A Noble Cause for Mellem

The setup
Lucien is setup

I am so angry, my fingers shake as I write this. What started out as an ordinary afternoon for us has turned into something entirely different. I won’t be satisfied until the perpetrator is flayed alive!

We had divied up the spoils of our latest encounter with the blasted hobgoblins. Samhein told us he needed to leave. Something was clearly agitating him, though he would not share it with us. He is new to the group and reluctant to divulge his entire life to us on our first meeting. < That would be my version of cynicism, if you do not know me well enough >

Anya slams the quill against the small writing desk she is sitting at. She struggles to pull herself back together before continuing. It would not do well for her readers to be pushed away by her lack of control over her emotions. She takes a deep breath before picking the quill back up and dunking it into the ink once more.

Samhein was reserved, but polite as he spoke his goodbyes to us. He said he would be interested in joining back up with us as soon as his other matters were settled. We told him the general direction we would head and that we would leave word in the taverns as to where we last headed. With that, he was gone.

We settled into the worn chairs around a square table a common tavern. Lucien sat facing the door, a habit I’ve noticed of his. Before this day, I found it a bit odd. Now, I am in full understanding. We had ordered our noonday meal when five men entered the establishment. A commoner was surrounded by four hefty looking men wearing garments identifying them as local militia. The commoner pointed straight at Lucien saying “That’s him! That’s the one that stole it!”

Lucien blinked in surprise as the four militia members surrounded him, ordering him to come with them. He rapidly fired questions at them as to what he was being accused of and by whom and so on, but they were in no mood to answer him. The largest of the men, who had a nasty scar on his face, made it quite clear he would brook no further questions. He slapped Lucien in chains on both his hands and feet, then escorted him from the tavern.

She glares back down at her parchment as she remembers the way the men “escorted” Lucien. There was nothing at all polite about how they pushed him about and made a scene of placing him in the restrainments. If anything, they had taken pleasure in their jobs!

Anya looks at the quill in her hand and realizes she has crushed the delicate quill. With a sigh, she looks through her supplies and withdraws another.

It is a good thing, though, that we did not choose to fight the guards. There were four more waiting just outside the building. Kael, D.W., and I followed quietly to make certain of where Lucien was being taken. Just inside the jail, two guards took up post in the doorway to prevent our entry.

What happened to Lucien inside the jail, I am not exactly certain. He was a bit vague on parts of it, in particular, the part about why the left side of his face is swollen and bloodied! He claims he “fell”, but my Lucien is an elf and fluid and graceful an…..

“Damn!” Anya utters the human swear as she looks down at the quill she just snapped in half. The parchment was now torn where she had jabbed the sharpened tip of the quill through in her anger. As it was the last of her quills, she would have to purchase more before she could continue. A break might be just what was needed, though.

Returning several minutes later with a fresh supply of parchment and a dozen quills (she decided she might need them to complete this journal entry), Anya sat back down to the desk to continue.

According to Lucien, he was brought into an interogation room where he was accused by a man claiming to be a Vicari. The man was gaunt and dressed in a black robe with a black velvet sash. He had boney fingers, Lucien told us, and stated that Lucien had stolen the amulet. His guards rifled through Lucien’s things and pulled out the Butt ugly amulet Lucien had obtained from the Sprite weeks ago. The so called “vicari” then left with two of the guards, including the scarred one. As he exited, he gave orders to throw Lucien into the jail cell.

As we waited outside, the man Lucien later told us was claiming to be Vicari and the militia that seemed to be protecting him vacated abruptly. D.W. quietly left without notice so he could track them. While he was doing that, I batted my eyelashes at one of the militia blocking the entrance to the jail. It didn’t take me long to charm him into talking.

The witless wonder told us how Lucien had stolen a necklace or something from someone very important and that he was to be executed. I choked down the bile in my throat to ask when and he responded tomorrow. Thankfully, Kael began asking questions as I felt faint at the moment. He learned they would build a gallows in town in the morning so the thief could be hung at noon. Thief"! I wanted to slap that stupid look from his face, but instead pasted a smile on my lips.

D.W. returned wearing a militia tunic matching the idiots in front of me. He looked ridiculous in the oversized uniform as it swallowed up his small frame. Luckily, the fools didn’t question him as he introduced himself as the newest recruit. Humans use a phrase of “hook, line, and sinker”. I think it captures the essence perfectly. Then D.W. deftly slipped me a second uniform. As he was talking to the guards, I grabbed Kael and we left.

Poor Kael did not expect me to pull out my dagger and trim his scruffy looking hair or give him a quick shave, but I did what I had to in order to change his appearance. He then put on the militia tunic and we headed back. I was babbling a thank you to the nice officer for helping me out. The dufus guard was still standing there and of course fell for a second new recruit that night.

Anya let out a huff as she thought about the morons who kept the peace there in Hodgeton. Not even questioning new militia recruits who just show up without identification documents or at the very least an introduction by their commanding officer? With a shake of her head, she returned to her writings.

There were two guards downstairs, but D.W. relieved one of duty for the rest of the day. On the ground floor, two more left as their shift had ended. D.W. looked over to where Lucien stood in a cell, then jerked his head slightly toward the remaining guard downstairs. Lucien quickly picked up the silent signal and shouted out in pain as he fell over. He writhed and moaned that he was dying. D.W. then insisted the guard run for a doctor.

I don’t know how D.W. did it, but his timing was beautiful as Kael and I were just walking in the door when the guard from downstairs ran up saying a doctor was needed. I told him I was a healer, so he let me in to look at his patient. We went down to the cell where I prepped to heal their prisoner. Kael then relieved the guard of his duty as well.

When we were at last alone, the four of us put our heads together and decided to pretend my healing failed and the prisoner died of poisoning. Kael and D.W. carried the prisoner upstairs. Truth be told, if I had not been so frightened that we would be caught, I would likely have been bent over laughing so hard at the entire scene. As it was, I cried to the guards about how I had failed so miserably and positioned myself so their backs were to the others. D.W. grunted out that they would bury the body for the guards as he struggled with Kael to carry Lucien outside.

The guards had been daft, but they also proved themselves to be lazy as well as they wanted no part of having to bury the thief’s body. As bad a day as we were having, Fortune also seemed to be on our side. Otherwise, those ridiculous schemes should not have worked.

While Kael and D.W. carried Lucien down the street a bit and out of sight, I went to the local stable to purchase some horses and a wagon to get out of town without Lucien being spotted. Whoever it was who had set him up may have left others to watch for him. I wasn’t taking chances with his being caught again. I also grabbed some more supplies and a tarp for him to hide under and place them all in the wagon.

Once we were back together, I insisted Lucien hide in the wagon bed while I rode one of the horses. When we were outside of town, we began discussing what happened and exchanging information. D.W. told us he had seen the boney dude (that’s what they started calling the imposter claiming to be Vicari) jump into a carraige. His two escorts tossed off the militia tunics, then one climbed on a horse while the other drove the carraige away. That was how D.W. had obtained the uniforms.

Everyone began talking at once. D.W. wanted to know what Lucien had supposedly stolen. Kael was asking who they thought the boney dude might be. Lucien wanted to know who the guy was who has supposedly identified him as a thief. I kept demanding to know who could hate Lucien enough to set him up like that. Chaos reigned for a bit. We had far too many questions and not enough answers.

When we were at last able to calm down, we stopped to relay everything we knew to one another. Lucien and I told the others about the Sprite and the Butt ugly amulet we had found. Dale, a former member of the group, had known who had the amulet, bu he was too honorable to set Lucien up. The only others who could possibly know Lucien held this item were both dead – the mage that had tried to kill us and the sprite.

Lucien had suddenly paused at that point. “Are we sure he’s dead? The wizard, I mean. We checked the sprite, but did anyone make sure the mage was dead??”

Anya sighed deeply this time. It was a bad habit of this group to walk away once a critter was downed. Rarely did anyone verify the creature, be it humanoid or otherwise, was actually dead. This time, it may have come back to bite them in the ass.

We all agreed that it seems the only plausible answer. I frowned at D.W. “Did it occur to you when you saw the guards toss down the uniforms that you could have used it as evidence to show the real militia that they had been duped?” D.W.’s mouth parted in surprise, at my anger or at the logic, I am not sure.

Lucien felt we should try to find the commoner who had pointed him out. That human might hold some answers for us. Kael surprised us by sketching a picture of the man. He claims he has no talent with it, but the drawing was very much a good likeness. With that in hand, I was determined to go see the magistrate back in Hodgeton and see about clearing Lucien’s name. I don’t want him to be a fugitive for the rest of his life.

We agreed that Lucien and D.W. would stay just inside the woods on the outskirts of town. They are to take my horse and the pony I purchased for D.W. and ride out if trouble comes. The next town over is Farseek and we will meet them there in the tavern if we cannot find them upon our return.

Kael drove the wagon team into town. Once there, he changed into his cat form. He felt my having an exotic pet might help intimidate or impress the magistrate, depending on what I needed to deal with him.

Turns out it might have been a little of both. When confronted with the evidence and tales of how his militia had been so gullible, the magistrate was embarrassed. Kael hissed and whipped his tail about for good measure. The magistrate then took the sketch I gave him with the promise that he would find answers within the week for me. I told him I would check back and that there had best be results. Then I insisted on his writing up a pardon for Lucien just in case another of his fools (militia) tried to confront Lucien again. I tucked away the document and left.

Anya placed the quill down on the desk, then stood and stretched out her cramped muscles. She groaned as she remembered what came next. While she and Kael had run that errand, D.W. and Lucien played gin rummy on a tree stump to pass time. As they did so, a pair of Ibixians discovered them in the woodland. There was quite a skirmish between them, with Lucien going down. Fortunately, D.W. seemed to really know what he was doing with his bow and managed to finish the creatures off.

Not for the first time that day, Anya found herself upset at someone attacking the rogue. She and Kael healed their companions (thank Pelor for a druid who knows how to heal!) and then they packed up and headed to Farseek. Anya decided it was time to use her skills and make some healing belts for her friends and offer better protection for Lucien.

Monsters in my sewer - part 1
Maintenance men are vanishing

We spent the last couple of days in Farseek so I could make healing belts for Lucien and D.W. Hopefully this will help them in combat. I have not seen the halfling take much for damage thus far, but he uses range as his primary tactic in battle. Lucien chooses an up close and personal fighting style, which leaves him open to major injuries. While I admire his bravery, I also fear for his safety. Thus the need for the belts.

In the local tavern, we were discussing how to go after the man who framed Lucien ( The setup). D.W. had been the one who saw the man and his guards mount up and leave Hodgeton. Unfortunately, he did not think to check the tracks. Nor did the rest of us think to go back to try to follow them. Now it is too late as too many have passed through that area and those tracks. Without any identifying marks, we won’t be able to differentiate one horse track from another.

During a pause in our conversation, we could easily hear the occupants at the table next to us. One woman was consoling the other over the recent loss of her husband. Both were older women with wrinkles to prove their passage of time.

“I’m so sorry for your loss, dear. It must be horrible for you.”

“Yes. I have no idea what I will do now.”

“All those disappearances. Somebody has to do something!”

Lucien leaned over toward me, asking me to use my talents to find out what was going on with those women. I smiled and told everyone at our table to be silent, then turned to listen more carefully. Lucien looked at me as if I were daft. I had known what he meant for me to do, but found this a better way to obtain the information.

“My husband was an honest man. I don’t care that he smelled. The work was honest and the pay regular. He earned a living for us.”

“Yes, I know. Agnes, do you think it’s a serial killer?”

“I don’t know. It seems we are running out of men here.”

At that point, Lucien turned to the women with a smile pasted on his face. I knew he was hoping to charm the woman. As appealing as I find him to be, the look he gave them was rather like a shark about to go after it’s prey. The women turned as one to look at him, then shook their heads. Agnes told her friend “Too young” with a sigh.

That tactic out the door, the rogue asked them pointed questions about the men who disappeared and where they were when it happened as well as what happened to the bodies. All the women could tell him was that it was men only, as far as they knew, and the men were basically maintenance workers.

Agnes gave her friend a look. “A few bums too, don’t forget.” She stuck her nose up at Lucien. “You know, homeless people. Hobos.” Suddenly she remembered a bit of gossip. “Oh, that one boy thinks a monster did it,” she laughed. “Says it attacked him and everything. Of course, he’s a bit stupid in the head, if you know what I mean.”

Her friend turned to us to say “She’s speaking of the town crier. It’s the only job the boy could get.”

Lucien does not take well to snobs. He feels the need to put such people in their place, especially when they treat helpless people harshly. It is one of the things I lo….really like about him.

He looked Agnes directly in the eye, “What exactly it is that you do to earn a living?”

“I don’t need to” said Agnes. “My husband earns our living!”

“Ah, then he worked while you sat at home and spent his money. Tell me, how will you earn a living now?”

As Agnes began sputtering, Lucien turned to his companions and suggested we go find the boy they’d been speaking of. I told him I would be out in just a moment as I wished to see if I could get more information on the situation from the bartender. When I stepped outside, I had no more information then what we had already obtained from the women.

It didn’t take long to find the boy. He had his arms full of pamplets and was calling out advertisements for some sort of entertainment. Obviously, people took advantage of his mental state for their own amusement. The kid was determined to do his job and handed each of us a pamplet. He grinned from ear to ear as we accepted them.

Lucien excused himself a minute as we listened to the boy tell us all about the place listed on the pamplet. He was very excited to have an audience of rapt listeners! I found him to be absolutely charming.

When Lucien came back minutes later, he had a small box in his hand. He asked the boy, who identified himself as Dave, if he could tell us about the monster that had attacked him. Lucien lured him into telling us in exchange for one of the candies he had purchased moments ago.

Dave was so excited about the candy, he promptly dropped his drawers to show us the marks on his leg where he had been bitten. We could clearly see the rows of teeth marks outlined there. Whatever had attacked him had one nasty bite to it. D.W. urged the boy to pull his pants back up quickly as we were in public.

The rogue wanted more details about the creature that had attacked the boy. He asked his questions in a gentle tone in the hopes of not frightening the boy. Dave could only tell him that he had not really looked at the monster, just turned and ran as fast as he could.

When asked the location of the attack, Dave promptly dropped his drawers again to point at his leg. Taking a deep breath, the elf rephrased his words. The boy pointed off in the distance telling us it was on that side of town. Lucien asked Dave if he could take us there. Immediately, the boy’s eyes welled up with tears and his lower lip began to tremble in fear. He didn’t want to as he was certain the creature would attack again.

Lucien smiled at the kid. The elf assured the boy that his halfling friend was small and slow and that the monster would more than likely eat him first before going after a tall person like Dave. The boy’s eyes lit up at the idea. With the promise of more candies, Lucien managed to get Dave to take us to where the attack had taken place.

It turns out the spot had been blocked up by the town since the incident had ocurred. A metal gate and many rocks had been put there. D.W. frowned, saying the town obviously knew about it and chose not to act. Kael suggested perhaps they were unable to deal with whatever the creature is. We were disappointed not to be able to seek it out.

Dave nodded to us. “They didn’t believe me when I said a monster attacked me, but they did that anyway.” Then he pointed just down the street. “I saw a man go in that hole and then heard him scream, but they didn’t block that hole cuz it’s for the sewer people,” he panted. “Can I have my candy now??”

Lucien handed the boy the box. Before he could even ask another question, Dave took off at a run, delighted with his treats.

We headed over to the hole Dave had told us about. It had a small metal gate over it and a ladder leading down into the sewers. Lucien lead the way, hoping to sneak quietly to get a good look at the place without alerting the creature to our presence. Unfortunately, we aren’t as quiet as the rogue.

The water in the sewers smells awful and is a murkey mess. I did not ever wish to see it up close, but had no choice in the matter. If my companions could manage it, then I could not be high and mighty about it and remain above. Still, it was quite disgusting down there.

Down in the canal, we found it dark and difficult to see well. D.W. has lit up a sunrod and wedged it between his shoulders and pack so as to keep his hands free. As he moved away, I realized we needed more light, so I have cast a light spell on my flute that hangs about my neck on a cord.

We tried heading down the east passage, but a gate blocked our way. After picking the lock, Lucien attempted to open the door, but it was firmly stuck in place, having rusted shut. He quietly led the way to the southward entrance and just had it open when something came tearing toward us, shrieking as it came.

Turned out to be a kobold, of all things. The little fellow was drenched in blood, though not it’s own. It came straight at us, as if fleeing something, and swung at us blindly. A few strikes from Kael and Lucien took the creature down. Neither of the two wanted to reach into the nasty sewer water to pull the critter out and check for loot.

<< Out of game note: We spent too much gabbing and eating, not enough time gaming, so log is a bit short this week! >>

Monsters in my sewer - part 2
The team learns to work together

The sewer smelled nasty and after moving about down here, everyone sorely needs a bath. I have done my best to keep my clothes clean, but water drips from the ceiling and the floor is slippery. So far, we have all managed to stay out of the liquid filth flowing throughout this place.

Lucien is once again attempting to quietly sneak up on whatever it is down here. With all the liquid splashing through pipes into the canal, it shouldn’t be hard for him to stay quiet. He hopes to gain an advantage by moving ahead of us. We have refused to let him gain much of a lead for fear he will be the one surprised. I think he finds us irritating as we noisily follow at close range.

As we move through the tunnels, we find bodies that have been torn apart. Lucien eyes the remaining pieces to see if the bite marks look to match the ones we saw on Dave’s leg Monsters in my sewer – part 1 .He cannot be certain as he is not skilled in the subject. Still, he thinks this will turn out to be the same creature that attacked the youth.

Immediately ahead, the ledge we have been walking on comes to an abrupt end. Lucien approaches the edge cautiously, calling out to me to get up close to him. I look over to find that ledge too crowded and think it might be better if I simply jump to the ledge opposite him. Then I will have a clear shot at whatever comes out of the water at us.

Anya hesitates to ink the next paragraph as she is embarrassed. To put her humiliation in her story would make it known to all who might read it. Yet was that not the point of the journal? To keep track of all the events and learn from the past? Her face grows warm as she touches quill to parchment.

If only it were that simple. I do not need to look at Lucien to know he is angry at me now. In my attempt to jump, I slipped on the ledge and landed with a loud splash in the sewer water. Now the filth is not just on my clothing, but in my hair and all over my face. Something tells me that he will not be inviting me to share his bed this night!

Kael throws caution to the wind and jumps into the sewer waters. He later told us he simply felt he was better able to take a hit if something attacked us than Lucien could. If something did attack, it would focus on him, allowing the rogue to sneak around behind it. That might have been a good plan had everyone known that was what he wanted to do. Instead, he ran smack into the creature.

A good eight or nine feet long, covered in smooth scales and with a huge mouthful of teeth, the alligator rose out of the water snapping at Kael. In one bite, it nearly crippled the druid. He was stunned at the ferocity of the attack.

While I was struggling to pull myself out of the water on the opposite ledge, D.W. came up behind Lucien and fired off a shot at the beast. Thank Pelor for D.W. learning how to fire into melee without hitting his companions or Kael would not have survived.

I began singing a song I found to be inspiring in the face of battle, hoping my companions would take courage from it. Lucien fired off instructions to us all. Kael withdrew from the creature, falling back toward me so I could help him. I was going to heal him, but as I saw the alligator heading toward him, I struck at the beast instead.

As soon as the alligator was dead, I cast a healing spell on the druid. He thanked me as he felt the healing energy course through him, mending torn flesh.

Lucien looked down the tunnel, then down at the dead beast, and finally over to the bodies still floating in the waters. He wanted to make absolutely certain there were no more creatures in the tunnels. This time, he insisted everyone stay put so we could formulate a plan. He was through with our racing haphazardly forward without knowing where we were going and what everyone else was going to do.

After brainstorming a minute, we decided to use an appendage from one of the dead creatures. Kael was to tie twine to the appendage and toss the part ahead of him. We would wait a moment to see if anything attacked it before moving forward. If something attacked the appendage, it gave us just enough time to move into an advantageous position for the attack.

Poor D.W. had to swim for a while as we moved down the passageways. While the water came up to waist or chest level on the rest of us, it was just over the halflings head. We moved down the tunnels slowly so he could keep up with us.

At a bend in the sewer, Kael heard what sounded to him like a large rat screeching in pain. He listened a moment longer, but could hear nothing else over the sounds of water. He relayed what he heard to the rest of us.

Down several tunnels, we finally found more ledges. The halfling gladly pulled himself from the filthy waters to climb onto the stone ledge where he stood catching his breath. We gave him a moment before continuing down the tunnel.

Around the corner, the tunnel came to an abrupt end. It was a circular area with four pipes pouring their vile liquid into the canal. In the middle of it was another alligator. This creature was larger than the one we had previously encountered, at least three feet longer. There was heavy scarring on the flesh of the beast as it was gnawing away on something, a rat tail hanging out of it’s teeth. The thing looked at us with anticipation of it’s next meal.

We immediately moved into our respective positions. There was a steel ladder laying above the water, connecting the two opposite ledges. Lucien took up position there knowing the gator would have to pass under it to get out of the tunnel. D.W. stayed about 20 feet back from the ladder to avoid being swallowed whole. Kael moved just in front of the ladder on one ledge while I took the opposite ledge. This time, we were ready.

The scarred beast swam straight at the ladder where Lucien and Kael thrust at it with their swords. I began singing another song of courage to my companions as I watched. How I longed for a bow or some other ranged weapon! D.W. fired as best he could, managing to strike the beast once with an arrow.

Then the alligator moved closer to me, further from the opposite ledge. Kael moved onto the ladder directly opposite me from the beast. Now three of us were able to strike at the creature with our swords and take the beast down. It was not enough this time. Kael impaled it with his sword, right through the throat. Lucien then cut it’s head off. There was no mistaking the beast was now dead.

We grinned at each other over the animal’s body. It was the first time we had worked as a team. We returned to the sewer entrance in happy silence.

The cake did it

As we exited the sewers, each of us looked at one another appraisingly. I looked over at the halfling, telling him he had something on him. I started to motion to the rat tail on his shoulder, then began gagging at what was sticking out of his collar and waved my hand in an all encompassing circle. There was evidence over his entire body of his having been swimming in sewage. He laughed as he relayed I was not very clean myself.

Kael said he was going to find a stream to clean up in, then shapeshifted into his leopard form and raced toward the woods. Lucien still held the alligator head in his arms and was torn between the bath first or seeing the town officials for a potential reward.

D.W. and I had no such qualms. We mutually agreed to clean in the stream first, then head to the bath house for a more thorough cleansing. Without waiting for Lucien, we headed toward where the druid had disappeared. D.W. suggested we go upstream of Kael so as not to get his backwash, so to speak.

While he bathed, I kept a careful watch. I have often heard of thugs who attack individuals while bathing alone. Then he did the same for me while I bathed, though I had a feeling he peeked at me several times as I thoroughly scrubbed. The thought amused me. Once we were finished, we went to the bath house and steeped in the warm water until we felt clean through and through. D.W. seems much like me in preferring cleanliness over filth.

Since our bodies were now cleansed, it was time to turn our attention to our equipment. I purchased a Field kit and offered to clean D.W.’s things as well. He insisted then on paying for half. Normally, I would prefer to be somewhat benevolent, especially with my friends, but I did not have much coin to spare and found myself accepting his offer. We went to the room at the inn where I had been staying and went to work on cleaning and caring for our weapons and armor.

Once we were satisfied that everything was once again in good shape, we went to the Blue Goose Tavern to await Kael only to find him already sitting at a table. Since we have taken our meals there the last few days, we had expected to find Lucien there as well, but there was no sign of him.

The tavern was full, though not really crowded. A minstrel sat in a corner playing a lute and croaking out a song we had heard far too many times. I doubted he would earn much coin the way he was slaughtering the tune. No one else seemed to notice. Guess that is just a habit of the trade for me to critique others on their song and music.

A harried looking woman came to our table, her apron stained from various foods and little washing. We ordered the regular ale as we had not yet regained a full appetite after our time spent trudging about in the sewers. She seemed to take her time returning with the drinks and I was rather parched.

D.W. decided to share with us a most interesting cake he had found in his travels, something he called “tiramisu”. I regarded the delicacy with wariness as I was unsure exactly where he had just pulled the cake out of, since his pack was still upstairs. Still, the cake was an interesting confection and I decided to dismiss any misgivings and enjoy it.

We three devoured the entire cake in only a few minutes. At first, we took sparing bites, uncertain what it would taste like. I was startled by the moist layer of cake in between layers of cream. The halfling explained it was drenched in alcohol. Kael paused a moment as he had decided not to partake of heavy drinking, but the flavor drew him back into inhaling the treat.

A fit of giggles overtook each of us. Being half elf, I am not prone to lapses of decorum very often. I could not explain where all the laughter bubbled up from or how it overcame me so fully. I actually laughed to the point of there being tears in my eyes and my ribs were hurting.

We spoke freely of theaters we had been to, plays we had seen, foolish friends, books we had read and so much more, each story more entertaining than the last. Each tried to outdo the other with a more outrageous tale than the last.

Even when we tried to talk of something serious, such as where my beloved rogue Lucien was, none of us could stop laughing for more than a few seconds. We did manage to decide to go see the magistrate as we believed that was where Lucien last ventured to. Then D.W. told another tale.

Several more stories were exchanged before we remembered our purpose. As we began to move away from the table, Kael remembered an event that happened to him as a child and we sank bank into our seats chortling with delight.

D.W. ordered more drink from the passing waitress who told him he was cut off. He looked down into his cup to find it still full, a fact that sent us into another round of laughter. Someone mentioned we should go to see the magistrate, but we could not seem to stop the pattern of telling another joke or tale and laughing uncontrollably.

I do not have the faintest idea how much time passed before we managed to stagger from the tavern, still giggling. We finally arrived at the magistrate’s office only to find the door closed with a “Gone fishing” sign posted to the front of it.

In a most cheerful manner, D.W. walked up to a town guard asking where the magistrate’s favorite fishing hole was. The large man looked down at the halfling with a frown, telling him he didn’t know him and was not about to give up such information to a stranger, then shooed him on his way.

With a shrug, the halfling suggested we just look over in the stream where we had bathed to remove the sewage from ourselves. He laughed as he said the magistrate was likely finding lots of black crappies today. Somehow, I was certain he was not speaking of the fish.

As we entered the woods, a flash of light appeared directly in front of me and I suddenly found myself standing in a meadow. Before I could figure out where I was, both Kael and D.W. were beside me. We turned around in time to see the magical doorway disappear. Something told me we were no where close to the town of Farseek anymore.

Kael withdrew his weapon as D.W. pulled out his bow and quickly notched an arrow onto it, both prepared for a fight. I kept my hands free, choosing instead to evaluate my surroundings first.

The meadow was small and warm, with the faintest scent of flowers in bloom. I could see birds not far from us, swooping in and out amongst the trees. Here and there were the normal insects of Mellem. The weather was just like it was when we were in Farseek, so hopefully we were not far from there. Nothing seemed unnatural in the immediate area.

“Now what?” Kael asked as he scanned the horizon for danger.

“Well, I’m glad we stocked up on supplies last time we were at the mercantile” said D.W. “It’s good to prepare for emergencies.” He frowned at his own false humor. “Let’s look for tracks to see if anyone is around.”

Kael shifted into his leopard form, which he preferred most of the time when out of town. He started sniffing around on the ground in search of signs of humanoids. D.W. searched not far from Kael. I had no such skills, so I focused on looking for a trail or path along the edge of the meadow.

I came up short at the edge of the meadow as I heard something just in the trees. A delicate looking woman was standing there, wearing what looked to be a tunic made of vines and green leaves. She wore no shoes on her feet. Beside her stood a centaur with long black hair pulled back in a leather thong. They stood beside one another watching me with guarded eyes.

As much as I wanted to, I did not look back at my companions. I was fairly certain these two would bolt if the others came running. Instead, I quietly greeted them in common tongue with my hands held palm up in front of me to show I held no weapon.

The woman glanced up at the centaur, then nodded ever so slightly. He looked down at her, a soft expression on his face. It appeared to me that the two were more than mere acquaintances.

“My name is Barthello. We seek your help” the centaur said in Elven in a deep voice.

I looked up at the large creature, confused as to what I could possibly help him with, but kept my expression blank. Instead, I asked what he needed help with. The centaur looked over at the small woman and I could swear he blushed.

“Anamatrea and I are to be married. I gave her a bracelet that has been in my family for a great many generations as an engagement gift.” Crimson spread further upon his cheeks. “I was holding it in my hand, presenting it to her, when a bird flew down and snatched it from my hand.”

It was difficult to maintain a serious expression when I wanted to laugh out loud. The centaur went on to explain that he had raced after the bird and found where it nested. He simply could not climb the tree to fetch the jewelry and he would not even take a chance with his beloved’s life. Then he pointed toward the northeast to where the tip of a pine tree stood just above the rest of the trees in that area, telling me that was where the nest lay.

I told him that I would ask my two companions, of course, to verify they too would help. I had no doubt they would. Still, I was not their master and would not give their consent without asking them first. As expected, they both agreed, though Kael wanted to know if they were responsible for the portal that brought us here. I suggested we ask once we had the bracelet. If they were the ones who brought us here, they had the ability to send us back, in which case the locket would give us a bargaining aid.

As we finished dicussing the matter, we saw another portal open near where we had come into the meadow. This time, it was Lucien who emerged from the gateway, both swords drawn and ready to fight. He quickly spotted us and what looked like an expression of relief crossed his face as he made his way over to us. We quickly filled him in on what we knew.

We quickly made our way to the tree Barthello had pointed out. Since D.W. seemed to be the most skilled at climbing, he agreed to shimmy his way up the trunk. I watched his progress with trepidation, since he was such a small being, but he was surprisingly limber as he moved up the tree. While it did take a while, he finally made it to the top. He spent more than a minute up there before making his way back down toward us.

About ten feet from the ground, D.W. suddenly stopped descending. He climbed onto a thick branch and straddled it as he pointed behind us with a shout of warning. His bow was immediately in his hands as he fired off a shot into a large snake that was winding it’s way toward us.

Kael shifted into his half-elven form, yanked out a sling and flung a bullet at the snake. Lucien and I waited until the serpent was a bit closer before moving forward. I moved to it’s right as Lucien moved around to it’s left. We quickly took it down as a group.

Then D.W. spotted another one from his vantage point. With his directions, we once again managed as a group to bring the beast down. Lucien then cut the heads off the two beasts and shoved them into a sack in his backpack. I asked him what he intended to do with them and he said something about fangs and poison.

D.W. finished climbing down the tree and showed us the items he had found in the crow’s nest. Besides a sparkley bracelet, there were a number of odds and ends that sparkled and bright. Kael pointed out that crows liked anything that reflected sunlight like polished silver and gems. Looking at the items in D.W.’s hands, it looked like he was right about that.

We headed back to the centaur and his fiancee. They were relieved to find we had found the bracelet for them, though D.W. did not hand the item back to them immediately. He made it look natural as he shifted feet and moved slightly away as the centaur reached for it. D.W. then casually asked about the portals, wondering if Barthello knew who was responsible for them.

Barthello gave the halfling a long look as if analyzing him, then nodded. He asked us to wait for him as he needed to speak with his village elders before he could help us further. Then he held out his hand, palm up, to D.W. The halfling hesitated for the briefest moment, then handed over the bracelet. We watched the centaur and Anamatrea walk away.

Lucien glared at D.W. and hissed at him. “WHY did you give him the bracelet?! That was our bargaining tool!!”

D.W. sighed as he looked at the rogue. “Did it really make a difference? He either is going to help us or he isn’t. Do we want to start a war with a village full of centaurs if he doesn’t help?”

Lucien continued to argue for a minute. When he realized D.W. was not really listening to him, just nodding and saying “uh hunh” at the appropriate times, he finally gave up.

About an hour passed before we heard noise in the direction the centaur had disappeared. Sure enough, Barthello was returning to us. He was alone this time as he made his way over to us.

“I’ve spoken to the elders and they have agreed to allow you passage.” He smiled. “We have a way to return you home.”

He told us about a young centaur mage named Garanor who was most likely the one who created the portals that brought us here. The centaur assured us it was not the lad’s intent to do harm, quite the opposite. A moment passed, then he insisted upon our swearing a solemn oath to him that we would not tell anyone the secret he was about to reveal to us. Each of us looked at the other and nodded our assent, then gave our promise to him.

The centaur looked around intently before leaning toward us. He told us in a hushed voice that his village had a teleportation circle that went to a wooded area outside of Farseek. It was his belief that the young mage was attempting to create another that would bring them back here so that they could have easy transport back and forth.

Barthello smiled as he told us he was able to bring us to the device now and return us home. He informed us he too would travel through it as he needed to speak with Garanor to straighten the problems out. The young mage had the right intent, but was going about things the wrong way.

Barthello led us through the woods and skirted around the village he had told us about. A number of centaurs were milling about the edges of their village, curious about our group. I smiled at a young colt as he peeked at me from behind the safety of his mother’s flanks.

We finally reached a circle of trees with two leatherclad centaurs standing guard. They looked at Barthello who spoke with them quietly, then moved aside to allow us by. We moved forward to find a naturally formed stone platform with symbols carved into it.

Without hesitation, the centaur stepped onto the platform and disappeared. I knew he had gone first to assure us it was safe, so I immediately stepped up next. I found myself in a stand of trees. Once I moved out of that area, I could see it was basically sectioned off and hidden so no one would notice a traveller suddenly appearing there.

We thanked Barthello for his help in returning. He thanked us in turn for retrieving the bracelet, then pointed out the direction of Farseek, which was less than half a mile from us. Lucien walked with us only until the centaur disappeared from view, then told us he would meet us back at the inn shortly. He headed toward where he’d last seen the centaur.

Later, he told me he had shadowed the centaur to see where he had gone and seen him meet up with the young centaur mage. I then relayed to him the events of the day prior to meeting back up with him. He was perplexed at how we had acted in the tavern, especially with how silly I had been. It was his intent to find out what exactly was in the cake we had eaten. As to me, I was just happy that he had gone looking for me and that we had not lost each other.

Chaos at the Tavern
Uninvited guests show up for dinner

((Note: The encounter was taken from A Curse at the Old Inn by Michael Evans and is copyright protected. It is not my intention to infringe on that, so details of the encounter in this particular adventure log are intentionally vague. The 4e encounter was modified to fit our 3.5 game.))

I have been saying for some time now that I need a bow. It is ridiculous for any adventurer to limit themselves to only one type of weapon. Archers will find themselves in melee at some point and in great danger if they have no melee weapon. Fighters who limit themselves to a sword will find themselves useless in battles where they cannot get close to the enemy.

For me, I am finding I do not care much for the rapier I carry and dislike having to be face to face all the time when I must fight. Yes, I can cast spells, but I have learned mostly spells that help my party members, by healing or buffing them. What I would not give for a wand of fireballs!

Anya grins as she looks down at the words etched upon her parchment. Just the very idea of being a powerful wizard amuses her. She shakes her head at the notion as she sets quill to paper again.

Lucien is planning on returning to the magistrate’s office with the alligator head. The rest of us decided to go with him and followed him to the outhouse, of all places. It was there that he hid the alligator head as the smell of the outhouse would surely cover the smell of the carcass.

Anya bursts out laughing as she recalled the looks on everyone’s faces when they realized what he had done. D.W. said he was pretty sure that no one would notice the smell when they looked down the hole to see an alligator looking up at them!

The rogue had managed to hide the beast’s head under the outhouse, not inside like we had first thought. Once he had retrieved it, we headed back to the magistrate’s office. This time, the man was present.

Inside, we found a portly little man surrounded by piles of papers. There were piles of paper on every surface in the room and more on the floor in the corners. The walls themselves were covered in various animal heads and stuffed fish, mounted on wooden plaques. Kael cringed as he looked at them, then began chanting a blessing at each of them.

We greeted the magistrate. He did not even glance up at us until Lucien tossed the head onto his desk. The man looked up with aggitation, which quickly turned to delight as he saw the specimen. He traced the scars on the creature’s head with his fingers, excited.

Lucien told him we had solved the problems with the monsters in town. The magistrate looked blankly at him. When the rogue told him about the alligators and the deaths of the locals, the man continued to blink at us. He obviously was not up to speed on what had been happening in his own town.

“By any chance” asked Lucien “is the position of magistrate appointed??”

The man looked at Lucien and laughed, assuring him that the position had been in his family for generations. He looked confused when Lucien said to no one in particular that it explained a lot of things.

Since the portly fellow was still enthralled with the animal head, Lucien asked how much he would give them for the head. The two finally negotiated on 12 gold, a paltry sum. D.W. urged Lucien to take it as it was better than nothing.

While Kael and D.W. headed over to a bakery, I went searching for a bowyer. The blacksmith had no bows for sale, saying their bowyer had left town and suggested we try Pendleton as they had a very nice shop there and he knew the bowyer had specialty items as well. It was five days of travel by horse, he told us, but well worth it if we wanted the best.

Lucien and I were walking back toward the bakery when we spotted Dave heading our way. Embarrassed that he had no candies to give the lad, Lucien moved to hide in an alley. Dave asked me if I knew where Lucien was. With a huge grin on my face, I told him yes as I yanked Lucien’s arm, pulling the rogue into view.

Dave was delighted to find Lucien again. He had been passing out fliers to anyone who came within reach of him. When Lucien asked what the fliers were about, Dave frowned saying he had no idea as they forgot to tell him this time and he could not read them.

He asked if Lucien was his friend, to which the elf agreed. As we stood talking, the boy told us his old friend Rory had stopped writing, so he thought maybe he had stopped being friends. He added that he had not seen Rory for three weeks now and he had list written two weeks ago.

Lucien asked if Dave would mind if we looked at his letters. We waited until the others caught up to us, then went back to Dave’s house to look at the letters, hoping for a clue as to where he had last gone. Dave’s mother was there and we each introduced ourselves to her. The poor woman had awful eyesight with a milky veil on the surface of her eyes.

We only stayed long enough to discuss Rory with them and to read his letters. Turns out Rory had been a childhood friend to Davy and they had kept up their friendship through letters. Rory had regularly written every week for as long back as Dave could remember.

So it was that we found ourselves travelling to Pendleton. We had no issues on the road along the way and reached town late in the afternoon. Kael saw the animals to the stables while I went to purchase my bow and a quiverl of arrows. Then we looked for a tavern for a good meal.

The Cast Iron Kettle was a good sized building with a dozen large tables to settle at and several fireplaces to warm a person. We looked for a table and discovered Samhein sitting at one toward the back room.

He seemed pleased to see us, telling us it was about time. Back in Hodgeton, he had received word that we had gone to Farseek as I had left a message for him at the tavern there. Once in Farseek, he had found we had not returned to the inn so he figured we must have moved further north and awaited us here. His business had been completed and he was ready to adventure some more.

A largely endowed barmaid came to our table to take our orders. As she sashayed her way back to the bar, I realized all the males at my table were watching her, though some were more subtle than others. I cleared my throat loudly, grabbing their attention again.

Before I could speak again, a man came into the tavern with a message for the tavernkeeper. As the message was opened, all hell broke loose in the tavern. Several rifts opened up and a number of creatures came through them. People were screaming and running and creatures were attacking. It was utter chaos!

Kael raced to a creature as it attacked a commoner. The creature looked to have been a kobold, it’s flesh now rotting. I grabbed my new bow, notched an arrow to it to and fired it at the beast, but the undead kobold pulled it out with a laugh. I racked my brain for what I knew about undead and came up blank.

We all leapt into action, most of us going after the creatures. Lucien, however, was determined to find a way to close the rifts before anything more could come through. I lost track of events after that, as I tried to destroy the creatures with my rapier. Where many of my attacks would have felled a creature, it did small amounts of damage to the undead. I repeatedly pierced them with the rapier, doing my best to bring them down.

In the distance, I could see Lucien destroying something, though I couldn’t see what. Eventually whatever he was doing brought down the rifts, one at a time. Samhein was casting magic missile left and right and Kael continued to slash at the kobolds with his sword. I noticed D.W. continuing to fire arrows uselessly at them and wondered vaguely why he did not try the dagger at his side. Then I saw him touching an undead and causing damage and realized he was using the healing belt I had made for him. While the belt heals us, it harms the undead. Clever halfling.

Once the rifts were closed and the creatures were destroyed, Kael and I went about healing the common folk who had been brought down by the monsters. We were unable to save an elderly man and also found the messenger dead. At the very least, we were able to stabilize the rest of those who we could not get back on their feet.

Lucien inspected several of the creatures as a few were not kobolds and we didn’t recall seeing them before. He asked everyone around us, but no one had seen those particular beasts before. The rogue asked our group to remove the bodies of the creatures from the tavern, which I thought was a kind gesture on his part until I realized he wanted to loot them without an audience. Ah, well.

Forest Webs
Missing people and webs in the forest

The Cast Iron Kettle seemed the appropriate place to break our fast the next morning. Our group sat about a wooden table digging into the bread and eggs the tavern keeper, Andar Bellman, had set aside for us. I guess he was still feeling indebted to us for our help the previous night, for the meal was far better than the usual porridge we were used to for morning meals.

As we were finishing up, a gaunt looking fellow entered the tavern and looked around. He was wearing a scholarly looking outfit, which seemed a bit out of place in this place. After looking about for a moment, he walked directly to us with a quick stride.

“Are you the ones responsible for last night?” he drawled out.

Lucien’s eyes narrowed as he prepared for us to be interrogated or blamed for something, the way our luck had been going thus far.

“That depends on why you are asking.”

The gaunt looking fellow introduced himself to us as Samuel Parthens, the mayor of Pendleton. He proceeded to tell us, in the most painstakingly slow voice I had ever heard, about troubles they had been having of late. I had to keep poking D.W. who was nodding off as he attempted to listen. I believe it took the man at least a full minute to utter a single sentence as he drew out each word.

In summary, several town folk had gone missing. The road leading Northwest out of town crosses a bridge, then the road had a fork in it. He told us the road to the left of the fork had some sort of webbing in the woods.

When the mayor was done talking, Lucien asked what we might gain for a reward. The man had to ponder the answer for a bit, then said we could have any belongings of the victims if they had no relatives who would inherit it. Lucien stared at the man in stunned silence. Mr. Parthens then said he would come up with something else as well.

We agreed to help them out with the problem and headed to where the mayor told us they had seen webs. As we approached the bridge, we spotted a monstrous spider spinning it’s web amongst the trees. Samhein spoke an incantation and two magic missiles flew from his finger tips and smashed into the spider. Another spider dropped down from the trees and headed toward us.

Lucien strode forward with his weapons drawn, but before he could reach the first spider, it spit out a sticky residue that pinned him in place. I had not known spiders could spit that substance and from the look on the rogue’s face, he apparently did not either. He struggled with the webbing attached to him while the rest of us took the spiders down.

We discussed the creatures for a minute and whether these were the cause of the missing townsfolk. I pointed out that there was not a lot of webbing here, like the spiders had just reached this area. The mayor had told us it was after the bridge and to the left of the fork in the road. It sounded to me like we needed to search a bit more. Everyone agreed and we proceeded further along.

After another few minutes of travelling, we found the area the mayor had been talking about. There was a lot of webbing in the woods there and it seemed to be concentrated in one area. Unfortunately for us, a narrow strip of river lay in front of it. I myself have not learned to swim. Judging from the way everyone else eyeballed the water, they did not have any skill in it either.

Kael switched to his clouded leopard form and attempted to swim across. He found himself holding his breath as he paddled furiously to get across without much progress. I am quite certain I looked ridiculous as I attempted to doggie paddle my way. Lucien stunned me as he strode into the river and swam directly across to the other banking.

As we were trying to get across the strip of water, several spiders dropped from the trees and began attacking us. Samhein and D.W. had not yet attempted to cross, so were in perfect position to use their ranged skills against the creatures. With their attacks distracting the vermin, we were able to finish crossing and join the fray.

As the last spider dropped, we heard a horrible screech come from the center area of webbing, then a beast came racing toward Lucien and I. The creature was almost humanoid in shape, with arms and legs, but looked more like a cross between a human and a spider. It was revolting to look at. Everyone focused on the single creature and it did not take long to kill it.

For just a moment, while fighting it, I thought I heard it hiss at me that we would pay for killing it’s pets. I chose to keep that to myself as the others would think me mad. Obviously, a creature like this could not speak the common tongue.

We approached the webs with caution. Many cocoons were attached to them with partially eaten humans inside. I wondered if we should bring the bodies back to town, but the others assured me we should leave it to the town to take care of them. Since the creatures were now dead, the townsfolk could safely pass through here again.

When we returned to town, we went right to the mayor’s office to tell him what had transpired. The gaunt man sighed deeply with tears in his eyes. He told us he would have to see to the bodies and then speak with their families first. Then he would find us to give us our reward for helping them out.

The mayor was good to his word. After speaking with the families and dispatching people to retrieve the bodies, he sought us out. He handed over a bag of coins with gratitude for our help.

The things we do for a few coin

Shortly after speaking with the mayor, everyone had gone their seperate way to pass the time. I watched each of them head off in seperate directions and have managed to figure out some of what they do in their spare time.

Samhein likes to browse the various stores, seeking out interesting tomes and objects. While at times he sits incredibly still, just watching everyone around him, his mind seems to be constantly in motion. When he shops, I think he looks for things to expand his knowledge. He also has a keen interest in dragons of all kinds.

Kael usually heads straight into the forests with his herbalist bag. I know he gathers herbs whenever he can. Something else I have witnessed is that he will stop and “talk” to animals every now and again. One time, I spotted him playing with a rabbit, racing back and forth alongside it as if the two were racing one another. The hare did not appear to be frightened by the druid and in fact looked to be enjoying the game. At times like that, the druid has an almost childlike innocence to him, yet I have seen him in combat when he is quite fierce and know not to be fooled by appearances.

D.W. is an oddity. I have known halflings and none I have met are as serious or intent upon a single goal as this one. He becomes half crazed when we come across hobgoblins and his mind focuses solely on the task of destroying them. Nothing will sway his mind when it comes to that particular species of goblinoid. As to what he does in his spare time, I still have not figured that out. He will sit at the tavern with a mug of ale for a bit, but when I turn back to look at him, he is gone. Then I do not see him again for hours, sometimes days. While he does laugh at times and jest now and again (plus that whole Tiramisu incident), most of the time he has his defenses up and will not let you in. It makes me wonder what happened in his past to make him like that.

Lucien is another matter altogether. He is a rogue, though that classification does not suit him entirely. One thinks of a rogue as a thief, but he is not that. Nothing is stolen by him from honest people. I have seen him be very gentle and benevolent with the less fortunate folks in our travels. More than that, he is very gentle with children. In front of everyone else, he has a rough demeanor, but it is not the real Lucien they see. Alone at night, we talk at length of the world around us and he proves to be quite intelligent in his discussions. Whatever he lacks in charisma, he more than makes up for in charm.

As for me, I sit here writing in my journal for the moment. I am considering seeking out a blacksmith and seeing if I cannot exchange the rapier I use for something a bit sharper. It was useless against a group of undead we came in contact with not too long ago.

While I am scribbling down my notes, the barmaid Polly has made several excuses to come to my table, most often to refill my mug. Since I am drinking water, I know it is not for hope of my purchasing more refreshment. She sighs often, not so much as if bored, but more as if lonesome for someone to talk to. Realizing that is likely the case, I set aside my writings for now to chat with her.

The second my quill was set down, Polly came right over to top off my water again. I smiled at her and found she was a chatterbug when given the chance. She told me all about events around town and a good deal of gossip. What she had to say was actually very interesting. One subject grabbed my interest in particular and I was eager for my companions to get back so we could discuss it.

Everyone but Lucien returned after a short time. I told my companions about a local cavern where there was supposed to be a small amount of treasure. Polly had told me there were some giant worms in the cave and since the local folk were not adventurers, they had not been able to get at it. She had told me they had not thought to ask anyone to clear the cave for them as it just was minor compared to other things. With my coin purse being somewhat empty of late, I was thinking it would be a good way to make some quick money. My fellow adventurers agreed.

We walked around looking for Lucien for a short time. Since he did not turn up, we finally decided to handle it on our own and left for the cavern. It was not too far from town, perhaps a half hour of travel. Polly had given perfect directions. Everyone paused at the entrance to prepare ourselves before entering.

We were a little disorganized at first. Kael could hear something and forged ahead too far while trying to pinpoint the sound. He was a bit irritated with us when we headed down a different tunnel. Our group still needs more practice in working together, I guess. When I ran smack into a carrion crawler and let out a yelp of surprise, the druid immediately shifted into his clouded leopard form and raced over to help me.

Samhein, D.W. and I used our ranged weapons to fight the wormlike beast while Kael chose to fight it face-to-face. The crawler smacked Kael with it’s tentacles and the druid found himself parylized. While he stood frozen in place, the rest of us took down the creature.

I walked over to Kael and could not resist the urge to pull on his whiskers. D.W. patted him on the head as I made fish faces with his muzzle. Too bad Lucien was not with us as I imagine he would have had a bit of fun with the frozen druid as well. When at last he could move again, Kael snarled at me. Since I know he would not hurt me intentionally, I could only giggle.

We found a second crawler in another tunnel. Once again, Kael found himself paralized as he raced up to the creature. He had decided to distract the beast, knowing it would give the rest of us the opportunity to attack from a distance. This time, I behaved myself and did not pull on the druid’s whiskers as he waited to be able to move again.

Once we were certain both the crawlers were dead and there were no more to be found, we quickly sorted through the disgusting piles of carnage in the cavern for the treasure that was supposed to be there. It was not a pleasant task. Ah well. That is the life of an adventurer!

Another Warehouse
The hobgoblins strike again

We split up once we were back in town. D.W. and I headed straight for the local bath house. Dealing with carrion crawlers is a messy business and rifling through the carcasses in that cavern leaves a foul smell on you and your clothes. So our first choice of business was to get clean. From there, we headed to the bowyer to replenish our arrow supply.

In the meantime, Kael and Samhein headed straight to the Cast Iron Kettle tavern for dinner as it was late in the afternoon by the time we reached town. They found Lucien sitting at the bar nursing a clay cup of liquid. He glared at them as they questioned his whereabouts earlier in the day. Lucien told them he had been finding our group work, then asked why he had been unable to find them. As they moved closer and he caught wind of them, he urged them to take a bath before speaking with him again.

When at last, all of us were together in the tavern, Lucien told us how he had overheard a merchant talking about troubles at the local warehouse. The owner of said warehouse was trying to find people to protect the building from a group who had already attempted a couple times to break in. Each time, they had been interrupted. The owner feared they would succeed next time and he would lose all his merchandise.

Certain the owner would pay well to protect his goods, the rogue went in search of the owner. The merchant was relieved to find an adventurer to help him out and was receptive to negotiations for a “fair” fee. He made it clear he would pay well to have the “problem” disappear without questions. Lucien agreed to his terms and went back to the tavern to await the return of our group. He was a bit miffed to find we had gone off for a short adventure of our own without him.

Lucien gave each of us a pointed look as he finished his story, as if to chastise us for our misdeed. I swear he would have made a wonderful schoolmarm, the way he is scolds us for things!

Since we had several hours left before we had to head to the warehouse for guard duty, D.W. and Samhein headed to the inn for a nap. Kael chose to wait at the tavern as he wanted to listen to the locals chat and see if he could pick up anything of interest. Lucien and I went to the inn for a “nap” of our own, though we did not get any sleep.

Once we were all feeling refreshed and back together again, we headed over to the warehouse and set up a makeshift camp. We quickly set up the watch assignments, being careful to make sure our spellcasters would get enough sleep to regain their spells in the morning. Our first night passed without incident.

The next night passed quietly until the sun was just beginning to rise. Kael was on watch duty at the time when he heard something riling up the horses in the local stables. He slowly crept toward the sound, hoping to catch whatever it was off guard. As he approached, an arrow struck him in the side from the farther side of the structure. A hobgoblin dressed in chainmail stood there, a nasty look on his face as he reached for another arrow.

Kael let out a shout to wake the rest of us up. Before we could get to our feet, he had cast a spell and created a wall of black smoke between himself and the goblinoid being. It did not take too long before the rest of the hobgolbin’s friends joined him.

D.W. began firing and Samhein began lobbing magic missiles at them while Kael decided to fight them face-to-face. Lucien chose to sneak around the creatures as best he could for a tactical advantage. I tried to fire my bow at the enemy, but apparently still need a lot more practice. Instead, I dropped my weapon and grabbed my flute to play some inspiring music for my companions.
Four of the hobgoblins were easy to take down, but two seemed much tougher. Those two nearly felled Kael with their attacks. When I saw he was in serious trouble, I made my way over to him to cast a healing spell on the druid. With the boost to his health, he was able to jump back into the fray and help finish them off.

I looked over to see D.W. deal a coup-de-grace to the goblinoid nearest him, then Lucien deal the same to the one next to him. As Kael stepped forward to deal the killing blow to the one by me, I found myself blocking him, telling him to leave that one alone.

When all the others had been dispatched, I quickly explained my reasoning for not killing the one. He was obviously not a simple soldier, judging from the garments he wore, and might just be able to give us some information. My thought was that this was the third time I had either seen or heard of a warehouse being “attacked” by hobgoblins. Rather than continuing to run into them, we needed to find out what was going on.

Kael found some ropes and bound the hobgoblin, then I cast a healing spell, enough to bring him back to consciousness. Lucien stood behind him, placing his swords in a crisscross against the enemy’s throat. They began questioning him, coaxing him to answer through torture.

With horror, I realized I had just talked my comrades into torturing another being. I found myself running to a lumber pile to rid the contents of my stomach in a violent rush. D.W. made his way over to check on me as I spewed my last meal all over the ground.

In the meantime, Lucien and Kael were too focused on their interrogation to notice anything was wrong with me. They asked several pointed questions, but were only met with hostility from the enemy. When they told him they knew many methods of torture that would be extremely painful and could make his death very slow, he laughed at them and called them pathetic fools. Then he threw himself forward onto Lucien’s blades before the rogue could react.

When I returned and found the goblinoid had killed himself rather than reveal anything, I found myself again bent over and getting sick. More than anything, it was embarrassing to show how weak I was in front of my fellow adventurers like that.

Just then, Kael dropped to one knee as he suddenly felt ill himself. He found himself suddenly weak and his hands felt shaky. We looked over the weapons of the enemy, but saw no evidence of poisons. I used my healing skills on him with no effect.

After putting our heads together, the only thing we could come up with is that we had fought some undead creatures several days back. It was possible he had contracted a disease called filth fever from them as it was known to happen.

Lucien cut the left ears off each of the hobgoblins before we left, proof for the merchant who had employed us to resolve the matter with his warehouse. The rogue headed straight to the merchant to collect the money owed to us. Samhein headed to town to run a personal errand, a regular habit of his. D.W. and Kael headed to the church to see if they could figure out his illness and possibly cure it. Me? I went to see about exchanging my rapier for a better weapon as I was dissatisfied with how it was more of a skewer than a sword.

Personal Possessions
The kidnapping

After Lucien had turned in the hobgoblin ears (see Another Warehouse) and collected the reward from the merchant for protecting his warehouse, he headed to the Cast Iron Kettle tavern. It was more crowded than normal this early in the morning as he sat down at a bar stool waiting for the rest of his group. He ordered a drink to pass the time.

As he sat nursing an ale, he noticed the person next to him was a half-elf with long black hair pulled back in a braid. Bedecked in chainmail, gauntlets, boots, and a hefty looking sword, it was a good guess that he was a fighter of some sort. His face was not pretty by any means, pock mark scars indicating he had suffered a terrible disease at some point.

The individual reached into his pocket to pull out a figurine of an elven woman standing demurely in a long, flowing gown. It appeared to be made of a delicate clay painted white with yellow and silvery trim and highlights. The half-elf caressed the figurine as if lost in thought.

Noticing Lucien eyeing the figurine, the half-elf turned to him. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Lucien eyed the fighter with suspicion. “Why would you openly display something valuable like that?”

The half-elf narrowed his eyes at the rogue. “How much would you think it’s worth?” He then handed the figurine to the rogue to appraise it.

Lucien took his time looking over the figurine. He realized the gold colored paint was real gold and the silvery trim was actually platinum paint. The figurine was a lot more valuable than he first thought, probably around 2,500 gold.

“Where did you find this?” Lucien asked.

“In a store window, sitting on a shelf. Would you believe they gave it to me for only 20 gold?” He shook his head in annoyance. “So many people just don’t realize the value of what they have. They don’t pay attention to their own possessions.”

The half-elf’s tone became angrier as he snatched the figurine back from the rogue. “Some men covet things that don’t belong to them. They try to keep it for themselves even though it is not theirs to take. They only wind up marring the beauty, spoiling it!”

Lucien leaned away from the angry half-elf, bored with his mad rantings.

The fighter glared at the figurine in his hands. “One does what one must to protect that which belongs to them. If one cannot protect it from the filthy hands of the inferior…..” He slammed the figurine into the counter so that it burst into tiny fragments and dust, then looked straight into Lucien’s eyes as he hissed out his words “…then one is left with no other choice!”

With that, the fighter stood and stormed out of the tavern. As he made his way out, Lucien was surprised to see at least half a dozen individuals get up and walk out with him. It dawned on him that they had been there to protect the fighter’s back. He was suddenly glad he hadn’t throttled the crazed half-elf like he had wanted to do.

Across town, D.W. and Kael had gone to the local temple of Pelor to find a cleric. The first one they spoke with smiled at Kael in a way that made his skin crawl. The druid asked if someone could cure diseases, as he was fairly certain that’s what was making him ill. Another cleric came out from the back rooms to help. He held his hand out, palm up, with a delicate “A-hem” as he waited for a donation for his services. Kael placed a few coins in the priest’s hand, then more as the priest continued to stare at him. When a hefty pile sat in the elderly man’s palm, he finally nodded his consent to perform the task.

From there, the two headed back to the tavern where they found Lucien glaring into his cup. D.W. tried to climb up the high bar stool to sit next to the rogue. Kael watched with glee for a moment before reaching down to pick up the halfling and plop him on the stool. The druid then took the seat next to him.

D.W. could clearly see Lucien was upset about something and asked “What’s up?”

Lucien frowned at him. “This jerk comes in here, rants at me about beauty and value, then smashes a figurine into the counter and left.”

“Wow, that’s weird.” D.W. looked thoughtful. “Any idea what it was about??”

Lucien shook his head at him. “No clue.”

Samhein entered the tavern, then headed straight to the group. He explained that he had to leave to take care of some things and didn’t know when he’d be back again, to which D.W. responded “AGAIN???”. The sorcerer smiled at him and gave his apologies before leaving.

The halfling looked around and asked Lucien where Anya was. The rogue frowned at him saying he thought she had been with the two of them at the temple. When he realized she had gone off on her own, he decided to go looking for her, concerned that she might run into the crazy half-elf fighter and his friends. He was certain the man meant to cause trouble.

Kael, D.W., and Lucien headed first to the blacksmith as Anya had wanted to exchange her weapon once she was back in town. The blacksmith assured them he had not seen a lovely blond-haired half-elf, nor any other woman in his shop that day. Confused, the three went to the bowyer to see if she’d gone there instead, again to no avail.

As the search spread over time, they became worried. Four hours into their search, they found a woman sweeping her porch who said she’d seen the bard. She told how a couple of men held a blond half-elf woman as a black haired half-elf had struck her, then trussed her up. He threw her up on his horse like a sack of potatoes, her belly across the pommel, then rode off with her. Numerous men rode away with them. The woman pointed down the road in the direction they had gone.

Furious, Lucien snarled at her “…and you did nothing? You didn’t report this?!”

The woman blinked in astonishment at him. “But he said she belonged to him. Men can do what they want with their women.”

He opened his mouth to shout at her for her acceptance of such treatment, then something clicked in his head. “That’s what he meant!!”

Kael and D.W. exchanged looks. “What who meant?”

Lucien snapped “The thing of beauty, of value! He was talking about Anya!! We need to go after her!”

Just then, they spotted a rider racing toward them from the same direction the half-elf and his men had gone. Not thinking straight, Lucien determined that the rider was probably part of the kidnapping group. Without further thought, he reached up and knocked the rider down as he tried to pass them.

The half-orc rider fell to the ground with an expletive and jumped to his feet ready to fight. He demanded to know what the heck the rogue had done that for. Lucien looked back at the person wearing full plate and realized his mistake immediately. He didn’t look at all like the men he’d seen in the tavern earlier.

“My mistake. Sorry,” he muttered. “My girlfriend has been kidnapped. I saw you coming from that same direction and thought you were one of them.”

The fighter nodded “Okay, don’t blame ya then. I saw it happen and knocked out the last one in line. They were in such a hurry, they never even noticed me joining them.” He tilted his head toward the road. “Lost them down the road about an hour and a half’s hard ride that-a-ways,” he said. “I came back to see if I could find someone who can track them from where I lost them.”

“I’m glad someone did something about it!” Lucien gave another glare to the woman who had gone back to sweeping her porch.

“I can track” Kael told the rider. “Just take me to the spot.”

“I’m going to need a fresh horse” the half-orc told him.

Everyone went to the stables quickly where the half-orc, who identified himself as Carver, traded in his horse for another. D.W. grabbed his pony while Lucien saddled up Anya’s horse to ride. Kael shifted into his clouded leopard form as he could move as fast as a horse that way.

Riding swiftly, Lucien and Carver raced down the road toward the place Carver last saw the kidnappers. Lucien didn’t care if he left D.W. and his slower mount behind, his concern for Anya overriding his concern for his companions. The halfling instead pushed his mount faster to try to keep up as best he could. Kael hung back with the scout knowing the others would have to wait for him as he was their tracker.

Once they’d reached the spot where the kidnappers had disappeared, it didn’t take Kael long to pick up the tracks leading through the woods. Within short order, he came to a halt as the smell of wood smoke and meat cooking reached him. They crept forward slowly until they spotted a house in amongst the trees. The building had several windows with closed shutters and two doors that they could see from their vantage point. Two fancy topiary bushes stood to each side of the double doors in front.

One by one, they moved toward the house, separating by no more than thirty feet from each other. Carver charged the front doors and slammed into one. At that moment, the topiary bush next to him chose to slam into him. He was surprised by the magical brush attacking him, especially when it wounded him.

It didn’t take long to realize both bushes were magically animated plants with some strong attacks of their own. Everyone focused on destroying the topiaries as quickly as possible. Once they were demolished, it was time to work at the doors. Lucien finished wrecking the one door Carver had previously bashed, then Carver dashed through it.

Inside, there were two ruffians who had been waiting for everyone to enter. Carver had made so much noise bashing the door earlier that they couldn’t help but hear. They flung javelins at the fighter. When the rest of the group joined in the fray, the ruffians switched over to swords, but it didn’t save them from Carver’s greatsword or Lucien’s wrath.

Once the ruffians were dispatched, the group began searching the other rooms and finally came upon Anya, unconscious and bound in a back room. She had been stripped of her gear and armor and beaten quite thoroughly. Her face was a mass of bruises and cuts. Two handprints adorned her neck where someone appeared to have been choking her.

Lucien and Kael made quick work of untying Anya, then Kael cast a healing spell on her. D.W. added a heal from his healing belt to finish removing the bruises from the bard, then quietly left the room to give her a moment to gather herself. Kael asked her if she was alright. She replied in a soft voice that she was fine.

Lucien asked why the men had kidnapped her. She refused to meet his eyes as she asked “Don’t you know??” Then she mumbled something about not remembering much.

The rogue knew she was lying to him, but decided it was not the time or place to argue. He was barely able to hold down his anger at what they’d done to her as it was. Instead, he instructed Kael to take Anya out of the building as he intended to torch it. He fired instructions at Carver and D.W. as he quickly rifled through cabinets and any containers he could find. When he was finished, he had them set fire to the place.

When he was at last satisfied that the building would burn to the ground, he headed the group back to the horses. They had found two out back of the building which they confiscated in payment for their efforts. Even with the extra horses, Lucien placed Anya in front of him on his horse.

Once back in town, Carver, D.W., and Kael headed straight for the tavern for a meal and drinks. Lucien shoved a handful of gold coins at D.W., telling him to buy as many rounds of drink as the fighter wanted as thanks for his help rescuing Anya. The rogue then escorted Anya to their room at the inn and quietly closed and locked the door behind him. It was time for some answers.

On Bended Knee
Just when you thought you'd seen it all

Lucien escorted me up to our room at the inn. His face was a stone mask as he closed the door behind us. I waited for him to speak, but there was just silence as he stood waiting for me to say something. As the silence lengthened, he finally asked if I was alright. I wanted to tell him no, that I was hurting inside and out, to have him hold me and say everything was going to be okay. Instead I told him I just wanted to take a nap. When he asked if I wanted him to stay, I wanted to shout YES!, but the words came out as a soft no.

I had already made up my mind on our way back to town, as I rode with him, his warmth flooding me. Staying with him would eventually mean his death. There was no way around it. Once again, my hunter had caught up to me, this time in person. If he discovered how I felt about Lucien, if he learned we had been together intimately, he would turn his fury on my beloved elf. So the only way to protect him would be for me to disappear.

As Lucien turned to exit the room, I grabbed a small, wrapped item from my pack and thrust it into his hands. The wrapping was not very well done, just some cloth and twine to tie it together. He looked at me in curiosity, then opened it to see an antique gold ring with a black sapphire stone. The words “To Lucien with love” were engraved inside the band.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“Just something I’ve been meaning to give you” I told him. The truth was, I had purchased the ring as a gift to him for Boxing day, which was about two weeks away still. Since I was leaving him tonight, I decided to give it to him now.

He did not say anything more about the ring, just told me he was going to get something to eat as we had not eaten all day and it was now late in the afternoon. When he asked if I wanted something, I told him I was not hungry and in truth, I was not.

After he left the room, I lay on the bed crying until I was spent and fell asleep. Hours later, I woke to find it dark in the room. I managed to light a candle on the desk, then went about the room packing my things. Then I sat down to the desk to write Lucien a letter so he would know I left of my own volition.

“Dearest Lucien,
I know you will be angry at my leaving you, but please understand that it is for the best. He will never stop hunting me. It is for everyone’s safety that I have to leave. You do not know him like I do, how determined he is, how much hate he has inside him. He will harm you if I stay. He has killed others and no one can stop him. I could not bear it if he went after you. I would rather die than let that happen.
I love you,

I placed the note against the pillow, picked up my gear, then headed downstairs to see the innkeeper. He frowned at me as I paid him for our stay as well as another week’s rent. At first, I wondered what he was frowning at, then realized tears were coursing down my cheeks. I made an effort to smile, then left to see the stable master. When I couldn’t find him, I wandered about for a bit and found a copse of trees to hunker down in for the night.

At the tavern The Cast Iron Kettle, Lucien found D.W. and Kael laughing it up as they plied Carver with numerous ales. The halfling told him how they had a bet going as to how many ales it would take before Carver passed out drunk.

Twelve drinks later, Carver fell from his chair with a loud crash. Deciding they couldn’t just leave him there, his three companions decided to carry him to the inn next door. Lucien lifted his feet as Kael grabbed him around the chest. Not to be left out, the halfling stood underneath providing “butt support” and supervising the situation. At the inn, he moved ahead of them up to pay for a room for the fighter. Then he headed up the stairs to direct their efforts and open the door for them. They dumped Carver unceremoniously on the bed, only removing his plate mail so he could sleep.

Afterwards, the three headed back to the tavern where they each ordered warm meals to sate their appetites. They talked and enjoyed each other’s companionship before heading up to their respective beds. Lucien was surprised to find Anya not in their room, then found the note.

In the morning, the three met back at the tavern for breakfast. When asked where Anya was, Lucien told them “gone” and said nothing further on the subject. He simply glared down at his plate as he jabbed his fork into the food and ate.

Just as D.W. went to ask for more information about Anya’s whereabouts, two scruffy looking warriors entered the tavern. They quickly scanned the room, then both pairs of eyes settled on Lucien. The shorter of the two spoke quietly to the larger man. They strode immediately toward the rogue.

“Leave this one alive,” said the taller of the men as he pointed at Lucien and drew his weapon, “and kill all the others!”

At that point, everyone in the room sprang into action. Customers dove under tables, the bartender Andar ducked down behind the bar, and a scholarly looking fellow casually eating his meal stopped to turn and watch events unfold.

The taller warrior focused on Lucien, demanding to know where “she” was. Lucien felt fury as he realized the large man was referring to Anya. He whipped out his two swords and attacked the warrior. It didn’t take him long to realize the man had no real intentions of keeping Lucien alive. Every blow dealt by the warrior was meant to be a killing blow. If it hadn’t been for Lucien’s quick reflexes, the rogue would have met his death. Instead, Lucien focused his attacks against the warrior until he managed to strike him unconscious, the warrior’s blood soaking the floor from open wounds.

In the meantime, the second warrior had decided to start by killing the halfling. He struck D.W. with his sword without waiting for the small person to arm himself. That action was enough to spur the scholarly fellow watching the event into action. The man narrowed his eyes and muttered an incantation, then waved his hands. Immediately afterwards, the warrior was struck with a magic blast. As he watched D.W. and Kael turn to fight the smaller warrior, the mage cast his next spell at the bigger warrior.

The fight ended almost as quick as it had begun. Lucien narrowed his eyes on the bartender, telling him to get everyone out. Seeing the fury on the rogue’s face, Andar decided not to argue, simply ushered his patrons out of the building. The mage stayed as he felt it was his right to do so after having helped.

Lucien bound the large warrior, then snapped orders at Kael to heal the warrior enough to bring him to consciousness again. The rogue began interrogating the man without results. It was quickly made clear that the warrior would not cooperate. With a sneer, Lucien grabbed the man’s legs and propped him up against the table so that he was upside down. He then placed a rag over his face and soaked it with ale from their breakfast. Everyone could hear the man sputtering as if he were choking.

“Excuse me, what exactly are you doing??” asked the mage.

Lucien glanced at him. “It’s something I learned a while ago. Makes him feel like he’s drowning.”

The mage took a single step forward. “I believe that’s illegal.”

This prompted the rogue to glare at the mage. “For your information, this @*$#^ is one of the men who kidnapped my girlfriend and just ordered that everyone in this bar be murdered! If you don’t like it, LEAVE!”

The mage didn’t hesitate to leave the bar. Once outside, he hustled to find the local authorities and bring them back to the tavern as quickly as possible. They found the rogue still in the process of demanding information from an uncooperative thug.

The authorities quickly ushered the instigators to the local jail along with everyone else involved in the fight. Pendleton’s sheriff interviewed each person individually, leaving the rogue for last. When he was at last satisfied that the two warriors had started it all, he let everyone else go their own way.

D.W. and Lucien headed straight back to the tavern and sat back down at their table where D.W. pried his friend for more information about what happened with Anya and where was she now. The rogue reluctantly showed him the note she’d left him

Heading back to the tavern, Kael spotted two horses tied outside the establishment. He checked around and determined they must have belonged to the warriors. Since the two men were going to rot in jail, as far as he was concerned, his group now owned the beasts. Kael went through the saddle bags to see if there were any clues as to who the men were and found a folded up paper.

Note to Barker

Kael read it, then raced inside the tavern to bring the note to his friends and handed it directly to Lucien. The rogue scowled as he scanned the paper. He stalked over to the mage, who was now seated at the bar once again, and shoved it in his face.

“THAT’S why!!” he snarled. “Do you STILL think I was being too hard on those men?!”

The mage frowned as he read the note. Before he could open his mouth to say anything, the rogue had returned to his table to show D.W. the note as well. The halfling shook his head as he read it, then asked where they should start looking for Anya as she wasn’t safe.

Kael decided to go to the stables to see if Anya’s horses were still there and see if he could find out anything. He brought the two horses with him he’d confiscated to put with the rest of their animals. It took very little prodding to get the stable master to open up about what he knew of Anya. The druid quickly returned to his companions, eager to tell them what he’d learned.

Kael strode straight over to his friends and relayed what he’d heard. The stable master had seen Anya in the morning, a half-orc in plate armor her only companion. The two had been discussing something about a centaur and a portal as they prepped their mounts and rode away.

The three realized the half-orc must have been Carver and realized the portal and centaur were from back at Farseek. They made a short discussion of their plans and stood to leave. They gathered their things from the inn next.

The three made their way to the stables to gather their mounts and rode hard toward the town of Farseek, intent on catching up to the fleeing bard. It was on the second day of their travels that they spotted her in the distance.

Carver and I paid no attention to the riders approaching quickly from behind. There had been many folk passing us the past two days. It was not until they surrounded us that we realized who they were. Lucien dismounted his horse, told me we needed to talk, then was suddenly seated behind me on my own mount. He reached around me and took the reins from my suddenly shaking hands, directing the horse off the road and into the tree line.

When he pulled the horse to a stop, I expected him to dismount again, but he stayed atop the horse. This time, he did not allow any silence. He insisted I tell him about Ethren. I tried asking how he found out his name, but Lucien would have none of that. The rogue tightened his grip on me as he waited for an answer.

I swallowed with a suddenly dry throat as I tried to collect my thoughts as best I could. How much of my past should I reveal and what parts? He was focused on Ethren. How did he find out his name? Had he run into him again? No, he could not have. But how? And would telling him about the vile half-elf make matters worse? I felt his grip tighten on me again and decided to just get this over with.

“My mother had become a servant in Ethren’s home. Ethren’s parents were quite wealthy. They knew something was off about him, even as a child, but money can cover those kinds of problems. He would follow me about constantly and seemed obsessed with me for some reason. Then my mother died unexpectedly one day, just suddenly took ill and died the same day.”

I paused a moment, hoping he would let me stop there. His arm remained locked about my waist as he sat still, his breath warm on my neck. I sighed before continuing.

“Shortly after she died, Ethren claimed I stole several pieces of his mother’s jewelry. I did no such thing, but he convinced his parents that I had. He demanded that I pay back the value of the jewelry by working for them. I was forced to stay in a room in their home. He made me wear chains on my feet to keep me from escaping. A guard was with me at all times.

Slaves are illegal, but no one questioned how he kept me locked and chained. Like I said, money makes people overlook things like that. He enjoyed keeping me there." I shuddered as I remembered the way Ethren would watch me, running his hands through my hair or down my arms as if I were more than a servant – a possession.

“One day, someone in his household decided to free me. I ran as far away as I could get as fast as I could run. I tried to be unnoticed. I did my best not to draw attention. Somehow, he found me again. And again. And again. Sooner or later, he finds me, no matter how hard I try.”

Lucien eyed me as I looked back at him through long lashes. He reached up to touch my hair, allowing the long, pale blond strands to slip from his hand. Then he touched the sleeve of my silk shirt. I had managed to keep my clothes as free from dust and dirt as I could, a regular habit of mine.

“You can’t help but draw attention to yourself” he said. “Now let’s head back to the others.”

We returned to the group, who were now dismounted and milling about on the side of the road. Lucien dismounted and helped me down. He had me retell my story to the others so they would know the type of person they were dealing with.

I ended the tale with “That is why I have to go through the portal. Ethren has no idea about the centaur mage in Farseek or the portals he makes. It will take me far away from him and he cannot hurt me anymore.”

Everyone refused, insisting they could protect me from Ethren. Lucien made it quite plain that he intended to kill the half-elf that had been hunting me for so long. When I tried to argue with them, they ignored my protests, choosing instead to brainstorm ideas on how to draw him out.

“We need to do something to really piss him off” said Lucien. " Something that he won’t be able to ignore or send someone else to take care of." Lucien snapped his fingers as an idea hit him. “I have it. I’ll marry Anya!”

I was staggered as all eyes turned to look at Lucien with shock. Those eyes all turned to me next, to see how I was reacting. I just continued to stare at Lucien, waiting to hear him say he was just kidding. He was not joking. He was dead serious.

Kael and D.W. each poked Lucien in the sides, telling him he needed to ask me proper like. The rogue frowned at them, then turned to me and opened his mouth. Before he could get a word out, the other two shook their heads at one another, then smacked him upside the head.

“You need a ring!” they said in unison.

With another frown, Lucien grabbed the bag of gems from our group stash (we had not had the chance to sell them yet) and pulled out the first ring he could find. He turned to me again and started to open his mouth. Kael and D.W. as one smacked him upside the head again. The rogue turned to them, furious, and demanded to know what was wrong now. They pointed to the ground and told him it had to be done right. Any other time, I would have laughed at their antics, but not this day.

Lucien bent down on one knee, held the ring out to me, then spoke. “Anya, will you pretend marry me?”

My jaw hit the ground as I stared at him in absolute horror. I did not even see Kael and D.W. smack the rogue again as I was already running to my horse. I mounted instantly, but before I could turn the horse around, Kael was snatching the reins and doing some druid thing to tell my horse to ignore me. Damned druids and their “speak with animals” nonsense!

Several minutes of arguing passed with me snapping at the druid to let me go and D.W. giving Lucien step-by-step instructions on how to properly propose to a female. The rogue could not understand my anger, he explained, as he obviously would not want to marry me. That only made me angrier. He tried explaining we had only known each other a short time, but I was no longer listening. Blasted druid kept a firm grip on the reins and my stupid horse refused to budge anymore!

Lucien finally had enough and simply declared us engaged. He then insisted we head back to Pendleton to talk to Barker, the larger of the two warriors who were imprisoned there. He told us it was the best way to get word to Ethren about the pending marriage. I kept arguing against that, positive the best way to deal with the matter would be to go through the portal instead, but the others would not budge on the discussion.

A wonderful idea hit me, a way of letting Lucien off the hook and making him safe from Ethren. I smiled and told the others “Yes, let us go back to Pendleton!”

Everyone turned now to stare at me with a “hunh??” I smiled and told them it was perfect. We go back and see Barker, then stage a breakup between Lucien and I. Barker would report back that we were no longer together and Ethren would no longer have a reason to go after my friends and Lucien would be safe. I thought it was brilliant.

Anya glared down at the parchment in front of her. She supposed men were not as bright as women after all. Her plan was perfect. Leave it to the men to screw up a perfectly solid plan like hers. They never even gave it a chance! With a sigh, she dipped her quill into the ink and set to writing more.

Carver had other business and took his leave once he was satisfied that I was remaining with my companions. He continued riding in the opposite direction while we headed back to Pendleton.

In Pendleton, our group went straight to the jail to see about speaking with Barker. The sheriff was nowhere about and the guards could have cared less about someone visiting the prisoners. We went right down to see Barker.

I was extremely nervous as I still had not come up with a way to break up with Lucien. It had to be done the right way so it was clearly over with, but without insulting the handsome rogue or his pride. How do you do that? Just say “it was great, but I am not the right person for you” and walk away? No, it has to be believable and yet not hurt him in the process. Nor did I want Barker to be able to make fun of Lucien either.

Standing in front of Barker, who I knew to be a cad, I decided there was no good way to do it and feelings would be hurt regardless. I prepared to say the words I knew would make Lucien angry. As I turned to him, I found my mouth gaping open once again. He was on one knee with the ring in his hand. Before I could utter anything, he had already asked me to marry him and was slipping the ring on my finger. Then he stood and kissed me passionately. I knew it was for display only, to make sure Barker had something to report back to his master, but damn could that elf kiss!

Barker snarled a death threat at Lucien, then called me a filthy name and lunged at me from the door of his cell. Kael casually reached over and slammed the man’s arm into the cell door. D.W., not to be left out, asked loudly when the big day was. Smirking, Lucien replied back “Two weeks. I don’t want to wait.”

With that, the rogue grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the jail. He grinned at me with a dirty look in his eye. “Now, that will bring Ethren running!” he said as he headed toward the tavern for a celebratory drink, leaving me standing there gaping at his back.


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