Which Rats? Part 1

01 Augustus, 508 PE (Year of Storms)
12:01 pm, Waterday

The group spent around a week and a half resting and recuperating at Tennyson’s Tower. After the initial few days, thoughts turned to how to convert the loot into cash. For a lot of the mundane items it was easy, the Tower was a fortified outpost and was always in need of supplies. Blend’s expertise in appraisal and various contacts facilitated the sale of the gems and art objects, bringing in an extra 2% profit. Daelin and Jharron showed the Sentara regalia to the local Old Faith priest, who sent a messenger by horse to the capital of Aerie City. An agreement was reached to pay the group 30,000 gp for the set, 15,000 gp up front and an IOU for the remainder. Several days later, a representative of Matron Mother Talorean arrived under armed escort with the coins.

The green crystal dagger had been turned in to the safekeeping of the custodians of Rashemon’s Library. Aeron sternly warned Jharron that holding onto the spear could be a very bad idea. Aeron also discussed the provenance and disposition of the amber sphere that Daelin was currently carrying. Aeron had successfully sold both the Bracer of Spirit Protection and the Sentaric Astrolabe to Rashemon’s Library. Aeron gave a last warning in passing to Jharron on the danger of using blood magic. Aeron’s conscience was then clear.

Aeron presented himself to debrief The Wizard Rashemon. As a senior apprentice it was his right to bring things of interest directly to the wizard (after notifying one of the custodians of course). Wizard Rashemon was famous for his open door policy for senior apprentices and higher, and tales were told how he would even stop in the hallway to discuss trivial matters with the most junior of apprentices.

Today, Quite a while, actually, Aeron thought, The Wizard Rashemon was not in, so Aeron went looking for one of the three custodians. Sage Tantalzeer was usually the easiest to find, but this time Aeron ran into the sternly demeanored Orthancian first (Rumors say Orthancian was Rashemon’s prophet-assassin). Orthancian summoned Aeron to his chamber, where Aeron was confronted by all three custodians. He managed to fully debrief them on the details of the blood magic black-market activities to include destruction of meteor source of bloodstone and ogre raiding party, and gave his opinion on the analysis needed of the bloodstone dagger and spear.

Somewhat grudgingly, Orthancian provided Aeron with information concerning ogres and blood magic. Some of which Aeron already knew. Orthancian related that blood magic itself was not evil, but power can be corrupting. He also stated that the meteor from the Sentara Temple was NOT a standard example of bloodstone, but that it had been inhabited by some type of vile outer realm spirit. The destruction of the meteor was a major setback to the spirit’s corrupting influence. Sage Tantalzeer stated that they would continue their research, and that the Wizard Rashemon instructed them to thank him personally. Lady Distraught said nothing.

Sage Tantalzeer, Lady Distraught, and Orthancian nodded wisely as they secured the two items of ill magic into leather bound and iron strapped cases.
Sage Tantalzeer spoke “The Wizard Rashemon has expressed an interest in the safety of these items himself, and ordered them secured if you released them to us. Rest assured they will be studied thoroughly.”

The courier that brought the party their down payment for the Sentara Regalia also had a letter addressed to Daelin Amandil;

Scholar Daelin
First, our personal thanks in recovering information about the fall of the Sentara Temple and the recovery of its regalia. “All knowledge gained is less that is lost”. Matron Mother Toreador of the Old Faith and I both assure you that the regalia will be treated with the utmost respect. She’s cleaning out a place of distinction for it as we speak.

Secondly, concerning blood magic. We have known for quite some time that the ogres were interested in the magical lore of their forebears, but did not know how far they had come. It appears that several blood magic relics from that ancient time may be loose within the kingdoms. What interest, and who has this interest, and for what purpose is still a mystery. Concerning witches, I am afraid that the Mother and I are as one in agreement and foreboding, for all indications are that there is a splinter cult of witches that have already embraced blood magic.

Use your insight and mediation to forge a course in this matter. If your travels bring you to Aerie City, feel free to stop by for a game of Padishah or Drax. -Preceptor Raylios

Shortly thereafter, a junior apprentice delivered a hastily scrolled note:

Greetings Daelin,
I will be ready to travel in forty-five and a half days. If you would like assistance fighting the witches. Once everything is sold that you want sold, you can provide this apprentice with my share of the gold and anything the party would like to store in my tower quarters. I release any claim on the arcane orb of protection. It is best in your control. Regards, -Aeron Shandra, Senior Apprentice.

10 Augustus, 508 PE (Year of Storms)
5:00 pm, Fireday
A little over a week passed while the party took care of business in and around Tennyson’s Tower. As was their wont on Fireday, they had gathered together in the Stumbling Giant for an afternoon dinner. Shylent it seemed was quite capable of putting away large quantities of beer and mead and showing no visible signs of being affected. She was currently working on a slab of meat and potatoes, listening somewhat to the conversations around her. She had mentioned earlier that with her share/bonus (if any) she wouldn’t have to work as a scout for the tower if she didn’t want to. Sadly, tonight was the night that a new minstrel was performing, and he was bad. From the reactions of the crowd everyone assumed he would not be back next week, unless he dramatically improved.

Nitram leaned towards Shylent, ”If you don’t want to work for Falconaire anymore, your skills would be very welcome in the Bordyr Guard. You would most likely have more of an impact in Rivendeep that here at the tower.”

He seemed to be lost in his own thoughts and spoke in nearly a whisper, ”I hope to one day return there.” Just as suddenly as he seemed to drift away he was back again, ”Just think on it.”

“I received a letter from Aaeron,” Daelin said as he laid it on the table for the others to read if they wished. In hushed tones slightly above a whisper, he continued. ”I am quite interested in learning as much as possible about this blood magic. It is in use in the area, and although I don’t believe it to be vile in nature, I fear that its use is mostly so. It may be responsible for the growing threat of witchcraft in the area, which is what led me here in the first place.” Daelin stopped there to gauge the reaction of his companions.

“I will be leaving for Aerie tomorrow.” Blend interjected. ”I do not know how long I will be gone or even if I will be back. Therefore, I will be taking 3,800 gold from our current on hand funds, plus 3,000 gold from the IOU sale of the regalia. I assume there are no objections?” Blend didn’t expect any, but one can never tell. By his calculations, that was his share owed, split evenly five ways. If anything, his ability to appraise, haggle and move goods directly led to increased profits for the entire group. He waited a moment for anyone to speak up, before excusing himself for the evening. He had a long trip ahead of him.

Given the way the discussion resulted, Jharron turned to go. With a smile on his face Jharron said, “I hope that whatever we were going to provide for him doesn’t come back to haunt us. He has worked hard toward supporting the group up to this point but we all seem to be headed our separate ways. Maybe it won’t impact you.” Jharron then headed out the door.

12 Augustus, 508 PE (Year of Storms)
5:00 pm, Sunday
Several days had passed; Blend had departed for Aerie with the morning light on Starday, and had no doubt reached it by this afternoon. Shylent seemed predisposed to Nitram’s idea of her working for the Bordyr Guard and requested that she be able to stay with the group at least until Nitram could put in a good word for her.

The next night Nitram arrived at dinner early, waiting for Shylent and hoping to speak to her alone. He managed to meet her before she got to their usual table. ”Shylent, I spoke with my colleague in the Bordyr Guard. He said he would be glad to have you…if you are still interested. His name is Krowallis Nokkarra – but everyone calls him Krow. You should be able to find him easily enough, just ask the guards in Highkeep. He sort of advises the Lord High King of Rivendeep, Wilhelm Scalamander, on the Guards’ operations. They’ll be able to point you in the right direction. I won’t be coming with you now, but I hope to one day rejoin the Guard. Please let him know we are working on the ogre’s funding source.”

Once everyone was assembled, Nitram let them know he would be leaving in the morning for Castrel. He didn’t know if or when he would return. ”He wants me to scout out towards Pike and Capone. Apparently, we are starting a new trade route in that direction. Is anyone heading that way?” Nitram also mentioned the question of how the ogres are paying for their increased activity, wondering if Blend knew anything about ogre trading in the black market. Shylent looked put out that she was being sent off. But she was considering the opportunity.

Nitram let Shylent know that she was not being sent off, but was welcome to do what she wanted. He invited her to accompany him to Castrel and then scout the trade route to Capone. He would welcome the company (although maybe not the lack of conversation). Or she was welcome to go east and join the Bordyr Guards. She was a big girl and could stay in the Tower until the group reunited to continue traveling together. If she wanted to head to Castrel, he would meet her at the main gate in the morning.

14 Augustus, 508 PE (Year of Storms)
7:00 am, Earthday
Nitram was about to leave the gate for Castrel when he noticed that Shylent had been waiting outside the gate apparently before he arrived. As he stepped out onto the bridge, he saw her waiting on the other side holding the reins of a horse. The horse was loaded with minimal gear, it seems Shylent had always traveled light, and prepared for a journey. When Nitram approached Shylent nodded silently. She looked back at the open gate and said, “Wizard, druid?” as she started walking along side Nitram.

”I’m pretty sure the wizard is sequestered somewhere in the tower studying. Jharron is following a different path for now. Hopefully, our paths will cross again. But, for now, Lord duBlade wants to see me about a trade route to the west. Glad you could join me.” Nitram led the two of them to Castrel to get more specific instructions from duBlade.

Traveling along the trail towards Castrel, Nitram and Shylent passed the occasional wagon and cart hauling stuff to and fro from Tennyson’s Tower. It was about 22 miles to Castrel along the trail that wound through the hills, and they expected to reach the walled town just after lunch. The weather was pleasant and the ride was quiet.

Upon arriving, Nitram sought an audience with duBlade. Nitram also kept an eye out for someone to make him a composite longbow suited to his strength. Since he didn’t bring enough coin with him, he will bargain to get the best price, letting the crafter know that he would be comparing prices in Pike, Capone, and Tennyson’s Tower.

Blend was done dealing with the elf. As far as he was concerned, Aeron didn’t exist. Just to spite him, Blend went to Rashemon’s library and asked where he could solicit aid in creating enchanted items. He mentioned he was able to pay up front and had funds on hand. He also casually mentioned to the people he interacted with of his frustration with a certain elf named Aeron; specifically, his lack of people skills and his arrogance. Blend’s goal was to illicit some sympathy or to perhaps strike a nerve with a rival, perhaps someone Aeron had rubbed the wrong way. Blend had no doubt that there was no shortage of people that met those criteria. Blend was at his most congenial as he was ushered into Rashemon’s Library. After he discussed his request with a comely junior apprentice, she hastened off and returned with one of the senior apprentices, named Trion. Trion seemed most interested in Blend’s offer. Blend determined from observing Trion’s actions that Trion was less interested in any squabble with Aeron, as he was interested in the Oil of Sharpness. Trion offered to create the belt and the boots in trade for the Oil of Sharpness. Blend seemed amenable to the deal and thought to himself, I can probably pick up a sheath in Capone. Trion informed Blend his belt and boots would be ready in a week.

After a week had passed, Blend returned and acquired his items. Trion spoke to Blend, telling him that the tower was interested in the lost formula for the oil, and if he ran across any other samples to bring them here. Blend thanked Trion for the exceptional work and then handed him 500 gold pieces. ”I appreciate your help. I will keep an eye out for more oils. If you, or the tower for that matter, would also like me to look for anything else, I would be more than happy to. I hope that this transaction of services can continue in the future. If you appreciate my patronage, please spread the word. I am sure I will need your, and the library’s services again in the future.”

Blend was satisfied with the profit he had made for the party after their treasure hunting and destruction of the Sentara meteor. He spent some time perusing the journal of blood magic relics in more detail. It appeared that the old one-eye was in charge of getting the relics out of the ogre claimed territories, to areas just outside the Falconaire border and that forest ravine camp they had destroyed. From there a group called the “red circle” (probably a euphemism of some type) dispersed the relics throughout civilized lands under the direction of Ashmourne.

Blend’s accounting of the transactions showed two things, the ogres benefited from the sale of the items, using such monies to procure weapons and supplies. And the “red circle” gained magic they could use to subvert or influence the area. This appeared to be working great until the ogre, in the process of transporting relics, became obsessed with an even more powerful item of corrupted blood magic. The last transaction in the book showed the ogre had managed to sell a large chunk of high quality gemstone chipped from the meteor to someone in Capone.

According to Teargut, smugglers that cautiously used their routes saw no further sign of ogres at this time. There was a slightly increased presence of patrols in the area, but they were easily bribed or avoided. A low level flunky from Blend’s guild showed up at Tennyson’s Tower, and gave him the information Clotveil had gleaned from the king’s council. He also stated that Clotveil was interested on how solid the “clearing” of the “trade” routes was. Blend then departed for Aerie City.

12 Augustus, 508 PE (Year of Storms)
4:00 pm, Sunday
Blend reached the city of Aerie around 4pm. He was casually sitting in the hallway waiting for Clotveil before any of the lesser members of the guild even knew he was back. Upon Clotveil’s return, Blend debriefed him on the details of the ogre’s attempt to take over the smuggling routes in the area. Clotveil in return told Blend much information about upcoming merchant activities and soon to be established trade routes, information Blend noted, that could only come from highly placed sources. Clotveil did express an interest in the potential for under the table activities in the Capone area.

“Any idea who this Ashmourne person is? Or the “red circle”? I have a hunch that they are all tied into this Harbor Freight group.” Blend didn’t expect an answer. ”I keep thinking back to the fight on the docks and Barnabus’ betrayal.” Blend fell silent for a moment and after a bit, looked up to Clotveil studying him. He used to feel a bit awed or intimidated by his gaze, but not anymore. He respected Clotveil and his authority, but Blend knew his was just a man like any other. Sure, he had skills and talents that outshined the rest of the guild, which is why he was where he was and no one had decided to make a move against him. Some of the guild were loyal to a point, but most respected power and fear, and Clotveil had both. Not as much as Whiskeyjack though. But Whiskeyjack inspired real loyalty and respect. When he disappeared, the guild lost a valuable asset. Blend continued, prompted by Clotveil’s continued silent regard. ”We’ve been betrayed before Clotveil. The night Whiskeyjack disappeared. Leaves a similar taste in the mouth. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason, I feel this is all connected.” Blend shrugged. He didn’t like talking this much. He had no idea why he was, especially to Clotveil. Whiskeyjack, well, Blend talked to him all the time. He was his mentor after all. One of the only people Blend said more than a couple words to on a regular basis. Blend shook off the awkwardness of the one-sided conversation and asked for his leave.

Clotveil had no further information on anything concerning Ashmourne or a “red circle”. He did give Blend an overview on the “guild” situation, tenuous as it was, in Capone and an overview of the major players. He also expressed his regret at the loss of Whiskyjack, and polished off a bottle during his conversation with Blend. Clotveil mentioned that Whiskyjack had come from somewhere to the west, and had mentioned a city called Dragotha, where presumably he had learned his trade. Clotveil stated he would see what more information he could uncover while Blend was looking into the situation in Capone. Just before giving Blend his leave, Clotveil informed him of the name of their contact in Capone, a rum merchant named Petrol.

Blend thanked Clotveil for the drink and words about his mentor. Before leaving, he mentioned he had some money to spend and was looking for a good armor and weapon merchant. Perhaps one that could deal in enchanted weapons and armor. Blend also inquired if Clotveil knew of any contacts the guild had that may have the items. He was looking for some lightweight, flexible and durable armor. He was also looking for enchanted blades, perhaps some similar to the curved style that he was currently using. Once affairs were settled, he planned to leave for Capone, unless Clotveil had any other errands for him.

Blend left and went back to his quarters. During Blend’s stay in Aerie City, his mind kept straying to his former mentor, Whiskeyjack. He was experiencing many emotions lately, something unusual for him. He hid them well, and they rarely manifested visible, but they were there nonetheless. There were more of a nuisance than he would like. Over the next several evenings he practiced a ritual that Whiskeyjack had shown him that would help.

He lit some special incense and sat in a cross-legged position. He relaxed his body and mind and began the complicated breathing rituals that would let him focus and become one with his inner focus, his ki. More often than not, he grasped Whiskeyjack’s blade and used it to help him focus. He fed his emotions into the blade, emptying himself out and creating a calm void inside him. He was able to visualize Whiskeyjack clearly inside the void.

On one of those occasions, Blend fell into a trancelike state, and he recalled Whiskyjack holding his two swords, as if displaying them to Blend in pride. In a daze, two names surfaced in Blend’s mind. Soulitude and Incarnhate. As the vision faded, Blend was unable to recall which name went to which sword. As he gazed at the remaining sword of Whiskyjack’s legacy the heron and lily etched symbol seemed to shimmer and blur as if seen through tears. Shaking it off, Blend felt diminished, as if he had lost some of his inner ki. The feeling soon passed.

Blend woke up the next morning feeling refreshed. He was unsure about the events of his meditation so he grabbed his blade and looked at the etching. The heron and lily seemed to shimmer and blur as it did the night before. Is the blade Soulitude or Incarnhate? Blend thought to himself. His pondering didn’t last long. Instead he went to the room he used to practice and began a kata Whiskeyjack taught him. This one started slow, with deliberate sweeping movements with the blade. It was circular in nature, like an eddy in a river or a dust devil or tornado. Clockwise movements reversed and flowed into counterclockwise movements. The offhand was used to feint, bluff and disguise strikes with the main hand. Conversely, these same motions were used to hide a fatal slash from the offhand weapon, or a violent strike with an open hand if one was not used. Although this particular kata was done with a slow, deliberate pace, the movements would be executed much more quickly, with blur like spins and parries. Blend was sweating when he was finished, though his breathing was only slightly above the normal pace.

Blend felt that there was a bond between him and the weapon that wasn’t there before. There was no visible sign of change in the sword, but he could feel a connection.

Before Blend left for Capone, Clotveil suggested that Blend head down to the waterfront in the area of Squallor Street if he was looking for armor suitable for their profession. “Jakes” normally had lightweight and very supple armor in hand for when the guild needed it. If Jakes had something that Blend was interested in, Clotveil was sure that he would give Blend the standard 10% cut off the top of the price. As far as weapons similar to the ones that Whiskeyjack and Blend had, Clotveil hadn’t seen any. And any other special weapons he knew of were already prize possessions of various guild members.

Blend went down to the local bowyer/fletcher and looked at the stock on hand. He mentioned that he was looking for short bow, master crafted, with an extra strong pull. “Strung pule ahh yup. Trah thissun.” said the local bowyer, as he handed Blend a finely crafted composite shortbow made of hickory and cherrywood. ”525 gp tis.” Blend marveled at the workmanship of the weapon and felt the weapon was well worth the asking price. He handed the merchant the 525 gp.

Blend then went down to the waterfront and met up with Jakes. He motioned for him to come over to talk discreetly. Blend asked Jakes to see his special stock of armor and gear. He made it clear he had coin to spend and that Clotveil sent him specifically. When Blend asked Jakes about his good armor, Jakes cast an appraising eye upon Blend and brought out a very supple, dyed black, noiseless set of MW studded leather. Normally he would sell this armor for around 175 gp, but for Blend he would settle for 158 gp. He told Blend to check back in the future, as he was setting up a deal with a special supplier in a couple of months. Blend decided against buying the armor and left.

Blend thought about the information that Clotveil had provided as he traveled towards Capone. There were three competing “guilds” in the town of Capone. The Profiteers’ Guild, under the strong control of Bandit-lord Cromag was the main player, ostensibly allied with the Toreador Merchant Guild. The second most powerful guild ran most of the black market business activities from under the streets of the town of Capone, and was led by Pete Rejo, and called themselves the Street Merchants. This guild was the most devious at playing the other powers against each other for their own profit. The third guild dealt primarily with smuggling and “protection” rackets. This being said, the “guild” was the least disliked by the general populace of the area.

Blend also considered his route of travel. From Aerie City, it was probably best if he traveled NNW to the river, then west until he reached the town of Portahge, and then followed the trade route south a day until he reached Capone.

20 Augustus, 508 PE (Year of Storms)
11:00 am, Moonday
Blend had reached Capone after traveling the trade route from Portahge on the 19th of Augustus. After looking around and getting the lay of the land, Blend thought to himself that he had never seen a more wretched hive of scum and villainy in his entire life. Blend figured it would take him a week or so to insinuate himself into underbelly of the town safely. He soon determined that Moe’s Cantina was a good place to inquire discreetly about various business opportunities.

Blend made sure everything was well hidden on his person as he proceeded into the city. He approached some passersby and quietly asked where he could find Moe’s Cantina. As soon as he got directions, he made his way toward the area. Blend weaved in and out of the crowd, surreptitiously watching people as they walked by. He had no doubt some light-finger or street urchin would try to rob him. His valuables were hidden and well secured to prevent that sort of thing from happening. He would hate to have to cut off somebody’s fingers so soon. After all, he had just arrived and what a first impression that would make.

Individually Blend felt confident in his abilities. But he was amazed at the amount of “trade” going on in this town, and there sure were a lot of hoodlums around. Two weeks had passed and Blend had managed to establish some contacts in the area. Blend had determined that there was a roost of creatures called Kenku somewhere in the slums area of the town and had made the acquaintance of one named “Klakus”. Klakus was a professional like Blend, with a slightly more flighty and scattered nature. Blend had determined that the Kenku in the city were at odds with the gang called the street merchants, and Klakus would gladly drop copper on them any chance he could.

Blend had also made initial contact with the rum merchant named Petrol. Petrol had some interesting information to share. Bandit Lord Cromag was rumored to attack and pillage caravans at will. But oddly enough his bandits never seemed to destroy any caravans belonging to a merchant enterprise named Harbor Freight. Another tidbit of info is that there was probably going to be a gang war between the Profiteers’ Guild, and the smugglers. If that happened trade would be disrupted, but there could be an opportunity for carving out some business for anyone willing to take risks.

12 Augustus, 508 PE (Year of Storms)
5:00 pm, Sunday
As a senior apprentice, Aeron no longer had mindless duties copying ancient scrolls or mixing mundane alchemical concoctions for the tower armories. Aeron’s time was dedicated to spell research, magical item construction and instructing the junior apprentices. His time at Tennyson’s Tower was trying. The junior apprentice’s under his care were incompetent and required detailed instruction for even the simplest activity. On more than one occasion, Aeron summoned magical winds to clear blinding smoke and choking chlorine gas from the junior apprentice laboratories. His time not spent putting out fires was dedicated to arcane research in Rashemon’s Library.

Aeron was able to discover simple spells to magically enhancing intellect and manual dexterity. Aeron captured the dexterity of cat’s grace by distilling tiger blood and immersing a large silver belt buckle into the noxious bath. He chanted the arcane words of the spell as the liquid hissed and boiled. At the completion of the magical item creation, an image of a tiger appeared in the center of the buckle forming, what was likely, the ugliest belt buckle in Falconaire. Aeron was almost too proud to wear the hideous magical accessory…almost.

Aeron fashioned a long pointed green silk hood that draped down his back in the traditional elven form. Into that cloth he arcanely funneled the eyes of the falcon. Gold thread embroidered the hood with symbols of transmutation and perception. This hood allowed the user to see the distance and detail of a hawk. It was truly a shame the rest of the party did not see the value of such magical creations. The opportunity to enhance and harness their abilities was within their grasp and they failed to take the opportunity offered.

The largest amount of time was spent magically embossing a finely crafted leather quiver filled with masterwork elven war arrows. The quiver was enchanted with a spell that created replacement arrows as they were pulled from the quiver. The quiver was further enhanced with transmutation spells that sharpened the arrows and allowed them to ricochet off of their primary target and attack nearby enemies. The spells enchanting the quiver where minor, but together they formed a powerful combination to slay enemies. Aeron was especially pleased with his cleverness at pulling together the arcane knowledge to create this magic quiver.

Aeron magically channeled minor conjuration arcane knowledge into an expensive ornate green silk robe. Golden arcane sigils in the flowing pattern of elvish script were embroidered into the robe with utmost care. The symbols of arcane conjuration, water, air and earth featured prominently and repetitively over the cloth surface. This robe stored minor conjuration spells that would allow him to extinguish apprentice fires that raged out of control, remove the soot from the inadvertent apprentice combustions, armor himself from the occasional apprentice that exploded into spectacular shrapnel, and summon a minor air elemental to clean up the mess. Hopefully these rudimentary spells would not be needed when he left the tower.

The idea of leaving the tower came to mind more frequently as his apprentices created more frequent and insipid interruptions. He almost longed for the silence of Shylent and Blend…and he still had much work to convert Daelin and Jharron from their heathen ways.

Before Blend left for Aerie City, he grudgingly approached Aeron. ”I would like to commission the creation of a few enchanted items if you have the time and skill to undertake the job and would like to make some extra money. I would like something that improves my reflexes as well as something that improves my speed. Obviously I would pay for the materials or at least provide the funds to obtain them. I am also willing to compensate you monetarily as well. Before you consider monetary compensation, realize that there are also other alternatives. I know people and how to get things. I am good with merchandise if you need to move it. But most importantly, I can get information, the most valuable resource of all…knowledge. If you do me this favor, I will be in your debt and owe you a favor of similar magnitude in the future. What say you?”

Aeron turned to Blend, ”Blend, you know as well as I do the coin of the realm is gold. Sign and be bound by the Standard Adventurer Contract, provide 3025 gold pieces in advance, and with Jharron’s assistance, we should be able to construct you a set of boots that allow you to move faster than an elf and leap higher than a gazelle. They will be constructed in the traditional elvish fashion and it will take a little over two days. I can also prepare a belt for you that will give you the grace of a cat for an additional 2200 gold pieces.”

Aeron continued, ”If you are prepared to agree to these terms sign the bottom of the contract and submit to the arcane binding.”

Standard Adventurer Contract
1. Every signatory to this agreement is entitled to one full share.
2. A signatory forfeits any right to treasure if he or she: a) attacks another party member without provocation, or b) deserts the party voluntarily (those who have been spirited away or accidentally separated from their comrades are obliged to attempt to rejoin the party at the earliest convenient time.)
3. A signatory forfeits one-half of the treasure due him or her if he or she a) is responsible for the death of a party member, b) is responsible for the failure to attain the goal of the mission through an error of commission or omission, or c) is found to be stealing from the party.
4. If a party member is killed or rendered incapable (e.g., comatose)and unable to be revived (see clause 5 below) then that being’s heirs are entitled to his or her portion of the treasure held by the remaining party members.
5. If a party member is killed or rendered incapable, the surviving party members are obliged to return his or her body (or what remains of it) to the nearest capable temple and use his or her share to pay for necessary resurection, raising of the dead, or if neither are available reincarnation rituals to revive the party member… unless forced to abandon the body because its recovery would cause the likely death of other party members.
6. If a being has not designated one to whom he or she wishes his effects and share given in his absence and/or to whom he wishes his body given in the event of death, the party will take responsibility for either or both.
7. Monetary treasure will be divided evenly among all share holders. Nonmonetary treasure will be sold and divided evenly amongst all shareholders. Any party member may choose to buy a particular item at the equivalent sale value rather than have it sold to an outside purchaser; if more than one member wishes to buy the same item, all will submit sealed bids, with the highest sum gaining its bidder the item in question.
8. Each party member is entitled to one magical item before anyone receives a second item.

A malicious smile momentarily appeared on Aeron’s face as he presented Blend a quill and a pen to prick his finger. ”You can’t exactly sign this type of document in ink. As you sign do not resist the magical binding.”

Aeron chanted the arcane words of binding as he presented the Standard Adventuring Contract to Blend. There was an almost imperceptible scar down the middle of it. As if the paper had been torn and somehow fused back together. Blend held the quill in his hand as he stared as the long and volumous treatise on how the party members would interact. The magical power of Aeron’s chanting washed over him like a warm reassuring blanket.

Blend was not happy. “A contract is no good unless everyone agrees. What good does it do if I am the only one to sign it? You have not signed anything. I will sign nothing and will not submit to any magical binding. Transactions happen every day without them. This is one such thing. If you will not do the work without the contract then I will go find someone else that will. Perhaps they will appreciate the coin. I am no longer in an “adventuring company.” This is simply business. Do you want it or not? Perhaps there are others in the library more cooperative and less stubborn. If you wish to hide behind paper for the rest of your life, then so be it. But know this…I will never sign that piece of paper.”

Aeron replied to Blend, ”I agree this is simply business…and the first rule of business is to ‘get it in writing.’ This contract provides for the fair treatment of all party members. Not only is it advantageous to all parties, but I am willing to incentivize the deal with construction of magical items at practically cost. It is unlikely you will find another source that has the aptitude, resources and willingness to create specific arcane items for practically cost. Of course, it is your choice.”

Blend simply walked away.

Aeron was concerned by Blend’s refusal to sign a contract not to attack members of his party or divide recovered treasure evenly. Only a thief would resist being bound to prevent backstabbing or stealing. What surprised Aeron was Blend’s resistance to the construction of custom arcane items at half of market value. No thief could resist this offer to save thousands of gold pieces. Blend must have nefarious goals and another source of magic.

Aeron notified Sage Tantalzeer of Blend’s likely occupation and suspicions about his upcoming trip to Aerie City. He then made an appointment with Orthancian to discuss how to handle the situation. This could become political if the tower’s associations with Blend were raised to Lord Alfred or the Falconaire nobility, but the association could be beneficial to the tower if Blend’s allegiance could be swayed in their favor. The difficulty was not knowing his motives and allegiances.

Aeron returned to his quarters and dedicated his supreme intellect to the enigma that was Blend. This was a sensitive subject that could explode in the face of tower leadership, like a poorly mixed potion. The suspicions were restricted to the highest levels of the tower until more could be divined. Blend seems unrestrained by all rules and norms, but he is not without allegiance. He cannot be trusted until his allegiance is known, but he is unknowable. It is like catching smoke and shadow. I know nothing of his family or guild memberships. He must have an outside allegiance to something stronger than the party or he would have signed the contract…or he must have a target within the party, so he couldn’t sign the contract…maybe both. He must be watched. Aeron knew he could not trust this task to an apprentice. If they only had a hundred years to become proficient in their primary duties then maybe they could venture out of the tower. As it stood, he could only trust himself, Daelin…and half-trust Nitram, who had sent him a letter scripted in elvish:

Brother Aeron,
I heard you were putting your extensive skills to good use by crafting magical items for some members of our recent adventure. I’m sure that our resources are beginning to get stretched thin. However, if you are able, I have heard of a very useful item and would greatly appreciate it if you begin researching how to create it. They are called darklands goggles. I am leaving for Castrel in the morning on business for duBlade. I hope to see you again on my return.

With that thought in mind, Aeron turned his attention to his studies, thankful for a moment’s peace from the intrigue.

25 Augustus, 508 PE (Year of Storms)
12:01 pm, Starday
Once the equal shares had been established, Daelin headed back to the Pantheon temple and sought out the high priest. Half of what he had earned would be tithed to the church, for it had already given him so much, and if the threat of blood magic spread too much more it may needed as many would be in need. The Amber Orb was curious though. He certainly could find use for it, but it too may be needed to protect those who could not fend for themselves. With that thought, Daelin released it into the protection of the Pantheon high priest in Tennyson’s Tower.

After tithing half his share, Daelin was left with 1,900 gp in his purse. The donation of the orb left the Mentor speechless for a moment, after which he said he would take it, but a traveling Scholar would surely have more use for it than he or the local church would.

During his time conducting research and trying to get answers to his questions, Daelin found each time that he brought the subject up of blood magic, that he appears to be the reigning authority in the area, not accounting for his comrades or Rashemon’s Library.

Concerning witches however, he was able to gather a tad bit more information. Witchcraft of various types is practiced in the western half of the kingdoms, but is outlawed in Toreador. There are various forms of witchcraft, from benign nature cults to diabolical covens. Rumors of a nation ruled by witches deep within the Venifica forest have been unsubstantiated. The closest known coven of witches of a benign nature is the Goshen Hills. They seem to follow/worship a three faceted female deity of nature and the moon. They might have more info.

Daelin and Jharron discussed their route of travel and their destination. Traveling overland south of Tennyson’s Tower would probably get them within the area tended by the Sacred Grove sooner than if they traveled along the road to Castrel and then south east. However, the forest near Castrel was the reputed location of another druid circle dedicated to preserving knowledge. And visiting the “benign” coven of witches located in the Goshen Hills would lead them through Castrel, Pike, and Capone in their travels. It was a matter of priorities, and Jharron and Daelin settled in and discussed the ramifications of each choice over the course of several days, as they conducted their research while at Tennyson’s Tower.

The next day in the evening there was a viscous thunderstorm in the area of Tennyson’s Tower. It crashed and rumbled for about three hours, an unusually long time, but not unheard of. After the storm passed the stars came out and the air felt fresher. Jharron noted that the stars and the constellations looked normal, unlike the bizarre configuration they had seen before. Daelin was absorbed in watching a group of two humans and a gnome playing Drax. The game had quite the audience.

On the 27th of Augustus, Earthday, Jharron and Daelin set out south eastward from Tennyson’s Tower along the eastern border of the kingdom of Falconaire. They traveled through the trackless valley until it opened up into the wide open scrub and brush land between Falconaire and Rivendeep, at which point they turned south westward and followed the edge of the hills towards the Sacred Grove. Their journey was quiet and uneventful, except for the one instance they though they saw an aurumvorax. Not finding any tracks, they quickly departed the area. After two days of travel they headed into the low lying hilly area surrounding the grove. After reaching the grove, Jharron met with his circle and they gave Daelin the benefit of their hospitality. Jharron spent several days catching up with the initiates and the other members of the circle.

31 Augustus, 508 PE (Year of Storms)
6:00 am, Starday
Jharron relayed the information he had attained regarding the blood magic and the ogres to the rest of the sect. Jharron then awaited inputs from the members on potential ways forward. He also provided updated information regarding the head druid and the information they had shared. After catching up on the sect and checking on the grove, Jharron met with Daelin. “Daelin, we probably need to go by the druids near Castrel next. That may provide additional information regarding the “benign” coven of witches before we actually have to encounter them. I would hate to get trapped by something we went into without any information. Castrel seems to be on the way to Goshen Hills anyway. What do you think?”

“That sounds like a great plan,” Daelin said. ”Before we go anywhere though, perhaps this sect knows a bit about the witches I hunt. The coven is not strictly dedicated to divine, arcane, or earth magic. They are a blend of all three. It would have been a lifetime ago for one of your heritage, but when i was a child they destroyed my home town. Using their magic to create and spread disease, they wiped out our village. I don’t know what they were after, but after that season of sickness there would not have been much to stand in their way. I’m sure that they would use blood magic if they have discovered it.” After telling his tale to Jharron, Daelin took some time to meditate in the peaceful grove, hoping answers would reveal themselves.

Jharron’s Sacred Grove circle had no information of the sort that Daelin was looking for concerning witches. Alloen, Jharron’s oldest initiate was very sorrowful as he explained that much was lost when the blood druids attacked years ago, both the lives of many elders, and much knowledge.

The next morning Daelin, Jharron, and Fero set off northeastward across the hills toward Castrel. Their journey was uneventful and they soon saw the town of Castrel before them. There was still time left in the day, so they decided to bypass the cluster and bluster of the town, and head into the eastern edge of the Mist Grove where the Sage Glen was located. Jharron knew roughly of the location from conversations during his initiate, and as evening began to fall they reached a small clearing with a cluster of wooden and stone buildings surrounding a standing circle of stones, much like Jharron’s, although the Sacred Grove circle was considerably older.

Much to Jharron’s surprise, he was greeted and treated with all the respect that a head of a circle would expect. It appeared that the his stewardship of the circle, the elder’s staff, and the pronouncement of the crazy/senile elder of his grove carried much more weight than he had anticipated. They were fed and given places to rest, with much discussion to follow upon the morrow.

The next day, Jharron woke early as to see the sun rise and take in the sights, smells and fell of a new day dawning. With Fero at his side, Jharron strolled through the grove and into the surrounding forest. After a couple hours of self-contemplation, Jharron returned to the grove and looked for Daelin. ”Daelin, I believe this area is full of life and thus the taint of the blood magic feeding has not degenerated the area. Hopefully, the community here can provide information on where the witches’ coven is and we can move out tomorrow morning. What do you think?”

Jharron and Daelin met with the leader of the Sages, a female druid named Loraleigh, and her life mate, a bard called Bearen. The group sat under an awning near the stone circle and discussed the matters at hand. Loraleigh explained that much of their knowledge concerning blood magic was lost during a suspicious fire many years ago. She pointed to the charred remains of a stone building, where none of the grass surrounding it had grown back. The fire was so intense that it cracked stone and demolished the building. But some knowledge was retained. Bearen began speaking and described the legends that spoke of a rare sect of druids that practiced blood magic in the area. Lore suggested that long ago, these druids lived in peace with a civilized clan of ogres. Together, they tended the land and great magic of life, necromancy, and healing benefited all. But the ogres and the druids eventually turned vile, and they were wiped out long ago by an unknown kingdom of men.

Bearen explained that he thought that these new blood druids were the descendants of those that survived through the years, and that they were slowly attempting to put things back into the “balance” they felt it should be. Loraleigh added that the witches in the Goshen Hills were benign in nature, although a bit secretive, sensible considering witchcraft was outlawed in Toreador. The witches of the Moon Coven work with potions and herbs, and follow the precepts of their tri-aspected goddess of the moon and earth, Selene/Hecate/Ceres. If the blood druids were still active in the area or a coven of witches was practicing blood magic, the Moon Coven would probably know about it. It was going to take some time to research and talk to other druids in the area to ensure Jharron and Daelin would be able to find the Moon Coven. Several of the knowledgeable druids and bards were deep in the forest and would not return for several days. The Sages offered to provide access to their library while they waited.

Jharron thanked the sages for their hospitality and spent the time in the library and in the forest. He researched different natural effects that he felt he may be able to control and also researched the Moon Coven. During the research process, Jharron looked for information regarding the release of information outside the witches and associated treaties they had been involved in. Jharron also looked for historical information regarding the time when the druids and the ogres worked together. The hypothesis going in was this had to happen a long time ago as the ogres have not been real interested in the health of the land for some time. During times when socializing with Daelin, Jharron relay interesting information he has gained and discuss potential paths that are making themselves known.

During the days of research at the Sage Glen, Daelin discovered several obscure references to a spirit or power called Alucruor and a just as obscure group of witches that had power over beasts and disease.

Which Rats? Part 1

Unconquered Kingdoms SkidAce