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    Pixie in the Playground
     
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    Default Chapter 21: The Fall of Hollowchest

    Spoiler: Chapter 21: The Fall of Hollowchest
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    Olaf approaches Alderik and his officers boldly, staring Alderik down. “I have received a vision from an augur of Kurush,” he says, and begins to unwrap the bandages from his arm.

    “Oh, no,” Miaoyu murmurs from outside the tent. “No, Olaf, no, no, no...”

    “I am meant to bring you to a fleet of ships and lead you to your promised land. But I need more time to secure my fleet—and I need you to buy it by destroying the Aurbeski army!” At this he raises his red right arm and Alderik’s eyes, which had previously been only mildly interested, light up with excitement.

    “I recognize the mark of Kurush,” Alderik intones solemnly. Then he breaks into a wide grin, unslings his massive double-headed axe, and holds it high above his head, almost tearing another hole in the tent's roof. “We attack at dawn!” he crows. The Huroc in the tent cheer and Alderik turns to Olaf. “Will you join us in battle, brother?”

    Olaf rushes to bury his panic at the question and says the only thing he can: “Of course!”

    “Dammit, Olaf!” Miaoyu hisses.

    For the moment there's nothing she can do for him directly; Alderik is hollering for servants and wenches, and his officers are gathering around Olaf to observe the sign of Kurush's favor. Resolving to come back later once the others are done satisfying their curiosity, she hurries off to find the communal stew pot. She casually saunters up for a bowl of stew and stirs in the rat poison she purchased way back in chapter 5. Exactly how effective it will be when diluted is questionable, but a certain party member who will remain unnamed didn’t exactly give her the chance to get the fancy poison, so it’ll have to do.

    Meanwhile, Alderik has gotten started on the standard pre-battle procedures: “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.”

    Olaf, ever so burdened by that particular mandate, joins in. The festivities are going smoothly and he’s enjoying an ale near a bonfire, when Alderik suddenly lunges. Not at him, though, but a small woman behind him. Alderik pulls Miaoyu nearly off of her feet and into the fire light.

    "Who are you?" he demands.

    Before Miaoyu can stammer out a reply, Olaf cuts in: “No, no, it’s cool. She’s—she’s my spy.”

    "Spy?" Alderik echoes, his expression turning even more severe.

    "No, it’s okay. She’s lucky. Really lucky. I met her—you won’t believe this—I met her while tracking a bull, of all things. She can find anything. I sent her to go look for weaknesses. So… anything to report?"

    "Um… well, the fires are very bright. Someone could get… noticed," Miaoyu squeaks.

    "Right, but maybe you should check out the enemy camp, like I told you."

    This is, apparently, convincing enough for Alderik, and he releases Miaoyu and returns to his drink. Miaoyu hurries over to Olaf and they step away from the quickly-resuming party to speak privately.

    "What are you doing here?" Olaf demands quietly. "You need to warn the Aurbeski!"

    "I know," Miaoyu snaps. "I was trying to sneak you these." She presses three small braids into his hand: the healing braids that Seeker makes for the group.

    "Thanks," Olaf says as he pockets them. "Now get out of here. I’ll try to sabotage the Huroc."

    Miaoyu sighs. "Just don’t screw up."

    "I think I already have."

    "Don’t screw up more.” She puts a hand on his shoulder. “We’ll miss you."

    Olaf gives Miaoyu one of his trademark smirks, glancing to her bow. “Please do.”

    Miaoyu rolls her eyes and departs for the Aurbeski camp. Olaf returns to Alderik's side with a big grin plastered on his face. “Qen! They pretend to be all law and order, but they’d give up their grandmother for a few coins.” Alderik laughs along with Olaf, and the celebration continues as if Miaoyu's intrusion had never occurred.

    Miaoyu makes it out of the Huroc camp without trouble and manages to travel the eight miles to the Aurbeski camp in two hours. When a patrol spots her, she holds up her hands to show she is not immediately armed and is ‘greeted’ by a pair of over-caffeinated guards.

    "What do you want?!" One of the guards says, keeping a crossbow trained on her.

    "I’m here to warn you that the Huroc are going to attack you tomorrow?"

    That’s enough to earn the guards’ attention and Miaoyu is escorted to the captain of the guard to explain herself.

    "Right," says a tired-looking captain. "Given that you’re an outsider, will you take the Oath of Turmlar?"

    "Yes," Miaoyu says, and casts the orison (for the first time in the campaign) before commencing her report. "I was spying on the Hurocs and this little Dhar man with a red arm walked in and started talking about a prophecy to bring the Hurocs to their promised land, but he needed them to attack you guys. Anyway, they’re going to attack at dawn, I poisoned their stew, and, also, they might have a dragon…."

    At that, the captain very slowly lowers his pen and puts down the sheet of parchment he was taking notes on. “Well, this is above my pay grade. I’m going to take you to one of the generals. She’s not going to appreciate being woken up, so don’t mess around.”

    Moments later, a bleary-eyed general is glaring at Miaoyu. “So that is this about?”

    "Okay, so I was spying on the Huroc…." And Miaoyu proceeds to explain it all to her. The general takes the information in grimly and only bats an eyelash when Miaoyu starts giving her directions to the egg.

    "You know where it is?"

    "Yeah. My party sort of… has it. Sorry. Anyway, if there’s anything I could do to help, if be happy to."

    "What are your skills?"

    "Well, I’m pretty good at sneaking around. Hence the spying. I’m also good with a bow. Hence the… bow."

    "Uh-huh. Have you ever worked in the military before?"

    "No."

    "Well, if you really want to, you can report to Captain Sigizmund of the Fifth Army Auxilleries. As for your reward…." The general pulls out a slip of paper and writes out a bank note with a considerable sum on it, straight from the Bene bank vault.

    "Thanks. Well, I have a few scratches I want to have looked at. Can I go to the Larlonite tents?"

    The general nods and orders someone to show Miaoyu to the tents; as she’s leaving, she overhears the general order a patrol to head to the party camp. When she arrives at the Larlonite tents, most of the patients and healers have fallen asleep—except for two very familiar individuals.

    "Hey!" Miaoyu says cheerily when she sees them, smiling bright. "I didn’t think I’d see you two again. Do you remember me? We met a few months back…." She draws up next to the two of them and drops her voice to a near-whisper. "We are so screwed."

    And thus, Flynn and Seeker are filled in on the evening’s exciting events.

    Flynn facepalms, growls, “Dammit, Olaf.”

    Miaoyu smiles halfheartedly. “That's what I said.”

    Seeker frets. Outside the tent, the three of them can hear the Aurbeski camp coming back to life.

    "Look,” Miaoyu sighs, “I’m going to rendezvous with Aelron, let him know what’s going on and that a patrol is coming for the egg."

    Seeker’s ears prick. “Wait a minute, the egg!” He rouses the head healer and asks, “Do you have any wool?”

    Before long, Seeker has a bundle of wool and he and Miaoyu are ready to head back to Aelron's camp. “I’m going to stay here,” Flynn says. “I might be able to help in the battle. I’ll meet up with you guys later.”

    Miaoyu and Seeker take off, actually passing the very patrol headed for their camp on the way. Miaoyu gives its bleary-eyed commander a jaunty wave as she and Seeker skate by. Once they've reached the camp, Seeker shakes Aelron awake.

    Being shaken awake by an anxious wolfman: not as fun as it sounds.

    “I need the egg,” Seeker says hurriedly, once Aelron has stopped panicking. “I have to cast Stasis on it.”

    Still taking deep gulps of air to get the adrenaline out of his system, Aelron hands the egg to Seeker, who begins his hour-long ritual immediately.

    Eventually, Aelron turns to Miaoyu. “What’s going on?” he asks.

    "Olaf’s an idiot," Miaoyu replies.

    She recounts everything for the fourth time that night. When she gets to the part about Olaf unwrapping his red arm to show to the Huroc leaders, Aelron holds up a hand for silence, reaches into his pack, and pulls out a bottle of Illian whiskey. He pops the cork, takes a long draught straight from the bottle, shudders a moment, then gestures for her to continue. Once she's finished her tale, he sighs, pulls out a small inkwell and bit of parchment, and begins writing.

    By the time the Aurbeski patrol arrives almost an hour later, Seeker has completed his ritual and Aelron has finished writing.

    "We have it handled!" Seeker says as their captain approaches. "I cast Stasis on the egg—it should be fine."

    "And what exactly does that do?" the captain asks. Seeker begins to launch into an explanation, but the captain holds his hand up. "How about you just write out a report that I can bring back to the general?" Seeker sets to work on the report, and Aelron hands the captain the parchment he's been preparing.

    "This is everything we know about the egg," he says. “I'll do my best to keep it out of the way and safe from the Huroc once the battle starts.” The captain thanks him, then thanks Seeker for his report, and orders his patrol back to the Aurbeski camp.

    Miaoyu, Seeker and Aelron settle in to get at least a few hours' shut-eye.

    At the Huroc camp, the party is going strong. Olaf makes an effort to get as many people in the party as possible and to keep it going as long as possible, hoping to put the Huroc at a disadvantage in combat due to hangovers and lack of sleep. Unfortunately, this results in him getting wenches thrown at him (sometimes quite literally, courtesy of Alderik). Initially, he plots to start a massive naked conga line through the camp… but his failed will save foils that plan. Some of those wenches are quite attractive, after all.

    Two hours before dawn, Olaf is shaken awake by Alderik. He and the other warriors prepare for battle. “Do you have a shield I can borrow?” he asks Alderik.

    Alderik takes him to a small armory and hands him a shield with the crest of a diving bird of prey. “I got this one in the Illian kingdom,” Alderik says with a laugh. “Some stupid crusaders.” (Point of interest: the crest matches that of Cade Rentyr and his family. He was one of the PCs in the Doomriders campaign, and his player is the one behind Flynn. Looks like one of his descendants met a sad end.)

    Olaf takes it and considers it for a moment, then claps Alderik on the shoulder and says, “I’ll make its owner proud.” He even managed to make the deception check.

    By dawn, the Hurocs are on the field and advancing on the Aurbeski. Fortunately, the Aurbeski took Miaoyu’s warning seriously and are ready and waiting. They've dug a trench, set up some barricades, and are in battle formation as the Huroc begin their advance.

    Olaf is at the front of the Huroc horde, alongside Alderik, and soon finds that even if he didn’t want to advance, the people behind him keep pushing him forward. He sends out a mental prayer, O Laeros, o Laeros, please make sure civilization wins today.

    Around the same time, Miaoyu and Seeker are praying to their gods as well. They, along with Aelron, found a nice hill a safe distance away from the battle. “I was thinking,” Miaoyu says to Aelron, “we could light their camp on fire. It would be demoralizing and they’d lose supplies. On the other hand, there’ll be noncombatants there; probably children and the sick and prostitutes.”

    Aelron eyes characteristically light up at the mention of fire, but he loses enthusiasm at the mention of mostly defenseless targets. He considers for a moment, staring out across the forming battle. It's obvious he doesn't want to just leave Olaf and the Aurbeski to their fates, but he does have the egg to worry about... “If I take an hour, I can get war-magic level fireballs.” He offers Miaoyu a smile. “Let’s use the Huroc’s ignorance of our presence and take them by surprise.”

    "A sneak attack?” Miaoyu's eyes are almost shining with tears of joy. “I'm so proud of you, Aelron!”

    Aelron mock-scowls at her as he pulls out the sunstone shard he recovered from the feldspar elementals. “Don't push it.” He begins his ritual while Miaoyu and Seeker alternate between looking on and watching the unfolding battle.

    The Huroc reach Aurbeski crossbow range and break into a charge. Barked orders from the Aurbeski commanders send a hail of bolts whistling through the air. The Huroc raise shields, catching or deflecting arrows where they can; a few fall with each volley, but not enough. Another barked command from the Aurbeski line, and the next volley of crossbow bolts is interspersed with war-cast Ruby tower spells.

    The Huroc have mages of their own, though, and they were waiting for this. Huroc mages counter or ward away most of the Aurbeski spells, safeguarding their soldiers as the charge continues to eat up the distance to the Aurbeski line. A counter-volley of Ruby magic from the Huroc meets prepared counterspells and wards around and above the Aurbeski, and the sky above the two armies flickers with tongues of fire, shards of ice, bolts of lightning, and currents of pure arcane wrath.

    Crossbow bolts continue to pour into the Huroc formation, but it isn't enough. The Huroc charge reaches the Aurbeski line, carries through the trench and up its far side, and contacts the waiting Aurbeski pikes. It is as Olaf watches Alderik deflect crossbow bolts with his sword hilt that he remembers the blessing he received from a Lady of the Snowstorm. He petitions her for a blizzard, right now, in the middle of summer, right above the Huroc.

    And wouldn’t you know it, a strange, dark cloud begins to form over the Huroc host.

    Another idea pops into Olaf’s mind. A bad idea, yes, but that’s exactly what he needs right now. He turns to Alderik. “Last one to the Aurbeski generals has Kurush’s disfavor!”

    And then Olaf charges out of the trench, away from the Huroc infantry line, and straight into a tangle of Aurbeski soldiers, shield first, trying to push them back. It doesn’t work. Then Alderik does it. And it works. And then he kills eight of the soldiers. In one turn. And that’s when we realize he must be at least level 7—and keep in mind that the max level in this system is 10. On the bright side (if it can be called that), the Aurbeski begin to surround them, cutting them off from Alderik’s soldiers.

    Olaf decides to press his luck. “Come on! We can press through!” For better or worse, though, Alderik manages to keep Olaf in check and forces him to pace himself as they plunge deeper into the Aurbeski army.

    Elsewhere, Flynn has joined the Aurbeski crossbowmen and started taking potshots at the Huroc. He notices a couple of idiots trying to advance towards the generals and sighs, almost affectionately. “Yep, that’s Olaf.”

    It’s around that time that snowflakes begin to fall, curling on a biting wind that has no business anywhere this side of the year. Flynn shakes his head. “That’s probably Olaf, too.”

    Aelron finishes gathering energy. The shard of sunstone he's been channeling into is hovering in the air before him, glowing like a small sun. Slowly, carefully, Aelron cups the glowing shard in one hand, gathers his will, and with a blast of arcane force, hurls the gem into the midst of the Huroc right flank.

    For a long moment, nothing happens. The gem's glow disappears into the Huroc soldiers, and Seeker asks, “Did they counter it?”

    Aelron just smiles. “Wait for it.”

    The spell erupts with volcanic fury, flattening the center of the Huroc's right wing with a ferocious fiery concussion. A wing of Aurbeski cavalry, hovering off to the side of the battlefield, sees the Huroc in disarray and sounds the charge. Banners flying, lances leveled, they slice their way into the Huroc flank.

    Aelron turns to Miaoyu and Seeker. "We need to move," he says. "They know we're out here now, and they'll be targeting spells back at us. And if I want to do that again, I'll need more components."

    "We can ask the army for rubies," Seeker suggests.

    Aelron shrugs agreeably. "I’ll find a new spot. You two move quicker than I do; go get the rubies. Miaoyu, make sure Seeker can find me once he has the gems."

    Miaoyu glances at Aelron's distinctive robe, fixing its details in her mind. “Yup. Got it.”

    With that, the three of them split. Getting gems from the Aurbeski isn’t easy, though. When Seeker finds the Bene treasurer, he’s reluctant to just fork over precious stones to random adventurers.

    "Wait!" Miaoyu says, and starts digging through her pockets. She pulls out the bank note she received the night before and holds it out to the treasurer. He suddenly becomes much more accommodating, and moments later she and Seeker are off to rendezvous with Aelron, five plump rubies clinking in Miaoyu’s pockets.

    Aelron starts another fireball ritual immediately and although the spell isn’t blocked by a counterspell, it doesn’t have quite the impact of the first fireball. Aelron stops to think for a moment, while the other two make their own plans.

    "Since I’m not of much use here," Seeker says, "I’m going to see if I can help at the medical tents."

    Miaoyu nods. "I’ll stay here and help Aelron; if the Huroc decide he’s too much trouble, he’s going to need backup, and I have spells perfect for a quick getaway."

    Seeker bids his companions farewell, and Aelron comes up with a new plan. He pulls out the ice troll horns the party collected some time ago. “Want to bet I can give that snowstorm a boost?”

    And boost it he does—from miserable right into hateful. Shards of ice and flurries of sleet rain down from the center of the storm, right over the Huroc's front line, slashing at exposed skin and coating the ground underfoot in treacherous ice.

    At the frontlines, Olaf finds that he and Alderik can actually see the Aurbeski generals. Hoping his advice is as bad as he thinks it is, he shouts, “Let’s take them! If we fall back, they’ll brace themselves!”

    Alderik laughs. “Kurush truly favors you!” It’s a shame, really. If things had been different, they might have been friends.

    At that moment, Alderik is shot by a bolt—a very familiar-looking eldritch heavy crossbow bolt. Olaf glances around, but he can’t pick Flynn out of the crowd. Alderik is still on his feet, though, and shows no signs of stopping.

    Olaf and Alderik charge into the Aurbeski masses, and Olaf takes a spear thrust to the chest during the charge, reducing him to exactly 0 HP. He decides that now is as good a time as any.

    The soldier on the other end of the spear currently in Olaf's midsection is already dead, cut down by one of the other Huroc. Olaf drops to a knee—fairly easy acting what with the bloody stab wound and all—and drops his sword. With his off hand, he clutches the haft of the spear, while his weapon hand, hidden by the shield his off-hand carries, darts to his wrist-sheath for a dagger. “Alderik!” he calls.

    Alderik comes to his side immediately, rolls him onto his back to inspect the wound. “You’ll be fine,” the big man grunts, making to pick him up. “Just need to get you back into the ranks.”

    "No, no, I’ve taken one of these before," Olaf says, mostly truthfully. He straightens a bit, reaches up with his shield arm to grasp Alderik's shoulder and pull him close. "I need to... I need to tell you something—” He gasps in pain, and Alderik leans down, perfectly into range.

    With a vicious smile, Olaf whispers into Alderik's ear: “Laeros is the true god.”

    Before Alderik has a chance to process that, Olaf's hidden hand comes darting out to bury a dagger in Alderik's neck. Alderik, impossibly, is already recoiling, and Olaf only scores his shoulder, just under the collarbone. Alderik stumbles back, hefts his axe up and swings it into Olaf’s chest.

    Olaf coughs up blood, smiling redly. “Your army is trapped. Civilization will win this day. For the greater—”

    Alderik swings his axe again, and Olaf speaks no more. Across the battlefield, Flynn notices a pause in the action and has just a second's glimpse of Olaf's head rolling across the ground. The battle resumes within moments, and he rushes off to the medical tents for healing. He finds Seeker there, tending to the injured.

    "Where at the others? We might need to get out of here pretty soon."

    "They’re off lobbing fireballs. Is Olaf available for extraction?"

    "He won’t be a problem anymore," Flynn says carefully.

    Seeker looks up, worried. “What?”

    Flynn sighs, says gently, "He went down swinging."

    Seeker stammers for a moment before anger crystallizes his features. He glares out the tent flap toward the Huroc lines. “May they die cold… alone… and unmourned!”

    Seeker decides to take a more active role in the battle and begins casting counterspells. Flynn finds himself stuck with the job of babysitting the squishy pacifist; someone has to, or Seeker will end up a rug in Alderik’s tent. On the other side of the battlefield, Aelron is taking a similar approach, but instead of countering spells, he’s countering counterspells. With Miaoyu’s help, he’s able to find a good location to set up, and then, when the Huroc launch a counterspell at a particularly nasty Aurbeski fire spell, Aelron counters the counterpsell. The fireball lands in the middle of a Huroc reinforcement squad, burning it to a cinder and scattering its survivors.

    Despite everyone’s efforts, though, the battle slowly comes to a stalemate. The Huroc shattered the Aurbeski center and encircled their right flank, and though the Aurbeski left held, it can't stand alone. The Aurbeski begin to retreat and the Huroc lack the coordination to give chase across the horrid terrain the snowstorm has left in its wake; it’s estimated that the Huroc now have about fifteen thousand soldiers, while the Aurbeski are down to ten thousand. Aelron and Miaoyu retreat back to their camp. Flynn and Seeker, however, have other concerns. They came to the Aurbeski camp hoping to bring someone back to Drougant to testify to the approaching Huroc horde, but the Aurbeski force is very soon going to be out of reach. In desperation, Seeker notices a tall man at the healer’s tent and says, “You! Come with us!”

    The man glances around for a moment. “Me? Give me a good reason why.”

    "We need you to help us prove to the Drouganti that the Huroc are coming,” Flynn says flatly.

    The man thinks it over for a moment, shrugs, and says, “Fine. Let’s go.”

    The three of them meet with Aelron and Miaoyu at the camp, and for the first time, everyone gets a good look at the newcomer: a very tall man with black hair and pale skin. He is armed with a kite shield and spears. He’s armored in a breastplate and wears a sealskin cloak trimmed with fur. “My name is Sir Gavin of Tidehollow,” he says, and half-hearted greetings come from the others, who offer brief introductions in return. As you may have guessed, Gavin is Olaf’s replacement character; because Olaf’s death was anticipated, his player prepared one in advance.

    "We lost Olaf," Flynn tells Aelron and Miaoyu.

    “Dammit, Olaf,” Aelron mutters mournfully. He reaches into his pack, pulls out the whiskey again, and pours shots for each of them. They raise their glasses together, and everyone who knew Olaf says something.

    “May he find honor in the beyond,” Aelron wishes, tossing back his shot.

    “I was hoping we’d all get out of this alive,” Miaoyu mumbles, swirling her drink slowly.

    “He was a dear friend, and will be missed,” Seeker states.

    "This Olaf was a friend of yours?" Gavin asks mostly rhetorically after a long moment of silence. "I lost many friends as well, today."

    "He tried to kill the Huroc leader,” Flynn informs Gavin. “Got a good stab in, too. Wasn’t enough."

    "Well, he sounds quite brave. I’m sure he was a blessing to our forces."

    The party exchanges a few awkward glances until Seeker finally says, “Actually… he was sort of on the Huroc’s side.”

    Gavin’s expression slowly becomes wary and Aelron adds, “He was supposed to spy on the Huroc but instead he… decided to try out infiltration.”

    Gavin stares blankly for a moment, then smiles a little. “Sounds like a wonderfully brave idiot.”

    "He was an idiot,” Flynn says, finally breaking his silence. “But he's dead now, and he died trying to be a better man, so we'll speak no more ill of him.” The group falls silent.

    "Maybe we should talk somewhere else," Miaoyu says eventually. "The Huroc might decide to look for stragglers."

    The party moves a fair distance away from the battlefield and beds down for the night.

    The next day, the party starts heading west, back towards Brand, and attempts at conversation are made. A few stories of Olaf are told to Gavin, in tones alternating between affection and exasperation. He’s given the cliffnotes version of the party’s interest in the Huroc; the augur, the red hand, the prophecy, and general concern for the welfare of others. In turn, Gavin tells the group a little more about himself.

    "Do you subscribe to any religious beliefs?" Aelron asks at about midday.

    "I’m a Turmlarite by choice," Gavin tells him. Aelron raises a brow at his word choice.

    "I don’t mean to pry, but would that mean you’re worshiping someone not of your choice?"

    Gavin hesitates and Miaoyu adds in, “If it makes you feel less weird, I’m a Gilgadarite.” Gavin takes a half-step back and Miaoyu shrugs. “Figured we should just get that out of the way.”

    Gavin regains his composure. “By blood, I am an initiate of the Ocean Witch.”

    Miaoyu rolls her head to the side, curious. “Does her priesthood often pass by blood? I’m not familiar with anything like that.”

    Gavin shakes his head. “Oaths were made on my behalf, and I am compelled to uphold them.”

    That evening, the party has a hard time finding a good campsite and ends up making theirs in two inches of water. Gavin casually plops down and goes to sleep, much to the bemusement of Aelron. Miaoyu nudges Aelron casually.

    "Don’t make faces. You slept in the campfire up north, remember?"

    Aelron shrugs Gavin’s oddness off and whips up a spell to create a dry patch for their bedrolls. At daybreak, Gavin spears a few fish (he eats his raw) and Miaoyu cooks the fish for the others; with Olaf’s demise, she now possess the solitary survival rank in the party.

    "I tried to poison the Huroc, by the way," Miaoyu says once everyone’s been served; discussion of poison seems to be acceptable table conversation to her. "Looks like it didn’t matter much, though. I’ll need to get something stronger in the future."

    Gavin looks at her with open shock. “But that’s so… dishonorable!”

    "Gilgadarite,” Miaoyu says flatly, as though this explains everything.

    "Just because you want to sunder fate doesn’t mean you can’t have honor!" Gavin exclaims.

    Miaoyu shakes her head, taking another bite of seared fish. “The only fair fight is the one I win.”

    "But that doesn’t make sense!" Gavin cries. His protests fall on deaf ears, however, and he eventually gives up.

    Around noon that day, the party becomes aware that there’s someone on their trail: a group of twenty Huroc outriders. Miaoyu immediately begins looking for a suitable hiding spot for the party, but Gavin turns to fight.

    "We can’t take them," Flynn hisses when he sees Gavin sizing up the enemy. The rest of the party nervously eyes the steadily-closing gap between themselves and the Huroc.

    "Honor is great and all," Miaoyu says, "but if we fight now, we’re done. Most of us haven’t recovered from the battle yet."

    Gavin looks at his companions’ pleading and tired faces, and his resolve falters. He nods and Miaoyu leads everyone to a tiny cave. Gavin insists on sitting at the entrance to protect them, and Miaoyu hurriedly rubs mud all over his shiny, shiny armor. Gavin is not amused.

    “It’s a good look for you,” she says hurriedly. “The kind of look that they won't see.”

    Twenty tense minutes later, the Huroc have passed by, and Miaoyu and Flynn are both reasonably certain they won’t return. The party slinks out of the cave and continues west.

    That night, Gavin reveals one of his other secrets—he’s a trained operatic tenor. He lulls the party to sleep with his loud but soothing songs.

    The next day, the party arrives at the town with the shoddy little keep on the rock. With the Huroc forces so near and outriders in the area, they decide to press the issue of evacuation. For better or worse, it’s officially an Aurbeski town, and as a knight, Gavin has some authority.

    Gavin knocks politely at the keep door. The mayor opens his little hatch and glares out at him.

    "Mr. Mayor, I’m here to order an evacuation of this town. Huroc forces are nearby and a threat to the lives of your people."

    The mayor grimaces and grumbles something in response. Gavin opens his mouth to say something, but Flynn cuts in.

    "We’re not going to stay here to make sure you evacuate. If you don’t do it, you’ll be overrun. We can’t waste time on you."

    The mayor shoots Flynn a glare. “I’m aware, thank you. It’s just been a while since the Aurbeski have tried to raze our village. We’re out of practice. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an evacuation to plan.” The hatch slams shut, and the party takes that as their cue to continue along.

    The next day, the party hears angry sounds coming from the ocean, which Gavin identifies as whales. Being adventurers, they feel the need to investigate every little thing, and head down to the beach. In the sand is a solitary whale bemoaning his bad luck, and out in the ocean is a group of orcas heckling him. “We’re going to eat you!” they shout.

    The beached whale flutters his fins when he sees the party. “Oh! Oh, help me into the ocean! I just need a push. I can totally outrun these guys.”

    Of course, the whale is speaking Pack, one of the many animal languages in this world. Only Gavin and Seeker can understand them, though; the others are left shifting around awkwardly as Gavin makes strange noises at the whale.

    "Are you positive? They ran you into the beach before."

    "Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. That last time was a fluke. I’ve got this."

    Gavin shrugs. “Okay.” He gestures to Seeker to help him, and together they push the whale into the ocean. Gavin casts Buoyancy on the whale as it departs, hoping to give the poor thing a chance.

    Seeker tilts his head at Gavin. “You said you’re a priest by blood. Does that mean one of your parents was one too?” Realizing he may have overstepped his bounds, Seeker sputters. “You don’t need to say anything if you don’t want to. Sorry.”

    Gavin sighs and wraps his sealskin cloak around himself. And then Gavin isn’t there anymore. Or rather, he’s not human anymore, but a seal. Gavin is, in fact, a selkie, a sort of ocean-dwelling fey (often depicted as female) who seduce knights and have children by them, before returning to the ocean and abandoning the knight to the trials and tribulations of single fatherhood. Things were different with his mother, though: she took the kids with her, and raised them as full-blooded selkies.

    During his reveal of his true nature, Gavin can’t help but hold his breath; he’s used to being rejected and ridiculed for his heritage. Instead, the party just looks him up and down, shrugs, and offers a few mild responses like, “cool” or “that’s neat”. They’ve all seen too many odd things to be fazed by a little bit of shapeshifting.

    That evening, the party is lulled to sleep by the screams of the previously-beached whale being ripped to shreds by the orcas.

    The next day is the first of the third month, the day the party was meant to meet with Tsarae in Brand. Miaoyu uses locate object to find Tsarae, and it seems she’s running behind as well. Not able to do anything about it, the party keeps their course.

    At nightfall, the party comes to a walled coastal village—looks like a Dhar hold. The watchman glares at them from over the wall. “Whatcha want?”

    "Passage," Gavin declares.

    "Whatcha got?"

    "Passengers, and the blessing of a certain nameless being who watches all voyages."

    The watchman straightens and signals for the gate to be opened. “Come in!”

    Soon, the party is seated at a table at an inn, eating a meager supper. Once Gavin has finished his, he composes himself and asks, “So who wants to know?”

    A strange silence falls over the inn as the sailors glance at one another nervously. Finally, a Dhar boy in his late teens approaches Gavin. He reminds the party a bit of Olaf.

    Gavin casts the Augury of Winds and Waves to see how the boy’s next voyage will turn out. “A good voyage,” Gavin determines after a long moment and the boy grins broadly.

    The party arranges for a ship to Brand and beds down for the night. As they are all laying out their things and preparing to lie down, however, Aelron catches a glimpse of Gavin gazing out the window, silhouetted against the moonlit beach beyond. Struck by the image, he pulls out a clean bit of canvas he’d been saving for a painting, and memory prints the image into it. He moves quietly to Gavin's side and hands him the canvas. “Welcome to the party,” he says.

    The next day, the party finally makes it to Brand. Flynn goes off to find an inn for the night and Miaoyu and Aelron go to the blacksmith Olaf commissioned to work the anti-magic shard. Lod blinks up the two of them when they arrive.

    "You are not the Dhar," she observes.

    "Unfortunately, Olaf lost his life a few days ago," Aelron says. Lod shrugs.

    "That’s too bad. But I know you two. I have your dagger. It is very difficult, your metal. Hard to work. It is not my finest piece, but it is a good dagger. Less dangerous to the holder now. You can take it, or I can keep working on it, maybe make it better?"

    Miaoyu and Aelron look the dagger over. The balance is good, and it makes the wielder at least partially immune to spells, both good and malign. The biggest problem would be healing, which would be greatly reduced. Miaoyu considers taking the dagger, but when she realizes that Tsarae would not be able to track her through Locate Object, she declines. Aelron takes it, on the reasoning that he shouldn’t need to worry about getting healing too much.

    The dagger is christened, appropriately enough, Olaf's Razor.

    Seeker and Gavin head to the local temple to hire Brigiians to deliver messages. One of their spells, Firecasting, allows instantaneous communication between fires so long the conversation’s participants are on the same plane. Gavin sends a note to his liegelord, explaining what has happened, and Seeker writes to Malcolm Marshtide, notifying him of his knight’s death.

    Eager to get word to the baroness of recent events, the party continues on to Hangtree, and Miaoyu leaves a note for Tsarae asking her to meet them there.

    Arriving at Hangtree, however, presents another hurdle: telling Keegan of Olaf’s death. We’re spared the details, but Keegan is obviously devastated and retreats to his room. Hhon-Harn is less distraught, and simply shrugs it off before gathering her things and leaving with her horse. (All said, though, Hhon-Harn got a good deal out of this whole affair: partial plate, experience, a horse, and a decent grasp of Common.)

    Flynn finds that the Baroness is out of town, apparently on a quest to conquer the country of Forscythe for the king. Given that she may be returning soon, that Keegan is still way too distraught to travel, and that they’re still waiting on Tsarae, the party decides to wait for the time being. To honor Olaf, Olaf's shield with his crest is hung upon the wall, the images still shifting with their animation enchantments.

    That’s all, folks. Let’s say goodbye to our dear friend Olaf and give Gavin our best wishes. In addition to Olaf, we also lost the Combusti-Bull horns (and boy will we miss those) and Scuzzbucket. Olaf’s player speculates that Scuzz will be stuck in a loop, and keep repeating Olaf’s last words until the Huroc get annoyed and finally kill the poor thing.

    Fun Fact: Olaf died one day away from the in-game anniversary of the party’s first meeting.
    Last edited by AverageSparrow; 2014-04-27 at 04:49 AM.