Burning Sky Session 25

“Greetings, Laurabec. I am Ulfgar and this is my companion, Angradin,” Ulfgar introduced. “We are Ambassadors of the Blue Sky. Perhaps you’ve heard of us.”

“Ohh,” Laurabec nodded with a smile, “You're part of that group. Interesting. Well, I'm glad you're here. Your reputation precedes you. Would you like to come inside, out of the rain?”

“We would be honored,” Ulfgar replied. “Thank you.”

She lifted the tent’s canvas flap and I followed Ulfgar inside.

The large tent was not terribly fancy. A tea-kettle began to boil over a small, wood burning brazier. A small, round table was surrounded by four chairs.

“Ohh, please sit,” Laurabec led us to the table and headed for the brazier. “The water should be boiling, actually. I was just putting up a pot of tea.”

“That would be lovely,” Ulfgar replied, looking around as he sat. “Thank you.”

“Ah, I see, my lady,” Ulfgar’s eyes landed on a crucifix-like symbol hanging in the tent. “Your reputation precedes you and that of your order. A Knight of the Aquiline Cross. Mercy, sacrifice, a fierce defense of life; now it all becomes clear.”

“Yes,” Laurabec bowed her head slightly as she set teacups down in front of us. “All the people in these camps are in dire need of our help and sympathy.”

“Of that, we agree,” Ulfgar nodded. “Do you have any news of Gate Pass or the resistance to Ragesia?”

“It seems that the Ragesians haven't made it to Ostalin yet,” Laurabec revealed, “so the nobles of that area are not moved to provide assistance since they have not yet been affected. Some people won't take action until it's upon their doorstep.”

“So does that mean,” Ulfgar enquired, “is the monastery safe then?”

“Which monastery?” Laurabec asked.

“The Monastery of the Two Winds?” Ulfgar clarified.

“As far as I know,” Laurabec shared, “the Monastery of the Two Winds is still intact, and that hasn't been affected quite yet.”

“So if I'm not mistaken, my lady,” Ulfgar probed, “the Knights of the Aquiline Cross are from Sindaire. That's a long way from here.”

“It is a long way from here,” Laurabec replied, “but showing mercy and helpfulness to other people knows no boundaries.”

“Are you the only one from your order that's come to assist?” Ulfgar asked.

“I'm the only one that's here that I know of,” Laurabec admitted. “I haven't seen anyone else for my order here. I think some of them were stuck over in Gate Pass when they closed it down, and they couldn't make it here.”

Laurabec rose as the tea kettle began to whistle. Picking up the tea kettle, she opened it up, put some herbs in it, stirred it up, placed it on the table, and sat with us again.

“Well, with the business out of the way,” Ulfgar began, “uh, my lady, can I ask, is there anything that we can do to help?”

“Well,” Laurabec replied, “I'm glad you're here because the folks here might respond better to outsiders, rather than the same people that have been here the entire time. You see, the place here is about to tear itself apart, as far as I'm concerned, because there are so many refugees here. There are many different religious orders here now, concentrated in an area where once they were all in harmony. But now, because there's so many people, they seem to be competing with each other. And coupled with the pressures of war coming upon us, this place seems to be on the brink of tearing itself apart. So I've come up with the idea to see if we can have a pantheist church created in Seaquen so that it would give people from all different orders a place to go and be united and share ideas and try to become one community again. Each place should have its own place to worship, but I think in the interest of promoting diversity amongst all the people here, a pantheist church would help bring everyone together. But, the challenge is getting the different churches to agree—at least the majority of them—to agree to sign on to such an effort. If we were to convince them to sign on to it, then that would be the push that would be needed to building this church and helping resolve various religious disputes and all of those things. So we could definitely use some help convincing the other religions to sign on to such an idea.”

“So, is your proposal for a pantheist church to be more tolerant of everyone's gods,” Ulfgar inquired, “or is it your proposal that everyone should worship each other's gods?”

“No, no,” Laurabec clarified. “Everyone can worship whatever god they want, and they should still have their own church to do it in. A pantheist church would be—how shall I put it—neutral ground in a manner of speaking where all different religions can come together and they can have perhaps a schedule of all their religious services at this place and rotate it so people can come in and they can learn about each other's religions and maybe that knowledge will make people more tolerant of each other here. Education promotes tolerance, so having such a central place could help ease tensions in this place.”

“I see,” Ulfgar nodded. “Where would this church be hosted? Do you have a site in mind?”

“We haven't gotten quite that far yet,” Laurabec explained. “Our first biggest challenge is getting the other churches on board to agree to such an endeavor. Otherwise, having a site would just be a waste of time if all the churches didn't agree, because it would just cause more strife.”

Turning to me, Ulfgar asked, “What say you, my friend? Fellow dwarf, I know you worship Moradin. How does this pantheist church sound to you?”

“Yes, Moradin—known here as Grungni,” I corrected. “I'm in favor of such an effort. I think we all benefit when we work together and that is part of my mission, to improve relations among the various factions. What religions are on board and who opposes you?”

“Well, none of them are on board quite yet,” Laurabec admitted. “That's the challenge. Trying to convince them to sign on.”

“Do any outright oppose you?” I inquired.

“I don't have any that are openly hostile quite yet to the idea,” Laurabc shared. “It's just that going from a position of being a representative of the Aquiline Cross might give the wrong impression to different religious places. So I think it's more desirable to have a person without a vested interest try and convince them to sign on to this, to the effort.”

“I don't see how anybody can be perceived as not having a vested interest,” I questioned. “Maybe that's not what you mean. We are all speaking of having a vested interest in helping the people here. Do you mean that there might be suspicion of ulterior motives in this endeavor?”

“Yes,” Laurabec reasoned, “if I were to go do it they might think the Aquiline Cross has some kind of angle here. But if a neutral person would help them understand the benefits, it might go over better.”

“What is the reputation of the Aquiline Cross that might turn people away?” I asked. “I'm not familiar with this but it seems to be a benevolent cause similar to my own.”

“It's like I said,” Laurabec elaborated, “the religious orders here now are competing with each other and that brings with it—whether we like it or not—a level of suspicion. So one of those involved in the conflict proposing such an idea might be perceived as maybe having something to gain from it. I have nothing to gain from it.”

“But what is the conflict that you speak of?” I pressed.

“Well, all the churches are competing for followers here,” Laurabec explained, “and because there's a huge influx of people, that's creating a conflict amongst the different churches.”

“You'd mentioned Votberd when we entered,” Ulfgar inquired. “Is he opposed to this idea, or do you have some other issue with him?”

“Ah, Votberd,” Laurabec sighed. “Yes, I would imagine Votberd is very against the idea because it promotes tolerance amongst people. Votberd means well in the city to try and uphold law and order, but he's rather small minded in certain ways. Like he doesn't appreciate the humanity of all the refugees here. If he had his way, he'd make prison camps and send them all into prison camps so that they wouldn't be in his way or something. So yes, Votberd is not one of those people who would be easily convinced. But it wouldn't matter if the majority of the other churches here would be. He wouldn't have much choice but to begrudgingly go along with it.”

“I would think it would be in his best interest to promote tolerance,” Ulfgar wondered.

Laurabec rose and took some biscuits out of a little chest and placed them on the table.

“Yes, he's intolerant,” Laurabec shared, “so tolerance to him is like poison, if we have to speak plainly here.”

“I see,” I nodded.

“Well, I for one will do what I can,” Ulfgar indicated.

“I asked you earlier about the Monastery the Two Winds,” Ulfgar revealed his amulet to her, “I no longer followed them. I now follow the Way of the Four Elements, very close to where you're from. It is a hidden monastery, so perhaps you're not aware of it, but it would please me greatly to know whether or not it is also safe.”

“You have been gone quite a long time, haven't you?” Laurabec‘s brows furrowed. “So I think there's an encampment from your order here, further into the refugee camp.”

“Were they attacked?” Ulfgar asked urgently. “The Monastery’s no more?”

“They keep to themselves more or less,” Laurabec explained, “so I don't really know the whole story. But they’re here as refugees with not many resources… And I remember seeing that particular symbol on a small banner that they fly outside their camp.”

“Can I ask for directions, milady?” Ulfgar requested.

“Yes, if you go across the dirt road over there to the west of the camp,” Laurabec gestured, “closer to the forest, you'll see their encampment with a banner with a similar symbol on it. I'm assuming it's the same, because the symbol looks almost exactly like yours.”

“Thank you,” Ulfgar replied. “Thank you for the information. I will check in and see if there's anything I can do to assist.”

Laurabec told us about the different groups we would have to convince to sign on to the pantheist church:

“You got the Ragesian Philosophers. They worship Oghma, the god of knowledge.

“You got the Ragesian Hospitalers, and they worship Belenus, goddess of healing and restoration.

“And then you have the Ragesian Savages. They worship Griselda, goddess of strength.

“You have the Ragesian Druids who worship Ehlonna, goddess of woodlands.

“You have the dwarves, who worship Grungni.

“You have the Ostaliner Mercenaries, and they worship Tempus, lord of battle.

“Then you have some of the Seaquen locals, which worship Oceanus, god of the sea and storms.

“And then you have the Sindairese Exiles, and they predominantly worship Mystra, the mother of all magic.”

“So eight different groups,” Ulfgar noted.

“Yeah, we probably don't need all of them,” Laurabec commented, “but if we got the majority of them, like six out of the eight on board, then that would be enough support to move forward with the plan. And, with the exception of the locals, most of these are like different camps.”

“Lady Laurabec,” I inquired, “are all of these religions represented in the city proper?”

“Oceanus is,” Laurabec answered. “There are a couple of temples on the south harbor, but the rest are scattered throughout the camps. Oceanus definitely has a well established presence here. Mystra is gonna have a well established presence. This is a very heavily magic user influenced place. I would imagine she has a place here. The dwarves, the druids, and all the Ragesians, they were all here fleeing their homeland so they wouldn't have an established place…and the mercs as well.”

“So they're only in the camps?” I asked.

“Yes,” Laurabec replied, “scattered throughout the camps.”

“We will definitely see what we can do to help,” I promised.

“Okay, let me know when you're ready to go,” Laurabec offered. “I can certainly accompany you and make the introductions, if you'd like.”

“Is it better for you to accompany us,” I asked, “if there is this suspicion of competition?”

“Maybe you’re right,” Laurabec reconsidered. “Being that you're self proclaimed ambassadors, you could go and be an ambassador for this cause, in a sentence, and see if you can get them on board.”

“Absolutely,” I agreed. “Ulfgar, perhaps we should start with the dwarves.”

“I agree,” Ulfgar added, “but if we can, I'd still like to see if I could find the refugees from my monastery, if we can on the way back.”

“Yes,” I concurred, “let's find both of those to start.”

“But yeah,” Ulfgar quiped, “I definitely agree. The dwarves might have more luck convincing other dwarves. We're a charismatic lot.”

“Laurabec, before we leave,” I asked, “where can we find the dwarven encampments?”

Laurabec sketched out the general directions to the various refugee camps, as well as the temples in town and the temple to Oceanus to the east.

We bid Laurabec farewell, and headed off.

While we were walking, I confirmed with Ulfgar, “The monks were not one of the factions that need to be aligned, at least not as far as Laurabec said, right?”

“Correct,” Ulfgar confirmed. “I just want to see who survived and what happened and find out if I can help. I left many years ago.”

“Of course,” I agreed. “We’ll probably want to bring the rest of the group into some of this. We're going to want to engage Torrent, for sure.”

“Should we grab them first?” Ulfgar asked.

“I don't think we need to grab them first,” I replied. “Let's check on the monks and the dwarven encampment and reassess. I'm just thinking before we deal with Oceanus, we're going to want to engage Torrent and I wonder if we want to engage Cyrus and Xireas before we go talk to the followers of Mystra.”

After walking for about a mile, we saw an encampment with the same banner hanging out front that Ulfgar carries upon him. Walking around the camp were mostly humans, some dwarves, and an occasional elf, all wearing robes with bald and tattooed heads.

Ulfgar eagerly looked around, searching for a familiar face, and finally called out, “Alana, is that you?”

A woman carrying bread in a wicker basket turned around. With a shocked look she dropped her basket and came running over, “Ohh, by the gods!”

“Where have you been?” Alana asked, as she embraced Ulfgar.

“As you know, I had to leave the monastery,” Ulfgar explained. “The winds took me where they would, and I've been wandering the lands, spreading the word. How is Master Juriaya?”

“Master Juriaya has been killed, unfortunately,” Alana stoically replied.

“Ohh my goodness, what happened?” Ulfgar gasped. “Tell me.”

“The Ragesians found our mountain retreat and attacked us in full force,” Alana explained. “We killed a great many of them, but we weren't able to take them all. And so led by Three Weeping Ravens, we grabbed what we could and we fled, and we wound up here.”

“So the monastery is no more?” Ulfgar demanded

“Either it's no more or under Ragesian control,” Alana replied. “Many of us perished that day. It was a very sad turn of events.”

“How many of you escaped?” Ulfgar inquired.

“There are probably about forty of us here,” Alana revealed, “including the youngins.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Ulfgar asked.

“Well, it's been very difficult to say the least,” Alana shared. “Well, there's always work to be done here, but we're relatively safe here I think. But I'm sure Three Weeping Ravens would love to see you. Dreams No Sorrows made it out alive as well with the rest of us.”

“Where can I find them?” Ulfgar asked.

Alana pointed over her shoulder to a very modest looking tent further into the encampment.

“I'll be back,” Ulfgar promised, giving Alana a hug and giving her ten golds, adding, “For you and the younglings.”

“Oh my goodness,” Alana smiled. “This will buy a lot of bread for the children. Thank you. I'm sure Weeping Ravens will be happy to see you.” Alana picked up her basket and continued on.

We went over to the modest tent at the edge of the encampment.

Beyond the tent, closer to the woods, we saw a male dancing slowly and methodically, similar to Ulfgar’s morning ritual.

“Three Weeping Ravens, now I know why you're crying,” Ulfgar called out in jest. “You look as stiff as a wooden board.”

Ulfgar held out his arms.

“I am shocked, and yet I'm not shocked,” the man replied, running over and returning Ulfgar’s embrace. “Welcome, brother. Welcome to our camp. We all feared you had died along with the rest of the deceased. I'm glad you're here with us. Where have you been? What have you been up to?”

“I've been out on a walk,” Ulfgar replied, “taking where the winds may lead me. Master Juriaya sent me to spread the word about.”

“On a walkabout,” Three Weeping Ravens nodded. “That is the way, of course. That is the way.”

“That is the way,” Ulfgar replied.

“And apparently it's led you back to us here,” Three Weeping Ravens indicated. “Tell me of your exploits.”

“Well, let me introduce my companion,” Ulfgar mentioned. “This is Angradin, a traveler from a far away land. We are a party: The Ambassadors of the Blue Sky.”

“How rude,” Three Weeping Ravens replied. “I apologize.”

“I'm Angradin Hammerforged,” I nodded. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Master Hammerforged,” Three Weeping Ravens bowed slightly, placing one fist against an open palm. “Welcome to our camp. So you are The Ambassadors of the Blue Sky. Well, it's interesting.”

“Yes, I started out helping the resistance,” Ulfgar explained, “and I joined the party here to fight the Ragesians. But I understand that they finally found the monastery. Is our order no more?”

“Well, the fact that we stand here and converse,” Three Weeping Ravens replied, “is proof that order still exists. So we are here. We are simply homeless at the moment, trying to make the best of a bad situation.”

A raven flew near and perched on Three Weeping Ravens’ shoulder.

“And where will you go from here?” Ulfgar asked.

“I don't know, brother,” Three Weeping Ravens replied. “We are without a plan. We are without a home. Without our resources. In some sense, we are lost.”

“What can I do to help?” Ulfgar asked.

“I don't know,” Three Weeping Ravens replied. “We're all a little bit taken aback at the turn of events.”

As a middle-aged bald woman came walking over, Ulfgar smiled with recognition.

“Master Dreams No Sorrow,” Ulfgar bowed reverently.

She bowed back, adding “Welcome, Ulfgar. I'm glad to see you are amongst the living.”

“Still, my heart continues to beat like the wind continues to blow,” Ulfgar replied.

“Yes, the time of grieving though is coming to an end,” Dreams No Sorrow replied, “and we're gonna need to sort out how we're going to continue, I fear. Now that we found a safe place to rest for a bit, we need to come up with a new plan. But now that you're back with us, we can figure that out together. Our order grows by one more. We have nine capable fighters among us now.”

“Nine is not enough against the Ragesian army,” Ulfgar noted. “We must seek allies.”

“Yes, we thought perhaps maintaining our neutrality,” Dreams No Sorrow explained, “would keep us out of the conflict as we've done in the ages past, but the Ragesians are ruthless and they won't have any neutrality. They pretended to accept our proclamation, but turned around at the least opportune moment, and attacked us with all they had.”

“When you are attacked,” Ulfgar inquired, “were there inquisitors?”

“Yes, there were inquisitors,” Dreams No Sorrow confirmed. “There were powerful mages with them. They had scores of infantry that they just sent in, and for every five we killed, ten more came in. It was an unending flow of armed folks. It was quite sad. They were killing women, children, it was terrible. It was the most horrible thing I've ever seen in my life. We were powerless to do anything about it beyond how we were able to defend ourselves and flee.”

“We will make them pay,” Ulfgar promised.

“But, Ulfgar, keep the anger out of your heart,” Dreams No Sorrow instructed. “Retribution is not our way.”

“It is not anger,” Ulfgar promised, “it is resolution.”

“Yeah, we don't seek vengeance,” Dreams No Sorrow continued. “Vengeance is poison to the heart. The wind will find their day and they will be brought to justice. But perhaps you can come and you can sit and we can share a meal together and we can speak of old times, and perhaps how we can go forward together. Would you stay with us for a while?”

“I will stay for a bit, yes,” Ulfgar agreed.

They led us to a big communal food area where there were big pots of rice and beans and vegetables. They provided us with meager portions, adding a hunk of dried bread on a plain wooden dish.

I left two days worth of rations on the table before following Ulfgar where he sat with his old companions to reminisce.

“How are you being received by those around you and the other refugees?” I asked. “There must be contention for resources.”

“Uh, yes, it's rather difficult,” they shared. “We're obviously from another land. We're not even further out from the Ragesians and they don't quite understand our ways.”

“Have any of the other groups come to your aid?” I asked. “Or offered you particular resistance?”

“Well, they haven't really gone against us, so to speak,” they explained, “but they haven't been particularly friendly either. So we just decided to respect their wishes and predominantly stay amongst ourselves. We go for supplies when we can get them, but we predominantly stay amongst ourselves here, mainly for the younglings, and those who cannot fight.”

Ulfgar mentioned the plan that Laurabec had told us about, “Perhaps establishing a pantheist church might be an option.” He suggested they might consider joining, explained that it would be more inclusive and tolerant of other religions, and help spread the word with us.

“That sounds like a very wise and worthy undertaking for you to follow,” they counseled.

“Have you met with Laurabec?” I asked.

“I know of her,” they replied. “I don't have a relationship with her at the moment, but this sounds like a very promising way forward.”

“She seems eager to try to help everybody here,” I indicated.

“That's quite refreshing, actually,” they nodded. “There's a lot of tension amongst all the camps and the different groups and having some means to try and bring unity and some common goal amongst the different camps would, I think, go a long way to dispelling some of that tension.”

Ulfgar described the banner of the Knights of the Aqualine Cross in case they can't find him or if he’s not around to help them, pointing out the direction and suggesting that they go speak to her, adding, “She will assist.”

“Very good,” they nodded. “Thank you. We train every day at dawn, out in the field where you found me. If you'd like to join us, Ulfgar, and sharpen your skills, you're more than welcome to come and join us uh training with the rays of the dawn upon us. It might be refreshing.”

“I would like that,” Ulfgar replied. “Yes, it would be good to enhance my skills.”

“Yes, every day at dawn,” they reiterated, “we'll be happy to have you amongst us once again.”

“Perhaps if time permits,” I suggested, “on our way back we could come back here and introduce you to Laurabec personally.”

“Well, that would be a pleasure,” they replied. “I'd love to make her acquaintance, but don't trouble yourself. If time permits, wonderful. Otherwise, I can make my way over there and introduce myself.”

Ulfgar withdrew one hundred golds, handing it to Master Dreams No sorrows. “To help with the younglings and with the camp.”

“Thank you, brother” they replied. “This will be very helpful to keep everyone going.”

“If I can do more,” Ulfgar added, “I will return and assist where I can.”

“Thank you,” they replied. “We always know we can count on you and our time of need.”

“Thank you again,” Ulfgar mentioned. “I will come back to train with you.”

“Okay, that's good,” they replied. “We look forward to it.”

We headed out and made our way toward the dwarven and campement.

This encampment was clearly different from the rest with all the tents lined up perfectly in rows, with perfectly carved out areas in the center for communal spaces. The encampment was unusually clean and well maintained, without any of the trash and debris common among most of the other encampments.

Nevertheless, the conditions were still squalid.

Looking around, I easily found their infirmary and entered, examining the inhabitants.

The worst off was a child in stable condition with a mangled leg.

“What happened to you, my child?” I asked.

“Gimli and I were playing out in the field,” the child sobbed, “and I tripped over a rock and I broke my leg.”

A female dwarf with a resemblance to the child came running in, asking, “Sarah, what happened to you? What happened? What are we going to do?”

A young young dwarf came over and said, “Well, I’m familiar with medicine, but I can try and set it and—”

“Where is your friend Gimli now?” I interrupted.

“Gimli went home to his momma,” Sarah quavered.

Placing a hand on Sarah’s shoulder and another on her leg, I prayed, “The blessings of Moradin/Grungni be upon you,” and I cast healing word.

As the divine energy passed into the child, her leg straightened itself out, and Sarah immediately felt better.

“Thank you. Thank you,” the mother cried, scooping Sarah up into her arms. “Thank you. Thank you, sir.”

“Please take me to your leader,” I asked Sarah’s mother. “Who’s running this encampment? I wish to have an audience with them.”

“That tent over there,” she pointed to a tent in the middle of the encampment with a shield and hammer banner over it. “Gernis Battleface is his name.”

“Thank you,” I nodded as she turned to leave.

On the way I saw dwarves lined up outside a large tent, some with empty wicker baskets in their hands. Occasionally one came out with some provisions in it, like a loaf of bread or a little piece of cheese.

Entering the tent from the back to avoid causing any commotion, I greeted a rotund darden lady with a big apron, handing out supplies. “Greetings, I am Angradin Hammerforged of Moradin. This is my companion Ulfgar Untbergheim, of the four winds. We'd like to help you for a brief time.”

“Okay,” she replied, “sure. There's an apron over there. You can start giving people something to eat.”

Finding empty barrels, I cast create food and water, quickly filling many of them.

I helped serve the food and the water, providing greater portions and urging the recipients, “Moradin/Grungni helped prepare this food for his children. Do not hoard it. Share it with those in need. If you hoard this food, it will not last. Eat what you must and share it with your companions.”

With a quizzical look, the dwarves in line gladly took the food.

After disseminating half of the food, I reiterated to the matron of the dispensary that, “This food will not last. It should be shared. It cannot be hoarded. For that is the will of Moradin/Grugni.”

“Okay, thank you,” she replied. Thank you. This will be very helpful.”

“I will return to help again,” I promised.

“Okay, that'll be great,” she replied. “We use all the help we can get nowadays. These are tough times.”

I continued on, with Ulfgar, to the big, square battle commander’s tent and entered through the hitched open doors, politely tapping on the door frame with my hammer.

A soft glow of flame lit the inside of the tent.

“Come in,” a voice beckoned.

“Greetings,” I replied, “I am Angradin Hammerforged. You must be Gernis Battleface.”

“I am Gernis Battleface,” he replied, “and who might you be?”

“I am Angradin Hammerforged,” I repeated, “of Clan Hammerforged and Moradin/Grungni.”

“Welcome to our camp, Angradin Hammerforged,” Gernis replied. “Are you fleeing from somewhere?”

“We are not,” I clarified. “We are here to aid. I am a member of The Ambassadors of the Blue Sky and we are seeking to help defeat the Ragesian Empire’s assault. What brings you all here as refugees? Tell me your tale if you will.”

“Our clans are living in Sindaire,” Gernis began. “Those damn Ragesians came marching through. Hell bent on death and destruction they are. And we got in their way And we thought we might try and stop their march. There were just too damn many of them. Worse than hordes of orcs trying to infiltrate our caves, they are. So we fought them, we killed a good many of them under our hammers and axes. But then it was just too much. So we were overwhelmed with the forces and we saved what civilians and children we could and we fled. And we wind up here and these encampments.”

“I see,” I nodded. “This is a familiar tale.”

“Yes, those damn Ragesians are causing havoc everywhere they're going. And the damnedest thing is there just doesn't seem to be any logic to it. It's not like when we get an army and we wanna go clear out this cave and just kick those kobolds out because we want it back. They just seem hell bent on death and destruction. No negotiating with them. Nothing. They just wanna kill everything in their path. At least that's what it looks like to me.”

“I see. That is what we are hearing,” I affirmed. “Well, I have also come from very far away. Perhaps even further. It seems a different world I was from, and I was brought here, perhaps to help in this plight. My father, Danvidan, son of Grambaki Hammerforged, was transported before me, and from the tales I've heard, he fought bravely before falling to the Ragesians and is now held in their prison out to the west. I seek to free him and liberate as many as we can from the Ragesian Empire’s fist.”

“Hmm,” Gernis considered. “Tell me more about your lineage. Tell me about Danvidan. Sounds like a seasoned warrior.” He leaned back in his chair.

“He was,” I assured him. “Danvidan fought bravely and held the line against overwhelming odds in the Greypeak Mountains.”

“Where are the Greypeak Mountains?” Gernis asked. “Never heard of them.”

“Yes, as I mentioned,” I hinted, “this is almost a world away.”

“What was the conflict over?” Gernis asked. “What were they fighting about?”

As I continued to describe how Danvidan fought and then what my upbringing was like, he rose and filled three mugs with beer from a cask and set them down with a thud, spraying beer foam about the table, taking one for himself.

As Ulfgar and I eagerly quenched our thirsts, I raised my mug in cheer, “To Moradin/Grugni and the prosperity of the dwarves.”

“So, explain something to me here,” Gernis inquired. “What's this Moradin/Grugni thing? What's this all about?”

“Moradin is the name we have for Grungni where I'm from,” I explained.

“So you worship Grungni, do you?” Gernis asked.

“Yes,” I confirmed. “He is known as Moradin in my parts.”

“Huh. Well, how do you like that?” Gernis shrugged. “Grugni in all these different places. Who would have known that? That's something you don't hear everyday. Well, then a toast to Grugni and his presence in all these different places.”

As the beer continued to flow, Gernis listened eagerly as I told him about how Danvadin had been called away by the ancient Dwarven Ritual of the March to join the War of the Silver Marches to do battle against Warmonger Hartusk of the Orc Kingdom of Many-Arrows who commanded an Orc horde unlike any other seen with the support of Drow, White Dragons, and Frost Giants. How Danvadin killed a multitude of Orcs and enemies in a great many battles and his bravery and prowess made him quickly advance in the ranks and was given a place of honor leading part of the vanguard forces during the assault of Dark Arrow Keep, the central stronghold for the Kingdom of Many-Arrows. How this final assault came with a terrible cost of too many lost dwarven souls. How I remembered the weeping of many-a-widow in the halls where I grew up, my pappy being amongst the most celebrated for his bravery. How it was said that in the final throes of war, a powerful artifact supplied by a drow turncoat wizard had been used by the dwarves to dispel the darkening enchantments of the drow that were used to create roiling clouds of smoke that turned daylight into darkness. And how the artifact was destroyed in the process, causing a great explosion killing the priests who were holding ritual, including Danvadin. With the abolishment of the darkening the orc and drow defeat was complete.

Then I told Gernis about our meeting with Moznek, what I learned from him, and how he transformed into the likeness of Moradin.

“Hearing this Moradin business is gonna take some getting used to,” Gernis noted.

“Yes, that's why I say Moradin/Grungni,” I explained. “Because I believe they are one and the same. The soul father of the dwarves.”

“So what's your story, Ulfgar?” Gernis turned to the monk.

“As you can see, I'm also a fellow dwarf,” Ulfgar described, “but early on my family fled and I was raised by the monks of the two winds. And then I went my own way and found the monastery of the four elements and learned their ways, where we followed the ways of the spirits, the Tide Reaver Kraken, the Storm Chaser Eagle, the Great Wyrm, and the Dragon. All the elements. But I think we can all agree on one thing, if you look out along these planes of refugees, that we all have a common enemy at this point, and that's the Ragesians. No matter what religion we have, the Ragesians are against us all.”

“Those damn Ragesians will have to be dealt with at some point,” Gernis spat on the floor. “So what brings you by my tent? Just to share stories and drink beer?” He refilled the mugs again.

I let Gernis know that before we saw him, we stopped by the infirmary and helped the people that we could there and then stopped by the mess hall and created provisions there. “Where are your healers?” I asked. “Where are the other acolytes of Grungni?”

“They're out amongst the people, preaching Grungni’s words,” Gernis claimed. “There are lots of dwarves that come here that seem to need extra attention. They seem to have maybe lost their path. So, they're out trying to educate the public about Grungni and his benefits.”

“Good, good,” I nodded. I was sent out from my clan, which was very prosperous when I left them, and hopefully still is. The mission that I was sent out was to improve relations between the dwarves and the other races. This is the Soul Father's wish: for us to be prosperous is to have good relations with the rest of the races.”

I asked Gernis to show me the different parts of the encampment, and we took our mugs with us as he gave us a tour, pointing out how well run it was, given the circumstances.

As we walked, I returned to our goal, explaining, “The mission that my clan sent me out for was to improve relations with the other races. The Soul Father believes that is the best path to prosperity and furthering our dwarven interests.”

“The dwarves are not alone in this,” Ulfgar added, bringing up the fight with the Ragesians. “We all have a common enemy. Look about you. There's people everywhere, all fighting against the Ragesians. They might be of many religions, but we can all fight as one. Together we are strong. If we let the Ragesians divide us, they will easily shatter us.”

“When we refer to the Ragesians,” I mentioned, “we're talking about the Ragesian Empire. Many of the Ragesian are innocent victims, just like everybody else fleeing the Empire’s tyranny.”

“Yeah, we're gonna kind of stick to ourselves for now,” Gernis resisted. “This is probably not the right thing for us.”

“Well, I will be back to help when I can,” I promised.

“Okay, great.” Gernis nodded. “Thanks.”

After a few hours drinking and exchanging tales with Gernis, we headed back to the monks.

Ulfgar found Dreams No Sorrows who joined us as we returned to Laurabec’s camp.

“Greetings, Takasi,” Ulfgar hailed the eagle. “I'm here to introduce my fellow monks from the Monastery of the Four Elements. I hope Laura Beck is able to receive them.”

A couple of minutes later, Laurabec emerged from her tent. “Greetings.”

“Greetings, Laurabec,” Ulfgar returned. “I'd like to introduce you to Dreams No Sorrows, the master of my monastery.”

“It's a pleasure to meet you, Dreams No Sorrows,” Laurabec greeted. “I’ve heard many wonderful things about you.”

“I thought perhaps,” Ulfgar shared, “we might have some aligned goals with your plan for the church and I thought perhaps Dreams No Sorrows might be able to assist us with persuading some of the other factions.”

“Okay, well, that sounds great,” Laurabec nodded. “I'll be happy to make your acquaintance Dreams No Sorrows. Would you like to come in?”

“It would be my pleasure, my lady,” Dreams No Sorrows nodded. “I’d love to come in and chat for a bit.”

“At this point,” Ulfgar waited by the entrance, “we will excuse ourselves and allow you to discuss in private.”

“Okay, sounds great,” Laurabec nodded. “Thank you for the introduction. That sounds great. Thank you.”

Ulfgar and I left and returned to town, with the sun beginning to set as we arrived. Hoping to find Torrent, but at a loss for where to find anyone, and headed back to Grandma Baker's.

As we walked through town toward our destination, I saw a dwarf sitting in an alley with his back against the wall. He was moaning and holding his side. Looking closer, I could see blood coming from his nose and lip and his pouch had been cut open.

“Ulfgar,” I instructed, “Wait here. Watch my back. Look around.”

And as I approached the dwarf in the alley, I was looking around, wary of a trap.

“Ohh, help, help,” the dwarf moaned, painfully holding his side.

As I began to examine his wounds, the dwarf faded before me, and was replaced by a large mechanical puppet.

Its mouth fell open and a little pipe popped out.

A little dart came flying out of the pipe and everything became dark and silent.

As Ulfgar saw my fall to the ground, clutching my throat, he came over to assist.

When he reached me, he heard a familiar female voice from a rooftop, “Ulfgar, if you don't want to see your friend die, you'll put down your weapons and you'll come with me.”

He recognized the voice as that of Arwal Crae, a monk he was once acquainted with. She continued, “If you don't want to see your friend die, only I have the antidote. If you don’t wanna see your friend die, you'll come with me.”

Ulfgar looked up at the tops of the houses, but didn’t see anyone.

“What guarantee do I have that you'll save my friend if I come with you?” Ulfgar yelled up at the rooftops.

“You know we always keep our word,” Arwal replied.

“I don't even know who you are,” Ulfgar lied.

“Ohh come, come now, Ulfgar,” Arwal teased. “You don't know my voice. Don't play stupid with me.”

“I don't know your voice,” Ulfgar insisted. “Show yourself.”

“You agree to lay down your weapons and come with me?” Arwal asked.

“If you will save my friend while I'm here and I see that he's safe, yes,” Ulfgar promised.

“OK, lay down your weapons,” Arwal demanded.

Dropping his quarterstaff and spear, Ulfgar replied, “There you go. I'm unarmored and unarmed.”

In a flash, Arwal appeared behind Ulfgar, a length of rope in her hands.

“Save my friend first,” Ulfgar insisted. “That was the agreement. Then I will come with you.”

“Okay,” Arwal demanded, “I'll have to tie you up first. Can't have any funny business coming from you. You’ve already proven yourself by leaving the monastery.”

“I dropped my weapons,” Ulfgar insisted. “The agreement was you cure my friend, and I will come with you.”

“Okay, I'll tie you up first,” Arwal insisted, “and then I'll cure your friend and we'll go.”

“I'm not sure that was the agreement, but,” Ulfgar relented.

Arwal got behind Ulfgar and began to tie up his hands.

With a change of heart, Ulfgar pulled his hand away, demanding, “Cure my friend first.”

“Okay,” Arwal replied, and appeared to examine me, but drew three kunai knives and threw them at Ulfgar. “I guess we'll have to do this the hard way, since you don't want to cooperate.”

“You lied,” Ulfgar noted, blocking the knives.

“And now your friend dies and you have and you come along with me anyway,” Arwal replied.

Ulfgar struck out with a Fist of Unbroken Air, but Arwal disappeared into a blur and reappeared thirty feet behind him.

Arwal rushed over, attacking Ulfgar with a flurry of blows, landing a flying kick. Ulfgar returned with his own flurry of blows, landing two kicks, while avoiding her counters.

As Ulfgar’s kick was going to land, Arwal disappeared into a blur again, reappearing thirty feet further into the alley.

Ulfgar gave chase, only to be struck by Arwal’s fist, before landing a punch of his own.

Arwal blurred away again, appearing behind Ulfgar and punching him twice in the back, stunning him with the last bodyblow.

After getting kicked multiple times, Ulfgar pulled out his potion of superior healing, and quaffed it. Feeling renewed, Ulfgar attacked with a flurry of blows, grabbed Arwal by her throat and landed a punch to her chest that left her unconscious.

He quickly searched her for an antidote, but only found a few gold and seven kunai knives.

He tied her up and began to examine me, soon concluding that I was sleeping.

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