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The Cabal of Eight II Pt.19: The Dragon & the Wasp

blue dragon that faces the wasp

Excor (played by Cris) under the influence of the Ghost Form and Invisibility I spells trailed just behind the blue dragon-shaman as he in turn followed the blue lady into the caves from the dusty tunnel. The blue-lady was sniffing the air, apparently tracking the others via scent quite accurately.

Meanwhile, Fauna (played by Jenn), Szoo (played by Isis), Bumble, and Xanto the Wasp were picking themselves up from the wet gravel beach they had landed on after sliding through a slimy chute and over the edge of a 10 ft. cliff.

Szoo: “Hey! At least she can’t follow us through that chute!”

Jenn: “Yeah,” looking over to the GM (me), “right?”

The GM (me): “Um, you guys know she can transform back and forth from human form so…”

Isis: “Aww crap.”

The Wasp chanted a spell and giant wasps appeared under him and Bumble his apprentice. The pair rose above the heads of their former two companions and began flying over the reeking green body of water before them. It was at this moment that Szoo realized that the Wasp was cradling the case. Szoo had forgotten to pick it back up after sliding down the chute distracted by his concern over the dragon.

Cris: *disgusted sigh* “Damned Wasp.”

Suddenly a deafening roar shattered the quiet atmosphere of the cavern. The four mages could see the glowing eyes of the blue dragon in her full draconic form just 20 ft. southwest of them on another bank of gravel & sand.

Excor moved in range of the Dragon Shaman, both still in the passage coming out of the previous cavern (R5 on the map) into the water chamber (R8 on the map). He began to cast Force Ram but fumbled the casting. His invisibility spell dispersed. Fauna rushed to the water’s edge and shouted for Szoo. The Wasp and his apprentice flew their steeds further north turning just in time to avoid hitting the cavern wall.

The blue dragon’s throat swelled and glowed intensely blue before she unleashed a massive blast of lightning at the two wasp-riders. Bumble easily dodged but the bolt hit the Wasp and his mount blasting it to smithereens causing him to drop splashing into the water below. Szoo transformed into a large black sea turtle and began to slide into the water. The Dragon-Shaman spat a lightning bolt at the ghostly form of Excor but it passed harmlessly through.

Excor cast Slow on the Dragon-Shaman but the shaman resisted the spell. Fauna leaped onto the back of the turtle as it slid under the water. The Wasp meanwhile was swimming to the beach immediately to his west his white knuckles still clutching the case. The Blue Dragon jumped into the water plowing through it like a giant shark heading straight for Xanto. She snapped her jaws at the turtle and his unfortunate passenger but the turtle dodged by the slightest margin (by 1 point). The Dragon-Shaman charged Excor and swung his quarterstaff at the adventurer, the blow passing straight through. The Dragon-Shaman looked up possibly re-thinking his combat strategy.

Excor backed up and cast Force Ram again targeting the Dragon-Shaman. The Dragon-Shaman dodged to the side taking a glancing blow. Fauna jumped off the turtle and clawed her way onto the beach near the Wasp (R7 on the map). The Wasp checked the case; it was intact and still sealed. The dragon swam up near the beach on which the Wasp and Fauna were standing rising like a titan from the water. The Dragon-Shaman began casting a spell but a stitch in his bruised side caused him to falter and the spell fizzled.

Excor cast paralyze II on the shaman paralyzing him.

The Wasp took a stance meant to increase agility and focused his light-starved eyes on the dragon before him. The Blue Dragon surged forward to stomp on him but he easily evaded the blow. Szoo as he was right next to the Wasp forced to dodge as well wound up on the opposite side of the monster from that of the Wasp. Bumble flew her giant-wasp-mount over the dragon’s head in an effort to get near her master. Grinning maliciously, Excor canceled Ghost Form and pulled out a magic dagger (+5) and stabbed the paralyzed Dragon-Shaman in the throat but failed to kill him in a single blow. Fauna moved around next to the Wasp.

The Wasp took the same stance and readied. The Blue Dragon blew its breath at both the Wasp and Fauna. Both managed to avoid the lightning bolt completely. Szoo transformed back into his true form and withdrew his Fire Fang (see The Cabal of Eight II Pt.1: The Checkered Eye). Excor again buried his dagger in the Shaman’s throat this time mercifully finishing the job with that final blow. Fauna dissipated into a cloud of mist as she cast Gaseous Form on herself.

The Wasp again took a defensive stance but was also able to quickdraw a scroll from his sleeve. The Dragon snapped her razor-studded jaws at the Wasp missing by a hair. Szoo moved further around to the opposite side of the dragon from his companions and blasted the dragon with a cone of fire from the tooth, to no effect. Bumble flew down next to her master.

Cris: “Man! They’re gonna run! Somebody get on ‘em!”

Jenn: “I’m on it! I’m going to stick to them no matter what!”

Excor looted the still-warm corpse of the dragon shaman. Fauna, in gaseous form, floated up to the dragon’s face, flew up her nostrils, and immediately canceled her spell.

The Wasp leaped onto Bumble’s wasp-mount and read the scroll. A golden glow surrounded him and his apprentice as they began to fade away. Reflexively the dragon sneezed shooting the druidess from one of her nostrils directly into the area of the teleportation spell. In a flash, the Wasp, Bumble, and Fauna were gone.

Immediately, the Dragon swiveled around and grabbed at Szoo who was barely able to avoid the massive claw. Meanwhile, Excor after packing away the loot in his portable hole twisted his silver ring activating the ghost form spell as he rushed towards the commotion. Szoo activated the Temporal Jump ability on his phoenix feather cloak and took a step into nothing completely disappearing. The dragon sniffed around then as she turned to leave, she spotted the faintly glowing ghost form of Excor standing on the opposite shore.

The dragon charged him and stomped around snarling and proclaiming herself “the ocean of the desert” and “the great queen of the mountains, pale yellow forests, and desert sands”. After a few minutes, she lowered her face to his ghostly visage and growled, “I’ll track down that lowly wasp and crush him slowly beneath my feet and then when I reclaim my property, I’ll find all of you!” Excor just shrugged and waved goodbye. The dragon stomped off.

Isis (to Cris): “Wow, dude.”

Cris: “Pfft! She can’t do anything! The Ghost Form on my silver ring lasts for over an hour!”

After waiting a few minutes, Excor started on his way back up unexpectedly joined by Szoo. Together they decided to rent a room for the night in a place called the Shield & Helm Inn near the new amphitheater on the corner of Arena Circle and Tourney Way. They paid the 10 gp for the night and an additional 20 gp for a security detail. Not soon enough did they both collapse exhausted, bellies full of wine and food, onto their soft feather beds.

*And yes dear reader, Fauna the Druid did transform into mist and then went up the dragon’s nose in the game. It worked to stall out one of the dragon’s turns although she did have a chance of falling back into the throat and getting swallowed. I did roll for that.😁 *

To Be Continued…

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The Cabal of Eight II Pt.18: Be Water

The Grey Serpent Captain stood in the entranceway to the Red Helm Tavern’s barroom. Next to him were Jirek the cabal’s scribe and just behind him, the Grey Serpents’ mage who was scowling at Szoo. Gathered against the wall near the bar and the Grey Serpents were the blue lady (aka the Blue Dragon) and her four sword-bearing mercs.

Just past the bar was the publican Draega. Leaning against the bar Fauna (played by Jenn) was staring at the disguised Bumble. Before the bar at a table was Xanto the Wasp and his apprentice and member of the cabal, Bumble, both under the influence of a disguise spell. At a second table in front of the window opposite the bar was Excor (played by Cris) his lit pipe drooping from his lips. Szoo (played by Isis) was just behind him next to the window. Between the Wasp’s table and the bar were Direnda and the Black Eagle Pirates.

The very air itself was still, all the dust and smoke in the room seemed suspended in air as if time had stopped. Even the normal racket from the rest of the place had stopped and those not gazing wide-eyed with anticipation from the other room were filtering out the back way.

Isis: “Aw man, this is TENSE!”

Cris: “Just stay calm, be ready.”

Jenn: “Ready to do what? What’s the plan?”

Cris: “I dunno whatever, just be ready to do something.”

The grey captain began to pull his blade but as soon as the slightest shimmer of blade shone, the room filled with the sound of singing steel as both the Black Eagles and the Mercs pulled their weapons in unison. With a click, the captain pushed his sword back into the scabbard.

Direnda (pointing her magic blade at the Wasp): “THAT is our client’s property thief!”

The Blue Lady (motioning as if the case would just be handed over): “Hmm, Looks like you’ve lost your commission Draega. THAT is mine.”

The Grey Serpent Captain put his hand on Jirek’s chest and began backing out of the tavern with his two companions.

Szoo (almost hyperventilating): “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!”

Cris: “Crap! I was hoping they’d do each other in. C’mon, fight!”

Draega, with a dumb grin pasted on his face, backed slowly out of the room before disappearing completely.

Suddenly, the Wasp stood up, his disguise spell shedding from his bright yellow and black striped form, and a black cloud of stinging-wasps poured from his sleeves flooding the room. The place was in chaos; the mercenaries and the pirates were screaming and flailing their swords wildly. Excor leapt up towards the window followed by Fauna. The shields of the druid and Excor shimmered as a charge was spent. Szoo suffered a few stings. The Blue Lady’s chest swelled immensely as her eyes began to crackle with electricity.

Cris (referring to the black cloud of wasps): “A death cloud huh? Damned Wasp!”

Jenn: “What? Death Cloud?”

Cris: “Yeah, he summoned a Death Cloud, it’s a wasp swarm gestalt.”

Jenn: “Oh yeah, I remember those.”

*I used the creature a few times in another campaign a long time ago.*

Excor (trying to signal to his companions): “Get by the window, cut him off!”

The Wasp and Bumble ran right into the three mages. Without warning, a thundering blast of blue-white electricity filled the room destroying the black cloud of wasps and shattering the lattice window. The three mages could see the blue lady right behind the Wasp and his apprentice. Xanto had just enough time to smile once at the trio and then unleashed a spell in desperation. However, the magic got out of his control and the last thing the Wasp, Bumble, and the three adventurers could remember was a flash of crimson light and the sensation of falling in complete silence for an interminable amount of time before they came crashing down.

As the dust settled the trio of mages, Xanto the Wasp, Bumble, and the Blue Lady gathered their senses. The Wasp had cast a teleportation spell that got out of his control the magic going wild. The Wasp had teleported away all those near him and the front part of the tavern including the floor, the lower part of the façade and the front door. They had landed wedged into the alleyway just in front of Fauna’s rented house.

Fauna and Szoo ran to the brand new front door of their home. Excor cast Invisible to Sight on himself. Bumble twisted a ring on her chubby fingers without hesitation teleporting away in an instant. The Blue Lady charged the druid and punched her hitting her shield with a powerful thud. Xanto spotted the lost case. It was almost 10 feet from where he was.

Fauna drew her dagger and stabbed the Blue Lady, a violet filed of energy emanated from her gold bracelet and zapped the druidess with negative energy. Fauna moved away from the house. Szoo opened the door and moved in. Excor cast Shadow Ribbons on the Blue Lady but she easily resisted its shadowy energies. The Blue Lady charged Fauna again, her small pale fist whistling by the druid’s head, missing the target by a hair. Xanto charged to the case and bent to pick it up.

Fauna grabbed a dose of yellow lotus from her cloak and readied to toss it into the eyes of the dragon. Szoo used his Ring of Fearsome Form to transform into a hideous winged shape and shot towards the case. Excor used his Silver Ring of Ghost Form. The Blue Lady moved swiftly next to Xanto. In a panic, Xanto cast a teleportation spell and disappeared leaving the case and its invaluable contents behind.

The Blue Lady blew a blast of her electrical dragon breath at Fauna dispelling her last shield for the day. The druid responded by deftly tossing the yellow lotus dust into the monster-lady’s eyes temporarily blinding her. It did not have any of the poisonous effects that Fauna had hoped for, however. Suddenly, a distant roar sounded.

Fauna cast Gaseous Form on herself and drifted towards the house. Excor hovered through the walls into the house and Szoo snatched up the case and then flew into the open doorway. They had the intention of hiding out in the secret tunnels below.

As they fled inside, Fauna saw the blue dragon retreat away around the corner still in her human form. Szoo the last in line to get into the house saw a gigantic shadow lift off from the top of the slavers’ castle and fly in their direction. They barred the door behind them and then stood there for a second listening. After a few minutes, they could hear a loud sniffing sound, as if two large nostrils were investigating the teleported tavern wreckage in the alley. Then they heard a loud blast, the air from the wings of a dragon taking off. It had been the resident dragon, Gristle-Talon. The mages let out a collective sigh and then Fauna and Szoo ran down into the cellar.

Excor canceled his ghost form spell and ran to his room to gather his stuff. He shut the door to his room and began gathering some “essential” items and spell components. After several minutes, he hears something like footsteps just on the other side of his bedroom door. He carefully moved to the door and cast Scry: Simple. The spell allowed him to see through the door. He saw the Blue Lady and her shaman walking away from his door and to the cellar door. A gem on her tiara was glowing stronger as she neared it. Suddenly, she reached down, wrenched the heavy wood trapdoor from it hinges, and tossed it across the room.

Meanwhile, Fauna and Szoo were moving as fast and quietly as they could down the long hallway and into the caves to try and “find a way out”. They both hear a pair of feet following them. Szoo turns and looks down the hall behind them, with his heat vision he could see the Wasp and Bumble following them. Fauna calls them out.

Xanto the Wasp: “Heh, heh. So, um, we find ourselves in a mutual rock-and-a-hard-place situation, eh, friends?”

The pair of adventurers debated only briefly about what to do about them. Szoo wanted to kill the Wasp but Fauna was dead against it.

Cris: “Pfft! Kill the Wasp!? Good luck. That guy is probably pretty powerful plus he’s higher level than all of us!”

Jenn: “Then why doesn’t he just fight the dragon?”

Cris: “Because she’s a DRAGON, she has high spell resistance. She shook off my spell like nothing.”

The companions in the mushroom caves moved into a chamber in the north (R6 on the map). The cavern was covered in mushrooms and there are uneven clumps of giant mushrooms that were glowing faintly blue and leaking a clear, slippery slime all over the cave floor. Foothold was precarious over the slimy uneven floor.  Fauna inspected a pit that she found at the far north of the chamber. The other three as they moved past her slipped almost in unison and slid as they fell into a smooth chute like passage (the slime chute on the map). Fauna maneuvered her way to the mouth of the chute and yelled to make sure everyone was okay. They were fine so she jumped down to them.

Meanwhile above in the cellar, Excor watched as the Blue Lady and her mage descended. He quickly cast Invisibility I on himself and followed as quietly as he could as the pair found the secret door that had been left open, and they moved into the tunnel.

To Be Continued…

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The Cabal of Eight II Pt.17: Finding the MacGuffin

Excor (played by Cris) and Szoosha (played by Isis) found themselves escorted by the Grey Serpent pirate crew to the Western Cliffs District. The pair had surprisingly talked the pirates out of murdering Jirek right there, by selling out the Wasp. As they neared the gates to the northern half of that section of the city, they both could see Fauna (played by Jenn) waiting in a rickshaw across from the gate under the shade of an aqueduct arch. Excor had managed a Whisper spell to her during the long walk.

Essentially, the plan was to get the pirate captain to meet with Bumble who would hopefully turn on her master. It was a longshot but the mages had nothing else. Jirek and the captain walked to the gate while Excor, Szoo, and the other five pirates including the half-giant, waited a short distance away.

The two mages and the ill-tempered pirates waited in awkward silence. Fauna kept her eyes locked on the group. Suddenly, the Ferenoi cleric turned her head and locked eyes with the druid.

Ferenoi Cleric (pointing at Fauna): “YOU!

Isis: “Aw, crap.”

Jenn: “C’mon! We can take ‘em!”

Immediately, and as she approached, Fauna cast Wizard’s Trick on the Ferenoi Cleric. The cleric shrunk into a snail. Szoosha tossed an Alchemist’s Fire at the second Ferenoi, the swashbuckler, singeing her armor. The swashbuckler replied by throwing her javelin at Szoo whom parried the projectile. Excor cast Invisibility I on himself. The half-giant surged forward swinging his heavy claymore at Fauna barely missing her. The mage with the wolf-skin mantle cast Elemental Blast (water) at Szoo but the Naga’s shield protected him. The Feren pirate unslung his steel shield and ran up next to the Ferenoi swashbuckler.

Fauna stomped on the snail.

Jenn (addressing the shocked look on her sister’s face and Cris’ laughter): “Hey I was gonna let her go but she just had to keep it going!”

Szoo tossed another alchemist’s fire at the swashbuckler but the Feren pirate immediately blocked the flask with his shield. The swashbuckler pulled her falcata and slashed at the Naga but the blade was stopped by the Naga’s shield. Excor twisted his Ring of Verminous Might and grew large insect-like wings. The half-giant swung again at Fauna striking her shield. The mage waved his hands and a small ball of ice formed before him that suddenly shot at Szoo who dodged it. The shieldman readied to defend the swashbuckler with his steel shield.

Fauna cast Wind Rush forcing the Half-Giant to dodge as well as knocking down, and blowing away the mage. The swashbuckler drew her dirk, slashed with her sword, and stabbed at the same time with her dirk. Szoo parried both weapons with his flaming naginata that instantly appeared in his scaly hands. Excor cast Amber Husk on the Half-Giant instantly trapping him in a large iceberg of solid glistening amber. The shieldman continued to ready to defend the swashbuckler.

Fauna tried to cast a spell but it fizzled. Szoo used his magic bracers to use Armor Bane via touch on the shieldman’s shield. The shield immediately crumbled to dust. Excor activated his Jet Amulet of Shielding. The swashbuckler again took a double strike with dirk and sword against the Naga striking and dispelling his shield. The mage, on the ground almost 100 ft. away, melted into a flow of water that quickly disappeared down a gutter. The shieldman got a javelin from his back.

Fauna cast Wizard’s Trick on the swashbuckler transforming her into a snail. Szoo touched the swashbuckler’s leather armor, which rotted away and fell off.

Isis: “I LOVE THESE BRACERS!”

Excor used his Copper Spike and shot a bolt of electricity at the shieldless shieldman wounding him slightly. The shieldman in turn, tossed his javelin at Fauna missing badly. Fauna stomped on the snail and the shieldman cried out in grief. Szoo swung at the shieldman with his naginata but tripped over his own tail. Excor caught the grieving shieldman in an amber husk ending the skirmish.

The three mages were unable to savor their easy victory however as the alarm bell began ringing above the gates. Guards began streaming from the guardhouse surrounding the great monoliths of amber. The mages quickly realized that the guards were focused on carrying away the two large pieces of semi-precious amber. Excor, still invisible, flew over the gate and headed towards Bumble’s house. Fauna and Szoo slunk away and through the gates while the guards were distracted.

Excor made it to Bumble’s family property and dropped himself in front of the Wasp’s hovel. It was wide open and he could see both Jirek and the pirate captain tossing the place. Suddenly, Jirek shouted, “I found it!” The captain immediately ran over to him and they both pulled the iron sea chest into Excor’s view. The captain yelled, “No, no, no!” He flipped open the chest lid. “Someone opened it!?” It appeared to Excor that the chest had contained a case according to the lining, one that was narrow and long.

Excor (mumbling to disappointedly himself): “Of course the Wasp already opened it.”

Excor flew back to the front of the property in time to intercept his companions. He canceled his spells and filled them in on the news. They decided to go back to the White Prong for some food and ale and wait to see if Thorn the beggar would make an appearance.

Later that afternoon around a table in the bustling White Prong, the trio of mages sat around a table after finishing their meal and ordering a second round of dark ale.

Excor (to Fauna): “You did find Thorn right?”

Fauna: “Well, I was asking around for him.”

Excor: “Good enough. He’ll hear us.”

As if on cue, a young street urchin wandered into the tavern and walked up to the mages’ table. He introduced himself as Xete and told the mages that Thorn’s coin has been bought but he could help them granted they could buy his coin for the day. Excor promised him a platinum piece if he could locate Xanto the Wasp who was probably in disguise and traveling with his protégé Ilna of Nezorik aka “Bumble”. It was test to see if his coin was worth purchasing of course. The boy bowed and jaunted off.

For a few hours the mages sat and drank, Excor smoked his pipe. It was nearing evening when the street urchin seemingly appeared at their table. The Wasp and his apprentice were sitting in the barroom of the Red Helm. Excor flipped the boy the promised platinum piece with the promise to buy his coin tomorrow morning.

The three mages virtually ran to the Red Helm and as soon as they were inside of the door, Szoo spotted an old man sitting at a table nearest the bar and a young girl pacing back and forth next to a black leather case that leaned against the table. The pair looked nothing like the Wasp or his apprentice but the three mages surmised they were under a Disguise spell. Excor took up a position at table exactly opposite them. Szoo slithered up to a position next to the front window in case they made for the door. Fauna sauntered up to the bar; she caught the young girl eyeballing her from the corner of her eye.

The three mages were just starting to decide a plan of action when the Black Eagle pirates with Direnda in the lead filtered into the place. They crowded the space just in front of the bar their hands on their weapons.

Isis: “Oh no.”

Three warriors in blue followed by the blue dragon in her noblewoman form strode in. The warriors immediately took fighting stances at the sight of the pirates.

Jenn: “aw man.”

A few seconds later, Jirek, the Grey Serpent Captain and his Mage jogged in through the door and spotted Excor but as the captain’s hand met his weapon, he noticed the crowded room as did his companions.

Cris: “Sheesh!”

At that moment, Draega fluttered in from behind the bar on his way towards the blue lady but then noticed the full and very tense room.

Draega: “Aw crap.”

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight II Pt.16: Dragon Chase

The wheels of the rickshaw were clattering on the wet cobblestones as it zoomed through the dark streets. Intermittent drizzles had glazed the city deepening the shadows and causing even the smallest candlelight to glare off the wet stone and plaster. Great clouds of steam rose all around from sewer grates helping the mages’ rickshaw to stay hidden in their pursuit of the dragon’s coach. Szoo (played by Isis) slithered at top speed next to his companions ridding in said rickshaw. The rickshaw-puller was pumping his legs furiously and panting heavily.

Eventually, the carriage slowed after arriving at the far northeast sector of the city. The rickshaw in turn kept at a two-block distance. The coach turned onto Slavers’ Circle and into the Slavers’ Quarter. It stopped in front of a slave mart flying the flag of the Golden Devil Company the gravel of the auction yard crunching under the iron-shod wheels as it pulled alongside a colonnade.

The rickshaw stopped around the corner from the coach on North Avenue, a drift of sewer-fog helped to hide the three mages from the coachman’s view. As Fauna (played by Jenn) and Excor (played by Cris) leaped from the rickshaw, Excor dropped another 2 silver pieces into the puller’s sweaty palm who then immediately took off in the opposite direction.

Excor and Fauna cast Invisible to Sight on themselves and Szoo with little trouble. They waited and watched. The carriage departed shortly after a footman from the mart appeared and guided the lady dragon inside the yard. As far as the mages could tell the mercenaries in blue left with the carriage.

Isis: “What’s she doing here!? Looking for slaves?”

Cris: “Maybe, we did put her guys on ice er, in amber. Ha, ha, ha!”

Jenn: “She’s in league with the slavers?”

Cris: “Naw! Yes she is! We know who made those collars!”

                The mages hurried, invisible, to the iron gates. The lock was built into the gate and very solid. The gates themselves were set in a whitewashed adobe wall, twelve feet high, behind a gallery its roof supported by a colonnade. The gallery roof was tiled in copper rather than the typical red terracotta or blue slate so common in the city. Szoo easily slithered over the wall next to the gallery and helped Fauna over. They kept hold of each other’s hands in order to stay together. Excor used his gold Ring of Verminous Might (The Cabal of Eight Pt.44: Betrayed At Last!) growing insect wings and flying over the fence.

They were now in the gravel yard within the bleach-white walls of the slave mart. The yard, bounded by the 12 ft. tall adobe wall, was large and of packed gravel. To their immediate right was the locked iron-gate and to the left was a longhouse, with whitewashed plaster walls and terracotta roof. It had small barred square windows and a large barn door on the front and back. From it oozed the hideous stench of rotting corpses. Further away at the center of the yard, was a large round stone-lined pit surrounded by a collapsed wooden structure, probably a fighting pit and collapsed bleachers.

Immediately to the right of the pit sat another longhouse that boasted three smokestacks, a kitchen the mages surmised. Further north of that was a smaller longhouse, yellow firelight shone from the two square windows that the mages could see. The footman and the blue lady were just entering this building. Fauna and Szoo hustled towards it. At around 100 ft. above them, hovered Excor.

He saw that a larger building took up the rear of the yard built right up against the rear wall. Its tiny windows were barred and the arched front entrance appeared as the caged face of a prison. From this building, the reek of human misery drifted. This was the slave barracks. Excor sneered and realized that the rear wall abutted against the crenulated wall of the Slavers’ Castle. He gazed up at the massive stone structure only a few windows lit in the pitch black of night. Then he saw the thing that froze his blood solid in his veins.

Resting atop the large keep was the shadowy outline of a full-grown dragon. It was the resident brown-fang dragon paid by the slavers to guard their castle and service the city when required. This dragon’s name was Gristle-Talon. Its great shadow limned head swung, the eyes gleamed white for a second reflecting the scant light of the city. Excor froze in mid-air and waited to make sure that that great beast had not detected him. The pair of white pinpoints passed over him without reaction. When he was satisfied that he was indeed safe, he floated gently down to the gravel.

Meanwhile, Szoo and Fauna were peeking through one of the small square windows of the only lit longhouse in the yard. The pair realized that this building housed the guards, footmen, and a few servants. The footman who had guided the dragon into the house pointed to a guard sitting at a table, his dice game apparently cut short. Szoo could overhear the dragon demanding her “dinner” as she was “hungry”. The guard looked reticent as he rose and fumbled with a key ring on his belt. He gestured her to follow as he led her from that building. They were heading southeast at a rapid pace.

Szoo and Fauna maneuvered around taking shelter behind the corners of the few buildings trying to follow their quarry at a distance. In their excitement, they had let go of each other’s hands and thus had no idea where the other was. Excor immediately flew back up into the air trying to keep out of the dragon’s sensory range.

Jenn: “Okay, so she’s headed to the kitchen right?”

Isis (looking at the crude ad-hoc map): “I don’t think so, that would be here, so…”

Cris: “Kitchen yeah, pfft, that kitchen doesn’t have enough food for that dragon!”

The blue lady slowed her pace and in the blink of an eye, her humanoid form rolled out and elongated into that of a very large adult blue dragon. The tiara, necklace, and rings all still adorned her true form; they had changed as well to fit the creature. All three mages felt a twinge of fear but were able to maintain their wits. Meanwhile, the guard had jaunted to the building that sat at the far southern corner and left of the gate. He unlocked and threw open the barn door and ran away back to the guardhouse at full speed not once looking in the blue dragon’s direction.

The dragon stuck its head into the open door and began pulling out the corpses of dozens of humanoids, most were Meren frog and lizard men but others were human. The mages were meanwhile trying to maneuver as close as they dared. Then bones began to crunch. Fauna could barely contain herself.

Jenn: “Ugh! That’s DISGUSTING! I wanna kill this b!#%h right now!”

Isis: “YES! Let’s do THIS!”

Cris: “Whoa! What about that other dragon, the brown-fang!”

Jenn: “Damn.”

Isis: “Oh yeah, I forgot about him.”

                The mages maneuvered themselves to the iron-gate and decided against attacking the dragon outright, especially since the current circumstances were against them. They did argue for a little about if they should just “get her now” but ultimately they decided to flee and look for a better chance to face her down.

                Fauna cast Gaseous Form on Szoo and herself and they floated away towards the street. Excor flew to the copper roof of the gallery, carefully looked around for any watchers, and then flew straight home.

By the time they had arrived home, the door and the floor were fixed. The first to arrive was Excor, one of the carpenter’s apprentices was there waiting to hand him the key. He sat down after taking the key and dismissing the boy then lit his pipe. The other two walked in a short time later. A few minutes after that, they had formulated their plans for the next day. Fauna would scour the streets for and hire Thorn. Excor and Szoo would show up at Jirek’s warehouse to “check up on the rats”. Actually, they were using that as an excuse to see what he was up to and if that had anything to do with the dragon.

The next day – the 25th of Monsoon, the shouts and ringing bell of a town crier woke the three mages at the crack of dawn.

The Crier: “Marshaling in the South Market District Plaza! Rebels must be quelled in the far west at Serpent’s Back Ridge! All healers, men-at-arms, warriors, and mercenaries welcome, good pay!”

After breakfast, the trio split up to carry out their plans and investigate some leads. Excor and Szoo headed towards the harbor and Fauna decided to head back to the Slave Mart. After paying for a rickshaw ride, she soon found herself standing before the gallery of the mart she had burglarized the previous night. The slavers were hanging up colorful strings of pennants and installing chains to iron loops between the columns. She approached a fancy looking gentleman who seemed to be in charge. He immediately swung around and yelled, “get lost wh@!e, I’m not interested!”

She balled her fists and started walking away but spotted Vor Jetl in a trademark green silk jacket with gold dragonfly clasps. He was filing towards the gravel auction yard with a small group of other merchants. The chubby merchant was there to purchase some more servants. He would speak to her later, over lunch at the White Prong.

Vor Jetl (to Fauna): “Frankly, I cannot be seen with you little sister, er, priestess.”

He whispered the last word so only she could hear. With that, he wandered away from her and she similarly began to walk away. She had no idea how she was going to find Thorn.

Meanwhile, Szoo and Excor had spotted the pair of ratlings trailing them. Szoo spotted some sort of insignia on them but did not recognize it. It was a pair of black daggers crossing over a red scorpion. Excor cast spook and frightened one away. His companion followed, unwilling to confront the pair of mages alone. Not long after that mild inconvenience, the pair arrived at the warehouse. It was locked tight. Szoo used his cabal medallion to Whisper to Jirek. They consigned themselves to waiting.

Meanwhile, Fauna was at the bank depositing 5 emeralds and 5 sapphires. She also cashed out 3 emeralds (with a 10% surcharge). She figured she would use that to pay Thorn if she could find him. However, she was still unsure of how she would find him or where.

At the warehouse, after about an hour of waiting, the cabal scribe finally arrived. Jirek apologized to Excor and Szoo but as he had a working warehouse now it had to be secured when he was not there. The pair shrugged and followed him inside after he unlocked the door. The place was only about a quarter full stacked with several crates and barrels in one corner. A large sea trunk made of iron sat by the stairs to the basement.

The place was well lit the light beaming in from the small glazed windows above. When they were last here, the windows had been filthy and muddied the scant light they did let in. The crates and barrels had several different marks on them including a few with a big black eagle painted on them. What really caught their eyes though was the trunk by the stairs. It not only had a large black eagle painted on it but also had several runes on it, it was magically sealed.

Isis: “Aw man! He’s got Direnda’s stuff!”

Cris: “Relax, play it cool. I’ll talk to him while we’re checking the rats.”

                The two adventurers began checking their rats in their cages they were in great shape. There was also a makeshift bed in the corner that had been slept in recently. Excor surmised that Gornix might have been hiding out here. Excor then turned to Jirek and began to ask him about his pirate friends when the crash of breaking glass from the floor above interrupted. The three dashed upstairs in time to see the large iron trunk whisked out of a broken window by four giant wasps.

Excor: “The WASP! Dammit! I knew it! I knew he was gonna show up!”

Isis: “Oh gawd, the Wasp! Of course he would show up!”

                The warehouse door flew open. Standing there were Jirek’s pirate friends, the Grey Serpents. Their captain in the lead they shuffled into the warehouse. Following the captain were the Ferenoi swashbuckler, the mage in soft leather, and a man in full scale-mail and horsetail-tasseled helmet. Following him was another tall amazon Ferenoi. She appeared to be a priestess or maybe cleric of some type her grey cape adorned with a large white lightning bolt billowing behind her. Outside was yet another member of their crew, a Hill-Lander Half-Giant in scale-mail and leather gauntlets armed with a heavy claymore.

Grey Serpent Captain: “A-Ha! Jirek my friend! We have found our buyer and we are here to pick up the *ahem* cargo. We have your coin! Congratulations! We are out of your hair ha ha!”

Cris & Isis (simultaneously): “Aw crap.”

Jirek was at a loss for words.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight II Pt.15: Something On the Table

The evening of the 24th of Monsoon – The wet tops of hardtop carriages passed rapidly by, the clatter of hooves, and the patter of uncountable hordes of boot heels as endless flows of pedestrians moved on either side of traffic through a street ripe with a layer of horse manure accented by a foreseeable but occasional splash in a filthy puddle. Sometimes, a rickshaw would glide over the muddy paving stones of Silver Circle Street. Szoosha sighed as he continued to gaze out through the window at the traffic roughly 20 ft. below in the dimming light. It was the black-scale naga’s habit to wait by the window for the boring cabal meetings to finish. The others sat around the old mahogany table in the cluttered, dirty, little clubroom.

Grey Serpent Sign on the table

The only thing that had been exciting so far had been just before the meeting. As Szoo followed, Excor had passed the bar into the rear hallway looking for Draega, the publican. There the pair saw Draega finishing a screed aimed at three rough looking customers over some “rowdiness”. All three were definitely pirates. The leader was a tall, very heavily muscled human; his skin was fair as was his hair, likely a Fuglotian from the far north. A rapier slung from his thick belt. He was wearing bear hide armor with a wolf skin mantle about his shoulders, over his breast hung a leather bib with the image of a grey serpent sown into it.

The second was another fair-skinned human, another Fuglotian, however this man was much more slight with soft leather armor, a grey serpent sown on the breast, and a wolf skin mantle on his shoulders. He appeared to be some sort of mage possibly a specialist. The last was a Feren swashbuckler. She possessed a beauty like a polished piece of obsidian, attractive and cold with a hard, sharp, and perfect symmetry. Again, a wolf skin mantle hung from her broad shoulders and a pale serpent adorned the leather bib that hung over her chain mail shirt. The horsetail tassel that hung from her polished helmet was bright white even in the candlelit murkiness of the tavern. A dirk and a falcata hung at her round hips.

Consequently, the pirates walked away snarling under their breaths at the chubby publican. Of course, Excor and Szoo were welcomed with open arms. Apparently, Excor was cutting a deal with Draega to sell him a hogshead of fine mead for a very good price. As a gesture of goodwill, Excor passed him a jug of the stuff as a free sample. Soon after, the pair of mages joined their company upstairs in the clubroom. As they took their seats, Szoo noted that Jirek had a fine new cloak and a pair of very shiny gem-adorned rings. Szoo awoke from his reverie with a snort as Excor piped up at the table.

Excor: “So! I guess I should warn everyone here that a group of pirates, the… the Black Eagles, are looking for someone at this very table!” He leaned back with his pipe, “Just a warning.”

Subsequently, Excor, Fauna, and Szoo all noticed that Jirek nearly choked on the smoke newly drawn from a shiny new carved bone long-stem pipe. He then took a hearty gulp of the good complimentary red wine that Draega Skullshine habitually sent up to keep from coughing up a lung.

Isis: “Aw, no Jirek, what have you gotten yourself into now?”

Cris: “Yeah, well, we’ll have to talk to him about it when we get a chance after the meeting.”

After all the standard motions of the meeting were concluded, the adventurers related the story of the mushroom king (see The Cabal of Eight II Pt.9: Fungus Force Five) to the rest of the cabal. Subsequently, Jirek spoke up saying that he recognized the necklace. He had seen an illustration of it somewhere in the library. It had belonged to an ancient wizard that came with the Westlanders when the city fell the first time 600 years ago. There was something else about it, but he just could not remember what it was at the moment.

When Excor and Fauna questioned Jirek about his new “bling”, the scribe responded that his warehouse business was doing “quite well”. He even has had to “lock it up”. Soon after, Belrae, the apparent self-appointed leader of the cabal, dismissed the meeting. Rhiam sat quietly by his friend the entire meeting, unusual for a bard. Bumble likewise, remained tight-lipped, never making eye contact with Fauna even as the druid tried to get her to talk. The others quickly left the room, the trio of adventurers lagged behind.

After deciding to grab some dinner in the tavern below, the trio walked down the stairs. They noticed Jirek was still in the place and sitting at a table by himself. So, they decided to join him. Bumble was also still in the tavern though the three mages were unaware as to why. Shortly, after the food was laid on the table, a steaming platter of heavily spiced sliced beef and small bowls of a thick broth with small pieces of chopped vegetables in it, the three Grey Serpent Pirates walked by, the leader tweaking his head to the scribe motioning him to follow. Jirek jumped up from the table and joined them at a table in a dark corner of the theater. Suddenly, Bumble swished by following Jirek and the pirates.

Szoo: “I don’t like this.”

Excor: “She’s doing her master’s bidding probably keeping an eye on Jirek… for some reason.”

Fauna: “Aw man! Maybe we should rescue her.”

Isis: “Geez sis! Why don’t you marry HER!”

Jenn: “Shut-up!”

Cris: “Pfft! The Wasp is her master, that’s how she’s learning her magic! Rescue her, right. Pff!”

The three adventurers were considering their options while trying to keep the pirates, Jirek, and Bumble in view. Suddenly, a small group of warriors draped in powder blue Actons, stomped into the tavern. Following them, a fair noble woman with pitch-black hair and stern of expression glided in. Black fragrant oiled curls dangled on the sides of her delicately featured but stone hard face as her bright blue eyes scanned the barroom.

She had on a long blue and silver silk dress cut in the Hyvalian style. Also she had a diamond-studded silver tiara in her hair with a large central blue-sapphire and a diamond necklace that hung over her upper breast from which five silver acorn charms dangled. On her right wrist, she had a silver bracelet and on her left a gold one.

Fauna: “Holy crap! That’s the dragon. Aw, man! I ran into her in a jewelry store!” (see The Cabal of Eight II Pt.3 Blue Cloaks & Bankers)

Szoo: “Oh no, Oh no, Oh no…”

Excor (after taking a deep breath): “Just take it easy, let’s just sit here and see what’s going on.”

Cris (to me, the GM): “I prepare to activate my ring of invisibility; I want an initiative roll against her if she spots us to go invisible.”

Immediately, Draega fluttered up to her, did a courtly half-bow, and kissed her hand. He motioned, probably to guide to her to the back or basement to converse in privacy but she was not having it. Her face was stone, her stance was solid with confidence but her hands were fumbling with the expensive lace and bone fan she was holding. The trio did their best to read lips in the chaos and noise of the bustling tavern but all they got was that she was upset about a delivery. Apparently, whatever it was it was late. They also recognized a couple of words on Draega’s lips as “Black Eagles”. The blue dragon’s entourage turned and began to leave without noticing the three mages.

Fauna: *Gasp* “Draega’s involved with her!?”

Excor: “Of course he is! He’s a scumbag, criminal connect!”

The blue-clad warriors, probably mercenaries, filtered out into the street, meanwhile Jirek and the Grey Serpent Pirates rushed passed the mages’ table and out the door. Bumble rushed past shortly thereafter.

Excor: “Okay let’s go.”

Szoo: “Wait, who’re we following?”

Excor (in an unsure tone): “All of ‘em right now.”

As soon as they were out the door, the three mages caught a glimpse of Bumble twisting a gold ring on her finger instantly transforming into a small bumblebee that buzzed off after Jirek and the pirates. That group was already disappearing from sight conceivably heading towards the harbor and Jirek’s warehouse. Alternately, the trio spotted the blue company who were mounting a carriage that appeared to be preparing to leave in the opposite direction.

The three mages were completely unsure of which party to follow as both began to disappear from view in the distance.

Isis: “Crap, crap, crap…”

Jenn: “Um, hmmm, jeesh, I dunno, I kinda wanna follow Bumble even though she’s kind of a b!#ch to me now.”

Cris: “No.” *sigh* “Let’s flip a coin.”

To Be Continued…

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The Cabal of Eight II Pt.14: Beggar’s Coin

Symbol on Ferenoi after winning bid on coin
A symbol of the Feren goddess Euornn Goddess of the Ocean, Treacherous Mother of the Gods, and Enemy of Men.

24th of Monsoon – The dawn was just a pink-gold band starting on the horizon and the great purple moon was fading into existence via the growing light yet the three mages had already risen. Soon the auction for Thorn’s coin would start and their opposition might be the blue dragon in disguise. As a result, the mages prepared for battle tossing on potion bandoliers and carefully selecting magic items and wands from their personal armories. Very soon, they were out on the streets with an energetic gait towards the southernmost part of the West Cliffs District and the White Prong Tavern.

The wet cobblestone streets were empty and the cool, moist scent of the city, not entirely unpleasant, a combination of the wet stone and the brackish run-off congealed with the smell of all the city’s kitchens and bakeries merged with the spicy desert scents of the headland as it drifted lazily away over the sea. The only traffic at this early hour was the scant presence of the rag pickers, muckrakers, and street-sweepers finishing their labors. Just as the golden light of dawn began to bathe the gleaming streets, the trio of mages arrived at the White Prong.

They entered the whitewashed establishment finding its many round tables and chairs empty save for in one corner. Those tables crowded with buccaneers. One was casually flipping a coin, slapping it to the table, and staring as they entered. Sitting at a table near the counter was the beggar Thorn, sipping a steaming cup of tea. Sitting up from the three tables worth of pirates was their leader, a young woman the mages had pegged for the blue dragon.

She was a dark-skinned beauty, darkened not just from the scouring by the sun at sea but by a detectable Creschan descent, her black hair was thick and hung heavily to her muscle rounded shoulders. She was wearing a suit of sleeveless brigandine armor with the chest buckled open exposing the black eagle tattoo covering her bared chest. A high-quality silver saber hung at her side its pale sapphire pommel stone glittered like a serpent’s eye. A silk blue sash girded her thighs with a knotted gold fringe that dangled over her loose fitting pantaloons and knee-high sealskin boots.

Her second mate also stood abandoning a hot cup of mead. He was a tall baldheaded Ezmerian with an eye patch over his right eye. At his hip dangled a heavy cutlass. His costume was much the same as his presumed captain. In addition, there were six other crewmembers at the tables wearing open-breasted black leather jerkins.

Isis (Szoo’s player): “Y’know I don’t think she’s the dragon.”

Cris (Excor’s player): “Well I already figured that!”

Jenn (Fauna’s player): “Oh yeah, I guess not.”

As the mages stood and stared at the pirate crew and the pirates glared back in perfect silence, the tension in the room might have been plucked like the string of a lyre. The woman’s deep green eyes narrowed on the three mages shooting daggers in their direction.

Thorn (abruptly breaking the awkward silence): “Okay! Everyone’s here! Let’s begin the bidding on me services shall we! Heh-heh. My coin will not be cheap!”

Cris (shaking his head in disbelief): “That b@st@rd Thorn.”

                After a brief but intense bidding war and a full breakfast the trio of mages found themselves outside of the White Prong as the breakfast regulars began to filter in. They had won the beggar’s coin and already sent Thorn on his way with a mission to find more information on the blue dragon otherwise known as the “Ocean of the Desert”. The buccaneers had left in a huff just moments after losing the bid-war.

                The mages decided to head home after all they had a cabal meeting come evening. So they walked for some time making their way onto Arena Circle headed into the Shop District going north towards the Tourney Grounds. The streets now teemed with people and the group’s progress became more difficult as they walked around knots of folk and had to wait for the occasional carriage, horse, or ox-wagon.

                After a while, Szoo turned to his two companions and insisted that two of the Black Eagle pirates were following them. Fauna and Excor simply did not believe him thinking he was a victim of his own paranoia. Partly to ease his own nerves as well as throw it in the faces of his companions, Szoo angrily slithered over to the two sailors. They were leaning against a wall acting as if they were just nonchalantly smoking their ivory pipes. The pair just turned and started walking away all the while keeping their eyes on the group of mages in a not so subtle manner.

This finally bringing Excor’s and Fauna’s attentions to the matter. Because of this minor confrontation the group picked up their pace and in an attempt to be clever they ducked into an alley. However, the path was much longer and circuitous than they had anticipated yet they tried to keep up a rapid pace. They had been moving along the narrow alley for some time with little hope of seeing an exit into the streets anytime soon when Excor stopped the other two.

Excor: “I can hear boots, lots of ‘em! Coming up from behind!” He drew his amber wand (see The Cabal of Eight Pt.37: The Black Tombs Pt.1).

Szoosha cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (Fire) on himself. Fauna tried to duck behind a rain barrel and hide. But she only succeeded in knocking it over and drawing attention to herself. Moreover, the second-mate, the one with the eye-patch, drew his heavy cutlass, which now the mages could observe had a serrated blade. Then Excor activated his Jet Amulet of Shielding. Three of the foremost crewmembers drew their cutlasses. Lastly, the pirate leader drew her silver saber, which shone with a strange, ghostly light in the dimness of the alleyway.

Isis: “Oh great! A magic sword!”

Pirate Leader: “You all wouldn’t happen to know a mage named ‘Jirek’ would ya?”

Excor (putting on the air of a prototypical tough guy): “Never heard of the guy! Who the hell are YOU!?”

Pirate Leader: “Direnda, newly captain of the Black Flyer, the three-masted Vhalica in the harbor. Weeks back we were attacked by pirates bearing the image of a Grey Serpent. They have some of our client’s property and we were told that one-named Jirek is their main man in Ezmeria. We’ve also heard he’s a member of some cabal of mages.”

At the mere mention of Jirek, Szoo freaked out. Immediately he slithered away in the opposite direction of the pirates at full speed.

Cris: *Sigh* “Dammit Szoo. How am I supposed to bluff her now?”

Excor: “We have no quarrel with you, there’s lots of mages in this city!”

Consequently, Direnda stood like a stone pillar studying the wand-wielding mage through narrowed lids for several minutes. Finally, she relented and her crew followed suit. Without a single word or an apology, the sailors turned and returned from where they came from. Fauna and Excor let out a pair of loud sighs.

Excor: “Now where did Szoo go!”

A little while later, regrouped the three mages emerged from the end of the long alley onto the street. They were just in time to observe a large Ferenoi holding a dirty street urchin by his scrawny neck. Her grey cape billowing as she seemed intent on strangling the kid. All the while he held a coin purse in a death grip. Subsequently, the three mages could see the big white lightning bolt embroidered on it. Around her neck dangled a crystal-encrusted silver lightning bolt pendant. She wore a suit of black soft leather armor with a grey serpent coiling sown to the chest. These in addition to polished bronze bracers and greaves as well as a polished steel open helm with a red horsetail tassel attached to the peak.

Fauna: “Hey you! Leave that child ALONE!”

Consequently (Natural 1 reaction check), the tall amazon dropped the ragamuffin in a filthy puddle, turned to face the druidess, and pulled her falcata from its sheath. Fauna readied for a fight.

Szoo slunk to a fair distance to keep a lookout for any city guards. Excor cast Slow on the Ferenoi. However, the amazon grabbed her pendant and seemed to pray, instantly Excor’s spell was undone. Fauna cast Wizard’s Trick instantly turning the amazon into a snail.

The crowd that had begun to gather to watch the street fight began booing. They also began calling for the guards, “there’s rogue wizards!” Fauna picked up and chucked the snail before looking for the boy. The kid was long gone. Therefore, the trio too decided to run away.

Eventually, after ducking through a few different alleys, the three mages arrived home. The carpenters were measuring and sawing planks of wood out front. The head journeyman thumbed at the broken door setting against the outside wall next to the front entryway. “That’ll be 1 copper coin more for the door”. Excor tossed him the coin. The carpenter began to test the metal with his teeth when a large burp came from the stables causing him to jump out of his skin. The horse whinnied in his stall.

Excor (dismissively): “Don’t worry it’s just the druid’s giant frog.”

Jenn: “Oh yeah, I almost forgot all about him. I wonder if I can ride him around? Oh yeah, I also forgot about that horse.”

The GM (me): “Wait. You have been feeding them I hope.”

Isis: “Oh yeah, my guy and Fauna have an understanding, I feed her animals when she forgets or is gone.”

Later come evening, the trio was leaving to go to the Red Helm Tavern for their customary cabal meeting. Thorn appeared in the alleyway leading out into the street. He reported on the location of the “Ocean of the Desert” to the mages giving Excor the address. In return, Excor flipped him back his coin.

Thorn (as he walks away): “If ya ever need my services again, jes’ mention my name to any beggar on the street and I’ll hear ye!”

To Be Continued…

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The Cabal of Eight II Pt.13: Silver Collars

The blue dragon slave collars were stamped by the Golden Devil Company

Water came rushing at least six inches deep across the floor planks. Szoo (played by Isis) rushed up a slanted plank meant to substitute for the cellar steps into the main room just in time to see the barbarian in blue waving his massive tulwar as he roared charging Excor (played by Cris).

Jenn (Fauna’s Player; to the GM): “Wait! Wait. Didn’t I take that from him when he dropped it?”

Me (the GM): “Yes you did. But when Fauna looks for the sword, it’s not where she left it.”

Cris: “Yeah, that’s right, alright. It’s dragon treasure.” *shrugs*

The broad blade of the barbarian’s sword whooshed past Excor’s face. Excor took a 5-foot step back, drew his sword, and cast Mage Armor to protect himself. A human shaman with scaly skin moved in through the shattered doorframe bearing a polished black quarterstaff in quilted blue robes. He also wore a horned helmet on his head. Immediately he pointed his finger at Excor and a Lightning Bolt exploded on Excor’s mage armor. Following him was a mage in the same quilted blue robes but with a flowing blue-silk cape around his narrow shoulders. On his left hand, he wore a copper ring and on his right, a gold-ring with an inset ruby. Two more humans in blue came in behind the mage. These were twins, each armed with a high-quality silver cutlass. Fauna opened her bedroom door and the bleariness in her eyes instantly burned away.

Szoo began to slither onto the floor of the main room. The heavily muscled barbarian wheeled towards Fauna as he was within arm’s reach of her and slashed at her. Fortunately, the blade bounced from her automatic shield. Excor unleashed a Cone of Fire singeing the shaman, twins, and barbarian but burning the mage was badly. The shaman’s throat suddenly swelled to the size of a grapefruit and he spat a bolt of electricity at Excor blasting away some of his mage armor. The blue mage touched his gold ring encasing himself in mage armor. The twins continued to move into the room soon able to join the fight. Fauna tried to cast Wizard’s Trick on the barbarian but the spell fizzled.

Szoo finally got into a position to join the fray. Excor cast Shadow Ribbons on the barbarian but he easily overpowered the black tentacles of the spell. The barbarian swung at Fauna again but hit another shield. The dragon-shaman tried to cast a spell but it failed and only sparks flew in his face. The first twin cast a spell and a scintillating ray from his finger shot at Excor chipping away at his mage armor. The other twin was maneuvering closer trying to come at Excor form the opposite vector from his brother. Fauna successfully cast Wizard’s Trick but the magic went wild and after a multi-colored burst of light, the barbarian was squatting on the ground, hopping here and there with a rabbit’s head on his wide muscly shoulders.

Isis: “Ahahaha!”

Jenn: “Ewww!”

Fauna moved out of her room’s doorframe into the main room. Szoo moved to meet the advancing front of blue-clad invaders pointing his finger at the first twin. A Ray of Fire blasted a big black scorch mark onto his robes. The dragon-shaman shot a ray at Excor blasting away his mage armor. The blue mage pulled an onyx necklace from under the collar of his robes. Suddenly he popped from where he was to 10 ft. from the left of Excor. The first twin moved towards Fauna, she still just out of reach of his cutlass. The second twin slashed at Excor who parried causing their blades to clinch. Excor dropped his weapon and risked a spell in close quarters. The risk paid off. The second twin’s blade froze inches from his throat as the Paralyze II spell took effect just in time. The rabbit-headed barbarian continued hopping around.

Fauna cast Wizard’s Trick again, this time on the first twin turning him into a rabbit. Szoosha shot a Ray of Fire at the dragon-shaman wounding him. The dragon-shaman responded with a shock ray wounding Szoo badly after the naga failed to dodge. The blue mage waved his hands and water formed from the air encasing the naga in a floating bubble of water. The swirling waters caused his Elemental Half-Plate to boil away and disappear. Excor went to the rabbit-headed barbarian, lifted the collar off, and tossed it to the side.

In turn, Fauna stooped and lifted the silver slave collar from the rabbit that had been the first twin. The dragon-shaman spat more electricity at Fauna exhausting her magic shields. Excor stepped back from the direction of the blue mage and activated his jade amulet of shielding. Szoo was drowning.

The dragon-shaman moved towards the blasted front entrance shouting at the blue mage directing him to, “run we’ve got to retreat!” Fauna quickened another Wizard’s Trick aimed at the dragon-shaman but he easily resisted. Alternately, Excor quickened Shadow Ribbons at the same target but found it too difficult to cast.

The dragon-shaman steeled himself at the threshold. Fauna sent a rush of wind at him but he dodged out the door. Szoo concentrated harder than he had ever before in his life and his flesh became fire, the bubble of water exploded into a rush of steam. The blue mage once again grabbed his polished obsidian necklace and suddenly appeared near the threshold ready to flee. Excor cast Shadow Ribbons on the blue mage but the spell turned on him. Before he could act, he was entangled in his own spell. Fauna readied to cast Wizard’s Trick on the blue mage when she noticed he was glancing from a silver collar on the floor back to her and mouthing the words “do it”. Therefore, she obliged him. After Excor dismissed the shadow tentacles, the trio ran out of the front entrance and into the alleyway but the dragon-shaman was gone.

The group discussed quickly what to do. They had figured since the collars came off with ease after the dragon’s slaves were transformed into rabbits. Fauna, remembering the signal from the blue mage, convinced the other two to let her release the magic. After all, they could use some allies against the dragon. A few moments later, all four of the blue gang members were themselves sans the silver collars.

The former slaves were overjoyed at their newly realized freedom. Apparently, the collars prevented all disobedience to the dragon and her lieutenants. They were all adventurers; the twins were native Ezmerians, captured just south of the coast off the Pale Highlands by naga slavers who sold them to a vessel of the Golden Devil Company. They were purchased a handful of years ago by the dragon here at the slave markets. She calls herself the “Ocean of the Desert” and rules a small kingdom and fortress at the base of the Snaketeeth Mountains across the river and beyond the Wirgold Forest. Meanwhile, the mages took the time to inspect the collars. Excor could not directly identify the powers of the collars but all could clearly see the maker’s mark on all of the collars was the sign of the Golden Devil Company.

Excor: “Damn slavers working with the dragon.”

Fauna: “Really!? Why would they work with a dragon?”

Excor (shrugging): “Pfft, they’re all evil!”

Excor (to the barbarian): “Hey! Where is she staying?”

The Barbarian: “A fine house in the Western Cliffs District. She kept us in the basement.”

The Blue Mage: “There’s also a cave underneath that leads to some sea caves under the city. She acts as royalty, she’s a real admirer of Hyval. And beware the dragon shaman, he worships her. He draws his power from the spirit of a blue dragon. He doesn’t wear a collar.”

Unexpectedly there was a flash of blinding white light. After it faded, all could see the collars were returned to every one of their unfortunate necks. All four collapsed to their knees and cried in anguish.

Isis: “Aw, this isn’t going to be easy is it?”

Cris: “Of course not! It’s gonna be hard because it has to be! Of course it’s gonna be hard!”

Excor: *sigh* “Okay, I have a solution, for now.”

The Barbarian (through gritted teeth): “Hurry! We cannot resist the collars for long!”

The cabal mages pledged to the slaves to kill the blue dragon. Around the table, the players then mulled over their options even, at Szoo’s suggestion, considering killing them all. After checking their own characters’ alignments, the players made a decision. A short while later there were four new pillars of amber in the rear courtyard alongside the one containing the blue thief (see The Cabal of Eight II Pt.10: The Blue Thief). After the dragon was dead, they would free them including the thief.

They set the front door to the side and generally cleaned up the best they could. The group had decided to go to the White Prong come dawn not to purchase Thorn’s coin but to meet the dragon whom they believe to be Thorn’s employer. Fauna went to formulate four healing potions. Szoo slathered himself with healing salve and went to rest; the naga was in especially bad shape after absorbing some much of the dragon-shaman’s Shock Ray. Once the house was straightened up and Fauna had finished brewing her potions, the three mages went to their respective rooms to rest and heal.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight II Pt.12: Peek-a-Blue

Blue deluge at the door

Morning, 23rd of Monsoon – Fauna (played by Jenn) stumbled into the house from the street looking even more haggard than usual. Wordlessly she felt her way along the walls to her room and shut the door softly behind her. Szoosha (played by Isis) who just finished feeding Fauna’s animals had noticed the polished stones around the druid’s neck glistening in the strong early light. Mesmerized by the sparkle the black scale naga stared at them, his serpent-eyes tracking them until Fauna was behind her bedroom door. Excor (played by Cris) was reclining in quiet contemplation.

Szoo: “Oooh, shiny! I like shiny things!”

Cris (studying his character sheet and mumbling under his breath): “Hmm, huh, mmmr, okay, no, what, pffp, er, okay, alright. That’s it, that’s what I need.” Cris flipped his well-worn character sheet on the table in front of him.

Excor (giving the naga the c’mon hand signal): “I’m going to the bazaar to pick up some supplies, we better go together.”

They left the house headed towards the bazaar. The sky was a dull even gray and the air was heavy and moist and smelled strongly of brine. Taking a sudden detour they decided to stop at the Carpenters’ Union to hire some carpenters to repair the floor and trapdoor into the root cellar. Excor hired a local carpenter that served their row. He would send an apprentice for 1 copper to assess the job. A short while later, they arrived at the bustling indoor bazaar where Excor was looking for three one-gallon jugs (5 sp ea.), one copper funnel (2 sp), and a jar of glue paste for 1 silver piece. Szoo purchased 5 glass potion bottles at 1 gp each.

After finding what he needed, and stuffing the items in his bag of holding, Excor left for Wensaer’s Alchemy Shop (The Cabal of Eight Pt.7: A Red Rat), Szoo followed. At Wensaer’s however, Szoo purchased two bottles of Alchemist’s Fire at 100 gold pieces each. As the pair left, Wensaer inquired after Gornix, the old man seemed worried. The others simply said they had not seen him in a while now. The old wizard twirled a pinch of his white beard between his fingers.

Later, the pair of adventuring mages browsed Baba’s Apothecary, the air spiced with a pleasant mélange of exotic flavors and tobacco. Excor picked up 4 ounces of the mid-grade smoking herb mix and 1-ounce of Lotus Wort for 4 silver pieces. Lotus Wort is a hairy moss harvested from along the Serpent Coast that can reduce the duration of the effects of lotus pollen and in the case of the Black Lotus, change the death-effect to sleep if consumed before. Baba was not much for conversation but she was fretting about the next shipment of lotus and deep forest medical herbs, it was late. They left the shop, Excor packing his pipe with fresh herbs, and turned out onto the crowded street.

The pair of adventuring mages was walking at a leisurely pace finally on their way home. Unexpectedly, Thorn the beggar tripped directly into their path from behind a rain barrel. Szoosha jumped behind Excor and wondered aloud if they should do something, after all, it was obvious that he was following them. Excor, however, took this opportunity to engage him in conversation.

Excor (instantly putting on a false air of friendly joy): “Ah! My friend Thorn! So glad to see you!”

Thorn (a little leery): “Uh, yeah. Hey, uh you got any o’ those herbs to spare?” He pulled out a charred corncob pipe.

Excor (tossing his smoke pouch to him): “Of course my friend. Here. You, uh, wouldn’t happen to have any info for me would you? Anyone we should know about maybe following us around?”

Thorn: “Hehe, naw there’s nobody like that!” He tossed the bag back to Excor, lit, and then took a tug on his old pipe.

Excor: “So, what is your price anyway? We can beat whoever’s employing you right now.”

Thorn (suddenly stepping back and putting his hands up): “Whoa there! Whoa there. The guild would my head, there’s rules, ironclad, cannot be broken.”

Excor: “Well, we are interested in getting some eyes and ears on the streets if ya know what I mean!”

Thorn: “Well, my coin is up fer the bidding. She holds my coin currently but if ya outbid h…my employer tomorrow at dawn in the White Prong. I’m all yers!”

Isis (gasping): “Oh no! She’s got him too!”

Excor: “Well, my friend we need to be on our way. How about we walk and talk.”

Thorn (between puffs): “Okay.”

Cris: “He slipped up. The probably has his coin. Well, we know where she’s going to be at dawn.”

Isis: “Alright, we’re gonna fight a DRAGON!”

Cris: “We need to prepare! We can’t just fight her in the White Prong we’ll wind in guild court again!”

Isis: “Oh yeah, I forgot about that.”

Consequently, the pair of mages and Thorn the beggar were walking at a rapid pace in the direction of the alley through which Fauna’s rental sat. They were maybe two rows from their destination when without warning Thorn wheeled around.

Thorn (starting into a light jog): “Bye! Looks like I gotta go!”

Instantly, both Excor and Szoo spotted them. Walking directly towards them were 2 scrawny humans each wielding a high-quality silver cutlass followed by a large barbarian, probably Fuglotian by appearance, in a horned helmet with bronze bracers, a black leather war belt girding his waist and a very large superior quality Tulwar in his hands. To their left was another human, probably a mage of some type, with a quarter staff in his hands and bronze bracers on his wrists. All four were in quilted blue robes.

Szoo: “Crap! It’s them.”

So Excor swept up the Naga in his blue cape (The Cabal of Eight Pt.31: The Welfare of Rats) and teleported them both home into the center of the main room. Someone began pounding on the door. Excor approached cautiously telling Szoo to “get ready” before yanking the door wide open. A carpenter’s apprentice stood there a little surprised. He was here to take measurements and assess the damage. His work took little time, soon enough he presented Excor with a contract.

The price would be 1 gold piece and 5 silvers, Excor quickly signed it. In short, tomorrow the apprentice and two journeymen would arrive after breakfast. The young boy left as soon as he finished reading out the terms. Some time had passed since the pair of mages had spotted the dragon’s men, they were certain that the Blue Dragon Gang had not been able to track them back to the house.

Excor walked into the makeshift alchemy lab and began filling the jugs with the mead from his magical golden chalice (Cabal of Eight Pt.38: The Black Tombs Pt.2). Meanwhile, Szoo went down into the cellar and into the secret passage to bottle some naphtha. A very quiet hour passed then suddenly without warning with a thunderous rush of water the front door is blasted from its hinges.

Excor shouted out, “Assassins!”

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight II Pt.11: The Labyrinth of Weird Death

The paths and twisted walls of the labyrinth disappeared in all directions into a hazy blue-green horizon. Clouds of blue-green mists rolled over the impossible landscape and the fabric of reality itself seemed to seethe and roll, as do the deeps of the ocean. The dense, moist air was cool and made her head swim. It smelled overwhelmingly of fresh-cut greenery carrying the spice of moldering wood. The walls of the labyrinth also seemed to shift with the tide rearranging in the wake of each swell. She could see no center, no goal towards which to strive.

The Decapitator Throne

Again, she began drifting towards the black iron spikes atop the wall. Fauna (played by Jenn) canceled the power of her ring of levitation. She had snagged the ring from the group treasury, the hiding place in the clubroom back at the Red Helm Tavern. The druidess had made a quick stop there before heading out to the secret meeting in the secret caverns beneath the Old Amphitheater.

Her feet landed softly onto the cold stone. She found herself back in a narrow lane of the maze. The floor was of damp flagstones and the walls were a chaotic patchwork of adobe, fired bricks, natural stone, and mortar. From every crack, uneven surface, and fissure grew twisted woody branches, clumps, and patches of hairy and bright green mosses, as well as flows of yellow slime molds. The great flagstones were also uneven causing the floor of the lane to undulate up and down, so deep in places that one could hide in the dip easily from others approaching from either end of the seeming infinite lane.

Fauna exhaled and began moving forward turning with every corner into identical lanes, some short, some dead-ends, and some choked with woody vines and dead branches. Occasionally, she happened upon the corpse of a fellow competitor for head priest/priestess of the Brotherhood of the Rope. She turned a corner and saw a giant pale mushroom blocking the way with the terrified face of an initiate sinking and disappearing into it. She turned the corner.

Not long after that, she found a huge clump of limp black roots blocking her way lying across the way. The druid was going to climb over it until she saw a pale human arm hanging out of the clump banded by purple bruises as if squeezed by ropes or tentacles. She quickly changed direction. Along the way, she managed to avoid a tripwire, a trapdoor, and a spring-loaded scythe blade as she progressed. Eventually she came upon a high narrow red-lit opening in the wall that glowed yellow with firelight.

She slipped into the lit and comfortably warm chamber. The walls and low ceiling were of finely masoned but large blocks of stone that shone red-orange in the firelight that blazed from the two large golden braziers. Before her was a throne carved of the same stone as the wall blocks with an imprint of the reclining human form in the stone with a golden and jeweled crown where you would expect, over the crown of the human-shaped crevice.

She noticed a young girl with long black hair standing against one of the walls, another initiate. The girl had sneered at her in the lineup.

Jenn: “I hope that b***h dies.”

Isis: “Sis!”

Jenn: “Well, she was mean to me!”

Stepping in front of the throne was yet another blue-robed petitioner, Fauna also recognized him from the lineup. Certainly, she and this pair seemed to be the only surviving pledges to have reached the center of the labyrinth. The man contemplated the throne, at its foot was a high step carved with druidic script. It said, “A good druid is humble.”

He strode over to the step bowed his head, said what sounded like a brief prayer and sat in the broad stone seat. Immediately the golden crown dropped to his shoulders around his neck, he screamed, then the seat and back of the throne opened like a trap door and his body and severed head dropped into an unseen sepulcher. Consequently, the stones swung back and the blood that covered it slowly faded and disappeared. Fauna grabbed her neck.

Jenn & Isis (in unison): “Oh boy!”

The young girl chewed her upper lip then stepped forward violently. Then she yelled at Fauna to “step back you heifer!” She strode forward full of class-born bravado. The girl stopped on the step of the throne suddenly aware she had no solution to this puzzle. She turned to Fauna and the expression on her face turned from terror into an arrogant reserve.

Young Girl (solemnly): “If I am fated to die then I am reserved to my fate.” She lowered herself lightly into the cold, hard seat. The crown slid down and she let out a “gack” at the same time as Fauna heard a mechanical spring sound. Blood burst from her mouth. Her severed head and the decapitated corpse fell into the depths beneath the throne. The spots and spatters of dark blood disappeared. The throne was solemn again and even more threatening.

Jenn: “Crap it’s my turn right?”

Isis (to Jenn): “Oh my gawd! You’re gonna die!”

Isis (to me): “Can’t we help her solve this riddle!?”

The GM (me): “Nope.”

Cris: “Naw we can’t help her! We’re not there! Sorry but we’re not there!”

Jenn: “Maybe I should just sit down on the throne.”

Isis & Cris (in unison): “NOOO!”

Finally, Fauna sat with her legs crossed, she contemplated the throne and the inscription at its foot. She took a small dose of Yellow Lotus powder from her robes and snorted it. Shockingly, she was able to maintain consciousness. What played repeatedly in her fevered brain afterwards were Anishi’s words just as he pushed her into the labyrinth’s aperture, “Tread with care my child and be humble”.

Fauna: “Ah-Ha! I got it!”

Immediately she walked over to the step before the throne and kneeled upon it as if in prayer. The stone gave the slightest bit and she could hear a click somewhere inside of the throne. She then rose and sat down in the seat. The gold crown dropped onto her head then she saw a section of wall to her right suddenly slide down and reveal a recognizable chamber in the cave beneath the amphitheater. The crown rose back from her head and she rose as if in a trance towards the exit.

In unison both Jenn and Isis let out a loud sigh.

The next thing Fauna could remember was that Anishi put a necklace of polished raw gems around her neck. After that, she only remembered slogging home through the streets and the hammering light of dawn in her normal dirty robes. She was starving and every muscle screamed along with her lotus-soaked brain. It felt as if she had been in that place for several days rather than a few hours. Her feet really hurt.

Jenn (a sudden realization shooting through her eyes at me): “Oh my gawd, I could have really died.”

The GM (me, shrugging): “Well, yeah.”

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight II Pt.10: The Blue Thief

20th of Monsoon – Dawn was breaking but the sun’s rays were stifled behind cloud-darkened skies and drowned in the heavy, humid air. Stray raindrops randomly pelted the roofs, and cobblestones of the city as well as the heads of retreating rag pickers and soot-brushes. The fitful sleep of two of the cabal members was disturbed by the approaching ringing bell of one of the many city criers.

The Crier: “Hear ye! Hear ye! The city marshal has declared that all those found to commit the crimes of theft, murder, and assault within the city limits that are not citizens of our great city and are found to be the crew of known freebooter and privateer ships will receive the penalty of death! Ships whose crews comprise of more than a handful of such criminals will be banished from harbor come hell or high water!”

Excor (played by Cris) and Szoo (played by Isis) stumbled and slithered from their rooms, slowly due to their bruised and aching bodies roused by the crier’s bell and spiel. Already, Fauna (played by Jenn) was grinding the remainder of her herbs into two doses of healing salve for her wounded companions. As both Szoo’s and Excor’s wounds were still grievous. Fauna, on the other hand, was in perfect health. After finishing the salve and having applied it, Fauna cleaned out the stable and left for the market district. The other two went back to their beds to heal.

Later, in the afternoon, the sun had peaked between the clouds and Fauna was returning from the market with her horse attached to a new wagon loaded with a few months’ supply of oats and hay. As she led the wagon back home she entered the alleyway and only then noticed a tail, someone was stealthily following her. Calmly, she unhitched her horse and put him back into the stall next to her giant frog, tossed that thing a bag of mice. She left the wagon just off the stables. Suddenly, she rushed through the door and shouted.

Fauna: “I’m being followed!”

Immediately, both of her companions leaped from their beds and met her at the door against which she was leaning.  All she could relate about her pursuer was that he was wearing blue with a short, matching cape.

Isis: “*Sigh* Is this the dragon again?”

Cris: “Who else would it be!? Of course it is! Blue cape, sheesh, of course it’s the dragon! Or her slaves.”

Excor rushed to the door and carefully, quietly, cracked it and peeked through. He scanned the scene outside the door from the alley wall to the stable. By a split second, he missed the fleeting glimpse of a blue cape disappearing into the hayloft above the stalls. Because of his spotting nothing, Szoosha cast Heat Vision on himself. In turn, Excor cast See the Invisible on himself.

Excor peeked back out the door and spotted Thorn the beggar ducking behind a rain barrel. He yelled at Thorn to leave while Szoo, head above Excor’s, spotted a heat trail moving from the ground and up into the loft. Thorn waved as he jaunted off after a shrug.

Szoo: “Guys! I got something! I think he’s inside already!”

Excor immediately slammed shut the door and turned. Almost by accident, he caught sight of a cape trailing behind its wearer as it flapped from above down behind a piece of furniture.

Excor (pointing the blue thief out): “Assassin!”

Fauna readied herself to cast Sleep as soon as she could see her target. Szoo moved around to get a better line of sight and was able to spot the blue thief. The short, brawny man was dressed in a powder blue padded/quilted robe with a bright blue silver-trimmed cape and cowl and a broad black belt. He was armed with paired superior quality silver daggers each with a large quartz crystal in the pommel. Excor cast shadow ribbons but the magic went wild. The black ribbons of shadow suddenly expanded into a cone of blazing red light and the thief shrieked in terror, he stood and turned to run through the back door. Fauna let loose her sleep spell but it had no effect.

The druidess let loose a lightning bolt; the thief dodged the bolt easily and tumbled through the back door into the rear courtyard. Szoosha charged towards the back door and made it outside into the small courtyard amongst Fauna’s chickens and goat. Excor moved up to where he could see the thief readying to scale the wall and cast paralyze I. The thief froze in his tracks.

Cris (to the GM): “That was some sort of crazy fear spell huh? Hey! Can I try to remember what I did with that spell with my spellcraft?”

The GM (me): “Yup, um DC uh 20, it was wild magic. Totally randomly rolled spell too.”

Cris: *roll*roll* “Damn, naw, I didn’t get it.”

Szoo had the paralyzed thief tied up with a rope he took from the thief’s belt. Fauna sensed some very strong magic from the silver manacle around his neck and the medallion with dragon-scratch runes that dangled from it. She simply tried to pull it off as it did not appear to be even locked or clasped but it did not budge. It even seemed bonded to the thief’s skin. Fauna then double-checked the ropes making sure they were tight. Szoo then inspected the collar and found the maker’s mark. It was the mark of the Golden Devil Company (The Cabal of Eight Pt.6: Gold Devil).

Szoo (panicking): “Oh no! We made some BIG enemies guys!”

Cris: “Whatever, we’re adventurers, it’s what we DO!”

The three mages stood around while the chickens clucked and gathered around their feet expecting to feed. They did not know what to do with the man. The magic slave collar without a doubt would lead the blue dragon straight to them. They quibbled back and forth for some time before they finally decided on what was to be done with him. They did not want to kill him; after all, he had no choice whether or not to obey the dragon. They also did not want to take him to the guards. The trio did not know how deep the dragon’s connections went. They decided to freeze the thief in amber.

Excor cast Amber Husk, an ancient spell obtained from a scroll they had found in the Lotus Vaults. Excor looked at his handiwork. The thief in blue could be seen at the center bottom of an iceberg of glistening semi-transparent amber.

Excor: “That’ll do it.”

That situation dealt with, for the time being anyway, the trio decided to try to rest until their next cabal meeting on the 24th. However, Fauna had a meeting with the Brotherhood of the Rope on the next full moon, the 22nd.

The next day, Szoo and Excor were sleeping the day away, Fauna, alternately, had hitched her horse up to her wagon and was going shopping around the Old Market District and the Bazaar. Soon her wagon was packed with a 1 lb. bag of healing herbs, another 1 lb. bag of yellow & pink lotus soaked smoking herb (of which she was currently partaking), a wood cage with four chickens in it, a sack of feed enough for a month, an empty 1-gallon ceramic jug, and 5 potion bottles for Szoo’s naphtha. She had watched Thorn while he had followed her the entire time as well.

She signaled the grey-cloaked beggar to jog up next to her she was riding in the saddle.

Fauna: “So…you old beggar… still spying on us?”

Thorn: “Yup! Just business y’know!”

Fauna (flipping Thorn a silver piece): “No info?”

Thorn: “Well, I’d be amiss in my duty if I didn’t ask about certain Pirate friends, ahem, certain friends of certain people maybe?”

He eyeballed Fauna for a reaction, there was none so he continued.

Thorn (pulling out his pipe; Fauna offered to light it): *ffwwwp* *exhaling* “Certain pirate friends of a certain party stealing from certain other people and yet other people, friends of certain people maybe? No. Well, those people hiding the treasure and those people’s friends maybe knowing something about it?”

Thorn glanced over at Fauna with a squint in his eye. Again, she did not react so he shrugged and took another tug from his corncob pipe.

Fauna (exhaling, her eyes sparkling with lotus): “Maybe we can hire you as…..our… houseboy? We could pay you a lot of money.”

Thorn suddenly tore off after shooting Fauna a polite smile. Someone was evidently waiting for him near the corner the pair quickly disappearing into an alley. However, Fauna could not focus enough to see who had been waiting for the old beggar. She lazily trotted her way home through the crowded streets as she toked on her pipe.

The following afternoon, Excor had spotted Thorn hanging out in full view around the house and he decided to see what he wanted. Excor tried to interrogate the beggar but found the old man was far too clever to get any useful information out of him. Even so, they conversed for quite some time. Eventually, Excor gave up and tossed him a silver to move off. As the grey-cloaked beggar walked down the alleyway towards the street he unexpectedly asked, “Hey! You know anything about a Cabal of Eight?” Excor was shocked but hid his surprise well enough that he was sure the old beggar did not read it.

Excor (waving bye): “No, no. Never heard of it! If I find anything out I’ll tell ya!”

Thorn (walking away): “I’m all ears!”

Cris hissed, “Dammit!”

Isis: “Whhat!?”

Cris: “They’re getting close! Too close! Dammit.”

Jenn: “Meh. We can handle it.”

Late that night when the full moon was high, Fauna found herself standing amongst a lineup of certain other characters, all drawn from the anonymous ranks of the cult, the Brotherhood of the Rope. Those in the lineup and her were all stark naked slick with sweat; the caverns under the old Amphitheater were sweltering. Those not participating in the “trial for high priest” were still in their dark blue ropes and hoods with a golden noose around their necks. Anishi, the caretaker of the grove, was presiding.

The cult had gathered in a deep chamber next to a very narrow entryway carved into the rusty, living rock. Vor Jetl “the dragonfly” had told Fauna that the trial would be a lethal one it would be the labyrinth. “Avoid the traps and you will make it to a final test, fail and no one will ever see you again.” Good advice as far as she could gather, after all, he was “on her side”. Apparently, the narrow opening was the entrance to this labyrinth.

Anishi gave the word and one-by-one the candidates walked up to him and he spat lotus powder into their faces, kissed them on the forehead, and pushed them through the aperture, “Tread with care my child and be humble”.

To Be Continued…