Breetland Bash

It Begins...
Welcome to Cheltenham

You’ve traveled far. You are tired but not exhausted. It is a good tired. The smoke from the chimneys and cook fires rising above the trees tells you your destination is at hand: Cheltenham.

You didn’t necessarily pick Cheltenham as your destination, it just is. Dusk is on it’s way and that means night can’t be far behind and you need a place to rest. Not much has been happening anyway. This ‘adventure’ thing isn’t all that exciting so far.

As you round a bend in the road you finally see the place. It looks to be a medium size village; there’s some trade here obviously as you wonder on who’s demesne you’ve wandered. The lord is doing well; his people are hard at work.

The buildings are typical of this part of Breetland; lots of wattle and daub mixed in with some stone and the ubiquitous thatched rooftops. There are some large buildings here: what you assume to be the Guild Hall, at least one church you can see and the seemingly always present tanneries. And always on the outskirts of towns as the people don’t like the smell. Can’t say as you blame them as you past the first, the acrid odors of urine and dye accosting you. There are some out buildings and a few small farms and gardens first however. It all looks so typical.

You see several people about, doing their work and running their errands. The ones that notice you only give you the slightest cursory glance, shake their heads and get back to work. A few boys, trying so hard to look tough, are near the road leaning on a fence and cursing, arguing and gambling for coppers.

As you pass, one of them separates himself from the group and follows you a bit.

“ ‘Eer guv” you hear after a few yards.

You turn to see a boy of about 12. He’s filthy and his clothes are filthier but he’s flashing a grin like he’s never had a sad day in his life. Snot is running out of nose like the slow drip of a sick whore’s cunny.

He wipes his nose with his sleeve and still grinning says: “Old Odo lookin’ for blokes like you. Lookin’ again if I should say so proper, tha’ is. But that’s anuva story then iddin it?” A raucous cheer erupts from his gang and he quickly turns, surveys the situation back where his mates are pitching pennies and says: “Look guv, got to gi back and teach these sodding great lumps wot’s wot and sep’ rate the chumps from the champs and all that, now don’t I? Just a best be gittin to the ‘Bishop’s Finger’ and ask for ol’ Peffy. Can’t really miss a sodding great arse bandit like ‘im anyway, if ya know what I mean, eh? If he goes queer on ya just give em yer old bovver boot to the bollocks an’ he’ll calm down proper. Go on,” he says as he wipes his nose again and holds out his other hand with that same warm grin, “Tell im ol’ Charlie Wikkens sent ya’ There’s a good fellow, right, guv? Old Odo, like to have some work for your kind,…right,… eh? Crazy bastard, that one”

As you slip him a few coppers, he looks you up and down slowly, shakes his head and chuckles before he wipes his nose, turns and runs back to the game shouting “ Make room, ol’ Charlie’s back in the game boys!”

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Fron
Journey to Cheltenham

Ten leagues north of East Weston lies Pallmar Abbey. It is from here that the Church Knight Initiate, Fron the Fluent, has recently left to deliver a letter to Friar Ebnar, who leads a small flock of believers in Cheltenham. The head monk of Pallmar entrusted this letter to Fron thinking it would give him a much needed introduction to the world outside the abbey walls and to begin his way as a Church Knight of Adamantias.
Fron sees this as merely delivering a letter and without little consequence, but he is enjoying the journey and his first sojourn beyond the abbey walls he has called his home for the past 18 years.

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The Bishop's Finger
At the Sign of the Prancing Peffy

You walk the quickly darkening dirt streets of Cheltenham, seeking out the ‘Bishop’s Finger’, wondering about Charlie and who the hell Odo is and what he could want. (Not to mention Peffy!) You realize this village must be the manorial seat of some lord as the natives look to be setting up for market tomorrow. Only the manor hubs get the proper King’s licensing for market. Sure enough as you round a bend you see, off in the near distance, the manor house and tithe barn; long and low, centuries old and probably brimming with wool and crops. The manor house is small but fortified and well kept. Someone is doing well here.

Soon you see what you are after: a tavern several stories high. It’s got more stone than some of the other buildings (the entire first floor) and several great chimneys belie the warmth and food within. The windows are glass and some are shuttered but you can see light peeking out from behind a few shutters upstairs. The sign creaks gently in the wind. ‘The old Bishop’s got arthritis’ you think to yourself as you step upon the lintel and let yourself in.

The light and warmth greet like an old friend. It is a welcome sight.

The common room is large, with several long trestle tables along the walls and plenty of roundels around the central hearth, it being circular so everyone can enjoy it’s light and warmth. You realize the other chimneys must be in the kitchens and private rooms. The walls are paneled with dark mahogany and oak and several tapestries are hung, most depicting hunting scenes. Above the bar is a shield with a red crest upon yellow; a reverse chevron with two red circles above and one below. You assume correctly this is the family crest of the local lord.

There are a few patrons, mostly outlying farmers come early for the market. Conversation is quiet and subdued. The place is mostly empty. Mostly. You do notice other ‘travelers’, a few souls who look as if they have been on the road like yourself, each alone but for their thoughts.

Suddenly the kitchen doors burst open and through them comes someone who can only be Peffy. Tall and round at the same time, his great pear shaped bulk moves with apparent lightness as he bustles past you carrying a tray of bread and cheeses and sausages.

He catches your eye as he passes. “Give me a sec, hon’ he says laying a hand on your bicep in the process. “Ooh, goodness,” he says as he lowers his voice and looks at your from beneath his brows, “definitely be back for you”. He winks and is gone.

When he returns a minute later, he fixes his hair and holds out a hand. “Welcome”, he says, “I’m Jeffrey, I’ll be your host tonight… All night… Just me”. He crinkles his nose and smiles.

You explain your conversation with Charlie Wikkens down the road and he had said look up a certain “Peffy”.
With that Jeffrey rolls his eyes, sweeps both hands in a downward motion and let’s out a “Uck, miserable little snot nosed bastard” in total and genuine disgust. “I swear his parents killed themselves just to get away from the little prick. I’ll bet he said ask for the ‘shit sticker’ or the ‘ring raider’”; he continues to look inquisitively at you, “the ‘sausage jockey’, the ‘turd burglar’? No? Maybe the ‘cock gobbler’ or the ‘pillow biter’…. hmmm, ‘mattress muncher’? ‘Fudge packer’? ‘Donut puncher’? ‘knob jockey’?… let’s see, how about ‘butt burglar’? ‘bum driller’? ‘butt pirate’? ‘Chutney ferret’? How ‘bout one of my fav’s: ‘bone smuggler’? No? Really? ‘Brown Piper’? ‘Anal assassin’? ‘the Cockpipe Cosmonaut’?”

Finally you raise a hand and cut him off. “Arse Bandit” is all you can utter.

“Ahhh… should have known! One of his favorites”, he says shyly, looking you in the eye and twisting his hair with his hand while shrugging.

“Aaaaaany- hooo, have a seat and let old Jeffrey get you a drink. Rub your neck? You look awfully tired from the road. I’ll let Odo know another one’s here”. He slowly turns his body and begins to walk away from you while never turning his head or taking his eyes off yours until he‘s walking away and looking at you over his shoulder. “We’ve got baths, you know” he says as he disappears into the other room.

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Some Work
The Tear of Carannog

After sitting a while in the common room of the Bishop’s Finger enjoying a cold beer or warm spiced wine and putting up with Peffy’s incessant advances and double entendre, a bell you hadn’t noticed before hanging from a decorative pull rope behind the bar tinkles several times.

“That’s your cue, boys” Peffy says with pouty lips. “Such a shame to see this lot go. C’mon, up and meet our resident wizard” he says with a flourish twirling his fingers in the air. “More like resident Loon, but, what the hay, he pays his rent every month, and there’s no denying that hunky butler makes me all squishy insides”. He sighs, a far off look in his eyes, then suddenly snaps back to reality. “Okay, must save that one for later, but c’mon boys”.

He leads you upstairs to the second floor along well worn grooves in the steps. The steps continue to the top floor but Peffy leads you down the hallway until it ends at a door and knocks. “He’s rented the entire floor for over 30 years” he whispers then stands upright as the door opens to reveal a large man in a simple tunic and baggy trousers. He has a hard face, complete with a scar across the bridge of his nose and the makings of a beard that could have been made of steel wool. He stares at Peffy with no apparent facial expression. “Oh, hi there”, Peffy says, giving the large man a quick wave and then drawing his fingers back as if they might get bitten. “Brought the Master fresh mee-…I mean, please tell the Master his new hires are here” he says, twirling his hair in his hands while shrugging and smiling. The man looks at Peffy with utter contempt before turning towards your group and saying in a voice that sounds like gravel: “Come in. The Master will see you presently”. As you enter he shuts the door behind you and you hear Peffy’s footsteps retreating back down the corridor.

Even though there is a small fire in the fireplace it takes a few minutes for your eyes to adjust to the gloomy room. The room is large and at the same time cozy. The walls are the same wooden paneling as downstairs and the few windows are closed and shuttered. There is some artwork hanging on the walls, a few landscapes, all crooked with frames covered in dust. There is a large desk on one side of the room with literally dozens of books and scrolls strewn about it’s surface. The remains of several candles sit cold in their holders. A large leather chair resides behind the desk, it’s soft cordovan skin broken in from decades of use. Quills are everywhere; ink pots too. A large long haired white cat lays sprawled across many of the papers. It gives you a look, quickly surmises you have nothing it could benefit from and lays it’s head back down. Bookshelves line most of the empty space along the walls, each filled to the brim.

Across the room is the fireplace, it’s mantle covered in bowls and urns. A large oval rug lays in front of it and six large comfortable high-backed leather chairs similar to the one behind the desk arranged in a circle, one with a small step in front. A man sits in one. One of the smallest, strangest men you have ever seen.

He looks a derelict. His eyes are looking in different directions; his hair is a mess and his ears stick out like the wings of a bird. He is dressed in a ridiculous outfit; a long robe covered in stars and half moons. On his lap sits another cat. An orange tiger stripe nearly as big as Odo himself, for surely this is the town eccentric, there can be no doubt of that.

“Sit please” the burly-man says as he takes his place behind Odo, crosses his hands in front of himself and stares straight ahead. In the light you can see he is older than you first thought, but still hale and built like an ox.

“You must forgive Charles, he is… shall we say… unused to entertaining guests.” Odo says, petting the cat and looking you each in the eye in turn. You feel, no, you know he is measuring you. The cat does the same, then flexes his paw, exposing his claws before settling again under Odo’s hand, encouraging him with a nudge to resume his petting. “So, we are all here: the certain elf, the happy-go-lucky halfling, the arrogant priest, the hippie druid and the amorphous blob which will become Mondo’s character. Ahhh, but why are we here, you may ask? A fair question. I’ve work for you. Yes. Work. Work which could make you rich and me very happy. Charles, where are our manners? Drinks for our guests. Yes, drinks while I tell them a story”.

Odo closes his eyes and breathes deeply through his nose as if recalling some great moment of his life. He exhales and begins slowly: “There are legends and then there are legends. There are gawds and then there are gawds. Long ago, when the gawds were many, the people knew them and they walked among us. The gawds gave us gifts; treasure, artifacts of their very existence! But being weak and stupid, we wasted them and when we weren’t given more tokens we turned our backs on the gawds, claiming it was they who were foolish and to be forgotten. One gawd, Carannog by name; the blacksmith, was made heart sick by the rejection of humans and wept red tears of the fire that was in his veins. It is claimed by those who know well, that as those tears fell to our plane, they transformed into stones as red as fire and just as deadly. Wizards there were who gathered these ‘Tears of Carannog’ and fashioned mighty wands of fire. They used the stones to increase their already great knowledge of fire and fire magic, gleaning from them, or so they thought, the very essence of the gawd.”

Odo sits silent for several seconds. The only sound is that of the hissing of the fire punctuated by a few snaps and pops. He begins again: “ But they were hideously wrong. They knew little and less of the gawd and soon they, and all the stones, were consumed. All, that is, but one. One wand. The last Tear of Carannog. For centuries it was highly guarded and valued by the Order of the Crimson Dancers. Then it disappeared and for decades no one knew of it’s whereabouts. Until Necten, that is”, Odo sneered the name as if it left a bad taste in his mouth. “Necten. My brother. He stole the wand and vanished. I chased him for 20 years and never had a glimpse of him! Then finally word spread of a powerful wizard near here; Cheltenham of all places! A tower in the wood, no less, like something out of a fey story. I confronted him and he used the wand to disfigure me and leave me broken and dying. But for Charles here, I would have perished”.

He stops again, shaking his head slowly as the great red tabby looks at up at him and squeeks and purrs. “Yes, you too, Hephaestus, you helped save me as well”, he says as he scratches the great red cat. He sighs and resumes: “As I lay recovering for months new rumors spread: Nectin was gone. Vanished again. But I know the Tear if Carannog is still there! I can feel it! It’s been 30 years since his latest disappearance. I have sent several… uh… expeditions to his tower, but none have come back. It has been over a decade since so many of your type have gathered here in Cheltenham! It has to be a sign!” He swoons a bit as he is clearly excited. He blinks several times and takes a deep breath. “My new friends” he begins again, wiping the saliva from his mouth, “all I ask is the Tear of Carannog. All else of my wicked brother is yours! Take it, sell it, keep it! It matters little to me.” He seems drained, as if that last bit was too tiresome to go over again in his mind. “The Tear of Carannog. The Tear…” He sighs. “Now, I am tired and need my rest. You leave tomorrow morning. Charles, please, my bed, then show our new friends out”.

Charles comes to the front of the chair and shoos the large red cat from his Master’s lap and prepares to scoop up the old man like a doll. You notice for the first time that Odo’s legs, which had been hidden under a blanket and his cat, are withered and frail, looking even through his loose fitting robe like two burnt sticks. Charles whispers something in the old man’s ear.

“Oh yes”, Odo says, “the tower is in the King’s Forest.”

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Post Adventure
The Aftermath

Along the banks of a slowly meandering stream, Fron sat alone immersed in his thoughts of the events of the previous days.
What an “adventure” it had all seemed to him when he had first left the abbey, then happening onto his companions in Chelltanham and the quest the strange Odo had presented to them, which they quickly accepted.
He had been infused with an enthusiasm he could barely contain, seeking acceptance amoungst his new found friends and establishing his own place within their ranks.
There he had been, all polished and gleaming chainmail, an imposing figure and who better to lead than him. Fron slowly shook his head, a long deep sigh issuing from his chest as his eyes scanned his surroundings.
His first adventure had not ended in the way he had envisioned it in his mind. Yes, they had procured The Tear and they had survived the challenges of the tower and the encounter with the Wardens, but it was his own failings that had brought them nearly to the brink of ruin.
Jasper’s words still stung him. They had been stern but gentle in the aftermath of the fight with the Wardens, but the Halfling had put it right. “You were so set on lighting the campfire….”
It had been Fron’s arrogance that had drawn the Wardens to them like moths to a flame and his temper that had nearly gotten them captured or , worse still, slain.
His thoughts went back to his years of martial training at the abbey. How many times had he been told of his rashness, his impetuousness by his instructors? What did he care for such things when he held his hammer or maul in his fists? The words of Friar Clemont came back to him as well, “your temper will be your undoing one day if you don’t learn to control it” How he had laughed at the old man’s advice back then.
“You were so set on lighting the campfire….” Japser’s words continued to echo in his mind, words that had been a strong dose of reality that he had sorely needed. Digesting them was another matter and he now understood that subtlety was at times needed more than action.
His rash act had brought the Wardens, his temper had nearly gotten them killed. The hard truth of it was that he had been looking for a fight, seizing any excuse to prove himself. Well, he had gotten what he sought and they had barely survived the encounter. It was not an easy thing for him to accept, but he set his resolve to remedy it.
He slowly rose to his feet, absently flicking a small pebble into the clear stream before turning back towards Chelltanham. There was treasure to be divided, failings to be addressed and, hopefully, another adventure on the horizon as he headed back to the inn still immersed within his own thoughts.

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An Old Man's Tale.
It was a hairy business.

You sit in a dark but not unclean tavern in the midst of Ryemouth‘s dock district, on Breetland’s southern coast. Like most Breetish port towns, Ryemouth is full of places like these; places where sailors and dockworkers, hookers and thieves, pimps and johns come to get away and get what they need. This place is better than most; after all, you have a pocket full of coins after successfully undertaking your first ‘skills for hire’ expedition, walking away feeling pretty wealthy and wondering why you waited so long to launch your career. Surely, this is the easiest money in the world. You start to envision yourself very wealthy. Why not? It’s all so easy; just find a ruin that’s ripe for the picking and then, well… pick it clean. Sure there’s a little danger but it’s nothing! That’s why you go with 4 or 5 others. Everyone watches each other’s back and everyone gets rich! It’s a can’t-lose proposition!

Yeah, this place is ok. The food is decent and the ale less watered than most. Even the clientele is a little upscale than what you’re used to. You notice one old man though, who seems out of place. He’s got the look of the poor about him and not just his clothes, but the look in his eyes. He looks at you as if remembering a better time; a time when life hadn’t chewed his ass like a hungry cur finding an unexpected bone. You can tell he wants to talk and eventually you offer to buy him a mug and strike up a conversation.

He hobbles over to you and you notice for the first time that he’s dragging his right foot and his right arm also appears to have been badly mangled. He keeps as much of it as he can in his sleeve. But he’s amiable enough and smiles as he accepts the drink and a seat at your table.

‘M’name’s McDermott’ he says offering his left hand in greeting. ‘Couldn’t help but notice you seem to have had a run of good luck’. He gives you a knowing look and winks and lays his index finger on his nose. ‘Your secret’s safe with me, lad. Aye, I can tell the look of a lad gone adventuring, hell, I remember it well. Cut a dashing figure, I did, once upon a time, before she…’ His voice trails off and a faraway look comes over him. After a few seconds, he shudders, bringing himself back into the present and his mug. ‘Ahh, but that was another time’ he says but you can tell he’s not finished.

You raise your eyebrows in a sign to continue and then sit contentedly while the old timer collects his thoughts, smugly wondering what he could possibly share with you that you don’t already know.

‘There were 7 of us’, he begins, ‘we thought we were going to rule the world. Growed up together mostly, ‘ceptin’ the elf and the dwarf naturally. Hell, Tommy and I did grow up together, he was my youngest brother. A strong lad and good with any weapon he picked up, that one.’ He takes a slow pull from the frothy mug and continues: ‘Then there was Jack, the ’intelligence officer’ as he fancied himself and Clive and Nigel. Jack was a sneaky lit’l git. Never cared for him much but still wouldn’ta wished his end on nobody. Clive had more than a bit of the arcane in him as it turned out. He was always a squirrely lad, but smart, oh, there was no arguing there. In the end he was quite a magician. But at the end it didn’t help him none. Nigel was tops with the bow.’

Again he pauses, takes another long drink, wiping his mouth on his sleeve and looking at you with that sad smile. ‘The dwarf was bad news and no mistake. To our enemies at least. Ol’ Bili. Bili Bad-Axe we called him in the day. Ferocious when angry. Scared the piss out o’ me a few times and I was on his side!’ He laughs and shakes his head and then his voice changes, almost reverent. ’Then there was Tess. Now that wasn’t her full name but none of us could pronounce her Elvish name. Tessa-sumthin’ or other. We just called her Tess. A healer. And a damn fine one. Never been much for prayer myself and we never talked about it but she prayed and she healed! That was always good enough for me.’ Then a whimsical look comes over his face and he shakes his head. ‘She also had the damn finest ass I have ever seen in my fucking life! We always said we would follow her anywhere into battle, as long as we got to ‘follow’ her!’ He breaks into a raucous laugh and slams his fist on the table, laughing until tears appear in the corners of his eyes and you are no longer sure they are the tears of laughter. He wipes his eyes and falls silent for awhile, looking at the table. ‘Callipygian. That’s what Clive called her; some fancy school word. Said it was perfect for her. Never thought to ask ‘im what it meant, just figgered he was right, as usual’, he muses as he seems to momentarily drift back in time.

‘But that was then,’ he says shaking himself out of his reverie. ’We fought our battles, we grabbed our share of the loot, we even had henchmen and folks workin’ for us. Can you believe it? It was a great life.’

‘We got a lead on a salvage mission up north a piece and off we went, confident it would be another Moonday stroll in the park and that much more loot, and maybe even jools! Haunted place. Big deal, we figgered. We done for spooks before and most ended up deader than when we found ‘em. Turns out the place is run by a gawd-cursed werewolf. Yeah, we done ‘im too, but Tommy was bit bad and Nigel was, well Nigel was gone. We couldn’t believe it but there was nothing’ we could do. He just lay there, with all his insides on his outsides, lookin’ at us. Couldn’t even make a sound as his throat was inside out. Just looked at us, pleading like. Didn’t know there was that much blood in a man. Poor Tess was a-prayin’ for all she was worth, but he just slipped away.’ He shakes his head, both hands on his mug, looking into it as if the answers were somehow at the bottom.

‘So, we headed home. Tommy was runnin’ a fever and getting’ delirious. Most rest of us pretty banged up. Bili lost an eye. Pretty Tess could only do so much’.

‘Then she came. Who knew the hairy fucker had a she-bitch? And she came at us like only a feral she bitch looking to pass out her deserves can come. Her first pass was bold; she jumped us on the path and bowled us over like ninepins. We were surprised, unprepared. Clive was ripped from gullet to gonads and was dead before we knew what happened. She finished off Tommy as he lay there… who knows? Might have been the best thing.’ He’s obviously in pain as he tries to finish his tale.

‘Then the bitch got sneaky and truth be told, I think she was enjoying it. She stalked us. At night. One by one. First Bili, then poor Jack.’ He sighs. ‘I’ll never forget the screams…’

‘Soon there was just me and Tess. We followed a river and found it went underground. Gawds but what a dreadful place. And weird. It looked like some ancient city had been swallowed up, earthquake probably, Tess had said. She was usually right ‘bout most things. What a crazy place, an underground city in the middle of a river!’, his excitement growing now as he tells you the tale. ’My first thought went to the loot again before I remembered I no longer had a troupe to command. Just me and Tess in an underground crumbling city half submerged in running water. We made do as best we could and I started thinking we were going to get out of it alive and in one piece. Then that night, just trying to rest and stay dry, we were attacked by the most hideous and vile creatures I’ve ever seen. Half man, half rat! As large as a dwarf and twice as cunning and vicious.’ He starts to tear up again.

He composes himself before continuing: ‘I did all I could. They tore Tess to shreds.’ he says in a choked voice, overflowing with emotion. ’They magicked her, they beat her, they gnawed her. I fought and fought, I must have killed a hundred of the filthy bastards. Eventually I dragged myself back out into the cool night, wet, exhausted, wounded in at least a dozen places. That’s when she returned.’ he shudders.

‘The bitch had her way with me. I felt like a child’s doll as she ripped me to bits and tossed me about like a cat playing with a mouse. It’s a miracle I survived, and I did survive only because she thought there was no way I could live through the mauling she had given me. Well, that and one last squeeze of ointment Tess had given me’, he admits sheepishly. ‘I must have laid there for two days before I was able to drag myself upright, bandage what I could and start the trek home, my right side practically useless.’ He absentmindedly rubs his right shoulder, seemingly out of habit.

He shakes his head again, collects his thoughts and continues. ‘I somehow made it home. It took months and every copper I had to convalesce. Suddenly it was all gone; my friends, my fortune, my future. But I was determined to rebuild it all. I remembered the lost city and all the potential loot it contained. I drew a map so I wouldn’t forget and I set out to hire a new troupe but no one was biting. I guess I don’t blame folks for not wanting to work for a boss with a half useless body. Doesn’t say much for my ability in a pinch does it?’

He shrugs and smiles, toothless and sad. ‘That was all years ago. Here I am; broken and destitute. I tried for years to sell the map but no deal’ he says as he pats a pouch at his side. ‘Still got it but the dreams are long gone. I always wanted to avenge sweet Tess. I even named the drowned city after her: Callipygous. I like to think it means something noble.’

‘So here we are: a crippled old man and a likely lad sharing a pint and an hour. I’ve done what I could to make it all happen but I realize I won’t be able to see it through. So I’ve come to this: all I want is for poor Tess to be avenged and another bottle. The map is yours for the bottle and the promise you’ll avenge my sweet Tess. The last few years I’ve sat here and watched peacocks parade through here and wonder how long they’ll last. Hell, I wonder how many of ‘em are still alive. But you got the look lad. Seems I been waitin’ just for you and yours.’

He reaches into his pouch and pulls out a well worn and creased piece of vellum and places it on the table. He reaches out with his left hand and takes yours again, nods his head and sadly walks away. He stops at the bar and orders a bottle, pointing your way. You give the bartender a nod as he looks your way.

McDermott takes the bottle and hobbles out the door, never looking back. You finish your drink, suddenly very sober. You pick up the map and tuck it away. After a few minutes you follow him out the door, turn the opposite direction, and head off into the night.

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The Candle Burns Low

Rifkin leaned back and sighed. He removed his spectacles and rubbed his eyes, stretching his arms and glancing about the library in the dim candle light. Slowly he rose from the chair and snuffed out the two large candles, picked up the smaller one and headed for the door.

He’d just finished the last tome for this night and found himself wondering if the queer downstairs had any stew left and some warmed wine to take the chill from his bones. His bones. Rifken seldom ever thought of his body without at least a fleeting moment wondering what type of undead he would become when his time came. And it would come, he knew. Like everyone else, one day, even if he lived and died a normal span of years, one day, some greater power would call him back from the grave, as it would all once-living things.

It had been a very productive month. Rifkin had been able to decifer several new spells from Odo’d books, and a few weeks ago when the courier had brought news from the others in Ryemouth of this lost city of Callipygous he’d been hardly able to contain his excitement. This was what he’d journeyed to Breetland for: a glimpse into the ruins of the long lost peoples that had dwelt here centuries ago. They were a people with knowledge that Rifkin greatly desired. Sure, the trinkets and the coin were nice, but it was knowledge that Rifkin truly treasured above all else. He had poured over the tomes and scrolls of Odo’s library, but no mention of this Callipygous could be found. But Rifkin was skilled at piecing together clues of old civilizations, a skill he was growing better and better at as he read more and more. There was little doubt to him that this might very well be the ancient city of Chathair Fhómhair that they were discussing. He hadn’t found many details about the place (oh, the usually hints of various cataclysmic ends), but he was relatively certain that was the real name of these ruins. A city that was once a religious center of the indigenous people of Breetland, where there were many temples dedicated to the worship of the ‘old gawds’ some of which had been incorporated into the 500, others, not. Others, yes. Darker, far more dangerous than any of the 500, but with far more useful knowledge as well.

Jasper had returned yesterday and the rest of his friends were expected to arrive from Ryemouth on the morrow. Rifkin knew he should get some rest for the journey, but he found that far into the night he could only pace, back and forth, wondering what this new adventure might bring…

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The long walk home.
Get Thee to a Nunnery!

You’re wet and tired, but elated. You’ve escaped the sunken city with pocketfuls of gold, and a treasure even more valuable than gold: the elven cleric Tessalantulus. She is weak and unused to the light but gamely keeping up when able and gratefully accepting a ride on the pony when she can’t. Her recuperative powers are amazing and she grows stronger and more fit every day. More than once she catches you trying to look at her derriere in the makeshift tunic lent to her and tied with an armor strap.

Each night around the fire, you re-live the most harrowing and horrible moments of the city that was Chat-Fromhaire; the water, the giant bugs, ogres, mud men, the rat-men and whatever the hell that was that was flying around in the dark. You each are reminded of something you had already forgotten or even forgot to notice in your terror and excitement as others recall their own deeds of derring-do. The henchmen exchange many glances and just shake their heads. This adventuring thing is something they are going to have to consider, but then their pockets jingle and well…

Daily you move south through the inviting countryside, staying off well beaten paths and avoiding the telltale wisps of smoke coming from the chimneys of the few scattered farms in the area. You pass through belts of oak and ash, dotted with the firs that are also abundant in this hilly landscape. Streams cross your path and all in all, it’s pretty idyllic. You manage to avoid detection by the few other travelers easily enough. The ranger scouting ahead, the druid reading the signs and with a few clerics in tow, you are all soon fit and in fighting shape again, excepting possibly Tess, who’s going to need more than a few days to recover from 40 years of abuse.

As you journey south though, day by day the elation recedes. The druid is first to notice, then the ranger and soon you all feel a sense of foreboding the further you travel. The forests and glens, which otherwise should be peaceful and inviting seem almost menacing as they close in around you and try to snuff out any sense of safety or well-being. The feeling increases by the mile. One night, camping in a stand of pines out of the wind, the ground covered with soft and inviting pine needles the wind gently sighing through the trees, the druid finally broaches the subject: ‘This land is sick’ he starts, ‘I can’t quite make out what is going on, but the woods are not well. They are crying out, but for what, I am unable to tell’. The ranger adds: ‘The tracks I’ve seen are weird too. Many, many tracks. Creatures great and small and lots of traffic. Have you noticed the lack of birds, squirrels? I haven’t seen a hare in two days.’ The rest of you realize it’s true, now that you think about it, you haven’t heard the sound of a single bird for a few days. In fact you haven’t seen any wildlife even though you trust the ranger that the tracks are fresh and abundant. You just haven’t seen anything. Tess says: ‘I feel it too. It is a sickness, it is affecting us all.’ She pulls her blanket tighter around herself and stares into the fire. You spend the rest of the evening in silent contemplation, except Jasper, who’s snoring is rudely interrupted by an anonymous kick in the night.

Finally, after about a tenday’s journey, you see over the next rise the red stone tower of Tinkleton Abbey. As you crest the rise you see the abbey entire and surrounding fields with many a brother hard at work. The buildings bake in the warm sun, all crafted from those same red stones; you can see stables and kennels, kitchens, barns for storing grain, beehives, dovecotes and several outdoor chapels. Crops are coming in and everyone is busy. The walls remind you this isn’t quite ‘civilization’. Across a mile or two of fields lie another cluster of similar looking buildings, maybe not quite so numerous but judging from what you can see, just as busy. Between are several hamlets, each with a small cluster of cottages and working peasant farms.

“Anyone know the deal?” someone asks?

“Tinkowton Abbey it’s cawed. It’s a owdur of the ‘Five Hundwed’”, Fron relates. “We showd find west and wewcome heaw. Beyond is the nunnewy.”

“Ooh a nunnawee!’ says Jasper, drawing a not so subtle nudge from the magic user. Then under his breath: ‘Cut it owt Wifkin’.

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Into the woods...
Abbey normal?

The brothers and sisters of Tinkleton welcome you as Fron promised. You are given room, comfort, medical attention and plain, simple welcome. It feels good. You are gaining strength as the brothers tend you but something doesn’t feel quite right. They seem a little ‘too nice’. More than once you catch them exchanging glances as they attend to your almost every need.

Finally, after several days of amazingly recuperative rest, the prior approaches you as you join the brothers for their evening meal.

‘Adventurers’, he begins, as if steeling himself for the inevitable, ‘something is amiss, of which I am sure you are well aware. The forest is our home. We have striven as a community for decades to be a part of it, not apart from it. Yet recently this is exactly what has happened. The forest is tended by a kindly old druid who goes by the name of Amsel the Tame. We have had a wonderful working relationship with him and despite the abbey possessing several small villages and hamlets on it’s demesne which are located within the forest, we have managed to keep it a place of beauty and a natural habitat for the original denizens while still using our fair portions for lumber, charcoal, natural foods such as the mushrooms we are famous for and some culling of the larger herds of deer for our tables.’
‘Then suddenly, things changed. Amsel showed up several months ago, as was his habit, but instead our usual exchange of news and agreements, he was frothing angry. He stood outside our walls, though our gates were open to him, ranting and stomping his feet like a man possessed. He railed against our ’abuse’ of ‘his’ forest and made many threats against us, our people and our gawds. Then he began his rant anew, promising to ‘cleanse the forst with fire’ and ‘teaching the forest children of the true god’ and he invoked a name of an ancient fire gawd and ran off sputtering and screaming.’
‘We went after him, to talk and to calm him but to no avail. He continued to utter threats and promise our ruin to the point where our brothers returned home in the hope that whatever madness filled him would pass.’
‘Unfortunately, it did not. Then things began to happen. Animals, usually docile and friendly turned against us. The sentient forest creatures, good and kindly by nature, have become mischievious at the least and deadly at the worst. Farmers, woodcutters, charcoalers turned up here mauled, bitten and worse. People are disappearing. We’ve sent several parties of brethren to Amsel’s grove but none have returned. We are fraught with fright. The forest is ill.’
He looks you in the eye. ‘We have nothing to offer you except that which we have already given: our hospitality, our food and our help in the medical and healing arts. We will keep the elf safe and make her whole again. Would you please see if you can find Amsel and bring him to reason? We are afraid there is not much time or hope remaining.’

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Questions...
What shall it profit a man...

It’s a solemn crowd that mourns so much loss. As Prior Friar concludes the memorial service you scan the crowd gathered at the sacred grove. The aftermath of one mad man and so much loss!

Villagers who lost husbands and fathers, mothers who lost children, forest denizens whose lives are forever changed. You marvel at seeing the kindly treants who’ve come at the Prior’s request, stoic and indomitable as they mourn one of the few remaining of their kind in this land, burnt beyond recognition. They’ve helped Artos tend to the trees of the grove, their tender care in such contrast to their huge strength. Do they know this is the man who spilled the oil that burnt their kindred? Do they know he who lit the pyre stands among them? For now they stand in solemn silence, waving gently as with the smallest of breezes, if they know, they choose not to show it. You see the satyrs, usually playful, as they pipe only songs of melancholy for their lost and the loss of their forest priest, their friend and their protector. And you see Buttercup, a solitary figure, alone though she is in the midst of a crowd. She does not weep openly as she is too prideful, but her hurt is almost palpable as she faces the reality of a life utterly alone and now destitute, penniless. Though everything is a haze and she can’t remember what happened while ensorcelled, she knows her village is destroyed, everything of value gone and her family found all dead, some even horribly mutilated. And to what purpose? For an evil wizard to try to dominate and control those weaker than them, that is what their ilk does, but to mutilate dead bodies? She just can’t fathom why. Her sanity hangs in the balance as she struggles with finding a reason to live. Will the final tipping point be seeing the young cleric strutting around in the armor that was her village’s chief treasure?

In the few days since Nectin was deposed, the inhabitants of the abbey and its demesne have slowly filtered in to the site of such death and destruction. Some have helped clear ‘the wall’ and used many of the stones to build a nearby cairn in memory of those who had fallen but also a reminder to be ever vigilant so that such a thing cannot ever happen again. Prayers have been lavished upon it and already it emanates holiness. There are those who suggest people, people with lost causes or broken minds, may come to this place in search of healing, such is the refreshing effect on the mind that it already has. Artos has tended to the grove, meditating and praying, finding the sources of power, the ley lines, the holiest of oaks and the tiniest of acorns and berry for planting and rebirth. In essence, he has found a home here. Artos has come to realize that this is what he has sought since he left his mentor to face the wide world, that this is his place and that he needs it as much as it needs him. The prior does not deign to have the authority to ‘appoint’ him, but the official welcome is made as the forest itself appoints him. As their new father, he has met with the folk of the forest, getting to know them and they, him. He assures them that though he may need to tend to affairs outside of this wood, it is to here that he will always return, that this grove is now a part of him in a way that he never thought possible. As you take your leave of him, you know you will adventure with him again.

‘Adventures’ are funny things you muse as you load your pack animals for the tenday journey south to Cheltenham, each preparing in your own silence. Really, a too small word for something so big. You came north with a map and a dream and you return with so much more. And not just the loot, no, it’s way more than that. You start to realize the burden of responsibility you took on when agreed to join this band. Not just to each other but to your profession, your learning, your mentors and the world in general. Artos has stayed behind, his mission now clear. In his stead rides Garn, venturing beyond the abbey’s demesne for perhaps the first time in his life and full of the exuberance of youth. Was that really how you looked those few short months ago? What’s it been 20? 24 months since you first wandered into Cheltenham? You’re going to need some real time to process all that has happened, what you’ve seen, what you’ve done, what you’ve accomplished. You rescued beautiful Tess from 40 years of imprisonment and you’ve seen the slaughter of innocents. Some would say surely you are as responsible for one as for the other. There’s questions that need answered, but only you can answer them.

Well, the future holds responsibility, that’s for sure. Odo needs be told of this latest news of his brother. There’s spells to research, combat techniques to practice, self-searching meditation that must be done. But right now you just want to get to someplace familiar, someplace inviting, someplace that feels like ‘home’.

Too bad you can’t get away from the smell of rotting centaur balls on the way.

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