Session 7:1

This entry needs to be expanded.

The party sets up camp in Hopsedine and gathers some information about the area and the lady whom they came here to speak with. They find out she died weeks ago in a fire, and investigate her gravesite and her house. They come across a giant earth-elemental that had been magically enslaved to the lady, and who attests to the fact that she was killed – along with her son – by a mysterious man.

He was like obsidian that did not shine wrapped around marble that did not shine. His eyes were like rubies light by fire.

They also uncovered a potential motive for the murder of the two dwarves (whose identities have not been entirely confirmed). Lady Bones, who worked as a seamstress and laundry woman, had noticed a lot of mercenaries paying in advance and never picking up orders. When she dug into it, all of those names were people who had won the Witherbone Challenge. So she started a second investigation – of all the people who had won the Witherbone in the last dozen years, not one of them had ever been seen again.

Hopsedine is a small village a few days south of Two-Towns. It was built near the edge of the Olthosian border, just within the fringe of the Marrowood. The forest gets its name from the number of undead that can be found there, creatures spawned in the bloodlands that wonder aimlessly, staggering mile after mile across the landscape. The Ravenroad, the bloodlands of Olthos, are just across the boarder from Hopsedine. The area is practically plagued with undead, especially during the winter, but that is both a curse and blessing.

Though plenty of people are claimed by the monsters, caught unawares or overwhelmed by a chance encounter, most are aware of the danger and have set up business in response. Hopsedine, though originally a logging community, is a military hub – the border defense that keeps the undead from wandering too far into Lagernia. Mercenaries and paladins and clerics frequently visit Hopsedine to help curb the relentless march of monsters. They gather in tents, purchase supplies, and plan excursions. The village pays a bounty for undead – collecting the heads of slain creatures in large pits until Lagernia tax assessors come and pay the village, after which the heads are burned.

It was during one of these ceremonies, known as the Fleshfire, that the party arrived in town. To the east, near the graveyards, smoke was rising into the sky – putrid, thick, and black. When the wind blew from that direction it carried the smell of rotted meat and burnt flesh, though no one in town seemed to mind. It was the smell of a month’s worth of bounties, the economic nourishment that kept the village going.

The village itself was small but well defended. There was a tavern that doubled as the town hall – the owner was also the bounty coordinator and festival planner, the closest thing the town had to leadership. There were a handful of houses nearby for the individuals who managed to live off the constant flow of mercenaries – a smith, carpenter, herbalist and healer, a seamster and cobbler, and a few merchants and guardsman. The town’s market was small, an open area filled with stalls and stands.

The whole of it was circled by two short walls of logs, sharpened to points, all pointing outward but at different angles. Some logs were stained with blood from battles long past, others were coated with more recently spilled fluids. There were towers at the main entrances manned by guards and mercenaries, and around the outermost wall was a field of bear traps and snares. Some were sprung and still held a piece of zombie leg, or the body of some woodland creature like foxes and rabbits, but most were simply lying on the ground in plain sight, the short metal teeth of a thousand mechanical jaws.

Session 6:4
The Road towards Two-Towns

This entry needs to be expanded.

It takes the party 12 days to get to Two-Towns. Along the way they fight a gigantic zombie wyrm (farmland) and a group of goblins (hill country) who have an ogre zombie. They spend another 9 days in Two-Towns before making the 2-day trip south to Hopsedine.

Session 6:3 - NPC
Espera, and Death

This entry needs to be expanded.

The homeless woman, bereft of her pets, takes her own life.

Session 6:2
An A.W.O.L. Thrushamar

This entry needs to be expanded.

The party meets with Captain Lokert Hamarhorn, the dwarf who lead the guards that helped route the bandits. He is honor-bound, and offers to repay his debt to the party by helping them out of the legal trouble they have landed in. Then he makes a request of them.

One of Lokert’s friends, a Thrushamar named Thagas Thagerding, is missing. It is extremely unlikely that a Royal Wyvern Knight would abscond willingly, but all scrying attempts have turned up the same result – a veil of myst and darkness. This means that something is preventing them from seeing the dwarf – or his body if he is dead. Either Lokert is in hiding (unlikely), or has been captured by some enemy – possibly to get secrets of the Olthosian Royal Court.

The party breaks into Thagas’s house in the inner city of Harveston, trips several traps, and fights with a homeless lady and her pets before finding clues that point them towards Hopsedine – a small hamlet along the Olthos-Lagernia border.

Session 6:1 - NPC
An Altar for Worms

This entry needs to be expanded.

The Zombie Wyrm attempts to make an altar along the roads north of Harveston.

Session 5:2 - NPC
Rich People Problems

This entry needs to be expanded.

The Gladstradt Dwarves discuss the latest burglary of one of their estates.

Session 5:1
The Gladstrat Heist

This entry needs to be expanded.

The party is finally approved admittance into Harveston’s inner city. Benny can now pull off the heist that brought him to Harveston in the first place. He tells his new friends only as much as they need to know before sneaking everyone in to a merchant’s dinner party with a forged invitation. The party’s cover is blown, they are forced to fight their way out, pursued by ogres, and wanted by the city guards. They attempt to lay low, not wanting to leave town without the arms and armor they had commissioned.

Session 4:3
The Slave Cave

It turned out that a simple spell was all that was needed to break the enchantments on the dragon egg. A few hundred gold bought the components necessary to identify the spells on the egg – a stasis spell mean to keep the egg from aging, and a lock spell that could only be opened with dragon’s breath. Lauretta was able to take care of that and the egg immediately hatched into a rather skinny looking white dragon.

Lauretta spent a couple of days nursing the dragon, feeding it raw meat and tavern soup and water, helping it get the strength needed to move about on its own. It seemed that the stasis spell had been wearing off, and the creature had been trapped in its own shell for some time, slowly starving to death but unable to break free.

Meanwhile Benny used the same identification spell on the altar cup and learned that the cup was the power source of the creep they’d discovered in Applethorn. It fed on the negative energy of rot and flesh and blood placed inside it and spread out the creep like a net to trap undead. It it ever entangled enough creatures, then it would pull them in and combine them into some sort of giant monstrosity.

A little while after they had made these discoveries a guard stopped by to inform them that a patrol was ready to leave. Thorn had still not recovered from his paralysis, so the party loaded him into one of their magically enchanted bags – bigger on the inside and always the same weight regardless of what was put inside – and set off towards the camp with Benny in the lead. It took a couple of days to get there, partly because of the distance and partly because Benny got turned around. Once Thorn came to, late in the night and with a certain amount of confusion, they got back on track and bee-lined for the camp.

There were 4 guards that were accompanying them, a dwarven captain and three less seasoned human fighters. Apparently the city was still a bit skeptical about whether Benny and Thorn actually knew where the camp was and had other patrols out in the region checking other likely areas.

When the came to the hill where the slavers were camped, they spotted lookout and hid among the trees. The camp itself seemed less busy than the week before, but more fortified. Horses were tied up, and there were several log towers with archers at the top, but little traffic otherwise. Barricade had been erected around the hill, circling the rather flat hilltop where tables and cooking fires were arranged.

Benny and Thorn had no problem getting close, and Lauretta decided that she would try to draw some of the bandits out of the camp barricades so that the guards could flank them from the trees. She drew her shield and mace, and stepped out of the forest onto a path cleared wide enough for ogres. And then she began shouting out insults and taunting the creatures.

The fell for it, drawing their weapons and running at her rather than picking her off from a distance. As an ogre and several bandits came within reach, the guards charged out of the forest and engaged them. Lauretta’s new pet dragon, strengthened by the few days of care, also joined the fray – breathing cones of icy wind and biting and clawing wildly.

The first group fell quickly, and then Ras, Lauretta and the guards charged up to the entrance to the camp – a small gap in the barricade. Other bandits were waiting on the other side, holding the entrance and funneling the attackers. Thorn was firing arrows from the forest, but Benny had snuck around the confrontation and up a steeper side of the hill that had no barricades. Once at the top he quickly dispatched a bandit and, having the high group behind the bandits at the entrance, began firing spells and arrows into the fray.

It took a few minutes for the party to force their way through the entrance. During that time the dwarf captain was felled twice by ogre clubs and revived by Lauretta. Several bandits turned tail and ran, disappearing into the side of the hill where a cave entrance had been concealed. The horses had scattered during the fight, and Benny took to the woods to catch them and lead them back to their posts.

The guards gathered up the bodies, field stripped them, and piled them up for burning. They took the time to examine each face, making sure none of the bandits were bounties the city had out, then light it up. Afterward, the party and the guards stepped into the cave.

There was a portcullis just inside the entryway, lowered, but with a crank on the outside as if the cave were designed to become one large cage. Benny opened the gate, wanting to bring up the rear, while everyone else filed inside. As Rashirel and Thorn – who had taken the lead – rounded a corner a dozen yards in a conversation was struck.

Down the hall around the corner stood the elven wolf master along with an armed ogre and a man in heavy plate. The elf smiled, welcoming Ras to her lair.

“And Boss here,” the woman said indicating the man at her side, “had almost convinced me there would be a full battalion sent out after us. But I see my luck panned out and it was merely the whelps who escaped me out by the ponds. And,” she continued noticing Thorn, “the men who stumbled upon our camp and ran away in fright. How convenient that we can tie up all the loose ends in one go.”

“We got your message,” Ras said, her voice echoing back from the depths of the cave. “All your little trick did was make me angry.”

“Oh dear,” the elf replied, still smiling, “I was really hoping that would be the case. To kill from a distance can be such a bore. I wanted you to come to me, my sweet, and now that you are here I have a present to prepare.” She began casting a spell, and before Ras or Thorn could react the cave began to fill with a thick, magical fog. Thorn launched an arrow hoping to catch the elf but he could barely see a few feet in front of him and he heard the sound of the projectile clattering off stone. The bandits were too far away to see anymore, but they could hear the footsteps as the elf woman disappeared into the cave, laughing.

Ras and Thorn braced themselves, but the ogre and the armored man didn’t charge in. They seemed to be waiting for the battle to come to them.

Lauretta, who was near the back of the line, had used the time to look around the cave. Just inside the portculis she notice some unusual stonework, and when she looked closer found a hidden crevice. Inside was a switch, and she flipped it.

A portion of cave wall slid open, a concealed door that opened to a short hallway where a number of bandits – weapons out – had been waiting to charge out behind the party, flanking them and pinning them against the ogre around the corner. Lauretta smiled at the look on their faces as they realized the trap had, once again, failed. She sucked in a deep breath and blew out a cone of cold dragon’s breath that filled the hallway just as the magical fog rolled down the tunnel. Ice formed in the air as the mist froze, clicking to the floor.

There was the sound or rattling chain as the portcullis they’d entered through dropped. Benny, however, managed to dive to the outside before the gate completely closed and immediately started raising it again.

The sound of clashing metal and grunts of pain began to echo through the tunnel and the guards and Lauretta engaged the would-be ambushers in their short tunnel. The fog only seeped in a few feet from the entrance, and the bandits quickly fell having been taken by surprise and hit hard by the initial wave of dragon breath.

Thorn continued to fire arrows blindly into the fog hoping to hit the ogre which blocked the way to the elf woman. A few of the arrows struck metal, but most hit stone. As he and Ras advanced, slowly and cautiously, they readied their melee weapons.

A club as large as a tree swung out of the fog, a shadow that became death. Thorn managed to dodge it, but the ogre was too far away to even be an outline in the fog. Ras, by his side, was little more than shadow. She suddenly dodged to the side as the man in armor stepped forward, himself only a vaguely humanoid shape in the mist, and the two began exchanging blows – most of which missed their mark.

Then there was the sound of sliding stone, and a wave of cold shot through the tunnel. Mist turned to snow and fell to the ground, clearing Thorn’s vision just long enough for him to see Lauretta and Benny – their armor coated with blood – step out of a hidden passage in the wall and attack the flank of the ogre.

Before the fog rolled back in, Thorn stepped forward and swung his sword into the ogre as well, and he heard the grunts of pain as Ras and Boss finally managed to hit each other. The battle lasted only a few seconds longer before the two bandits fell, overwhelmed and outnumbered.

It was then that the party realized that the guards had stopped fighting. They split up to search through the fog and found them unconscious and snoring. They all realized that their adrenaline had masked the headaches they were all feeling, and Thorn was beginning to feel light-headed and drowsy. Realizing there was some sort of poison hidden by the fog, the party scrambled out of the cave, dragging the guards with them. Thorn collapsed shortly afterward, snoring contentedly outside the cave surrounded by blood splatter and burning bodies.

Benny, Lauretta, and Rashirel decided they were going to head back into the cave as soon as one of the guards regained consciousness. They were worried that there might be another exit to the cave considering how the entrance trap had been arranged, but they didn’t want to leave all of their companions helpless. The dwarf captain was the first to come back around, and they explained their plan to him. Having already had three near-death experiences in the last hour, he agreed to stay outside the cave.

The group headed back in, their faces covered with bandannas from the field stripped loot of the bandits. The fog was beginning to dissipate, and as it cleared they could see a faintly yellow mist filtering through a myriad of tiny holes in the ceiling. They made their way down the tunnel quickly, stepping over the bloody ogre, and coming to another closed gate. There was a crank in the cave wall on the other side of the door, but the elf woman was leaning against it.

“I see you see the poison now,” she said with delight. “It’s a favorite of mine. Knocks you out without any physical harm, gives me plenty of time to tie you up so that when you wake up the real fun can begin.” She walked over to the gate, taking care to stay out of sword thrust range. “I’m not just going to kill you. I’m going to torture you. I’m going to cut you apart inch by inch, feed you your own flesh, make you bathe in your own fluids, fill your guts with maggots, and let you squirm and scream as you die a thousand, thousand times. I’ll balance you on the cusp of death, healing you just enough that you can continue begging to die. I’m going to…”

Her words were cut short as Lauretta and her dragon simultaneously let out their dragon breath through the gaps in the portcullis. The elf-woman screamed as the bitter cold froze her skin. She staggered backwards against the wall, clutching at her eyes and screaming curses and threats. She began casting another spell, her fingers showing signs of frostbite and moving clumsily throught he motions of the spell.

Ras and Lauretta began straining to pick up the gate high enough that Benny or the dragon could crawl under and get to the crank on the other side.

The elf woman finished her spell and her skin glowed as magic healed the wounds. She forced herself to her feet, shivering and still looking near death, and her face was nothing but rage. Unable to find words strong enough, she simply screamed a primal fury as she ran down the hall and into the darkness.

She was gone by the time the dragon had reached the portcullis crank and managed to get the gate opened. Ras and Lauretta wasted no time in charging down the tunnel in the way the elf had fled. They found her in a room filled with cages and chains. Embalming tools and torture devices were arranged on tables, and the smell of blood and excrement was strong. Many of the cages held people, huddled together in on corner while bones and bodies were stacked along the opposite sides.

The elf was fumbling with a set of keys, attempting to unlock a cage which contained an ogre-sized zombie. It had the head of a bull and large horns, and it strained against the chains that kept it pinned inside the cage.

Ras and Benny stepped forward. The elf managed to dodge the mace swung by the orc, but Benny tumbled around to the bandit’s back and sunk his dagger into her kidneys. She coughed up blood, and grasped at the key as she lost her balance and collapsed to the ground.

Out of the shadows stepped another bandit, swinging torture tools at Benny and turning the key in the lock. He had time to open the door and step inside the cage before Ras clubbed him in the head. The zombie creature, splashed by blood and brains, strained against the chains that kept it bound. The party wasted no time in slaying the creature, stabbing at it through the bars of the cage until it stopped moving.

They freed everyone in the cages and escorted them, quietly, out of the cave to where the guards were waiting. Most of the guards, and Thorn, had regained consciousness. They gathered up the captives, calmed them down, and began asking questions. Ras, Benny, and Lauretta made another pass through the cave system, finding the storage rooms, outhouse holes, and living quarters. There were a few bandits who had managed to sleep through the excitement in a cavern deep in the caves, but they woke to slit throats and died quietly and with little fuss.

If there was a second entrance to the caves, it was too well hidden. There was plenty of supplies and money left, and the party helped themselves to it before returning to the guards outside.

According to the captives, members of a merchant caravan that had been ambushed on the highway, the bandits had begun packing up the outpost several days ago. They had been worried about being discovered, and had eventually received orders to relocate to somewhere in the northern kingdom of Lagernia. Barb, the elven torturer, and Boss, the man in armor, had argued over taking care of the interlopers. Boss wanted to secure their exit quickly, but Barb was fixated on revenge. They eventually agreed to just clear out slowly, waiting to see if they could bait their enemy into a trap. They’d almost given up the wait before the guards had arrived.

The party returned to Harveston carrying the spoils of their victory and news that the Syndicate had been chased away from the area.

Session 4:2
Routing the Slavers

When the party reached the edge of Harveston’s eastern district, they were approached by a young guard. He gave a quick salute before speaking.

“Madam Lauretta, missus Rashirel, you are needed down at the east district guard house as soon as possible. There’s been a development with that prisoner you dropped off a week or so back.”

“You mean the Syndicate bandit?” Ras asked.

“That’s the one, ma’am. He’s dead. Poisoned, we’re not quite sure how. Guards found his body in the dead of night, along with a note addressed to “The Frosty-Haired Whore and the Big Orc Wench.” We figured you two fit the description well enough, no offense meant, since you were the ones that dropped him off."

Ras and Lauretta exchanged glances. “Well what did the letter say?” Lauretta asked.

“Don’t know, ma’am,” the guard replied. “The captain was strict on none of us reading it. She said it was one of those things that might be attuned to a particular person and be dangerous for anyone else – magic can do some amazing and horrible things. Anyway, she figured we should wait a few days to see if you two turned up before giving the go ahead to read it ourselves.”

Ras and Lauretta exchanged glances again. “We should probably check this out,” Ras said, “it doesn’t sound like it’ll take that long.”

“But we just got back,” Lauretta replied, “and I have some stuff I’d like to look into myself first.” She adjusted her backpack which contained the dragon egg. “Why don’t Benny and I take the bags back to the inn and take care of our errands while you go with the guard. You can fill us in later.”

“Sure,” Ras said, handing her backpack over to the shaman. She turned to the guard. “Alright,” she said, “lead the way.”

“Right this way ma’am,” and the guard set off down the street at a brisk pace.

It only took a few minutes to get to the guard station. It was a short tower with a couple of arches at the top keeping watch over the city streets. Large double doors, capable of admitting a giant if need be, marked the entrance, though a smaller set of doors within the first were what admitted the trickle of guards walking about on their patrols. Ras was taken inside and up a narrow flight of stairs to an office on the second floor where she was introduced to Captain Farrow.

“Ma’am,” the captain said shaking Ras’ hand. “I trust Private Dink here filled you in?”

“A bit,” Ras replied. “Just that the bandit was poisoned and the assassin left a letter for me and my friend.”

“That’s everything,” the captain said moving around her desk to a table covered in lock-boxes and small safes. “You are dismissed, private. Get back to your patrols.”

“Captain,” said the guard who had led Ras to the station. He saluted and disappeared back down the hallway.

The captain opened a box, sifted through a pile of papers inside, selected one, and locked the box back. She handed the letter to Ras, the stepped back and leaned against her desk. The wood creaked under the weight of the woman and her heavy armor.

“We weren’t able to get much out of him,” the captain said, “before the assassins got to him. He kept referring to himself as Maul, though with gangs like the Syndicate you typically get a new name once you join. We brought in a few clerics and had a magically augmented interrogation, and though he was made incapable of lying we couldn’t get him to talk. I don’t think he knew much anyway. He seemed like a grunt. There’s this demeanor, you know?”

“Can’t say I do,” Ras replied, breaking the seal on the folded piece of paper. She began reading the letter, which was written in neat but scratchy handwirtting.

“It’s this false sense of bravado. They know they are just grunts, and so they fluff themselves up and try to appear important and powerful. Kind of like an angry rooster.”

As far as last words go those were not the best, but that was when the captain died.

“Ah, Benny, you’re back. Good.”

Lauretta, carrying the dragon egg in her magical bag, continued through the inn to the upstairs room. She was anxious to start work on getting the creature hatched – if it were even still alive – and didn’t want to deal with any distractions. Benny, however, headed over to the bar to see what the innkeeper needed.

“A lady dropped these off for you a few days back,” the keeper said, producing a modestly sized barrel and a folded up letter. “Attractive elf woman who said her name was Snook. I don’t ask questions, of course,” he continued at Benny’s quizzical look, “I know that’s bad for my health and my business. I know nothing more than what I just said. I’m curious, I mean who wouldn’t be, but I’m not stupid.”

The innkeeper pushed the barrel across the bar and went back to cleaning cups.

Snook, thought Benny, that’s no elven name. It’s more like goblin or ogran. Actually, wasn’t that the name of Brutus’ daughter?

Anxiety welled up in him, and he felt that he knew what would be in the barrel. He proceeded cautiously and gave the barrel and letter a twice-over before touching them. He wanted to make sure they weren’t trapped. There were no indications that they were – no shimmer from smeared contact poison, no nooks or crannies to conceal poison tipped needles, and no glyphs or symbols that seemed magical. He opened the barrel.

The stench hit him like a wave, a putrid, thick, cloying wave. A swarm of flies left the barrel, and maggots squirmed inside – the squishing of their plump, white bodies audible behind the buzzing of their freed parents. There were three heads in the barrel, two ogres and one human. The flesh was swollen and fetid, and showed chew marks from fangs and incisors as well as the feasting of the maggots. Despite the grotesqueness of the faces, eyeless, lipless, bones showing through, Benny recognized all three of them.

It was Brutus, Grosnob, and Bilrod, the three members of the Syndicate that he knew by name. They were the only three he had met and not killed, and the only three that had not wanted him dead.

As the flies scattered across the inn’s common room, followed quickly by the smell of rotted meat, food was pushed aside, cups placed down, and chairs pushed back as people began to scramble for the door. Several were gagging, and at least one lost their lunch on the floor. The innkeeper had dropped the cup he was cleaning, the glass scattered around his feet, his eyes wide and staring at Benny and at the letter he hadn’t opened yet.

Slowly, Benny cut the seal of the letter and unfolded the paper. He gave it a cursory glance, but saw nothing suspicious or magical. Then he read it. The penmanship was scratchy and angry, the author attempting to convey all of their rage in each stroke of the quill.

Run while you can, but the shadows pursue.
Run while you can, but we will run you through.
Run while you can, and take shelter and pray.
Run while you can, but you won’t get away.

Then there was a flash of light, a thundering wall of force, and pain washed through Benny’s body as it flew across the room and slammed into a wall.

When he regained consciousness, Lauretta was standing over him. She had an empty bottle in her hand, and there were several more on the ground. She look relieved as she tossed the glass aside and handed Benny another potion. He reached out for it and felt the flesh of his arm slide against his clothes which were still hot and smoking slightly. He felt charred flesh crack, blisters pop, and blood seeping from his body. He quaffed the potion, the cool liquid flooding through his body and healing the more grievous wounds. Then he forced himself to his feet, his entire body still burning and stiff, and took a look around.

There had been an explosion, and most of the lower part of the inn was charred black and ruined. Tables and chairs had been blasted against the walls, the bar was little more than splinters. All of the alcohol was gone, glass scattered around the room, embedded in the wood walls and furniture. Several people had been caught in the blast, the smell of charred bodies was thick, along with the smoke of burnt plaster and still smoldering wood. Frost and ice covered parts of the room where Lauretta had used her magically cold breath to dowse the flames before they spread to the rest of the building.

Benny shook his head and staggered across the room. The innkeeper, most of him, lay at the wall near the doorway, face burnt down to the bone, mouth agape at what had befallen his beloved bar. Benny continued out the door.

People were running through the streets, some wanting to help and others wanting to watch. Lauretta came out of the building behind him carrying all their supplies, and she took Benny’s hand steering him away from the excitement. They weren’t going to be any help here, and they now needed a new place to stay.

When Ras caught up with them, she was looking only slightly better than Benny. Her clothes were burnt and covered in soot, her hair singed and uneven, and her skin had the faint discoloration of freshly healed wounds. The group had found rooms to let at The Underbite, an inn run by an ogre with prominent tusks, and shortly after filling each other in on the events of the past few hours decided that the Syndicate had to be destroyed.

“Before I left,” Ras said to the group, “after the guards had healed me up enough to walk, but before I left, I heard them talking about taking the Syndicate more seriously. It seems that people had been talking about them for a few months now, but the guards hadn’t mustered up the manpower to do a real investigation. I bet this will be the kick to the face they need.”

“We don’t know that it was the Syndicate,” Benny countered from his seat on the bed. They’d gathered in his room. “I mean, we know. It’s pretty obvious. But the guards don’t know, and we can’t prove anything. They might take our word for it, but in their eyes this might as well have been just some botched assassination from someone in our past – a disgruntled employer, old enemy, what-have-you. We are just mercenaries, as far as they are concerned.”

“But that bandit Lauretta and I brought in was killed recently, in his jail cell, and the note that exploded in my face was left by the assassin. That’s a pretty strong connection to me.”

“Maybe,” Benny conceded, “and I suppose there’s no harm in asking. Thorn and I know where they were camped, one of the bandits had led us right up to the doorstep before we got to Harveston, the poor fool.”

“Where is Thorn, by the way?” Lauretta asked. “I didn’t even think to look for him when we left the Bee and Barb. He might have had a note waiting for him too.”

The three of them headed out in search. There hadn’t been a third explossion in town – just the ones at the inn and guard house. So the party hung out around the smoking ruins of the Bee and Barb in the crowd that had gathered to gawk and gossip, hoping that Thorn would turn up. As the sun went down and the crowd dispersed, there was no sign of Thorn. As the party was discussing where to look next, Freckle showed up.

The owl swooped out of the sky, landing on the ground near Benny, hooting loudly and flapping its wings. It bit at Benny’s cloak, flapping its wings and attempting to tug him along, so the party followed the bird. It led them to an abandoned building in the north district of Harveston, the poorest section of town that was mostly slums. Benny pried open a window and snuck inside, keeping a sharp lookout for anything that might scream trap.

Thorn stood in the middle of the building, frozen in place as if paralyzed. Benny made his way over to the half-elf, and noticing the parchment clutched in his hands realized what had happened. The half-elf had been struck by a sepia snake, a magical trap much like the exploding runes that had nearly killed Ras and himself. The snake was a potent paralysis that could last for days, but was otherwise harmless. It usually ended with a slit throat or a stab to the heart. The fact that Thorn had neither was suspicious.

That’s when Benny noticed the note left on a nearby table, and the jet-black feather on top of it. He picked the paper up and, without even glancing at it, put it in his pocket. Then he grabbed Thorn and carted him over to and out of the window.

There was a guard in the street talking with Ras and Lauretta, either concerned with them loitering around an abandoned building late at night or wanting to hear them talk about the explosions from earlier in the day. Seeing Benny pulling along the paralyzed half-elf, the guard lent an armor-clad hand.

“What happened to him?” he asked, and was answered by having a piece of paper shoved into his hands. Benny carried Thorn away from the guard as quickly as he could. As the guard uncrumpled the parchment and read, the others flinched and prepared to dodge.

“Count yourself lucky that I took the job, and not one of the other, lesser, assassins. You should be honored, really, to have been my targets. I don’t murder the innocent, and I don’t harbor any love for the Syndicate that paid for delivery of this message. Lick your wounds and then bite back, and bite hard.”

“Hm,” the guard said, folding the paper and handing it back to Benny, who had managed to get a dozen feet away, “seems that someone hates you, and someone else has mixed feelings.”

“Yeah,” said Benny, taking the letter. “We had some run-ins with the Syndicate a week or so back. A couple run-ins, actually. And after this, we were thinking about having a couple more.”

“Good luck,” replied the guard. “They are smoke and mirrors, rumor and story. We’ve been hearing about them a lot more these last few months, but there’s nothing that pins down what they are planning or where they are hiding, otherwise the city would have done something.”

“We don’t know what they are planning,” Ras said, “but Benny and Thorn here know where their camp is.”

It took a bit to convince the guard, but once he was on board he admitted that the guards had been planning to send a few patrols out into the countryside to see about tracking down the camp. If the group already knew where it was, then the city could just go straight in to route them. It would be a couple of days before the guards were ready to go, but they would stop by the inn where the party was staying before they left.

The party, meanwhile, carted Thorn back to the inn and while waiting for the magic to wear off set out to solve the magic on the dragon egg, and while they were at it they looked into the enchantments on the altar-cup they’d found.

Session 4:1 - NPC
A Sympathetic Assassin

The one regret that Raven had about her line of work was that the better she became at killing, the less she was able to really enjoy it. The key to a good assassination was to not be there when the victim died, to have such a good alibi that the guards don’t even begin to suspect you. An assassin was not afforded the joy of watching the light fade from a victim’s eyes, of feeling the last heartbeat, of hearing that quiet gasp that the target had meant to be a scream. Those were luxuries that amateurs basked in, but that masters had to set aside. The key was to blend into the monotony and hum-drum life of a commoner – nondescript, harmless, and innocent. Around her guards were running and searching, stopping people and asking the most innocuous and worthless of investigative questions.

Have you seen any suspicious characters about lately?

As if someone who was capable of sneaking past a dozen armed guards, through no less than 4 locked doors, murdered a prisoner in his cell (a vial of poisonous spiders poured on the sleeping body), and snuck back out (locking the doors behind herself) would botch the job by acting “suspicious.” No, Raven was walking down the street – a commoner wearing sackcloth and dirt and cloaked in the stench of the unwashed – merely passing through this area of town on her way to somewhere else. Well, his way, she reminded herself, adjusting the bandanna tied around her… his head. Must stay in character. Just one of many beggars out late, rummaging through the alleyways for a few morsels of food tossed out by those active during the day. A man down on his luck, with scruffy hair and a haggard beard. A typical homeless man, nothing suspicious at all.

Both he and she, Raven and the man she was disguised as, stopped to watch the guards scramble about. They were running through the streets – the assassin couldn’t have gotten far, right? – occasionally clumping up to discuss who was going to search where then scattering down the cobblestone streets, their armor shimmering in the moonlight. It was something a commoner like him wouldn’t see every day, so mild curiosity was warranted. Raven chewed on a crust of bread, mostly stale, that he had picked up off the street. It was the most entertaining thing he’d seen in days. He tried to listen in – Get someone up on the roof tops, I want eyes everywhere. Where the hell is that wizard? Well wake him up and get his scrawny ass down here. What good is scrying going to do if the assassins already made it out of town? What do you want, peasant? – and then was shooed away by a guard who had more important things to do than answer some louse’s questions.

The beggar that was the master assassin eventually made his way to another part of the town. It took a while as he would stop behind businesses and taverns that were particularly abundant with tossed out scraps. Raven didn’t mind the food, even though she was much more accustomed to fancy wines and exotic fruits. This was part of the job and she had trained herself not just to tolerate the taste of garbage, but to enjoy it. You couldn’t fake delight when chewing on day-old bread, not like what you saw on a beggar’s face when they felt that they’d had just enough to live another day. A master didn’t act and didn’t disguise herself – a master became.

An hour later on the other side of town, the beggar man stepped into the shadows behind a house. He grabbed the dirty bandanna tied under his scruffy, dirty hair and adjusted it into a brooch of elven design. He then put it down into his elven hair, which was a short, military style. Raven shook his body, and stepped out of the shadows as a fair, elven warrior, a traveler in these parts here to deliver a message. She stopped to pick up a barrel, one she’d stashed away earlier in the night while she was a teenager playing at some game in the alley. The barrel was heavy but balanced on one shoulder without too much trouble. It sloshed quietly in the elf’s ear as she made her way towards the Bee and Barb.

The barrel was a message, one bought by the Silver Slaving Syndicate. It wasn’t a hit like the bandit in the prison cell, that had been more urgent. It had also been against a man who objectively deserved to have his throat swell up so tightly that he choked to death on his own vomit. The Syndicate had targeted one of their own, a loose end that was a risk to operations, an incompetent failure that couldn’t be tolerated.

The barrel was a just a message, and a cheap one at that, one that only warranted a minimum of effort. It was crude, direct, and conspicuous. It was the kind of message that brutes like the Syndicate liked to send, the type of message that was bread and butter to an assassin even if it lacked the grace and subtlety that marked their trade. It was a message of fear; a direct threat, but one made with a level of grudging respect. The message was also as much from Raven as it was from the Syndicate – an organization for which she harbored her own share of resentment.

The elf entered the Bee and Barb, a small tavern and inn that catered more to mercenaries than merchants. She stepped up to the bar and set the barrel down loud enough to wake the pudgy man who had dozed off. He grumbled, apologized, wiped the drool from his mouth and got down to business.

Yes, there had been a group of mercenaries in earlier fitting that description. They might have rented a room, it depends on who was asking. That’s right, but they said they’d be back in a few days. They’d paid the rooms in advance, and the half-elf was still around – at least his owl was. Why? Oh, sure, he would make sure that Benny got the barrel. Of course, there would be a storage fee. Excellent. A letter too? No problem. Of course he wouldn’t read it. He knew how mercenaries worked – the less he knew, the better. Of course, there would be an additional fee for security. Excellent. And a good night to you too, Snook. That’s an odd elf name. Right, right, the less he knew. Goodnight.

The elf made her way back out into the night. She stepped into shadows, adjusted her brooch into a hood, and stepped out again an elderly human woman. She walked with a hunch, leaned on a walking stick, her cloak pulled up over her grayed hair as she made her way to the northern markets. Of course she didn’t want to be out late, officer. Did she look like the kind of young ruffian that enjoyed walking across town in the dead of night? It was a family matter, if he must know, and no she didn’t want an escort from the man that had just accused her of being some sort of hooligan. Young people these days, no respect.

She made her way to an abandoned shop, pried up the loose boards on one of the windows, and pulled them into place behind her. She stood in the darkness to let her eyes adjust, and stepped away from the boarded up window as Raven. The true Raven. She wore bandoleers filled with daggers and vials of poison, and a haversack with a collection of exotic insects – some as food, others as tools. She had a mask of feathers around her face, preened and glossy, taloned hands with curved claws, and a velvety black cloak behind her.

She stepped up to the only other figure in the structure. Frozen in place, paralyzed by magic, stood a half-elf. A piece of paper was still clutched in his hands, the trigger of the magic that had taken hold of him. He stared at it, unblinking. His long silver hair fell over the bow and quiver he wore on his back, undrawn and unable to protect him from the trap into which he’d stumbled. He was handsome, Raven thought, at least for a half-breed. Dumb, perhaps, or naive, but handsome.

She gathered up the supplies that she’d left in the house which had been her base of operations for the past week. She also rummaged a bit through the pockets of her victim, though there was nothing particularly valuable in them. Then before leaving, she took the time to write down a note – not a calling card, but something that would give a plain-as-day marker for the victims once they recovered and wanted revenge. The Slaving Syndicate had payed for minimal effort, and so minimal effort was what they were getting.

She patted the elf on the shoulder, knowing that he wouldn’t feel the gesture through the magical enchantment. Did he know how lucky he was that Raven had taken the job, and not some other assassin? Did he understand just how close he had come to a slit throat? Would he even appreciate that the assassin that had come for him and his friends actually sympathized with them, and wanted to see the Syndicate thwarted from spreading its control? Would he seek out the assassin that had attacked, or go after those who had so obviously put the hit out on him?

Raven took a black feather from her pack – not one of her own gorgeous feathers, of course, because she knew how scrying worked – and left it with the letter. It was a gift – the kind of thing an assassin wouldn’t leave unless they truly empathized with their target. It was something for a target who honestly didn’t deserve to die. As much as Raven enjoyed killing, she had a code. That was another mark of a true master.

She stepped out into the streets as a traveler, a dwarf from the capital who was passing through on his way to just about anywhere else. He walked with purpose, carrying all of his possessions on his back, eyes forward, no questions asked. It wasn’t a disguise, that wasn’t how a master assassin worked. If you really wanted to sell it, you had to become it. You had to live it.

The dwarf that was Raven left town that night, stepping into the shadows and becoming anyone and everyone else.


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