Journey to Fate’s doorstep: Lady Silverhand’s important meeting

The Drow’s Bane arrive at Castle Waterdeep and are greeted by the door guards. Minutes later Seneschal Talonfeather greets the party and escorts them inside. “Thank you for your promptness”, says Talonfeather. “The masked Lords of Waterdeep, Lady Silverhand and the Lord’s Alliance are about to begin session.” The party is not familiar with the corridor they are being led down; most of the time they are taken through to Lady Silverhand’s personal chamber which is on the opposite side of the castle. This corridor leads to two double doors with gold trim and fine detail; a guard stands on each side of the doors. When the guards see Talonfeather approach they salute him and open the doors. The large chamber inside is noisy with people moving about, situating themselves in chairs and around tables. The room is displayed with a large chair near the center surrounded by several chairs on both sides behind a bannister. Two other seating areas of benches and tables, are on either side of the room. Together the entire seating area forms a semi-circle with Lady Silverhand seated in the middle.

This is the first time the Drow’s Bane encounters the full entourage of the masked Lords of Waterdeep. Every one of them is dressed in fine robes and wearing a gold mask to hide their identity. On the benches appear to be representatives from the Lord’s Alliance – Neverwinter, Baldur’s Gate and Silverymoon.

Lady Silverhand calls the chamber into session at the same time she acknowledges the Drow’s Bane and motions them to come forward to the middle of the room. “Thank you everyone for making arrangements to be present at this meeting in such short time. Our goal for today is to decide on the path forward to dealing with the recent outbreak of demonic cult activity across the Sword Coast and within each of our cities.” She scans the room and stares right at Nong for a brief moment before continuing. “The demonic cult activity is spreading as we see trails of sacrifices in our alleys, abandoned warehouses and in our sewers. None of my agents have been able to deduce why now, why here, however we have learned something interesting. The demonic cult outbreak in Waterdeep is in high demand of slaves to sacrifice. They are pursuing the crime lords in hopes to receive a constant supply of slaves for their evil intentions. They have been in contact with the Xanathar Thieve’s Guild who has stepped up to provide more slaves to meet the demand. Their slave trading partners, the Iron Ring, have begun to hunt down more innocents from the Underdark and surface in response.”

Lady Silverhand pauses to let the room take in the information and then continues. “My relationship with the Xanathar Thieve’s Guild has always been something of a hushed tolerance so long as they minimized the impact of their business on Waterdhavians. In return, we have used their sources for intelligence and information that have thwarted several criminal activities for years. Yes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Her facial expression turns grim as she says, “Rumor has it that a new Xanathar has taken over the Thieve’s Guild in recent months; this new leader is hellbent on undermining everything we have established prior; it is intent on meeting the slave demand of the demonic cults over keeping the political balance with Waterdeep. After several failed attempts to parley with the Thieve’s Guild, we cannot wait any longer and must choose a new path to take to protect our people and our interests.”

“Given the circumstances, the Lord’s of Waterdeep supported by the Lord’s Alliance and to a degree the Harpers too, have decided to terminate the Xanathar as the most viable option on the table. The removal of this leader will hopefully instill temporary chaos in the Thieve’s Guild buying us time to eradicate the demonic cults here at home.” Next, Lady Silverhand looks at the Drow’s Bane. “I have invited the Drow’s Bane to this meeting as I feel no other party has demonstrated themselves to me, who is capable enough to fulfill a mission like this. Royce, Nong, Naismith and Mordorck…will you take on this assignment to covertly enter Skullport, find the Xanathar and assassinate him?” All eyes look towards the party as Royce, Nong, Naismith and Mordrock look to each other. For a brief moment, Naimsith looks uneasy about this, but quickly changes character. Royce responds, “Yes, Lady Silverhand, we accept this assignment for the Lord’s of Waterdeep and the Lord’s Alliance”. A sigh of relief fills the room as Lady Silverhand displays the briefest of smiles before she closes the meeting and adjourns the audience.

She calls to the Drow’s Bane to approach her. “Thank you. I knew I could trust you to help. We have learned of two accomplices willing to help the Lord’s Alliance in Skullport with information on the whereabouts of the Xanathar. The first named Cephalux, a mind flayer, who has a manor in Skull Island. Meet him at his manor and learn from him what he knows. The second is a duergar prisoner named Gart; he is unfortunately in the Skullport prison also on Skull Island.” They discuss the plan to arrive into Skullport via the river. Naismith comments that travel by water is unnecessary as they will use the sewer route he is familiar with. “Oh, I didn’t realize that way to Skullport was still accessible. Very well as you see fit.” replies Lady Silverhand.

She then reaches out to each of the four and says “may the gods protect you and godspeed home with a successful mission”.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: to Candlekeep and back

The Drow’s Bane teleport to Catchbreeze after saying farewell to the Githzerai. They report back to Lady Silverhand and inform her of everything that was discovered in Ice Reach and how they thwarted the unleashing of an enthralled Kraken and Tarrasque onto the Sword Coast by an elder brain.

The Drow’s Bane also come clean with Lady Silverhand and tell her about the wand of Orcus and how it came into their possession. They ask her for help and she recommends they seek wisdom at Candlekeep, the greatest collection of writings in all of Faerun.

Days after, they set out for Candlekeep by securing room and board on the ‘Fancy Lady’, a keelboat docked in the Dock Ward; it appears money is no object with the Drow’s Bane as they secure the entire ship just for themselves. The trip to Baldur’s Gate takes about ten days by sea which goes uneventful. Nong along with the wand of Orcus, stays in the cockpit the entire time because the distance is greater than 300 feet from the others and the ship’s supplies; anything within 300 feet of the Wand will spoil and prevent anyone from taking a short or long rest.

They arrive and dock in Baldur’s Gate and set out across the city. They soon overhear people talking about Demonic Cults on the rise in the area. They decide not to stick around but quickly find a horse stable, rent horses and make their way south to Candlekeep. The travel on horseback takes days but the trip is uneventful. Except for Nong staying 301 feet away from the party, waking up to find the tree he’s climbed up was alive the night before and now is dead; there’s also a party of rat swarms hanging out just below him attracted to the Wand’s aura.

They arrive at Candlekeep, a towering castle-like-fortress with many spires walled off by 20 feet high stone walls surrounding the entire compound. Candelkeep sits on a crag that overlooks the Sea of Swords; the entrance is via a bridge from the main road that crosses over to the crag and leads up to two large metal doors. As the party approaches they see several monks standing in front of the open metal doors, welcoming people into Candlekeep. They greet the monks, who inform the Drow’s Bane that to gain entrance requires an ‘entrance gift’ – a tome not already found in the library that is worthy of significant historical importance, rarity or immense value.

You can hear a pin drop as the party looks at each other unsure of what to do next; none of them inquired beforehand on the requirements to enter Candlekeep. Nong gets a little cocky with the monks and wields the Wand of Orcus in their faces proclaiming the importance of this trip for the Drow’s Bane and the danger he holds in his hand. The monks smile back and simply restate the entrance gift requirement or no admittance. Moments later, the monks shut the main doors to avoid further discussion with Nong and signal for help. Nong then runs up the wall and stands on top looking out over the courtyard. Several monks look up and demand he remove himself from the wall. High above in one of the spires, an old monk with golden eyes looks out, sees Nong, and makes his way down the stairs and out to the courtyard as fast as he can.

Naismith convinces Nong to get down and to head back over the bridge to come up with a plan. As they move back across the bridge together, Naimsith hears the door behind him open up slightly. He turns back over his shoulder to see an old monk slowly walking out, using a cane for support; the monk has golden eyes, wrinkled skin, grey hair and is hunched over. Naismith stops suddenly as an image of an ancient gold dragon appears in his mind. The monk with the golden eyes projected his true self to Naismith in a split second. Naismith turns around and walks up to the monk and greets him. The monk and Naismith talk for a moment about the situation at hand, and the monk convinces Naismith to write his story and present it to the gate for entrance. Naismith returns to the party and with the help of Mordrock, begins to write down the tale of the Drow’s Bane, as best as a bard can tell it.

The next morning, the story is ready and they present it at the main entrance. The monks look it over and discuss; minutes later the party is granted entrance into Candlekeep.

The main courtyard is cobblestoned and opens up to several buildings along the walls. At the far opposite side of the courtyard sits a tower with a green door that behind it are the research study halls. The party is escorted by a monk to the bath house where every ‘Seeker’ must first bathe and put on simple robes. They are next escorted to the inn where each member of the party is assigned simple living quarters. Their escort, brother Tim, will stay at their side until they depart Candlekeep, at most ten days from now. After they get settled into their rooms, brother Tim, escorts the party to the Hearth, the grand eating hall for a meal. Nong decides to leave the wand in his room to prevent any problems.

After the meal the party is escorted into a private study hall to begin research. Brother Tim listens to their requests with no judgement, leaves for awhile and returns with tomes and scrolls. The first subject is all about Orcus and his wand. The party reads through tomes of various legends of the demon prince and how he acquired the wand and how to destroy it. Some legends say one thing like to destroy the wand you must bathe it in Tiamat’s blood, while other legends say something completely different like you must take the wand to the Positive plane and bathe it there. What is clear is that there is no one solution across the legends. Further research that day uncovers details about the Abyss, Tiamat and her lair in Avernus, and her subjects.

At the end of day 1, the Drow’s Bane are escorted back to their rooms to go to sleep. The next day, a similar routine occurs where they are escorted to a meal followed by an escort into the study hall. During the middle of the second day, the party is paid a visit by an imp, who appears out of thin air. Naismith and Royce happen to glance up from their tomes when they see this imp signal to them to get rid of brother Tim. Nong calls out to brother Tim, requesting he needs to return to his room for something and Nong and the monk leave the study hall.

The imp says to Royce, Mordrock and Naismith, “Do not believe everything you read; not all legends speak the truth about how to destroy the wand”. The imp smirks and then continues, “I was sent here by my Lady, who has taken an interest in your journey. She wants to help, but you must prove yourselves worthy first.” The party begins to ask the imp questions but the imp only replies with, “In time all will be revealed if you prove yourselves.” and then blinks out of existence.

This encounter sets the party off into a new direction of research! Brother Tim returns with Nong and is sent off to find details on imps, the Hells and who rules each layer. Hours later reading through tome after tome, the party maps out the female lords of Hell: Zariel, Tiamat, Glasya and Fierna.

That night Royce and Mordrock make a plan to prepare spells for the next day, to contact their deities and planar allies, looking for any help as to who this Lady might be. Royce also receives a message from Lady Silverhand, requesting the Drow’s Bane to be at Castle Waterdeep in one week for a very important meeting.

The next day Mordrock and Royce get to work. Mordrock contacts Tiamat, given his previous encounter with the dragon goddess. A black Abishai appears in the circle representing the voice of Tiamat. The party quickly abandons this idea once they learn the cost for answers from the Abishai is one of their souls. Next, Royce succeeds in contacting Tempus. Royce learns from Tempus ‘the Lady’ is in fact Glasya, the lord of the 6th hell, Malbolge.

With that information, the party returns to the study hall to begin research on Glasya, her hate for the wand of Orcus and travel to the Hells. Unfortunately, brother Tim does not return with much information on these topics. Little does the party know, the monks have cut them off from further research of non-mundane things, given Nong’s little stunt outside the keep.

Back at the Hearth for the evening meal, Nong is requested by brother Tim to step outside. Apparently, the neighbors on both sides of Nong’s room have complained that something foul is emanating from Nong’s room and is turning water and liquids rancid. The monks perform a test by placing a jug of water outside of Nong’s room and confirmed within a few hours the jug of water was rancid too. Nong is immediately asked to gather his belongings and is escorted out of Candlekeep. Nong does manage to inform the party of this on his way out the door.

Royce, Naismith and Mordrock realize the situation and decide now is a good time to leave Candlekeep. They are frustrated too with today’s lack of research results and seriously question the value of this research facility being the greatest in Faerun. They gather their belongings and leave Candlekeep.

The four travel back to Baldur’s Gate to return the horses. Royce then recalls the Drow’s Bane back to Catchbreeze with a few days to spare from Lady Silverhand’s very important meeting.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: Upon the Githzerai citadel

For a brief moment, the interior is crackling with chaos energy until Sithka, the Githzerai Anarch, waves her hand and transforms the energy into rooms and corridors. She welcomes the Drow’s Bane in and escorts them to a sanctuary room filled with peace and tranquility. She watches as her new guests carry a dead human with them into the room; the Half-Orc with black eyes holding a strange wand, also catches her attention.

Sithka and a few other Githzerai begin chatting with the party. She wants to understand what happened to her attack squad, the layout of the Mindflayer fortress and what is left of the Elder Brain. During the conversation, a few Githzerai bring food and drink in for the party – the food tastes sweet and savory and the drink goes down easily. In no time, the conversation ceases as Mordrock and Naismith fall fast asleep; even Nong, who no longer needs food or liquids to sustain himself, passes out too.

Nong falls into a deep slumber and begins to dream. His mind recalls the feelings he experienced when joining with the Wand of Orcus: power, fearlessness and a thirst for destruction. His mind next recalls the feeling of elation that coursed through his body when he delivered the death blow to the Elder Brain! However, the feeling of disappointment came next. Even though the wand was satiated with the kill, it still cursed at Nong, disappointed that Nong did not raise the brain as his undead servant.

The long rest continues for several more hours.

Nong enters into another dream state; this time he sees his mind’s familiar infinite plane of darkness except no eye stares back at him. Instead, he watches the horizon as a small light walks towards him. He waits until he sees the figure a hundred feet out; it’s a small humanoid holding a light in its hands. Fifty feet out Nong recognizes the small humanoid is a child holding a candle; it’s a Half-Orc child crying as it walks toward Nong.

In the room on the floor, Nong feels his heartbeat speed up. He takes a deep breadth, turns over and calms his breathing. After five minutes, he sinks back into the dream.

Nong looks out across the plane again and sees the child standing directly in front of him; the candle in its hands barely stays lit. The child looks up at Nong and says “Your light source is fading and I cannot keep it lit in the darkness for much longer. If you don’t find a way to destroy it first, it will destroy your light forever.” The child turns around and begins to walk away. Over the child’s shoulder, he cries out “You don’t have much time. It has awakened.” The familiar eye begins to open on the plane of darkness and looks at the child. The eye’s looming size dwarfs the crying child who slowly walks away. The eye grows bigger and stares at the child in anger.

Suddenly, Nong awakens in the dark room. He inhales and steadies his breadth as he here’s his comrades deep in sleep. He pauses, sniffs the air and frowns; then lies back down and closes his eyes. Ten feet away, a figure stands at the doorway quietly observing the sleeping party. She stares at Nong, moves her eyes down his body and stops at the strange wand in his hand. She studies it but from this distance she cannot see much. She catches a scent in the air and immediately looks towards the human corpse; their fallen comrade. The body has decomposed in record time and gives off a rotting scent; she also detects the smell of rotting food too. “That’s impossible, especially in here.” she thinks to herself. Her eyes dart back to Nong’s gaunt sleeping face.

After a few quiet breadths, she scowls, shakes her head and silently steps away.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: From the ruins to B’al Crek

The walls and floors of the stairway leading down are out of this world. Mordrock does not recognize the craftsmanship nor the type of strange marbled purple and black rock the corridor is made from. All three rooms down here are constructed with the same materials. In the first room the party encounters a table with a dead Ice Reach resident on it, missing the top of his skull and brain. A few Mindflayers and Intellect Devourers surprise attack but are no match for the party. In the next room, the party finds a Githzerai prisoner locked in a cage named Onas, who is drooling and appears to have endured incredible psychic and physical torture. Onas does not speak common so the party uses Nong as the translator.

After several heal spells, Onas coms to his senses, thanks the party and gives them a warning and a request for help; Onas is the last survivor of a raiding party on the ‘Ruins of Angdan’. During his torture he picked up glimpses of the Mindflayers purpose here. They established this outpost over a century ago and have extended their reach to a Goliath settlement to the northwest and west as far as Silverymoon. He has witnessed dozens of humanoids, some with grey skin, taken into this room and through a secret door which Onas believes is a route to a Mindflayer outpost. Onas tells the party the Mindflayer’s Elder Brain has located a Tarrasque trapped in a demi-plane and a sleeping Kraken under the sea of the Sword Coast; the Brain plans to unleash thousands of Intellect Devourers on both creatures to eventually subdue each of them. Once enthralled, the Brain will unleash the Tarrasque onto Faerun and the Kraken onto the Sword Coast. Onas realizes all of the captured humanoids taken through here are being turned into Intellect Devourers to feed this grand plan.

The party agrees to help Onas attack the Mindflayer outpost behind the secret door. Naismith leads them through the secret door into a corridor, and down into a small room. Inside the room there is a strange structure; Onas gasps as he recognizes the structure to be a qualith portal – a gateway to a Mindflayer hive colony. He proclaims the party to enter through the portal, seek out and kill the Elder Brain; this buys time for Onas to planeshift to his home, gather the armada and attack the hive colony. He hands Naismith a ring of Mind Shielding which also serves as a homing beacon for the Githzerai armada.

Onas psionically shields the rest of the party, which will last for one hour. Both of these are protections from being discovered by the Elder Brain as soon as they exit the portal. Onas starts up the portal, watches the party step through then planeshifts away.

Disoriented and nauseous the party emerges from the portal onto a plateau over looking B’al Crek, a MindFlayer city somewhere deep in the Underdark. The huge cavern where the city is located is familiar to Royce, Nong and Naismith in terms of cavernous lighting by way of illuminating lichen and other bioluminescence. From this height they can make out the city’s buildings and identify the largest building in the center of the city; they set out to head there in hopes of finding the Elder Brain.

The party tries to covertly approach the city, trying to fit in as best as possible. Royce, Nong and Naismith recognize familiar Underdark kin – Drow, Duergar, Grimlock, Quaggoth and Bugbear. Patrols of Grimlocks and Mindflayers walk the city perimeter. So far, no one detects their presence. The first building they encounter along the road into the city is where Mordrock catches the attention of an attractive human female carrying two flagons of wine, who opens the door of an octagonal building; she smiles and beckons Mordrock to follow her in. Mordrock pursues her and enters the building; eventually everyone else makes their way in.

Inside is luxuriously furnished in silk beds and chais lounges. Soft lighting floats around above as a half-elf bard plays softly on a harp; skimpily clad consorts of various humanoid races lie about the room eating, drinking wine or gambling. Two concentric rings of pink marble raise the floor slightly in the center which is occupied by a large insect creature and a beautiful angel in shining armor; both creatures greet the party warmly as they enter.

The Ice Devil and Erinyes instinctively know why the Drow’s Bane are in B’al Crek and jokingly point in the direction of where the Elder Brain resides. But they also suggest a game of chance as the Ice Devil pulls out a Deck of Many Things. The wager are the souls of all of the consorts or a magic item against whatever the Drow’s Bane offers up. Mordrock seems interested however the party cannot seem to decide on an offer when eventually Naismith makes his way in. Immediately, the Ice Devil and Erinyes, proclaim the wager is what Naismith has in his bag (i.e. the Wand of Orcus) as both devils stand-up and start moving towards Naismith.

The devils’ action causes a fight to break out. Naismith tries to exit the door and finds a wall of ice blocking his way out. The Erinyes takes to flight and fires poison arrows at the party. Consorts begin screaming and running out of the building while others hide in fear. Naismith goes down inviting the Erinyes to swoop down and begin searching his bag. In this vulnerable position, she succumbs to party attacks and falls herself. Shortly after, the Ice Devil falls too. Fifteen minutes later, a Mindflayer patrol enters the building from the south side right after the party exits from the north side, having confiscated a magical cloak beforehand.

The party quickly moves toward a main road to fold in with as many people walking to and from the city center. Royce abruptly stops the party as he recognizes up ahead a patrol of Mindflayers, Grimlocks and Intellect Devourers standing on opposite sides of the main road; the Mindflayers appear to be reading minds as people cross their path. The party is not registered in B’al Crek and will alarm the Mindflayers if they cross paths. Quickly, they detour off the main road into an open market; they make their way through Drow and Duergar vendors towards the large building in the city center. Someone successfully pickpockets Nong along the way.

They avoid another patrol reading minds when they hear loud cheering from a building not far away. They approach what looks like an amphitheater and notice a very unfair match inside – a Goristro, whom the crowd is cheering for, against 6 halfing slaves. Minutes later, the party feels an intense vibration wash over their minds and bodies; a female voice telepathically speaks out across the cavern, “We are under attack, we are under attack! To arms! To arms my children!” and repeats the phrase several more times. People look around at each other, then look up and begin pointing at the sky. Six portals above the city open, each sparking lightning and chaotic energy as large adamantine citadels emerge from each of them. Hundreds of individuals begin jumping off the citadels and diving down towards the city, slowing their pace as they approach the ground; these are the Githzerai armada who have finally arrived, seeking total Mindflayer annihilation.

The party runs toward the large building as Githzerai rain down around them. There is a moat surrounding the large building that is home to two hydra that emerge and fight the party. The moat spans twenty feet across. On the other side, Naismith sees two invisible Mindflayers guarding an invisible doorway. The invisible Mindflayers dash into the invisible doorway when the Githzerai begin to land and attack. The party fights the hydras but does not spend the time needed to take them down. One-by-one, they jump, run, or swim across the moat and dash through the invisible doorway.

Inside is a large room supported by eight monumental columns resembling tentacles. In the middle of the room is a hole in the floor and ceiling; shambling around the room are several walking brain golems. The party realizes quickly these brain golems are superior meat shields that soak up a ton of damage. Nong kicks a few down the hole in the floor about the time the tentacle columns come to life and smack everyone around; Naismith falls from the damage but magically recovers. Eventually the party jumps down the hole in the floor to avoid further damage after Naismith sees and hears two adamantine citadels crash into the city from the sky. Maybe the tide is turning against the Githzerai armada.

The hole leads to another room that contains walls and walls of brains in jars. The party continues to fight the brain golems; they also realize that as a golem goes down it explodes causing damage all around its body. Naismith notices the two invisible Mindflayers are in this room watching the party fight; they look ready to attack the party. A lot of time is spent taking down the brain golems and then the Mindflayers, which equates to significant damage to the party.

The Drow’s Bane must spend time to recover slowing their progress. During recovery, they hear from the room above a battle breaking out. Four Githzerai, one being Onas, peer down into the room from above; they are glad to see the party alive. The four Githzerai join the party in pursuit of the Elder Brain.

It takes a moment to realize how to unlock the floor lock but eventually they figure it out; the floor vanishes to reveal another hole. Jumping down they land into a room that contains two large pens with several humanoid slaves staring contently back at the party. A ritual is underway between three Mindflayers and a captive Half-Orc; the Mindflayers surrounding the Half-Orc, are in deep concentration; the kneeling Half-Orc reacts to the Mindflayers – first he begins to tremble, then his body stiffens as its skull falls open to reveal its brain. The brain turned Intellect Devourer, begins to move and falls out onto the floor.

The party and Githzerai launch into attack and wipe out the Mindflayers and Intellect Devourer. Onas can tell the slaves are under the Elder Brain’s control leaving them practically enthralled waiting for their turn at the horrid transformation ritual. Naismith notices on the wall two invisible windows; when he peers in, he notices each window reveals a demi-plane containing thousands of Intellect Devourers. The windows also have latches to allow for opening and closing. Onas says these Intellect Devourers are part of the master plan but there’s no time to deal with them so long as the Elder Brain lives. Another floor lock is opened and the party descends down into darkness.

They land in the back of a large room lit by torch light along the walls. A human and a huge serpentine beast stand in the middle of the room waiting for the party. The Githzerai and party attack only to watch the monk take down a Githzerai with the snap of his fingers. The serpentine beast lets out a string of lightning that hits several in the party and Githzerai. The pair appear to be the Brain’s body guards and it is a tough fight. Eventually the party is successful taking them down only to find two Intellect Devourers spring out from the corpses. The toll after this battle are two dead Githzerai, one being Onas.

There is a wall of force surrounding the Elder Brain’s room next door and the party is unclear on how to break it; dispel magic does not work. Naismith sees the wall of force extends into the ethereal plane so the party cannot use that plane to transport into the room. Given the walls are aberrant in nature, spells to move through rock are impossible either. Mordrock calls to Kelemvor for help and an angelic figure with ghostly wings and a dark visage appears. “What do you seek child of Kelemvor?”. Mordrock explains to the angel about the wall of force. The angel replies, “You have what you need to remove the wall, just look around”. The angel disappears after speaking. Someone figures out the wand has the potential to disintegrate the wall.

Nong takes the wand from Naismith and feels the power course through his body one more time. The familiar eye opens up in Nong’s mind as the eye closes in the mind of Naismith. “Join with me and we will destroy it and make it our undead servant!!” the Wand of Orcus says. This time Nong accepts the invitation to attune with the wand. Immediately the power fills Nong’s body but this time more happens. Nong opens his eyes and they are pitch black; his skin is changing color and he looks thinner. The familiar dark aura emanates around him and the wand but now with extreme intensity. The two Githzerai take a step back in fear of what is happening to their comrade.

Nong walks up to the Wall of Force and touches it with the wand; the wand unleashes a disintegration spell and instantly destroys the wall. Inside the room is a huge tank with glowing pink water. The party rushes in and is hit with a psychic scream leaving some stunned. The party feels their minds being probed and a female voice telepathically taunts them. A tentacle emerges from the water, grabs Royce and stuns him while grappled; it then drags him underneath the water; more tentacles lash out and attempt to strike the party. One Githzerai is grabbed but withstands the stunning effect of the grapple, and is also dragged underneath the water. Nong uses the wand to call forth an army of undead that rise up and surround the whole room; he commands them to attack the creature submerged twenty feet under the water. The skeletons and zombies obey, dive into the water and attack; some manage to hurt the creature just before the Elder Brain lets out another psychic scream and turns the undead into dust and bones. Everyone in the room feels the damage of the psychic scream t00.

Mordrock is now down, Nong and Naismith now watch what the Elder Brain does to Royce. A grappled stunned Royce moves toward the Brain where it reaches out and sucks Royce’s brain out of his head; Royce dies as the Elder Brain consumes the brain making it feel stronger. Naismith dives into the water to attack and Nong goes unconscious while being grappled. Naismith gets grappled by a tentacle and falls unconscious underwater; Nong miraculously wakes up from the brink of death.

The wand chastises Nong as he comes to consciousness. Nong stands up, dives into the pool and uses the wand to strike the death blow to the Elder Brain. The female voice telepathically screams as a psychic eruption explodes from the Elder Brain killing everyone in the room as it dies. Royce is dead underwater, Mordrock is unconscious on the floor, Naismith is unconscious underwater and Nong is unconscious on the water’s surface floating on his back.

After an hour Nong regains consciousness; after two Naismith stops choking to death and awakens and after three hours Mordrock opens his eyes. Both Githzerai are dead and the Elder Brain is dead too. The party is victorious but at a tremendous cost. They hoist Royce’s dead body out of the briny water and attempt to rest. Several Githzerai discover them and the party informs the Githzerai of the death of Onas and the others. After the rest, the Githzerai escort the party back out to meet Sithka, their Githzerai commander.

Outside, B’al Crek is raised to the ground; there are fires burning, dead are littered everywhere and the stench of death is strong. Through the smoke, they come upon Sithka, the female Githzerai commander. She knows who the party is from Onas and salutes them. Naismith, using Comprehend Languages, can understand Sithka, but is hesitant to use Nong as the translator given Nong’s new appearance. Sithka looks over the party and their dead comrade and invites the Drow’s Bane back to her adamantine citadel to recover.

The party gladly accepts and begins to follow her, with Royce in tow.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: Beyond Ice Reach to the mountain top

The rare sightings of a Purple Worm and Remorhazes within a few days time leads Xzin and the party northward, to seek council at the Goliath Embassy. The Goliaths are looked upon by Ice Reach residents as caretakers for some creature and some ceremony; these things are not discussed with outsiders but the party finds bits and pieces of information during their stay in Ice Reach.

After trekking two days north, the party arrives and Xzin presents the Drow’s Bane to the two Goliath Ambassadors. Xzin is humble and is looking for answers to the strange events occurring since the arrival of the Drow’s Bane to Ice Reach; like the other Ice Reach residents, Xzin holds the Goliaths in high esteem for their wisdom and advice. But the Goliaths responses are spiteful and chastising; they believe the Drow’s Bane are imposters and need to be punished.

A battle begins in spite of Xzin trying to mediate the situation. The Goliaths rage and viciously fight the party but are eventually overtaken and fall. Xzin, shocked in horror by the turn of events, comes clean with the truth. There is a Silver Dragon named Angdan who lives on the top of the mountain. Angdan routinely conducts a ‘Ceremony of the Silver Heart’ that Xzin believes is honorable. Worthy Ice Reach residents, visitors and all Ice Reach children partake in the ceremony by way of the Goliath Embassy; these selected individuals journey up the Silver Path, meet Angdan and under his guidance become protectors of the realm, never to be seen again.

The Wand of Orcus is destabilizing the bag of holding and Royce removes it seconds before the bag implodes. The Wand reacts to Royce’s handling of it, by instantly killing Royce and turning him into a zombie. The party deals with the situation and resurrects Royce; Xzin, in shock and horror, witnesses these unholy events and mocks the party for mocking him about the Goliaths, Angdan and the Ceremony of the Silver Heart.

The party settles down once Royce awakens and takes a long rest; unaware the Wand’s aura is causing the Goliath corpses to rot and spoiling all food in the area; ice cock roaches responding to the Wand’s aura, have assembled in the corners of the room by the time the party wakes up.

The trek up the Silver Path is nearly vertical, hiking 500 feet up the mountain to a path made of clouds, that ascends another 500 feet up to the mountain top. Besides extreme cold weather, the Drow’s Bane are attacked by two Rocs on the cloud path. A Roc grabs hold of Royce and drops him 500 feet below; Royce survives and calls forth Daern’s Instant Fortress for protection. Nong, Naismith and Mordrock perform acts of ‘Cirque du Soleil’ on the Rocs as a way to counter the Roc’s grab and drop tactic. During this encounter, Xzin is never attacked by the Rocs even though he attacks the creatures in self-defense.

The party continues up the cloud path after disposing the Rocs; one nearly crashes into Daern’s Instance Fortress 500 feet below. The mountain top consists of a large space centered around ancient ruins; 50 feet above the ruins a heart shaped cloud hovers revealing just a face of a Silver Dragon. For a few hours, Naismith, Nong, Mordrock and Xzin hang out at the mountain top edge, recovering from the Roc attack while Royce recovers in the Instant Fortress.

When the party crosses into the area with the ruins, the dragon speaks and welcomes the party to approach as five chairs made of clouds form in front of a table made of clouds. The chair backs resemble elongated dragon necks that extend into dragon heads over the top of the chairs. A human woman greets the party and apologizes for Angdan being unable to assist the party on the cloud path due to the extreme weather. Xzin immediately recognizes the woman to be his wife, Shevin, and runs to her; the couple embraces and just goes after each other as if they have not seen each other for days. Xzin pulls back from their kiss and tells Shevin about the Goliath Embassy.

Angdan laughs, flys out of the heart shaped cloud and lands his huge body next to the cloud table and chairs. He beckons the party to approach, sit and converse. Nong, Naismith and Mordrock approach and begin talking with Angdan. Eventually one of them sits down on a dragon chair. What happens next is a surprise for the group: something hiding in the head of the chair attempts to attack and fails, revealing itself to be an Intellect Devourer! Four other Intellect Devourers climb out of the other chairs and attack. Angdan takes off circling around the area, taunting the Drow’s Bane.

Shevin pushes Xzin onto the ground and taunts her husband as she unsheathes her long sword and moves to attack the party. Xzin is besides himself, confused with what he’s witnessing between his wife’s and Angdan’s behavior.

Naismith, Nong and Mordrock engage, taking down the Intellect Devourers in between Angdan’s breadth weapon, claws and tail swings. Nong takes down Shevin as Angdan takes down Mordock; when Shevin falls, an Intellect Devourer emerges from her head and attacks Nong. Naismith moves around the battlefield, ducking and covering and unleashing damage to the dragon. The battle is difficult without Royce’s support and eventually Nong is barely up, when a Mind Flayer exits out of the ruins and attacks. Xzin comes out of shock and attacks the Mind Flayer only to be stunned by the Mind Flayer’s mind blast.

Naismith, who is hiding but cornered, reaches into his bag and takes hold of the Wand as Angdan searches for the rogue, flying above. The Wand responds to Naismith’s command and an arc of necrotic energy releases from the Wand into the dragon! Angdan lets out a great roar as the necrotic energy tears into his flesh. The sound is so loud, even Royce hears it causing Royce to check in with the party. Minutes later, Royce shifts into the Ethereal plane and travels up the mountain.

Naismith delivers the killing blow to Angdan using the Wand one more time. The Wand reaches out to Naismith with excitement and a thirst for destruction; it tries to join with Naismith but fails. The familiar eye in Nong’s mind closes as an eye in Naismith’s mind opens. An Intellect Devourer emerges from Angdan’s head and attacks. Naismith quickly puts down the Intellect Devourer.

Royce recovers the party and as Mordrock’s eyes awaken he watches as Xzin, speaking to himself walks past; Xzin looks in shock, with unfocused eyes and babbling to himself, “…my life is a lie…I’m a joke…what was my wife…what did I do to my children!?!…”. Mordrock stands up and calls out to Xzin as he watches Xzin walk off the side of the mountain to his death.

After the party recovers they make their way down the stairs that leads deeper into the ruins.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: Ice Reach

Below are key moments from the previous session worth noting.

Mordrock now carries the bag of holding that contains the wand of Orcus. When Mordrock opens the bag to peer inside for the first time, his mysterious necklace flashes intense burning heat. The flash of heat pricks his skin as he recognizes, what is inside the bag reeks of tremendous necrotic power. Nong is also interested in the bag of holding and draws closer to Mordrock.

Ice Reach is a human settlement founded 50 years ago by an expedition led from Silverymoon to Highmelt Lake region. In Highmelt Lake, the expedition stumbles upon the rare Greyboon fungus and discovers Bluefin Tinker fish spawning grounds. The Bluefin Tinker fish brain is an alchemical ingredient to make potions of water-breathing and also induces a temporary fugue state when ground up and snorted; the latter property is a component much sought after in the pleasure houses of the realm. Between Greyboon sustenance and Bluefin Tinker to trade, the expedition setup a fragile settlement called Ice Reach. The offspring of the expedition leaders, a man known as Xzin, is the current jarl of Ice Reach.

The inhabitants of Ice Reach have grey mottled skin; a result of consuming Greyboon fungus. Once a person consumes 3 servings of Greyboon fungus his/her system can no longer sustain itself on any other food source.

Xzin appreciates the party’s assistance with the Remorhaz attack on the quarry. Ice Reach has not experienced a Remorhaz attack since the extreme blizzard two years ago that caused much of the Remorhaz natural prey to parish. Plus, the party receives bonus points for Mordrock helping prepare the dead for the evening funeral. Unfortunately, these bonus points are quickly cancelled when Royce threatens to level Ice Reach with an earthquake in front of Xzin and several guards the next morning.

The party meets the enthusiastic Wrennick, foreman of the Greyboon harvesting operations. Wrennick is delighted to have guests interested in a tour of the Greyboon cave. The large cavernous Greyboon cave brings to mind memories of the Underdark to Royce, Naismith and Nong. Unfortunately, Wrennick stumbles down a wrong path and right into the open mouth of a purple worm. This causes the mouth to close and swallow at the same time the party stops dead in their tracks in shock of what just happened.

Journey to Fate’s doorstep: Skyreach Castle

The party prepares for a long night’s rest on top of the huge bed that serves as Blagothkus’s ‘guest bedroom’. Royce lays down, closes his eyes, and offers a prayer to Tempus. He allows his mind to reflect on the day – ‘flying on pegasi, a Cloud Giant and his humongous castle and a battle with huge monsters – haven’t seen that in awhile’. The remorhaz battle was dangerous and it reminded Royce how out of shape he feels. ‘The rush of adrenaline and fear, thinking on your feet and keeping focused on spells in the heat of battle – man I am out of shape but happy we did our job, praise Tempus!’.

His mind shifts to reflect on this new cleric of Kelemvor accompanying the Drow’s Bane, the hill dwarf Mordrock. ‘I like the guy so far, seems to have an interesting history. Boy does Lady Silverhand like him, haha. I wonder if Kelemvor and Tempus are good buddies?’ he smiles. ‘I loved when Mordrock casted that banishment spell just at the right time. He definitely feels to me like he can stand on his own which is great… I get this odd feeling, Skyreach and Blagothkus is all he knows. The description Blagothkus told us about the human settlement, Ice Reach, didn’t appear to resonate any familiarity with Mordrock.’

Royce’s mind settles on Nong for a moment. ‘Nong is back which is good, but so is his uncomfortable stares and such. Every time I sense something, I turn and there he is, staring at me or sitting right beside me. As if that isn’t enough oddity, now my sword is complaining about being too close to the wand. We have to do something about this soon. That evil artifact has a mind of its own and will not just behave. Tempus what is this trial you have given me?’

Naismith turns over and tries to calm his mind from a day full of adventure. ‘I did not expect such a day. Today put my Skullport shenanigans to shame. Even though we managed to take those humongous things down, our synergy was off; it wasn’t the same without Kendall and Illian. Nong was fearless in battle of course, even more so than before. If there was an ounce of fear in him like I felt, he never showed it. Kendall and Illian would have been proud to be at his side today’.

Naismith thinks for a moment, ‘Unfortunately, we must take the good with the bad in this life. Nong outside of battle is back to his peculiarities again with Royce. I feel we’ve only just begun to tread down this road’.

Mordrock lay on his back staring at the ceiling 100 feet above. He exhales and watches his breadth condense into a misty cloud that slowly dissipates. ‘Skyreach is just as awesome as I remember it, except for the 3 huge burrow holes and dead remorhazes in the courtyard. Blagothkus looks a bit older and a tad less agile, but aren’t we all? His story about freeing his wife’s spirit is bittersweet; may Kelemvor show her the way to eternal rest. One day you free your wife’s spirit, say goodbye and the next day random pegasi show up and never leave your side…pretty awesome’. Mordrock shifts over to his side, before closing his eyes he scans the top of the bed, taking in the guys who call themselves the Drow’s Bane. ‘These three seem cool although I think the cleric and monk are embarrassed to talk to me about their past relationship that might have gone sour. I get it, we have only known each other for 2 days. The way I see the monk stare at the cleric tells me the attraction is not over. The last thing we need on this trip is for romantic drama to get in the way’.

Nong settles into a deep meditative state; he returns his breadth to its familiar steady rhythm of inhales and exhales. He allows his mind to awaken and focus deeply inward. ‘I acknowledge the the feeling of satisfaction for my battle discipline today. I acknowledge a moment of regret that Kendall and Illian were not on the battlefield with us. I allow myself to feel content for the camaraderie with Royce and Naismith again.’ Nong’s breadth pauses as his mind moves deeper into reflection. He allows his mind to uncover something that has returned, something that is open again. Nong’s mind sees an eye staring back at him from the far corner of his mind…somewhere on the distant horizon. He moves toward the eye, reaches out and touches it. The contact generates an emotion – a feeling of being in the heat of battle…adrenaline…strength…control…focus. There is also a subtler feeling underneath that Nong uncovers.

He allows his mind to experience this deeper feeling; it is one of chaos, submission to a greater power and of dominance over all. This feeling is so intense and intoxicating; it seems to nourish itself on the feelings of battle. Nong’s breadth is unsteady now as he moves his mind away from the eye. He tries to regain the steady breathing rhythm but it is difficult. He awakens and his eyes lock on Royce’s; immediately Royce looks away. Nong turns over and begins to calm his mind again; hopefully this time he can just fall asleep.

Curse of Strahd 12 – The Cold Light of Morning

In which the party’s druid Fitzworth writes a few words of wisdom after the sudden disappearance of Sumu after the fight against Strahd and his minions at the church in Vallaki. In which the group loses their regular scribe as Sumu’s player leaves the group.

Sumu is gone. Umus, too, but that makes me less sad.

I woke up and found a note from her which I will share later, but she is gone. Yesterday, it seemed that she might have found some of her family among the bodies and maybe that had something to do with it. I also noticed that she left something with Samael, but that is his story to tell or not tell.

But the last 36 hours have been hard.

The priest had repeatedly asked us to recover some bones (likely the remains of the patron saint of the church) and return them to their resting place, because their presence protected the church and possibly the entire town. We put it off to get involved in the political machinations of the Burgomaster and his rivals, the Wacher family.

As a result, the church was personally attacked by Strahd and six vampires (and also a set of animate pews… but that’s neither here nor there).

While we killed the six and drove Strahd back, the priest, his acolyte and much of the congregation at evening mass was slaughtered. Also, there’s a hole in the roof of the church.

We recovered the bones and found that the mastermind behind this plan to steal the bones – and the man who who also smuggled six vampires into town – is Vassily Von Holst. He’s a human male of medium height, clean shaven with black hair. Based on his clothing, he is possible noble. We didn’t see him, but we got his description.

Some members of the town who, frankly, owe a debt, will be working to restore the church and possibly take up vocational duties.

The Burgomaster, who was also brother-in-law to the late priest, will help.

We killed Izek Strazni, the Burgomaster’s right hand man (the one with the monstrous… right hand), but have set up the Wachter family to take the fall. It was Fiona Wachter who asked us to take out Strasni, so she could launch a coup. There will be a parade tomorrow and shit is likely to go down.

Also, the Martakov family of were-ravens seem ready to help, but not yet openly. Either one of them or, possibly, Ireena, could be installed as the new burgomaster. I see the reason behind installing Ireena, but am unsure as long as we know Strahd seeks her.

I got a little heated yesterday and I, at least, am ready to cleanse the earth of evil, though I’m also cooling down a bit. Ismark is seeming ready to take on the mantle of power to which his blood entitles him. Chand is seeming downright moral and is notably protective of children. Sumu was always our moral compass, but now she’s gone. I don’t know what’s up with Samael, but our sailor friend has a serious drinking problem and we might need to consider an intervention and a restoration spell to cure him of the disease or moral failing (not sure how everyone comes down on this issue) of addiction.

Curse of Strahd – 11 – A Fire in the Night

In which the party fails to realize the significance of missing bones and gets embroiled in local politics more than they would like to.

It is the night’s darkest hour. Midnight has come and gone, taking with it its vicious bats and hysterical screaming, leaving behind the bitter dregs: tired adventurers and piles of rubble in the church yard.

Fillegan sits at a table in the Blue Water Inn, looking crumpled and miserable. Every now and then he pulls out a handkerchief and hacks a loogie into it. After the third time, Ireena moves her chair a little further away, causing Ismark to give her a stern glance. “I am trying to bandage this cut, sister. Sit still.” She huffs a little, but stops moving. “Shouldn’t you be keeping an eye on other things, brother? Like the mayor’s mansion? You seemed so keen on it before.” Ismark scowls.”Irinka, it’s hardly fair of you to lay all that at my feet. Yes, I think you would make a better burgomaster than whoever has the job know, and I certainly trust you over Fiona Wachter. But if I had known… If any of us had known the danger that the town was in…” Ireena sighs. “You’re right. Sorry. I’m just angry.” Ismark smiles begrudgingly, then ruffles her hair. “Me too.”

Chand and Fitzworth arrive at the table carrying wine for everyone. Fillegan turns towards them and grins cheerfully. With a voice like a rasp he says “So, what did you light on fire? It lit up the bedroom and woke me up, and neither Ismark nor Ireena has seen fit to tell me what wind we’re sailing with, here.” Fitzworth sits down, takes a deep draught of wine, wipes his mouth on his sleeve, then says: “Nothing burned. Well, the bodies did, but you wouldn’t have seen that. You may have seen Sumu, who used that little trinket we picked up a while back. It’s quite spectacular, the amount of light that thing gives off.”

Fitzworth gulps more wine. “What happened is that Father Lucien is dead, as is his altar boy. They were torn apart by Strahd.” Fillegan turns pale. “Strahd was here? He attacked the priest?” He sounds incredulous and looks at everyone in turn. Ireena frowns and rubs her forehead. Ismark picks at a fraying edge on the bandage he just tied off. Fitzworth stares into his wine with chagrin and Chand grips his cup like he wants to throttle it. “We could’ve prevented it.” Chand says, after a strained pause. “We could have… should have… marched straight down to that coffin maker and wrenched those bones out of his damned hands. Instead, a bit of wine and conversation distracted…” “You mean,” Fitzworth interrupts “a bit of wine and conversation, a cheap magic trick and an offer to assassinate someone and hand the burgomaster’s seat to that overly-perfumed old biddy and her good-for-nothing drunkard sons.” Chand chuckles at Fitzworth’s unflattering description. “You better make sure she does not hear you say that.”

Fillegan’s stares wide-eyed. “We’re going to assassinate the burgomaster? And that caused Strahd to come and kill the priest?”

“Not quite,” Chand says “Remember, when we first entered Vallaki, the priest at the temple asked us for help. Something to do with grave robbery. In our hurry to get to Krezk, we ignored his pleas. When we returned here, we asked the priest to take in the children we had found in the windmill. The priest then insisted that the church would not be safe without these bones, so we took some time to ask questions of he boy he suspected of the theft. The culprit admitted straight away, but we chose to keep our dinner invitation with Lady Wachter rather than chase down the man who ordered the boy to steal the bones. It seems this may have allowed a way for Strahd to attack the church.”

The little sailor nods. “And the assassination?” Ismark looks up. “Lady Wachter takes issue with the way the town is run. She’s asked for our assistance in ensuring that the Burgomaster’s right-hand man – that fellow with the misshapen arm – is not a concern when she allows her sons to move on the Burgomaster himself.” Fillegan makes a mouth like he bit into a lemon. “We’re going to let them do that?” “I proposed otherwise,” Ismark responds, “as you might have gathered from my sister’s words. Perhaps we can foil the Wachters and let my sister assume control of the town.” “And place her not just under scrutiny of Strahd, but in direct opposition of a powerful family that makes no bones about their service to him? I thought you cared for the lass, Ismark.” Chand’s tone is light when he says this, but the look he sends to the fighter is not.

###

Samael slides his hand down Dusk’s leg. “No real heat here.” he says hoarsely. “Legs and hooves all seem fine. She certainly doesn’t have colic or anything of the sort.” From the other side of the big warhorse, Sumu responds “No, but s-she seems a little out of sorts, right? I’m not imagining that?” “No, you’re not. But did it warrant dragging me out to the stable in the dead of night? You don’t seem that concerned.”

Dusk snorts, as if to underline the point. “True.” Sumu says “I… well, there is something else. I’d hoped to talk.” This time, it’s Samael who snorts, then coughs a little. “Why talk to me, sister? We’ve barely met.” “It’s maybe s-something that… I mean… They’re not god-sworn, like you or I. Can we talk under the seal, Samael?” The paladin thinks for a second. “We can, if you need to.”

Sumu sinks down onto a bale of straw, and Samael does the same. “You’ll recall that we dug up those graves underneath the gallows?” Samael nods. “Dirty business, if you ask me.” “You’ll also recall that we… f-found something there – a holy symbol – and that I have carried it since.” Another nod. “I had reason to use it tonight. It worked, b-but not willingly. Not like I think it should.” Sumu reaches up to untie the ribbon that’s kept her hair tied and shakes her head.

Samael looks at her. “Why would that be? Is it…” He nods at the back of Sumu’s head where Umus, now free, begins to mutter to herself. It sounds as depraved as ever. “Maybe. I t-think so. The amulet seems determined to only serve those to fight for good and dedicate their lives to a divine force. That leaves precious few people capable of wielding it, and if it deems me unworthy…” “What do you intend to do?” Sumu shakes her head. “I was hoping you had any ideas. Beyond prayer, I mean.” Samael laughs, then coughs. “I am a champion of Kelemvor who is the Judge of the Damned, sister. Redemption may not be entirely within his remit.”

Their conversation continues while Dusk picks at her hay. Once the big mare falls asleep, the two get up to join their fellows at their drink.

Curse of Strahd – 10 – Crusty Business at Old Bonegrinder

In which the party deals with a coven of hags, reflects upon the truthfulness of Vistani fortune-telling and deals with the consequences of Barovia’s unusually vivid nightmares.

Large, warm muscles shift under him. It smells vaguely of hay and mammal. Someone… tousles his hair? Chand jerks awake, startling Dusk, who had turned her head to her flank to nuzzle him. Annoyed with his sudden movement, she stamps a hoof. At that moment, two high-pitched voices begin shrieking.

Chand lets himself slide down the flank of the horse and turns around in time to see two small figures run back into a familiar-looking windmill. A huge direwolf with a cracked window frame around his neck stares after them, more puzzled than hungry. “Ho, Fitz, they’re scared of you, I think.” Fillegan’s voice comes from above, where Chand now notices a direwolf-sized hole in the wooden wall. Looking back down, a crumpled body lies between Fitzworth’s front paws.

Ismark’s voice comes from within the mill “Wake up now! Hey, come on. Wake up! Let’s get you some fresh air.” He comes outside, a barely conscious Ireena hanging in his arms with a blissful smile. He carries her a short distance away and kneels beside her, looking worried.

Next, Sumu appears in the door frame, two children peeking out from behind her. “It’s just Fitz, “ she says to them “He’s not really a wolf. Just wait. He’s really quite nice.” The children eye her for a moment, but don’t seem convinced.

“Look out below!” Fillegan calls out as he hangs his grappling hook on a sturdy rafter and slides down the rope, only occasionally pushing off from the side of the windmill. He lands next to Fitzworth, then turns towards the door, where the children still stand and stare. He gives them an exaggerated wink and say “Here, I’ll prove it – nothing to be afraid of.” With that, he takes off his sailor’s cap, turns to Fitz and says “ Kind Sir Wolfworth, would you please open your mouth? Nice and wide, that’s the spirit!” Fitz, looking as confused as his wolf’s face will allow, opens his mouth. In response to Fillegan’s gesturing, he then lowers his snout, until Fillegan’s entire head fits between his jaws. Neither of them moves for a number of seconds. The children stare open-mouthed. Then, a large glob of wolf drool falls on top of Fillegan’s head. The little rogue makes a disgusted face. “The only dangerous thing here is your breath, Fitz. Do direwolves not brush their teeth?” Only then does he pull his head out from between the wolf’s teeth, and takes a bow in the direction of the children. They now look from Fitzworth to Fillegan to Sumu, evidently not feeling very secure with any of them.

The scene is interrupted when Samael appears behind Sumu and the children, carrying a large bundle. As the small cleric and the children step aside with alacrity, Chand sees a hand sticking out of the many layers of fraying fabric. Its fingers are bony, and the nails impossibly long. Strange stains and discolorations of the flesh are visible – this person worked with strange substances and processes. Potion-brewing, perhaps?

Before he can get a closer look, Samael has placed the body on the ground, next to the one that Fitzworth still stands over. The bear-sized wolf nimbly moves aside.

At the appearance of her rider, Dusk whinnies, drawing the eyes of the group with her enthusiasm. Samael smiles at the mare and casually tosses a bit of dried apple into the grass in front of her. Fitz wags his tail. Sumu gives a sheepish wave to Chand, then bends down towards the two children. “There is someone I think you should meet. He’s a friend of mine, sort of. Come on.” With that, she walks towards him. The children follow. “H-Hi Chand,” says, while biting on a thumb nail. “We found t-these little ones inside of that windmill. Someone had unsavory plans w-with them.” From behind Sumu, Umus pipes up, “Savory plans, more like. Ahahaha!” The children go wide-eyed with terror, as Sumu claps her hands over the back of her head. “Umus! Be quiet!”

Knowing an emergency when he sees one, Chand quickly squats down and puts on a beatific smile. “Who wants to hear a story? I know a really good one.” Sumu’s shoulders sag in relief and she turns to walk towards the two corpses that Samael has now straightened out. As Umus catches sight of Chand, she whispers at him “Cracked human thigh bones make a really good broth, you know.” Chand ignores the jibe, even though Umus tries to wink at him. Sumu sighs in defeat, reaches back and begins to braid her hair.

Some time later, the corpses burn in the roaring fire. Samael and Sumu have said their prayers and the children were given food and now lie sleeping under Samael’s spare saddle blanket, next to Ireena, who still dozes and smiles in pastry-induced bliss. Even the bags with live chickens are silent.

Fitz, now having resumed his human shape, has relayed to Chand what the party found inside the windmill: the oven full of meat pies, the haggling witches, the toads and chickens and children, Ireena’s response to a bite of pie, the elixers. Chand grills him on every detail, focusing especially on the disappearance of the older woman. Fillegan keeps rubbing his drooled-on hair, insisting on a hot bath. Conversation strays: what to do with little Freek and Myrtle, who cannot go back to their parents? Is there time to visit the standing stones some ways behind the mill? Are the direwolves getting bolder, now that they’re killing people in the road, and even attacking a group when they’re outnumbered? What else will we do once we’re in Vallaki?

“How long did I sleep?” Chand asks, suddenly, “We have not yet dined with Lady Wachter, have we?” “Oh, no, we have a few hours yet,” Samael responds,“Why?” “Oh, there’s just this little thing that Sumu and I agreed on for a few days. Nothing important.” Chand’s narrowed eyes measure the distance between the mill and Dusk’s tether, which is well over 30 feet, then rest on Sumu. She looks down and bites on another nail. He clears his throat, and raises an eyebrow.

“I-I don’t understand why you want me close by. You were sleeping, anyway.” she murmurs, “Besides, I’d just be another one of those friends in low places you’d then have to -” Chand makes a chopping motion. “Don’t repeat that Vistani nonsense back to me. You can’t possibly think there’s value in anything she said. What fantastical story did she spin for you? Your home is closer than you think? Pah.” Sumu looks up at him, incredulously. “She spoke true! My home is close. She told me where it is.” A deep red color begins to crawl up from her neck. Samael cocks his head. “I didn’t hear her say that. And I listened very carefully.”

“It’s personal! I w-wasn’t going to d-discuss that with all of you standing around,” Sumu says, now beet-red. “I went to see h-her when you were sleeping. I had to know and wh-who else would tell me?” Fillegan jumps up. “You kept a secret? From us?” Sumu nods. “But why? I mean… You can’t be from Barovia. Barovia is not a place you get to leave!” “It’s not entirely unheard of.” Ismark says, thoughtfully. “Although I’m not sure how you would have managed it. You don’t have the look of a Vistana.” Sumu shakes her head. “No, I don’t. I’m n-not sure how you do it. I don’t even know why mama made me leave. She just woke me up one night. She had been c-crying. Papa too. There was screaming. Then she made me put my coat on, gave me this little key she always wore around her neck and made a hidey-hole for me between the crates and sacks in the back of a Vistani cart, telling me not to move or make a sound until they stopped. I tried.”

Huh.” Fitzworth says, after a few seconds. “I did wonder why you were so scared of direwolves.” Sumu gives him a weak smile. “I tried to be quiet for as long as could. But I was about their age,” she nods at the sleeping children “and eventually I really had to pee. So the Vistani found me. Halted the cart, dumped me out and left me there. I tried to follow them, but the fog came in. And the wolves. So I ran blindly for a long time. Ended up in front of some building eventually, which happened to be one of Lliira’s sanctuaries.”

Chand rolls his eyes. “Fascinating, I am sure. I propose we get under way. After all, there is a dinner we have to attend, and we can’t keep Lady Wachter waiting.”