Session 55: Cat's Cradle

Lady Lenore, Norman, and Lord Sylvester
Philip approached Lady Lenore, while Pynhawn kept his eyes on Jeff and Yvonne, and the rest of the group was gathered around Norman's body with Lord Sylvester and his manservant, Dag.

"This is certainly unexpected," Philip said, and Prynhawn agreed.

"It certainly is unexpected," Lady Lenore also agreed. "I thought I would never get away from them. I'm so glad that you all found us!"

"Can you tell us what happened?" Prynhawn asked Lady Lenore while Yanliz dashed over to them, covering Jeff and Yvonne with his bow.

"I was waiting in the room where you left me," Lady Lenore explained, "when these two busted in and took me with them."

Valeria confirmed with Brother Martin that Norman was alive and suggested they grab him and join Philip and Prynhawn.

"I'll help him," Sylvester offered, lifting him up and carrying him with an arm over one shoulder.

Dag quickly moved to Norman's other side and helped carry him by the other arm.

"Philip," Yanliz tried to whisper, "you wanna check Lady Lenore for weapons, you know, just in case."

"Sure," Philip replied, and approached Lady Lenore. "Lady Lenore, do you have any other weapons?"

"No," she replied. "I just gave you their dagger."

"Is that all you have?" Philip probed. "Do you mind if I make sure?"

"Sure," she replied. "What do you want to do, strip search me?"

"No," Philip replied, "but can I pat you down?"

"I guess," she relented. "If that's necessary."

"I think so," Philip apologized. "Sorry. I know it's unfortunate."

Lurching from under Norman's arm, Sylvester unsheathed his rapier as he shoved Lawrence to the ground. "Lawrence, my friend, I'm so sorry for this," he said, slamming him in the head with the but of his rapier as the sorcerer fell, his eyes rolling into the back of his head. "I just can't go back to the keep with you."

Lady Lenore spun around, whipping out a hidden dagger and slashing Philip in the face. Yanliz was shocked at the sudden turn of events.

"What the hell was that?" Brother Martin yelled as he drew his mace and swung at Sylvester, who was too quick for the Dawngreeter.

Prynhawn cast searing smite and swung at Lady Lenore, who easily stepped to the side.

Dag leaped away from under Norman's other arm, drawing his scimitar, and swung at Brother Martin, but his blades glanced off the cleric' armor. Four of the rescued prisoners drew the scimitars they had been given to carry and simultaneously pounced on Cob before he could react, bringing the ranger down in a pool of blood. The last of the rescued prisoners turned and fled back the way they had come.

Jeff and Yvonne jumped on Prynhawn, trying to bring him down, but the paladin didn't budge, shrugging Yvonne off of him as Jeff clung to his arm.

Jess drew her shortsword and tried to sneak up behind Dag, but the 'manservant' was too quick. She darted away, closer to Philip.

Unassisted, Norman staggered forward, then lurched up and grabbed Valeria; a hidden blade appearing in his hand was soon at her throat. "Everybody put down your weapons, or she dies! This blade has poison on it!"

"We have no desire to fight with you," Sylvester informed them, "we just want to leave."

"If you want to leave," Valeria said without moving, "you can just leave."

"Okay, Lady Lenore," Sylvester called, "let's get out of here."

"Wait," Norman griped," how do we know you won't attack us as soon as we let you go."

"That's right," Sylvester agreed. "Drop your weapons. We're going to tie you up and then we'll go."

"Tying us up is a death sentence out here," Brother Martin warned.

"You'll be able to free yourselves soon enough, I'm sure," Norman sneered.

"Drop your weapons or your leader's gonna get it," Lady Lenore warned. "We don't want to hurt you."

"Lay down on the ground!" Lady Lenore shouted as Philip started to walk back towards the larger group.

Philip sat down on his but.

"Listen, Lord Sylvester," Vernim called, putting his warhammer and crossbow on the ground, "or should I say Ace. We can talk about this. I'm putting down my weapons, but you have to get your associates off our party leader here."

"We won't hurt you," Sylvester replied. "Get down on the ground like everyone else. And Ace is dead. You killed him a long time ago. Now down on the ground. All of you down on the ground. Any sudden moves and your leader's dead."

Brother Martin dropped his mace. Vernim laid down on the ground and Sylvester began tying his hands.

"You get down too," Lady Lenore commanded Prynhawn. "We don't mean you any harm, but we wanna get out of here."

Prynhawn dropped his sword and laid on the ground.

Lady Lenore kicked the paladin's sword away, and as she retrieved their own weapons, she called to Yanliz, "You get down on the ground too, scarface!"

Begrudgingly, Yanliz laid down, as did Brother Martin and Jess.

"Lord Sylvester, we mean you no harm," Vernim started. "There's no need to—"

"This is for everyone's protection," Sylvester interrupted, stuffing a wad of cloth into Vernim's mouth. "We all know you can cast spells."

Dag soon had Brother Martin gagged and bound.

Their four exhausted companions approached Jess, with their crossbows aimed at her, as she stealthily slipped a dagger up into her sleeve.

Seeing that Lawrence was knocked out cold on the ground, Yanliz called, "Can we check on our friend Lawrence? He's lying—"

"Believe me," Sylvester assured them, "I would never harm my friend Lawrence. He's merely sleeping for the moment."

"You need to worry about yourself right now!" Lady Lenore warned the ranger.

With Jeff and Yvonne, they soon had Yanliz, Prynhawn, and Philip bound, but not before Philip stuffed Lady Lenore's dagger up his sleeve.

Philip tried to protest, "I think this will be more comfortable, and—" and tried to remove his pack.

"Stay still!" Lady Lenore stopped him, commanding,  "I'm not concerned with your comfort little man."

"We should gag him too, right?" Jeff asked about Prynhawn.

"I don't speak much," Prynhawn replied.

"Yeah," Yvonne replied. "Let's gag him.

"Do you have any rope?" one of the exhausted bandits asked the other, as they approached Jess.

"I'm sure she has some rope in her pack," the other replied, and they soon had the rogue bound as well and dragged her back to the larger group.

While Norman continued to hold the blade at Valeria's throat, two others disarmed her.

Walking up to Valeria, Sylvester said, "Madam, please, turn around slowly so I can tie you up. It's an ugly business, but it must be done for everyone's safety." The bard was soon bound, and Sylvester added, "and you'll have to be gagged as well."

"Who's got our clothing," Lady Lenore asked, and Valeria grunted beneath her gag. The two men who had disarmed the bard took her pack, which had the clothes.

"We can't be bothered carrying all this loot," Norman announced, pulling the wand from Valeria's gear. "I'll just take this wand and you pack with all our clothes."

"Thank you for your cooperation," Sylvester called, patting Lawrence on the head.

Lawrence woke, opening his eyes to the unfortunate predicament.

"Maybe we should give them a head start," Norman suggested, referring to their exhausted companions.

The four of them headed off slowly in the direction of the keep.

Brother Martin began whining and squirming on the ground until Dag put a foot on his back, commanding, "Cut it out!"

"You understand this was an act of mercy," Sylvester announced. "We're going to leave your weapons down the road. If you come after us, we will kill you all. I hope you understand that. All you need to do is stay away from us. If you come after us, we will hunt down each and every one of you."

After ten minutes, Sylvester, Norman, Lady Lenore, Dag, Jeff, and Yvonne left, following their companions.

As soon as they were out of sight, Jess and Philip had their hands loose of the ropes and were untying their companions, starting with Valeria and Prynhawn, respectively.

Once everyone was free and their gags were removed, Philip took out his brandy keg and was disappointed to find it empty. He cursed himself for not having taken the kegs from the cave when he had the chance.

Vernim cast gentle repose on Cob.

"What do you think about me chasing after them?" Philip asked. "I think I can catch up with them. I don't need any weapons."

"If you want to die," Brother Martin hinted.

"I don't think that's a good idea," Valeria advised.

"I have a potion of invisibility," Jess suggested.

You're not leaving," Brother Martin stated. "What do we have to gain?"

"Valeria's wand..." Jess suggested.

"As much as I'm annoyed that I lost my wand," Valeria said, "it's okay. It's not worth it."

"But, don't we have to track them down?" Philip asked.

"No," Valeria responded. "We don't."

"They hurt people," Philip pressed.

"They killed Cob," Jess added.

"But who are they going to hurt now?" Valeria asked. "They're not going to get into the keep."

"And to be completely honest," Brother Martin added, "they didn't all seem completely evil. I'm mean, we're alive."

"I think what it really comes down to, Philip," Vernim stated, "is I don't think we should risk it, cause your life is so valuable, Philip. Your life is too valuable."

"Agreed," said Brother Martin. "I say we pack it in and go back to the keep."

"What if they would've just killed us all?" Philip whined.

"Philip, if you run after them, then that's what you're provoking," Brother Martin pleaded, "and we don't need that today."

"We already have two dead bodies," Jess added. "We don't need more."

"Did you know that they weren't going to kill us?" Philip asked. "How did you know? I thought they were going to kill us."

"If they had wanted us dead," Brother Martin explained, "Sylvester would not have hit Lawrence with the pummel. And we saw that from the beginning. Why else would he have done that?"

"But what if they would have killed us anyway?" Philip asked.

"I guess there's no way to know," Brother Martin replied. "I guess Lady Luck was on our side."

"I hate to say Lady Luck was so cruel to us," Vernim added, "but Lady Luck did give us our lives and I think that's what we have to accept at this point. Lady Luck does not make sense most of the time, and this is not... It's hard to rationalize, but it's Lady Luck's plan."

Dejected, they picked up Cob and Dubricus, and the rest of their belongings, and began the walk back toward the keep.

Philip was crying visibly, and Vernim put an arm on his shoulder in consolation.

Not long after, as the last light was fading from the horizon, they saw a strange arrangement of sticks on the road. Getting closer they saw that the sticks formed an arrow pointing to the south. In that direction, was a lone bush.

Valeria instructed Prynhawn, Yanliz, and Jess to investigate.

Behind the bush, they found their weapons, including Valeria's wand, but not her pack.

The sky was dark when they arrived at the keep.

"You're back!" Sabine greeted them as they entered the gates. "We thought for sure you were finished. We're so glad to see you!"

"It got pretty close," Vernim replied, "but we're still standing."

"Yeah," Valeria explained, "we decided to rest in the caves last night."

"Is that what I think it is?" she asked solemnly, nodding to the bodies they were carrying.

"Unfortunately, yes," Valeria replied.

"Who is that?" Sabine asked, counting them up. "Dubricus? And who else?"

"Cob," Valeria replied.

"We found Cob," Vernim added.

"You found Cob's body?" Sabine asked.

"We found him," Brother Martin explained, "and we watched him...become a body."

"Oh, no!" Sabine gasped. "That's awful."

"I want to go check on Lykos," Yanliz said, handing the chandelier to Valeria.

"Oh, about that," Sabine explained, "I don't know what happened — you can check with Jadale in the morning — but he's dead. He died last night. I don't really know what happened. I don't have the full story. I'm sure Jadale can fill you in in the morning, if you're still here."

"Okay," Valeria replied.

"Thank you for telling us," Vernim added.

"Do you know Lord Sylvester?" Philip asked.

After some consideration, Sabine replied, "It doesn't ring a bell."

Yanliz took back the chandelier and stormed off toward the inn.

"We should go back to Dubricus' apartment," Jess suggested, "to drop off his stuff."

Prynhawn joined Jess to Dubricus' apartment, while the rest of the group headed to the chapel with the bodies.

At the temple, the acolytes bid them welcome and led them to where they could lay the bodies to rest.

Abercrombie soon arrived. "I hope these heroes did not die in vain! I hope they died valiantly, slaying the enemies of law and civilization!"

"Without a doubt," Brother Martin offered.

Meanwhile, Jess used Dubricus' key to let herself and Prynhawn into his apartment. While she was emptying the wizard's belongings from his pack onto a table, she noticed a slight jingle in the rotted boots he had taken from the fungus cave. She examined them and ripped open one of the heels. Inside she found a rotted silk pouch holding three tiny gems cut into geometric shapes. One was a pale green prism, apparently jade, another was a clear spindle, apparently quartz, and the last was an iridescent lavender ellipsoid.

She tossed them, along with the boots, in her pack and they headed to the chapel.

They caught up with Yanliz as he was also heading to the chapel, and arrived together.

"...and were you successful in defeating the evil in caves?" Abercrombie was asking.

"Of the caves?" Vernim answered. "Yes."

"Not all the way," Valeria clarified.

"I would say it was about fifty-fifty," Brother Martin offered.

"We're working on it," Vernim added.

"Well at least you're still alive," Abercrombie replied. "We will keep these bodies here for safe keeping."

"I have a question, Abercrombie," Vernim asked. "Would you like me to come back here to keep the bodies preserved, or are you able to do that? Opal will require gentle repose soon."

"I can take care of it," Abercrombie indicated. "However, while I can maintain them, it is costly a matter, as doing so means I won't be able to provide some services for others."

"Okay," Vernim replied."I understand."

As they were leaving, Valeria said, "you guys can go ahead. I want to stay here a bit and say a little prayer."

She returned to Dubricus' body.

Valeria caught up with them on the way back to the tavern.

"When we dropped off Dubricus' stuff in his apartment," Jess revealed, "remember he picked up a pair of decaying boots? Inside these boots, I found these three gems." He showed them the boots and the gems. When no one thought they were anything more than gems, he added, "I guess I'll bring them to Mouse in the morning."
The One-Eyed Cat
When they arrived at The One-Eyed Cat, it was empty, but Wilf and Calista soon came down the stairs, alerted by their noise.

"We're so happy to see you!" they exclaimed, smiling broadly, and hugging Jess tightly. "We thought that you had perished in the caves. Those caves have taken so many heroes! We thought it must have..."

They turned to Jess, "We thought this was it. We thought we had lost you! We're so glad you made it back! What happened? Why didn't you return last night?"

"We decided to spend the night in the caves," Valeria explained, "because things had taken longer than we had hoped, and we didn't want to travel at night."

"You missed some excitement here," Calista mentioned. "I sure do miss Third. There was a fight here last night."

"Like a bar fight?" Brother Martin asked.

"Yeah," Wilf explained. "It wasn't that bad. The guards came and broke it up. They took one of them to jail to sober up. They were drunk. Nothing major. No one got hurt."

"This person they took to jail," Vernim asked, "are they still there now?"

"I doubt it," Wilf guessed. "I'm sure they let them go in the morning. I haven't seen them. Oh, and I almost forgot. Mouse came by here yesterday, and was looking for you about some things you might be interested in purchasing."

When Wilf and Calista returned upstairs, Jess and Philip went to the pantry to prepare some food.

"Why?" Philip moaned. "Why? I don't understand."

Jess noticed that Philip was taking frequent swigs of ale as he prepared the food.

"Why?" Philip was still moaning after they had brought the food out to the common room. "Why? I don't understand. So many people. When you were back there, what happened?"

"The bandits slashed at Cob," Brother Martin explained. "Sylvester brought Lawrence to the ground, in the kindest way you could bring someone to the ground, I suppose. I tried to fight back and failed pretty badly. Valeria—"

"They had a knife to my throat," Valeria added. "A poisoned knife."

"I'll be honest," Brother Martin suggested, "I think we were heavily outclassed."

"Didn't you find it odd that they did all that for some clothes?" Yanliz wondered.

"Yeah, they must have had some motive," Vernim suggested. "It just doesn't add up."

"I'm surprised they didn't kill us," Prynhawn stated.

"Did Sylvester know you, Lawrence?" Brother Martin asked, "or did you just become friends?"

"I charmed him," Lawrence admitted.

"That could very well be the reason we're still alive," Brother Martin proposed.

"That could explain it," Prynhawn concurred.

"This still doesn't make sense," Yanliz continued. "Why were those bandits imprisoned in that room?"

"Maybe they were captured," Brother Martin guessed, "and we just happened to bring them together. But I don't know if it's worth thinking about right now. It could be a coincidence. But I don't think we're going to get any answers talking about it now."

"So what happened?" Philip asked. "Valeria, was that the plan? I didn't hear if you made a plan or something? Did you make a plan to put down your weapons?"

"Was what the plan?" Valeria replied. "I didn't plan on getting a knife to my throat!"

"There wasn't a plan?" Brother Martin added.

"There wasn't a plan," Valeria insisted. "We didn't have any time to make a plan."

"I think he's asking if we should have put down our weapons," Lawrence offered, "or should we have put up a fight."

"I think I'm a biased representative," Valeria replied, "because I'm the one that would have been killed."

"I think we made the best call we could," Vernim added. "I think we did."

"I don't think we should have put up a fight," Jess suggested. "The amount of damage that they did showed they were much stronger than we are."

"I saw him tap Lawrence on the head and put him out cold with a single blow!" Brother Martin mentioned. "I mean that wasn't a fight we were going to win."

"I'm worried, like..." Philip whined, "what happens if this happens again. And if somebody comes up even me? I feel like...we still have to try! We still have to like...take a chance, don't we?"

"But if we take a chance and lose, then that's it. We did take a chance," Brother Martin justified. "Our chance was to surrender. That was our chance."

"No, we didn't take a chance," Yanliz argued. "The only people who fought back were you and Lawrence."

"Yeah, and that didn't get much done," Brother Martin stated.

"This time we might have got lucky," Yanliz warned, "and they kept us alive, but next time they might just assassinate all of us."

"Yeah, but there isn't going to be a next time," Brother Martin began, "because—"

"If we would have taken a chance, Philip, to be honest with you, we wouldn't have known what to do at this point, because our leader would have been dead. That's the unfortunate fact of the matter here."

"Also true," Brother Martin agreed.

"I think we can still do stuff without a leader," Lawrence refuted.

"It's great that you value my life," Valeria said, but I don't think that I have a more important life then any of you. We take our chances in battle, because we have no choice, but when it's not a battle, when they just have someone by the throat and no one's fighting yet, then I don't think it's worth taking our chances."

"These are just the risks we take," Brother Martin reasoned. "That's just part of the job."

"Well obviously we're going to have risks, and I appreciate adventuring with you and all, and I know there's going to be risks sometimes, but I thought they were going to kill us all," Philip cried. "I thought we were going to sit down and they were going to tie us up, and they were going to come by and they were going to kill us one at a time, and what could we do."

"Philip, you saw that he wasn't going for blood," Brother Martin reiterated. "If he was going for blood, Lawrence would already be dead."

"I wasn't sure what he was doing," Philip cried, "but what happens if somebody else comes by and they pretend to be peaceful, and they tie us all up, and they start it just going be, as soon as somebody pretends to be peaceful and nice that we just like...surrender?"

"Well, if you want to be more selective with who we trust then we can," Brother Martin offered, "but I think that for me, part of being the good guys, which is what I like to call myself, is helping people that are in need, and some of those people seemed like they were in need."

"I don't want to not help anybody," Philip whined. "I don't understand. I'm not saying that we shouldn't have gone over to Lady Lenore. That was the right thing to do, I think, right? That was good."

"Philip, you don't think I should have put down my weapon?" Prynhawn asked.

"I mean...well...I think we should have tried," Philip cried. "Like, it's a risk, but I think the better risk is to fight."

"I can guarantee you that they were stronger than we were," Jess insisted. "I know that for a fact!"

"They would have kicked our butts," Brother Martin agreed.

"How do you know?" Philip asked.

"This is what I'm trying to understand," Vernim injected. "Like, what did I miss?"

"The proficiency and strength with which Lawrence was able to be knocked out," Jess argued, "was not something that we have the capacity to do."

"Lawrence was already injured, wasn't he?" Philip asked.

"I was," Lawrence confirmed.

"But Sylvester's whole team..." Brother Martin considered, "and also, he didn't come across as evil or mean in any way. He was a gentleman the entire time."

"I don't know. I mean," Philip cried, "he never did anything that seemed so bad to me, but like..."

"Philip, why would you rather have fought?" Brother Martin asked. "Do you know that they wanted to do you harm? I know Lady Lenore cut you, but nobody was killed. It just seems silly to pursue conflict like that."

"Maybe, and I'm sorry of this is silly, and I'm being dumb right now," Philip cried, taking another swig, "and I'm sorry if I just don't get it, but how do we know that they didn't want to hurt us, right, like, we just met them. We didn't know them before, did we? Did you guys know them before?"

"We had two chances to take, okay," Brother Martin stated. "One chance was that we fight, and we might die. The other chance was that we surrender, and we might die. And we chose the latter, and that was it. That was the decision."

"To me, I think the reasoning is twofold," Vernim explicated. "Of course including, this was as well as what Brother Martin was just saying. The first things was that, our party leader, well not just our party leader, our friend, Valeria, was taken by someone who we considered any enemy, and when he said drop your weapons, I kind of felt helpless, and I felt like I had to comply, because I did not want to be the reason that our part—, that our friend, Valeria, died. And I think it was a thing where everyone chose to do something at once and we just stuck with that decision, and that is the decision that we all chose to make. What else was I going to say?"

"Philip, look at me." Jess whispered, putting her hand on his shoulder. "Calm down. You're drunk. I get that you have strong feelings about this, but I can tell you to my best knowledge that they were stronger than we were, and we would not have won in that fight. I can't speak to future situations, and we'll have to deal with those when they come, but you're drunk. Don't piss off the party."

"I'm sorry!" Philip bawled.

"He's not pissing anybody off, Philip," Brother Martin said. "Philip, don't worry. You're not getting on anyone's nerves."

"I think that Philip's actually right," Lawrence stated. "I think that we could have probably won that fight."

"Says the guy that was unconscious," Yanliz snickered.

"Personally, this was after two days of fighting," Brother Martin added, "I was not ready to use any more magic, I mean I was out of it. It would have been me and my mace against Lord Sylvester and I probably would have bit the dust."

"We probably should have healed Lawrence before we started the trip back," Prynhawn suggested.

"That's what we should learn from that," Vernim agreed.

"Vernim, I see what you mean by not being responsible for Valeria's death," Yanliz advised, "but I think that if there was a knife at my throat, I wouldn't want all of you to put down your weapons and have your lives left up in the the air, as well as mine, and I would rather you guys — I don't know — tried fighting, and not be in a vulnerable state where your lives are not in your own hands."

"Well that's good to know for the future," Vernim replied. "That's all I can say, cause, the past is the past, and as luck would have it, that's what we chose to do, and if that's the way you feel about it for the future then I think we should take that into account."

"And the second thing I wanted to say is," Yanliz continued, "I think we should try being more proficient in checking anybody we find for weapons no matter how friendly they may well look, or how vulnerable they may look."

"Absolutely," Brother Martin agreed.

"In this case," Prynhawn commented, "we actually armed a bunch of them, intentionally."

"But, even like Lord Sylvester..." Valeria began.

"Well we could visibly see his rapier," Lawrence replied. "It's pretty standard for people to have weapons when they're traveling alone."

"What about Norman?" Brother Martin asked. "We let him take his knife into..."

"They were just so far away!" Philip cried.

"Maybe not having people walk in our group," Yanliz suggested. "Maybe if we have someone with us, maybe have them walk in front so they can't surprise us anymore."

"Yeah, we got pincered pretty bad," Brother Martin agreed.

"Instead of having them intermingled with us," Valeria agreed.

"I guess this is just how we learn, right?" Brother Martin suggested. "Everyday, more knowledge."

"That's one way of putting it," Vernim replied.

"It's okay, I'm just..." Philip sobbed, "I'm so sorry for Dubricus... Cob... You know what... I don't want to be mean to anybody... I'm not trying to say that... I hope I'm not getting on anyone's nerves here. I just... It was just so scary!"

"Yeah, absolutely!" Brother Martin consoled.

"That's why we're taking precautions," Jess announced. "That's why we're stocking up! I'm building up an arsenal to create a fire trap, or a fire distraction, if something like that happens again. We need to do our best to plan for these situations, but recognize that they're going to happen."

"I'm sorry for bringing this up, and I hope it's not upsetting or anything," Philip asked. "Should we go after them? That just occurred to me."

"No," Brother Martin replied. "Philip, why are you so eager to fight those guys? Can't we just let them go?"

"Well, like, aren't they evil?" Philip cried.

"We don't know if they're evil," Brother Martin replied. "They let us live."

"Well, I mean, why did they attack us?" Philip whined. "I just don't understand!"

"That's the question we're all asking," Brother Martin replied.

"You know that kind of connects to something that I thought," Vernim began. "I made a bit of a leap, to be totally honest with you, in my supposition, but there was that whole question about Ace. Where is he in this whole thing?"

"We killed him, they said," Brother Martin replied. "That's what I gathered."

"Wait, what?" Yanliz asked. "Ace? What does he—"

"Let me explain. So basically what happened is, I decided to make a bit of a leap with our enemies. I said, 'so, let's talk about this, Ace' and obviously his name was not Ace, it was Sylvester, and he said, 'oh, you killed Ace a long time ago.'"

"I'm sure Ace was one of the bandits that we fought along the road," Valeria proposed.

"I wonder have Sylvester would have known about him," Vernim wondered.

"The likely scenario is that he could have been associated with him," Brother Martin suggested.

"Yeah," Vernim agreed. "I think that's probably it. Which does make him evil by proxy."

"But he's the kind of evil that let's his enemies live," Brother Martin replied, "which is the kind of evil that I prefer."

"But that could only be because of Lawrence," Yanliz suggested. "Lawrence said he charmed him."

"I did more than just talk to him, so I think that's possible," Lawrence explained. "He clearly did have some sort of affection for me, and he seemed to be the leader of their group, and he directed them not to hurt anybody, so I think it could have been the reason, and I think that's likely."

"You did that just from talking to him?" Prynhawn asked. "That's some weapon."

"Indeed," Lawrence agreed.

"I think we should just call it a night," Brother Martin suggested, "and get some rest for whatever comes tomorrow."

"Lets sleep on it," Jess added. "Let's focus on reviving our dead friends. That's the key. Tomorrow we have to go check with Jadale."

"Yeah, and we can take it slow tomorrow," Vernim offered. "We have a few errands to run."

They finally went to sleep.

When they woke up in the morning and made their way down to the common room, there was a crowd gathered. Calista and Wild had prepared a celebration for them. Everyone expressed how grateful they were that The Outcasts hadn't died in the caves, and they sang happy songs to celebrate their return. They brought out cakes and beer, and for a while it was joyous. Philip also purchase some ale for the road.

Mouse was there and reminded them to stop by the bank, which they did as soon as the celebration was over.

"I acquired some special items yesterday," Mouse explained, "and I wanted to give you first dibs on them. I thought you might be interested in these. I tried to contact you yesterday, which is when I heard you hadn't returned." Showing them some new wares, Mouse continued, "I have suits of plate mail and chain mail, but they're dwarf sized, and I assume you don't have any interest in those. But there's also this warhammer and this double headed hand ax, which are obviously dwarven, but I'm sure could be used by anyone. This hammer is engraved with the symbol of Moradin, and it looks to be of exceptional quality. They also had a crossbow to sell, which was also of exceptional quality, but after I appraised it, they decided to keep it. They also sold some jewels, but I doubt you're interested in those. So like I said, I just wanted to give you first dibs. Any interest? I'm sure the next wealthy dwarven adventurer who comes by will be in luck."

"That's too bad about that crossbow," Vernim commented.

"Vernim, does this look any better than your warhammer?" Yanliz asked.

"Come to think of it, I think it does," Vernim realized. "If the party is okay with it, I'd love to purchase it."

They appraised some of the treasure they had acquired, and sold enough of it to purchase the warhammer for 300 gold coins. Mouse discovered that 241 of their gold coins were actually gold painted copper coins, but believed that it was an honest mistake. Jess sold the bracelet that she got from a brigand for 18 gold coins. Prynhawn sold the mirror for 30 gold coins. Yanliz sold the chandelier for 120 gold coins. Mouse appraised the four tapestries at 40 gold coins each.

When they were done at the bank, they headed to the Quartermaster, where Moseley purchased Brother Martin's old suit of chainmail for 45 gold coins, and the 6 suits of chainmail and 24 short swords for 621 gold coins. They also purchased rations and oil.

Valeria gave her fireball necklace to Jess.

Vernim visited the chapel and gave the four tapestries to Abercrombie as a donation to the temple.

They went to the inner gatehouse, where they found Jadale.

"Greetings," she hailed. "Welcome back. What can I do for you?"

"We heard Lykos died," Brother Martin inquired.

"Yeah, I'm afraid so," Jadale replied. "We had put out some food for him, but he died during the night."

"Do you have any idea how?" Brother Martin asked. "Starvation, or can we look at the body?"

"At first we thought it was starvation," she explained, "but it looks like he ate his food."

"Was there anything wrong with his cell," Brother Martin questioned. "Was there anything missing? I don't understand. It's strange."

"No, there wasn't much there," Jadale explained. "There was just the cage."

"What about the drunkard?" Valeria asked. "Was he near him?"

"No," Jadale replied. "He was in a cell at the opposite side of the tower."

"Is the body still there?" Vernim asked.

"Yeah, we left him there. We wanted to wait for you to return before we disposed of it," Jadale replied. "Let us know if we can get rid of it."

"Brother Martin, do you want to investigate the body?" Vernim suggested.

"Let me know. If you want to look at the body, you're certainly welcome to it," Jadale offered. "Otherwise, we're just going to dispose of it."

They agreed to take a look at it, and she brought them to the tower, and up beyond Jocelyn's tannery.

Brother Martin cast guidance on Vernim as they examined Lykos.

"Look at this!" Vernim pointed out acidic marks on the side of Lykos' mouth. "There doesn't appear to be any wounds on the body, but it looks like he may have been poisoned! Look, there's still some food inside his mouth."

"Yeah, it looks like he must have died while he was eating," Brother Martin agreed, "and it looks like he might have been poisoned, but I don't understand why anyone would want to do that."

"Probably it was someone who considered him an abomination and just chose to end his life," Vernim conjectured, "to be frank with you. We can make some inquiries."

Brother Martin examined the bowl of food lying next to Lykos, but found nothing unusual.

They went downstairs to speak with Jadale.

Seeing them, she asked, "Are you done with the body? Can we dispose of it now?"

"Just one question," Lawrence asked. "Do you know who served him his last meal?"

"Sure," Jadale answered, "one of the guards brought it up to him. I can find out who it was, but it would have been the same guard that brought food to the other prisoner at the time."

Brother Martin cast detect poison and disease and immediately sensed that the food contained poison. He went upstairs, but did not detect any poison on Lykos or anywhere else in the jail. He shared his findings.

"I can assure you it was not one of my guards," Jadale insisted. "Why would they do such a thing?"

"That's what we're trying to find out," Brother Martin replied. "I don;t think it would be."

"Who made the food," Vernim inquired. "Was it one of your guards, or someone else?"

"Yeah, it probably would have been one of the guards," Jadale explained. "This looks like leftovers from what all the guards eat."

"Is there any place to purchase poison here?" Brother Martin asked.

"Not that I'm aware of," Jadale insisted.

"Are there barracks that I can wander by?" Brother Martin asked.

"Sure, they're right over there," Jadale replied, pointing to the north western portion of the inner bailey.

Jess sped off with Brother Martin, quickly weaving around a vast vegetable garden, moving people and other various obstacles.

Outside the barracks, Brother Martin skirted the perimeter of the exterior, and sensed no poison or disease from behind the thin walls.

They returned to Jocelyn's tannery.

"What happened to the brawler from last night?" Yanliz asked.

"We let him go," Jadale explained. "It seemed like he was drunk. Him and his companion got a little rowdy, so we brought him here to sober up. We had no reason to keep him."

"Are people allowed in the jail?" Brother Martin asked.

"No one comes in here," Jadale explained, "and the doors are locked at night. It's not like people can just come and go, and the guards would be the only people who would have been up there."

"By any chance, could you get us in touch with the guard that gave Lykos his food?" Yanliz asked.

"Yeah, but what do you want to question them for?" Jadale asked. "They would have no reason to get involved in this."

"We just want to find out how our friend bit it," Brother Martin explained. "We don't want to interrogate him or anything."

"Sure," Jadale sighed. "I can have him sent over. It might take a while."

Jadale left the tower, and the group returned to the empty jail.

Eventually Jadale returned with a male guard beside her. "This is Jolan, Jolan Lum. He's the guard that brought the food."

"We were wondering if anything unusual happened with the food," Valeria asked, "or on the way to bring the food to Lykos, or at the meal, because Jadale said these were leftovers from your meal."

"No, nothing unusual happened," Jolan explained. "These are the leftovers from the barracks kitchen. It's the same food that we ate. They were just leftovers. We forgot that there were prisoners, but when Jadale reminded us, we brought them some food straight from our kitchen straight."

"And you didn't see anyone while you were there," Brother Martin asked, "just the drunk and Lykos."

"Well the other guy was sleeping when I got here," Jolan explained. "I guess they brought him in, because he was being rowdy or something. I didn't get the details, but he was sleeping, and I left the same food for him."

"He could have been a plant," Lawrence speculated.

"He was sleeping," Jolan replied, "but he seemed quite human to me."

"Any idea where the drunk brawler got off to?" Brother Martin inquired. "You probably let him go yesterday morning, didn't you?"

"I think he met up with his friend and he left," Jadale replied. "Once we let him out of the inner bailey, I don't know what he did, but I assume he met up with his friend and they left. Check with Sabine."

"Thank you for answering all of our questions," Brother Martin said.

Jadale escorted them through the inner bailey.

"Jadale, did you ever get the name of the drunk guy?" Brother Martin asked.

"No, I never got his name," Jadale replied. "By the time he came our way, he was already pretty far gone, so we dumped him right into his cell, and let him go in the morning. You can check with Sabine, or you can check at the tavern where he got into the trouble in the first place."

Jadale led them through the inner gatehouse.

"Guys, when I dropped off Dubricus' stuff at his apartment," Jess announced, "I found a couple of special gemstones."

"Yeah, they were in the boots," Prynhawn said. "What about them?"

"Well, it came to me overnight, when I was sleeping, and apparently these are magical stones. This pale green prism makes you better at the things you are good at. This clear spindle prevents you from going hungry, but when you stop using it you have to eat right away.. And I think the most powerful is this pale lavender ellipsoid that allows you to negate a minor magical spell that's targeted at you.

"These are Dubricus'. I found them in Dubricus' items, so whoever gets these must give them back to Dubricus if he wakes up."

"When he wakes up," Brother Martin corrected. "Absolutely!"

"That's my one condition about sharing this knowledge with you is that they go back to the rightful owner."

"Well, those stones were in the boots that Dubricus found and are part of the group's treasure," Prynhawn mentioned. "It's not like Dubricus had them before we went to the caves."

"That's true," Jess acknowledged, "but everyone else passed up on them, and Dubricus took them."

"That's true," Prynhawn conceded.

"I think this probably won't be an issue," Valeria suggested, "because I'm very confident that once Dubricus wakes up and we tell him about them, he will be open to sharing them."

"Does he even know what they do?" Brother Martin asked.

"He doesn't know about them," Jess clarified. "I'm the one who found out they exist."

"All I will say is that I don't know what Dubricus is going to do," Jess stated, "but these stones will go back to Dubricus and he decides, and that's my condition for all of this. In the meantime, we should distribute them. I'm going to leave it up to Valeria as the party leader, but I would like to keep the one that allows me to never get hungry. I'm going to give the pale green prism to Valeria, because she gave me the fireball and she's good at a lot of things. Philip, because you put in so much work to save Third, I thank you and I recognize that, so I want to give you the lavender ellipsoid to help you block spells."

"I'm very grateful for the gesture," Philip said, "and we all tried out best with Third, but I just have to wonder, wouldn't the clerics see better use from this kind of thing? You know I'm not the target of a lot of spells."

"It should go to you or Prynhawn," Jess suggested. "Someone who's in the first line of defense"

As they were leaving the keep, they passed Sabine.

"Sabine," Valeria asked, "by any chance do you know the name of the drunk guy that got locked up in the jail overnight?"

"No, I don't know the guy's name," Sabine replied, "...but he referred to his friend as Dag."

"Thank you, Sabine," Valeria said, and they stopped.

"I think we can say that's why he didn't want to go back to the keep," Yanliz surmised.

"Sabine," Valeria asked, "did he meet with the castellan?"

"Who?" Sabine asked, "The drunk guy? No. I'm sure he didn't. I'm sure he never went to the inner bailey before. Jadale would have told me."

"Who did he get into a fight with?" Philip asked.

"I think the two of them got into a fight with each other," Sabine replied.

"Oh, really?" Philip wondered.

"So it was mostly likely a ploy," Brother Martin deduced.

"When they arrived they had a bunch of stuff with them," Sabine added, "and when they left they were empty handed."

"Like what kind of stuff?" Valeria asked.

"They had some pretty hefty sacks," Sabine explained. "They said they were here to trade, and I thought they headed off to the bank."

"Could they have brought the warhammer?" Philip reflected.

"I don't know," Sabine said. "You could ask Mouse."

They quickly returned to the bank.

"What can I do for you?" Mouse greeted them. "Did you change your mind about something?"

"No," Valeria explained, "we were wondering if some people that we had contact with brought the stuff to you. Were there two humans?"

"That's pretty general," Mouse hinted.

"One of them had a rapier," Valeria asked, "and black hair, leather armor, with a mustache and a well trimmed goatee?"

"Yeah, that sounds like him," Mouse revealed. "That's who brought in all the dwarven gear."

"Interesting," Valeria said. "Thank you."

"Do you think he knew Lykos," Yanliz wondered, "and why he was a rat. It seems weird that he got into a fight with Dag."

"Does that mean that they staged the fight so that he could get next to Lykos?" Brother Martin guessed. "I don't really know. Why would they do that?"

"That's also possible," Valeria admitted. "But how did they know Lykos? They could have gotten into a fight, and then when he was in jail, poisoned Lykos, but I don't know for what reason."

"Maybe Lykos was working with them," Lawrence proposed. "Maybe he was part of their bandit operations. Maybe he wasn't just a random rat."

"Perhaps he knew something they didn't want him to reveal," Vernim suspected, "and maybe he would have over time."

"Guys, remember we found more giant rats past the secret door in the bandit cave," Yanliz recalled.

They went back to The One-Eyed Cat.

"You're still here," Calista said. "I thought you would be off by now."

"We wanted to ask you what happened with the two guys that got into a fight two nights ago," Valeria said. "Do you know who they were?"

"What else is there to say?" Calista replied. "They got into a fight and we broke it up and called in the guards. One of them was really drunk and other—"

"What did they look like?" Vernim asked.

"One of them was dressed rather ordinary," Caslista recalled, "with brown hair, somewhat muscular, with grey traveling clothes, but the other, the drunk one, was dressed more flashy, with his goatee and  fancy rapier. He was fairly insulting, and even a bit threatening."

"We were just wondering," Philip said. "We may have encountered them on the road. Did you happen to hear the name Dag?"

"Yeah," Calista replied, "that might have been the case. I don't remember that clearly, but it's certainly possible."

The morning was getting late, and they headed off back to the caves.

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