Emmersea II

Vol. III, Chapter 19
The New Commander/ A Stroll In Durnholde

The party arrived to find the lands around Brightbanner Keep in a state of disarray as soldiers were hastily training. When they reached the keep proper they were stopped by a man in full plate armor wearing the crimson tabard of the Scarlet Crusade. “Hail travelers. My name is Jaren Morgraine; I am in charge of your company now. Please follow me.” He led them away from the keep to a large command tent pitched with several others near the training grounds. Inside the tent was a small table, some chairs and a cot. Morgrain stood beside the table and addressed the party.

“I am sorry for the haste and lack of information; you must have many questions. I will attempt to fill in the spaces now for you. When you left , we sent a detachment of two hundred soldiers to the city of Stratholme to attempt to press our way in. They were slaughtered in a half-day’s time. The undead were more numerous than we anticipated and they overwhelmed the company from all sides. The next day, the undead attacked the wall with a huge force, breaking their way through. We took heavy casualties, but we pushed the undead back. The High inquisitor retreated with several clerics to pray for a sign from Mormekar, for our defenses were failing.”

Taking a seat the commander continued. “She was visited by a vision, which has left her in a trance. The vision showed a crypt and seven holy warriors in red holding aloft seven sacred swords. These swords were known as the fabled Alarahai , the Holy swords of Shadow. Blades forged by Mormekar for his chosen knights. We believe that these swords could bring back the Shan’Krai – The Holy Knights of Shadow. They are knights who could face the lichking and end this war once and for all. The Highlord is busy dealing with the wall and has placed you in my charge. Together we shall find these blades and bring about the end of this war.”

The commander paused, noticing the locket around Locke’s neck. He stood. “I have something for you my friend. The High Inquisitor asked me to give this to you with these basic instructions. Mix in the regent and immediately drink. I guess you know what that means.” The commander returned to his seat after handing Locke the flask.

Locke took the flask from Morgraine. It was half full of a clear yellow fluid. He reached into a belt pouch and extracted a small parcel, which he unwrapped to reveal several bunches of sorrow moss. He took a couple and dropped them into the flask, then gave it a swirl.

The moss immediately stained the liquid a deep purple-green color, and the viscosity seemed to increase to a syrupy consistency. Locke waited a few moments for the dregs of sorrow moss to settle to the bottom of the flask, then raised it as if for a toast.

“To my health”, he smiled, then chugged the contents of the flask straight down. He gasped and choked for a moment, then stood upright, waiting to see what would happen.

The potion other than its foul taste did exactly as promised. The necklace chain shattered, sending the locket flying across the room with a horrible female scream.

Locke walked over to the locket and looked down at it silently for a few moments. He then reached down and picked it up, tucking it into one of his many belt pouches.

Kothal picked up the conversation. “A lot of questions indeed. What lore is there for the swords, do we know where to find them? Is obtaining the swords enough to summon the Holy Knights of Shadow? As for you losses, we have obtained samples of some of the poisons the undead have that are causing decay and paralysis. Should Alimar and myself have time, we would be happy to attempt to create an antidote if that’s possible.”

As she listened to Kothal rattle off his questions, Phaedra scanned her surroundings, searching the tent and Jaren’s jacket for any sign or insignia designating a rank or title.

“Master Morgraine sir, is there a title we should address you by?”

Jaren nodded to Phaedra ," You may address me as Commander Morgraine, m’ lady."

Phaedra continued. “We found information on our most recent foray that we believe may be helpful to the cause. If you could please deliver this message to Lord Fordring.” She pulled a paper from her pack with the message from the walls of the haunted mansion transcribed on it. “We were unable to puzzle out what it means, and were hoping someone higher in the ranks could find a clue to its meaning. Please, if you would be so kind, look it over yourself.” She handed the message to Commander Morgraine and stood at attention awaiting his response.

Morgraine took the note and placed it to the side with a nod to her. He turned to Kothal. "The swords are said to be given to seven knights of Mormekar, these knights were known as the Shadow Knights the Shan’Krai. These knights sole purpose was to destroy undead wherever they may lay. Not much is known about the knights, only that once they were finished their souls were absorbed into the blades and their bodies laid to rest in a mass crypt hidden from the eyes of the world. The Inquisitor wrote a cryptic message which I think needs to be decoded, we think it is the location to the crypt itself. There is a linguist in Durnholde who might be able to decipher this message. His name is Barnald Hossrim. An antidote would be useful once we have pushed the advancing undead back. Put your minds to that as you travel.”

Kothal looked intrigued. “Commander, would you please share with us the cryptic message?”

“We have started to decode it, however we are not sure if this is the right code. Good luck. " Morgraine handed them a rough piece of parchment with the strange message written on it, as well as some other markings.

Norkel looked at the parchment. “This script it is familiar to me!” he said with excitement. “I remember learning it as a young boy. Please give me a few moments and I should be able to translate it.” Norkel began studying the writing. “To find the tomb of the shadows embrace…” Norkel took a deep breath. “…One must go to a sacred place”. He looked at his friends. “The next line is more difficult, but I will try.” Norkel scratched his head a moment before speaking. “Nestled deep within a mountains care, the tomb of the Shan’Krai lay bare.” He took another deep breath and mumbled something to himself as he deciphered the last lines. “Seek the Mount of Dethranend, into the darkness you must descend.” He looked up from the parchment. “I believe that is what it says; now we must determine what that means.”

Commander Morgraine smiled in amazement. “It seems we have chosen the correct people for the job! The Mount Dethranend is a mountain located in the area of Darkshire. It is rumored that the mountain has a hidden valley deep within, though again that is a rumor. There is a cartographer in Durnholde; perhaps he can guide you as you head to find the resting place of the Shan’Krai.”

Kothal nodded. “Thank you for the information Commander. It appears as though we have taken enough of your time and need to depart to Durnholde presently.”

Thanking Alimar for his help in selecting the perfect crossbow, Phaedra followed him out into the sunlit streets. “Alimar, you had mentioned stopping at the poison shop next.” Phaedra wrinkled her nose. “Isn’t it better to meet your foe evenly matched? It seems so underhanded to weaken them before battle, almost…" she shrugged, “…dishonorable.”

Holding her hands up to stop Alimar before he could respond, she continued. “I don’t mean to imply that you have been anything less than honorable. Or that your intentions have not been true and loyal to our cause. I just have always been raised and taught that the use of poison is for the weak and for those seeking an unfair advantage. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am conflicted. That what I know about you, and what I have always been taught about people who do what you are doing are at odds with each other. Can you explain that to me?” She looked down at the high-elf questioningly, and blushing slightly.

“Phaedra while I do appreciate your concern, I have noticed that the undead we fight seem to have an unfair advantage over us especially in their lands. The gods did not seem to bless me as they saw fit to bless others with super-natural ability or even holy might but what they did grant me was intellect. If I can use my knowledge of herbs and other reagents to aid us in our quest to defeat the undead it would seem almost a sin not to. Would you not bless your weapon before battle or sprinkle holy water upon an undead foe? Does this not give you the same type of advantage?

“As for my conviction and dedication let me tell you why I joined the crusade and then you can decide for yourself about me. You may not know this but some years back near the beginning of war my village was over-run. When the call to arms came my father gave me his spell book and told me to protect my mother, sister, and three of my friends before locking us in the house and rushing head first into battle. The dead raged against the door and the walls of the house but my friends and I were able to fend them off.” Alimar’s normally even tone and speaking pace started to become quicker and louder as tears started to form on his face.

“Outside I could hear men, women, and children screaming as the almost joyous grunts and groans of the undead pierced the night. When the night ended and dawn broke I looked out my door to a ruined and broken village. Blood ran in the streets like water after a heavy storm. Bodies lay everywhere ripped apart, torn from head to toe, covered in bite marks.” Alimar looked away now sobbing while he spoke, his face devoid of color as the tears were now streaming down his cheeks.

“My poor father! His body was desecrated, clothes torn from him, face down in the mud. We burned them all; none could be buried as custom called for in fear that they would rise. We did this at the suggestion of one of the Knights of Scarlet Crusade. That day I left my mother, sister, and my inheritance and vowed to join the crusade. For years now I have trained and studied every way possible to defeat my sworn enemy. If making poisons allows me to perform this duty and uphold my oath then so be it. I will know that when I meet the gods I can tell them that I have done everything, with every ability, they saw fit to bestow upon me.” Alimar wiped the tears from his eyes.

“I’m sorry for this emotional display. I know it should be beneath someone of our standing. I just can’t help myself when I look back on that day.”

Phaedra shook her head in agreement at Alimar’s words. “Please Alimar, it is beneath no one’s standing to show such emotion. Tears are cleansing for our souls and should never be frowned upon. I would question your humanity were you to exhibit any less emotion than you had, after hearing your story. Ande and I were not in our village when it was attacked, much the same as yours was. Ande was very young, we both were, and Exarch Melius and the rest of the clergy were our role models growing up. Of course, I was trained in the ways of a paladin of Naaru, my lessons were hard but fair,” she paused, “and always they held the moral teachings of Naaru in the highest regard.”

She chewed her lip as she thought. “As I said, your character, your loyalty, your commitment. I question none of them. I trust you with my, and more importantly, my brother’s life.” She laid a hand on his shoulder, looking into his eyes, “I would just be cautious. The more we utilize the enemy’s tactics, however well-intentioned we may be, the more we open ourselves up to becoming like them.” Noticing they were standing outside the regents shop, Phaedra stopped walking. “Thank you for sharing your story with me Alimar. I appreciate being able to know you that much better,” she smiled. “I will be sure to include you and your father in my daily prayers.”

Having been reading on a bench, Kothal noticed Alimar and Phaedra walking and approached them from behind. “Was a successful shopping experience had my comrades? Alimar, as I had suggested in our meeting with the commander I think we should study the poison samples we retrieved. I think we may be able to discover an antidote and hopefully a way to manufacture the paralysis properties so that we may stop our enemies in their tracks. I’m not sure of the efficacy of such things on the undead, but any living beings who share an evil disposition may be affected greatly.”

Alimar looks over and smiled. “We haven’t gone into the shop yet. Phaedra and I were just having a little chat.” Alimar turned to Phaedra. “I will think on your concerns and I appreciate your sagely advice. In this day and age though, knowledge is a power that we cannot be without.” Alimar paused, smiling at Phaedra as though a small weight has been lifted from his shoulders. “In we go Kothal! We’ll we will never find what we need to combat this poison out in the street!”

“Well met Kothal! I was just heading to the temple.” She smiled at both gentlemen. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”

Vol. III, Chapter 18
Burnin' Down The House

The grate on the cave door creaked open as the party slowly entered. The hallway, hewn roughly through the cavern walls, bent slightly to the left and opened into a large, oddly shaped chamber. The smell almost overwhelmed them as they entered. There were two tables pushed against the wall, one to the west and another to the south. They were covered in rancid meat from something, as well as miscellaneous items such as beakers, moldy books and paper. There was a massive amount of purplish fungus growing on the wall to the west as well. This matched their description of Sorrow Moss.

The main feature of this chamber was the large message scrawled in blood across the northern wall. Its letters covered the wall floor to ceiling. It read:

I saw you coming before you came.
To you this message I leave.
The things to kill are the same
but not true twins.
One in the tower burning all around
The other in the dirt deep within the ground.
Destroy both halves to reclaim your lands.
Both halves gone.
If both stay your lives won’t last
to the end day.

Locke stood before the bloody message, still obviously in pain from the fight and his fall onto the rocks. “What… what does this even mean?” He turned to the rest of the group. “Did Grampa Crazybritches say anything strange to any of you during the fight? He said something to me about ‘being told to leave something for us’. This obviously. But… why?”

Kothal responded, "He said nothing to me. Except “Hhnnnhhggg” when Alimar slammed a magic missile into his throat and I splorched him in the face with an eldritch blast. I think this is hint to the location of the phylactery, and informing us that the lich cannot be unmade while the phylactery remains intact. That… or the lich has an almost twin. I’ll do some research on the book, Alimar may assist if he wishes. As for the items we have found, I would be happy to possess any of them. I am prone to alchemical research and dabbling, though I am also soft and squishy. I’ll leave it to the group to decide who gets what".

Andren pondered the words as he absent-mindedly petted his weasel. "Kothal, is it possible this passage refers to the phylactery (in the ground) AND the lich (in a tower)? A tower “burning all around” could refer to Stratholme…"

“It is quite possible Andren. A second unlikely possibility is that the lich found a way to have two separate phylacteries. While at the university I did hear a tale of a dark wizard who had managed to create 7 distinct phylacteries. He was unmade by a high school kid with glasses and a few snotty friends though. It was a silly tale. I think they even made a stage production about it starring several unknown child actors and several notable older actors.”

Phaedra chewed her lip, half listening to Kothal ramble. “Was that thing we just killed a lich? Because if it was, then it’s not dead. Don’t we have to destroy it’s phylactery to kill it?” She continues to ponder, “Mordack was a lich, I saw a vision of his phylactery underground in King Graham’s mirror. Also, I believe I remember Exarch Melius speaking of the previous heroes, you know, the ones who brought the tower down. I’m sure a lot of it was rumor and heresy, but he mentioned a lich occupying that tower as well. We should bring this news to Lord Fordring. I’m certain he could better ascertain what this all means.”

Locke nodded. “I’m for that. We should give this place the once-over good, and check our stinky pal out there as well. Also, and believe me I hate to mention it, there’s the whole second floor of this funhouse we haven’t explored. Although if you lot want to skip it, I won’t argue. The sooner we’re away from here, the better.”

“Couldn’t we just burn it to the ground?” Phaedra asked.

“I am also for that.” Locke added.

Andren looked at Kothal. “Perhaps there are chemicals here that might be mixed in to some concoction that would raze this evil place?”

Phaedra scratched her head. “Of course, there is the worry that if we burn it to the ground, there may be more difficulty finding the phylactery. I’m still a bit confused though, are we all in agreement that that thing we fought was indeed a lich?”

Kothal frowned. “I don’t believe so Phaedra. I believe he meant to become a lich, but I’m not confident he succeeded. I think his potions and concoctions stole his vitality but kept his mind (tenuously) intact. He showed no signs of being magically adept to become a lich in his own right. I think his message is in regards to Mordack. I will pour over the volume concerning the lich and attempt to come to a more firm conclusion.”

Phaedra ticked off on her fingers, “so then, if we have the book and we have the sorrow moss, is there really any need to investigate the upstairs? Andren and I can consecrate the grounds here. Depending on the results, we could burn it?”

“So far we have found little of use in the house save this laboratory, it may be worth briefly exploring the upper level”, said Kothal. “It’s possible that in defeating this madman we have exorcised the worst of the hauntings. After that, I am sure we can come up with a perfectly suitable concoction to raze this detestable place.”

Andren piped up. “The vision I had showed that he was trying to become a lich but failed for some reason. I think he was… something else.”

“If you feel it’s necessary to investigate the upstairs, I will follow. Allow Andren time to prepare the ritual and we can continue.” Phaedra looked over at Andren, concern on her face. “You do look a bit tired. I still feel some of Naaru’s power. Should I Bless the area? This was always your forte Andren, I’m not sure exactly how to proceed or if I can even be of any help…” Phaedra trailed off waiting her brother’s instruction.

Andren stopped stroking his weasel for a moment and looked at Phaedra. “A Prayer of Healing is the most powerful gift of healing I have been given by Naaru. Perhaps it would be enough to consecrate this place, and it would provide much needed healing for all of us. We should move to the first floor, and the center of the house though.”

Kothal looked around at the lab. "I would take special care to bless this underground lair, and perhaps specifically the now fetid pool. The origins of the hauntings and sheer evil seem to emanate from here.

“I’m not entirely sure there will be much to find on the upper most level here, but there is always a chance. Perhaps even a few more tomes to peruse. With what appears to be the main threat gone, I’d like to get as much from this house as possible. It took 19 years of my life from me, the least I can do is take its books and knowledge from it. Then burn it.”

Phaedra nodded in agreement with Kothal as she took her place next to Andren on the side of the pool. The cleric knelt down by the edge with the head of his mace planted on the ground in front of him, and whispered a prayer of Blessing to Naaru.

Locke observed the conversation long enough to be sure burning the house was still on the agenda, then wandered out to see if he could fish the corpse of the would-be lich out of the pool. He fashioned a slipknot from a coil of rope and weighted it with a small purse of copper coins before sliding it into the water.

Kothal joined Locke and mage handed the sword out of the water after watching Locke struggle with the corpse for a few minutes. The sword was a modified scimitar, rusty and completely worthless. As the pair tried to wrestle the corpse onto the ledge, it split in half, revealing a massive amount of writhing worms which poured out into the pool. The body pretty much disintegrated, the remnants falling into the water with a series of splashes that were echoed as Locke vomited into the pool. He spit and wiped his face as he said to no one in particular, “Yeah… definitely burning this place…”

Alimar leaned against his longbow and listened in on the conversation. “Kothal, I’d be more than happy to help you research once we get back to the keep. For now though I need to take a quick breath and steel my nerves if we are to continue to search this cursed manner.” He looked to Andren and then Locke," Let me know if I can be of any assistance". He continued to lean on his bow for support waiting to be beckoned.

“Alimar, while we are here and your interest in poisons is significant, perhaps we should take some samples of the poisoned water and some from the paralyzing biting ghouls. We have 4 flasks, say 2 and 2. I can get the poisoned water without having to touch it, so I can take care of that.”

Having blessed the area, Andren slumped against the wall, spent. His new pet weasel skittered around and on him, wanting to play. Andren gently patted the creature. “You should go now Pauly. You were so brave during our struggle with that thing. Thank you, but you should go now. It’s not safe here. Go. Be free. Go!” With that, the creature bit him and ran off to freedom. A tear rolled down Andren’s face as blood trickled from his finger. “We shall not look upon his like again.”

Phaedra rolled her eyes at her brother. “I’m sure you’ll find another pet in that bag of yours Andren. Chin up!”

As the party stood around discussing when and how to burn the haunted mansion to the ground, Phaedra pulled Locke aside. “Do you think, if there’s time, when we get back to town, you could teach me how to use one of those things?” she asked, eying his crossbow. “I spent so much time in that last battle trying to move around and get to the bad guy, it would be nice to have a weapon with some range. I’d like to buy one, but I want to know how to use it first.”

Locke eyed his customized hand crossbow. “Sure. But I’d think someone as… sturdy… as you might want something a little bigger. I can teach you to use this or a light two-handed crossbow, but if you’re able I’d suggest you try a heavy crossbow. More stopping power.” The thief grinned wickedly.

Phaedra looked confused by the evil grin, and smiled, “Thank you Locke, I’d appreciate your…” she paused searching for the right word, “…expertise in the matter.”

The party decided exploration of the remaining rooms would be beneficial. They found several rooms upstairs with similar haunts, but nothing which affected them negatively. They managed to make their way through the entire upstairs but found nothing of value or importance. The house was set ablaze, and after cathartically watching it burn they began the long journey back to Brightbanner Keep.

Vol. III, Chapter 17
Excerpt, Locke's Journal

Once we’d caught our breath, we went back to further explore the laboratory. Alimar and Kothal investigated a shelf of moldering books while I checked out the lab table. It was covered in glassware and other laboratory equipment, but most of it was broken or otherwise in disarray. Above the bench was a shelf holding ingredients and reagents, but most of the jars were broken or empty, and none looked to be the sorrow moss we sought.

The bookworms didn’t have much better luck, except at finding actual bookworms. The tomes were rotted and decrepit, and fell apart at their touch. Most of the tomes looked to be on necromancy, alchemy and anatomy. Nothing sinister there.

Kothal took a closer look at the rat cages, and asked me to spring the locks so he could examine the rats within. As I did, I noticed the maker’s mark of a mechanical shop in Durnholde, Pug’s Contraptions, on each of the cages.

Kothal examined the dead rats and pronounced they’d expired from some sort of fungal infection, and that they appeared to be in various states of the disease. Probably not a good way to go, even for a rat.

Phaedra and Norkel were watching the door while Andren continued his rogue apprenticeship by finding a ‘secret’ door that wasn’t hidden. It opened to a short hallway and another door, which led further down another corridor and ended in a chamber where someone had been doing some digging.

Several picks lay scattered around a large hole in the floor. Crude steps were cut into the rock, leading downward. Andren stopped and stared unseeing at the hole for several moments. When his sister asked what he saw, his only reply was, “Hands… dead hands… reaching up for us…” Again, nothing creepy about that.

We followed Andren down the stairs and ended up in a limestone cavern. It was damp and moldy, with rubble and bones strewn across the floor. A tunnel stretched away to the north, and another to the south. The southernmost tunnel looked freshly excavated, so we followed it to a cave heavy with the stench of rotted meat. Around the cave we saw piles of carcasses, animal and human.

The cave was tall but not large, and a slight wind blew through it, issuing from another tunnel on the far side. Andren crept forward to scout and then quickly ducked back as a giant bat came swooping in!

The bat was enormous, its wingspan probably all of nine feet. As he charged it, Andren noticed patches of fur and skin missing from its wings. It was also missing an eye, and the creature’s head lolled to the side as if its neck was broken. A giant, undead bat!

Andren cast sacred flame at it while Norkel summoned his great balls of fire. Behind us, Alimar heard something approaching from the tunnel behind us, and seconds later several ghouls appeared and advanced on us. Alimar, ever gallant, hid behind Phaedra.

Not a bad plan, actually. I stepped out to fire a crossbow round at the lead ghoul, then stepped back behind Phaedra as well. The paladin cast a Shield of Faith on herself, and advanced to meet the charge. She swung at the closest creature and lopped off its arm like butter.

Behind us, the bat wheeled in the narrow cavern and swooped back at Andren. The cleric’s own Shield of Faith did him little good as the creature latched on and sank its fangs into him. Kothal blasted the creature off Andren and Norkel quickly cast a healing spell. Kothal again hurled an eldritch blast at the bat, killing it.

Alimar snapped off a bow shot, killing the first ghoul. The remaining creature leapt at Phaedra, but she managed to push it away. Norkel ran past Alimar and me, throwing a ball of flame at the creature. Alimar and I shot it again, and Phaedra used our distraction to cleave the creature nearly in two.

Norkel searched the bodies in the cave to find an adamantine longsword, a ring and a hat. The hat was a type favored by forest hunters, and Norkel quite fancied it. I looked over the ghoul carcasses, but didn’t get any information from them.

We decided to continue on through the tunnel where the bat had emerged. I took the lead to try and scout, but Andren and Kothal came clanking along behind me, so I just let them go ahead. We noticed scrapes on the wall, perhaps some sort of territorial marking? There was also a large quantity of yellow mold along the walls and floor of the tunnel.

Andren investigated the fungus by smacking it with his mace. A cloud of spores shot out and he ducked away, barely avoiding breathing them in. Norkel stepped over and gave them a more thorough examination. The druid declared it a simple yellow mold, but advised us against spending too much time in its presence or breathing the spores.

Hesitant to have this obstacle at our back, Phaedra set about burning away the mold, assisted by Norkel. Andren pushed past to investigate the next chamber. He saw more piles of bones and heard the sound of running water. Common sense got the best of him, and he returned to wait for the rest of the party.

Once the mold was burned away, a small side passage was revealed. We followed it to reveal that it simply looped back to where we entered the cavern, but Andren did find a pick in remarkable good condition. Kothal identified it as a magical heavy pick +1.

We backtracked to the chamber where Andren heard running water. As we approached, we heard groaning and grunting noises coming from within; more of the ghouls were coming. Kothal edged forward until he saw one of the creatures, and hit it with a blast of eldritch energy. Phaedra pushed past him to enter the room and saw several more of the creatures. Andren followed his sister and cast turn undead, causing many of the ghouls to turn and flee.

Alimar shot one of the remaining ghouls and I followed with my rapier, dropping the fetid thing. Behind us I heard Kothal and Norkel enter. The western half of the chamber was heaped with bones, many scarred by teethmarks or cracked open for their marrow. A second doorway lead to the rushing water we heard earlier. Beyond the doorway the floor of the chamber dropped about ten feet to a ledge about twelve feet wide, then dropped again to a pool of water.

Phaedra stepped up to the doorway and realized the ledges were actually a continuous spiral that wound its way around the circumference of the chamber and led down to the pool. At the far end of the cavern she saw the turned ghouls cowering together, staying as far away from Andren as they could. Around the chamber were several more ghouls, unaffected by the turning.

Andren followed his sister in and sacred flamed the closest creature. It turned on him, lunging forward. Its bite not only damaged the cleric but paralyzed him as well. Alimar shot the ghoul twice in quick succession, killing it as Norkel hopped down onto the stone ledge and cast a restoration spell on Andren, removing the paralyzation.

I stepped in and got my first view of the entire chamber. Torrents of seawater seeped in, rushing down the far side of the chamber to splash onto the rocks in the pool below. Near this waterfall the turned ghouls cowered. What looked like a doorway recessed into the rock face was covered by a rusted grate.

In front of me Phaedra surveyed the room, deciding what to do, when two ghasts leapt from the water like giant frogs. They were bloated and smelly, clearly undead. One jumped up to attack Andren, biting and clawing. The other mounted the ledge near Alimar, raking its claws across the fighter. By the way he staggered, I could tell Alimar had been poisoned. Norkel and I ran over to support him, the druid’s scimitar leading the way as it sliced the ghast across the midsection. The stench of the creatures at close range was nearly overpowering. The ghast rallied and laid into Alimar with its claws and bite, dropping the fighter like a sack of stones.

Kothal backed up the draenei, scorching the ghast with a blast of eldritch energy as Andren followed up with his mace to the face. The creature reeled, and Kothal hit it with another eldritch blast. Andren was able to get Alimar back on his feet as I jammed my rapier into the ghast’s eye. That move is so much more effective when the target isn’t already dead. I retreated back into the shadows to await another chance to strike.

We were slowly wearing the ghasts down; it seemed only a matter of time before we prevailed. The squeal of a rusty gate preceded the appearance of a crusty, disheveled human in rags at the back of the chamber. He seemed to move to music only he could hear, twirling and swaying, heedless of the slick stone and rushing waters. He exhorted the cowering ghouls to rejoin the fight, and to our dismay they obeyed.

The ghasts too seemed re-energized by the mysterious creature’s appearance. One laid into Phaedra, staggering the paladin and driving her back. The other poisoned Kothal with its talons before its bite paralyzed the warlock. Alimar stabbed the ghast twice, but it refused to fall.

Norkel healed Phaedra as Andren tended to Kothal. The ghast again raked its claws over the cleric before the ghouls fell upon him, ripping at his throat as he fell. Alimar slashed at the ghast as I ran it through with the rapier, then tried to get the ghouls off of Andren’s body. Norkel and Kothal kept the remaining ghast occupied as Phaedra disengaged and ran to aid her fallen brother.

The figure on the opposite side of the chamber continued to dance around like a simpleton. Seeing an opportunity, I pulled up the hood of my cloak and began to creep through the shadows around the chamber towards him.

Norkel’s scimitar kept the ghouls at bay as Phaedra laid hands upon Andren. The cleric stirred weakly, then staggered to his feet and healed himself further. Alimar stabbed another ghoul twice, dropping it.

As I approached, I could see that the figure I pursued was that of an old human man. He seemed unaware of my presence, but continued to caper away from me and now had drawn a rusty scimitar which he whirled around his head. I crept closer, closer still, then made my move. As I rushed from the shadows two things became apparent. One, the old man was clearly long dead, just like everything else in this vile mansion. And B, his stench was far worse than even the bloated ghasts. I choked and coughed as I swung my blade, but the scimitar was there to block it even though the man hadn’t turned. He spun and slashed me with his blade, foiling my follow-up strike. I’d lost my advantage and quickly retreated, but slipped on the slick floor and tumbled off the ledge to the rocks and water below.

I pulled myself out of the water and clung to a mossy stone. I could see my comrades fighting the last of the ghouls as the old man leisurely made his way towards them. I tried to shout a warning, but it didn’t carry over the rushing water. Norkel and Kothal teamed up to take down the last ghoul as Andren healed the party. Phaedra took notice of the old man’s approach. Alimar stepped up to block his path, and the man slashed with his scimitar then attempted to bite the fighter.

Alimar tried to barbecue him with burning hands, but the undead creature seemed to resist the worst of the flames. I pulled my crossbow and drew an unsteady bead, but my shot flew wide and hit Alimar. I put the bow away and clung miserably to my rock.

Norkel circled the pit and tried to thornwhip the man, but missed. Kothal followed, trying the same thing, and was successful. The whip snagged the man’s ankles, and with a sharp tug Kothal sent him flying off the ledge. The man fell upon the rocks in the water just as I had. He was now twenty feet from me and began to swim closer.

From above, Andren healed Alimar and me. The man swam closer and missed me with a lazy sword swing. He croaked, “I left something for you, yessss. You. They told me to leave it for you…”

I cursed him but missed my bow shot again. I think I may have been concussed from the fall. Kothal hit him with another eldritch blast, but he seemed not to notice. He swam even closer, then cut off his hand with his sword! Inky black ichor flowed from the wound, forming a slick poisonous pool on the surface of the water. He laughed and taunted me as I struggled unsuccessfully to climb out.

A rope landed near me. I look up to see Norkel holding the other end, motioning for me to climb up. I tried, but I was too wounded and weak. The old man swam closer and I frantically kicked him in the face. He slid beneath the surface without a sound. Norkel yelled for me to tie the rope around my waist. I did, and as he and Phaedra began to pull me out, the old man burst from the water, grabbing at my feet. The rest of the party was ready; Alimar’s force missile and Kothal’s eldritch blast struck the creature square in the chest, ending him. The weasel Andren hurled landed on the ledge beside the pool, looking confused as the others hauled me up and out.

Vol. III, Chapter 16
Poor Mr. Dandy

Drenched in the sudden deluge, Phaedra felt her brother’s weight sag against her. She slightly released her grip and looked up into Andren’s eyes. Relief flooded in when she saw that he was in his right mind again.

Moving her arms from his waist to around his neck, she pulled him in for a soggy embrace. Whispering she told him, “you have to stop touching things Ande. I don’t want to have to defend you from our friends again.”

Pulling back she asked, more loudly, “What happened to you, and what do you remember?”

Locke ambled up, dagger in hand. “Are y’sure it’s him? Maybe we should poke him a few times to be certain.”

The look of horror that had been on Andren’s face disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared, and was replaced by bewilderment. Shaking his head to clear his mind he looked around at his companions. “How… why…” Andren paused a moment and his shoulders slumped. “Oh.. again? What happened this time?” Just then he noticed that he and Phaedra were soaked from head to foot, standing in a puddle of water. “And why am I all wet?!”

Standing between Andren and Locke, Phaedra eyed the half-elf, warily debating the seriousness of his comment. “Please,” she said, addressing all her companions. “Going forward, we should be aware that this house has the ability to possess any of us. Could we agree to not instantly resort to lethal means of chasing out the demons? Andren did nothing to any of you, he was attempting, for whatever reason to run away. Reaching for your daggers, and crossbows does not seem to be the wisest initial choice to make. Had he attacked you, then by all means defend yourself. But he wasn’t in his right mind, you knew it, and I would think that if the roles were reversed you each would want the same courtesy.”

Turning her eyes again to Locke, “Andren and I are here to help you chase away your demon,” she gestured to the locket around his neck. “If you no longer desire our help, please say so and we will return to Brightbanner Keep to await Lord Fordring’s command.”

Locke chuckled as he sheathed his dagger. “Relax, I was only joking. Besides, the big lug can take a lot more punishment than my little dagger or crossbow can dish out. Stop babying him so much.”

The rogue turned serious. “But I am grateful for your help. Really, all of you. I just think the best way to keep from going insane in this crazy house is to keep our sense of humor about us.”

Phaedra rolled her eyes, “I don’t baby him.” Turning again to Andren, “Honestly, do you remember anything at all?”

Kothal entered the room having heard sounds of a fight. “Ah, seems I missed the action. I apologize, sometimes I uh… get a little lost in my head. The voices can be quite.. nevermind. What happened here?”

“Phaedra was just telling us how she doesn’t baby Andren while simultaneously babying him.”

Ignoring Locke, she crossed her arms and glared at Andren. "We were waiting for this one to fill us in on what was going on inside his head”, Phaedra responded.

Andren thought for a moment. “I think … it’s like trying to remember a dream… there are only bits and pieces I can recall. When I touched the book, the real world suddenly fell away and became… well… stained glass. I know that sounds crazy but I saw events unfolding in stained glass, like the windows we saw. I saw a man spending years poring over librams, concocting some sort of vile potion, and building something… I think it was a phylactery, Phaedra.” Andren paused and looked at his companions. “I think he was trying to become a lich, but failed. Something went wrong.”

“As the vision ended I again felt myself being taken over by… something. I think it was the same ghostly entity that took control of me before. Again I had this terrible dread, and a need to escape with my daughter. That’s all I remember.”

Norkel grinned as he spoke, “The water MAY be my doing. I was a little concerned with what was going to happen when you got where you were going. You broke free from my vines, avoided a pounce, the water was a last resort.” He turned toward Phaedra, “none of us wanted to harm your brother, we were just trying to get him back.”

Phaedra smiled at Norkel, “I’m glad. I just wanted to make sure we were all going forward on the same page.”

Phaedra looked at Andren. “Maybe you should start letting one of us inspect every blessed thing in the rooms for you. We are looking for something specific, remember. There really isn’t a need to turn over every nook and cranny. Your curiosity will be then end of you.”

Locke piped up. “I don’t know, I think you’ve got the makings of a right fine rogue Andren, for a draenei. Natural curiosity is important. Heh, maybe when all this blows over, I’ll take you to the Thieves’ Guild in Durnholde for some training.”

“Um, yes that sounds like a wonderful idea Ande. Maybe you could sprout wings and fly too. This sorrow moss isn’t going to find itself,” Phaedra adeptly hid the look of disgust on her face. “Let’s move on, and just be careful alright?”

“Don’t call him Ande”, Locke said.

“Curiosity can get you killed”, said Kothal. “It killed the cat. Our cat. Well, curiosity and a nightmarish creature from beyond the stars. Curiosity didn’t literally explode his mind. The thing did that. But curiosity and chance introduced the cat to it. Poor Mr. Dandy. I liked that cat… Right where was I? Ah, indeed, Andren stop touching things please.

“Quick question… While I was… Away… Did anyone else hear something whispering to you? Something about death, defiance, blood, death, google, phylactery, dead, pain, DNS, blood, red, servers, phylactery, death? No? Just me then. Huh. Also all of my books now seem to skip page 404… It just can’t be found.”

Andren pulled away from Phaedra with a sullen expression. “Fine. I won’t touch anything anymore.” He then mumbled something under his breath about jerks ruining his fun but they couldn’t be sure of what he was saying. “So now what?”

“We should head back to the room where you were possessed. This last time I mean”, Locke said. “It had the look of a workshop or laboratory. That seems the most likely place to find a sample of sorrow moss.”

Kothal perked up. “I missed a laboratory!?! I concur, we must return to the for the moss, and whatever else may be there.”

Vol. III, Chapter 15
Excerpt, Locke's Journal

The room wasn’t comfortable, but it served its purpose. We were all feeling much better as we headed back to the cellar of the mansion to continue our search. Upon entering the kitchen, we found that the table Phaedra had pushed up against the wall had shifted. Not wanting to deal with any more rat swarms, we pushed the table firmly against the wall, blocking as many of the ratholes as we could. Then we gathered other items and debris from the kitchen to form a makeshift barricade to hold the table in place. Satisfied that we’d done the best we could, we began to search the rest of the cellar.

Andren took the lead, shoving open the first door he came to. Beyond was what looked almost like a barracks. There were two sets of bunk beds in the room, and both were relatively fresh given the state of decay the rest of the mansion was in. Curious.

I have to say, I was rather proud of the initiative Andren was showing. Clearly he looked up to me as a positive male role model, and was expressing it by assuming the role of the party rogue as a way of seeking my approval. Granted, his technique certainly needed some polishing, but that could come with time. I wiped away a tiny tear as the draenei clumsily stomped around the room banging on the walls and looking under the beds.

I searched behind Andren, but found nothing either. Other than the bunks, there was nothing but a fallen chair in the room. Andren righted it as we puzzled the state of the room, but ultimately decided to press on.

Andren listened at the next door, then gave it a once-over for traps. (So proud!) He then opened the door to find the rat’s lair. A horrible smell assaulted us as Andren poked through piles of sloughed fur and rat feces, and I was doubly thankful for his rogue-in-training attitude. Finding nothing, we mercifully moved on.

The next door was the one the depleted swarm Norkel had been battling had disappeared under. Andren cautiously opened it to reveal the remains of a wine cellar and thankfully no rats. All the bottles were shattered, just glass everywhere. Andren again tapped on the walls, and I noticed a hollow sound as he tapped the back one. I coached my protégé to look for the hidden latch, and was delighted when he found it!

Beyond was a secret wine stash that was still intact. We found six bottles of a rare port wine from the mage city of Dalarin. They looked to be in pristine shape, probably valuable. I told the party as much, and we decided to bring them along for now. Andren carefully wrapped them and placed them in his pack.

The door on the east wall led to a narrow hallway, the end of which was covered floor to ceiling in a sickly purple mold. Phaedra scoped it out, then asked Norkel if he knew anything about this particular fungus. All the druid said was if we hurried through it we’d probably be okay. Not exactly the reassuring professional opinion she was looking for, I’d wager.

We hustled down the corridor and around the corner, holding our breaths as we rushed through the growth. There was a door at the end of the hall which opened into some sort of workshop or laboratory. Various sorts of alchemical apparatus sat on a large table against the far wall, with a shelf full of ingredients and components hung above it. On the west wall was a bookshelf that drew Alimar to it like a moth to flame.

Andren went over to investigate the lab table, but paused in mid-stride with a glazed look in his eyes. He doubled over screaming, then straightened with a wild look and made for the door! The rest of us sprang into action. Our reflexes were exceptional, our results less so.

Phaedra tried to grab her brother but missed. Alimar tried to slow him with a ray of frost and I tried to shock him back to his senses with a friendly stab of my dagger. We both missed as well. Only Norkel was successful, summoning forth his great clump of vines to fill the room and entangle Andren and Alimar.

Then Andren, still screaming, tore the vines from himself like they were made of paper and ran towards the hallway with a look of utter panic on his face.

Phaedra followed, yelling for us not to attack her brother. Then she smacked him, trying to snap him out of it. (So she can hit him, but we can’t?) I angled for a shot with the crossbow, but held, waiting to see what Andren would do. Norkel tried to restrain the cleric, but Andren easily broke free and continued around the hallway corner and through the purple fungus. Phaedra followed with me right behind her. I shoved my hands into my utility belt and came up with a double handful of small metal ball bearings. I hurled them ahead of me on the floor of the hall.

Andren ran through them without even slowing up. Phaedra however slipped and fell, and I, the epitome of grace and coordination, stumbled into her and went down as well. Behind me, I heard Alimar enter the hallway and promptly slip and fall on his ass with a curse.

A dark shape passed over us as Phaedra and I extricated ourselves. Norkel, in panther form again, easily navigated the hallway in pursuit of our possessed cleric. We followed as quickly as we could without falling again.

Andren had reached the kitchen by then, and was heading for the stairs. Norkel came up behind him and made a glorious pounce… only to bounce off the cleric’s heavily armored back and fall in a heap. Andren did stop long enough to smack Norkel in the face with his mace. (Pounce bounce, mace face… I think I hit my head in that hallway.)

Andren still looked frantic as Phaedra tackled him, yelling for him to come back to her. Alimar came up and dove on the draenei’s weapon arm, but the cleric easily shook him free. I was trying to talk him down to no effect when a huge gout of water sprung from nowhere to drench the siblings. Andren immediately stopped struggling as he and his sister both began coughing and cursing, spitting out the water they’d swallowed. Norkel, our hero, slumped to the floor with an exhausted sigh.

Vol. III, Chapter 14
Excerpt, Locke's Journal

We were all feeling much better after our rest, and were ready to explore the rest of the mansion. Well, as ready as we could be, considering all the ghostly nonsense going on.

We headed back to the main room. The next door we’d not yet explored looked soggy and swollen with the damp. It wasn’t locked, or even closed all the way. It just appeared to be stuck from the humidity.

Andren stepped up and gave the door a solid kick. His foot went right through the moldy wood, leaving him flailing around for a few amusing seconds as he tried to extricate himself. The large hole now in the door revealed a dank and musty drawing room beyond. Andren gave the door another shove, and it popped open.

The room contained a couch and what was once a fine rug. Green mold stretched across the floor to the north wall and curtains framing a window that looked out to the sea. As we entered, Andren suddenly recoiled.

“Did you see that?! In the window?” Our blank looks stared back at him. “I saw a face reflected in the window. A woman’s face.”

None of us had seen it, but it did contribute to our overall uneasiness about this place. There was nothing else of interest in this room save the door on the east wall. This swollen door led to a small library. Two chairs sat before a stone fireplace, one of them on its side. A book lay open, face down between the chairs, and a burgundy and gold striped scarf lay draped across the fallen chair. A bookcase covered the north wall, and a couch was set against the south.

Alimar immediately went to investigate the bookcase and Norkel tossed the couch cushions, for loose change I guess. Kothal cast Mage Hand and began poking at the fallen book and lifting the scarf, but seemed to get no response. Phaedra and I stood in the doorway, she keeping an eye on the proceedings in the room while I watched our backs.

Kothal took a closer look at the book on the floor. It was a children’s storybook, spattered in blood. Really, this house was full of nothing but bad omens. Alimar was having better luck with the bookcase. He found a treatise of various mosses that included a reference to Sorrow Moss. Unfortunately the description told us little more than we already knew about the plant.

He also found several books on alchemy that got Kothal’s attention. The mage joined Alimar at the bookshelf. Norkel, meanwhile had found nothing but old chewing gum and some suspicious stains on the couch. As he turned see what the rest of us were up to, he noticed the scarf slithering across the floor towards him.

“Hey gu-“ The druids words were cut off as the scarf flew at him and wrapped itself around his neck. Before we could get to him, Norkel was on the floor, unconscious, with the scarf wrapping tighter and tighter around his throat. Phaedra was the first to get to him, and tried to unwraps the scarf with no success. Alimar shouldered her out of the way, dagger in hand. He deftly slid the blade between the folds of the scarf and easily sliced through the material. The scarf fell away; Andren tossed the remnants in a corner as he healed the elf.

Norkel came to and seemed fine. As the party paused to catch its breath, I noticed the torn scarf moving again, this time towards me. I called out a warning as I hastily retreated from the room, pulling my daggers as I went.

Phaedra came over and pinned the thing to the floor with the point of her sword. Closing her eyes, she cast a Bless spell on the room. A sense of sorrow and anger washed over her as she heard a loud scream and saw a vision of a woman wearing the scarf and a man with the side of his head caved in. The vision lingered for but a moment then disappeared. The paladin looked around the room and found a heavy, iron bookend lying on the floor. Picking it up, she noticed that it was covered in dried blood.

Creeped out, and with no other options here, we headed back into the main room. East of the door we exited was a large, square rug covered in mold. Not unusual for this place, except the mold on this rug grew in such a way as to perfectly depict a spiral staircase that seemed to descend into the floor. Andren lifted the corner of the rug and looked underneath but found nothing but fungus and mildew. Dropping it back down, he moved to stand on the rug, as if he were going to go down the stairs. Nothing happened. We moved on.

At the far east end of the main floor was what appeared to have once been a formal dining room. In the room’s center there was a large mahogany table that had seen better days. Twin fireplaces were on either side of the door on the west wall, while the east wall was composed entirely of four floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows.

The first was a gnarled tree with enraged face, the second an immense hook-beaked bird with sky blue and gold plumage. The third depicted a winged centaur-like creature with the lower body of a lion and a snarling woman’s upper torso. The last showed a deep blue squid-like creature with evil red eyes. The windows were grimy, but otherwise seemed in good condition.

We poked around a bit but found nothing else of interest in the room. Andren opened the last door off the main chamber to reveal a stairway leading downward. We descended and found ourselves in a large kitchen. A big, rough-hewn table sat in the center of the room, covered in what looked like rat droppings. A long-cold cast iron stove sat against the east wall, with several smaller worktables beside. On the opposite wall, the masonry had cracked and fallen away in several places, revealing bare earth beyond. It looked as if someone or something had been digging. There was dirt scattered on the floor and what looked like several small holes or passages beyond the broken wall.

Alimar stepped up and peered into the dark, cracked earth. At first he saw nothing, but a sudden rush of scrabbling noises presaged two large swarms of rats that spilled into the room. Andren was ready and brought his mace down in the midst of the swarm. The rats scattered, but seemed to take little damage from the blow. Alimar made good use of the draenei’s distraction by backpedaling away, then casting Burning Hands at the swarm. The kitchen filled with the vile smell of singed rat flesh.

I hopped up on the table to get away from the beasties. My bow and rapier were next to useless, so I pulled out a flask of lantern oil and flung it at the wall next to one of the swarms. It shattered nicely, dousing the rats in the viscous fluid.

The rats continued to pour out of the wall. Most were missing large patches of fur, and the flesh beneath was covered in sores and boils. Alimar and Andren were getting the worst of it; both had resorted to prying the biting vermin off themselves with daggers. I threw my second flask, splashing more oil on the swarms. Norkel got the idea and cast one of his tiny fireballs. The swarms erupted in flame.

I took a running jump to get away from the now burning table. Alimar and Andren were frantically retreating from the flaming masses of rats. Kothal helped by sending an eldritch blast at Andren that somehow managed to knock the rats off him without doing (much) damage to the cleric.

Phaedra stepped up behind her brother and flipped the burning table onto its side. The then gave it a mighty shove, trying to push it against the wall and block the rat holes. The rats scattered, them formed back up into swarms that ran at Norkel and me. I was able to dodge the worst of it, but Norkel wasn’t so lucky. The rats, some still on fire, attacked him. They bit and clawed at him, overwhelming the druid until he fell.

Andren was able to quickly heal Norkel, then cast a sacred flame on himself to try and shake the rats. The beasts were persistent, I’ll give them that. I tried to drop and roll, hoping that would free me, but no such luck. I jumped back to my feet, then began rummaging in my backpack.

Norkel was finally able to get free of the rats; he retreated to a far corner. I found what I was looking for, pulling a large glass bottle from my pack. I pulled the cork and set the bottle on the floor. Smoke began issuing forth at a prodigious rate, and the rats liked it not at all. The ones on me leapt away. I hastily retreated from the swarms as well.

Kothal got the idea quickly. He ran over to the smoke cloud, and the rats declined to follow. He then hit the nearest swarm with a massive eldritch blast that cut their numbers in half. Phaedra finally got the table in place to block the rat holes; now we just needed to deal with the ones still in the room. She decided to start with the ones on her brother. Her warhammer swing hit Andren in the chest and knocked him backwards, and to her credit did knock a few rats off of him as well.

Alimar was still struggling to get free of the rats. I shot my bow at his swarm, but after using both my oil flasks and the smokejar, I was pretty much useless. I retreated to the back of the room, as far from the rats as possible and waited for an opportunity to do something beneficial.

Norkel threw another mini-fireball at Alimar, singeing a few more of the rats. Phaedra snatched up the smokejar and set it down next to Andren. The rats on the cleric fled, scurrying around the room in a panic before joining the swarm attacking Alimar. The fighter was now literally covered in rats! They were clawing and biting him badly. He frantically staggered towards the smokejar, the rats abandoning him once he got into the smoke cloud. The fighter cast Ray of Frost on the retreating mass, hoping to kill a few and slow the rest.

Across the room, Norkel morphed into a panther and eyed the remaining rats around him hungrily. Kothal cast an eldritch blast near the big cat that scattered the vermin. They scurried away under one of the doors. Phaedra cast Sanctuary on Norkel in case they came back, then healed Alimar.

The giant swarm attacked Kothal, but he avoided the worst of it. Andren sacred flamed a few more as Alimar stepped back up to the rats, daggers flashing. Phaedra pounded the swarm repeatedly with her warhammer. I petted Norkel.

Kothal slipped the swarm and ran into the smoke cloud, which had expanded to almost fill the north end of the room. The rats swarmed Alimar and Andren. Alimar again took the worst of it, but his ray of frost and Andren’s sacred flames whittled down the rats numbers. Finally the few remaining scuttled away.

I corked the smokejar, and the room began to clear, revealing our bloody and ragged-looking group! I cringed at all the scratches and bloody bitemarks my companions were covered with. Norkel healed Alimar as best he could, but all of us were pretty drained and needed to recuperate. We went back upstairs to the small room where we’d rested before, and settled in once more to recover.

Vol. III Chapter 13
Don't touch it Andren

The last bolt from Locke’s crossbow rang true and we found ourselves standing on the stairs of the rickety old mansion. My connection to Naaru was so weak. I could sense her presence, but reaching for her power was like grasping through cobwebs for something that was just beyond my reach. Ande could feel it too, I could tell as the concern on his face was palatable.

Standing on the porch I called forth a blessing from Naaru to heal the wounds left by the undead birds as we waited or Locke to pick, well, the lock. I wonder if anyone else has caught that about his name.

As the door swung open, the smell of mold and decay almost knocked me over. Andren cast light on his shield and moved into the open foyer. As he moved the light around the room, our eyes were immediately drawn to it’s center. There stood a stuffed beast. It had the face of a lion, bat like wings and a wicked looking curved scorpion tail. I had never seen anything like it before. “A manticore, how curious,” Kothal piped up from behind me. How curious indeed.

“Don’t touch it Ande, we shouldn’t…”

“Don’t call me that,” he interprupted me, walked up and slapped his hand on the creature’s face as he turned to glare at me. I would have apologized, but there was no time because behind Ande the manticore started to shift and flicker and come alive! “Andren, duck!” I screamed as the ghost like manticore took a swipe at him.

The beast roared as Andren turned to face it. Behind me I heard Locke and Kothal cry out in fear as I drew my sword and moved into place beside my brother to face the monster. The light shining from his shield bounced around the room, interspersed with the light of sacred flame and the bolts of crackling energy that flew from Kothal’s fingertips. Andren and I moved together dancing and weaving. Try as I might, I couldn’t connect sword and manticore. I sent a prayer of thanks to Naaru for my friends behind me and my brother beside me.

Over the monster’s roar, I could hear Norkel chanting. The beast lunged past Ande’s shield and bit his shoulder, granting me the opening I needed. I brought my sword down through it’s wispy form and watched as its shaped flickered and then sank into the floor boards.

Smiling at Andren I turned to face the others and gasped. The faces staring back at me had changed. Kothal and Locke both looked older. The ghostly manticore had magically aged them both.

Moving past us and deeper into the mansion Norkel glanced back at Andren. “Keep you hands in your pockets Andren, so you’re not tempted to touch anything else.” I couldn’t help but chuckle at Andren’s scowl.

Taking point in the center of the room next to the now silent manticore, I watched my friends. Locke, his cloak thrown over his head moved between the shadows as he listened and checked the doors to the east and west for traps. Andren went to move further in the room, but stopped in front of a large moldy rug, his attention drawn to something on the wall.

“Now what do you suppose that is?” Andren wondered. I could hear Norkel muttering behind me about how he shouldn’t touch it as Kothal moved up and stood on the edge of the rug beside Ande. “It appears to be a monkey. A decoration of some sort maybe? I wonder, stand back everyone.” Kothal spoke an incantation and waved his hands. A spectral hand appeared and he directed it towards the tail of the monkey and pulled it. A loud screeching chatter emanated from the monkey, and then silence. We all waited for the house to collapse on us, or hordes of undead to appear, but nothing. “How curious,” shrugged Kothal, “don’t touch it Andren.”

Moving on Locke opened the door to his left. Andren moved in front and headed down the hallway. We came out into what looked like a ballroom. Windows stood across from us, facing out into the ocean and another door was to our right. The only furniture of note was a moldy old piano. Locke moved soundlessly through the shadows to get a closer look at the piano. I watched as a far away look came over his face. He bowed deeply as if to a partner, placed his hands eloquently in the air as is grasping someone’s hand and hip and started dancing a waltz.

I looked over at Kothal, “are you seeing this too?”

“Yes, yes I am,” he nodded his head slowly as he turned his attention from the waltzing half-elf to the piano in the corner. Raising his hands and summoning his power Kothal sent purple and black ropes of electricity straight at the instrument, blasting it into moldy splinters.

We all turned to look, and saw, that Locke was still dancing. Very gracefully I might add, and with a look of pure bliss on his face.

Norkel moved up and placed his hand on Locke’s shoulder trying to inspire him to shake off whatever it was that was possessing him. Pushing Norkel out of the way Andren came up behind our friend and scooped him up into a bear hug. Locke’s feet were dangling in the air as we watched a ghostly form of a woman in a ball gown appear in front of him. She shrieked, causing us all to take sonic damage, spun in a circle and then snarled at Locke as her form drifted down into the floor boards. Ande let Locke go and he sank to the floor, clearly exhausted.

Taking point, Andren moved into the next room. As soon as he opened the door, three large hairless rats jumped on his shoulders and face. Where their hair should have been were many sores and blisters. Andren turned in the door frame, hollering. Not waiting to see if he would smack himself in the face with his war hammer in an attempt to smash a rat, I reached up and grabbed the thing off his face. It squirmed in my hand as I felt blisters pop and ooze run over my fingers. I immediately dropped it on the floor between myself, Norkal, Locke and Kothal. “Kill it! Kill it quickly,” I hate rats. Backing away Locke took careful aim and shot the rat dead. We managed to dispatch the rest of them fairly quickly.

Norkel noted a scraping noise coming from inside the washroom. “It is most likely more of them,” I told him, slamming the door and propping pieces of the broken piano up against it.

Making our way back down the hall we came into another room. A fireplace, flanked by two windows stood in the far wall. There was dust everywhere. “Do we really need to investigate every room? It doesn’t look like there is any sorrow moss…” I was interrupted as Andren barreled past me to poke around in the fireplace. Locke followed close behind, skulking in the shadows. I could tell he was still recovering from the ordeal in the ball room. Rolling my eyes at my brother I stood near the doorway and waited.

“Any sorrow moss growing inside the fire place Ande?” I waited for his usual reply, but was surprised when he turned towards me with a stricken look on his face. He marched directly to Locke, scooped him up and said, “we have to go Lori, right now.” Locke struggled in Andren’s vice like grip. “What are you talking about you big blue oaf? Put me down!”

Sounding almost exactly as our mother used to, Andren scolded Locke for talking back to him, told him they had to get our of the mansion immediately and started to push past me and the rest of the group as if we weren’t even there.

At this point Locke balled up both his fists and slammed them into the side of Andren’s head. Silly half-elf didn’t realize that is the hardest part of Andren. “My name is not Lori,” shouted Locke as he pushed against Ande’s shoulders fruitlessly.

“We have to leave, Lori! You don’t understand! Your father…” Andren’s motherly voice started sounding more and more panic stricken. Kothal whipped out his cane and attempted to trip Andren with it as I pleaded vainly with him to let Locke go. Everything was happening so quickly, it was good one of us kept a clear head. Through the din I heard Norkel chanting. As he ended his spell, plants and vines started sprouting up everywhere in the room. They twisted and tangled around the entire party. Andren was stuck fast in the vines. We all watched as a ghost like figure drifted up and out of Andren, and then sunk soundlessly into the floorboards. Each of us again felt the sonic damage wash over us, and it was stronger this time.

Gently setting Locke down, Andren apologized. “I don’t understand it,” he said. “I was myself and then I wasn’t. I had to get you and myself out of the house and to safety. I had to get away from my husband,” Andren chuckled with embarrassment as he picked at the leaves crawling up his legs. “I’m sorry for that. I’m me again.”

We decided to take a short rest in the room. As Ande called down a blessing from Naaru, I watched all the dust on the floor blow back and gather in the corners, almost as if it was alive and fleeing from him. How curious….

Vol. III, Chapter 12
The Hangover

The cloudy sky that morning promised a rainy day. Others might have dreaded the prospect of travel under such conditions, but Andren found that nothing could dampen his spirits. Bounding out of bed he put on his gear and made his way to the chapel for daily prayer. He had much to be thankful for on this particular day, and his prayers reflected it. Afterwards he headed to the tavern for breakfast as had been agreed upon the previous night.

When he arrived Phaedra was already seated and waiting. He sat across the table from her. “I know you rise early, but I’m still surprised to find you here already, after everything… you should be exhausted.” Phaedra shrugged. “As tired as I was, I still had some trouble sleeping. Just thinking about what could have happened… what almost DID happen…” Phaedra trailed off. Andren leaned forward. “But it didn’t happen, Phaedra. Your faith and courage saw you through it. Exarch Melius would be so proud of you.” Andren paused for a moment. “And so am-”

Just then, Locke appeared and slouched in to the chair next to Andren, looking tired. Norkel, Kothol and Alimar also shambled in together and sat down, each looking even more haggard than the rogue. Locke groaned and rubbed his head. “Remind me not to do that again, especially on a night before we travel.” Andren chuckled and slapped Locke on the back. “Ah, hungover, eh? I’ve heard that happens sometimes.”

They ordered breakfast and ate mostly in silence. Once done, they decided to visit the cartographer Frederick Gains to seek out a map. They soon found his shop in the refugee town outside the keep. The musty place was filled to the rafters with maps of all sizes and shapes. Boxes, barrels, and shelves were overflowing with them and the group at first had trouble seeing Gains because, one, he was a gnome, and two, he sat behind a huge pile of maps spread out before him.

While Locke discussed with Gaines what he was looking for, Andren and Kothol started perusing maps. Kothol gently pulled maps out and reviewed them carefully, taking some time with each. Andren on the other hand shuffled through them quickly, never stopping on one for long, but full of wonder at their contents. He called over to Phaedra who was looking on in disapproval. “We should go here someday.” He pointed to another map. “And here. This one is beyond the sea.” Phaedra just rolled her eyes at her brother. “Always looking for the next adventure. That’s my Ande.” Andren ignored her and continued pulling maps out to look at.

Having gotten a map to their destination, and with horses provided by the crusade they set out late in the morning, with a gentle rain falling on them.

“So we need to find a manor house?” Andren asked Locke after almost an hour had passed.

“Yes.” Locke shifted in his saddle, still not in the best of moods with a hangover and soaking wet.

“Because there may be moss there that you need?”

“Yes. Sorrow moss. Didn’t you hear all this in the cartographers shop?”

“I was… distracted. And why do we need this moss again?”

Locke sighed. Behind him, Kothol chuckled. “The High Inquisitor says that she is able to make a potion that can remove the curse afflicting me.” Locke held up the necklace around his neck.

“Oh. I think I understand now. So… how much longer before we get there?” Locke just grumbled and spurred his horse ahead.

After a couple hours of travel, they saw in the distance what appeared to be people milling about on the road. As they approached they realized these were not people, but the undead. Leaving their horses back a distance so they wouldn’t be spooked, the party approached the zombies, preparing to attack. Alimar unslung his bow and took slow aim at one of them. “The rain is going to make it difficult at this range. We may need to get closer.” He loosed his arrow and it just barely struck the zombie. At the same moment, a bolt of crackling energy shot out from behind the group and straight in to the same zombie. It blew apart in to tiny charred pieces. Taken by surprise, they all turned as one to find Kothol with his hand outstretched, energy still crackling around him. He looked at them and shrugged. “I think I’m close enough.”

Not ones to shy away from getting their hands dirty, Phaedra and Andren charged in to the undead mass and started swinging away while the others attacked at range. The zombies, though terrible to look upon, were mindless and slow, and were quickly defeated.

The party fetched their horses, re-grouped and moved on. After a couple more hours, they came upon a manor house sitting high atop a cliff looking out on the ocean. Or rather, they found the remains of a manor house – it was hard to tell in the gloom of the foul weather, but it didn’t appear to be inhabited. They cautiously approached and soon realized that a huge swarm of large black birds were perched along the top of the ruins and in a pair of nearby trees. As they approached, the birds took flight and swarmed about them, attacking.

As the swarm attacked, the party realized these were not normal birds but were rather undead of various sizes and types – the rotting flesh and glowing red eyes gave it away. Darting in and out to peck and claw their prey, they were difficult to strike. Even when one was struck down, three more replaced it. Andren yelled to his companions. “Foul creatures! We will give these little peckers blows they will never forget!”

For the briefest moment, the party stopped and looked at Andren with expressions that ranged from aghast to amused. Andren, oblivious, continued fighting. The creatures swooped at the party, attacking them relentlessly as the group fought back as best they could. The burnt and broken bodies of the birds increasingly littered the ground. After a frantic fight, Locke finished the last of them with a well aimed crossbow bolt.

Vol. III, Chapter 11
Aftershocks, Part 2

Phaedra blinked her eyes in the morning sunlight shining through the hole left in the wall by Mordack. She felt so much better after resting. Stiff, sore and uncomfortable from sleeping in her armor, but better none the less. Kneeling, she quickly sent her daily prayers of thanksgiving and petition to Naaru. Now, where was everyone?

Making her way to the mirror, she pulled it from the wall and strapped it to her back. Pulling a rope from her pack she secured it to the hook that had held the mirror and made her way down.

She ran back down the corridor towards the closed door at the end. Listening at the door, she felt tendrils of nerves blossoming in her stomach. Where were they? Were they alright? Mordack had followed her. He had let her companions be. Hadn’t he? She had left her brother in no condition to use his Hearthstone. Alimar, Locke, Norkel; they would not have left without him, would they have? Oh Mother, no.

The thought of finding her brother’s body beyond that door staggered her. Leaning heavily against it she waited for her pulse to stop racing. “Please, please no. Anything but that”, she whispered to herself. Steeling her nerves, Phaedra pushed the door open and found the room beyond empty.

Relief flooded through her body. Pulling the mirror off her back she asked it, “Where are my companions and my little brother?” The mirror swirled around her and pulled her into its vision once again. There they were. At Brightbanner Keep! Alimar, Norkel, Locke and Ande! He was alive! He was alive, he was alive! He looked very angry. Very, very angry. But he was alive!

Shaking off the vision, Phaedra strapped the mirror back in place. She had to return it to King Graham, and then she had to get back to her brother before he did something drastic. Phaedra rolled her eyes at the thought as she worked her way out of Mordack’s Keep.

Kothal woke to find that he may have enjoyed his new found merriment a little too much on the first go. After shaking off his wooziness, he waited outside Locke’s door.

Upon exiting, Locke found Kothal leaning against the wall, looking a bit worse for wear. “So I find I may need to build up a heftier tolerance to the drink if I am to experience more merriment. Aside from that, let’s agree to not play games with your dice nor my cards unless we find a fool who’s purse and pride are overflowing. It occurs to me that of all of my new friends you may be the most interested and aided by my particular talents. I’m told you are skilled at sneaking through the shadows hidden to all but the keenest observer. I can help you walk down the middle of the road through the market in broad daylight and be entirely unnoticeable. Should anyone need me, I’ll be finding myself some breakfast. With bacon preferably. Plenty of bacon.” Kothal turned on heels to leave. After taking a few steps his image began to blur, shift, and then disappeared entirely.

“Well now”, Locke said aloud to himself as he watched Kothal’s image disappear. “That’s a pretty fine trick.” Chuckling to himself, he went off in search of Lord Fordring, hoping to get their meeting out of the way early. He strolled into the great hall of the keep to see if the High Lord was about.

As he entered Highlord Fordring was waiting. “Come in Locke, come in. I trust that you got some much needed rest?” As Locke regaled the lord with tales of his evening, Fordring smiled. “Very good; well let’s get down to business shall we? Locke, this war has been going on for far too long. Our methods have been useless up to this point. It’s time to examine all options in order to end this struggle and bring peace back to the lands. I get a feeling you are a man who will do what it takes in order to get the job done. Am I correct in this assumption?”

Locke answered hesitantly, trying to suss out exactly what the High Lord was fishing for. "Well, you know my background. I think of myself as pragmatic above all else, if that’s what you mean.

“Take this business with the draenei. We defeated Mordack’s guardian, but were in no shape to fight the wizard himself. When he gave us the opportunity to finish our mission and go, it seemed to me the most practical thing to do. Not ideal by any means, but better than risking our necks any further. The draenei would beg to differ.”

The Highlord nodded. “Exactly; you did what needed to be done. The draenei, they have no concept of anything other than the light, which is noble and justice. I am honored to have them here, but I am tired Locke. I am tired of sending good men into a war and playing by the books, when the enemy has no rules to follow." Fordring looked at Locke. "I need people that are willing to do what it takes to end this war. I feel like you are one of those people. Can I count on you to aide us when the time comes? "

“Aye, m’lord. I stood in your hall when I got here and said your oath. My profession aside, I try to keep my word and honor my obligations. But I think any in the party would tell you the same, even the draenei when it came down to it.”

Smiling, Fordring stood. “Very good, Locke. I do believe that this band you have found yourself in could be useful. If you would gather them and meet me in the planning chamber, I have some ideas for how we might be able to launch an assault on…”

From behind the Highlord walked the High Inquisitor, her hood drawn over her face. She began to stare at Locke. Then a soft voice spoke. “You, Recruit, have a dark curse upon you. Your aura is that of the darkest nights. What have you done to acquire such hatred?” She continued to stare through Locke.

“Begging your pardon, m’lady, but if my aura’s any darker than when I arrived, I’m not certain what I might have done to make it so. I mean, surely that Mordack character from Daventry doesn’t hold me, any of us really, in high regard. The draenei aren’t too fond of me right now either, but I think that’ll blow over. A couple of Daventry witches didn’t much like me, but they’re no longer breathing, so no worries there.

“Strange how I feel a compulsion to confess my transgressions to ye. What else? I cheated Kothal at dice last night, mostly to practice my sleight of hand, but I’m pretty sure the rascal cheated at cards, so we’re copacetic. I made a promise to a ghost that I’ve yet to keep. I caused some rat-men feel poorly about themselves. The usual self-touching. Oh, and I killed a bunch of creatures that were trying to kill me, so there’s that. But otherwise, I don’t know what it could be.”

The Inquisitor paused for a brief moment. “The locket around your neck? Where did you come by this? It is full of sorrow and darkness.”

Locke raised a hand to his neck, where the locket sat under his armor. "Ah, that’d be the ghost I mentioned. We met a spirit in Mordack’s castle, and I promised to return the locket to her family. Unfortunately with our hasty exit from Daventry, I didn’t have time to keep my promise. I was going to ask his lordship for another one of the hearthstones to fulfill my obligation, until I heard him tell Andren it might not be possible. I was planning on bringing it up again once things had quieted down a bit.

“Funny thing; I awoke last night to find the locket around my neck, even though I’m sure I left it with my gear. I didn’t think much of it, to be honest.”

She nodded. “Well, I am afraid things are a bit more drastic now.” She motioned her hand across the armor where the locket sat. “It would appear you are cursed in two ways. In one week’s time you will turn into a wolf. The wound on your arm hasn’t gotten much better has it? That I can cure. However this locket, it is different. Much sorrow and rage lies within it, and now it has decided to take you as payment.” Again the inquisitor stared at Locke seemingly gazing into his soul. “The chain will tighten around your neck and by this time next week you will be dead.”

Locke looked confused for a second. “A wolf? Oh, right, the werewolves! In all the excitement I forgot about them. But back to the locket; dead by next week, you say? That’s not ideal. I don’t suppose there’s any way around that?”

She nodded slowly. “There is, but I will need a rare ingredient in order to make the cleansing potion needed to remove the baneful locket. It is called sorrow moss, and the last known location of it was held by a merchant noble. However contact with him has been lost since the start if the scourge war. His manor house is on the coastline deep within the scourgelands. If any moss remains that is where you may find some. A pinch of it is all that is required.”

“Is there time enough to get there and back again before…?” Locke pantomimed being strangled by the locket.

“Yes , if the regent is still there and you don’t waste time. It will take me some time to look up the recipe to ensure the potion works. I can gather the rest of the ingredients while you get the sorrow moss. You will need to speak to Fredrick Gains; he is a cartographer from Stratholme. He will be able to give you the location of the manor house. He is due to return from his trip to Durnholde tomorrow morning.” She turned to leave.

“Before you go, m’lady; two things. One, I wasn’t the only person injured in our fight with the werewolves. If you haven’t checked out the rest of the party for the wolf curse, you probably should.

“And B, will the others be able to accompany me, or will I need to go alone?”

“The cartographer is here like most refugees. He has a small shop in the village that surrounds the keep. He should return tomorrow morning . Send the others in and I will examine them as well.”

Andren woke early, physically whole thanks to the healers, but still suffering from a sense of grief and guilt for leaving his sister. After dressing, he made his way to the chapel and prayed to Naaru. He prayed for guidance, and for peace but mostly he prayed that his sister would return, unharmed.

After a light breakfast of a rasher of bacon, a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread, ten pancakes, and a small salad, he gathered his damaged gear and headed to the blacksmith’s to do some repairs.

Alimar woke up in a haze “Where am I he thought” for a few moments until memories came flashing back from the night before. Memories of dice games that just wouldn’t go his way and enough drink to knock over a dwarf. “I wonder where the others are?” he said out loud. He headed to the smith hoping to catch Andren at his craft and to pledge aid in finding poor Phaedra.

Locke strolled into the keep’s mess hall to find Norkel and Kothal sharing breakfast. Locke told Norkel he needed to see Lord Fordring immediately after breakfast for a ‘vermin check’, then asked about Andren and Alimar. Told they were at the blacksmith’s, Locke bid the pair farewell and headed to the smithy.

He entered to find Andren just beating the snot out of his damaged shield with a blacksmith’s hammer while Alimar looked on. Figuring the blue guy was taking out his frustration and worry over his sister on his gear, Locke was loath to interrupt. Instead, he relayed the message to Alimar that he and Andren should report to Lord Fordring as soon as they were done at the smith’s.

With his errands taken care of, Locke set off to explore the keep and the surrounding castle town.

After enjoying breakfast with his new found comrade, Kothal went in search of the castle’s library to peruse the books and return to the research he had recently been neglecting. He remained there engrossed until he began to hunger, and realized it was evening and he had forgone any midday meal.

After completing repairs to his gear, Andren headed to see High Lord Fordring. Having had the chance to pray and contemplate, and take to heart Locke’s words from the previous night, he was in better spirits than he had been the day before. She’s not dead. I would know it if she were. I’d feel it.

Arriving at Fordring’s chamber, he let the guards know he had been summoned.

Later that afternoon, Andren walked around the keep looking high and low for his companions before finally locating them gathered together in the keep’s hall. “Greetings my friends. I’ve heard rumor that I missed a… lively evening last night at the tavern. I find myself in need of a distraction and wonder if you would be game for an ale or two?”

Norkel’s ears perked up. “Did I hear someone say ale? I would enjoy passing the time at the tavern.”

Norkel looked at Kothal. “I hope Locke leaves those dice in his room this time”, and proceeded toward the door heading for the tavern.

Hoisting the pack filled with electrum bars over her shoulder, Phaedra made her way up the castle steps. The sun setting on the horizon made quite a picturesque view. It had been a long, weary day of traveling. Her arms were tired from rowing, her hooves sore from walking, and her pockets empty from settling up everyone else’s tab at the Fairies’ Song Inn.

Approaching the doors, Phaedra nodded to the Polar and Grizzly Bears standing guard. “Well met sirs. I seek audience with King Graham. My name is Phaedra Sedai of Lorderon. I believe the King is expecting me?”

The Polar Bear led her into a sitting area as the Grizzly left to announce her. She fell heavily into the first chair she came to after gently resting the mirror on the floor by her seat. The wound on her side was still bothering her greatly. She would have to have Ande inspect it when she returned.

She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. It felt like only moments had passed when the Grizzly Bear returned. “King Graham will see you now. Please, leave your weapons on the rack outside the throne room.”

Entering the throne room, Phaedra made her way towards the king. Standing in front of him, she bowed deeply. “Your highness. We have accomplished the task you set before us. Here is the mirror, retrieved from Mordack’s Keep as you requested.” She placed the mirror in his hands. “We believe these also belong to you. Possibly they were stolen? They were found in Hagatha’s lair.” The bag of electrum dropped heavily at the king’s feet.

Smiling, King Graham stood and walked to the young paladin. “My dear lady, you have done me a great service, of which I cannot repay easily. If there is something I can do for you simply name it and I will, if I can, make it happen.” He placed the mirror gently on the wall. “Please bring the rest of your company in, I will hold a feast in your honor. " He looked at the bars on the floor. " Allow me to start my repayment by giving you half of the those bars. I admit my heart wishes to grant you the full amount, however my coffers are quite barren and I could use these.” He sat on his throne smiling.

“King Graham, I regret we wouldn’t be able to stay for a feast. My brother was gravely injured in battle and we thought it best to get him back to Brightbanner Keep as swiftly as possible. I was left to complete the task and then return as well. I am anxious to return to him and make sure he is alright. When Lord Fordring sent us here, his orders were for us to request the use of your mirror to answer a question to help him combat the scourge attacks in our land. So, if I may? Ask your mirror his question?”

“Yes M’Lady , you may ask the mirror whatever you need. I can leave you some privacy, if you would like?”

Chewing her lip, Phaedra nodded. “Yes, please if I may have privacy.” She waited patiently as King Graham made his way out of the room and asked the mirror Lord Fordring’s question.

When King Graham returned, Phaedra smiled graciously. “Thank you for all your help my Lord. Your help and service to Lorderon is much appreciated. If I may be so bold, would you be able to send me back with something? A missive or letter of sorts, declaring Daventry’s good will towards Lorderon? I am but a humble paladin of Naaru, and not a diplomat, but Lorderon has fought so long and hard against the undead scourge. I know it would lighten Lord Fordring’s heart to know he had such a worthy alliance.”

King Graham looked at her puzzled and then smiled. “I can have a letter drafted with the royal seal if you wish my lady.” He nodded to his royal magistrate. “It is the very least I can do."

Phaedra shook her head. “Of course your majesty, that would be much appreciated. If I may sit while we wait?”

Not waiting for a response, Phaedra made herself as comfortable as she could on the stone stairs leading up to the throne. A small part of her brain hollered about properness and courtesy, but she was just so weary and her exhaustion won out over politeness.

Leaning her head back, she looked up at the man sitting on the throne. “King Graham, what else can you tell me about Mordack? Your mirror labeled him a lich. It showed his heart in a jar beneath his keep.” She grimaced. “We were not able to dispose of him, simply chase him off and retrieve your mirror as promised.”

She shifted her hooves into a more comfortable position, as she remembered. “He is a very powerful and seemingly fearless spellcaster. He knew so much about myself and my companions. Where we were from, how we had traveled here and our means of returning. We found correspondences in his library from…” She shook her head trying to clear the cobwebs. “I can’t remember who they were from, but he seems to have powerful allies, and something about the dwarves?” She looked up at the king with a tired smile on her face. “I’m sorry, I am rambling. It has just been such a…long…day. Please, what can you tell me? The more information I have, the better, should we ever face him again.”

Before the King could take a breath to speak, Phaedra remembered something else. “Mordack’s keep was haunted. The first night we encountered a young ghostly girl. I think Locke said her surname was Anderson? It appeared as if her family was killed there in the keep and her ghost was trapped there. Does that name mean anything to you?”

The King listened intently to her words and then sat back on his throne. " Mordack is evil we have not seen here in Daventry for a long time. I am not sure what he truly is, other than evil. If the mirror showed you something you can take it to heart that there is truth there somewhere, perhaps not the truth you may want to know, but its truth none the less. I am sorry; my kingdom is large and we have many families. I don’t know of a family named Anderson. However that doesn’t mean they don’t exist or have existed. Mordack has spies everywhere, they even say that birds and beasts work for him. It’s not surprising that he was aware of your presence. But enjoy your victory m’lady and not trouble your mind with what ifs." Graham gave her a comforting smile and stood, then walked down and sat on the step with her. “I was a knight, much like you, before I became King. I understand the weight you feel. But for now rest; the world will need your strength in the future I am sure.”

Phaedra smiled at the king. “It’s nice that you understand. So few people in my life do.” She sat there in amicable silence waiting for the magistrate to arrive. Once she had her letter and half the electrum bars hefted on her shoulder, she again thanked King Graham. “I believe Lord Fordring will be honored by this,” she gestured towards the letter. “Thank you for the use of your mirror. You have done Lorderon a great service.” She looked out the window at the now starry sky and pulled her Hearthstone from her pocket. “Farewell King Graham. Rest.”

The blue light swirled, Phaedra’s stomach lurched and when she opened her eyes she found herself standing back where she started in Brightbanner Keep. She smiled at the guard whom she had so obviously startled. “Permission to speak with High Lord Fordring?”

The guard blinks and jumps back. “Um… Yeah sure, um… is he …expecting you?” The guard chuckles lightly at his question as he opens the door.

Phaedra walked towards the open door. “Thank you sir.” She thought for a moment. “Honestly, I’m not sure if the High Lord is expecting me or not. I believe the rest of my companions arrived yesterday?”

Phaedra got to the main hall and noticed the High Inquisitor looking over a book in the main chamber. She stood and turned to greet Phaedra with a slight nod. “If you are looking for Lord Fordring, he is in preparations. How might I help you recruit?”

“With your permission to speak freely, High Inquisitor. My companions and I were unintentionally separated on our journey home from Daventry. It is my understanding that Locke acquired the information Lord Fordring was seeking. I wanted to be sure that the information was indeed delivered and also to give him this.” Phaedra reached into her bag and pulled out the letter.

“The King of Daventry is good, kind and noble. The mirror he now has in his possession is very, very powerful. I know Daventry is very far away from here, but think about it! Future access to an item like that could potentially turn the tides of this war! The possibilities are endless!” Her face flushed with excitement.

She looked down and noticed the High Inquisitor’s scarred and stoic face. “Forgive me, my lady, I am rambling and I forget my place. If you could please, give this to High Lord Fordring. It is a letter from King Graham of Daventry. Please, if you could tell me, did my companions meet with Lord Fordring already? If he already has the information we were asked to retrieve, then I could leave you to your work and go search out my brother and our friends.”

The High Inquisitor smiled briefly and then returned to a stoic glare. “Indeed, the possibilities could be endless. However the decision doesn’t lay on my shoulders. Last I heard your friends were partaking at the local tavern. I am sure they would be happy to see that you are safe and returned in one piece.” She bowed slightly and returned to her book.

Blushing hotly, Phaedra returned the High Inquisitor’s bow. “I shall include you in my daily prayers to Naaru, my lady.” With that, she turned on her heel and made her way out of the keep and towards the local tavern.

Attempting unsuccessfully to master her own stoic glare, Phaedra started grinning instead. Then she rolled her eyes. “Ande’s at a tavern,” she thought to herself. “I wonder how drunk everyone else is?”

The group soon arrived at the tavern and managed to find a table in the far corner from the door. It was a busy night and it was several minutes before the barmaid came to their table. Glancing at Andren – all 7 foot, 300 pounds of him – she took their order. “I remember the rest of you from last night, but we don’t get many of you drany around here. What can I get all of you?”

Andren looked at his companions and smiled. “I want the biggest, strongest ale you have, and a round for my friends.”

When she returned with their drinks Andren lifted his to his face and sniffed it, crinkling his nose. “Smells terrible. Does all ale smell like this?”

Entering the small tavern, Phaedra took in her surroundings. A bard sang and played her lute in front of a roaring fire. Scarlet Crusaders and recruits took up many of the tables.

She picked Andren out right away. It wasn’t hard. His back was to her and he seemed rather engrossed in some story that Locke was telling. The half-elf’s hands were moving almost as quickly as his lips were.

Weaving her way through the crowd and grinning from ear to ear, Phaedra came up behind Andren. Placing her hands over his eyes she leaned over her little brother’s shoulder. “Guess who Ande,” she sang as she smiled widely at the rest of her companions.

If there had been anyone else at the table that was paying attention (they weren’t), or even anyone else at the table who wasn’t three sheets to the wind (they were), they would have seen it: a fleeting look of immense relief followed by a beaming smile that spoke volumes. Phaedra saw it though, and that’s all that really mattered.

His voice cracking just a little bit Andren welcomed his sister in typical Andren fashion. “How many time have I told you not to call me that?”

Knowing there would be no answer forthcoming, Andren pushed out the empty chair next to him. “I got you a drink. You know, just in case. Want to tell us what you’ve been doing for the last day? Locke has been sharing a tale about a noblewoman he met once, but I’m sure he won’t mind.”

Norkel, full engrossed in Locke’s tale, doesn’t see Phaedra approach. As she made her presence known, Norkel sunk in his seat just a little as he almost choked on his last swig of ale. “Ph…Phaedra! Glad to see you have returned.” Norkel swallowed hard and then smiled at the draenei.

Locke smiled at Phaedra. “It’s good to see you, girl. This lot was out of their mind with worry, myself included I might add, but Ande here kept us calm. ‘I know my sister-’, he says, ‘-and after she kicks Mordack’s ass she’ll insist on returning the mirror and treasure to King Graham before she returns. You just wait; we’ll see her in the tavern tonight.’ And damned if he wasn’t right! Welcome back.”

Norkel pulled himself together and grabbed his mug, lifting it into the air. “A toast… to the return of Phaedra!” Norkel turned his ale up and drained the mug. Placing the mug on the table a little harder than he had intended he signaled to the barmaid, “Another round for my friendsh!!”

Kothal was only vaguely aware of the situation, and remained quietly sipping his drink. With a slight nod of acknowledgement at her presence, he waited for an opportune time for introductions.

Phaedra slid into the chair next to her brother. “It’s good to see you too, Andren, and looking so much better, I might add!” Turning to address the others gathered around the table, Phaedra smiled. “Thank you all so much for ensuring my brother’s safety. It was such a relief to see him—and all of you—safe and sound here at Brightbanner when I looked in the mirror.”

Her face falling momentarily, she continued. “I wasn’t quite able to kick Mordack’s ass as you so eloquently put it Locke. Only chase him away, retrieve the mirror, return it and the electrum bars to King Graham..” She ticked off her accomplishments to the rest of the table.

“He’s still alive and out there somewhere. I believe I have made myself quite an enemy.” She paused and shrugged, “but on a lighter note, I brought presents!” She plopped her knapsack down on the table and proceeded to pull bars of electrum out of it. “Two for each of us, for a job well done. Compliments of King Graham of Daventry!"

After emptying her sack, Phaedra looked up and for the first time noticed Kothal across the table from her. “Oh, hello. Forgive my manners; I didn’t see you there. My name is Phaedra Sedai, paladin in the service of Naaru, whom you know as Morwyn. I am this big lug’s older sister.” She glanced affectionately at Andren and, smiling happily, extended her hand across the table. “And who might you be?”

“I am Kothal. I was a book keeper in the City of Mages, and have left to acquire books of power for their library. My paths have lead me closer to the scourge lands than anticipated. I’ve been granted asylum here for a while and have been asked to aid in your current quests. I am pleased to meet you.”

Locke slid the two electrum bars back across the table to Phaedra. “I appreciate the gesture, but these belong to you. Right or wrong; you stayed, I left. This is your reward, not mine.” The rogue smiled blackly. “Heh, I got a different kind of reward.”

He opened the top of his shirt to show the others the locket from the Anderson girl’s ghost around his neck. It fit snugly; almost as tight as a choker. “This is not a fashion choice; it appeared on my neck last night. I can’t get it off, and the Inquisitor tells me it will continue to tighten until it chokes the life from me by the end of the week.”

Norkel trying to focus looks at Locke in amazement, "How did yoush hic get two lockets? More importaly…why are there two Lockes? " The druid rubbed his eyes, “I shthink our new friend ish playing tricks on me!” With that Norkel finished yet another ale before blacking out.

Andren looked across at Locke and then the locket, with a troubled expression. “This is foul magic indeed. Is there nothing that can be done? Surely there is some way to remove it…”

“There is, and we can talk about that tomorrow. For now, we’re celebrating Phaedra’s return.” Locke raised his hand to get the serving boy’s attention, holding out all five fingers and pointing to the table.

“When it is convenient for you, I would like to take a look at it. There should be a way to remove it. Hopefully it won’t come down to trial, and most certainly not error. I fear I’m a little too far in the drink to be of use now.” Kothal turned to Norkel. “Not as far as some it would appear.”

“Isn’t that the locket that you promised to return…..oohh,” Phaedra stopped mid-sentence. “You seem to be handling your situation admirably Locke.” She looked at the half-elf with confusion on her face. “I would be a bit more panic stricken if I were in your shoes.”

She handed one of Locke’s two bars to the serving boy who had just arrived. “Here, keep them coming till this runs out.” Picking up the ale in front of her she sniffed it. "Did they put poison in this or something? What is wrong with Norkel?

Andren shrugged and gulped down his tenth ale of the evening. “They’ve all kind of been acting that way – talking funny and such. I don’t know why.”

Phaedra chuckled as she took a swig. “How odd. It’s good to see your face again Andren. I was…” she pinched her fingers together in front of her face, “…just a little worried about you.”

“Tomorrow should be interesting.”

Vol. III, Chapter 10
Aftershocks, Part 1

He was aware of the darkness first, and then the pain. His head throbbed with it as he took a breath. His teeth clenched as the dull pain of simply living turned in to the sharp pain of simply breathing. He tried to blink but couldn’t open his eyes. He reached up and rubbed… something out of them. He could smell it. Blood. Head wound… broken ribs… an arm that didn’t want to move. Ok… not too bad. He tried again to open his eyes, harder this time. Blurry shapes came slowly in to focus. Alimar, Norkel, and Locke looked down at him with worried expressions. He closed his eyes. He tried hard to recall where he was, and what had happened. “The warrior…” he thought to himself, remembering now the large sword arcing towards him, trying to get his shield up in time, then darkness. He blinked and let out a painful breath. “Are all of you alright?”

Locke chuckled as he and Alimar bent down to help Andren up. “It depends on your definition of alright.” As Andren got his feet with their assistance he realized they weren’t alone. Mordack stood a few feet away with what looked to Andren to be an annoyed look on his face. He gestured towards the bewildered cleric. “You see? I kept up my end of the bargain, now keep yours.” Andren looked at his friends. “What’s going on here? Why… wait, where’s my sister?” Andren looked all around him and saw only the shriveled remains of the warrior, and Mordack. A concerned look crept across his face. Locke held his hand out towards Mordack. “Just hold on a minute. We’ll keep our end of the deal but we need just a minute here.”

Andren kept looking around him, and concern quickly started to turn to panic. “WHERE IS MY SISTER?!” Alimar still held on to the groggy cleric, steadying him. "Andren, we got what we needed – the information Highlord Fordring needed. Mordack… allowed us to ask the mirror, but insists that we must leave. Now. But we needed to – "

Andren interrupted, pulling away from Alimar. “I said, where is my sister?” Alimar looked at Norkel beseechingly. After a brief pause, Norkel said “She used the hearthstone to return to Lordaeron. We’re all going to use our stones to return…” Alimar nodded his head emphatically. “Yes, she returned already. We all need to get out of here Andren! Use your stone.” Behind him Andren heard Locke mutter the word “rest” and turned just in time to see the rogue disappear in a flash of blue. The cleric turned back to Alimar and Norkel with a doubtful look. “She went back already? You’re sure?” The druid and fighter looked at each other and nodded as they took their stones out. “We’ve got to go Andren, before it’s too late.” Andren removed the hearthstone from a pouch and looked at it, turning it in his hand. He looked up at Mordack with a steely gaze. “You’ve not seen the last of me.”

He held the stone tightly. “Rest.” With a slight wave of nausea, Andren found himself suddenly in Brighbanner Keep, in the same exact spot he was when he used the hearthstone the first time. Locke stood there, with a slightly nervous expression on his face. Andren looked around, not finding Phaedra anywhere. He started to speak when both Alimar and Norkel appeared in twin flashes of light.

Locke frowned. “Yeah…I’m gonna go find Fordring”. He turned and hastily exited the room.

Andren turned to the other two. “I don’t see Phaedra. How long ago did she use the hearthstone?”

Alimar and Norkel looked at each other for a moment before Norkel spoke. “Andren, we didn’t actually see her use the stone.” Andren grimaced and his face took on a purple hue instead of its normal blue. “What are you saying?” Norkel held up his hands. “I’ll explain. When we defeated the warrior – just barely – Mordack appeared before us suddenly. There we were with you unconscious and the rest of us bleeding and barely standing, and we thought it was going to come to a fight… probably our last, considering our state. But instead he ‘congratulated’ us on ‘passing his tests’ or some such nonsense. He even allowed Locke and I to go to the mirror room and ask the mirror for the answers we needed. When we got back, he told us he was going to allow us to leave but that we had to leave immediately. We told him that we couldn’t do that, and that we had to return the mirror to the king. He refused, clearly having the upper hand, and things became even more tense. You sister was adamant that the mirror be returned and ran to the mirror room.”

Andren snapped at Norkel. “And we just left her there?! Alone?!” The look of rage built on his face and his breathing got heavier.

Alimar put his hand on Andren’s shoulder. “We had to act quickly Andren. When Mordack revived you – yes, Mordack did that – we were all too weak to help you, that’s how bad it was. When he revived you he made it clear that we were running out of time. We KNEW we couldn’t fight him and win.” Alimar looked at Norkel. “We thought Phaedra would just… you know… use her stone… that she would get to the mirror room, realize that it was futile to try to take it and… we thought she would be here waiting for us…”

Andren shook off Alimar’s hand from his shoulder and took a step back. “So you didn’t KNOW she was safe? You told me she was, and let me leave my sister alone in that place, with that… thing.” Andren paused, thinking. After a long moment he continued, making an effort to control his anger. “I am a holy servant of of Naaru. Forgiveness and mercy are the cornerstones of my faith. I… I believe you meant my sister no harm and that you made the best of a dire situation. It’s not the decision I would have made, but it’s not for me to judge you. I must go now… I need to find High Lord Fordring to see if he can send me back.” Andren turned quickly and left the room in search of the High Lord.

Norkel shook his head and shrugged as the cleric rushed from the room, “He must understand that our whole kingdom is in danger, we have all had loses, but there is a greater issue than our personal woes.” With that Norkel followed the cleric in hopes of helping to heal his wounds.

Racing up the spiral staircase that disappeared with each step, Phaedra stopped in front of the mirror. “How do we defeat Mordack?!” She hollered at it, glancing over her shoulder anticipating the fiend’s arrival at any second.

She felt herself getting pulled into the vision the mirror provided. A dark, dank underground room came into view. A beating heart in a glass jar sat alone in the room. “He’s a lich,” Phaedra marveled to herself.

“Finding the answers you seek my dear?” The rasping voice pulled her from the vision. Phaedra turned to see Mordack standing across the room watching her. “No, I haven’t quite finished, thank you”, she said as she unstrapped her shield from her back and pulled it in front of her.

“Your friends have all left for home. You really should join them.”

“Ande would not have left without me.”

“Oh, but he has. Ask the mirror if you don’t believe me,” sneered the lich. “I have no reason to lie to you.” He chuckled menacingly. “Once you have your answer, use your hearthstone… and join him.”

Phaedra turned once again to face the magic mirror. She chewed her lip indecisively, deep in thought. “I have no reason to ask this mirror a question I already know the answer to. My brother is downstairs, with the rest of my companions. Mirror, how do I return you to King Graham?!”

Phaedra once again felt herself being sucked into the vision the mirror provided. She saw the sign of the gift from her Mother blazing on her head. Divine light spilled from the heavens and bathed her in its glow. Phaedra grinned at her reflection in the mirror and then turned to face Mordack. She knew what she had to do.

Steeling herself, she prayed, “Mother, be with me, protect me, guide my blade. If it is your will that I live to see this quest to its completion, then please, Naaru, help me.”

As Phaedra completed her prayer, she pulled Wolf’s Bane from its scabbard. She felt Naaru’s light shining down on her and some of her power returned. Her prayers answered by her goddess, Phaedra stepped forward, “Come Mordack, I believe I have all the answers I was seeking.”

The wizard answered with an eldritch blast, its force knocking her back. She rallied, shield held high as she charged, bringing the sword over the top in a looping strike. The wizard seemed to glow red with rage, and Phaedra just barely dodged a vampiric strike. Then the wizard was on her, clawing at her with primal fury. She struck him, again and again, and finally succeeded in knocking him away.

Mordack stood panting, his wrath evident on his face. Suddenly the wall behind him exploded inward, but the wizard paid no mind. His focus was on Phaedra. “This is not over. You will rue this day.” Then he turned and leapt through the hole in the castle wall.

Phaedra scrambled forward to see Mordack sitting astride a jet-black winged horse. “How does he do that without his skirt riding up?” she wondered idly.

The beast’s eyes glowed red and tiny jets of flame shot from its nostrils as it flapped its wings. Mordack pointed to the paladin. “Return to your lands and your friends, but know this: one day I will be coming for you.” With that, he put his heels to his mount and the nightmare flew up and away.

Phaedra dropped to her knees in exhaustion as she watched Mordack fly off on his black steed. She crawled over to the hole where the spiral staircase had been. “Andren? Are you alright? Locke?” She leaned her head against the wall, every part of her body ached. “I’m up here Ande. I’m stuck, Mordack is gone.”

Everything hurt so much. She shifted her shield into her lap. “The straps are still tight Andren. I remembered to check them. Just like you told me. I do listen,” she mumbled as she let the blackness take her.

Locke headed further into Brightbanner and found the main hall empty save for guards. One of them stopped him from going further. “Hold on recruit; where do you think you’re going?”

“The draenei party has returned from Daventry. We have urgent news for Lord Fordring. Where might I find him?” Locke asked.

The guard looked at Locke. “He is currently meeting with someone. You’re welcome to wait here for him.”

Locke smiled at the guard. “I think I’ll do just that.”

He was still waiting when he heard the thump of large, angry feet coming up the hallway. A second later, Andren limped in to the main hall, his mace dragging behind him leaving a bloody trail along the floor.

“Oh… uh, hey there Andren…“ Locke’s heart was in his stomach, and unfortunately his stomach seemed to be located somewhere below his knees.

With one eye swollen shut, blood still caked on his head and face, and the corner of his shield sheared off, he frowned down at the rogue with a mixture of worry and anger on his face. “Locke.”

His gaze lingered on the rogue for a moment before turning to the guard. “I must speak with High Lord Fordring. It is most urgent.”

Locke looked the cleric over. Andren was still pretty beat up; he was pretty sure he could get away from him if he had to. “I tried that already; he’s in some important meeting. Although busting into it looking like you do would be one hell of a dramatic entrance!” Picturing it he smiled despite himself then hurriedly composed his features before Andren saw him.

After several moments of silence, Locke took a sidelong glance at the cleric. He figured he’d better ask. “So… are Norkel and Alimar still… you know… breathing?”

Andren looked at Locke and shrugged. “They were when I left.”

After a moment he sighed and walked over to a bench and slumped heavily in to it. He placed his shield and mace against the wall and loosened the straps on what was left of his armor. He then leaned back against the wall with a weary look on his face.

“When we were young… before our parents died and we were taken in by Exarch Melius, I had a tendency to… wander. It’s my curiosity you see. No stone un-turned, no tree un-climbed, and I won’t tell you how many animals I brought home to be pets. Meanwhile, I had an oh-so-responsible sister who didn’t want to let me out of her sight because she was so convinced she had to protect me at all times. It was infuriating and I made a game of trying to lose her so I could have some time to myself, exploring. So one day I had gone particularly far from home… in fact… I was lost, and loving it, when I stumbled upon a human village. Now that’s not really a problem, except that a group of boys decided they didn’t like me very much – they called me names, told me to go back where I came from, etc. One of them in particular was older. He was even bigger than me, so he must have been much older. Anyway… he and his friends chased me, and caught up with me, knocked me down. The big one came forward like he wanted to hit me.”

“Now, I never saw it till it was too late, and more importantly, he never saw it at all. A big fist right in the eye. A fist with Phaedra attached to the other end of it. In a split second he was on the ground, with her on top of him pummeling him. After two or three punches he’s crying and screaming at his friends for help. Help! Help! Turns out his friends aren’t such good friends after all since they just stood there wide eyed watching their big tough friend get beat up by a girl. When one of them finally worked up the nerve to step up and try to stop her, she jumped up and came at him too. Terrified, they all turned around and ran off. One good kick sent the big one off as well.”

“It didn’t seem very funny then… maybe because she gave me an earful. But later, and many times since, we laughed about it.”

Andren looked away. “It doesn’t seem so funny now, either. I should have been there for her today.”

Locke ambled over and sat down lightly next to the draenei. “Look, there’s no sense beating yourself up over this. Or anyone else…” Locke paused to see if Andren cracked a smile. He didn’t.

The rogue continued. “See, that warrior, it took everything we had to take him down. You were out, every one of us battered when he fell. It was all we could do to stabilize you; we couldn’t even heal you enough to wake you up. And Mordack was right there waiting for us, taunting us. But he offered to heal you AND let us use the mirror, if we used the stones then and there to leave Daventry. Look, I know it wasn’t ideal.” Locke pulled out the locket he got from the Anderson girl’s ghost. “We left loose ends and promises unfulfilled. But we completed the mission and had a way out.

“Maybe Mordack only offered it because he didn’t want to fight us. Maybe we could have beaten him if we all stayed. But ask yourself; was it worth risking your life for it? Or Alimar’s or Norkel’s? Or Phaedra’s?

“Now think this through with me. We all traveled back; Phaedra didn’t. She certainly could have, maybe should have, but chose to stay. So assume that she confronted Mordack, or vice versa. What are the outcomes?

“If he beats her, all she has to do is grasp the stone and say the word and she’s back here with us. I don’t know her as well as you, but I know she knows her business. If she got into trouble, that’s what she’d do. But she hasn’t.

“So maybe she escaped, or even beat the bugger, against all odds. What does she do then?” He paused to let Andren think about it. “She’d probably grab the mirror, head back to town for the electrum, and take the whole lot back to King Graham. Cursing us all the way, of course, but she’d finish the job. Then she’d come back here.

“So give her a few days. Don’t think about the worst because if she fell, that arse Mordack would have figured out how to let us know about it already. Do what I’ll be doing…” He stood and smacked the cleric on the shoulder. “…enjoying the silence, because she’s going to be bloody insufferable when she gets back!”

Andren nodded, full of doubt, but saw that much of what Locke said made sense. “I hope you’re right Locke. If she does manage to get the mirror and return to King Graham, I won’t be the only getting an earful.”

The Door opened and the Highlord emerged from within a back chamber, followed by a robed figure. He stopped and took notice of Locke and Andren. “Recruits? I do hope you were successful in your mission. Where is the rest of your company?” The Highlord walked to both of them, and stood before them awaiting a response. His cold and militaristic style was very apparent. The robed figure stood a few feet behind him motionless and silent.

Andren stood up when Fordring and his companion entered. “High Lord, we were successful… at a cost. We were separated from my sister Phaedra and we do not know where she is, or her condition. Sir, I request permission to return to Daventry to seek her out. I do not ask for assistance in this matter – just your permission, and the means to travel there.”

Fordring looked at the draenei with confusion at first, as if he was thinking through all the draenei said to him in that brief moment. “You were successful? Wonderful, please tell me what information you acquired.” As the draenei looked at him in confusion, Fordring paused. “Recruit, I am sad to hear that we lost one of the team. However, I did explain that there were certain risks. I am sorry but returning to Daventry is not an option at this point in time. The travel time is several months, and to craft another portal key would take up to a week or more, provided my source has the correct reagents for it. Quell your sadness and know that your sister was lost serving a great a noble cause; the freedom of humanity from the clutches of death. Now, tell me what information you received.”

Andren’s face hardened as Fordring spoke. “I… I see. As to the answer you seek regarding our mission, you will need to ask Locke what he saw as I was unconscious and near death at the time he asked the mirror his question.” Andren gestured towards Locke.

Locke explained the vision he and Norkel saw in the mirror. “And just to be clear, Phaedra was separated from us, not killed, as far as we know. We fully expect her to return here within a few days time.” He nodded towards Andren. “My lord, we are wounded, some of us gravely so. I would suggest a full accounting of our adventures be delayed until we can rest and restore ourselves, with your permission.”

Fordring listened to Locke intently. “Hmmm. The first vision sounds of Stratholme, the once great capital of Lordaeron. If that is where one of the leaders lies, then we should make preparations for an attack immediately. I will place my strategists on it at once. You have done well recruits. Of course, please see to medics and the tavern for some well-deserved rest.” He gestured to the figure beside him. “My friends, this is Master Kothal. He is going to be joining your group. His arcane expertise will come in handy.” He turned back to Locke. “Nice job Locke; see me tomorrow morning; I have something for you.” Fordring turned and made his way back to the planning room.

Andren thought furiously to himself, “Hold on now. I nearly die, my sister may actually BE dead, and LOCKE is the one getting the pat on the back?!?”

After watching Fordring leave, Kothal turned back to the others. “Gentleman, it appears you have been through much. I have been informed briefly of your recent events. Of what assistance may I be currently?”

“Well met Kothal. I am Andren, a servant of Naaru, who you call Morwyn. I am… not at my best at the moment, and may only find what I need in prayer and rest.”

“Don’t let the big lug get you down, Kothal; he’s had a day. He’s usually much more fun. I’m Locke, by the way, recently of Durnholde. Welcome to our merry band.”

He pulled Andren aside and spoke quietly. “Fordring’s right; we need rest. Get yourself together and let’s talk tomorrow. If Phaedra’s not back by week’s end, we’ll come up with a plan to go get her.”

Andren nodded and smiled appreciatively at Locke. “Thank you my friend. I am sure you are right about her, but until I know she is safe, I’m going to worry. I am going to go in search of a medic, and some rest.” With that, Andren shuffled off.

Locke watched him go, then turned to Kothal. “So, there’s a pretty good tavern in the castle town. What say we find Norkel and Alimar and go have ourselves a drink? You don’t happen to play dice by any chance, do you?

“Merriment is not something I’ve often had, it will likely be a welcomed change. I’ve books to tend to unless I can be otherwise helpful. Or perhaps better yet, I may find somewhere to sample the local beverages.”

“Oh, a scholar, eh? Perhaps while sampling said beverages, I can educate you on the various permutations of six-sided solids. Ones are wild.” Locke ushered Kothal back towards the room where he left Norkel and Alimar, explaining the rules of various dicing games as they went.

“Hmm polyhedral trinkets? I prefer cards myself, perhaps I’ll teach you a thing or two about them when you have finished. For the meantime however, please proceed. You have my attention.”

Locke awoke in night and realized that the locket he’d received from the spirit was now around his neck. Try as he might he could not remove it. Other than that nothing seemed to be out of place. “Well, at least I won’t lose it”, he thought groggily before falling back into an ale-induced slumber.


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