Ash & War: The Last Days of Vrakis

Episode 10

Coming soon.

Episode 9
The Troll Tunnels

Chaos. Our heros fight for their lives and the lives of the elves of Tal’Nnar. The forest city burns around them as the innocent are slaughtered on the blades of the orcs. The earth turns to slippery mud as blood flows freely from elf and orc alike. Bodies lay in lifeless posses as the life force flows from their mortal wounds. The sounds of raging fires and screams for help fill the air.

The man known as the Defiler methodically moves across the battlefield, cutting down any Marrow Guard who stand in his way, as he closes in on our brave companions. He hefts up the dragon hilted greatsword with a gauntleted hand, it runes glowing a fiery red, and slashes the sun elf Roland across the gut. The blazing heat from the sword cauterizes the wound instantaneously. Renwick, the commander of the Marrow Guard, calls for the innocent to continue to fall back into the troll tunnels as the elven guard do their best to fight off the orc hoard bearing down on them.

Matron Aenwyn Laeandal leaps into the fray, putting herself between the Defiler’s blade and her people. Wielding the great primordial bone swords of her house she matches the Delfier blow for blow, steel blade ringing out against the centuries old bone. Thrown off balance the matron is caught by a blast of wicked arcane energy and slumps lifelessly to the ground. 

Episode 8
All Shall Burn

Our adventures speak with Matron Aenwyn Laeandal regarding the possibility of an impending attack by the Defiler and his armies. They learn little about the strange and so far incurable disease known as rotlung, which has infected nearly a quarter of the population of Tal’Nnar. Eli’Lirian’s little sister Nala’shk, who has been blessed with the green touch and is being groomed to be the next Matron, is ill with the disease.

The Matron and our party discuss the halfling Bygarth’s punishment for attempting to pick the pocket of Renwick, the commander of the Marrow Guard. Many possible punishments are brought up, such as the lose of two fingers, the lose of one finger on his non dominant hand, having the word thief tattooed across his forehead, or being place in a stockade in the market square and having rotten fruit and vegetables thrown at him. It is voted upon and the decision to make an example of him by humiliating him in the stockade is chosen.

Graceday, the 6th of Harvesttide. The next morning Eli’Lirian goes to visit his sister who has been quarantined away with the rest of the sick in the old stone tunnels beneath the city. Healers wearing masks with long noses, that resemble the beaks of a bird, filled with fresh cut herbs to purify the air move about attending to the sick as best they can. Upon seeing her older brother Nala’shk runs up to embrace him but stops herself short, remembering the disease that runs through her blood. Temeraire and Izzy inquire about Nala’shk’s health and if she knows how she contracted rotlung. Nala’shk explains that she is able to keep the disease at bay for the most part with the aid of the power of her green touch. As far as how she contracted rotlung she is not certain. It seems as if no one knows where the disease came from. 

That evening Eli’Lirian and others climb up one of the towering trees to look in on his father Di’llashkon, who has been imprisoned and labled as a traitor. Speaking with Di’llashkon our friends learn of the reasons behind his so called treachery. Upon learning that his daughter Nala’shk was sick, Di’llashkon abandoned his post as commander of the Marrow Guard and traveled north into the Troll Haunts in search of one of the ancient trolls. Known for their near immortality and regenerative capabilities Di’llashkon hoped that if he could find one of the ancient trolls they may be able to provide a cure for not only his daughter but all of those inflicted with rotlung. Eventually Di’llashkon was able to locate an ancient troll, but before he had a chance to speak with him they were attacked by a band of orcs. The troll was murdered and Di’llashkon was left for dead. Days later he was found by Marrow Guard scouts, brought back to Tal’Nnar and imprisoned for treason.

Dreamsday, the 7th of Harvesttide. In the dark hours of the early morning Eloquin is awoken from a dream in which he foresaw the impending attack on the City of Bone by the Delifer and the orcs of Skull Ridge. He races out of bed and is heading towards the Hall of Bone to warn the Matron when suddenly high pitched whistling sounds can be heard all across Tal’Nnar. These sounds are quickly followed by explosions of green and purple flames. Tal’Nnar is under attack. Bat riding orcs swoop through the skies as they hurl flasks of alchemist fire down on the forest city. Wooden buildings and homes are engulfed in flames as they lick up towards the dark sky. The city is in chaos as the citizens flee in a panicked state, Marrow Guard notch arrows and let loose at the flying raiders. Bulbous bodies fall from the sky and splatter on the ground as they explode in a clouds of green noxious fumes killing elves where they stand. Some of these infected orcs stand after hitting the ground and charge like rabid animals into the crowds, their bodies exploding when near enough to cause mass carnage. Orcs with the eye of Gruumsh painted across their faces and chests pour into the city from all sides, cutting down elves as they go. Our heroes sling spells, loose arrows, and drive their blades deep into the attackers, felling as many as they can but more orcs seem to be pouring out of the green and purple flames burning the city to the ground. Renwick, Matron Aenwyn Laeandal, and a squad of Marrow Guard burst out of the Hall of Bone, cutting a swath into the orc forces. The Matron, a skinwalker, morphs into a saber cat and begins slashing through the orc invaders.

An orc with hunched shoulders and a bent posture lands on his bat amid the bloody battle. The orcs entire body is covered in pustulating blisters and oozing sores. He is wearing a pair of gloves made from the bleached white skin of an elf. Floating closely behind the orc is a glass sphere reinforced with pieces of bone. Inside the glass is a greenish liquid which has been used to preserve the head of an elf. The orc opens his mouth to speak but he has no tongue, instead the mouth of the elven head speaks, the ragged flesh of the neck wriggling as it does so, “Burn them all!”

This orc sends out a blast of necrotic energy that drops the Matron in her saber cat form to the dirt. Eli’Lirian, already injured during the battle sees his Matron go down and charges the orc slashing into his diseased flesh with his black bone blades. Green pus filled blood oozed from the wounds but it is not enough to kill the orc. He reaches out with his white elven gloved hands scalds the young elf with caustic necrotic energy. The blacked bone blades fall to the ground. Renwick seeing that defeat is near calls for the remaining Marrow Guard to defend the innocent as they make their retreat into the tunnels beneath city.

A shadow passes overhead and the loud swoosh of wings beating the air can be heard amidst the cries of the dying and the roar of the flames. A tall armored figure steps out of the smoke, his antlered helm glinting in the fire light. With a gauntleted hands he unsheathes a greatsword with a blackened steel blade. The pompel is that of a screaming dragon head. The Delifier hefts up the sword and runes along the blade in draconic begin to glow a ghastly purple.

To be continued…

Interlude 2
Caszer the Nightstalker

The meal served by Matron Aenwyn Laeandal is simple but delicious, the elven wine is strong and sweet. After the plates have been cleared Caszer's new found companions, men and a dragonborn woman who he has traveled with and fought with, are escorted out of the Hall of Bone. They bid the half-orc long days and pleasant nights and hope that there paths cross again.

Renwick, the commander of the Marrow Guard places a hand on Caszer's stout shoulder and motions for him to return to the Matron. "I hope this doesn't cross you the wrong way orc, but you cannot stay the night within the borders of Tal’Nnar. Our kinds have warred for hundreds of years, covering the forest floor of the Thicket with our blood. I fear that you would be in danger here if I were to allow you to stay any longer. I shall provide you with food and drink for your travels and have Renwick escort you safety out of the city," Matron Aenwyn says with a solemn face.

"I understand completely and I assure you I am like no other half-orc you know. No need to provide me with anything. I have lived on my own as long as I can remember, but thank you for your hospitality, your grace," says Caszer.

"As you will," the Matron gives the half-orc a curt nod then turns her back to leave and seems to glide across the smooth wooden floor out of the room.

Renwick motions for Caszer to follow him out of the Hall of Bone and back into the twilight of the forest. Hundreds of blue lights, that look like lanterns, float about in and around the trees. It seems as if the stars themselves have fallen down from the night sky and come to rest below the canopy of the forest.

The elven commander followed by a small squad of Marrow Guards led Caszer to the edge of the city, the wall of twisted vines, roots, and branches surrounding Tal'Nnar towers above. As before when entering the city, Renwick pulls out a small wooden twig, holding it up and pointing it towards the living wall. The roots, branches, and vines slowly untwine like twisted snakes creating an opening just large enough for the half-orc to pass through.

"Until we meet again Renwick," Caszer says as he turns to climb through the opening.

Renwick watches the half-orc silently pass through the gap in the wall out of the city of Tal'Nnar. The vines, roots, and branches quickly twist and grow together once more. Caszer is now alone in the dark, dangerous, foreign landscape surrounded by gargantuan trees looming overhead like the legs of some unfathomably large beast.

Caszer decides to head the direction of Skull Ridge, the home of the orcs, sticking to the shadows of the forest as he travels. Getting his bearings the half-orc does his best to maintain a northwestern heading. He crosses ice cold streams, climbs up and down step ravines of crumbling rock and soil, weaves around the giant trees that have stood sentinel in this forest for longer than even the elfs can remember. The sounds of life all surround him, the growls of some far off predator, the calls of strange birds, the buzzing drone of numerous insects. Every so often Caszer sees the glowing eyes of some curious animal peering at him from the shadows, green, yellow, even red eyes.

After traveling for a couple of hours the night grows dark and Caszer is nearly exhausted. It is time to find a place to make camp for the night. Scanning the nearby area the half-orc finds two suitable places to make camp for the night. The first is a dense cluster of brambles that seems to have been hollowed out by some animal in the past though now it looks to have been abandoned. The other is a small cave entrance beneath a large outcropping of rock. The cave goes back as far as he can see, the faint sound of water trickling from echoes up from within.

A few moments of indecision pass before Caszer chooses the cave as it should provide better shelter during the night. His greataxe at the ready he quietly approaches the cave unsure of what, if anything, may be lurking in its shadowy depths. Crouching down to peer into the low cave opening his eyes quickly scan around seeing no signs of life. Caszer slides silently on his stomach into the mouth of the cave until the rocky ceiling is just high enough for him to stand. The cavern is small, about 20 feet wide and just 7 feet high. Tiny animal bones, probably birds or rabbits or some other little critter litter the floor. At the back of the cavern, where the sound of the water is coming from, is a two foot gap in the rock wall that seems to lead deeper underground.

Episode 7
City of Bone

As the sun begins to set a traveler, accompanied by the howls of wolves, enters the roadhouse. He is a half-orc man with a bright red birthmark slashing down his face. Rhian brings him some food and drink and as he is taking his meal Splug trips and falls, covering the traveler in hot stew. Splug attempts to make amends by picking off the chunks of meat and potato and licking the broth off of the half-orc. Temeraire quickly steps in and apologizes and offers for the half-orc to join the rest of the party.

The man accepts and introduces himself as Caszer the Nightstalker. Caszer decides to accompany our adventures west as they head towards Tal’Nnar, the home of the elves, to warn them of an impending attack by the Defiler and his warbands.

Before everyone can retire to the private room down in the basement for the evening a bit of chaos insues. Eloquin produces a glass eye from his pocket, having just purchased it from Darastrix the lizardman merchant. Eloquin wants to remove his own eye and replace it with the glass one. After downing a few shots of liquid courage Caszer holds the wizard down as Temeraire deftly extracts his eye with a spoon and replaces it with the glass eye.

Next Temeraire reveals a purchase he made from Darastrix, a demon faces door knocker. The tiefling removes a small stone from the door knocker’s  handle and hides it behind a loose stone in the wall. He then proceeds to place the door knocker down on the floor and draws an outline of a door around it. Lastly he writes “Wayward Wanderer” on the drawn door. Then nothing happens. Temeriare looks puzzled when the drunken wizard pipes up from his slouched position in the corner, “Maybe.” Hiccup. “Maybe you should knock” Hiccup. The tiefling takes the advice and knocks three times with the door knocker. Suddenly a real door materializes on the floor and swings open. Looking down through the portal Temeraire gets a dizzy lighted feeling as he is looking at himself through the doorway. With a reckless abandon Eloquin stumbles up and dives into the portal on the floor, and exits through an unseen portal in the back of the room near where Temeraire hid the stone.

Moonsday, the 2nd of Harvesttide. After a long night our companions continue with the investigation into the mysterious death of Robert and snooping around a small graveyard down the hill from the Wayward Wanderer our friends learn of Keira the Vile. Keira in her time was a powerful bandit queen whose cruel acts instilled fear into any who would oppose her. Her hideaway was the Wayward Wanderer. Finally mustering enough courage to stand against Keira and her band of cutthroats the smallfolk from a number of different villages and homesteads banded together and formed a militia. They marched on Keira’s hideaway and rooted her out, eventually capturing the bandit queen and putting her to death by hanging. Those still loyal to her who escaped the slaughter cut down her body and buried her, marking her grave with her favoured weapon, a greataxe. The greataxe that onced marked her grave is now missing, most likely stolen.

Temeraire believes this could possibly be the answer to who or what killed Robert, the vengeful spirit of Keira the Vile. Finding and returning the greataxe may be the only way to put the spirit to rest and prevent any further murders.

Madeleine, the sister of the deceased, informs the party that she saw a half-orc with a greataxe quickly leave the Wayward Wanderer a few days past. All eyes look to Caszer, who happens to have a greataxe strapped to his back. “Wasn’t me, I haven’t been here in weeks,” the Nightstalker replies in his defense. Madeleine explains that this half-orc was rather handsome and had long flowing blonde hair, and had been bragging about how he had felled a dragon the night before he suddenly disappeared. That description sounds to similar to be a coincidence. Our travelers remember when they first arrived in Vrakis via airship a half-orc named Zersh. Zersh got into a scuffle with a Tomeheart who would come to be known as Ward.

With nothing else that can be done at the Wayward Wanderer our heroes set out west for Tal’Nnar, on the lookout along the way for the half-orc Zersh and for Darastrix’s missing contact Ambrose.

Queensday, the 5th of Harvesttide. Traveling on horseback our adventures find themselves having reached the edge of The Thicket, nearly a day's march through primordial forest and they will reach Tal’Nnar, the City of Bone, home of Eli’Lirian and his people. After hours traversing through the forest our party is ambushed by a pack of sabercats. Sabercats are deadly in their own right but these having been warped by the magics of The Thicket can blink in and out of existence. The fight is tough and nearly deadly as Bygarth is nearly bitten in half by one of the large beasts. 

After dispatching the sabercats our bloodied and winded party is beset upon by a scouting party of Marrow Guard, the elite rangers who patrol the woods and defend the elven city of Tal’Nnar. The scouts are lead by Renwick. He recognizes Eli’Lirian and regretfully informs her that her father, the now former commander of the Marrow Guard, has turned traitor and if referred to as Di’llashkon Trollfriend. He has been imprisoned and will serve trail for his treachery with the trolls. Renwick is now acting commander in Di’llashkon’s stead. He escorts our adventures the rest of the way to the city. 

Arriving at living walls of Tal’Nnar, madeup of twisting roots, branched and vines, Renwick removes a small twig from his cloak and holds it out towards the wall. The vines, branches, and roots untangles themselves allowing for entry into the city. Bygarth, having seen this nifty trinket, decides to pickpocket Renwick, but is caught and almost immediately executed. His unconscious body is dragged off and imprisoned. After the outburst from the halfling Renwick leads the rest of our party to the Hall of Bone to meet with Matron Aenwyn Laeandal. Passing through the city our party sees what look like huge trees with oddly smooth white bark towering up overhead. As they get closer they realize they are not trees but are in fact rib bones of a gargantuan primordial creature long since perished.

The Matron further explains the treachery of Eli’Lirian’s father but has more troubling news to to provide. A great number of Tal’Nnar’s population has over the last few months become infected with an as of yet incurable disease known as Rot Lung. Eli’Lirian’s little sister ,Nala’shk, is one of the unfortunates who has been inflicted. The sick have been quarantined off to try to prevent the spread of the infection. The Matron says that she will allow Eli’Lirian to visit both her sister and her father on the morrow if he so desires.

Bygarth wakes to find himself in a prison cell, but one that is unique to the elves of Tal’Nnar. One wall of his cell is nothing but open air, which the solid wooden floor of the cell slants slightly towards. Creeping to the edge of the cell Bygarth looks out and sees that he is hundreds of feet off of the ground, high up in one of the gargantuan trees of The Thicket. With no way out and wary of sleep as he might roll off into empty air to fall to his death Bygarth begins to sing nervously. A gruff, parched voice coming from the next cell over tells him to shut up. Bygarth gives his name and asks the name of the other. The other prisoner replies saying that he is Di’llashkon Leoni, former commander of the Marrow Guard.

Delightful Dealings -- Darastrix and Temeraire

Temeraire Narrows lingered at the table after the other companions had left. Nicodemus hung out nearby, keeping an eye on the halfling while he presented to El'Lirian the longbow he purchased for the elf prince.

"Ahh… my horned friend. I sssee you eyeing Darastrix'sss waresss. Anything you are interesssted in? "

"You're very observant, sir, as am I. I've noticed that your wares are of a higher quality than the run of the mill wandering trader. On my last excursion, a foul construct shattered one of my tools… A cunningly ground piece of glass that would allow me to see the tiniest of clues and markings."

Darastrix growls softly to himself, more a murmur of consideration than anything else, then rummages through his pack.

DM [If you can give me a perception roll. ]

Nick 20

The lizardman pulls out a small device about two inches in length that is shaped sort of like a funnel. It is smooth worked wood with bronze banding. "Thisss is a magnification box. One end hasss a sssmall piece of worked glassss, a lenssse I believe the technical term to be. Looking through the opposssite end caussse whatever you are looking at to appear three timesss asss large."

Temeraire gazes past the item itself, and sees tucked in the bag a long thin bladed sword, the make of which he has never seen before. More apothecary clay jugs. Two long decorative cylindrical containers. A glass eye. A few rolls of exotic colored fabric. Spice containers. The tiefling's eyes linger longingly at the blade in the bag, then he sighs as his hand rubs his light coinpouch.

"I ssee ssssomething hassss caught your fancccy… Thisss blade is called a katana. I acquired it on one of my travelsss to the landsss of Tu Yi far far to the eassst." Darastrix draws the long, slightly-curved blade out of his bag and unsheathes it half-way.

Temeraire swallows, then says, "My lady and I spent a good bit of gold to get here. Please don't take any affront… I see you are a most trustworthy merchant. Perhaps if we survive our trip to Tal'naar, we will return with enough wealth to equip ourselves." Temeraire says all that, but (more to the point) doesn't walk away.

"It isss unfortunate that you are ssshort on coin my friend." He says as he puts the magnification box back into his pack.

"It is truly beautiful craftsmanship. Both pieces are. Would you purchase very gently-used equipment, or take it to lower the cost?" He unbuckles his rapier belt and lays it on the table. "This was a gift from an obnoxious professor at the Collegium Osmundia. It's decent quality, but it's bad luck to use an unwanted gift, so I don't think I've ever actually stabbed anything with it."

Darastrix takes the rapier and examines it closely, eyeing down the blade looking for any imperfections. He balances the blade on a dull green-scaled finger. Laying the rapier back on the table he replies, "Aw a good quality blade. I'd be willing to take it off your handsss for the right price. How much are you looking to acquire for sssuch a blade?"

"Well, I don't know. I've already bought two pots of ointment. I really miss my magnifier – it was a thin round lens on the end of a stick. Yours is a little bulkier, but it might do."

"I could pay 20 gold crownsss for the rapier."

"Perhaps we could come to an arrangement about loot we discover on our travels? You would have the right of first refusal to purchase anything we can't use ourselves… We disconcerting outcasts have to stick together."

"An agreement of sssuch a nature could be beneficial to usss both. I can write up a contract to make it official." He pauses, then continues in his hissing monotone, "I can part with the katana for no lesss than 30 crownsss."

Temeraire whips his tail around with a flourish. "I would be happy to take such a contract to my friends, if the benefit to us was equitable. How much to include the magnifying box?" he asks, arching an eyebrow.

"Glasss bendersss are hard to come by essspecially one ssso talented asss who made thisss. 80 gold crownsss is the lowessst I could go for sssuch an item."

Temeraire scratches his chin and frowns. "I understand. I will sell you my rapier, then, and purchase this katana. May I give you a small deposit and ask you to hold the magnifying box until the next time we meet?"

"Yesss that can be arranged. There are not many on the lookout for sssuch an item. I will hold onto it until you have collected enough coin."

"So twenty gold crowns for the rapier," he pushes the blade forward a bit. "And twenty more crowns to pay for the katana. And an additional ten for deposit." Temeraire lays three stacks of ten gold crowns on the table beside the rapier.

"We have a deal my friend." Darastrix offers his scaly hand to shake on the deal.

Temeraire shakes his hand with a confident grip, unbothered by the clammy scales and clawish pressure. "We probably leave at dawn for Tal'naar, so I will talk to my friends before we leave, so we can sign your contract as soon as you have it ready." Temeraire buckles his new katana around his waist and turns to leave. He "accidentally" drops his coinpurse and one of the old Arkanian gold coins rolls out under Darastrix' chair.

"Oh my stars and garters, I'm so excited about this new sword, I must have the fumblefingers. Please pardon me!"

Darastrix's lizard eyes grow large as he sees the golden eye of Maluzar the Undying roll across the floor. "Aw my friend I'd be more wary of thossse fumblefingersss. Old coin like that could be worth a great…um…a bit more than your average golden crown. I wouldn't want my new partner to be gutted on the roadssside by a gang of cutthroat thievesss. If I may asssk how did you come about this gold?"

"Believe it or not, it was in an old pouch we found buried in an owlbear's nest. The elf there – you might recognize his bow – he really hates foul mutations like owlbears. It had nested under a shrine in Stonebridge, and we rooted it out of there."

"Interesting. Ssso you have more than one golden eye. Would you be willing to sssell any of them to thisss old traveler?"

"Sell… You mean, they're worth more than the gold I used to have?"

"Yesss, to the right collector of courssse. Even sssome of the banksss in the north might give you a bit more for them. I'll tell you what. Sssince we are partnersss of sssorts now', ol' Darassstrix will cut you a deal on them. I'll take the whole coin purse of the golden eyesss for five timesss what a golden crown isss worth."

Temeraire tries to twirl the coin on his fingers like a sleight-of-hand artist he saw once [9 SoH roll] but it clatters to the floor again. His excitement gets the better of him, and he can't really tell whether ol' Darastrix would go higher or not [9 Insight roll UGH]. He opens his pack and takes out the pouch with the rest of the golden eyes.

"Well…. we found fifty of them."

It is Darastrix' turn to be taken aback. The lizardman puts his dull green scaly hand over Temeraire's wrist and says, "Let'sss find a more private place away from prying eyesss before we conduct thisss deal."

"Certainly." He gives a meaningful glance to Nicodemus, gives him a bit of a signal for "coin" and "keep your eyes open" — then accompanies the lizardman.

Darastrix lifts his bag with ease — perhaps more ease than such a full bag would allow, but who knows how strong the lizardfolk really are? — and leads Temeraire Narrows through the kitchen to a room in the back. Rorge Firebeard wipes sweat from his brow as he stirs a large pot of stew. The dwarf gives them a quick nod as they pass. Darastrix opens the door to the back room and quickly ushers the tiefling inside. His eyes take a moment to adjust to the darkness, the smell of burning incense filling his nostrils. The room is wooden instead of stone. It is clearly one of the additions Rhian and Rorge have built onto the roadhouse. It is a small storage room filled with wooden logs for the cook fires, cast iron pots, small traps and cages for hunting game such as hares or pheasants. A well worn broom leans in the corner next to a stained threadbare <s>aaron</s> apron hanging from a peg. (a threadbare Aaron on a peg might be a weird tie-in to Regulators!)
An untidy bedroll lies in one corner. Darastrix drops his bag next to the bedroll, lights a candle and motions for the tiefling to sit down on a wooden crate next to a makeshift table. "I pay Rorge a little extra for thisss fine room," he says with a grin. "A busssinessssman like myssself enjoysss hisss privacy." He begins counting out golden crowns. He carefully slides 10 stacks each containing 25 golden crowns across the table.

Temeraire sits, curling his tail around the crate and sprawling his gangly legs out. He lets the gold sit untouched, not wanting to seem greedy. "Did you know Rorge and Rhian from their wandering days?"

"Unfortunately I never got to sssee them in action. I wasss probably ssstill wandering acrosss the Bloodgrasss Sssteppe of Asssor in thossse daysss." Darastrix leans in close, his face morphing into something insidious as the light from the candle dances shadows across his scaled face, and stares eerily at Temeraire with his blind white eye.

"Are you trying to unnerve a child of the Nine Hells!?" Temeraire asks in a ringing voice as his own pupil-less silver eyes glitter, the reddish tone of his skin glows, and the shadows squirm with tenebrous life around the two of them.

Darastrix either ignores Temeraire's nervous question or is oblivious that it was even asked. His mind seems to be elsewhere. After what seems like minutes pass, he leans back on his crate as a reptilian grin splits his face revealing rows of sharp teeth. "Ol' Darassstrix thinksss that you are a cut above the ressst, one that I can trussst. I have a proposssition for you. I will bessstow a powerful gift to you in return for your ssservicesss in retrieving something of great importance to me that I feel now may be lossst. What do you sssay my new friend?"

Temeraire's thaumaturgy subsides, and the room returns to its natural gloom. "I specialize in finding lost people and salvaging lost things. That's how I came across my lady-love, in fact. Is this something you yourself lost or… someone else?" 

"It wasss sssomething of great persssonal interessst to me. I have been sssearching for one for yearsss and wasss finally able to acquire one after ssseveral arduousss transssactionsss. A trusssted go-between wasss sssupposssed to arrive here a week passst and hasss yet to ssshow. He hasss never been late before. I fear sssomething hasss happened essspecially with thessse sssavagesss roaming around burning villagesss to the ground."

"Is anyone else looking for your interesting possession? The leader of the savages is also looking for powerful relics."

"Not that I am aware of. Mossst wouldn't consssider it to be a relic."

"Where was your associate coming from with your acquisition?"

"He wasss traveling from the port city of Thamatur farther to the sssouth on the other ssside of the Ssstag Fensss. I know that he at leassst made it to Allden in wessstern Vrakisss asss I received a messsager raven from him letting me know of hisss arrival."

Temeraire winces as Darastrix mentions Allden. "The refugees are saying Allden has been overrun by the savages, aren't they?"

"Yesss sssome of the refugeesss here sssay that Allden isss under sssiege. They were lucky enough to essscape before the full war band arrived. My hope isss that Ambrossse wasss able to get out of Allden before the sssiege began."

"If… Ambrose, you said? If he got out, he might follow the North road and try and stay ahead of the ravagers, right? We have to go towards the North road anyway… I can look for him. But… And this is just speculation, of course… If they killed him, would these ravagers recognize your package as valuable? Or would they leave it behind in ignorance?"

"Yesss Ambrossse would have been traveling by wagon and would probably not have cut acrosss countryssside. He would have ssstuck to the roadsss. My posssesssion would not catch the eye of thievesss. It isss…a sssmall chunck of oily black ssstone."

"Like dragonglass from the Scorched Sands?”

Darastrix gives Temeraire a grin. "No not quite. Thisss ssstone isss oily to the touch and it ssseemsss to drink in the light. Sssome think it isss from the deep fathomsss of the seasss, otherssss sssay it fell from the ssstars, or isss part of the Ssshadow Moon itssself."

The tiefling's eyes widen in awe. "You think you've found one of the Stones of the Shadow Moon?? No wonder you're anxious! Describe Ambrose to me… Along with this gift that might help me find him."

"The ssstone isss a jagged junk of the oiliesst blackness. It isss the sssize of a sssmall chessst but itsss weight is clossse to fifty poundsss. Ambrossse isss hard to misss. He isss a big bald headed bear of a man. The ssside of hisss face is ssscarred by a nasssty acid burn. He hasss a hangmansss noossse tattooed around hisss neck."

"No, I don't imagine Mother left too many like that lying around." Temeraire retorts with a smirk. "If he's out there, the Princess and I will find him, or you'll know the reason why."

"In return for your ssservicesss and the expected recovery and return of my acquisssition I give you thisss gift." Darastrix slowly reaches into the folds of his cloak, retrieving a small item and laying it out on the makeshift table. It is a sinister looking door knocker. There is a small white stone embedded in the handle. Two empty sockets flank the small stone, they look as if they too would hold a similar stone.

"I could have guessed all night, Darastrix my friend, and not come up with something like this." Temeraire laces his fingers, cracks his knuckles, and then ever-so-gently reached to touch the bizarre metallic piece.  "That face… I've never seen anything like it."

"Noooo you've never ssseen anything like thisss before. There isss nothing elssse like thisss anywhere in the world, from the frozen wassstesss of the Grimfrossst to the north, to the endlesss jungles of Tasssmysssisss to the sssouth, to the Jade Empire of Tu Yi to the eassst, to the Sssunlesss Sssea to the wessst. It possesses a mighty conjuration glammer." The lizardman pauses, letting a claw scrape over the empty holes before tapping the stone at the center.
"You take this sssmall white ssstone out of the handle and hide it in a place you would like to return to. When you have need, you place the door knocker on the ground and draw the outline of a door around it. Lassst you write on the door the name of the place where you left the ssstone. A real door will materialize in itsss place and will open to that place."

"Have you used it? Does it stay behind when you go through the door? Or can you pull it through behind you?”

"I have usssed it once before. Once you ssstep through the doorway it disssappearsss, leaving only the door knocker lying on the ground at your feet."

"Did you have to use it on solid ground, or could it be any sort of a floor?"

"It ssshould work on any sssurface." The lizardman pauses for a long, cold heartbeat. "If you are able to return my package, I will give you the remaining two ssstonesss that go with the door knocker."

Temeraire tucks the door knocker and the gold coins into his rucksack. "Darastrix, this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." He shakes the scaly hand again. "We won't fail you."

Episode 6

Trudging north through the cold rain our party nears the Wayward Wanderer once more. Today is Feastsday, the 1st of Harvesttide. Nearly a week has past and many things have changed since our foolhardy group setout from the ruined tower turned roadhouse. As they near bodies, pierced with arrows and bolts, can be seen littering the grassy hill surrounding the tower. They are the bodies of the giant blooded savages of the Stag Fens.

A bolt cuts through the air, impaling the soggy ground at Nicodemus’ feet. “Aye, who goes there?”, a gruff voice calls out from an open window of the Wanderer. It is Rorge, the dwarven cook and brewmaster. After realizing who you are Rorge allows our adventurers to approach and hurries them inside bolting the heavy wooden door shut behind them. There are even more refugees here now than there were before setting out for Stonebrigde. Folks from Allden, Edgewood, and Whiteoak have fled their homes under threat of death and found sanctuary here.

Rhian says that a few small savage raiding parties have attempted to break into the Wanderer with no success as Rorge leans a heavy well worn crossbow against the stone wall. They did manage to injure and capture one of the raiders, who is being held down in the basement.

Temeraire, Eloquin and the others seek out Turl, the dwarven farmer from Stonebridge, to fill him in on all that they found. Returning the relic of Vymera Turl is nearly brought to tears and is at a loss for words other than to give out big bear hugs to all. A small carved figurine of a dwarven soldier, that was to be a gift from Turl’s uncle for his 10th name day, is also returned along with the secrets to the temple of Vymera.

Izzy, Nicodemus, and Eloquin decided to head to the basement to interrogate the captured wildling to see of they can obtain any useful information about this fallen knight of the Winged Legion. A low thick fog fills the room of the prisoner as the door is flung open and the dragonborn, Izzy, enters. Lightning crackles and arcs across her fingertips menacingly as the interrogation begins. The huge man is not amused as he spits in the noble dragonborns face. Disgusted Izzy grabs the metal chair the wildling is chained to, sending bolts of hot blue energy coursing through him.

Nicodemus enters next, the already dim room grows darker, as the tiefling’s eyes burst into balls of bright red flame. In a booming voice that shakes dust from the walls of the room Nicodemus yells, “I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE ASKING HIM? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE? YOU WILL ANSWER OUR QUESTIONS! Taking a metal fire poker he bashes it against the prisoners knee, once, twice, three times as the man yells out in pain. “I don’t know what you are talking about,” the savage retorts.

Not pleased with the answer Nicodemus notices a bolt impaled into the man’s shoulder, the wound clearly infected. “How about a little tappity, tap, tap then,” Narrows says as he taps on the bolt driving it deeper into the wound. The prisoner yells out in pain again. “Who do you work for? Why are you burning down villages? Who is this disgraced knight that leads you?” “I am not hearing an answer,” Nicodemus sings as he beings to tap on the bolt ever harder. “I’ve (BAM) been workin’ on the (BAM) old road (BAM) all the live long day (BAM)! The wildling finally breaks and spills his guts on what he knows.

Our ragtag adventures learn that the man known as the Defiler has three warbands. One currently has the town of Allden under siege. One is camped out in the ruined city of Vranec building siege weapons. The third is one the march to the elven city of Tal’Nnar.Later a loud scream can be heard from the top floor of the roadhouse.

Our party scrambles up the stairs to see what is the matter only to find Bygarth, the halfing supposed demi-god, standing in front of a woman covered in blood. Some quick investigation leads to the discovery that the woman’s brother has been murdered, possibly by some sort of phantom.

Coming back down to the common Bygarth scans the room looking for anyone suspicious who might have committed this murder. He sees a hooded figure sitting in the shadows off by himself. The shady character turns out to be a lizardman merchant named Darastrix who is more than happy to buy sell and trade.

We leave our party with a decision. Do they stay at the Wayward Wanderer to solve this mysterious murder, do they travel to the ruined city of Vranec to try and stop the construction of siege weapons, do they head to Tal’Nnar to warn the elves of the impending attack? We will see…

Episode 5
The Defiler

Standing in a burnt, smoldering field, our companions are dirty, exhausted and bloody, having just fought an owlbear and climbed up through its burrow into the warm afternoon sun. Now they are faced with a new adversary and threatened with death if they do not hand over the relic of Vymera, which they just risked their lives attempting to recover.

Rolen and Temeraire attempt a ruse saying that they do not have the relic, even going as far as to create an illusory one to take its place. The heavily armored foe is not so easily fooled and demands that the box is handed over, that he can sense its presence. Without provocation the imposing foe lunges into attack.

The sun elf Rolen is the first unlucky victim. The fallen knight grabs him about the throat with a gauntleted fist, lifting him high off of the ground and scorching his throat with blue sparks of lightning. Rolen is unceremoniously thrown to the ground like discarded trash, convulsing as he gasps for breath through his ruined, black charred throat.

The next to fall is the song spinning tiefling Temeraire, blasted down with orb of blackish liquid smoke like energy as it pulses out from the swordman's open palm. Seeing her lover fall Izzy, badly injured and feeling her magical energies nearly drained she charges toward the imposing figure, attempting to bowl him over with sheer brute force. But he is too quick and slides away at the last moment before driving his already bloodied greatsword deep through the belly of the heroic dragonborn, nearly cutting her in two.

Izzy slides off of the blade into a near lifeless heap as the griffon rider begins to rummage through Rolen’s pack, searching for the relic. His fingers draw nearer to the prize when Eli’Lirian darts past, snatching the pack from his grasp, reaching in and flinging the relic up into the air, where it seems to float, a dark spot against the bright blazing sun, when it is grabbed by the deft talons of the eagle Ana, and flown away to safety.The knight, hurt and having been outmatched mounts his griffon and flies off heading north, vowing that our adventures will meet him again…

What is left of our party takes shelter in the temple of Vymera, as wounds are healed, energy is restored and a much needed rest is taken. The following morning what remains of the once lively farming village of Stonebridge is searched, all that is really left is the stone forge.

Suddenly a loud thunderclap echoes through the village and our party fears that maybe the griffon rider has returned, but it turns out to be a strange halfling, completely devoid of hair and clothing, laying in the middle of the street in what looks like a scorched spot where lightning has struck. The halfling man comes to and seems to think that he is so sort of demigod who has been unwillingly turned into a halfling mortal. An argument ensues as the halfling believe that our companions are the ones who might have done this to him. Eventually the halfling calms down and is offered clothing and even a dagger from Rolen. Our companions head out of Stonebridge towards the Wayward Wandered once more.

Episode 4
Ire of the Fallen

The sun flashes from above. The heat, once merely draining, becomes scorching! The companions can barely open their eyes and they can feel their skin searing… Will anyone come up with the right answer, before they are all basted in a hot oast?

With a parched croak, Rolen cries out, "Sun!" The light dims, and the doors to the room of spring open wide.

Rolen and Temeraire dart through the door and move to opposite sides of the room, but it is shadowy and unoccupied. The corner of the room had collapsed from the invasion of a massive tree root. The riddle, too, has been destroyed. The rest of the group, save for El'lirian guarding their backtrail, enters the room to see Temeraire kneeling to examine the rubble in the corner. A skeletal hand protrudes from the fallen stones, grasping something. The investigator reaches ever so carefully to touch the hand, and the spirit of an old dwarf manifests suddenly and begins pacing back and forth across the room, paying no attention to the adventurers.

The spirit mutters under his breath, concentrating hard. Eloquin approaches it and calls out, "WHO ARE YOU, SER DWARF?" 

"No need to scream, youngster. I'm the guardian of the shrine of Vymera, obviously. Why are you here?" It seems that the poor dwarf does not know he has been crushed under tons of stone and dirt and irony. After waiting for a couple seconds for an answer, the dwarf seems to forget speaking to Eloquin and returns to his pacing and grumbling. "How did that riddle go? I'll never teach poor Turl the secrets of the shrine if I canna remember them meself. How did it go?"

"What are you trying to remember, old-timer?"

"Who? What? How did you get in here?"

"We answered the riddles!"

"Well, you haven't answered this riddle, and now I've gone and lost the answer. I wish I could remember it, but every time I think I'm close, this hideous beastly screeching echoes through my mind and I lose my train of thought." He recites the riddle to the room of spring. Eloquin blinks once, shakes his head in pity, and barks out the answer with a bit of a laughter.

"Well, you're true riddlers and no mistake. May your days be long upon Vymera's earth. Now I need to go find Turl and give him his Nameday gift. Do you see? I carved a guardian for him -" he looks down at his empty, spectral hands, confused. "Now where did my carving go? I can't miss the poor lad's Nameday! He'll never forgive me!" The old dwarf begins to panic, sobbing.

Temeraire calls out, "Guardian of Vymera! Turl, your kinsman, sent us to you. Is this what you seek?" The dwarf spirit turns and sees the tiefling gesturing towards the bony hand that reaches up from the stony rubble with something grasped tight in its fist.

"I – wait, what happened to me? Am I… am I…" he hiccups through the last of his tears and gives a heavy sigh. "I'm dead, aren't I?"

"I think so, good spirit. I think so," Temeraire replies with a note of tender solemnity.

"Well, then. That's that. Are ye honorable folk? Bah… Vymera would not have let you come this far if ye weren't. Will ye do a favor for an old dwarf? Take me carving to Turl, tell him how sorry I am, and teach him the secrets? Will you swear?"

"By wind and water, by ice and fire, by earth and sky and sea, I swear it will be done." A warm glow, much like the radiance of healing magic, lights the room from the skeletal fist. All the companions turn to the source of light, and see the fingers open and hand the figurine to the tiefling. A cool breeze like a sigh of relief ruffles their hair and when they turn back, the spirit is no more.

The allies make their way deeper into the undertunnels of the shrine. Rolen and Temeraire dart into a long, dark room lined with intricately-decorated scarecrows. The rest of the group approaches, and while the pair suggests caution, Ward the Tomeheart charges forth with abandon! Almost drowned out by the clank of stomping metal on stonework is a sharp snapping CLICK! Crystals beneath the scarecrows wink into glowing life as the scarecrows show their true purpose: each scarecrow represents one of the past guardians of this ancient shrine.

As the figures lurch into eldritch life, Eloquin murmurs the words of a spell and skitters up the wall and onto the ceiling with spidery dexterity. The guardians rake at the companions with stone-tipped wooden claws, and no attacks faze them. Swords slash them, but do not slow them. Magic burns them, but still they keep coming. They rend and tear at the tomeheart, and the mystical automaton finally collapses under their aggression. Narrows and Narrows, trapped in one corner, fight for their lives against two of the guardians. All the while, the wizard studies them from the ceiling.

"The secret to their life is in the crystals! Destroy them, and the magic will cease."

El'lirian darts forward and smashes the hilts of his swords down onto one of the glowing stones. It shatters, and one of the guardians locks up, frozen in place as its magic dies. One after another, the travelers destroy the crystals and the scarecrows finally halt. Izkierka shudders, the horrible foes reminding her of childhood nightmares, and launches a bolt of magical fire into each. With the last of the scarecrows smoldering into a pile of ash, the adventurers look worse for wear. They slump down against the walls and floor to catch their breath. Temeraire and El'lirian make their way around the room, bandaging their wounds. The tiefling sings a soft hopeful reel as he moves about the room, invigorating his allies.

After a few minutes to catch their breath, the group continues. They follow a long passage for several yards before finding another section caved-in like the spring room. This time, though, there is no tree. Instead, there are the marks of huge clawed paws in the dirt, along with the stench of rotting meat. El'lirian squats down and runs a finger along the edge of the track, gauging the size of its maker. "The ghost spoke of screeching in the night, yes?"

"Aye, screeching so loud and awful it disturbed even the rest of the dead. Literally."

"These tracks are from no natural beast – they come from a hideous monstrosity made by their kind in the long ago." The elf ranger spits out the words and jabs two fingers at Eloquin and Nimozoran. "I have made it my mission to rid the world of such monstrosities. We must slay the owlbear."

"Owlbear? OWLBEAR? Wouldn't it be better as a pet? It sounds ADORABLE," Izkierka exclaims.

"ADORABLE!?" Eloquin replies. "Set your scaly mind on this: giant bear, with the head and eyes and beak and talons of an owl, both cunning and full of rage at its unnatural state."

"But fur and feathers together sound snuggly and awesome."

Following the smell the adventures find themselves in a large cavern scattered with half eaten rotting corpses. The scouts hear a pained retching sound from behind them, and turn to see the sorceress holding her hands to her mouth and shuddering. Temeraire rushes to her side, pulls forth a large handkerchief, and helps her clean up.

"Okay… not so adorable after all."

At the far end of the cavern, beyond an expanse of lower terrain, the huge feathered beast slumbers in a nest. El'lirian nocks an arrow, stretches his bow tight, and creeps forward across the cavern towards the sleeping beast. An arrow pierces the beast's hide and it lurches up and stands on its hind legs and bellows an ear piercing screech. Izkierka takes a deep breath and screams right back at it, loosing her draconic birthright, a gust of lightning breath that races forth and sets the beast's feathers to smoking. Eloquin nails it with darts of magical force. Rolen leaps across the expanse and buries his rapier down through the creature's thick neck, and it collapses with a shudder that slams the elf into the wall.

The group finds a small hoard of shiny things buried in the owlbear's nest. Armor, coins, an ancient arcane dagger, and a small box bound in silver and carved all over with tiny images of Vymera. Temeraire handles it ever so gently and works its locking mechanism open. Immediately the stench of rot and guano is overwhelmed by the earthy aroma of loam and sunshine and growing things. The relic is filled with rich, fertile earth that will speed the establishment of a new community for the followers of Vymera driven out of Stonebridge.

"Which way to the Wayward Wanderer? We can go back through the shrine, or we can go out the way the owlbear got in."

"I am NOT looking at those scarecrows again. EVER."

So the party clambers out of the owlbear's burrow beneath a gnarled root of a large oak tree. Stepping out into the bright sunshine of a smoldering field, a shadow passes over them as of something huge temporarily blocking out the sun. Heavy footfalls are heard coming up behind the group. They turn around, and standing before them is yet another shocking sight.

A humanoid figure clad in black plate armor. Once the armor was pristine and of the highest quality steel. Now it is covered in grime and blood, rusted and dented. A pair of large stag antlers have been affixed to the helm, causing the figure to tower nearly eight feet in height. The figure unsheathes a massive greatsword, once lovely and silvered but now tarnished and stained with blood. Not all of it is dried and crusted, either. Pointing a gauntleted hand towards the party the figure speaks. The voice seems like two voices speaking at once: the deep rumbling voice of a man mixed with the rasping harsh voice of a woman.

"Hand over the relic or die!"

Episode 3
What Lies Beneath

The scent of ash and embers lingers on the air as the companions crest a hill and the farming village of Stonebridge lies before them, a smoldering ruin. The ranger pauses, then casts off his eagle with an upthrust arm. The raptor glides over the town, and the eyes of the elf prince go white for a moment before he murmurs, "Danger – to the south – tall pile of stones – scaly dogs sleeping in front."

His eyes resolve themselves into cold beads of excitement, and he points to Rolen and Nicodemus Narrows. "Splug, you stay here and keep the baggage safe," the tiefling instructs as the companions shed their traveling gear and ready weapons. The three immediately hustle down the hill towards the eastern side of the burnt-out village. The elves nock arrows to their bows and, almost as mirror images of one another, release them to bury themselves into the flank of one of the resting beasts. With a bellow of pain, it wakes and struggles to its feet. Its partner, uncivilly rousted from a perfectly good nap, lurches up and looks for something to kill.

Temeraire and Izkierka help Nimozoran down the hill and into the wreckage of the west side of town, while Eloquin the Magnificent strolls directly towards the large stone edifice at the south end of town. More swamp hounds spring out from the smoldering buildings. Purple blasts of arcane power explode forth from one of the temple windows, arcing past the bold wizard and making his hair stand on end! Nimozoran pops out of existence, so far as anyone on this side of the Bleak can tell. Spells and blades and bows do their nasty work, and the hounds are slaughtered. But the danger is hardly over… Nimozoran finds himself in a shadowy, ashen reflection of our world drained of color and joy, dripping with ichor and slime. Tentacles squelch towards him out of the black depths of emptiness.

Back in the visible world, the adventurers draw close to the building. Narrows and Rolen approach a pair of windows on the northeast corner. The elf peers through first and sees several large shapes moving through the shadows. From his vantage point, the tiefling sees bedrolls lying around a makeshift campfire in the center of the wreckage of the shrine to Vymera. Rolen pulls himself through his window and comes face to face with savages from the Stag Fens! They are tall, brutal men and women with the blood of giants coursing through their veins. Two immediately close on the elf warrior, with two more clambering over scattered benches, until Nicodemus Narrows (in a moment of wild abandon!) throws himself through his window and into the fray! His blade finds purchase in the armpit of one of the marauders! Bright arterial spray bursts forth, drenching them both. After a second, though, only Narrows is aware of it. Rolen dodges into the space left when the first savage collapses, leaps off the wall and drives his sword deep into the neck and chest of his foe.

The spellcaster fires several more eldritch blasts out the window before turning to face the foes that have entered the shrine. A lance of silvery energy from Temeraire's hand crossbow comes in through the window and envelops the warlock, making her shimmer with radiance. Bursts of purple energy from her staff sizzle towards the tiefling rogue that laid low her warrior — but two arrows from the window behind Nicodemus part his hair on their way to their target! Arrows and magic pass in the air, but only the arrows find their mark, thunking home in the warlock's chest and throat with a puff of glitter.

By then, the other pair have closed the distance on Rolen and Nicodemus! A maul crunches into Rolen's back and ribcage before its owner is swarmed by a screeching mass of wings and feathers! El'lirian di Leoni draws forth his black dragonbone shortswords and enters the fray. He parries one attack, then another, and uses their momentum to push himself into a pirouette behind the bear-like man. Temeraire clambers over the windowsill just as the ranger buries one sword in the savage's kidney and slashes his throat with the other. A cascade of blood washes over the bard's face, and he freezes, staring as the warrior collapses to the ground…

Temeraire was 8 when he saw his first dead body – well, the first one he knew. Bodies in alleys were not out of the ordinary in Corthos. But when his mother's scream woke him up, he saw a burly thug reaching for her throat! He screamed, "YOU LEAVE MY MOTHER ALONE!" before her hand darted forward and sliced his throat so deeply with a razor, she nearly severed his spinal cord. That was different. Blood on the walls, blood on the ceiling, blood soaking his young tiefling face. It wouldn't be the last time he saw blood everywhere….

Temeraire snaps back to reality as everyone gives him odd looks. He must have screamed out loud. And what was he doing on the ground, anyway? Izkierka lifts him back to his feet and wipes his face with a handkerchief, murmuring softly to him. "Shh… easy, love. I'm here. You're fine. I'm here." The bronze dragonborn explains what happened to the rest of the group, while Nicodemus examines a statue to Vymera at one end of the sanctuary. After they solve its riddle, a secret passage creaks open beneath the statue, leading down into the depths of the temple.

Heading down our party encounters the Hall of Seasons. The first room is full of snow and freezing wind, with depictions of snowy forests and icy tundra on the walls. The door at the far end of the room depicts Vymera holding a cornucopia of harvest fruits and vegetables, her hair adorned with fallen leaves. One wall, though, also has this carving: "Thrice again larger than all you can see… but lighter by far than my weighty ancestry…" The companions huddle together for warmth and mutter to one another possible answers to the riddle. The room gets colder and colder every time they err. Then Temeraire smacks himself in the forehead with the heel of his palm, and calls out, "I-I-I-Iceberg, right ahead!" The wind dies down immediately and the temperature rises, and the image of Vymera on the door nods before that door creaks open.

The next room depicts autumn in all her glory – a riot of forest color and rain, sweet gentle autumn rain, sprinkles down from the roof. On this door, Vymera stands tall and lovely, with a sunburst around her head giving her a radiant halo. The bard and quester after knowledge finds the inscription for this room: "Tall when I'm young, short when I'm old… My temper is hot, but when I sleep I'm cold." He scratches one of his horns and mutters, "Temper… temper… it's a word play, I'm sure of it." But Nimozoran cackles and wheezes and says, "Oh boy – that riddle was old when I was toddling along chasing pretty halfling girls… it's a candle!" Vymera nods again, and the door rustles leaves on the ground as it opens. El'lirian and Eloquin remain behind, entranced by the beauty of Vymera's magic, while the pass through the door…

…into the most glorious summer day imaginable. Blue sky dotted with fat cottony clouds… brilliant sunshine… warm caressing breezes… Vymera on this door holds seedlings in her hands as she reaches out to the adventurers, beckoning them into her embrace. The inscription here, Temeraire reads: "Inside a great castle lives a shy young maid… she blushes in the morning and hides at night." He stares at the words, lost.

"Is it true love?" a voice asks from behind him. From above, the sun flashes with blinding brightness and the summery heat becomes oppressive… drainingly hot… 

"Is she Aethelred the Buxom?" Nicodemus Narrows asks. "She was a shy lass… leastways she was when I met her." The sun flashes again, and the draining heat becomes scorching… the companions can barely open their eyes and they can feel their skin searing…

Will anyone come up with the right answer, before they are all basted in a hot oast?


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