Icewind Dale 32-34: Trouble In Termalaine

We were about halfway from Caer-Dineval to Good Mead when Oosi said, “I want to go to Termalaine.”

"My conscience won’t allow me to ignore the pleas of people in danger in Termalaine. I realize we’re going for my benefit to find the Jarlmoot and all that, however, my conscience won’t allow me to ignore those people in need. And so I’m going to go to Termalaine to help those people, and I’m hoping that you all will accompany me to do the right thing and go help those people as well.”

“I agree,” Bran said. “There are many people that need our help. So if the will is there, I will go with you to Termalaine.”

“You’re an honorable man, Bran,” Oosi replied, placing a hand on the bard’s shoulder, “and your word means a lot to me and I appreciate that. However, being one step above the rest, I think we have an obligation to go help people when they are asking for our assistance, especially when they are in dire need and dying. So we have to put our needs second and put them first right now and go to Termalaine. That’s my view. So I’m hoping the rest of you would accompany me there to find what this dire situation is and put it to bed.”

“What say you all?” Bran called for a vote.

“I said we should have went in that direction to begin with before we went all this way, so, yeah, let’s go…” Erling replied. “And besides, my headaches seem to be coming from that place, so I’m fine with going there and trying to figure out what the hell is going on.”

Pondering Bran’s comment about us not being ready to face Xardorok Sunblight, I recalled what Hethyl had said about us dying if we faced him before testing ourselves throughout the farthest reaches of Icewind Dale. With that in mind, I felt much more amenable to pursuing any direction my companions wished to take, and even though I still felt that stopping Xardorok was the highest priority, I was definitely open to going to Termalaine if it might help resolve whatever was afflicting Erling, and to deal with Oosi’s quest once we’ve dealt with everything in that area, such as finding Macreadus.

“I’m also interested in whatever’s afflicted Erling,” Mendel added.

“Wow,” Erling swooned. “I’m touched that you all care so much about what’s afflicting me. It brings a tear to my eye.”

Suddenly, Blaze pointed at something sticking out of the snow up ahead, to the left of the road. Using my eyes of the eagle, I saw that it was a human foot. I scanned the surroundings and saw a tuft of hair sticking out of another snowy mound to our right.

Pointing to my head, I nudged Erling, hoping he would reach out telepathically. Instead, he padded into the snow toward the mound to the right.

The scout carefully cleared away enough to see that it was a human head, attached to a body, lying face down in the snow. He turned the stiff body over in the snow, and it opened its eyes and gasped. Erling stumbled back, both of them screaming in fright at each other.

As it began to rise, we recognized it as similar to the crazed berserker we encountered outside Maud Chiselbone’s cave.

Bran shouted vicious mockery at it, followed by inspiration for Erling.

Erling dashed away in the tall snow.

Donning his shield and drawing his warhammer, Oosi waded into the snow, toward the mound.

Moving back, I targeted the creature with slayer’s prey and stuck two arrows right in its chest.

Blaze cast sacred flame on the berserker, but it was too evasive, already moving toward us, a chardalyn-covered flail in one hand, and three chardalyn-covered javelins in the other.

Mendel cast toll the dead, but it had no effect.

The foot we had spotted ahead to the left began to stir, as did the snow we had just passed to our left.

Bran continued his vicious mockery, “Gods, it’s true what they say about the cold. It really does shrink everything!” But the berserker was unphased. Bran shouted inspiration at Oosi.

“What are these things?” Mendel asked.

“They’re not friendly,” Bran responded coolly. “Kill them!”

After having no effect with another toll the dead, Mendel cast expeditious retreat and dashed back.

Withdrawing through the snow, Erling drew his crossbow and landed a bolt clean in its chest, but the frenzied creature seemed to barely notice.

Reaching the creature, Oosi slammed it with his warhammer, eliciting a similar reaction.

The berserker up ahead dashed up to Blaze in a frenzy while the one to our left made its way toward me and threw a javelin in my vicinity.

I landed another arrow in the far berserker’s chest, but it no longer seemed to feel much pain.

Blaze hit his assailant with a spiritual weapon.

The first berserker swung its flail in a flurry, hitting Oosi multiple times, once in the face. Oosi spit out the poisonous taste of chardalyn.

Bran moved into position between the three berserkers and cast bane, hindering the two in front of us. Then he shouted inspiration to Oosi as the half-orc shouted for him to come closer.

While Erling closed in, Oosi smashed his warhammer into the first berserker again.

Mendel dashed back to me and hit it with three magic missiles.

When the rearmost Berserker closed in on me and hit me with one of its flail strikes, I carefully retreated far into the snow.

Poisoned by one of his assailant’s flurry of flail strikes, Blaze retaliated, hitting it with a spiritual weapon, and casting shield of faith on himself.

Suddenly the first berserker’s frenzied attack stopped as it began muttering, “...yes master, I know...I do your bidding….yes…” as if it was communing with someone.

“Who’s your master?” Oosi demanded.

“By the gods, you’re ugly,” Bran viciously mocked. “I bet your father regrets not pulling out!”

It fell dead into the snow as Erling stepped up behind it and stabbed it in the back.

Oosi grabbed the berserker’s flail, yelled, “Bran, get these javelins over to Blaze!” flanked Blaze’s assailant, and smashed it with the flail.

As Mendel turned to flee, he had to cast shield to deflect a lunging swing from the rear berserker’s flail. He quickly reached Bran and hit the front berserker with three magic missiles.

The front berserker swung recklessly at Blaze, smashing him in the face and chest, leaving him poisoned and disrupting his shield of faith.

The rear berserker halted and began muttering to itself. I targeted it with my hunter’s mark but missed it twice.

Blaze hit the front berserker with his spiritual weapon.

Bran cast healing word on Blaze and viciously mocked the front berserker, shouting, “Did your mother cast a Darkness spell, or are you naturally that ugly?” Then he picked up one of the chardalyn javelins.

Erling engaged the front berserker and stabbed it with his two shortswords.

Oosi smashed it with an inspired shot with the chardalyn flail.

Mendel hit the rear berserker with four magic missiles, before dashing up the road.

The front berserker continued to swing recklessly at Blaze, smashing him twice and leaving him poisoned again.

The rear berserker ran up the road and threw a javelin towards Erling. I targeted it with slayer’s prey and shot it in the face with an arrow.

Blaze hit the front berserker with his spiritual weapon and cast cure wounds on himself.

After a sloppy javelin throw, Bran cast healing word on Blaze and flanked the front berserker.

Erling stabbed the front berserker with his two shortswords again, once in the kidneys. It retaliated with its flail, and the scout had to tuck and roll to avoid the full brunt of the first blow but was hit two more times and left bruised and poisoned.

Oosi smashed it with the chardalyn flail.

Mendel hit the rear berserker with four more magic missiles.

The rear berserker flew into a frenzy and smashed Oosi twice with its flail.

Blaze hit the front berserker with his spiritual weapon and summoned the radiance of the dawn, but its light was dim and had very little effect.

Looking the naked berserker in the front up and down, Bran shouted, “I’d draw my rapier, but I don’t want to make you any more jealous than you already are,” in an attempt to viciously mock it.

Erling pricked the front berserker with a shortsword, and Oosi smashed it with his chardalyn flail.

Mendel hit the rear berserker with four more magic missiles before dashing further up the road, and I landed another arrow into its chest.

Blaze hit the front berserker with his spiritual weapon and a sacred flame.

Shouting, “I thought breath weapons were supposed to come out of your mouth!” Bran viciously mocked the front berserker to death and it fell, face-planting into the snow. Then he flanked the last berserker with Oosi.

Erling stabbed the last berserker with his shortswords, and Oosi finished it with his chardalyn flail.

Searching the mounds, I found three sets of tracks coming from the northeast.

Searching the berserkers, we found nothing besides their weapons, which Oosi took.

“Oosi,” Frizzt asked, “do you think these could be the renegades you’re looking for?”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” Oosi replied. “And, um, I don’t know. This guy here, he may have been from my tribe at some point, although he himself is unknown to me, but this is a symbol of my tribe.” He held up the berserker’s charm, which it had worn on a necklace. “Obviously, I don’t know everyone, but he may have been from my tribe. Maybe he stole it. Maybe not. I have no way of definitively knowing whether or not he is, or if he’s one of these berserkers.”

“Do you think this chardalyn could be impacting their behavior?” I wondered aloud. “You had mentioned something about them—”

“Being possessed by some evil,” Oosi finished. “You should ask the mage. I’m not saying that to be obnoxious. Maybe the mage knows more about this. I really don’t know. It’s outside of my, you know, area of expertise. I could tell you how to kill something in sixteen different ways, but I don’t know much about this chardalyn stuff.”

“I’m just beginning to learn about this chardalyn,” Mendel explained. “I suppose anything’s possible.”

“That’s an interesting point,” Bran considered. “Could the chardalyn itself be leading to the corruption?”

“The cultists were also wearing chardalyn, weren’t they,” I hinted. “And at some point, these berserkers did behave in a very possessed-like way.”

“My intention is not to keep this with me permanently,” Oosi responded. “It’s to take it to Termalaine, and then secure it there with the authorities in Termalaine. Cause it would be more secure there than just leaving it out here if the duergar have a way to track it.”

Agreeing that we just simply could not verify any of our suspicions, we continued on until we had passed the cliffs to the west, and then we left the road and headed toward Termalaine.

After a few more hours, we made camp in the arctic tundra, south of the dwarven valley.

While we were sitting around the campfire that night, Erling said, “You know? I know you guys were talking about, you know, these incidents that kind of affected me, with all this brain stuff. And uhm, I can tell you that I'm pretty sure that whatever whammy they put on me, they took it off. I believe that they did. I actually felt different afterwards. And quite frankly, it's taking a bit of a toll on me, going through that whole ordeal.

“So,” Erling continued, “I'm saying this only because I want...I'm just trying to be, you know, I guess honest about the situation. Whatever that mage did worked. I think it did. And that personally, what I'm going through now and with the meteorite feels different than what I was going through then. So maybe this helps, maybe it doesn't, I don't know, but, you know, that whole thing was crazy and weird and actually very disturbing to me, that I actually was acting that way so…it did work and it did help. So, I thought you just might want to know that.”

“I'm glad you feel better,” Bran replied, skeptically.

“Do you know what was affecting you?” I asked.

“Uhm, all I can tell you is that my whole outlook on life changed in an instant, and I don't remember exactly when it happened,” Erling explained, pensively. “I just realized that one moment that I didn't really care about anything or anyone else other than me. And what I could possibly do—in every particular situation—to make it the best for me. And uhm, I didn't like it. And, uh…I mean I did have some fun when we were in town—but I mean, but that's, but that's not important! That was just an aftereffect, mind you. Uhm, not that I would do that again, but I can't tell you when that happened, but that's how I felt. And I've been, quite frankly, kind of struggling with it ever since I got rid of it.”

“Struggling with what your behavior was previously?” I specified.

“Uh, yeah,” Erling confirmed.

“I understand,” I replied. “Well, it's good to have you back.”

“It was pretty freaking horrible,” Erling lamented. “Who the hell wants to be like that?”

“I concur,” I sympathized.

After an uneventful night’s rest, we departed for Termalaine in the morning and reached it without incident around dusk.

The streets were even more deserted than the last time we were there, and we headed straight for the Town Hall.

When we arrived at the Town Hall, we saw guards watching us from inside the windows.

Stepping out of the door onto the porch, the half-orc speaker Oarus Masthew, greeted us, “I'm so glad you came.”

“We’re sorry we couldn't be here sooner,” Bran regretted. “Please, tell us what's the problem?”

“Well, it started a week or maybe two ago,” Oarus explained. “It's hard to tell because it seemed insidious. People started going missing in the town at first, but then after a day or two, they would show back up. So we didn't think that there was any big deal with it? They had no memory of where they’d been and eventually the family started reporting that they were...different. Nothing obvious, just a Then one day, one of these returned people murdered their entire family. After that, things escalated. More people went missing and this time, they didn't return.”

“Maybe there is chardalyn in the water,” Erling guessed.

“Now we've lost contact with the Mine, the refinery, and the gem processing plant.” Oarus continued. “The whole northeastern part of the town, really. It's like it's a dead zone. I sent a few guards to investigate…they didn't return.”

“The first person that murdered their family, what happened to them?” Bran inquired.

“They ran,” Oarus replied. “They ran off.”

“They were not captured?” Bran specified.

“They were not captured,” Paris confirmed.

“So they went mad,” Erling reiterated. “They murdered their family, went mad, and ran off.”

Lowering his voice, the speaker whispered, “The rest of the guards refuse to go. Hell, I might be facing a full-blown mutiny and descent into chaos for all of Termalaine.”

“The people that returned, was there anything about them that looked different?” Bran probed. “Did they wear any symbols? Did they act differently? Did they speak differently?”

“No,” Oarus answered. “Their families said that they were off. They were acting odd, but not in such a way that made you think...Well, I guess it did make them think that they were...that they were different in some way.”

“Did they remember their family members’ names?” Bran pressed. “Were they forgetting names if you know what I mean? Like is there something that—”

“Hey Mendel,” Oosi interrupted, turning to Mendel. “You think this might be a spell? Can you do your detect magic trickery and see if any of these people are afflicted?”

“I can cast detect magic,” Mendel explained, “but it doesn't always detect everything. It only detects the existence of some sort of magical effect.”

“That sounds like a no,” Oosi summated, unloading his weapons.

“I can try,” Mendel elucidated, “I'm just saying it's not 100% for every case.” Mendel took out his spellbook and began casting a ritual of detect magic.

I noticed on a rooftop a few blocks away, what seemed to be the figure of a kobold watching us and when it noticed me notice him, it ducked behind the edge of the roof so I couldn’t see it anymore.

“There's a kobold on that roof that was spying on us,” I whispered urgently. “Should we pursue him?”

“Thank you,” Bran rushed. “We'll do what we can. Let us look into this matter.”

“Take these weapons and secure them somewhere where anyone can't get to them,” Oosi instructed the speaker. “It's important that they are in a secure, locked location. Don't handle them. Make sure no one gets them. Duergar have been after these materials and we must secure them for the sake of the Ten Towns.”

“Right,” Oarus replied. “Okay, I'll lock them up in our weapons locker.”

Erling responded to my waiting glance with, “Yeah, all right, let's move it.”

“Yeah,” Bran added, “I think we should book it and get around the building.”

“So am I not casting detect magic anymore?” Mendel whined as everyone began to bolt from the Town Hall.

“You can,” Oosi replied, “but we’re going after the kobold.”

“Should I help?” Mendel sought.

“Of course you should help!” Oosi encouraged, “Come on!”

Casting expeditious retreat, Mendel dashed past his companions and quickly circled the building, as they were attempting to surround it.

There was no sign of the kobold, but Mendel soon found a snowdrift that appeared a figure had fallen into and ran away from.

“Over here, over here!” Mendel cried.

Erling found the tracks and pointed us in the right direction.

“Can we go faster?” Mendel called, running ahead and stopping at each corner for directions as to which way to proceed.

“We're in the suspicious part of town,” Bran warned, “so I'm not quite sure if we should let anyone get out of sight of anyone else, right? Because they said the northeast corner is where no one is coming back from.”

“We can take a bunch of kobolds!” Mendel bragged.

“I'm not worried about kobolds,” Bran emphasized. “I think there's something more at play.”

“I'm going to give this guy a sword and send him up front,” Oosi quipped. “You're a brave little fella.”

“Who?” Mendel was incredulous. “Who are you talking about?”

The tracks led us to a courtyard surrounded on all sides by buildings, with three doors. Mendel dashed into the courtyard with his companions following behind. There were too many tracks to follow.

There were three humans sitting outside by a low fire. They turned to look at us as we approached.

“Hail,” Oosi greeted them, following Mendel into the courtyard and stepping in front of the mage. “Well met!"

Standing up calmly, they looked at Oosi and stated, “You don't belong here, leave.”

“In a moment,” Oosi replied. “Did you see a kobold come through here?”

I heard Erling telepathically, “I was just contacted by someone or something asking me to join them. I think we may be close. It was a pretty strong contact.

The three humans took turns replying, alternating words, as if they were of one mind, “There. Are. No. Kobolds. Here.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Oosi demanded.

Outside the courtyard, we sensed the approach of townsfolk behind us.

“There are townsfolk coming from behind,” I warned my companions. “We may be surrounded soon.”

“Oh, lots of townsfolk!” Bran emphasized.

[Erling warned Oosi telepathically, "Oosi, there are a bunch of these townfolk starting to surround us back here.”]

As the townsfolk approached, their eyes were fixed on us in a creepy, unnatural way.

Bran checked a nearby door, just outside the courtyard, but finding it locked, kicked it in.

“Quick in here, there's a room,” Bran called out. “We can take refuge.” Bran disappeared through the door.

I looked questioningly at Erling, who nodded and followed Bran.

Beyond was what looked like an entry room to a residence. It was empty other than a table next to the fireplace. The fireplace had a hook for a pot and nearby a table for food preparation.

As I crossed the room to a rear door near the northwest corner of the opposite wall, thirty-five feet away, I heard a foreign voice in my mind, “Surrender now, and we’ll spare your friends Shol'va!

Show yourself, aberration!” I demanded mentally, suppressing the reality of my worst fears coming to pass.

“Erling,” Blaze asked Erling. “What are we doing?”

“I guess we're going inside,” Erling replied, indicating Oosi and Mendel, “but we gotta get those guys.”

Blaze waited just outside the door.

“Blaze, come in,” I called. “I can slow them down.”

Blaze entered the room, standing firm in the center, and cast bless on Bran, himself, and me.

“Oosi come on,” Mendel cried. “Follow me.”

“Lead on my friend,” Oosi replied.

Mendel entered and stood by Bran, forming a line with Frizzt.

“Oosi, come on,” Erling called, “let's get out of here.”

“Alright, let's go,” Oosi replied, “I'm coming.”

Oosi entered the room and Erling, who had been covering the area with his crossbow, followed.

“Wait!” I called to Erling, who was about to slam the door shut. “Don't shut the door yet.”

As the townspeople crowded around the door, the door behind us opened and several drow warriors began to come into the room through a rear door.

I tried to shove the first drow back through the rear door, but it was far too quick for me.

Bran cast bane on the three drow entering the room, but only two of them were affected, and then imparted his inspiration on me.

The voice in my mind returned, “Well if you don’t care about these people, what about your child? Surrender now, or you will suffer!

You face me, and leave them alone!” I demanded mentally, horrified at the prospect of my son’s safety being used against me, and what might become of him.

After casting spike growth on the area outside the front door, I told Blaze to, “Trade places with me,” and was stuck by a drow sword as I crossed to the southeast corner of the room and targeted the farthest drow with hunter’s mark, challenging them, “If it’s me you want, leave my friends and my family alone!”

“Drop those spikes,” Blaze replied as he cornered the drow. “I don’t want to hurt the civilians.” He cast spiritual weapon and hit the nearest drow with his mace.

Mendel cast web over the drow in the hallway, where more drow were waiting to enter, and held his staff out defensively to the drow standing next to him.

The web was immediately dispelled by a drow in the hallway.

Erling closed the door and propped it shut with a nearby chair.

“You two,” Oosi commanded Erling and I, “watch that door and give us cover!” as he called on the spirit of the bear with a roar and flew into a rage, confronting the drow.

As the drow ignored Mendel and tried to engage Blaze, the mage squealed and whacked it in the head.

Sidestepping two sword-wielding drow, Bran slashed one with his flaming sword, but was hit with a dart from the hallway and was poisoned.

A spiritual weapon appeared next to Mendel and slashed the mage, who shrugged off a deadly toll the dead.

A drow warrior maneuvered into the room from the hallway, shouting in Undercommon, “Kill the mage first!” before stabbing Mendel with his poisoned blade.

The screams from outside grew louder as the front door flew open and four wide-eyed, and mostly bloody, townsfolk stormed into the room, surrounding me in the corner.

Erling leaped away from the townsfolk, calling, “Frizzt, knock them out!”

Bran slashed the drow by the rear doorway with his flaming sword and cast healing word on Mendel.

I pulled away from two towns folks' raking hands, targeted the drow unaffected by Bran with slayer’s prey, and leaped onto the table in the room’s southwest corner.

After sidestepping a sword-wielding drow, Blaze crushed the skull of the drow by the rear door with his spiritual weapon.

Frizzt, show yourself, you coward!” I heard the voice of Dre'zel call out in my mind, “Traitor!

Sensing that he was a prime target, Mendel, carefully avoiding the drow and townsfolk, cast expeditious retreat again, dashing out the front door, and shouted, “There’s more out here and they’re coming in!” before hiding around the corner to the south.

Erling stabbed the nearest drow in the back, piercing its vital organs, and stabbed a nearby drow with his other sword, before disengaging to stand behind Blaze, and warning us, “There’s something in this damn fireplace!”

Blocking the doorway, Oosi slashed the drow warrior with his greataxe, and was hit by a dart and a guiding bolt shot from the hallway.

Two drow ran after Mendel from the north, missing him with their hand crossbows.

The last of the three initial drow invaders stabbed Bran with its sword.

Erling’s voice in my head shouted, “Start firing on the mages and priests in the other room!

Mendel was hit by two crossbow bolts from the three guards who ran around the corner from the north.

Bran was slashed with a spiritual weapon and then fell after being stabbed by the drow warrior’s poisoned blade.

As four townsfolk surrounded me, Erling knocked one out with the hilt of his weapon, before two of them grabbed me, throwing off my aim.

Two familiar kobolds stabbed Erling from the fireplace.

After a spiritual weapon appeared next to Blaze, he hit a nearby drow with a spiritual weapon of his own and revived Bran with cure wounds.

“Frizzt,” a voice called from the hall in Common, “surrender and your friends can leave in peace, and with their lives!”

“I surrender,” I hopelessly resigned.

“No!” Erling cried. “Don’t do it!”

“You may leave,” the voice replied. “Leave the traitor and go with your lives, and we will leave this town.”

Outside, Mendel dashed around the corner of a building to the south, drawing three guards toward him.

“Stand down and we’ll parlay,” Oosi offered, as a drow wizard appeared at the front door, magic visibly coursing through its fingers.

“What the hell, Oosi,” Erling cried, “we’re not going to do this!”

“What’s your quarrel with him?” Oosi asked the drow.

“He broke his oath, he betrayed his kind,” one replied. “We’re bringing him back for justice.”

“What say you, Frizzt?” Oosi asked.

“I broke my oath by rescuing Erling and others like him,” I admitted.

“You said you surrender,” Oosi confirmed. “Are you willing to go of your own free will and accord?”

“If it will save your lives,” I acknowledged.

“The choice is yours,” Oosi insisted. “You make it.”

“I have already said, ‘I surrender,’” I reiterated.

“Oosi, really!” Erling cried as the drow began to advance on me, unopposed. “What the hell?”

“Step aside,” a drow instructed Oosi, with a look of disgust.

“Are you sure, Frizzt?” Oosi asked again.

“What choice do I have?” I responded as another drow squeezed past Oosi, and closed in on me, a pair of spiked manacles in his hand.

I’ll find you, Frizzt,” Erling spoke in my mind, “Don’t you worry.

Just stop the endless night, Erling,” I replied. “It’s your only chance.

I’ll come find you, Frizzt,” Erling repeated.

“Come on, what are you doing?” Erling pleaded, heartbroken. “Come one, let’s work this out! Can we pay you reparations or something?”

“I have area spells,” Blaze whispered to Oosi and Bran. “And I can call for help.”

“If you can send for help in secret, do it,” Oosi whispered back.

“Drow always win!” the drow warrior sneered at Oosi as he closed in on me, commanding, “Bring the Shol'va!”

As the townsfolk began dragging me to the drow, Bran rose, shouting, “For Frizzt!” and cast shatter. My knees almost buckled at the painfully intense loud ringing noise that suddenly erupted around me, as did the other drow. The kobolds and townsfolk died miserably. Bran then gave Oosi his inspiration.

The drow wizard hit Oosi with three magic missiles.

Drawing my scimitar, I sliced the nearest drow’s throat, then dropped the blade, transferred my hunter’s mark to the drow warrior, landed an arrow, and moved back into the southeast corner.

Blaze was stabbed by the drow warrior's poisoned blade as he centered himself and summoned the radiance of the dawn, killing the drow with the manacles and wounding the warrior, wizard, and others in the hallway. He smacked the drow warrior with his spiritual weapon.

Dodging, Erling was smashed with a spiritual weapon, before being paralyzed by a hold person spell cast from the hallway.

Outside, after quaffing his only potion of healing, Mendel dashed around to the opposite side of the building he was hiding behind and peeked out at the three guards watching attentively where they had previously seen him.

“Treacherous dogs!” the drow wizard cursed before blasting Erling and me with a lightning bolt.

Slamming the door shut and holding it fast against the pounding from the other side, Oosi threw his handaxe into the drow wizard’s chest.

“Frizzt, take out the warrior that’s coming to get you,” Oosi instructed. “Finish him!”

The drow warrior stabbed Oosi with his poisoned blade.

Two more drow entered from the front door, one closing on me, and the other stabbing Bran, before the bard cast fear on it and the drow wizard, who both dropped their weapons. Then he gave his inspiration to Erling and closed the front door.

Targeting the nearby drow with slayer’s prey, I drew my shortsword and, inspired, stabbed it to death with two thrusts.

Blaze tossed a fireball into the southwest corner, mortally searing the drow warrior and scorching the wizard, and clubbed the mage with his spiritual weapon.

Outside, peeking around the corner, Mendel drew his wand and hit the three guards with a magic missile each before dashing around the building.

The drow wizard ran in fear and jumped up on the table in the southwest corner.

Erling broke free of his paralysis.

Grabbing a hand crossbow from the ground, Oosi shot the drow wizard, who crumpled to the ground. “Finish that last guy!” Oosi barked as he continued to hold the door.

The last drow was swatted by Blaze’s mace while fleeing in fear to the northwest corner.

Dropping his sword and drawing his crossbow, Bran cast healing word on Erling.

Sheathing my sword and drawing my bow, I shot the last drow with a fatal shot in the throat.

Blaze cast cure wounds on me.

Outside, Mendel peeked around the corner, and not seeing any drow or guards, approached the front door.

Erling retrieved his crossbow.

Both drow spiritual weapons floated through the north wall.

Peeking out the door, Bran heard a squeal from outside, “Bran, you’re alive! It’s all clear out here.”

“Mendel, you’re alive!” Bran responded. “Where the hell did you go?”

“I tried to draw off the guards,” Mendel explained.

“Well, you did a good job I guess,” Bran replied, retrieving his sword, “but we had to fight inside. Mendel, get in here!”

Stepping back into the room, Bran cast healing word on himself.

I retrieved my sword and aimed my bow at the rear door.

Blaze cast cure wounds on Erling.

Mendel took a peek to the north of the building and returned to the room, closing the door behind. “Thank goodness everybody’s safe! I tried to lead the guards away with some of the drow warriors.”

“Well done, little mage,” Oosi commended.

“I knew you guys could handle them!” Mendel cheered. “I thought I was done for.”

Bran blocked the front door and Oosi opened the rear door, but all we could see on the other side was blackness.

Searching the drow bodies, Erling took two hand crossbows and two holsters of darts, and I took a hand crossbow, two holsters of darts, and two shortswords. Bran took two shortswords, and Oosi and Erling took one each.

Searching the drow wizard, Mendel found a wooden staff with drow designs carved up its length and a traveling spellbook containing: mage armor, magic missle, witch bolt, alter self, web, misty step, lightning bolt, and Evard's black tentacles.

“Something spoke to me in my mind,” I explained, “and I do not believe that it was drow. I believe it was the aberrations that control them.”

“Yeah, I wonder if it was the same thing that was talking to me?” Erling pondered. “Asking me to join it…”

“If they spoke to you in your mind,” I figured, “then it most likely was.”

“Should we see if any of the townsfolk can be revived?” I asked. It’s regrettable that so many of them perished.

“That’s a good idea,” Blaze agreed.

“Those people outside looked like a mess!” Mendel recalled aloud.

Looking outside, it was clear that there were no survivors in the area. The courtyard was empty and anyone who had survived had fled.

“We should check out the rest of this complex,” Oosi stated.

“Are you sure you’re in any condition to do that?” Mendel asked. “You look pretty beat up.”

“We’re all a bit injured,” Blaze acknowledged.

“Yes, we’ve all taken some injuries,” Oosi seconded, “but we want to make sure we don’t have an enemy coming at our back either...running us down in the streets like dogs.”

We all moved to the courtyard where I took up a defensive position between the three inner doors.

Mendel hid behind a nearby barrel while Oosi checked the door to the southern building, to the rear of where we fought the drow.

After checking the door, Oosi opened it and saw only blackness on the other side.

“Darkness can last up to ten minutes,” Mendel offered, “just like Expeditious Retreat. Unfortunately, I can’t dispel it.”

“They’re hiding in here, or they made their escape,” Oosi concluded. “Blaze, would light counteract magical darkness?”

“It should,” Blaze figured, casting light beyond the door.

“I didn’t think it would,” Mendel proclaimed, as nothing happened.

Closing the door, Oosi checked a door to the north of the courtyard and saw an empty room beyond.

“Once I pass the threshold, we’re committing to toss the whole place, right?” Oosi hesitated.

“If we want to check the darkness,” I offered, “I can cast spike growth inside that would hurt anyone within.”

“You know what,” Oosi reconsidered,” I think we should get the hell out of here, and regroup, heal up, and figure out why they were here and looking for you and how to deal with this.”

“I’m inclined to agree,” I concurred. “It was not the drow that communicated with me in my mind, but I believe it was one of their masters.”

“So were they enslaving this town?” Oosi asked. “I think we need to talk this through to understand what was happening here. Were they enslaving this town to get to you, or are you just...I don’t know what. We kind of need to figure this out. What are our next moves...”

“I suggest we report back to the speaker and rest there,” I proposed, turning to Erling.

“Yeah, let’s go,” Oosi agreed.

“Are you sure?” Mendel asked Oosi. “I can look through that building real quick if you want.”

“I don’t think any of us are in any condition to fight,” Bran surmised.

“No,” Oosi responded. “No, no, Mendel. We have to go now. We’ll figure this out later. And we should kind of talk about your battle tactics too.”

“Are you okay?” I asked Erling.

“I guess I’m alright,” Erling replied. “Like, the whole situation was a bit unsettling if you ask me.”

“Indeed,” I agreed.

“They were about to drag you down to the Underdark,” Erling exclaimed. “I mean, what the hell was that all about?”

“I appreciate your support,” I patted Erling on the shoulder.

Mendel grabbed the drow wizard’s staff, and we returned to the Town Hall.

“You know, if they did retreat,” Erling considered, “they might be going back to those caves, where we emerged from.”

“I agree that that is likely where they came from,” I concurred.

“Perhaps we should talk about sealing the caves,” Bran suggested, “with the speaker. At least until we can get the town under control.”

“I mean, assuming that’s the only way out of the Underdark,” Oosi hinted.

“I’m sure it’s not the only way out,” I stated, “but it may be the only way out in this vicinity. I would imagine that wherever the duergar are coming from is another passage.”

At the Town Hall, guards were busy fortifying the structure for a final assault, boarding up windows, and adding spiked fences around the perimeter.

“Oarus, we must speak with you,” Oosi greeted the speaker, who was waiting by the door.

“Yes, friends, how are you?” Oarus replied. “What did you find up there in the northern portion of the town?”

“Let us retire to your office and discuss it,” Oosi suggested.

“Come on inside,” Oarus waved us in after giving out a few directions to the guards.

Closing the door behind him, Oarus asked, “What is it?”

“We may have gotten to the root of your problem,” Oosi began.

“That’s good news!” Oarus replied. “What was it?”

“Well, we found a contingent of drow in that section of town,” Oosi explained.

“Drow!” Oarus gasped, his face pale.

“Yes, drow,” Oosi confirmed.

“Indeed,” I seconded.

“I’ve never heard of drow invading this town or this area before,” Oarus admitted.

“Yes, and some of your townsfolk were indeed bewitched somehow,” Oosi elaborated. “Not acting themselves. Taking orders from some unseen thing.”

“Most likely the same creatures that are influencing the drow,” I added. “And this is what I have feared...with the darkness—”

“Were you able to free them?” Oarus asked.

“We were able to drive the drow away,” I replied.

“Well, unfortunately—and this is why we wanted to speak in private. We didn’t want to alarm the rest of the townsfolk—a battle ensued, as you can understand, and unfortunately, the townsfolk that were under their spell died in that battle that ensued.”

“That’s terrible news,” Oarus sighed, his shoulders slumping. “How many people were killed?”

“Probably about a dozen,” Oosi responded. “I didn’t take a headcount, but probably about a dozen or so.”

“But the drow have been routed?” Oarus asked.

“That’s right,” Mendel piped, “the drow were driven away!”

“We think they’ve departed,” Oosi speculated, “but we need to investigate further to understand what the hell they were doing here, to begin with. There may have been some underlying reason for them to be here. We’re not exactly sure yet. So, there’s still some questions that need to be asked.”

“Okay,” Oarus acknowledged, “so, what can I do to help?”

“Well, we need a place to rest and regroup,” Oosi indicated, “and confer amongst each other to figure out what’s going on and what our next move might be.”

“Well, the Town Hall’s being converted into a safe house,” Oarus offered. “You can find bunks and take them. That’s fine.”

“Can we use this office for a spell?” Oosi asked.

“Did you want me to cast Detect Magic?” Mendel asked Oosi.

“Not right now,” Oosi replied. “Just hold on. Hold on a minute.”

“Oh, not that kind of spell,” Mendel realized aloud.

“Oh yes, we're gonna stay here,” Oosi informed the speaker. “We're gonna kind of regroup, debrief, and we’ll let you know what our next steps are going to be.”

“Do you know of any other way that the drow could be coming up from the Underdark?” Bran asked.

“The only thing I can think of is the mine,” Oarus considered.

“Then perhaps we should seal the mine,” Bran suggested. “At least until we get the north of the town under control.”

“That's gonna be an option,” Oosi stated.

“I suppose we can do that,” Oarus acknowledged.

“Yes, let's keep that on the table,” Oosi confirmed, “and let's kind of figure out what we’re gonna do, and we may very well want to do that.”

“While we're resting,” Mendel asked the speaker, “Do you think you can have somebody fetch some supplies for us? Nothing major. Just a few things like some, some charcoal and incense and herbs.”

“Charcoal, incense, and herbs?” Oarus repeated. “Well, we can certainly get you charcoal. Incense and herbs? What kind of herbs?”

“Uh, we don't have magical supplies here,” Oarus regretted as he departed. “For magic stuff, I don't know. You probably have to go Bryn Shander for stuff like that.”

“So what the hell was that all about?” Oosi asked, turning to me. “Was that hunting party only here for you?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted, “but that is a possibility. They did seem like they wanted me to surrender and offered to leave—”

“Well, they knew you,” Oosi added. “They were ready to shackle you. Ready to haul you off. So it’s more than a possibility.”

“Well, they definitely wanted me,” I corrected. “It's a possibility that that's all they wanted.”

“So you were one of their goals, perhaps,” Oosi reiterated. “How do you fit into their plans? Was it just a side goal of vengeance, to get you for whatever transgressions they say they have with you? We need to figure out what to do about this. If they’re gone, if we need to run them down, if the cave is enough…”

“It is possible that one of the houses seeks retribution for my abandoning my society,” I shared. “I also was responsible for the freeing of Erling from captivity in the Underdark. You can see why they would want revenge. But a worst-case scenario is that they fear that I might disrupt their plans to invade the surface. This has been my fear all along.”

“So how determined are a lot like them?” Oosi asked. “Do we need to brace for a counterattack now?”

“I cannot tell for sure,” I admitted. “However, what we do know is that the endless night has persisted for years, and they have not infiltrated so far. It appears that the first strike from the Underdark will come from the duergar. I would—”

“I don't know,” Oosi interjected, “it seems like these guys are pretty much a bit bolder than the duergar, right? The duergar have been operating clandestinely and not really impacting the townsfolk directly. These folks are pretty brazen. They’ve come here. They’ve literally taken over a part of this town and somehow bewitched and enslaved their folk. It's a bit more of a strike than the duergar.”

“I only meant that the duergar have infiltrated multiple towns sooner and appear to be preparing to make a more destructive assault from what we've heard,” I elaborated. “Whereas this appears to be more targeted. I have no doubt that the drow are being manipulated by more powerful creatures, like the ones that spoke to me most definitely the ones that were controlling the townsfolk.”

“You know there was one that spoke to me too, right?” Erling added. “Right before that whole assault happened. Did I mention that?”

“What did it say?” I asked.

“They wanted me to join them, or some crazy stuff,” Erling explained. “I don't know what the hell they wanted. And I was like, 'Who is this? Who is this?’ and they just sort of faded away.”

“I wonder if they knew that you had been their captive,” I pondered.

“Uh, maybe, but it's a little bit different,” Erling clarified. “I think, with this go around. Because their comments seem like they knew that I was hexed for a bit.”

“Are you saying that this is related to that pain you had?” Mendel asked.

“No, I didn’t say anything about pain,” Erling replied. “I was hexed.”

“The pain that you had in your head!” Mendel insisted.

“Oh, you mean... Oh no,” Erling denied. “No, this wasn’t a pain. This was somebody like, you know, talking to me telepathically. It wasn’t a pain. That was a different thing.”

“No, I know that this wasn't the pain,” Mendel tried to explain, “but I mean, but do you think that they reached out to you for the same reason? Do you think the two are related?”

“Like attacked me and caused me pain and tried to recruit me?” Erling asked.

“Possibly,” Mendel posited. “Why you? They didn't reach out to me. Did they reach out to you Oosi?”

No,” Oosi stated. “They better not.”

“But wait a minute,” Erling insisted. “Wait a minute. That's not… I mean… What I was trying to say is, remember when I was hexed a while back?”

“Yes, we do,” I confirmed.

“And then,” Erling continued, “like, I had all these crazy thoughts, and well, you know—”

“You mean until Vellynne cured you?” Mendel cut in.

“Well, yes,” Erling confirmed, “yes. The thing that that witch—that mage cured me of. So, they were kind of talking to me, appealing to me, thinking I’m still thinking that way. Trying to lure me into some nastiness, I think. Power, riches, whatever.”

“Oh, so they were related,” Mendel suggested.

“No. Well, may— prob— No!” Erling insisted. “I mean, could they have attacked me? Maybe. I don't think so. No. I don't think so. I think the attack, the pain, was like something else. There’s a lot of things going on here. There's a lot of things happening and like the pain thing was one thing and this telepathic communication thing was another thing. And they were talking to me as if they knew I was hexed, and they thought I was still hexed and they were trying to appeal to me to kind of join them. Join the dark side kind of thing, and um—”

“How were you hexed?” Mendel asked.

“How was I hexed?” Erling asked. “I don’t know. You’re a mage. How do I know? I was hexed and you took me to the mage and they took the hex off of me.”

“Do you know what hexed you?” Mendel prodded.

“I have no idea,” Mendel replied. “I just woke up and I was...I wasn't feeling quite right, and, um, I was really...feeling kind of evil. And, um, yeah. I mean, I think you guys kind of saw that after a while, right?”

“Yes, we did,” I acknowledged.

“I’m kind of ashamed of those things,” Erling admitted, “but you know…”

“We did notice,” Blaze said.

“We are glad to have you back,” I added.

“Well thanks,” Erling replied. “I appreciate that. For a while there no one even seemed to give a hoot. No one even mentioned it, but anyway, that’s a whole other thing. But right now they seem to be—.”

“It was a constant weight on my mind,” I tried to assure Erling.

“But right now,” Erling continued, scratching at his dagger, “you know, whoever that was seems to kind of still maybe think I’m hexed, and trying to appeal to me, because they might be thinking that I’m thinking that I’m still thinking like I’m hexed. You know what I mean?”

“Do you think that the reason they reached out to you is that you can speak telepathically?” I inquired.

“I don't know,” Erling replied, scratching his head. “I really don’t know. My best guess was that like you know that they somehow reached out to me because they think that by offering money or power that I’m going to do something for them, and, and, and, for me to do the telepathic thing, my experience has been, and maybe I’m off, that I have to do it. You can’t talk to me if I don’t talk to you first. And I certainly wasn’t talking to anyone. Does that answer your question?”

“How would they know that you were hexed?” Bran interjected.

“It's kind of creepy if you ask me,” Erling admitted. “I don’t know. There's a lot of unknown questions here I don't pretend to know the answers to. It just seems like why would you like—there's five other people here. Why target me and why try and entice me with those kinds of things if you didn’t know I was hexed? Or if you didn’t think I was hexed. And how would you know I was hexed if you didn’t put it on me, but I don’t know.”

“That's why I'm asking about your ability to speak telepathically,” I explained. “Maybe somehow they were able to pick that up.”

“Uh, I don't know,” Erling considered. “I mean the only time I could do it was when I started it, and so I didn't talk to anybody but you guys. Like for example, I spoke to you, Frizzt, around that time, so you could be the only one that could respond to me”

“I don't know how these things work,” I speculated, “but just because I'm the only one that can respond to you, doesn't mean that other telepathic creatures might not be able to sense your abilities. Which is similar to what Mendel was asking. If the pain that reached out to you when we were at the duergar stronghold came from Termilaine and if it was related to this. These things could be related.”

“Erling,” Bran hinted, “do you think it has anything to do with the crystal that we got from Clairisma?”

“Which part?” Erling asked.

“Do you think they might be tracking that somehow?” Bran continued. “You still have it, don't you?”

“Well, yeah,” Erling admitted. “I do.”

“But who’s tracking it?” Erling asked.

“That's the question,” Bran replied.

“Like tracking it, how?” Erling asked.

“It might be imbibed with magic,” Bran suggested.

“There are spells that can find objects over great distances,” Mendel explained, “as long as you're familiar with them.”

“Yeah,” Erling acknowledged, “this was weird though. We found this in caves, like buried away somewhere, if I remember right.”

“Didn't we find it in this cave though?” Bran recollected.

“You mean the cave we suspect the drow came from?” Erling asked.

“In the gem mines,” Bran clarified. “I thought we found it when we first investigated before Frizzt and Oosi were with us. Back with Clairisma and Brutus.”

“Uhhh,” Erling pondered. “Well, yeah, I think that’s right. I think that’s right.”

“I believe it was Clairisma that found it,” Bran specified.

“But, if it was buried away, who would be like,” Erling considered, “who else—who would be familiar with it. No one knows I have it. Who would be familiar with it to magically track it.”

“That I don't know,” Bran admitted.

“Is that how you speak telepathically?” Mendel inquired.

“Yes, if you must know, yes,” Erling revealed.

“Well, maybe they can track it then,” Mendel suggested.

“I think Frizzt just said that,” Erling pointed out.

“Oh, I wasn’t listening to him,” Mendel sighed. “I was paying attention to something else. I'm looking in this book to see if there’s any spell that can help us.”

“Ah, well, I mean, maybe,” Erling contemplated. “Look, I don't know. Maybe they could be tracking us. How would I know? You know, there’s all kinds of crazy things in this world. Maybe they’re tracking it, maybe not, I'm just—”

“But if it was the crystal,” Bran affirmed, “if they were tracking the crystal, that explains how they could contact you. But how are they contacting Frizzt? I, for the record, have not been contacted. Blaze, have you been contacted telepathically?”

“I have not,” Blaze shared.

“I think they specifically reached out to me because of what they wanted from me,” I revealed. “I don't think there’s any mystery about that. I am, as they call, a Shol'va, a traitor. I hope that answers that question.”

“So, can all drow track you, Frizzt?” Bran asked, “Or only certain drow?”

“I don't think they were tracking me,” I speculated. “I think they detected me when I was here.”

“The drow detected you?” Bran questioned.

“As I mentioned, I don't think it was the drow that communicated to any of us,” I explained. “I think it was their masters.”

“Do you have any idea who the masters might be?” Bran asked.

“I do not know the details of who they are,” I answered. “But they are thought to be from a far realm, and control many of the houses in drow society.”

“Aren’t they like little wormy things that burrow into your skull, and take control of you?” Erling guessed.

“That is a common rumor,” I acknowledged. “I cannot attest to the truthfulness of this.”

“Either way, they sound very powerful if they're controlling not only the drow, but the townsfolk,” Bran warned. “We best be on our guard.”

“Indeed they are,” I agreed.

“So there might be a way to get these unseen people to show themselves, actually,” Erling suggested.

“And how is that,” I asked.

“Well, did I mention that as we were leaving, they contacted me again?” Erling revealed.

“I don’t think you did,” Bran and I replied.

“So like, they contacted me, trying to tempt me again,” Erling shared. “Or maybe I’m just going mad. They were trying to tempt me again. Telling me I could be the greatest hero and gold and riches and some weaknesses that I’m shackled by, or something, and I said, ‘Well, I can't talk to you about this if you don’t tell me who you are,’ and they got frustrated and said, ‘fine, I'll contact you and, you know, to talk to you. So there might be, like, they might want to get together and discuss it.”

“Like for drinks or dancing?” Bran quipped. “Dinner maybe?”

“Maybe. I guess,” Erling replied. “I don’t know. I guess if that’s what I told them.”

“I mean, if you go to the bar,” Bran continued, “are they going to stroll in through the door with a bouquet of flowers? How are they going to contact you?”

“Don't be silly, Bran,” Erling objected. “Don't be silly, I mean, I didn’t set anything up yet.”

“I'm not being silly,” Bran insisted. “I'm asking, how are they going to contact you?”

“Probably the way they have been, via you know,” Erling tapped his skull.

“I’m grateful you saw their temptation for what it was,” I applauded Erling.

“Yeah, I don't want to take over the Ten Towns anymore,” Erling replied. “I mean, I’m over that.”

“Not anymore!” Mendel gasped. “Well, I think the question still remains, why you?”

“Well, I mean, you know, when you got it, you got it,” Erling bragged. “They obviously sensed that I was capable and everything, and they wanted to deal with me.”

“I wonder if somebody else was carrying your crystal,” Mendel hinted, “if they would contact them?”

“Listen,” Erling stated, “you can’t have my crystal, so take it easy, buddy. You’re kind of harping on my crystal. You can’t have my crystal.”

“Well, perhaps Blaze could wear it,” Mendel suggested, “and we could see if they contact Blaze.”

“No,” Erling refused.

“You do seem mighty possessive about something that could be making you a target,” Mendel accused.

“Why don’t you give me your spellbooks then?” Erling argued. “Why don’t you let somebody else carry your spellbooks?”

“I don't want that Crystal,” Blaze replied.

“You don’t worry about my crystal,” Erling replied. “I don’t want your spellbooks. I’ll use them as kindling for the fire.”

“There’s no need to get testy now,” Mendel replied.

“I mean just don’t take my shit, you know,” Erling warned.

“Alright, alright now,” Oosi cut in. “Let's kinda make a plan. If these people are contacting us, and they’re willing to make a meeting, maybe we should let them have it. Let them have a meeting and get to the bottom of this. Enough with this, you know, dancing around nonsense. Enough with this politics.”

“I want to cast Detect Magic,” Mendel said, taking out his spellbook to cast the ritual. “I want to see if this staff is magical.”

“Oh darn!” Mendel groaned, having finished casting detect magic, and looking at his staff, before glancing back at Erling.

“So, Erling,” Oosi instructed, “if they contact you again, you should go ahead and set a meeting.”

“Where would we meet with them?” I asked.

“That’s something that we should figure out now,” Oosi replied, “so that we can be prepared for the next contact.”

“I suggest we meet outside the town,” I suggested, “so as not to endanger more townsfolk.”

“Just let me know in advance, so I can buy some flowers,” Bran added.

“If we’re going to arrange a meeting,” Oosi asked, “where should we arrange it?”

“I suggest we meet them closer to the mine,” I proposed.

“How about out here somewhere,” Oosi suggested, looking at a town map on the wall and pointing to a spot just north of town.

“Is that far enough away?” I questioned. “Why not meet them closer to the mine?”

“Well, if we capture them,” Oosi offered, “we can drag them right into the jail, and throw them in the jail. Like, what’s the benefit of going that far? If we just go right outside of town to meet them? What’s the benefit of going that far? I'm not saying ‘no,’ but I'm just trying to understand.”

“I'm trying to avoid a situation where they run into town,” I advised, “and I'm also concerned about the prospect of keeping any of them as a prisoner within the town. I would not want a contingent of drow invading the town in order to free one of their own.”

“Or come get you?” Oosi suggested. “Now that they’ve been forced into the open.”

“I may not be here,” I replied. “But it does raise a good point. Maybe after we rest, it may be better if I’m not in this town. My presence may be a danger.”

“Alright, that's cool. I agree,” Oosi consented. “We should do it further out of town. I agree with that.”

“I think we might have the advantage out in the open,” I suggested.

“So, pick a spot,” Oosi outlined. “Erling is seemingly on his own. He goes to meet this person, thing, whatever, and then, at some point, we all sorta jump out and... prisoner or whatever we have to do there.”

“Erling, are you okay with all of this?” I checked.

“Uh, the bait, again!” Erling whined. “I’m always the bait! On the hook. I guess, if you guys got my back, I’ll do it.”

“Well, we didn't let him take Frizzt,” Bran reassured him. “We’re not going to let him take you.”

“Freakin’ better not!” Erling swore.

“Unless your attitude changes,” Bran teased. “Then maybe.”

“If my attitude changes?” Erling quipped. “By the time you figure out my attitude’s changed, it’ll be too late, my friend.”

“So find a clearing,” Oosi continued. “How far away do we want to be hidden from the clearing in order to spring the trap, so to speak?”

“What would the trap be?” I asked.

“Well, I mean, maybe we surround the clearing,” Oosi proposed. “Let them come in. And then sorta close in on them from all sides. Or we could dig a pit. Shove them into a pit.”

“There may be another way,” Mendel offered. “Erling, if you don't want to be the bait.”

“Well, what do you mean?” Erling asked.

“Well, I was looking in this spellbook that we recovered,” Mendel explained, “and one of the spells would let me disguise myself as someone else.”

“Uh-huh, okay,” Erling pressed. “And then what?”

“If you don't want to be the bait,” Mendel reasoned, “there is another option. That's all I'm saying. If you don't mind, then that's probably our safest way to tempt them, since maybe they know who you are. I don't know if it would work, but I could change my appearance with this spell to make myself look like you.”

“Uh…” Erling considered. “I think I probably have a better chance of surviving it and getting out of that situation than you might.”

“Okay,” Mendel acquiesced.

“Well, if we're looking to do deception,” Bran added. “I'm pretty good with a costume or two.”

“If they can speak in his mind,” I suggested, “I don’t think any sort of disguise is going to change that.”

“Yes, enough with this trickery,” Oosi objected. “Erling, you just need to take care of this.”

“I didn't say it wasn't gonna,” Erling insisted. “I said... I don't have to like it.”

“Fine. Then it's settled,” Oosi declared. “Erling, you'll have to go meet them and spring the trap, whatever that trap is. We haven't decided what it is yet, but you'll have to spring that trap.”

“If this is something that you’re willing to do, Erling,” I clarified.

“Yeah, I guess,” Erling agreed, scratching at the desk. “I’ll do it. What the hell. It’ll make this idiot go away and leave me alone.”

“Alright, so where’s the cave?” Oosi asked. “We want to find a clearing that maybe has some cover for us, which they might come in numbers also, right?”

“Is one of the aspects of your plan, Oosi, that we all need to be able to hide, while Erling appears to be alone?” I confirmed.

“I think so, yeah,” Oosi confirmed. “My bet is, being the cowards that they are, they’re going to try and get him out there on his own, to take advantage of him, or to kill him, or to bewitch him, or whatnot, so, we being there will spook them away. We want to bring them in.”

“What if Erling agrees to meet them outside of the mine,” I suggested, “and we are all hiding behind the entrance to the mine? Outside of the mine, but behind the entrance.”

“So, what? As they emerge, we close off their retreat?” Bran clarified.

“Indeed,” I confirmed.

“But that presumes that they’re coming from the mine,” Oosi pointed out. “What if this is yet another faction? We've already seen two factions at a minimum. What if there’s a third faction at play, and they’re not in the mine?”

“And they come from a different direction?” I confirmed.

“Yes,” Oosi confirmed.

“Well, they do control the entire north of the town,” Bran advised, “from what it sounds like, so they could come from any direction.”

“That is something that we wanted to ask Oarus to do,” I recalled. “I suggest that we ask Oarus to send someone through the town to see if anyone is still acting strangely. Can we do that?”

“Sure, I’ll go out and talk to him,” Blaze offered, departing.

“What message did you get, Frizzt, from them?” Oosi asked. “What was the message that you got?”

“They told me to surrender,” I shared, “and they would spare my friends. They also threatened my child.”

“Your child!” Oosi exclaimed.

“Where is your child, Fritz?” Bran asked, “Or where was your child, last you saw?”

“My family is still in the Underdark,” I revealed.

“Like, I'm wondering, if they're both connected,” Oosi pondered, “I’m wondering if they have, like, the ability to read minds. Like, to read something in my mind, come up with something from when I was hexed, and try and get me with that. Read something in Frizzt’s mind, you know, some kind of weakness in Frizzt’s mind, and try and get at him with that. Like, you know, what parent wouldn’t want to do whatever they had to for their child, for example.”

“If they can read minds, then we won’t be able to ambush them,” Bran surmised. “They’ll know what our plans are.”

“Well, that’s a good question,” Oosi replied.

“I have no doubt that some of them must have this ability,” I shared. “I had not considered that for myself because they do know of my family.”

“Right, so it’s not anything that would be conclusive enough to come to,” Oosi concluded. “You know what I mean?”

“But I have no doubt that the aberrations that are influencing the drow have this ability,” I reiterated.

“Yes, but can we rule in or out that they are the ones contacting us?” Oosi asked.

“I don’t think we can,” I answered.

Bran suggested that we ask the speaker to have the bodies of the dead townsfolk burned in order to put them to rest properly and to ensure they don’t rise up again.

“Do you fear that they were somehow infected beyond a temporary mind control?” I asked.

“I’m worried that they might contain some kind of disease, yes,” Bran explained, “that could spread.”

“I did examine the bodies, and I did not notice anything unusual,” I offered. “Perhaps we should ask Oarus to bring those bodies back here for further examination.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Bran agreed.

I passed the request on to Blaze who passed it on to Oarus.

Noting that the group that contacted me had different demands and different communications than the individual that contacted Erling, Oosi wondered if they were different factions.

“I do think it is unlikely that there were different factions that were speaking to us today,” I suspected.

“You think they were all the same?” Oosi asked.

“Indeed,” I confirmed, “but it is possible that they are not coming from the mine.”

“I think it’s fair to say they may not come from the mine,” Bran deduced, “given that they’ve already taken hold of much of the north of the town. They might have other strongholds in different houses.”

“Yeah, maybe we should go and check for tracks,” Oosi suggested. “Like, if they fled, they cast Darkness and ran, maybe we could pick up another trail from that place if it hasn’t been trampled by other people by now.”

“I do know that the courtyard had been heavily trampled previously,” I added.

“Right, so there’s no way we’re going to pick up a trail from there,” Oosi concluded. “There’s too much other interference there.”

“Well, then let’s pick a door and go in,” Bran suggested.

“I think our best bet is to find out if anyone is still acting unusually,” I suggested. “It is possible that everyone has returned to their senses.”

“Maybe,” Oosi concurred. “Let’s pick an ambush site, and then go check that out. Unless we’re going to rest now.”

“I think we’re definitely going to rest,” Bran advised.

While we were resting, Oarus informed us that they had not discovered any evidence of people behaving unusually, concluding that everyone who had been acting strangely had perished, and that the guards were bringing the deceased townsfolk to Ross Funeral Home.

“Are you aware of any spells that might cause that kind of control or compulsion?” Bran asked Mendel. “Are you aware of anything?”

“I’m sure that there is magic like that that exists,” Mendel explained, “but that doesn’t mean that it was a specific spell.”

We agreed that if they contacted Erling again, Erling would suggest meeting just north of town.

After we rested, we examined the bodies at the funeral home but found nothing unusual.

At Bran’s suggestion, we headed to the gem processing center, to clear it out.

I positioned myself in sight of the four doors visible from the courtyard. Pointing to the door in the rear of the building where we were ambushed, Mendel asked Oosi which door he wanted to try first.

“I think we should go there, as you suggest,” Oosi replied, “but I also think, uh, I, I appreciate your eagerness to go first, but I think you really need to, kind of temper your enthusiasm a little, Mendel.”

“Well, I wasn't gonna go first,” Mendel explained. “I was just asking you about this door. You have the honors.”

“Remember,” Oosi reminded the mage, “we have to have that discussion about your battle tactics a little bit.”

“If you insist,” Mendel replied.

“I do,” Oosi confirmed.

While Oosi opened the door, Mendel sought cover behind some nearby barrels.

“Just know when to stand back,” Oosi advised the mage.

The darkness gone, Oosi stepped into the hallway previously occupied by the drow.

Blaze followed him in and Erling stood guard by the door.

Bran entered the room where we had fought the drow and crossed to the same hallway.

Oosi and Blaze found two additional doors in the hallway’s southern wall and began investigating the rooms beyond.

“Is it all clear in there, Erling?” Mendel called out.

“Uh, so far, so good,” Erling replied. “Looks okay.”

Mendel entered and helped Oosi search the rooms.

In the fireplace, Mendel found an old, tattered, and patched long coat.

“Oh look at this!” Mendel exclaimed, showing him the coat. “You always have to look in the fireplace. There’s always interesting stuff in the fireplace, Oosi.”

“I see those damn kobolds were hiding in the fireplace last time,” Oosi recalled. “I'll make a note of that.”

Oosi searched the coat’s pockets but found nothing.

“That’s an odd place to store an overcoat like this,” Mendel noted, dragging the overcoat behind him into the hallway, having found nothing of interest in the bedrooms. “Just this weird overcoat in the fireplace.”

Erling and Bran recognized the coat and cursed the kobolds they had brought back to town from the gem mine.

“Yes, they actually attacked me,” Erling noted. “They actually attacked me when we were in the other room list, in the battle.”

“Yeah,” Mendel explained, “this was in the fireplace on the opposite side of that fireplace.”

Erling confirmed that the two fireplaces shared the same chimney.

“Ah, I got it,” Erling exclaimed. “That's probably how these dirty dogs did it.”

“Make sure none of them are hiding up there,” Mendel warned.

“Well, I don't see any,” Erling shared. “I was looking up there. If they’re stupid enough to attack us now! They deserved what they got coming to them.”

“Where to next, Oosi?” Mendel asked, following the half-orc back to the courtyard along with Erling.

“Well, we should check the other buildings, too, I think,” Oosi replied.

“Good idea,” Mendel agreed.

Oosi entered the door to the north, Mendel close behind, and found a foyer empty other than a couple of little benches and hooks for coats and gear. There was another door on the north wall.

Oosi opened the door and looked beyond, finding a long room with long workbenches holding tools and supplies for extracting and polishing gems from minerals.

“Have a look around,” Oosi instructed Mendel. “See if there's anything related to these drow that were here. That will give us a hint as to what the hell's going on.”

“Oh, is that what we're looking for?” Mendel asked.

“Yeah, what did you think we're doing here?” Oosi quipped. “You think we’re gonna rob the place?”

“There's a back entrance,” Mendel pointed out the exterior door on the north wall. “This is probably how they escaped.” Pointing at the tools on the table and floor, he added, “Look! Look at that. You see how this tool fell off the desk? I can see it now. The drow. There were six of them, and they ran through this room, and one of them, you know that badass one, you can tell he knocked it just like this, and look how it landed.”

“Ah, ah, yes, yes,” Oosi nodded, apathetically as he opened the door. “Well done. Well done.”

Peering outside, Oosi could see the forest not too far away to the north.

Returning to the courtyard, Mendel called out, “Erling, we need your skills.”

“Sure, what's going on?” Erling asked.

“We need a tracker,” Mendel explained.

“Ah, you've come to the right place, my friend,” Erling replied.

As Mendle led Erling through the rooms, he repeated his detailed description of how he envisioned the drow escaping.

Examining the tracks from the doorway, Erling said, “Mendel, see if you can rustle up one of those guys to come take a look at these tracks. Would you mind getting Frizzt to see if he can help us out? I need another set of eyes on this.”

“I guess,” Mendel replied incredulously. “I didn't think he was a better tracker than you though.”

“Well, you know,” Erling muttered while Mendel went to fetch Frizzt. “Everybody needs a hand sometimes.”

“Fritz,” Mendel called into the courtyard, “Erling would like you in here.”

I entered, passing through both doors, inadvertently trampling on the outside tracks. “Perhaps we should look a little further,” I suggested

Looking further, we found tracks heading northeast, but we couldn’t tell how many.

Meanwhile, Bran opened that door to the east of the courtyard and saw a barracks inside filled with wardrobes and footlockers, and mining picks and shovels leaning up against the corners.

No longer finding me in the courtyard, Bran met us to the north of the gem processing plant.

We followed the tracks for half a mile to the gem mine.

“Have you guys been here before?” Mendel asked.

“Yes, we have,” Blaze, Bran, and Erling replied.

“Some of us have,” Bran elaborated. “Before you joined our party, Mendel, we journeyed here with some of our fallen comrades.”

“I don't want to go back in there,” Erling said. “I don't want to go back there. I've been there once before. I don't wanna go back there again. I went there once again, reluctantly, and if they're gone, then good riddance. I don't wanna go back there again.”

“We can have the townsfolk seal the mine,” Blaze suggested. “Maybe address it at a later date if we want.”

“If we can have the townsfolk seal the mine,” I conquered, “I think that would be wise.”

“It's a fool's errand to go down there,” Erling claimed. “They're long gone. Why would they even consider hiding out in the upper caves when they could just go back down into the protection of the Underdark.”

“The only reason I can think of,” I advised, “is if they were planning on launching another assault on Termalainne.”

“True,” Erling admitted, “but they could go and regroup in the protection of their lairs, and then, you know, climb back out.”

“Indeed,” I agreed.

“So yeah, I'm not,” Erling reiterated. “I'm not—I don't wanna go back down there.”

“I don't blame you, Erling,” I assured the halfling, “if we can block off the mine. It is quite possible that this assault was led by a single house, and they may have suffered losses that they are not able to replicate.”

“Yeah,” Erling agreed. “Yeah, whoever it was, I think they've gone and we should get the hell outta here and whoever contacted me, I'm guessing, my opinion, is that they're different from them.”

“That would be a coincidence,” I hinted.

Concluding that the drow must be long gone toward the Underdark by now, we returned to Termalaine.

“Yeah,” Bran added, “I'd agree that sealing up the mine, at least for now, seems like the most prudent action.”

“I have to agree,” Oosi turned around and said, looking thoughtfully into the air and rubbing his chin. “We have more pressing issues at the moment than to delve down into the depths here. Not that I wouldn't mind the challenge of tracking these foes down and finishing what we started. Uh, but, sealing off his mind, slowing them down, clearing out whatever we have to clear out up top, then we can come back and finish the battle that they started. So I agree with that.”

“If I recall correctly,” I mentioned, “they may be able to seal off the mine in such a way as to prevent the passage to and from the Underdark, while still allowing them to harvest the gems that they seek for wealth.”

“Yes, I still have some of those maps, you know, maps I drew from myself,” Erling agreed. “We can help them sort that out.”

“But I agree,” I added. “We have other pressing business. If there's any way that we can stop the endless night then the drow will have very little ability to launch another assault.”

“Alright, then it's agreed,” Oosi concluded. “Let's go back, and let’s tell the speaker what we propose he does.”

We returned to the Town Hall and explained to Oarus that we tracked the drow to the mine and conveyed our recommendation to seal up the mine.

“It will be done,” Oarus agreed, adding, “There have been occasions where creatures have crawled up from the Underdark before. We've sealed the mines until, uh, you know they could be cleared out or somebody hired to clear them out, or whatever. We've done it before. We can handle it.”

“Okay, great sounds like a good plan,” Erling breathed a sigh of relief.

“You know what you need, Erling?” I suggested. “I think we should head to Lonelywood and get you some cocoa.”

“Coco Coco?” Erling replied. “I think Candy would be a better solution for me right now.”

Erling mumbled recollections of his night in Easthaven...

We agreed to head to Lonelywood to deal with Ravisin.

“Oosi,” I mentioned, “I don't think that you have had the luxury of trying the cocoa in Lonelywood.”

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