Chronicles of Khaldun: Bread and Circuses

Session 35

Freeday, Patchwall 7, 552 CY (50 AN)

As the spirit screeches, exorcised by Thava’s arcane power, a low, sinister chuckle sounds. Dhavita recognizes the tell-tale signs of some manner of illusion or message, set to convey when specific triggers are met, while Thava recognizes the signs of a teleportation trap about to spring shut. A thick, black mist forms over the area, and a grinning, leering skull forms from the mist, speaking with Lazghul’s voice. As he begins to speak, Croitus, Dhavita, Marguerite, Southie, and Thava all start to leave. When they reach the outer boundary of mist, however, it triggers the trap prematurely — Lazghul absolutely seems the sort to want to monologue, and to punish interruptions — and everyone feels the eldritch vertigo of transitioning between realms.

When they return to their senses, Croitus, Dhavita, Marguerite, Southie, and Thava, as well as their five horses, are standing in a rocky valley full of howling winds. They appear to be at the intersection of five roads with an ancient and unreadable signpost marking the spot. Lashed to the signpost is an ancient, leathery corpse. The mournful demeanor and perpetual twilight unbroken by a sad and haze-covered sun suggests they are in the Shadowfell, the shadowy realm forming a boundary between the living in the dead. Surprisingly, Resh is also at the crossroads; his demeanor has taken on a significant pall, and wisps of smoky ectoplasm waft off him. Notably, he bears a heavy axe wound in his chest, and his right leg bears a bleeding wound where the bone is visible, with only a few scraps of sinew joining the top of his thigh and the bottom. The last thing he recalls, through a dream-like haze, is traveling through gloomy burrows and rocky tunnels before finding himself here. Whatever place he found himself, it felt like home.

Lazghul unceremoniously appears at the crossroads and Southie instantly hefts his axe at him. He is dejected when it passes through him, like an apparition. Lazghul indicates they must have cut his message short. He apologizes to Croitus, Dhavita, Marguerite, Resh, and Thava, indicating it was not quite his goal to send them here. He notes that he has regretted letting Southie go, since the dwarf attempted to kill him, and rigged it so killing his Executioner and the other undead would transport them to the Shadowfell. Since Southie apparently sent an angel back to its domain with the knowledge that he would kill the Raven Queen, it seems an appropriate place to send his foe to meet his final fate. He notes, however, that if they escape from the Shadowfell, Lazghul is willing to let the matter drop. If he comes after Lazghul again, however, he has a ghost following Manny and Quithyra, and will use the location of the Creation Forge to his advantage. Although he has not yet decided if he will use it or destroy it. With that, he disappears.

After discussion, Croitus indicates the Dead Man upon the sign will answer questions regarding the locations of things by pointing. He asks which way to the House of Black Lanterns, an inn that often appears in the victinity of Dead Man’s Cross, and the corpse points off to the right. After asking about ways to escape and where the Raven Queen’s domain might be, as well as Southie asking where Bahamut’s domain may be (although he keeps calling him “Bathmat,” to the consternation of some of the others, particularly Thava) and if the Dead Man wishes to be destroyed (he does not respond; Croitus suggests he is cursed to remain here for choices he made in life), they decide to investigate the inn. Before they walk to it, however, a mournful bell tolls three times and a mist rises in the direction the Dead Man pointed. When the mist falls, an ornate two-story inn with black lanterns bearing blue flames appears. It is surrounded by a courtyard of cobblestones, and someone has apparently set up a haphazard and ragged tent city near the inn. Croitus, Resh, and Southie decide to go to the inn while Dhavita, Marguerite, and Thava investigate the tents.

Inside the inn, the place appears to be occupied by several sad, grey shapes in dusty corners, as well as the innkeeper, a woman in a kimono whose mouth has been slashed. She has a broad knife tucked in her obi. As Croitus, Resh, and Southie enter, a quiet voice accusingly mutters, “You.” They look to see Zafira Shulud, who looks momentarily angry before returning to her mug. She no longer has the sores around her mouth, but her neck is now bent at an odd angle and bears rope burns. Southie goes to talk her while Croitus decides to talk with the innkeeper. Southie learns that Zafira was executed as an accomplice to the Scandshar Six — the Peacocks wanted someone to blame, and she formed as good a target as any. He apologizes for his part in these events, as well as for decaptiating her before, and asks if she wants to accompany them on her journey; she agrees.

Resh listens for a bit, and asks why she has not moved on — introspection, she says; she wants to be truly ready before meeting her deity — before deciding he’s more interested in seeing what is happening outside.

Croitus speaks with the innkeeper, learning her name is Nishimura Kumiko. She seems a bit off-kilter — not too abnormal for the lingering dead, though — but otherwise like a normal innkeeper. He orders a drink, and determining that this place probably doesn’t care about such things, removes his hat of disguise.

Meanwhile, Dhavita, Marguerite, and Thava investigate the tents. It appears to be composed of whatever scraps of fabric the inhabitants were able to scavenge, and more likely forms one tent with several flaps. Nine skeletal horses are tethered outside. The tents house several military men — Dhavita counts eighteen, and by their markings, notes they are likely mercenaries. They appear to have been battered or crushed. In the middle of the tent is a dark-skinned man clad only in a loincloth and tied to the supports of the tent. He bears a couple of arrow wounds in his shoulders, several stab wounds in his abdomen, and a vicious abdominal wound that appears to have started small in his back, like a rapier point, but left with much more force, leaving a terrible crater. It looks like some form of magic, perhaps. Ancient whip scars mar his shoulders, and in addition to his bleeding death-wounds, he generally appears to have been mistreated. He bears the angry, sullen silence of a slave or prisoner.

The mercenaries greet the ladies as they approach. When questioned, they explain that they were killed in what they determined to be an engineered rockslide. They’ve been waiting here for the rest of their mercenary company for…well, time passes strangely, but perhaps three or four months. They’ve set up this tent city because they’re not welcome in the House of Black Lanterns; when they arrived, there were nineteen of them, but one got handsy with the barkeep, and she stabbed him to death. (Whatever lies beyond death in this realm, anyway.) The man they’ve captured is the man responsible for killing them — they waited at Dead Man’s Cross for someone to pass through who looked surprised to see them, and found him within a day of their passing. Resh, having joined the ladies by this time, inquires why they keep this man bound and why they have not yet moved on. The sergeant indicates they mean to punish this man and to wait for the others to return so that they can properly determine what to do with him. For emphasis, the sergeant strikes him; he winces, but says nothing. Resh asks why this matters, and the mercenaries seem to think it is important for nonspecific reasons. Dhavita asks if she can speak with the man, and the sergeant shrugs. She and Margot step into the tent, and ask how the man came there. He says he should not have let the halfling go; he was an assassin sent to track down some robbers who burglarized a merchant’s house and burned it to the ground. This group of mercenaries he killed was collateral damage, as he was instead supposed to assassinate their employer, an adventuring band. Before he was an assassin, he was a hunter from the Kinamsitu region of ’Ichi. He was captured and sold into slavery, only to be purchased by House de Rais. At hearing them mention Southie, he indicates he knows the name as they were owned by the same master, Revaz de Rais, and he heard it with some frequency. As the de Rais family sometimes does, they hunted him for sport, but he was so skilled at evading the hunts that by the time he was freed, his greatest skill was hunting men. So, he became a professional assassin and moved to the Isle of Anhak.

He remarks that one is never free of slavery; that it continues to shape one’s destiny, even as a free man.

Dhavita and Thava ask if they mercenaries can be hired, and after some deliberation, they say they can: 30gp should cover costs for a month. When inquiring about the man, they say they will free him for 150gp.

Southie then exits the House of Black Lanterns with Zafira, and reintroduces her to the rest of the group. She looks briefly angry when she sees Dhavita, but then apathy reasserts itself. He says she will be coming with them and trying to help them find the way out of this plane. She seems a little surprised at Southie’s change of heart and profuse apologies for decapitating her, and the others indicate that Southie has grown since last she met him. Southie makes note of the tents as Croitus comes out, and while the rest of the group tries to keep him away, Southie ends up striking up a conversation with the mercenaries anyway. When he finds out they can be hired for 30gp, he agrees; he waves aside most of the explanation for the bound man and deigns not to purchase his freedom, partially because he is running short on money. Dhavita and Thava decide to split the cost for the bound assassin’s freedom.

Dhavita asks his name, and he introduces himself as Osvanpyw de Rais. She tells him he is free to go, but he explains that he does not want to pass to the afterlife with a debt on his soul, so he will assist them in returning home. He is a skilled tracker, and although he does not know this land well, he will offer his services. She asks about the strange wound in his abdomen, and he explains it is a wound from a device called a firearm. To lighten the mood, Thava ignites her arm with magic; this prompts Marguerite, barely keeping herself together in the face of being in the lands of the dead, to begin sobbing uncontrollably. While comforting her, Dhavita asks the man to proceed; he explains that it is a rod that forces a projectile out by means of igniting smoke powder. He says a man called Giblets gave him the wound.

Once that line of questioning is finished, Dhavita takes her wife aside to try to calm her down.

Southie indicates that he wishes to find the way to the domain of “Bathmat”, as he wishes to make him a deal — if Bahamut will help him deal with Lazghul he will willingly go to one of the realms without gods Bahamut mentioned. Although he may, of course, have to delay leaving so that he can deal with the slavery problem.

While the others are deliberating, Croitus returns to the Dead Man’s Cross. When he is certain no one else is around, he asks where to find Pluton, dead Nerull’s domain. The corpse points to the mountains.

Also while the others deliberate, Zafira returns to the inn. Seeing that Zafira is gone, Dhavita and a still-shaken Marguerite enter the House of Black Lanterns to find her inside. She again seems displeased to see Dhavita, but apart from grimacing and threateningly reaching into her robes, she says nothing. Dhavita asks why Zafira sought her in the first place, and Zafira explains that she was given a quest to serve Cihuacoatl, whom she understands to be Zehir, god of serpents, poisons, and murder. She was to find Dhavita, remove her appendix, and if she survived for a week, take her back to her temple so that she could be sacrificed. This was not the only mission she had, though; among other things, she was also tasked with cutting out the heart of an enemy’s child, but placing it in the home of still another enemy and being caught in the process, for that is the only way for her to get close enough. Dhavita asks to what she was trying to get close — she responds simply that it was her goal. Now she waits in the hopes that she can prepare herself before she must stand before Zehir. When Dhavita inquires further, Zafira turns on her and draws a knife, a mad gleam in her eye.

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Session 34

Freeday, Patchwall 7, 552 CY (50 AN)

Dhavita dreams of a stone archway, revealing only darkness beyond. The vision of it fills her with dread.

Croitus, Dhavita, Manny, Marguerite, Quithyra, Resh, Southie, and Thava awaken, and Dhavita recounts her dream to them. As Dhavita seems agitated, Southie pulls Marguerite aside and asks if she and Dhavita are having marital problems. Somewhat perplexed, as she often is with Southie, Marguerite replies that they are not, and Southie says to make certain she keeps plying Dhavita with sexual intercourse, as that should keep her mood elevated. As they break camp, Dhavita inquires about the wisdom of trekking toward the Creation Forge. As Croitus, Dhavita, Manny, Marguerite, Quithyra, Resh, and Thava discuss these matters, Southie continues to walk at a brisk pace, leaving them behind. Quithyra joins him first, followed by Manny; after discussion, the general consensus is that it is probably wiser to travel with Southie so that any unfortunate circumstances caused by activating the Creation Forge can be examined and remedied, rather than Southie creating them on his own and the consequences happening without anyone else’s knowledge. Dhavita, for her part, is concerned about the wisdom of investing souls into Warforged in the first place. Resh notes that in terms of Southie using them as weapons of war, the Warforged are supposed to have free will, and so Dhavita would have the opportunity to argue against warfare when they are created.

As Southie walks ahead, with Quithyra having joined him, he passes an old man sitting on a rock. He is dressed in robes, and surrounded by seven fluttering canaries. Of note, he has no pack or gear. He greets Southie, and as Southie is about to travel past him, he notes that things do not have to go the way they are going. Over the course of the conversation, Southie surmises he is some deity in mortal form, and asks what his purpose is. The old man replies that the deities are the holders of natural forces, and if they are destroyed, those forced may go awry. He notes that he knows of two places where the gods hold no sway, and that he can take Southie there if he wishes. Southie indicates he would rather finish his work here first; given his philosophical proclivities, the old man notes he would probably feel at home in the planar city of Sigil, where the gods are unable to tread, either. Southie notes that given the old man’s gentle demeanor, he is likely against slavery, so their goals are currently in alignment. The old man agrees, although he notes he does not agree with Southie’s methods. With that, Southie takes his leave. Manny joins Southie’s advance group at that point, and waves at the old man.

Croitus, Dhavita, Marguerite, Resh, and Thava arrive to find the same old man, and Croitus and Thava instantly recognize the Old Man with the Canaries, a folkloric form of the Platinum Dragon Bahamut. They give greeting, and after some conversation, Bahamut indicates he tried to speak with Southie, but to no avail. The others acknowledge this, and before they leave, Thava asks for a blessing on her people and her kin, Torinn. Bahamut grants this.

Croitus, Dhavita, Marguerite, Resh, and Thava finally catch up to Manny, Quithyra, and Southie, and within an hour or so, Resh finds very strange tracks. Someone — or rather, several someones — has crossed their path. It appears to be a densely-packed group in the middle surrounded by a looser gathering of people. No one in the middle wears shoes, and only some in the outer group wear them; they appear humanoid. Not wanting to encounter this apparent army down the road, the group decides to track them. After wandering through the mountains for another hour or so, following this strange trail, the group finds their quarry — a throng of soldiers gathered around a cloaked giant with a massive axe. Close examination with Southie’s spyglass discovers the apparent discrepancy as the soldiers are all dead, bearing rusty armor and battered swords. The giant comprises several bodies melded together to form one large creature, explaining the more tightly-packed tracks in the middle of the group. While the group deliberates, the giant turns and looks at them, an amalgam of human faces melted together to form one giant face.

The group retreats to find a defensible location. Wanting to keep the location of the Creation Forge secret at all costs, Southie sends Manny and Quithyra with the map and Warren, his war pig, to travel to the Creation Forge and begin plans without him. As Manny and Quithyra leave, the others wait to make their stand, and Resh starts assembling a trap to collapse on the entrance of this pass. However, his trap falters, and the giant evidently found another way around, meaning that the group is sandwiched between the army of undead at the pass, and the giant at the other end. Southie deigns to hold the pass while the others try to fight the giant.

The battle is chaotic. Croitus unleashes his ghoul amalgam to antagonize both the army of the dead and the grotesque giant. Southie holds the pass, keeping the legions of the dead at bay with his axe. Dhavita and Marguerite try to offer Southie aid in holding the line, but end up riding into the thick of the undead soldiers and are nearly pulled off their horse when Croitus’ ghoul-amalgam intervenes. Resh antagonizes the giant with arrows, but it rushes at him and flings him across the pass with a savage axe blow. He stands and continues to fire arrows at the beast while Croitus’ summoned monstrosity attacks it. Thava attacks the giant with her magics before turning on the army, transforming into a dragon to rain fire upon them.

As Resh peppers the giant with arrows, its attention turns upon him again. It crosses the battlefield in a few long strides and swings its axe. The force of the blow knocks Resh back, and the axeblade severs his right leg. As he flies through the air, before he loses consciousness, he flings his spear. It flies true, embedding itself in the creature’s head. The beast falls and the spear dislodges itself to return to Resh’s waiting hand — but life has already left him, and the spear twists and lodges itself in the dirt several paces from his corpse.

With the giant slain, the rest of the group makes short work of the undead warriors. Dhavita checks on Resh to find there is nothing further to be done, and then bandages her arm — one of the undead warriors touched her there during the battle, and the skin is blackened with frostbite.

Once the travelers have recovered and bandaged their wounds, they turn their attention to the day’s events. Although some initially think that the undead noticed their passage, most of the group quickly agrees that the things were probably sent by Lazghul, and were tracking them by use of his bound ghosts. Thava quickly weaves a spell to reveal the presence of the hidden, and the passage of energy reveals two such creatures. Temporarily solid, she slings fire at one while Southie cuts the other ghost in half. The first only appears injured, however, and quickly becomes incorporeal again. She prepares herself, and attempts to invoke arcane power to exorcise the remaining spirit.

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Session 33

Earthday, Patchwall 6, 552 CY (50 AN)

Captain Chandler returns and sits next to Thava. He asks if she knows where her friends have gone; they are not in trouble, but he needs to know what they know. She explains that Croitus is currently disguised as the man sitting in the corner; Chandler summons him over, and once he makes his way to the table, Chandler confirms he is speaking to Croitus and asks if the others are available. Croitus says they probably are, although he is not certain. Captain Chandler asks if he could find them as he has questions; he again reiterates that they are not in trouble, but he needs to know what they know. Croitus wanders away to retrieve the others while Captain Chandler and Thava wait.

Meanwhile, Dhavita, Manny, Marguerite, Quithyra, Resh, and Southie make their way into the Vistani camp. Leolann greets them and explains that Croitus indicated they would be coming. They ask when the Vistani are leaving, and they say tomorrow morning; the former gladiators are welcome to stay until then. Should they wish, they can also travel in the same direction when the time comes.

They do not wait long when Croitus arrives and relays Captain Chandler’s request. They agree and all go to the inn.

At the Addled Alchemist, Captain Chandler is surprised when everyone wanders into the tavern. He suggests they hold this meeting somewhere a little more private, and everyone agrees to relocate to the guard barracks. (The prisoners are being held there for the moment, but he has no plans to bring the former gladiators and their associates back to the holding cells.) Southie idly requests mead. Once there, he gathers everyone in a room typically used for questioning, and asks to know what they know. Dhavita explains her dream, and Captain Chandler indicates that matches with what he knows — the captured bounty hunters are an adventuring party known as the Breath of the Basilisk, based out of Sorgforge. Chandler also notes they have four members, and inquires about the elf. After some conversation, the Scandshar Six obliquely admit that the elf is probably not going to be a problem anymore. Captain Chandler declines to inquire further. Additionally, during the course of conversation, Croitus reveals that they had plans to go public with their suspicions of the Scandshar Six’s residency in Duchy Jepson, and that if they do not return to Sorgforge, the information will be released via a safe deposit box. Captain Chandler notes that might be an issue; if there is ever definitive evidence that Duchy Jepson has housed the Scandshar Six, conflict is the expected outcome, either with the Scandshar military or the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks. The logical options to avoid war appear to be either the Scandshar Six leaving town, or quietly making the problem go away. Chandler also notes his legal limitations, that he cannot keep the Breath of the Basilisk incarcerated unless Thava is willing to press charges, which would of course mean that she would not be free to travel. Without that, he can probably only stall them for a couple of days before he will be forced to release them.

After some discussion, they say that they will go on their way but will somehow handle the situation. Captain Chandler ought to let the Breath of the Basilisk go after a couple of days. He agrees, and indicates that he does not want to be informed of their plans further. Whatever they do, he knows nothing about it. They agree, and ask if they can use the room for a bit more to discuss matters. He agrees, and takes his leave as one of the guardsmen delivers Southie’s mead.

The assembled party cycles through several iterations of the plan, trying to determine how to sneak into Scandshar, find the Breath of the Basilisk’s bank, and extract the letter. After discussion, they finally decide to go with a simpler approach — make it appear that the elf’s body was found, the scout having been killed by a rockslide, so that there is no evidence of the Scandshar Six’s passing. Hopefully, with the surviving members of the Breath of the Basilisk having been arrested and having lost a member, they will be discredited in the eyes of any other bounty hunters who might come to investigate. Eventually, it is decided: the group will purchase horses, head north, and assemble about a mile outside of town. Croitus will appear as one of the merchants and return the elf’s body to the guardsmen in town, claiming he was found in the rockslide earlier. Once complete, they will head to the northwest to investigate Southie’s alleged Creation Forge.

Once the plan is agreed, the group leaves the barracks. As Thava still plans to travel north with the Vistani, they bid her farewell. Croitus, Dhavita, Manny, Marguerite, Quithyra, Resh, and Southie travel to the stables to purchase horses — the stablemaster is very surprised and amused to see them again — and then they ride out of town. Dhavita and Marguerite share a horse, as do Manny and Quithyra, while Southie continues to ride his dire boar. Once they are about a mile down the road, the group stops and Resh gets to work building a makeshift cart. Once he’s finished, Croitus removes the elf from his canopic jar and carts him back into Jepson.

The guards at the gate are very shocked and escort him to the guard post. He’s forced to stay there for a few minutes while the guards determine what to do. Once Captain Chandler catches wind of the proceedings, he examines the body in the cart, looks for a long while at the disguised Croitus, and notes that further questioning is probably unnecessary. He lets Croitus go.

On his way back, Croitus is surprised to find Thava trotting up the road on horseback. She evidently thought better of her decision, deciding to travel with the group. Satisfied, the assembled travelers follow Southie’s map to the northwest, leaving the roads to travel where the hills rise wild. They make camp that evening in the shadow of the Hoarfrost Ridge.

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Session 32

Earthday, Patchwall 6, 552 CY (50 AN)

Thava lands outside the walls of Duchy Jepson near the east gate. Before she has an opportunity to go to the Vistani camp, the guards note her injuries and insist she sees the town’s abbot for treatment. Exhausted, she agrees.

The guards lead her to a house apparently being used by the Jepson clergy while the church is being rebuilt. Abbot Aelius inquires about her injuries while treating her, and she explains her run-in with the mercenaries. The abbot recommends she contact the guards. She agrees, and after she is healed, she goes to the guard barracks, again explaining her plight. After a brief wait, Captain Chandler mobilizes a guard contingent and asks if she can accompany to lead them to the mercenaries. She agrees.

Meanwhile, Croitus, Dhavita, Manny, Marguerite, Quithyra, Resh, and Southie wait by their trap. Southie watches with his telescope, noting an elf scout is walking up the road in their direction. Dhavita confirms it to be the elf traveling with the bounty hunters. They take positions and wait.

He tracks them, but apparently doesn’t notice their trap. He falls into the pit and is buried by the rockslide. The group uses the telescope to see what the mercenaries are doing in their camp. They appear to discuss the matter — the rockslide was definitely noticed — but they continue to wait. Eventually, the telescope reveals that Thava and a contingent of the town guard have arrived. They speak briefly with the mercenaries and everyone leaves peacefully.

Croitus, Dhavita, Manny, Marguerite, Quithyra, Resh, and Southie proceed to clear the rubble, both so that the road is passable and so that they can get rid of the elven ranger. Once he is uncovered, Croitus tastes his brain. He recalls a conversation between the elf, Carondir, and the dwarf leader, Ukhad, that the information regarding their suspicions is set to release from a safe deposit box in case they do not return to Sorgforge in twenty-four hours. He searches the body, finding a small trinket, a wooden carving of an elf done in the elven style. His other equipment is broken by the rock slide; Croitus scoops his remains into one of his canopic jars.

Having spotted a merchant caravan on its way, the group works to clear the rock slide, and after some discussion, they decide Croitus should return to Jepson to determine what is happening. Once they have finished, they’ll return to the Vistani camp.

In Jepson, the guards return with the mercenaries to the guard post for processing and interrogation. Captain Chandler asks Thava what she knows about the mercenaries, and tells her to stay in town as he’ll likely have more questions for her. She says she’ll be in the tavern.

Croitus returns to Jepson without incident, and enters the Vistani camp. He finds Leolann, and after trying to dance around the subject, he indicates he is Croitus and that his friends plan on coming soon. Leolann indicates that should not be a problem, and they will be ready to receive them.

After Thava has been sitting in the tavern for nearly an hour, a stranger enters and indicates he’s Croitus. He doesn’t explain much — as he says, for Thava’s safety — but the others will be returning to Jepson shortly. She explains what happens, that the mercenaries were arrested (although the elf was missing; Croitus indicates they may have been involved, although he declines to give details), and that she’s waiting to see if she needs to render additional assistance to Captain Chandler. So, they wait.

When the merchants arrive at the rockslide, Dhavita, Manny, Marguerite, Quithyra, Resh, and Southie explain that they’re helping clear the road after an unexpected rockslide. The merchants help them finish and thank them for the assistance. They ask if they need to purchase any provisions before continuing on their way, but the group declines. They then proceed back to Jepson to meet with the Vistani.

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Session 31

Waterday, Patchwall 5, 552 CY (50 AN)

Upon returning to the Addled Alchemist, Croitus, Dhavita, Resh, Southie, and Thava find many within, among them still being Antonio, Manny, Marguerite, Quithyra, Vianibrar, and Yavanna. Manny has moved to another table, and is currently engaged in a lengthy debate with a young wizard — the same handsome young man who was storming away from the Vistani camp, muttering, earlier in the evening — about cosmology. Croitus decides to go wandering around Duchy Jepson instead. Southie, noting that Manny seems to have taken the position that nothing truly exists and his counterpart taking the counterargument that reality has empirical existence, joins the argument with the idea that one can only prove one’s own existence and nothing else. Resh and Thava decide to have a drink. Dhavita sits next to Margot and surreptitiously runs her fingers up her thigh. The two lovers excuse themselves shortly thereafter.

After a few minutes, Southie has managed to irritate the wizard enough so that he leaves the Addled Alchemist in a huff. With the excitement over, Manny, Quithyra, Resh, Thava, and Yavanna all head up to their rooms. With only a few visitors, Southie, and Vianibrar left in the common room, Southie asks if Vianibrar can tell him an uplifting story, one not involving gods. Vianibrar tells him the tale of Theronna Onyxarm and her revolt against the giants. Once the tale is finished, Southie also retires to bed.

That night, Dhavita has a dream. She is in the backroom of a tavern, she thinks somewhere in Sorgforge. A stout, ginger-haired dwarf studies a map of the Sorrowfell Plains. Several blue pins have been stuck in various points on the map, but only four red pins have been — Dawnslight, Scandshar, Sorgforge, and Vonseloth. After a moment’s consideration, three other figures enter the room a heavily-armored male human, a lightly-armored woman with white hair and grey skin (but otherwise appearing human), and a male elf with the look of a scout or ranger about him. These mercenaries gather, and the dwarf addresses them, explaining that he thinks the others have gone about it all wrong. This map depicts all collated sightings of the Scandshar Six. However, those that are definitive sightings — in which local law enforcement have verified the Six — are displayed in red. When accompanied by knowledge of the timing of the sightings — the Scandshar Six were in Scandshar for several days, then in Sorgforge for about 24 hours, then in Dawnslight about half a week later, and finally in Vonseloth about a week later — it is clear that some form of magical transport has to be involved. So far, two accomplices have been discovered; a Zafira Shulud was tried and hanged, and a Mr. Monkshood was found dead, badly beaten and malnourished, in the Weeping Bay in Sorgforge. The dwarf finds it notable that there is a definitive logic to the Six’s travel. In Sorgforge, the Six had business dealings with the Patenaude merchant family (Dhavita’s former master and suspected lover, Lady Marguerite Weogora, was a member of Sorgforge’s Patenaude family); in Dawnslight, they recovered Lady Weogora and a member of Dhavita’s family; and in Vonseloth supposedly resides the remnant of Dar’amaraltria’s tribe. The dwarf finds it suspicious that there are no confirmed sightings of the Scandshar Six in Duchy Jepson, given that it is known to be friendly to slaves, forms another major settlement in the region, and would certainly have the resources to facilitate travel by teleportation circle. He notes that he would like to investigate Duchy Jepson, with one caveat — if one of the party falls, they don’t rescue that person. The survivors just retreat. The others reluctantly agree, and further agree that they will leave for Jepson around dawn.

Dhavita awakens with a start, and as often happens, Margot awakens with her. The night outside is still gloomy; it is apparently just before dawn. After briefly explaining her dream, and the fact that she is unaware whether the bounty hunters are coming by foot or by teleportation circle, Dhavita indicates they need to inform the others. She and Margot quickly dress and leave in search of the others. Dhavita recalls that Southie has been rooming just down the hall, and he might know where Resh and Thava are staying, so she goes to his door first. Southie answers the door, nude, weapon in hand. Manny similarly brandishes his spear, although he is wearing pants. She briefly explains her dream, and Southie says he will inform the others. Dhavita and Marguerite go to find Croitus while Southie and Manny dress.

After Southie and Manny are ready, Southie, unaware of where the others are staying, begins knocking on all the doors in the inn, looking for Resh and Thava. Several people stagger out, realize that it is nothing urgent, and return to their rooms. Yavanna opens the door, wearing a sheer nightgown and apparently with a client. Southie explains the situation, indicates she should likely not get involved (and should deny any association with Southie), apologizes for interrupting, and lets her return to her business.

Quithyra, Resh, and Thava eventually look out from their respective rooms, recognizing that Southie is the source. He explains the situation, and they proceed to get dressed and agree to all meet for breakfast.

Meanwhile, Dhavita and Marguerite search for Croitus and eventually find him, wallowing. They explain the situation to him, and he agrees to prepare and meet them back at the inn. Dhavita and Marguerite return to the Addled Alchemist while Croitus makes preparations. He snoops around for a stray cat and manages to catch it and snap its neck. The sound awakens someone, who comes out to investigate the commotion, but he sends them back inside. He then reanimates the cat and takes the mangy beast to Guard Captain Chandler’s house. He orders the undead cat to curl up outside, then knocks on the door. Captain Chandler answers after a slight delay, apparently having been asleep, and Croitus, wearing his hat of disguise, explains that he is Croitus and that people may be coming to look for the Scandshar refugees. If he encounters them, he should inform the cat outside, which will come and find them. Captain Chandler seems somewhat perturbed at the confluence of bounty hunters and undead cats, but agrees. Croitus then returns to the Addled Alchemist.

Everybody dresses, gathers what they can carry, and orders breakfast. After quickly eating, Thava decides to stand outside as a sentry. She sees someone approaching the Addled Alchemist, but quickly realizes it is Belnan Zivkovic, the dragonborn Vistani she met last evening. He informs her that they were originally going to leave this morning, but since the eladrin ladies want to visit their returned cousin in the Solaeque Purlieu in Vonseloth, and since that lies in the rough direction of the last known location of Thava’s tribe, they thought they would offer to escort Thava if she wishes to travel that way. If any of her companions also wish to travel with them, they are welcome to do so. She says she is interested, and he informs her that they will leave tomorrow at dawn; if she wishes to accompany them, she needs to be there by then. Otherwise, they will likely meet elsewhere on the road. He then takes his leave.

Croitus, still disguised, joins her to keep watch. They talk for a bit, and she explains the offer she was just given. After a few moments, figures come walking down the road — four of them, armed and armored, and matching Dhavita’s description. Croitus takes his leave to enter the inn and warn the others. Dhavita puts a platinum down on the bar and instructs the innkeeper that they left in the night sometime. The group then scurries out the backdoor and heads north. Croitus removes the enchantment on the zombified cat, allowing its body to return to its eternal rest.

Once they find a defensible position, a valley of sorts, they camp and Resh sets a trap — a gauntlet of falling boulders and spiked pits. They wait.

Thava is still standing on the Addled Alchemist’s porch when the bounty hunters arrive. They ask her a few questions about the Scandshar Six, and show her a stack of wanted posters for Ashraf, Croitus, Dar’amaraltria aka Nobody, Dhavita aka Khuna, Resh, and Southie. Each has a 50,000gp bounty, dead or alive. She says she knows nothing, and the quartet confer. They then go inside the Addled Alchemist, although the grey-skinned white-haired girl remains, inquiring about Thava’s background and family. They pair then go inside to see the other three inquiring about the Scandshar Six with the innkeeper. Thava gathers that they have grown suspicious of her, particularly as they all deign to sit with her and breakfast. They ask a few more questions before the dwarf requests they get down to cases — he knows she knows of their location, and wants to know where they headed. She says east. They send the elf scout, whom the dwarf calls “Carondir,” to investigate. The three mercenaries and Thava sit awkwardly and wait; he returns a few hours later, seeing he found no sign. They ask again, and she says south. The dwarf settles on north and requests that she accompanies them.

The four bounty hunters and Thava exit the inn and leave town without any difficulties. Carondir scouts ahead while the others stay with Thava as an escort. Apparently tired of her evasive answers, the dwarf moves to hit her once they are far outside town — Thava responds by conjuring a gout of flame to scorch the mercenaries. They manage to dodge out of the way, and Thava is forced to fling herself to the ground to avoid a well-placed arrow from the elf. The others gather around to subdue her, and the dwarf manages to catch her with his warpicks while the slate-skinned woman cuts her with a sickle. Injured and bleeding, Thava responds by conjuring the shimmering form of a dragon, soaring into the sky and effortlessly pinwheeling out of the way of another arrow from the ranger Carondir. She wings her way back to Duchy Jepson.

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Session 30

Waterday, Patchwall 5, 552 CY (50 AN)

Renthiruhar thanks Croitus, Dhavita, Resh, Southie, and Thava for their time, and finishes cleaning Croitus’ hut. She wanders into the night.

The group returns to the plan of visiting with the Vistani. Dhavita returns to the Addled Alchemist to fetch Margot; when she arrives, Antonio, Manny, Marguerite, Quithyra, Vianibrar, and Yavanna are dining together and having a lively conversation. Wanting to be polite, she invites the table; Antonio and Vianibrar decline, and Quithyra asks if Southie is going. Dhavita says he is, so Quithyra declines on behalf of his employees. Dhavita grabs Marguerite’s hand and the two dash into the autumn night.

As the sextet leaves Duchy Jepson, they run into a handsome young man, a magus by his look, muttering and walking back into the gates. Southie asks what is the matter, and he exclaims the Vistani don’t know what they have. He enters the town, muttering all the while.

The sextet make their way to the Vistani camp, where they are greeted warmly. The Vistani named Vicnan, a human male, makes introductions. The leaders of this clan are the humans Wiltiln and Zinnauvial, although the latter is still in her vardo; the other humans in the group are and the others are Leolann, Frurry, Victarath. There is also Magatris and Quiora, elves; Olomorn and Hollyemita, halflings; Belnan, a dragonborn; and Nasd, a goblin. After some conversation, Vicnan notes they are likely the escaped gladiators from Scandshar. He indicates there are many tales of their exploits, most of them fabricated, he is certain. After some further conversation, Dhavita expresses that she would like to have her fortune read. He instructs her to wait at the main vardo and knock. Zinnauvial Zivkovic will call her when she is ready.

Dhavita and Marguerite approach the vardo and knock. After a few minutes, a voice beckons them to enter. They open the door to find a vardo stuffed with knick knacks and colorful fabrics. An elderly human woman sits at the far end, behind a table holding a crystal ball and a small wooden box. After introductions, Dhavita and Margot request a reading. Zinnauvial charges 10 gp, and they begin.

Zinnauvial opens the box and unwraps the Barovian Tarokka, explaining that the cards are a Vistani tradition that uses archetypes for divination. She asks if Dhavita and Marguerite have a specific question; they just want to know about their future. After shuffling, she has them cut the deck, and begins laying out cards in a Basic Cross.

Not knowing Dhavita or Marguerite, she lets the cards determine the focus. She draws The Marionette, the fourth card of the Fortuna Magna, suggesting that Dhavita and Marguerite are self-willed, but still beholden to some greater force with a notable agenda. She wonders if this comes from their previous circumstances as master and slave, their troubles with the law, or their connection to the gods. Representing their past, she draws the Tax Collector, the Six of Coins. The Tax Collector represents corruption in the government and aristocracy, an obvious reference to the decadence of the system from whence Dhavita and Marguerite came. The present is represented by The Prison or Donjon, the eighth card of the Fortuna Magna. It represents imprisonment, banishment, or isolation. She initially focuses on the idea that they are prisoners of circumstance, perhaps, until Dhavita and Marguerite note they are both exiles from their former lives. For the future, Zinnauvial draws the Trader, the Three of Coins. The Trader represents any manner of commerce. Are they starting a business venture or perhaps a new job? Dhavita initially thinks of Southie’s business, although she isn’t involved, but then considers her possible job teaching medicine at the University. Finally, for the outcome, Zinnauvial draws the Illusionist, the Seven of Stars. It represents some form of trickery or misinformation, and typically has an evil connotation. Being somewhat vague in terms of the rest of the reading, Zinnauvial admonishes Dhavita and Marguerite to be honest with one another.

She is intrigued by the presence of the Fortuna Magna in Dhavita and Marguerite’s reading, and says she would be interested in investigating more. She asks if Dhavita has any other questions, and perhaps she will ask a source with more resolution. Dhavita inquires about her father, and Zinnauvial consults her crystal ball. She says she does not think he is coming after her. She also asks about the serpent woman, Zafira Shulud. Zinnauvial cannot find her with the crystal ball, suggesting she has no future and has passed away. As conversation turns to the slave trade, the elder Vistani notes that the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks appear in her tarokka readings with some regularity, frequently as the Darklord. She does not know what this portends.

By the time Dhavita and Marguerite leave, Thava has queued behind them, so she enters the vardo. Zinnauvial greets her, and asks for her question. Thava pays and indicates she wishes to find her people. The elder Vistani shuffles the deck, and while shuffling it, The Esper, the fourteenth card of the Fortuna Magna, falls out. Zinnauvial notes that it is the hero, an represents a powerful or unexpected ally. Does Thava have allies of which she is unaware? Is she herself the hero? She reshuffles the deck, Thava cuts it, and she begins the reading. For the focus, Zinnauvial draws the Six of Coins, the Beggar. The Beggar represents radical changes in fortune, which as far as she can tell given Thava’s enslavement, represents her relatively well. Representing her past is the Trader, the Three of Coins, appearing for the second time in the evening. It represents commerce, again in this case likely referring to her enslavement. Her present circumstances are represented by the Tax Collector, also appearing for the second time in the evening, representing corruption among the powerful. It is also a reference to how her enslavement continues to affect her circumstances. Her future is represented by the Berserker, the Six of Swords, barbarism and brutality in battle. Clearly there is brutal and gruesome violence in her future, a struggle to overcome. Finally, the outcome is represented by The Enchanter, the Three of Stars, which suggests her determination will overcome any obstacles in her path.

Thava thanks Zinnauvial for the reading and takes her leave; by the time she does, Croitus has queued behind her. He enters the vardo, and Zinnauvial notes that he is disguised, and he replies that his typical form usually elicits a negative reaction, whereupon he reveals it. After introductions are made, she shuffles the tarokka, has Croitus cut the deck, and begins the reading. For the focus, she draws the Dictator, the Eight of Swords, representing a tyrant or oppressor. Croitus says he has been shaped by and been the tyrant in his time, so it certainly fits. His past is represented by the Darklord, the first card of the Fortuna Magna, representing a potent enemy against the petitioner, a mastermind. Croitus is again familiar with this entity. Representing the present, she draws the Broken One, the eleventh card of the Fortuna Magna. It represents one broken in mind, body, or spirit, but in Croitus’ case, she suspects it means he is lost more than broken. He indicates he is in the process of being found. For his future, she draws the Illusionist, the Seven of Stars, representing trickery or evil information. He suspects that is in his path, brought by the entity represented by the Darklord. Finally, for the outcome, she draws the Spirit, the tenth card of the Fortuna Magna. It is a grim omen, suggesting the past will return to affect the future adversely. Although, given Croitus’ path, perhaps it refers to the spirit itself. Time will tell.

Croitus thanks her for the reading and pays before leaving. He rejoins the others.

While the tarokka readings were occurring, the others were without, drinking and discussing matters with the Vistani. Resh and Southie both abstain from the tarokka; Southie does so for firm ideological reasons, indicating that once your destiny is known, you’re beholden to it. Thava counter-argues that knowing your destiny allows you to change it, and Vicnan likens it to gouging out one’s eyes in the hopes of defining one’s own reality. Southie indicates he always defines his own reality.

As conversation continues, Southie and Dhavita begin discussing his business, and he says he will discuss matters further at the Addled Alchemist; he also notes he will issue her 200 shares of stock since she spent 200gp on his behalf earlier in the day. With that, the group bids the Vistani farewell and returns to Duchy Jepson.

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Session 29

Waterday, Patchwall 5, 552 CY (50 AN)

Croitus continues his research into the Shard of Evil in the library of the Wizard’s Tower. Not finding any significant additional information, he then informs the Headmaster of the encounter with Lazghul the Lich-Lord. This is disconcerting, although he is grateful for the information. Croitus decides to find a quiet spot to meditate for a bit before joining the others at the Addled Alchemist.

Manny, Resh, and Southie continue their contract work at the Duchy Jepson Treasury. Southie inquires about hosting their operations out of the bank, as a record-keeping intermediary. The bank agrees, and Southie pays a 55 gp deposit to get them to provide this service for six months.

As they are discussing, a figure enters the Treasury. Southie and Manny recognize Strawberry, the prostitute whose services Southie purchased for Manny roughly two and a half weeks ago. She tries to catch Southie’s eye, and presuming a situation at hand, he wraps up his business with the Treasury. When they are done talking, she approaches. She indicates she heard about the public offering of stock for Freedom Unlimited, Ltd., and she wishes to invest in shares. She asks a couple of cursory questions about the business, revealing that she has some financial knowledge, and decides to invest in 200 shares at 1 gp each. Southie is interested in discussing business with her, so the foursome retire to the Addled Alchemist for a drink.

Dhavita, Resh, and Thava are still talking to Margot and Vianibrar regarding the encounter with Lazghul. Vianibrar explains that he is a dangerous individual, but comes across as almost a nuisance — a threat to be overcome every few years to decades when he hatches some new plan or phase of a previous plan. His plots are inscrutable, and his end-goals are unknown, although the idea that he wants to overcome death itself by killing the Raven Queen seems well within character. For their part, liches are spellcasters who undergo a ritual to bind their souls into what is called a phylactery, a soul-box that keeps them on this plane beyond their deaths. So long as the phylactery exists, the lich cannot be permanently slain; a slain lich crumbles to dust and reforms within a week in the vicinity of his phylactery.

Around this time, Southie and his retinue of Manny, Quithyra, and Strawberry enter the Addled Alchemist. Dhavita excuses herself to use the privies when they enter. Southie and his associates discuss business; Southie explains to Strawberry his desire to start a stock-trading house for various companies, and asks if she would be interested in running it. She explains two potential obstacles — the wizards of Jepson aren’t terribly business savvy, and there are already major trading houses in Scandshar here in the Sorrowfell Plains and Vor Taluum on the Isle of Anhak. He thinks they can overcome both of these as the wizards should be interested in business, and something terrible will likely soon happen to the stock exchange in Scandshar, such as it being on fire.

She asks if there would be any sort of exclusivity agreement, such that she cannot run her personal business. He says he sees no problem as long as the two jobs do not conflict. She agrees to run his nascent stock exchange, and notes that while she is known as Strawberry or Doxy Engis, she is more properly known as Yavanna. Southie also determines that he would like to develop an auction house, also under her purview, whereby auctions can be performed. She can receive a commission of 20% on all goods sold; she agrees. He decides to house these all under one roof, and decides to hire a construction company to set about building the building for this. Also, since she is managing his business, he decides to return to the Jepson Treasury and cancel the service, transferring the funds to her.

Meanwhile, Dhavita, having excused herself, goes to the Wizard’s Tower to find her mother, Sati. She finds her in the communal dining hall, eating dinner, and joins her. Sati is pleased to see that Dhavita has returned safely to Duchy Jepson. Dhavita proceeds to describe their encounter with Lazghul, and specifically notes the fact that Lazghul remarked that Dhavita resembles one Raktrishi Shyamal Khundhury. Is there anything Dhavita should know?

Sati notes that she does not know much about him. He was a Brahmin — a Raktrishi, as Lazghul indicated — just passing through the village. She was young and foolish, and he was resplendent. She did not know that he was a vampire at first, although she deduced his nature over time. Bearing his nature in mind, she cannot say with certainty whether her desire was her own. In any case, he stayed with her for a while before moving on; she idly wonders if his superior senses somehow noted she was with child, and that drove him to leave, perhaps not wanting any awkward connections.

In any event, that does mean Dhavita occupies an odd place in the Nadhi caste system. On the one hand, the fact that Sati has never shied away from dealing with the dead in her profession, coupled with the fact of Dhavita’s undead heritage meant that they were ostracized as outcastes, as mere Dalit. On the other hand, Dhavita’s heritage should rightly make her a Brahmin, if not a Raktrishi herself.

At Dhavita’s questioning, Sati notes that she does not precisely know how the pregnancy worked — her research suggests vampires are only fertile under specific circumstances, no doubt involving esoteric symbolic interactions.

Whatever the case, Sati has idly wondered whether many of the Raktrishi are secretly undead, and whether they are subtly using the varnas to control the populace. It is certainly part of her disillusionment with Nadhi’s caste system.

Dhavita wonders if Shyamal will come looking for her, and Sati notes that if he were interested, he likely would have done so already. At any time, he could have come and taken her from Sati, and she would have little recourse. He could have ensured she was raised in a world of his making, insulated from the hardships she suffered. Dhavita wonders if Zafira Shulud might have come on his behalf, but Sati thinks it unlikely, as she was from the Kharha Desert in Anhak, rather distant from Nadhi. Unless he has been traveling. She does note an unpleasant thought, that perhaps he is waiting for a time or event, almost like harvesting a fruit when it is ripe. Nonetheless, she still suspects that there would be more overt signs of his influence.

Having these events to consider, Dhavita notes that Margot is still at the Addled Alchemist. She bids her mother good night.

At the Addled Alchemist, while conversation continues, Thava notes that she is interested in going to see the Vistani. Resh agrees to accompany her, and they take their leave of the inn.

As they are Jepson to speak with the Vistani camped outside, they run into Dhavita, leaving the Wizard’s Tower. They mention they are going to see the Vistani, and she expresses an interest. Resh asks if they need to wait for her to get Marguerite, and she hesitates. They press further, and she indicates she’s uncomfortable involving Marguerite because of the weird things that tend to happen around them. Around this time, Croitus exits the Wizard’s Tower and meets with the rest of the group. They indicate their desire to meet with the Vistani, and he decides to accompany. They finally prod Dhavita to get her wife, and so they go to the Addled Alchemist.

When she enters the inn, she sees Marguerite still sitting with Vianibrar. Margot appears to be talking with a young man in foppish garb.

Her heart falls. It’s Count Antonio Weogora, Lord Geoffrey Weogora’s nephew.

She pauses in the doorway, defeated. Southie notices, and follows her gaze to Antonio — he starts listening to the conversation to see if he needs to intervene. After a moment’s hesitation, she leaves the Addled Alchemist and slumps against the wall outside. Southie sends Manny, Quithyra, and Yavanna after her; he doesn’t want them around in case he needs to start trouble.

Croitus, Resh, and Thava inquire with Dhavita about what’s wrong, and she explains what she saw. They recommend that all of them enter as a unit; it’s clear that this is an issue they’ll need to address sooner or later, and if there’s trouble, they can assist if they are with her. She reluctantly agrees, and the group enters the Addled Alchemist.

Dhavita approaches Marguerite, and she introduces her to her nephew — her former nephew, anyway — Antonio Weogora. He greets her, and Antonio and Margot indicate he is also an outcast to the Weogoras, since he wanted to study wizardry rather than law. His father, and his uncle Lord Geoffrey Weogora, wanted him to enter into the family business. The last thing he did with the family funds was pay his tuition; he has been cut out of the family accounts since then. He incidentally, and sarcastically, notes that Lord Geoffrey Weogora’s reversal of fortune “couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.” He also apologizes to Dhavita, as he is certain that he has likely met her before, but does not recall her as she was one of the servants. He likewise expresses regret at missing the wedding; he was in town, and heard about a wedding, but did not realize it was his aunt involved.

With the revelation that all will be well, Dhavita’s mood increases greatly.

She then mentions to Margot that she and her associates wanted to visit the Vistani caravan outside town; Southie inquires about them, and the group explains that they are travelers who value personal freedom above all else. Southie seems very interested in accompanying.

Before they can leave, however, an elf woman enters the inn and immediately approaches. Addressing the assembled party, she introduces herself as Renthiruhar and indicates she is another weirdo seeking the escaped gladiators for a job. She explains, however, that she is not at liberty to discuss it until they have moved themselves to a secure location, a spot that she is able to secure against prying eyes. They decide on Croitus’ hut, and she says she must prepare it ahead of time before any of them approach. She is aware of how suspicious this sounds, but the preparations are necessary; if they do not trust her, she can take her business proposition elsewhere. They reluctantly agree. She says she will return to fetch them in a few minutes, after preparations are complete. Until then, they should stay together.

They discuss proceedings while she is away, and idly wonder what she wants. They decide to eat dinner while she is making preparations. Dhavita takes the opportunity to ask Vianibrar how long ago Lazghul appeared; he explains that it was fifty years ago, around the Cackledread War. A group known as the Covenant of Gold — worshipers of Pelor, led by the tiefling paladin Baarziduul the Valorous — defeated Lazghul. He was not there, and did not know the Covenant, but he has heard that the battle against the army of Lazghul’s undead lasted well into the night. The lich himself was defeated, although the Covenant clearly did not destroy his phylactery. Unsurprising, as it is suspected Lazghul keeps several false phylacteries around to distract from the real one.

She notes that the supposed meeting with Shyamal was forty years ago, during the period of time during which Lazghul was unaccounted.

After further conversation, Renthiruhar returns. The group finishes dinner, and she leads them back to Croitus’ hut.

It appears that a circle of salt has been placed around the hut. Thava is so busy studying the circle that she fails to notice when her tail breaks the circle; Croitus, realizing this is likely a preparation to keep ghosts away, notices the broken circle and brings it to Thava’s attention. Renthiruhar inquires what is the matter, and they report the broken circle to her; annoyed, she sends them away so she can perform preparations again.

While returning to the Addled Alchemist, they pause as Thava is debating going to visit the Vistani as she does not know if she will get another chance; they may move elsewhere before she visits them. Additionally, this elf woman is obviously only familiar with the other former gladiators, so Thava’s presence is unlikely to be missed. The group debates this action for a while, and as Thava is about to leave, Renthiruhar finds them and escorts them back to Croitus’ hut. This time, she watches as each person crosses the threshold.

Upon entering the hut, it is clear she has traced arcane sigils within, as well. She closes the door, and indicates it is safe to speak freely. She has brought them together because there is an artifact made by the dead god of smiths and craftsmen, Fallen Sorg. This artifact is the fabled Crux of Eternity, the artifact crafted by the gods during the Dawn War to fight the primordials. There are other parties seeking it, and she wants to make certain they do not get it — it is difficult to use, but interested parties may have devoted sufficient study to use it. In the wrong hands, it would be intensely dangerous. She is willing to offer whatever they need; gold, magic items, cleaning of their criminal records, whatever it takes. When asked, she explains that she is operating as Adeptus Gloomblight Spellweaver, curator of the Vault, does by attempting to keep the artifact out of dangerous hands in his absence. She explains that the secrecy is because the group is being watched; a ghost is following them (and possibly Southie in particular), no doubt sent by Lazghul the Lich-Lord. She explains that she understands the Broken Chain seeks the Crux, and possibly interested fiendish parties from the Nine Hells, among others. Legend places the device in Sorg’s tomb underneath Sorgforge, but she believes spiritual gravity has dragged Sorg’s tomb into the lands of the dead — Sorgforge’s reflection Sorgtomb in the Shadowfell. After a little discussion, the former gladiators thank her for the opportunity, but do not think they are the best choice. She should wait for a group such as the Platinum Claws or the Shields of the Sorrowfell to become available. (Renthiruhar apparently chose the former gladiators as the other adventuring parties in the region are currently indisposed.)

Although she is disappointed, she understands. She thanks them for listening, and Southie expresses an interest in contacting her again if he changes his mind. They say they will leave a message for her with the wizards of the Wizard’s Tower if it comes to that. She then begins cleaning the symbols from Croitus’ hut.

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Session 28

Freeday, Brewfest 7, 552 CY (50 AN)

The next morning, Croitus, Dhavita, Manny, Quithyra, Resh, Southie, and Thava awaken and breakfast. While Southie discusses selling stock in his organization with Croitus and Resh — Resh buys 100 shares at 1 gp per share, while Croitus buys only one — Dhavita speaks with Manny. Despite his ramblings, she finds that when he speaks of being “many,” he claims this is not a mental illness; that he has physically been split into many. His memories of his past are fractured, although he claims that “no good can come of [asking].”

Once breakfast is over, the group continues on its way.

Travel is uneventful for the next several days. Dhavita has vague, uneasy dreams as she often does while traveling with Southie, but it is only on the morning of Godsday, Patchwall 4, that she awakens from a full-blown nightmare she cannot fully recall. In the light of day, the group continues on the road back to Duchy Jepson, and the memory fades.

At least until they spot the vultures.

Vultures circle high overhead, over a spot down the road. The party proceeds with caution until they notice something in the road. Southie, having acquired a spyglass in his travels, pulls it out to check.

It’s a male human merchant, kneeling in the middle of the road, his arm outstretched and holding a scroll. The blood on his clothes and lack of movement suggests he’s dead.

As the group passes around the spyglass, Dhavita recalls the morning’s dream: she found herself adrift in a sea of bones, sinking downward, drowning. She warns the others — Southie claims he had the same dream — and the group continues to observe the corpse while contemplating their next move. When Dhavita looks at the body again, observing for weaknesses in case it is an enemy, its head snaps upward and makes eye contact through the spy glass. It rises and begins staggering toward the group.

Croitus and Southie step forward to meet the creature. As it approaches, it holds out the scroll. Once Croitus takes it, the corpse collapses, dead again.

Disappointed and annoyed at the lack of challenge, Southie dejectedly decapitates the corpse.

Croitus opens the scroll and returns to the group with it. It reads as follows:

You are cordially invited by
The Esteemed Personage of
Lazghul, the Opal of Chaos with Teeth of Jet and the Dress of Silence
for a lunchtime reverie with tea and cakes and ices.
Fear not the broken jaw of our lost kingdoms, but revel in this valley of dying stars!

Croitus and Dhavita recognize the name — Lazghul the Lich-Lord, a bogeyman of legend. He hasn’t been reliably sighted in the Sorrowfell Plains since the Cackledread War, but his undead depredations have been feared for a long time. The references to “tea and cakes and ices,” “the broken jaw of our lost kingdoms,” and “this valley of dying stars” bring to mind the work of a wartime poet, Elias the Twin, who wrote about the decay and ravages of the Cackledread War.

After some deliberation, they decide they’re probably going to encounter the lich whether they want to do so or not. As such, Southie sends Manny and Quithyra to take the long way around, cutting through the plains to avoid the lich-lord’s invitation. Their job is to take the stocks and contracts to the bank at Duchy Jepson to establish the official Freedom Unlimited, Ltd. presence there. Dhavita also requests they send word to Margot, and deliver the gold necklace she purchased in Vonseloth. The pair agrees, and wishes the group luck in their upcoming encounter. They then set out across the plains.

As prepared as they’re likely going to get, Croitus, Dhavita, Resh, Southie, and Thava head down the road.

It’s only another hour or two when they see it — the shattered remnant of a merchant caravan. The sounds of nature fade; only the circling vultures are visible, and they make no sound. There is an army of roughly a hundred skeletons in the vicinity, as well as about three dozen freshly-minted zombies, likely the dead merchants by their look. The dead are bustling about a table that has been set with a richly-prepared feast. Sitting at the head of the table, by the broken ruin of the caravan, is a giant, crouched, crab-like structure made entirely of bone. Within is a robed, skeletal figure — the visage of Lazghul himself, red pinpoints of light in the empty sockets where his eyes used to be. Next to Lazghul is a skeleton playing a harp; the framework is bone and the strings are evidently some manner of gut.

The group approaches.

Croitus gives greeting. With a rasping voice like a fetid wind across dead reeds, he returns the greeting. His bone chair lurches forward so he can get a better look at the assembled party. Southie offers him a goblet on the table; he accepts it and pours the liquid into his mouth. It immediately spills through his empty jaw, leaving a darkened, spreading patch of wet across his robe. No one else eats or drinks, even when he insists. He presents a very cheerful, jovial demeanor despite his ghastly nature.

He explains that he wishes to discuss a shared problem between Croitus and Southie — the Raven Queen. The existence of death, and the dichotomy of the living and the dead, is a flaw, a tool of oppression that should not exist. Southie replies that he appreciates the ability to kill his enemies, but Lazghul replies that one must take the good with the bad in matters such as this. Southie concedes the point.

Lazghul indicates he wants them to find the Shard of Evil, a flaw introduced in reality at the beginning of time. It has the power to slay gods, and has the advantage of being much easier to find than Godenschemering — it is located at the bottom of the Abyss. Lazghul believes this group is formidable enough to do the deed, and he will gladly assist them in destroying the Raven Queen with it.

Distracted, he then inquires about Dhavita. He says she looks familiar and asks if they have met before, and it is a while into the conversation before he determines she strongly resembles someone named Shyamal Khundhury, a Raktrishi of the Brahmin caste. She says she is not nearly so high born as to be a Raktrishi, and Lazghul replies that is too bad, as if she is a relative, she ought to be a princess of Nadhi.

As conversation continues, Southie seems interested and tentatively expresses interest. Lazghul says he can keep an eye on Southie, but Southie doesn’t like the idea, so they agree to meet back at this location if Southie or any of the others decide to take him up on the offer.

As they are preparing to leave, Southie decides that Lazghul is probably a bad enough person to merit death. He launches himself at Lazghul, but is surprised when the bone cage of his throne closes around him; Southie knocks out a notable chunk of bone, but the shifting cage whirls to close the gap. Dhavita, recalling something from the visions in her sleep, is already fleeing; she is halfway across the field when the skeletons all take aim and pepper the area with arrows. Croitus, Resh, Southie, and Thava all seek shelter under the table, and although Resh takes an arrow in his hand for his trouble, they all manage to avoid death by a hundred arrows. As they redraw their arrows, Southie notes he was just testing Lazghul, to make certain he was strong enough. He says he’ll be on his way. He then steps out and begins walking down the path. In a fit of pique, Lazghul recites some spells that causes Southie to feel intense pain in his abdomen, and indicates he may or may not now keep his word. He otherwise lets them leave unmolested.

After they are safely away, the group chides Southie for antagonizing the lich-lord. Despite their increased paranoia, the rest of their trip is uneventful.

The fivesome arrives in Duchy Jepson in the late afternoon on the following day, Waterday, Patchwall 5. Given the colorful vardos and wagons outside Jepson, it appears a caravan of Vistani have made camp outside the town. The group enters and sets about their business. Croitus goes to the Wizard’s Tower library to perform further research on the Shard of Evil. Resh goes to the Wizard’s Tower to see if the spare dormatories are still available. (They’re not; Resh returns to the Addled Alchemist to find lodging for the night.) Southie travels to the offices of the Jepson Treasury to meet with Manny and Quithyra and continue contract work. Dhavita and Thava go to the inn — Dhavita to look for Margot, and Thava to have a drink. They find Marguerite and Vianibrar, and give greeting. Dhavita and Thava proceed to retell the events of the past several days on the road, prompting alarm (particularly from Vianibrar) with the revelation that Lazghul is again sighted in the Sorrowfell Plains. Resh returns to the inn during their story, and fills in details as needed.

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Session 27

Earthday, Harvester 27, 552 CY (50 AN)

Croitus, Dhavita, Nobody, Resh, and Thava wait until nightfall. At some point during the afternoon, Dhavita realizes that Nobody isn’t part of the plan; she indicates she will remain here, in Vonseloth, with the Solaeque. Nobody says her farewells to everyone. Van’solessonna also bids them farewell, wishing them well on their journey and reminding them they are part of the tribe now; they may visit whenever they wish, particularly once the search for them has decreased its intensity.

The group rests for the rest of the afternoon in preparation for the night’s escape. Croitus returns to the Elven shrine to the dead, saying a prayer in an ancient Elven dialect before it, to the surprise of those present.

Early in the morning of Freeday, Harvester 28, the group prepares to leave. Croitus, assuming his normal alligator form, rides out on his horse. Once he exits the Purlieu, he notes a gang of orc mercenaries. He immediately starts whooping, shouting, and causing a ruckus, riding out of the Purlieu as fast as he can. As he rides, Croitus hears hooves thunder out of a side alley; he chooses not to focus on them, instead looking for his exit. The orcs take the bait and give chase, but as soon as it becomes obvious they cannot run down the horse, they loose a volley of arrows on Croitus’ position. One strikes the horse in the flank, and the beast begins limping.

Croitus leaps off the horse and dives into an alley, looking for transients and vagrants. He finds several asleep and tucks himself into a corner, using the hat of disguise to blend with them. An armored figure astride a horse — Croitus recognizes the armor of Sir Stígandr Hafrnsson — rides into the alley, and seeing a shifting homeless person, asks him if he has seen a crocodile-man come through here. Croitus, disguised as a vagrant, gestures to the end of the alley and indicates he went that way. Sir Stígandr thanks him and continues down the alley.

Shortly thereafter, the orcs appear. Asking the awake “bum” if he has seen a crocodile-man, he again directs them to the end of the alley. The six orcs split at that time, with four heading towards the end of the alley and the other two returning to their post.

Ten minutes after Croitus rides out of the Purlieu, Dhavita and Thava cloak themselves and go to leave. Nobody gives Dhavita her veil, and after repeating their farewells, Dhavita and Thava go to leave.

As the orcs have abandoned their post, Dhavita and Thava leave without incident. However, as they wander the quiet streets, they run into two of the orcs returning to the entrance of the Purlieu. One of the pair interrogates them as to their business, and insists on accompanying them, suggesting two lovely ladies ought not to be alone on the streets at this hour. Dhavita and Thava demur, suggesting that they must be on their way; the other orc strikes his associate in the arm, indicating they have a job to do and should not waste their time with this.

Dhavita and Thava make it to the north gate. Their packs are searched and they are questioned by the guards, who explain that there is a rumor going about that the escaped gladiators from Scandshar are here. Dhavita and Thava explain they are trying to make it into the Sylernavian Pass by sunrise so that they may picnic in the mountains, and then they are traveling onward to a cousin’s wedding — which is why they have the specialized equipment, as they are wedding gifts. The guards accept the explanation, and after warning them of the dangers and offering to escort them, they allow the pair to leave the city.

Resh waits another ten or fifteen minutes after Dhavita and Thava leave, and tosses his grappling hook over the wall. He quickly scales it, and although a distant guardsman notes the disturbance, Resh is down the wall and hidden in the surrounding trees before the guardsman can investigate.

The guard, assuming it was just nothing, continues to make his rounds.

Croitus remains in the alley for a few moments. Once he is convinced the pursuers have passed, he heads toward the market, using the hat of disguise to change his appearance when he is unobserved. When he makes it to the market, several merchants are setting up their stalls for the day’s business. He also notes Sir Stígandr, looking around the market square for anything out of the ordinary. The four orcs are here, interrogating and threatening shopkeepers, evidently to no avail. Strangely, the guards let them continue their questions.

After monitoring the scene for a few moments, Croitus, diguised as a merchant, unleashes the cadaver of Lord Book. He gives the undead only one command — run around the market and make a lot of noise. The frenzied corpse immediately does as it’s told, running throughout the market, shouting, overturning tables, and upending stalls. The guards seem vaguely amused and surprised at first before the realization that this person is causing property damage, and is a rotting cadaver, dawns on them. They move to deal with the disruption as Croitus leaves.

Croitus feels control of Lord Book wane within a few moments, indicating he was likely slain by the guards. He continues his tour through the streets, switching forms every few blocks, until he reaches the south gate. Seeing a caravan of merchants being searched by the guardsmen, he uses the hat of disguise to appear as a merchant, and slips into the throng. He turns to the merchant next to him, and joins the complaints about the disruption by the guardsmen. The other merchant is evidently too embarassed to admit he doesn’t recognize Croitus, and responds in kind.

Croitus manages to maintain the deception all the way to Castow; the merchant caravan reaches Castow late in the afternoon on Sunday, Brewfest 2.

Dhavita and Thava head maybe a mile or so up the Sylernavian Pass, and just in case anyone decided to monitor them, they move to the side of the path and breakfast as the sun rises. A few passing travelers note them, but otherwise let them alone.

Once the pair is finished, they leave the path and head west, into the mountains. To avoid Vonseloth, the hike through the mountains takes the better part of the day, but they return to the hills and plains without incident. It’s another day until they reach Castow on Sunday, Brewfest 2.

Resh makes his way south, through the mountains and hills until he reaches the plains. He specifically stays away from the road, and while traveling through the woods in the hills, runs into a gnoll scout. The gnoll threatens Resh, finally culminating in the taunt, “I hear you taste like chicken.” Resh replies, “I hear you taste like shit,” the audacity of which seems to amuse the gnoll. They agree to ignore each other.

Resh reaches Castow on Sunday, Brewfest 2. Just passing through, he makes camp south of Castow as previously discussed.

When Dhavita and Thava reach Castow, they notice that Castow’s Brewfest appears to be in full swing. They decide to check the meeting spot and find Resh, already having established a camp. As Dhavita wants to see Brewfest, the group splits; Dhavita and Thava will go to Castow and sample the festivities, while Resh will remain at camp. They say they will bring him back some beer.

When the merchant caravan arrives in Castow, they make their way to the Brewfest festivities. Croitus spots Dhavita and Thava dancing in the crowd, and he cuts in, revealing to Dhavita that he’s Croitus despite his mercantile appearance. They agree to meet at the campsite.

After they have thoroughly Brewfested, Dhavita and Thava return to camp with beer for Resh, as promised. Croitus returns with a half-keg of the local brew, although they decide to keep it for later consumption.

The quartet sets out the next day, Moonday, Brewfest 3, for Duchy Jepson.

On Starday, Brewfest 1, Southie, Manny, and Quithyra continue to make their preparations in Duchy Jepson. Southie refrains from imbibing too much on Brewfest, although he does order a keg of the local brew for the road. He also orders mugs engraved for the employees of Freedom Unlimited, Ltd. — each mug has the person’s name and position in the company. He threatens the craftsman if he makes substandard work, and also recommends investing in his company. The craftsman asks if he has official charter, but Southie is not interested in registering his business with the Duchess and her ministers.

Once all preparations are complete, Freedom Unlimited, Ltd. leaves the Duchy on the morning of Sunday, Brewfest 2.

Travels on the road are uneventful — the groups only pass a few merchants and travelers — until Croitus, Dhavita, Resh, and Thava meet Southie, Manny, and Quithyra on the road on Earthday, Brewfest 6. The groups catch up — Southie notes Nobody is not with the group, and explains his plans to abolish slavery and the deities with Freedom Unlimited, Ltd. (although he keeps the Creation Forge to himself, as a proprietary secret). He recommends investing in his company. Dhavita remarks that Quithyra seems to have gotten herself into quite the situation; she is aware of the company she keeps, but notes that she really cannot pass up the opportunity. Croitus, Dhavita, Resh, and Thava seem amused by Manny’s eccentricities, although after be comments on Dhavita’s vampiric heritage. Southie reminds him that he ought not to reveal hidden information, or at least not do so for free.

Southie gets to the business at hand — asking if he can reference Croitus’ books, as they may have important information. Manny explains that the Terrible Old Man was referring to books owned by Lord Candle, and that Southie already purchased the items he needed. Southie wishes he had mentioned this earlier, but Manny replies that he did not know why they were traveling west.

Returning to Manny’s apparent gift for secret information, Croitus notes that he and Manny will have to discuss matters in the evening. When it comes time to discuss watches, they decide to take shifts of two — Croitus and Manny, Dhavita and Thava, Resh and Southie. They move off the main road and decide to make camp for the night.

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Session 26

Waterday, Harvester 26, 552 CY (50 AN)

The night passes in the Black Moor without incident. Southie and Manny prepare to disembark on the morning of Waterday, Harvester 26, so that Southie may return to Duchy Jepson.

That night, in Vonseloth, Croitus, Dhavita, Nobody, and Resh continue their revel with the elves and eladrin of the Solaeque Purlieu. Although the others feast and drink, Dhavita gets incredibly, sloppily drunk and spends thousands of gold pieces on a necklace for Margot. Later in the evening, Van’solessonna, the Purlieu’s Nyarmamaitar, offers to induct the travelers into the tribe via ritual tattooing, as they are obviously friends and family to now-returned Dar’amaraltria. Nobody asks to also be inducted so that she may start to re-integrate with the Solaeque. Croitus declines, on the premise that their tattoos may interfere with the wards that keep his warring gods at bay. Dhavita and Resh both agree.

Nobody receives the calligraphic symbol of the tribe upon her chest, while Resh receives it upon the right bicep. Dhavita goes to a secluded place so that she may be tattooed on her inner left thigh.

The next morning, Harvester 27, the revelers begin to awaken. Croitus awakens first, and plants himself at a shrine for the dead to contemplate their plight. Nobody and Resh rise around the same time, and as they prepared, they see a cloaked figure enter the Purlieu. The elves are tense, but still welcoming. As soon as Croitus sees a newcomer, he places the hat of disguise on his head to assume a human form. The figure removes her hood to reveal herself as Thava, the dragonborn whom they freed from the pits two weeks ago. She greets them, and indicates that she has come to warn them — mercenaries are looking for them, and having determined them to be in the Solaeque Purlieu, are waiting outside for them to leave. Apparently, they have not yet entered so as to prevent an incident between the government of Vonseloth and the Solaeque Purlieu, particularly as some of the mercenaries are apparently orcs.

Dhavita awakens toward the end of this, and her head still abuzz with drink, is pleasantly surprised to see Thava. She asks how things have been — Thava’s tribe apparently left this region, as it has been some time since her capture, so she ended up settling in Vonseloth for a bit — and then Thava informs her of the situation.

Discussion ensues, although it is interrupted as another figure approaches — Sir Stígandr Hafrnsson, the knight whom Croitus and Nobody met in Duchy Jepson. He recognizes Nobody, calling her, “the eladrin that doesn’t know anything.” He recognizes some of the assembled party as people often described with Croitus, although not seeing Croitus himself, asks if he is around. The others stonewall, and so Sir Stígandr tells them to pass along the message that he’s looking for Croitus and wishes to speak with him. Sir Stígandr then leaves without incident.

With that interlude over, the group continues their discussions. Nobody will remain with the Solaeque. When night falls, Croitus, Dhavita, and Resh will go their separate ways — Croitus will ride out on one of the horses as a distraction, and then use the hat of disguise when he loses his pursuers. Dhavita will sneak out in the confusion, accompanied by Thava, while Resh will scale the wall around Vonseloth.

Having gone their separate ways, they will meet again in Castow in a week’s time, and then return to Duchy Jepson. Anyone who misses the rendezvous in Castow knows to travel to Jepson as the ultimate goal.

Dhavita, still muddling through last night’s festivities, has not yet noticed that Nobody will not be traveling with them.

Southie and Manny’s journey to Duchy Jepson is uneventful, and they arrive on the afternoon of Freeday, Harvester 28. Southie, wanting to procure an alchemist, travels to the Wizard’s Tower, eventually being directed to see the Headmaster. The Headmaster seems surprised to see him and his ragged tiefling companion, but asks what he needs. Southie explains that he wishes to hire an alchemist for a possibly dangerous expedition. He gives few details, but the Headmaster says he will try to gather some alchemists that might meet Southie’s needs, although it may not be until tomorrow. Southie says that will fine, and tells him that he will be set up in the Addled Alchemist.

Before they leave, Manny tells the Headmaster he is laboring on the “demispell.” The Headmaster looks at Manny as though he is not entirely certain how to respond before Southie pulls Manny away, telling him it’s rude to reveal people’s innermost secrets.

Southie goes to the Addled Alchemist and spends the afternoon drinking with Manny. Manny, for his part, seems to get stranger as he drinks, delving into weird, esoteric philosophy. When it comes out that Manny is not accustomed to the touch of a woman, Southie decides to hire him a prostitute. They retire to Southie’s room — running into Marguerite on the way, who seems initially alarmed before settling on disgust at the trio — so that Manny can have the opportunity to practice physical love at Southie’s direction.

It’s a very strange, uncomfortable night. Although the young lady, named Strawberry, demands a hefty 600 gp for her services — largely given Manny’s eccentricities, although Southie’s commentary likely does not help — which Southie agrees to pay.

The next morning, Southie and Manny arrange their papers in the corner of the Addled Alchemist. Southie, apparently having procured an old pair of glasses, perches them on the end of his nose. They wait throughout the morning before a young, robed, female dwarf enters the bar, looking around before heading in his direction. Southie introduces himself as the President of Freedom Unlimited, Ltd. He introduces Manny, and the dwarf introduces herself as Quithyra Wyrmsbane. A recent graduate with the University for the Study of the Arcane Arts and Sciences, Quithyra is seeking gainful employment, and thinks Southie’s adventuring company sounds interesting. Although she obviously finds Southie and Manny a bit odd — she declines Southie’s “employee incentive” of hiring prostitutes, and does not fully understand his line of inquiry regarding an “elf that leaves the company” — she is willing to listen despite the fact that Southie is pretty tight-lipped about the whole thing, claiming proprietary agreements. However, she manages to piece together given his needs, his talk of historical records, and the possibility of dungeon delving that he is probably talking about a Creation Forge. She asks if that’s true, and he does not precisely confirm, although his lack of response confirms it for her. She says she is very interested and accepts his proposal. They agree on 200 gp per month, with more to come if the deal is lucrative, and he has her sign a contract indicating he is not liable for any incidental injuries that may occur on the road. It has obviously been handwritten in his scrawl, and despite looking at it askance, she signs it. Manny insists she signs in blood, and although Southie asks if that’s necessary, Manny assures it is, so Southie insists. She hesitates, then cuts her hand to make the appropriate signature.

She says she can start first thing in the morning, after she has purchased supplies. Southie informs her that he has business to the west, towards Vonseloth, before they go to the research site, so they will travel there first. She agrees.

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