Spoiler: Chapter 18: Camp Trollstank

Tam instituted a few minor changes to the system’s rules at the start of this session. Reloading times for crossbows have increased: it now takes a half action to reload a light crossbow (previously a free action) and a full action to reload a heavy crossbow (previously a half action), but to balance this out, both get a significant boost in damage. Additionally, when ranged combatants are attacked by someone wielding a melee weapon, the attacker now gets an advantage. Miaoyu, liking her shoot-and-run tactics, switches out her crossbow for a regular bow (although she swaps out its string for the unicorn hair bowstring she was using with the crossbow), and Flynn lends her his rapier, as he has little use for it.

As the party prepares to move onto Brand, Miaoyu gathers them up at the clubhouse table. “We should talk about what we want to do with this egg. We shouldn’t just do nothing.”

“I assume you have a suggestion?” Olaf asks.

“We could use the anti-magic shard. Either smash the egg open with the shard or bury them together.”

Olaf nods thoughtfully. “Well, let’s go back to the cove—”

“Actually,” Miaoyu says, reaching into her pocket. “I have it here.” She holds the shard out to Olaf. He glares at her and snatches it out of her palm.

“You brought it back with you? Well then what did we leave at the cave?”

“An empty jar.”

“And here I trusted you,” he snaps.

Miaoyu shrugs and turns back to the rest of the group. “Alternatively, we could put it on another plane. Maybe give it to the Mother of Dragons?” She glances at Aelron.

Aelron ponders it for a moment. “Just getting to her—whatever plane she's on—would be difficult. Even if we could manage it, I don’t know if she would take this. It already belongs to a different god.”

They brainstorm for a while, trying to think of some other satisfactory resolution, but get nowhere.

“I guess I should be upfront about this,” Miaoyu says. “If we don’t do anything now, that’s fine, but when that thing hatches, I’m sundering its fate. And this isn’t up for debate. It might kill me, but I’m doing it.”

“You’re willing to die for this?” Flynn asks. “Why?”

Miaoyu rolls her eyes. “It’s almost like I worship the god of defying fate.”

Flynn raises an eyebrow. “Yeah, but this seems a little extreme, even for you.”

Miaoyu just shrugs.

Aelron muses quietly: “You know, I have to wonder what would happen if you tried to sunder the fate of something quite that tightly wrapped in prophecy.”

“Does it matter?” Miaoyu asks.

“Well, it could. Imagine for a moment wrapping this egg,” he holds up the sunstone egg, a glittering gem nearly the size of his own head, “in layer after layer after layer of silk. Wrap it tightly so there's no slack in the fabric and it can't escape. Tie it with several sheets and suspend it in the air. Now, cut all the fabric at once. What happens?”

“It... falls?” Olaf guesses.

“Silk everywhere,” Flynn supplies. “Snarled and wound and probably knotted.”

Aelron nods. “The egg will be dropped immediately out of fate's web, but what happens to that web which was bound so tightly about it? All that potential energy has to go somewhere. I'm guessing there would be quite a bit of backlash, though I have no idea what form it would take.”

“I’m doing it,” Miaoyu repeats.

“Warn us first, please,” Aelron says quietly.

The party soon drifts off after that, finishing their packing. Aelron takes possession of the egg, and Olaf wraps his red arm in bandages, binding the anti-magic metal to his arm. The next morning sees them back on the road, headed to Brand.

That first evening, while on watch, Seeker notices a strange scent on the air: something searing and acidic. He sniffs carefully, trying to sort it out. It takes a moment, but finally he discerns two scents: one the sickly sweet of rotting flesh, the other the pungent bite of sulfuric vapor. He peers around, wracking his brains; this isn't like anything HE's ever smelled before. He moves back to the center of camp and nudges Olaf awake.

Olaf lunges upright with a mumbled “Who 'zer?” and a feeble swing of a dagger.

Seeker puts a finger to his lips. “Smell that?” he asks.

Olaf looks up at Seeker, tests the wind with his nose, and stands. “That is awful. What IS that?”

As if in answer, two hulking creatures lumber into the dim firelight. They're each between seven and eight feet tall, and appear to be large, bloated corpses. It looks—and smells—like someone killed a frost troll, and then animated its corpse, and then had that corpse run around decaying and putrefying in the noonday sun. Pustules, gaping holes in flesh... it's not pretty. And it reeks clear to the dome of the sky.

Seeker lets out a howl that startles the rest of the party awake. Everyone scrambles for their weapons and springs into battle. Aelron and Hhon-Harn peel off to fight one monster, while Olaf, Miaoyu, and Flynn focus on the other. Seeker, as always, stands in the center and lays down a Circle of Protection. Keegan scrambles away from the combat zone and hides near the horses.

“They’re some kind of undead,” Aelron calls over his shoulder as he whirls his staff to keep it between himself and the... shambling thing. “Not ghouls. Rot trolls, I think. Servants of Ashur.”

It turns out that killing a god’s followers and desecrating his altar makes a god cranky. Who knew?

Miaoyu opens the fight with a crit on one of the trolls and the others pepper the trolls with damage. One of the trolls sucks in a huge breath and lets it out as a noxious gas. Everyone has to roll a fortitude save—only Flynn and Aelron succeed, and how does the damn mage with a +0 toughness keep making these rolls, anyway?—and those who fail lose a half action until they either make the save or move out of the gas.

Aelron and Seeker both immediately cast Friendly Wind. Aelron keeps his blowing in his troll’s face to keep it from using its breath weapon again and Seeker simply clears out a patch of untainted air for the rest of the group to stand in.

Unfortunately, around this time the party realizes that the trolls are regenerating. None too surprising: trolls traditionally can only be damaged by fire or acid. Aelron takes this as his cue to break out Burning Hands, but the other part of the group has to settle on just holding out until he’s no longer preoccupied; Olaf's Combusti-Bull horns have been rendered useless by the anti-magic shard he carries, and Seeker doesn't have any fire spells prepared.

Aelron follows up his Burning Hands spell by punching the troll before him. The troll glances down, confused, only to find Aelron smiling beatifically as he withdraws his hand from the pus-oozing wound he forced it into, leaving behind a spell-grenade half-embedded in the creature's flesh. Aelron himself has fire resistance and so suffers no harm when the spell detonates savagely, but Hhon-Harn wasn't prepared. She gets more than a little singed, but bears through it stoically. She takes a brave swing at the troll and lands a crit—only to roll a natural one on damage. It was a valiant effort, though.

It’s around this time that a troll lands a crit on Olaf for 20 damage. This is also the moment that Miaoyu and Seeker both become dedicated healers; because Olaf is holding the antimagic shard, their healing is reduced by 10 points or 50%—whichever is more, so it requires both of them just to keep him barely in the positives.

Keegan starts panicking; between the suddenness of the attack, the noxious fumes, the gouts of flame strobe-lighting the night, and Olaf's grunts of pain, he can't take it anymore. He grabs his horse, Booky, and takes off.

The battle continues on for a while longer. Aelron grimly barbeques his troll while Flynn and Olaf chip away at theirs, Seeker and Miaoyu play medics, and Friendly Winds gust around and change direction every so often. Eventually, Aelron’s troll collapses into an ashen heap and ceases trying to regenerate.

The other troll goes down... but doesn’t quite die. Its pieces keep skittering back together, and it’s at this point that we learn that all of the trolls' hit points need to be depleted by fire damage in order to kill them. Aelron grabs a torch and begins beating the mostly-subdued troll pieces into embers while Olaf, still venting excess wrath, continues hacking them apart whenever they try to reassemble into something dangerous. Olaf eventually has the idea of stabbing the still-wriggling pieces with the anti-magic shard, which does in fact kill some of them. Between the two of them, the troll remains are in for a rough night.

Trusting that the situation is under control, Flynn and Miaoyu leave to find Keegan. He hasn’t gone far, but he’s flushed with embarrassment for running.

“It’s okay to be afraid,” Flynn tells Keegan. “Fear is just your body's way of telling you that it thinks something is a horrible idea.”

“Running isn’t bad,” Miaoyu adds. “Sometimes it’s the best you can do.”

It’s around this time that it’s agreed that Hhon-Harn should get a share of experience so she can continue being useful to the group. To commemorate this, Olaf collects himself, pats her on the shoulder, and says “Good job, friend.”

Once Keegan, Flynn, and Miaoyu return, camp is moved. It’s during this move that Olaf realizes that an old totem that Aelron gave him broke. The small chunk of enchanted marble gave Olaf an extra two hit points, which had been recorded on his character sheet; its effect should have been lost when he took up the anti-magic shard. He forgot about it, though, and thus, when the error was discovered, it was deemed that the amulet shattered under a hit from the troll, its magic intervening just enough to save Olaf's life as it crumbled.

Unfortunately, even after the party has moved camp, the smell of the trolls does not diminish. Instead, the party gets to enjoy the lingering, sickly-sweet reek of putrefying flesh. No amount of scrubbing, Prestidigitating or clothes-changing can remove or even mask it. The stink is thoroughly embedded in the party's collective hides, and refuses to come out.

Seeker takes a moment to cast Diagnose on each party member, and finds that Flynn and Olaf have been infected with a disease that will necrotize their flesh. Seeker heals Flynn immediately, but Olaf refuses to let him attempt it.

Seeker's disease removal tool, for those who may not remember, is a divine spell granted to him by Larlon. In order to use it, Seeker has to sacrifice 3d6 reserve hit points. After the battle, which drained him, and after curing Flynn, Seeker is nearly in danger of dying from another casting. Olaf, still under the effects of the anti-magic, will be resistant to even friendly spells cast upon him; risking Seeker's life when they aren't even sure the spell will work, with Olaf in no immediate danger (Olaf's definition of danger, anway), strikes Olaf as a terrible idea.

“If you try to heal me,” Olaf asserts vehemently, “I will stab you. I’m dead serious! I don’t want you to waste your magic until I know it can affect me. If any of my arms DO necrotize and fall off in the night, Aelron can regrow them for me.”

Aelron, also drained from the fight, looks up with a vaguely bemused expression, but says nothing. Reluctantly, Seeker backs off and agrees to wait until morning. Olaf passes his anti-magic to Hhon-Harn for safe keeping.

Flynn has seemed a little more sullen than usual since the battle finished, and he insists on taking the rest of night’s watch himself. The smell from the trolls seems to have stirred up bad memories; he knows he won’t get any sleep.

In the morning, Olaf finds himself once again receptive to magic, and Seeker heals him before Olaf takes the anti-magic back.

Soon, the party is out on the road once again. Travel is rather uneventful until two days later when they see, in the distance, a towering column of black smoke. Fearing that a town has been attacked by raiders, the party hurries towards it. Sure enough, the source of the smoke turns out to be the still-burning husk of a small village. The ground is littered with corpses and splattered with blood, but other than hoofprints there are no immediate signs of the aggressors. The party splits up; Aelron puts out as many fires as possible, Olaf looks for more information about the raiders, Flynn and Seeker look for survivors, and Miaoyu makes a general sweep of the area. Before long, the party regroups, and Olaf breaks down what he thinks happened:

“My clan usually leaves townspeople alive when we go raiding,” he explains, “but if this clan was more violent or if the villagers fought back, it could explain why they killed everyone off. It looks like the raiders lost a couple of people, and once they finished pillaging, they took off, headed south. If we start going now, we might be able to catch up with them.”

“Do you want me to scout ahead?” Miaoyu asks, but Olaf shakes his head.

“If we wait for that, we might lose them. Let’s head out now.”

So head out our heroes do. A couple of hours' hard riding later, they come to a tall bluff overlooking the sea. A tiny footpath snakes down the face of the bluff to a beautiful, secluded sandy beach. And wouldn’t you know it, dragged up into that sand sits a big longship with a swarm of Dhar (a pillage of Dhar? Remind me to ask Olaf about that...) gathered around it, moving goods from a pile on the beach into the ship with the quick and easy efficiency of long experience.

Olaf decides now is the time for decisive action. Before anyone can object, he is rolling Athletics checks to, in three quick leaps from rock outcropping to rock outcropping, descend the cliff in a single round and stand before the other Dhar on the beach. It’s only when the raiders turn and draw their swords with easy confidence that he realizes he's made a big mistake.

See, Tam has two types of counters for enemies: smooth, round red tokens, which he usually uses to denote level 0 enemies, and jagged, angular red tokens usually used on special opponents, people level 1 and over. In this group of Dhar, there were two jagged tokens and the rest were smooth, so Olaf’s player assumed all the round tokens were level 0 and that he would have free actions against them. Had that been true, he would easily have been able to cut a swathe through them while the rest of the party supported him from above.

He was wrong.

These raiders are, in fact, all at least level one. All twenty-plus of them. And they swing smoothly into action, six of them shoving their weight against the longship to begin inching it out into the surf while the rest crowd around Olaf. One of them manages to introduce Olaf to his lovely, well-crafted sword in the first round. Olaf decides he might have misjudged his enemy and scrambles up the cliff to put some distance between himself and his enemies. By that time, the raiders have noticed the rest of the party at the top of the cliff. One, standing on the foredeck of the ship, casts a spell at the rest of the party. The air around them turns chill; moisture in the air condenses into shards of ice that whirl, jagged-edged, all around them; and the ground underfoot grows slick with ice. (“Hey!” says Aelron's player. “That's MY spell!”) It is indeed Winterfall, which means that this caster can natively hit second-level spells.

Oh dear.

The party scrambles away to a slightly warmer patch of air and start showering the raiders with arrows, spells, and the occasional insult. Seeker works to intercept the raider mage’s spells, but that only mitigates some of the attacks raining down on the party. Hhon-Harn takes a couple heavy hits from various ranged weapons and decides she’d rather go for a nice jog in a not-here direction. The raiders have taken to hurrying into the ship, abandoning their horses and cargo. Aelron charges Flynn’s arrow with an explosive, but Flynn overshoots and it goes off harmlessly to the side of the ship. Seeing that the raiders will be leaving soon, Flynn grabs an arrow from Miaoyu’s quiver and marks it, showing it to Miaoyu before he shoots it into the mast of the ship—just in case they want to find it later.

By this time most of the Dhar, having no immediate targets on the beach, have scrambled back aboard their ship. The last one left—a muscled young woman with blond pigtails protruding from under her skullcap and a wicked grin plastered across her face to match the wickedly sharp hand axes she carries—leaps onto the ship's retreating prow and, holding on one-handed, swings round to hurl one of the axes at Olaf, clipping him on the shoulder. She laughs and waves her remaining handaxe at him.

“You can keep that one!” she calls.

“I’ll return it to you someday,” Olaf shouts, waving a bronze dagger back at her.

She laughs again, but doesn't get to say much else; an eldritch bolt strikes her in the chest, sending her tumbling backward onto the longship's deck. Whether she survived the hit is not for the party to know; the ship pulls away rather swiftly, and even with the height advantage of those on the bluff, no one can see her rise before they are well out of range.

The party sets about looking through the raided goods, but doesn’t find much worth salvaging. They gather up the horses—a total of twenty-four in addition to their own small herd—and return to the village. They dig a mass grave and Seeker performs a funeral rite, and they press on.

That evening, Olaf sees a number of soldiers approaching, looking to be on routine patrol. He stands and greets their commanding officer.

“Be careful,” the officer warns. “There’s word of a group of raiders around here. We’ve been sent to check it out.” The officer’s eyes flick suspiciously towards their obnoxious herd of horses, and Olaf hurries to put his worries at ease.

“We ran into them, actually. They raided a village west of here. Killed them all. Two hundred villagers. We followed them to their boat to deliver them justice, but they got away. We took their horses. I hate to sound crass but... is there any way we could collect a reward?”

The officer hums thoughtfully for a moment. “Tell you what: I’ll write out something for you. Bring those horses to the guard captain in Brandt, and if our investigation bears out your story, she’ll compensate you. Can’t make any promises, though; those horses are evidence.”

It’s more than what Olaf was hoping for, so he agrees and the captain pulls out a sheaf of paper to write something down in the dim firelight. He passes it to Olaf. “Anything else?” he asks.

Olaf considers waking Miaoyu to see if she can get anything from the arrow Flynn fired, but decides against it. Worshiping Gilgadar is perfectly legal, and her divine magic could probably be reasonably passed off as arcane besides, but he decides he’d rather not take any chances.

“No,” he says. “I just hope you catch those bastards.”

The party continues on to Brandt for the next few days... and the rotting smell just won’t fade. The party tries a few magic tricks, bathing in streams, rolling around in dirt, but nothing works. At one point, Olaf strips down and scrubs himself with Scuzzbucket, even letting it eat his hair. Surprisingly, it’s a success. His skin is left rather raw and pink, but he doesn’t smell like death anymore. When he unwraps his arm, though, he finds something of a surprise: a hole has formed where the hid the antimagic, and the flesh surrounding it has turned ashen.

After a bit of a shock, Olaf takes it in stride. “Just one more day,” he reminds himself, and scrubs his arm with Scuzzbucket before rewrapping it with the antimagic back in place.

The next day, the party arrives in Brandt. Olaf immediately sets about looking for someone to take their excess horses and gets well-acquainted with bureaucracy. The others find themselves a nice bathhouse in one more attempt to rid themselves of that horrible, rotting smell.

Seeker does a bit of shopping in the rich district—for doggie shampoo. He finds a nice boutique and a salesman who’s happy to help him find shampoo that’s guaranteed to make his fur silky and get that horrible troll-stench out of his fur. Seeker politely declines the salesman’s ‘alternative’ services and proceeds to destinkify before going on to his other errands.

Miaoyu and Flynn both head to the poor district, but end up parting ways before long. Flynn seeks out a poker game to get a bit of pocket change and local rumors.

Miaoyu heads over to a local tavern called The Bottomless Mug, where she’s promptly greeted by the bartender. “Have you heard about our Bottomless Mug policy?” When Miaoyu shakes her head, he pushes a mug into her hands. “On the house,” he says.

She lifts the mug to take a sip—and finds it literally bottomless. The bartender bursts out laughing. “Gets them every time.” Miaoyu chuckles and gives the bartender a high five, and he passes her a real mug of ale this time. “So what brings you here?” he asks after she’s had a few sips.

“I’m looking for my ex. Have you seen an angry, purple elf? Goes by the name of Tsarae?”

The bartender’s face drops. “Oh. Her.” He jerks his thumb at the hallway behind him, leading to the inn’s rooms. “Second door on the left. Knock, then duck.”

Miaoyu gets up from her place at the bar and follows the bartender’s instructions, stepping carefully to the side after rapping on the door. The door opens and a dagger flies out, sinking into the wall beyond and then quivering there. A small elf with dark purple skin and a long, pale braid pokes her head out after a moment and catches sight of Miaoyu. “Oh,” she sighs, and gestures her inside. Miaoyu grabs the knife and follows.

This particular elf is a cave elf, a subrace of elves that live in the wilds of the Underdark (though they shouldn’t be confused with dark elves). They tend to be small in stature and have blue or purple skin tones; cave wolfmen are big, and more closely resemble bears than wolves. They’re semi-nomadic and are one of two subraces that have a cooperative relationship with their wolfmen, the other being low elves. Although they’re rare to see on the surface, they don’t face quite the same stigma a drow would: they have a significantly less sinister reputation, even if they’re a little less friendly than their surface-dwelling cousins—not to say that surface elves are the most outgoing lot.

“The wolves were a bust,” Tsarae says with a heavy sigh as she collapses onto her bed.

“Oh,” says Miaoyu stiffly. “Sorry.” Tsarae shrugs and the two endure a few seconds of awkward silence.

“So... want to stop a prophecy?”

“Depends. I....” Suddenly, Tsarae steps close and inhales deeply.

“Did—Did you just smell me?” Miaoyu stammers, then collects herself. “Oh. Yeah, we were attacked by some rot trolls.”

Tsarae pulls back, shaking her head. “Soap isn’t going to cover it up. C’mon, let’s go dunk you in the bay.”

Miaoyu considers it for a moment. “Okay.”

“And I’m putting fish heads down your shirt, too,” Tsarae adds as they leave.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party is conducting their own affairs. Aelron has headed up to the richer portions of the city to acquire a set of scented soaps and some nice cologne; he finds a lovely scent, stored in a hefty crystal bottle that could probably double as an improvised weapon. Practical and aromatic! After washing up—and feeling human for the first time in nearly a WEEK, thank you very much—he finds a jeweler and purchases a large, well-cut ruby with which to upgrade his staff. That in hand, he heads back to the inn to start enchanting.

Seeker, once he’s finished with a luxurious bath, also does more shopping. He goes to an elven silk weaver for some spell components: he plans to cast a divination spell on the amulet he recovered from the augur. Of course, he’s a wolfman going into a shop run by elves; it could end badly. Taking a deep breath, he ducks into the weaver’s shop, and rolls a reaction check. Fortunately, he does pretty well and the woman attending the shop maintains a polite demeanor, despite a slightly stiffer spine. Seeker gets the silk he needs and scurries quickly back to the inn.

Olaf, having defeated the evil forces of bureaucracy and acquired a bit of money for his efforts, sets about trying to find a talented blacksmith in Brandt. He meets a dwarven blacksmith named Lod and he shows her the shard of anti-magic metal. “You do specialty work, right?” he asks, and she looks over the chunk of metal, weighing it in her hands thoughtfully before nodding.

“Should be possible,” she answers in a thick accent. “I will contact you when it’s complete.” Olaf leaves her a hefty sum for “half now”, promising to pay yet another hefty sum later, when the shard has been integrated into a weapon, and is promptly shooed away. He leaves Lod to her work without asking a time estimate; he can see, with crystal clarity, the words ‘you cannot rush perfection' lurking behind her eyes.

Flynn, meanwhile, has been having a successful day of gambling. Not only has he been pulling in some decent cash, he’s been drawing out some interesting rumors from his gambling partners. People have been talking quite a bit about an ‘unending horde’ coming from the east and refugees fleeing ahead of it. Whenever Flynn tries to get to the source of the rumors, though, he’s told that they heard it from ‘a cousin of a friend of my sister’ or something similar.

At the bay, Miaoyu is learning several new things. 1) The bay is cold; 2) It’s also kind of disgusting; 3) Tsarae wasn’t joking about putting fish heads down her shirt.

“Did you have fun?” Miaoyu asks as she shakes out the fish heads and wrings out her shirt.

“You smell different now,” Tsarae announces. “Not better, but different. Like nature.”

“No,” Miaoyu disagrees, “Different is better. Anything's better than 'eau de death'.” Miaoyu spends a few moments trying and failing to get water out of her sopping clothes, then gives up. “So. Want to punch some Hurocs?”

“It’s not like I’ve got anything else going on,” Tsarae reasons.

“Great. I should introduce you to the others.” Tsarae makes an unethusiastic sound, but Miaoyu continues. “We’ve got two humans, a half-elf who’s on fire but not really, and a wolfman. Don’t worry, he’s nice,” Miaoyu adds at Tsarae’s ever-falling expression, “he likes to be scratched behind the ears.”

“They all like to be scratched behind the ears.”

“Really? Well, don’t worry. You might like Flynn. He’s an archer and... he gambles?”

Tsarae huffs. “I guess it could be worse.”

“That’s what I said!” Miaoyu agrees. “Come on, I’ll introduce you.”

And that’s how they find Olaf drinking at the tavern. He squints at Tsarae as she and Miaoyu sit down.

“You’re purple,” he observes.

“You’re not drunk enough,” Tsarae replies. “You can still discern color.”

Olaf narrows his eyes at Tsarae. “You wouldn’t happen to be one of those good-for-nothing, lousy, lying, spells-don’t-work Gilgadarites, would you?”

Tsarae gives Olaf a cool smile. “No.”

Olaf stares at her suspiciously and thinks hard. Well… she’s purple. Purple isn’t a Gilgadarite color, is it? Actually, he’s fairly sure Miaoyu said something about purple being completely un-Gilgadarian. Yeah.

Satisfied that this new, purple woman is being completely honest, Olaf turns back to his ale. Tsarae reaches over the bar, ignoring the bartender’s protests, and starts mixing up a drink, topping it off with something from a vial she pulls from her pocket. She slides it over to Olaf.

Olaf picks up the mug, but doesn’t drink from it, a suspicious look crossing his face.

“Don’t worry,” Tsarae says when he glances at her. “It probably won’t kill you.”

After a moment of contemplation, Olaf decides not to accept drinks from random purple people and puts the drink down, returning to his ale. After a moment’s thought, he pours some on Scuzzbucket; the poor little guy deserves to get smashed, too.

Tsarae shrugs and grabs the mug back, downing it in a single draw. She waves off Miaoyu’s concerned glance. “Cave elves are immune to poison.”

At that time, Seeker returns from his shopping trip and freezes when he sees another elf seated at the bar. Miaoyu waves him in. “You can unfreeze.”

Seeker reluctantly steps forward, extending a paw. “I’m Seeker. Purifier of Larlon.”

Tsarae gives him a once over. “A mage?” she says, a bit of scorn in her voice.

Seeker tilts his head. “What else would I be?”

Tsarae scoffs and turns away, but Seeker is nearly elated. “That might be the best conversation I’ve had with an elf in... a long time,” he mutters as he takes a seat next to Olaf.

By this time, Olaf has reached a new height in drunkness, and most of the other patrons, bartender included, have begun to move away from the dangerous loonies. Olaf begins sobbing over the deaths of the villagers; Miaoyu and Seeker try to reassure him, but he seems inconsolable with all the wonderful stubbornness of drunken oblivion.

Eventually, Flynn returns from his gambling and Aelron comes downstairs for a bite to eat, but they agree to postpone any decision-making until the next day; Olaf is far too drunk for any proper discussion. Tsarae is thoroughly unimpressed by Aelron, but finds Flynn almost acceptable. Seeker returns to his room to cast his divination spell.

The next day, the party reconvenes (after taking any necessary hangover cures). Other patrons are still avoiding them. Seeker draws himself up to begin speaking, but the party notices something off about his stance.

“I cast the spell last night,” he says. “I got results and I....” He holds up a scrap of paper for a moment, then passes it to Aelron. “I got glimpses of three moments, the most recent first.” Aelron reads it, then passes it onto the next person until the whole party has had a chance to read it (sans Tsarae, who reads over Miaoyu’s shoulder). It goes as follows:

1) Seeress – ‘Ah, the wolf has arrived. I should test them.’
2) Seeress – ‘Just what I need. Kurush will be pleased.’
3) Alfirin – ‘I hate him!’

The party extends their sympathies but Seeker pushes on. “We need to deal with the Huroc first,” he reasons. He glances at Tsarae. “I guess we should bring you up to speed. Aelron, if you’ll show her—” He stops when Olaf catches his eye and shakes his head slowly. “Um. Nevermind?”

Miaoyu rolls her eyes. “We have a sun dragon egg that’s supposed to hatch. It’s part of the prophecy.” Olaf shoots her a glare.

“Then why don’t we smash it?” Tsarae asks.

“That’s what I said!” Miaoyu exclaims. When Tsarae stands—presumably to acquire the egg and proceed to the smashing—Miaoyu adds, “But I was sort of outvoted.” Aelron has gone tense, one hand stealing toward his staff, but no one seems to have noticed, barring possibly Tsarae.

Tsarae slides back in her chair. “Oh, so you’re still ‘discussing’ things. I told you, sometimes things need to get done.”

Olaf stands, his chair clattering to the floor. “You know what? I’m sick of this. I’m going to fulfill the prophecy. I don’t even care anymore. What do I have to lose?”

“Them?” Tsarae says, gesturing to the rest of the party.

Olaf falters for a moment and Seeker takes advantage of his hesitation. “We need you. You’re clever and strong.”

Miaoyu seems to shake herself out of a daze. “You’ve saved us a lot of times.”

Olaf scoffs. “There’s not a single thing there that a two-bit mercenary couldn’t do. What use am I?”

Tsarae digs around in her pockets for a moment and tosses a coin out onto the table. “Well, there’s a bit. Does anyone have another? We can hire a mercenary and be done with it.”

Seeker gives the coin a skeptical look. “I don’t think we can hire a mercenary for that much,” he says.

Tsarae shrugs. “He must be worth more than two bits, then.”

“Oh, let’s just be done with this pep-talk party already,” Flynn cuts in. “I’m glad you’re finally taking the time to reflect and actually think through your actions and character and all that—really, I am—but when you’re done wallowing and remember what you’re really like and driven to do, let me know and we can move on. In the meantime, let me just say this: If you don’t like who you’ve been, be better.”

Then Flynn stands and leaves the tavern, and the rest of the party falls quiet for a bit. Olaf slides back into his chair.

A moment passes and Seeker stands, coming around to Olaf’s side of the table. “I’ve been thinking,” he says. “What if we don’t try to mess with the Huroc? What if we get evidence that they’re here? We can unite Drougant!”

Something lights up in Olaf’s eyes and he leaps to his feet. “Let’s be heroes!” he agrees, and he and Seeker begin talking excitedly until Flynn returns some time later.

“You still moping?” he asks Olaf as he unrolls a map. Olaf shakes his head; he's ready for action. “Oh, good,” Flynn says coolly. “I have information.”

The map shows the eastern portions of nominally-Drouganti land. There's a relatively narrow band of arable terrain that runs east-to-west between a set of mountains to the north and the Peri Sea to the south. Two rivers run from the mountains to the sea, one originating well to the west of its eventual destination, the other running almost directly north-to-south. There aren't many towns marked out on this map; most of Drougant's actual civilization is built up to the west. The easternmost river, the north-to-south one, marks the nominal edge of Drouganti territory; beyond is a vast land claimed by both the nation of Aurebesk and the Kingdom of Drougant, but policed and patrolled by neither.

Flynn runs his finger along the northern mountains, pausing on Demonsbreath Pass. “The north is calm, no word of Huroc there. All I've heard is that the Fey in the area are quiet. If that seeress can be believed, the Huroc are coming from here.” He points at the eastern no-man's-land beyond the river. “Let’s look along here and see if we can find anything to bring back.”

Tsarae leans over to look at the map. “I’ll look along here,” she says, indicating the northern section of the area Flynn pointed out.

“Makes sense,” Seeker says. “You two can find each other, right?” Miaoyu nods and Tsarae straightens.

“We can meet back here on the first of the third month. I’ll head out now,” she says and turns to leave.

“Take care of yourself,” Miaoyu calls after her.

Arrangements are made quickly: Olaf and Flynn commission a ship to sail the party to the east a ways and also provide passage back. Olaf also arranges for Hhon-Harn, Keegan, and their horses to stay in Brandt for a month and return to Hangtree if the party takes longer than that to return. He also pays shipping and handling to Lod, should it take her longer than a month to forge his anti-magic dagger.

Before long, the party has gathered onto the ship and set sail to try and find the Huroc.

Another chapter from the backlog! We promise to try to get the others up ASAP! We've got fun things in store for you all.