Aarklash, The Time of Subversion

The Obnoxious Pony
Tarsis seeks additional clues to the happenings in the boglands north of Zuog, and links up as a scout for a group of Eladrin Merchants. Well, he THINKS they are merchants.

It seemed to go this way quite often for Tarsis. Perhaps it was just the way his life would always take him—just one mystery after another. The Gnolls that had been slaughtered by gods-knew-what were dead. “Wizard” was what the final beastman had said just seconds before he exhaled his last breath on this earth. Of course that could mean anything, Gnolls were usually pretty indiscriminate in their word-associations. A wizard could just as easily be a simple slight-of-hand artist as a powerful elementalist. No help those lousy dog-like people seemed to be. The absolute worst of it was they had not perished with either his fletching blossoming from their throats, nor his steel opening their chests. But there was something amiss in all of this, and if there was anything more bothering to Tarsis than a Gnoll, it was a mystery.

“Well it won’t solve itself,” he mused, “and I could use a hot drink and a word of news—the road ahead is dangerous.” Tarsis badgered himself into asking around the roadhouse he’d passed if there was anyone he could perhaps take contract with as scout. Strength in numbers, and all that. Besides… maybe that cute barmaid was in the tavern that night. Tarsis was a sucker for green eyes.

When he reached the Wayford Inn, it was much less bustling than it had been even just a few days prior. Odd, usually all manner of travelers stopped to enjoy the fragrant herb-infused drinks and succulent dishes at the trade-road’s most quaint tavern between Klune and Zuog. It provided a welcome break from the monotony of road fare (hard tack and brackish water, dried fruits and meats, etc…), but tonight it was eerily quiet. A band of Gnomes was discussing in hushed tones their travel plans, and the state of their carts and goods. Similarly, a tall, dark-haired Eladrin (odd—the dark hair) was holding court with a handful other of his kind.

The thought of the Gnomes was almost enough to push Tarsis to turn on his heel and proceed with his investigation on his own. Reason held him sway though. He melted from shadow to shadow, skilled as any other of his kind and profession. He observed the Eladrin from a darkened corner booth to see what intelligence he could gather about their business before approaching and possibly making a fool of himself. The Gnomes would be a last resort for him if the Eladrin didn’t need or want a scout or guide.

The lithe celestials talked in hushed tones and seemed intent on their business, he thought that he had heard them speak of need of direction through the rough passage of the bog. However, he didn’t want to just interrupt them and offer service. It would be rude in any culture, and even though he wasn’t strictly familiar with the Eladrin customs, he was sure it would be a bad idea to start a relationship on such strained terms.

Finally, opportunity reared its beautiful head. Their leader stood up from the table and moved to the bar to order another round or perhaps pay for the meal. Tarsis melted from the shadows and moved to within five long strides of the black coifured individual. He didn’t expect confrontation, but as his mother had told him so many years ago, “Better to be safe than to be sorry.” Tarsis coughed quietly and politely to announce his presence.

The Eladrin seemed a pleasant enough fellow (for a merchant, anyway) and after introductions, offered the opportunity Tarsis had wanted. As they started off the following morning, Tarsis detected a decided nervousness amongst the party. He could’t lay pulse to the thing, but something was eating at the cool confidence they had displayed the night before. “Or maybe…MAYBE…I’m just imagining it. Jumping at Shadows again.” As he led the party confidently through the maze of trails outside the roadhouse,and deeper into the swamp, Tarsis thought (and not for the first time) what daft, blind, stupid, half-witted, inbred, muck-brained, DOLT—had thought it brilliant to plan a trade route through a bloody swamp.

Suddenly, the wee pony that Tarsis was leading, Bill, started. Bill whinnied loudly and reared, snorting into the air. Tarsis looked about. A snake had been sunning itself in the road, and at Bill’s approach had started to slither towards the undergrowth. The skittish pack-animal did what came naturally to most horses, and decided the snake was a less-than-savory travelling companion. It was a simple garden snake. Not at all venomous (try telling that to a frightened draft-beast), but it coiled and hissed in indignation anyway.

Tarsis tried to control the animal, soothing words and a tight grip on the reins were usually enough to bring frightened horses to heel. “Whoa there Bill! Whoa lad, steady on!” Bill, however, would have none of it. He clubbed Tarsis hard in the chest with a fore-hoof. “OOF!” said Tarsis. “GORRAMNIT BILL WOAH!!!!” The blood boiled in his ears as Tarsis grabbed the bridle and yanked Bill’s head down hard, pulling the animal close to his chest. He bit down on the pony’s ear. Hard. The horse squealed but calmed down immediately.

“Now listen here, Bill….I like horses, really I do…But it’s a snake. Not even a venomous snake….you do that again, and you get to become steak and leather and glue, my friend….that is a promise.”

The horse nickered softly. Almost apologetically. The Eladrin were smirking slightly. The lot of them.

Tarsis gave Bill a sidelong glance. He checked his equipment for damage—everything appeared to be in order. “Really, mate. I’m not kidding. Pony is my third favorite horse-flesh when it comes to eatin’”

The Eladrin were now laughing outright. The tension broken in the group, Tarsis allowed himself a small half grin. He spoke to himself under his breath. “Seriously…who builds a bloody trade road in the middle of the gorramn swamps…” He followed that statement with a flurry of colorful language, cursing in Sylvanestri and Drakonian (which is one of the best languages for cursing).

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Who Ate My Caravan?
or Dude where's my caravan?

Session 1

Shorbin had been hearing rumors that new predators were moving into the steppes and planes south of Zuog. Deciding to learn more he went into the Double Eagle Tavern. There Bertie the barkeep lamented the dwindling deliveries of fresh beers and brewing supplies. Threatening to have to start importing what is called wine in Klune, a terrible bitter substance made from a fermented swamp berry and touch of rotting pine bark.

Shorbin could take more and asked what the problem was. He learned that something with big sharp pointy teeth had been raiding caravans and many of caraveneers were opting no to trade south any longer. Bertie asked if Shorbin would look into the matter. He explained that an elven ranger, named Deidrick, had gone out once before but hadn’t returned. Bertie also suggested that Scin a local faerie dragon might also be interested in this issue.

Shorbin agree to venture forth. Following the trail of the blue pyramid he, Scin, and packs the riding dog traveled for a day before resting. When night came they took shifts and during the second shift two giant spiders approached and attacked. They were defeated and made a fine midnight snack, Scin also demonstrated his culinary acumen by using acid to kill and cook one spider creating a fine ceviche.

After the meal Shorbin noticed tracks belonging to another creature, seemingly an owlbear. These are what we should follow in the morning. But first they need to finish resting.

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Danger in the Swamp

Making his way to the inn, Ryfar was looking forward to talking with Styx. No sooner had he entered the room than the Trixie buzzed by his window. Explaining the situation, he asked for her assistance in the swamps. A cleric would be a good ally to have. She asked about possible treasure, and Ryfar agreed to split the loot. After all, there should be some good pickings from a necromancer. Agreeing, she told Ryfar she’d heard some odd things in the swamps while flying around, and undead made sense as the source. It being late, they both got some rest at the inn.

The next morning, they met the caravan. Ryfar took up a high position on a wagon top, and Styx cruised up and down the train keeping an eye open. The day passed uneventfully until the sun was near the horizon. Suddenly there was a great shuffling sound from the swamp near Ryfar’s position. Try as he might, Ryfar could not see the source of the sound. Styx flew out to see what she could, and rushed back reporting two undead crocodiles charging the caravan. Aiming low, Ryfar tried to hit them early, but with no way to see them his crossbow fire was ineffective. Oddly, Styx has also seen that the crocodiles had a glowing sigil on their heads.

The caravan crew was now alerted and acting. They sent off a hail of sling stones at the crocodiles, managing to wound the beast in front. Styx sent an icicle flying at it as well, further injuring it and slowing it a bit. Breathing steadily and controlling his nerves, Ryfar loosed another bolt and hit the front animal squarely. It was in bad shape now. It was also closing on the wagons rapidly.

The gnomes managed to damage it a little more, allowing Styx to end it’s existence with a wounding spell. Unfortunately, she was now within range of the second croc who jumped at her barely missing with its great jaws. Ryfar pivoted and fired at the second croc, scoring another solid hit. Seeing that the battle was moving into a position where his bow would not be as useful, Ryfar jumped down and moved steathily among the towering stands of grass in the shadows. He easily moved into position for a killing blow and took the opportunity, slicing off a large portion of the undead monster’s head with his shortsword. Meanwhile, Styx landed on the great tail, stabbing the croc with her dagger.

Seeing Styx in danger and knowing the shadows would protect him, Ryfar drew the beasts attention. The zombie tried to bite him, but was too wounded to be effective. This movement, however, threw Styx into the water (accompanied by much cursing). Ryfar smiled as he dispatched the undead monstrosity, knowing his friend was safe. With this final strike, he also got a good look at the symbol on its head. While he’d never seen it before, he was able to reproduce it in the mud, and a somewhat damp Styx identified it as a symbol used by some necromantic schools in the Frozen Lands.

Determined to find the source of these abominations and end them, Ryfar and styx headed off into the swamps at the next solid piece of land they found heading in what seemed to be the direction that assault came from.

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A Fateful Meeting...

“I hate the swamp,” Tarsis thought to himself, as the morning sun tried vainly to burst through the fog and low-hanging clouds of this murky wetlands. Truthfully, there was a lot in the world that Tarsis could conjure hatred for, but swamps, meres, bogs, and fens held a special place in his heart. Insects swarmed in the air, buzzing their discontent at strangers passing through their domain, or possibly in excitement for the addition of Elf-blood to their banquet. “I hope you all choke on it, too…)” He’d been hunting a band of Gnolls through this Gods-cursed land for a fort-night and was beginning to think that they’d eluded him.

However, he’d recently found his quarry. Not in the quality that he’d left them, mind. The beast-men lay in twisted heaps all about. By the looks of the surroundings they’d thought this was as good a spot as any to make camp for the night. A half eaten carcass lay in the still-warm ashes of a small cook-fire, while crude bedding lay crumpled or laid out in a rough circle around the camp. The bodies were badly mangled and blood and ichor seeped into the mud in all directions around the camp.

Their leader lay a short distance away, a dozen deadly wounds spilling his life into the mire. And yet… Were his eyes deceiving him? Tarsis cursed low, under his breath and stared at the body of his once-foe for long minutes. The chest gave a slight shudder and a gasping snarl bubbled from the blood-filled throat of the Gnoll-chieftain. Cautiously, he approached his nemesis. A single word in fouled and broken Common issued from the lungs and mouth of the dying Dog-thing. “Wiz-zarrd…” and with a gasp he went. The glazed eyes frozen in horror, spoke a small volume of the dread he had faced in death, but Tarsis felt no pity. It was a Gnoll, after all. His only remorse was that he was robbed of the sweet satisfaction of destroying his foes with his own weapons and hands.

Still… Something was amiss. As Tarsis tried to piece together the battle (or ambush—more likely) he lost himself to detective reasoning. Until the creak of cart wheels and the snorts of pack animals broke his reverie…
…to be continued…

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Ryfar: Looking for Trouble
Beginnings..

Settling into Zuog, Ryfar decided to learn what news there was to be had in this town. Being a trade hub, he decided to check the market for gossip since merchants always carry interesting news and stay abreast of events. Upon entering the market, Ryfar was approached by Esma Nissel, a merchant who was happy to show him around. She revealed that the market has a coop system in place whereby one can work for a few hours a week to get a discount on items if you live in the city. Ryfar also heard snatches of conversations that seemed to all point to concerns of some sort about undead animals. Further questioning revealed that merchant caravans between Zuog and Klune have been beset by animals that appear to be decaying, and boatmen have heard strange chantings. There appears to be an evil wizard in the swamps experimenting with dark arts, and the wizard has perhaps lost control of some of his creations.

Resolving to investigate, Ryfar located a caravan of gnome tinkerers heading out the next day who offered to pay his night at the local inn in return for his joining them on their journey at least as far as the center of the swamps. Ryfar accepted, and went to locate Styx for some additional firepower on this trip.

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