Secrets of Pavis

Winter Sky Falling's Tale of Sun Dome Temple
Lost and Found in Sun County, from the Chronicles of WSF

When last we left our heroes and WSF, we five emerged, stumbling from the crumbling, ancient temple of Yelmalio where we had slain the master vampire that had been haunting this entire country. We found sign he was working for another of their dark breed, but found no sign of that one. We presume our missing irreplaceables were given to it in tribute.

We came upon some guards, and we killed them captured the leader of the folks who poisoned us. He had been working for the vampire unwillingly and was very repentent. He almost died when he showed WSF the head of Ubutu, his loyal wolf companion, but after some mystical futsing about it was determined that WSF could not sacrifice this dudes’ power to re-bind Ubutu to WSF because reasons, so after the group assessed that he wasn’t faking his contrition, we decided to let him live. Honestly, WSF was going to kill him anyway, but failed a 78% beast rune check vs a 60% honor. (Grom would say succeeded an honor one, but he’s a drooling idiot.)

Speaking of which, Darvan Whitetail, a duck of the Laughing god Humankt, had decided to accompany us after we freed him from his cell two days ago, as had a Vingan Warrioress (Ura?) who sought and found the love that shall not be named, but her beloved had been sucked dry into a husk in the vampire’s
larder. Both the duck and the vingan had both proven valuable allies. Grom had emerged from the vampire’s larder a drooling idiot, even worse than when he entered if you can believe this! He could be led, but lost all sense of self or thought. We resolved to bring him the the Healing Temple at the Sun Dome to see if they could bring him back to us. Grom was essentially a zombie for all intents and purposes, and I had been using him for such things as he was useful at, such as carrying heavy loads. I was pondering how to strap a sledge tripod to him to assist in carrying some of the various loot left in the prison’s storage room when Darvan, a fellow worshipper of the god of Unintended Consequences and Related Idiocy, thought I was being somehow improper with an honored Deaf Lord or something. Probably after I had considered
that he would soil himself and decided to dare to take of Grom’s trousers as an act of practicality and preservation of his leg armor, as I am sure he’d wish me to do. I was perhaps being a bit rough with use of Grom in these things, but I had other things on my mind! Ubutu was dead, wandering the spirit world, and Soul of Jhaldon and the Spirit of the Beggar King were unknowingly in the hands of a Monster! But Darvan politely asked if he could take over the care of my dear friend the Grom-Zombie, that it would be his honor as a fellow Joke Lord, so I accepted. The funniest part was when Darvan agreed with my solution to the preservation of leg armor issue and removed Grom’s pants so I did not have to! I can’t wait to tell Grom a duck was touching his junk. Well, I actually didn’t wait, I said “Hey Darvan, watch touching his junk! You never know where that’s been!” Hardy har, I crack myself up. But Darvan plucked some feathers and made a feather skirt of sorts, for Grom’s modesty. Waste of good feathers I say, but hey, maybe as much as I make fun of him, Humakt may actually have a sense of humor! Amazing thought, that…

So anyway, we decided to set off back to the Sun Dome, but as we got to the gate, we realized that we had been so beaten up when we retreated from the vampire’s larder that we hadn’t really searched the area well, and that further, while we had brought up the corpse of the Vingan’s Lover-jerky and put her on her way to Orlanth in a blazing pyre, we had left many corpses down in that hole. Though we were tired and in need of healing, we entered back into the temple the secret way, and while Sorala studied the writings on the walls of the main temple, guarded by the Vingan, the rest of our troupe (Xaraya, Darvan,
Grom-Zombie, WSF, and the Penitant Yelmaliite) proceeded down to the Larder once again.

Previously, we had found a crack in the floor of the larder that the vampire had emerged from. He had come out in mist form and picked up weapons. For armor he had runes painted on his skin, some sorcery I think, but Xaraya would know more. I forget it there was actually real armor at all. In any case, he was ash now. I am pretty sure we took the items left on him, but apparently it was nothing memorable. We cut down the many corpses as laid them out near the base of the stairs, where Darvan and Grom-Zombie faithfully marched them up the stairs (a LONG way up) to set up a funeral pyre. I believe it was in the main temple in a space set aside for such things. As they did that, Xaraya and I took our time to search every inch of that basement larder, trying to find a way to the other end of hat crack. We were thinking that if he took our items, he couldn’t have brought them down that way, so there would have to be another way!

Sadly, after much searching, we found nothing but some buried holy items
from the time the temple was active. It was some holy artifact to Yelm or Yelmalio or somesuch. Probably valuable to them, Xaraya says! Maybe, but then why was it buried here I say? I suspect it will cause us more trouble than it is worth. But at least Sorala might glean something useful from it. She had learned something profound from the writings up above, so she was our best bet at knowledge that might be of use.

That night, after we had prepared the corpses and set a blaze, I walked the spirit realm looking for any trace of our lost items or the other vampire, but I was so mentally drained from the days work that I could not focus, and it appeared that the luck that I had relied upon had failed me, again. I often said in my youth that if I didn’t have bad luck I’d have no luck at all, but Nemeliopi had changed that, but she appears to be forsaking me… Now, I dig deep, and reach for the luck with my magic. Fortunately, I feel a response as the magic flows from me, but it seems… weaker. I could not succeed to save my life, on
anything I tried. I must find out why my gifted power is weakening… I shall add that to my list! I saw Grom-Zombie’s shield flare to life in its golden glory in our battle with the vampire, and I have seen Xaraya’s gift active as well. Am I… misusing the gift? Or does it need… more sacrifice? I know not. I shall seek answers to this, but first we must find my necklace… it could be tragic if they realize what they have. Fortunately, no vampire should be able to control such mighty spirits… or at least I could not when I tried with the beggar king. So if they do try, they may have a surprise coming! I awoke in the morning with at least that spring in my step, though I am still troubled. I need that necklace! Jhaldon must arise at the appointed time! It is my… Density.

So headed up and rested, we headed back out of the temple. The Penitant One mentioned that there was a door that was closed nearby that they had not been able to break in to. We were intrigued, and went to see it. The door was sturdy and well sealed, but we managed to get it open. Therein was a vast library, pristine condition, and a small lamp on a table with a corpse of a librarian-priest who had been entombed here with his books. There was a spirit there, and I hailed it, but it was the remains of the spirit of the priest, and in death he protected these books, so to take any, we would have to defeat this guardian. I
studied it carefully. It seemed as powerful as I, yet I thought I had the advantage, as I was mostly full mana and… well, honestly, I wanted to rend and tear at something ever since I learned Ubutu was gone, and this was my chance. I walked to the corpse and disturbed it, knowing the spirit would attack at my insolence. I could take this thing. I was a Warrior of the Spirit, notwithstanding the horrible beating CritRaya gave me last fight, and I should easily dispatch this spirit back to its realm. I’d be doing it a favor, really. We fought, and traded blows a few times, but I could not hit! I tried more, pushing more magic into my luck, and eventually I landed a heavy blow. I was sure one more would win me this bout. Then, it hit me, and I realized how wrong I was… it was a WRAITH, and not only a wraith, but one that drained the mind! It
critically hit, sliding into my soul and leaving the cold stillness of the grave. I remember little after that, except the gleam of burning dark eyes, ephemeral claws scarring through my thoughts, and the glimmer of the death and life rune merged on the substance of the spirit-beast! I feared my fate was to be that of Grom, but I managed to croak out the words to Xaraya, who was watching the battle pensively, shocked at the sudden drain of color from my face and the collapse of my body to the floor: “Wrrrraaaitthhhh…aaaaiiiyyeee” Thinking quickly, Xaraya pulled the golden-hued dagger that we had found in the
temple… a holy relic of some sort, and plunged it into the wraith! Of course she crit it and it dissipated. I found myself on the floor, shocked, reverted to the mentality of a wolf. Eventually, I recovered enough to stand, but my thoughts would not come. I still knew I was me, and could move and think, but it was sluggish. A revelation: This is how Grom must feel all the time! I pity him,
except, now, I pity myself. But at least we survived. And as long as there is life, there is hope. I recovered from my last fight with a health wraith, I shall survive my defeat by a mind wraith. Live and learn.

Sorala barely noticed my afflication, as she went immediately to the books. She and Xaraya recovered many ancient tomes, some particularly valuable they said. They were mostly in firespeech, so Sorala and the Penitant One had to triage what we could carry, but in the end, we had a good haul, including a lamp of some kind with a spirit in it, and we re-sealed the library as best we could with all our skills, and headed back to the Sun Dome. There were many buildings yet to be explored, but since both Grom-Zombie and I were essentially liabilities, we needed to visit the Chalona Arroy temple badly, and we needed to report the vampire’s slaying and the finds at the temple.

Amusingly, Grom-Zombie could not ride a horse (WaHAAAA knows the annoying god he worships probably has some stricture against using horses on Claydays and Deathdays anyway), so Darvan simply strapped Grom-Zombie onto the back of a horse like a riding blanket… well, a riding blanket with a Sartar-runed ass up and covered with feathers out one side! HAHAHHAHA. Oooo, he’s gonna be sore! I really need to take up painting.

Along the way, we passed a mound in the earth far out in the fields in the brush. Investigating, we found it was a stone slab with carvings depicting the Storm Bull. We could tell nothing more about it, and we thought better of trying to pull the slab up to see what was under it, since the Storm Bull sometimes sets BAD THINGS entombed in the earth. We will have to mark where
it is and come back later.

We eventually made it back to the Sun Dome, where we were greeted as heroes. After shouts of joy at hearing we had slain the vampire, there was muttered silence as they saw Grom-Zombie’s condition. They hustled Grom-Zombie and myself to the healers, where they assessed our wounds were great indeed, but could be healed. Judging that the price of a Pacifist wouldn’t be too hard to bear, we agreed to do a few services for the Chalona Arroy cult, and were released. The treasures we brought back put us in good esteem with the local Yelmalio cult, and our slaying of the vampire and uncovering of the treachery of the Penitant One was so valuable that we told we (even I) would always be welcome in this city and county, and that there woulg be a great feast!

Then, in the middle of the feast, some Ex-Lunar General popped in and joined us. He challenged the Count to a duel for rulership of this place. He Ex-Lunar slew the Count the next day, then our friend the Vingan disappeared suspiciously as our Lunar Sympathizer general was slain in his sleep. Good for her! Then there was a civil war with a Count’s Captain of the Guard and the
Count’s Ex-Wife Yelmalio Priestess. After a great oratory battle, the Ex-Wife ceded control to the Captain to avoid bloodshed and preserve the strength of the city. In talking afterwards, Grom the Tired heard the Captain talk about considering allying with the Lunars, and further the Captain said some disrespectful words on Queen Skye and her rebellion. Grom promptly and
without thinking (no excuse this time) challenged the Captain, and the next day the fought. As weak as Grom was in the power of his Lawbound god, he had to accept the terms of battle, and without god-power, he had to fight with mere mortal strength, and with a spear no less! However, while being beaten easily without his sword tranciness and his rune power, stabbed his spear straight through the Captains eye in a spectacular feat of luck! (damn, maybe that’s where all my luck has gone!) Grom made a statement that the city would not ally with the Lunars, and then gave the city leadership to the Ex-Wife of the Count.

We stayed in the city for the next couple weeks until the end of Earth Season, recovering. I spent most of my time in the spirit world hunting chaos spirits to maintain my bargain with Cleansing Rain, and trying to find any trace of our lost items or the other vampire, but to no avail (my luck fails me yet again). Xaraya and Sorala spent their time in the library with the books they brought back. The treasures too were given over I believe, though not sure if Xaraya kept that dagger. I have no idea how Grom spent his weeks after that, but I assume it was getting the city in order with Ex-Wife of the Count. I do know he wanted us to finish searching the old temple for the other vampire (and our missing things), but we were denied permission by the Chief Priest of Yelmalio in the Sun Dome. He said he would reconsider our request if more vampire attacks happened, or if we continued to do great services for the cult. Grom warned him that while he would honor his request, others would not, and that they should send a force to secure the place. But he cautioned that they ought not set foot inside the buildings there without serious support, as we had trouble handling what was therein and if we had trouble, they may be wiped out, not to mention what will happen if the other vampire comes back looking for his compatriot. The Priest said he would think about it, and in the meantime, he has learned a lot from our latest finds, and asked us to check into a tower of Solinthor the Poet, whose book we had brought back to him, as it had clues to where the tower (or its remains) were to be found. This was actually one of the spirits that I was asked to look for by the Chief Priest of the Yelmalio Temple
in Prax, so I was happy to oblige. Sorala for her part was offered a place on the research team here at the Sun Dome Library, so she’ll be staying here for now, but they are sending another young LM sage with us that Sorala was working with. We don’t have her story yet, but she knows Firespeech and this area of Sun County well, and should do as long as Sorala cares to stay here and
not take the chance to be eaten by vampires or Krashkid or Gorp for a while.

Ultimately, we set out towards the Tower of Selinthor the Poet, the Fortunate Five: Xaraya, Grom-Non-Zombie, WSF, Darvin, and the new LM sage.
Along the way, WSF plans to spend every other night in ritual spirit walking to find the trail of his necklace, Grom’s Sword, and Xaraya’s fufadefah). As we get to the nearest point to where we were poisoned, he’ll take one spirit walk to try
to find Ubutu once again, though he really doesn’t have the 3 POW to spend to pact with him again. Maybe some of the binding or comradeship still exists? We shall see. At the very least, he’d like to hear the story of the battle Ubutu gave. Hey, maybe Ubutu hung around long enough to see what happened to our stuff? Doesn’t hurt to ask I suppose. We shall see.

… And thus closes another chapter in the Chronicles of Winter Sky Falling, Herald of the Lucky Star, Master of the Hunt, and The Wandering Wolf of Prax.

/emote Jerbu voice from behind the scenes: There are no wolves in Prax!
In the Meantime
Some odd things happen

Things were very much a blur for Xaraya Greatbow, Skye, and Grom Ashbringer, who found themselves in an unfamiliar world – a Pavis that was a huge and vibrant city within the walls of the Big Rubble.

Among other things they encountered:

The dwarf Ginkizzie, unchanged from their time

The Blind King’s Palace – simply the gatehouse of a huge palace belonging to a mupystical priest, Labyrygon.

A populace that believed Skye was the Queen.

Strange vampiric cults, with a new enemy – the Demi-Vampire.

Mostali work-crews and their oddly systematized ways.

And much else.

A Sacrificial Offering
In which the heroes encounter Lord Pavis and go back to the Second Age

Staggering wounded into the Real City, the players made for the Crystalline temple of Pavis himself. As Xaraya had been declared a Champion of Pavis by the priesthood and she carried Balastor’s Axe (and Balastor himself) she hoped to get some answers from the demigod.

They approached the crystal orb that is known as the Room Without Doors. Through the darkness of the walls, they saw movement within. A weak voice called out to them, saying, “You must do what you were fated to have done. Aid me now, in my hour of greatest need!” or words to that effect. Weird tendrils of blue-green smoke emerged from the orb and enveloped the heroes. They found themselves lifted off the ground and passed out.

Grom was the first to wake up. He was face down in the mud of what seemed like the Zola Fel valley, and a morokanth’s claw was around his neck. He tried to resist but was too weak. He heard Morokanthi voices call out “A bull and two cows. The bull is waking, but I’ll fix that,” and he was knocked unconscious again.

The heroes awoke, stripped naked and bound with slave collars, in a Morokanth slave coffle. The women were put in with a group of herd women and two or three terrified Praxian women who could provide little information, but kept pointing at Skye and murmuring things about a queen. The only intelligent human in Grom’s coffle was a tall warrior of a people unknown to the Sartarite. His eyes were golden and his hair and beard blond, both wound up tightly in spiral patterns. He explained that he was Chaga Firegleam of the Pure Horse People, in an accent barely comprehensible to Grom. All Grom knew was that the Pure Horse People had been driven out of Prax long ago, and he began to think that they might not be in the Pavis they knew any more.

The coffle progressed northwards along the riverbank when they were approached by a High Llama rider of grim countenance. He wanted to buy a girl, he said, but would not explain why, only asking that she be mature and have magic. The morokanth slavers quickly singled out Skye and Xaraya from the herd, and the warrior chose Xaraya, saying only that Praxian would be more “acceptable.” He slung the helpless woman, bound and gagged, over the back of his mount, and set off across the river into the wastes,

After a couple of days, in which the warrior showed no interest in Xaraya other than feeding her enough food and water to keep her alive, and staking her out at night so she could not escape while he slept, the pair came close to a large rock, standing up from the desert with a small pool beside it, the only variation in the scenery for miles around. The taciturn nomad murmured, “Bad Rock,” and soon was close enough to dismount. In her helpless state, Xaraya could only see the nomad draw a stone knife from his belt and begin to make ritual chants and movements in front of the rock.

At this point, Balastor grew perturbed within Xaraya. “He means to sacrifice us to the Spirit of Bad Rock, a terrible spirit of the wastes,” he said, “But this cannot happen. At the appropriate moment, I shall take control of you, and slay this beast rider!” Xaraya readily agreed, as the slave collar sapped he magic, but did not affect the spirit within her.

The warrior lifted Xaraya off the llama, removed her bonds, and positioned her kneeling on the ground in front of the rock, pulling back her hair to expose her neck. As he readied himself to slit the hero’s throat, Balastor threw his magic at the nomad, knocking him back and causing him t drop his knife. Balastor/Xaraya was able to grasp the knife and use a combination of magic and the weapon to slay the nomad in a close-fought battle.

At this point, Xaraya and Balastor both found themselves pulled on to the Spirit Plane. There they encountered a spirit who resembled the descriptions of the devil Xaraya had heard around the campfire growing up – winged, fanged, clawed, with four arms and three legs. It boasted how it was a part of the devil that had survived the destruction when the Bull flung his truestone across Prax, and was growing stronger as it lured thirsty travelers to its pool and devoured them. Yet this fragment of the devil was facing two Champions of Pavis, and on the spirit plane, Xaraya was back at her full magical power, free from the confinement of the slave collar. Despite taking grievous spiritual damage, the two heroes were able to destroy the evil spirit, and free the Rock of its taint.

Recovering consciousness, Xaraya stripped the dead warrior of his bone breastplate, but turned up her nose at the stinking loincloth. She also found a solid bow and sword on the nomad’s llama. Quenching her thirst at the pool, she noticed a cave in the side of the rock. Wading through the pool to the cave, she found an assortment of bones and possessions, seemingly the remains of individuals lured to the rock and slain. Among the remains were a fine pair of Kralorelan silk pants, which proved to be a good fit, allowing Xaraya to be clothed for the first time in days. As she waded back out she also felt another spiritual presence. Going in to a trance, she found a weak and distressed water spirit, who could not remain her name, only that she had been suffering as the slave of the devil spirit for many ages. It was she that maintained the pool that drew the victims to the rock. Xaraya offered to take her away from the evil place, and the spirit agreed, manifesting itself in the hero. Her hair grew slick and wet, and a fine coat of sweat covered her body. She knew that she would feel no thirst as long as the spirit traveled with her.

As Xaraya mounted the llama, she looked back. the pool had already dried up. Bad Rock would trouble travelers no more.

One problem remained. Xaraya had no idea where she was. She had never heard of Bad Rock. Balastor only knew it as a legend out in the wastes. If that river was the Zola Fel, then Xaraya could only assume that traveling west would return her lands she might know, so she struck out that way.

After a day or so, she began to encounter more fertile ground, and soon came across a stream that flowed south west. Before long she spied another High Llama rider. Cautiously she approached him, bow in hand. The rider called out, “Who are you? Are you friend to Jaldon?” While Xaraya was unsure if the rider meant Jaldon the Black or the legendary Praxian hero, Jaldon Goldentooth, Balastor was in no mood to compromise. He controlled Xaraya to shout out, ’That bastard shall die by my hand!" The rider lowered his lance, and said, “Approach then, friend. We have meat and can share it.” While no longer thirsty, Xaraya had not eaten properly for days, and gladly accepted the offer.

The rider took her to meet his comrades, the ten survivors of the Scrintha High Llama clan, led by Harroven Red-Wool, a Storm Khan. Harroven’s people had accepted the peace between Waha and Pavis, and so were turned on and made pariah when the High Llama Council decided to join Jaldon. It was at this ;point that Xaraya realized that she was in the past, the Second Age no less. Harroven and his shaman Tenebors filled in Xaraya on the latest goings on, which enabled her to realize that she had come to a time at the height of Pavic glory.

Returning to more mundane matters, Xaraya asked her new friends about Morokanth slavers. Harroven said that a coffle was moving northwards towards Pavis, and that he had no love for these brutal raiders, who had taken some of his own as slaves in the past. On hearing that Xaraya had friends held by them in chains, he agreed to help rescue them.

The result was a foregone conclusion. The skill of the Scrintha scouts and the fury of the charge led by Harroven and Xaraya overwhelmed the Morokanth. Skye and Grom were freed and their possessions retrieved. Harroven then said that he and his tribe were seeking the protection of the walls of Pavis, and the Grazing within. The heroes were happy to accompany them, even as Harroven’s wife Nemarra noted that Skye looked just like the Queen…

One High Priest Too Many?
In which our heroes protect a putative priest

With the Lunars in turmoil and Brygga Scissortongue, Mayor of Pavis, asserting control over the city, rumor reached the triumphant heroes and their allies that Duke Raus was on his way to New Pavis to bring peace to the troubled region. Less gratifying was the news that Count Julan and the Lunar Coders were also returning to the city.

When Raus arrived in the city, he received Xaraya at the Silk and Plume (his house having been burgled recently), but Xraya was surprised to find the Coder Princess Anderida also visiting him. After she had left, Raus assured Xaraya that should he be ratified as governor he would restrain the Lunars and allow the city a great degree of the increased freedom it was enjoying. However, he noted that there would have to be limits; the alternative was a visit from the Crimson Bat.

In this atmosphere, Krogar confided in the heroes with his latest plan. At the upcoming High Holy day of Orlanth (it being Storm Season, appropriately), there would be a religious putsch of sorts against the Lunar placeman High Priest Faltikus, with one Orvost Tintalker, who was hiding in the Rubble, asserting primacy in the temple. He hoped that Skye, now a fully-fledged Loyal Daughter of Vinga, and Grom, now a Sword of Humakt, would lend their support to the attempt, and that Xaraya, with her unique abilities, would help stand guard in case the Lunars tried a counter of any sort. The heroes readily agreed.

Come the great day, things did not go entirely to plan. Tintalker did indeed appear at the high point of the ceremony, dressed in the full regalia of the city’s high priest, and finished the ceremony in Faltikus’ place, but the Lunar Coders launched an attack that almost ruined everything. Grom managed to hold off Nose Ring, but Count Julan outmatched Skye and Xaraya. Tintalker summoned a sylph to escape, and Julan disengaged to run to his wyvern to pursue him. Skye then summoned an enormous sylph which picked up our heroes and interposed itself between Julan and Tintalker. The Count realized his wyvern would be no match for the elemental, and decided discretion was the better part of valor.

Krogar told the heroes where Tintalker had gone and asked them to guard him. He realized that there must have been a mole in the camp who revealed the plan to the Coders, and that therefore Tintalker’s hideout was in jeopardy. The heroes made their way post-haste to the Rubble.

Tintalker did not feel he needed extra guards. He pointed out that he had a super-secret escape rout – a guided teleport spell that would take him to an even safer location should the need arise.

Xaraya was not so sure, and having experienced the power of the Coders realized she needed a heavy hitter in support. She flew over with Skye to their friend Windwhistler the Wyrm, and persuaded him to provide aerial reconnaissance and firepower, so that if the Coders and their wyverns arrived, they would face unexpected resistance.

It was not long before an attack presented itself. In the distance, a war band of Sable Riders could be seen charging towards the heroes’ strongpoint. Xaraya’s Sight Projection revealed it to be none other than Asparukh Longhorn’s gang, clearly out for revenge. Moreover, Xaraya’s Mystic Vision revealed the presence of a very powerful spirit manifesting in Asparukh’sshaman.

Unfortunately for the Sables, both Skye and Xaraya had gained heroic abilities with their bows during a previous heroquest. They quickly picked off Asparukh’s men, including Shorvagh, until the warrior cried out that he demanded a duel. Grom being unable to refuse such a call, the surviving Sables rode into the compound, and Asparukh and Grom faced off. Though closely matched in skill, Grom’s magic overwhelmed Asparukh, and he soon lay dead at his feet.

Then came a surprise. Windwhistler the Wyrm crashed to earth, alive, but with an arrow impaled in each wing. The Sables had been a distraction, and the Coders attacked. Xaraya found herself pinned down by accurate arrow after arrow raining down from an impossibly far distance above. Eventually, Xaraya’s sight projection located her assailant: Eslas the Tracker atop her wyvern, possessed by an Arrow Trance.

Meanwhile, Julan had landed. Once again, he was able to handle both Grom and Skye easily, brushing aside their attacks and pressing them back. Xaraya persuaded Tintalker to run for his escape route, while Skye disengaged to summon a sylph. Julan brought Grom down but before he could follow Tintalker, Skye’s sylph picked him up and far away from the fight. Eslas disengaged from her aerial bombardment and together she and Julan dispersed the sylph, but by this time they were far away. Eslas picked up Julan on her wyvern and the two flew away.

Patching up their wounds and burying their dead, the heroes realized that with the hideout discovered, a strong Lunar contingent could be on its way. They decided to seek refuge in the nearby Real City. This was to prove a pivotal decision…

Two in a Row
In which Skye gets a Song of Her Own

After a couple of weeks training and Grom ministering to the Humakti trolls of the Gunddahaak clan, the heroes were once again visited by Krogar Wolfhelm, who bore some interesting news. Several of Sor-Eel the Short‘s closest confidantes, such as Gim-Gim the Grim and the dead governor’s brother Bor-Eel had disappeared – it was believed into the Rubble. Hucipites had asserted command and was calling himself Governor of Pavis.

However, Hucipites was, shall we say, lacking standing after his humiliation by Skye in The Naming Ceremony. He was known behind his back by all, including his troops, as Hucipites the Cock or, worse, Hucipites Cock-Out. Fuming at this, he had placed a bounty of 20,000 Lunars on Skye;s head. He had also ordered Geo’s Inn (where the heroes had been staying) sacked and the entire city block containing Geo’s burned to the ground. All the heroes’ possessions had been impounded. Moreover, Hucipites himself had taken to standing in the Market Square in full panoply every day calling Skye to submit to becoming his concubine or face him in single combat.

The heroes decided to return to New Pavis to recover their belongings. Skye in particular wanted her katana back before facing Hucipites. Krogar arranged for the party to meet with Brygga Scissortongue, Mayor of New Pavis, who had some ideas for retrieving the party’s possessions as a reward for ridding them of the tyrant Sor-Eel. She introduced them to the mysterious figure called Rat, who said that he could either lead the heroes through the otherworld to regain their possessions, or he could have his agents do it, for a price. They chose to have his agents do it, as they were flush with cash. As it happened, most of Skye’s possessions had already been retrieved, having been overlooked in the sack of Geo’s. Rat returned the next day with about three quarters of the missing belongings. Most sorely missed were Grom’s sacred shield, and yet more of Xaraya’s crystals.

Back fully equipped, Skye strode out to the market square at midday to meet Hucipites’ challenge. The duel began with an exchange of magic. Hucipites blew down Skye’s magical protections (most provided by Xaraya) before sidestepping Skye’s lightning bolt. Hucipites then cast a powerful defensive spell called Steadfast while Skye started summoning a Sylph. The Lunar then called down starfire upon Skye that hurt her somewhat. With almost all her magic gone and facing what might have been an impenetrable defensive wall in close combat, Skye had only one option before her Sylph arrived. She threw all her remaining magic into her javelin and hurled it, using the legendary powers she had obtained on an earlier heroquest. Vinga smiled on her, and her javelin passed through all of Hucipites’ defensive magic to pierce his eyeball and exit through the back of his helmet, killing him instantly.

Hucipites’ hoplites looked on silently as Skye stripped the body of its gilded armor before kicking him in the unmentionables once more for good luck. The common people of Pavis swarmed her and carried her to Gimpy’s for a victory celebration. That evening, The Minstrels Three were singing a new song:

She stood up to the man as she started to fly
Threw her javelin and gave him one in the eye
Our love for her now cannot be passed by
The hero of Pavis!
The girl they call Skye!

In the space of a few weeks, the heroes had slain two Lunar governors and chased many of the most powerful Lunars out of Pavis. The word Argrath was being bandied around…

The Naming Ceremony
Thrust unwilling and in some cases unclothed into a Lunar Heroquest, our heroes learn a little more about themselves and cause a major headache for Sor-Eel

Grom, Skye and Xaraya were dragged to the Seven Mothers Temple, where Cakor Deth arranged for them to be stripped naked, hosed down, and thrown into male and female cells, all with a great deal of charm. Grom was placed in a cell with a couple of Orlanthi rebels, while Skye and Xaraya were on their own. After a short period an elegant, older priestess of the Seven Mothers came to visit them in turn. She healed Grom’s head wound and, on seeing Xaraya’s scars from the vampire’s magic, she bathed the nomad princess, singing a healing song, causing her scars to vanish. When she had left, Grom’s cellmates marveled that he had attracted the attention of the Mother of Mercy, Berene Pavalava, priestess of Teelo Norri, darling of the poor of Pavis.

The next morning, Berene reappeared with a crate of boxes manipulated by two minions. They unpacked a series of ornate ceremonial masks, covered in rune markings and obviously of great magical power. She asked each of the characters to choose the one that appealed to them the most. Grom chose a hideous black mask adorned with his runes of Darkness and Death, that resembled a bat. Skye chose a copper mask depicting a beautiful green-skinned woman wearing a golden crown, that included her Movement rune and the Life rune also. Xaraya almost chose a mask resembling a horse, but remembered her Praxian ancestry and silver and copper mask of a beautiful brown-skinned goddess with green eyes and am enigmatic smile.

Grom’s cellmate Dimas told him that they had obviously been picked to be part of the Naming Ceremony that the Lunars were preparing the previous day. He opined that the ceremony was what gave them enough magic to keep the Red Moon in the sky. Grom thought long and hard about this.

In an hour or so, the heroes were dragged, still naked, out of their cells and through the streets, to the hoots, derision, and lewd remarks of Lunar soldiers, to the Air Temple, where the masks were fashioned about their heads. They were then given their “costumes.” In the case of Grom and Skye this consisted of little more than body paint – black in Grom’s case (although he also had a black cape of sorts) and green in Skye’s (all she had to allow her modesty were some palm fronds attached to her wrists, but at least she also wore an elaborate gilded necklace, bracelets and anklets). Xaraya’s costume was a little more elaborate, consisting of a Tashite dress with the midriff exposed.

They were then pushed into the main temple, where Krogar Wolfhelm stood, looking more than a little embarrassed. He called the heroes over to him and confessed that he had known that Blacktooth was looking to capture the characters to take part in the ceremony and that he and his allies had agreed that this would be a good thing for the Free Pavis faction, but that Xaraya was well-known for her antipathy to being caged. It was also essential, answering Xaraya’s objection, that the heroes must genuinely resist capture, to confirm their status as the best available candidates to play the “rebel gods” in the ceremony.

Krogar then explained that in the ceremony, the Emperor, that figure of hidebound unearned authority in Orlanthi legend, would attempt to assert his authority over the rebel gods by giving them names of subjugated Solar gods. However, if they were able to assert their own Orlanthi identity and resist the Emperor’s names, they would strengthen their own magic at the Lunars’ expense. Grom was clearly his own god, Humakt, god of death. Skye was Ernalda the Green Woman, the bringer of love and life, while Xaraya was Ernalda the Earth Queen, the mother of kings. By asserting these names they would also gain powers. Finally, in order to assist the heroes, Grom slipped the Arm-Ring of Duke Dorasar, part of the regalia of the Air Temple, on to Skye’s arm. He said that it contained a reserve of magic that the heroes could use in the ceremony.

The Lunars then intruded back into the temple and demanded that the pagan Storm worshipers begin their profane chants. Krogar led the prayers, and the heroes found themselves transported to the Other Side, the world of the gods.

They found themselves on a broad ledge surrounding an endless pit. Strange winged creatures swooped up and down, and Grom found that the cape enabled him to fly, although he chose not to take advantage. In fact, he was now a large black bat. Skye was the epitome of lust, and Xaraya the archetype of a regal queen. There were other denizens of the pit, who chose to talk to the hero-gods largely in riddles, while the only way out of the pit was a huge door of bronze valves guarded by a massive skeletal monster bearing a huge club and a whip.

One of the swooping creatures appeared to pay a particular interest in Grom. The Blue Bat spoke in gibberish until he flew around Grom and said, “Who are you? How did you survive? You are dead – I had you killed.” Grom immediately reached out and grabbed the Blue Bat by the leg, pointing out that he was not dead, he was death. He broke the blue bat’s leg and wing and sent him spinning into the endless pit.

Grom/Humakt was about to try a similar technique on the monster by the door when the monster opened the door, and the gods of the pit were escorted out into an elegant plaza (“most tranquil” was the judgment), that led to a grand ziggurat. Gods and goddesses milled around the plaza and the ziggurat, but all eyes were drawn to the magnificent spear-wielding god atop the steps, the Emperor. Next to the god clearly stood Tala Errio, in her priestess garb, at once the mortal priestess and also the Red Goddess. Some other notable gods were a Brown God wearing a crown kneeling at the feet of the Emperor, and a horrendous, monstrous war god all in red, clearly identifiable as Shargash the Destroyer, the Red Planet, Orlanth’s enemy.

At this point, the heroes found themselves overwhelmed by emotions. Grom felt an unconquerable urge to kill the Emperor. Skye felt overpowering lust and the need to inspire lust in others, with the goal of gaining a powerful mate. Xaraya felt the urge to gain a King as a lover and to mate with him. These urges were to change the face of history.

The Emperor began the ceremony, naming the four directions, but Skye started to dance. She danced her way to the foot of the ziggurat, working magic as she did so. She aimed her charms, which were considerable in the mortal world, but irresistible in the god world, at Shargash. Meanwhile Xaraya and Grom worked their ways round the side. Grom was looking for a way to charge up the ziggurat while Xaraya was looking to work her own charms on the Brown God.

Shargash and the Emperor’s other guardian gods were immediately distracted by Skye’s dance. Shargash dropped his club and spear and launched himself at Skye, who returned his “affections” with a passionate kiss. Tala Errio appeared to regard these developments with equanimity. Indeed, she advised the hero-gods to reject the Emperor’s attempts to name them.

The Emperor appeared perturbed, he thrust the god who had appeared before him to be named aside and called to Skye, “You! I name you The Goddess of Lust! Of Nakedness and Lewdness!” Skye rejected the attempt to name her and pushed Shargash to the ground, covering him. At this point Grom picked up the spear and advanced up the ziggurat. He used his powers of darkness and the distraction caused by Skye’s activities to sprint up the steps past the other guards. The Emperor turned to Grom, saying “You! I name you Mahaquata the Bat, Goddess of Death!” Grom responded, “I am indeed Death, I am your Death, and I am Humakt!” He thrust his spear through the Emperor’s mask with all his strength.

The heroquest immediately ended. The participants found themselves on the steps of the Pavis Temple. Grom stood, naked save for his cape, over the lifeless body of Sor-Eel the Short, governor of Pavis. He could feel Sor-Eel’s magic flood into his body. Skye held the full attention of none other than Hucipites, commander of the military forces of Pavis, and when he ripped his mask off, it was hard to tell which emotion affected him the most: shock, shame or disgust. Lying crippled on the ground, the Blue Bat was revealed to be Gim-Gim the Grim. The spear-wielding gods rushed to take on Grom, but Tala Errio stopped them. She announced that the Emperor had failed in his attempts and that the Red Goddess accepted this. She directed the Monster god, now revealed as the troll magician Javis Gan, to take the heroes away. He called the heroes to them and they obeyed, preferring this to the attentions of annoyed, spear wielding Lunars.

Javis Gan bound the heroes roughly with rope and hauled them away through the Temple gate into the Rubble. After a short while, he unbound them. He looked at them and said that he was supposed to take them to the Salt Mines and throw them in there, but he recognized them as Troll Friends, and had been told to watch out for them by Gretaslagg. Instead, he took them to the stonglands of Queen Gretaslagg, where after a while they were joined by Krogar and a band of Orlanthi including Jarang Bladesong. The priest removed their masks, ending the heroquest for them. He also brought human clothes for them, and Skye was able to take the first of several baths to scrub the memory of her ordeal away.

Ambushed in Pavis
In which our heroes are tricked by their friends and end up cornered

The party returned to Pavis, enduring the usual rigmarole with the Lunar bureaucrats at the gates. Allicus Garanthae went off to keep an eye on the politics of Suntown as instructed, and bade his farewells. The remaining party members started to make their way to Gimpy’s, when they were accosted by an ancient croneCrone who pointed at them, shrieking “You! You! You are the ones I have dreamt of! You are the movers and shakers! You!” (she pointed at Grom) “You are the deathbringer! You are the tactician! You are the general! You!” (she pointed at Skye) “You are the dragonfriend! You are the left hand! You are the purple-blooded one! You!” (she pointed at Xaraya) “You are the mystery! You are the sorcerer! You are the Arkat!”

At this point, Skye pointed out that violence was always an option and dragged the annoying crone down and alley and hit her in the head. She did so with sufficient force to kill her outright. Luckily, no-one witnessed the deed, and they ducked into the adjacent property, which happened to be Bob’s Bisonburgers. There they made the acquaintance of Mr Bobbs, the proprietor, the cook, a Storm Bull named Grungebob Deathpants, and the bizarre cashier, a sentient non-chaotic Walktapus named Walkward. Some quick negotiation later and Mr Bobbs agreed to dispose of the crone’s body. With the constant fighting going on between the customers, they managed to do this all without undue attention. As it happened, one of the Storm Bulls present recognized Xaraya as being from The Ibex People and pointed out that he and some others of his persuasion were planning an expedition to the Tunneled Hills soon, where there existed some Storm Khans of the Lesser Ibex. Xaraya took this under advisement.

The characters then made for their temples and, in Xaraya’s case, the Lhankor Mhy temple, to get more than a few magical items properly identified. Grom donated the takings from Nightfang’s pits to his temple, while Skye took the opportunity to have a proper bath at hers. Later on the party gathered at Geo’s.

While at Geo’s, the party were approached by Krogar Wolfhelm who asked them to help out. While at Garhound, the party had been alerted to the seduction of a young Pavisite woman named Dellica by Argorim Blacktooth, chief lieutenant of the spymaster of Pavis. They had been approached by Dellica’s boyfriend, whom Skye sent off with a flea in his ear, but Krogar was insistent that they do something about it, because Dellica’s father was from an influential Orlanthi family, and it was important that she be turned back to the storm. Reluctantly, the heroes agreed to confront Dellica the next day. As it happened, still being Sacred Time, the Lunars were embarking on an important ceremony the next day, the Naming Ceremony, by which they would ritually subjugate the gods of free Pavis and take their magic. There would therefore be a large crowd, and this might be the best chance to separate Dellica from Argorim.

Sure enough, as the crowd gathered in Temple Court, the party spotted Dellica and Argorim together, but Argorim was called away by a Lunar officer, and the party moved between the two. Dellica, they realized, was moving away from the court towards Rich Hill, and they started following her. They shadowed her to an alley, where they decided to confront her. They saw her talking to two figures at the other end of the alley. Imagine their surprise when the characters realized the two figures were their old foes Munkaar and Dzhingi. Xaraya cursed when she realized she had not prepared the party by casting her sorcerous protections on them that day. Things went from bad to worse when Dzhingi strode forth, made her way past Grom’s parry, and stuck him on the head with the pommel of her scA band of hoplites then appeared at each end of the alley, and leading the northern band was Argorim Blacktooth. Xaraya cast her Fly spell, but was thwarted by the alley being covered by thick canvas awnings. Unarmored, the party stood no chance, and agreed to surrender.

The party was taken into custody and Grom was revived. They were stripped of their weapons and drawn before a haughty Lunar priestess, whom they later learned was none other than Tala Errio, the High Priestess of the Red Goddess, whom they Lunars planned to wed to Lord Pavis, thereby drawing him in to their pantheon. She looked the heroes up and down, nodded, and ordered them taken to the Seven Mothers Temple. While being dragged there, they wondered why their friends had set them up.

The Garhound Contests - part 2
In which Grom drinks bloodbeer, Xaraya solves a mystery from her bed, and a winner is announced

The adventure in the Hellpits had taken most of the night, and so Grom entered the drinking contest known as the “Intelligence Test” in a state of fatigue. He was ready to forfeit when Okalla told him that she had agreed with the other priestesses that Grom could drink Bloodbeer instead. This brew, sacred to the darker cults of the earth, was not alcoholic, but produced similar effects when drunk in similar quantities. Essentially, the more one drank of it, the more one’s animal urges took over. So someone who got drunk on bloodbeer would need to either start a fight, mate, or both. Any of these circumstances would involve Grom losing the contest of course, as he would be unlikely to continue on to the next drink.

The contestants lined up shortly after midday, with Grom barely able to keep his eyes open. Brixx turned up already well-sauced, but looked as if he could handle another barrel. He even brought a mug full of ale to the table, which he quaffed before the contest began.

Promidius fell out of the contest early, taking advantage of the bucket placed beside each competitor. Calmstorm followed soon after, and Skye noted that Sor-Eel the Short looked extremely displeased with the performance of his man to date, although Griselda found the whole thing hilarious. Eventually, there were just three contestants remaining – Grom, fighting back the urges, Brixx, and and Allicus who by this stage was distinctly fuzzy around the edges. Skye noted that Okalla had also been consuming bloodbeer, roughly in line with Grom’s intake.

Eventually, the passions became too much for Grom, who tossed his table aside, stood up and yelled “I need a woman or a weapon!” Okalla came out of the crowd and said, “You’ll have both in me!” and hurled herself upon Grom, knocking him to the ground and straddling him. They prceeded to rut like animals, in full view of the crowd. Promidius threw up again.

Allicus finally fell over, unable to keep up with Brixx. The Uroxi had now won one contest, Allicus one, and Grom two, although others surmised he might have just won a whole different contest.

That evening, revelry was in full swing, and Xaraya made full use of her Project Sight and Mystic Vision spells to scout around the area of the contests. She had made note of the sadly-departed Redcrow’s insight that there was an evil spirit around and discovered that Darst Jaro was accompanied by a Bane Spirit. She was able to catch him in the act of taking a young woman out to the plains to attack and devour. With a word to the priestesses, the authorities had him in custody.

The next day he was paid a visit by Skye and Okalla, whose combined drive to protect women led to what might be described as torture. They extracted a full confession, in which they discovered not only that he was an evil, chaotic ogre, but that there were many other ogres in the Zola Fel valley, and that they were all being summoned by The Great One. He could give no further details before he fell accidentally dead.

The combined Priestesses were relieved that the contest had been rid of a chaotic influence, which had clearly led to the unprecedented diversion of two of the leading candidates to hunt vampires. A quick ritual purification of the candidates, administered personally by Okalla in Grom’s case, and the contest was ready to go again. Xaraya, now able to walk again on her regrown leg, was commended publicly by Sir Davis for her discovery of the villain.

The final test was Ladies’ Choice, in which the contestants lined up to impress the ladies of Garhound, but most especially the Priestesses and Melisande herself.

First up was Cary the local lad, who clearly had Melisande’s eye. In front of Sor-Eel the Short, he had the temerity to sing Cold Winds Over Sartar, a rebel song. This shocked and delighted the audience, and overshadowed the rather pathetic efforts by the three Yelmalions who came next, even Allicus’ epic poem. Then came Myrrhyn Calmstorm, but before he could speak Agrestis, Sor-Eel’s jester, interrupted proceedings, running on dressed in Lunar theatrical woman’s costume (old maid variant) to kiss the young man. After that Calmstorm told a magnificent tale about a young handyman at a Malkioni convent, that caused blushes, giggles and laughter in equal measure among the womenfolk. As it happened, Xaraya was sitting next to the priestesses when this occurred, and she had a Mystic Vision spell active that revealed that the Jester had enhanced Calmstorm with Trickster magic. As a result, while Melisande gave the turncloak top marks, the priestesses marked him down.

Next up was Brixx, who proceeded to tell several jokes about the Issaries merchant and the farmer’s daughter. When that feel flat he told the priestesses he had a joke so funny it’d make their breasts fall off, but that he saw that some of the older women had already heard it. At this point, Okalla carried him off the stage.

Finally came Grom, who poured all his heart into the stirring tale of Five Eyes Temple. Evil spirits! Mortal danger! Dragons! The tale had it all. So much so, that when the scores were added up, Grom carried the day on Ladies’ Choice.

The contest had a clear winner: Grom Ashbringer, Acolyte of Humakt.

Melisande was clearly a mite dismayed by the prospect, and the Priestesses debated what the victory of a servant of the death god meant for the town. But they ordered the tent set up where Grom and Melisande were to consummate their union.

Grom was lifted aloft by most of the other contestants (Calmstorm was nowhere to be seen, and rumor has it his body was found in a ditch a few days later, and Cary was also – perhaps understandably – absent) and borne to the tent. He was thrust inside with much good humor, and was astonished to see Melisande arm in arm with Carylon, while Okalla stood before him, clad only in a white shift. He had not appreciated quite how feminine she could be until this moment. Okalla told him, “Tradition says that an Earth Priestess may substitute for the Harvest Queen,” and led him to the sacred bed. Cary and Melisande disappeared, to be wed in secret and consummate their own sacred union. As far as the people of Garhound were concerned, Grom had done his duty, and the harvest was assured. Meanwhile, the two acolytes of death together celebrated life with no small degree of passion.

The next day, Okalla told Grom that she must venture to the Paps, where she was needed to guard the most sacred shrines of the Earth Goddesses of the region. She had also grown extremely affectionate towards Grom’s Alynx, and offered to take him to the Paps where he might perhaps awaken into the Cult of Yinkin. With no small degree of regret, Grom said goodbye to the Axe Sister and to his shadowcat.

The party ventured on to Pavis, with only a small degree of ribbing towards Grom from Allicus and his more beautiful traveling companions.

The Hellpits of Nightfang
In which our heroes descend into the the depths, fight monsters, and we almost lose one of our band

The trek to the sinkholes, known locally as the Hellpits, took just over two hours by horse, bison, and ibex. The pits were three circular sinkholes, of such great age that trees were growing out of their sides. Looking down into them, water could clearly be seen at the bottom of each of them, with the largest having a significant pool big enough to encompass a small island, on which appeared to be a sign of artificial construction of some sort. After scouting around, the party found a fissure, evidently a dried-up creek, that provided a pathway down.

The party made its way carefully down, with Grom in the lead, Allicus behind him with longspear readied to help strike anything Grom encountered. Okalla followed, axe in hand, while Xaraya was using her magic to look ahead. Then came Redcrow, with Skye backing up, ready for anything that should attempt to jump them from behind.

The first and smallest sinkhole was some 40 meters deep and about 15 meters in diameter. It had a bowl-shaped depression filled with stagnant water. Xaraya had seen some evidence of snakes in the water, and her magic also told them they bore the taint of chaos. The party, forewarned, was able to dispatch the snakes with ease.

The party followed another fissure into the largest sinkhole, some 50 meters down, the one that contained the pool, island, and trees. Xaraya’s magic had warned the party that there were large creatures living in the pool, and so they all cast their charms and spells before moving in. Three huge Dragon Snails emerged from the water, one with two heads. Allicus moved to confront the smallest, while Okalla, her magic glowing as she entered her Axe Trance, charged the second. Grom prepared to face the two-headed beast. Okalla proved to be remarkably powerful, decapitating her opponent in one blow before moving to help Grom dispatch the second (and whenever they fought side-by-side there was a clear spark of electricity between them). Allicus was able to do away with the beats facing him with the help of missile fire from Skye, Redcrow (who proved remarkably accurate despite his blindness), and Xaraya. Three mighty Dragon Snails fell in the span of less than a minute.

The party took a look at the island, which appeared to have a statue on it. There also appeared to be signs of human construction in a cave on the other side of the pool. Making a note to check this out later, the party decided to check out first what appeared to be a large cave to the west.

This cave was a large hall covered in stalagmites and stalactites. A small pool glistened at the north end of the room in front of a rock formation. As the party moved into the room, a ghost pounced on them. Luckily for the party, it chose Redcrow as its victim, and after a struggle he was able to dissipate the evil spirit, but not before it had summoned a host of skeletons from a passage to the south. Grom, Allicus and Okalla were able to dispatch them with ease, but the party realized that the noise they made in doing so was bound to have alerted whatever creatures existed in the rest of the caves.

Ignoring the pool for the moment, the party entered a passage to the northeast, which emerged in an oval-shaped cave that looked like a ghastly parody of a lord’s trophy room. Skins and rugs were strewn about, and arms, armor and other trophies adorned the walls. More importantly, a pack of wolves snarled as the party entered, and in their midst was a homely female vampire clad in a simple peasant dress, but Xaraya’s magic told her she was imbued with supernatural power.

This fight was much harder than the previous ones, but thanks to the magical protections Xaraya had cast on the party the wolves were unable to do much damage to them even when they successfully bit or jumped. Eventually, Grom was able to make his way through to face the vampire, and he avoided her bite to land a crippling blow that sent her to the ground. Despite his status as an Acolyte of Humakt, Grom was unable to remember what to do to finally end a vampire’s rotten existence, and so they left the unresponsive vampire girl on the ground as they examined the rest of the room, finding some magical items and a pile of treasure guarded by a nest of snakes, which once again they dealt with easily.

As Xaraya stepped forward to examine something in the north end of the room, which Grom had initially offered to check, she was surprised by an elderly figure clad in ancient bronze plate armor that moved out of the shadows of a fissure to the west. It cast a mighty spell, and Xaraya realized she was lucky not to have been killed outright. Instead, spectral blades slashed her all over, one of them severing her left leg, and she fell to the ground, dying.

Skye took one look at the creature and what it had done to her friend and hurled her javelin with all her might and magic. It pierced the vampire’s armor and impaled itself in his chest. The vampire cursed her and said that one Humakti priest was enough for the night before dissolving into smoke. The armor fell to the ground with a clang.

Okalla ran over to Xaraya and cast her mightiest healing magic, drawing on all the life giving power of the earth around them. This saved Xaraya’s life and returned her to consciousness, but the princess was left heavily scarred and without a leg. Grom remembered that vampires required resting places and searched the caves around for them, finding two stone burial biers in an adjoining cave, which he smashed and performed Humakti rites over. In the time that he and the rest of the party were searching for them, a helpless Xaraya saw the vampire girl turn to smoke and drift away up a crack in the ceiling.

Realizing that Xaraya’s needs overwhelmed all other considerations, the party forewent any further exploration and carried the helpless girl back to Garhound. They took her to the healers, who told her that regrowing a limb was beyond them – it needed Earth or Fertility magic. As it happened, Grom remembered the favor he was owed by the cult of Ernalda for returning the holy bowl he had found in the Blind King’s Palace, and petitioned the Garhound priestess Cara Goodhound for aid. She agreed, thanks to the tale Grom told her about all the aid they had given to the sisters of Horn Gate, and cast the magic to begin the process of regrowing Xaraya’s leg. For the next few days, Xaraya was laid up in bed healing, but she was still able to play a part in the ongoing adventures.

As morning broke, two pieces of terrible news reached the town. The first was that another girl had been discovered, a local this time, murdered in similar fashion. The second was that a lone survivor of the Humakti party staggered into town. They had been ambushed almost as soon as they entered the woods, he claimed, the victims of a trap set by a homely girl who claimed to have hurt her leg but turned out to be a vampire, and a powerful, ancient-looking vampire magician who slaughtered Willem and the survivor’s companions, drinking their blood and stealing their magic. The source of that terrible spell became apparent. The vampire had used Humakti death magic against them!

The Garhound Contests - part 1
In which the heroes meet some new friends, Grom vies for the hand of a local beauty, and Xaraya uncovers a mystery

Before leaving Ronegarth for the last time for the foreseeable future, the party was joined by a blind Bison shaman named Redcrow, who offered to join them to help ward off evil spirits. Given their repeated vulnerability to spirits, the party gladly agreed.

When the party left Ronegarth heading for Garhound, they stopped off at the Sun Dome Temple to pass on a message from Duke Raus of Rone to Count Solanthos Ironpike. There they met Allicus Garanthae, an experienced Sun Dome Templar and trusted friend of the Count. After some conversations with the Count, it was agreed that Allicus should go with the party to Pavis to establish closer surveillance over the activities of the grandees of Suntown, who the Count suspected of getting too close to Sor-Eel the Short and the Lunar occupiers. He would also enter the Garhound contest, doubling the chances of a Sun County victor (the other entrant being young and brash).

That night, the guards announced a golden figure was approaching on a horse, followed by a heavily laden cart. The figure was clearly a Sun Lord of great power, and was received by the Count, who had given orders for a great feast to be laid on in his honor. The Lord’s servants announced him as Karstomye Khetu of Harmonious Intent, a great Dara Happan general who had been appointed the new Governor of Red Cliff domain, just to the South (and therefore new feudal overlord of Rabbit Hat Farm.) The general only spoke to announce his contempt for the barbarous cult of Yelmalio, a heresy in his eyes. The Count noted that he had slain more than a few Dara Happan Rune Lords, but noted that the General was his guest. The rest of the evening passed in awkward silence.

Everyone who was moving on took the opportunity to do so very early the next morning. They reached Garhound mid-afternoon, to find the town in celebratory mood, although Xaraya was unhappy to see and Redcrow unhappy to smell a contingent of Sable Riders barracked in the town. Most interestingly, the leader of the Sables was wearing a splendid helmet adorned with two vast Ibex horns, which Xaraya recognized as the helmet her father had worn.

The party went to Geo’s Inn, given Grom’s membership, where they encountered two Pol Joni nomads, a smelly Uroxi named Stikklebrixx and a young hunter named Reed. After some awkward glances, Reed and Xaraya recognized each other as survivors of the Lesser Ibex – each had thought themselves the only survivor. There was much celebration, and in the process the party chased a couple of Sables out of the bar.

Over the course of the afternoon, several delegations turned up. Duke Raus and Lady Jezra had come up to confer with Sor-Eel, who turned up with the usual coterie of soldiers, a trickster, and, quite bizarrely, Griselda, who winked at Skye when she saw her.

That evening, Sir Davis Garhound announced the opening of the annual Garhound Contest and paraded the prize – a beautiful young woman named Melisande, the Harvest Queen. The winner would take Melisande as a year-wife, or a ritual equivalent. Sir Davis called for entrants to the contest and first to step forward was a local lad, Carylon Squally, quite clearly Melisande’s beau. Next up was the brash young Sun Domer, Promidius, followed by another Sun Domer who had come up separately from the main Sun County contingent, called Vathmar Allweather, whom Allicus did not know. Allicus completed the Sun Dome entrants. Next up was Sor-Eel’s candidate, not a Lunar but an Orlanthi named Myrrhyn Calmstorm. All respectable Orlanthi gave him a wide berth. Grom then stepped forward to defend the honor of the Storm Tribe in the name of Humakt, whom in some legends had been a husband-protector of Ernalda during the Great Dark. Reed pushed Stikklebrixx forward, as the Uroxi had gotten quite drunk enough to forget why he was here. Finally, just as Sir Davis was closing out the call for competitors, a mysterious stranger dressed all in black showed up. His name was Jarst Daro, and despite being human he worshiped the Troll god Argan Argar. Like Humakt, there were a few legends in which this god had been a husband-protector of Ernalda, and so the priestesses administering the contest allowed him admission. One of the priestesses, Okalla Wayblue, an Axe Sister of Babeester Gor, the protector goddess, was particularly wary of this stranger, but Grom also caught her looking at him admiringly. He found the priestess quite attractive, despite her short hair, death rune facial tattoos and shapeless chain armor.

On Godday, the first event, the Horse Race took place. Promidius found himself a fine horse, but so did Allicus. Grom found himself saddled with a raging beast of a horse that he was sure was an Uroxi ally. The race began with Promidius and Allicus storming out to an early lead. They were never to be caught, as the race behind them developed into a comedy of errors. Grom was thrown off his horse at the gate and at the first water barrier. All others involved in the race fell off at some point, apart from Stikklebrixx, who kept his nerve to come in third. Allicus managed to outsprint Promidius at the death, making it a one-two for the Sun Dome and leading to curses all round from the Orlanthi.

While watching the race, Skye was approached by an old friend from her youth in Pavis, a boy she knew as Forthright Jon, who was now a guard in the Orlanthi delegation from the city. He explained to her that he was worried that his girlfriend, Dellica, had taken up with a bad sort, and was wondering if she could help him. Skye launched a blistering tirade against Jon’s manhood, telling him to “grow a pair” and get control of his life. Jon left more than a little shellshocked.

Meanwhile, Xaraya and Redcrow had been doing some investigating. Redcrow went spirit walking around the nomad totems and found out from some friendly spirits that there was an evil spirit in the area. Xaraya was looking into the Sables, and discovered that their leader was a mighty warrior called Asparukh Longhorn, that he had a formidable shaman ally, and that he was a nephew of a legendary Sable raider called Dias Firesword. Most importantly, Asparukh was indeed a veteran of the Battle of Scritha River, where the Lesser Ibex had been destroyed.

Xaraya looked around for Reed to tell him this, but could find only Stikklebrixx. He told Xaraya that the young hunter was nowhere to be found when he woke up this morning, but that he had left a note for them both, which read:

“For Xaraya, Khatun of the Lesser Ibex:
“My joy at finding another member of my tribe in unconfined, yet so soon after finding you, I must leave you. Last night I spoke to the Ancestors, and they told me that I should travel to the Tunneled Hills, to find the chaos-fighters we sent there, to persuade them to return. This will be a difficult journey, and the Ancestors told me I should travel alone, so as not to risk your life. I hope to see you again, and to avenge the destruction of our people, for the glory of the Ancestors.
“For Brixx:
“You win our bet. Now win the contest! When I next see you, I’ll bring back a whole gang of Storm Bulls that you can wrestle with.

Dismayed, Xaraya joined the evening celebrations. During them, a shifty figure was seen going round the competitors, but received short shrift, it seemed. He steered clear of Grom, Allicus, and the other Sun Domers, but when he approached Brixx he received a swift punch in the vitals for his trouble. Affronted, Brixx told the heroes that he had been asked to take a dive, whatever that meant. Vathmar excused himself early after refusing to eat the main course of roasted Cradle Fowl. It was noticed that he headed outside the town walls.

The next morning, an alarm was raised as a distraught guard found the mutilated body of a girl, one of the train of carnival workers who had come to town. The body showed evidence of bite marks, which the Constable took as evidence of a wild animal attack, but the Chalanna Arroy priestess said that the bite was consistent with human teeth, albeit sharp human teeth. Xaraya offered her services and helped examine the circumstances in which the body was found. On discussing with Grom, they came to a simple conclusion: Vampire! Krogar Wolfhelm, who was present with the Pavis contingent sent word on the wind to the Pavis temple of Humakt and received back the news that the Sword called Willem and a troop of undead hunters had set out right away, and would be in Garhound the next day. The word of a vampire attack spread through the town like Oakfed.

Despite the grim circumstances, the Joust went ahead. On this occasion, Grom’s riding skills did not desert him, and despite Promidius having what appeared to be a trained warhorse that fought with him, vanquished all comers to win the contest. Allicus came third behind Promidius.

The celebrations that evening grew more raucous than the previous night’s. Okalla offered Grom a drink of ale. He refused, on the grounds of his geas never to drink alcohol. Okalla was dismayed, as she told Grom that the Intelligence Test on Clayday was not a test of intellect, but a test of drinking ability. Grom realized he might have to forfeit, or even withdraw from the contest, but Okalla said that she might be able to arrange something.

As the evening wore on, a brawl broke out between some Lunar peltasts and a group of local lads. The brawl spilled out into the streets, and our heroes were quickly distracted by a cry of “Help, they’re attacking the horses” in Firespeech (which Allicus translated). The heroes ran to the aid of Vathmar, who was trying to protect the horse corral from a gang of Sables, who had succeeded in hamstringing one horse – the one Promidius had ridden. The Sables ran off when they saw the heroes approaching, and so they gave chase, accompanied by an angry Vathmar.

The Sables had taken refuge in their camp on the far side of town, and Xaraya used her magic to spy inside. They saw the culprits talking to Asparukh and his shaman, who had clearly gone into a trance. Xaraya conveyed this news and Grom, Allicus and Vathmar readied themselves (they had managed to grab a weapon each, but were of course unarmored), while Xaraya and Skye readied their bows and Redcrow entered a trance himself.

The Sables charged out of their camp, with magics already cast, and made a fiercesome foe. These were obviously experienced bandits, with skills to match the party’s. Redcrow engaged the shaman’s spirit in battle, and without him the party would surely have suffered grievously. As it happened, while two of the sables went down badly injured, and Xaraya had sent tendrils of darkness to wrack some of the Sables’ sould, Asparukh managed to penetrate Grom’s Shield spell and brought him down with a serious wound to the abdomen. Things were looking grim when the Constable showed up and put an end to the fight. Skye, not for the first time, used her magics to heal Grom’s wound.

On hearing the evidence, the Constable decided that the Sables had initiated the conflict and offered them a choice between arrest, or leaving the town immediately. They chose the latter, gathered their riding beasts, and left, giving warning that they would be back. Vathmar and the party were bound over to keep the peace, to which they readily agreed. Xaraya did suggest that the Sables had something that belonged to her family, and she was allowed to search their camp for it. She found the Great Helmet of the Lesser Ibex, and was all the more interested when Redcrow informed her that a spirit resided within, but he could not talk to it.

Despite their impromptu alliance, Xaraya still had suspicions that Vathmar, who was sleeping outside the town, might be the vampire. During the day, one of the young ladies of the town, who had been very eager to be seen in the company of the beautiful adventurers in the hopes that they might thereby attract the attention of some of the more handsome visitors, had got into conversation with Xaraya. Young Meggie Fipple was obviously Melisande’s chief rival in her age cohort, and had expressed some disbelief that the Harvest Queen would make an appropriate bride. Xaraya had persuaded Meggie (with the aid of enough silver to buy a better dress than Melisande’s) to go late at night to find Vathmar and see what his reaction would be. Xaraya would use her magics to keep an eye on her and protect her.

After midnight, Meggie slipped out of town followed by Xaraya’s projected sight. When she came within sight of the sleeping Vathmar, Xaraya cast a protective spell on her, but it proved to be useless, not because Vathmar was a secret vampire, but because he rebuffed the young girl’s advances. At least Xaraya was able to cross a suspect off the list, and Meggie got a significant bonus for her bravery, and a tale to tell.

By dawn break the next day, Willem and his undead hunters had arrived. They had already begun to fan out to question locals about vampiric activity, and said that he had two leads: one to a vampire in the woods to the east, another to a vampire said to dwell in sinkholes by a cliff beside the river to the southwest, about two hours away. He asked if Grom might be willing to lead a party to investigate one of these sources, if he could corroborate the rumors. Grom readily agreed, as long as could do his holy duty by completing the day’s challenge first, to which Willem agreed, although he told Grom to hurry up and get it over with.

Grom complied handily. The day’s challenge was the wrestling event, known to the locals as the Regal Rumble. As it happened, Grom was drawn first, and he made short work of all other entrants, throwing them out of the ring with some style. The only contestants to given him some trouble were Allicus, a rhino-fat smeared Stikklebrixx and a naked Jarst Daro, but all of them fell victim to Grom’s unique combination of brawn and technique. After the event, he was crowned King of the Ring, and acquired a legion of new fans, who were impressed that he had won the entire thing in 3 minutes and 16 seconds (hence “Grom 3:16”).

Grom hastened to get together the party to go vampire hunting, and awkwardly asked Okalla if she would accompany them. He need not have asked, as Okalla was going to demand that she be allowed to accompany any expedition to find the slayer of young women. After consulting further with Willem, it was decided that Willem and his mean would go the woods to the east immediately, while Grom, Skye, Xaraya, Allicus, Redcrow, and Okalla would explore the sinkholes to the southwest…