Having arrived at the base of the tower the companions pause to catch their breath and mull over the riddle they have discovered, Tamull asks the others to tell him what they did in the town of Roshtar while he was away on other business. Ragnarok creases his forehead in concentration thinking back to the morning of five days earlier as everyone had sat around the table at the Five Foxes Inn in Roshtar, eating breakfast…
The innkeeper interrupts the companions’ meal to tell Tamull that a note has arrived for him. He reads it and announces that he must be away for a couple days in the service of the Temple of Ulsonur. He quickly finishes his meal, stands, announces he will return in two days, and departs.
The rest of the companions quietly finish breakfast, their attention soon turned to the windows facing out into the street where they begin to hear an unusual commotion coming from outside. It sounds as if a large, noisy crowd is coming down the street. The noise grows louder and yelling can be heard. A few of the words seem to be shouts about some sort of dispute about the leadership of the kingdom. The mob finally emerges into the view of the windows, they are carrying banners marked with black and white, many of them are wearing white ribbons tied around their heads and waists.
The innkeeper soberly looks out the window and mutters, “Here they come again. Yelling about some new king or something. You know, I don’t see whats so wrong with the one we got. King Crethilus is as good as they come.”
Almost seeming to just notice the companions still seated at the table the innkeeper turns his words to them, “They’ve been at it for months now. Seems like theres more and more of them every day. Shouting on the streetcorners and being a nuisance. If they’re not careful the city guard will will stop them by force, and I wouldn’t blame them if they did. Blasted noisy troublemakers.”
Not having much to say on the topic at hand the companions merely sit and watch as the procession continues down the street, sense of slight unease and gratitude that they do not call this city home rising within them. Suddenly the door bangs open and a woman enters the room hastily, shutting the door behind her, seemingly driven off the narrow street by the mob. She looks around cautiously, clearly out of place. She is of a similar height to Ornith and Sasha, but with striking black hair and a darker complexion. She catches sight of the companions at the table and watches them for a few moments before approaching.
INSERT NADRAYA PICTURE
Sasha warmly greets the newcomer, “Good morning, would you like to join us? I am Sasha.” the other woman still appears unsure of herself, but does manage to pull up a chair.
“I am Nadraya. Pardon for my interruption, but the four of you have a look about you that suggests you may be able to help me.” Ornith’s eyebrows raise at this since clearly this woman is no ordinary townswoman, she is dressed for travel and protection and has the faint scent of wilderness about her. “My master has sent me on a most cryptic mission of dealing with some evil taking root in the forest just east of Roshtar’s outskirts. I understand if you are too busy to help me, but I would appreciate any assistance.”
Shrugging at one another the companions decide that they have no reason not to help the young woman, Tamull will be gone for at least two days after all.
“Your master didn’t give you any other information aside from the fact that there is some evil in the forest?” Lars questions.
“Nothing of use, my master isn’t the most…coherent or helpful of individuals.” Nadraya’s face grows slightly red, as though she is attempting to hide her own frustration with the situation.
“Well, let’s start asking around town then!” Sasha beams with a smile as she heads out into the street. Within moments Sasha is able to gather enough information to point the companions in the direction of the home of a rather old and “batty” woman who is apparently always going on about evil spirits and creatures.
Passing through the city wall and leaving the main part of town the companions are pleased to have clean air about them as they make their way to the outskirts of the city. The house at the end of the lane is small, but pleasant looking. Small wooden sculptures of strange, charming creatures are scattered about in front. As they approach, two cats are wrestling on a wooden porch near the front door. Noticing the companions they immediately bolt away into some bushes.
Walking up to the door, Lars knocks and immediately hears some shuffling footsteps from within. Standing within the doorway is a stooped older woman, her thinning white hair wafting in the breeze, a not so toothy grin scrawled across her face as she gazes up at Lars.
“Well, hello there fine Sir.” the old woman’s tone is clearly flirtatious, causing the other companions to smile behind Lars’ back. “How can I help you?”
“We were hoping you could give us some information as to some supposed evil present in the forest near here.” Lars keeps his tone friendly, but not so friendly as to make the woman a “special friend.”
“Oh yes, let me get you all some lemonade!” Before anyone can say anything else the old woman darts back into the house, returning shortly with several glasses of lemonade. "There’s always evil around, most people just refuse to see it. Some aren’t so evil though, take the ghost of Marella Crump. She was murdered in that forest to the east and then buried in the graveyard near here. Naturally she haunts both places.” She nods emphatically. “If you want to know who is trouble, its Mr. Borgle. I’m quite convinced he is an aranea in disguise.” the old woman’s voice quickly takes on a prattling tone.
“Thank you so much for the information!” Nadraya jumps in, interrupting the woman, “Could you point us in the direction of the graveyard?”
“Oh yes, why its right over there dearie.” the old woman points eastward to a small path leading to the fenced off area of the graveyard. “Come back any time you like.” the woman makes a special note of smiling at Lars once more as she speaks.
The companions walk until most of the village buildings are behind them and there is a forest in the distance. Approaching the graveyard it seems normal enough. It is surrounded by a low iron fence, the gate of which stands open. The fence is leaning in a few places and the grass beyond is overgrown. Inside they can see several scattered trees and a few mourners moving among the graves. A path leads from the gate up the center of the graveyard. It was apparently once cobblestone, but is largely dirt now, many of the stones having long since gone missing. This graveyard must have served the city for centuries as there are graves stretching far into the distance, most of them quite weathered and forgotten. Nearer the center of the graveyard is an old house, it appears to have been painted recently, but it can’t disguise the sagging wood that gives away its age.
“Surely that must be where the groundskeeper is? He should be able to tell us where this grave of Marella Crump.” Ornith suggests as she makes her way up to the aged building and knocks at the door.
A young man answers. He is short and thin, but otherwise rather handsome. “Yes?”, he asks, surprised to see such a gathering of individuals at his doorstep.
“We were hoping you could point us in the direction of the grave of Marella Crump?”, Ornith politely asks.
“Marella Crump…hmm. I only just started here not that long ago and so I’m not all that familiar with the locals here.”, the man looks out over the graves, his eyebrows drawn down in thought.
“She would have died a couple hundred years ago we think.” Nadraya offers up hopefully.
“Oh! In that case it should be over there in that far corner.” the man points to a section of even more weathered and aged gravestones near the boundary with the forest. “Just please don’t desecrate anything, the Temple of Auvurn pays me a small stipend to maintain the grounds here. As you can see, I am outmatched by the ravages of time.”
“Of course, of course. We are merely surveying the area and gathering information.”, Lars reassures the man as the companions head off toward the older gravestones.
Reaching the gravestone of Marella Crump, Nadraya immediately notices that the ground around the grave has been disturbed. There are marks in the grass and dirt suggesting that something heavy was dragged across it. Getting out her goggles Sasha soon finds a seam in the back of the gravestone itself, prying at it with her dagger she can feel it give way, but isn’t quite stronger enough herself to move the stone. Having overcome his sudden change in morals Ragnarok decides that the seam means the grave has already been desecrated and so its okay for him to come over and shove the stone apart. With his moral compass whirling Ragnarok is able to push the two pieces of gravestone apart, revealing a hole leading into the ground complete with ladder. Seeing that he couldn’t possibly fit down the hole with his armor he quickly strips out of it and makes his way down the ladder, breaking a rung in the name of Tamull and immediately falling to the ground below with a loud thump. Throwing his armor down to him the others wait for Ornith to secure a rope before joining the fighter down below. Vilkas, Ornith’s snow leopard, and _____ Nadraya’s wolf companion remain above ground with Caravec to keep watch.
The floors and walls appear to be made of stone with dusty and cobweb covered candles set into wall holders. Before them are two doors, listening to one Sasha determines she can hear nothing, Nadraya however listens at the other door and can hear what seems to be fluttering cloth in a breeze. Deeming that the appropriate door to open Ragnarok flings it open, surprised to see that the noise is not at all cloth fluttering in the breeze, but instead are six large demonic heads kept aloft by leathery wings.
Not wanting to take any chances Lars quickly steps to the front, unleashing a massive fireball into the small room. Everyone, even Lars himself, is stunned to see all six creatures burned to a crisp. Entering the room the companions see that there is a door at the far end. Listening at it, Ornith can hear nothing, moving forward to pick the lock though Sasha immediately pulls her hand back in a hiss of pain. Realizing that she very narrowly avoided being poisoned Sasha glares fiercely at the door as she wipes off the remaining poison with one of Ragnarok’s best shirts.
Entering the room is quite clear there was a fire of some sort here, scorch marks are present all along the floor and walls. With her inspection goggles on though Sasha is able to find a slight indentation in the floor, pressing on it a faint click is heard in the room and a part of the stone wall slides open revealing a secret room. Entering the room cautiously the companions are a bit surprised (or maybe not) to find the room occupied by old, long unused alchemy equipment as well as the tattered remnants of several spellbooks. Lars is able to pull two aged pages from one of the books that may be of some use with some study. Yet another door is present at the far end of the small room and the companions curiously enter it. This room is yet again filled with scorch marks, a burned and charred skeleton tossed to one side of the room. Searching around the bones Ragnarok is able to find a lump of gold…presumably the result of several gold coins melted suddenly. In addition to this Nadraya notices that there is a large circle with arcane markings etched into the floor…a summoner’s circle, according to Lars…
Feeling rather ominous and wondering just what occurred down here in the first place the companions back track their way to the first room and open up the remaining door. Bones of every size and shape litter the floor in random piles. Bending down to examine them Nadraya identifies the bones as belong to various native animals: deer, rodents, cats, etc. Broken furniture is also every where in the room and after some searching Ragnarok finds a rather smooth and polished piece of wood, unsure of what it is exactly he hands it over to Lars who immediately detects magic from the school of illusion on the item. Waving the wand around him Lars (and everyone else) is taken aback as three copies of himself suddenly appear in the room, miming his every move. Unsure how to make them go away Lars continues to wave his wand around until there are no less than eight copies standing before him. Thinking that perhaps his leaving the room will dissipate them Ornith urges Lars to leave, laughter breaks out from the companions however at the sight of all nine Lars’ attempting to fit through the door at once. They pass through and overlap one another until the real Lars is indistinguishable. A few minutes later though the copies slowly begin to disappear. Apparently the spell is on a time limit.
Turning to the last remaining door to enter the companions slowly swing it open and enter a room filled with the rubble of broken furniture. Soon after entering the room however the companions hear a voice coming from somewhere in the darkness, a voice speaking a harsh and strange language. This is followed by everyone but Lars and Nadraya with a feeling of crushing despair. Then, seeming to emerge from thin air appears a most horrifying beast! Some kind of otherworldly wolf creature, its orange eyes afire with intelligence and hatred!
The fight that ensues is long and hard, the creature seems to have amazing reflexes and easily dodges many attacks. Not only does it manage to repeatedly step aside from the flaming spheres of both Lars and Nadraya, but the creature has also managed to make Ragnarok think that it is a friend and should not be harmed. Just as the companions are feeling as though they are close to bringing it down however the creature disappears with an echoing howl. While the others stand rather dumbfounded Nadraya moves to where the beast had been standing and detects the residues of magic from the school of conjuration…
Quickly climbing back up to the graveyard itself Nadraya notices that the grass around the grave is flattened as though something and possibly run across it very recently. The animal are all very nervous. Nadraya soon realizes that there are tracks leading away from the grave and toward the surrounding forest. Following the tracks the companions soon see in the distance a large wolf-like shape crashing into the forest, large glowing eyes turning to stare at them balefully. Sprinting after it Ornith and Nadraya reach the edge of the forest in no time, but decide to wait for the other to catch up before entering the shadows of the trees. Cautiously the companions enter the forest together and find the beast curled up at the foot of a tree licking its wounds. Not willing to give the beast any kind of advantage, Sasha attempts to sneak up to the creature and attack it. Unfortunately, she is spotted and the companions immediately open fire, Lars’ magic missiles landing the killing blow as the creature slumps to the ground with a loud whimper.
Believing this to have been the evil her master had sent her after Nadraya quickly thanks the companions for their assistance knowing she couldn’t have accomplished this feat alone. Knowing that she may very well run into these friends again she gracefully slips away into the forest to report back to her master, her large dark wolf padding silently behind her.
Ragnarok cleanly severs the head from the beast, dropping it into a sack as the companions move off back to the city of Roshtar to await the return of Tamull.
A day later Tamull returns to the inn, soon after which the companions leave the city to begin the trek to locate the Tower of the Shattered Sphinx ( The Art of Diplomacy, or Lack Thereof).
As the companions approach the city’s gate they are stopped by a rather attractive female guard who seems to be extremely excited to see Ragnarok.
She motions Ragnarok over, “You’re one of those guys. The Saviors of Salt Marsh, aren’t you? Wow, this is great! Oh hey, come see the other guards so they believe me when I say I met you. The captain is from Saltmarsh, you know? He’s a huge fan of yours. Really wants to meet you. Come on.”
Pausing only briefly to think, Ragnarok shrugs to his companions and follows the young guard into the guardhouse. The woman insists that he needs to leave his weapons at the door, but Ragnarok refuses, instead leaving his shield at the door but not his axe. The female guard expresses concern over getting in trouble for his refusal to leave the axe, but Ragnarok ignores these, motioning for her to continue.
The guard leads him through some narrow stone rooms seemingly built into the city walls. She stops at a door and knocks on it. “Captain Den, its him. The ‘hero’ of Saltmarsh.”
The door opens and a tall, lean man with blonde hair steps out. “I’m Captain Corvus Den.” He nods to the guard, “Go and fetch Foren.”
After a few moments the guard returns with another guard. This one Ragnarok recognizes from the council chambers of Count Tobin.
The captain speaks, “Is this the one? The one who pushed you in the presence of the count?”
The guard answers. “Yes, sir. That’s him.”
The captain turns back to Ragnarok, displeasure apparent on his face, “My men and I don’t make a lot of money. But one thing we do have is pride in our work. We don’t take well to folks embarrassing us. Especially not in front of the Count! You could have gotten one of my men flogged – or worse.”
Ragnarok puffs out his chest in answer to the statement, “Its not my fault your Count is no-good and respects no one.”
The captain nods his head slightly in agreement, “What you say is true. But my job isn’t to tell the count how to do his. My job is to keep order in this city.”
Before Ragnarok can argue further a door opens and several more guards enter. Captain Den says casually to Ragnarok, “Here’s whats going to happen. You’re going to receive a beating from my men and I. Then you’re going to limp away from this city and not come back for a long time.”
Ragnarok then gives a lengthy, pompous speech about the guards can try but he will beat every one of them.
Captain Den answers, “I’ve seen your type before. Tough guys like you forget one important thing. There’s always someone tougher.”
After which an intense fist-fight ensues, one where it becomes quite quickly clear that Ragnarok will not win. Several punches are thrown and within a few brief moments Ragnarok is lying in a heap on the ground.
Some time later, Ragnarok awakens to find himself lying in the dirt outside the city walls.
As he rejoins his companions, raised eyebrows and questions galore, all Ragnarok will say is:
“Captain Den shall pay heavily for this.”