Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 25

Rowan levels her hand crossbow, taking a careful bead on the Grick’s head.  As it raises itself from biting at the comatose form of Tuskor, she squeezes the trigger and the bolt flashes out to catch the monster in the throat.  It falls, choking on its own black blood to thrash weakly on the floor.

Lanaver moves in with bravado, blades moving in tandem.  “Give up already, would ya?  We got you cornered and there’s no escape.”

“Take me if you can you bastard!”  Is his defiant reply.

Lanaver leaps to the attack with a flurry of stabs and feints, leading with his dagger before stabbing his rapier beneath the sergeant’s buckler, wounding him in the thigh.

Sebastian bends over Tuskor, applying a field medical kit to staunch the considerable bleeding and disinfect the disease ridden bites from the still twitching Grick. Sebastian looks up from his bloody work to meet the sergeant’s eye. “Vengeance has come upon your head, surrender or die!”

“To the Nine Hells with you, whoreson!” Spits the sergeant, hefting his shield once more and advancing on Sebastian. He makes a series of slashing cuts with his heavy broadsword and Sebastian’s arcane shield appears, deflecting the first but exploding into a shower of arcane sparks as the second slams through it and slashes him across the chest. “If I’m for the nine hells, I’m taking you peons with me!”

Tallisk strikes out at the sergeant with a wild blow from the side but he deflects the staff with his shield, smashing her weapon away hard enough that she stumbles backward, falling to catch herself awkwardly.  Even as she falls, her skirt flies in a fan shape as her slipper clad foot strikes out, narrowly missing the man’s chin.

Tuskor places his fingers on the earth, seeming to draw strength from it before rising to his feet. He pulls his tusk staff from his back whilst muttering his ancient words. As his staff begins to crack and splinter and become entwined with red veins so too does his face begin to become covered in red pulsating markings. He charges past Sebastian at the sergeant bringing the staff crashing towards the side of the man’s head with a mighty roar.

Tuskor’s mammoth staff crushes the sergeant’s nose knocking him down. His head splits open on the floor of the guard house and blood spills out into the dirty stone grooves. Rowan quickly moves to Villonah and frees her from the cage trying to calm her down. Once the Gnome girl realizes she’s safe, she swoons, her terror having been the only thing keeping her conscious.

A noise causes them to stop and look back where they came from.  An Elf stands before the door into the tunnel. She has an arrow drawn back to her ear, and trained on Rowan.

“Put the gnome down and leave. You will not take her anywhere and torture her more. There may be more of you, but some of you will not survive the fight if you try to take her.”

“Have ya no eyes in yer head fair Elf lass?” Tallisk says in a deceptively light tone, “We been doin a bit of rescuin sure an we have, an yer a bit late ta th party, though you’re much more welcome than this scum thenow.”

Rowan looks up in surprise. “We’ve just saved her from certain death, and are taking her back to her father. Join us if you will, but there will be no harm to her this night.”

Tallisk takes a pair of cigars from her belt pouch, lights then with a flick of flint and steel and passes one to Hajima. Blowing a perfect smoke ring, she grins at the elf. “If ya don’t believe us, just ask the gnome lass. If she is still… together enough to answer I’m certain she’ll tell ya of our good deeds.”

Lanaver looks at the Elf and speaks in the native tongue the Elves.  “Sister, I can promise you two things; we are leaving this forsaken place, my comrades and I, and the girl is coming with us. You can lower your weapon and leave too but if you keep pointing that thing at us I can’t guarantee your safety.  Just now we find ourselves a bit unwilling to trust strangers who threaten us.”

“Very well, I am satisfied.” she says, lowering her bow and loosening the string. “Let me take a look at her then we must be away. If only there was some way to destroy this fell place.” she spits.

“Oh… Well you should have said so in the first place,” Lanaver grins sheepishly.

“Forgive me, I did not think to find goodly folk here in this evil place.”  The Elf says, “My name is Ylivia, I’m a member of the Order of the Gauntlet and we’ve been fighting against the tyranny of the Starshield Guard.  We have been battling them for nearly a year now.”

“The reason they took me isn’t because I broke any laws.”  Villonah says weakly, “I stole a map purported to lead to the lair of a White Dragon in the mountains of the North.  I gave them a fake map, keeping the original in my boot.  We will use this to bring down the corrupt Guards and restore order to Starvale.”

Ylivia looks at them, offering a pouch of gold with a serious look of gratitude. “You have done a great service to the order and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for courageously rescuing my friend, Villonah.”

Sebastian’s brow furrows, “Would it be possible for us to have a copy of that map?”  He asks, “It could prove a vital asset in our own investigations of the Cult of the Dragon.  I would have a care as well, it seems that many folks are hunting for artifacts that are draconic in nature, The Silencers among them.  Simply possessing that map could lead to further trouble, especially if corrupt members of the Starshield Guard know that you have it.”

“I would willingly make a copy of the map for any member of the Order of the Gauntlet.”  Ylivia says, “However I cannot give such to an outsider without first consulting the people in my organization.  For now, I must see that it reaches my superior’s hands, I cannot transcribe it here and I would flee with Villonah,”

Lanaver purses his lips thoughtfully, “Villonah, your father is very worried about you. If you’ll not come back home with us, can you give us something to prove that you live and are away from these vile filth?”

The gnome pulls back her linen shift, showing a tattoo of a safflower on her upper right thigh and sings, “When windfalls way has wound the woods and willows weep their weary wails, I’ll whisk away your worries’ woe with Western winds to fill your sails.” Her smile is one of grief, but a small shimmer of a smile shines through. “He will know,” she says, staring out the tunnel.

Rowan steps forward, at first speaking hesitantly, but her voice strengthening as she finds her resolve. “I have studied the various factions and had not, until this moment, chosen one. I find myself approving of your methods.” She says, “Villonah’s capture and treatment made me pity her at first, but I find her courage and resolve to be a true inspiration. I will join your Order, and vow to aid in all ways that I can, if you will have me. Then, you may give me a copy of the map so that I and my friends may aid if needed.”

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Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 24

Thanks to its stone camouflage, the Grick that was hiding in the southeast corner of the room has made its way around the rubble strewn about the dark room and, hanging from a stone wall, lashes out at Lanaver, who is attempting to free its dinner.

As Rowan stumbles away from the hideous creature the two nearest obelisks begin to glow and faintly hum before a pulse of magic energy is emitted into the room. Meanwhile, Hajima and Tallisk simultaneously hear the issuing forth of low wolf growl from within the southern room followed by excited barking and slavering.

The Grick surprises Rowan and Lanaver and writhes toward them. It attacks Lanaver, tentacles lashing out to strike him with terrible force, dragging him close as its beak snaps at the air in front of his face.

Rowan lets out a yelp and cringes away from the monster, diving behind a pile of rubble in a desperate attempt to put something between her and the tentacled horror.  She weaves magic and song together even as she rolls to a stop, unleashing a spell at the Grick, but feels the monster resist the effect.

Lanaver draws his rapier and stabs at the Grick’s snapping beak, the tip of his blade skittering off the hard bone with its serrated edges before biting deep into the soft flesh next to where the tentacles connect to its face.

Tuskor shouts a spell and the now familiar worms writhe up from the floor, wrapping tightly around the Grick and holding it in place.

Sebastian enters, casting a spell to ward Rowan from harm. “We have company from the other room and it sounds like they have a wolf!”

The Grick thrashes against its bonds, partially breaking free as it snaps and bites at Rowan, but the monster is unable to get close enough for its beak or tentacles to find purchase on her flesh.

Four guards bust out of the guard room yelling, “What’s going on in here? Which of you bastards wants a day in the funhouse?!”  They see Hajima standing there with a loaded crossbow. “Well well well, what have we got here? Get out here you lazy bastards we got a break in!”

The first of them levels a heavy crossbow at Hajima and curses as his bowstring snaps and the weapon misfires. A guard wielding a halberd moves around to flank Hajima and strikes him while his attention is on the man with the crossbow. The third guard is wielding a spear and shield, he moves out near the prisoners and hurls his spear at Tallisk.

Tallisk sways sideways at the last second as though drunk, the spear misses her narrowly burying into the wooden door frame she is standing near. The guard with the booming voice who is obviously their leader swings a broadsword at Hajima which misses. He then moves back into the room and unleashes the wolf.

Tallisk moves languidly to one side and back, almost falling but catching herself on the spear with her right, using it to pull herself back up to her feet. She stumbles a few steps forward, leaning heavily on her staff and seems to trip, flinging her left hand forward and causing her staff to glance off the guard’s shield.

He stumbles backward and she reels drunkenly forward, bringing her right foot down hard on the man’s instep. “Oh! Shorry.” She slurs, “I jusht wandered in from the shtreet…”

The scurrying of clawed feet on stone heralds the arrival of the trained wolf as it round the corner out of the guard room. It bares its teeth at Tallisk as she harries its master and attempts to bite her leg but she stumbles to one side and its teeth snap closed on the open air.

“Nish doggy, good puppy.”  Tallisk says, her voice warbling a drunken croon.

Hajima shifts about and strikes out at the guard with the halberd, taking him in the chest with his rapier. The guard spits a curse, “You’ll pay dearly for that, scum.”

Rowan ducks her head out from behind the stones she is hiding behind and hisses a sibilant and angry song towards the Grick. The monster reels in mental agony from the bard’s spell, and Rowan ducks back behind the stones, noting that her magic has more of an effect on the Grick than her allies’ non-magical weapons do.

Rowan shouts at the top of her lungs, “Use magic if you have it!!!”

“Why’d we give that tooth back!?”  Lanaver growls, leaving the cage and drawing a dagger into his off hand. He dashes behind Rowan and past Tuskor, building momentum as he nears Tallisk. He engages the wolf harassing the monk with both blades driving toward what he hopes are vital organs.  The wolf yelps and slumps down to the stone floor.

Sebastian hurls a ray of frost at the Grick. Screams erupt from its beak as its reptilian form is blasted with ice. Sebastian stands tall next to Rowan, knowing that should his blade ward fail his healing art should keep his Halfling companion alive.

Tuskor grimaces at the death of the wolf, hating to see any woodland creature brought low thus. As the last breath leaves the dying wolf Tuskor places his tusk staff onto his back. His eyes roll up into his head leaving them pupil-less and a transformation begins. The staff begins to melt into Tuskor’s back and the end lingers like a tail.

Suddenly with a crunch Tuskor’s knees snap backwards and he falls to his hands, or rather the paws that sit where he hands should be. His already massive grey man grows longer, encompassing his entire body and with a scream of rage his face thrusts outwards becoming lupine in shape. The scream turns into a howl and left where Tuskor once stood is a mighty grey wolf.

Racing to the still entangled Grick, Tuskor snarls and lunges, trying to sink his new teeth into the monster. In spite of its restraints, the thing’s hide resists the wolf’s attempt to savage it.

The Grick busts free of its entanglement with a strong effort. It moves up to menace Sebastian, tentacles writhing and mouth snapping with hunger.

The guard sergeant emerges and swings his bastard sword at Hajima. He roars in anger when the other deftly blocks the blow on a leather bracer and prompts his companions to fight harder.  “Come on you worthless cowards, kill these bastards!”

The guard with the halberd swings it at Hajima, taking advantage of the opening his leader had made.  The blow strikes deep his side, sliding beneath the arm that is still raised, blocking the bastard sword blow.

Another guard fires his crossbow at Tallisk.  The girl twitches her head sideways and the bolt grazes her ear, slicing a few locks of her bright red hair as it flashes past.

“HEY!”  Tallisk shouts, “Watch th hair ya shithead!”  She spins and smashes the halberd wielding guard in the gut with her staff and then brings her knee up into his nose with a sickening crunch when he doubles over in pain.  The man falls, twitching to the ground and she prods him with a toe.

“Ah… are ya OK laddie?”  She asks, but she’s not putting much of an effort into her usual deception.  The satisfied smile on her lips doesn’t help matters.

Hajima holds his side, gasping in pain “Medic!”  He throws a grateful look at Tallisk whose attack has allowed him to retreat from the thick of the battle.

Sebastian calls out “By Clangedins’ beard this things breath smells like the nine hells! I’m coming Hajima, hold on!”  Sebastian hears the cry for help from Hajima, but the Grick blocks his way.

Rowan plays a rill on her flute and lights begin to flash in front of the monster’s face, but although it shies away from the dancing lights it is too hungry to stop be distracted from its intended meal.  As it continues to attack Sebastian and Tuskor, Rowan finds some rubble to hide behind.

Lanaver backs away from the guards, blood flowing liberally from his wounds and shouts to Sebastian, “Doc, ya better patch me up quick!  Seems like there’s more a this red stuff outside me than in!”

Tuskor, still in wolf form, savages the Grick with his jaws, growling in defiance and rage.  Sebastian tosses Lanaver a healing potion then proceeds to blast the Grick with another burst of frosty magic and it screeches loudly in anguish. Even as it thrashes in its death throes, it rears up and tentacle attacks Tuskor, ripping into the Druid’s wolf hide.

The guard sergeant swings his broadsword at Hajima who desperately parries the attack with his rapier.  The crossbowman drops his crossbow and advances on Hajima, drawing an axe and swinging it at him in a series of wide strikes. Somehow Hajima parries and dodges the attacks, backing up until he runs into the wall; safe from injury for now but surrounded by enemies.

His breath comes in short gasps, and he uses his martial discipline to force his body to stop bleeding through sheer force of will.  “You can’t kill me that easily you bastards.”  He grates between clenched teeth.

Rowan pulls out her hand crossbow, seeking to put an end to the wounded Grick, but her shot goes wide, clattering against the stone wall.

Lanaver moves toward the axe man with renewed vigor, flanking him. He circles around toward Hajima, vying for an advantage and supporting his comrade.  There! He spies an opening in the man’s defenses and leaps to the attack.

“Die you bastard!”  Lanaver cries, leaping forward and stabbing his dagger deep into axe man’s back.  The guard falls to his knees, dropping his gore splattered axe. Lanaver grasps the man by the throat and with a single efficient movement, slashes the man’s throat from ear to ear.

Sebastian draws Hajima back from the attacking enemies, using the hole in the action that Lanaver’s brutal slaying of the axe wielding guard created.  He quickly slaps field bandages on his wounds.  “Damn damn damn!”  He curses, unable to contain his worry for his friend and for their situation.

Tuskor relentlessly pursues the Grick, his claws scraping against the cold stone floor as he attempts once again to bring the foul creature down. The wolf whines in consternation as the Grick eludes his lupine form, weakly sliding away from his snapping jaws.

The monster turns on him and manages to latch onto him with a tentacle, dragging him forward and sinking its beak into his flank.  The effort causes it to shudder, leaking foul smelling ichor but in a show of terrible, unnatural stamina it continues to fight.  With a yelp Tuskor is knocked out of his wolf form and lies unmoving face down on the ground.

The sergeant moves in on Hajima as Sebastian is attempting to patch him up. He grins an evil grin, stabbing the prone man in the gut.  He twists his blade as he removes it, leaving Hajima gasping in pain and bleeding profusely.

Spurred on by his leader’s brutal attack, the other guard swings his axe, cutting into Lanaver’s side.  The crunch of splintering ribs and Lanaver’s cry of pain are overshadowed by the guard’s shout of triumph.

Tallisk watches in horror as her new friends endure grievous wounds in defense of her and their young charge. Summoning the inner strength and power her Master had drilled into her over long hours of practice, she springs into action. Her quarterstaff becomes a humming blur of motion, the iron bands on either end causing it to whistle as it tears through the air to strike the axe man on the back of the head with the rebound, she brings an elbow into his face.

The man falls and Tallisk appears to stumble over him, treading heavily on his neck in the process.  “Ohmygosh, are ya ok?”  She asks, her voice dripping with false sincerity.  She stumbles toward the Sergeant, at the last minute swinging a shin in a low arc that connects with considerable force on the back of his knees.

Sebastian stares in amazement, they had seen Tallisk fight before, but never like this.  That sudden, deadly explosion of attacks banished any doubts he had about her abilities.  No matter her soft and plump appearance, she had obviously made the dealing physical violence one of her life’s greatest passions.

Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 23

This room contains eight cells, five currently occupied by prisoners who start begging to be released as they enter. A door to the east is barred from this side, and there is also a door on the south wall. A stone chair is bolted to the floor in the room’s center, and interrogation instruments hang from the walls.

“Shhh” Rowan says, while using her hands in a pushing motion to try to get them to be quiet. She looks around for keys to the cells.

Sebastian also implores them to be quiet.  “If you alert the guards we can’t help any of you.  Hold your tongues and we’ll get you out as quickly as we can.

“Ohhh akushla, my heart bleeds fer ya.” Tallisk murmurs, looking at the nearest, “Are there guards? Do they come often? By the Hag’s teeth I ain’t leavin here without all of ya.”

Rowan is calmly and quietly continuing to reassure the prisoners, she also asks quietly, “Villonah, are you here?” While peering into the cells and trying to open the doors.

The prisoners quiet down for the moment, their cries stifled to sobs and whimpers.  After a brief inspection, they see that female gnome is not among them. Of the five prisoners here, four are in terrible condition from starvation and dehydration. They can walk on their own, but they are in no condition to fight.  Two only have one ear.  The last prisoner appears mad, having been driven insane by his long confinement and exposure.

Rowan continues trying to open the doors while saying quietly. “Where is the gnome girl? Where did they take her?”

“Promise to free us and I will tell you.” One of the prisoners with a missing ear says.

Rowan’s face is full of pity and fear as she notices the madness in the eyes of the murderous soul in the fifth cell. She turns to her friends. “I think the honest guards must deal with this one. Freeing him would be a mistake.” She turns her still sad face too, “What have you done that you are here? None deserve this hidden place, but …” and she trails off, not quite sure how to proceed.

“We’ll find her with or without you,” Lanaver sneers, recognizing the missing ears as a sign of membership in The Silencers.  “But no one is leaving until we do, and I’m going nowhere with that barmy sod,” He points at the homicidal prisoner.

Tallisk is shocked at the expression of disdain from Lanaver. How could he not feel compassion for these poor lost souls? Remembering their mission, she concentrates in the task at hand with effort.  Seeing that Rowan has the discussions in hand and unable to continue to stare at prisoners she is unable to free, Tallisk turns to look at the other doors. Since Lanaver is at one, she heads to the other, listening.

Sebastian is sure the madman is truly unbalanced and likely dangerous, loosing him on the city would put innocent blood on their hands.  “Free all but the one that is mad. We will come back for him.”

Lanaver hears the sound of murmured human speech and the rolling of bone dice.  He tries to find a place to peek through the door to the other side, but the door fits the frame well and there is no keyhole on this side.

The two men call out, thanking Sebastian, calling him a hero. The two Silencers are tight lipped. They take your help and leave immediately. After pointing to the eastern door saying, “She’s in the funhouse”. The mad man slams himself against the bars like a caged animal but is not overly loud for now.

At the man’s proclamation that the girl is behind her door, Tallisk struggles to lift the bar.

“Should have let those Silencers rot Sebastian… Remember they and theirs tried to kill us for that fake egg…”

Lanaver watches Tallisk at the eastern door.  “He’s probably lying you know…”

“Well, hopefully they will spread word that we are the heroes to all. Even Silencers don’t deserve torture. ”

Wondering what a Silencer is, Tallisk lifts the bar with straining muscles and leans it in the rack beside the door, grunting in a most unladylike fashion.  The chamber was once grand but is now in shambles. The walls have collapsed in and given way to earth. An obelisk stands in the middle of the room, covered in sigils. A cage has been erected in the middle of the room surrounded by a number of peculiar obelisks made of black stone. Within the cage, a young gnome woman dressed in a simple gray tunic sits on the floor with her back to the obelisk.

She rocks back and forth with her head in her hands, saying the same thing over and over in a mad whisper, “Can’t run away. Can’t run away.”

Tallisk looks at Rowan with a clear question on her face. This looks like magic. This looks out of her league.  “Villonah?” She says, trying to keep her voice steady. “Yer da asked us ta help ya out lass.  We’re here ta get ya otta this place.”

Rowan looks on with deep pity in her eyes. “Lanaver, is it safe?”  She begins to quietly sing a song of courage and strength. Her words and melody are tuned to encourage Villonah, and reassure her that she’ll be ok.

In spite of her magic and her songs reaching out, Villonah doesn’t seem to hear Rowan’s words, but instead continues rocking back and forth.  The same phrase coming out between her lips as though it’s a charm that could save her from death.

“It’s some kind of magic for sure but I’ll check for anything physical,” Lanaver says to Rowan in a hushed tone.

Sebastian can tell that the pillars contain some old enchantment magic.  This is an undercroft of the of Lyceum of The Black Lord though, so chances are the obelisk will not be pleasant. It is so old and worn it is hard to discern what it does.

“It’s OK, lass yer safe now.” Tallisk says, then glances at Rowan and mutters under her breath, “Ahh… it is safe innit?”

Hajima stands near the door to the guards. “Pending any warning of sinister magic from Rowan or Sebastian, maybe Lanaver can sneak in there, pick the lock on her cage, and bring her out. I’ll cover this door with Tallisk in case we have unwelcome visitors.” He then opens his wooden case and removes his massive crossbow, locking the arms into position and loading a deadly bolt.

“Good thinking you two.”  Lanaver says, “And I’ll happily unlock the girl’s cage just as soon as I know it’s okay for me to step past those obelisks.”

“Them things’r th problem?” Tallisk gestures at one of the obelisks, “Maybe I break em? Would that help? Ain’t no way we cn let th girl be subjected ta this fer another moment!  She’s just a girl…” Her voice to trails off, and she turns away for a moment.  “I ain’t gonna allow it.” The steel is back now, harder than before, but more brittle. “Get ‘er out or I will.”

“Lanaver, Tallisk is right. We must get her out of here.”  Rowan says, “Can you tell if there are pitfalls for us in this room? Can you tell if it’s safe?”

“Can’t run away, can’t run away.”  Villonah’s voice continues, hopeless and terror stricken.

Hajima looks back over from his position at the door to the guard room. “If we don’t have any clear reason to avoid that room, then we’re going to have to risk it. One of these guards is going to come out here any minute. We can’t delay much longer. Either Lanaver sneaks in, or Tallisk breaks in. Which is it?”

“Tyche bless me, I’ll do it!”  Lanaver says, slinking into the room.

Hajima nods at Lanaver, respecting him for his bravery. “Good luck, my friend. We’ll watch your back and be ready to jump in if there’s any sign of trouble.”

Rowan touches Lanaver’s arm as he passes and says, “I am right behind you my brother.” Her magic flows from her hand, giving him confidence and skill.  She lets him get a few steps in and then follows, looking around for danger.

Hajima keeps his ear close to the door to the guards, listening for any sign of approach, while also keeping an eye on the progress of Lanaver and Rowan into the obelisk chamber. “Sebastian, be ready to help them with your spells if they should fall prey to foul magic. Tallisk, be ready to help me with these guards if any kind of alarm goes off when they reach the cage.”

The wood elf takes a deep breath to steady himself before approaching the cage, muttering to himself under his breath.  “It’s just a lock… A lock on a cage… A cage surrounded by creepy pillars… Under the temple of an evil god… Who you hope is dead… It’s just a lock.”

Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 22

“The boy said this prison was located beneath the ruins of the Black Lord’s Lyceum.  It was, as you probably know, burned down years ago by that angry mob and since then has been rebuilt as, of all things, a shelter for the homeless.”  Rillo says, “The rumor is they’ve found some sort of secret chambers beneath it.  If my calculations of the subterranean caverns about are correct, I believe there’s an entrance just on the outskirts of town near the Stojanow river.

“I can’t rescue her myself, but, I can pay you!  I have some gold and I will throw in some trade goods also.  I am a skilled craftsman, even if I am not a warrior.”  He dissolves into tears again, “Or apparently much of a father.”

Rowan looks around at her friends, still recovering from her shock at Tallisk’s outburst and her emotional response to Rillo’s story.  “It sounds like your daughter is in way over her head. We will do our best for you.”

Sebastian looks curious at this proposition. He has a love of the law and aiding a law breaker goes against the grain of his moral fiber.  The brazen abuse of women and children, however, is a far worse offense to his sensibilities.  Showing no outward response to either Tallisk’s anger or Rowan’s concern, he merely nods in agreement to the red haired Halfling’s offer of assistance.

Rowan seems extremely troubled, and her usually sunny expression is now one of furrowed brows and downturned lips. “If this place truly exists, this goes far beyond the life of one troubled girl. This corruption is a blight on all of Starvale, when under disguise of law, a rogue group of guards can torture and kill without any to stop, or even know of them.” She looks at her friends, a look of determination on her face. “I will get my things.”

Hajima nods as Rowan leaves and also shares a look with Sebastian, his new faction-brother. “I agree with both of you in this matter. Although helping a troubled girl get out of jail who rightly put herself there in the first place is not as heroic as our previous missions, Rowan is right too. This is bigger than one girl. This is corruption at its worst and an abuse of power that cannot go unpunished. Our primary objective should be to shut this place down, especially since the authority of the Starshield Guard has now come into question. If we can retrieve the girl too, then we shall do so.”

Hajima turns to Lanaver. “Your idea is also sound. Doing some background checks on this situation through our new resources, before rushing in blindly, is necessary for formulating our strategy. I will go immediately to the Lords Alliance to see what we can learn from them.” With that, he goes upstairs to grab his things. As always, his long coat conceals his rapier, and the long wooden case is always at his side. He puts on his wide-brimmed hat with a parting nod and heads out the door.

“Honestly I could probably spring our little jail bird myself, but if I’m caught, well… You all always come through in a pinch.” Lanaver grins.

Tuskor has been listening intently from his table where he sits alone; staring at the small vase which holds a single wilting flower in the center of the table. Between trying to fathom why these town folk appear to enjoy displaying death on their dining areas and overhearing the gnome’s plight he finally has heard enough. He rises from his stool.

“The crimes of your daughter may warrant punishment, but not at the hands of such despicable sounding ne’er do wells”. He turns to Sebastian, “I have not been in the place, but have passed by that way on my crossings of the river. Though it does indeed lay in ruin; the remnants of the evil done there has left its mark on the land…and maybe the evil is still being done. We should leave immediately”

She goes upstairs and changes out of her performance clothing, donning her leather armor and strapping on her weapons and other things. She takes a deep breath and returns downstairs to the others, nimbly braiding her hair up and away from her face in a complicated braid.

Sebastian catches himself staring at Rowan as she returns downstairs. The passion in her eyes, the way the leather armor fits snug to her form or maybe it’s the red in her braids or the sweet melody of her voice. Whatever it is, Sebastian is distracted and purposefully redirects his mind to the task at hand.

Brother Keefe tells Hajima he does not know anything about this but says those within the Starshield Guard who are members of the Lord’s alliance would be thankful for the uncovering and destruction of this unlawful cohort.

“I agree, sir. The more we delay the more harm may come to her. Hopefully between Tuskor’s knowledge, and what this good gnome has told us, we can find the entrance and see what is going on.” She looks kindly at the gnome. “Hopefully we can bring her back to you, and perhaps this terrible experience will help her get back on the right track. If not, I will speak with her myself and see if I can’t help her understand that she is walking a dark road.” She softly pats him on the arm. “Try not to worry. My friends are very strong and courageous. We will do our best for you.”

He offers Hajima a bullseye lantern saying, the halls underneath the lyceum of the black lord are dark indeed, may this light guide you to life if it is your destiny or death, if it is your time.

“I dinne care what she done.” Tallisk takes a deep breath, steadying herself with visible effort. “Ain’t any child should be subjected ta th no so tender attention a th slenderman. Jest point me at ‘em it’ll be a pleasure dealin with ‘em sure.” She flexes her fingers, knuckles popping in a manner that doesn’t fit with her soft curves and plump physique at all.

“Slender man?”  Rowan asks, looking at her with innocent curiosity.  “What’s a slender man?”

Tallisk shudders, unconsciously touching her upper arms. “Never ya mind lil lass.  Some things ain’t comforting ta know an yer a mite tender fer this.”

“Oh I’m not as thin skinned as you might think.”  Rowan says softly, crossing her arms.

“Slenderman’s one what cuts answers otta anyone fer money.”  Tallisk says, her voice losing some of its charming lilt.  “Ain’t gotta be a man but usually is.  I’ve had a run in or two with ‘em.  Ended badly.”

Rowan’s face pales in horror and then her brow creases in sympathy.  “Oh Tallisk, I’m so sorry, I had no idea…”

“Ain’t nothin.”  Tallisk says, reflexively touching her biceps again.  She hefts her sturdy ash wood quarterstaff.  “Let’s go an get th girl.”

Face grim with determination, Rowan heads out into the night. “So, on to the caves to the secret entrance, then? Do you think we can find the entrance in the dark? I have no experience with secret doors.” She smiles briefly at her friends. “Between us all, though, I bet we can figure it out!”

“Remember friend, I can see in the dark and secret doors are a specialty of mine,” Lanaver says with a jaunty grin.

Rowan smiles widely at her friend and adopted brother. “Excellent!” Her stride takes on a perkier aspect as she fantasizes about rushing to the rescue of a young person in distress. “This will likely make an excellent song,” She whispers and quite unconsciously, she begins to softly hum to herself.

Hajima taps the wrapped package he now carries. “Once our silent friend moves on ahead to scout his way in the darkness, I will light this lantern. It will reveal only a small beam of light which should help us stay as hidden as we can.”

Sebastian who is quite dexterous attempts to move quickly yet quietly along with his friends.

Either unaware of the need for stealth or too angry to try, Tallisk strides purposefully out the door and down the street, her staff thumping on the cobblestones.

Lanaver glares at Tallisk and places his finger on his lips.  “Shhh!”

Tallisk glances around and seems to notice what she’s doing. Shaking her head in chagrin, she slips into a shadow and almost seems to meld with it.

Rillo leads them to the secret entrance, which is simply a stout door in the cliff face where the river emerges from under Starvale.  Beyond that door are the tunnels that lead to the secret chambers beneath the ruined Lyceum.

“I must leave you here.”  Rillo says, “I would only slow you down I fear.” The stonework around the door is well crafted, unlike the rudimentary tunnel.

Tallisk leans forward, trying the door and then carefully listening at the keyhole.  After a moment, she backs away and speaks in a low voice to her companions “Th door’s locked but I cn hear sommat inside. If ya canne pick th lock we’ll have ta force it.”

Rowan whistles softly to herself, summoning a magic light in the form of a wispy humanoid shape and have it drift near the lock so that others can examine it for traps and employ lock picks.

Tallisk jumps at the sudden appearance of a glowing ghost and only barely manages to keep a squeak of alarm from escaping her lips. Seeing Rowan’s look of concentration, she calms her thundering pulse, understanding that this is more of that mysterious arcana at work.

Sebastian suppresses a smirk when Tallisk jumps. He is confident of Lanaver and his way with locks. He will ready himself in case combat begins.

Rowan glances at Tallisk when she jumps and silently mouths ‘Sorry’ and shrugs her shoulders sheepishly. She’s gotten used to her friend’s easy acceptance of magical power, and realizes she’d best be more aware of the new woman. It wouldn’t do to startle her into giving us away. She gestures at the ghostly light, and then she smiles widely and directs the dancing light form in such a way that it makes a slow and graceful bow to Tallisk. She bows in concert with the form, attempting to make it clear that she controls the form. She smiles with delight at her little gesture, hoping her new acquaintance will enjoy, or at least relax around her magical power.

Hajima turns to Lanaver. “Can you open this lock without making any noise?”

Lanaver nods and reaches into his pack and produces his thieves’ tools.  “Give me just a tick.”  He whispers, coaxing the lock to open with a few deft movements.

With a grave expression on her face, Tallisk performs an elaborate courtly curtsy to the ghost, wondering at the powers she has become entwined with. Is this some spirit of light? A Prince long dead? A captured soul? Remembering that there are the lives and virtue of children at stake, she steels herself, hoping that they can sneak and out before anyone notices and then call the guards.