Rise of the Runelords

Lor's return
...after a brief brush with something craaaazy!

Darkness.

Or perhaps more accurately, nothingness.

Lor exists in a torpor, waiting. Waiting for anything. But then again, why does it matter? Death is timeless. So she waits.

Peering around as if expecting to see something, she sees and feels nothing. Try as she might, the passion she felt in life has left. Nothing remains. Just a soul floating in an inky blackness. Devoid of feeling and lacking any semblance of purpose.

It feels like just yesterday that she was alive with the passion for knowledge and adventure. It seems strange now that none of that matters. Eventually the Mother of Souls will pluck her spirit from this blackness and deem it ready to move in some direction.

“Anywhere but here will be better. Something is better than nothing, and anything has to be better than this,” she thinks to herself. Yet the silence persists, looming. Her mind begins to race.

Lor’s thoughts and feelings in life rush back to her. Turtleback Ferry, the town she promised to help. Her friends Seris, Rickben, Bahram, Renza. And even Krac.

The monster and his hook…

Suddenly Lor is standing, the sound of the ocean churning in the distance. Her thoughts immediately jump to “where am I? Am I alive?”

She looks down at her cloak. It’s clean. She peels it back only to see her chest unmarred by any wound. Not even a scar. Panicking, she pulls her shirt open to examine her torso. Again no scars. Not a single one from any of her countless injuries. Not even from Xanesha’s insidious spear.

Still dead. Or rather, not alive..

She collapses to her knees and sobs, unable to do anything else. Her cries are silent and make no noise, the only sound to be heard is the ocean, rhythmically swishing in the distance.

Lor looks up after collecting herself to examine around the room. A table, but no chairs, stands in the center of the room. It appears to have been a conference or meeting room, however the outside wall has been shorn away by some sort of violent force. An earthquake? Or a tsunami? She walks to the edge of the room and looks out to find herself on top of, or near the top of a mountain. The sea massages the beaches far below as she stares out at the horizon.

She turns back towards the room to find Hopkins staring back at her. Lor gasps silently at the sight, and the little weasel chitters back. He then rears up on his hind legs as hot magma spills out through cracks in the floor, coalescing around the table. Lor, suddenly feeling lightheaded, loses her balance as starbursts of white hot light pulsate in the air around her. The little weasel’s body distorts and bulges before her eyes. His little bones snap and puncture his hide, bright orange magma spurting out of the wounds. Lor screams silently as the weasel’s face cracks and reforms into a sickening scowl, his fur burns red and flows around the now humanoid face. A booming voice, speaking in Thassilonian, shakes the room.

“My machinations are not yet complete. You cannot perish before annihilating Karzoug.”

Lor shudders under the weight of the woman’s voice.

“He cannot obtain what I could not. I will not allow it! You shall be my avatar of destruction. I have already bestowed upon you a tiny morsel of my power. Can you not feel how my fire flows through you!?”

The face becomes more pronounced and nothing remains of Hopkins. The magma that had been filling the room finally coalesces into a humanoid woman’s form. She thrusts her hands skyward.

“WITNESS!”

A pillar of flame erupts from the sky outside.

“WITNESS MY WRATH!”

A second pillar of searing flame and lava flies from the sky outside, the clouds now black and ashy with dark energy. The woman’s voice booms with the force of thunder.

“My power is yours! Use it to eradicate Greed!”

A vicious shower of fire and electricity erupts outside, seemingly from everywhere at once.

“End him so that I may taste his anguish.”

The runelord produces a bright red gem and hurls it at the floor. Lor glances down at the glowing symbol as it explodes with violent energy, hurling Lor out of the room and into the roiling firestorm.

The surging flames embrace her, pulling her into their depths. They engulf her body, the storm’s wrathful energies tearing at her soul. A lick of fire hits her in the chest, tearing her open and sending her hurtling towards the earth below.

Lor watches helplessly as the ground races towards her. She tries to fly, to levitate, anything to slow her fall, but nothing works. She hits a tree branch on the way down, impaling herself and tearing it from the trunk with the impact. She finally hits the ground with a sickening wet crunch as wildlife scurries in all directions.

White hot agony surges through her entire body and the grass around her smolders as the forest is consumed by the firestorm raging above. Despite the destruction, a stag stands against the chaos and approaches Lor’s prone form, stopping to stand at her side.

The stag leans foward and dips its antlers into a nearby bush and Lor stares wide-eyed as the stag retrieves a ghostly and limp version of herself. Unable to move, she watches as the stag lowers the image onto her broken body, and with a rush of wind, fire, and emotion, the world collapses around her and she opens her eyes with a start.

Maelin Shreed stands over her, chanting some words she cannot comprehend and passing a smoking bundle over her corpse. Lor gasps for air so sharply she squeaks.

She blinks quickly and sweeps the room.

“What happened? Where am I? Where is Seris? Rickben?”

Lor stammers so quickly she trips over her words and coughs.

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A steely advance
Ascending with heavy hearts

As the rain poured about them and peals of thunder echoed through the air, the group stood around briefly mourning Lor’s untimely demise. Rivulets of water raced down each of their stoic faces.

With rage in his eyes, Bahram turned about and closed the distance in the courtyard, making his way to the front of the fort. Krac kneeled over and collected the rings on the severed hands arrayed on the ogres’ grisly necklace.

As they rounded the corner of the keep, an oddly mouth-watering smell wafted through the rain—the smell of smoking meat. Under an open-faced building, the group spied a hideous ogre gleefully laying out strips of flesh and roasting them over an open fire. Bahram raised his hand and whispered to everyone.

“Get ready to charge him.” A glimmer of hate flashed upon his eyes.

Seris interjected, “I have the perfect idea.” She winked out of sight and Bahram readied his weapons.

“Be ready in case Seris gets in trouble.”

As Seris dashed over to the hulking brute, she spied something more interesting: a bundle of discarded wood beneath a crude barracks across the courtyard. She wandered off course and as she got close, she could hear the guttural sounds of ogre-speech inside.

She didn’t even hesitate as she pulled free flint and steel and set afire the kindling below the barracks.

Back across the yard, the ogre cooking looked up and noticed interlopers making their way toward the group. He grabbed his ogre hook and charged across the courtyard, yelling for others to join him.

A crash of thunder drowned out his cry for assistance, but that didn’t stop him as he charged Bahram and dug his ogre hook into Bahram’s leg.

They did battle with the ogre in the courtyard, and Seris disengaged from her current venture to dash back and fight against the beast. Krac, Bahram, and Shalelu engaged the thing as Seris winked into existence, her scimitar drawing a large line of blood across the creature’s flank.

Across the courtyard, the door to the barracks burst forth with a shatter of splinters. They noticed the faces of several ogres straining against the weight of them to escape, but their bodies would not fit. As flames licked up the side of the barracks, their strained angry faces turned to agony and cries of pain went up. They quickly died out as the smoke and flame began claiming lives.

Shalelu unleashed a volley of arrows into the ogre and he fell, utterly dead.

They gathered themselves and quickly closed the distance to the keep entrance. Krac easily forced open the door, and they entered a lit fortress. Shalelu scanned the ground and grimly noted the overwhelming presence of ogre-prints.

“It wouldn’t even take a ranger to recognize these,” she laughed weakly, indicating they went off in all directions.

They turned left into the fort. Seris walked to the first door she noted and peered inside the lock. Then she opened the door. She noticed two ogres guffawing at each other, both donned in the garb of men far smaller than them. Each wore tiny helmets atop their heads with their limbs jammed into tiny suits of metal armor. They danced back and forth in place, laughing hysterically at one another. Relishing the moment, she simply closed the door.

The two ogres were too shocked to do anything for a moment, at which point Bahram kicked the door to try and knock it down. The door proved too resilient, and didn’t budge. More enraged than seconds before, he opened the door, stormed back inside, promising to avenge Lor’s death. Seeing the ridiculous ogre, he brought his greatsword down upon the unfortunate creature, and they all spread out across the room. Too constricted by the armor to effectively defend themselves, they quickly died at the heroes’ hands.

They spread out across the keep, noting areas of wanton destruction perpetrated by the ogres.

Renza opened a door leading into a dormitory, only to find it thoroughly occupied by bickering ogres. They turned to attack. As the group rallied to kill the oafs, Bahram ran into the room, cleaving through the ogres with relish. One of the ogres disengaged and ran back through the foyer to surround the group. With a great cry, another ogre joined the group and ran down the hallway to engage. Krac stepped up to fight it, and after swinging madly at the thing and dealing two hefty blows, the nightmarish thing brought its hook down upon him twice, hacking madly.

Krac stood by his orcish heritage alone, nearly dead as a gash about his neck fountained blood. He breathed a prayer to Sarenrae, suffusing his wounds with healing magic, and then fell unconscious. Renza dashed forward to staunch the bleeding. Hearing the melee outside, Bahram cleaved through the remaining two ogres and dashed out to aid Krac, interposing himself between the grotesque ogre and his friends. Shalelu unleashed volley after volley of arrows, and Bahram and Seris helped finish the giant.

They took a moment for a brief respite before continuing on and exploring the destroyed keep. The ogres had certainly done a number on the place—it would take weeks to repair the damage they’d done.

Continuing down the hallway, the group entered a room that could’ve once resembled an infirmary. The floor was slick with gore, and strewn with mangled organs and heaps of entrails. A dead fat man sat at one of the operating tables, arranged as if he were merrily spooning chunks of his own organs out of a brown bowl.

The ogre that stood over the man, arranging him artfully, turned around to reveal a face hideously scarred with half the flesh missing and bits of bone peeking through festering wounds.

He roared, raising a hook to attack, and Renza promptly shut the door and backed up. The ogre inside smashed down the door with a shower of splintering wood, and was promptly overwhelming by the group. Cleaning their weapons and choking back bile, they left the room as quickly as they entered.

Deciding to ascend the stairs, the heroes ventured into a quiet hallway. Seris tried a double door and inside found a monstrous 14-foot ogre stuffing small animals and arranging taxidermied monsters. Enraged by the interruption, the creature grabbed his weapon and engaged the group in battle.

Seris, grinning, launched an familiar enchantment spell at the creature. Suddenly dazed and overwhelmed with lust, the ogre lumbered forth toward Shalelu, reaching his arms out toward her.

Disgusted, Shalelu launched a volley of arrows at the creature, and the melee began. Everyone in the small hallway scrambled to avoid the man’s massive arms. It quickly became apparent that while he wasn’t difficult to hit, the ogre paid back any attack with incredible force. Krac, Seris, and Bahram all surrounded the creature to overwhelm him, while Renza and Shalelu fired into the fray to keep their distance.

As the battle raged, and Bahram traded blows with the creature, the man started hacking indiscriminately against the surrounding foes. Krac noticed the hook coming his way, and ducked to dodge. His reflexes were too slow, and the weapon caught his neck in the crook. The ogre wrenched the weapon forward, and Krac’s head dropped to the floor, followed shortly by his headless body. Blood spewed all around them.

Everyone’s eyes went wide at the loss of yet another friend, and the assault against the man renewed. Seris dashed through the ogre with the aid of her magic, levying her own attacks against the creature. Shalelu unloaded several arrows into him, and Bahram renewed his swipes with muscles straining from the effort.

The barbarian ogre began to look panicked, and moved to disengage through the room. As he dashed free of the room, Seris and Bahram both laid into the ogre and he fell, utterly dead, atop Krac’s headless body.

Breathing heavily from the gruesome battle, the group heaved the ogre off of Krac and collected his body.

With yet another fallen, they had no choice but to tactically retreat to Turtleback Ferry and regroup.

Loot gained today:
21 rings worth 10 gp each
Ring of animal friendship
3 x Large +1 ogre hooks
4 x Large +1 hide armor
Large +1 human bane ogre hook
belt of giant’s strength +2

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The Trip to Rannick
Ogres hit like a truck

The trip up the Hook Mountains to Fort Rannick passed uneventfully, though the groups spirit was challenged by the soul-crushing rain peals of thunder that welcomed them up the path.

When they arrived at the fort, they found it eerily silent and sneaked through the woods to access the waterfall there. They made a mad dash for the waterfall. Bahram managed to scramble in first, followed very quickly by Krac. Rickben and Renza stealthily lurked along the cliff face. Seris cloaked Lor in invisibility and she flew through the waterfall. Bahram noticed Renza having some serious difficulties swimming and climbing inside, so he jumped back down into the water and scooping her onto his back.

They entered the caves behind the fort that wound around, through a storage room, over a chasm, and near a small catacomb. When they entered the catacomb, an angry specter burst forth and reached into Bahram’s chest—tearing free a bit of his soul. The room exploded into a flurry of attacks and the specter soon fell. They collected themselves and walked down the hallway.

Upon reaching a switch that opened a hidden door, Seris flipped the switch and they sneaked out into the courtyard of the fort. Krac and Bahram stumbled in the corridor, and the ogres looked over, momentarily stunned to see strangers in their midst.

Seris put up her hands in a gesture of good will, brandishing her Sihedron medallion.

“Hello, friends, we are here to meet with your master.”

They didn’t buy it.

“You no belong here! Sneaky bastards! We kill!”

The ogres charged. Seris scrambled out of the way, winking out of sight. Bahram and Krac ran into the fray and were quickly joined by Rickben, Lor, and Renza.

Lor launched fire all around her, tearing into the ogres with unbridled wrath. One of the ogres—a misshapen and pox-ridden horror—took notice. He stepped forward, frowned, and brought his hook down to bear on her.

The hook ripped easily through her flesh—like a kitchen knife through butter—and Lor gurgled, a look of shock and dismay upon her face.

She fell to her knees with a thud, and then plopped onto the ground. A pool of blood inexorably crept from around her as Krac leveled his falchion at the murderous creature and renewed his assault. Renza dashed in and accelerated time around the ogre, which aged him immediately. Rickben dismounted from Timber and charged in with his longsword held high. Krac then rammed his sword into the creature’s chest and it slumped to the ground with a sickening squish.

Bahram danced through several ogres with his gleaming sword, hacking apart ogres and staining his armor with their blood. He seemed to lose himself in his fury, and he only snapped free from his blood rage when he noticed no further enemies around to eviscerate.

The group gathered around Lor with a palpable sorrow. Timber came forth and nudged her corpse, and Rickben gathered her up and placed her body upon his mount.

“I’ll take her back to town. Maybe Maelin will be able to help her.”

Renza stepped forward and closed her eyes. A shroud of hazy energy covered Lor’s body. “This should preserve her body in time to restore it back to life.”

They nodded at one another. Seris added, “Then we will rid this place of the ogres while Rickben takes Lor back to town.”

Rickben dashed off with a sense of urgency.

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Retaking Rannick
Interrogations and coin tosses

The following morning, they awoke at the Turtle’s Parlor and left to visit the mayor Maelin Shreed and meet with the Black Arrows to inquire about retaking Fort Rannick. As they were convening for breakfast, Krac and Rickben noticed two more individuals with sihedron tattoos. They quickly moved to cover them up when they caught them subtly glimpsing, and scurried out of the common area.

“After breakfast we’ll take care of that curse, Bahram,” Lor reassured him. They all calmly and quietly ate, preparing for the day ahead of them. Bahram sulked visibly. The rangers came downstairs and then departed for the town hall.

Seris grinned, staring at Shalelu. “Hey Rickben—want me to follow them?”

“No! No-no….no.” He quickly grew several shades redder.

Noticing Bahram’s reticence, Lor approached him after breakfast and began intoning a spell. The magical energy washed over Bahram’s body, but was met with resistance, and the curse persisted.

Bahram stood up, “Is there is a decent healer in town? I got real money…” A woman noticed his awkward inquiry and approached him, explaining that Maelin Shreed may have the ability to ease his burden. He dashed out the door and flicked a silver to the helpful woman, who quickly pocketed it.

They arrived at the Church of Erastil to find Shalelu, Vale, and Jakardros speaking with Maelin regarding their suspicions about the fort. Upon seeing them, they rangers welcomed them to join the conversation and introduced them to the mayor, who received them with warm welcomes.

Bahram stepped forward to introduce the group.

“My name is Bahram. I’m an exotic barbarian from far off wastes. I’m finding it hard to get refreshed. Wondering if you might be able to help me find some relief. "

Seris cut in, “You’ll have to excuse my friend. He’s really only good for one thing—smashing things—and he’s suffering from an ailment that makes it harder to do that.”

Bahram glared. “I do other stuff.”

Everyone stared. “I lift things…and then put them down again.”

Silence.

Lor piped up, “Speak up Bahram so we can all hear you.”

“I seem to have picked up a curse. Flying ogre bitch.” He grumbled, frowning.

Maelin smiled warmly and explained that in order to lift the ailment, he could retrieve a scroll he’d reserved for the purpose in the back.

“Sure. I can wait,” Bahram shrugged, nonplussed.

Maelin disappeared into the church with a promise to return. The rangers all spoke off to the side, clearly discussing strategy.

Bahram approached Lor. “Hey Lor—monitor this bastard, I don’t want a bad spell. I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him. Which isn’t very far.”

“What makes you think he can do any better than I can?”

“This is his job. I just don’t want him to curse me twice if he’s one of those branded individuals.”

“Hrm, I guess that’s a valid concern, but cursing you wouldn’t really be a good way to keep his cover if he really is nefarious.”

Bahram grunted. “He might assume I’m not very bright, or magically attune.”

Lor bit her lip, grinning. “Both of which being at least a little accurate.”

He sighed, “…admittedly…”

“It’ll be alright, " Lor brightened.

Seris cut in. “I can watch too, you know.”

“Don’t make it weird, Seris,” Lor cut her off.

At that moment, Maelin returned with a scroll tube in hand. Bahram told Renza to look it over, which she did happily, stepping forward to retrieve the scroll and read over the faded ink.

“You perv,” Seris teased.

“I am not!”

“Uh huh…” Seris poked in her general direction.

“If anything YOU’RE the peeping tom.”

Renza just shook her head and smiled, beginning to intone the words of power. The magic washed over Bahram and…the curse was still left intact; it stubbornly clung to him.

Visibly frustrated, Bahram drew out a silver and threw it in the direction of Maelin. It hit him square in the chest before he could react. He stared down at the coin, dumbfounded.

“Got another one?” Bahram pinged him with another silver.

Maelin’s face curdled immediately, as if he’d just imbibed sour milk.

“How dare you!? Do you know how much time and effort goes into penning such a spell? It’s worth far more than a silver, and your ungratefulness doesn’t inspire my generosity.”

Flustered, Bahram took a step back. “I’m sorry. I’m prepared to make a significant donation. You know, for the poor people.”

Maelin shook his head.

Seris stepped forward, bowing slightly with outstretched hands.

“Maelin, we are prepared to take back Fort Rannick with the direction of the Black Arrows, but we do need our barbarian to be able to hit things with his full strength. Do you know this spell that can lift the curse? We require little in the way of money to re-take the fort, but we will not leave for the task until our barbarian is restored. Can you help us?”

His face lightened at her reassurance.

“Of course. Come back and visit me in the morning. I shall commune with Erastil and prepare the spell.”

Bahram stepped forward and enthusiastically shook his head, apologizing profusely for his complaining.

Maelin waved away his concerns, explaining it was nice to have such capable adventurers in town to assist them.

The group stepped toward the Black Arrows and requested the opportunity to speak with Kaven Windstrike before they met to formulate a strategy. He nodded grimly and explained they’d need to go for a walk to a small house in town.

Five minutes and a brisk walk across town later, they approached a small two bedroom cottage and Jakardros led them inside. He nodded at an elderly woman cooking at the stove, “Dora.” She smiled grimly at him, and they all walked past.

Jakardros led them into a small side room, where they stood around a crudely drawn map of Fort Rannick. He explained that there would be several different ways by which they infiltrate the fort, and expounded on the limitations and advantages of each.

Invigorated with purpose, Seris calmly walked down the hallway with the rest of the group in tow. She marched over the bed and slapped Kaven awake.

His eyes widened and he pulled back.

She demanded to know what he knew of the fort and the disaster that befell it.

Lor quipped, “Hello Kaven! Good to see you’re awake.”

He grumbled softly, his jaw clearly broken. Seris asked Lor, “You wanna fix his jaw so he can speak?”

“…nope.”

She paused, grumbled, and then walked over, letting arcane energies flow into his jaw. The bone popped back into place, and Kaven moved it side to side.

“Yeah, fuck you too, lady,” he jabbed back at her.

Seris redirected him, asking where he got the tattoo. Lor grumbled.

“Lucrecia gave everyone the tattoos.”

“…so not with a needle?”

“No. With magic.”

Lor looked introspective for a moment. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. Think we can cut the ink off of him? Like, flay it off?”

They discussed a plan to manufacture tattoos to sneak into the fort and pretend to be agents bearing the Sihedron rune, briefly forgetting the man shackled to the bed.

“So are you going to kill me now? Get this over with? I’m sick and tired of just sitting here waiting to die.”

Seris grabbed his hand, drew a dagger, and stabbed it through the palm, affixing it to the wall. Blood flowed freely down his hand.

WHAT THE FUCK?!” He screamed. “You fix my jaw, and then you stab me! What do you WANT?”

“Why did Lucrecia give you the tattoo? Why’d she tell you to betray your fellow rangers?”

“I love her. Seriously—this isn’t going to go anywhere. Just kill me.”

“Alright, honestly Seris he has a point. Let’s either cut it off now or get to work finding another solution.”

Seris called in Krac, and told him to break his jaw again. Krac shook his head at Seris with a look of disappointment on his face.

“I cannot—it would be against the will of Sarenrae to strike a man who is shackled.”

Lor, clearly disappointed, shrugged at Kaven. “You’re a lucky man, Kaven. Sort of.”

Bahram appeared at the doorway and flicked a silver at the man. It landed near him on the bed.

The others filed out of the room and they went back into the living area.

“We will leave tomorrow. We just need you to lead us to the fort and we will clear it for you,” Seris claimed. “I think our best bet lies within the secret entrance in the waterfall.”

They retired for the night, agreeing to leave at sunrise in the morning.

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Let the banjos twang
Into the Hillbilly basement

The group descended the basement and entered a storage room with myriad crates filled with useless odds and ends. After briefly searching the belongings, it was quickly apparent to the group that the piles of things inside represented unwanted garbage the Graul’s no longer wanted. Shalelu and Rickben arrived, intensely curious about the rooms they raced past upstairs to reach the basement. Renza and Bahram remained upstairs to fight off additional ogrekin that charged in from the woods around them.

The rest of the group continued down the hallway and entered a room filled with fungal spores, patches of mold, and an oppressive, drenching humidity. In the corner a huge animate plant sprung to life and ambled forth, heading directly for the door. The group steeled themselves for an attack. Seris called out to Rickben down the hallway.

“Hey Rickben! There’s food down here!”

Suddenly excited, he raced into the room atop his wolf.

“What’s all the commoti—oh shit! What is that?!”

The monstrous plant let out a terrifying shriek, lashed out with its tentacles, and plucked Rickben off his wolf.

“Seris! You said there’d be food! You didn’t say I’d be the food!”

“I didn’t say who it was for!”

It pulled Rickben towards its hideous maw, despite his thrashing and his allies’ attempts to kill it and unceremoniously swallowed him.

Rickben struggled briefly, but was quickly paralyzed by the creature’s digestive enzymes, and he just lay there.

With a renewed fury, the rest of the group intensified their attack and quickly killed the creature. Seris hacked at its underside, and Rickben came pouring out in a cascade of sickly-smelling goo.

A bellow erupted from the doorway—their commotion had attracted the attention of another ogrekin.

YOU KILLED MUCK! I KILL YOU!” A beastly, towering ogrekin lumbered inside and thrust out his finger at the group. “GET ’EM, BOYS!”

Two enormous rats chittered and dashed forth to attack the group. Lor, suddenly concerned for their safety, vomited forth several swarms of wasps. They flew for the ogrekin, who momentarily ignored them and unleashed fury on the group.

As the battle raged and the wasps swarmed him, he screamed out, “WHY?! BEES?! WHERE THEY FROM?”

Taking advantage of the distraction, Krac ran forth and brought his falchion down upon the beastly man. He dropped with a thud, and they quickly finished off his rats.

Rickben, shaking off the numbing feeling in his limbs, came to. “Oh gods, that was horrible.”

Everyone murmured agreements. They glanced around the room and found a closet filled with a cache of loot:

+1 amulet of natural armor
+1 ogre hook (on the ogrekin man)
+1 hide armor
potion of cure moderate wounds
gloves of arrow snaring
agate-studded gold ring worth 50 gp
a necklace of emeralds and silver worth 350 gp
a large sack and a ruby-inlaid red dragon-scale cloak clasp worth 600 gp

They wandered back out of the fetid room and headed back toward the stairs. On the way out they ducked into a side room and curled noses as the smell of rot and old blood washed over them. Piles of gore-spattered skin lie heaped in the room. A horrid rubbery face robbed of its skeleton and muscle lay deflated on the table. Not interested in searching the room, the group ascended the stairs and made for the barn.

With a muscular heave, Krac flew open the door and they rushed in. Three ogrekin ran to block their way. One ran charging for the group and Rickben downed him with a flurry of arrows. Lor unleashed a fireball into the room and ended another. They overwhelmed the last unfortunate victim and ascended the rafters to enter doors on the two sides of the towering barn.

Inside the doors they found a massive spiderweb, populated with an ogre spider that climbed out to greet its guests. In the corner they spied three unconscious men chained inside a cage. Seris jumped down into the web to combat the spider and became lodged in the sticky webbing. They moved to intercept the spider and managed to slay the monstrous thing before it sank its fangs into Seris.

Shalelu exclaimed, “Jakardros is in there!”

They regrouped and opened the cage. Lor ministered healing aid to them and they opened the door to let them out.

When the man Jakardros came to, he looked around and thanked his new allies for their timely aid. They introduced themselves, and Seris and Rickben both noted a tense nod between Jakardros and Shalelu.

They healed the others back to consciousness and asked them what had happened. Jakardros introduced his companions, Vale Temros and Kaven Windstrike.

Jakardros explained the circumstances of their capture, including the patrol they endeavored to complete and then the unexpected ambush by the terrible Graul family. He looked at his companions and asked, grim, “Have you found any other rangers?”

Seris shook her head, and described the horrors they had seen in the basement. Jakardros frowned.

Many of the group noted a Sihedron brand upon Kaven, and Seris prodded him about it. Throughout the conversation, Krac noted the man stumbling through a few lies and finally chimed in, grunting “You’re lying.”

Jakardros flew into a frenzy, asking questions about the man’s allegiances, and the others prodded him for information about where he received the rune. Jakardros, Shalelu and Vale agreed to take Kaven back to town for the night where they would find out what he knew and then exact the swift justice afforded to Black Arrows—immediate beheading.

Collectively, the group decided to return to town and meet them in the morning.

As they left, Seris dashed back toward the house, exclaiming she’d just need a minute. A few minutes later, as she ran back toward the group, they saw a heavy black smoke begin to pour from the front door. She grinned with immense satisfaction and they turned back to the path back to Turtleback Ferry.

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Hillbogre Horror
At the Graul homestead

In order to begin tracking the disappearance of the Black Arrows, everyone gathered their belongings the following morning. As they were packing their things to leave, Renza appeared at the docks as the morning’s barge arrived. She hopped off and tracked down her companions to offer her continued services in tracking down the perpetrators of the corruption surrounding the Sihedron rune.

They set out north with Shalelu in tow. Rickben promised to meet up with them after tracking down a new animal companion. The well-worn path out of Turtleback Ferry wandered alongside the banks of the Skull River; around three miles north of the town, a rickety wooden bridge crossed over the river and lead northwest.

As they crossed into a grassy clearing, Shalelu’s ears perked up and she pointed.

“I hear the sounds of a large cat. It sounds agitated, or upset—I can’t tell.” She dashed forward, motioning for them to follow and observe. When they reached the source of the sound, the group spied a beautiful firepelt cougar trapped in a vicious bear trap. Krac knelt forward and tried to pry it open, but was unsuccessful. Bahram tried his luck as well, but the trap wouldn’t budge. The group then heard the sounds of several creatures approaching through the woods. Seris offered to try disabling the locking mechanism, and was instantly successful.

Shalelu pulled a scroll from her pack which enabled her to speak with the cougar, and she began chattering with growls and strange intonations. The creature responded in kind, with varying levels of intensity and concern. Shelalu relayed the creatures thoughts, indicating its master had been taken further on into the Graul farmlands.

As they readied themselves for the attack, Lor grew visibly anxious and nervously laughed, “I should have brought my fortress in a bag today.”

Meanwhile, the sounds of the creatures in the woods reached a crescendo and five dogs burst through the treeline and and ran directly to engage the group. The heroes easily dispatched the dogs. Just as the last dog fell, a grotesque humanoid charged forth, spear in hand.

“I’s huntin’ kitty cat! No concern o’ you’s less you’s wanna be hunted too!”

His blundering attack sailed past Renza and she easily dodged. The rest of the group rallied, and he was easily bested. As he neared death, he began blubbering for his “mammy” and moved to surrender. Seris approached from behind and knocked him unconscious with her scimitar. On his body, Krac pulled free a belt of giant strength +2, a +1 spear, and a ratty, flea-infested blanket. Shalelu glanced at the discarded scrap, and her eyes widened. “Those patches on the blanket are insignia of the Black Arrows!”

They looked closer and noted the insignia were bloodstained. Immediately, they resolved to track the Graul down and get to the bottom of their connection to the Black Arrows. The cougar, which Shelalu addressed as “Kibb,” lead them on through the woods to the location of his owner.

As they traveled further into the farmlands, they noted several hanging cornhusk-and-leather humanoid-shaped fetishes meant to ward off intruders stuffed with what appeared to be a mix of dirt and human hair. They glanced back at one another, growing visibly concerned by the strange accessories. Shelalu stopped the group and explained that Kibb would track them the rest of the way, but that she’d need to leave to find Rickben and warn him about their change in course.

They agreed, and she left and they continued beyond the path. It opened into a wide clearing and as they rounded the corner, a hideous eight foot man burst from the trees and buried a massive hook in Renza’s armor, catching her completely by surprise. His grotesquely deformed head resembled a giant pumpkin on the right side—a huge puffy mass of tumors and overgrown bone giving his head a lopsided look.

A melee erupted, and he turned his attentions on Bahram. The group did their best to surround him and bring him down quickly, but he landed several grievous blows upon Bahram before finally falling. They rummaged through his things, but quickly rallied to close the distance into the house when Seris yelled she saw movement in the house. On his person, they found:
2 potions of Cure Serious Wounds
+1 Ogre Hook
Amulet of Natural Armor +1
Ring of Protection +1

They approached the front porch and Seris traipsed up to the front door, telling everyone (especially Krac) to remain off the porch until she said. When she placed her weight upon the porch, a saw swept up through the floorboards, but she nimbly dodged out of the way. She tried to activate the trap again, but it was expended, so she motioned for the group to come up to the door.

When she reached for the handle and pushed the door open, four spikes lashed out at her. She managed to evade two of them, while the two others buried in her flesh. When she went to remove them, she noted they were made of sharpened human bone.

The dark, looming, fetid interior of the home invited them inside. Seris and Renza began entering into the home, and Lor flew up onto the porch. Renza smirked at her, “was that really necessary?”

“Yes.”

Krac then shouldered his way past them and walked over near the couch. It was upholstered in haphazard arrangements of animal hide and human flesh, talons, monstrous hairy spider’s legs, fox heads and human hands and feet. Repulsed, he moved past it, but failed to sense the floor below him giving way and tumbled into a shallow pit littered with cruel iron spikes. He found himself impaled on an iron spike, the wound tingling with the numbing caress of poison.

Seris couldn’t contain a tiny giggle.

Bahram helped him up, and they continued through the living room into the hallway beyond. They continued left, and Seris walked down the hall to open the door. When she opened it, she was met with the horrifying visage of a corpulent monster with stringy hair and bald patches, and a blast of rotten air mixed with filth. The rotund woman cackled. “Come to pay ’ol Mammy a visit, eh?”

WHY DON’T YOU COME IN A LITTLE CLOSER?! GET ’EM, BOYS!”

With a creak, her massive body lifted from the bed and she flew into the air. She waved her hand and four animate bodies of her sons, their mouths stitched shut, advanced on Seris. Bahram shouldered past her and hacked into the zombies, cleaving many of them in twain. The obese woman cackled and waved her hands about, launching spells that glowed with malevolent energy. The group levied attack after attack against her, but her protective magics seemed to keep those attacks from causing any harm.

Seris turned invisible and ran across the room, vaulting off the bed and into the air. She buried her sword in the woman, and a flickering illusion disappeared beneath her sword. Lor launched a flaming sphere at Mammy Graul, and she shrieked in rage. “Trickster queen! Come to steal my boys!?”

Lor retorted, “Sorry, I can’t hear you through all the fire!”

Bahram landed a blow upon her shortly thereafter, and she snapped at him, levying a blast of malevolent energy. Bahram instantly felt robbed of his strength and retreated out into the hallway.

Krac pulled out his spear and plunged it into the flying woman above. He managed to pierce her magical defenses and she just looked down at him and grinned.

“Now you’re a pretty boy. Why dontchu come ’oer here and give Mammy a big hug?”

The woman continued flying about the room, launching magical attacks at the group. Krac disabled more of her protective barriers, and Seris cried out an enchantment spell at her.

Lor, hearing the words and seeing the gestures, gasped. “Seris…why?!”

“Not even on your worst enemy! You’re a monster!”

Mammy Graul slowly turned her gaze toward Krac, she hungrily licked her lips, and flew directly for Krac with her arms extended.

Krac swung his spear in desperation at the woman as she sailed for him, and his attack connected. Seris, similarly, swung for the woman and her strike hit home.

Bahram, enraged at the woman’s debilitating curse, launched himself on her and dropped her with his massive greatsword. She slumped to the ground with a sickening plop. Seris walked over and unceremoniously buried her scimitar in the woman’s chest.

Mammy Graul had secreted away several magical belongings in her folds of blubber:
Potion of Cure Moderate Wounds
Wand of Magic Missile (CL 3rd; 44 charges)
Wand of Ray of Enfeeblement (28 charges)
Wand of Vampiric Touch (33 charges)
Mammy’s masterwork quarterstaff, featuring an entire dismembered human fist impaled upon the wooden pole and wrapped tightly to remain attached
Spellbook filled with various spells none of the group could cast (worth 4000 gp)

They continued on through the house and found a storage room filled with bones. Renza recognized the structure and explained, “These are bones of female infants—similar in structure to the ogrekin. These must be the discarded bones of her female children. No wonder we’ve only seen boys!”

“Thanks Renza, definitely needed to know that. Crucial info, that,” Lor sighed.

Renza shrugged, and they continued on.

They entered a room with two smaller ogrekin. “Oh, you’ve come to play!” the bigger one grinned, brandishing a spear.

“Play with this!” Krac screamed and disemboweled him.

The other jumped in to avenge his brother’s death and ineffectively swung the spear toward the attackers. Krac ended his life shortly thereafter too.

They moved on.

Upstairs in the attic, the group managed to dig up 5 flasks of acid and three sets of masterwork thieves tools. In the room next door, Seris and Krac both reached into a chest filled with sacks of money and several dismembered skeletal fingers. A trap slashed out, catching both of them, but Seris was able to remove the money: 121 cp, 110 sp, and 23 gp. Krac removed the fingers.

They turned about and returned down the stairs, noting a stairwell down into the basement.

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Visiting the Turtle

When the group arrived at Turtleback Ferry, they were greeted by three people, one of whom introduced himself as Garig, and he welcomed them to town. Maelin Sheed, as he explained, was the mayor of the town and would be happy to speak with them at their convenience.

After exchanging brief pleasantries, they walked on into town to explore. As they walked about, people quickly shuttered windows or hastened their pace. Seris caught glimpse of a woman walking into The Turtle’s Parlor with a bouquet of flowers. Curious, she dashed inside and remained hidden to get a better glimpse of her and what she was doing. She gave the flowers over to the man behind the inn’s front desk with a faint smile and accepted a few coins before walking back out of the building.

Seris approached the man—who introduced himself as Cesten Orlandi—and asked about the woman who had brought the flowers. He welcomed her to town, said her name was Talda, and asked if Seris needed a place to stay for the evening.

Seris brightened at the suggestion of accommodations, and offered to entertain his guests for the evening as payment for her room. He readily accepted, and told her she should be back by sundown to play for his guests. Seris prodded him for a few more Turtleback Ferry rumors.

Shalelu headed straight for Bottom’s Up, the small town’s tavern, to see what she could dig up about the goings-on around town. There, Rickben, Krac, Bahram and Lor met the proprietors, Yads and Berthandy Kesker and struck up a conversation. They were not sad, it seemed, by the recent sinking of the Paradise. It had been attracting some fairly colorful degenerates for the duration of its stay on the Claybottom Lake. Incidentally, it was also stealing their patrons.

Lor sat within earshot of Rickben’s conversation, idly playing with Hopkins. A colorful man approached her and struck up a random conversation.

“The dam up north, between the Storval Deep and Skull River, is haunted by all of those who have drowned hereabouts. The skulls carved on the dam let the ghosts watch you when you approach!” The man introduced himself as a fisherman and rambled on a bit.

Yads, watching with bemusement, exclaimed to the others that his name was Barclay, and that he was one of the tavern’s regulars.

Lor listened intently, feigning interest, and continued the conversation. “Are there lots of fisherman in town?”

“Heck no! I’m the only one!” He softly punched Lor’s arm with a wide grin splayed upon his face."

She just nodded sagely, appearing to take in his words.

“And why your friends so quiet?”

Lor nodded, looking over at them. “Rough week.”

Barclay nodded sagely, briefly serious, and then bust into laughter and resumed his conversation with her.

Bahram and Krac watched intently, but didn’t move to interact with any of the patrons. They gathered their belongings and left the tavern to finish looking around. Rickben stepped outside and noticed a woman rushing to get home in the darkening light. She stumbled and dropped a package on the ground. In a split second, Rickben spied a glimpse of a Sihedron brand upon her shoulder. She quickly gathered her package and her composure and dashed off into an alley.

Rickben stealthily followed and disappeared into the shadows. He followed her to her home and peered into the window. He looked about, but didn’t spy anything that looked immediately suspicious and left to return to the tavern.

Upon his arrival, Yads told Rickben to try the inn.

When he arrived, Seris was dancing center stage and playing the flute. Everyone jumped in to participate and Rickben gladly joined the festivities. Except Bahram and Krac. They sat and steadily drank themselves silly.

That night, Seris made five gold, which she used to pay half the cost of each of her companion’s rooms. Rickben explained what he had uncovered, and then they went to bed.

The following day, they traveled around trying to follow up on some of their leads. They traveled to the Shimmerglens and Whitewillow during the daytime and found nothing of interest.

Upon their return, Rickben lead Seris to the woman’s house he had followed. They knocked on her door and asked to speak with her, pointing out the intricacy and detail of her tattoo. She blushed and became visibly flustered. Seris calmed her down and explained she’d just like to know more about it.

The woman invited them inside and she opened up, explaining her name was Ailen, and that she had obtained the brand in order to gain exclusive access to the floating pleasure barge on Claybottom Lake. They chatted briefly, thanked her for her time, and then left to ponder on what they’d learned.

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New adventures
Travel down the Yondabakari

Shalelu Andosana approached the group with a warm familiar smile and hugged Rickben. He melted with pure joy. She went on to explain to the group that she wished to accompany them to Turtleback Ferry and on to Fort Rannick. Her willingness to help the rest of the group was genuine, and Rickben immediately accepted with glee.

Lor and Seris stood off to the side, observing. Lor snorted and then with a grin of pure mockery asked Seris, “Whatcha thinkin’ about?” She intoned aloud in a deeper voice, “Oh, you know—ranger stuff.” Seris grinned back and batted her eyelashes, twirling her hair.

Shalelu and Rickben walked back over to the group, and Seris took Shalelu aside. The lot of them indulged in a fine dinner and a few drinks before retiring for the night and resolving to depart in the morning.

They boarded a plan river barge to travel downriver and two days passed with no incident. Rickben explained to the group that he knew the rough location of the Sandpoint Devil. The captain of the barge explained the group had three hours to track their quarry. Rickben led the way with the help of Shalelu and Bahram.

As they wandered through the woods, Lor quipped sarcastically, “So…you did bring your compass, right?”

They ignored her.

Thirty minutes passed, and Lor watched Rickben and Shalelu chatting as they picked through the woods catching glimpses of scorched hoof prints. She turned to Seris and mumbled in a falsetto voice, “I love the forest!”

“Oh, me too!” She replied to herself in earshot of Seris. “They’re so cute!”

Shalelu whipped around and glared at Lor, silencing her.

After another fifteen minutes, Rickben managed to catch a glimpse of a berry bush smeared with blood. He walked around to it, and found the carcass of a deer with a long trail of blood leading to the woods beyond.

A shrill shriek pierced the air, and he rallied them from atop Timber and charged forward.

Rickben and Shalelu ran up to a cliffside, and the others ran down around the base of the cliff to engage the creature. It bellowed a horrific sound and Seris, Rickben, and Shalelu fled in panick. The devil was about the size of a large steed, with serrated teeth, simmering hoover, ragged bat wings, and glowing red eyes.

Lor stepped up and launched a lightning bolt at the creature as a melee erupted. Bahram and Krac jumped into action while Lor continued launching lightning through the skies. Krac ran through the woods and managed to restore Shalelu’s resolve.

She jumped back into the fray. The devil flew down and breathed accursed fire over the remaining group. assaulted Krac with its full fury. He nearly dropped from the shock of the blows, but remained standing by the grace of Sarenrae and his orcish heritage alone.

It continued its barrage against Lor, and then flew over to Bahram, dropping him with another incinerating blast of fire and then a debilitating bite.

Rickben and Seris recovered their senses, and they charged back into the fight. Krac used his healing magic to ensure that Bahram lived. Rickben, suddenly invigorated with the thought of his kill, unleashed a fusillade of arrows into the creature, downing it in a manner of seconds.

They returned to the barge. The captain Martin set off and began the trip back down the river to Turtleback Ferry. Lor gathered the group and helped nurse everyone back to health with Rickben’s help. They floated down the river for the better part of ten days with no further incident.

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Wrapping up loose ends

Armed with the machinations of a plot against Magnimar‘s ruler, the group explained to Lord-Mayor Haldmeer Grobaras exactly what was at stake when they ended Xanesha’s reign of terror.

Overcome with emotion over what could’ve come to pass, the Lord-Mayor fainted. After coming to, he invited the six of them to his home, Defiant’s Garden, to discuss what they had unearthed.

As a token of his thanks for ending the attacks in Magnimar and for personally saving his life, he awarded each member of the group 4,000 gp. He also explained that any of the churches about town would buy back any evil paraphernalia the cultists wore to destroy it and prevent any further abuse of power.

The group turned in six Skinsaw masks and Justice Ironbriar’s Reaper’s mask to the Temple of the Dawnflower for destruction, and at the Lord-Mayor’s instruction, the adventurers were compensated 10,500 gp total for the vile masks.

Recuperating after their efforts to stop the murders, the adventurers took a week or rest and exploration to familiarize themselves with Magnimar at Grobaras’ suggestion. He provided them lodging at a fairly upscale inn in the Capital district to complete their stay.

Four days into the stay, he approached them once again to ask for assistance. This time, he explained, he needs to sent a patrol to Hook Mountain to investigate a problem that’s been brought to his attention. According to a recent message from Turtleback Ferry, the village has had no contact for weeks with Magnimar’s most distant holding, remote Fort Rannick near Hook Mountain. The Black Arrows, the soldiers stationed at Fort Rannick, have traditionally been isolated, but such a long silence is uncharacteristic, even for them.

“I haven’t had the time until now,” Grobaras exclaimed, “for such a pointless and silly trip to talk with those foul-tempered Black Arrows. I’ll give each of you 1,000 gp as compensation for the task, as well as to cover your expenses.”

“I suggest you make Turtleback Ferry your first stop. This is the closest settlement to Fort Rannick, and there’s a good chance someone in town will know why the fort’s gone silent.

The group left to discuss the task, and Seris immediately took to the streets to ask about the task at hand. She turned up some fairly convincing evidence that the Black Arrows aren’t as disagreeable as the Lord-Mayor made them out to be—that there are many good folk among them, and that if they need help someone will need to step up.

She also turned up some evidence that by land, the journey to Turtleback Ferry from Magnimar is a voyage of nearly 400 miles through lightly patrolled rural terrain along the north bank of the Yondabakari River. This would be about a two-week journey. On horseback, the journey would take one week. Alternatively, the trip by river barge would take around a week as well.

Rickben chimed in to suggest they take the ferry. That way, he explained, they would be able to track the Sandpoint Devil—it had been sighted in the south of the Sandpoint hinterlands conveniently on the way to their destination, and he was determined to hunt it once and for all.

They departed Magnimar at the end of the week to begin their journey down the river toward Turtleback Ferry, but not before they were contacted by a familiar face. Shalelu Andosana had tracked them down in town and requested an audience before they left.

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Ending the Skinsaw

As the group reached the pinnacle of the tower, they noticed the great foe they expected was nowhere to be found. Instead, the timeless statue of an onyx angel loomed under the Irespan. They glanced around nervously, wondering where “Xanesha” could be. Up above, many of them noticed a demon circling the tower, and they readied themselves for an assault.

A voice struck through the solemn windy rooftop from the shadows—“Fools! You shall not stop the harvest!”

Lor quipped, “If I had a silver for every time I heard that!” A whoosh of air whipped by, and Lor’s eyes grew wide as the form of a monstrous serpentine women in a terrifying mask appeared, her spear suddenly piercing Lor’s belly and exiting the other side.

The visage of a medusa leered at Lor as she crumpled to the ground. A burst of overwhelming despair exploded out from the spear, and many of the group succumbed in shock. Lor feebly grasped at her belly as the spear pulled free with a sickening sucking sound.

A melee erupted, and everyone rallied to face their foe. Xanesha directed her gaze at Bahram and the eyes of her mask glowed with a sickly green malevolence, but he shook off the feeling as his joints began to stiffen and lunged forward to attack.

The lamia matriarch moved with effortless grace—her form comprised of sinewy muscle—and she easily danced around his attack. Bahram growled in annoyance and glanced over at Lor, who bled profusely from the gaping wound in her belly. Her face hardly betrayed her shock as she struggled to pull free a wand from her pouch to apply a healing spell.

“Mages…what a waste of people who could be holding swords,” he grunted.

Seris couldn’t resist, and frowned in frustrated annoyance, “says the barbarian who hasn’t hit anything yet!”

The lamia’s supernatural defenses seemed to ward her against most magical attacks. As the group systematically sheared off the illusions protecting her, she seemed to grow more frustrated and desperate.

“You do not know the powers with which you toy! You do not wish to disturb the sleeping giant!”

Lor wiped her own blood free from her hands on her thigh and laughed, “Another silver for me, bitch!”

The lamia slithered up onto the statue and levied her assault upon Rickben, and then turned her spear once again upon Lor, clearly pissed by her sarcastic quips. A well-placed strike knocked her unconscious and she began bleeding out. Krac ran over brought his falchion down upon her snakelike form.

Concerned for his friend’s safety, Rickben darted for the wand and brought it forth to Lor, channeling its healing energies upon her dying body.

Unable to reach her atop the statue, Bahram drew forth Alaznist’s ranseur and lunged forward to strike.

The ranseur pierced the lamia’s flesh. The medusa’s mask concealed her true emotions, but a note of panic riddled her voice as she began an incantation for a healing spell.

The group renewed their assault, bolstered by her clear uneasiness. Bahram and Krac both managed to land decisive blows, and she slithered forth and leapt from the building.

As she fell from the tower, she gestured quickly and her descent slowed considerably—a magical force seemed to be carrying her slowly to the ground.

“You cannot stop the harvest! You cannot!”

Rickben ran to the edge of the tower. “Oh no you don’t!” he cried, and nocked an arrow.

He loosed it at her and it buried itself in her chest. She fell limp as she sailed to the ground below.

Bahram took a knee after collecting his greatsword; his rage had exacted its toll for now.

Lor, still covered in her own blood, walked to the edge of the tower and wordlessly flicked two silver coins down to the ground below. Lor turned around and high-fived Renza and then activated her own supernatural power of flight. A small crowd was beginning to gather around the corpse of the strange woman bleeding on the ground over 150 feet below.

Lor descended to confront the crowd while Renza and Krac ran down the tower to the ground below. She peered about at the people gathering and explain that the Night Watch had already been called. They all stood about, peering curiously at the enigmatic woman and the corpse of the snake-like woman before them.

The group extracted the chests at the top of the tower and found a note indicating Xanesha’s plan to sacrifice Lord-Mayor Haldmeer Grobaras and harvest his soul. They stashed the new-found belongings at Renza’s home and and returned to the Lord-Mayor’s manor to explain the plot they had averted by ending Xanesha’s life.

_Loot found at the top of the tower:
33,000 cp
8,100 sp
900 gp
100 pp
4,200 gp in various bits of jewelry and small pouches of gemstones
Four potions of Cure Moderate Wounds
+2 Small kukri
Ring of Jumping
Golembane Scarab
List of Sihedron Sacrifices

Loot found on Xanesha:
Impaler of Thorns
Medusa mask
Sihedron medallion
Snakeskin tunic_

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