The Flower in the Sepulcher

That Way Madness Lies

The ruins drew closer on the riverbank, and they were dark. Everything around was dark, as things tend to be at night, but the ruins felt dark, even compared to the rest of the swamp, now drenched in blackness. Owain watched them and wished for Iolar’s eyes.

The Order had given few details about these ruins. A spirit of some sort lived here, a bad spirit, and hateful. Owain thought of Maman Bayou, and hoped this new addition would prove himself to be a fitting replacement. Owain could not remember how these ruins related to that gemstone map, that with the principles of Death, Life, and so on, but wrapped in shadow as the ruins were, Death would have seemed appropriate. Owain hoped not.

The boat pulled to what in another land would have been shore, and Owain got out to scout. The ruins were not tall, but seemed to tower over the swamp in which they sat, and as Owain looked upon them, he heard an unworldly wail that seemed to scratch the inside of his skull, like the sound of scraping steel on stone, a screech which sounded more like a bad wind, or a tearing, and for a moment he almost lost his bearings. But he refocused, and approached the ruins once more. The grounds were clear of threats, and for that Owain was thankful. There was a window on the second floor. Owain could not make out anything happening behind the windowpane, but it seemed that the spirit would be up there. And the wail. Not sensing any awareness of his presence, he started for a look around the back of the building, when a coyote came up to his ankles. That newcomer’s pet. Ghann suggested that they return to camp, where they could prepare for an assault the next day. Very wise. Owain returned to the boat.

Owain had nearly forgotten that Bex had joined them on this expedition. Everything was starting to feel right. The assault on the White Rabbit Runners. The Treff’s famed temple, finally. These ruins, the map, and the prophecy were a little more grandiose and cosmic than Owain had anticipated, but it was still a worthy challenge and a worthy cause. And perhaps most of all, hunting for the Sawgrass Rangers. No matter his companions’ goals and motivations, Owain realized that he no longer felt so out of place. Hunting the athach on the return journey would be exciting. And besides, he felt like he and Bex were really starting to hit it off.

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Mina's Journal, pp. 68-69

It’s been good, being back in the city for a time. The trip to the Moss Mountains was tiring, and Cyrus’ expedition didn’t seem much better. We spent some time working around the guildhall, I returned Owain’s letter, and many scones were eaten. Of course, it’s not like us to sit around and wait for things to happen. We popped down to JJ’s to get lunch and recalled that the Brotherhood of the Sole Exception had a posting out at Xante’s, and they meet upstairs there.

The meeting of the Sole Exception was fascinating – well, at least for me and Galen. Their job was fascinating too – they’re sending us after an elemental focus, a powerful artifact tied to a given magical element. It’s a focus of water, held in an unfinished elemental laboratory. Ingrid Strongspell, the leader of the Brotherhood, said that there were two finished ones. I believe that might be our Fire and Wind gems. She also said she taught my father. It’s a strange feeling, having someone speak so highly of him. I never really knew him, after all. Even when he was alive, Marta fostered me when he was out to sea.

We also went to the guildhall of the Sawgrass Rangers. Terrifying folk, but in the way you’d want a defensive force to be. They take trophies, and will pay for the materials for new ones. Karsh Blacktail, a ranger and skilled taxidermist, sent us after some owlbears, requesting heads, or at least beaks and eyes. This is apparently a relatively quotidian prey for them – they have a mounted illithid head in the hall. Clearly Cyrus had never seen one, maybe not even in a book. Not like they pulled out the really terrifying aberrations until fourth year xenobio anyway, it’s kind of advanced material.


We found the owlbears – quite the sight. I’ve seen normal ones before, but there was one that must have been as tall as the Rose. We took them down without too much difficulty. Well, except for when the huge one dropped a tree on me. I’m so glad Marta sent me that potion of fly, I wouldn’t have been able to stand up to that thing in a fight. Between the lightning and the alchemist’s fire, the heads weren’t much to look at. Still took the beaks.

These owlbears had caravans as their targets of opportunity, so they actually had some things of value. One of them is now slung between my shoulder blades – a beautifully made shortspear that sings with electrical magic. Cyrus might have been salivating a little. It’s from the Venom Kingdoms, was next to a pile of scrolls and wands, and came with a blue leather case, which makes me think it might have belonged to another craftsman, one with a bit more of a blue dragon bent. I’m keeping it anyway – it’ll probably come in handy if I get into a tight spot.

Cyrus offered to give me some lessons with my new spear once we get back to the Rose. I’m not entirely sure if he thinks I’m as useless with weapons as your typical wizard, or if he’s flirting with me. Or both. For what it’s worth, I told him that I’d be taking him up on those lessons, not that I’m just as good with a spear as I am with my daggers.

I also asked Cyrus about exactly why we met, and I can’t say I like the answer. The Exiles were tipped off by the Collective Friend, as were Finn and Galen. As was I, now that I think about it. What does a smuggler king stand to benefit from some scattered wanderers and a frustrated noble son getting their hands on the key to a prophecy box that can only be read by a single ancient dwarf, working with the Order? How does he coordinate all these moves – telling Owain, Lars, Maman, and I to seek Wellborn, telling the Exiles to seek me, telling Finn and Galen to seek not just the Exiles, but Cyrus in particular – and why does he do it? I have to sleep tonight, but I doubt it will be soundly.

At least I can trust that Cyrus isn’t Jack’s man.


Cyrus is minding the catfish, Galen’s tending to Finn, leaving me to sit here and chronicle our exploration of the elemental laboratory of Water. It was a good half day’s hike from the nearest bend, up on a long limestone escarpment eroding into the watershed.

Getting there was a bit of an adventure in itself. The limestone shelf was falling apart, hollow underneath, and well guarded by leftover summoned creatures – elemental grues. They’re not very threatening on their own, but in a large group on unsteady ground, their ability to shoot jets of water strong enough to knock us backward was a major concern. Fortunately, I was able to swap Cyrus into the center of the ambush before I got knocked back. Down a steep, rocky hill. Face-first.

The laboratory itself was another few hours’ hike up the escarpment. Even half-finished, it was a terror, full of traps and monsters. The front door was guarded with a magical trap that Finn unfortunately sprung, releasing a bloodmote swarm. That would be why she’s laid up right now – they’re horrible undead mosquitoes and carry a lovely disease called red ache. Fortunately they are easily turnable and very easy to hit with a lightning bolt.

Inside, we were pretty heavily set upon. I shudder to think what would have happened if Galen hadn’t cast water breathing on all of us… we encountered an undead called a drowned, which has the ability to drown anyone within a certain area, even on dry land. Cyrus kept it very busy, which was good, because some unseen force commanded a necromental into the room at the same time. Oh gods the stench when I fried that thing. Clyde vomited in my hood. I’d ask why you would want an undead water elemental, but this is the Mosquito Kingdom we’re talking about. In their opinion, making improbable undead things is its own reward.

The elemental focus was hanging over a dock structure, over a deep, corrupted pool – the elemental source, long ago fouled by Mosquito Kingdom mages. Cyrus tried to break it off its chain, which didn’t work very well – fortunately, I still had a set of bolt cutters. I have a lot of things in my “purse”, Cyrus. I’m not going to tell you about all of them.

We were quickly attacked by two chuul, and we were in no shape to take them on head to head. Or head to terrifying tentacle face, as it might be. Fortunately, Finn was able to keep one distracted, slipping out of its grip, and Cyrus knocked one off the docks to give me room to run. Between Galen and me, we were pretty much amphibious, and between Galen and Cyrus, we put a hole through the wall and escaped. I fired a parting lightning bolt, but I didn’t kill them. Probably left treasure behind. Cyrus made me leave after I said I didn’t even care about the treasure… I needed that really. He was right. I was tired.

I am going to be sad to sell the necklace we found. It’s stunning. I keep taking peeks at it when I’m pretty sure no one else is looking. Still, it’s going to fetch a good price that we can use for more important things.


Success! Finn finally figured out how to use a wand, and I finally figured out how to cast shield! I’m also making headway on working with Ned, which is good – wouldn’t want to be stranded in the city if Cyrus has to go do an expedition with the Exiles again.


(in Halfling)

I feel a little conflicted about it but I’m passing the information Cyrus gave me on to a certain half-elf with a certain collective. He really needs to know that a certain friend of ours is pulling strings behind the scenes. I hope he’s familiar with invisible ink. I’ll also just write Cyrus’ name in here a few more times, so that if a certain rogue reads this entry, she’ll think that I’m just writing in a language she doesn’t know so that I can write about my private personal feelings about Cyrus. Is that enough times… probably. I’ll just write Cyrus one more time for good measure. And probably doodle a little heart too.

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Signs and Prophecy

The rest of the collective have gone to meet with another free company. This one has returned to the guildhall to commune with the spirits. The spider whispers to this one again. This one has thrown bones. This one read the cards. This one’s purpose has been made clear. The words of the spider are in jeopardy. This one’s road leads away. Some of those ones met with the Rangers. Some of us claimed work from the Order. This one cannot help the Order now.

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A letter to Krog Fitzpatrick-Cavendish
From Naheeda Sand

(Penned by Abad Ibn Mousa Al-Arakis)

Krog,

Thanks for the dinner and the booze. You and your cohort are quite the group. It was a good time. Talking with you was easy. You were very forward about your past. Though your friends had heard the story many times before I thought it was impressive. I haven’t met many of our kind and to hear you speak so plainly. I liked it.

I want to see you again. I think we might have something and I want to see where this goes. Meet me in a week on the edges of Lake Lemule at sundown near the docks. It’s a date. Dress appropriately.

Naheeda

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Another one down...
... and more to come.

An echo softly bounced back and forth through what seemed like infinite empty space as every drop of crimson sweat fell from the tip of my nose to a short distance to the ground. On my hands and knees, I embraced a pool of my own blood. Yet I was not dying. I have been near death before, and this did not feel like it. I was entirely lucid, my head more clear than any conscious moment I had ever experienced. I was at epiphany. Kneeling before a dark figure, all the questions I had were answered, I had confronted the ghosts I kept locked away, I had atoned for my sins, I had faced what was necessary.

I had recognized him briefly, or her at the time.. no, it was definitely a her. She said:

“You look to your shadow as a mimic, but it is your shadow that looks the same at you.”

She vanished into smoke, and as it began to dissipate I saw a lit candle. The candle flickered for a moment before slowly dying out into a soft ember, then erupting again into a large flame. The flame grew into a blaze. I saw a building, it was on fire, yet I heard no screaming, I only saw a man… My father, staring at me through the burning. He looked upon me with a presence of indifference, apathy, perhaps he was already dead. Yet I knew behind his eyes was more than torpidity, behind his eyes lie disappointment. I tried to call out his name.. I briefly saw myself, alone, surrounded by empty, white space. I saw no wounds on my body, only a 12 year old version of myself, calling out, asking for help.


I woke up surrounded by the freed slaves. Battle had exhausted me, as had our half-dead, half-orc companion, and the rest of our battle-seasoned, strong and experienced collective. Yet we have yet to truly prove ourselves, I feel. A large part of me worries when that day will come. For now, I hope we can continue to work in the shadow. We should be grateful to have Maman in our company to help us with that.

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A letter to the Traveler's Collective
In which Galen writes a letter on behalf of the Compass Rose Free Company

To all the members of the Traveler’s Collective,

I hope this letter finds you all in good health. My name is Galen Dwyer, one of the members of the Compass Rose Free Company. I believe some of you may have been in contact with Mina Brewer, another member of the free company. I am writing in the hopes that we could form a mutually beneficial agreement between our free companies. I am sure that The Four Corners Free Company will speak with you on this topic at length, but for now, allow me to offer my services to you as an alchemist, cartographer, lorekeeper, and priest.

It would be foolish of me to expect a seasoned troupe such as yourselves to take my words in good faith without proof. Faith in the gods is commendable, faith in a stranger is foolhardy at best. Included are gifts from all of us at the Compass Rose Free Company. Let them serve as both a token of good will as well as a sample of the services I can offer. Take them in good faith for that is how they are given. Should you be making a ranging and need any of our services, we would be happy to join you as long as it does not conflict with our obligations to the compass rose.

To the silver-tongued Abad Ibn Mousa Al-Arakis: A candle that heightens your focus for a time.
To the unyielding Naheeda Sand: a potion blessed by the gods to shield you from harm and may I never find myself at the end of your blade.
To Lars Blackenwood, the man who lets his actions speak on his behalf: a potion that is imbued with the strength of ten men.
To Owain Greenwood, who shepherds his companions through the harrowing swamp: powdered sound to aid even the keenest ears
To the nimble Quarak Talonblack: eyedrops that sharpen your sight
To my fellow alchemist and healer Maman Bayou: A salve that accelerates the natural healing process as well as the alchemical recipes for all of the other gifts your companions have received.

To the group: A sample of our latest beer as well as a map of the Swamp as far as I have charted it along with notes on sites of particular interest or danger. I humbly request that you send me coordinates and details of your rangings in the swamp. Together we might be able to map the uncharted reaches of the Anophelian swamp.

Additionally I can perhaps help you outside of our rangings. If a piece of lore needs researching or alchemical substances are needed, I will gladly assist you.

Your humble servant,

Galen Dwyer


Mechanical breakdown of what has been given

Abad: Focusing candle (+ 1 to appraise, decipher script, forgery, and search checks while within 20 ft. of the burning candle. Lasts for 1 hour)

Naheeda: Potion of Shield of Faith (+ 2 deflection bonus to AC for 1 minute)

Lars Blackenwood: Potion of Bull’s Strength (+ 4 enhancement bonus to STR for 3 minutes)

Maman: Healer’s Balm (+ 1 alchemical bonus to Heal for 1 minute, can be applied as part of a heal check with no further action required to apply it)

Owain: Keenear powder (+ 1 alchemical bonus to Listen checks for 1 minute)

Quarak: Fareye drops (+1 alchemical bonus to Spot checks for 1 minute)

Beer: Pretty tasty, at least as good as what One-Shot Xante serves up

Map of the swamp: feel free to send Galen coordinates of your adventures to flesh out everyone’s knowledge of the geography of the swamp.

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Dramatis Personae, pg. 3

Quarak Talonblack: One of the crowfolk, and an expert burglar in the service of the collective friend. Became our liaison with Jack after we secured his return from quite ill-mannered hosts. Enjoys mammalian drink.

Bexelarea “Bex” el’Enen: A wild elf, confident enough in her fists to go toe to toe with Naheeda, and confident enough in her sexuality to completely flabbergast Owain.

Moulza: The very barest of descriptions would label him a parrot. However, what else he may be is unknown to me. Whatever his nature, he is black of feather and foul of beak. May he never leave my side again.

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Yield

Now.

You have to do it right now or you never will, no one will, it has to be right now, right this very second, because they won’t, look at them, Naheeda is mad with rage, Lars will kill him next chance he gets, Abad would never even think of it, he crisped the ogre without a thought, just look at it, or smell it.

Oh gods the stench.

Say it, right now, you have to say it right now.

You haven’t felt yourself in weeks or known what you’re doing but here is your chance, right here, better than freeing a family of slaves, whole villages full of families, and stop the White Rabbit Runners from taking more, and

track them down.

You can track them down and break them and follow them all the way to the Marches, all the way to the Empire, but you need this man to do it, and if they kill him, you can’t do it, you have to say it, say something, right now.

Ask him to yield.

He’ll do it.

Do it.

Now.

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naheedas jurnal 4
in which naheeda batles a ogre barbarian

owain and abad dragged me on another mision for jack. abad wants to get in with jack. that was why he was so demanding. as for owain. there is something that he isnt telling us. why the hell does he care about these serfs? tref is crowded and noisy. nothing here for me to do if you get my drift. the orc bar was fun and al. but i want a reel threat instead of just playing with razors. lucky i found one while going to pick up those slaves.

i got to do wat i do best. facing down posibel death. in this case it was a giant fucking ogre charging me. 10 feet tall and 650 pounds. that mother fucker was something fierce. mad as hell. covered in warts, scars, and holding a tree trunk. wat is the only way to deel with a raging barbarian ogre? rage back. it feels so gud to the let the anger go. im no longer naheeda. no longer a halforc. no longer anything. im just a instrument of destruction. nothing to wory about except my enemees.

the ogre and me faced of for a few rounds. his club smashed my ribs, my face, and my left arm. my sword only took a bite out of his torso. but i wasnt going down til he did. its not everyday day that i get to go toe to toe with a brute this strong. face a challenge like this. this is wat it is like to be alive. blood coursing thro my vanes. with some magical ade from abad and some melay help from lars we took the basterd down.

the other guards at the warehouse werent even worth r time. owain wouldnt let me kil the leeder. ordered me not to. who the fuck does he think he is? that asshole sicked a ogre at me. no mercy for that. why does the he want this bahrook guard captain alive? i smell past conflicts. it wud be nise for him to share with the partee his other motives. after we get these pesants out of here back to our collective friend. knife ears and me are gunna have a chat.

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Tactics and Tricks

These ones once again set out to assist the collective friend. Those ones are rapidly becoming a central tenet of our collective’s work, and in fact the similarity in name is not lost on this one. While others attended the smuggler’s market, the one called Naheeda and this one journeyed to One-Eyed Kor’s. Little of interest occurred. That one engaged in some mock-combat. This one stood alone. None choose to speak with this one. This one was prepared to alleviate all manner of woes in respect for the value of Saturday to those of the City.

Following those outings, The Traveler’s Collective set about the planning and execution of the tactical recovery of several slaves. Potentially, these ones failed to account for the necessity of healing inside the warehouse, but more likely, these ones underestimated the White Rabbit Runner’s commitment to remaining within the warehouse. Not a single guard came to the aid of those outside in response to the illusory investigation gifted to this one by Bethekk.

Once the rest of these ones dispatched the Ogre, they relate to me that it was quick work to convince the mercenary leader to stand down. These ones are becoming quite adept at forcing local strong-arms to stand down. This may come back to bite us if one manages to survive…

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