Dear Diary…drama and revelations!

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure: “The Village of Hommlet”

What. A. Day.

On the plus side, no one is dead…

After investigating the rock pile memorial by Emridy Meadows, we headed for Nulb.

Four bugbears attacked us, but Elmo noticed them (and I smelled them) and we killed them pretty easily.

We did get hurt badly enough that Mikael took time to properly cast both his Cure Light Wounds spells (on Ezekiel and Elmo), which meant he’d used them up for the day.

Lydia did something cool, too, where she turned herself invisible when the bugbears attacked. I’ll have to ask her about that some time…

Nulb is surrounded by the Gnarly Forest, which by all accounts is a dangerous place. It’s no surprise bugbears are wandering freely, robbing and molesting as they please…and that adventurers are flocking to the area to wring treasure from the monsters.

As we came into town, the first couple houses seemed to be barely hovels – made of mud and thatch, or sod, and barely maintained. There’s a short bridge across the river into town, and the stones were much moss-eaten. We all followed Elmo’s example and stayed in the middle of the bridge.

The smell hits you as you enter the cleared ground of the town, and just gets stronger the closer you are to the river. Swamp and rotten fish is the best way to describe it…much like the Rushmoors around the lair of Explictika Defilas.

Lydia pointed out some enormous fish with teeth like crocodiles. She called them Giant Gars…whatever they are, I’d rather not swim with them. Obviously they eat the leftovers that are dumped into the river…(and perhaps the unwary travelers that are dumped into the river?).

The first building across the river is the Waterside Hostel – which has a stone foundation and wooden timbers, but looks pretty shabbily cobbled-together, all things considered.

We kept going past the blacksmith’s, where we met an old man taking a stroll.

Ezekiel tried talking to him about the town gossip, but the man said everything was “none of your business.”

I muttered to myself that I could “just feel the warmth of hospitality” – and the blacksmith must have heard me, because he laughed.

When Ezekiel went and talked to him, the blacksmith said there was demand all over for “hired blades”; when Ezie asked about trouble that needed solving, he suggested we ask “Little Mona” the Tzigan about her troubles.

She lives back up by the river, and the path to get there is only a step away from being swamp. Nori found a toad the size of a dinner plate (and, of course, ate it).

I asked Lydia if it was her toad, and she said, no, he was in her pocket. Apparently his name is Gruumsh, which I didn’t know before, (like the chief Orc god – Lydia says he looks like the altar to Gruumsh. She showed me, and he kinda does).

When we met Mona, Raven did the talking. She instantly recognized that he had the mark of the Tzigani, and didn’t mind telling us that her crystal ball had been stolen last night while she was at the tavern (Waterside Hostel).

Raven and Ezekiel engaged to find it for her, if possible, and of course I was set to track the thief.

The footprints weren’t that hard to find…especially when Elmo started tapping the toe of his boot casually by them.

“Thief prints go this way,” he said.

(I wasn’t really sure how he could know they were “thief prints” – I mean, they weren’t Mona’s feet, but you can’t jump to conclusions, y’know?) But he was insistent, so we followed the prints (this guy hadn’t done any work to cover his tracks, so I really didn’t need Elmo’s subtle-but-not-subtle hand gestures) until we got to the Waterside Hostel.

Well. Then.

We went in. There were three patrons in the corner, a couple of them still humming the drinking song we’d heard them singing earlier.

A greasy serving girl with more bust than shirt (you know the type) draped around Ezekiel (I have heard he’s a stunner, if you’re into that) and asked what she could get for us.

We found our way to a table and Raven and Elmo right away grabbed the good seats – the ones against the wall facing out into the room.

Ezekiel nodded me into the third chair against the wall and sat down, checking the potions and money pouch on his belt.

“Thief went upstairs,” said Elmo.

The window at my back was greasy. The table was greasy. The mostly spent candle on the table was also greasy. Long story short, I don’t think that place had seen a cleaning rag in some time.

While Raven and Ezekiel were ordering ales, Lydia made fire on the end of her finger and lit the candle.

(Magic Users are so cool that way. You can mock them for not doing anything in a fight…but come on. You can’t mock somebody who can make fire come out of their finger.)

I was deciding whether to be paranoid about their drinks – and Lydia was deciding about ordering wine – when Mikael held up his hand and said, “Wait, where’s my ring?”

That got all our attentions, since it’s his magic Protection Ring (and he can use all the help he can get).

The serving girl, with her chest in Mikael’s face, flounced onto one hip and said (a little loud) that she didn’t know what he was talking about.

Well…we’d seen this magic act before, so Mikael straight-up asked her to give it back.

Things are never that easy. The girl started hollering for the innkeeper (who’s named Dick, is like seven feet tall, and has an eyepatch).

They argued for a little bit — and I tried to suggest that everybody empty their pockets onto the table (to give them an out so we didn’t have to say who took the ring) but they weren’t falling for anything like that.

Ezekiel stood up to face the innkeeper (and the bartender he called over, and the two guys with leather armor and daggers that came out of the kitchen) and started in on his pontification stuff.

“I mean your establishment no harm, but kindly return my friend’s ring.”

Someone (either Raven or Mikael, I forget who – I was busy going through my pockets) suggested they might return it in exchange for some coin.

Dick the innkeeper thought he’d be clever, and said, “Oh, you want a specific ring!”

Yes! we all said: A specific, magic Protection Ring that was on Mikael’s finger just a moment ago!

Well, the bartender (his name is Wat and he’s really tall) brought over a lantern and crawled around on the floor, then announced he couldn’t see any ring.

(About this time Mikael whistled for Nori, and she came to the door, clicking her mouth-parts together.)

(The three drinkers in the corner ignored all of this and focused on their mugs.)

One of the kitchen staff came into the room in chainmail with sword and shield, while Ezekiel started breathing heavily through his teeth.

“I personally am not a follower of St. Cuthbert of the Cudgel,” he said. “But there are times when I think his philosophy is the correct one. Elmo, what do you think?”

Instead of answering, Elmo hurled the table.

Elmo is very big.

The table flew through the air, slammed Innkeeper Dick and Bartender Wat in the chests, and toppled them to the floor.

Ezekiel (plus his chainmail, shield, mace, gear, and backpack) jumped on top of the table to hold it down – BLAM.

Raven danced over the table with monk-ish speed and swung at the guy in chainmail.

I got around the table and slashed at him – got him pretty well, too, and cut a big gash across one shoulder.

Elmo’s axe whistled as it came down and imbedded in the table – THUNK.

“We give!” howled Dick…which was pretty sensible – and also worked out for us, since we had no intention of seizing an inn by massacre.

Elmo levered the table off the two of them, and they picked themselves up and called the girl from where she had fled upstairs and made her give the ring back.

While our companions kept an eye on the staff, Elmo (with me for moral support) tracked our original thief upstairs.

The floor up there was such a mess of muddy footprints, though, that we couldn’t tell which room he went into.

Elmo knocked on the door where the girl was and “persuaded” her to open the door. (Don’t argue with a guy who has a big axe.)

We did find a secret hiding place in the floorboards, but all it had was a potion and some earrings. Probably not originally hers, but there was no way for me to know that – and it wasn’t really my business anyway, so we left them there and went to the room across the hall.

It was locked, and nobody was home (the girl said someone named “Mickey” lived there), but Elmo didn’t find the lock much trouble for his shoulder and got the door open.

In that room, we found what we were looking for – a crystal ball buried in the straw mattress (I assume it’s the same sphere – it had a cloudy center…and how many crystal balls are there around, anyway?).

We returned to the others, and left. Ezekiel said the electrum we paid for our drinks (which we never got) would pay for the damages.

I doubt very much that we made any lifelong friendships there.

We took Mona back her crystal ball, and in return she told Raven’s future. She said, “How strange. It just says, ‘Beware of snakes’.”

Well, that’s a little less strange when you realize that Raven’s traveling with Ezekiel…Grand Cleric of Snake-summoning. It was disappointing, though, since we’d been hoping for news about the Evil we came here to defeat, and, as Mona pointed out, snakes aren’t exactly evil…they just “are.”

She did promise that if she hears any news of the Temple of Elemental Evil, she’ll send word to us at the Welcome Wench in Hommlet, and suggested we go see Mother Screng, the herbalist, for more info.

See, we came here because the Cleric of Velnius had heard rumors the cult of Elemental Evil was stirring again. Not because no-good ruffians were picking pockets and murdering travelers. I’m not saying that regular bar-brawls and banditry are okay…but there is a difference in scale, see. And for the moment, we were stumped.

Well, we took the long way around to get to Mother Screng’s (Elmo knows his way around really well) and passed the Boatman’s Tavern (which is supposed to be the “bad” inn).

Ezekiel, Mikael, and Lydia went in to do the talking, while Raven, Elmo and I hung out around the corner and kept an eye out.

Elmo started tapping against the wall of Mother Screng’s house, and I looked at Raven awkwardly. By that point, he’d saved our lives enough and been enough of a help that I didn’t think he was going to double-cross us…but there was a whole lot of stuff going on that I didn’t understand, and there’s only so much I can take.

So I asked him what tune he was playing there, and he said he’d explain at camp.

A little boy went inside, and then Ezekiel and the others came out — Ezekiel practically dancing.

He told us it was probably time we got out of town, and Elmo agreed – taking us back by the long road. As we were crossing the bridge again, we heard a whistle from the Waterside Hostel…but by then we were practically out of town.

If those small-time crooks want to brave bugbears to try murdering us in our sleep, have at it!

(Just don’t let the bugbears get ahold of any dangerous weapons – like tables! Ha!)

We returned to the campsite where we stayed last night, and Raven retrieved his “horsey” dagger from the stump.

Since it was a little after noon, and we hadn’t eaten, I got a fire going and started preparing rations.

Meanwhile, Ezekiel was practically bouncing.

“I want to apologize for dragging you all out on a wild goose chase,” he said. “But now I think I know where we’re supposed to be.”

He spread his hands with a grin. “Maybe we looked like fools, blundering around like this, but I’m used to looking like a fool for my God!

“See, Mother Strung told us that ‘Cannoness Eday is exactly where she wants to be…on a special assignment for the church.’ Obviously Mother Spring is Cannoness Eday!” he went on.

“Also, remember that old man we met on the way into Hommlet? Well, St. Cuthbert sometimes travels around in the guise of an old man – so I think he was St. Cuthbert.”

I was beginning to start wondering what nefarious plot this was to murder us in our beds (and also how Ezekiel could have so much trouble with a name like ‘Screng’) when Elmo started talking.

In…a…different…voice.

“She’d appreciate it you didn’t spread that around too much, you know. Some of us can’t appear like what we really are.”

And he started telling us how he joined our group partly to see if we were legit…and had decided we were too stupid to be lying about who we were.

Because Evil people pretending to be Good are way more clever about it.

He also said that he understood acting like an idiot in service to your Deity.

He told us that we could trust the innkeeper of the Welcome Wench, and the elder of Hommlet (both are Old Faith).

(Oh, and he slipped me the Super Secret Ranger Signal. I guess because he felt like being obvious for once.)

Ezekiel asked him about the fighter and magic user building a tower somewhere east of town, and Elmo said, Oh, yes – they are servants of St. Cuthbert and are building the castle on behalf of the Plar of Veluna (and, yes, they did get their money from killing a dragon).

At which point I raised my hand and opened my big mouth.

Why on earth had Velnius (through his Cleric) sent a handful of Level 3s half-way across the continent (a party whose sneakiest member is the Large Spider and who largely resemble a mace – blunt and un-subtle) when there were a couple of dragon-slayers, a priestess secret agent, St.-Cuthbert-in-the-flesh, and a Level 18 triple-classing Ranger/Magic User/Bard already dealing with the problem? (Maybe the Cleric should have taken a pull of that crystal ball before setting his quest spell on Ezekiel?)

To which Elmo replied: Sometimes the blunt, clueless adventurers are more likely to bump into the answer and knock it over than a collection of secret agents who are trying to sneak around and find it.

In short: because we have big mouths, and no clue what we’re doing.

(Yeah…I got that feeling back with the tracking-footprints bit.)

So Elmo suggested we talk with Cobort and Turuko (those guys in the Welcome Wench who gave us a bad vibe) plus someone who’s claiming to be a sage.

Apparently there is “Evil” going on…and it’s uncannily coordinated. But where is the coordination coming from? Who is the Mastermind behind all this?

Elmo tells us that both the innkeeper and the elder were here before the original troubles started, so they might be able to give us pointers on what to look for.

But besides all that, we can serve as the cheese in the trap for older, stronger adventurers to catch their prey of evil cultists.

As Mikael said: “Let’s run headlong into danger!”

Ditzy, blundering do-gooders has totally been our M.O. lately. (Jill taught me that phrase: it means modus operandi – a person’s mode of operation.)

Cheese seems about what I’m cut out for at the moment, since I feel pathetically inadequate in other respects.

(Ezekiel mentioned “back when he served Heironeous,” so Elmo asked who he serves now. So Ezekiel got to gush about Ao, the “God of Gods,” who is in charge of even the other gods, and is worthy of worship even though He doesn’t give Ezekiel spells. Ezie pointed out that He has given good gifts – as seen with His power against undead – and that he is sure Ao has him here for a reason…even if it’s to play the Idiot Cleric in some universe-sized plan beyond our comprehension.

(That can be a comforting thought…especially when it feels like Blundering Idiot is your highest stat. It’s encouraging to think that Someone more powerful has your back…whether that’s a real, grown-up Ranger, or Ehlonna, or – dare I say it? – the God of Gods.)

Ezekiel looks ready to break into song and dance any moment.

I think Mikael and Raven are just happy to finally have a definite direction to move in…and also to be closer to defeating bad guys. Dare I suspect them of a little danger-lust, where it’s the thrill of the hunt and the unknown that keeps them forging on?

Lydia is taking notes in a notebook. Maybe she is keeping a journal, too.

The investigators who come after us will want to know what clues we gathered, and where we went wrong.

Which reminds me…I need to make sure my will is up-to-date.


To read the previous entry, click here.

Read the start of the adventure in Hommlet here.

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