Grey Brotherhood Campaign

This is the campaign run by Alexander Macris as shown on Youtube "The Grey Brotherhood Actual Play Campaign. “Thirty years ago, we were comrades at the West Point Wargames club, now we’ve come together again to play ACKS II.”

Below are the annals of our adventures:

Chapter I
Is it Over?

13 Froelen – It is a fine spring day when the Grey Brotherhood reach Türos Tem. They are greeted with much pomp by Legate Ulrand Valerian and his guard of honor, but the legate is dismayed as he only recognizes the elf, Ifor Mag Sulien. Unfortunately, this is also a mistake and the misidentified Gwynfor Mag Sulien has the regrettable task of informing the crestfallen legate that he was, in fact, Ifor’s brother and not Ifor himself. He also advises that the other Brothers standing before him are the sons of the men he had known. The legate swallows his disappointment, having expected veteran warriors, though he takes some assurance from the Brother’s confidence. Upon learning that Castinus is the son of Acrodynas, his mood brightens considerably and he invites them to a feast at his villa.

The Brothers dine well, though Hyglak grumbles at the weak fruity drinks and pines for some stout ale. The legate briefs them on the situation. Over the past few weeks, the region around Türos Tem has experienced an upwelling of beastmen raids that are surprisingly organized and include more ferocious varieties such as gnolls and bugbears. Additionally, undead and other disturbing encounters have been reported. The attacks appeared to be coming, not from across the river, but rather from the Viaspen Forest to the rear. He declares a 2,000gp reward for those who can end the threat as well as the exemption from imperial taxation for all treasures recovered. The legate advises that many in the fortress have been stricken with terrible nightmares since the troubles began and recommends that the Brothers consult with the priestess. He also reports that several legionnaires have expressed interest in joining the expedition.

After the meal, Gwynfor, Hyglak, and Tirenius join the legate in the inspection of the troops. His forces proved to be woefully understrength with a garrison of only 120 men. The Brothers speak with the centurion, Axius Elarian and are introduced to the three interested legionnaires. Unfortunately, the men are unimpressed by a rousing speech from Gwynfor so Hyglak attempts to motivate them, centurion style, with a sharp tongue lashing. Alas, this yields no better results. It was a failure of Elves and Jutlanders to rally the good soldiers of the Auran Empire.

Meanwhile, Raemon, Castinus, and Avarice head to the temple where they speak with the elderly Genelen, a Priestess and Hospitalist of Mityara. Avarice asks to see what supplies are available for purchase and, while doing so, chats with the two novices, Adara and Drakima, in an attempt to gather further information on the troubles. Unfortunately, they find him to be a distasteful individual and promptly end the conversation. Raemon asks Priestess Genelen about the nightmares and she confesses that she’s suffered from them, too. She describes them as visions of rivers of blood flowing and, amid them, a pulsing heart with a malevolent shadow hanging over it all. Before departing, Castinus purchases three doses of comfrey.

The three head down to the Traveler’s Inn where they are accosted by the innkeeper demanding payment. It turns out that three adventurers of the “Fierce Brethren” had departed a week past, skipping out on their bill. They include a striking elven woman named Zara, a scrawny wizard named Festus the Unlikely (who had graduated last in his class at the Tower of Knowledge), and a burly Jutlander named Quintus. Castinus declares such behavior reprehensible and assures the innkeeper that the Brothers would do what they could to return the funds. The “Fierce Brethren” had claimed they were heading into the Viaspen Forest.

The next stop is the market where they talk with Aeropos Karanos, the Merchant Guildmaster. He reports that the guild is earnestly seeking the whereabouts of two of their members who had gone missing on the road to Siadanos. A reward of 250gp is offered if the merchants are returned alive or 50gp for their bodies. They are believed to have been captured by the brigand Drusus, a former subaltern at the fort. The legate already has placed a bounty on Drusus’ head of 750gp and Aeropos agrees to increase that reward by 10% on behalf of the Merchant Guild.

The Brothers lodge at an empty barracks for the night.

14 Froelen – At the dawning of the day, the Brothers discuss their plan of attack. One possibility is to head straight into the forest, but a suggestion is made to mimic a merchant caravan in order to draw an attack from the brigands. If a prisoner could be taken and questioned, the Brothers might discern the source of the threat. Yet without the funds for such a ruse, the Brothers instead consider pretending to be a wealthy family on the road. For that, though, they need someone who could play the part of a wife.

As the Brothers deliberate, the legionaries march past on their way to their morning drills. Castinus, Tirenius, and Raemon take the opportunity to approach the three men from the day before. After an inspiring speech from Castinus and an appeal to duty from Raemon, Avaro Avequellus agrees to sign on the condition that he receive a signing bonus. Tirenius pays the man and Avaro becomes his henchmen. The other two legionnaires, however, remain uninterested.

Raemon returns to the Priestess Genelen and gains permission to recruit from the novices. Drakima is moved by his call to service and kneels, stating, “Crusader, nothing would make me more proud than to put my powers at the service of the holy Empyreans!” The Brothers are thrilled to have such a powerful healer in their number, but as she is unable to wear armor, worry about her vulnerability. Raemon declares that it is imperative for the Brothers to keep her alive.

Meanwhile, Avarice and Hyglak head to the Traveler’s Inn in search of someone to fill the role of the ‘wife’ for the wealthy family ruse. Avarice pays the innkeeper for the opportunity to speak with what might, delicately, be called a woman of ill-repute. After explaining the need, the woman replies that the endeavor sounds dangerous. Avarice gives her his best smile. “Madam, do I look like the type of person who would take a beautiful person such as yourself on a dangerous adventure?” She retorts, “You are exactly the sort of conniving scoundrel who would try to get me killed!” It would seem that Avarice has limited fortune with women.

Tirenius visits the mage, Maelyn, pausing to lambast a poor legionnaire on guard who happens to refer to the wizard by the popular moniker “Misshapen.” It is an accurate, if unkindly title, for Maelyn’s body was broken by sorceries he had unleashed while in the Tower of Knowledge in Aura. At Tirenius’ questioning, Maelyn relates a legend of an ancient Zaharan temple within the present day Viaspen Forest containing evil so foul that it had corrupted all who dwelled within. During the Empyrean War, a thousand years ago, crusaders of law unleashed a cataclysm that buried the temple forever beneath a dome of rock. Maelyn also relays a nightmare similar to that described by Priestess Genelen. He states it started after an earthquake about a year ago.

Having bolstered the party with two strong recruits and gathered what useful information they could, the Brothers prepare to set out. Yet they remain conflicted on the best course to take. After some debate, they decide to set out on the road to Türos Aster. While the Brothers won’t look like a merchant caravan or a wealthy family, they still might draw an attack on the way. The day’s travel is uneventful, though, and they occupy one of the many abandoned watch towers for the night.

15 Froelen – The night passes uneventfully, but with the morning the debate renews with the party split on whether to press on to Türos Aster or enter the Viaspen. Raemon looks for a sign from Ammonar and declares that they have been directed to enter the forest. Within the woodland, the Brothers begin searching for any clues they might follow and stumble across a gang of six orcs on a ridge, half armed with spears and the rest crossbows.

The orc crossbowmen instigate the skirmish with a volley of bolts that miss their marks. Tirenius counters with Thunderclap, wounding and deafening three. Castinus slays one with his crossbow. Hyglak goes berserk and deftly charges up a stone leading to the ridge, only to miss with his great axe. Gwynfor dodges a spear thrown by one orc but Castinus is struck by a quarrel. Drakima rushes to tend to him with ‘lay on hands’.

Hyglak suffers a mighty blow from one of the orcs but hardly feels it amid his blood rage. With a shout of “My axe hungers!” he strikes down one orc spearmen then cleaves into a second. Avarice attempts to rush after the raging warrior, but his hands slip on the rock. Having cast his one spell, Tirenius scampers to cover behind a tree while declaring, “We should have gone to the town!”

But the battle is brought to a speedy conclusion. Gwynfor sends a bold of arcane force into one of the orc crossbowmen, killing him. As the surviving orcs falter, Hyglak advances, slaying one and then stunning the last with a blow from the side of his axe. As the beastman falls unconscious, Tirenius peeks out from his cover and asks, “Is it over?”

Chapter II
I Present the Head!

15 Froelen (continued) – The Grey Brothers gather after the battle and rouse their orc prisoner to wakefulness. Fortunately, he is a rarity among the beastmen because he speaks Common. Avarice led the interrogation. The orc is initially defiant, saying he’ll answer one question for one life, but as the Brothers deliberate, Hyglak poignantly sharpening his axe and Tirenius proposing loudly, “I think that we should just burn him from the insides out!” the orc’s resolve crumbles.

He reports that he serves ‘The Lady Below’, a Zaharan queen of terrible beauty and terrible cruelty who awaits the Grey Brothers in her buried temple to make them her slaves. He confirms that Drusus is also at the temple. The orc is happy to show them the way and expects to be greatly rewarded for bringing them to the Lady Below.

Privately, the Brothers discuss their options and resolve to use the orc to infiltrate the temple. Since the orc claims indifference to the kobold gate guards, Castinus proposes these could be slain indiscriminately and then he could use Venturer Treachery to ambush denizens deeper within, be they orcs or the brigands of Drusus. All the Brothers agree that this is an excellent plan but the day is waning so the Brothers establish camp nearby.

16 Froelen – The orc prisoner guides the Brothers westward and, late in the day, declares the temple is about a mile away. The Brothers camp for the night.

17 Froelen – The orc brings the Brothers the final mile to the temple. It lies within a clearing at the summit of a steep and rocky hill. Within the clearing lies a dome of black granite so massive that no work of man could have erected it. But there is a 130 foot wide and 30 foot tall crack in the side of the dome. Light streams through the crevice to reveal a finely decorated wall with serpent shaped columns in front of massive bronze doors. Four kobolds with short bows stand guard before the entrance.

As the party prepares to follow the orc into the temple, Avarice declares his dissent. He wants the orc dead now. After a debate, he manages to change the plan and the startled orc is handily dispatched before the Brothers advance on the kobold guards. The kobolds cry out a challenge in their guttural language and, at this point, the Brothers realize that no one speaks kobold. Castinus boldly presents the orc’s severed head in an attempt to convey that they’d caught a traitor. Whether the kobolds understood or even cared is unknown to this day. What is known is that the creatures demand a bribe to pass. Tirenius reaches into his coin purse and hands forward a gold piece to pay the toll.

The Brothers pass inside and the kobolds close the door behind them, shutting them into the deep darkness of the chthonic temple. Torches are lit and the party presses northward. Smashing open a door, they enter what appears to have once been a courtyard with the statue of a Zaharan sorcerer-priest. The room is clearly well-trafficked with two doors heading north and one to the west. The Brothers head west into a room that holds stone basins caked with dried blood.

Continuing west, they come face to face with a pair of burly kobold warriors (aka feral lizard Chihuahuas) guarding a door between two burning braziers. Attempts at sign language fail Hyglak goes berserk, rushing forward with a roar of “My axe hungers!” In moments, the kobolds lie dead at his feet.

While Hyglak holds station in front of the door the kobolds were guarding, Gwynfor and Castinus scout to the south to ensure the area is clear. It is not. Gwynfor hears many feet scurrying to the west. He brashly shouts out a warning, triggering a kobold assault. Hyglak rushes south to support him and, between the two, they slaughter four kobolds. But then volleys of arrows fly from the darkness and both Brothers are felled.

Three kobold archers advance from the shadows and Avaro and Raemon rush forward to form a new defensive line with Castinus backing them up. In the light of his torch, he reveals three more further back. Castinus lobs military oil at them but misses as Drakima runs forward to lay hands on Hyglak. She finds that he is suffering from shock after having his left ear shorn off, but with a night of bedrest, he will otherwise recover.

But then a kobold drops his bow and, drawing his short sword, cuts down Drakima the Priestess. Tirenius unleashes Slumber, putting two kobolds to sleep while Raemon, Avaro, and Castinus fell the rest. Raemon tends to Drakima, but can only watch helpless as she dies in his arms. He then checks on Gwynfor. The elf is unconscious with a puckering wound in his chest that will leave a nasty scar… should he be healed in time to keep him alive.

Chapter III
Earn This!

17 Froelen (continued) – In the wake of the dreadful skirmish, the Brothers hear scraping wood and metal coming from the room beyond the sconces. Bloodied and battle weary, they beat as hasty of a retreat as they can manage with Avarice carrying the unconscious Gwynfor, Tirenius bearing the slain Drakima, and Hyglak hobbled by his wounds.

As they pass through the courtyard with the Zaharan Statue, the company is accosted by a patrol of orcs from one of the doors to the north. “Halt!” an orc commands in crude Common as the creatures eye the dead and wounded of the company. Their suspicion is particularly roused by Raemon in his garb of Ammonar.

“All hail the Lady Below!” Castinus replies, “We’ve just slain these fiends who dared violate this sanctuary and we’re going to infiltrate Türos Tem.” The orcs are mollified and continue their rounds.

At the outer doors, the kobold guards stare at the Brothers doubtfully and Castinus again says, “All hail the Lady Below!” The beastmen don’t speak Common, but must have heard the words before. They are satisfied and wave the company through. The Brothers retreat precipitously into the wood line, startled to realize that only a couple hours have passed since dawn. After about a mile, they hunker down into a particularly dense portion of the forest.

Midafternoon is drawing near when the Brothers see a battered merchant wagon approaching. It is escorted by six brigands on horses. Sitting next to the driver is a heavily armed and armored warrior. The wagon is spattered with blood and appears to be heading toward the temple. Given their current state, the Brothers duck down their heads and stay hidden even as they realize that this is likely the missing caravan from Türos Tem.

18 Froelen – With the dawn, Raemon is able to heal Gwynfor back from the jaws of death, though he’ll need a week of bedrest to recover. Hyglak, at least, is no longer incapacitated though he remains in poor health. The Brothers continue their retreat, albeit at a slow pace due to Gwynfor’s condition.

19 Froelen – The Brothers reach the imperial road near dusk and spot a manned watch tower. With the help of Legionnaire Destrius, the party is brought into the tower where rations are shared. The Brothers shelter in some comfort and safety for the night.

20 Froelen – The Brothers make it to Türos Tem. Priestess Genelen is crushed at the sight of Drakima’s body. Looking grimly at the Brothers, she declares, “Earn this!” The grief-stricken Brothers assure her they will do all they can. Gwynfor enters the care of the temple and Raemon briefs Legate Valerian.

21 Froelen – After attending Drakima’s funeral, Castinus meets with Aeropos to borrow funds. Lacking any collateral, the best he can do is secure a high-interest loan of 150gp on the expectation he repay 300gp in a week. Castinus asks if there are any merchant contacts for a recruiting venture to Türos Aster. Aeropos reluctantly names his counterpart there, Artikles Molekulies. Meanwhile, Tirenius forages for comfrey in the nearby countryside.

22 Froelen – The Brotherhood, minus Gwynfor, travels to Türos Aster. They meet with the legate on the parade field. He asks if the company has come to deal with his bugbear problem. The legate reports that, across the ford in the river, lie the ruins of an old Auran fortress that have been abandoned for centuries. It has been a common staging ground for patrols to the south, but after troops were pulled away for the Skysos war, such reconnaissance stopped. Since then, the ruins have been occupied by a force of about a hundred bugbears. Attacks by these beastmen have been driven off but, at the same time, the legate lacks the fighting power to dislodge them. Any adventurer who ousts the bugbears is welcome to reclaim the fortress for the empire and become his vassal.

Castinus asks for permission to recruit from among the legionnaires, but the legate refuses though he does authorize the Brothers to attempt to hire henchmen in town. He also refuses access to the hospital until the Brothers pledge to solve the bugbear problem. Castinus replies that the company has already pledged to help Legate Valerian with the Viaspen Forest so he is unable to make such an oath at this time.

23 Froelen – Having failed with the legate, the Brothers head to town and begin checking around for any who might be interested in joining their expedition. After talking with a handful of individuals who clearly aren’t cut out for the rigors of adventure, they meet a large man in leather armor carrying a wood axe named Lusbalos Spenian. Castinus hires him as a henchman.

24 Froelen – Late in the morning, one of the tavern girls named Jena Vale comes off shift. She’s an attractive red-head who has pox scars on her face. Jena says knows how to cook and is good with dice and cards. When asked about weapon skills, she admits she once stabbed an ex-boyfriend with a knife so therefore she has some ability with daggers. Dubious of her combat abilities, Castinus offers her a lower than usual rate. She declines.

25 Froelen – The Brothers are approached by a man in armor carrying a black shield emblazoned with a winged sun. He has a gladius at his side. He identifies himself as Heraus Magaravicos, a humble paladin of Ammonar. He has killed an orc or two, but not three, and seeks to bring law to chaos. Hyglak spars with Heraus and then recruits him.

Later in the day, a gaunt careworn man well passed middle age with a harsh cough approaches the Brothers. He introduces himself as Zopyros the Undying. He’s had training in alchemy and seeks to be an apprentice to a wizard. When asked his age, to the amazement of the company, he reports he is only twenty-five. Tirenius questions him on the nature of alchemy and is satisfied with Zopyros’ responses. During contract negotiations, Lusbalos again speaks up and declares his wage. Zopyros is hired by Tirenius on condition that, once he has achieved proficiency with the arcane arts that he have access to Tirenius’ grimoire.

Meanwhile, back at Türos Tem, Gwynfor’s rest is troubled by the same vivid nightmare every time he tries to sleep. He sees a heart as large as a man’s fist floating in a pit of eternal darkness. As the heart beats, he draws closer and closer. The beating grows increasingly loud as it fills his vision. Just as he touches it, there is a moment where it isn’t a heart at all but a stone or a gem and he sees channels of blood everywhere. Then he awakens and feels a strong urging to travel to the northwest.

27 Froelen – After a day with no potential applicants, a sudden commotion is followed by a man bounds into the tavern. He is a tall Jutlander with a butcher knife at his belt and declares himself to be Ulfrek Olfsson and that he’s looking for the Grey Brotherhood. He’s a butcher by training and seems very eager to be off. In the middle of their conversation, he disappears into the latrine, conveniently at the same time a legionnaire pokes his head into the room. Under heavy questioning, he admits he got into trouble with a girl’s family back in Jutland so he took a ship to the empire but skipped out on the payment. Hyglak and Castinus are skeptical and offer only a paltry sum. Ulfrek curses them out and storms off in a fury. Hyglak retorts, “Fine, two silver a day and we won’t tell the town guard where you are.” Ulfrek snorts, declaring Hyglak doesn’t even have a Jutlander accent.

Tempers escalate and Hyglak suggests they step outside. Jena Vale, the tavern girl, surreptitiously shuts the door and cries, “Two silvers on Hyglak!” The tavern keeper matches her bet and Tirenius raises him to one gold. The two Jutlanders draw their blades. Ulfrek lashes out in a quick strike and drops Hyglak to the ground then spits on him before turning away. When Raemon checks on his Brother, he realizes that Hyglak has lost all the fingers of his left hand from the brutal slice of the butcher’s blade.

The Brothers pursue Ulfrek. Tirenius attempts to cast Slumber, but the butcher is blessed by some dark power and resists. However, as Ulfrek rounds a corner and dashes down an alleyway, the mage manages to wound him with a dart. Ulfrek draws his knife and turns to fight as Heraus bears down on him. The paladin misses but Ulfrek doesn’t and inflicts a harsh wound on Heraus. Meanwhile, Castinus cuts off the far end of the alley and, rushing the Jutlander from behind, lands a cutting strike before tripping Ulfrek to the ground where Heraus ends him.

Hearing the noise, the legionnaire on watch arrives and is appalled at the sight of murder in the streets. But Jena Vale steps up and advises that Ulfrek had just cut off the hand of one of their friends. These heroes should be rewarded, she says, and reports that they’ve offered to have her join her band. Castinus confirms that this is true. The legionnaire is satisfied and states that there was a reward of five gold on the man’s head. He pays Castinus who promptly hires Jena and gives her an advance payment of three of the gold he’s just received.

28 Froelen – The Brothers travel back to Türos Tem where Gwynfor is astonished to see Hyglak’s injuries. As the one leaves the hospital, the other enters. Priestess Genelen advises that she cannot heal Hyglak’s hand by mundane means, but with a donation of 350gp, she can restore it. Unfortunately, the Brothers are nearly broke and deeply in debt. As an alternative, they buy Hyglak a shield he can strap to his arm.

29 Froelen – Castinus makes purchases to supply the company with basic adventuring gear as well as bows, military oil, and earplugs. The Brothers take up various studies as they wait for Hyglak to heal. Castinus trains in bargaining, Raemon in military strategy, Tirenius in healing, and Gwynfor in leadership.

From this day forward, Hyglak is known as Hyglak Halfhand.

Chapter IV
Let me die before we go back. We have to make money!

1 Pendaelen – Castinus visits the innkeeper and pays the outstanding loan from the “Fierce Brethren”. Then he asks of any healers they could approach for recruitment. The innkeeper tells him of Ravila the Crone who lives on the outskirts in the rougher part of town. Most people think she’s a witch.

The Brothers approach Ravila at her hut. She’s revealed to be an elderly woman with a hideous wrinkly face. Her garb is a tattered robe without shoes and both her long boney fingers and her toes have yellowed nails. Castinus tells her that they seek aid on a crusade for the legate. Though she initially retorts that she’s a retired sister of mourning to Calefa, Castinus cajoles her to join the company. Seeing Raemon she says, “You’re a mighty pretty one for a priest. Are you a male blade dancer or something?” Raemon finds the idea terribly inappropriate. He’s a crusader of Ammonar! Ravila nods. After all, everyone likes sunny days. Suspicious of her demeanor, Tirenius is reluctant to give her his comfrey, but consents to hand over one now and the rest when they set out the next day.

Castinus heads to the baths where he meets Aeropos Karanos. Espying the venture, Aeropos cries, “Don’t you owe me money?” “Yes, let us sit and talk,” Castinus replies. He purchases refreshments to share and asks for an extension on the loan. He explains that the Brothers have found the source of the raids afflicting the region and now they are heading out to end the threat. The treasures recovered will pay back all he is owed. Aeropos agrees on condition that the interest will stack at an additional 150gp per week until it is paid off.

In the market, the Brothers purchase a donkey by the name of Destrius “Knight” and a few other final supplies.

2 Pendaelen – The Brotherhood departs Türos Tem, following the road north and then veering into the forest where they camp for the night.

3 Pendaelen – The Brothers reach the temple around midday and send Avarice to scout the perimeter of the dome. He reports it is at least five hundred feet in diameter and has no other visible entrances and no other cracks. Kobolds, once again, guard the entrance. These are dispatched by volleyed fire from the Brothers with two kills going to Avaro, one to Avarice, and one to Castinus. Searching among the bodies, Hyglak miraculously finds a short sword of decent quality and gives it to Jena. It turns out that they killed the one kobold who knew how to keep his weapon in good repair. With his death, the secret has been lost to his race forever.

Inside the temple, the Brothers follow the first corridor to the east, passing by the door that led north to the courtyard and the Zaharan statue. The wide hallway ends at a set of double-doors while a second, smaller door leads south. They check the southern door first and, while detecting no traps, determine that it is stuck. There are also no traps on the eastern door. When Hyglak tries it, the wide doors swing open easily to reveal a once-glorious chapel lined with Zaharan statues that have been despoiled by age. In the smoky light of torches, half a dozen brigands dare each other to urinate on the ancient sculptures.

Both groups ready immediately for battle. After Avarice misses with his bow, one of the brigands charges forward with his spear, impaling Gwynfor. As the elf spellsword collapses insensate, Heraus steps over him and cuts the enemy down. With the battle line forming in front of the prostrate elf, Ravila rushes forward to heal him. She finds that he’s taken a deep puncture wound to the throat that has severed many of his vocal chords and will leave him with a rasping voice… should he survive at all.

The Brothers repel all other assaults as Avaro kills two, Raemon one, and Hyglak one. The final brigand flees to the north, up the center of three hallways, screaming, “We’re being attacked! A massive force of adventurers… there’s an army of them!”

Raemon and Hyglak form a forward defensive line as Ravila continues to tend to Gwynfor. As the Brothers deliberate what to do, Gwynfor tells them to load him on the donkey because they can’t leave without money to pay their debts. Meanwhile, the sounds of marshalling warriors drift down from the north.

As the first wave of brigands descend, Raemon casts Holy Circle and Castinus pulls the rest of the Brotherhood into the chapel. The outer door is closed behind them in an effort to muffle the sounds of fighting in the rest of the temple. Gwynfor guides the donkey to lean against it and help barricade it closed.

Tirenius unleashes Slumber, putting four brigands to sleep. More enemies rush forward with several falling beneath a barrage of arrows and military oil. Leading them is Drusus, the brigand chieftain, who cries, “I’ll kill you all!”

As if to give weight to his words, a second wave of brigands appears up the left corridor. While the Company heavy warriors hold the line in the center, Castinus, Lusbalos, and Jena rush to bolster the vulnerable flank. The venturer lobs a flask of military oil, killing one. Not to be outdone, Tirenius hurls another flask at Drusus, turning him into a torch. The chieftain roars in pain, “Kill the wizard!”

One of the brigands throws his spear and strikes Tirenius, dropping the hapless mage to the ground. Emboldened, the enemy rush down both hallways against the stout Brotherhood defenses. The still burning Drusus leads the assault. He parries an attack from Hyglak, reducing what would have been a killing blow to a shallow cut along the side of his face. But even as the chieftain lunges at Heraus with blade extended, Avaro runs him through and Drusus dies.

With the demise of their leader, the brigand line in the center collapses and Hyglak leads a charge that slays the final foe. Meanwhile, Ravila tends to Tirenius and finds that he’s suffered from a puncture wound to the throat. The wizard breathes through the hole and cannot speak or cast spells. As she tends to him, the crone grins. “Now aren’t you glad you gave me the comfrey?”

Though the central hallway is clear, battle still rages on the left where unremitting waves of heavily armed and armored brigands rush in against Castinus and three lightly protected henchmen. At first, the Brothers hold their own and, with the fall of Drusus, Castinus bellows, “Your king is dead!”

Instead of surrendering, a brigand charges and hews down both Castinus and Lusbalos. With a roar of “Maybe I’m the new king!” he advances through the crumbling flank.

But he isn’t. Avaro rushes in and cuts him down with Heraus following to slay two more. The brigand tide continues to pour forward but by now it is clear that their piecemeal attack is doomed. Where they might have prevailed in an initial rush, they break against the rocks of Avaro, Heraus, and Raemon. At last their morale fails and they flee. One falls to a well-placed arrow from Avarice and the final three surrender with a cry of “If you let us live, we’ll show you where Drusus’ treasure is.” They throw down their weapons at the Brothers feet.

Ravila tends to Castinus and finds that his ear has been torn off. He’s suffering shock and will need bedrest. Lusbalos is in critical condition and will bear a puckered scar, but will survive.

After the three prisoners are secured, they guide the party up the central hallway to a large chamber that holds a dozen pallets, several tables with benches, and a wicker throne for Drusus. The western wall has a door that is spiked shut. The prisoners report that they’d secured it to keep the undead on the far side out. Amid the rubble on the east side of the room are three barrels of liquor and three crates of glassware. The items are from the merchant caravan. As for the merchant prisoners, Drusus took them to the ziggurat. The prisoners claim they don’t know how to get there, only their chieftain did.

Avarice beheads Drusus as a means of proving the final fate of the rebel subaltern and then searches the body. The chieftain has an Auran cavalry sword with an engraved orichalcum blade that says “Mor Süresan”, that is, “Death to Sorcerers.” He also wears a well-made suit of chainmail and has a key in his pocket.

The key opens a chest behind Drusus’ wicker throne that contains a large number of gold and electrum pieces, a trinket of shells, half a dozen glass prisms, and a bone scroll case.

Raemon lectures the brigands on the folly of aligning with chthonic darkness and declares that they must renew their loyalty to the Empyrean faith if the Brothers are to vouch for them before the legate. The prisoners are distraught. “You said you were going to spare our lives! There was nothing about taking us to town. They’ll kill us!” Raemon agrees to release them provided they swear to never turn their hands against civilization again. The prisoners kneel and one says, “I totally vow to support your world view” the second adds “Yup!” and the third “I’m in!” They claim they don’t know why they were in the temple to begin with. Strange dreams compelled them. “I’m not sure that we sided with darkness. We were sort of on darkness’ payroll.” Raemon considers recruiting them, but they decline. They assure the crusader that they will go to Cyfaraun and pursue another path than banditry.

The brigands also show the Brothers the rest of their lair in the ruined chapel. The left hallway leads north to a sleeping alcove where a modest sum of coin is found. To the south lies a kitchen along with begs of grain and vinegar wine. The Brothers hide the barrels of liquor, the bags of grain, and the vinegar wine in the rubble of the northern chamber, but have the prisoners carry the glassware crates. Opening the doors to the chapel again, the company successfully exfiltrates the buried temple without further incident.

Chapter V
Only the worthy can be a part of the Grey Brotherhood

4 Pendaelen – The Grey Brotherhood travels southeast toward the road where they startle a grizzly bear. Hyglak attempts to appease it with some meat and Raemon tries to intimidate it, but both fail. The mighty bear lumbers forward swiping at Hyglak and then Heraus. Rasping from his grievous wound, Gwynfor can do nothing but exhort (and perhaps annoy) his companions, “Courage is what we must find when all other options fail us!” Ravila cries, “Get him, boys!” The resolute Brothers doggedly surround the raging beast and strike at it from all sides with Castinus landing the killing blow.

Tirenius identifies the claws and stomach from the bear as useful components and Ravila extracts them. As night falls, they camp on the edge of the woods.

5 Pendaelen – The Brothers reach Türos Tem and bring their wounded to the hospital. The legate visits and is informed of the death of Drusus. Castinus tells him that once the Brothers have healed up, they will be returning to the temple to carry on with their purpose. The legate, seeing that the more severe wounds are beyond Priestess Genelen’s ability, advises that for greater magical healing they might consider heading to Siadanos, provided the Brothers have sufficient coin to afford it.

The quartermaster pays the legate’s reward and Aeropos pays the merchant guild’s reward. From the funds, the party pays back their loan to Aeropos which, by now, has grown to 450gp. Castinus then uses the shells and three of the prisms to get a collateralized loan. He also begins negotiation on cargo carriage to Siadanos, to be continued the next day. The eager henchmen receive their first bonus pay.

Heading to the hospital to get Lusbalos his share, the Brothers find Tirenius and Gwynfor both bedridden with heavy bandages over their mangled throats while Lusbalos throws a tantrum to any who will listen. Clutching his tiny puncture wound, he rages, “These are the most incompetent idiots I’ve ever met! If it hadn’t been for me, they would all be dead. The wizard can’t even talk because he ran into a spear. The elf didn’t do anything. And what do I get for it? I get a scar and a bit of gold.” As he storms away, Raemon observes, “Only the worthy can be a part of the Grey Brotherhood.”

6 Pendaelen – Castinus purchases two mules and an ox cart to caravan merchant goods for Aeropos to Siadanos as well as to carry Gwynfor and Tirenius while they remain on bedrest.

7 Pendaelen – With the new dawn, the Brothers set out for Siadanos. Two hours out of town, the party spies a huge winged shape approaching. Attempts to evade fail and the creature, now clearly feathered with talons extended closes fast. The Brothers prepare to defend themselves. “Spears surround the beasts,” Raemon cries, “wounded under the cart!” But then the crusader recognizes it as a roc, the greatest of eagles, the sacred bird of Ammonar. He raises his shield upon which is emblazoned the symbol of Ammonar. The roc circles twice, lets out a great screech of respect, and continues on its journey to the northwest.

Near dusk, Tirenius sees a large patch of oddly blighted plants on the south side of the road along the edge of the Lusaun Forest. With Zopyros assisting and Avaro as security, he checks on the vegetation and realizes it is aloe, but its leaves are blighted and black. The destruction is unnatural and could only have been caused by necromancy or undead creatures creating a sinkhole of evil. Other patches of the Lusaun Forest show similar blight. The Brothers, in their current condition, decide not to investigate further, though Avaro is disappointed. The party pushes on a short distance before camping for the night.

8 Pendaelen – The Brothers continue their journey. Tirenius spots another patch of interesting plants that seem to be in good health on the north side of the road on the edge of the Viamir Marshes. He, Zopyros, and Avaro again go to investigate with the legionnaire commenting dryly, “Great, let’s go attack the bushes.” The plants prove to be Marsh Wound Wart, otherwise known as ‘heal all’ and ‘lambs ear.” It is one of the most valuable of all healing herbs. The Brothers spend several hours gathering them, ninety-three pounds in total, worth an estimated 930gp.

Later that same day, a lion is spotted, apparently sleeping in the middle of the road. The Brothers cautiously approach and then hear the sound of buzzing as a hideous stench assails their nostrils. The lion is dead. Raemon and Ravila carefully circle around it from a distance, looking for a cause for its demise. They see that it has blood on its claws and muzzle. It has a broken leash and its ear carries a tag. It died of several arrows as well as from a spear wound. Raemon suspects that it was a beast trained for gladiatorial matches. Approaching it, Ravila cuts off the ear tag. It says “Omnus Plurus, Lanista.” She also collects the heart and tongue for their magical properties.

9 Pendaelen – The Brothers reach Siadanos and head to the temple. As they walk the streets, a vegetable stall shatters, its produce flying through the air, as a maddened draft horse careens through the market. “A reward for anyone who can stop that horse!” a voice cries. Raemon steps in its path and calmly casts “Remove Fear.” The horse quiets to the great appreciation of the owner who gives the party a modest sum of gold in thanks. Raemon tells him the Grey Brothers are on a mission to bring order to the borderlands. They will use his reward towards this purpose. The man’s expression darkens. “Listen, if you’re serious about righting the wrongs, you really need to do something about the undead in the Lusaun Forest!”

The Brothers continue to the Plaza of the Pantheon, the hub of activity in Siadanos and enter the Temple of the Empyreans. Raemon advises that they seek divine aid and the priestess, seeing the degree of injuries, excuses herself to bring the Revered Mother Madelyn. She tends to Tirenius first. The magic courses through him and he is made whole, he can speak! But he is exhausted from the effort… and then a moment later, something rustles under his robes. A creature that resembles a squirrel with batwings emerges and says, “Hello, Tirenius. I’ve been sent from the outer darkness to check on you. We thought you’d be joining us!” The creature, an imp, which Tirenius realizes has a face with some resemblance to his own, introduces himself as his familiar, Zahak. Along with witty banter, he is equipped with knowledge on the “Black Lore of Zahar” that he happily imparts to his master… of course in no way motivated by the desire to corrupt.

The revered mother is appalled. “Is this man not a servant of law?” Raemon admits he also was deceived. She then asks if Hyglak is lawful, to which the barbarian proclaims, “I am very devout!” Revered Mother Madelyn banishes Tirenius from the temple, then tends to Hyglak. The effort scars Hyglak’s mind, causing a permanent diminishment of his will.

From the temple, the Brothers head to the Stone Tankard Inn where Castinus buys out all the rooms. Barto Stonehewer, the innkeeper, is filled with glee and gives them the first dinner on the house.

That evening, the Brothers head to the Tower of Knowledge. They sell the bear parts but, unfortunately, the lion parts have lost their power and are worthless. With the profits, they check on their three magical items. Drusus’ sword carries an enchantment against all creatures but is especially formidable against spellcasters. He is not able to identify anything about Drusus’ chain mail other than confirming that it is magical. The scroll provides protection against elemental creatures. The party sells the scroll and then heads back to the inn.

Chapter VS
I will be your blade

10 Pendaelen – The Grey Brothers realize that, while the priestesses won’t be able to determine the nature of Drusus’ chain mail armor, they can at least ascertain whether it is cursed or not. With that in mind, they head to the Empyrean Temple in Siadanos and meet with the Revered Mother Madelyn again. Raemon explains the conundrum and pays a tithe, after which Madelyn calls upon the wisdom of Mityara. She pronounces, “Oh, it’s cursed. Please take that filthy armor out of this holy place.” The imp demonstrates his first redeeming quality by punning, “Holy? Got chain mail, it’s got holes in it. Ha!”

The Brothers return to the Tower of Knowledge and sell the cursed armor so it can be broken down into safer magical components. Castinus then spends the rest of the day gauging the market. He is entirely successful in determining what commodities are in supply and demand.

11 Pendaelen – While the rest of the Brothers remain on bedrest, Castinus and Raemon head to the plaza to conduct business. On the way, they’re hailed by a traveler, “Are you members of that famous adventuring party, the Imperial Vanguard?”
“The Imperial Vanguard, the great defenders of the Borderlands!”
“No, we’re the Grey Brotherhood.”
“Do you work for them?”
“No, we ARE the defenders of the Borderlands.”
“So like the stuff that spills through, you come in and clean up. Got it.”
He wanders off a little disappointed. Alas, this would be but the first time the Brothers hear of this supposed Imperial Vanguard, with each additional incident adding to their vexation.

At the market, Castinus sells the glassware. He also places advertisements that the Brotherhood is looking for adventurers to bolster their ranks, especially an explorer.

12 Pendaelen – While the Brothers are relaxing at the inn, the door bursts open to reveal a dashing Krysean man silhouetted in the doorway. “Ha ha! I have come seeking the great heroes known as the Grey Brotherhood.” He sits down with the Brothers and declares, “Mandonio is what people call this magnificent specimen of marshal valor.” He is a wielder of a morning star, a steely stare, and a winning smile who professes to have crushed seventeen skulls… though admittedly some of them were merely those of giant rats. Mandonio is hired by Castinus.

The Brothers travel back to the temple for Gwynfor’s healing. He eagerly looks forward to “a voice that is not gravel! Give me my dulcet elven tones.” The healing is successful but, alas, the exertion shatters his confidence.

13 Pendaelen – The Brothers are visited by another applicant who, unfortunately, is heralded by a wretched stench. He announces himself as Segasimo, a gong farmer whose current occupation is collecting poop in the sewers to be used as fuel. He says, “I just was thinking, I know my way around dark places where nobody wants to be and I was like, maybe I should go to dark places that have treasures in them instead of poop.” Castinus kindly thanks Segasimo for coming and tells him to check back in a week.

14 Pendaelen – Castinus heads to the market and between purchases, commissions, and importing, secures plate armor for all of the heavy warriors. A shield is also purchased for Gwynfor who has grown weary of being cut down in the first moments of fighting. With Hyglak now protected by plate, Castinus takes up his old chain mail. Heavy helmets are also purchased for those Brothers who want them. The other old armor along with Gwynfor’s second sword, are sold.

As they return from the market, a shabbily dressed man clutching a large sack emerges from a side street, runs past, and then ducks into another alleyway. Moments later, a member of the city watch emerges and looks around, confused. Gwynfor directs him toward the other alley. The guard salutes and runs off. After sounds of scuffling, he comes back into view with the miscreant bound and bleeding. The watchman thanks the Brothers and gives his name as Theodorus. He would like to repay the favor in the future.

A young red-haired Rornish woman named Katrist Maranie waits for them back at the inn. Her father was an archer of some repute who had no sons so he taught her the skill. When he wanted her to marry an undesirable local boy, she ran away to become a mercenary. Along with archery, she can fight with a sword and knows how to play the lyre. At this point, she has not been a part of any expedition. Castinus sets up a test to determine if she can shoot into melee. She can’t, so Castinus tells her to come back in a week.

15 Pendaelen – An otherwise uneventful day is disturbed by thirty-six beggars creating a ruckus near the inn. Seeing that many of them are disabled veterans, Gwynfor treats them each to a meal. One of the beggars tells him of the Dragon’s Tor to the southwest where the grey goblins have been raiding. The beggar reports what is not known is that there is an ancient red dragon of great age that slumbers at the tor.

16 Pendaelen – While Castinus purchases various medicinal herbs, Gwynfor visits the menagerie which sells many animals including hunting dogs, war dogs, and hawks. Gwynfor speaks with the proprietor, a burly Krysean man named Omas, concerning the curious lion tag. Omas advises that Omnus Plurus is a gladiator school owner in Cyfaraun whose team has done poorly lately. In order to stay in the show, the lanista has branched into wild beasts. It appearing that there was no crime involved in the slaying of the lion, Gwynfor lets the matter drop.

Castinus heads to the temple to get his ear restored, but his healing goes awry. He becomes exhausted by the process and must get on bed rest as well. Ironically, at the same time he is imbued with so much life force that his male-pattern baldness is healed, too… and more. His hair grows so rapidly that he must shave twice a day or become inhibited in his movements.

17 Pendaelen – The next applicant is a short lean Krysean with a neat goatee and slicked back hair. He has a black-haired terrier with him who snarls at everyone else. “In all of Siadanos there is no better rat catchers than Scavenus Omir and his terrier, Isk!” Isk, which means “monster” in classical Auran, growls to accentuate his master’s words. The Brothers are amused, if a bit befuddled, and tell Scavenus to return in a week.

18 Pendaelen – The Brothers are approached by a rather unremarkable Tirenean man of average build. He says, shyly “Hello sir, my name is Pumilius Spen. I’m a blacksmith’s apprentice but it’s just, I don’t think a blacksmith’s life’s for me. I’m better at breaking things with my hammer then making things… I don’t want to be repairing dents in armor, I want to be making dents in armor!” He admits he’s never been on an adventure and, when asked if he’s ever killed anything he replies, “Yes, my mother was terrified of bugs.”

Castinus asks if he knows of a smith who will take commissions. For a few gold, Pumilius tells the Brothers of the dwarf Torrad Radokh of Radokh Steelworks. Pumilius warns that he’s surly and advices that the best way to get on the dwarf’s good side would be to hire his incompetent apprentice as an adventurer “…oh, and don’t bring the elf.”

20 Pendaelen – After a couple days, the Brothers are visited by a Krysean man with an unattractive face but very nice teeth. He bows and says, “They call me Toothy Tureno, ‘The Smiling Doom’. I am an assassin and a warrior.” His favorite weapon is poison. “The one thing I avoid is a fair fight.” The number of men he has slain is a professional secret with none done licitly. He can be contacted through the bartender of the Stone Tankard Inn.

22 Pendaelen – Several more days pass with all the Brothers continuing to rest while Raemon, the only hale one, reads voraciously about military strategy. They are visited by a lean rangy looking man named Leukon Habis who has long brown hair, wears a fur-lined cloak, and has a short bow on his back. He’s heard the Brothers are seeking an explorer and, while he can’t claim to be that, he is a skilled hunter and tracker with aspirations for more. Gwynfor tries to suppress his excitement as Castinus asks the man to come back in five days.

After Leukon departs, Castinus unfolds a scheme to his Brothers. They should purchase a fancy suit for Gwynfor including a sash and a feathered cap, have him wear the magic sword, and then have him attempt the recruitment. Such accouterments are, it is hoped, sufficient to overcome Gwynfor’s innate awkwardness with humans.

25 Pendaelen – All is quiet for a few days, then a comely female Tirenean with brown wavy hair and light eyes approaches. She offers a military salute and identifies herself as Zeodana Draka, a Blade Dancer who has recently come of age. “I seek to undertake a warrior’s pilgrimage to prove my worth to the goddess. I seek a lawful lord to follow.” Raemon is as thrilled by her visit as Gwynfor was that the Brothers might find an explorer. But she says, “Raemon, I can tell by your rank that you are not much further advanced in your studies than I am. Why should I take you as my lord and liege?”

“Because the vision that I have had. It is a vision of death and darkness under a dome of rock that we have seen. If you don’t follow us to vanquish the evil from the land before it emerges from that dome of rock, then the Borderlands will be known as the Bloodlands as evil overpowers us all.”

Zeodana replies, “A dark and disturbing vision indeed. If that is what you have seen, then I will be your blade to fight against it!”

27 Pendaelen – Leukon Habis returns and meets with Gwynfor decked out in his fancy suit. They chat for a few minutes over drinks. Leukon shares that he’s mostly been in the scrublands rather than the forests because the woodlands have become dangerous since the elves have left. Gwynfor replies it is his goal to make such places habitable again. They settle on a wage and Leukon says, “I would be honored to take your service.” With that, the Brothers celebrate. They have filled the desired vacancies with excellent warriors and the future looks bright indeed.

28 Pendaelen – The Brothers are approached by an exceptionally unattractive Rornish youth with a nasally voice. It is Griffin Russel, the apprentice to Torrad Radokh. He and his uncle came to the Borderlands after his parents were slain by Jutlandic raiders, but his uncle sold his services to the dwarven smith. Griffin says that Torrad punches him a lot because he has a “really punchable face.” Raemon and Castinus have a private conversation about the desire to get on Radokh’s good side in order to get commissioned work. But Castinus shakes his head. “We can’t take this guy.”

As the Brothers continue to rest, they plan for some final purchases for their next foray into the temple.

Chapter VI
Don’t kill the hot one!

6 Zigelen – A week has passed since the Brothers closed down their recruiting efforts and everyone in the company is fully recovered and ready to adventure. Before departing Siadanos, Tirenius stops by the Tower of Knowledge and applies for membership. He is told to report back in four weeks. Castinus also sells Destrius the Donkey and purchases two additional mules bringing the party mule train up to four. They are named Spartacus, Ranger, Trooper, and Traveler.

The Brothers set out for Türos Tem on the morning of the sixth. They make good time with the heavily armored warriors rotating between riding in the cart and marching without armor in order to maintain a higher pace. As the day comes to a close, they setup camp having traveled nearly half the distance to the fort.

7 Zigelen – Late in the afternoon as the Brothers continue their journey, they encounter a covered wagon pulled by four heavy draft horses heading toward them. The driver is a large man in chain mail with a shield on the seat next to him. He hails the Brothers. “Well met!” Castinus asks after news and he replies that nothing much has changed. “I did hear a rumor that the brigand Drusus was killed.” Castinus confirms that and advises that his band, the Grey Brotherhood, is the group that killed him. The driver replies, “That’s an impressive feat. I suspect there’s a lot of bandits and brigands that aren’t too sad to see old Drusus go. He was monopolizing the territory from what I’ve heard.” A snicker breaks out from inside the covered wagon. When Castinus asks if the man knew Drusus, he vociferously denies it and then hurriedly gets his wagon moving again. “You look to be a powerful and well-armed group. I’m sure you’ll be safe from the sort of highwaymen that might prey on the weak and innocent. Cheerio!”

Watching the departing wagon suspiciously, the Brothers, with several warriors out of armor, contemplate the legal nature of “probable cause” and choose not to investigate any further.

8 Zigelen – As the Brothers near the end of their journey to Türos Tem, they see a group of a dozen dwarven furriers coming from the forest and trotting toward the road. The dwarves talk for a few minutes with Castinus and announce that feral elves are lurking in the Viaspen Forest who crave the flesh of men. The problems within the woods aren’t from beastmen, but from these feral elves. Castinus graciously makes no attempt to correct them and Gwynfor, managing to suppress his annoyance, maintains a low profile.

Reaching Türos Tem in the middle of the afternoon the Brothers decide to rest for the night. They visit the bathhouse to refresh themselves, then head to the Traveler’s Inn. The innkeeper is pleased to see them. “My friends, the men who pay debts!” Castinus asks for any news and is told a rumor that the dwarves of Azen Radokh are the cause of the recent problems in the Viaspen Forest. There’s probably a gold mine in the woods and the dwarves are driving out the beastmen to get it. Gwynfor sagely agrees that that sounds quite probable.

Hyglak’s quest for ale fails as he is forced to settle for spiced Krysean wine. A bit of mayhem ensues as Mandonio pursues the barmaids while Heraus judges and Gwynfor spouts off various apropos quotations that no one quite understands because they don’t speak elvish.

9 Zigelen – As the day breaks, Castinus visits Aeropos and repays the secured loan. He also pays the storage fees so the Brothers can leave behind the cart and several trade items. Some small purchases are made in town and the party prepares to set out. In an effort to find an actual trail leading to the temple, the Brothers consult with Leukon and decide that they might have better luck if they try a new route. With that in mind, instead of following the road north of Türos Tem first, they head northwest immediately upon leaving the fort and enter the Viaspen Forest.

Leukon’s advice quickly proves sound as he finds an old trail. Following the path, they see a spasming figure lying on the ground ahead. Looking more closely, they see that his skin is green with bristling hair and they realize that there are several creatures upon him. Suddenly, the body falls still and the creatures rise up from the corpse. They are four Striges, large headed birds of prey with forward facing eyes and hooked beaks covered with blood.

As the birds swoop forward, the Brothers act quickly. Avarice, Leukon, and Mandonio each fell a Strix with their bows while Hyglak advances and hurls his hand axe, killing the fourth. They find that the body is an orc in leather armor carrying a short sword, a short bow, and some arrows. Hyglak collects the bow and arrows for his own use. He also loots the sword and fetid armor for sale. Tirenius identifies that Striges have useful hooked beaks and wings which Ravila harvests. The components are stored in the metamphorae that Castinus wisely procured.

The company presses on further into the woods. Late in the day, Leukon holds up his hand, pausing the march. The woods around them don’t look “wild enough.” They realize that it must be the remnants of an old elven orchard. Eight apricot trees still remain and are in full fruit. “Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had a real apricot?” Gwynfor asks. “I’ll just let you know it’s been forever for the rest of you. You’ve never had a real apricot.”

The party decides to camp in the orchard for the night and they feast on apricots. Gwynfor’s brothers, while initially skeptical, admit that the fruit was truly fantastic though Hyglak comments that they’d have been better as apricot whiskey.

10 Zigelen – As the Brothers approach the temple, they see that spring storms have washed away the soil of a hill that overlooks the trail they’ve been following. From the eroded slope, something metallic glints. They cautiously approach and realize that it is a magnificent ancient orichalcum battle standard topped with the emblem of the Winged Sun. Half buried in the earth is a plaque that reads, “Be it known that in the 421st year since the Fall of the Thrassians, in the reign of the Sorcerer-King Sebek of Zahar, here did Azendor of Tirenea call down the fortress of Ammonar upon the Temple of Sakkara. Breach not the walls that He hath placed for the Temple is a place unwholesome and unclean; but if His walls hath been breached by evil gods or men, then good men must ready for war."

“This here is our mandate!” Raemon cries. “This here is our commission!” They reverently wrap the staff in cloth and store it on one of the mules for safekeeping, agreeing that it shall become the battle standard of the Grey Brotherhood.

As before, the buried temple they now know to be called Sakkara, is guarded by four kobold archers. The Brothers attack from a distance, with Mandonio, Hyglak, and Avaro each slaying one by bow fire, but the fourth escapes inside to raise the alarm. Rather then blunder into the dark after the escaping kobold and unleash a potential ambush, the Brothers reform their ranks and advance into the temple at a measured pace. Wary that the kobolds may be rousing against them, they decide to press eastward as they’d initially planned to verify that the old brigand lair is still cleared.

As they approach the lair, however, they are surprised to find the double doors spiked shut from the outside. Hyglak and Raemon speculate that the temple may be a sinkhole of evil and perhaps the slain brigands have risen in undeath. In near immediate verification of this, they hear feral moans and thumping upon the door as fiendish creatures beyond try to break through.

The Brothers back away and check the door to the south that they’d left alone on their last foray. After confirming no traps, Hyglak forces it open. Stepping into the chamber beyond, they realize it may not be a chamber at all. The floor is bare earth and there is no visible ceiling. They speculate that perhaps this was “outside” the actual temple prior to the dome sealing it within. They conclude that it would have been a perfect place to rest in some security if it weren’t for the lurking undead next door.

Hoping the undead quiet with their departure, the Brothers head back west toward the entrance. As they approach the door that leads north to the courtyard with the Zaharan statue, Avarice hears the sound of marshaling kobolds on the far side. Hastily, a shield wall is formed facing the door. Raemon casts Holy Circle and Gwynfor casts Sharpness on his spear. Flankers are placed to the east as a precaution should the undead break through and also to the west in case another assault comes from that direction. Tirenius, Ravila, and the mule handlers take position with their animals in the center.

The first assault doesn’t burst through the door, however, but rather comes as a volley of arrows flying out of the darkness to the west… all aimed at Heraus the lone flank guard. Only one breaks through the paladin’s stout defense inflicting a minor wound. The barrage is immediately followed by a screaming war cry as a swarm of eight javelin wielding kobolds charge into the torchlight. Four reach him and land numerous blows. Heraus is badly wounded, but holds his ground.

Then, finally, the northern door explodes open and the kobolds burst out. Hyglak slaughters the first to step into the door and Avaro guts two more but they keep on coming like a tidal wave. But Raemon and Hyglak standing in the door hold the beastmen at bay including their chieftain and a champion. Meanwhile, Mandonio hustles to bolster the assailed flank and Avarice begins returning fire, killing one. Ravila steps behind the solidifying western line and lays hands on Heraus, mending some of his wounds. The Brothers fear she might share the same fate as Drakima. Fortunately, their concerns are eased as one of the kobolds orderes, “Don’t kill the hot one!”

Tirenius unleashes Slumber, dropping their chieftain and one other kobold, but the remainder, including the champion, shrug off the effects of the spell. Seeing his downed boss, the champion cries, “To me, to me! Victory under my leadership!”

Gwynfor shifts from the northern front to the western, slaughtering a pair of kobolds with his magically Sharpened spear. Mandonio smashes at a kobold and, missing, laments, “I have been outdone by an elf, my humiliation is endless.” Tirenius, however, demonstrates that mages can be ranged fighters by slaying a kobold with his dart. Leukon and Heraus kill two more, thinning the ranks of the doglike beastmen. Zopyros throws his torch over the combatants to the east and reveals the four kobold archers beyond. This technique establishes a new Brotherhood tactic. The western line holds against the kobolds in melee, but the archers drop Leukon.

To the north, Zeodana kills one of the kobolds and Hyglak another before the Jutlander is lightly wounded by a javelin. The kobold champion who yearns to be chieftain charges in… and misses.

Their morale faltering, the kobolds attempt a fighting withdrawal. To the north, the shield wall presses into the collapsing front with Avaro cutting down the champion and Hyglak slaying two other kobolds. Impressively, Tirenius brings down another with a dart. While Hyglak and Zeodana kill the slumbering kobolds, Avaro charges past them to engage the final beastman in the room. But in a startling turn of events, the kobold lands a minor wound on the legionnaire while Avaro misses. Raemon, however, lets his Holy Circle drop and charges in alongside Avaro to cave in the kobold’s head with his mace.

To the west, Gwynfor charges the line of kobold archers. He strikes one so hard that the body flies bonelessly back to strike the far wall but as the elf whirls to strike another the haft of the Sharpened spear shatters in his hands. The three remaining kobold archers, scurry back and unleash a volley of arrows at Gwynfor, but their aim is too shaky and all of them miss. Avarice doesn’t, slaying one while Tirenius miraculously claims his third kill with a dart. The two kobold javeliners meet similar fates at the hands of Heraus and Mandonio. As Gwynfor draws his sword and prepares to advance on the final archer, it cries out in crude Common, “If you let me live, I show you chief treasure!”

“Very well,” Gwynfor replies. “Drop your weapons!” The creature complies, bringing the bloody battle against the kobolds to a close. In all, the Brothers killed ten to the north and eleven in the west. Ravila tends to Leukon with a poultice of horsetail. Fortunately, his wounds are not severe. A vision of the afterlife passes before his eyes as he rouses.

The captive guides the Brothers back to the site of their first kobold battle and, from there, past the burning braziers into what he describes as the chieftain’s chambers. At the western end stands a stone bench that the chief used for a throne. A hallway past the throne leads south to a second room. This room, and the one north of it, hold many windows on the western edge that open out onto the black stone of the dome. Bags and containers throughout the room hold various items stolen from caravans including tapestries, vases, and cloth.

As Avarice begins a careful search of the room, Tirenius interrogates the captive. The kobold is cowed by the “great witch doctor” and tells everything. He says that the Lady Below rules the temple. The kobold chieftain bowed to her when he was called to Sakkara by the beating heart. She is below. The path to her is through the ziggurat which lies to the north. More kobolds serve the Lady Below’s greatest servant, Idimmu the Demonic, a dragon who rules the ziggurat. The kobold declares the dragon is gigantic, “The size of a dozen kobolds!” Tirenius interprets that to mean it is a very young dragon. The prisoner says that the most frightening denizens of the temple, aside from Idimmu, are the hobgoblins who live to the northeast. There are also orcs to the north. When asked about the undead, he says that the kobolds hammered them in. Tirenius asks if they are the bandits and the prisoner nods. “Yes, but they came back. It happens in this place sometimes.”

As Avarice searches through the various containers, a spitting cobra bursts out. It rears up and spits its venom at the surprised thief who screams in agony as his eyes melt. The Brothers rush to his aid with Leukon loosing an arrow and slaying the snake.

Avarice gropes his way painfully over to the kobold and manages to snarl, “Understand that if you forget anything else, everything that has happened to me will happen to you!” The kobold covers his eyes fearfully and tells them to search the chieftain’s body. Ravila attempts to neutralize the poison on the thief but his wounds are too severe. “He will need magical healing… or a cane.”

With Avarice down, the Brothers work together to search the rest of the room more quickly. Unfortunately, this depletes the rear guard at the very moment they are needed as the outer door swings open. Four hobgoblins are illuminated In the light of the braziers. “King Urza, it is time to pay your tribute to the hob…” Their demand falters as they see humans wielding torches. Boldly facing them, Tirenius says, “We’re taking over for King Urza. What’s the bargain?” A hobgoblin bellows, “Lies! It’s them!”

As the Brothers in the southern room rush northward, the hobgoblins advance into the darkness between the outer sconces and the company’s torchlight. A beastman hurls his spear at the dangerous looking mage, Zopyros the Undying, and impales him. Zopyros looks down at the spear embedded in his chest and smiles before crumpling to the floor.

Mandonio, the sole warrior in the rear guard, advances to a covered position behind the kobold king’s stone bench and returns fire with his bow, though he misses. Two more hobgoblins throw their spears as well, but the Brothers have begun to establish their line in cover and they miss. The final one strikes Jena with his spear, but fortunately the wound isn’t fatal. However, when Ravila checks on Zopyros, she finds that he is dead.

One of the hobgoblins charges from the intervening darkness and is promptly dropped by a perfectly placed arrow of Leukon’s. The surviving hobgoblins are startled by the stalwart defense and the sheer number of Brothers emerging from the southern room. Having flung all their spears, they have only two options. They can advance into the torchlight and face withering bow fire or they can flee back through the brazier light and draw bow fire all the same. Even worse for them, they can’t charge home against the line of archers because the stone bench blocks their path. All three decide to flee and die, two falling to Mandonio and one to Avaro.

With the battle over, the Brothers finish pillaging the kobold lair, gathering a large sum of copper coins, ten rolls of red-dyed cloth, fourteen bone fetishes, a porcelain vase depicting the city of Aura, two agates, and seven Opelenean tapestries. Gwynfor claims one of the hobgoblin spears to replace the one he broke. Two other spears are secured given the Brothers’ propensity to break them. The Brothers also load Zopyros’ body on a mule for proper funeral rites and the company beats a hasty withdrawal from the temple, pausing only to loot the kobold chieftain’s body. They find a serpent-headed copper torque and a tarnished silver ring. There is some discussion of what should be done with the bodies of the beastmen to prevent them from rising as undead, but resolving to return to the temple quickly, the Brothers conclude that they can get back before such dark sorcery comes into effect.

Having only been in the temple for about an hour, the Brothers march through the forest for the remainder the day, pausing only for a meal of apricots.

11 Zigelen –The party continues through the forest without incident and camp for the night near the road.

12 Zigelen – The Brothers reach Türos Tem. Unfortunately, as they return to civilization Leukon states, “I bear you no ill will, it’s just too dangerous for me. I think I’d rather the safer life of a tracker.” Gwynfor understands and wishes him well. Having been blinded, Avarice also evaluates his decision to stay with the Brothers. Ultimately, he decides to stick around because he doesn’t see any better options.

Chapter VII
I will feast on your corpses… aaaaaaah it burns!

13 Zigelen – The Brothers attend the funeral of Zopyros at the temple. While there, they also donate eight doses of woundwort and get Avarice healed of his blindness. Castinus also commissions additional horsetail and goldenrod. Based upon her experiences with the Brothers, Jena Vale becomes a bona fide thief though she prevaricates on whether to remain with the company or not. A hefty signing bonus convinces her to continue her employment.

14 Zigelen – Gwynfor dons his fancy suit and the Grey Brotherhood head to the legion training grounds. Centurion Axius Elarian introduces them to two legionnaires that he believes are good candidates. Gwynfor gives a rousing speech on honor and glory, calling them to arms, but he failed to read his audience and may have been better off playing the jester. The pair are unenthused, but fortunately a nice signing bonus encourages them both to sign on. The first is Augilor Stellumdoran, a man with near-Nobiran abilities who suffers from a high-pitched and grating voice. The second, with the strength and intellect of a bull, is aptly named Türok Dorion.

Gwynfor also inquires of Priestess Genelen concerning the undead that were encountered in the Sakkara temple. The priestess explains that the Empyrean faith instructs that the dead should be cremated. These are ancient practices intended to prevent the undead from returning. When the Zaharans ruled, everything was shadowed in darkness and one in ten dead might rise over a period of one to twelve weeks. The light of Ammonar now prevents that, but there remain sinkholes of evil. If the sinkhole is blighted it could happen in days and in greater numbers. If it is forsaken, the undeath could occur in mere minutes. If there is insufficient time for a cremation, she advises that severing the head should be enough. The head may reanimate, but not the body.

17 Zigelen – After several days in the market, Castinus sells various treasures and procures equipment for the Brothers before it is time to set out again for the temple. This time, the ox cart and their four mules travel with the company. They follow the same trail they discovered on the last incursion but this time, perhaps six miles south of the temple, they notice a cave entrance. It is well hidden and difficult to access, explaining why it wasn’t noticed before. There are no signs of animals or beastmen coming or going and, marking it on their map, the Brothers decide to leave it be. They camp for the night in the old elven orchard and feast on apricots.

18 Zigelen – The day dawns damp and rainy and, after a five-hour march, the party reaches the temple. Instead of kobolds, it is now guarded by orc crossbowmen. Having no better idea on how to gain entrance, they attack the orcs. Three are quickly felled by archers, but the fourth must have possessed preternatural dark gifts as it dodges five attacks before finally being felled by Gwynfor. Archer kills go to Castinus, Augilor, and Avarice.

After some deliberation, the Brothers push the ox cart through the temple door despite the risk of it causing a cacophony. Once inside, they observe that the kobold bodies from the previous incursion have been removed. Perhaps the denizens, fearful of undead, have taken care of that threat on their own. The Company sets a careful marching order with two solid ranks both in front and behind then sets off westward down the first unexplored hallway. Passing one door that they speculate leads to the kobold area, they reach the end of the hallway. It holds a chamber with desiccated corpses in one corner and a single skeleton draped in rags near a curtain covered doorway on the far side. Noticing thick webs, the Brothers grow nervous and Gwynfor imbues his spear with Sharpness.

As they carefully cross the room, the rag-covered skeleton is revealed to actually be a heap of spider eggs covered in webs. Tirenius announces that the eggs hold magical properties and they are secured in a metamphorae. The Brothers also realize that the curtain is actually made of thick spider webs. Tirenius tosses forward a torch that burns the webs, then the first rank of the party passes through the doorway. Their alertness pays off as two giant crab spiders drop down from the ceiling and attack!

Gwynfor, who had been second-guessing his decision to use his single spell so early, lunges forward. Thanks to the Sharpness on his spear, he cleaves through both spiders, ending the combat. In the room beyond, they find four incense jars. While these are collected, others of the party check the corpses in the first room and recover a garnet. Meanwhile, Ravila extracts the mandibles, leg tarsus, and palps from the spiders but decides not to collect their poison due to the risks involved.

The party unharnesses the mules and leaves the cart behind as they press on further into the temple. As they head back eastward, they take the northern door they’d passed by and confirm it leads to the kobold guard room where, on their first expedition, Drakima was slain. They recover coin on a table and from the adjoining sleeping room that had, surprisingly, lain untouched since the death of the kobold chieftain a week past.

From there, the party retraces the path they’d followed on their original foray until they reach the courtyard with the Zaharan Statue. Looking to the north, they see that the door in the eastern corner stands open while the one in the western corner is closed. Wary of being hemmed in, they pass through the open door first. Avarice scouts ahead and almost immediately encounters the grotesque sight of ten giant rats writhing in fevered pain as they conjoin into some fell blasphemy. The thief hastily retreats, but not before the rats swarm and overwhelm him. The Brothers rush to the rescue with Hyglak, Gwynfor, and Augilor killing three rats before Tirenius casts Slumber, putting the rest of the vermin to sleep along with Raemon and Gwynfor. The drowsing Brothers are revived as the remaining rats are slain and then destroyed to prevent the touch of undeath. The fetid stench is nearly overwhelming.

As this is done, Ravila checks on Avarice and is able to fully revive him though, unfortunately, his wounds stiffened from the ordeal and there is a good, though indeterminate, chance that he has caught some vile disease. Attempts to treat him, just in case, fail.

The Brothers backtrack to the courtyard again and head to the door on the northwestern side. As Avarice checks it for traps, the door swings open to reveal five orcs. The thief quickly withdraws as the forward ranks surge forward with kills going to Gwynfor, Hyglak, Avaro, and Türok. The final orc, however, flees into the darkness to the west. Moments later, the Brothers hear a door slam.

Following the orc into the wide hallway beyond the courtyard, they find a closed door to the north and a hallway that continues into the darkness to the west. The Company forms up with strong guards to the front and rear before pressing westward. After a short distance, they come across another closed door to the north. Relieving Avarice, Jena carefully listens through the door and her keen ears discern half a dozen orcs marshalling for battle.

As quickly and as quietly as a heavily armed and armored expedition can be, the Brothers form a spear wall facing the door while posting several of the Company to guard the eastern and western hallways. Growing uneasy, Castinus suggests that Tirenius toss his torch down the corridor to the west. The wizard complies and, in its flickering light, emerge a band of eleven orcs forming up for an assault.

They surge forward against the well-ordered flank of the Brotherhood in a frenzied attempt to shatter its southern end. First blood goes to Zeodana with three more beastmen quickly following the first into death before one orc charges through. He drops Zeodana and then cleaves into Mandonio, bringing down the warrior as well. With the flank wavering, the Brothers in the second rank facing the northern door reposition against the assaulting orcs and drive them back. Amid the fury of the melee, Zeodana and Mandonio are pulled to safety where Ravila can tend to them. Zeodana is found to be critically injured by a piercing wound that will leave a puckering scar, should she survive. Mandonio is better off, though he is in shock and a rib has been shattered making forced marching impossible.

As the battle in the west rages, the door to the north shatters into splinters, revealing the six orc swordsmen beyond. They’d expected their western assault to distract the Brothers, leaving the flank vulnerable to envelopment. Instead, they find the redoubtable Raemon and the ferocious Hyglak barring the way. One by one, the orcs rush into the narrow choke point of the door but Raemon stands firm and Hyglak’s magic blade cuts them down.

To the west, the orc assault crumbles with its final two survivors fleeing in a panic. But even as they retreat, a second wave of seven orcs emerges into the torchlight including the chieftain and four of his mighty champions. The chieftain roars, “You may have made work of my men, but I will feast on your corpses!”

In reply, Tirenius strikes the chieftain with military oil and turns the hapless beastman into a flaming corpse. But the champions charge forward. Several are brought down, but Türok and Gwynfor are both cut down before the remainder are finally overwhelmed. The final six orcs, broken by the pyre that was their chieftain and the heavy casualties, cast down their weapons and surrender.

Fortunately, the wounds on Gwynfor and Türok prove minor, though both have haunting visions of the afterlife. Türok is too large and bull-headed to be troubled by such matters while, for Gwynfor, it is his third such vision and he shrugs it off. From the first encounter at the courtyard door through the three waves of orc assaults, the Grey Brotherhood met and overcame twenty-eight orcs, slaying twenty-two and capturing six. Hyglak claims six kills, Türok four, Gwynfor and Avaro three, Augilor and Mandonio two, and Tirenius and Zeodana one. In truth, however, it should be noted that these ‘credits’ can be misleading given the critical rolls played by the rearguard, and those recovering the fallen. The critical importance of Raemon’s perfect defense at the northern door and Tirenius’ engulfment of the orc chieftain cannot be understated. Nor can the Brotherhood’s preparations to ward off attacks on the flanks and the rear.

Chapter VIII
I had foreseen this day. Doom!

18 Zigelen (continued) – In the wake of the hard fought battle, the Grey Brotherhood ties up their orc prisoners and reestablishes perimeter security while Ravila heals Zeodana back from the jaws of death. As all this is being done, sounds of fighting are heard to the southeast. The voices don’t sound human and, when questioned, the orc prisoners speculate that they’re probably goblins.

The party decides not to immediately investigate the fighting but instead focuses on the area they’ve just secured. Gwynfor, speaking orcish, interrogates the prisoners and tells them that the one who reports traps before they activate will live, the others… perhaps not. The orcs become very eager and identify a storeroom door to the west as trapped. They report that goblins live to the east and hobgoblins are to the northeast. While the rest of the party holds position and beheads their fallen foes, Hyglak, Gwynfor, & Jena guide two of the prisoners through the orc lair. They begin by investigating the room beyond where Raemon and Hyglak held their stalwart defense. It is an unremarkable guard post. From there, the orcs identify a magical pool to the northeast which behaves differently each time it is used. They comment that the chieftain forbade drinking it after it made Zigbek stupid.

The group heads through the northwestern corridor instead, entering a storeroom that holds many weapons in poor repair. Beyond the storeroom are two toll rooms where the orcs charged others for admittance to the ziggurat and, from there, to the Lady Below. They say it is the only route to her. A toll chest containing a large sum of coins is looted. Beyond these rooms lies an odorous dining hall. Seeing spilled beer everywhere, Hyglak is infuriated and demands the location of the cask so he can sate his thirst after having to drink feeble Auran wine for so long. He tries to ‘squeeze beer from an orc’ and is told that the keg, though nearly empty, is in a curtained area to the west. As they approach, a massive dire wolf leaps out and attacks! Jena sinks two arrows into it before Hyglak lands a killing blow. During the battle, the two orcs grab bottles in their manacled hands and desperately try to prove their worth by scolding and attacking the wolf. In a twist of roles, Gwynfor favors killing the orcs for their deception but Hyglak decides that threats are sufficient… this time. The orcs are cowed.

They pass through the dire wolf’s kennel, noticing nothing of worth, and enter an old library that the orc chief converted into an audience chamber. Gwynfor is mortified to see library shelves toppled to make a dais with a reading chair for a throne. Alas, most of the books have been used as toilet paper. The chieftain’s chest is opened to reveal a large number of coins, four silver unholy symbols, and eleven strange glass eyes. Crates to the south hold five items of glassware. The scouts turn to the final room of the lair, just to the east, and find an orc barracks with some loose change among the filthy pallets.

The party gathers again with Hyglak taking charge of the rearguard and four of the prisoners. The guard falls back to the northern toll room while the rest of the Brothers finish collecting the loot. Ravila extracts two fangs from the dire wolf while Gwynfor and Tirenius check through the detritus of the library. They locate a depraved Zaharan religious scroll that is handed to Raemon for safekeeping. A second unopened and unmarked scroll case is also found and secured. As the rooms are being searched and looted, Avarice notices a secret door to the south and unknowingly draws the Brothers down a path of doom.

Opening the secret door, they find a small closet. Two orc prisoners are sent in first and shrug, noticing nothing. They comment that they didn’t know about the room and that they don’t believe their chieftain did, either. This means the Brothers are likely the first to unearth it since the temple was sealed long ago. Avarice enters the closet and laughs at the others as he finds a second secret door on the far wall. The orcs are again sent first into the room beyond and find a larger chamber with three chests, one made of copper, one of silver, and one of gold.

Avarice begins checking the room and then the chests for traps. As he does so, five brigands approach Hyglak and the rearguard. They have returned from leave and are looking for Drusus. Hyglak bluffs ignorance, claiming he works with the orcs. Accepting his tale, the brigands decide to talk to the hobgoblins.

Avarice finds no traps on the silver chest, but he locates ones on the gold and copper chests. He disarms the copper, but as he attempts to disarm the gold, the trap is tripped. The small room floods with an invisible poison gas. Castinus and Gwynfor are instantly slain, though Avarice and the two orcs manage to escape back to the ‘closet’. Worry for his Brothers drives Avarice to a feat of boldness and he rushes back into the poisoned room to mount a rescue only to succumb to the gas himself. Meanwhile, in the library, Raemon witnesses the two orc prisoners stumbling out of the secret room, and looking beyond them, sees only the unmoving bodies of his companions. Sensing betrayal, he cuts the orcs down. Then, covering his mouth with a cloth and holding his breath, Raemon rushes in to save his Brothers… only to fall victim as well.

Back in the orc chieftain’s throne room, Tirenius realizes he needs a better plan and, after Zahak grudgingly admits that he’s immune to poison, sends the imp in to secure a rope around each of the fallen Brothers’ legs. As they are dragged into the library, Ravila tends to each in turn but, alas, Castinus, Raemon, and Gwynfor are all dead. Only Avarice is drawn back from the brink.

After a few minutes, Tirenius sends one of the other orc prisoners forward like a canary to see if the gas has cleared the room. The orc survives so Avarice returns and confirms the gold chest is no longer trapped. He unlocks it to reveal a golden broach of a two-headed dragon, a corked vial with a greenish-yellow fluid smelling of chlorine and sulfur, a staff with two worked bronze serpents, a round shield with a spiked boss, and a six-flanged mace carved with Zaharan glyphs.

Avarice picks the copper chest next to reveal rotted vestments with gold thread and ten amethyst. Meanwhile, Tirenius sends Zahak to notify the rearguard. Zahak chortles as he tells Hyglak of the death of all the other Brothers except Tirenius. “They’re stinking up the library even now. You should see the looks on their faces!” Hyglak darkly warns the imp, “One day, imp, you and I will have a disagreement and it won’t be pleasant for you.” He pulls the rear guard back into the dining hall. Though the surviving Brothers and their henchmen feel a sense of looming urgency to get out of the temple quickly, they also worry about leaving the loot for others. Thus, Avarice does a final check for traps on the silver chest and finds one. After having a rope tied to his leg, just in case, he attempts to disarm it. Ill luck strikes again and he discharges the trap, taking a full dose of the poison in the face. Tirenius quickly pulls his body back, but it is too late. Avarice is dead.

The Brothers wait a few more minutes before sending in a second orc “canary” to test the room. After he confirms it is clear, Jena follows and attempts to pick the lock on the silver chest. But the sands of time have not been idle. The rearguard is suddenly assailed by the brigands Hyglak had previously duped. In a rage, they rush through the dining room and sleeping area. The company doggedly holds the line, but in their grief, they struggle to land blows on their irate foes. Once again, the orc prisoners exhort their eagerness to help, but it doesn’t come to that as the Brothers finally rally. Hyglak and Türok each slay two while Jena, who after long practice has finally become a practiced killer, slays one.

Though that assault was shrugged off, the party is increasingly anxious. Jena’s attempts to pick the silver lock fail and the Brothers finally decide to beat a hasty retreat. They conceal the silver chest again behind its secret door, collect their cart, and leave the temple.

After traveling a modest distance, they camp for the night. Their rest is interrupted, though, by six men who approach the campfire. With hands raised, the interlopers ask if the Brothers are friends of Drusus. Cautiously, Hyglak replies that Drusus is known. He is not a friend, but also not an enemy. The men, now clearly brigands, ask for directions to the temple they know is nearby. Hyglak corrects their information, advising them it is further on in the Viamir Marshes. The men are skeptical based upon what they’d heard, but Hyglak’s assured tone coupled with the orcs in their midst and the corpse of a crusader strapped to the cart convince them. They decide to press on to the marshes. As the six brigands depart, thirty-six more of their company emerge from where they’d been hiding in the darkness to follow after them. Hyglak’s bold words thus deny the Lady a mighty bolstering of her ranks and save the Brothers from near certain annihilation. And so, finally, the 18th of Zigelen comes to a close. It is a day that began with mighty triumphs against spiders, rats, and orcs but ended with great tragedy. And yet there is survival, too. For most.

19 Zigelen – The Brothers continue their journey through the forest, fortunately without incident. Under the ministrations of the healers, the injured are brought to full health, but the four dead companions in the cart serve as a constant reminder of their great loss and the equally great desperation of their venture.

20 Zigelen – Reaching the road, the Brothers turn immediately westward toward Siadanos rather than east to Türos Tem. The small fortress temple can offer no succor for their fallen and concerning matters of the grave, time is always of the essence.

Late in the day, an enormous frog emerges from the Viamir Marshes on the northern side of the road. It attacks, leaping on Zeodana and mauling her before Avaro cuts it down. Fortunately, Ravila is able to restore the blade dancer to full health. Tirenius identifies the magical properties of the frog’s forelegs and the crone is able to extract them.

21 Zigelen – About a dozen miles outside Siadanos, the party overtakes a caravan of twenty merchants. The merchants have heard of the Grey Brotherhood and invite the company to share their camp for the night as mutual protection against the ominous Lusaun Forest nearby. The Brothers happily accept.

22 Zigelen – The Company arrives at Siadanos and pauses outside the gates as Hyglak brings Raemon’s body into town and to the temple. The Revered Mother Madelyn mourns and offers burial rites but Hyglak convinces her that the crusader’s war against the darkness isn’t over. Such a spell is beyond her ability, so she brings out the aged Matriarch Morneia. Grimly, Morneia declares, “I had foreseen this day. Doom! Doom is coming to Siadanos now that this has come about. Doom, I say! I will do my part in all of the darkness that is to unfold.” But unfortunately, Hyglak forgot the payment. Playing his role in this grand tragi-comedy, he runs back to the gates for the money. As he reenters the town, he feels stronger and more imbued with power and vitality [i.e., he hits Level 2].

Having paid the sum, the matriarch successfully brings Raemon back from the grave, but the act draws the attention of extraplanar beings who wish him dead. Morneia observes that he has returned, but a great darkness follows him just as she’d prophesied. The crusader is now hunted by cacodemons.

The Brothers manage to transact for restoration of Castinus’ life outside of the town, but his body is brought to the temple for the casting. In this way, they avoid a second disproportionate sharing out of fame and experience. Morneia successfully brings him back through the gates of death, but the venturer’s mind is damaged by the ordeal. Both he and Raemon will need four weeks to recover.

Matriarch Morneia’s strength is exhausted by the two raisings and she tells the Brothers to return the next day to tend to their other friends. Given the compounding challenges and risks of the delay, even for Raemon and Castinus, the Brothers grimly decide that it is best for Gwynfor and Avarice to remain in their final rest.

Thus it is with a mixture of joy at the reunion of two and sorrow at the loss of two more, that the Company enters Siadanos in strength. From their long and hard ordeals, along with their brushes with death, the reputation of the Brothers grows [i.e. Castinus and Raemon reach Level 2]. Zeodana and Mandonio agree to remain with the Brothers, despite the wounds they suffered in the temple. However, without their master, Türok and Augilor plan to return to Türos Tem. Tirenius convinces Augilor to remain after offering a signing bonus, but Türok rebuffs all such attempts, stating that he liked how the elf talked even though he didn’t understand the words most of the time. Thus he parts ways and returns to the legion.

Raemon heads to the temple to recover and shelter from the fiends haunting him while Castinus and the rest of the Brothers lodge at the Stone Tankard Inn where they can plan for a glorious funeral.

Chapter IX
No One Could Be More Interesting Than You!

23 Zigelen – At the temple, Hyglak arranges for the funerals of Gwynfor and Avarice. Meanwhile, Raemon recovers in the sanctuary of the temple where it is hoped he will be safe from extraplanar beings. While Castinus rests at the inn, he sends out Jena and Mandonio to make contact with the Traveler’s Guild. They return with the merchant Crispus Critonius who inspects the four orc prisoners. He advises that the gladiator trainer Maximus Argenturon specializes in fielding beastmen in the arena and purchases the orcs.

24 Zigelen – The Grey Brotherhood gathers at dawn outside the walls of Siadanos for the cremation of Gwynfor and Avarice where the Grey Sisters of Mourning (no affiliation to the Grey Brothers) have built funeral pyres and laid the bodies out in state. They are cremated a large sum of coins, vestments with golden thread, four spice jars, and a ruby gemstone. Gwynfor wears his fancy suit.

To the chiming of bells, Hyglak speaks for his Brothers. “Avarice died honorably with his boots on in the service of his brothers. May he wake in the Halls of Valhalla! Gwynfor died with honor and made his ancestors and Brothers proud. May he wake wherever the elves find honor in the afterlife!” The pyres are lit and the Brothers stand in silent attendance for the hours it takes for the bodies to burn.

Returning to his bedrest, Castinus again sends out his henchmen to make contact with Damanos, a Curios Dealer. Castinus sells him the Illuminated Scroll of Ancient Zaharan Religious Practices and the spider eggs.

While company is gathered, a new arrival appears at the inn. It is their old friend Andravus Iskarian, one of the Brothers who’d been sent the letter but had failed to arrive. He’d been deep in the wilds of Nicea and, belatedly receiving the summons, had hurried as quickly as he could. Sorrow taints the happy reunion when Andravus asks about Avarice and Gwynfor. Andravus gives Hyglak a jug of the finest Dwarven ale that he’d picked up on the road. Hyglak is thrilled and, though it had been intended as a joyous gift, it is now used to toast the fallen.

25 Zigelen – Castinus hires a palanquin and two drummers to carry him around town, thereby allowing him to conduct business while on bedrest. With Heraus bearing the standard, the Brothers head to the Radokh Steelworks. As they pass through the Plaza of the Pantheon, a crowd gawks at a half dozen city watch guards who’ve encircled the statue of Ammonar. At the very top of the statue, a shaggy creature that is perhaps some new form of beastman beats its chest and roars. Tirenius casts Thunderclap, dazing the creature so it falls to the ground. The affray is interrupted as Patrician Aurejeus rushes in, frantic that no one hurt his ape. But the ape is still enraged. As it charges Tirenius, Hyglak stands in its path and Andravus shoots an arrow into its leg, incapacitating it. The city watch convey their appreciation and, admiring the banner, ask if the Brothers are members of the Imperial Vanguard the “Great Heroes of the Borderlands.”

Pressing on to Radokh Steelworks, Castinus negotiates with Torrad Radokh for the commissioning of masterwork gear. The final terms are that the Brothers buy out the contract on his miserable assistant, Griffin Russel, for 50gp and that Griffin never touch anything Torrad smiths. Castinus agrees and Griffin becomes a henchman to Andravus. Perhaps this is a punishment for arriving late? Castinus commissions the crafting of five silver darts. He also purchases fifteen silver arrows. Hyglak commissions having the sigil of the Grey Brotherhood with a half-hand painted on his shield.

The Brothers visit the Traveler’s Chandlery and speak with Sigilo, an acquaintance of Mandonio. Castinus commissions the banner of the Grey Brotherhood. The banner is of a mule’s head silhouetted in gold on a field of grey. Andravus purchases a vellum journal in order to annotate the Annals of the Grey Brotherhood from an oral to a written manuscript. You are reading the outcome of that purchase.

The next location is the Mercenary Guild. Castinus speaks with the Guildmaster, Stodios Mal and pays to enroll all the company, including henchmen, with the guild.

The next stop is the Tower of Knowledge to check on the items that were recovered from the temple. The thaumaturge declares the glorious Battle Standard of the Grey Brotherhood to be non-magical along with the broach recovered from the gold chest. The scroll case is opened to reveal two scrolls. The first is necromantic magic (choking grasp/animate dead/web). Tirenius reluctantly surrenders it to the tower per their edict that all necromancy be destroyed without compensation. The second is a healing scroll (cure light injury/cure disease/bless) with an estimated price of 3,000gp. Unfortunately, the language is Ancient Zaharan. Thus it is useless to Tirenius because the magic is divine while Raemon can’t use it because he doesn’t speak the Zaharan tongue. The party resolves to sell the scroll. The six-flanged mace and rounded shield, both recovered from the gold chest, each have minor enchantments while the vial is a Potion of Dragon Control.

The final item assessed is the staff with the intertwined serpents that had also been retrieved from the gold chest. Upon seeing it, the thaumaturge’s eyes widen and he rushes off to bring in the Treasurer Avella Elendar, an enchantress. With an innocuous smile, she offers to buy it for 5,000gp. When Hyglak asks about its nature, she declares it of trifling use to most and increases the offer to 7,500gp. She rebuffs further inquiries by raising the offer again to 10,000gp, no questions asked or answered, but the party is only given ten minutes to decide. She withdraws so the Brothers can confer and, upon her return, increases the offer to 12,000gp. The Grey Brothers decline and she withdraws in a huff. Tirenius raises a concern that certain disreputable individuals may wish to lighten their load of the mysterious staff and all agree that it should be watched carefully.

26 Zigelen – The party heads to the Temple of the Empyreans with Castinus upon his palanquin. They meet with the Revered Mother Madelyn and ask about the mysterious staff. She is amazed and reports it will heal any who touch it, once per day, and there is no limit to the number it can help. “It is clearly placed where the gods intended it to be.” But it is useless without a command word. She advises that she can determine the word, though it will take a month and the required components are expensive. Castinus gathers the funds. He also attempts to sell the divine scroll, but is unable to find a buyer.

27 Zigelen – At precisely noon, Tirenius arrives at the Tower of Knowledge for his interview. It is conducted by Regent Ethos Iskanokeus, and Provost Iskius Dred. When asked to which college he is applying, Tirenius replies the College of War as an Air Elementalist. The Siadanos Chapter lacks an air wizard, so the regent is pleased. Tirenius then faces four questions, one on matters of astrology, one on the geometry of battle magic, one on the morality of necromantic magic, and finally a riddle. Tirenius passes the tests with aplomb and is garbed in the red robes of the College of War. A celebration ensues.

28 Zigelen – The Brothers awaken with intentions to send the majority of the party back to Türos Tem to gather goods from Aeropos’ vault. Unfortunately, it proves to be one of the most relentless sweltering days of the summer. Rather than dare heat related injury, they postpone a day.

1 Esevelen – The Brothers travel plans are thwarted again by the realization that it is the first day of a weeklong festival, the Celebration of the Unconquered Dawn, during which no business is done. The henchmen gleefully look forward to the celebration so the Brothers decide to delay the journey again until the conclusion of the festival. In the grander scheme of things, Castinus and Raemon still have a prolonged period of bedrest to look forward to, so no additional adventuring time is lost. As it is the new month, wages are paid out as well.

2 Esevelen – Mandonio returns after merely one day of celebrating, having lost all his wages gambling with Jena. Jena blew both her earnings and Mandonio’s on silk clothes and wine. The pair are ready to adventure again.

3 Esevelen – The Brothers head out to enjoy the revelry with Castinus being carried and drummed around on his palanquin where they are accosted by one Evanos Pir, who has come to the plaza to paint the most interesting thing he can see. He declares nothing is more interesting than the Grey Brotherhood. The Brothers consent to sit five hours for a painting. The work is incredible. He sells it to the Brothers for 500gp. Castinus barters instead, trading eleven glass eyes and two unholy symbols.

7 Esevelen – Three days of the festival pass without note, then the Brothers overhear a town crier announcing the news of the day. First, hobgoblin raiders have been spotted near Dragon’s Tor. By order of the Palatine Theremus Augillian, adventurers who deal with this problem are entitled to their spoils free of imperial taxation. Second, the adventuring company (and sponsor of the crier), the Imperial Vanguard, seeks shield bearers, squires, and other retainers. Finally, Evanos Pir was found murdered that morning by a jealous lover. His works are now considered to be among the most valuable in the empire due to his tragic death at a young age. The Brothers conclude they are now walking targets with both a highly coveted staff and painting in their keeping.

Back at the Stone Tankard Inn they meet Skandara the Red, a thief in need of employment. Jena is unhappy about the idea of another female thief in the party, but Hyglak and Andravus both deduce that she’d be a good fit. Castinus tells her to return the following morning after the Brothers have conferred
8 Esevelen – Skandara returns and is hired as a henchmen to Andravus (the only extroverted explorer in the history of the Auran Empire). Then the party, less Castinus, Raemon, and Heraus, set out for Türos Tem. The day’s travel is uneventful.

9 Esevelen – It is mid-afternoon when the party comes across a broken down wagon in the middle of the road. What appears to be a hand extends from beneath the wreckage. Wary of a trap, the Brothers deploy archers along the flanks and rear while Hyglak, Avaro, and Augilor advance with caution. Their care is well-founded as ten kobolds attempt to trigger an ambush with a cry of “It’s them!” But the Brothers are not surprised. A volley of kobold arrows fall among the company to little effect, before Tirenius casts Slumber and downs four of them. Returning fire, the kobold archers are slain and their chieftain is captured.

When questioned, the chieftain tries to convey a message by sign language because no one speaks his tongue, but none can interpret his meaning. The wounded are tended to and the broken wagon is pushed off the road. The bodies inside, heavily gnawed upon by the kobolds, are recovered and carefully placed in the ox cart for appropriate cremation at Türos Tem.

10 Esevelen – At the crossroads a modest distance from Türos Tem, the Brothers meet a large caravan of merchants and mercenaries heading for the fort. They agree to travel together for mutual protection. Andravus checks if anyone speaks kobold in the caravan, but no one does.

11 Esevelen – The Brothers reach Türos Tem. They meet with Aeropos, pay off the loan, and collect various items from the vault and the warehouse per a list Castinus had sent with them. The dead from the wounded wagon are brought to the temple and Andravus checks to see if anyone speaks kobold. He is directed to Annalist Hometri Soccolo, the military historian of the fort. Hometri interprets for the kobold chieftain who reports that the ‘Lady Below’ told him if he wanted to join her then he had to slay a group traveling down the east road on the day after the sun was undying. The chieftain has only seen the Lady in his dreams, but he’s met with her representatives. These were gnolls with red eyes and they met at a place of great power in the Viaspen Forest. The Brothers are alarmed that the Lady Below knew they’d be on the road at that time. Someone is watching them.

12 Esevelen – The Brothers hire a waggoneer to speed their journey back to Siadanos. As they depart Türos Tem, they execute the kobold, freeing its soul of the cursed affliction of being a beastman.

15 Esevelen – After several days of uneventful travel, the Brothers reach Siadanos and reunite with Castinus, Raemon, and Heraus. Castinus sells the items brought from the fort and also attempts to make contact with the Imperial Vanguard, but no one knows their location. They collect their completed banner from Sigilo and the silver darts from Torrad Radokh. They also commission to get Raemon’s magic shield repainted with a winged sun and a grey mule rather than the fell chthonic devices that currently mar it. Then, with their tasks taken care of, the healthy brothers spend the remainder of their time in Siadanos in study. Andravus studies mapmaking, Hyglak riding, and Tirenius healing.

22 Esevelen – After a quiet week, Castinus and Raemon are fully healed. With another week still required to determine the command word for the magic staff, the Brothers resolve to travel by barge downriver to Cyfaraun in the meantime. There, they hope to sell the magic scroll and several other items. This will also provide Castinus with the opportunity to make various trade contacts. The outbound journey will take just over a day and the return trip upriver another two.

Chapter X
We should have bought Mosquito Netting

22 Esevelen – With the breaking of the day, the Grey Brotherhood sets out by barge down river for the grand city of Cyfaraun, the Capital of the Borderlands. Midway through the journey, they pass Türos Quell, a fortress on an island that guards the route to Lake Laman and the Viamir Marshes. A short while later, they encounter four barges heading upstream in their direction. The Brothers recognize the sigil on the lead ship from the tales of Gwynfor. It is the standard of the elven noblewoman, Mornea, who rules the fastness that he called home. The Brothers hail the craft and speak with the leader of the group, a finely dressed elven warrior named Corwyn Swordborn. Corwyn recognizes the name Grey Brotherhood and asks after Gwynfor prompting Castinus to relay the sad news of the fall of their friend. Corwyn grieves, too, then advises that he and his band are heading south to fight the undead incursion in the Lusaun Forest. He and several other of his company are members of the Adventurer’s Guild from Cyfaraun. Respecting his endeavor, Castinus gives Corwyn five doses of woundwort to aid them on their quest. Corwyn admits that his band does not yet have a name, but Andravus suggests that perhaps it would be found in the forest. Such names must arise organically.

After bidding farewell, the Brothers conclude their journey and reach Cyfaraun near dusk. They pay their tariffs and pass into the city, making their way to ‘The Mink’, an inn of the Old District near the Emporium. Hyglak’s eyes light up at the sight of kegs of beer and he orders a round for himself and the rest of the Brothers. Three large rooms are secured for lodging as well as food and Castinus dispenses a meal per diem of 35cp per day apiece. The Brothers dine in comfort with Hyglak loudly calling out for the lyrist to play the Ballad of the Green Dragon!

As they listen, the Brothers are approached by Bellos, a purveyor of fine elven wares and a comprador on behalf of the Argollëan Family. Castinus buys him a drink and a meal, inviting him to share the table. Bellos happily complies and listens to the grand adventures of the company with rapt attention. While the Brothers aren’t interested in purchasing elven trinkets, they observe that they may have some to sell in the future. Bellos confides that he prefers quieter transactions in ‘The Mink’ to the loud bustle of the Emporium and can be found at the inn most evenings.

With the meal done, the Brothers set out to the Solar Citadel, the temple and largest building of the city. They meet Rector Drusus, “The Hammer of Ammonar” (no relation to the Brigand Drusus) who agrees to find Raemon lodgings there while the Brothers remain in the city. The rest of the party returns to ‘The Mink’ for the night.

23 Esevelen – In the Emporium, Castinus sells the cloth and tapestries recovered from the kobolds of Sakkara along with two bone fetishes and two spice jars. He also declares a “Monster Part Trade Route” between Cyfaraun and Siadanos before selling the frog legs and wolf’s teeth. There proves to be very high demand for monster parts in the city.

The Brothers head to the Temple of Knowledge in the Tower District, seeking a buyer for the divine scroll in the Zaharan tongue. Unfortunately, while acknowledging its value, the Tower lacks the resources for the purchase. They are, however, selling various scrolls and two unverified treasure maps, one to an elven shrine in the Viaspen Forest and the other to an elven watchtower in the Madoan Hills.

Returning to the Emporium, the Brothers enter the House of Curiosities and are surprised to recognize Damanos who they’d met in Siadanos! He happily purchases the scroll for 3,000gp. With the new money, Castinus is able to restock the company ‘larder’ including some holy water for handling the fiends that are hunting Raemon. He also purchases an Argollëan wolfhound war dog named Dirg “Doom” for himself and a red bloodhound hunting dog named Zelicus “Avenger” for Andravus.

Castinus sets up an allocation of the funds the Brotherhood has collected. In addition to the purchases, a large portion of the money is given to the henchmen as profit shares and fully half is set aside to be secured at the bank in Siadanos for future medical emergencies.

24 Esevelen – It is a warm pleasant summer day as the Brothers set out again from Cyfaraun. Their travel upriver is quiet and they reach Türos Quell near sundown. Cleopas the Cartographer, the master of the boat, says the Brothers can buy lodging in town if they like, but he usually prefers to just sleep on the barge. The Brothers follow his advice and the ship anchors amid the slow moving river. They set watches and settle down for the night.

During the second watch, Castinus, Andravus, Skandara, and Aguilar are on guard when they hear a buzzing sound. Andravus shouts a warning to rouse the company as a giant dragonfly emerges from the darkness. It lands on Griffin, biting deep into his flesh, and incapacitating him. Andravus tries to shoot it, but misses, as six more swarm the vessel. Ravila the Crone is dropped and Mandonio is deeply wounded. Castinus attempts to kill the one feeding on Ravila, but is brought down himself. Cleopas is also felled amid the scramble to mount a defense in the tight confines of the barge. In the dark miasma wafting from the marshes, however, it feels as though fate itself is the greatest foe of the Brothers as blow after blow glances off the thick chitin carapaces of the vile creatures. The few counterstrikes that do land, seem to do little more than aggravate the dragonflies.

Finally, the tide begins to turn as Tirenius unleashes Sleep. He knocks two of the dragonflies still hovering over the water unconscious and they plunge into the deeps to drown. One other on the ship is also put to sleep, but so is Hyglak who is caught up in the spell. Jena becomes the final victim of the dragonflies before Mandonio smashes two with his mighty mace. Heraus slays one and Dirg the war dog crushes the final fly in his massive maw.

With the death of the last assailant, the Brothers rush to give aid to their fallen. Castinus is found merely to be stunned. He rises to his feet as ghostly visions of Gwynfor and Avarice flash before his eyes, telling him it is not yet his time. Ravila’s neck carries the mark of terrible bites and she needs a week’s rest, but is otherwise hale. Jena was only knocked out from the pain, though her hand bears horrible scars that suggest it was nearly severed. Tragically, Griffin’s eyes were devoured by the dragonfly and Zeodana barely manages to pull him back from the gates of death with her divine healing. He awakens, wondering at the utter darkness. Andravus breaks the grim news and the boy breaks down weeping. Cleopas the Cartographer, however, proves to be beyond help. His ribs are crushed and the Brothers, with no more healing spells, can do nothing more than watch as the unfortunate man fades through the night. He dies with the dawn and the only blessing is that he never wakes in those final hours of pain.

25 Esevelen – As dawn greets the Brothers, they muse that perhaps it would have been wiser to sleep in Türos Quell instead of next to the Viamir Marshes. Yet there is perceived to be some manner of dark justice given that it was Cleopas who wanted to skimp on a mooring fee to save money and ended up paying the ultimate price. Tragic. Andravus observes dryly, “I thought it was going to be a cacodemon, it ended up being worse.”

Skandara the Red with her excellent background in seafaring has no difficulties guiding the boat back to Siadanos. As the Brothers take over the vessel in the wake of Cleopas’ death, they find that he has 1,300 stone of trade goods on consignment worth about 1,300gp. Being an upstanding company, they resist the temptation to steal the goods and instead resolve to make good on the delivery for which they are paid a tiny sum. That and the fee for their passage are delivered to Cleopas’ widow.

Griffin is brought to the temple and his sight is restored with a Heal Blindness spell, though he needs thirty days of bedrest. Fortunately, all of the wounded henchmen resolve to remain with the Brothers with Ravila being inspired by their mission for Ammonar and Griffin becoming devoted because no one has ever cared about him before.

26 to 32 Esevelen – The Brothers linger a week in town as Ravila recovers. Castinus sells the dragonfly chiton harvest on the barge despite low demand for monster parts. He also deposits the planned emergency fund in the bank. In the remaining time, Castinus continues his study of bargaining, Raemon of military strategy, Tirenius of healing, Hyglak of riding, and Andravus of mapmaking.

At the end of the week, the Brothers plan to set out. Because of Griffin’s recovery time, he is given boarding for the inn and a stipend. Once he is hale, he can either travel to Türos Tem and meet the Brothers there, or wait in Siadanos for their return.

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Chapter XI
At Least Somebody Knows Who We Are

33 Esevelen – The Brothers make sure that Griffin is properly settled at the Stone Tankard Inn. He is given instructions that, once he is healed, he should pick up several commissioned poultices and holy water then head to Türos Tem to meet up with the rest of the company. Castinus buys a glaive for Zeodana along with a few other purchases then they visit the temple where they learn that the healing staff’s command word is “Salanthus Malacus” meaning “Healer’s Heart.” Only a cleric can speak the word, but any who touch it can then be healed.

The day is sweltering but after so long idle, the Grey Brotherhood is determined to set out again. Thus the heavily armored warriors remove several layers of their gear in order to avoid heat injury and the company sets out for Türos Tem. In the heat, the going is slow and they only make it a few miles before they are ambushed by a sudden eruption of arrows from brigands on a grassy knoll to the northeast. Andravus, Zeodana, and Raemon are wounded is they rush for cover.

After several exchanges of bow fire, it is clear that both groups are too protected by cover to end the standoff. But then the conclusion comes quickly with Tirenius casting Slumber to incapacitate six and Hyglak rushing in with magic blade to put three others to the sword. The loan awake survivor throws down his weapons and surrenders. It turns out the brigands were a motley crew of miscreants who’d been ousted from Siadanos by the Argollëan Family, the local thieves guild. With little skill and paltry weapons, they’d decided to prey upon travelers on the road. Alas, for them, their first target was the Grey Family.

A discussion ensues where Andravus suggests bringing the prisoners to Türos Tem where they can choose either to be turned over to the legate as marauders or enlist in the legion. The prisoners are very eager for this latter plan as a means of keeping their heads attached to their shoulders. But ultimately, the Brothers decide to return to Siadanos due to the heat and the paltry distance they’d already covered. They make the gates near nightfall.

34 Esevelen – Unfortunately, it is another scorching day with sticky summer rains to make life even more miserable. Castinus reaches out to Crispus Critonius to sell the prisoners to the gladiatorial arena. After some inspection, Critonius picks out five leaving two including their hapless leader. As the Brothers turn the remaining pair over to the guard, the aspiring brigand chieftain cries out, “Mark my words, one day I will have my revenge. You will rue the day that you crossed Strasmonis of Pantos!” We shall see.

35 Esevelen – The weather is finally only slightly oppressive and the Brothers set out again, making good time.

1 Agitelen – The relentless heat returns, slowing the pace of the company, but late in the day they catch up with a large merchant caravan led by Spevus that is bringing supplies to Türos Tem. He is happy to have the adventuring band travel with him for added security. He tells of a rumor that the lonely island of Lake Laman is haunted by flame-clad demons. Only evil or foolish men seek it out. Or adventurers.

2 Agitelen – The Brothers, along with the caravan, are a short distance shy of Türos Tem as the day wanes. Disliking the idea of being outside the protective walls more than necessary, Spevus suggests pressing on to the fort. With visions of giant dragonflies fresh in their minds, the Brothers happily agree.

3 Agitelen – After the forced march of the day before, the Brothers rest in Türos Tem. They visit the parade grounds where Hyglak attempts to recruit Türok again. Unfortunately, the somewhat thick-headed man has completely forgotten about the Brothers. “Have we met before?” Upon seeing his old companion Augilor, Türok comments that he’d forgotten where Augilor had gone. He does, at least, remember the elf. Nevertheless, with a nice signing bonus, Türok rejoins the Brothers. Castinus conducts some business in town including equipping Türok with a glaive.

4 Agitelen – The Brothers head back into the Viaspen Forest and, near sundown, approach the hidden cave they’d marked on their map from before. Taking his trusty bloodhound with him, Andravus scouts around the mouth of the cave and discerns that it truly appears to be empty. They step inside and find that it is a limestone cavern with a spring of crystal clear water and some blind fish in it. It is a perfect sanctuary with a commanding view of the area. They hide the cart outside, bring the mules in, and camp safely for the night.

5 Agitelen – The Grey Brothers reach the Sakkara temple around midday and are surprised to find it unguarded with the doors closed. They form up before its massive gates and Jena checks it for traps, finding none. But when Raemon begins to open it, he is blasted by a Rune of Warding. Fortunately, he evades the worst of the flames, though he suffers from more than mere singed eyebrows. He is treated by Ravila with comfrey, laying on hands, and aloe.

Entering the temple, they find that all is quiet within. The core of the company forms a defensive perimeter around the door leading to the Zaharan Statue courtyard, then Andravus, Castinus, Jena, and Skandara scout the hallway to the east. They find that nothing has changed with the door to the old brigand camp remaining spiked against the undead.

The scouting party then checks the hallway to the west and confirms that it is unchanged as well. In the crab spider room, Jena finds a garnet gemstone among the corpses. She impresses the Brothers by resisting temptation and handing it over to Castinus. Returning back to the door to the courtyard, Jena hears the chittering of rodents on the far side. They sound as though they are in pain. Bracing for battle, the Brothers open the door to reveal a reprise of thirteen giant rats mutating into some sort of hideous mass. But Tirenius had prepared his spell. Slumber downs seven of them, Hyglak kills two, Skandara one, and the remainder flee into the darkness.

After some discussion, the Brothers decide to clear the old kobold lair and then camp for the night so Tirenius can regain his spell. With that in mind, they head west with the scouting party in the lead and various heavies guarding the flanks and rear. All remains quiet until they approach the kobold sleeping area and find it infested by eight goblins crouching warily in the darkness. Castinus shouts at them in their fell tongue, attempting a parley, but the goblins are terrified and, with cries of “It’s them!”, attack.

The company heavies quickly step up and form a solid defensive line behind which the archers launch volleys of arrows. In the dark light of chaotic battle within the buried temple more shots go astray than find their mark. Fortunately, with the heavily armored warriors locking shields, the goblins have no success as they return fire. Skandara and Andravus each slay one with their bows, then the heavy line charges forward. In short order, Augilor dispatches two while Zeodana, Castinus, and Jena each slay one. The final goblin casts down his weapons in surrender.

Chapter XII
My new tribe is way more powerful!

5 Agitelen (continued) – Within the darkness of the temple, the passage of time can only be measured by the burning down of the torches. The Brothers reckon it is several hours past midday as they begin to question their goblin prisoner. His name is Zamuz and he has been reduced to a band of one. He and his companions had taken refuge in the old kobold lair after being driven out of their home in the northeastern reaches of the temple by hobgoblins a few weeks before. Remembering hearing the sounds of fighting in the wake of their own battle against the orcs on 18 Zigelen, the Brothers muse that the infighting may have dated to then. Zamuz believes about a dozen hobgoblins survived, though their chief was grievously wounded. His chief, of course, was slain. He says that dreams drew the goblins to the temple and that these same dreams have driven the beastmen to madness. After being driven out by the hobgoblins, he and his companions tried to flee the temple but several were lost when the door exploded with magical fire. They are now hiding until the Lady restores order.

When asked about other denizens of the temple, Zamuz says that some kobolds serve the dragon at the ziggurat. There are also two tribes of gnolls, the Black Fang and the Red Eye, who dwell below. The Brothers remember that the kobold ambush on the road between Siadanos and Türos Tem was prompted by gnolls with red eyes. Beyond that, Zamuz has only heard rumors of abominations, unclean things even by the standards of beastmen. And, of course, the Lady Below.

The Brothers confirm the rest of the kobold lair remains empty and then hunker down for the rest of the day in the old kobold chieftain’s chambers. They move the sconces inside the northern room, bar the door, and bolster the stone bench with makeshift sandbags into a formidable barricade. Watches are set here while the remainder of the company rests in the southern room. Castinus hoods his torch, casting the guards into darkness, and the long watch begins.

Hours pass, testing the Brothers’ guard discipline until, with a crash, the barred door smashes open. The Brothers rouse to alertness as a massive spider, some eight hundred pounds in size, scuttles across the room. Zahak cries, “It’s a death weaver spider demon, flee master!”

Andravus lets fly with an arrow, hoping for an ambush, but the spider’s preternatural senses see him and the arrow careens off its chitinous shell. Dirg, the war dog, charges forward with a ferocious how but, alas, the spider tears him limb from limb. The hapless creature falls, cloven, to the cold floor of the temple as the spider clambers to pass over the barricade.

But no farther! The Brothers rally on the far side of their defensive position as those in the sleeping room rouse to wakefulness. Avaro lands the first blow on the spider and, though he barely manages to pierce its shell, he proves it can be hurt by mundane weapons. Hyglak and Türok inflict grievous injuries upon it, but the fiend barely seems to notice them as it sweeps out again and again in relentless attack. The creature’s fangs sink into Zeodana and she falls but the Brothers’ steadfast defense holds steady and all attempts by the spider to rush past and claim Raemon fail. A second mighty blow from Türok sends the spider demon reeling but it is fixed upon its inexorable purpose. Yet amid the chaos of melee, Andravus managed to slip behind it. As the fiend rears up to attack, the explorer lets fly with a mighty arrow that pierces deep into the spider’s head. It curls in upon itself before dissolving into demonic ichor.

In the wake of the battle, Ravila checks on Zeodana. Fortunately, the blade dancer has only sustained a wound to her hand that will leave a scar suggesting the appendage was nearly severed. Andravus wraps up the body of Dirg in anticipation of an appropriate funeral for such a loyal and dutiful creature upon their return to civilization. Tirenius, with Ravila’s assistance, distills the fiend’s ichor, storing as much of it as they can in their metamphorae and the remainder in more mundane packaging.

As the night quiets again, Raemon closes his eyes knowing that for the first time in weeks he can sleep without worry.

6 Agitelen – The goblin is given back his sword and is told that if he shows where the hobgoblins are and survives the combat, he’ll be released. Zamuz agrees. He guides the Brothers back to the courtyard with the Zaharan statue and then to the corridor on the northeastern side of the room. It is a long hallway and, midway up its length, they reach two doors.

The eastern chamber was once part of the goblin lair. Its walls are marred by sword scratches and its floor is blackened by ancient bloodstains, suggesting it was once an arena. Now, however, it stands silent and empty. The western door leads to a great hall and, from there, to the ziggurat. Interestingly, this means the orcs didn’t control the only access with their tolled path. The other room is a chamber that was once part of the goblin lair. The Brothers aren’t yet willing to face Idimmu, so with their focus fixed on the hobgoblins, they close the door again and continue northward.

The hallway turns to the east with a door nearby on the northern wall. The goblin advises that eastward lies the old lair of his kindred while to the north are the hobgoblins. The Brothers open the door and come face to face with four hobgoblin guards. Castinus, Hyglak, and the goblin step into the room while the other Brothers remain in the hall. Seeing Zamuz, one of the hobgoblins says, “Come to beg for mercy, little one?” Castinus speaks up and attempts to parley. He requests passage to the Lady Below and asks for them to show the way in exchange for coin. The hobgoblins are suspicious, but not overly aggressive. Unfortunately, they aren’t interested in the venturer’s offer either.

Trying another tact, Castinus asks them to regale him with their exploits against the goblins. One of the hobgoblins says that it came to their chieftain in a dream and now everything that was theirs is ours. Sensing that the hobgoblins remain suspicious, and thus ready for any treachery, Castinus asks if one of his fighters can hear the tale, too. They agree and Türok comes forward. As soon as the large legionnaire enters the room, the Brothers attack.

Though surprise was not achieved, Castinus claims the first and second kills. Türok takes a minor wound but then Avaro fells one and Castinus, proving there is warrior mettle in his blood, fells the fourth. Zamuz is ecstatic and promptly starts urinating on their corpses, “My new tribe is way more powerful!”

During the fighting, Raemon cast “Holy Circle” in the vicinity of the doorway so, while he maintains concentration, the Brothers form up and prepare to taunt further attacks. Unfortunately, the circle is limited in size but a stalwart forward rank is formed within its protection. This reorganizing takes some time and, growing wary, Andravus tosses a torch to the far end of the room. It illuminates six hobgoblins in formed ranks, demonstrating a measure of organization unmatchable by other beastmen. Two other hobgoblins, a witch doctor and a champion, also emerge from a curtain along the eastern wall and step into the torchlight.

The witch doctor says, “I see you’ve killed the weak members of my tribe. You’ve done me a service.” As a thank you, he offers to direct the Brothers to a room of treasure nearby. It conveniently happens to lie beyond the phalanx of hobgoblins. Castinus replies that the Brothers will pay the hobgoblins ‘handsomely’ if the beastmen bring the treasure, giving the warning signal for treachery. The witch doctor declines, stating they don’t leave their lair in accordance with the Lady’s instruction. If the Brothers would like to meet the Lady, they need to go to the ziggurat. Castinus replies, “It is very ‘wise’ of you to say that” and triggers the assault.

The hobgoblins are caught surprised, but not flatfooted enough as the witch doctor evades ranged attacks from Andravus, Avaro, Hyglak, Castinus, and Tirenius though Türok flings a spear and badly wounds him. The witch doctor flees as the rest of the hobgoblins rush to engage.

Türok and Avaro both are felled by the first hobgoblin’s charge. Castinus withdraws from the front ranks, dragging Avaro with him. Ravila tends to the downed legionnaire and finds that he was merely stunned, his eyes filled with visions of the afterlife.

Andravus lets fly with his bow, felling two more hobgoblins before they can close, then Tirenius downs three more by unleashing Slumber. What had once been a moment of crisis abates as Augilor charges forward, wounding the champion with a mighty blow. The champion, and the last remaining hobgoblin of the phalanx, bolt into the darkness after their wounded witch doctor.

Meanwhile, Ravila checks on Türok. The mighty warriors suffers from shattered ribs and can no longer force march, but needs magical healing and a night of rest before he can fight again. The other Brothers advance into the room, orienting to the east after the direction of the fleeing hobgoblins. The rear elements are brought into the room, Avaro is healed up and brought back into the fight, and a guard is set on the northern door.

The Brothers’ vanguard sets off past the curtain to the east, following the trail of blood but it diverges in the following room with one trail heading north to a closed door and another east through a second curtain. They press east into an identical room, except this time the blood trail veers north. The door is barred, so Hyglak smashes it open and a voice beyond cries, “They’re here!” But no creature in the large chamber is visible within the light of Castinus’ lantern.

From out of the darkness, three hobgoblins charge forward and chop down the valiant Hyglak. Avaro and Raemon step up into the breach allowing Castinus to pull Hyglak back. Andravus fires into the press, felling two of the hobgoblins. Two more hobgoblins charge the line followed by their champion, but against the mighty shield of Raemon, emblazoned with the Winged Sun of Ammonar and the Grey Mule of the Brotherhood, they can find no mark and the champion’s spear shatters.

The melee builds in intensity as Zeodana slays one hobgoblin and Jena another. Avaro takes another grievous wound, but stepping forward, guts the champion while Raemon crushes the skull of the final hobgoblin warrior. But then, dark chanting fills the chamber. Avaro clutches at his throat, gasping for air, and then collapses, unconscious.

Andravus cries, “Sick ‘em!” and Zelicus bounds into the darkness. Moments later, the Choking Grip on Avaro is released and the legionnaire lets out a mighty gasp of air. Andravus throws a torch in the direction his dog ran and illuminates the far side of the room, revealing the felled body of the witch doctor. Nearby stands the hobgoblin chieftain, leaning on a staff with his chest wrapped in bandages. In imitation of mighty heroes of old, the crippled beastman draws his sword so that he can die with a weapon in his hand. There is no plea for succor or mercy as Zelicus lunges forward and tears out his throat.

In the aftermath, Ravila checks on Hyglak. He is merely dazed and scrambles to his feet, ready to fight again. A puncture scar mars, or perhaps embellishes, his face. Avaro also rises to his feet, with ghostly visions of lost companions filling his eyes. For the second time in mere minutes, he has escaped the clutching hand of death.

Chapter XIII
The Legend of Hyglak Half-Face

6 Agitelen (continued) – In the wake of the battle against the hobgoblins, the Grey Brotherhood collapses the company into the large chamber occupied by the slain chieftain and tends to their wounded. Guards are placed on the two southern doors as well as two more exits revealed on the north side of the room. Parts of the southern and western walls have collapsed and, in the rubble, they find a chest that contains a large amount of coin, two brass die with Auran numerals, a hand-sized copper ballista, a porcelain vase depicting a trireme bearing the maker’s mark of Ommador of Pyrgos, eight high quality holy symbols of Ammonar, and twenty curious glass eyes featuring black sclera and irises with red slit pupils. The witch-doctor also had a crude bundle of parchment scrolls that have been inked in blood. On the far side of the room, they find half a dozen bearskin rugs along with barrels of beer and salted fish. Though these have value, they are deemed too heavy to transport.

The southern door guarded by Mandonio swings open to reveal two Red Eye Gnolls and a cry of “Hey, hey, hey! What’s this then?” Mandonio boisterously replies, “My friends, we’ve come to the temple. Answered the call!” The gnolls are very suspicious and reply that the Lady isn’t recruiting. Castinus rushes forward and tells them that the Brothers have come to the temple to serve and to take, just as they have. “In that case,” the gnolls reply, “you better quickly learn, we’re the Red Eye Gnolls and you owe us tribute. If you’re taking the place of the hobgoblins, you can pay their tribute instead.” The tribute is half of what the hobgoblins took from the goblins, just as the two groups had agreed upon before the hobgoblins unleashed their attack.

Castinus’ attempts to get the gnolls to lower their guard fail, but he does buy enough time for the Brothers to get a line of defense in place before the beastmen draw their weapons. The gnolls are doughty fighters and sustain heavy wounds, shrugging off even a slicing cut from Mor Süresan before Mandonio wades in and fells both with his mighty morning star. Interestingly, the Brothers find that both gnolls carry red eye scleras on chains around their necks identical to those found in the hobgoblin chest.

The Brothers set out to secure the greater area. Heading back south, they then turn eastward through a circuit of rooms that ultimately prove to surround the hobgoblin chieftain’s chamber. The first room is an old sacristy converted into an armory with windows that look out on the black of the dome. Though the weapons are in disrepair, Hyglak secures five spears that are loaded onto the mules given the Brothers’ propensity to break hafts in battle.

In the next room, the Brothers are set upon by four dog-sized luminescent beetles. The creatures’ bites are deep, with both Raemon and Türok sustaining wounds, but the oversized insects are slain. Hyglak and Castinus each kill one and Türok two. The creatures’ organs are harvested for sale and, curiously, they continue to glow though their luminosity is less than that of a torch. In the carcass of a nearby hobgoblin, they find beetle eggs that are stored in an empty jar of lantern oil since the metamphorae are already filled to capacity.

Exploring further, the Brothers come across a long hallway empty except for broken crockery and food scraps yellowed with mold. Fears of terrifying mustard mold are allayed by Tirenius who identifies it as simple mildew. So emboldened, the Brothers brave the passage against the dangerous rotten sandwiches. The eastern wall of the room holds several more windows opening out onto the blackened dome while the western wall has a door layered in dust suggesting a long period without use. To the north they catch glimpses of creatures, either dead or asleep, in the next chamber.

Jena creeps a bit closer and determines that they are the desiccated corpses of four goblins and three humans who have been dragged to their present location from a corridor leading to the west. They each bear savage wounds, some with half-eaten faces, caused by something similar to the mandibles of the luminescent beetles, but larger.

After confirming that the western door is not trapped, but likely stuck and noisy to open, the Brothers listen carefully beside the room with the corpses, but hear nothing. The vanguard advances into the chamber and orients west against any attack while the carcasses are checked to ensure no creatures nest within them.

Despite their preparations and expectation of ambush, the Brothers are caught unawares as the ground heaves in a massive wave. Flowing down the hallway from the west, the earthen breakers smash into the vanguard. It crushes Zeodana, Türok, Andravus, Hyglak, and the dog Zelicus. Only Raemon endures the assault, though he’s knocked to the floor. A giant spider scuttles after.

Emerging from the darkness, it leaps for Raemon but is unable to land any blows and the valiant crusader rises. But as Raemon stares into the creature’s eyes, he senses a deadly and malevolent sentience he’s never before seen in such vermin. The crusader is quickly joined by Avaro, Heraus, and Augilor. Castinus drags Andravus back to Ravila as Avaro lands the first blow, driving his spear through the spider’s chiton and into the thorax.

Tirenius and Skandara rush in to help Castinus pull back the other wounded as the spider rears back to cast a spell. Its arachnid legs twist as its mandibles chant in Zaharan, sending a chill through the hearts of the company. “In the name of Ammonar, I smite thee!” Raemon cries as the Brothers redouble their efforts to land a blow, but the fiend is protected by chthonic powers as thrust after thrust fails to find its mark. Recognizing an enlightened champion of light, the spider focuses its hideous multi-faceted eyes upon Raemon and unleashes a beguilement.

For a moment, just a moment, the crusader realizes that Chaos is the way and the spider is his true lord. But then the thrall of its sorcery is broken by the blessing of Ammonar who will not lose one of his best servants! Raemon counters with a heavy blow of his mace and then Augilor drives his spear into the creature and it falls dead.

“What was that thing?” Castinus curses. Unlike the death weaver spider demon, its corpse remains and Zahak says, “It must have been possessed by the spirit of an ancient Zaharan.” Looking at Tirenius, he says, “You could be so powerful one day!”

Meanwhile, Ravila tends to the many wounded. Andravus took heavy stone shrapnel to his neck and bleeds heavily, but fortunately after a week’s rest will be fully hale except for a mass of scars he can wear as a badge of honor. Hyglak had nearly half his face torn off by the barrage of stone, losing both an eye and his remaining ear but, miraculously, he survives. For the henchmen, the wounds aren’t so dire. Türok, once again, proves too tough to kill as he revives having seen ghostly visions of lost companions. Zeodana has a vision of the paradise awaiting her and awakens, crying “No, no, I don’t want to go back!” The dog Zelicus is tended to as well. He sports scars on his neck that are a match to his master, Andravus.

Searching the corpses left by the spider, the Brothers find a golden dish, a silver goblet, and a necklace of white pearls. They also harvest its mandibles, leg tarsus, and palps.

As the Brothers press further west they enter a room that gives their souls a chill. “This is a sinkhole of evil,” Heraus the paladin declares. The southern walls are lined with orthostats that carry invocations in ancient Zaharan. The first reads: “Our day soon ends, but the day shall come again when those who dwell on the earth shall be seized with great terror and the young kingdom be laid waste and desolate.” The second reads: “Blood shall drip from the rock and there shall be chaos in all places. Fire shall break out, wild beasts roam beyond their haunts, and women shall bring forth monsters.” Zahak declares them holy words from the Book of the Awakening. At about this point, Andravus realizes that the sinkhole and the spider are directly north of the hobgoblin area. That means when the witch-doctor offered them riches, he was actually trying to feed them to the spider.

The Brothers continue the loop of the central hobgoblin area and pass through a crude kitchen and the leavings of a hastily ended game of chance where they find a few coins. Satisfied that the hobgoblin area is fully secured, they close the outer door of the lair and return to the door near where they fought the spider. Türok easy forces the door open and, as the company steps inside, they see steps leading down beneath the temple. With so many wounded, some grievously so, and short on torches as well as other provisions, the Brothers hastily back away. Andravus places a piece of thread in the door before it is closed so they can tell if it has been used when they return.

Leaving the hobgoblin lair behind, the company returns to the courtyard with the Zaharan statue and then explore north to the magical pool that the orc prisoners told them about on their fourth foray into the temple. Türok expresses an interest in drinking because he thinks it will make him smarter. Upon reaching the room, however, they realize that it was most likely a drowning pool where sacrifices were slain to chthonic deities. Raemon is alarmed by the pool and strongly suggests that Türok not drink from it. They explain that there is no proof it would make him smarter, they only know it made an orc stupid. Türok is crushed but Raemon tells him, “Ammonar made you this way for a reason. You are made for great things!”

He is placated and the Brothers depart, heading westward to the storeroom the orc prisoners had confessed was trapped. Jena searches the door and confirms that there is a deadfall above the doorframe. She nervously makes a thorough attempt to disarm the trap and fails. In a desire to get clear of the dungeon before another band of gnolls falls upon them, the Brothers leave the trapped door behind and return to the secret room containing the three chests that claimed the lives of Gwynfor and Avarice.

Jena is very worried about disarming such a deadly trap. Recalling her honesty the day before, Castinus gives her the garnet gemstone she’d turned over as a bonus for the hazardous duty. The Brothers also assure her that, should any calamity fall, they will do everything they can for her, just as she’s seen with the rest of the company. She consents and they tie a rope around her leg as she steps into the room alone. Fortunately, both trap and lock are easily picked. Jena lifts the lid of the chest and gasps, “By Calefa!” as she reaches in and rains gold coins over her head… ten thousand in all.

The Brothers gather the money quickly and withdraw from the temple. Andravus sets another thread in the outer temple doors as they are closed. Traveling into the forest, they reach the grotto that has become their safe haven and camp for the night.

7 Agitelen – Before setting out again, Hyglak is healed and brought back from the gates of death though he and Andravus remain incapacitated from their wounds. The rest of the injured are brought to full health. The return journey through the Viaspen is uneventful and they reach Türos Tem. As they stride into civilization, the Brothers roll back their shoulders, proud of their deeds. The acclaim and potency of all of them has grown.

Yet with such bloodshed and glory, many of the henchmen weigh their choices for the future. Avaro declares that the fighting was far more severe than he’d imagined, but grudgingly continues his service to Tirenius. Türok appreciates the Brothers words beside the drowning pool and gladly remains in the company. Mandonio and Jena are both thrilled by their experiences with the latter declaring, “I love this, this is what I was born for!” Unfortunately, however, Zeodana tells Raemon, “I’m sorry, I can’t continue to adventure with you. I’ve learned what I’ve needed to learn and I think I need to take the next step in my career.” Mournfully, Raemon bids her farewell.

Chapter XIV
It Just Doesn’t Matter

8 Agitelen – In Türos Tem, Castinus sells some of the treasures gathered in the temple and commissions more healing herbs. He also trades various monster components to Maelyn the Misshapen in exchange for the formula for a healing potion. This is an investment for the future as none of the Brothers can brew it yet, so he also barters to have a potion made. The Brothers brief Legate Valerian and, given their successes so far, request approval for tax exemption for all treasure secured. The legate happily agrees.

The Brothers also begin to share in the bounty of their successes. Along with the regular half shares being paid out to the henchmen, each of the Brothers now also receives a half share apiece. The other half share per Brother is pooled for the company coffers.

With their business done, the Brothers set out for Siadanos to get Hyglak healed. They make good time though they come across a pair of bears that appear to have chased someone up a tree. The party engages the bears at long distance, quickly slaying one with arrows where Mandonio scores the winning shot. As the other turns to flee, Tirenius puts it to sleep with Slumber. The sleeping bear is slain cleanly and Mandonio confers with Castinus. Given his prowess against the hobgoblins and now, this bear, he requests permission to claim the cleanly slain bear’s hide for a fur cape. Castinus agrees. Looking up the tree, the Brothers realize that the bears were after a hornets nest. They leave it alone, harvest the bears for their components and resume their journey.

9 Agitelen – It is a hot day with rain threatening as the Brothers press onward down the road. They encounter a merchant caravan heading to Türos Tem and the other border forts with casks of beer and amphorae of wine. Striking up a conversation with the caravan leader, the Brothers learn that the legate of Türos Aurë is seeking assistance in dealing with reavers who threaten maritime trade.

10 Agitelen – The Brothers reach Siadanos as evening approaches. Castinus successfully bargains with the guard to reduce the tariff on their exotic goods down to mere common merchandise. Within the walls, they head to the temple and meet with the reverend mother who is, by now, well familiar with them and their exploits. She is happy to see them and brings the aged matriarch to provide healing for Hyglak. As his face is restored from its grievous injuries, Hyglak appears to suffer no ill secondary effects though he will need three weeks of bedrest after the ordeal. While at the temple, Andravus anonymously tithes half of his earnings to Naurivus, the patron of explorers.

Before the market closes for the day, the Brothers visit Torrad Radokh where Hyglak picks up the shield he had commissioned. Andravus purchases a glaive to replace his spear as well as several quivers of arrows. He also commissions a masterwork set of light-weight laminated linen armor that will be ready in five days. Tirenius commissions five masterwork darts. Castinus commissions masterwork plate armor that will provide extra protection, though this gear will take some six weeks to be completed.

11 Agitelen – Castinus and Tirenius visit the Tower of Knowledge where they sell the remainder of the monster parts. Fortunately, all of them held up during the journey including those that hadn’t been in the metamphorae. While there, they purchase an Oil of Sharpness. In the market, Castinus sells more of the treasures recovered from the temple and Andravus purchases another journal to continue the ever-lengthening “Annals of the Grey Brotherhood.” Raemon posts advertisements that the Brothers are seeking a blade dancer to replace Zeodana.

Over the following week, Hyglak and Andravus continue their bedrest with the latter fully recovered midweek. The other Brothers pursue studies on new proficiencies. When Andravus’ armor is completed, he picks it up from Radokh Steelworks. Unfortunately, no blade dancers respond to the postings.

18 Agitelen – In the second week of Hyglak’s recovery, the other Brothers continue their learning. Castinus completes his studies in bargaining and Raemon in military strategy. Tirenius has learned a new spell, mage missile. He also picks up his darts from Radohk.

At the inn, they are visited one day by an apprentice mage looking for work. He asks if the Brothers are a part of the Imperial Vanguard. When advised that they are not, he comments, “Oh, I’m not interested then” to which Andravus replies, “That’s fine, we weren’t interested either.” Tirenius picks up his darts from Radokh.

While walking through town, they encounter a bard serenading passersby with ancient songs of the Empyrean War about Valerian Bellësareus and the Sword of Fire. Impressed, Raemon and Andravus draw nearer. They tip the bard twenty gold pieces to draw his attention and then talk. The man identifies himself as Peristo, sometimes called “The Percussionist” though he doesn’t care to be locked into a single instrument. Peristo agrees to write songs to celebrate the exploits of the Grey Brotherhood and Andravus shares a copy of these annals to provide him with materials. However, there is still no reply to Raemon’s advertisements.

28 Agitelen – During the third week of Hyglak’s recovery, the Brothers are visited by Kyria Astera, a Lioness of Ianna who has followed a syncretic path among the blade dancers. She learned of the Grey Brotherhood’s deeds from Peristo the bard and expresses interest. Raemon offers her a year’s signing bonus and Kyria joins the Brothers with great élan.

As Hyglak nears the end of his convalescence, Castinus provides a financial report to the Brothers. Thanks to very successful mercantile efforts, he was able to sell a great deal of the treasure and thus awards each of the Brothers a much larger payout. The company purse is also quite flush at 2,734 gold. The dark days of high interest loans are over and the future looks bright indeed.

It isn’t.

1 Innelen – The Brothers, less Hyglak who continues to recover, speak with the merchant guild about properties for sale in Siadanos. They are interested in establishing a chapter house, but are uncertain of the costs involved. A merchant by the name of Conell eagerly guides them to a grand two-story villa near the northeastern edge of the city. “This villa is a bargain at just seven thousand two hundred… what is that!”

Conell screams in terror as a death weaver spider demon clambers over the wall and rushes toward Raemon. The Brothers draw their weapons.

Initial blows against its hard chitin shell glance off or miss entirely and Raemon raises his shield just in time to avoid being torn apart. Before the creature can attack again, the crusader summons holy circle as Kyria casts Bane-Rune on her sword and Tirenius unleashes his new mage missile, scoring a hit on the fiend. Unable to break through the holy circle to kill Raemon, the spider demon lashes out at Türok and kills him instead.

As the Brothers scramble to form some sort of shield wall within the protection of the holy circle, Andravus positions himself for the perfect ambushing shot with his bow. His silver arrow pierces the cacodemon’s chiten and plunges deep into its flesh. The death weaver spider is enraged and, still unable to close on Raemon, bursts through the surrounding circle of Brothers to close on Andravus. In a single blow, the spider fells the unfortunate explorer and tears off his leg. The fiend then cleaves into Aguilor, ripping the sword from the legionnaire’s grasp along with several fingers. But the spider isn’t done as it cleaves again into Kyria and rips her eyes out. Leaving the blade dancer bleeding to death, it rushes toward Conell, the merchant, who narrowly escapes by cowering behind a column.

Furious at the felling of his Brothers, Raemon drops holy circle and advances on the cacodemon to unleash a grievous blow with his mace. The Brothers finally rally with Avaro joining him in the attack and Tirenius unleashing missile after sorcerous missile. But the spider endures them all as it tears poor Conell apart and then turns its many-eyed visage upon the Crusader of Ammonar.

But then, Griffin Russell, the eminently “punchable” blacksmith’s apprentice who had only been hired to appease Torrad Radokh and has never raised a weapon in combat, stoops down and picks up the bane-runed sword of the fallen Kyria. Crying out, as much from fear as fury, he rushes forward and plunges the ensorcelled blade into the demon spider, killing it.

Filled with grief and trepidation, the Brothers check on their fallen. Türok and Kyria cannot be saved. Augilor suffers from his lost fingers, but decides to remain with Tirenius. With his leg torn off, Andravus is the worst off of the surviving fallen. He bleeds heavily, but under magic and the ministrations of Ravila and Raemon, survives.

Still in a state of shock from his injuries, Andravus quips about purchasing a peg leg, but recognizes that a crippled explorer is no explorer at all. Raemon helps him to the temple where the matriarch tends to him. Andravus gasps as his leg is restored to him, but then recoils in horror. Like Raemon before him, his soul has become marked. He, too, is hunted by cacodemons.

I shall break the tradition now, my readers, and tell you directly that I am shaken to the core by what I have beheld. When I close my eyes, I see the gruesome deaths of valiant Türok and poor Kyria who had only been with the company for a day. Never again! I will not bring such a doom upon my Brothers again. I must do whatever I can to avoid such a price.

As I sat recovering from the ordeal of my healing, I looked down at my purse and wondered what good money is in such a day as this. We fight for the security of the Borderlands and the glory of the Auran Eempire, but we measure our successes by the gleaming metals we find. I became disgusted with myself, even as I recognized that such matters were inescapable in a flawed world such as the one we live in. As I walked out of the temple on renewed legs with a marked soul, I paused at the statue of Ammonar and cast all my remaining wealth at his feet. Let him do with it what he will, for I cannot see it.

Chapter XV
Mercantile Preparations and a Brief Moment of Terror

2 Innelen –Andravus begins his period of infirmity at the same time Hyglak’s concludes. Curiously, the Brothers notice that the Jutlander has put on noticeable weight. An unanticipated side effect of his restoration is the dramatic reduction of his metabolism. He only needs half rations, but no matter what he does, he will continue to put on weight.

At the Stone Tankard Inn, the Brothers are served papers by Timonius Therumitas, the attorney representing Merchant Guildmaster Peristo Pontivorus. The guild demands a payment of 4,675gp for the fair market value loss of the villa due to infestation by demons and for the wrongful death of their broker. However, Timonius advises, he is authorized to offer a settlement. If the Brothers purchase the villa for its full price of 7,200gp, all will be forgiven.

After he withdraws, Castinus calls for a Concilio Belli wherein the company discusses their plan of attack and the strategies by which they will gather the necessary funds to execute it. As a first step, they visit the temple and speak with Reverend Mother Madelyn who, after all of their dealings, has become favorably disposed towards the Brotherhood. They request an augury and Andravus explains to her the sense that some fell purpose seeks to distract the Grey Brothers from their quest to bring light to the Borderlands. The hunting afflictions affecting him and Raemon are the direct result of their endeavors to expunge the evil of a Zaharan temple. With that information, the priestess casts Divination and, drawing guidance from Mityara, proclaims, “Salvation can be found on the holy ground of the forest lily shrine made by elves in olden time.”

The Brothers ponder the words. There are four forests in the region, all of which were inhabited by elves: Lusaun, Viaspen, Naungollë, and Istrith. They then ask Reverend Mother Madelyn to seek guidance from the archangels in service to the Lady Mityara by means of Communion. She casts the spell and Castinus asks three yes or no questions. Is the lily shrine to the east of the Krysivor River? – No. Does the lily shrine border the Viamir Marshes? – Yes. Is the lily shrine north of Türos Spen in the Viaspen Forest? – Yes.

The Brothers arrange lodging for their hunted companions within the temple while they prepare for their expedition and Andravus recovers from his ordeal. The priestess advises that, though they are in a pinnacle of good, it may not be powerful enough to repel a cacodemon. They follow her advice and pay for novices to maintain a Holy Circle as well.

Castinus and the others of the company head to the merchant guild and meet again with Timonius. The venturer counters the original proposal with an offer of 6,500gp to purchase the villa with 4,500gp of that cost financed. Timonius agrees. Castinus also seeks to join the guild but is denied.

Returning to the market square, Castinus purchases a war dog named Tor from Omas and equips him with spiked scaled barding.

3 Innelen – The Brothers, minus Raemon and Andravus, set out for Türos Tem. Near nightfall, they pass peasants gathering wood near the edge of the Lusuan Forest. Because of the undead haunting the wilderness, they are afraid to go within its bounds.

4 Innelen – On their second day on the road, they catch up with a caravan carrying grain to the forts. Castinus inquires about traveling together for mutual safety, but they are leery of strangers and decline.

5 Innelen – The company reaches Türos Tem. Castinus retrieves the painting from Aeropos’ vault while Hyglak collects the potion they’d commissioned from Maelyn. They also visit the annalist, Hometri Soccolo and inquire about any information concerning elves with the Viaspen. Unfortunately, Hometri’s focus has been on the exploits of human heroes and he has no information.

6 Innelen – The Brothers begin their return journey to Siadanos, but the weather is miserable with heavy rain and relentless heat. They only manage half the usual distance before dark.

7 Innelen – The rain slackens enough for the company to maintain a respectable pace. Late in the day, they pass a work gang of peasants busy erecting a wooden palisade around a pasture to protect their animals from incursions of undead from the Lusuan Forest.

8 Innelen – The Brothers awaken to find that their ox cart is completely bogged down in the mud. Rather than wait for the road to dry, they abandon the wagon and press the final distance to Siadanos. After refreshing at their villa and the bathhouse, they head to the merchant guild and meet again with Timonius. He is a self-proclaimed man of great taste who admires the paintings of Evanos Pir. Castinus presents the painting of the Grey Brothers and the attorney is agog to see the heretofore unknown work of art that portrays the company. He calls in Zeodarë Teltas, the guild’s art and antiquities dealer. She also marvels at the painting and offers a 5,000gp loan against it. Castinus declares, “I will accept this, and I am sure that you will now accept my application to membership in the guild.” “Of course, Magister Castinus. I can’t believe that buffoon Thurmitas didn’t accept your application."

Castinus and Tirenius head to the Tower of Knowledge and consult with the sage Uxilitas. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any information about the location of the shrine within the Viaspen, but he explains that Viaspen means “Lily Forest” in Classic Auran. It was so named because of the number of lilies within its bounds. He expects that they will only grow within about twenty miles of the Viamir Marshes. It is most likely a shrine to the White Lady, Demara, who is the elven equivalent to Mityara and their chief deity. The elves hide their architecture in remote wilderness so it will require a thorough search.

9 Innelen – An hour before dawn, Andravus and Raemon are awakened to a scream of terror as a slavering creature, larger than a man with bat-like wings, tries to seize the explorer. The novice maintaining the Holy Circle drips with sweat but sustains the spell. Seeing the fear in her eyes, Andravus consoles her, saying that the fiend cannot reach her and if worse comes to worse, he will throw himself upon it before anyone else suffers. But before it comes to that, the Reverend Mother Madelyn arrives and unleashes Dispel Evil. “Begone, foul creature!” she cries and the cacodemon vanishes. Collecting herself, she observes, “I see you chose wisely in hiring us to protect you with the Holy Circle.” Andravus offers thanks and praises the courage of the novice. He also asks if she is willing to continue housing them in light of the obvious risk. The priestess replies that she is content. It is good practice for the novices. She also tells Raemon and Andravus that the cacodemon was of a variety unfamiliar to her.

The rest of the company heads down river to Siadanos, stopping for the night at Türos Quell. While they are gone, Raemon continues his studies on military strategy. While Andravus spends the greater part of his days on bedrest, he also utilizes his newly acquired skills in mapmaking to sketch the northern reaches of the Viaspen Forest within twenty miles of the marshes. He divides the region into sections, preparing for another Communing through the priestess, but by good fortune this endeavor proves unnecessary as will be seen.

11 Innelen – The Brothers reach Cyfauran where Castinus sells some treasures to Dominos the Curios Dealer. He then meets with the merchant guildmaster Apolonius Mitorus and secures a 4,000gp loan against the Empyrean Standard. As they head to the Tower of Knowledge, the company is accosted by three members of the city watch who demand a fee of 10gp. They declare that the Brothers have violated a city injunction prohibiting the gathering of ten or more people. Though it is obviously extortion, Castinus pays the fine to avoid trouble. At the Tower, they purchase a Scroll of Web and also a treasure map reputed to be of an elven ruin within the Viaspen Forest. The gamble pays off. As Castinus unfolds the map, they see a hand-drawn sketch of the woods. Though it lacks modern forts, it has roads and rivers making it easy to interpret. On it is written “Herein lies the Shrine of the White Lady Most Sacred.”

13 Innelen – After several days’ effort, Castinus sells the demonic ichor in the market. Luckily, he has setup a monster part trading route, but unfortunately the Imperial Vanguard recently unloaded a large volume of parts in the city, dropping demand. Thus while successful, the proceeds aren’t as much as Castinus had hoped. He also purchases five horsetail.

16 Innelen – After a slow journey upriver, the Brothers reach Siadanos in the middle of the afternoon. They are grateful to have taken a barge, however, as they witnessed countless people slogging through the heavy muds of the region’s rainy season. Hyglak posts advertisements that he is seeking a fighter henchman.

20 Innelen – Bombor Breth, a dwarven vaultguard lately of Azen Radohk calls upon Hyglak. He has undertaken a warrior’s pilgrimage to gain powers. Hyglak asks if he’d like to join the Brotherhood in their endeavors to destroy an ancient temple that is home to a dragon. “Dragons have a lot of gold, don’t they?” Hyglak confirms that is so and Bombor joins with great élan. The dwarf eyes Jena and says, “You’re really pretty for a human.” Mandonio intercedes, claiming Jena is his to the thief’s great annoyance. At that point, Mandonio and Bombor step outside and brawl. They return a few minutes later sporting matching black eyes and then head out together for drinks with Hyglak.

Castinus purchases one light warhorse for Avaro named Xoriphas, a medium warhorse for Heraus named Antavius, as well as two riding horses for Hyglak and Raemon named Nico and Suda. Two additional mules are also procured named Hannibal and Poncho. What strange mule names are these, you might ask? They come from secret lore handed down by our fathers, the first Grey Brothers. It is said the names are drawn from ancient texts that precede even the Day Without Night and are only to be given to these loyal and hearty offspring of horses and donkeys.

He also acquires adventurer’s harnesses for the lighter armored members of the company and lances for the two horsemen. The horsetail and holy water he commissioned for import on 8 Agitelen arrive safely. Tirenius purchases more darts. Hyglak goes out on the town and blows 700gp gambling because, unfortunately, he bet on black.

Chapter XVI.I
The Forest Lily Shrine made by Elves in Olden Time

22 Innelen – The day is sweltering making travel impossible. Castinus visits the Mercenary Guild and enrolls Bombor. He also pays for the villa to be guarded in the company’s absence.

23 Innelen – The Brothers finally set out from Siadanos. About an hour into their journey, they pass a merchant caravan bringing in grain and vegetables for the upcoming Festival of the Reaping. It is unfortunate the company will be in the wilds during such a celebration, but is far better than bringing cacodemons down on celebrating townsfolk.

Later in the journey, as she scouts the southern flank of the road, Skandara narrowly avoids stepping in a nest of pit vipers. She backs away cautiously as the three reptiles hiss angrily. Tirenius casts Slumber, putting the snakes to sleep and they are collected in a metamphorae.

In a day of bustling activity on the road, they pass an explorer and two crusaders of Calefa guiding four cloaked figures traveling to Siadanos. The explorer advises they’re headed to the festival to offer thanks for good fortune. Then, in the late afternoon, beyond a hill to the south they hear terrible screams. Worried, the Brothers form up in battle order and advance to render aid. Leading the company over the rise, Andravus sees a flock of thirty goats with about seven kids. The babies are feisty and bleat in loud shrieks. Seeing the explorer, they scamper over to see if he has any food. The Brothers join him and give the kids a little of their provisions. As soon as they do, all the other goats come over as well. I may be a hardened warrior, scarred and hunted, but even I can think of no better description than to say we were swarmed by cuteness.

Near nightfall, the Grey Brothers pass a watchtower and see a pair of men in the armiger tunics and red cloaks of legionnaires. Curiously, they are out of their armor and are unshaven. Avaro is disgusted, commenting that their commanding officer should be crucified for such a lack of discipline. The supposed legionnaires hail the Brothers and welcome the company to camp in their tower for security through the night. “We’d love to have you for dinner!” Whether they are just bad soldiers, brigands, cannibals, or worse… the Brothers decline and press on. Andravus notes the location on his map so the incident can be reported to the legate.

Near midnight, Zelicus’ ears go back and the Brothers on watch espy a large wolf in the distance. As Andravus quietly begins rousing the rest of the company, a great howl pierces the darkness followed by the sound of many padded feet retreating to the west. Deducing that the pack decided the Brothers were too dangerous prey, the company stands down.

24 Innelen – The day dawns to peels of thunder and sweltering rain. In the horrendous weather, the company only manages to travel a few miles. Near noon, they come across a large camp of over a hundred people along the side of the road. A few Crusaders of Ammonar are among them keeping watch. Raemon confers with a crusader and learns that they intend to leave the Borderlands. They will be crossing the ford over the Krysivor River near Türos Spen in search of the burial mound of Valerian Bellësareus, the Warrior-King of the Empyreans. It is a holy pilgrimage that no one has completed in centuries. They have eighteen crusaders and three guides. Their pace is slow with so many travelers, but he expects to reach the ford in about four days. He asks if the Grey Brothers have any interest in joining them. With their own pressing matters, Raemon declines, but the company is impressed, a little envious, and a little worried about what dire fates might await these good and pious folk. No one knows the exact location of the mound, but one of the scouts has a strong theory. They will know when they have found it because no fire burns on his cairn. The crusader believes it is because no one has paid respect to the hero in many centuries.

At the crusader’s invitation, the Brothers stop for the night and assist the beleaguered pilgrims as they struggle to light campfires amid the downpour. But, advising the pilgrims of the threat of cacodemons, the Brothers agree to maintain their own camp a small distance away from the others in a sheltered vale with modest cliffs on three sides. The precaution proves warranted as, late in the day, a death weaver spider demon appears.

Its malevolent eyes scan the clearing and, as it rears up, its gaze fixes on Raemon. The cacodemon clambers through the thick mud to the cliff face where it gains better footing and races along the edge with great agility. The Brothers fire volleys of arrows but, in the heavy rain, most shots go awry. Tirenius’ Mage Missile, however, bombards the spider again and again.

As the spider closes, the Brothers rush in behind it and slash at its thick carapace but it rushes on undeterred. Just as it reaches Raemon and raises up on its hind legs to tear him asunder with its vile mandibles, Heraus couches a lance and charges across the camp upon his warhorse. He strikes home, driving his weapon deep into the heart of the cacodemon. He is followed by Skandara and Hyglak. But then, Tirenius unleashes another Mage Missile. The lightning bolt lances into the cacodemon and it explodes in a spatter of ichor.

25 Innelen – The rain and mud persists though the heat diminishes enough for the Brothers to at least travel a dozen miles over the day. They overtake a huge caravan of forty wagons heading for Türos Tem with various provisions. The merchants are glum and frustrated at the grueling pace as they try to push their wagons through the thick mud. Though they’d like the Brothers to assist, the company has pressing matters. Andravus agrees to set up a cairn marker should there be any dangers encountered ahead.

As the day wanes, the company nears a hamlet where several dozen peasants struggle to erect a bonfire in the torrential downpour. They also are erecting many stuffed scarecrows in anticipation of the upcoming festival. Castinus inquires about lodging for the night but the reeve declines, saying it didn’t go well the last time they hosted adventurers. The reeve also mentions that a number of pilgrims have been seen about.

26 Innelen – As the humidity rises the marching pace slows. The Brothers only make six miles before nightfall in the oppressive weather. That being said, they encounter a dozen mounted legionnaires heading toward Siadanos. The warriors recognize the Grey Brothers and hail them. They are in good spirits because they’ve been awarded leave for the festival due to good behavior. Some are clearly already in their drink which gives them immunity to the rain. Perhaps there is a secret in this? The legionnaires advise that the Türos Tem annalist has begun grumbling about the Vaimir Marshes. He believes the swamp is increasing in size because of some malevolent force within it.

27 Innelen – The day is hot but finally clear and, while the roads remain muddy, there is a promise that they should dry soon. Near midday, the Grey Brotherhood finally reaches Türos Tem. A journey that should have taken a mere two days has, instead, cost thrice that. They take some comfort in the hope it is also causing the Lady Below recruitment challenges.

The company stops only briefly at the fort where Castinus makes some quick purchases. They then set out along the northern road where they encounter a force of legionnaires who recognize the Brothers and advise that they are out to provide security for commoners who are gathering wood from the nearby forest. The legionnaires say that a week past they encountered an explorer who was talking about burial mounds to the east. It is the third such mention of the Bellësareus pilgrimage. They also report that there have been fewer bandits in the Viaspen recently, but there are still problems with beastmen, mostly gnolls.

Late in the afternoon, they encounter a smaller merchant caravan bearing salt for Türos Aster. One of the merchants, spotting Bombor, is very excited. He calls forward a man named Toric, perhaps a bard, who eagerly asks Bombor, “Master Dwarf, is it true that upriver from Turos Tellë, the Mirmen is joined by a hidden river called the Earth Way that flows underground from the mountains and that the dwarves of Azen Kairn used the river in the old days to ship ore down from their mines?” Bombor replies, “I have no idea.” The merchants are gravely disappointed but decide that it must definitely be true.

28 Innelen – The monsoon mud finally dries as the Brothers head off the road. They pass various hamlets and small farms before reaching the eaves of the Viaspen Forest. For a time, a peregrine falcon circles overhead and they take that as a good omen for their quest.

It may be a good omen, but that doesn’t guarantee freedom from troubles. Later in the day, the company encounters two bloodhounds, horrific necromantic beasts created from skinless human corpses whose arms and legs have been twisted and reset allowing them to crawl close to the ground. Proclaiming “By the power of Ammonar, withdraw or be destroyed!” Raemon rebukes one of the bloodhounds, but the other charges forward. It is quickly struck by a Mage Missile, a volley of arrows, and a hand axe, felling it before it can close to mêlée.

Looking at the destroyed creature, Zahak says, “Ah creations of the blackest necromancy made by the great Zaharans of the past, so tragic it was destroyed, master. In the days of glorious Zahar, we would hunt humans with them. Oh! It was good times.” The Brothers aren’t impressed and incinerate the body on their campfire, freeing its soul.

1 Nethelen – The Grey Brotherhood reaches the vicinity of the shrine on the first day of the Festival of the Reaping and take this as a good sign for their endeavors. The beginning of the search, however, is made challenging by a steep six hundred foot scrambling descent that stands across their path. Rather than risk life, limb, and mules on the potentially dangerous traverse, the Brothers resolve to seek a way around it. This takes the greater part of the day, but late in the afternoon, they espy what appears to be an old column. Their joy is broken, however, by the bellow of a massive hill giant behind them.

Ravila casts Holy Circle and Raemon blesses Hyglak with protection from the giant’s bludgeoning attacks. The rest of the Brothers brace for the creature’s assault but, instead, it reaches into its enormous pouch and pulls out a boulder that it flings at Hyglak. The Jutlander is struck square on his shield. Though he manages to fend off the worst of the impact, fragments tear into Heraus and Avaro, dropping both of them.

Hyglak charges the giant and deals a brutal blow with his magical sword. The giant lurches back and roars in crude common, “I eat you first!” to which Hyglak replies, “Come get some.” Hyglak is quickly joined by Tor and Zelicus, the two dogs, who bite deep into the monster’s flesh. Griffon follows, “I killed a demon, I’m gonna kill you!”

Overwhelmed, the giant flees. “Too many of you, not that hungry!” Castinus counters, “Harvest him!” Raemon wounds him with a barrage of Sling Stones then Hyglak enters a berserker rage and cuts the retreating giant down.

Ravila checks on the wounded warriors. One of Heraus’ ears was shredded by the impact, but for Avaro the fate is far worse. In a state of shock, he looks down at the rupture in his family jewels. Both warriors are healed up to the exclusion of their permanent wounds, but they remain incapacitated until they have a chance to rest. Once that is taken care of, Ravila extracts the pituitary gland from the giant and it is stored in a metamphorae. The dogs also get giant bones to gnaw on and are quite content.

With that, the moment has arrived. The Grey Brothers follow the colonnade they’d caught glimpses of before. It leads to a secluded forest clearing that contains an ivory covered shrine of white marble to Demara, the White Lady, who we of the Auran Empire call Mityara. Guarding a pool is a majestic white unicorn. The Brothers all sheathe their weapons and Raemon sets his on the ground.

Then the crusader approaches the unicorn. As he steps beneath the shrine’s dome, he realizes that the ceiling carries a map of Southern Argollë as it stood before the Argollëan War. The waters of the pool radiates a calming energy. Measuring his soul, the unicorn dips its horn and steps aside, allowing Raemon to pass.

Raemon bows respectfully, offers a prayer, and then stoops to drink of the water…

Chapter XVI.II
A Fitting Time for a Roll of the Dice

1 Nethelen (continued) – At the forest lily shrine, Raemon drinks of the divine waters and immediately feels a great burden lifted from his soul. He is no longer hunted. But as he takes a breath of relief, he is suddenly struck by a powerful vision of a red stone that transforms into a beating heart, and of hideous red bloodlike vessels pulsing through black stone, and of grotesque treelike structures of flesh and blood. Rising with this nightmare revelation is a quest and a demand that he destroy the bloody heart. “It shall be done!”

Raemon withdraws respectfully and then Andravus, unslinging all his weapons and dropping them to the ground, approaches the unicorn. The sacred creature allows him to pass and he also offers a prayer before stooping to drink of the water. He has the same experience as the crusader of a lifted weight and a great quest from the gods. “I will do everything I can, I swear it!” Andravus then asks the unicorn if it would be disrespectful of him to chart the map above. The creature consents and the explorer adds the ancient locations to his map of the Borderlands.

Hyglak follows next, but as he respectfully approaches with head bowed, the unicorn kicks its hoof back in dismay and keeps its horn pointed toward his breast. The Jutlander backs away respectfully. Avaro tries next and is allowed to drink of the water, but it has no physical curative property on his destroyed jewels. Disappointed, he bows and withdraws. Castinus enters the shrine after him and is allowed to pass. As he drinks, he finds that his wisdom has been restored and he is given the same quest.

Zahak says to Tirenius, “Master, under no circumstances must you drink of that pool. It is cursed and will cost you dearly if you do!” “I am well aware.” The mage knows that drinking of it would deprive him of his familiar and his own ambitions. Yet he looks at the pool longingly before saying, “It is forever out of my reach.”

Hyglak, however, converts to the light of Ammonar. Raemon blesses and anoints him with holy water. As he approaches the shrine a second time, the unicorn looks at him askance but allows him to pass. He is healed of his weight growth and receives the vision and quest. Tirenius observes dryly that this conversion is mighty convenient to which Andravus replies that sometimes such things start with convenience.

As they leave the shrine, the Brothers agree that they must keep this sacred place secret [consider this section excised from the actual Annals – Andravus tore out these pages except for this extraplanar version].

2 Nethelen – The Brothers backtrack out of the forest. As they march through the wilderness, a woman appears from behind a redwood tree and approaches Raemon. She has the features of a beautiful elf with flesh the color of red bark and hair the color of autumn leaves. “Beautiful one, I need your aid! Come to me!” Raemon resists her Beguilement but politely asks how he can help. “I need your assistance in my tree. I can’t really explain out here. It is not for others to hear.” Further efforts to learn her plight yield more evasions. Andravus, growing worried that the crusader is tempted despite resisting the beguilement says, “Raemon, we already have a mission from the Empyrean gods.” Raemon tells the dryad that unless she is in imminent danger then he cannot help. Disappointed, she vanishes into her tree. Andravus marks the location on his map to assure they can avoid a future encounter.

3 Nethelen – The Brothers reach Türos Tem and restock their rations and fodder. They also store their full metamphorae.

4 Nethelen – The day is hot but clear as the Brothers head north and back into the Viaspen Forest. They stop at the hidden grotto where they leave their horses and two of the mules before approaching the Sakkara Temple. As it comes into view near sunset, they marvel at how long it has been since they departed. What they’d anticipated as only a brief pause grew into fifty-four days of dreadful but necessary distraction. But this time lost will prove to have a cost.

The door is closed and unguarded but the thread Andravus left in it is gone, marking that it has been in use. After verifying no traps, they open the door to reveal that the tunnel ahead is covered in thick fleshy roots and vines filled with a bloody fluid. Here and there are strange pulsating growths of ichorous slime. The very stone of the hallway looks as though it is being converted into something organic and the air is hot and heavy with stench.

Bracing themselves, the Brothers enter the temple. While fouled, it remains navigable and they march to the courtyard with the ancient Zaharan statue. It is in the process of being overgrown by the foul pestilence but the northern half of the room and beyond remain unaffected… so far. The company continues to the old orc lair to where they’ve been told the ziggurat is located. Opening the door beyond the toll room, they enter a great hallway that runs to the east. The northern wall holds more fiendish Zaharan orthostats while eleven goblin heads, impaled on sconces but risen in undeath, line the south wall. The Brothers follow the hall to where it connects to the region just south of the hobgoblin lair they’d encountered on their previous foray. Here, the hallway turns briefly to the north. It has two almost adjoining doors that clearly lead to the same room to the northwest. After carefully listening at the doors, Jena opens the northern one and the company passes into a vast chamber.

The room is large enough that the torchlight cannot reveal its extent. The ground is sandy with blackened and warped bones strewn across it while the walls to the south and the east are veneered with glazed bricks of black and purple. Castinus lights a torch and flings it to the northwest to reveal the lower tiers of the ziggurat. It is a hundred feet square and forty feet high with a vault at its top. A dragon steps from the vault, its skin the color of mottled purple. Its glowing red eyes stare down upon the Brothers as it says, “At last we meet! I am Idimmu the Demonic. To whom do I have the pleasure of welcoming to my ziggurat?”

“We are the Grey Brotherhood and we’ve come to parley with you, the true power of the temple,” Castinus replies to which the dragon laughs. “Well taken, I will devour you last, Castinus.” As they continue speaking, with the venturer seeking to gain an advantage for treachery, they hear doors opening and closing around the perimeter. A dozen kobolds step into the torchlight, half to the west and half to the north. “Is it not the high holy week of your goddess of fortune?” the dragon says. “It seems a fitting time for a roll of the dice to decide the victor of our long awaited confrontation.”

The battle is joined. Tirenius casts Slumber and downs a third of the kobolds as Castinus lands the first wound on Idimmu with his crossbow. Raemon casts Physical Protection against piercing damage on Hyglak as the Jutlander leads the company heavies in a charge against the kobold skirmishers. Meanwhile Tor the war dog rushes toward the dragon.

Meanwhile, Andravus scores a dreadful hit on Idimmu which, unfortunately like with the spider demon, draws the creature’s attention. The dragon flies down to the lower steps of the ziggurat and breaths out a cloud of fetid gas centered on the explorer that also envelopes Hyglak, Raemon, Jena, Augilor, and Bombor. All but the Jutlander and the Crusader swoon beneath its pestilent touch.

But then, Tirenius quaffs the Potion of Dragon Control and tells Idimmu to stop attacking. There has been a misunderstanding! The kobolds were sent to attack him and the Brothers are trying to protect him from the beastmen. Unfortunately, no one reined in the war dog who leaps at the dragon and bites deep into its underbelly. In a fury, Idimmu turns on it and heavily mauls it, but Tor survives.

Tirenius tells the dragon. “We’re trying to figure out why these kobolds are attacking you. I think that someone down below has turned against you.” “You think the Lady Below has betrayed me?” Idimmu leaps into the air and flies back to the vault atop the ziggurat bellowing, “I’m coming for you, Zakiti!”

As the dragon vanishes, the Brothers call back their rampaging war dog and tend to their injured. Andravus is critically wounded and will die unless healed within the day. One of his feet has rotted off and must be amputated. Augilor is in a similar condition with three rotted toes rendering his foot useless. Unfortunately, the skin on Bombor’s face has sloughed off, leaving a hideous mass of necrotic tissue. Even more tragic, he’s lost his beard. But saddest of all, Jena, the once tavern girl and among the first companions to join the Brothers, was instantly slain.

After loading the unconscious Andravus and the deceased Jena on mules, the Brothers ascend the ziggurat. At the top, they see a sacrificial limestone slab carved with a great draconic eye that is held up by four columns, three feet in height, hewn in the shape of coiled serpents. They are all stained black with ancient blood. Behind the altar, a staircase descends downward from which they hear the faint sounds of battle and a large creature roaring.

The Brothers debate whether to follow in the wake of the dragon or wait to ambush upon its return. There is also some question of when they should withdraw to tend to the wounded. But sensing they have the initiative and shouldn’t waste it, they press on to the immense pleasure of the Empyrean gods.

Immediately below, they find Idimmu’s treasure room where they gather a great bounty of coin, gazelle horns, silk, a parchment codex bound in brass, a book-box of parchment scrolls, a chest holding a fox fur cape, a jade stone carved in the shape of a wyvern, a necklace of blood-red pearls, two potions, and two pairs of scrolls. Atop the horde lays a sword with a black backwards curved blade inscribed in Zaharan. One potion of tan fluid smelling of mocha can’t be identified, but the second one Tirenius recognizes as a Philter of Love. Zahak reads the writing on the sword, “El Nagu” or “Death Drinker.”

Handing Mor Süresan to Heraus, Hyglak takes up El-Nagu. As his hand grips the hilt, there is a whisper in his mind. “Let us kill, Brother!”

Outside in the quiescent woodlands, the sun has long since set and the moon shines full upon the green boughs. But within the ziggurat it is not a time for rest or peace as the Brothers, with blades drawn, descend into the bowels of the temple in search of Zakiti, the Lady Below, and the fell heart they must destroy.

Chapter XVII
Okay, Let’s Do This!

4 Nethelen (continued) – Leaving the dragon’s treasure chamber, the Brothers press on deeper into the temple to take full advantage of Idimmu’s rampage. Tirenius sends Zahak ahead of the party to scout the mayhem. The imp is worried about its welfare but complies. Zahak returns weeping, “Master its dreadful! Glorious beastmen warriors have been destroyed by fetid gasses. It was a massacre!” Tirenius consoles the imp while giving the Brothers a gleeful thumbs up.

At the bottom of the stairs, the company finds themselves in catacombs of hewn limestone and fired brick. The air is hot and damp. Halls branch off to the east and west, and possibly to the south as well. Zelicus the bloodhound smells the dragon trail to the east and they rush that direction with all haste, prohibiting efforts to map the route or check for any traps. But with the initiative in their hands, the Brothers believe it is worth the risk.

They pass by several doors to the north and south, some opened and some closed. The open ones reveal guardrooms with dead gnolls, their corpses showing signs of horrendous necrotic rot. The dog guides the party through one of the northern doors where the hewn stone gives way to natural caverns. It was once a lair of gnolls, now all dead including a large one who was probably the chieftain. Piles of bags and boxes line the northern wall that are presumably full of loot. The Brothers don’t check though, and only pause to behead the gnolls before continuing on in pursuit of the dragon.

The cavern wends through the earth and, as it branches again, Zelicus sniffs uncertainly. The Brothers stand at the edge of a massive cavern of roughly oval shape with a vaulted stalactite ridden ceiling only dimly visible in the torchlight. A huge pillar of stone rises from the center of the room to the ceiling. The remainder of the floor is covered in reddish roots that seem to grow up from the stone itself. At the back of the cavern is a large pool of reddish liquid that reeks like blood.

Zelicus sniffs to the south and the Brothers skirt the narrow edge of dry ground between the cave wall and the pool of blood. The path beside the lake grows precariously thin, forcing them to proceed single file, but no one is willing to step foot in the vile liquid. After pushing another forty feet, they see that the blood extends even further into the darkness forming what must be a large lake. While it is shallow near the edge, it is obviously deep at its center where a vast tumorous growth sprouts like a tree sending pink fleshy vinelike tendrils up into the stone to spread like rot across the roof. It is as if they clamber for the surface.

To the south, the Brothers discern a flickering light and, in its gleam, they see the body of Idimmu. In front of him lie two dead men in cultist robes. The dragon’s skull has been stoved in by a mace. Where its body has fallen into the water, eye stalks have begun to rise out of its tail and its skin bubbles and blisters while its wings slowly mutate into insect wings. Fearing that when the transformation is complete the dragon might rise as some sort of undead abomination, the Brothers hew off Idimmu’s head.

From here, the Brothers cease their hurried advance and proceed cautiously again. Beyond the dragon to the west stands a hewn tunnel. A door is visible nearby to the north and, further ahead, they see lit braziers in what appears to be some sort of temple. Zahak investigates the temple and reports that it is beautiful. “It’s a fane to Sakkara, the chief goddess of our people!” In the apses stand statues to the dragon-winged pregnant queen, ready to birth forth monsters. In the center is an altar of red striated marble and silver runes.

Skandara listens at the northern door, but hears nothing. Indeed, it is eerily quiet with only the soft lapping of the waters in the lake of blood and, beneath that, the almost subliminal murmur of creeping malevolence from the tumorous tree. Beyond the door, they find a small dormitory with five sleeping couches around a table holding a sack of legionary issue rations and a bottle of wine. One of the couches is of finer make than the others.

Leaving the room behind, they step into the Shrine of Sakkara and Raemon is absolutely certain it is a shadowed sinkhole of evil. They press through to the corridor on the far side which reverts back into natural caverns. Lurking around the bend to the south wait six zombies who immediately lurch to attack.

Before the undead can close, Raemon lifts his hand and, calling upon the light of Ammonar, rebukes five of them. Drawing El-Nagu, Hyglak hews down one and seriously damages another that is destroyed by Zelicus. Avaro slays a third and Heraus the fourth. The final two zombies flee from Raemon down an increasingly narrow corridor. Tor, the wardog, runs down one and Hyglak severely damages the other, but it escapes around a bend in the cavern.

The Brothers pause their pursuit long enough to form ranks. Mandonio, Griffin, and Skandara are set on rearguard duty along with the mules and the wounded, just to the west of the Sakkara shrine while the rest of the company advances down the narrow ingress in battle order. It widens again after they pass through a door about thirty feet further down.

At this point, the cavern branches with a narrow path to the west and a larger one to the south. In that direction, a light source gleams from the southeast and shines across their path. Castinus hesitates, sensing that the company is on the threshold of over extending itself. But in that moment, he feels the questing from the Empyrean Gods. He must press on now or face punishment. Retreat is no longer an option.

Hyglak, the laudatory Jutlander, leads the advance down the narrow cavern. As he steps into the light, he comes face to face with a line of zombies formed in a crude phalanx. Behind them, he sees three cultists wielding maces and. Standing over them is a figure of dark and terrible sensuality. It is the Lady Below. Zakiti has finely chiseled features, dusky skin, and long black hair. She seems to be standing upon spikes, her nails end in daggers, and her waist is impossibly small. Zahak cries, “A priestess of Nasga!”

The Brothers have entered no mere cave, but the inner shrine of the Sakkara temple. The Lady Below stands upon a dais, her back to an altar of bone that rises from the image of a massive serpent eating its own tail. Fleshy roots grow around the stones of the platform and tendrils spread across the floor, past a ring of burning braziers and up into the ceiling high overhead. Behind Zakiti, a woman lies prostrate on the altar and above the slab sits a massive red gemstone that beats like a living heart.

“Okay, let’s do this!” Hyglak goes berserk and charges into the line of zombies and cuts down two before his assault stalls. The Lady Below stares down at him and commands, “Prostrate yourself before me!” Hyglak is overcome by her power and throws himself to the ground. He is immediately set upon by two of the catechists. Ammonar is looking after his latest supplicant, though, as one fails to land a blow and the second only grazes him. Zakiti cries, “You imbecile, he’s prostrate before you! I will kill you if you don’t finish him off!”

The war dog and bloodhound rush in to support Hyglak and Tor manages to tear out one cultist’s throat to which the Lady Below laughs. “You die like a dog and you deserved it!”

Raemon follows Hyglak into the temple and raises his hands to rebuke the undead only to realize, to his horror, that he stands in a blighted sinkhole of evil. The undead cannot be rebuked here. Seeing the beating heart, the crusader declares, “That must be sundered. That must be destroyed!”

The leader of the catechists, Ur-Namu, bashes at Hyglak with a mace and, as he struggles to ward off the blows, the Jutlander realizes it is a very well crafted weapon of Zaharan make with a bronze flanged head in the shape of a double-headed serpent. The zombies also lurch forward to pummel both Hyglak and Raemon but barely land any strikes. The frustrated Zakiti cries, “I would kill you if you were not already dead!” With that, more undead appear in the form of eleven skeletons, advancing from the southeast. The short grey line is in dire risk of being overwhelmed.

Heraus and Avaro break off flank duty to join ranks with Raemon, but Hyglak and the two dogs remain dreadfully exposed. Tirenius sends Zahak to fetch everyone from the rear guard. Then he steps up to the corner, allowing him to see just enough of the room to unleash a salvo of Mage Missile against the throbbing heart. As the coruscating magic scours the crimson gemstone, the Lady Below screams, “You will die for your impudence of damaging the sacred relic!” To which Tirenius murmurs, “Help!” as he maintains his concentration on the objective.

Hyglak scrambles back to his feet as Tor kills another cultist before turning his attention on the chaotic priest Ur-Namu. The Lady Below lifts her arms, revealing that she has bat wings growing out of her back, and unleashes Unholy Blessing, bestowing greater power on all of her undead. These lash out, all along the line, and deal grievous wounds to those in the front ranks… but the line still holds.

Ravila counters the fiendish lady by casting Holy Chant and bringing a circle of protection around the stout warriors of the Brotherhood as Avaro and Raemon wade into the zombies. But terror grips the hearts of the company as Zakiti begins casting another spell. At the last moment, she is interrupted by Tirenius redirecting his Mage Missile to strike her.

Meanwhile, the rear guard has begun to arrive. Griffin runs around a narrow stone outcropping to close on the flank of the zombies, but he’s quickly engaged by a skeleton who deals him a heavy cut with its sword. Skandara and Mandonio follow the blacksmith and the latter, tapping him on the shoulder, tells Griffin to withdraw. The young man complies and stout Mandonio, his bearskin cloak flying, leaps into the fray with his mighty morning star and shatters a skeleton to fragments of bone.

At the forward point of the Brothers’ advance, Zelicus and Tor fall beneath the heavy blows of a skeleton while the center strains under the assault as well. Heraus nearly falls beneath a strike, but bears up his shield and holds the line as beside him, Raemon begins forcing the enemy line back. Behind them, Castinus lobs military oil at the Lady Below, but his aim is well short. The fiery liquid burns Avaro but also damages a skeleton and kills a zombie. Hyglak strikes Ur-Namu with Death Drinker. The priest staggers back and, recognizing the blade, a look of utter terror flashes across his face. “You should not be wielding that blade, fool!”

Through it all, Tirenius maintains his concentration against all the provocations of Zakiti and blasts the heart again, drawing a scream of almost physical anguish from the Lady Below. In a fury, she looks down from her dais and Insights Madness in the Jutlander. Hyglak is filled with tortured visions and begins foaming at the mouth but before he can rampage, he’s felled by the nearest skeleton. As Hyglak drops, insensate, to the floor, Zakiti screams, “Why did you do that!?!”

Castinus lobs another military oil at the Lady Below. He misses again and this time it falls on the woman who was being tortured on the stone, killing her. As Tirenius wounds the heart a third time with his Mage Missile, the entire Brotherhood viscerally feels the massive burst of arcane energy. The strange fronds throughout the room waver and cavort as if in physical agony.

But the mindless horde of skeletons relentlessly press their attack. They cut stalwart Avaro down and, as Mandonio endures brutal wounds on the Brother’s right flank, Skandara exhorts, “Hold the line! Hold the line!” She fires a silver arrow over his shoulder, striking the heart of Sakkara, but the projectile shatters uselessly against it.

Castinus finally strikes the Lady Below with military oil and she screams in agony. Yet the pain doesn’t seem to be as severe as it should. The Brothers can only watch in horror as she retaliates by raising Tor, their faithful war dog, into an undead hound now in her service.

On the Brother’s right, Mandonio lays into the skeleton horde with his morning star, shattering two before he, in turn, is cut down by a zombie. Behind him, Skandara pierces Zakiti with an arrow, but she merely smiles as though pain is nothing to her.

At the Brothers’ center, Raemon destroys the skeleton threatening Tirenius just as the mage unleashes another Mage Missile. Zakiti’s gloating smile vanishes as, behind her, the Sinister Stone of Sakkara detonates in a massive explosion. When the detonation clears, the priestess of Nasga is gone and in her place stands a writhing abomination. It is a twisted horror resembling a wet bag of loose shifting flesh in the rough shape of the Lady Below. The monstrosity screams in ecstatic pleasure and horrifying agony.

The undead war dog collapses back into its final rest but the remainder of the undead are unmoved by fall of their lady. Ur-Namu, the last sentient follower of the once Lady Below, is markedly concerned about the changing circumstances but he continues with his attacks, trying to close on Raemon. It is a poor choice, because that puts him square in the path between the abomination and Tirenius, the hated destroyer of the heart. The twisted horror rushes up behind the cultist and Ur-Namu has just enough time to cry, “What? No!” before dying beneath its paralyzing touch.

The same zombie that had felled Mandonio advances and fells Heraus, too. But as it presses its assault, Castinus draws his short sword and cuts the creature down. With the destruction of Zakiti, Ravila drops her Holy Chant and tends to Heraus who had collapsed at her feet. Though suffering a slice across his lips that will leave him with a permanent sneer, he’s brought back into the fight. Doggedly, he rises to his feet as the nearby skeletons rain blows down against him even as, to his left, Raemon is cut down.

Griffin charges back into the fight, filling a gap left by the advance of Castinus. He spears a skeleton threatening Skandara in the flank, but doesn’t bring it down. The thief drops her bow and, drawing her blades, destroys it.

Tirenius continues his Mage Missile, landing a grievous wound on the abomination before it rushes him and disrupts his spell with a paralyzing strike. Ravila heals the mage of the paralysis before he can be slain. Tirenius, now without spells, beats upon the abomination with his staff but to no avail. Meanwhile, with the death of the skeleton threatening her, Skandara finds herself behind the battle line. She wants to reach the abomination, but a mass of skeletons stand in her path. She rushes the nearest and cuts it down but fails to land a blow on the second.

In the madness of the mêlée blows are exchanged on all sides. The abomination strikes Tirenius and Heraus but fails to paralyze either. Then Skandara sees her chance and drives both her blades into its unholy flesh, destroying it.

The gravest threat is ended, but most of the company are seriously wounded and they are still hard pressed by the remaining zombie and skeletons. Ravila heals Tirenius just in time to save him from a killing blow from a skeleton. Griffin manages to kill the final zombie and Heraus takes down a skeleton before another one fells Heraus for a second time. That skeleton cleaves onto Griffin and drops him, too.

Before that skeleton can break into the Brothers’ rear and cut down Ravila and Tirenius, the mage unleashes his Scroll of Web and pins it. After several attempts to bash its skull in from long range with his staff, Tirenius finally scores a hit and the skeleton crumbles. Meanwhile, Castinus and Skandara face the final three skeletons. Castinus kills two and then, finally, after nearly twenty minutes of grueling combat, Skandara destroys the final one.

The Sinister Stone of Sakkara has been destroyed, the great quest from the Empyrean Gods lifts, and the Grey Brotherhood has survived, but at great cost.

During the latter stages of the battle, Ravila was able to tend to Mandonio, Hyglak, and Raemon. The boisterous warrior lost three fingers and needs a night of bedrest but will otherwise recover. Hyglak, similarly, lost two fingers and needs one night’s rest. Raemon’s wounds are more grievous as one foot was severed by a skeleton’s attack. Like Andravus, who lost a foot to the dragon, he’ll need a week’s rest.

In the wake of the battle, the remainder of the downed Brothers are checked on. Avaro has lost an eye and lies at the threshold of death. Without any more spells, Ravila attempts mundane healing and fails. But as they watch his life slip away, she desperately applies a poultice of comfrey and proves that even in a sinkhole of evil hope can be found. Against all odds, the treatment works and Avaro sits up, his eyes opening wide. “I’m not dead yet!”

Heraus, in addition to the earlier slice in his lip, has lost his right arm to a skeleton attack. Amazingly, Griffin who was thought to almost certainly be dead, still lives. Like Avaro, he’s lost an eye but will otherwise recover. Finally, the Brothers check on their faithful bloodhound Zelicus. The dog narrowly avoided decapitation and his vocal chords are cut leaving him with a rough and haggard bark.

As the adrenaline of combat slowly begins to abate the Brothers take stock. After the battles against Idimmu and Zakiti, four Brothers remain standing, four will be able to fight again after a night’s rest, and four need longer care. Jena alone, and tragically, has been slain along with their loyal war dog, Tor.

Chapter XVIII
Heroes are Needed Again

4 Nethelen (continued) – As the day nears its end, the Brotherhood deliberates how best to pass the night. Given the limited number of hale members, they decide to hunker down near the battle site but send out two scouting forays. First, Zahak flies back as far as the corpse of the dragon. He reports all is quiet but the great tree in the lake seems agitated. Second, Skandara checks to ensure the temple cavern’s perimeter is clear. She begins reconnoitering the defiles in a counterclockwise fashion.

The first wing of the cavern is merely a small loop back into the central room. The second, however, leads down to a larger cavern which, like those before, is filled with the disturbing vein-like growths. A few scattered boulders lie on the far end. Following a second tunnel from there, she reaches the edge of the pestilence growing into the walls of the cave. Near this point is a Y-intersection promising an even deeper plunge into darkness. She decides she has traveled far enough from the company and backtracks. While she’s gone, Castinus dons Ur-Namu’s cultist robes so he can attempt impersonation should they run into trouble.

The Brothers are concerned at the size of the cavern complex and wish they had more time in the day to attempt an egress to a safer area. But they are nearing exhaustion so Skandara continues scouting additional tunnels. The next is on the southern end of the chamber that, after a short distance, leads to a semicircular room with growing chiton-like shells on the wall as if it were being transformed into some sort of insectoid growth. She creeps just far enough to see that a tunnel on the far side first narrows then begins widening, hinting that more caverns lay beyond.

Leaving that unexplored, she returns to the Brothers again and presses down a southeastern tunnel. As she enters a room where the walls are lined with fleshy tendrils pulsating with foul fluids, an abomination emerges from one of the walls. Skandara’s effort to remain hidden fails, but she manages to get the jump on it and rushes back to the main cavern, alerting the Brothers. The wounded hobble clear of the center of the room as quickly as they can. As the abomination emerges into the torchlight, Skandara looses and arrow but it flies wild. Both Castinus and Tirenius, however, engulf it in flaming oil. The creature charges forward undeterred and slays Mandonio, the only wounded member of the party too slow to get out of the way. Ravila throws more military oil on the abomination, grievously wounding it with yet more fire before Skandara finally sinks an arrow into what loosely might be called its back, destroying it.

A more thorough search of the altar chamber is conducted and three strange fragments of cunieiform lie where the sinister stone once was. The Brothers carefully handle these with cloth and pack them away without any attempts to read them. They also recover Zakiti’s peculiar clothing including a leather corset reinforced by human bones, a pair of hardened leather boots tightly bound to force her feet to point straight downward, and a black whip.

The thief is sent out a final time, even more tentatively than before, in search of a more secure area to rest and, perhaps, the Lady Below’s treasure trove. Skandara traverses a narrow defile to the east which leads to exactly what the Brothers sought! It is the personal chamber of Zakiti and contains a well-made sleeping couch, a table, and a stool. At the foot of the couch is a small chest while on the table rests a piece of papyrus with writing on it next to a quill and ink. Tirenius recognizes the script as Zaharan but decides not to risk reading it until the next day.

The wounded are helped into this room to camp for the night but the defile is too narrow for the mules to traverse so they remain just outside in the main chamber. Because they are next to a blighted sinkhole of evil, the company carefully ties the wrists and ankles of their fallen comrades, Jena and Mandonio, just in case they rise again.

5 Nethelen – It is the most tense night of the Brothers’ lives as everyone who takes watch does so in the grip of stark terror. The mules are nervous and uneasy and, every once in a while, imagination takes hold such that the sentinel wonders if the bodies in the next room have begun stirring. Fortunately, the hours pass quietly.

As the light of Ammonar rises over the world above, the company stirs. Everyone who can be tended to is healed. Andravus, who was still unconscious since the battle with the dragon is revived. Augilor, Bombor, and Hyglak are each battle ready again and most of their health is restored. The rest of the wounded remain incapacitated but can travel.

Skandara checks the Lady Below’s chest and locates a trap. It is a poisoned needle that springs when the lock is fiddled with. Satisfied it is at least safe to move, the chest is loaded up on a mule to be disarmed later.

The Brothers return to the altar chamber where they smash the vile slab of stone with maces and pour holy water on its remains. The sinkhole is reduced from blighted to shadowed but, since they are in a place of death, it can’t be diminished further without building a lawful shrine. This being beyond the Brothers’ immediate capacity, they backtrack to the smaller fane with the two Sakkara statues. The altar here is inlayed with silver and gold. These precious metals are removed and then the altar is destroyed. After it is blessed with holy water the sinkhole is removed.

At the end of the hallway, they return to the dragon’s body. It has largely melted into the water with only its neck still out and buzzing with flies. Beyond, they see that the hideous tree is writhing in agitation as striations of black rot spread through it. The Brothers gingerly step past and then traverse the narrow defile between the cavern edge and the lake to the gnoll area. They see that the gnoll’s treasure horde has vanished, proving their theory that other denizens still remain within the temple. The gnoll corpses have been hacked to pieces and urinated upon. Given that these are the Red Eye gnolls, they speculate that perhaps the perpetrators are the second gnoll clan, the Black Fang.

Returning to the base of the stairs leading up to the ziggurat, the party pauses while Skandara stealthily creeps higher. She overhears a deep voice rumbling, “Fee foe fum fum, I’m the new king of… hrm… um…” The thief slips back down to the catacombs where the party sets up an ambush at the base of the stairs. The mules, serving as living barricades, block other paths into the room that the wounded can hide behind during the anticipated altercation. When all is ready, Castinus calls out, “Ho, king of the ziggurat! It is the messengers from the Lady Below.”

Heavy feet plod down the stairs and an ogre comes into view. It resembles a man crossed with a great ape and sports an enormous bloated belly. It carries a massive club in its hand and, on its head, it wears a crude crown fashioned from the antlers the Brothers had left behind in Idimmu’s treasure room. He sees Castinus in the cultist robes and says, “Oh uh, Ur-Namu…” as he sheepishly removes his crown.

“Thank you for guarding the treacherous dragon’s horde!” Castinus declares in a boisterous voice. “We are taking some prisoners to the top for further sacrifice by the order of the Lady and we need you to guard the ziggurat and prevent any such treachery from happening again.”

The ogre agrees and, as the creature watches Raemon pass by, laughs, “Silly priest-man had leg eaten!”

The Brothers slip out of the upper level of the temple unmolested and safely reach the grotto where they shelter for the day. After several attempts, Skandara successfully disarms the trap on the Lady Below’s chest. The lock is much easier and, as she lifts the lid, her eyes widen at the sight of several thousand coin, two black sapphires, and a black diamond.

Tirenius is very concerned about reading the scroll fragment recovered from Zakiti’s chamber for fear it is cursed. He has Zahak take a look. The imp reports, “Master, this is a terrible, terrible scroll and you should destroy it immediately! Never gaze upon it and tell no one that you ever found it.” Given the imp’s predisposition, Tirenius takes the creature’s dire warnings as a sign it is not cursed and reads the scroll:

To his imminence, the Lord of Secrets,

I have discovered the stone. It is that stone of Sakkara that was known to our ancient peoples. The chthonic gods are stirring and in their stirring they quaked the earth itself. The dome of heaven that had sealed it away was broken open and the stone cried out. When I discovered it, it was but the size of a thumbnail, now it is the size of a man’s heart. It grows stronger with every sacrifice. In the time of the empire, the stone must have been much larger and more powerful than it is now, but it had been starved of sacrifice for a thousand years until I started feeding it. The Empyreans sealed it away, hoping it would be weakened by starvation from soul food, but I have nourished it. By my hand has it grown, I have watered the stone with blood and, like a seed, it has sprouted great trees of evil. The larger it grows the more it draws the chaotic and chthonic to it from vast distances. They feel its pull, they come to the birthing pools that have spawned in the depths. From their waters shall come a legion of abominations. Soon I shall cease to sacrifice and begin to build an army. And then I shall…”

Zahak wails as Tirenius finishes and the mage comments that there wasn’t much revealed in it that wasn’t already known except for the birthing pools in the depths. The imp looks relieved and says, “You’re right, Master. It was nothing you didn’t know. Nothing to see here!”

The Brothers mull on what they might have missed but for the present are uncertain of Zahak’s trepidation. Perhaps it is the stirring of the chthonic gods as a wider source of troubles?

The two sets of scrolls found amidst the dragon’s treasure are put aside to be checked out upon return to civilization.

The initial plan was for the Brotherhood to leave their wounded at the grotto while the seven healthy members served as a strike force to reenter the temple, clear it further, and recover more treasure from its denizens. But they worry about the security of the wounded and the treasure stashed in the grotto. Additionally, while they have yet to hear grumbles, they discern that their henchmen will be displeased if compelled to immediately return to the temple without a pause for reward and provision. With that in mind, the Brothers decide to withdraw to Türos Tem on the morrow and report to the legate before sending the strike force. But as so often proved the case in the past, this causes a cascade of further events that only serve to prolong the delay… the length of which still remains to be seen.

6 Nethelen – The Brothers opt to follow the route out of the forest that they’d used on the first foray, just in case brigands have noticed the more traveled way and lie in wait. Whether this decision is wise or not can’t be proven other than to say that the journey was completed without incident.

With the dragon head lifted up and their battle standard raised high, the Grey Brotherhood marches through the gates of Türos Tem and their renown grows throughout the Borderlands. They are quickly brought before Legate Valerian. “I trust you bring good tidings?”

“Dominus, we do,” Castinus replies. “Here is proof of what we have destroyed inside the forest. The head of a dragon and the armor of a most heinous Zaharan.” The legate is pleased and advises that Priestess Genelen has reported an end to the nightmares. In explanation, Tirenius recounts the battle against the Lady Below wherein the Brothers destroyed the pulsing evil heart deep within the Sakkara Temple. The altar has been destroyed and its affects upon the land are greatly diminished. The legate is satisfied and promptly pays the promised reward for ending the evil within the Viaspen Forest.

The forays undertaken by the Brothers have honed their skills, bolstered their prowess, and have brought the beginnings of fame. Yet these ventures have come at great cost and not a few of their armsmen mull whether to remain with the company or not. Heraus, Skandara, Ravila, and Griffin decide to continue their contracts while Augilor, Avaro, and Bombor plan to part ways. However, all three choose to defer their final decisions until after the company has seen to their healing in Siadanos. With that need before them, the Brothers cannot return immediately to clear out the remainder of the temple as they’d intended, but rather must journey to the larger city. They also face the question of whether Jena and Mandonio should be raised, an uncertainty which becomes more grim with each passing day.

7 Nethelen – It is a warm day as the Brothers set out for Siadanos. The travel is uneventful and, as they prepare to bed down for the night, they see a company of pilgrims heading westward. Their guide approaches and, seeing the Brothers’ Auran banner, greets them. Like those encountered before, this group also seeks the tomb of Valerian Bellësareus. These are stragglers who hope to catch the main group at the last fort. The guide declares, “Many believe the evil gods are stirring and heroes are needed again. What better time than now then to make sacrifices at the tomb of the great warrior king? His spirit will come and aid us, or so we believe.”

He asks Raemon and the Brothers to protect them on the journey. Castinus, however, sagely observes to the company that until their priestess is of sufficient skill to see to deeper hurts, the Brothers should not travel so far afield. While concerned for the safety of the travelers, closer to home there are troubles with the undead in the Lusaun Forest, a conjectured lurking evil within the Viamir Marshes, and too many other untold dangers closer at hand.

The Brothers decline the offer but agree to share their camp for the night. Watches are set and the company beds down. They are awakened in the darkness to cries from the pickets. “Orcs!”