Twillingbottom's Field Guide

A Question of Kruthiks
Day 1: Tumbledown Inn

Well, my quest to pen the ultimate Field Guide started off on rocky footing, as a small bout of fisticuffs broke out just as we were getting to know each other. One Bradley Taggart, a supposed representative from the Univeristy, claimed I owed some debt. The ensuing unpleasantness lead to myself being bodily handled by a spry young female elf (which truthfully, I haven’t seen that kind of action since my freshman year at the University), and unceremoniously dumped behind the bar. Goodman Grog did not mind watching as my would-be compatriots flailed away with Taggart’s thugs, chuckling at the ineptitude of their pugilistic abilities. Eventually, the tide started to turn with some deft acrobatics by my elven molester and a few well-placed fists from her new eladrin friend. Taggart unfortunately decided to beat a hasty retreat. He may prove to be quite troublesome in the future.

Once we had all dusted ourselves off and enjoyed a victory pint, it was time to get to the business at hand. We proceeded down into the cellars of the inn to investigate Grog’s curious bug problem. I immediately took stock of a delightful, if somewhat flattened pair of specimens left behind by our dear barkeep. I can tell you that the insides of these, as of yet, indiscernible creatures had the most vibrant colour. Green-grey ichor oozed from the remains. No sooner had I finished inspecting these remains then had one of my new companions been accosted by the very creatures we were here to catalogue. What luck, live specimens! I immediately recalled back to my entomology studies and discerned that these creatures were non-other than kruthiks. Our eladrin friend Vavara tangled with the little beasties, no doubt purposefully missing the fatal blow (or any blows at all) so that I could properly capture the creatures’ likeness in action. The kruthik’s hinged mandibles lashed out and caught Vavara in the leg, leaving the most fascinating of wounds. I cannot wait to see if the bite leaves some suppurating effect on her. See the attached appendix for her personal account on the encounter.

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Unfortunately, once those creatures were subdued (with some manner of magical effect, I will have to remind my fellow budding naturalist that we must keep the specimens somewhat intact) it was some time again until we had another encounter with the creatures. For some unbeknownst reason, our party was more interested in rummaging through old wardrobes or destroying some long dead monk’s book collection. And while I can appreciate the value of these ancient texts (being one who also endeavours to pen such an enduring manuscript) I could sense that we were moving ever closer to our true goal, the nesting lair of these creatures.

Our next encounter with the kruthiks occurred by pure happenstance. Once again my colleagues seemed to be dallying, inspecting the statuary here in the cloister, despite my protests to keep moving. The two brutish ones decided that the statues needed adjusting, and forced their movement with incredible displays of strength. I knew that while I may be alone in my pursuit of intellectual conquests, at least these dim-witted folk would be useful when I had large boxes to carry. The noises from these scraping sculptures, however, attracted kruthiks to our very location! Unfortunately, these were more of the same hatchlings that we had encountered before. And while it is always exciting to find new creatures, and kill them, I felt that we had learned all we could from these juveniles. We needed to find the broodmother!

At this point, it did occur to me that perhaps it would warrant an observation of the environment that the kruthiks had decided to make into their home, for completion of the field guide if nothing else. The walls were covered with murals from the time of the monks, depicting their daily toils and the worship of their god-twins, Valintrus and Vexahlia. I could see how the kruthiks had systematically tunnelled through the old hewn stone walls. Truly remarkable at the speed at which they could burrow despite their small size. The leveraging force of their fore-claws must be astounding. I was contemplating the nature of the murals when one of our more hapless associates discovered that perhaps the kruthiks were not the only danger in these halls. The half-elf known as Berrian walked right into a spinning blade trap (It was my understanding that these roguish types were supposed to be rather observant, who knew?). No sooner had Berrian divulged the location of this heinous contraption, then that large orcish woman (if she could even be called female {side note – conduct study as to what passes for female in the orcish clans, and how the male orc can, er, get motivated to procreate}) decided to rush headlong through the trap itself!

We soon came to discover that the murals themselves were actually showing the path forward. One had to simple bow one’s head, and they would pass through unscathed. I, thankfully being of a proper height compared to my more vertically challenged companions simply walked right past. Finally, after all of our trials and miscues, we arrived at the lair of the kruthik broodmother. I for one, cannot wait for all the zoological revelations we are about to uncover.

Science!

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A Treatise on Failure
Oh what foul fortune befalls me!

Here we are, in the most interesting of locales, with all manner of discoveries at our fingertips, and my compatriots can only think about wanton destruction. Goodman Grog will be happy to be sure, to be rid of his bug problem, but I for one am saddened at the thought of the missed scientific possibilities!

At last we had reached the lair of the kruthik broodmother. No sooner had I brandished my notes and quill then that large brutish orc of a woman rushed headlong into the nest, screaming and carrying on as if the Reaving had returned! I stood there dumbfounded at the lost opportunity to observe the kruthiks at home in their resting state.

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Fortunately for me, the wily creatures proved to be elusive, as my companions engaged the beasts haphazardly. i would have time to observe the kruthik’s response to this outside stimuli. In fact, Barrian’s attacks were quite flaccid. He seemed to spend more time on fancy flourishes and twirling about than to actually find any purchase with his blades amongst the chitinous scales of the kruthiks. Perhaps too much time had been spent the evening prior with drink by the hearth and boasting about his many daring exploits. I find that a good night’s rest and a light breakfast is the prudent course of action when one is setting out on an adventure. One cannot properly conduct science with a head full of wool!

The broodmother was none too pleased with us disturbing the sanctity (ha, get it, we are in a cloister! I should pen a volume of jokes and puns…) of her nest. The clamour and din must have been too stressful for the hatchlings, as at the sound of the broodmother’s reptilian shrills, the eggs started to burst, disgorging them into the melee. It is a shame really, that we couldn’t take a moment to observe and enjoy the beauty that is childbirth, as the hatchlings were looking at us for their first meal. The broodmother quickly moved to protect her young, lashing all about with jagged claws and spewing forth poisonous quills. This proved to be too much for poor Miss Iskrem, as she soon succumbed to her wounds. It was only a bold move by Gyna, using her namesake Roundpound technique that saved Puff from becoming dinner. Exceptional that one of her particularly impressive girth could be so manoeuvrable.

Vavara and Luthien had similar woes when we first entered the nest. Perhaps they were as eager as I to see the kruthik up close and personal, and this is why they deliberately shot and fired their respective projectiles off the mark. It was only once the beasts had closed that Vavs and Lutes found their stroke. The elven lasses teamed up to fell one pernicious kruthik. Soon all the specimens were left in a beaten or battered state, and I was able to collect a myriad of samples to be catalogued later.

Now from here I was satisfied to return upstairs to the inn to examine the remains of the creatures, but for some unbeknownst reason my besotted colleagues decided to go mucking about down some dingy passage. Couldn’t they see there was science to be done?! My apprehension soon proved warranted, as at the back of a dimly lit chamber there was the most curious of orbs. Ancient man-made artefacts are not my area of study, being more of a naturalist, but even I could tell this glowing metallic ball, floating above its pedestal should not be trifled with. No sooner had we begun to enter into a healthy debate as to the merits of taking the orb, and how we should proceed, then had Gyna grabbed the orb from its resting place. I swear that woman will be the death of us. I’m not going to say that it served her right, but upon grabbing the orb, her body was wracked with spasms for a few tense moments before she collapsed unconscious to the ground. I think I saw a small smirk on Meliamne’s face. When she finally came to she said that she saw some sort of vision, but if it was of anything other than dumplings and mead, I would be surprised.

Upon our return to the inn, we were approached by a young lass looking for help. The spirit animal protector of her village has gone missing; a moonlight bear. She needed us to assist her in locating and returning the bear. What an exciting opportunity! To see such a creature in the wild is a rare occasion indeed. As long as I can keep my maladroit companions from smashing the bear into oblivion, all manner of knowledge could be gleaned. Perhaps my luck is starting to change!

Science!

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Bear Necessities
A Return to the Wild

With our first foray into the wide world of Entomo-Herpetology concluded, we decided to turn our efforts to a more ursine pursuit. The young elf lass, Aelith, as she called herself, searched out Luthien as we gathered at the bar to celebrate our victory in the cellars. Apparently, Luthien is rather well travelled (surprising as she looks quite young, she must moisturise), and has journeyed to Aelith’s village of Forlond in the past. The young lady was beside herself, upset with the disappearance of the moonlight bear, and needed assistance to find the creature. Of course I was willing to accompany her, as what kind of gentleman would I be to let such a beautiful young lady wander these dangerous wilds by herself (and by danger I mean the lascivious eyes of one Berrian Meliamne!). We decided to spend the night in the inn to collect ourselves and begin our foray into the Hinterlands in the morning.

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We set out, north-west of the Tumbledown Inn, heading towards Aelith’s home. It felt good to be out in the forest again, with the sun shining, avians aviating and greenery growing. Finally a chance for some quality Science! After a few days travel, Aelith lead us to a clearing in the forest near her village, and in the middle, there was the lair of the bear (ha, poetry without my knowledge!). As expected, the lair was bare, save for bear hair (hee hee, I truly must stop…). As I was collecting a few samples for my catalogue, we did discover something disturbing, which gave us clues to the whereabouts of the creature. A broken spearhead adorned with the totems of the Black Spider goblin clan. Luthien knew of this clan, and as to where their camp may be. We set off in a westerly direction in search of these foulsome creatures.

The journey took several days to track the goblins down. It was on the second night while resting around the campfire, that I was finally able to regale my companions with a few choice witticisms. And while some of the more pedestrian folk were confused at my rather refined badinage, most were able to follow once I offered up some cruder punnery. I learned some interesting information about my compatriots as well. Luthien had tragically lost her sister to an orc raid on her village when she was young. Puff has a micturition problem (I hear this is common amongst female dragonborn). Berrian spent time in his formative years at an abbey to the south, until some penile deflection incident caused him to rethink his life choices. Miss Vavara had some interesting encounters with an exotic creature during her pilgrimage. I will have to investigate further about this ‘Sunlight Eagle’ with its fervour filled wings of light. And while the very nature of scientific pursuit is one of curiosity, once again Gyna had offered forth some information I’m sure others would ought not to have heard. Apparently she has a proclivity to insert large fruit into her rectum. Which may sound like a shocker to some, but once one observes the profundity at which she stuffs things into her maw, it is no wonder she is able to pa…you know what, never mind. I shall spare you the gory details.

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It was while young miss Aelith was taking a go at storytelling when we were set upon my the most surreptitious of creatures. To our folly, we seemed to have set camp amongst a thresh of bloodthorne vines. The vines quickly ensnared poor Aelith and Mr. Meliamne. The pale vine leaves turned the most vibrant colour of red as my fellow travellers were being exsanguinated. But I had little time to observe this chromatic display before my brutish companions starting hacking and chopping away. Don’t they know that there is no nobler sacrifice that to give one’s body to the pursuit of Science?! I would have surely done so myself if I could trust my associates to make the proper observations and examinations. Alas, once again I shall have to be satisfied with studying remains.

It was about midday the next day when we came upon the goblin camp. And not a moment too soon, as it appeared they were about to perform some ritual sacrifice. I shudder at the thought of such a magnificent creature like the moonlight bear being used in some perverse shamanistic rite. Berrian and Luthien moved stealthily around the camp to reconnoitre the scene. A couple of hapless greenskins quickly fell victim to their blades. Now I may not have much experience ranging (as most of my wilderness experience is theoretical), but it seems to me that lighting a tent on fire would be the last thing to do to remain undetected. They disagreed. This soon roused the camp to our presence, so we had no choice but to burst onto the scene and show those gobbos what for! Gyna and Puff made for a good team, moving in from the west, while Vavara supported with her divine invocations from the north. The battle swung back and forth, with blows being traded on each side. Puff once again sacrificed herself for the sake of her companions, falling in battle to a wicked curse from the goblin shaman. But the opening she created allowed Gyna to deliver the fatal strike. With my keen tactical direction from the bushes (one must have the proper vantage point to assess all threats), our team managed to free the bear and route the remaining goblin threat.

Aeltih was reunited with her spirit creature, and we decided to accompany her and the animal back to Forlond. What a joy to see this amazing creature up close and personal! Finally, the fruits of our labours are truly paying dividends!

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Hard Bones and Harder Choices
Mortis March

After departing ways with the moonlight bear, we arrived at the elven village of Forlond. A quaint little town, with just enough amenities to let us wash away the dust and grime from hard days spent in the woods. Myself, I enjoyed a nice hot bath, soothing my aches and pains from battling goblins and long trekking through the forest. After the refresher, we were taken to meet the Wisdom of the village, the elder woman who is chief of the clan. She thanked us for returning the moonlight bear to its home and was offering a reward. I let her know that Science is its own reward and that she should keep her gold (for some strange reason a few of my companions did not share the same viewpoint). The Wisdom also asked us to be the guest of honour in the Morcuilé festival. This was an exciting anthropological opportunity! I would get to observe these strange folk adorn themselves in vestments of the dead (some much more accurate than others, I learned later) and dance and parade about in the most peculiar of fashions. Regardless of whether it makes logical sense, it is a lovely display of colour and tradition.

As there was some time before the start of the parade, a few of my associates lent a hand in helping the elves around the village, while some others focused on collecting their costumes for the evening’s festivities. A few of the local shops drew the attention of some of my group. I believe Puff wasted the bulk of her afternoon traipsing around the shrubbery looking for who knows what (I guess she has developed and affinity for the outdoors. Maybe she has started to conduct her own research, how exciting! We will have to compare notes). I myself spent the time to pen a few entries into the pages of my manuscript. Once the afternoon had passed, we gathered again to begin the celebration.

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The Morcuilé parade started on a sombre note, with a slow march accompanied by a melancholy choir. As we wend our way through the town the mood of the townsfolk soon began to brighten, as the music shifted to a more upbeat, and celebratory affair. I, for one, was happy for the change of pace, as these elves seem too gloomy by half. The parade took its revelers around the the ceremonial fire at the centre of town, where the elves, along with me and my fellow travellers, dance and cavorted to the music (although if one were to be able to look at the wild gyrations of Gyna for more than a few seconds, you may have mistaken her to be having a seizure. Must be some newfangled dance moves the kids are doing these days).

There were a few in the crowd who did not seem to be enjoying themselves as much as my frenetic friends. Vavara noticed that one such person was doing nothing more than a mindless swaying. When she touched the individual on the shoulder and turned them around, Vavara discovered that the intricately worked skeleton costume this person had donned was no costume at all! The dead had been walking amongst us! The shock soon turned to horror, as more undead reveal themselves and swung their crude weapons against any within reach. The dancing and singing soon turned to screams and terrified running in all directions. In the ensuing panic, I was knocked down and tumbled under a cart near the edge of the central clearing. As I shook the stars from my eyes I could see decrepit skeletons hacking down fleeing townsfolk. Rotting zombies sank their teeth into hapless citizens. It was chaos for many long moments. I saw the rest of my party flee the clearing without me (had we not formed such bonds of friendship and camaraderie that they could forget me so quickly?). It was later I learned that the Wisdom had ordered them to the Hearthall to protect the elutaur.

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I stayed in my small harborage as the Wisdom and the rangers of the town battled the undead and saved what people they could (I had left my favoured dirk with my belongings at Silvyntonge’s longhall, or I would have sprung from my ambuscade and showed those rattlers what for!) Once the ceremonial place was secured and the townsfolk made safe, I headed to the Hearthall to assist my comrades. I arrived to see them embroiled in combat with more dead-walkers. Gyna seemed to be blessed by the heavens as her flail strikes were much more precise than her usual haphazard attacks. Even Berrian and Puff acquitted themselves well in combat. Perhaps all this time in the field is finally honing their skills. All except poor Vavara. I would hypothesise that the presence of such a strong spiritual entity like the elutaur interfered with her connection to her gods, and that is why her powers over the undead failed her. It wasn’t until after our skeletal foes had hacked free the treeheart that she was finally able to level a blast of divine wrath against them. It must have been the weakening of the elutaur as it fell from its place that reconnected Vavs with her celestial grace.

As I looked on the scene it occurred to me that our most recent travelling companion, Aelith, was nowhere to be found. She had decided to run to her family home during the attack, as she feared for the life of her spellscarred sister. It is with a sad heart that I must report that her fears were not in vain. As we arrived at her house, we discovered that the undead had butchered her mother and poor baby brother, and absconded with her sister to parts unknown. If only I had gone with her to her house, perhaps this tragedy could have been avoided. Wracked with grief, Aelith gave her family heirloom, a longbow named Menelandieth to Luthien, as Aelith has sworn off her ranging ways. I only hope that she may be able to find solace, along with the rest of the villagers, as they try to repair and rebuild their town after this egregious attack.

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The Slow Trail North
Wings in the Deep

With heavy hearts, we left Forlond behind. Our party moved out in silence, still reeling from the events that unfolded in the Hearthall and with poor Aelith’s family. The young girl, devastated by what happened, decided to stay with her people and help rebuild. My colleagues vowed to find Aelith’s abducted sister and return her to her family. How we are going to accomplish this feat, especially against those ghastly undead creatures is beyond me. However, my compatriots would not be deterred, and so we followed the trail north.

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The road we were on soon dwindled to a trail, and then into a small animal track as the thick forest closed in around us. I was starting to have my doubts about the group deciding to undertake this endeavour (and was somewhat puzzled about how this became a democracy), as the trail grew cold. It was late in the afternoon when we came across the most curious scene. Standing in the middle of a small creek bisecting the animal track was a rather frightened pony, wide-eyed and breathing heavy. The creature, while not exactly the type of exotic animal I had come to these remote parts for, was in itself and oddity. How did it get here? Why was it so skittish as we neared? The answers soon became apparent, for when we approached the animal, we saw that it was covered in its own blood. The poor beast had circular wounds covering its body, similar in size to a platinum crown. My companions were almost as frightened as the pony upon seeing the blood, perhaps expecting another undead ambush. Berrian especially gripped his dagger tight. I knew from reading Edguario Menenheide’s Treatise on the Mating Habits of the Common Snork that what we were witnessing was the end result of an attack by cave stirges. Having not seen them in person myself, and not expecting them to have spread so far north, I figured it wouldn’t hurt if we were to delay our trek to investigate these creatures a little closer.

Berrian volunteered to scout ahead to see if the “attackers” were still lurking about. As he crept off into the woods, my companions tried to soothe the pony and dress its wounds. Gyna volunteered to remove and donate her loincloth to the cause, but the group shouted a deft NO! This may have been the first time we had agreed on anything! Upon his return, Berrian reported a grisly scene. Apparently, the pony had belonged to a family of settlers, who made the calamitous decision to set up camp beside the mouth of a cave. The very cave, no doubt, from which the stirges emerged. It looked as if they had been set upon as they had finished their evening meal the night previous. Their skin was a most pallid complexion, having been exsanguinated in mere minutes. Luthien discovered a diary of the mother, mid-entry that gave us a clue that there was a young child missing from among the deceased. Upon further investigation, Püff detected tracks leading into the cave. Perhaps they were feeling ashamed about Aelith’s sister’s abscondtion that my companions decided to search out the poor young boy named Eustace. What Luck! We were going to be entering the cave. I had to, of course, hide my jubilance, the situation being as it was, but it meant that I might be finally able to do some Science!

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The decent into the cave’s depth soon led us to a clue that we were on the right path to find the lost child. On one rocky step, there was a stuffed owlbear. Puff must have had a run-in with an owlbear in the past, because upon seeing the child’s toy, she did her best to slay the stuffing out of it, war pick swinging wildly (finally, a foe she could handle). Our path took us through narrow squeezes, winding passages, and sulphur filled rooms (although there was some debate in the party as to whether the smell was naturally occurring or some vile Gyna-esque emanation). After a long decent through the dark, we came upon a large cavern. The guano covered floor, and the distant sound of leathery wings flapping against each other let me know that we had reached the nesting spot of the cave stirges. No sooner have we stepped into the chamber than had the grotesque bat-like creatures started dropping from the ceiling to look for their next meal, us! Fortunately for me, my companions stayed huddled together and were able to beat back the swarm of sharp talons and long proboscises. Their battle formation proved less useful when a giant fire beetle emerged from the far side of the cavern and bathed them all in a gout of sticky flames (I will have to lend Püff my copy of Grondigal’s Guide to Phalanx and Phalanx dispersal).

After a few breathless moments, my colleagues soon proved the better of the situation. And with their usual heavy-handedness, bashed, bludgeoned and bombarded all our would-be samples into submission. While the stirges themselves warranted a closer inspection, Vavara seemed aghast when I suggested that she should collect a few choice guano samples for later study. Surely she knows that one occasionally needs to get one’s toes in the proverbial muck to properly forward their field of knowledge! Berrian and Luthien found and removed the fire beetle’s fuel glands, and saved the viscous liquid contained within, no doubt to examine later. They at least seem to have gleaned some fascination with the scientific process (I knew that my more refined and inquisitorial attitudes would eventual rub off on them).

With all of our specimens collected, I was satisfied to return to the Tumbledown and examine them under the proper scientific controls. My intrepid companions wanted to push forward, however. And by push I mean literally that; a small crevice led out from the opposite side of the chamber. With the young lad’s tracks leading that way Gyna decided to rush headlong (or perhaps belly-long) into the crack. Her blood rage must have still been boiling, because she soon got herself wedged into the tight space, not realising the simple volumetric problems of her substantial girth. I only hope once we get her unstuck what we find on the other side proves fruitful to our scientific endeavours.

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New Faces, Old Quandries
The Current of our Emancipation

After extricating Gyna’s bulk from the crevice, the rest of us managed to pass through, emerging into some sort of dimly lit storeroom. Crates and barrels were piled high in the room, with barely enough space for all six of us to fit. Also located in the room was a rather large chest. Perhaps we had been stuck underground for too long, as rather than take stock of our situation, and try to assess how we stumbled across a subterranean dwelling such as this, my companions were taken over with greed and immediately started divulging and dividing the chest’s contents. It seemed odd that they were so enthralled with a pile of women’s clothes and a few robes, that they would stop our scientific exploration to have a fashion show. But I soon impressed upon them that perhaps now was not the best time to be playing with the bib and tucker. We press on out of the storeroom into what we soon discovered was a large underground fort, inhabited by some less than savoury types. We needed to find the young boy Eustace and make haste out of this dank and musty place.

Püff led us out into the hall and towards the soft sounds of a child’s mewling. Across the way were a set of cells. Püff burst into the cells hefting a new found warhammer; Vavara followed clutching a holy symbol; and Berrian robes (all purloined from the aforementioned chest), which proved embarrassing when we met the previous owners. In the prison was a ruddy dwarf manacled to a wall, along with two elven lasses in a cell, and our boy Eustace. I will have to study more on the rearing of dragonborn children because clearly, the methods that Püff tried to use on the poor human boy did not elicit the desired results. It seemed like Püff was trying her very best to scare the sweet Bahamuts out of the boy. With Eustace wailing loudly, thankfully Luthien stepped in to use a more gentle touch, soothing the boy before his captors returned to investigate all the caterwauling.

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I am not sure what transpired in the past lives of some of my companions to make them so suspicious, but Vavara and Berrian were loath to release the goodman dwarf from his bondage (I did notice Berrian was quick to free the two comely elven lasses, and even quicker to accept their thanks). After some tense negotiation, they released the dwarf, and begrudgingly returned his belongings to him. The dwarf, Yukon Cornelius by name, had been kidnapped some time ago while prospecting in the hills near this brigand redoubt. The elves had been waylaid while on the road. Whilst incarcerated, Yukon had overheard some vital information and advised that there were some boats on a subterranean river the brigands used to smuggle their wares. He also mentioned that they themselves were going to be sold off as well. I thought it best that we should exit the fort as soon as possible, and so we decided to make our way down to the docks.

It was a shame that we could not tarry a while in the keep, as it seemed to be rich in history (I found later that is was indeed built centuries ago by a fabled free company who operated in this locale). But alas, knowing my companions, they surely would rather engage in fisticuffs with the inhabitants than a spirited intellectual discourse! We moved down further into the keep, encountering a large causeway spanning the river of which Yukon spoke earlier. The path across looked treacherous, polished and slick from years of exposure to the rivers torrent below. While Gyna was her usual self and blustered across the causeway (shockingly agile for one of such girth) Berrian had an excellent notion of using his newly acquired rope to get us all safely across the river. On the other side, we stumble into the quarters and mess hall of the brigands. And while Berrian and Gyna moved in onto some sleeping brigands to introduce them to their particular brand of violence, I led the more tender-hearted folk into the mess to shield them from that scene. While we waited, Vavara took a particular interest in some tapestry that hung in the room (exciting to see, I have a few excellent textile history books she may be interested in upon our return to the Tumbeldown). With a bit of poking around, she discovered a small chamber with a chest full of gold behind the tapestry (fortunate for me, as the rewards I had originally promised seemed to be few and far between these days).

We soon came across the dock area Yukon had spoken about. My colleagues tried their best to sneak their way into the large cavern to perchance slip past the guards and be away down the river to freedom, but as is usually the case, subtlety is not their strong suit. As we were now discovered, we had to make it past our foes, before reinforcements arrived. Berrian, however, decided to do a little exploring of his own. He opened a door to what he thought was a stairwell (hoping to outflank our enemies) but instead discovered a goblin doing, uh, his, er, business, in the privy. He grabbed the goblin bodily and stuffed the poor bugger down onto its own excretory formulations.

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The ensuing fight with the banditry was all manner of heroic deeds (or so I am told, I was busy protecting the women and children, a thankless job apparently). Vavs and Lutes created a multitude of luminous appurtenance. Walls of light burst from the ground, arrows of lightning streaking across the room, confounding the brigands at every turn. Püff, while ensnared by a brigand’s net still barked commands, inspiring Gyna on to great deeds. And even Berrian, after his rendezvous with some goblin undercarriage, managed to get the drop on a rather vile wolf-like shifter, all while dodging the rain of crossbow bolts from high above. The brigands were dispatched, and we decided that it was time to get into the boats and down the river. And none too soon either, as when we pushed away from the dock, the bulk of the brigand forces arrived onto the scene.

The rushing river quickly took hold of our boats and we careened through the dark passages. Rapids and eddies threw us this way and that, water splashing over the hulls threatening to sink us. After what seem like an eternity of haystacks and rocky outcroppings threatening us at every turn, the river slowed to a point at which we could observe the cavern around us. Luminescent mushrooms adorned the walls. I couldn’t have been prouder at that moment, as my comrades steered their boats over and grabbed many samples of the fungi, surely to be studied later. Our brief respite came to an end as the river narrowed and the current picked up speed once again. A calm came over us, as the sound of the river faded and seemed distant. But it was only for the fact that we were headed right towards a waterfall. Had we missed the brigand’s portage? Who was paddling this thing? Well too late now, we had no choice but to grip the gunwales and pray to whomever it is you prayed. When I came to I observed that we had washed up on some unknown beach on the side of the river. It looked like we had all survived, but as to where we were, well that was another matter entirely.

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Down, But Not Out
The Restless Dead

It was a sunny day when we found ourselves washed up on the shore of the plunge pool. Sodden and sore but otherwise safe, we wrung ourselves out as we took stock of the situation. Our party had grown by two elf girls, a brawny dwarf and a young human boy. I suggested we take some rest to plan our next moves, as some of my colleagues looked a little worse for wear (although after being tossed and tumbled through the rapids and over the waterfall, this is probably the cleanest Gyna has been in weeks).

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After languishing on the beach for the better part of the day we all agreed that we should move on before the Greystone Brigands caught up to us. What we could not agree upon was where to go. The two elven lasses seemed to have taken a shine to Berrian for some unbeknownst reason (I hear there is a certain swath of the fairer gender who are enamoured by those rapscallion types. Females can be stranger creatures than any beast we could find out here). They pleaded for him to return with them to Aendolin. I was shocked to see him fight off his usual prurient tendencies and turn the ladies down. There was also the question of Eustace, and what we were to do with the young boy. According to his mother’s journal, he too was from Aendolin. Perhaps he had family there still.

My compatriots, however, were still focused on their quest to avenge their friend Aelith and return her young sister from bondage (far be it from me to get in between them and their crusade will my pursuits of Science! Do they not remember why they are here in the first place?!). What swayed them away from the trek to Aendolin was a note most serendipitously obtained by Püff on her way off the brigand’s docks. During our haste to jump into the canoes, she swiped a bunch of papers and scrolls from a nearby desk (reminder: do not let Miss Iskrem alone unsupervised around my notes). Besides a few maps of the area (one of which would have prevented our most unfortunate tumble over the waterfall), Püff grabbed an interesting letter describing a meet-up between the brigands, and a rather unsavoury fellow that I came later to learn was in the employ of the people who had kidnapped poor Starsha. It gave a clue as to where and when they could find this heinous individual and hopefully the elf girl as well. The one hitch being that the meeting was only three days away.

After doing some simple math (a true feat for many in our party, I believe some fires were started, judging by the smoking ears) they realised it would be impossible to make it to Aendolin and then head north to the meet-up in time. Thankfully, Cornelius was kind enough to volunteer to escort the elves and young boy back to Aendolin and safety, while we returned north. He is a rather fine fellow, even if he has chosen the vagaries of Faith over the mantle of Logic. After a tearful goodbye our party made haste for the Tumbledown, and the meeting at the God’s Head.

Once we arrived at the inn, I myself thought it was best to remain at the Tumbledown to collect my notes, prepare my ledgers and pen a few chapters of my manuscript. It was certainly not because of the notion of once again facing the shambling dead. The party would surely miss my cunning strategies and tactical acumen; however, I knew that there would be little scientific merit in accompanying them on this endeavour. So after a short evening’s respite, I said farewell and hoped I would see them all again soon. I learned later what had transpired and will transcribe it here as a point of continuity, but as these are second-hand accounts, I am sure they are romanticised and exaggerated beyond measure (as one noticed from my previous entries, my associates are not the most capable of individuals).

The meeting took place at the God’s Head, an ancient monument in the northeast reaches of the Hinterlands. According to my copy of Brief History of the Empire; vol VII, the God’s Head is a monument to a war long past, with scores of dead buried at its feet. Knowledge of this fact would have undoubtedly assisted my comrades in the formulation of their plans. As it were, they stumbled into a most untenable position. Their ruse to fool the necromancer soon came unhinged as poor Miss Nerithana became disrobed by one of his henchmen (of course this never would have happened under my watch). With no choice but to battle, my comrades flew at the necromancer hoping to subdue him quickly and glean the location of Starsha ari’Arathnee. What they didn’t account for was his Tarot magic. With a flash of his hand, the deadites clawed their way up from the very earth my compatriots stood upon. Soon the melee was in full swing, with blows being traded on both sides. Except for Berrian, who once again found himself watching the battle from afar (One wonders if he is not a bit of a voyeur). Luthien even managed to get revenge against the crony who abused her bodily moments before (twice actually, as he rose to life after his initial defeat).

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As told to me, it wasn’t long before my associates had defeated and subdued the necromancer, Camon by name. Gyna had wrapped him in a bear hug and smothered him against her ample bosom until he passed out (which I hear is her usual mating custom). Once he was properly secured and he regained consciousness, my colleagues pressed him for information, striping him down to his skivvies (unsavoury conduct to a captive, surely they have read Bartholomew Bertrand’s Battle Etiquette?). They learned of Camon’s master and his abode several leagues from the monument. After a quick moment of respite they continued on, heading north to his manse and their quarry.

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Of Sludge and Slime
-as recounted by Lady Vavara

We have set off on the word of Camon to find Manse’s manse. I feel a great deal of darkness in this man and I am loath to place any trust in him. He is, however, our only lead to locating Starsha and what sounds like countless others who have been recruited for an evil purpose not yet known to us. I have confiscated Camon’s tarot cards. They are emitting a rather intense burning sensation (-Presumably much like the condition Berrian described of himself last week after rescuing the two girls from the prison; G.P.T.). I can feel in my soul that no good will come of using these cards, however, I wonder if by the power of Melora I might dispel the evil residing within and use them for a higher purpose? A ponderment for another day.

Camon brought us to the sewer of the manse, which he advised was the most discreet entrance to the building. It was dark and damp and carried a foul odour, not unlike that time we found the pile of rotten scraps that confounded feysquirrel had hidden under the floorboards in the library (-I will have to hear more about this creature; G.P.T.). We entered and trudged through swampiness worse than even the boggiest of bogs back home, placing our trust in the light of our 2 sunrods and Melora’s good grace to keep us surefooted. I will say I must have had penance to pay given that I fell headlong at least 3 times into the filth, more often than my compatriots, though they had their fair share of muddy robes to tend to as well.

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Just past the entrance we encountered a bit of a surprise. We thought we would be alone in these rank sewers, however, in a room off the main tunnel there we spotted 2…I cannot call them men as they had the faces and bodies of rats…creatures playing what looked to be a game of cards! Desperate to remain anonymous and make our way to the main building, we immediately engaged in a tussle with these creatures and after tables were toppled and arrows were shot we left them for dead and continued on our way (-I must remember to impress upon my colleagues the importance of collecting samples; G.P.T.).

Further along, we noticed a large flow of water that looked to be about 18 feet wide. We wondered if we should cross it and then to our luck we noticed a large board that was coincidentally 18 feet wide! So naturally….we took the treasure of a board and walked AWAY from the flow of water to see if we could use it in the tunnel going in the opposite direction (-This sounds like a Gyna-type plan; G.P.T.).

After a few more tumbles in the mud and getting the board stuck in a crooked hallway (-Yep, definitely Gyna; G.P.T.), we came across another curious room. It had a rack of bars on the cement ground and noises of, presumably, distressed prisoners coming from below! The voices sounded…withered somehow…reminiscent of the undead we encountered weeks prior. On the opposite side of the room, there was a single chain hanging from the ceiling, begging to be pulled. Luthien and I decided no good could come from pulling things hanging from ceilings here so we pushed forward. We left the others in the room and went in search of higher ground. Previously, we had figured out we needed to make our way up and to the centre of the sewer system to find the central cistern leading into the manse. We spotted a large crate in our path, decided it must be there for a reason and lo! found a trap door in the ceiling above! We climbed up as we were both anxious to keep moving forward.

After I fell one more time in the sludge (my poor robes, this mud will never come out), Luthien had a feeling that our compatriots were in trouble, as we could not hear them behind us. As we made our way back down, a deafening boom could be heard from down the hall. We turned the corner we spied a most disturbing scene! Dense rubble piled all around the entrance way to the room with the undead, clearly the location of the explosion. Berrian was lying prone, in the room amidst the rubble, his body covered in viscous black goo. Gyna was glaring terribly at Puff, while Puff was trying to help revive Berrian. And most worrisome, Camon was running just past the far corner of the tunnel from which we entered, making his escape!! What a disaster! I don’t know what happened but we must move forward (-Clearly a lack of my strategic acumen; G.P.T.). Puff revived Berrian enough to hobble along with us as Luthien and I showed the team the trap door we had discovered. Thankful for progress and relieved that we seemed to be heading in the right direction, we gained a spring in our step as we walked in the tunnel above. We heard rushing water in the distance…turned a sharp corner and saw the central cistern we hoped would exist pointing us to the entrance to the manse! We had no moment to celebrate however because just beyond the whirling waters we saw a sizable pack of those rat creatures…and a cannon…pointing right at us….

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Good Man Twillingbottom
A Wintereenmas Carol

Good Man Twillingbottom gazed
Upon the snow surrounding
Despite its depth, he wasn’t fazed
“Let’s head up the Mountain”
Off we trudged to Evergreen
On Wintereenmas Eve
Nanny Ogg’s house came on scene
We were much relieved

“Hither, Gerry, stand by me
And let me squeeze those cheeks”
“Yonder monk, Nan, who was he?
What was that they seek?”
“Son, things have been very strange
Since they came to town
Maybe you could ‘vestigate
’Fore some shit goes down?”

Out we trudged into the snow
Deep and crisp and even
Where to look, we do not know
So let’s head to the Tavern
There the townsfolk meekly sat
Meekly sat together
Wondered we, what’s up with that?
Where is all the blether?

Berrian went to the bar
To get himself a drink
“barman make me a sidecar”
“No, You’ll have nog I think”
As we looked around the room
We saw all sip the same
And monks over all did loom
Are they all to blame?

We snuck into their meeting hall
With outfits all purloined
When the chorus sang the call
To them, our voices joined
‘Though we sang our brave hearts out
We missed the final verse
Monks around us gave a shout
We let out a curse

Now we knew where we must go
The Strongarm Brewery
Master monk must be laid low
To set the townsfolk free
We thought it was a simple task
With just two porter guards
Until he grabbed his magic flask
And smashed it into shards

Up sprung two great beasts of beer
Wat’ry arms a’lashing
Knocked poor Gyna on her rear
And gave sweet Püff a thrashing
Luthien’s bow shot straight and true
Her arrows found their mark
Vavara knew what to do
She fired her holy spark

Back and Forth the melee spun
The melee spun around us
With luck and skill we finally won
Our victory astounds us
Patched our wounds and helped the lame
Now that battle’s over
We’ll never look at beer the same
And all pledge to stay sober

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