Part the third: Wherein the party begins the search for answers
Unagi was the first to regain consciousness. He sat up and found himself in a field of thick grass. Green grass. Blue sky. The sun. Clearly they were no longer in the plane of shadow that held the mausoleum and crypts below. He looked over at his companions and tried to rouse them. Although his attempts were unsuccessful both Shadow Flame and Jean came around in their own time. Each of them felt quite rested, and they talked amongst themselves for a while about the events that had lead them to this point. Jean and Shadow Flame began to study their magic, going over the spells in Hashtoth's spell book and inspecting the items they had claimed from his corpse. Jean decided she was going to use the power of the staff to try and find out what abilities the items had. She sat and conjured the spell to her mind, and inspected the items: a dagger, 2 wands, an amulet, the armor, the swords, scrolls, gems; she inspected each, one after another, able to discern the enchantments of many more items than would normally be possible for one who possessed only the small amount of knowledge of the arcane arts that she had.
Eventually, when all the items had been examined Jean let out a groan of pain and fell back, lying unconscious upon the ground. Shadow Flame and Unagi tried to rouse her, but she was lost to oblivion, sweating and moaning gently as though within the grasp of a fearful dream. Jean floated up and out of her body, slowly traveling into a grey void. She moved quickly through the featureless expanse for several hours it seemed before finally coming upon a swirling misty portal of angry red and orange hues. She moved through the portal and found herself standing upon a large balcony that offered a grey and featureless expanse as its vista. Beside her stood a creature as tall as her, covered in short russet fur with the head of a jackal, the humanoid creature wore robes of turquoise embroided with swirling golden runes. She heard sound behind her and turned to see a group of humanoid creatures with insectoid heads and chitinous bodies standing before her. The jackal headed creature waived its hand, and in the reflection of the polished blackened stone work of a vast tower that rose before her she saw that both she and the jackal headed creature had taken on the appearance of beings with grey featureless faces dressed in swirling black robes, and their eyes were large ovals filled with sparkling colors. The insectoid creatures bowed before them both on bended knee resting their weight upon mighty spears and glaives with blades of wicked aspect. Turning to the jackal headed creature it held its arm out to the creatures and Jean knew that, if she desired to, all she had to do was say so and the creatures would be hers to command.
Jean had remained unconscious for several hours and Shadow Flame and Unagi had been unable to rouse her. They decided they needed to continue moving so they carried her for several hours as they walked on. Slowly the horizon grew into a large mountain range, a familiar range to both of them - the Sunset Mountains. As the day progressed they were thinking of making camp when the world once again shimmered around them and they dropped to their knees under the great pain in their heads before lapsing into unconsciousness once again.
Shadow Flame came around to the chirping of crickets. It was early night time and he was laying in a grassy field, his companions lay nearby. After a time they all regained their senses, and after a few moments realised they felt quite rested once again. Jean told Shadow Flame and Unagi of her dream and they discussed the possible meaning of it. After some time Jean and Shadow Flame studied their magic once again, and Jean used a spell to try and decipher the meaning of the markings they had found on the statue of the angelic figure in the crypts. Jean had copied the marking carefully, and under her magic revealed their meaning; they simply said "Xenghara. Betrayed by the night, revenge came in darkness. Despair was the only solace". Unable to discern the meaning behind the cryptic writings the party moved on for they found they were much closer to the sunset mountains than before their last trip to oblivion.
After marching for only an hour they came upon a familiar sight: they were standing at the edge of a clearing in which sat the hill of the 3 Wheels wizard Hashtoth. As they moved towards the hill 2 creatures walked from the archway that lead to the entrance of the hill. Dressed in long black coats with goggle like glasses strapped around their heads, the 2 creatures seemed to be communicating to each other. Shadow Flame handed Jean one of the wands the party had recovered from Hashtoths corpse and Unagi and Shadow Flame strode into the clearing. The creatures saw them immediately and began walking towards them.
"Look Mr. Book, they have the staff" spoke the one on the left.
"Yes Mr. Sword, the staff. It is what we have been seeking," spoke the other.
"You are correct Mr. Book. The staff belongs to us. They must give it to us now".
Shadow Flame told them, "we will not give you the staff", as the distance between them closed to only several feet.
"It does not know what it has. The staff is ours Mr.Sword. They must give us the staff now," said the creature called Mr. Book.
"Yes Mr. Book", said the one called Mr. Sword. It turned to Unagi and said "you must give us the staff now".
Once again Shadow Flame told them that they would not part with the staff.
"Such a pity Mr. Sword. They always want to do things the hard way".
"Indeed Mr. Book. Always the same".
With that the creature called Mr. Book extended his hand. It changed, elongating into a long sword, while Mr. Books changed his hands into maces. A brief melee broke out with Shadow Flame and Unagi battling the creatures and Jean firing magical missiles from the wand at them. Mr. Sword was overwhelmed by Shadow Flame and Jean's magic and fell, his body melting into a pile of steaming, mallowy goo as he perished. Unagi had made some headway against Mr. Book but was blind-sided by a fierce blow to the head which sent him down into unconsciousness. Shadow Flame and Jean were able to destroy the creature called Mr. Book and revived Unagi shortly after with a potion retrieved from the body of Hashtoth.
Having recovered from the battle the party entered Hashtoth's residence and began searching around again. They came upon the previously unopened iron gate in the wizards laboratory. Shadow Flame managed to crack the lock this time and the party descended down into what was clearly a prison. 6 cells lined the walls and the corridor ended in a closed door. There were 3 prisoners in the cells who explained that the end door lead into the jailors quarters, a small demon like creature who tormented them. Unagi went to the end of the hall and opened the door. The room was empty but for a small red skinned creature sitting in the corner. At the parties appearance he lept up and flung himself at Shadow Flame. The creature pleaded with Unagi to help him fight off the intruders who had disturbed his peaceful rest, but the gladiator was able to resit the creatures magic and the party quickly killed it as it disappeared in a puff of smoke.
They freed the prisoners and set about searching the house. They took a large tapestry and statue from the place and took the time to ensure that the prisoners were fed from the large stock of food in the wizards kitchen. Once they had all they could carry they left the hill intending to return the prisoners to Asbravn. After walking for only a short time the air seemed to briefly shimmer once again, and the familiar feeling returned as they all lapsed into unconsciousness.
The party reached Asbravn shortly after setting out and headed toward the Board Laid Bare to get rooms. They settled in and stored all their gear and set out to the Tankard and Sheaf to see if they could find Sten Fellhammer. Sten was there and happy to see them. They told him their story and about the prisoners they had found and been forced to abandon. Sten immediately set about organising some of his men to find the prisoners and escort them back to town. The party inquired as to where they may be able to sell some of the things they had found and were told that even though the High Harvestide festival had already passed there were still many merchants traveling these ways and that they could no doubt find a buyer at the caravan grounds in town. Upon hearing this Shadow Flame asked how much time had passed since they left. Sten told them it was 9 days since they set off from Asbravn, which made the current date the 4th of Marpenoth. Thanking him for his time the party left to sell their items.
They received a good price for the objects they sold. After a brief visit to Asgar to buy some potions of healing for themselves the party discussed their next steps. The one thing they really needed was information, to find out as much as they could about the creature they met, the staff, the sights they had witnessed in the crypts and the 3 Wheels as well. Upon advice from Sten and Asgar they decided that they would have better luck in the city of ...
The party set off early in the morning. They briefly discussed the possibility of traveling to to search out Silas Coldstone and learn more about the 3 Wheels, but ultimately decided to travel to Berdusk.
Another issue the party felt they needed to deal with was the staff they had acquired from the ancient crypt. They wanted to avoid any further run-ins with anyone who might see and recognize the staff and want it for themselves; the staff attracted trouble it seemed and they wished to mitigate as much future trouble as possible with relation to the staff. Their interim solution was to wrap the staff in cloth to at least hide its immediate appearance and possibly put off anyone from attacking the party and taking the staff because they recognized it by sight.
Roughly an hour into their journey each party member felt that now familiar lurch in their stomach and the accompanying dizziness that heralded the onset of unconsciousness and displacement. This time however Jean and Shadow Flame were able to resist unconsciousness (Unagi quickly passed out from the physical strain), and witnessed the world around them warp quickly away, and they found themselves briefly existing in a grey void before the world warped back into existence around them. The physical toll on them was greatly lessened this time, and they deduced that they had only lost about an hour of time.
They continued journeying onward to wards Berdusk, and, apart from a brief meeting with a Merchant selling woolen clothing the remainder of the day passed without any further incident. They set up camp for the night. Shortly into Unagi's watch he was disturbed by sounds of snorting and snuffling followed by low growling sounds. As he went to alert his sleeping companions a loud howl echoed through the camp waking Jean and Shadow Flame. Several wolves bounded into the camp and attacked the party. They were quickly joined by a couple of much larger wolves, wolves with large bony spikes protruding from their backs - Dire Wolves. The party combined was able to kill several wolves before the rest of them fled, but the battle took a heavy toll on the party who spent the remainder of the night healing and resting as best they could. They awoke the next morning and set off toward Berdusk once again.
The remainder of the day passed and the party set up camp once again. Later in the night, again during Unagi's watch, a loud howl from the fringes of the camp awoke the party. Bounding into the camp again were several wolves and a couple dire wolves, however this time they were accompanied by humanoid wolves running on their hind legs - werewolves! The party was outmatched for this battle, especially in light of the battle from the previous evening but they stepped up and took the fight to the wolf pack. Shortly after the battle started a dark haired woman dressed in chain and wielding a smooth headed footman's mace charged into the battle and began fighting the werewolves with an intense hatred. With their numbers bolstered the party was able to kill several wolves and dire wolves, and with the aid of Ixxizigut, the imp bound to Shadow Flames amulet, they were able to force the remaining werewolves to attempt to flee, but they never got the chance as the party was able to cut them down before they got very far.
Once the battle was over the dark haired woman introduced herself to the party. Her name was Silvara, a Priestess of the Goddess of the Moon, , and she had been tracking the werewolves for a couple of weeks, hoping to track them to their lair so she could report it back to her church. The party thanked her for her aid in defeating the werewolves and promised to help her track and destroy any wolves left in the pack. Silvara, fearing that the party may have been infected with lycanthropy from the werewolves, produced potions containing wolfs bane from her pack and shared them with the party.
Silvara told the party that the werewolf lair was most likely located in the Reaching Wood which was roughly a days journey to the west. She also explained that this werewolf pack was made up of natural lycanthropes, werewolves who were born with the affliction and who could change their shape at will. This werewolf pack was also an extremely feral pack with the werewolves giving up any connection to their human lives and fully embracing their wolf side which made them very dangerous.
Silvara was also able to offer the other party members healing, and after the battles of tonight and the previous night, the party gratefully accepted. After providing as much healing as possible Silvara settled in with the party and they rested for the rest of the night.
The party set of towards the Reaching Wood early in the morning. The werewolves were not particularly concerned with covering their tracks, but it still required Silvara, an expert tracker, to trail them from the camp to the woods. The party reached the Reaching Woods in the late afternoon, but encounter nothing for the day. They set up camp for the night after the days travel and an uneventful night passed.
As the party moved on towards the werewolf lair, deeper into the forest, after about 2 more hours of travel they were attacked by several wolves. They were able to easily dispose of the creatures who uncharacteristically fought to the death. Silvara surmised that they must be nearing the lair, and indeed a short while later they came across a small wooded hill that had a single cave mouth entrance. The party moved into the cave moth which was a narrow tunnel burrowing deeper into the hill. Without any source of light it was hard going for Jean and Unagi, Silvara had some limited infravision, a gift from her Goddess, and Shadow Flames tiefling nature provided him with strong infravision. Silvara lead the way, but without a source of light Unagi and Jean stumbled a number of times. After a short stretch, with the tunnel delving deeper into the earth, the party came to an intersection with a tunnel forking off to the parties right, and continuing forward. Silvara could smell fresh water from up ahead so the party decided to travel forwards. After Unagi stumbled again the party decided that it would be best to provide a light source since any element of stealth they may have had was lost as the full plate wearing warrior stumbled and cursed. Jean produced a wand and a used it to cast a light spell. As the light flared into existence the party found themselves standing in a small chamber with a pool of fresh water to the east, and little else of interest. As the party turned to leave several very large spiders descended from the roof, blocking their escape. The party sprang into action, and after a brief melee the spiders were dispatched without great injury to the party. Both Jean and Shadow Flame were bitten by the spiders with no immediate affect. The party returned to the fork and continued deeper into the lair.
A short distance down the tunnel they found another fork, and growling was heard coming from the left branch of the tunnel. They party moved to investigate and 2 wolves leapt from the shadows at Unagi and Silvara who fought with them briefly before the wolves were killed. Shadow Flame had started to feel the ill effects of the poisonous bites of the spider so Silvara cast a spell to slow the spread of the poison, and the party continued further down the tunnel which buried deeper into the earth.
Soon the tunnel forked into 2 separate tunnels, and guarding each tunnel entrance was a large dire wolf. Both dire wolves charged the party and melee was joined again. There was enough room in these deeper tunnels to fight the wolves side by side and the party was able to quickly dispatch the beasts without suffering any great injury. They continued down the left fork, and a short way down the tunnel Silvara spied some lose rocks on the floor which were out of place in the smoothed tunnels. Looking up Shadow Flame spotted what appeared to be a small cave mouth about 15 feet off the floor burrowing into the tunnel wall. He climbed up and discovered another tunnel leading deeper into the hill and appearing to run somewhat parallel with the tunnel they were currently following. It was decided to continue exploring the tunnel they were already in, and after a short while the party found the tunnel converged into a single tunnel once again. They back tracked down the other tunnel and found that it did rejoin the original tunnel; they also discovered another tunnel like the one into the other corridor, 15 feet off the ground. Returning to the area where the tunnel rejoined itself the party continued on. They found that once again the tunnel forked, and once again they decided to explore the left hand fork. This tunnel narrowed quickly and Unagi was forced to almost sidestep to get his full plate laden body down the tunnel. It opened up after a short distance into a much larger room, but before the party could exit the narrow tunnel 2 werewolves charged Unagi. With no room to attack together the second werewolf doubled back and ran into a tunnel branching off the main room. Silvara cast a spell to aid Unagi in the battle with the werewolf while Jean and Shadow Flame doubled back in hope of finding another way into the larger room. They did not have to travel far as the fork that lead to the narrow tunnel also lead into the main chamber. As they entered the chamber another werewolf attacked them. The battle being fought on two fronts, it was not long before Unagi killed the werewolf attacking him. Once it was dead he charged into the main room and joined in fighting the other werewolf with Shadow Flame while Jean fired magic missiles into the melee. Silvara explored the main chamber and inspected the corridor the other werewolf had fled down, however it reappeared from the back of the room, charging in from the tunnel Jean and Shadow Flame had used to enter the large chamber. Jean turned to fight the werewolf and Silvara ran to her aid. Unagi and Shadow Flame were able to quickly kill the other werewolf and once they joined in attacking the last remaining werewolf it was quickly dispatched.
The party explored the remaining tunnels where they stumbled upon a large cache of items; weapons, chests and crates from the werewolves attacks and raids on other adventurers and merchants. Jean cast a spell to detect magic and the party were able to take a wooden amulet, a platinum diadem and a silver ring that were magical as well as several hundred coins.
They traveled back out of the werewolf lair to find that it was only mid afternoon, so they set out to return to the road, taking a cross country route to get back on track to Berdusk quicker. Towards late afternoon the slow poison spell ended and Shadow Flame was hit with the effects of the spiders poison; he doubled over and passed into unconsciousness. The party traveled on a short distance further before settling down to camp for the night. Silvara cast healing magic on Shadow Flame and he regained consciousness only a little bit worse for wear. The night passed without incident.
The party continued the next morning moving quickly so as to get back to the road to Berdusk and get to Berdusk as soon as possible. After they had been traveling for several hours, and as they neared the road again, they heard the sounds of a large battle coming from over the crest of a small hill. As they reached the top of the hill they saw 3 caravans being waylaid by a large group of humans and orcs, and after watching for a few seconds they realised that the caravans were those of Aldous Rigon and his family. Taking stock of the situation the party planned it's moves; they spied a large 9' tall humanoid directing some of the orcs into the battle and ordering crossbowmen to fire upon the caravans. Surmising that this was the leader of the bandit group Unagi charged toward him to give him something to do besides issue orders. Shadow Flame attacked a group of crossbowmen who were making it particularly tough for the Rigon brothers to fight effectively, and told Ixxizigut to attack alongside him. Silvara went immediately to Aldous' aid as he was being attacked by both orcs and humans. Jean remained at the back of the battlefield in order to cast her magic without the danger of being in melee.
As Shadow Flame ran onto the battlefield he called out to Aldous that aid was with him. Aldous was surprised but obviously very grateful as he called out to his brothers and urged them on to kill their attackers. The battle raged for some time, the enemy forces were numerous, but the Rigons and the party began to whittle down their numbers. Unagi and the huge half-ogre Murg battled to the side trading blows, but it was clear that Unagi was the better swordsman, and eventually the half-ogre fell to a brutal combination of blows. The crossbowmen turned their attention on Jean who had cast some defensive magics, and several particularly good shots from the orcish bowmen found their target and Jean fell to the ground, gravely wounded.
One of the Rigons also fell at this time, overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Unagi turned his attention to several crossbowmen who had just arrived, having moved out from nearby bushes. Silvara continued to fight alongside Aldous, and between them had killed several orcs and humans. Shadow Flame and Ixxizigut had killed several orcs and humans as well, but more orcs arrived coming from behind the caravans and attacking the remaining Rigon brothers. As Unagi killed the last of the newly arrived crossbowmen the second Rigon brother fell to the sword of an orc. Shadow Flame, Ixxizigut and Silvara joined up and fought together to kill a few more orcs and humans, and Unagi ran over to provide aid. Unfortunately Aldous was also felled by a vicious blow from an orc and all the Rigon brothers were now dead. The party managed to kill most of the remaining bandits with only a couple left alive to flee the battle.
Once the fight was over the party began the task of taking stock of the situation. Silvara tried to give aid to the fallen Rigons but they had all been slain so she moved across and revived Jean who was still alive although badly injured. The rest of the party searched the bandits and orcs looking for some clue as to their identity and any possible reason for the attack. They discovered that several of the humans, and Murg the half-ogre, had tattoos in the shaped of a stylised dragon's head. As they were searching the dead Silvara heard the sounds of a scuffle coming from within the front caravan. Shadow Flame moved in to open the door and investigate, and as he reached for the door handle it burst open and Marla, Aldous' wife, fell heavily from the doorway, a spray of blood painting the caravan door. A huge orc stepped into the doorway, and seeing Shadow Flame standing there drew his sword ready to attack. Ixxizigut flew towards the orc and managed to stab it with his tail sending a heavy dose of its potent poison into the orc who choked once and fell over dead. Shadow Flame checked immediately on Marla but she had been slain already. The cries of a small child could be heard coming from inside the caravan; Shadow Flame remembered that Aldous and Marla had a small child. Jean came forward to comfort the child and look after it while the party searched through the caravans looking for something that might give them information on what may have provoked the attack. Unagi took a slightly different approach and returned to the body of Murg. He severed the head of the dead half-ogre, reasoning to himself that it may come in handy later on (for some reason...).
They found nothing that provided them with any information. They cleared out the middle caravan as much as they could given that it was the cargo caravan and contained crates of weapons as well as several kegs of ale and a large case of Zzar, and placed the bodies of the Rigons in there. In the remaining caravans they found several items of interest including a magical harp and several potions. The party decided to move out and travel into the night so as to reach Berdusk as quickly as possible. Shadow Flame drove the lead caravan, and after they had been moving for a short while he made the realisation that the lead caravan was longer on the outside than their inspection of the inside would suggest. Concluding that there must be a secret compartment in the caravan he pulled over and searched the caravan. Sure enough he discovered a secret room that harbored something very interesting. Resting in the compartment was a large basin made of marble. The basin was 4' wide and had strange runes carved into it in a winding pattern around the outside. The basin rested on a jade pedestal that had carvings of air elementals and genies amid swirling patterns, but was free of markings such as runes or letters. Sitting next to the basin was a small leather chest with electrum studs set along its edges. Inside the chest was a brass scroll tube that contained a . The contract was written in ornate hand and had a water mark in the same stylized dragons head shape as the tattoos found on some of the bandits from the attack. The contract specified that a mercantile company called the Red Dragon Trading Coster and Aldous Rigon had entered into a contract that would pay 80,000gp for an item referred to as the "Bowl of Adlab" once it had been verified and appraised. It was signed by Aldous and one Frans Helmshall. The party spent some time discussing the meaning of the contract but had no other information to go on and they decided to call it a night.
The party awoke early in the morning and prepared to move off. As preparations were being made to move out Shadow Flame studied his spell book to learn a spell of comprehending languages. Once the spell was committed to his memory he cast it upon the Bowl hoping to be able to understand the runes that wound around the basins circumference. Surely enough the runes were letters and not magical inscriptions and the meaning of the words was revealed by the spell. It appeared to be a riddle:
You can see me in darkness, but never
I am present in daytime and absent in night;
In the deepest of shadows I stand in plain sight.
While Jean was unconscious the party had arrived at in the early afternoon. They approached one of the gates to the city and found a large open ground where many caravans had set up; they appeared to have set up to rest or camp rather than for trade. A line of caravans stretched back from the gate, and the party decided to join the line to wait to be admitted into Berdusk. As they reached the back of the line to begin the wait they were approached by a patrol of Berduskan guards. The captain of the patrol identified himself as Finnious and told the party that they should setup camp with the other waiting caravans. Since so many caravans were waiting to be granted permission to enter Berdusk they were to wait until told to join the line. Finnious told them that they would be looked in on from time to time and as the patrols knew they were waiting they would be able to enter the city before nightfall. So the party moved off the road and set up camp amongst the other waiting caravans. Shortly after they had set up their camp Jean roused from the deep uneasy sleep that always accompanied the use of the staffs identify power. She gathered the party together and described her dream and told them of the staffs ability to use the Legend Lore spell and suggested that she should try and use this new Legend Lore ability on the Bowl to try and work out what power it had, and everyone agreed this was the best course of action. Jean entered the lead caravan and invoked the Legend Lore of the staff on the Bowl of Adlab.
Immediately Jean found herself standing in a large room made of stone with large arched windows set into the wall at regular intervals. All manner of items rested upon the many tables and bookcases set around the room; this was clearly a wizards laboratory. In the middle of the room the Bowl of Adlab rested upon the ground. It did not have the inscribed letters set into it, it was a smooth marble basin. A man, dressed in very old style clothing sat cross-legged upon the ground in front of the Bowl. He had a small hammer and chisel and was carving the inscription of the riddle upon the bowl. The man was very old, apparently human, with wispy white hair and thin rimmed octagonal spectacles resting on his large nose. As he continued to chisel the words into the surface of the marble basin the scene that Jean stood watching began to fade out.
Jean found herself standing in the middle of a large feasthall with two very long tables, all manner of colorfully attired folk sat at these tables and waiters and servants rushed around them, all ignored Jean as if she were not there (as indeed, she was not). As in the previous scene all the people present were dressed in very old styled clothing and the decor of the room was also of a style long since passed. A loud sound of metal on glass was heard from the front of the feasthall. A man stood clinking his fork upon a fine wine glass at a table that was clearly set for the lords of this place with several regally dressed humans sitting either side of a woman draped in exquisite jewelery. The hall fell into an expectant silence as the man stood beside the large basin of the Bowl of Adlab. He dipped his glass into the basin and it came back with a clear liquid which the man drank. As he finished drinking he lifted the glass high over his head in a salute of sorts and the feasthall burst into applause and cheering - clearly the workings of the Bowl were considered a great success. As the man was seated Jean looked out of a large nearby window, and as the scene began to fade she saw that the room they were in was part of a large tower in a citadel that appeared to be many miles above the ground, and without a mountain for reference had the appearance of floating in the sky.
As the vision once again faded in Jean was once again standing in the same room where the Legend Lore vision began. The same old man was once again standing before the Bowl of Adlab. The room this time was much tidier and many of the tables and book cases were now empty. The man appeared to mutter some words to himself and a small compartment, much like a safebox in a bank slid forward from the lade column that the Bowl rested upon. The old man took a scroll wrapped with a blue ribbon from within his robes and placed it in the compartment before sliding it closed. As the vision began to fade for the final time Jean saw the man look around nervously before walking off towards the door...
The visions of the spell had lasted only 15 or 20 minutes, and once it was clear the spell had shown all it was going to show Jean left the caravan and shared her experience with the party. When Jean told them of the vision where the old man placed the scroll in a compartment on the basins pedestal Shadow Flame went to the caravan and inspected the column trying to find this compartment. He could find no sign of it however, even with Jean being able to point out exactly where the compartment opened. After inspecting the Bowl thoroughly and not finding anything of consequence Shadow Flame suggested to Jean to use the Legend Lore spell of the staff on itself. The group all agreed this was a good idea so Jean once again retired to a caravan and began to invoke the powers of the staff upon itself.
The scene faded out and Jean was now standing on an outcrop of rock on the side of a vast heat blasted mountain. The yellow skinned summoner stood before her, the staff of Amon Valura in it's right hand. A huge hulking creature with the face of some kind of dog stood against the summoner in battle. The beast was heavily armored and wielded a massive spiked morningstar. The battle was brief, the summoner no match for the beast as the mighty morningstar swung a giant arc that ended at the summoner face, caving his head in in a spray of blood, bone and brain. The summoner dropped lifeless to the ground and the staff fell to the ground and noisily came to rest several feet down the mountain.
Scenes of the staff became more chaotic as several creatures, humans, elves, demonic beasts, insect creatures and others were shown wielding the staff briefly before they were killed in grisly fashion; a human dies as a sword bursts through his chest, an elf dies when his head is rent off his shoulders, a winged devil explodes in a burst of blood and body parts, an armored centaur has the human half of him cleaved off the horse half by a giant blade, a cat faced creature has its heart torn out by a spiked clawed hand; and in all scenes the staff dropped coldly to the ground with its wielder.
A new scene faded in violently and Jade was standing on the top of a hill looking in to a ring of standing stones. A very tall humanoid creature wearing a rotting and faded set of robes was holding the staff over it's rotting, disease ridden head. The head was the peeling and bleeding head of a ram, and all over the creatures exposed flesh boils burst into showers of yellow-green pus as it swung the staff in circles and chanted the words of a spell. Several robed human figures surrounded the creature, they chanted loudly in unison as their hands began to glow with bright green energy. The ram headed creature leapt forward and buried its fist in the head of one of the spell casters before the green energy of the other casters burst forth and surrounded it. The ram headed creatures let out a primal scream of rage, blood and spittle flying from it's lips as it stood trapped in the binding magic of the wizards. The staff remained in it's grasp as the scene faded and Jean came slowly back to reality.
As Jean sat in the caravan reliving the scenes of the staffs history, Finnious approached the caravans and let the party know that they could join the line at the gate entrance to Berdusk. Several hours had passed since they first arrived at the city and it was now well into the evening. The party waited in line until they were at the gate. The gate guards approached the caravan and spoke with Shadow Flame. The caravan had to be registered and any goods they had for sale had to be declared - simple safety measures. The party was admitted and told to go to the trading centre known as Amberside which could be found just inside the gates. The party found Amberside easily; it was a large bizarre full of caravans and tents where traveling merchants could set up shop and trade with each other and the Berduskan natives without the overhead of having to use a trade organisation or pay for rental on a market lot. The party found some space in the maze of tents and caravans and set up to camp there for the night.
Unagi and Jean made their way to the Seat of Lore and spoke with one of the acolytes who were available to serve members of the public. They discovered that of all the Priests in the Seat of Lore only the Loremaster, one Bransuldyn Mirrortor, the high Priest of Oghma was the only Priest in the temple capable of casting the speak with dead spell with enough power to make the it worthwhile. Unfortunately the Loremaster was not available that day but the acolyte promised to speak with him as soon as he was available and bade Shadow Flame and Jean return the next day. They returned to the caravan to wait.
During that time Unagi had set up a stall on the caravan and started hawking the swords. Using his skill in weapons he put on several shows displaying the weapons and how they were best used and drew quite a crowd many of whom bought new swords from him. Unagi also put his time to good use once Silvara had returned; he went around to the merchants of Amberside inquiring about the Red Dragon Trading Coster. After speaking with several merchants he learnt that the Red Dragons had a bad reputation amoung the traders; they were known for using very heavy handed tactics to get what they wanted and would often threaten other merchants who traded in goods they did. Their tactics included destroying other merchants goods and stalls, stealing customers (including threatening customers), and it was rumoured they also resorted to beatings and some said murder to get what they wanted. They were always operating at the limits of the laws and were under constant scrutiny by the Harpers and the local law, but no evidence had ever been found to take them to task.
Unagi also asked around about sages and whether there were any knowledgeable scholars around. Everyone he spoke to either suggested the temple of Deneir and the Harpers or the Seat of Knowledge, the temple to Oghma, and neither of those options were appealing to the party as they did not have enough information to deal with either group.
When the party were all together again they shared what information each had discovered, and since there was little they could do at that moment they simply rested and manned their weapon stall for the remainder of the day.
As Shadow Flame exited the caravan he was sleeping in he noticed that someone had scratched some markings into the door frame of his caravan in the night. A single disc, probably a coin, had been scraped into the frame along with a marking he recognized as being used by the Shadow Thieves of Amn from his dealings with them in the past. This opened up a whole new avenue of investigation as the Shadow Thieves had their fingers in many pies and always had information for those who could pay the price and it was not uncommon for them to approach those whom they had interest in dealing with. As soon as possible Shadow Flame set off to the Seat of Lore to speak with the Loremaster while the rest of the party remained at the caravan since the appearance of the markings from the Shadow Thieves had set them on edge a little as it was an indication they were being watched.
The acolyte at the temple of Oghma was once again available and as he saw Shadow Flame approach he went up to speak with him. The acolyte informed Shadow Flame that the Loremaster was not available in the morning, but he could make an appointment for Shadow Flame to speak with him that afternoon. Annoyed as he was with the slow response of the acolyte he agreed to return in the early afternoon to have an audience with the Loremaster. Having done all he could at the temple, Shadow Flame set off to look around Berdusk for any signs or marks of the Shadow Thieves that may indicate a place or person he could contact to speak with one of their number.
As he traveled about Berdusk Shadow Flame spotted a man on the street who looked familiar. Moving in for a closer look he realised he had almost bumped into Lunder Callonar, the merchant who had lead the 3 Wheels caravan out of Asbravn. Shadow Flame quickly stepped back and watched Lunder to make sure that the slaver had not spotted him. Once he was confident that he had not been spotted, Shadow Flame began following the slave merchant. He lead Shadow Flame into the richer parts of Berdusk; the man obviously did not have the wealth to afford to live on the Castle Hill, home of the cities nobility, but he was close. He entered a two storied house on a reasonable block of land and closed the door behind him. Shadow Flame moved around the house, looking at it with the accomplished eye of a capable thief. Once he had a good idea of the house setup he spoke with a couple of people who lived in nearby homes who confirmed that the house Lunder went into was indeed his place of residence. Once he was happy with the information he had gathered Shadow Flame once again began looking for some sort of sign of the Shadow Thieves.
While Shadow Flame was about his business the rest of the party tended the stall so as to guard the caravan. Just after midday they were approached by a man with grey skin and a short pony tail of white hair. He had 2 small horns protruding from his forehead at his hairline and a thin leathery tail with a short shock of grey hair coming from its end. He was dressed in the clothes of nobility, frilly white shirt with an expensive waist coat and trousers. He introduced himself to the party as Grey Tannis and said he had a message for them as he handed over a neatly rolled scroll tied with a thin blue ribbon. Unagi took the scroll and unrolled it, then handed it over to Jean as he remembered he couldn't read. Jean took the scroll and read it to the party:
to you my friends,
Shemeska the Marauder, King of the Cross-trade, would like to offer her congratulations
on your recent good luck and new found wealth. I would like to arrange a meeting with
you all to discuss a business proposition that could benefit all parties. My messenger will
provide the details, so until then.
Wishing you good health,
Shemeska the Marauder
Come mid afternoon Shadow Flame was passing by a tavern, the Lonelycoins Tankard House, and spied a mark upon its sign that would indicate the Shadow Thieves could be contacted inside. Shadow Flame entered the Lonelycoins and proceeded to the bar. He asked the bar tender for a drink, and as the brew was placed in front of him he noticed another mark upon the shelves behind the bar that indicated the bar tender was able to help those wanting to contact the Shadow Thieves. Shadow Flame calmly made indirect reference to the sign on the shelf. The bar tender gave a subtle smile to indicate he was on the same page and suggested that the Lonelycoins was not well suited to Shadow Flames needs and that perhaps he should instead find his way to the Flourishing Flagon ale house which may be more to his liking. It took Shadow Flame a little bit of time but he finally clued on to what he was being told, and after some inner argument gave the bar tender a gold piece for his trouble before heading out to seek the Flourishing Flagon.
The Flagon was a rowdy bar and seemed to be the local demi-human tavern as an unusually large number of gnomes and dwarves especially were drinking and yelling and fighting inside. As he entered he was given several looks of disdain that suggested he wasn't particularly welcome in there but he was not accosted or harassed. As he approached the bar his eye caught the eye of a human sitting in the corner by himself. The man was wearing dark traveling clothes with the hood of his cloak pulled over his head. Shadow Flame approached the man who motioned for him to sit down. The man introduced himself as Morgan and told Shadow Flame that the Shadow Thieves were interested in meeting with him and Shadow Flame was agreeable to the proposed meeting. Morgan told him to return to the Flagon at midnight and ask to see a man called Axle, and then indicated that the current meeting was over by saying goodbye to Shadow Flame and resuming calmly sitting in the corner. Shadow Flame took the hint and returned to the party at the caravans.
When he returned to the caravans the party members shared all the information about events that had transpired so far for the day. After some discussion it was agreed that Shadow Flame and Unagi would go and meet with Grey Tannis and while Silvara and Jean stayed at the caravans to ensure that no one tried anything. Arriving at the Lonelycoins Tankard House they spied Grey Tannis and sat down at his table. He immediately asked when the rest of the party could be expected. Shadow Flame explained that the other party members had business that precluded them from attending the meeting with the Marauder. Grey Tannis was not happy with the news and told them that this was not good enough and that the meeting would no go ahead without all party members being present. Shemeska wished to speak with everyone that held a stake in the dealings so that none could later claim that the deal was not agreed to by all. Shadow Flame became suspicious and again stated that the other party members were otherwise occupied and that they gave permission for himself and Unagi to speak for them. Unagi tried to reason with Shadow Flame, he wanted to attend the meeting with the Marauder, but Shadow Flame was able to convince him that they should be enough to speak for the party as a whole. Grey Tannis reiterated that this would not be good enough and further tried to assuage their suspicions by claiming their caravans would be protected during any meeting to ensure nothing untoward occurred. This raised Shadow Flames suspicions even further, and since no agreement was likely to be made he excused himself from the meeting and informed Grey Tannis that there would be no dealing with Shemeska. Clearly angered by the outcome Grey Tannis had little choice but to take their decision to the Marauder and farewells were made as Shadow Flame and Unagi left the tavern.
They returned to the caravan and informed Jean and Silvara of the outcome of the meeting with Grey Tannis. They discussed the outcome amoung themselves, and in the end they all agreed that Shadow Flame had made the correct decision.
Midnight approached and the meeting with the Axle of the Shadow Thieves drew near. It was decided that since Shadow Flame had dealt with the Shadow Thieves before, and had set the meeting up that he would go alone to the meeting. He made his way to the Flourishing Flagon once again and approached the bar which was tended by a gnome who introduced himself as Marklo. Shadow Flame asked Marklo if he could speak with Axle but the gnome had never heard of Axle. Several gnomes, all named Marklo, came and spoke with Shadow Flame in turn but none of them claimed to know a man named Axle. As Shadow Flame began to get frustrated with the procession of Marklos another gnome, also named Marklo approached him. This time Marklo knew of the man who Shadow Flame wished to speak with and lead him out the back of the tavern. They went into the pantry of the alehouse and Marklo opened a trapdoor in the floor and told Shadow Flame that Axle was waiting for him downstairs. Shadow Flame descended the stairs into near total darkness. A man sat at a small table with a single candle and a spare chair. Using his infravision Shadow Flame spied several other men in the room hiding in the recesses of the room, most likely acting as guards to ensure that nothing untoward happened to the Shadow Thief. Axle introduced himself and, as Shemeska had done earlier, congratulated him on his recent run of good luck. He asked as to why the rest of the party did not come to the meeting as well. Shadow Flame explained that he was a trusted member of their party and that the others had agreed that he would speak for them. Axle was not happy with the arrangement, he wanted to ensure that all party members would be happy with any deal made tonight so that everyone could reach the same agreement. He was however not so displeased that he ended the meeting. Axle told Shadow Flame that the Shadow Thieves were interested in procuring the Bowl and that they would be willing to give the party 30,000gp as payment for the item. The price offered was well under the known value of the Bowl and Shadow Flame would not accept the offer. Rather than bluntly decline the offer he chose to instead tell Axle that he would take the offer to the other party members and they would decide and let him know the outcome. Whilst he was not really happy with the reply he had no option but to agree with Shadow Flames proposal. Before leaving Shadow Flame asked Axle if he had heard of someone known as Shemeska the Marauder. Axle told him that yes, the Marauders name was known. Apparently she was very well connected, had a huge amount of coin behind her and had a strong reputation as someone that should not be crossed. With the meeting over Shadow Flame returned to the caravan and told the party what had transpired at the meeting with Axle.