Broken Moon

Ascanor Lodge

A day’s travel after encountering Miage-nyudo and his entourage, the party once again ran into trouble, this time just before coming upon Ascanor Lodge. A sudden crashing through the underbrush, and Taco’s hurried report, heralded the arrival of no less than twelve werewolves in hybrid form. Their leader shouted a proclamation against “Mordinacht”, claiming the unknown person would never have the throne of Shudderwood, before the pack launched into an all-out attack on the travellers.
Though Taco tried to confuse them with his ventriloquism trick, he was unsuccessful, the leader dismissing it simply as “Lozarov’s trickery”. Though a heated battle erupted between the two forces, the party was well able to hold their own against the Shapechangers, with Barna taking the brunt of the assault while the others unleashed their own storm of attacks. Dekhaim, in bear form, proved particularly adept at using his spells to sow chaos in the werewolf ranks, scattering them with explosions of rot and eventually forcing many of them to attack one of their own.
Soon, the battle was over, with only a single werewolf left alive, but paralyzed, its spine all but ripped out by a vicious attack from Sterbird. The party interrogated the remaining wolf, but was unable to learn anything of real value, save that this clan, the Vollensag, were highly opposed to someone named Mordinacht taking the throne. At their prisoner’s behest, the rest of the party moved onward while Barna stayed behind to give him a brief warrior’s death.
Shortly after dealing with the werewolf attack, the group came upon a clearing with a body strung haphazardly to the tree in the center. Though his skin was pale and a clump of flowers Parva identified as Wolfbane was shoved in his mouth, the most probable cause of death was the silver knife embedded in his chest, implying that the man was once a werewolf or, at least, that his attackers thought he was. While searching around the clearing, Barna triggered a trap, unleashing a hail of crossbow bolts which bounced harmlessly off his armor. Meanwhile, Dekhaim discovered a bloodied envelope containing an invitation to Ascanor Lodge for someone named Etchmoor Dravin, presumably the unfortunate man strung to the tree.
Leaving the clearing behind, the party moved onward, finally arriving at the lodge the following day. Though they presented their Order-issued invitations to the head porter, a squinty halfling with spectacles, he refused them entrance, stating that their appearances and battle-ready attire made them ill suited for a stay at the Lodge. In addition, though they all had invitations, there was none for Barna, whom they had picked up on the way. Tataco quickly came to the rescue, however, stating that they were all performers, and playing a song on his silver flute far better than anything the party had heard him produce before. Similarly enchanted, the porter happily offered them entrance, opening the gates and allowing them into the Lodge.
On the other side, a crowd of nobles and their servants had gathered to gossip about the new arrivals, but were quickly interrupted by a procession of hunters on their way out the gates. The leader of the procession, or at least the most exuberant member, introduced himself as Duristan Silvio Ariesir, and the other, more gruff hunter, as Delgros Kroitzcer. Though initially cold and dismissive, Duristan’s attitude immediately changed when he realized the group was composed of real adventurers, and he practically begged them to come along on his werewolf hunt. Somewhat taken aback, the party refused, and the rest of the procession left even as the porter returned. Offering apologies and mugs of hot coffee, the halfling led them to the lodge’s second floor to meet its caretaker, whom he introduced as Estovion Lozarov. An aging man with grey hair pulled back in a ponytail, Lozarov greeted them and offered them the use of two of the libraries on the second floor before excusing himself and heading further upward to his personal study.
The porter apologized for the inconvenience, but stated that the lodge only had one room to rent, as they were not expecting guests, and that anyone not staying in said room would have to make their own arrangements. So it was that Parva and Wolfe took the single room, while Taco stayed in the stables with Mantidora, Banjo, Sterbird, and Dekhaim, while Yuuko and Kendra took up space in the servant’s quarters.

The next day, the group took up places around the breakfast table and met with the rest of the residents of Ascanor Lodge. To be more precise, all but Taco sat at the table, while the ranger seamlessly slipped into the hustle and bustle of servants, going so far as to cook and serve food for the other members of his party. Shortly after most of the residents had arrived, a tall, bald man with an eyepatch arrived, whom Yuuko immediately recognized as the mysterious “Kojiro” who had been asking about her. The two went into discussion and it was revealed that Kojiro had also been a survivor of the undead attack which wiped out Yuuko’s village. The two agreed not to bother the other patrons by speaking of such things at dinner, but Kojiro invited the other to his room later, saying he had something he wanted to show her.
Meanwhile, the other party members surveyed the room, noting that Delgros and Duristan, returned from their hunt, seemed somewhat morose, each not meeting the other’s eyes. An older nobleman named Cilas Graydon caught Parva while he was eating and asked if he had seen or heard of his friend, Etchmoor Dravin, who was supposed to have arrived several days ago. Remembering the bloodied envelope with Dravin’s invitation, but choosing to say nothing, the Doctor deflected his questions, saying he had heard nothing of the sort.
As breakfast wound down and the patrons returned to their own business, the party was left alone in the dining room as Estovion arrived for a late meal. The group made some small chat with him, then moved on to the real reason for their presence at the Lodge, their investigation of the Whispering Way. When Lozarov claimed ignorance of any “cults” or “strange activity” on the premises lately, they proceeded to ask him directly, but again he denied any knowledge of the Way or its activities. As Estovion excused himself and left for his study, Dekhaim noticed a small ass left underneath his plate, upon which was written “Your investigations place you in grave peril, friends.”

Later, Yuuko arrived at Kojiro’s room, and was welcomed in by the tall Eastern man. She noted that while descriptions had told of him having two katana, only one hung on his hip, the other presumably the one which was displayed prominently over the hearth in a shining golden sheath. Kojiro spoke to Yuuko of many things, saying that after the village had been destroyed he had escaped and trained with a sect of monks, becoming a professional undead hunter. Upon hearing that Yuuko had been seen in Ustalav, he had come to the country, hoping to tie up those last loose ends still connecting him to his past. After hearing his story, Yuuko tried to excuse herself, but Kojiro suddenly became more intense, refusing to let her leave.
His true intentions were soon revealed, as he drew his katana and advanced on Yuuko, claiming that he must kill her to finally sever all ties with his past and leave behind the powerless young boy he once was. Though she did not want to harm him, she had little chance but to defend herself as they exchanged blows. Kojiro was a skilled swordsman, but it quickly became apparent that Yuuko had the upper hand. Before anyone was seriously injured, Barna, drawn by the sound of fighting, burst into the room, interposing himself between the fighters and incapacitating Kojiro. Though he made as if to stab himself as a last act of anger, the katana fell limply from his fingers and he collapsed, unable to continue. It was then that Yuuko heard a whispering from beneath his clothes, and, as Barna carried him to the bed, discovered an amulet in the shape of a gagged skull. It was revealed that Kojiro had kept the amulet after killing a group of Way cultists, thinking it would be a good trophy, but it had had some ill effect on his psyche, causing him to act in such irrational ways and attempt to take Yuuko’s life. As Yuuko crushed the pendant, Kojiro fell into a deep slumber, but not before telling her to take the sword on the mantle, as he was no longer worthy.
As she placed her hand on the sword, a pleasant female voice spoke from within her mind, introducing itself as Wings of Heaven, a legendary sword wielded by the champions of Shizuru and dedicated to the eradication of undead. In addition, the scabbard held a tiny pipe-fox, which wound its way around Yuuko, happy to have a new companion.

As all of this was happening, Tataco was out in the yard speaking with Delgros. From the grizzled hunter, he learned that the werewolves were currently in a battle of ascension for the throne of Shudderwood. The Vollensag, who had until recently held leadership over all the other tribes, were in chaos after their leader had been killed. Mordinacht, leader of another tribe, was now poised to take the throne, and many believed him to be responsible for the other’s death, possibly with the aid of humans, a great taboo in werewolf culture. The tribes had apparently now all gone to the Stairs of the Moon, a temple to the south held sacred by the werewolves, to determine the new ruler once and for all.
While Tataco was speaking with Delgros, he also noticed something strange. Wolfe, speaking with a lovely young woman they had not yet met, heading to the tower in the northwestern corner of the Lodge, one suspiciously guarded by a group of heavily armed professionals. Excusing himself, the ranger created a distraction and snuck into the tower after them, eventually spying on Wolfe in the second floor of the tower as his fortune was read by the woman. She told that though he held great influence, he also had a great secret, and would have a hand in many things to come. The young woman also invited him to participate in some of the tower’s “other” services, but he politely declined, instead thanking her and taking his leave.
After Wolfe had returned, Tataco entered the room brazenly. Though she was surprised to see an uninvited guest, the woman, who introduced herself as Madame Ivanja, found Taco rather handsome, and so invited him to stay. Tataco agreed to have his own fortune read, but politely refused the “other” services she offered. The card Ivanja drew for Taco was The Carnival, and she explained that he would need to face a powerful force yet unknown in the near future, one that was acting behind the scenes and causing all of his other trials. The struggle with this force would have great impact on Ustalav and the world as a whole, but Taco and his companions would have significant influence on its result. Impressed by his reading, Ivanja offered Taco a discount on any pleasures he may or may not wish to experience, but again he politely refused, and returned to the rest of the party.

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A New Companion

A tiny set of ears perked up.
What’s all this racket? Surely no one would be so inconsiderate as to wake me with a swordfight… although that is precisely how it sounds. Probably just that buffoon putting some evil creature to rest again. Yes, it should be over soon enough. Then I can go back to… hmm, what’s this? Sounds like he’s losing… and not to anything apparently malevolent. In any case, it sounds like I’m still safe and sound in here… if that fool gets himself beaten, it’s none of my concern.
There was a pounding through the nearby wall accompanied by shouting.
Seems I’m not the only one trying to get some shut-eye. Those fools really should be considerate of those of us trying to nap. Well, seems they’ve settled down now. Good, good.
The tiny head nodded a couple of times, then nodded off to sleep…

But then the light rushed in and the tiny fox awoke in a panic. He shot out of the sheath that had been so warm and safe only moments before to the first cover he could find.
“Hey!”
Apparently it’s a girl. Well, she is warm, so it’s fine—even if she doesn’t smell too bright. She just needs to stop squirming; I think I found a nice spot already… Good, she’s stopped fussing about. That was easy. Hold on, what was that? Was the sword… talking to her? This girl? Hmm, that could mean she may not be so dull after all. Still, best not to jump to conclusions. Especially at nap time.
As he tried to doze off again, the girl resumed her squirming and the pipefox let out a tiny, annoyed sigh.
Why can’t she just leave me be? Do they really always have to make things so difficult?
A tiny head poked out from the top of Yuuko’s shirt.
A tiny, yet commanding voice asked with unmasked annoyance, “Would you settle down already? It’s naptime!”
The eyes looking back at him lit up with surprise in recognition of the creature.
“Kanko!” °o°
So this girl is Tien, like the man. Interesting. But not worth skipping naptime over.
“That’s right, I’m a pipefox, and a rather busy one at that, so if you could just…”
“I’m Yuuko! What’s your name?”
Ugh, it wanted to talk…
“You don’t have one?”
“No, I didn’t say that…”
“Then, let’s see… how about… Kan-bo? Perfect!”
It’s clearly pleased with itself. Wait a minute, that’s like a name for a child! No, no, that won’t do at all.
“Now look here, I never said…”
“Cuuuuute!” (^v^)
…it’s already nuzzling me… v . v
“Hey, cut that ou—!”
“Oh, we should get back to the others”.
She turned her head to a companion who had apparently been there all along.
“Let’s go, Mr. Barna”.
“Now liste—”
Before he could get another word, the girl gently pushed his tiny head back from where it came.
This one’s going to be a tailful… (=_=)
But, back in his warm and cozy place, the pipefox decided it’d be easier right now to get back to the very important task of taking his very important nap.

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A Paranoiac's Précis

[It is a small journal with a simple, worn leather cover that is kept on Parva Rigueur’s person at all times. Very rarely is it actually visible by others, much less seen written in by its owner.]

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Over the Hills and Through the Woods

After finishing their business at Schloss Caromarc and saying their goodbyes to both the Count and his creation, the party once again traveled the road back to Lepidstadt. Their journey was not to be uneventful, however, as only halfway there they found themselves suddenly in a deep wood, the sun all but blotted out from the sky and an ominous darkness surrounding them.
With a crash like the crunching of giant bones, an enormous shape pushed its way through the trees and showed itself before them. Notcho Chiiz had found them. Banjo was undeterred by the other bear, and quickly ran up to shield the party, his sun medallion shining golden light. Uncowed, Notcho merely laughed as an amulet around his neck, previously hidden in the fur, began to exude an almost palpable liquid darkness, which clashed and pushed the Holy One’s light back, the two caught in an intense struggle of wills.
Growling a command, the undead bear lord turned back to his own battle while a series of large ursine zombies crawled from the woods to match the rest of the party. Large and ferocious though they were, they turned out to be no match for the combined might of the Holy One’s companions. Parva’s bombs flared and seared undead flesh as limbs were shorn by Yuuko’s katana. Dekhaim rose above the melee, transformed into a huge bear himself, and grappled with one of the undead monstrosities, sustaining heavy wounds but eventually putting down his opponent with a fearsome strike. Tataco’s arrows shot true, finding marks in eyes and rotting flanks, his expertise in fighting undead bears unmatched.
Despite the party’s success, however, the battle between Banjo and Notcho was leaning ever further in the latter’s favor, his stygian darkness threatening to swallow the smaller bear whole. But lo! From Banjo’s backpack crawled an unexpected figure, Mantidora clambering onto his back and raising her face to confront the monstrosity before her. Her hair stood on end and crackled with energy as Banjo’s power combined with her own, their light growing stronger and forcing back the encroaching darkness in a sudden flare. Suddenly overcome, Notcho took a tremulous step back and, sensing his fear, Mantidora struck. The baby manticore grew even as she flew through the air, reaching the strong, sleek proportions of a healthy adult even as her teeth sank deep into Notcho’s neck, tearing free a raw chunk of rotting flesh. What would have been a fatal injury to any normal bear merely shook the undead lord, and he pulled back, shouting curses even as he disappeared into the trees which had produced him. The party gave chase, unwilling to let their enemy free now that he was on the defensive, but alas, the spell was broken, the forest quickly thinning and light returning to the afternoon sky. All around them were empty plains, with no sign of Notcho Chiiz.

Back in Lepidstadt, the party’s first priority was to speak with Judge Daramid, who welcomed them solemly, even allowing Dekhaim into her home with a stiff nod. They spoke of many things, and talk eventually turned to the Whispering Way, and the cult’s next move. According to the evidence both sides had collected, the Way’s next destination was the Shudderwood to the south and, it being the only bastion of civilization in the werewolf-infested forest, likely the Ascanor Lodge. Daramid had used her connections to grant them each a blank invitation to the lodge, which she distributed, then informed them that another member of the Order would be joining them, none other than Wolfe Reynell. Though no explicit promises or rewards were given, Daramid did imply that should they be successful in this mission as the Order’s agents, she may be able to grant the party memberships themselves.
With those matters finished, the majority of the party departed for their own business, leaving Dekhaim and Daramid alone, only Wolfe there as a chaperone. What they spoke of is not to be known, but both parties left unsatisfied.

Meanwhile, Parva had returned to the University, hoping to speak to Doctor Kruse about the upcoming expedition. The aged professor was waiting for him, and, to Parva’s surprise, fully endorsed his leaving for the Shudderwood, Judge Daramid having come to speak to him on the matter some time before. Kruse was unworried as, while Parva was gone, a promising student, Laci Pierson would be taking over his class, a statement which sent chills down Parva’s spine. Worried over this turn of events, but unwilling to take action on it at the moment, Doctor Rigeuer returned home.
Arriving at his door, Parva found it unlocked and, even more worrisome, the interior entirely in disarray. With Sterbird at his back, he carefully and stealthily moved inside, searching about for any signs of intruders, but whoever had been there seemed to have already left. As he entered his bedroom, however, the doctor espied a flurry of movement beneath his bed. Parva took several moments to gather his courage then, with a flourish, pulled the covers off, revealing, underneath… nothing. One of the boards did seem to be tampered with, however, and after pulling it up he discovered a hole leading deep underground.
Understandably distressed by this discovery, Parva pondered what to do next even as Sterbird sent out an empathic call to Tataco. Soon, the entire party had gathered in Parva’s cramped quarters, much to the annoyance of the professor. With everyone there, however, they soon resolved to follow the hole down, and Parva drank one of his personal mutagens, granting him the ability to burrow through the earth and widen the small tunnel to human proportions.
After some time of digging, the hole opened into a natural cave, a small river running through the center and down into the darkness. Dekhaim studied the scene, and discovered small tracks leading from the hole off to their left, in the direction opposite the water’s flow. For some short time the party moved stealthily forward, before encountering flickering firelight around the next corner, outlining a pair of twisted figures against the opposite wall.
Drinking a draught to make himself invisible, Parva moved to investigate, coming upon a scene more bizarre than he could ever have expected. In the center of the room sat a squat metal chair, the kind used in torture rooms. Strapped into it was no man, however, but a rat, squeaking feebly as two goblins paced around it, shouting questions and threatening it with burning irons should it not reveal the location of “the cheese”.
Deciding to have a bit of fun, Parva grabbed the irons out of the goblins’ hands, and proclaimed himself to be a ghost. The goblins immediately pressed their foreheads to the floor and grovelled, asking forgiveness of the “rat god” and telling of a “rat king” who had made them do such things all in the name of cheese. It quickly became apparent that the two creatures were both harmless and incredibly stupid, and after a brief discussion, they bolted, shouting “Cheese it!”, and running down the corridors.
Still invisible, and with the rest of the party stealthing behind him, Parva followed them, eventually ending up in a ramshackle court, at the head of which sat a larger goblin bedecked in the skulls and bones of numerous rats. The two goblins from before were grovelling in front of him, telling the tale of the rat god, and Parva saw his opportunity, “floating” forth and demanding obedience. The king was resistant at first, begging forgiveness but keeping his dignity, until Dekhaim transformed himself into a giant rat and crawled forth, emitting from his mouth a ball of magical flame. Tataco used his new ventriloquism ability (gained through less than wholesome acts performed for a wizard) to speak as though a voice was issuing from the fire itself. At this, the rat king grovelled and begged, promising them his daughter, Sniff, as tribute. Since the party had been looking for a Sniff ever since acquiring a Scratch, they happily agreed, and the goblin princess rode out of the tunnels on Ratheim’s furry back.
Upon arriving topside once again, Sniff revealed that it was she who had been in Parva’s house, reading his books and using his equipment to learn more of Alchemy, a subject which she found fascinating. Seeing this as a stroke of good luck, the party delivered her to Scratch forthwith, who was all to happy to take in such a lovely young lady and show her the ins and outs of ice cream.
This did not, however, explain why Parva’s door had been unlocked. Feeling as though his sanctuary had been violated, and still worried over the Laci issue, he stayed at Wolfe’s for the night.

The next morning, the group gathered and, accompanied by Wolfe, departed for the Shudderwood. The first day of their journey was uneventful until dusk, at which point they came across a fracas happening further down the road. A lone warrior, gripping a heavy shield in both hands, was facing off against two headless knights and a spectral being, the cloaked shapes of two Way cultists evident behind them. Though it was a challenging battle, the party dispatched both of the Dullahans, while a pair of magical arrows from Tataco’s bow destroyed the spectre. The cultists, without their undead escort, were even easier prey, and soon they both lay dead on the ground outside the woods.
The man who had fought alongside them introduced himself as Barna Darkwall, a veteran member of the Lepidstadt city watch who had learned of the Way and decided to track them down. He had not known entirely what he was getting into, however, and was caught in an ambush intended for the party. Barna seemed a competent fighter, and shared their same goals, so the group agreed to travel together for the time being. Together, they made camp, and resolved to enter the Shudderwood proper the next day.

The path through the wood was dark and winding, the boughs overhead blocking out all but the faintest hints of sunlight. So it was that, when a hunched figure carrying two lanterns appeared on the path approaching them, the party saw it from some distance and sent ahead Taco and Wolfe to scout. Parva accompanied them, drinking a potion of invisibility, and the three moved to observe the newcomer. The creature carrying the lanterns was small, hunched, and wizened, small strands of white hair dangling from his otherwise bald head and cracked lips pulled back to reveal rows of sharp teeth. Across its back was a long board, balanced by unknown means, from either end of which hung the light sources in question. Accompanying the hunched man was a taller figure, his entire body covered in expensive and exotic silks, and with a piece of parchment hanging from the front of his hat to cover his face.
Using his powers of ventriloquism, Tataco spoke from the creature’s ass, and began a conversation with it. Though it seemed unworried that they were there, the hunched man described three people following him, accurately listing the characteristics of Taco and Parva, speaking of the latter as “pretending to be a half-elf”, as well mentioning a third which he couldn’t quite get a read on.
Disturbed, Taco and Parva returned to the party just as the wizened man and his escort arrived. It became quickly obvious, thanks to Kendra and Yuuko’s knowledge on such matters, that the thing’s companion was a Jiang-shi, a dangerous variation of vampire from the Far East. The creature itself appeared to be a Korred, a small fey with connection to boulders and trees, albeit a very corrupted one.
The creature did not show any hostility, instead remarking on the fact that Yuuko wasn’t from around these parts and stating that he was here looking for something. He only spoke a few sentences, however, before she attacked on principle. As the paladin rushed forward, katana raised, a shadowy figure wearing a plague doctor’s mask appeared from the darkness and attacked the vampire from behind. Shockingly, the Jiang-shi contorted, meeting and parrying the blow before landing a gash on Dr. D’s side, sending him leaping back into the darkness.
Taco and Parva reappeared to join the fray, followed shortly after by Wolfe. Even with the whole party surrounding them, it quickly became apparent that these were no ordinary enemies. None of the fighters could land a hit on the Jiang-shi, who moved with an unearthly grace, perfectly still one moment and dodging an expertly-aimed attack with a painful twist of his body the next. As for the Korred’s part, both Yuuko and Barna were landing hits on him, but it was akin to striking a rock, and the hunched man showed no signs of being bothered by the onslaught.
All the while, the Korred kept speaking, talking to Tataco, who was then projecting his voice through Sterbird. From their conversation, the party learned that the creature was here seeking something called the “Carrion Crown”, an artifact of great power.
The Jiang-shi landed a blow on Yuuko, grabbing her and lifting her into the air before the Korred placated him, saying that the group might still be of some use and not to hurt them. Still ignoring their blows, he grabbed his companion’s hand and began casting a spell to teleport them both away when Barna saw his opening. With a mighty swing, he brought his spiked shield down on the small man’s face, one of the spikes on its surface driving deep into the creature’s eye and boring a hole into his skull.
The immense damage from Darkwall’s attack caused the Korred to stutter, losing his spell, and he stood, staring with his one eye at his attacker for a short time. Sensing danger, Kendra used the opportunity to rush forward and cast a Stoneskin spell on Barna just before the Jiang-shi moved to attack. The vampire’s fists moved too quickly to track, landing a series of crushing blows on Darkwall before grabbing him and pulling him toward the creature’s face. With a raspy inhalation, it seemed to suck the very breath from Barna’s lips, but still unbowed even after such a vicious assault, the fighter resisted the pull, and the Jiang-shi dropped him unceremoniously to the ground. Apparently satisfied, the Korred grabbed his companions hand and, this time casting too quickly to be interrupted, teleported both of them away.

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Drudging Up the Past

Dekhaim Balust
It’s been several days since I’ve visited you last, journal. Many things have happened since we’ve last spoken. Thanks to the efforts of the group at large, along with some very convincing court events due to the Professor, we’ve managed to secure The Bea- I apologize, Taerien’s- freedom.

Parva would murder me if he were to find me referring to Taerien as a simple construct.

Proceeding court being adjourned after Taerien’s final day of trials, Parva found out that he was going to return to his home. Upon visiting the judge with a new face from Taco’s friend Lorenzo, (Remember to ask why your false name is the same as this strange wizard’s…) I found out that in a previous life, I was a scientist associated with whatever organization that the kind Judge is a part of. Combining a bit of what I’ve found in the journal and a bit of what Daramid has told us, I felt as if I needed to hide who I was from certain individuals.

Judge Daramid soon sent us on a quest to search for a Count Caromarc, a man living in his own secluded castle nestled into a cliff face. Facing trolls, constructs, and flying, screeching gorilla heads over two days did little to deter us from finding this man. One fateful reunion with Taerian later, after he had propelled the final spider bodied Golem into the rapids below, we found the count. Parva and I had many questions for the man. Parva’s interests were purely academic, but mine were more personal. Careful to not reveal my true nature, I began to probe into his involvement with this secret society, the young lady we found captive next to him in the tower, and finally I brought up a passage in the journal I found in my shared laboratory. I mentioned specifically the places beyond and between the stars.

I was immediately met with an icy stare and suddenly was met with a few questions of my own. He demanded to know where I had heard of such a thing, if the name “Dekhaim Balust” has ever crossed my path. Of course, I denied any and all claims of being associated with my name. I explained that I had found it in a journal left by the professor, and the journal was safely in Lepidstadt. After I had answered these questions, he seemed to calm down slightly. He went on to explain that Professor Dekhaim Balust performed terrible experiments, terrible even to a man who played God. The young man, William Randolph-Carter, was apparently just a “subject.” I had attracted the attention of the wrong sort of people, and was punished for what I had wrought. I know not if that caused my death, or if I had died later.

During that conversation, I learned several important things. However, the most important fact that I learned about my past self was I had a family. Two children, and a wife. She left me, left Dekhaim after everything that had transpired. My children grew up without a father. They were shamed because of the things that I had done.

What did I do?

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Prometheus' Fall

The guardian of the tower fallen in battle with a swarm of black puddings, the group continued their advance across the bridge and into the final building of Schloss Caromarc. Inside, they found much the same scene as before, with the bent, destroyed cage taking up the center of the room with alchemical supplies and papers scattered haphazardly across the floor. A quick search turned up a sheaf of papers bearing designs of some strange device along with notes in a cramped, unreadable hand. Kendra, with her skill in linguistics, was able to decipher them as reading “The Storm Caller must be activated to energize the Bondslave Thrall.” Beyond those cryptic words, the paper held no other clues.
Moving upward, the party encountered a trapdoor in the ceiling made from a solid block of pure adamantine. Not blind to such an object’s worth, Parva started dismantling the hinges and loading it onto Banjo’s back while Yuuko, Kendra, and Dekhaim climbed in the next room. This chamber was filled from top to bottom with odd, dry spider webs coating every surface. Dekhaim ignited them with a small spell, and the group evacuated temporarily, then reentered when the webs had all burnt away. Without the obstructions, they were able to see on a wall, almost completely rubbed away, the remains of a small chalk drawing depicting a strange device along with some scratched words not even Kendra could read. With another spell allowing him to comprehend strange and esoteric languages, Dekhaim deciphered a short passage stating that the Bondslave Thrall could be used to call to and control the Beast, and also that both it and the Storm Caller were located at the top of the tower.
While Dekhaim worked his magic on the chalk drawings, Yuuko’s attention was grabbed by a small wooden man who tugged at her ankles until she bent down to converse with it. The tiny construct was unable to speak, but articulated through gestures that danger lay in the floor above. Parva produced a writing instrument and a sheaf of blank papers from his alchemy kit, and it was revealed that the small wooden man could, indeed, write, albeit in a cramped, scratchy hand. The homunculus, as Doctor Rigeuer astutely identified it, wrote out that its master, presumably Count Caromarc, was trapped upstairs with a very dangerous creature guarding him, and asked for the group’s help in freeing him.
Understanding that they would likely need the Beast’s help facing such a foe, Parva downed an experimental mutagen and immediately grew a pair of leathery, batlike wings, which he used to fly to the top of the tower. There, followed by Sterbird, he was able to blindly activate the Storm Caller, which caused black, rumbling storm clouds to suddenly roll in and form around the top of the tower, showering the lightning rod with bursts of electricity. The Bondslave Thrall, which was a bizarre, intricate ass filled with purple liquid, siphoned energy from the Storm Caller via a series of tubes, and the liquid within began to boil. Once again, Parva was able to blindly activate the device, and was immediately aware of the Beast, Taerien’s location outside the castle. Parva called mentally to his friend, and the golem responded in turn, reaching the top of the tower in a series of superhuman leaps, and gathering up the half-elf in his massive arms for a big hug.
Parva explained the situation and, using Sterbird as a kind of one-way phone to contact the rest of the group, came up with a plan. Tataco and Taerien would enter the room at roughly the same time, catching the creature within by surprise. The Beast would then rush into the monster, hopefully knocking it through the wall and into the rapids far below. Without delay, Tataco and Parva threw open their respective trapdoors, and the former rushed into the room.
What he saw was unexpectedly horrifying, even for an experiment. The Aberrant Promethean had the lower body of a massive spider, and the upper body of an overmuscled humanoid, with four tentacles waving and undulating from its knotted back. Though it had fourteen limbs in total, the creature required only one arm to scoop up Tataco in its hand and transfer him to a tentacle, which wrapped around his neck and began delivering electric shocks. This made their original plan to send the Promethean falling to its death below more difficult, and Yuuko also entered the room to try to cut Tataco free. Meanwhile, Kendra began summoning a large bison to help with the push, while Dekhaim cast a spell to transform the entire wall behind the monster into clay, greatly reducing its structural integrity.
Yuuko’s plan to cut Taco free was cut short as she too was scooped up by a giant hand and held in the creature’s grip. Banjo, who had also entered the room, could only stand by and watch as the two struggled in its grip. All was not lost, however, as Yuuko caught onto Banjo and Tataco had Sterbird drape his magical rope of climbing across the room, tying one end to Taco’s arm and the other to the ladder across from them. Thus secured, he grabbed onto Yuuko, who still held onto bear as Taerien dropped down into the chamber. Kendra finished summoning the bison at the same time and, together, they rushed into the Promethean with superhuman force. Though the bison proved no match for the creature’s strength, the Beast’s muscles bulged powerfully as he slammed into the creature, the sheer raw power of the blow driving it through the clay wall and into the air beyond. Yuuko and Tataco, secured by rope and bear, slipped out of its appendages as, with a final scream, the Promethean fell into the rapids below. The fall was not enough to kill it, however, and its screams echoed throughout the canyon as the river swept it away.
At this point, the group investigated the two items dominating the room, a large bell jar holding a sleeping woman suspended in blue liquid, and a metal idol with two eye holes, through which blinked a pair of terrified eyes. The idol, once opened, produced a haggard and half-starved Count Caromarc, who thanked the group for their assistance, and promised a reward, but asked them to be on their way as soon as possible. After Parva made his identity as a professor of Alchemy known, however, he grudgingly invited them to stay the night and leave in the morning.
So it was that Parva and Dekhaim met with Alpon Caromarc in his smoking room and spoke of many things. Dekhaim, through indirect questioning, learned much of the previous “Dekhaim Balust”, though Caromarc was extremely reticent on the matter. For his part, Parva asked about the experiments, learning that the Count was working up to his ultimate project, the resurrection of his beloved wife, dead shortly after they married. He had almost perfected the body, the same one they saw in the bell jar, but had not yet discovered a way to recover his wife’s mind, and so was considering simply raising the clone as his own daughter for what little time he had left. All three men of science, though Dekhaim had not known that about himself until recently, they talked well into the night, while Taerien, informed that the trolls outside were not the new gatekeepers and had no business being there, dealt with those unwelcome guests.
Afterward, the party all took beds on the upper floors and fell asleep, their mission complete and plans laid to return to Lepidstadt on the morrow.

View
The Drowned Menagerie

Investigating the stairs in the corner of the room led down to a small hallway ending in a large, sturdy, wrought-iron door. After listening briefly, the party determined something large was moving around inside, and decided rather than dealing with whatever it was down there, they would lead it back upstairs and fight it in the more open space. So it was that they knocked on the door, before hurriedly running back up the stairs and readying their weapons.
Not long after, a hulking figure appeared from the staircase, flanked on all sides by small flying homunculi attached with chains to the larger bulk. The creature appeared to be a flesh golem, but it looked unfinished, skin flensed from its form and muscle stretched taut across its face, obscuring its eyes. By watching its movements, the party was able to determine that the golem was using the homunculi as surrogate eyes, likely through a telepathic link, as Parva later determined. Rather than fighting the creature head on, they avoided its wide attacks while picking off the smaller constructs flitting around it. After a few of them had been dispatched, the flesh golem clutched at its head, screaming as it fell to the floor, killed by the mental feedback.
Parva immediately went to work taking samples from the faller guardian, while Yuuko, Kendra, and Dekhaim went back downstairs to investigate the room. Beyond the iron door was a small guardroom, presumably built to house the golem, empty save for three large, opaque sealed black jars. Though suspicious of their contents, Kendra carefully opened one. Inside was bubbling black liquid, from which surfaced a face so hideous that she stumbled back, strength drained from the very sight of the visagel. Shaken, but otherwise unharmed, Kendra was able to identify the face as belonging to the severed head of a Sea Hag, a monstrous creature known for its horrifying ugliness.
Assuming the rest of the jars to hold the same, or similar things, Kendra and Yuuko returned upstairs to wait as Parva instead headed downstairs to investigate the other containers. For reasons which seemed good at the time, Dekhaim and Parva decided to open the remaining jars at the same time, releasing great clouds of purple and yellow spores which quickly filled the room. Doctor Rigeuer suffered only minor irritation, but watched dispassionately as Dekhaim, much more affected by the spores, collapsed to the ground, convinced his own skin was melting even as it turned into spiders which devoured the rest of his flesh.
After identifying the spores and making sure they were harmless, save for the hallucinations they caused, Parva and Banjo simply waited out the effects as Dekhaim rolled around on the floor, frantically slapping at phantom insects.
That debacle over, and Dekhaim mostly recovered, the group reunited on the first floor and proceeded to IT’S ME take the northernmost door, leaving the Living Museum behind and climbing a steep rise to the next building. This structure was made predominantly of four metal cylinders towering into the sky, connected by walkways above the ground, and to the final building by a narrow bridge extending across the chasm. The only entrance at this level was a heavy iron door, sealed by means of a wheel on the front. Though it was rusted, Yuuko was able to turn the mechanism, and it opened with a loud creak, releasing a deluge of water which rushed down the rise before running off the cliff into the rivers below.
Inside, the hallway was filled with clear water rising to knee-height on most of the party, making normal movement more difficult, but not prohibitive. Ahead of them rose a set of stairs, presumably to the upper level, but now buried behind a huge amount of rubble and twisted iron, obviously impassable. The hallway extended to either side, each one culminating in a sharp turn north leading to a metal door barred on their side. Moving carefully, the group first headed down the eastern portion of the hallway, Yuuko in the lead. As she reached the end, where the passage turned, the floor suddenly fell away, the false floor opening into a much deeper, murky depression. Yuuko leaped to the side in time to avoid being plunged into the water, but from the depths swam four bloated, sickly forms. These creatures were once guards, as evidenced by their uniforms, but their white skin and unnerving grins showed them as now among the ranks of the undead.
The Draugr held a mobility advantage in the water, being undead made from the bodies of those who drowned to death, but had difficulty landing hits on the party as they fought. Tataco took the brunt of the assault, suffering minor wounds from the guards’ greataxes, but they were soon dispatched by the group’s combined assault, and sank back into the murky water from which they had swam.
Avoiding that sinkhole in the passage, the rest of the group joined Yuuko as she opened the barred door. The chamber within was obviously the interior of one of the it’s me towers they saw from outside, metal walls climbing high to the ceiling. Two doors sat in the upper walls, apparently once connected by a metal walkway which was now barely visible at the bottom of the much deeper water within. Watching carefully, Yuuko was able to discern something moving about in the water, all but invisible, and decided that this room was, perhaps, not a wise choice. The group shut the door and barred it again, but before it fully closed, Dekhaim caught sight of a single malevolent eye peering at him from the water, its gaze stiffening his joints and slowing his mind, but he soon shook the effect off as the door closed.
Carefully disabling the identical pitfall trap on the other side of the hallway, the group opened the barred door on the western side, revealing again a large, cylindrical room extending upwards to a pair of doors once connected by a metal walkway. The walkway now lay, mostly intact, among the wreckage of a trio of cages, inside of which rotted the corpses of some huge, four-armed, gorilla-like creatures. The bodies had no heads, but they were quickly located as a flapping sound drew the party’s attention to the darkness at the top of the chamber, around which flitted the severed heads of the gorillas, their ears grown into leathery wings and their mouths grossly distended.
Unwilling to bear such abominations in his presence, Banjo opened his mouth wide and launched forth a ball of holy fire which exploded in the middle of the chamber, searing and scalding the creatures as they shrieked in pain and descended to attack. Tataco’s arrows took one of them, a bomb from Parva felling another, and the third was slain when Yuuko climbed nimbly atop one of the cages, slashing through the air with her katana and cutting it down.
Dekhaim, who had spent the entire fight summoning a giant bat, decided not to let the creature go to waste. With the bat’s help, the group lifted the walkway back up to the doors, where Kendra was able to magically mend the joints attaching it to the wall. Before it vanished, the bat then ferried each of the members up to the walkway, allowing them access to the second floor.
The door to the east was discovered to lead to a small hallway, connecting the room holding the creature in the water and the ruined stairs to the first floor, while the S A V E T H E M northern door opened to a long hallway extending through the building and out its ass, turning into the bridge which led to the tower across the chasm, as well as connecting to each of the four main chambers of the structure they were currently in. The party spent some time checking the other rooms, finding H E L P T H E M the first to be filled with carnivorous fungus, which Tataco picked off with his bow and Parva subsequently collected for “research”. Inside the northeasternmost chamber, the only one they had not yet explored, they found a giant ooze-like creature known as a Black Pudding clinging to the ceiling. The monster was carnivorous, immune to attacks from slashing or piercing weapons, and absurdly hard to kill. Thus, the group wisely closed the door and went on their way without engaging it.
Finished with this building, they then headed out the eastern door, climbing atop the narrow bridge which led to the lightning-rod-tipped tower which was the last building in Schloss Caromarc. The door on the other side was unadorned, but heavy and held fast with a spell. Some canny use of his thieves’ tools by Parva removed the arcane lock, and they carefully opened the door. Inside was a circular room, with a staircase leading upwards in a spiral to a trapdoor on the roof. It appeared to be some sort of lab, but was now in ruins, equipment strewn everywhere and a huge metal cage in the center reduced to a heap of twisted metal. Taco moved stealthily into the room, careful not to alert whatever had caused such carnage. Inside, he saw clinging above the door a huge monstrosity, obviously a flesh golem but apparently carved and stitched from the parts of some sort of enormous, four-armed gorilla rather than from man. The creature had a feral cast to its features, and appeared to be waiting for someone to enter the room, so Tataco left as quietly as he entered and informed the party about what he had seen.
The group decided they did not want to fight such a thing head on, and so after some debate, came up with a plan. Dekhaim would summon an eagle, which would act as bait to draw the golem from the tower back into the previous building, where they would attempt to lead it into the same room as the Black Pudding and let the two monsters fight it out. Meanwhile, the party would be hiding back in the room with the restored walkway, with Dekhaim waiting to summon another eagle if necessary.
The plan went out without a hitch, the eagle successfully leading the creature lumbering across the bridge and into the room with the ooze. At first evenly matched, trading blow for blow, it was eventually evident that the flesh golem had an advantage and would soon destroy the pudding. So, Dekhaim ordered the eagle, still flapping about the room, to start slashing at the ooze with its talons, splitting it into more and more copies of itself which eventually overwhelmed the guardian of the tower, drowning it under a sea of dark, sticky pudding. With a final roar, the creature was absorbed, a single claw raised to the heavens before it too was devoured by the ooze’s ravenous mass.

View
The Living Museum

Following a night’s rest, the group once again began their exploration of Schloss Caromarc. Justifiably wary of the trap which had almost killed them the previous day, they began by carefully examining the rope bridge leading to the next building, first with mundane means and then using Detect Magic. Satisfied that the trap had not reset, and another Erinyes was not poised to swoop down upon them, Tataco carefully crossed, reaching the other side and sending the magical Rope of Climbing back to the party to secure them a handhold as they moved to the next landing.
This building they now stood before was unlike the others. It was ornate, carved out of marble, and appeared to be two stories high, the front dominated by a large stained-glass window depicting a rearing unicorn. To the right and left of the heavy wooden door were two beautiful nymph statues, also carved of marble. Still cautious of traps, the party once again used Detect Magic on the door before opening it. Their caution was well-rewarded, as the portal had been enchanted with a magical Alarm spell, presumably set to inform the caster or some guard when the door was opened.
Kendra was able to dispel the low-level magic without incident, and, still moving slowly, the party continued within. The room before them was lined with shelves housing all manner of curious beasts and organisms, hovering suspended in bell jars filled to the brim with sickly green liquid. Parva, excited at the discovery, searched around, and was able to find a vial containing what he identified as a dose of Violet Venom, which he stored for future use. Three doors led from the room to the north, west, and south. Knowing from Sterbird’s scouting that the exit and path to the rest of the complex lay to the north, the group decided to begin exploration with the door to the south.
The southern portal opened to a room similar to the last, filled with strange creatures in jars and dominated by a huge manatee skeleton hanging from the ceiling. An odd creature, seemingly half-monkey and half-fish from the waist down watched them lifelessly from its jar as they scoured the room, finding nothing of interest until they discovered a hidden door in an alcove to the west, leading to a flight of steps which climbed upward.
Still cautious, but moving more quickly now, the group climbed the staircase, emerging in a room filled with stuffed and mounted beasts of the air and sky. The preserved wing of a roc hung from the ceiling as two stuffed harpies perched on shelves, arms spread wide. A door to the north led presumably to the rest of the compound, while a ladder led up to a trapdoor in the ceiling. Tataco, moving stealthily, climbed the ladder and pushed open the trapdoor, an action which caused a sudden hissing sound as the room above and below filled with a thick, noxious gas.
The fumes burned at their eyes and skin, so thick that moving through it was difficult and they were unable to see far into the murk. Dekhaim, thinking quickly, activated a spell to summon a gust of wind, pushing the fog to the edges of the room as the rest of the party made their escape. Banjo, Dekhaim, and Taco rushed back down the stairs, while Yuuko, Kendra, and Parva opened the door to the north and stepped through, closing it behind them.
Though it took some time to dissipate, the acid fog did not follow them, and the three on the second floor were free to explore what appeared to be a storage room, holding benches and boxes of every size and shape. They were joined a short time later by the others and, together, they went to examine the crates filling the southwestern corner of the room. Now suspicious of everything around her, Yuuko used her ability to detect evil on the boxes, and was rewarded with two sources in one of the foremost, small, but of middling power.
The party took up places around the box, readying weapons, spells and bombs as Sterbird hefted the wooden lid off the crate. Immediately, two severed heads, their snake-like hair writhing and twisting upon their rotting scalps, burst forth from the packing, shrieking and contorting their faces in rage. Before they even had a chance to act, however, a flurry of attacks from the group all but shredded one of the beheaded, sending it careening to the floor. Yuuko slammed the other with her katana, the forceful swing sending it flying through the air like a ball, even as Kendra splashed it with a forceful blast of acid from her spell. The head, covered in acid and still screaming, rushed through the air, dissolving as it went, until only a splatter of grime and muck smacked against the wall opposite and slid to the floor.
Grimly satisfied with the outcome, Yuuko moved to investigate the floor above while Parva and Dekhaim combed through the boxes. Nothing within the crates was as exciting as what had just occurred, however, and they found not much more than a variety of stuffed birds and animal bones. Meanwhile, above, Yuuko and Tataco had found the room the acid fog had sprung from, and were disappointed to see that it was entirely empty, save for a single small amulet on the floor.
The charm was shaped in the menacing shape of a skull with a gag binding its mouth – the symbol of the Whispering Way. Without hesitation, Yuuko crushed it, and the party reunited before continuing downstairs to the first hub room.
From here, they decided to try the western door, which opened into a larger room filled with shelves stuffed with curios, watched over by a stuffed Bulette which roared soundlessly in the center. None of the items were of much interest, save for a stone glowing with arcane turquoise light in odd patterns across its surface in the corner. Though they used every method at their disposal, no-one in the party could determine the stone’s purpose, and they eventually left it on the shelf, intent on coming back later to solve its mystery.
Banjo, however, was not so easily swayed, and stayed within the room as the others left, bear eyes locked unflinchingly upon the stone. Slowly, despite Dekhaim’s attempts to rein him in, he stepped closer and closer to the stone until, with a sense of determination, he placed one paw upon the pattern. Immediately, energy burst from the stone, whispering and twisting in the air as it rushed from its origin directly into Banjo’s backpack. When it was finished, the bear sat down with a satisfied grunt, apparently quite pleased with himself.
Dekhaim took the logical step and searched Bearingston’s backpack, but found nothing out of the ordinary until he came to Mantidora. The tiny Manticore was unconscious, her breathing heavy and her body hot to the touch. Parva, using his combined knowledge of medicine and magic, was able to determine that while Mantidora was in no danger, she had suffered a sudden influx of power, and her body had temporarily shut down in order to deal with it. Having no choice but to wait and see what the power would bring, Dekhaim carefully placed the tiny form back in Banjo’s backpack.
Returning to the door in the north, the group found a small, rectangular room with a stairwell leading down in the back right corner. Of more interest, however, were the twin sarcophagi which stood on the eastern and western walls. In the center of the room was a pile of chain, enough to wrap around one of the caskets and contain whatever was inside, but now cast uselessly to the ground. Extremely suspicious of this development, Yuuko moved inside and detected evil on both of the coffers. The one to the east registered nothing, but the sarcophagus to the west held an evil presence of middling strength. Repeating their tactics from earlier, the party spread out and readied their weapons, Yuuko standing to the side with her katana raised as Banjo shoved the casket’s heavy lid to the side.
The mummy within had not been idly waiting, however, and burst forth in a flurry of motion, ready for combat. A sense of dread washed over the party as the unholy creature staggered forward, and while they were able to release several attacks before it attacked, Parva, Tataco, and Banjo were struck paralyzed by its suffocating presence. At the same time, the sarcophagus on the eastern side opened, revealing a mouth full of slavering asses and pointed teeth within. Galumphing forward, the mimic slammed into Tataco, fitting the paralyzed ranger partially into its mouth before crunching down.
Meanwhile, the mummy, while powerful, was not displaying great intelligence as it chose to face down Yuuko. Its flailing blows failed to connect as she moved gracefully out of the way and cut at it with her katana. Parva had shaken himself out of his stupor and threw a bomb into the melee, the fiery explosion proving especially effective on the undead’s dry, cracked skin and bandages. With the creature so weakened, Yuuko slew it with another cut of her katana, and turned only to find both Tataco paralyzed and Sterbird stuck fast to the mimic’s skin, even as the creature slowly devoured them, showing every sign of enjoyment.
Kendra cast a spell of Stoneskin on Taco, saving him from further wounds, as Dekhaim and Sterbird wore down the mimic and eventually killed it, the creature’s adhesive dissolving as it fell lifelessly to the floor, releasing Tataco and his bird friend.
Exasperated, but not seriously injured, the party turned their sights to the staircase in the northeastern section of the room.

View
Meeting the Fury of the Way

After the trial was done and their respects paid to Judge Daramid, the party split for a short time to handle personal business around Lepidstadt. Just over an hour later, they reunited and purchased a set of horses for the long journey to Schloss Caromarc in the northern mountains. Their travels to the castle were uneventful, save for Parva being forced by Yuuko to undergo mandatory target practice using some bottles and rocks, punishment for the errant bomb he had harmed his allies with earlier.
In the mid-afternoon, the group arrived at Schloss Caromarc, which was revealed to be less a castle, and more a series of buildings built into the cliff walls of a gorge spanning a huge, roaring waterfall far below. As they approached, another sound overcame the rushing water and reached their ears. Somewhere up ahead, two loud voices were engaged in a bellowing argument.
Tataco stealthed ahead to check the situation and discovered a group of bear cultists similar to the ones they had encountered in Sanctuary engaged in heated discussion with a troop of trolls who stood atop the battlements of the castle’s guardhouse. The cultists, who had with them a huge, rotting bear-like monstrosity, were negotiating for access, looking for some sort of “effigy” to resurrect their “lord”, but the trolls, thick, stubborn, and stupid creatures, were having none of it.
Judging the bear to be some sort of undead creature, Taco gave two vials of holy water to Sterbird, who circled above the other groups before dropping them onto the Ursa Nightmare’s head. The bear roared in pain and rage as battle spontaneously broke out between the two arguing factions, the bear cultists rushing forward to meet the trollhounds which guarded the gate. Meanwhile, the party remained hidden around a pass in the small canyon, readied in case the conflict came their way, until, able to bear the presence of the undead bear no longer, Tataco let an arrow fly at it. With an enraged bellow, the creature charged at Taco, only to meet Yuuko’s katana halfway there. It managed only a single bite, catching the ranger’s arm in its mouth, before the strikes from the paladin’s weapon and a bomb from Parva sent it collapsing to the ground.
Over by the gatehouse, the cultists were not faring much better, fighting a losing battle against the trollhounds’ regenerative abilities, even as the trolls rained rocks and crossbow bolts down on them from above. Yuuko rushed into the fray, cutting down a trollhound as Dekhaim moved to the gate, only to find that it was locked. Realizing then, as the remaining cultist was ravaged on the ground by the other hound, that the trolls had not made any aggressive moves toward them, Yuuko tried to look innocent as Parva moved forward to negotiate.
The trolls’ leader, named Grokk, was tough-headed, blunt, and dim-witted, but not unreasonable. With the right amount of flattery and bolstering of the giant’s ego, Parva was able to secure entry into the castle, which had until then repulsed all the trolls’ attempts to raid it, on the condition that they give it to Grokk when they were finished with it. He also learned that Count Caromarc had not been seen leaving the castle for at least a week, and that a group of black-robed cultists had come through just a few days ago for some unknown purpose. After the hooded figures left, Grokk had sensed his opportunity to seize the castle he had coveted for so long, and attempted to move in, but had only been able to take the gatehouse thus far.
With the trolls’ blessing, or as close to it as they could get, the party moved into the gatehouse and found the opposite door, leading to the castle, barricaded against something that Grokk called the “scary dog” on the other side. Among the rubble was the body of a uniformed guard, who the trolls admitted to killing, and the group split their efforts between burying this unfortunate and clearing the junk away.
Shortly afterward, with the door now clear and Tataco wearing the tattered and ripped guard’s uniform, Yuuko opened the door, only to find a long, narrow bridge leading to the next building in the sequence that climbed the gorge walls. At the other end, guarding the door of what appeared to be a fancy manor clinging to the rock wall, was a flesh golem hound of the same kind they had encountered at Vorkstag & Grine’s, which gave a braying howl and began to run at them. Not wanting to face the stitched creature head on, Yuuko unceremoniously shut the door, and asked Parva to talk to the trolls about it.
Though there was a certain amount of confusion, and Grokk eventually claimed it as his own idea, Parva was able to convince him, Caramel, and the other trolls to throw rocks at the hound until it died or was knocked over the edge. Several minutes later, they succeeded, and the way was clear.
The door to the manor was ornate, emblazoned with the symbol of a sun being devoured by hungry clouds, and had only a single viewing slit and a bell pull. Sensing a trap should they attempt to simply open the door, Tataco pulled the rope, setting off a series of chimes within. After a moment, the viewing slit opened, although they could see no-one inside, and then, just as suddenly, closed. The group was confused, but Parva volunteered to drink a potion of spider climb and check out the other side while the rest of them pondered. Downing the solution, he then put his hands on the wall, lifted his feet off the ground and, upside down, waggled his eyebrows at the party before shuffling away.
Around the back, Parva discovered another bridge leading from the manor to a building on the opposite side, with a door at each end. He checked the door of the other building, which was unlocked, then moved to the manor, where he managed to pick the lock and steal inside. Within was a small hallway leading to a secret door which opened on the rest of the house, and Parva began to snoop around, discovering a beautiful seal-skin cloak and an ornate walking stick for his trouble, both of which he appropriated.
On the other side, the rest of the party had asked Kendra to cast Mending on Tataco’s uniform, restoring it to its original color and shape, then tried the bell pull again. This time, after the viewing slit opened, there was a clunk, and the door swung inward soundlessly. Cautiously, the group entered the foyer, sporting a lit fireplace with a portrait of Caromarc hanging above it, and immediately saw a large, hook-handed monstrosity emerge from underneath the stairs to the right.
In the dining room at the other side of the house, Parva heard the noise of battle as he looked around. He moved to assist, assuming his partners had already found their way in, but was hindered by the large number of doors between him and his destination. Meanwhile, Yuuko had engaged the Hobbling Hook-Handed Apparatus, and was finding its warped metal frame difficult to damage. Kendra had splattered it with acid, which seemed to be effective, and Dekhaim cast a spell to heat the metal joints of the creature. Together, they managed to beat it into submission, and began exploring the rest of the house, meeting up with Parva shortly afterward.
Though well-stocked and elegantly furnished, the rest of the manor posed no danger to the party. They discovered many rooms filled with valuables such as a collection of spices in the kitchen, several cuts of fine, smoked choice ass in the pantry, and an exotic wine collection in the cooler, but left everything as it was, choosing not to steal from the house should Count Caromarc still be alive. Upstairs was similar, with several bedrooms and a variety of expensive jewelry and clothing in various containers. Of particular interest, however, were a set of plans for a new stone bridge found in one of the rooms, and a hidden cabinet holding a king’s ransom in gold and a small magical goat statue worth a fortune. This latter was trapped, and resulted in Yuuko taking an arrow to the shoulder, but she quickly shook off the poison and was no worse for wear.
With the manor thoroughly searched, the party continued moving forward, going through the secret door Parva had come in from and crossing to the unlocked building on the other side. Inside, it was revealed to be a full alchemical lab in some disarray. Part of the western wall had been blown outward, and it appeared as though a stone bridge which had once connected it to the building opposite had collapsed, with no way to cross now but a rickety rope bridge which had been constructed in its wake. The laboratory itself was useless, the equipment rusted beyond recognition, and the reason became quickly apparent as three rust monsters, mandibles and antennae twitching, crawled from the wreckage.
Tataco immediately recognized the creatures, and the party took measured to protect their equipment, Taco throwing a pot full of brass weights as a distraction as the rest moved behind Dekhaim who, wearing no metal, blocked the door.
Once they had finished devouring the pot, the insects moved to surround Dekhaim, but were unable to deal any real damage to him. Tataco let loose with a flurry of arrows but, in his haste, accidentally grabbed his flute from his possessions instead, stringing it and firing before he realized what he was doing. There was a moment of panic, but he watched with relief as it narrowly missed flying out the hole in the wall and into oblivion, instead bouncing harmlessly off a wall and clattering to a stop behind the monsters. Under a barrage of ranged attacks, the druid’s staff, and help from Yuuko, who had discarded her metal equipment in favor of her fists, two of the creatures quickly fell. The third monster, which was injured, clambered out the hole in the wall and to the underside of the building in desperation. Parva, still under the effects of Spider Climb, gave chase, standing upside-down underneath the structure as he grappled with the creature, scoring a fatal hit with his dagger and watching in satisfaction as it fell lifeless into the rapids below.
After regrouping and picking up their equipment, the party turned to regard the swaying rope bridge. Wisely deciding that it looked incredibly dangerous and untrustworthy, Tataco tied one end of a rope to himself and secured the other to the building he was leaving before, rope of climbing in one hand, he crept carefully across the chasm. He had reached the halfway point without incident before a sudden burst of light and smoke caught him off-guard. Taco clawed wildly at the air as he was thrown off the bridge, missing the edge by inches, before being swung back to hang fifty feet below the laboratory.
At the same time, from the burst of smoke arose a black winged, hateful-looking woman clad in armor and bearing a bow nocked with a flaming arrow. She immediately unleashed a barrage of missiles at Taco who, hanging from a rope in the void, made for an easy target. The flaming arrows shredded through him, almost bringing him to unconsciousness instantly, as the rest of the group rushed to pull him up. Tataco hoisted himself up, climbing desperately, as Yuuko, bolstered by spells from Kendra and Banjo, pulled on the rope, but, as the flying woman pulled out another arrow, it became quickly apparent that they would not be fast enough. Thinking quickly, Parva, still sticking to walls from the potion, climbed under the bridge. Standing upside-down and using his prodigious height, he was able to pull a smokestick from his pack and, straining with reach, hand it to Taco, who activated it, cloaking himself in a smokescreen.
Her prey now hidden from view, the Erinyes cursed and shot a rope-like thread from her wings to wrap around Parva’s ankles, before grabbing it and readying to pull him into the abyss. Tataco, with the aid of Yuuko and Bear, had managed to climb up into the alchemy lab again and, on the way, secured one end of the rope of climbing to Parva. Moving quickly, he tied the other end around Banjo, who braced himself, all four claws digging into the stonework.
Once again foiled, the fury dropped the rope, instead firing her bow again, scoring an array of hits on Parva and almost dropping him instantly as well. Though injured, he managed to climb back on top of the bridge, slashing at the rope with his dagger, where Yuuko stepped in and cut clean through it with her katana. The party began retreating, hoping to pull her into the manor where she would not have the advantage of range, and Dekhaim cast a wall of wind to deflect any arrows and cover them as they pulled back.
Undeterred the Erinyes cast a spell of her own, covering Yuuko, Taco, and Dekhaim in a dark, cloying mist which sucked the very life from them. Tataco, already hurt from the arrows, collapsed, seconds away from death. Kendra, Yuuko, and Parva rushed into the manor as Dekhaim and Banjo healed Taco and set up a defensive perimeter, using the walls of the laboratory to their advantage.
Flying around to get a better angle, the fury scored a few shots on Banjo before the others managed to make it across and into the manor, Taco summoning a celestial eagle to cover their escape. This proved nothing more than an annoyance, and the Erinyes landed on the bridge, drawing forth her longsword and moving to engage Yuuko inside the manor. Within, she was subjected to a barrage of ranged attacks and spells, as well as injured in melee combat, but was undeterred, lashing out with her flaming sword but barely failing to land a hit.
The tide suddenly turned when the eagle, which had been disregarded by the fury, suddenly swooped in and viciously rent her exposed stomach with one of its claws, literally disembowling her. Severely hurt, but not yet defeated, she cast another spell, bringing down the cloud of darkness and forcing most of the party to the brink of defeat before several shots from Tataco and another strike from Yuuko finally killed her. Moments later, the body of the Erinyes vanished, along with her equipment, bringing nothing but silence.
Perhaps misreading the situation, the magical servants who tended the mansion began setting the table and bringing out plates of steaming food as the party tended to their wounds and passed around healing spells. Exhausted from that ordeal, they ate the hearty meal which had been placed before them, and retired to the bedrooms upstairs, deciding to continue their investigation after a good night’s rest.

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A New Experience

“Well?”
With noticeable awkwardness, Yuuko looked to the young woman next to her.
“I’ve never done anything like this before, Lady Kendra. It seems so…”, Yuuko searched for the right word. She’d seen other women do it on several occasions and was admittedly curious to try, but somehow never imagined herself in this situation.
Not being Kendra’s first time, she fully understood what the Tian girl was feeling. “Shh”, she started playfully, raising a finger to the Yuuko’s lips. “Just do what I do. It gets easier with practice.” With a knowing wink, Kendra stood and turned to take several assured steps across the shop’s floor before turning back to her companion. “See?”
“You didn’t even fall once!”
“Well, that is the idea”, Kendra assured her with a friendly laugh. “Come on, now. Your turn~”
Yuuko looked to her feet at the strange shoes called “heels” she was wearing for the first time. Almost wishing she could wear them without actually having to walk in them, she decided—after seeing Kendra move in them so gracefully—it might be fun after all.

Several minutes later…

“Will that be all for you today, miss?”, the saleswoman asked cordially.
Yuuko turned her head to Kendra hesitantly. The taller woman smiled and gave a reassuring nod back.
“Well, we were wondering… since we have a friend who couldn’t make it today… do you have anything about five times larger? Oh, without heels, of course.”

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