdine in the midst of the war with Tleros, Treewind wrote to the Grand Master of the Knights about the situation, intending it only as information; but the Grand Master saw it as a basis for expulsion from the Order, and stripped Tawru of his powers even as he was about to free the slaves of Laishtek.”

Khaska appreciated that Rynn was listening intently despite the fact that his words were halting. “So Tawru turned to some evil power to accomplish his purpose, and when he encountered Treewind after the battle was won, his turn was discovered and Treewind was obligated to slay him. Afterward, the virtue of Loyalty was removed from the Knights’ Creed to be replaced with Honor - in recognition of Tawru.

“So here is the man I have seen as a hero: banished for seeking to do good and slain for turning to evil to fulfill it. I cannot stem my admiration for him, but how can I admire one whose power came from evil? If I do not hold out some allowance for misdeed or forgiveness… Tawru would be lost forever. And I cannot believe that.”

Closing his eyes, Rynn sighed deeply. "I wish I knew what to tell you. I guess you can admire the good works he did. He wasn't always using evil powers, right? And freeing the slaves was a good act, despite the methods he used to accomplish it.

"My mendor, Arandur, taught me that a ranger must kill sometimes. But we should respect life, even the life of creatures which are evil that we must kill. We do it to preserve the balance of nature, not out of hatred." Rynn turned away slightly as he concluded, a slight look of worry or pain on his face.

Khaska was almost lost in his own reverie, but concern for his friend caused him to notice the peculiar intonation of Rynn’s words. “Do you worry that you know not the balance?”

"Something like that. I guess your story troubles me because I might be very much like Tawru. I… I was so angry with Adam for what he did. He is, or was, responsible for hurting Zeke and his family. He seemed to be the leader of those attacking us. So I don't regret my actions, yet I worry that I acted for the wrong reasons."

Khaska wasn’t sure what to make of Rynn’s self-comparison to Tawru. He would have to watch his friend more closely, for if it were true, he would be in the company of a rising champion. “You fear that you acted out of anger and not out of justice?”

The ranger closed his eyes and nodded. Ranna seemed to sense something was amiss and whimpered quietly on her master's lap. Then Rynn drew his orcish dagger and placed it on the table.

"In my days living in the dead lands with Arandur, we found a village of orcs. Arandur helped me barter with them and I bought this and one other dagger. I later lost the other and replaced it with one of elven make.

"When I went to stab Adam, I used the orcish dagger. At the time I thought it was just chance, or perhaps instinct. But now I wonder if I chose it specifically because it would inflict more pain. I could have chosen the elven one, but I did not."

“Have you used that dagger to inflict pain in the past?” Khaska asked.

"Well, no, I don't think so. I mean, yes, I've used it like I would any dagger, but I don't think I've ever specifically used it for the purpose of inflicting pain."

Khaska nodded once. “Then I do not think you have to worry about having drawn that dagger. I do wonder, though, whether you acted out of anger. Adam’s incitement was a taunt, after all.”

"Was it? I can't remember what he said. I just remember that he said something when I told him not to. And he had that loathsome smile on his face."

“But he spoke after all. He was trying to anger you and he succeeded, though it was not inevitable that he succeed.”

"I was already angry with him, Khaska. Even before I told him to be quiet. Angry about the things he'd done."

“So was I. But if we feel anger, we cannot expect ourselves not to act in anger unless we resist.”

Rynn seemed to find some comfort at the cleric's admission that he too had been angry. "I wonder if I should have resisted then. Yet if I had let him live, that could have caused more problems. I think he might have tried to escape or get the other prisoners to riot."

“I cannot foresee a future that never was, and know that I judge based on a hope. But I know not how else to judge, lest I attempt to usurp the justice only the Gods can deal out.” He paused a second. “But we should try not to be governed by impulse and caprice. We are, after all, thinking creatures and not animals, as you have said.”

"Yes, I believe so too." With hesitation Rynn then asked, "In your judgement… do you think I'm a bad person for what I did?"

Khaska looked at him directly. “No, for your concern is a sign of goodness. But you must take caution in the future.”

Rynn was buoyed by his friend's response, for he had grown to trust the Maha'i cleric's judgement. "I will. Thank you." The ranger relaxed and sat back in his chair. Then after a moment, he looked up with a question. "Khaska, you said the truth about your story needed to be a secret. Why?"

“There are many reasons,” Khaska began, somewhat tense. “Treewind wished for his record to never reach Maha’i hands so that they could remember Tawru as they did, without taint; but that was broken when I read it. My people would not believe it, either. They have no trust of the Knights, and less of those who rejected Tawru himself; and I am no messenger of repute for them to believe my word. But I do not wish this story to be discarded. Like the aloe plant, the truth may sting at first but later it soothes, and this truth is not different. We are a proud race, but when pride obscures fault, it is a fault itself. My people should know of Tawru, but they need to be prepared to believe it when they hear it. I need to gain their trust.”

"I see. I promise to keep this a secret then. Is there anything I can do to help you in this matter?"

Khaska raised his head. “You wish to help?”

"Of course. You are my friend. You've helped me, even just now."

A small smile came to Khaska’s lips. “I know not where my quest will take me, but I intend to seek the relics of Tawru - his Horn and his Sword, both missing. If I restore them, I will gain my people’s trust and prove my dedication to Tawru’s memory; then they will not accuse me of spite or blasphemy. But -” He stopped for a moment. Should he say the rest? What would Rynn think? “We also believe that Tawru’s spirit is that of our First Father, endlessly reborn, and that of Markus the Noble, which returns in times of crisis. If I find the incarnation of his spirit today, I can help him atone for his past misdeeds, and thus free Tawru from condemnation.”

The ranger raised an eyebrow at the mention of Tawru's spirit, but the expression was one of mild surprise or curiosity rather than disbelief or incredulity. "Well," he said, "I'm afraid I don't know too much that would help you get on the right path. But I'd happily help out in any way I could. I'd consider it an honor to journey with you on your quest."

“Well, nor do I know where this may lead. I too am ignorant of my fate! I intend to travel to Laishtek, as I suppose Tawru lost his horn in fighting there, and besides, there is a great library; but I might need to go as far abroad as Thanor, where Treewind, who kept Tawru’s sword, founded a monastery dedicated to Tawru’s memory. But wherever I go, I would be grateful for companionship in my search.” Khaska smiled at the ranger. It was a unexpected kindness, and the second such among humans: would his people have believed that?

"Once we are done with our obligations to the Kletheira Merchant House, we'll be free to pursue your quest, should you desire it. I'd be happy to go to Thanor with you — that's where I spent most of my life. My desire is to travel and help people; I have no other goals or quests."

Then with a chuckle Rynn continued, "Though I suppose I need to be careful how many promises I make. I believe I told Jenika that I'd help her track down her old acquaintance from her monastery."

“With any luck, we’ll be able to do both at once. Thank you, my friend. If there is anything I can do to serve you, let me know.” He stood and place his hand on Rynn’s shoulder. “I must be off; I cannot stay in this inn all day! I’m going to explore the city and visit the Knights again.”

The ranger waved to his departing friend and called out another thanks. The discussion had helped ease his heart, and for the first time in days he forgot completely about Adam. Ranna nudged him playfully and her tongue lolled.

"Hungry, eh girl? Let's get something to eat. Then we'll see about repaying our friends for their kindnesses."


It was the afternoon after the rest of the party arrived back in town that Jenika discovered they had returned. The monk arrived breathless to make sure they were all okay. Amara had already been gone for several hours to meet with Master Hiddel and his other apprentices. She was slightly worried their absence had been too long, and had left early in the morning. Khaska had spent the better part of the morning in the Knights library, and Rynn had stayed in the inn to watch a bardic couple perform for the crowd.

Jenika filled Khaska and Rynn in on the details of their rescue of Zeke. Khaska and Rynn were both relieved that Zeke was okay, but sad that Orensland had to leave so quickly. Still, Jenika assured them both that Zehvran seemed like nobody to trifle with, so perhaps it was for the best.

“Besides,” she said, “he seemed quite set on going with the shadowdancers. In fact, the message Kyrnyn gave him was almost tailor made for the occasion. Kalana seemed to take to him well, though her son was a bit hard about the whole situation.”

“And Amy went with him?” asked Khaska.

“Yes, with her entire family.”

“That’s probably a good idea,” Rynn said. “With the Sendylus guild unhappy with them, and Orensland’s dad after him as well …”

“And he definitely doesn’t care about who gets in his way,” Jenika interrupted.

“Right. So it’s good that they left.”

“I had another matter to speak to you about,” Jenika said. She leaned in and began to speak of the encounter with Mahlana, and what she had learned in her investigation.

“You snuck into the abandoned houses on your own?” Rynn smiled. “Maybe Orensland rubbed off on you more than you thought.”

“Right,” she almost rolled her eyes at him. “Anyway, I found this in one of the houses.”

She handed the note across. The other two read it, and then Khaska looked up abruptly. “Today is the 24th!” His ears flattened against his head. “I wonder if we have missed an opportunity here.”

Eryx (DM)
Now that you have all the information about the missionaries that Jenika received, what will you all do? Amara isn’t currently present in the narration, but I planned on having her come back before any other actions would be taken. Unless you want to bolt off immediately, I suppose. But, in a metagaming spoiler, you don’t need to bolt off right now. Or I suppose you could all do some Gather Info-ing on the missionaries yourselves.

As far as the court case against the Sendylus mercenaries, you would have been told not to leave town because you might be called upon to give more testimony, and that it will take a few days for it to wind its way into a Hammerdinian trial. Haalak specifically is making sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed on this one before it starts up in trial phase.

BlackWolf
Rynn is glad that Amy and her family were able to get away safely. At this point he'll still be a little reserved, the incident with Adam still on his mind. (I was thinking his conversation with Khaska would be a little after they'd gotten back; so maybe the morning of the 25th; if that works with the DM's plans. Otherwise, this could be happening that same morning.)

Meloncholy as he may be, still he'll suggest that they check out this Shrine of Piety to see what they can turn up. Maybe also visit the east city gate (assuming that Jenika mentioned it as well).

  • Gather Information: 19 (rolled 16 + 3 bonus)
  • Search 22 (rolled 18 + 4 bonus)

Also, do we have any idea of when Haalak will call on us to escort his real caravan?

Thevarou
Khaska is also curious about the missionaries, and would suggest investigating in the locations indicated to be associated with this movement. He's especially interested by the mention of Laishtek, as that seems to be the direction in which the missionaries take their adherents and would also be the direction his quest will probably take him. He'll keep his ears pricked (literally! :D) for any news or snippets of information.

  • Gather Information: 15 (rolled 14 + 1 bonus)
  • Search 23 (rolled 19 + 4 bonus)

With regard to the upcoming escorting of a Kletheira caravan, Khaska will suggest that they accompany one to Laishtek if possible (and if nothing else comes up that would take them elsewhere, or Haalak wishes them to do otherwise).

Jenika sank a little in her chair. “Well, I didn’t want to go in without backup. Besides, you would be valuable to ask about such things, Khaska.”

“Oh, I did not mean to imply that you have done something wrong. But I think we should go investigate these missionaries sooner, rather than later. Your discovery has intrigued me.”

“Do we want to wait for Amara?” asked Jenika.

“I think we could investigate the eastern gates without her,” said Rynn. “It’s unlikely that we will find out anything there aside from which direction the pilgrimage went, and when exactly these missionaries come and go.”

“That seems reasonable to me,” said Khaska. He stood. “Shall we go investigate?”


Rynn’s assessment turned out to be correct. The guards were not much help. A pilgrimage had left two days ago in the early morning. As to when the missionaries came, it appeared there was no discernible pattern, at least according to the guards. However, a company of Hammerdinian soldiers was also preparing to leave, organizing their supply teams to leave the city. Their captain was able to shed more light on where the pilgrimage was likely going as he men finished up.

“I seen them,” the man said. “Or at least, I see where they go. About 20 miles north of the city, you can’t miss it. Huge new trail goes off to the right, to cut through the land between the road and Laishtek, instead of heading towards Khel Zin and then heading east, like normal. Hey Leland!” An elf came jogging over. “You’ve seen that new road starting to form, just north of the city.”

“The one those dumb pilgrimages are making? Fools. They’ll just get lost in, or around the Martumal Forest.”

“Martumal forest?” asked Jenika.

“The forest just south of the crossroads,” Leland said. “It’s directly between here and Laishtek. Most people go around. Not sure why the pilgrimages go through it. I guess they could be going south, around it, but it’s pretty rough going there. Very rocky. Caravans like that should stick to the established roads. I think we’re ready here, sir. Should start moving before it gets too hot.”

“Yes, of course.”

“If you do not mind my asking,” asked Khaska, “where are you heading?”

“We’re switching out with one of the companies at the crossroads. It’s the northern border of Hammerdine’s influence, and we’ll be manning the fort there, now that we’ve finished our training with the Knights.”

“Training?”

“Yes. The chapter here has had us training with them one regiment at a time. The Dark Times are upon us, and we of the Hammerdinian military stand with the Knights to repel our enemies, and to take the fight to them, if need be!” With that, the man donned his helmet, smartly saluted another man sitting astride a horse nearby, his gauntleted hand making a small clink as his fingers touched his helmet, and mounted his own horse to lead the company out of the gates.


It was evening before they decided to visit the Shrine of Piety. By then Amara, who was rather pleased how Master Hiddel had responded to her tale of the attack on the caravan (“practicing magic use in non-controlled environments are probably the best way for us to increase our powers”), had rejoined them.

The shrine itself was not far from the eastern gate, and they had no trouble finding it. The rest of the party seemed to be deferring to Khaska in this matter, something the Maha’i found confidence boosting in some ways, confidence destroying in others. As they entered the shrine, Khaska glanced around.

The main atrium was a large circular room with a very high ceiling. It towered up above them. There were three wings off to the sides and the back of the room, but two of them were blocked off. A third, to one side contained an altar. There were also altars dotting the main atrium, though their organization appeared to be anything but orderly. There were five along the back wall, one large one dedicated to Fharlanghn, the god of roads, in the center, and two just in front of the entrance. There was a bench or several chairs in front of each, and there were some worshippers scattered here and there, kneeling or bowing in prayer. There were altars to Boccob, Correlon Larethian (at least, a large rug with his symbol on the floor near the five altars), Carl Glittergold, Heironeous, Kord, Moradin, Oldimmara, Pelor, St. Cuthbert and Yondalla.

“They don’t seem to want to offend any of the gods, do they?” Amara mused, looking at the array of altars. Her voice echoed in the room.

“The evil gods are not worshipped here,” Khaska whispered, shooting a glance at Amara. “Altars to them are not present.”

“Well that’s good,” Jenika said, quietly.

A young lady approached them as they reached the wall opposite the entrance.

“Greetings, friends. Welcome to the shrine of piety, where all are welcome to worship the gods. I am Natalya, an acolyte of Pelor. What brings you to our shrine?”

“I am Khaska of the Mawkhavi Maha’i, and I am a cleric of Teresh, whom you call Pelor.”

“Welcome, Khaska. Our altar to Pel—, Teresh, is there, in that wing. There is a bowl of holy water in front of each altar. We only ask that you sprinkle the altar of any of the gods you wish to honor this day.” Amara frowned. “Or none at all, if that is your wish.”

Khaska inclined his head, then walked over to where the altar to Pelor sat. It was, indeed, off to the side, but the wing was well lit. He dipped his hand in the bowl of holy water, touched his feet and horns, and then flicked a few drops on the altar as he quietly spoke a prayer under his breath. As he returned to the main atrium where the others were waiting he saw Rynn also flicking a few drops of water on the altar of Fharlanghn. “Thank you,” he said to Natalya. “It is good to be in a sacred place like this.”

“That is our purpose. But you don’t look like you came here just for worship.”

“No,” he smiled. “We have not. However, we heard that your shrine was associated with some missionaries, ones that preach non-violence and lead pilgrimages out of the city towards Laishtek.”

“Ah, you are speaking of the Peaceful Children. Yes, our leader, Therylassa, is one of their most ardent supporters in Hammerdine. She is in her evening prayers, but shall I fetch her.”

“Yes please,” Amara said, speaking quickly before Khaska could open his mouth. Rynn smiled faintly at Jenika, who also smirked.

“Very well.” Natalya padded away, and the group continued to look around. Khaska and Rynn both noticed that the rug with Correlon Larethian’s symbol was slightly worn in one spot, like something had been dragged over it repeatedly. But then their attention was taken away as Therylassa appeared before them.

A short elven woman, her dark brown hair cut short around her head, Therylassa had around her neck a symbol of Fharlanghn. “Greetings,” she said, quietly. “Natalya says that you have come seeking information about the Peaceful Children. I would be happy to answer any questions you have, but perhaps we might step into my office, where we won’t disturb the other worshippers.”

“That is most kind of you,” Khaska said. Therylassa beckoned them down one of the side hallways. At the end there was a door, and it opened to reveal more rooms. “These are our offices,” she said. “Many of our clerics and acolytes sleep in the shrine itself, and we are supported by charitable donations and by offering our spellcasting services to the people of Hammerdine.”

Her office was simple, containing a desk covered in papers, a bookshelf with various books of scripture, and a rug that disappeared under the desk itself. There were no chairs aside from the one behind the desk.

“Before you ask your questions, let me tell you a few basic things about the Peaceful Children.

“A few years ago, I was contacted by a very powerful cleric from the death side of the moon. He said that he had been granted a vision by the gods that in the coming Dark Times, those who fight against Arkenos would be destroyed. In short, the gods weary of our war with the people of the other moon. I was to spread the word and gather those who would listen. They are being taken to a safe location on Thanor, where the Gods themselves will defend them during the Dark Times.

“So why haven’t you gone yet?” asked Amara, with a smirk. “You don’t want to die, do you?”

Therylassa smiled. “The Dark Times have not yet begun. I will remain here, gaining converts and spreading the word as I can until I must leave, but that time is not yet. Sometimes I journey to Laishtek with the pilgrimages, but I have not yet journeyed to Thanor.”

“Why do they cut through the undeveloped areas to get to Laishtek?” asked Rynn. “That seems foolish.”

She shrugged. “The Gods protect us even now, for those who have made the pledge of peace. It is also a way to avoid being mocked. It is only in the last year that we have begun to take the new path. Before that we travelled the normal roads, but there were many that mocked us.”

“We know that many of your followers leave behind their possessions. Why is that?” asked Khaska.

“They do not leave all of their possessions. But they cannot pack up their entire house either. Weapons are forbidden on the pilgrimages. But some clothes, food, things like that are encouraged.”

Eryx (DM)
I’m going to pause here to give you a chance for more input. What other questions do you have of Therylassa, now that she has explained the basics of the message of the Peaceful Children? Is there anything else you would like to do while at the Shrine of Piety?

I’ll post details about the loot tomorrow. Promise.

DeltaWolf
Jenika would like to know more about this cleric from the death side of the moon; who is he/she, how can Therylassa been sure that the vision is true and or he/she can be trusted? Jenika suspects there is something sinister going on.

Eryx (DM)
Would you like to roll a Sense Motive check when Therylassa tells her story, DeltaWolf?
Edit: I keep forgetting Sense Motive rolls are my purview. Would you like me to roll one for you?

Loot is as follows:
1. The Bag of Holding is a Type I, so it can hold 250 lbs worth of stuff. The merchant you went to charged Amara 5 silver to use his scales. (Because he’s a jerk that way, and she was impatient to just get it identified.)
2. Seems consensus is that Khaska keep the Potion of Sanctuary for future combat situations.
3. A masterwork dwarven waraxe. Worth 330 gold, can be sold for 165 gold.
4. A masterwork sickle. Worth 306 gold, can be sold for 153 gold.
5. A magic shortsword, +1. Worth 2310 gold, can be sold for 1,155 gold.
6. A composite longbow, +2 with a +3 STR rating. Worth 8,700 gold, can be sold for 4,350 gold.
For a grand total (assuming you sell everything I’ve listed): 5,823 gold.

In IM conversations with BlackWolf, Thev, and Sayya, and per discussion from Codex I-Chapter 5, the group would like to get a Wand of Identify made. That will cost 5750 gold, so your loot just about perfectly covers one! Your remainder is 73 gold, which gives you each 18.25 gold. I’ll let you round up to 19 if you want because I really don’t care. However, you do not yet have a Wand of Identify, so you are also going to be charged 220 gold for the identification of the shortsword and the composite longbow. So, each of you please deduct 36 gold from your character sheet (220/4 minus 19 gold each). Your wand will be ready on the 30th of May (it is currently the evening of the 24th).

DeltaWolf
This may be foolishness in me, but I didn't think about this person being dishonest…so no, if you hadn't mentioned it Jenika wouldn't have.

BlackWolf
Rynn isn't much of a practitioner of religion, though he does pay deference to Fharlanghn to aid him in his travels. So he's not sure what to make of these pilgrimages or the cleric. He is open to the idea that it is legitimate.

But somehow something doesn't feel quite right to him about these Peaceful Children. Maybe it's that his experience on the death side wasn't guided by any visionary clerics. Maybe it's that it seems a little too reckless. He's worried about what happens to the people who go on this strange journey.

Rynn won't ask much aside from what they do when they reach Thanor. (Being from Thanor, he's interested in knowing how far they have to travel, where they are headed, that sort of thing.) I'd like a Sense Motive for Rynn — basically to get a "hunch" about the whole situation; including but not solely about Therylassa.

Before they leave, Rynn will sprinkle some holy water on the altar of Fharlanghn, because that's apparently the practice here, and although not really a worshiper, Rynn pays his respects when these kinds of opportunities/situations present themselves. (I've added a bit of info about Rynn's religiosity on his character page.)

Thevarou
Khaska was ready to dismiss the Peaceful Children as a sincere but misguided faith - misguided because they think Arkenos will spare them - but at the mention of embarking from Laishtek to travel to Thanor he is reminded uncannily of the stories from Tawru's time, of the Maha'i taken as slaves and shipped to work in Thanor, whence few have returned. While he will attempt to sense Therylassa's motive, he is also aware that she might be totally sincere in her beliefs, but could be exploited by the forces of evil somehow. Moreover, the course they follow seems to be the course Khaska will tread soon - to Laishtek, and possibly Thanor to look for Tawru's Sword. He'll ask about any specific destination they might have or how they could connect with others that are going east; he's intrigued by the situation, but nowhere close to conversion ( ===;=) ).

SayyadinaAtreides
Amara is mostly amused by the idea of a group of people who would willingly travel defenselessly based on nothing more than another person's promise of divine protection. However, she's not the type to let her condescension or cynicism show obviously without reason; if asked directly about her opinion, she would smirk slightly and comment that in her eyes, such a pilgrimage is foolhardy at best, but if others wish to follow such a whim it is of no concern to her. She isn't particularly suspicious of the whole situation: in her mind, whether the people who go are misled through stupidity or active malice, it's still their decision to embark on such a ridiculous endeavor and whatever happens to them because of it is entirely their own fault. Nevertheless, she would not express her opinion candidly in the presence of Therylassa; if asked by the party later, she would be frank. Amara also would not offer any devotions to any of the shrines present; if questioned, she would simply say that her allegiance lies with another god. If pressed further, she would be openly irritated, but would also admit "the dragon god."

“How do you know that this cleric from the death side can be trusted?” asked Jenika.

“Jasper Windwatcher is the man who trained my mentor, who trained me in the ways of divine magic. I would trust him with my life. My mentor has already joined him on the death side.”

“And where, exactly, do they go on the death side?” Rynn inquired. “I’ve spent most of my life wandering that side of our moon.”

“Well, I haven’t been there personally, but I understand that it’s somewhere south of Darkcrest, but not into the marshes.”

“Those marshes are dangerous. Do you think it wise to set up so close to them?”

“I don’t think they’re right next to the marshes, and even so, the gods protect the pilgrims. It is their destiny. When Arkenos and Jenoa converge, only the Peaceful Children will remain standing. The rest will be slaughtered by their belief in their magic, their strength, and their foolhardy belief in themselves.”

Khaska’s ears flattened. “We are all the children of the Gods. To believe in oneself is to believe in the gifts the Gods have given each of us.”

“But to rely on the arm of flesh alone is foolhardy. You are a cleric. You yourself rely on your God for strength. How are we different from you?”

“We didn’t come here to debate theology,” Amara said, cutting the two clerics short.

“Why did you come?” asked Therylassa.

“We had heard of the Peaceful Children,” Khaska said. “And we wished to investigate the rumors we heard.”

“Have I answered your questions satisfactorily?” Therylassa inquired, looking at each of them in turn. They all nodded. “If you have further questions, please come ask. And you are always welcome to pray or worship as you would.”

As she showed them out, Rynn and Khaska looked at each other. Something was off here. Both sensed it. Therylassa seemed genuine that these pilgrimages were a good thing, but she was holding something back. And after Therylassa disappeared into the back rooms again Amara was practically ready to leave. The number of people in the Shrine had decreased, and there were just a handful. Natalya was off to the side, praying at the altar to Pelor.

“Satisfied?” she asked. “Nothing going on here.”

“I’m not so sure,” Rynn said. They had moved to the side, by the altar to Garl Glittergold. “Something doesn’t seem right.” He knelt down and flipped the rug back just a little. On closer examination, there were scrape marks under it, as if something heavy had been dragged over the stone. Whatever it was had also caught the rug and caused some minor tearing. To Rynn’s sharp eyes it looked like the altar to Garl Glittergold had been poorly swung into its current position, dragging along the floor as it was rotated.

“I also think so,” said Khaska. “She was holding something back.” Rynn nodded. Then he stepped forward and pointed around the room. “And these don’t seem random to me. I think they were deliberately placed.”

Amara frowned. “You know, you might be right. At least they’re placed symmetrical.”

“But the Pelor shrine, that’s off to the side,” Jenika said, pointing at it. “The others are symmetrical, but that one’s out of place.”

Khaska’s ears perked up. He whispered. “Maybe it’s a rune or a symbol.”

“A map?” asked Rynn.

“Maybe.”

Eryx (DM)
Both Khaska and Rynn’s Sense Motive checks detected some dissembling from Therylassa. She is sincere in her beliefs about the pilgrimages, but was not being completely honest.

To give a bit more description of the building, it was originally an old art gallery. There are at least two stories, and you are in the main atrium. Two of the wings are blocked off, and the Northern part of the building is where you had your interview with Therylassa. I’ll also be sending you some pictures of the layout so you can have a better idea of what is going on. Rynn thinks that the altars are not laid out haphazardly, that there was some deliberateness to their placement. In talking over IM with Thev and BlackWolf, they proposed a rune and a map as a possibility, so that’s why those are in the dialogue.

So, to sum up:
1. It appears the Garl Glittergold altar was rotated into its current position that it dragged across the floor, scratching it. The rug was placed over it afterwards, but the rug also shows wear and tear from a similar motion.

2. The altars do seem deliberately placed. You can look at the pictures I’m about to send to see them from a bird’s eye view, which the characters could easily get to by using the narrow staircases in the hallway connecting the main atrium to where the clerics offices and other rooms are. There’s nothing else on the second floor, though. Just empty space.

Edit: Thev talked about trying to map the shrines' organization onto some known map markers. I don't expect you to go pouring over every aspect of the world map. A Knowledge Roll or rolls would be sufficient.

Thevarou
Khaska wondering if there's something UNDER that altar - something like a passage or tunnel that the base of the altar could cover. And given that it's of the god of the gnomes, Khaska would immediately think of the most recent gnomes the party had met: those at the ruins. It would be a crazy longshot for them to be involved somehow, but it would cross his mind.

Several checks I rolled (all totals, for simplicity's sake):

  • Gather Info: 14
  • Knowledge: 17
  • INT: 14
  • WIS: 20
  • Search: 5

Eryx (DM)
Your search check turns up nothing. With your WIS check, it occurs to you that, if it's a map or something similar, it might not be oriented the way you currently think of it (with the entrance to the shrine at the south end).

Thevarou
Given Khaska's speculation that the altar of Garl Glittergold might be concealing something underneath, he'd ask if Rynn would be willing to bump into it (from behind) and see if it moves (after all, it would be quite unlike a cleric - but more expected among the "laity" - to do so).

BlackWolf
No problem guys, Eryx's hint led me to the answer. I turned the picture over, and clearly it is a smiley face with a chin-strap beard. Case closed!

Rynn's curiosity is enough that he'll take up Khaska's suggestion to try moving the altar. He'd be a little self-conscious about it though, and would try to do so when no one (aside from the party) is looking. He also wonders if anything might be hidden under the rug, but rolling that big rug out of the way would be quite conspicuous and Rynn doesn't really have a strong reason (or evidence) to do so.

Other than that, I can't figure out anything else that might be going on. But in case Rynn would know something I don't, here are some rolls:

  • INT: 2 (rolled 1 + 1 modifier)
  • WIS: 20 (rolled 18 + 2 modifier)
  • Knowledge (geography): 22 (rolled 19 + 3 bonus; in case it's a map)

If we can't figure anything out within a few minutes, Rynn will be ready to leave. As much as he'd like to follow the pilgrimages to discover where they are going, he feels obligated to stay in town until the Sendylus issues are resolved. Plus we promised Haalak we'd escort one of his caravans.

Sayyadina (who authorized Eryx to post for her)
INT: 18 (roll) + 3 (bonuses) = 21 total.
Knowledge: 12 (roll) + 3 (bonuses) = 15 total.

DeltaWolf

I was thinking that the crescent-moon was the chasm of Endless Night, associating Tir'Kon with Moradin and that middle region of Gallidas was associated with Fharianghn, making Pelor that area at the top of Jenoa there. But I can't seem to make sense it all, so maybe I am way off…
Other then that Jenika has no clue.

“I wonder if there is something under this altar,” said Khaska.

“You think the clerics are hiding something under there?” asked Amara. “This place used to be an art gallery, remember? They didn’t build it.”

“But they did arrange the altars like this when they took over,” said Rynn. He was glancing around.

Rynn started walking back to the hallway leading to the offices where they had interviewed Therylassa. “We can see it better from up there.” He pointed to the balcony overlooking the main atrium from the second story. The group ascended the staircase in the main hallway connecting the two parts of the building, the offices, and the main areas where the shrine proper was.

Amara looked down from the balcony, pushing a bit past Khaska to do so. The cleric moved aside for her. “Still looks pretty symmetrical to me,” she said. “If it’s a map, it might be of a city or something.”

Rynn laughed out loud suddenly. They all turned to look at him, and they even noticed Natalya glance up, a stern look on her face. “It looks like a smiling face to me,” the ranger said. “With a beard.”

Jenika also smiled at that. “It does indeed. Only has one sideburn, though,” as she pointed over at the Moradin altar where Natalya had returned to her prayers.

The group spent a few minutes walking around. It had occurred to Khaska that the orientation of the symbol or the map or whatever it was might not be North-South, like they had originally expected. Indeed, the “face” was “upside down” from the point of view of the entrance to the shrine being the bottom of the altars’ organization. They all thought through their world and the maps they had seen of it. In the end, though, nothing seemed to quite match. As they made their way to the main atrium again, Khaska spoke up.

“I still think there might be something under that altar,” the cleric said. “But …” he paused, “it would be inappropriate for me to desecrate the altar of another God.” He glanced down. “Teresh would be displeased.” The Maha’i glanced up, an inquiring look in his eyes.

“But it’s okay for one of us to move it, that right?” asked Amara, probably a little louder than Khaska would have liked. She also emphasized “move” instead of his word choice of “desecrate.”

“I was thinking more of a ‘bump,’ than anything,” Khaska replied sternly, but in a whisper. “No need to go moving it completely out of the way.”

Rynn shrugged. “I can do that, if nobody’s looking.”

Luckily for the party, there were only two worshippers left, and Natalya was still absorbed in her prayers across the shrine. However, one of the remaining patrons was a drunk dwarf worshipping at the altar to Oldimmara, right next to the Garl Glittergold altar. Amara rolled her eyes and sat down heavily on one of the benches in front of the Fharlanghn altar. Khaska made a bit of a show of sitting and meditating there as well, despite the fact that Kirza alighted on one of his horns. Jenika just went and sat down next to Amara, who was looking increasingly bored.

As he waited for Rynn’s chance, Khaska pondered anew on the arrangement of the altars. By now he was convinced it was no map. Amara was right, the symmetry made that unlikely. However, it could be a symbol of some kind. He thought of the religious symbols he knew of. Glancing up, he took note again of the symbol of Fharlanghn. The moon symbol reminded him of the symbol on the carpet. Might the arrangements be a symbol of a God? Rynn had pointed out that the three central altars looked like a face, but a face with a beard, maybe? Or it might be …

Khaska stood upright, quickly, his armor clanking loudly as he hissed a breath out. Kirza was startled and cawed once as she took to flight. The sounds echoed quite loudly in the quiet room as his hand went almost reflexively to the scimitar at his side. Amara stood also. Her face grew concerned as she looked at the back of Khaska’s neck. The hair was standing straight up.

“What?” she asked. “What is it?”

He turned to her and leaned in close. “I know what the symbol is!” he said softly. “It is a face. And the altars along the back wall are making the symbol of a scythe!” He pointed at them, drawing a symbol in the air. A straight line, then a curved one. A scythe indeed.

Amara’s eyes widened. “Nerull!” At that Jenika stood up as well, a look of shock on her face as well.

Khaska nodded at Amara, then turned to Rynn with a look of almost panic on his face, and pointed at the Glittergold altar. The look on their collective faces made Rynn spring into action, even though the half-elf had not heard the whispered conversation between his friends. He padded over to the altar, ducked down behind it, and gave it a forceful shove. With a slight grating sound it moved a little, almost as if it were on tracks, and began to rotate. Glancing down, Rynn noticed that the altar’s movement had indeed exposed something underneath. There was some kind of hole there. He looked up at Khaska and pointed, nodding.

Then a voice rang out. “What are you doing?” Natalya was walking over, a look of sheer surprise on her face. Then her face hardened. “All of the Gods are welcomed here, and I will not let you defile any of their altars! You must leave. Now!”

Eryx (DM)
Between your rolls and speculations, and especially with BlackWolf’s off-hand suggestion that it looked like a face, Khaska has figured out that the arrangement of the altars actually is the symbol of Nerull. I’m sending an email picture to all of you so that you can better see what I’ve tried to explain in the text here.

Rynn’s STR check was enough to move the altar slightly. There is indeed something underneath it, but the altar hasn’t been moved enough to really tell what’s under it. Could be a secret passage way. Just a small hiding spot. Stairs. You’re not sure yet.

However, moving the altar has attracted attention. Natalya is asking you to leave, and she seems quite serious.

What will you do next?

Sayyadina
Amara would immediately begin trying to talk their way out of the situation. "Your pardon, madam. My companion is still recovering from overindulging in strong liquor at dinner; he wished to accompany us to pay our devotions to the gods this evening. I see now that we erred in our estimation of his sobriety." She would gesture to Khaska and Jenika to accompany Rynn out of the temple, if they're willing to play along. "Is there any way we may make reparations for this unseemly and unintended slight to the gods?" Any further discourse would depend on the reactions of the party and Natalya.

  • Diplomacy check: 24 = 19 + 5
  • Bluff check: 23 = 14 + 9

At this point, Amara just wants to get the party out of the temple without further incidents, and without raising the suspicions of anyone in the temple that we might be suspicious. She would prefer to handle any discussion of what's been discovered in a more private and secure location.

EDIT: Sorry, should have been more clear about what I was trying to do with the checks. Diplomacy check is to placate Natalya; the Bluff check is both to explain away Rynn's slight moving of the altar and to communicate to the rest of the party to leave and not mention Nerull. This second usage of bluff is detailed in the SRD as follows, in case people aren't familiar with it: "You can use Bluff to get a message across to another character without others understanding it. The DC is 15 for simple messages, or 20 for complex messages, especially those that rely on getting across new information. Failure by 4 or less means you can’t get the message across. Failure by 5 or more means that some false information has been implied or inferred. "

Thevarou
Ha. Well, Khaska was going to make up something about Rynn being from an area where the worship of Garl Glimmergold required an offering of sweat, normally given by pushing the altar; the marks on the floor gave him the impression that the tradition was followed here, too.

But Amara will probably beat Khaska to any explication, and either way she'll do the convincing MUCH better than he ever could. Somewhat surprisingly, this is a time when those two would agree on the course of action. While Khaska may have been tempted to mention something, his sense that Natalya was holding something back - and the potential that she is cognizant of the arrangement of the altars - will keep him silent. He will apologize for the slight on Rynn's behalf, perform any sort of reparations necessary, and leave without making a scene. He wants to discuss this disturbing new development with the party. He will, however, see if he can get a closer glance at the hole in the floor, even if he has to pretend to scold Rynn or, if Natalya approves, pull the altar back into place (instead of pushing it from the other side).

Eryx (DM)
I just want to point out a small error in Thev's post. You sensed some kind of holding back from Therylassa, who appears to be a leader of sorts in the shrine, not from Natalya, who is the one confronting you right now.

BlackWolf
All of the gods indeed. Harumph!

Since Rynn didn't hear Khaska and Amara's conversation, he'll just play along. But he is a little confused, and lying doesn't come naturally to him.

  • Bluff: 17 (rolled 16 + 1 modifier)

Not a bad roll. I guess the confused look might play as drunkenness, and Rynn will stammer out some kind of lame apology as he's guided away.

Once they are at a safe location, Rynn will ask what this was all about and make sure the party all knows about the hole under the altar. Previously Rynn didn't have much reason to suspect anything sinister about the Peaceful Children, but now he's very curious about this altar and the possible Nerull connection.

Eryx (DM)
Just for the sake of moving things along, you have been asked to leave, so Natalya isn't going to put up a fuss if you do so. So I'd also like to know what you will do with this new information once you are safely away from the Shrine of Piety.

BlackWolf
Rynn is growing more and more suspicious. He thinks it warrants further investigation, though he's not sure what action we should take. He's open to informing the authorities (not sure if that would do any good) or just taking matters into our own hands.

If we do take action ourselves, it seems like sneaking in and moving the altar when no one is around would be the best way to get info without tipping our hand. Alternatively, we could confront Natalya and/or Therylassa about what we've deduced so far… but that seems more risky. If they are evil they might try to draw us into a trap.

A big part of the reason that Rynn is waffling about what to do next is that I still don't have any feedback as to tying up loose ends with Haalak and the Sendylus guild. I kind of feel like we lack closure there which makes me hesitate on taking up a new quest which would likely lead to following the pilgrimages.

Thevarou
Whoops! Thanks for pointing that out. Edit, then: Khaska's suspicions are directed toward Therylassa, while Natalya is seemingly innocent in his eyes; nevertheless, he will now pay more attention to Natalya, trying to sense her motives. If she is innocent, is is possible that she herself had been duped by whatever group has been running the Peaceful Children. Khaska would also favor coming at another time and investigating the hole under the altar; if Natalya truly does not know about anything sinister going on, it is possible that she could be our "in" into to the shrine.

Eryx (DM)
From your sense Motive with Natalya, you get the impression that she is genuinely offended you have messed with the altar, and would like you to leave. There's no sense of panic that you may have discovered something under the altar.

DeltaWolf

Jenika had a bad feeling, but she honestly was not expecting the reaper-face. She also has thought about Haalak, but under the circumstances she wants to see what is under the alter. Maybe its because I read about Aztec cannibals, I have a feeling these people are being used for sinister use, maybe something with necromancy… The sanctity of life needs to take priority over a caravan.

BlackWolf
In IM with Eryx, he told me that "you got the impression that the preparation for such a case would be extensive, and the case itself seems to involve a few major players in the city (these two rival merchant guilds), so it might take a while."

Given that, Rynn is much more up for investigating this ourselves. And actually, given that we don't have any solid evidence, he'll rather wait on informing the authorities until they'd have more to go on than vague notions from some upstart adventurers.

Therefore, after our group has had a chance to discuss, I think we should go back and check out what's under that altar. I like Thevarou's suggestion that we may be able to convince Natalya to let us in. But if that doesn't work (or no convenient opportunity presents itself), then I think we should try to go in when Therylassa isn't around.

Sayyadina
Amara would prefer to discuss these issues in a place that is public (just in case someone's scrying our rooms) but relatively unoccupied, so that as long as we speak in whispers and keep an eye out for others we shouldn't be overheard. She would warn very strongly against going back to the shrine any time soon. She would explain, if needed, that Nerull is also known as "the Reaper," whose stated ambition is to slay all living things. Although she has no issue getting involved with this in some fashion, Amara's extremely leery of doing anything which is likely to be noticed and get all of us moved up a bit in priority of whom to kill first. XD

What Amara would recommend is quietly meeting with a representative of the Knights, explaining our suspicions that a cult of Nerull is posing as followers of the good deities in the Shrine of Piety (though she'd also point out that we believe some of the people in the Shrine, like Natalya, to be genuine servants of the gods they profess to worship, duped by the Nerullian worshippers), and asking for advice on how to proceed. If we do investigate this directly, Amara would much rather do so with the backing of an order of paladins and knights than face Nerull on our own. The fact that we don't have much in the way of evidence yet might be problematic, but Amara thinks 1) they'd appreciate the early warning more than indisputable proof; and 2) given our previous interactions with the Knights, it's unlikely they'd simply dismiss us out of hand. Even if they don't really believe we're right, the potential consequences of ignoring our warning are dire enough that they would probably spare at least one or two people to confirm it.

Amara was the first to respond. “Your pardon, madam. My companion is still recovering from overindulging in strong liquor at dinner; he wished to accompany us to pay our devotions to the gods this evening. I see now that we erred in our estimation of his sobriety.” She gestured to Jenika and Khaska, indicating that they should “help” the “drunk” Rynn out. “Is there any way we may make reparations for this unseemly and unintended slight to the gods?”

“Perhaps I can push this altar back into its proper place,” Khaska said. Natalya nodded, but was still clearly unhappy. Khaska went actually behind to glance down at whatever Rynn had pointed at. There wasn’t much more than a sliver, but there was something there, some opening under the altar. However, Khaska grabbed the corner of the altar, and pulled it back into place. He bowed at Natalya, then exited the shrine, following his companions.

Once they were a block away, Rynn asked what had happened. Khaska hurriedly explained his discovery. The group speculated about what their next step would be, but Amara, of all people, convinced them that the Knights should be informed. They all practically marched over to the Knights Chapterhouse, where Amara had Khaska go in first to warn them that the wards would be set off. One of the Knights on duty remembered her, and though the ward was set off, there was little fuss about it.

However, once admitted inside, things didn’t go like they planned. The dwarf they spoke to, Sir Destinaxe, was gruff, and clearly not interested in talking to them. “Dragonrider Reitman is away and has left me in charge. What do you want?”

After explaining their findings, the Knight nodded. “We’ve actually investigated them before. But we’ve cast Detect Evil on everybody who lives and worships at the Shrine of Piety, and there are no evil clerics.”

“There are ways of hiding oneself from such spells,” Amara intoned.

“That is true, but right now you have a vague story of altars forming a face, and a secret passageway that nobody has discovered before. I’m afraid that there’s not enough evidence. We’ll send a Knight or two along to look around again, but like I said, we’ve already investigated the situation. Also, and I know I will catch the wrath of Dragonrider Reitman, because I know that you have entered his confidence, but we are not a local militia. I wish you would not come to visit every time something new comes up. I know the Code of the Good Dragons would have us speak to all people and treat them as equals, but we are busy as well. You are good people. Dragonrider Reitman would not befriend you if you were not, but do not rely on the Knights for everything. Besides, if there is a cult, it might be best if investigated by those not of our order. We are rather …” he smiled, “conspicuous. Also a side effect of the Code of the Good Dragons. Deception of any kind is not encouraged. ”

“Perhaps we could go with your blessing then?” asked Khaska.

“Oh, you have my blessing to investigate on your own. If you find something more substantial, we will act on it. But not until then. And now,” he stood, “I do hate to be rude, but I do have things to attend to. Markus be with you.” The group was clearly being dismissed.

Once outside, Amara began to quietly rage against the idiocy of the Knights. Or at least, Sir Destinaxe. Khaska came to their defense, pointing out that there really was no clear evidence, and it had been investigated before.

“All the more reason to believe us,” Amara snapped. “The Knights clearly had their suspicions.”

“And now we have ours,” said Jenika. “What are we going to do?”

“I wish to return to the shrine,” Khaska said. “Natalya did not seem panicked that we were moving that altar. Perhaps she would readmit us, and let us further investigate.”

“Whoa,” Jenika replied. “I’m not going back there at night. I’d rather not be killed by cannibalistic necromancers.”

“And you think they’ll play nice during the daytime?” Amara snickered.

Rynn shot the sorceress a glance that silenced her. “Khaska’s idea is a good one. Perhaps he and I can go tomorrow morning to ‘apologize,’ but to further explain ourselves.”

“Alone?” asked Jenika. “I want to see what’s under that altar, too.”

“All of us coming in to the Shrine again would be odd,” said Khaska. But you could be nearby.

“Kirza could go with you,” said Amara.

“Tomorrow morning, then.”

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