19-20 Eleasis, 1479DR Year of the Ageless One: A Maze By Any Other Name

We rejoin our heroes having valiantly raced from the clutches of a lecherous junk dealer by the name of Mulanda.

Out of the relative safety of the junk shop and back in the dangerous expanse of the maze two of our heroes are eager to read the scrolls.  Kroth and Cate crowd Tremere, still feeling claustrophobic from Mulanda, wanting him to speak the magic on the scroll.  Tremere is hesitant.  He tells them that the ritual, even in its mostly completed state will take half an hour a piece.  Cate and Kroth, dyed in the wool warriors both, inform Tremere, in no uncertain words, that that’s fine, pretty much waiting for him to begin right there in the hallway.

“It would probably be best if we found a safer place than out in the hallway like this.”  He suggests.

No sooner than the words leave his mouth, than a great fatigue comes over the party.  Some, like Kroth and Dramoor are hearty enough that it barely affects them, but the others feel the weight of the past hours settle upon them.  The opening banquet began late in the evening and went later still, and they were thrust into the Great Hunt and into two combats.  Once adrenaline soaked muscles now moan in soreness; danger sharpened reflexes dull with weariness; adventurous minds keyed to tactics slow and narrow with lethargy.

There are two options open to the adventurers: 1) to go back the way they came, which despite feeling slightly tedious is actually quite far, to the room they arrived in; 2) push forward until they find another room, because they’ve found others, in which to rest.  Tremere, ever looking for the easy way out, casts his vote for going back to the first room.  Dramoor quickly puts forth going forward.  His reasoning is simple: there are more rooms to sleep in, so eventually they will find another one of those, but what if they find the way out?  Wouldn’t it be better to move through the maze as quickly as they can?  The majority of the party agrees with him, and they move along, down the hallway.

Tremere reluctantly joins them, feet dragging with trepidation.  Though he won’t abandon his companions, he can’t help but feel they have gone the wrong way.

As the party travels down the hallway soon a transformation takes place.  One moment they are walking along in the sewers, the next they are in the crypts below the cemetery.  There is nothing magical about this transformation; they are not transported from one to the other.  The architecture of the maze just abruptly changes.

The walls appear to be ancient in the crypt part of the maze.  Where the sewers were made of brick, the crypts are smooth, in places just plain earth.  Cut into the wall of the crypt are hollows, some containing bodies, some not.  Some of the party, like Dramoor and Cate, are interested in the transformation.  Others, like Tremere and Kroth, view this as a bad omen.

It is at this time that Dath’nea, not getting a chance to form an opinion, hears scraping-scuttling coming from one of the alcoves in the hallway.  Just as she points this out, before anyone can truly react.  Two carrion crawlers, giant centipede-like monsters who feast on the flesh of the dead, but aren’t afraid to be proactive about acquiring their food, scurry from the alcove in front of them.  Without thinking the group lunges towards them with weapons drawn.

Like a pack of hungry, desperate wolves our heroes throw themselves against the carrion crawlers.  Sword and tooth, acid orb and arrow are brought to bear.  Within seconds the adventurers stand heaving triumphant breathes over the gooey remains of the monsters.

“I said we should rest.  Everyone heard me say that, right?”  Tremere’s velvet tongue turns bitingly on his comrades.  They agree, not only that they heard him, that finding some place to rest is a good idea.

Firstly though Dramoor and Kroth inspect the room from where the crawlers came.  Inside they find the alcoves for the dead have freshly wrapped bodies in them, besides the couple torn open and emptied by the crawlers and their hunger.  Dramoor’s curiosity has him cutting open the shroud of the first uneaten corpse.  What he finds inside is the body of one of the mercenaries he recognizes from the opening banquet.  This piques his interest, not just because some of the competition is dead, because someone (or something) has taken the time to prepare the bodies for burial.

Other than this interesting fact their scavenging turns up little besides some small bits of copper and a few daggers.  The party decides that it is time to find a place to rest for a while.  Tremere is almost happy with this turn of events, but they decide to continue forward, stopping at the first place they find, instead of turning around.  Luckily for them, their cautious exploration turns up a safe room around the next corner.  Our heroes waste no time piling into the room and claiming what cots are there for their own.

Dath’nea and Dramoor, the day’s fatigue hanging about them like mourning, collapse almost as soon as they enter the room.  Kroth and Cate accost Tremere once more with requests to remove the curses from their armor.  Tremere reluctantly agrees to be the conduit for the magic, he being the only one there with any arcane training.

Kroth is the first to go.  He has a seat on the floor with his back against the wall with little idea what to expect.  Tremere takes his scroll, the one written in elven, and begins the ritual.  Tremere concentrates on the words on the scroll, feeling the magic tingling in him as he does.  Kroth is not a scholar of language; he doesn’t know what the elven means, but even he is struck by the intensity of the melodic phrases.  The words are soothing, and soon Kroth has his eyes closed.  After some time, Kroth feels himself getting hot.  Sweat breaks out on his skin, trickles between the grooves in his armor.  He opens his eyes to say something only to be taken aback by glowing designs covering his armor.  He doesn’t know elven, and has rarely had chance to see it written, but his heat addled brain images the symbols must be elven, and the ones he truly doesn’t recognize must be mystic.  He tries to ask Tremere about the symbols, but when he goes to talk he finds the heat has dried out his mouth.  He works his tongue around to try to get some saliva working, but his tongue sticks to the inside of his cheeks.  The heat presses in on him, almost like an attack.  He wants Tremere to stop the ritual.  He’s lightheaded though, and sways to the side.  As his body slides down the wall, the glowing symbols on his armor slide off into the air swirling around him as beautiful heat vapor.  The pressure of the heat intensifies, the symbols spin and dance in front of his eyes.  His vision blurs, his skin itches and numbs under the heat; he hears tinkling bells in the distance.

“It’s over.”  Tremere tells him.

The symbols are gone.  The heat is gone.  Kroth thought he had slid to the floor, but he’s still straight-backed against the wall.  His muscles ache and he’s tired, but he felt like that before.

“Are you sure?”

Tremere, a thin sheen of sweat on a face that is drawn and hollow, nods.  He holds up the scroll, which is not blank, and it crumbles into tiny lights that fade from view.

Kroth shrugs his acceptance.  Then shoves himself off the floor and falls onto the nearest cot.

Cate looks to Tremere.  Her concern for her fellow band member struggles with her warriors pride to get the cursed armor she wears off.  Finally she asks if Tremere is alright, and if he would rather do this after they rest.  Tremere only hesitates for a moment to huff in resignation, then barks that he just wants to get this over.  Cate accepts this answer, readily taking up position on the floor where Kroth just was.

Tremere takes out the second scroll.  For a moment the arcane phrases swim and fade across the page before Tremere focuses his mind and they become clear.  Slowly he reads the scroll.  While the elven scroll was beautiful, almost a song, which talked in poetic language about overcoming in a very vague, almost metaphysical, way; this scroll is a parable about a hero that strives to break the curse of his family’s history.

Kroth stayed off sleep to see what would happen during this ritual, but it’s clear after a few minutes that nothing is going to happen.  He flops onto the cot and is instantly asleep.

Cate sits anxiously on the floor waiting, just as Kroth did, for something to happen.  She listens intently, apprehensively, at the story as it unfolds.  Unfortunately, a bug or something flies near her ear, she shoos it away, but she has missed a part of the tale.  She listens, but again the bug flies close to her ear and she misses a detail of the story.  She looks around to try to kill the bug but she can’t find it.  When she turns back to Tremere she concentrates on what he’s saying, but it seems the harder she concentrates the less clearly she can hear him.  Finally she notices sharp ringing in her ears.  She tries to ignore it, sure that she’s missing something important in the ritual she’s supposed to be doing.  The ringing gets louder, causing her head to ache.  She feels moisture on her brow; reaching up to wipe it away her hand comes away red with blood.  She tries to say something to Tremere, but the ringing is so loud she can’t hear her own voice above it anymore.  Pressure builds in her head.  She feels the same warm moisture run from her ears, but refuses to wipe it away, knowing what it is.  Her head hurts too much, too much to describe, too much to live with.  She opens her mouth to scream.

There’s a loud pop.  Everything goes silent.  Cate stares at Tremere.  The scroll turns to dried snakeskin and falls to dust.

“You’re done.”  Tremere’s eyes are sunken, his lips are chapped.  “I’m going to sleep.”  He falls over on the cot, eyes closed before his head hits the cloth.

Cate slowly wipes her head, just normal sweat there.  She makes her way to the last cot and lies down.

Awaking after some time, rested if not refreshed, the party prepares to tackle the maze once again.  Kroth and Cate are more confident than they have been in a while, and the confidence is infectious.  Even Tremere the Pessimist is at least resigned to the fate of plodding through the dungeon, flirting with Dath’nea helps improve his mood.

The first thing they come to as they navigate the twists and turns is another sleeping room.  Just to make sure there’s nothing in there that can come up behind them once they’ve passed, Dramoor steps forward to look inside.

“Look out!”  Dath’nea reaches out, tugging on Dramoor’s shoulder.  Confused, Dramoor allows himself to be pulled back.  Dath’nea quickly points out the scorch marks around the door.  Quick examination of the door by Tremere and Dramoor reveals the door has been trapped, but no one in the party feels confident enough to try to disarm it.  In the end, the party moves past the room leaving it unexplored.

Shortly after that, and several more turns, Dath’nea and Dramoor pick up the metallic tinge of blood on the air.  Cautiously they lead the party to the source.  Turning the corner of the room where the blood is, they are greeted by a grisly sight.  An entire mercenary party has been slaughter in the room.  Blood coats and drips from every surface of the room; it pulls in corners, falls from the ceiling, congeals on limbs.  None of them have ever seen anything like this before; not Cate who patrolled the city streets seeing the worst the city had to offer, not Dramoor or Dath’nea who navigate the dark wildernesses of the world home of monsters as well as animals, not Kroth who is more at home on the field of battle, and not even Tremere who has traveled the world and seen sights that both fascinate and frighten.

Our heroes take a moment to compose themselves.  Then they enter the room.  First they check to see if anyone is alive.  It is a slim chance, but Cate isn’t willing to let it pass.  Even her meager medical skill is enough to tell her that even if someone were to survived the attack they would have soon lost their life of loss of blood or shock.  Kroth, being of a practical bent, searches the bodies for moneys and usable equipment.  Dramoor and Dath’nea try find bite marks on the corpses, and try to figure out what could have done this.  Alas though their knowledge is vast they could not conceive of a creature.  With nothing much left to be done, Tremere joins Kroth searching the bodies.

It’s during the search that the party comes across a small girl huddled in the corner of the room.  She is covered in blood and her clothes are ripped in several places.  Dramoor and Cate try to talk to the girl, but she is traumatized and neither of the two, apparently, is any good with children.  In halting sentences containing little comfort they try to coax the girl out the corner.  Tremere frustrated at his party members for their lack of ability with kids, perhaps remembering his own time as an orphan, pushes forward and crouches down in front of the girl.  With soothing voice and gentle touch he shows the girl they are not there to hurt her.  The girl hurls herself from the corner and wraps her arms tightly around Tremere’s neck, shoving her face into his chest.

Tremere, unsure how to take his success, rejoins the party with the girl.  Cate tries to examine her wounds, but the girl refuses to let go of Tremere.  Still Cate does her best, and finds that her wounds aren’t as bad as one might expect given the state of the room.  Dramoor is more practical, and asks what happened in the room.

“It was…horrible.”  The girl cries into Tremere’s shirt.  “The men were all swords and cursing, and then there was blood.  So much blood.”  The girl shoves her face hard into Tremere’s chest, refusing to answer any more questions.  Tremere glares at Dramoor for frightening her.

With not much else to do in the room, the party quickly exits it, heading down the hall.  They are in such a hurry that they pass by an open room without much attention paid to it.  It is then that the gravehounds sprint from the room to attack them.

Gravehounds are undead dogs, patches of hair and flesh missing on their bodies, their breath carries with it the stench and chill of the grave.  They are quick to attack knocking first Kroth, then Cate, then Tremere to the ground, a layer of frost covering their wounds.  Kroth gets to his feet, and brings his thunder to bear, slamming his sword into the gravehound in front of him and shouting his rage at another one bringing up the rear.  Cate does her best to engage as many of them as possible, but she is just one sword against a pack of undead.  Dath’nea quickly transforms into a wolf to meet the hounds on their terms, ripping and tearing at the flesh of their dead bodies.  Dramoor looses bolt after bolt, sinking them into undead flesh, but doing little to deter the hounds from his friends.  Tremere, having to deal with the weight of the girl, tries to maneuver out of the way of the hounds, feeling their frigid teeth snapping at him as his does; inspiring his fellow adventures as he does to keep them on their feet.

It is a fight of inches.  Our brave heroes would attack the hounds, driving them back.  Then the hounds would spring forward to attack, driving them to the ground.  Dath’nea is savage in her attacks on the hounds, as if her primal nature abhors the mockery of beasts the hounds have become.  Cate shoves and bashes the hounds back, only to have them surge back her again and again.  Kroth’s blade and thunder rock the hounds, causing their bones to shake, but the dead know no fear and they return his attacks one for one.  Dramoor , fearing the hounds will take down Kroth soon, charges forward, drawing his sword, to protect his party member.  Tremere miraculously keeps to his feet with the girl, while weaving magic into a tale of battle that disorientates and confuses the hounds.  All this effort seems to be working, as one hound goes down, then another.  Unfortunately the dead hunger for company, and the next thing they all know Kroth is unconscious on the floor.  Dramoor tries to drive back the hounds around his fallen friend, only to have the hounds strike a vital blow against him, sending him down as well.  Dath’nea’s jaws and Cate’s fist sink into the hounds circling the bodies of their downed friends driving them back to the grave.  Tremere weaves one last bardic insult, and the last hound collapses, whatever force sustaining the dead body dissipating.

It is then, concerned for their friends, trying to catch their breath, being strangled by panicked little girls, that the sound of moaning reaches them.  Turning, Tremere, Cate, and Dath’nea see a troupe of zombies shuffling down the hall towards them.

19 Eleasis, 1479DR Year of the Ageless One, Cont’d: Delving Deeper Into the Game

Hello, children.  We find ourselves once again with our heroes still trapped in the same room, in the same dungeon, in the same game, with each other.

Their very first true outing as a group, and it has gone…poorly.  Where was the teamwork?  Where was the camaraderie?  Where was the will to live?  It matters not to the dungeon, nor the creatures housed therein, if they wish to continue with their adventure or not.  Dungeons are made to trap, to torture.  Monsters are made to devour.  It is up to the adventurer if they have the will to go on, to continue to live, to venture over the next horizon.

For the next few minutes the group takes time to compose itself.  After the monsters had gone and wounds treated, they found the gate that trapped them here to begin with was still there.  Trapped as they were they rested and regained their strength, for while they couldn’t get out they were content in the fact that nothing could get in.

Some, Dramoor and Kroth, searched the room.  Kroth mainly did so because Dramoor was.  Kroth found nothing, Dramoor little more.  It was just the room, the statues, and them.  Kroth took a moment to examine the gate.  It appeared, to him, to be a normal gate.  He had enough sense not to disturb it though.

Eventually all party members stood, bruised and bloody, but ready to continue.  It was then that one of the statues piped up again.

“Dishonored one,” its voice boomed through the room.  “What is your greatest desire?”

After some confusion among the party, Cate stepped forward and declared.  “To regain my family’s honor and shield.”

Unlike before, this statue smiled at the honesty of the claim.  Behind them the gate raised just enough to tantalize the adventures with freedom.  It occurred to Dath’nea that in her animal form she could slip under the gate with some wriggling.  In the end she chose to stay with everyone else in the room.

“Unlucky one,” the other statue chimed in again.  “If you had to sacrifice one of your own, which one would it be?”

While none of the group felt very lucky, it was Tremere who felt compelled to answer.  The debate wasn’t long.  He knew exactly who he would sacrifice.  Before he could answer, Dramoor interrupted him, cautioning Tremere not to tell this statue the truth.  Tremere is no stranger to lies, but he is also very interested in his own safety.  A lie is the most useful tool he has, but it would seem that is not what the statues are after.  Besides Tremere was suspicious of Dramoor’s advice considering he was the one the half-elf would sacrifice.

Disregarding Dramoor insistence to lie, Tremere shouted the truth at the statue.  There was a tense few moments when neither statues nor gate moved.  Then the sound of rumbling and smashing earth filled the room.  Two huge golems burst from the walls.  The adventures could see that the statue frowned, but it was too late to change their answer.

Quickly the group engaged the golems; Kroth and Dramoor versus one golem, and Dath’nea and Cate against the other.  Tremere, staggered by the consequence of his choice, stayed back.  He had told many a story involving stony guardians attacking the unwary, but this was the first time he’d seen them up close, or as close as he was willing to get, and he found the experience wanting.

Meanwhile, Kroth and Dramoor, Dath’nea and Cate hacked and hewed at the skin flesh of their attackers.  Sparks flew as sword and claw gouged deeply into the stone.  It soon became clear that the golems and the adventures were on even footing.  Dramoor belched more lightning at the construct and in the flash of light Cate slammed her calloused fist into the golem.  Lightning sizzled across stone, fist sent cracks rippling across the surface, stone fists smashed into scale and flesh alike.  Dramoor’s hearty heritage left him standing, but the reckless Cate fell to her knees as the air exploded from her lungs.  Kroth’s sword and Dath’nea’s jaws dug deep into the golems in defense of their companions, both tearing chunks of stone from them.  Tremere, seeing Cate go down, was reminded of an epic poem about a brave warrior, and spurred to action he recited it loud and clear for Cate to hear.  The magic of history and inspiration that is the way of the bard interwove with the words, granting Cate renewed vigor to continue to fight.  It wasn’t long before the heroes whittled the golems down to sand.

If truth be told, they were a tad surprised they had done so well.  Kroth and Dramoor’s thunder and lightning worked well together.  While Cate looked to the elf Dath’nea with respect at her ferocity, and a little fear that the wolf was not far from the back of her eyes.  Even Tremere played his part and kept them going when they needed it the most.  However it was clear to Kroth and Cate that they were getting hit once too often to be mere chance, and it was confirmed by Tremere minutes later, after focusing on the armor for arcane emanations, that both Kroth and Cate’s armors were cursed.

With the golems dismantled the gate rose fully so our band could exit the room.  There was much debate among them if they should press on or if they should return to the room they arrived in and rest.  In the end their will to take on the unknown was too strong, and they continued into the sewers.  As they walked they called upon their knowledge, such as it was, about dungeons to see if they could glean anything from their surroundings.  In the end all they could figure out was something they could have guessed at on their own: they were not in the sewers below Waterdeep no matter how much the sponsors of this game wanted this place to look like it.  They were, in fact, in a maze.

Armed with this new knowledge, Dramoor takes every opportunity to perceive his surroundings, looking, stretching, for the way out.  It is soon that his perception is put to the test as they came to two hallways branching off from the one they were in heading to the right.  Dramoor set his ears and nose to the task of finding the correct way to go.  Down one of the hallways he heard shuffling noises, the sound of naked feet slapping against the stone floor.  There was also an intriguing smell wafting through the hallway they were already in, the scent of someone cooking.  If Dramoor’s nose was to be believed it was the scent of a stew.

The group being of a pragmatic mind decided to check out the first hallway that went to the right.  They wanted to escape the maze as soon as possible, as any of us would.  However this hallway led only to dead ends.  In one Dramoor’s keen senses found signs of someone using the dead end hall as a place to sleep and cook.  He even found the words—Not Here—scratched into the wall.

They took the next hallway right as well.  It was a long hallway, but eventually they neared the end, and as they did they could hear the scuttling and high pitched complaining of a horde of rats.  They even caught sight of a couple running into an adjoining hallway.  For the moment they ignored the horrible sounds, continuing on their way.  Alas, this way ultimately led them to a dead end as well, true they found a room with cots in it, just like the room they appeared in, but none of them wanted to rest here.  So back the other way they went.  It was now that they stopped to peer into the hallway where the terrible rat sounds emanated.  There was another long hallway that ran parallel to the one they had walked down.  There were no rats in this one, but they heard the noises louder now, and could faintly see a turn to the left at the end of this hallway.  Curiosity getting the better of them, they sneaked down the hall, and peeking around the corner, they found a horde of rats gnawing on the body of one of the orphans from Bertram’s pack.  The body was pulled this way and that as the rats ravenously fought for as much as they could get.  It being clear there was nothing they could do, the group slowly snuck away from the scene, and traveled back up the hallway they came down.

Back in their original hallway they continued the way they had been going.  Once again they came to a hallway that led off to the right.  However, by this time everyone could smell the scent of cooking, and they decided to investigate that.  Following their noses, they came to a doorway blocked by vines.  It didn’t take them long to decide to plunge into the vines, Cate and Dramoor leading the way.

Parting the vines they step into a room filled to brim with junk.  It was if a junk dealer constantly kept finding things to sale without ever selling any of it.  There was only room enough for our heroes to walk single file through the room, and then they still had to be careful not to look at anything too forcefully for fear of it toppling over and killing them.  They were halfway through the room when a woman’s crackling, high-pitched voice shot towards them.

“Welcome to Mulanda’s abode and rarities shop.  Feel free to look around.”

There is an old saying, children, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Well, I will tell you that no matter which of the gods forsaken magic eyes you use to look through at this woman none of them will show her as beautiful.  Her skin was the same worn out, beige color as her clothes, and you could only tell skin from clothes because her skin was slightly more wrinkled than her clothes, her body was also hunched over from years of labor.

Quickly the party shoved their diplomat, Tremere, up front to deal with her.

“If you can’t find it here, it ain’t worth findin’.”  The woman continued. “If I don’t have it, it ain’t worth having—Ooo, what do we have here?”  The woman stopped her sales pitch upon seeing Tremere.  “Well, aren’t you a pretty halfer.  What’s a handsome devil like you doing in a place like this?”  The woman stepped uncomfortably close to Tremere, gazing up into his eyes lustfully, smiling at him, revealing her four good teeth.

Tremere quickly explained that they were adventuring and were looking for some gear.

“Look all you like.  I’m sure I’ll have something for ya.”  Mulanda said as she reached out and stroked Tremere’s arm.

Spreading out as much as they could, the group began the arduous task of looking for anything useful in the piles.  Mulanda kept close to Tremere, asking him many personal questions, pawing at his arms and sides, and making blatantly suggestive comments about him and her, and what a woman like her could show someone like him.

Finally, Tremere left.  This gave Mulanda the chance to notice the others for the first time.  She told Dath’nea that she was a scrawny thing and offered her some of the stew she was cooking.  Dath’nea glanced in the direction of the pot seeing the tails of rats tied to a spit above the pot, carcasses dangling in the boiling water, and politely, and quickly, refused.  She warned both Kroth and Dramoor to watch what they were pawing, because she was expecting more customers; reminding them that if they break it they bought it.   She seemed less than interested in Cate for whatever reason, and in fact quickly became bored with the rest of the party, allowing them to search her stacks for as long as they wanted.

Cate, overwhelmed and fatigued, found little of use as she half-heartedly searched among the stacks and piles of things.  Dath’nea taught how to scavenge by some of the best squirrel and chipmunk spirits of the forest quickly came upon a scroll of resurrection tucked into the bottom of a pile, which itself was hidden behind several others.  Dramoor, trying to be true to his self-appointed role as leader, searched for a scroll of remove affliction, for either Cate or Kroth’s armor.  It took him longer than Dath’nea, but he too had learned valuable lessons on scavenging, and soon he found a scroll, written in elven, that was exactly what he was looking for.  Kroth was also looking for a scroll of remove affliction.  He wasn’t taught by nature spirits to scavenge food, nor was he taught the ancient lore of the forest, but he was determined.  He was a warrior, his cursed armor the enemy, the piles of junk his target.  He attacked the piles much like he would any enemy, with focus and fury.  It took him longer than both Dath’nea and Dramoor, in fact he was about to stop, but when he pulled on an old, moth-eaten bedroll a scroll plopped out onto the ground.  As luck, or divine intervention, would have it, it was a scroll of remove affliction.

It was then that Mulanda came around to see them again.  “Finding everything you need, dearies?  That’s good.  Good.”  She politely, but firmly pulled the scrolls from her the adventurers hands.  “Now let’s talk about price.”

The group shouted for Tremere, who had stepped out of the room some time ago, in unison.  Reluctantly he came back in and stood in front of Mulanda.

“Oh, dearie, you’re not going to try to take advantage of Mulanda, are ya?”  Tremere explained that he would not.  Looking slightly disappointed, Mulanda went back to the task at hand.  “Your friends have good eyes, these are some fine scrolls, and magical too.  I’d be willing to let them go for two hundred and fifty gold a piece.”  A lecherous grin spread across her face.  “That is of course if you don’t have a better offer.”

Tremere found himself in an awkward spot.  He was used to using his looks and charm to get things from people, but not the kind of people Mulanda was.  On the other hand his teammates really needed these scrolls.  Guilty from his lack of battle prowess welled up inside of him.  The gazes from his party members weighed on him like stones.

Without thinking he bent down and kissed Mulanda full on the lips.  The old thing, practically straightened she was so surprised and pleased.  When their lips parted she gasped, cackling like a school girl after her first kiss.  It was clear that not only was the kiss unexpected it was her first in a long time.  Blushing and cackling she shoved the scrolls into Tremere’s hands.

Tremere hightailed it for the door.  The party members quickly followed him.  But in their haste they left out of the opposite door from where they came in.

Have they gone the right way?  What else waits for them in the maze?  Will Tremere be able to wash the taste of stewed rat out of his mouth?  We shall see, children, we shall see.



19 Eleasis, 1479DR Year of the Ageless One: The Grand Feast Begins

Immarel is a fine patron of the newly formed Band of the Hawk.  Over the next week, as our adventures await word from the mysterious holders of The Grand Feast, Immarel pays for rooms for all at the tavern of the group’s birth, the Deflowered Dryad.

Cate Campbell, aware of her reputation, stays close to the building.  Rarely does she go outside, and when she does it is only to practice her fighting in the alley behind the tavern.  Dramoor, ever industrious, looks for work around the city.  However the dragonborn soon realizes that being part of a mercenary band limits his options.  Licensed mercenaries are barred from taking jobs off the public boards, the pay being too low to sustain the mercenary’s life.  And soon he tires of wondering the city aimlessly and joins Cate in her daily practicing sessions.  The two spar and are quick to realize the other’s skills.  Kroth spends much of his time trolling the city streets in search of trouble, inviting it as one might a dear friend into his company.  Perhaps it is this willingness for danger that shields him from it.  Even the desperate, those who have less life to lose than most, are unwilling to challenge the half-orc.  A week is hardly enough time for Tremere to stir up enough trouble to cause a hurried egress from the city, and Waterdeep is quite large for such ambitious desires, but that doesn’t stop him from trying.  Leaving by midday and returning in the wee hours of the morning is how the bard spends his time.  Of all the adventures he is the least bored with his free time, even if some nights he falls to rest with his pockets lighter than he’d like he is content in the knowledge he has a new story to embellish.  Dath’nea is perhaps the most out of place in the city’s depths.  At first she is excited to be in a spirits blessed place, they led her here they must have a purpose.  She travels the city streets interested and curious at the sights and smells.  Soon, too soon, she becomes befuddled by all the sights and smells.  As soon as she picks a delicious scent to track and examine her nose is assaulted be a scent most foul.  She is entranced by the lightest of twinkling sounds, only to have it shattered by the vulgar barking of someone hawking their wares.  Everywhere she turned, down every street, in every nook, the press of bodies confined her.  She’d seen more people in the past few days than ever before in her life.  She was reminded of the ant colony of her dream; and like an intruder to a colony she felt crushed by the sheer number of the inhabitants of the city.  She resigned herself to meditating in her room, communing with the spirits for more guidance, sometimes wandering to the alley behind the tavern to watch Cate and Dramoor sparring.

They say patience is a virtue, children, and that may be true.  I have no proper idea.  But to those who have the spark of adventure patience is a rare commodity indeed.  As the week wore on our heroes, can we call them that yet, children, began to gnash at the inactivity.

It was then that Immarel arrived bearing a scroll.

The scroll was almost too innocuous, barely more than four inches in length.  If it were not for the black parchment one might think it nothing special.  A deep anticipation, and apprehension, came over our heroes as they unfurled the missive and peered at the silver words contained within.  It was an invitation from the patrons of the Grand Feast to a banquet in the participants honor.  After each of the adventures read the last word of the scroll the ink swirled and revealed a map to the location of the meal.

Tremere took it upon himself to hold onto the scroll for the party, assuring the other members that he knew exactly where they were going.  Setting off it was clear after several minutes that Tremere had no reckoning of where they were to go.  Taking out the scroll once more he eventually led them into the North Ward of the city of Waterdeep.  As you well know, children, the North Ward is of the moderately well to do; the upper-middle class and lesser nobles have homes there.  It was to one of these estates that the mysterious map led the Band.

The door was answered by a weathered, but hearty, old man.  His face betrayed no reaction at the site of the Band, rough and mismatched as they were.  He merely asked them for their invitation.  Tremere reluctantly held up the scroll.  The servant took notice of it, and as he did the scroll evaporated into smoke.  The servant instructed them to follow him and turned, with an air of indifference if they followed him or not, walking into the house.

With no other options apparent to them, the Band stepped hesitantly into the house.  They expected a trap, I know not why.  The lighting inside was dim, enough to see by but no more.  Dramoor, the consummate hunter, scanned his surroundings; getting a lay of the land.  There was not much to see in the immediate area; a staircase leading up into darkness, a hallway, which the servant was halfway down, and a sitting room to their right.  All was furnished, and the furniture looked expensive.  Dramoor’s trained eyes picked out subtle signs, the crispness of the fabric, angle of the fibers of the rug; the furnishings were a show, no one actually lived in this house.

He informed the Band of his suspicions.  The adventurers had come to a halt in their progress through the house.  Cate and Kroth tensed as the idea of a trap solidified in their minds.  Tremere concentrated on their surroundings next, his eyes glowed a soft yellow gleam as he tried to detect magic.  And he did, a light, iridescent fog hung in the air throughout the house.  He quickly released his concentration and the unsettling fog faded.  Dath’nea then turned her attention to the servant, some ways down the hall by now, to glean what insight she could from his movements and manners.  The familiar tingle entered her eyes as she connected with the spirits.  The shadows swirled around the servant, than burst out from his back in the shape of bat wings.  It was clear to Dath’nea that the servant thought very little of the Band, was not even threatened by them.

Our heroes hesitated a moment longer in the hall, indecision crept into them.  If they were to turn from the Grand Feast, their first adventure, their first test, as a group it was this moment, the last moment, for them to do such.  But what then would they do?  They had no money.  They knew no one of any significance they might call friend (outside of themselves, which was not much help).

The moment passed.  They joined the servant where he stood, next to some sliding doors.  Once all stood before him, the servant flung the doors wide.  The room beyond the doors was half the length of the house, the lighting in here was bright and discerning.  In the middle of the room ran a banquet table, it was almost the length of the room itself, and heaped on it were mounds of food, slaughtered, fattened animals, heaps of fruit, and towers of dessert.  Along the sides of the room were small tables filled with bottles of fine spirits.  It was a meal fit for kings, and taking in the room, filled with mercenary groups, the other competitors in the Grand Feast, it was a wonder no one was eating a thing.

The doors slid shut behind our intrepid Band.  The servant did not enter with them.  All eyes, the ones not hidden behind helms or hoods and those that were, rested on the ragtag group of adventurers.

Did their stomachs quake in a mixture of fear and hunger?  Did their resolve shudder under the weight of examination from those more skilled and better equipped than they?

Yes, children.  Yes, it did.

Bravery, though, is not the lack of fear, but the rising above it.  Keeping close together, the heroes examined the untouched table of food, and eyed their competition.  There were over a dozen small groups scattered about the room keeping to themselves.  As the Band took up a spot of their own on the side of the room they focused on the groups that stood out the most.

The one I shall describe first is the one that looked even more out of place than our heroes, the one that looked worse off than them.  The leader was clearly the mean looking man leaning against the wall, but with the restrained energy of a rabid dog.  His hair, both on his head and the shaggy, scraggily beard, was unkempt, dirt smudged his face; his equipment was obscured by an old, ratty coat, but, from the glimpses Dramoor and Cate got, it looked well-kept and good enough to kill.  Around him huddled and scampered a dozen or so children that looked just as unkempt and dirty as the man.  Cate knew a street urchin when she saw one and these kids fit the Waterdeep definition to a tee.  It was then that she realized who the man, the leader of the group, was.  His reputation was one of some note.  The man was Bertram the Vagabond.  Bertram is the scourge of guards and city safety throughout Faerun.  Bertram travels as and where he wills with no ties to hold him to one place other than his desire to sow chaos and make money doing it.  Word among those who speak of him is he comes to a city, takes over a few streets, recruiting the local urchins.  He promises the kids training and cuts of the profit, but he uses them as cannon fodder and hardly any live long enough to collect on those promises.  When he’s done having fun in a city, he moves on to the next one.

Upon seeing the street urchins in the dining hall, Dath’nea searches the dirty, desperate faces for the child that accosted her on her first day in the city.  To her dismay she sees him.  It is obvious that he saw her too by the way he’s avoiding looking at her.  She does not say anything, fearing what the Vagabond might do if he knew they knew each other.

The next group to catch the eye of the Band seemed almost as ragtag as them, though they had better gear.  This group consisted of a Goliath, a half-orc, an elven woman, and someone in white scale mail armor, a blue cloak hanging from their shoulders, light shield, and a white helm that obscured the face.  Many comments were passed between the Band about the snowflake design on the front of the helm cut so the wearer could see.  Dath’nea was quick to recognize the Goliath as a shaman, their connection to the Primal resonating even in such a developed area as Waterdeep, perhaps they felt the bond more keenly because of it.  The half-orc and elven woman were the most visibly vigilant of the group.  Both wore leather armor, the orc’s black and finely made, the elf’s armor clearly more functional than a fashion statement.  The half-orc stood with his cloak draped over most of his gear, obviously concealing himself.  While the elf kept fingering the hilt of her sword, the look in her eye almost daring the others in the room to try something.  The group held itself with confidence and poise, had positioned themselves so they could see most of the room; they were ready for something to happen.

These people were unknown to anyone of our heroes; other than stare there was little that they could do.  Was this group a potential ally, or the only real competition here?  Only time, and trial, would tell.

Cate did not linger on the mysterious group, her focus lay with another gathering; in one corner of the room stood three other contestants.  Unfortunately for Cate she knew exactly who they were.  The female minotaur was Mari the Duchess, and the two men, brothers, twins, standing with her were Rommel and Runnel her lieutenants.  Mari was the head of the Duchess Boys, a licensed mercenary group within the city.  The group did take the odd job here and there, but they were mainly a legalized gang who ran the three blocks around her group’s house with an iron fist.  Mari and her group were suspected of racketeering, coercion, vandalism, assault, kidnapping, and murder.  No one was brave enough to speak out against them, and those that did soon disappeared.  Cate had no doubt that Mari would try to bully or kill the rest of the contestants now that she’d seen them.  It is unclear, even to our dear Cate, if she looked forward to confronting Mari now that she didn’t have to worry about the restrictions of the guard to hold still her sword arm.

A contingent of knights known to both Cate and Tremere are also of note.  The Knights of the Red are a mercenary company known throughout Waterdeep and the surrounding lands for their integrity and their fearlessness.  When other companies turn down jobs claiming they are suicide the Knights of the Red never fail to lay claim to them, prevailing despite the odds.  Some nay-sayers say the fact their armor and helms obscure them completely isn’t just protection, but a ruse to conceal the fact new members are brought in under old members’ names to make the group seem unstoppable.  Darker rumors claim the group has a dark patron that continually raise the knights from the dead to continue their work and further its agenda.  Even with these claims the Knights of the Red are considered heroes by most.

At this point Dramoor’s attention is brought to a group of only three people, and all humans.  He points them out to Cate, hoping she may know them where he does not.  It is a surprise when Cate mentions who they are that Dramoor has heard of them.  The three are the only members of the Dragon Raiders mercenary group.  There are many rumors about them circulating throughout the city.  Of course the most prominent of those rumors is that the three of them have faced, and defeated, a dragon.  It is the only consistent rumor about them.  Oh, the details may change: in some versions the dragon is red, in others white, in some iron; in some versions it took them a whole month of sporadic attacks to whittle the dragon down, in others a well-timed surprise attack with numerous traps (many of them explosions) crippled the dragon.  It was clear to any tavern crawler that they had killed a dragon.  Dramoor could finally put faces to the names and descriptions.  Pate the Soft Spoken wore plain leather armor, a white cloak, and carried a heavy shield and spear.  The Dragonrider was a big man in full plate armor with a huge sword.  And the last of the group: Straid the Magician, clad in black robes with gold trim.  It is possible that you have heard tell of their exploits, children, I leave it to you to believe if they are the same heroes you know from those stories.

The last group worth mentioning (there were several other groups, but none of note among them, and their names have been lost to history) is noteworthy partially for their infamy and partially for the incident that follows their introduction.  Again this group is known by the Band by reputation.  Standing utterly by themselves in the room is five tieflings.  It only takes our adventures a minute of staring to realize this must be Waterdeep’s infamous mercenary group, the Blood Pack.  The group is made up entirely of tieflings, and while the Knights of the Red are known for their willingness to take on suicide missions, the Pack is known for its willingness to take on any mission.  Few and far between are the missions that Pack turns down.  It’s hard for our heroes to tell much about the tieflings other than they are the only group truly waiting for a fight to break out.

However Tremere has noticed one tiefling, a young female with twin swords crossed across her back.  Out of all the group she is the only one smiling, and she’s talking excitedly about being a part of the group and the Great Hunt.  Tremere makes his way across the room to the group of tieflings.  It is clear by their body language that they do not want him there.  He, pointedly, ignores them.  Instead he talks to the excited one in the middle of the group.   She smiles at him, but then she’s so excited if a fight broke out surely the smile would not disappear from her face.  He mentions the proceedings and how sumptuous it all is.  The poor little tiefling girl, oblivious to his true meaning, agrees with him, saying that she is really excited.  Tremere, ever bold, asks the girl to join him for a drink.  She readily agrees, but the other tieflings are not as naïve as their younger companion.  They step in front of her to block her from leaving, and the biggest tiefling there, bigger, yes, than even our Tremere, places his hand on Tremere’s chest and pushes him back without a word.  Tremere, though bold (some mayhap would say foolhardy, children) still had enough sense to know when he was beat.

While Tremere is off doing what he does, Dramoor’s stomach has brought the full force of his courage to bear.  He approaches the table, laden with food and drink, and pours himself a cup of ale.  The room did not hold its breath, time did not slow, but Dramoor may have; aware that most observed him with a bemused, apathetic, and judging eye.  He drank the ale.  It was cool despite the temperature of room, it was refreshing, the best ale he’d ever tasted.  Time ticked ever away, Dramoor reached out and pulled a hunk of dunk from a steaming platter and ate it.

After a minute or two, when he did not fall dead, Mari the Duchess exclaimed that it was bloody well time and strode to the table.  She pulled a platter with an entire roast pig on it and proceeded to gorge herself, as Rommel and Runnel stood on either side of her grabbing at food like starving wolves.  Bertram was kind enough to release the urchins and a steady stream of dirty children ran back and forth from the table.  Bertram watched them carefully and if they did not keel over after a few bites he grabbed the food from them to eat himself.  Several of the unnamed companies at least began drinking if not eating.

On his way back to his group Tremere grabbed one of the urchins, pressed a coin into his hand and a note for the young tiefling girl, and told him to make sure she got it.  The youngling nodded and proceeded to fade into the shadows.  Whether the tiefling received the note Tremere does not know because he could not follow the boy’s movements.  Tremere is nothing if not hopeful.

After a few minutes of eating the doors to the room slid open again.  Through them walked a person covered head to toe in a black robe, even their hands were covered in black gloves, and their face was covered by a green mask.  As they walked into the room the light flickered and danced across the mask, each flicker causing the mask to look first like the purest cut emerald and the next as polished jade, then back again.  When the figure spoke it was clearly the voice of a woman, but this fact was overshadowed by the sound of her voice coming from everywhere in the room.

She said she is the Emerald Herald the emissary of the patrons of the Great Hunt, and that the patrons wished to thank them for participating with this beautiful feast.  She then took the seat at the head of the table.

With these words several of the mercenaries gathered finally began to eat as well.  Still most kept their spots far from the table.  Tremere.  Yes, children, Tremere is incorrigible.  Tremere decided the Emerald Herald was someone he needed to know better.  He swaggered up to the table and took the seat next to her.  The cool, expressionless mask turned to look at him.  The Emerald Herald was cordial enough to ask him if there was anything she could help him with.  Perhaps the wine had gone to his head, perhaps he is just too much of a child still, but Tremere’s next words were crass, and he deigned to reach out and touch the Emerald Herald’s hand.  The empty, masked eyes looked to his hand and then back up to him; she leaned forward, drawing him close, and whispered: leave.  Tremere’s fingers went numb, a shocking pain traveled up his arm and into his head.  When the pain faded he was at the other end of the table.  Knowing when he has been out done, he wisely chose to leave the Emerald Herald alone.

After some time of eating and drinking, just about the time the mercenaries were getting rowdy, the Emerald Herald rose with an announcement.  She told those assembled that the patrons were so grateful for their participation they wished to supplement their equipment.  She informed them that while this was generous the equipment was limited so groups who decided to take them up on the offer had to choose between going to the armory for new armor, the general equipment room to find exploration equipment, or to the weapons’ room for new weapons.  And the entire group had to go to the same room together to make sure no one got lost or, perhaps, hurt.

After some discussion the Band decided to go to the armory to look to see what type of armor they could get.  It would seem they were one of several mercenary groups that had decided the same thing.  Once more the servant appeared, actually four of the servant appeared, to lead the ways to the mentioned rooms.

The armory was huge, its size gained by the fact that there were three of every class of armor in the room.  As our heroes entered they saw the rack of cloth armor in the center of the room. The left most cloth armor was finely made but otherwise plain, the middle set of cloth was colored with different shades of lush red, roses appearing on the shoulders and chest, the right most armor was black as black can be, however a spider-web pattern could be seen across the fabric, and if one looked close enough they could see little spiders on some of the webs; in the flickering torch light it looked like the spiders were moving.  These patterns were repeated on all the armors in the room; the left most armors finely made but plain, the middle armors red with roses, and the right armors black with spider-webs and spiders.

Already the plate and most of the scale armors had been claimed by mercenaries.  Two grunts were arguing over the black chainmail.  Cate made her way to the rack with the hide armor on it.  She already wore hide armor herself, it was serviceable, but it was clear that the armor had seen better days.  She eyed the brilliantly made armors in front of her.  Perhaps it was a longing to feel like her old self again that made her act; she pulled the red armor from the rack delicately.  Looking at the armor so closely she could see thorns worked into the design of the vines as well.  It took her little time to decide to put it on.  She went behind the rack, her teammates stood guard, and she changed into her new armor.

It was at this point the observant hunter, Dramoor, noticed a discrepancy in the rack of armor: a slight discoloration of the wood.  Poking at the spot a piece of wood fell off revealing a secret compartment, in which he found a scroll.  A map to be as precise as possible.  The cunning hunter knew an advantage when he saw one and placed the mag in his pack.

Kroth meanwhile had decided to become shrewd.  None of the warriors present were paying much mind to the rack of leather armors.  Most of the mercenaries had opted to upgrade their armor. So Kroth took the plain leather armor and put it in his pack.  His plan was to sell the better armor later.

As Cate stepped out in her new armor, Dramoor placed the found map in his pack, Kroth shoved armor into his knapsack, and the others milled about keeping a keen eye on the mercenaries, the room began to shake.  The floor tilted, lanterns fell from their hooks as people, our heroes among them, fell to the floor.  Panic filled the hearts of even the bravest of the Band.  The last lantern fell from its hook, plunging the room into darkness; the floor bottomed out from under the Band.

They fell.

Just when they thought they would fall forever, they opened their eyes to find themselves lying on cots in a small, windowless room.  The room was unadorned except for the cots, clearly it was only a place for catching some sleep but nothing else.  For those that didn’t bring it with them, they found their gear in the center of the room.

It would appear that the Great Hunt had begun.

Quickly the Band grabbed their gear and searched the room.  As I said, children, there was nothing special about the room, and the Band found exactly that.  Their search done, they turned to the door; a metal slab with a simple bar lock to keep out whatever might be on the other side.  Much debate was had about the door.  This may well be the first argument of the Band.  The door was checked for traps, none found.  It should be mentioned that during this time Kroth decided shrewdness would do him no good if he was dead, and so he put on the armor he took from the armory.

I’m sure there will be much yelling about who had the courage to open that first door.  What matters is that it was opened.

The Band stepped out of the room into a rounded hallway.  There was enough room for three of them to walk abreast on each side of the hallway, but down the center of the hall ran water.  It only took Cate a few seconds to recognize the Waterdeep sewers.   She was at first relieved, but also, perhaps, a bit disappointed.  It was a feeling soon spread through her band mates.  They were expecting more.  It was then that Dath’nea mentioned the water flowing through the “sewer” was fresh water, clear.  Cate took another look at her surroundings and noticed there was no surface access.  Wherever they were someone had made sure it was a good replica of the Waterdeep sewers from which they could not escape.

As is the way of these things, the Band realized they needed to explore their way out of here.  Behind them was the room they started in, to their left the hallway went for a short way before ending in a dead end, which left only to the right.  They followed the hall slowly, cautiously, aware that danger might well lurk right in front of them.  At the end of the hall they turned left and continued their search.

After several more turns they came to an open room.  This room was made of different stone than the hallway.  While the sewer was made of small, inexpensive bricks; the room into which they looked was laid with gray slabs of stone, in the center of the room stood two robed, faceless statues.  Slowly entering the room they noticed writing above the door on the inside.  It was a Draconic script and so Dramoor pushed to the head of the group and into the room.  The common translation of the words was: The room of Truth and Lies; free thyself (the Draconic was much more stern and depressing to repeat).

The rest of the group filed into the room ready to search it for gold or glory.  As the last adventurer passed the threshold a hidden gate crashed down from the top of the door.  Startled, the Band drew its weapons and prepared for the worse.  The next thing that happened was unexpected.

A mouth appeared on one of the statues and asked Dramoor his darkest secret.  Readily, as if waiting to tell it if only given the chance to he responded with: Human children smell delicious.

Some clerical types will tell you, children, that the truth shall set you free.  I don’t know if I agree with that; and I’m not asking you to agree with that either.  I’m quite sure that Dramoor would disagree with the sentiment, because he told the truth.  Next the shadows of the room darkened.  After that three Deathjump Spiders leaped from those shadows to attack our heroes.

The ensuing fight was harrowing.  One spider attacked Cate, one fell on Kroth, and the third attacked the quiet elf Dath’nea.  Poisoned fangs sank into exposed flesh and careened off armor.  The fight enjoined, our heroes fought hard.  Cate lashed out at the spider next to her, slashing at it with her sword, the tip gouging its body and giving it pause.  Dramoor rushed up to help the half-orc, shooting wildly with his crossbow, but hitting nothing in his enthusiasm.  Kroth spun his sword, ready to hack the spider down to size, unfortunately Dramoor’s arrows flying dangerously close to his head distracted him, and his sword kicked up sparks from the stone floor.  Tremere drew his scimitar and quietly took a few steps back from the battle.  At a safe distance he proceeded to viciously mock the spiders (which, surprisingly, really hurt the spiders’ feelings).  Dath’nea stood toe-to-toe with the spider, adrenaline spiked her system triggering her flight or fight response.  She collapsed in on herself, falling to the ground as the sound of her bones breaking and shifting rang through the room; her skin went slack as it lost its support.  Then runnels appeared in the flesh as a wolf proceeded to claw its way out of her skin.  The wolf stood where Dath’nea did and shook blood and pieces of flesh from itself (if this affected the spider it didn’t show).  The wolf leaped at the spider.  The spider seemed ready for this, ducking.  The wolf sailed over the thing’s head, hitting it in the bulbous body, and being flung back.

The spiders fought back, fangs digging into flesh, poison injecting into veins.  Not one, not two, but three of the Band felt the hot sting of the spiders’ poison kiss.  And if that weren’t enough, children, a spider swarm crept from the shadows to attack Dramoor.

Rage boiled inside Dramoor.  He called upon his Draconic heritage and belched lightning at his foes.  Unfortunately, his anger again clouded his judgment, and the lightning danced across the stone floor harmlessly.  Cate fought valiantly; she slashed at the spider in front of her and while it was reeling from the slash she followed up with a punch to the thing’s eight-eyed face.  This spider was feeling stings of its own from the embattled Cate.  She was not done, spurred on by the adrenaline of battle she attacked again.  She darted forward hacking the spider in twain then turned and launched an attack at the spider attacking Dath’nea.  Her body heavy with effort and poison, this attack missed and she collapsed to the stone floor.  Dath’nea, meanwhile, driven by the instinct of the animal whose form she assumed lunged at the spider again.  Again the spider weaved downward, hoping to use its body once more to deflect the attack.  Dath’nea was ready for this move this time and her claws dug into the fleshy sack of its body drawing ditches of ichor from its insides.  Tremere, seeing one of his party fall, rushed to Cate’s side and poured a healing potion into her slack mouth.  She came away awake in his arms, thanked him, and got unsteadily to her feet to rejoin the fight.  By this time in the battle Kroth was succumbing to the rage that is his birthright, and attacks the spider in front of him a thunderous roar erupting from his throat rocking the spider swarm that was even now enveloping Dramoor.

The battle was pitched, children, at times it seemed that the first combat engagement of the Band of the Hawk would be its last.  Cate fell to poison twice more before finding a reserve of strength to see her through the battle.  Dramoor, as skilled as he seemed, was unable to land a single attack against the eight-legged foes (perhaps spiders are his one weakness?).  Kroth’s rage built impotently it would seem until he landed a sword strike and rent the last giant spider asunder.  Dath’nea, normally the quiet one, howled her satisfaction when the spider attacking her collapsed under the weight of her tooth and claw.  Tremere, against his better judgment, plunged into the thick of battle several times to administer potions to his party members.

Eventually the mob mind of the spider swarm registered the determination of its enemies and ran for the cracks in the room.

The Band stood victorious, though it was a victory not without price.  Their confidence had been shaken.  Their will for adventure dampened.  More than one of the Band had the thought that this life might not be for them.  On top of that they were still trapped in the room with the statues.

What will the statues ask them next?  And will their answer be enough to stave off another attack?  Can they survive the Great Hunt if they just barely made it through their first encounter

12 Eleasis(Highsun), 1479DR Year of the Ageless One: Our Story Begins

Gather round, ye children of wonder, and listen to a tale of tales.  It is a tale of hardship and risk, of betrayal and reward, of fate and the fated.  Our heroes are few, but more than one tale has been spun about one person changing the course of history.  Think then, children, what five heroes can do.

I can seem them now.  The sorrowful knight, cast from cause and home, she pulls the blanket of brutality about her to ward off the harsh wind of indifference that blows through the world and batters at the fortress of her heart.  Is that a draft I feel?  Here is the orphaned clown, half one thing, half another; paying rent in two houses yet still no home to call his own.  He sings to himself on his travels.  I wonder if his mirth is genuine, or if he sings to fill the gaps where friends’ voices are absent.  Just beyond is the monstrous monster hunter; at home with no roof he strives for more.  He pushes himself to be better, to be braver.  Is he pushing towards his destiny, or away from it?  The slick skinned huntress skulks in the shadows around her fellows, seeing more than she tells.  Is she protecting them from the darkness or herself from the light?  Will she find comfort in her own skin or trade it for a life in another?  The thunderous blade fumes at the back of the group, a step away but a league apart from his companions.  His powers are a burden as much as an addiction.  Will his willingness for the Raven Queen’s cold embrace cause him to selfishly leave his party without defense, or lead to a nobler sacrifice for his friends?

Our tale starts with the heroes apart.  Each on their own path, yet Fate has weaved them together.  It has whispered in their ears that opportunity awaits them, the location: Waterdeep.  Each hero has come to the City of Splendors, or arrives this day, thinking it their own idea.

Tremere has taken to the road.  He has left the employ of the Duke who for the past months has been his patron.  He walks briskly, and if his steps are faster than normal it is only because he does not wish to meet the Duke or his men any time soon.  It would seem that the Duchess had no talent for the harp for which part of Tremere’s pay was for her teachings.  Tremere soon found that her skills lay with a different instrument.  This came as a shock to the Duke when he came to inspect his wife’s progress one day.

So Tremere is once more without a job, but it’s the quick leave which caused him to abandon his horse that upsets him the most.  He liked that horse.  Still on the cold nights he must go without a fire, at least until he’s out of the area of influence of the Duke, he has the memories, the warm memories, of the Duchess.  And of course there are the poems the Duke’s son wrote for Tremere.  While the prose are clumsy at times the words never fail to bring a smile, no matter how fleeting, to his face.

Tremere has spent the last month playing things as straight as he can stand.  He only works as a bard at way stations and travelers’ rests.  The pay is dung, when he is paid at all, and the company worse than dull.  But he keeps his ears open for adventure, and catches a rumor about The Great Hunt, this time being held in Waterdeep.

That night he pulls as much information from the alcohol lubricated tongue of the traveller as he can, replenishing his generosity for the rounds of ale by winning at cards.  The rumor, he finds out, is a rumor of a rumor.  It’s not much to go on, but many a tale begins with only a myth to light the path.  This tale starts with a rumor, how much more adventure could that bring?

The next morning he is up early, a new bounce in his step.  I wonder, children, if he felt the hand of Fate leading him to Waterdeep, or did he think his actions were his own?

Tremere has no problem entering the city.  Waterdeep is not one for denying anyone entry into its cold, yet firm, walled embrace, and the guards had been ordered to relax some in the coming weeks.  This was not his first time in Waterdeep, but now his time was his own and he had enough coin to make exploring the city worthwhile.  And what does our half-elf bard do with the City of Splendors open before him?  Why he heads straight to the Gentle Mermaid, a most famous gambling house.

To one of fair complexion and cunning mind many doors can be opened, and when that same someone also knows song craft and storytelling the possibilities were nigh endless.  On the way to the casino he contemplated his angle.  Would he try to ply his trade first, accessing the lay of the land, and marking those patrons he might swiftly swindle out of coin later?  Or would he chance his luck, falling back on employment only if Tymora did not smile on him?

Upon entering the lobby of the grand building something else caught his keen eye.  Eladrin are a rare enough sight, and one frequenting a gambling establishment made Tremere’s ears itch, a sure sign that something was afoot.

Sidling up to the bar, Tremere invited himself to a seat next to the Eladrin.  Up close it was easy to tell by the robes, and the alchemical smell wafting from him, that the Eladrin was a wizard.  Tremere politely introduced himself and asked why the Eladrin seemed so down, he put on his best smile and charming demeanor in order to break the ice.  The Eladrin was used to a certain amount of attention, but something in Tremere’s honeyed voice must have confused him.  He wanted to know if Tremere was hitting on him.  And Tremere, true to form, asked if that would help.  After some verbal fumbling from the Eladrin, Tremere assured him that all he wanted to do was help, if he could, a fellow of the Fey.  The Eladrin, introducing himself as Immarel, lamented that he wanted to sponsor a group to participate in the upcoming Great Hunt, but no one wanted to risk their lives so far.  Smiling, Tremere volunteered his experience to the cause and implored Immarel to tell him what he had in mind for recruitment.

Let us now look farther into the city.  The Field Ward is the newest ward of the city, fenced off from the rest by the north troll wall and the inner wall.  Being new, however, does not mean it is better.  The Field Ward is part hard working middle class and part slums.  It is here that we find Cate Campbell.

It’s been just over eight months since our valiant knight has been drummed out of the guard and flung from her family.  In that time her situation and her funds has steadily dwindled.  She has not been able to sustain honest employment.  Most people believe she is the corrupt guard she has been made out to be, and so will not hire her.  When she did find honest employ, guards would hound her and her employer until she was fired.  As what little coin she had vanished she has moved to steadily worse wards of the city, finally ending up in the Field Ward.

Cate can almost stand the poverty, and she expected the guards to give her trouble, but what irks her more than she can say are the criminals that now, believing her to be like them, approach her openly, with arrogance, to offer her “help.”  Holding to her resolve she has turned all away, some with bruises and broken bones for their trouble.  This has left her with no one to call friend.

She puts on a brave face, but the strain is getting to her, both emotionally and financially.  With the last dozen or so coppers in her pocket she wonders how long it will take her to become the brigand everyone thinks she is.

A light suddenly appears in the dingy day.  Priests of Erathis, a minor god to be sure but gaining prominence in the wake of the chaos of the Spellplague, come to her to ask her aid.  They are starting a temple in the Field Ward, to bring a sense of community to the outcasts there, and they want Cate to guard the temple.

Cate accepts the job readily, it is a just cause after all.  And if the answers the priests give are a bit curt and flimsy when she asks about the ramshackle building they’ve picked for their temple, perhaps it is the sleepless nights that put a believable veneer on the answers.  If patrons regularly bring in loved ones for eight hour burial rights, perhaps the rumbling in her stomach finally quieting with a good day’s work and a solid meal keeps her from digging too deeply into the matter.

Perhaps the slippery slope is no place for our sad noble.  Mayhap it is already too late?

While guarding the temple one day a better dressed than normal procession of people comes to the door with their loved one.  Was it her depression that dulled her senses, or the coppers paid her, and kept her from questioning the group?  Whatever it may have been she allowed them to pass with no delay.  After the requisite eight hours they exited carrying their burden.  Unfortunately one of the procession tripped, the body was dropped.  Shockingly the body itself let out a curse, flailing to catch itself the wrappings tore from its features.

Cate, in mid-stride to help them, stopped.  Sitting in the muck of the street, half shrouded was Charlie Windham.  Mr. Windham was a notable, but unremarkable, bandit of the city.  I say ‘was’, children, because not two days before news traveled through the city that Mr. Windham had taken a guard sword to the gut in a raid and bled out on the back floor of a pub.

Yet here he was staring at Cate staring at him.  He didn’t wait for full recognition to blossom on the former guard’s face.  He shouted to his men, and they all took off.

Cate quickly shook herself and caught up with them.  She tried to shove the last of the group out of the way so she could get to Mr. Windham, but the cohort was too wily.  The ruffian kept his feet and swung at Cate with his weapon.  Cate skidded to a stop, drawing her own weapon.  She would swiftly take this one down and give chase again.

Alas, this was not to be.  Had her situation hollowed her will to fight?  Did guilt of her culpability in the situation, as realization dawned on her, weigh down her sword hand?  Only the dear Ms. Campbell will ever truly know.  Though the fight cleared the street not a single decisive blow was struck between the two.

T’was not the ruffian’s intention to win the fight though, but only give his employer the time to escape.  Sword held aloft, a quick scan of the street told Cate her quarry had long since passed beyond her grasp.  She sheathed her weapon, but not her anger, and left the street tough puffing down the street.

Looking for answers, Cate stalked back to the “temple” and barged in looking for her employers.  She demanded to know from the three priests there what the meaning of this place really was.  The main priest, as she had come to think of them since, she now realized, she didn’t get their names, tried to calm her.  However, one of the other priests was more zealous in his belief she should, “shut the hell up and just do her job.”  It is also possible he called her a very bad name.

Cate filled with the latest injustice that had been done to her, drew steel upon the “priests.”  The battle was hard fought on the part of the priests.  But there was a reason they hired Cate to protect them, and almost as soon as the fight started two of the priests were down.  As the head priest bore down on her, a shadow passed into the room with a voice like thunder, throwing Cate and the priest to the ground.  Cate’s vision cleared in time for to see the wizard toss a pouch of coins at her.  He also informed her she was fired.  The mage left, calling the priest with him.

With nothing and no one to quell her rage, Cate picked up the pouch and left herself.  Rain came down on her as she left the temple.  Within minutes she was soaked through, ankle deep in the muddy road.  She wandered more, not bothering about the weather.  She wanted to report the mage to the authorities, but she knew they would only want to harass her not listen to her.  Besides she knew of operations like that, it would be gone by the time the guards were organized enough to look into the matter.

She settled for finding a meager dinner with her tainted copper.  As much as she felt the copper tainted she had to admit the food tasted just as bad that day as it had the day before.  Hunger mildly satiated, she headed for the hovel she called home.

The door to the room she rented had no lock to it, which didn’t much matter since everything she had worth stealing she carried on her person.  So lost in thought was she that she didn’t notice the light in her room until she was already through the door, until it was already too late.

Coarse, harry hands grabbed her shoulders, spun her towards the wall, shoved her against it, and snatched her sword from her belt.  Turning, she found who she expected, Kalrank the half-orc bodyguard of One-eyed Wilk.  Wilk himself, sat on her bed, the only piece of furniture in the room, his diminutive form giving him ample room.  He smiled at her, staring with his one good eye, the socket of his missing eye gaping at her, swinging his feet.  It was almost like Wilk wanted her to comment on the fact he was swinging his feet, like he wanted an excuse to perpetrate violence.  Kalrank shrugged and gave her a half-smile.  Cate always felt like Kalrank didn’t enjoy beating up on her like he might someone else.

Ignoring Kalrank’s smile as much as Wilk’s swinging legs, she asked him what he wanted.  Speaking in the accent of the southern gnome tribes he said he just wanted to come by and see how she was getting along.

You see, children, Wilk and Cate have some history.  When she was first relieved of duty from the guards, he came to see her.  He wanted to help her out, as long as she helped him out.  He wanted to raid the guards’ armory and he wanted her help doing it.  Cate, of course, refused.  This refusal hadn’t much mattered until Cate’s lack of funds led her to the Field Ward.  One-eyed Wilk, as it turns out, controls all the crime in the Field Ward.

Cate scoffed at his mock-sincerity, and asked what he really wanted there.  Wilk scoffed at her scoffing and asked how her job with the new temple was doing.  Cate is no fool and knew Wilk must know about her situation.  But she played along and told him she was no longer in their employ.  Wilk said that was too bad, and after he’d recommended her to those priests to begin with.  Cate eyes Wilk, then eyed her sword in Kalrank’s hands.  If Wilk saw her doing this he didn’t comment, just went on: saying how he liked to help out his friends, and how he wanted to be friends with Cate.  Didn’t she want to be friends?  Cate, as always, declined.  Wilk hopped off the bed, saying that was too bad, and it was too bad she’d lost her job.  Before walking out the door he pointedly made mention of trying down at the Public Board.  Kalrank made sure his employer was in the hall before setting Cate’s sword against the wall and joining him.

Left in her room to ponder her situation, Cate could not sleep and so grabbed her sword and took to the streets looking for the nearest Public Board.  Staring at the jobs tacked to the board, Cate’s frustration grew.  She was used to purpose in her life.  She was used to duty in her life.  The listlessness of her days gave her far too much time to contemplate how she lived now.  Reaching for a job, a blur comes out of nowhere in her vision and snatches the piece of paper from the board almost out of her hand.

Turn to see who that was she is greeted by the sight of a robed Eladrin fumbling with some flyers.  It is clear he’s having trouble, and so Cate offers him a helping hand.  She also inquires about his out of place presence.  The Eladrin mentions he’s on the lookout for some able-bodied adventuring types for a job.

Perhaps Cate’s fate is not yet sealed?

Let us now depart the city for the forests.  But this is not the pastoral view of our childhoods.   No, children, this is the wild and untamed growth of the civilizations lost deep woods.  And so it should be only appropriate that we find one just as untamed and wild to lead us through.

Dath’nea has been without her tribe for weeks.   When she started this journey she had purpose, and a purpose’s strength, to guide and protect her.  However, as each goalless day seeped into dreamless night her resolve weakened.  She alternated her days between animal and elven forms, covering league after league, coming into contact with no one.

We have found her on the verge of hopelessness.

Wrapped in a blanket, settled into the crook of trunk and root, her thoughts were not on the animal spirits, as they so often were in her days of learning, but of warmth and community, of friends and laughter.  As sleep swaddled her mind one last, stray thought traveled through it: she would give up her powers if when she woke her friends had come to save her.

When she laid down she expected another night of blank, featureless sleep that has become her new normal.  However, this night there is a dream.  Her point-of-view is central to the dream, though she herself is not present.  She is among the ants.  Hundreds upon hundreds of ants scurried and pushed and moved around her.  It doesn’t take her long to see she is in their colony, but it is not your typical ant colony.  This colony is above the ground with mounds that reached feet into the sky.  She is swept along with the ants, led to and fro by the insectoid tide.  For what seemed like days she is carried like this until she stopped in what is clearly the center of the colony.  In the middle of an open space stood a hawk.  With a hunter’s keen vision it looked back and forth across the sea of ants, but it does not attack.  Instead it sets a hunk of bread held in one of its talons on the ground in front of some ants.  As water parts around a stone so too did the ants around the bread.  The hawk looks concerned, after a few minutes it picks up the hunk and puts it in front of another cluster of ants.  These ants too ignore the bread.  Dath’nea watched the hawk do this several times before it looks at her and screeches.

Dath’nea awoke as the sun crested the horizon.  She stood and stretched, folded her blanket and stowed, and set off without choosing a direction.  For the first time in weeks purpose flowed through her, she was not questioning it.  The dream played and replayed in her head.  She walked for hours, with the sun directly overhead, she took a step and broke through the coverage out of the woods.

Before her was the largest expanse of non-wooded land she’d ever seen in her life.  This is not what caught her attention.  What caught her attention was the city on the horizon with buildings that reminded her so much like her dream.

On the road she is joined by a steady flow of wagons, caravans, and lone travelers.  Some travel towards the city, some travel away.  She avoided most.  She has only really interacted with fellow elves, the ones in her tribe, and really more with the animals of the wood than the fellow beings of Faerun.  It is not until she arrived at the gates of Waterdeep that anyone took any notice of her.

Her anticipation mounted as she neared the city, and once waiting in front of the massive wall she stood slack jawed that any force outside of nature could build something so huge.  It was here that a gate guard demanded she step aside.  He pulled her pack from her back, passed it to his partner to search, and asked what business she had in the city.  Dath’nea is at first confused by his singling her out.  So many people had been waved through with barely a second look.  Examining the guard her link to the spirits informs her insight; overlaid on the guard’s features is that of a hyena.  Dath’nea realized then why she was here: she was a lone traveler, she looked out of place.  Of course this guard was going to stop her.  It was in his nature.  She does her best to answer his questions as completely and quickly as possible.  Eventually even the bully admitted he had no reason to hold her, and it would be too much trouble to come up with one.  He sent her on her way, called her a billy goat.

This confused her more.  She has been many animals, including her one true animal, but never a billy goat.  She realized after several streets he meant it as an insult, a reference to her wild look.  It was then that she catches the glimpse of a hand reaching for her belt.

Snatching the hand before it can touch her, she peered at the owner, an unkempt youth, no older than thirteen years of age.  Though he age was hard to tell because of his ill-fitting clothing.  As soon as Dath’nea’s hand encircled his wrist, the youth cried out, accused her of abuse.  As callous as city living makes people they still stopped to examine the situation.  Dath’nea did not wish to be caught up in another scene so soon after the gate incident, and so she let go of the youth and continued on her way.

Unfortunately for her the youth was not so easily dissuaded.  He followed her down the street.  He offered to be a guide for her.  He offered to show her the city.  He mentioned that pretty woman like her had been attacked and offered to be her body guard.  When she ignored him he offered to leave her alone for a couple copper.  He swooped around her and screamed and cried, rolled in the street.  Dath’nea was about to step around him, when the youth’s features took on a raccoon-ish pallor.  She knew that she would never be rid of him.  She placed two copper into his outstretched hand.  He jumped off and ran into the crowd.

Thus Dath’nea’s first interactions of the city flummoxed her.  She fell back to her dream for guidance, and let herself be carried along by the flow of the city.  This led her to a meat market.  Carcasses much smaller than ones she ate in the wild hung in stalls and stores, and people clamored for them.  She followed another group deeper into the Trade Ward.  Hawkers belted and bellowed at her.  She ignored them all.  Her purpose had not fled her, and she determined to ferret it out at all cost.

Lost in purpose as she was, she rounded a corner and slammed into a robed gentleman.  The papers he carried scattered.  Dath’nea leapt to help him retrieve them.  Handing the ones she could catch back to the man she noticed the emblem on his red robe, a gold bird, perhaps a hawk.

Examining a piece of his paper she kept, she saw he is looking for adventures.  This could be the purpose the dream pushed her to.  But the man is gone, off on his own business, scurried into a shop to hang a flyer in the window.  Attention fully on the man she saw the pointed ears, the fair skin, the color of his eyes, an Eladrin.  He is another of the elven folk, but ones that consider themselves above the elves themselves.  She approached him carefully, as one would approach and animal you didn’t want to spook.

She said she wanted to adventure.  The Eladrin took in her heritage and her manner, and assumed she was, well, stupid.  He congratulated her on her choice of occupation and continued about his work.  She followed and intercepted him again.  It was clear he was annoyed by this.  She impressed upon him that she wanted to adventure for him.  Relieved, he thought she was trouble, he slowly gave her directions on where they could have a chat in a couple days.

Wandering back to the deep woods we must to continue the story.  Don’t worry, children, I will protect you.

We look and we find one that is born of dragons in the shape of a man.  He breathes lightning and lives off adrenaline.  His kin have found a measure of peace and freedom on Toril, but even that life is too constraining for Dramoor.  He wanders the wilderness constrained by no walls, responsible for no one but himself.  He is king of a kingdom populated by only one subject.

It is this desolation, this lack of other, which draws him to the sound of voices on the day we found him.  The sounds of people are not foreign this deep in the wood, but they are rare.  It may be the presence of so many voices which piqued his curiosity.

Still he approached carefully, quietly.  Waiting for an opportunity like any good hunter he listened.  He watched.

The spiders being loaded into the backs of wagons he recognized, the men loading them he did not.  They were loud, not so much hunters as capturers, and their noise served them well this day.  Their wagons were full.  They talked over the ruckus they made.  Dramoor missed much of the context of what was said, he’d been in the wild for a long time, but he understood when the head man mentioned the words: ‘Great’ and ‘Hunt.’

If there was to be a great hunt then, Dramoor decided, he would take part, for was he not a great hunter.  It was then that he revealed himself to the men, almost taking a blade to the side in doing so, taken for a monster he so often hunted.  He declared himself and asked for a ride to the splendid city deep in the water the men spoke of.  But the men declined him passage with them, perhaps they were intimidated by one such as he, maybe they were afraid.  Unfortunately it was a refusal that would have greater impact on the day than the men would know.

Take heed, children, it is said: in no one does arrogance burn so brightly as in one who is king of their own domain.

As the wagons of the men pulled away, Dramoor decided, nay, knew that he did not need them.  He would show them.  He would tame a spider of his very own.  With much vigor Dramoor plunged into the forest.  He found the nest of the spiders, but of course it was emptied.  Not deterred, he searched for tracks; the men could not have gotten all the spiders.  He searched high and low, long and hard, the day was almost done by the time he found fresh tracks to follow.

Perhaps Dramoor was truly too arrogant to care about sneaking up on the spiders.  Mayhap the spiders would cower at the mere sight of him.  Perhaps he was just that used to their presence it didn’t occur to him they would hate him, see him as prey.  Whatever the reason may be he walked boldly into the spiders’ new home.

There were only half a dozen spiders left, but they were riled by the destruction of their home and the capture of their kin.  They descended quickly upon him.  Within seconds he was poisoned.  Too late he realized what a fool’s errand this had been.  He ran.  The spiders drew a line in the forest though and they were not letting him escape.  Pain pierced Dramoor’s shoulder, first one leg, then the other.  One bite ripped at his arm, he only knew he kept his hand when the poison burned his fingers.  Dramoor lost consciousness in a sea of legs.

He awoke some time later when the jostling around him banged his battered body enough to rouse him.  Laying in the back of a wagon the crooked smile of the head man greeted him.  Lucky for him, the head man told him, they had enough room for one more.  Turing his head he passed out eye to eye with a giant spider.

The capturers took him with them to Waterdeep for healing.  They took most of his coin for the trouble, and the rest went to the healers.  Alone and broke in the City of Splendor is not a pleasing prospect, but Dramoor fell back on what he knew: he hunted.

The city is just another environment, information is not any more or less elusive than any animal.  The day he felt well enough he took to the streets.  It took only half a day to find a den of vipers, once he knew what to look for it wasn’t hard at all to find.  The monsters that lurk in the deep wood know no fear, but the same was not true for the human rats he coerced into telling him where to find someone with information about the Great Hunt.

The information led him to the Trade Ward.  In the Trade Ward word said Dramoor could find a merchant with the information he sought.  Approaching the frail, fair man in the red robes that matched the description given to Dramoor, he made it clear, after several misunderstood attempts on the part of the red robed man, that he was a hunter in the market for a “great hunt.”

Our last hero, but by no means our least, we find in the city for some time already.  It is a strange place to find a barbarous half-orc, but his is not a common story even for a tale such as this.

This night finds Kroth, the Stormblade doing what he’s been doing every night for the past two weeks: fighting.  He came to Waterdeep as part of a trade caravan, hired as bodyguard, and hasn’t found the caring to leave yet.  Kroth being who and what he is he could only find lodging in the Field Ward.  As it turned out this was not a descision that went unmarked.  He was only in the ward for two days before he was approached by a one-eyed gnome with a proposition.

So Kroth became an underground fighter.  He’s fought every night for two weeks.  As someone who calls on the primal power of the storm he felt the build to something big.  And the night we found him he is in the “main event” of his circuit.  He’s fought seven times this night with one more fight to go.

He peered at his reflection in the blade of his falchion.  The gray of his skin has turned ashen with the effort to stay on his feet, swelling collapsed one eye to a slit, a couple of his teeth might be chipped but honestly who could tell?  The concerned looks his “trainer” gives him were annoying.  Growling to the man to grow a pair he laid down his sword.  You don’t look good, the trainer said and threw a look over his shoulder.  He suggested Kroth not keep fighting.

Nonsense, the southern gnome accent floated through the air.  Our boy did fine so far, One-eyed Wilk stepped through the sheet that closed off part of the abandoned warehouse for Kroth’s dressing room.  Wilk crossed the distance from the sheet to Kroth, the trainer dodged out of the way, and looked at Kroth appraisingly.  After an interminable amount of time he said he thought Kroth might even have a chance in the next fight.  It was just too bad he was going to lose.  Kroth looked at him confused, he felt fine.  He would win with all the strength left in his body.  The smile left Wilk’s face, he repeated the commissary about Kroth’s lost.  Kroth may not be world savvy, but he could tell something was up.  Being just as direct as you’d expect a half-orc barbarian to be he asked Wilk what he meant.  Wilk asked Kroth if he liked money, and Kroth affirmed that he did.  Wilk informed him that if made sure to lose the fight than Wilk would give him a bunch of money.  To Kroth’s memory, which was good, he had never lost a fight on purpose before.  Wilk though had been good to him so far, and money helped him buy the ale which dulled the memories of what he had done, so he didn’t see a reason to not agree to lose the fight.  Wilk left pleased, and a few minutes later Kroth walked out to the next fight.

The anticipation of the fight had Kroth’s blood boiling, added to that was the roaring of the crowd.  Catching sight of his opponent his battle fury swelled.  His opponent had gray skin like him, with dark patches that actually made designs on the skin, his opponent was heavily muscled too, about Kroth’s height and Kroth plus another half a Kroth wide.  His wish for a good battle solidified.  Then his opponent stood up.  The gray skinned man towered over Kroth at almost eight feet high.  Kroth’s nostrils flared with his desire to fight this huge thing.

The fight started.  The fighters closed on one another.  Kroth was faster.  He threw his fist at the half giant man.  Kroth’s knuckles connected with his opponent’s knee with all the force in his body.  He felt the gray giant’s bones crumble, memories Kroth worked to bury rose up in him.  He called on his rage to push and shove and tackle the memories away, releasing a primal scream of pain, accidentally hitting some spectators.  The half giant collapsed to one knee bringing him eye level with Kroth.  A fist as big as Kroth’s head connected with his body, he felt ribs break, he spat blood.  Stumbling back he shouted at the gray man to do better.  Fear sprouted in the man’s eyes.  The fight almost ended there.  Instead the gray man looked to Wilk who urged him silently to take Kroth down.  The man attacked Kroth again.  The world darkened for a moment, Kroth felt his body giving up.  This is what he wanted.  With the last of his energy he lunged for the bigger man, he swung at one of his now four opponents but he hit one of the phantoms his vision produced.  Reluctantly the gray man swung again.  Kroth didn’t even feel the fist connect, he just plunged into the darkness that followed.

Disappointment flooded him when he felt consciousness come over him.  The sight of Wilk’s smiling face greeted his open eyes.  Wilk was happy that Kroth had actually lost that fight; the gnome tossed a pouch of silver at Kroth.  He told the orc they’d be in touch sooner or later and left.  Kroth laid on the covered crates for some time before he felt he could move.  The warehouse was deserted by the time he did.

Out on the street I’m sure it was only the sight of the massive sword he carried that kept the low lives away.  One person did have the courage to approach him.  A man in a red robe stepped out of the shadows and asked Kroth if he wanted to take part in something a hundred times more dangerous than what he’d been doing.  Kroth asked if he would die doing this hundred-times-more-dangerous thing.  Most certainly the man in the red robe said.  Kroth smiled.

This is the beginning of our heroes’ tale.  How Fate brought them to the attention of an Eladrin wizard named Immarel.  How under his patronage they formed a mercenary band, The Band of the Hawk.  How through this association they came to be enrolled in their first adventure together: The Great Hunt.