Now that the party is together again, the search for the Branch can continue.
Kheldar reminded the group that the emperor would want to be informed of the situation. He volunteered to carry word back to Kepita. Alayla accompanied him, because she wanted to go back and visit her family for a time.
It was decided that Chaos Village was the best place to investigate the poison and the thieves’ guild. The party stumbled into a place call the Indigo Dagger, a sort of a speakeasy where alcohol, drugs, and other pleasures can be purchased. Rayne and Grayson each bought an ale at the bar. They noticed someone watching them intently from the corner, and they went over to the table and sat across from the man, who had on a thieves’ guild cufflink.
He said, “You paid for a grand funeral: burial, headstone, moruners. How did you know the deceased?”
Grayson admitted that they hadn’t known the halfling, and told him they had come across his body in Jocasta on their way back from the Hall of Sages. He asked for, and was given, both of the dead thief’s cufflinks. When he heard that the deceased had made off with the Branch, he became troubled, suggesting that his “brother” had acted foolishly in accepting the job and saying that whoever had hired him must be very rich or powerful. He knew nothing of the poison used to kill the thief. Further, he told the party that if they were to recover the Branch, his organization would see to it that they were rewarded handsomely. So, the party now had two clients for the same job.
Their contact suggested they stay at the Twisted Pot Inn, or send word to the Indigo Dagger for “The Crow”, where they were staying, so he could send them a message if he learned more.
Fresh Off the Boat
Meanwhile, at the docks of Berit, a dwarven mercenary named Ragnor Kneeslasher had just arrived on board a boat he had protected from pirates on its journey over from Mesarunde. He wandered around the docks, looking for work, and as evening approached, he made his way to Hospitality Village and got a room at the Twisted Pot Inn and settled in at their bar for a nice flagon of dwarven ale.
The party came in and ordered drinks. Rayne noticed Ragnor sitting by himself and went over to introduce himself. Grayson brought Rayne’s drink to him. He told them of his voyage, and they told him something of their travels. Ragnor told them that the poison sounded like Lunia paste, a mixture of nightshade and Lunia flower extract favored by the cult of the Selenites in Mesarunde. He told them that the Selenites worship a deity named Selena, and Nolt Hyum said there was no such deity. Ragnor agreed, but maintained that was what the Selenites believed in. Ragnor was also able to tell them that the Brigadines were a powerful faction in Mesarunde. Rayne invited Ragnor to travel with them. His pockets heavy with his pay from the voyage, he agreed to travel with them just for the adventure. Grayson told the innkeeper that “the Crow” had sent them, and he gave gave them a huge discount on the room fee.
They sent word to “the Crow” asking him about the Selenites and the Brigadines. He sent a note back that he’d never heard of the Selenites, but that the Brigadines, as they described them, would fit what they guessed about whoever had paid to have the Branch stolen.
The Order of Chaos
Canvassing the taverns, the party ran into Zethar again, and Grayson invited him to dinner, ostensibly to hear more about how they might join the Brigadines.
They sent word for “the Crow” that he would be here at this time, and that evening, the bar at the Twisted Pot Inn was full of patrons. The party dined in their room with Zethar. After dinner, they asked him about the Branch, and he bolted for the door, but Ragnor tripped him and pinned him on the floor. They tied him to a chair and interrogated him. Eventually, they got him to tell them that he had ordered the Branch stolen, but he claimed they’d never find it. Through threats, intimidation, and accurately gauging when he was lying, the party eventually got him to reveal that he had “sent the Branch to the bottom of the sea.” Through more questions, they learned that he hadn’t thrown it in the ocean, but had, as he said, sent it to the bottom of the sea. That didn’t make sense, but they had ascertained that he was telling the truth when he said it, so they knew it must be some riddle.
They searched his bag and found three daggers, one of them magical, two vials of liquid, one amber and one blue (the blue one Zethar identified as Lunia paste), a flask of liquid, a sap, and a map of the nation of Rissen.
Looking at the map, they noticed that there is a very large lake in Rissen called the Small Sea. Ragnor and Rayne simultaneously shouted, “Aha!” and told the rest of the party that it must be at the southern tip of the lake. Grayson theorized that the lake might have something to do with the enemy the Branch was created to fight.
Grayson told Zethar he was free to go, without his things. They followed him down the stairs, where, just outside the bar room, seven or eight halflings piled onto Zethar and stuffed him into a large sack. In a moment, they had carried him out into the night. Their contact came up to them and said they wouldn’t have to worry about Zethar any further.
The Bottom of the Sea
Because Ragnor and Saline didn’t have horses, Grayson bought a cart and harnessed it to his horse.
The party made its way to the south end of the Small Sea, where they found a large shrine or small temple to the deity of roads. Across the road from it, there stood a small copse of trees. Someone spotted a set of deer tracks. Rayne followed them out to an area of the plain that had been chewed on, then around and back into the trees. Within the shrine, they found an altar, a statue, and two offering boxes. Ragnor paid his respects at the altar. Grayson tried to detect magic on the altar, the statue, and one of the offering boxes before he found an aura somewhere beyond the walls of the shrine. He walked out to the edge of the trees and tried again to detect magic. He found an aura nearby on the ground and a bunch of auras up in the air a ways into the little forest. Saline went into the trees and found a shiny ring on the ground. Someone suggested the ring might turn people into deer. Saline put it on, but nothing happened. She gave the ring to Grayson, who examined it and found its magic aura to match a spell to slow the falling of its wearer. He gave the ring to Ragnor, who put it on.
The party heard a heavy rustling sound, and Rayne and Grayson got ready to attack it if it was something hostile. A huge bear came into view, and Rayn let off a shot, but it missed. Rayne ran up to the bear, drawing his axe, and swung at it, but he missed. Ragnor charged up and swung his waraxe, landing a palpable hit. Ragnor noticed that he fumbled just slightly when grabbing his weapons, but thought nothing of it. The battle raged, but eventually, the bear was down, and Ragnor claimed the bear’s claws and head.
But Why Two?
Someone said it was strange a shrine should have two offering boxes, so they went back into the shrine, and Grayson stood near the second offering box and tried to detect magic. He sensed an aura, so he concentrated on it and tried to identify it, but suddenly, the box grew an arm and hit him with such force that he was knocked unconscious. Nolt Hyum dragged him away from the box and healed him enough that he could fight. Rayne and Ragnor rushed in and started hitting the offering box. Grayson hit the offering box with the edge of a cone of fire. The battle was brief, ended when Ragnor sliced the box in half with a mighty blow. Inside, they found a magical hand-and-a-half sword, which Grayson claimed.
Ragnor decided to go check out the auras Grayson had sensed, while Rayne and Grayson decided to rest in the shrine. Saline went with him, in case of trouble. They heard something in the underbrush, and when they looked, they saw a deer. Looking up into the trees, he saw a long stick laying across two boughs. He climbed up to it, noting that he was taking a long time to get a grip on the branches as he climbed. When he reached the limb about 30 ft. up, Ragnor looked out and saw the Branch. Breaking off a thin limb, he used it to push the Branch off its perch. The Branch fell and hit Saline in the head. Ragnor twisted the ring on his finger, took a deep breath, and jumped off the limb. For a heart-wrenching second, he thought it wouldn’t work, as he plummeted toward the ground, but just as he was going fast enough to hurt himself, he slowed and floated safely to the forest floor.
Ragnor picked up the branch, cutting himself on a sharp place on one of the rings. Bringing it back to the shrine, he showed it to the rest of the party. Ragnor noticed that the cut he’d gotten from the branch was closed by the time he got to the shrine. Grayson tried to detect its magical auras, but he fainted, because they were too strong to bear. Still, as they examined it without magic, they noticed that whoever held it was slowly healed of all wounds. As visions of enduring warfare played in their minds, they decided the Branch must quickly go back to the Hall of Sages. Fearing that a city guard might detect the auras of the Branch, they chose to circle around each city on the way. They wrapped the Branch in cloth and stuck it in their cart.
They paused near Berit only long enough for Rayne to take some silver pieces in and buy a chest for the piles of small coin they were finding. By the time they had passed around Pallas and were on their way to the Hall itself, Ragnor had noticed an increase in the clumsiness of his movements, and he had determined that it started some time after leaving Berit, but he had not yet figured out exactly when it started, nor its cause.
They reached the Hall of Sages on the evening of the 32nd of Aprilis to find the sages in mourning clothes. They learned that the head sage had died the previous night, heartsick over the loss of the Branch. A cleric was expected in the morning to try to revive him.
When morning came, the cleric came and communed with the dead man, but he refused to come back, saying that even if the Branch were recovered, his peaceful days guarding it were over. The sages met, with Grayson allowed to listen in, and nominated candidates for the position of head sage. They went around the circle, talking about why they thought one or another would be the best one, each pointing to one of his or her fellows as the best choice. When they finished, they voted, and elected one of them by an overwhelming majority.
When they were finished, the head sage asked Grayson what news they brought. He invited the sages and the party to the vault, where he said he wished to examine matters further. There, he produced the Branch and returned it to its place on the pedestal.
The sages gave each member of the party a week of training in their chosen fighting professions and offered each the request of a boon.
1 PC level
a magic dagger (returning)
a vial of Lunia paste (injury toxin)
a vial of amber liquid (injestion toxin)
a flask of unidentified liquid
a map of Rissen
a magic ring (slowfall/clumsy)
1 boon each from the Sages of Oria