L'lanon

35 Trial of Doors

That party returns to the back room of the Cat’s Paw. Cory has cleared out the room for extra space. Cory then takes the blue stone and speaks the magical phrase.

The party finds itself with Cory in a dark room, although they can see each other, as if they each were glowing. A old man appears in the room. He beckons to them as a door appears beside him. He opens the door, revealing piles of gold and treasure. He then tells them that if they give up “this path”, they can take all of the gold with them; he even promises that they can take whatever they carry with them out of the trial (unlike in previous trials). Yish believes that everyone is either stupid or liars, so he doesn’t trust the old man (Marda is surprised to hear that Yish thinks she is a liar; Yish corrects her misunderstanding).

The old man then silently closes the door to the treasure. A second door appears, and he slides it open (it’s a sliding door). The room seems to open into a vast library, filled with current and past knowledge. Hiss is tempted to enter the room, even asking if he could take a peek without penalty. The old man reminds the party that the choice is between the current offer or to continue with the trials. Hiss has always wanted to be a wizard, but he feels obligated to stick with the party so that he earns his internship credits. Hiss has further questions, which the old man answers: Hiss can access the library whenever he wants in the sense that whenever he uses the blue crystal. After the old man closes the door, the door disappears, leaving the party without Hiss.

The old man then turns as a pair of doors appears. He opens them to reveal a room filled with magical arms and armor, the finest produced by Wizards of the Coast. Marda asks if there is anything that would allow her to talk to animals in there. The old man answers no, although Yish tries to convince her that there is a billyclub of squirrel command in there. Yish’s persuasion was not high enough. Again, the old man waits for the party to make a decision before closing the doors.

The old man walks over to a curtain that has appeared. It opens into a room filled with potions and medical equipment. He promises that any one illness can be cured using this equipment. Yish convinces Marda that it could help her save animals. Marda unwittingly enters the room and happens upon a Cauldron of Resurrection. As Marda picks up the item, the old man closes the curtain, and Marda finds herself in the back room of the Cat’s Paw.

The old man then turns to a slide up garage door. He lifts it up, revealing magical items that augment abilities. Prominently displayed are a set of wings, but other items are also available. Lilith is interested in improving her hotness and general appeal, but she resists the temptation. The old man closes the door, puts on a pad lock, and the door disappears.

The old man now pulls up a cellar door, which opens to stairs going down into darkness. The old man promises that anyone who goes down the stairs will be able to start a new life. Yish asks the old man why he doesn’t go down himself, since this place seems hecka boring. The old man chuckles but gives no other response. Yish tells him that he is pleased to get a chuckle out of him. The old man shuts the cellar, muttering to himself about how everyone is content with life. Yish assures him that he is not content with life but that misery is his muse.

The old man then reaches up to a cord, pulling down a revolving door. There seems to be every worldly pleasure in there. Specifically, the room allows one to master a performance ability to entrance another. Lilith enters to improve her acting skills, causing others to believe anything she says with respect to her exorcism skills. The old man closes the revolving door, and the party is left without Lilith.

The old man turns to the remaining party, reaches into his robes, and draws out a Kris-knife hilt. He informs them that a weapon built with this hilt allows the wielder to gain all spell-like abilities of a creature the wielder kills with this knife, replacing any such effect from previous killings. The old man tries to accommodate Wubbe, but Wubbe feels unsure about using human weapons.

Finally, the old man pulls out a ring, which enables the wearer to teleport anywhere in the world with which he is familiar, with a small group of people. Wubbe would have been interested if it could teleport him to new places.

Yish tries to engage the old man in conversation by asking why the old man doesn’t choose to go into his doors. Yish tries to lead the conversation toward causing an existential crisis for the old man. The old man responds by explaining that he is a projection created for this trial and that none of Yish’s attempts would cause an existential crisis.

The old man then tells the party that they have passed the test, at which point, a lever appears, which he pulls, and the party falls through the floor, reappearing in the back room of the Cat’s Paw.

Yish asks Cory for a bowl of cereal. Cory points Yish to the barmaid and tells him that he eats cereal elsewhere. Wubbe wonders where Cory goes for cereal. Yish orders a bowl of cereal from the barmaid. She pulls out a slightly old box of Pixie-ohs; the milk is fresh, though it comes from a goat in the backyard. Yish is not certain whether he is hipster enough to drink goat’s milk, but he forces himself not to make any reaction. The barmaid gives the toy that came in the box to Yish. It is of the least favored character of a current series airing on the Angel Network. Of course, because of the unpopularity of this character, it is Yish’s favorite.

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34 Flashback to Goblins

Nen has a special job for the party. Yish is slightly buzzed this morning, so he winks coyly at Nen. Nen’s job is to eliminate a Barghest stirring up trouble in a nearby goblin nest. The party sets out to kill, as Marda put it, the goblin’s president.

The party arrives at a cave. It smells like a goblin cave with carrion (like Chuck E. Cheese, Yish notes). Yish decides to cast tongues on himself and scream insults at the goblins; he wants their attention. As the party engages the goblins, Yish then sings a slightly drunk version of “Kiss from a Rose” to inspire courage in his teammates. The Barghest etherealizes, becoming invisible to all except Hiss. Yish changes his tune to “The Middle”. The Barghest is annoyed that both Hiss and Lilith can still see it. Yish then realizes that the Barghest has used the blink spell and so will likely be forced out of etherealness if a lot of mass is passed through it. Clarion summons a large metal weapon and walks into its space, swinging around. Although Clarion’s hits don’t connect, the Barghest blinks back into the Material Plane and so gets displaced from where Clarion is standing. The Barghest has a hotness of 12; apparently, it was pampered in its upbringing and so also lacks the typical damage reduction. The Barghest manages to cast charm monster on Hiss, but Clarion manages to slay the Barghest soon after.

It remains unclear whether Lilith or Clarion was actually there.

Further in the cave, the party finds two tied up female goblins. Presumably, the goblins the party has killed were trying to establish a new colony, and these two were meant to produce offspring. Yish tried to strike up a conversation with them (he knows Goblin), but they refuse to speak (although the party dispatched their captors, they aren’t friendly to non-goblins). Yish offers a business card and invites them to join VERMIN. Yish also gives them some food and water, and releases them, and asks them not to attack, and then leaves a dagger. After Yish releases them, the two scurry to the other side, putting their backs against the cave wall, and watch Yish. Yish leaves them to make their choices.

Marda later asks Yish whether he passed out PETA-MOO cards to the goblins. Yish lies to her, and Marda completely believes him. Marda happily gives Yish more cards to replace the ones he supposedly gave out.

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33 Call to Action

In the morning, the Demon Network broadcasts a special announcement to all of its customers, informing them of a new service that will be coming in two weeks. There is talk of the center of Bandu being integral to this new service.

The party visits Cory at the Cat’s Paw. They find him with the princess (hotness level 6/20), who is his daughter. The party wonders how the princess can be the daughter of the prince. Cory explains that the usurper is his uncle and that at the time of the usurpation, he could not take his daughter with him. The uncle chose to adopt her as his own child to cover up the usurpation incident. Since then, Cory and his uncle have repeatedly taken the girl back and forth.

Cory asks the party to investigate and disrupt whatever is happening in the center of town. Clarion suggests that Cory should instead take back the throne; after all, once he’s in power, it would be easier for him to take control of the situation. Cory begins to reject Clarion’s idea, citing the fact that he’d have to finish all of the challenges before the two weeks are over. At this point, Cory really likes Clarion’s idea and asks the party to support him in this endeavor. Yish is willing to comply, since missing a week of work wouldn’t be too bad for his budget. Hiss is indifferent, although he is surprised that this internship turned out to be something quite different from what he imagined it would be.

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32 Clearing the Mountain Pass

Nen reports that trolls are causing problems in a neighboring kingdom. Wubbe reveals that half of his herd was once eaten by a group of trolls. Thus, he was in favor of exterminating the trolls. Marda, shocked to hear that trolls would dare to eat ponies, immediately supports Wubbe’s decision. The party begins to make plans to deal with the trolls, taking stock of alchemist’s fire available to them.

After traveling to the region, the party finds itself in a mountainous area. While walking along a ridge, the party encounters a troll. The party handles the troll fairly well, which causes the troll to call for another. However, the troll dies as its friend appears. The second troll, angered by the death of the first, charges into combat, but the party dispatches this one as well.

With the pass rid of two more trolls, the party gets paid well the following day at work, and the troll body parts are sold at market.

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The Maze

It’s Tuesday, the day previously agreed with Cory to do the second dungeon of the blue crystal. As agreed, the party goes to the Cat’s Paw; the backroom seems to have been dried up since the last mess they had made. Cory seems frustrated about the ruined documents, since he wasn’t able to extract very much information. Everyone squeezes in, even Wubbe. Hiss thinks that Wubbe smells bad.

Cory explains that the first task he had foreknowledge of from his father but that he knows nothing else about the rest of the tasks. Cory then whispers to the stone, which causes a blue portal to open, sucking everyone in. Clarion attempts to scare Hiss (since Hiss has not yet experienced this) by screaming out, but Hiss trusts Lilith’s calm composure and accepts being sucked in. When Clarion notices that Hiss is not freaking out, she stops her act, expressing some disappointment at not having duped Hiss. Wubbe (also not having experienced this before),

Everything goes dark and people feel woozy. They find themselves in a hanging cage and see three other hanging cages. Two are filled with monsters, the other had a golden statue of a human woman with flowers around her (18 hotness). As the members gain consciousness, they see a rectangular maze lit underneath them. After a moment, all of the cages fall into the maze, one for each corner. As they land, the lighting disappears in the hallways. Four torches in the corner where they land remain lit.

Hiss ties a rope to his waist, asks Lilith to hold onto the other end, and casts levitate on himself and dancing lights. He floats up to the top of the wall and peers over into the hall on the other side. The walls are 12 feet high, and the hallways are 10 feet wide. The party begins traveling through the maze. Hiss sees flickering lights in the distance. Clarion begins to tease Hiss, who retaliates by casting levitate on her and leaving her floating; Clarion counter-retaliates by casting obscuring mist. The party gets upset; Yish tells the two to stop being mean to each other. Hiss dismisses levitate on Clarion, telling her to stop being a bully, and Clarion dismisses obscuring mist with a very defiant expression on her face.

The dwarves’ dark vision proves useful in navigating the maze. Along the walls are a track that seems to hold something, but there is nothing immediately obvious nearby that fits into the track. Yish charts their course on some paper he’s brought with him. As the party enters a hallway, Wubbe and Clarion notice something disappearing into the east. Wubbe excitedly follows. Clarion begins to arm herself, to which Cory suggests that there shouldn’t be need to engage in combat. The party follow Wubbe to find a wood golem chained to the track in the wall. Marda is intent on freeing the wood golem; Clarion wants to light it on fire. The wood golem notices the party, but decides to ignore them. Yish remembers that golems are incapable of speech, since they are programmed to do one thing. Marda attempts to ask it how its day is; as Marda steps into reach space of the golem, the golem reaches out and touches Marda. She is enveloped in vines, and then the vines recede to reveal a wooden statue of Marda. Cory wants to move away from the golem.

The party leaves the Marda statue, since it is too close to the wood golem, and they manage to escape the golem. After escape, Hiss finds that on the other side of the wall is another golem. The party continues down a few more hallways. Lilith catches herself as she is about to step on a pressure plate; but Wubbe tramples along into the pressure plate. A crashing noise comes from the north, and some dust appears from that direction. Hiss knows that whatever caused that noise is farther up north.

The party attempts to move faster. They hear another crashing sound, and Hiss sees a wall fall over. The party now moves even faster. Hiss sees more walls buckling. More hasty traveling, and the party sees a golem punch through a wall; another golem seems to have sprinted forward, standing next to the other golem. The party finally rushes forward into the room with golden statue. Clarion touches the statue; a bright light flashes, and she disappears. The rest of the party follows her lead.

All of the party finds themselves dumped out into the backroom of the Cat’s Paw, through a blue portal. Even Marda is there. Yish is very happy to see Marda safe and restored. Clarion asks whether Cory is found worthy. Cory whispers to the stone, after which the stone glows brightly. Clarion asks if she is worthy to be queen; Cory whispers to the stone again and hands the stone to her. The stone glows just as brightly in Clarion’s hand.

Cory wants to meet up again tomorrow for the next challenge. Hiss expresses concern that he might have class that day, but quickly deduces that the professor probably won’t be at class and so figures that he could meet for the next challenge. Cory is appalled that Bandu-U seems to be in a bad state. Hiss, being a concerned citizen, begins to ask Cory about his political stance on various situations. Yish warns Cory to leave and takes the suggestion himself when Clarion adds animal rights to the list of platforms Cory is to explain.

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Castle and Contracts

Apparently, the winking guard had told Yish, “Good job!” before going back to his post. Yish walked into the back, where two guards are posted and other workers are talking together. Yish realizes at this point that he has stuffed a dagger and thieves’ tools in his harem pants. Yish literally sidles into the room and listens to the conversations.

One table of people are complaining: “I hate when she does this! She always freaks out, and the castle is put on high alert for nothing.” Another table of people is beckoning toward Yish, believing him to be Cobus. One waitress approaches Cobus and asks where he’s been. Yish mentions helping a female distressed by the commotion. The waitress elaborates on the situation with the “young miss” and some ghost noises. The two talk about being paid despite the castle shut down; the waitress also talks about the “hot girl” (referring to the disguised Lilith), and Yish admits to getting salad for her (though they don’t serve salad—-and it was Cobus that gave the salad). Yish then asks whether an exorcist will be brought in to deal with the problem. The waitress responds that that is unlikely, since the young miss is scared even of her own shadow. Likely, the castle will be closed for an hour before it gets opened up again.

Meanwhile, Hiss decides to wander seemingly confusedly through the grounds. In actuality, he is looking for more spirits. Hiss eventually notices a strong but indistinct ectoplasmic presence above him, presumably emanating from the castle. Marda is talking to the guards, trying to get them to join PETA-MOO. Emmanuel the guard is ecstatic to join PETA-MOO. He is disgruntled at having to work for the new government and watching the people be so careless about animals. Marda hands him her PETA-MOO business card, and the two talk at length.

Yish goes out to the arrow slits, sees Hiss, and casts message. They have a whispered conversation, where Yish asks Hiss to cause a distraction that will draw all of the guards out of the castle. Hiss returns to Lilith asks for help in making the distraction. They decide to have her stand out in the yard and hope for her ghosts to make problems. Lilith takes on a different disguise. They both begin to cast ghost sounds, trying to act as if they are actually reacting to the ghost sounds and not being the cause. Some of the guards hear Hiss’ ghost sounds, hear another ghost sounds from the other side, and then go back to find Lilith being suspended in the air, eyes glowing red (all thanks to the help of her ghosts). One of Lilith’s ghosts goes flying through the castle, knocking things down. Hiss jumps into some bushes, and he reports to Yish. Yish congratulates Hiss.

Twelve guards now surround Lilith, standing in awe. She casts doom on one of the guards, who drops his weapon and curls into the fetal position, wetting his pants. The other guards are shaken by this. Clarion finally catches on to the plan (no one talked to her), so she walks under Lilith and casts obscuring fog. The ghosts put Lilith down (since no one can see her), and they make the mist glow red.

Marda, now that Emmanuel is occupied with guard duties, decides to go back to the kitchen and asks for spiced potatoes samples. The cook is happy to do something besides be frightened, so he gives her a plate and tells her that it’s on the house. Yish then casts message on Marda, asking her to put on an act. As Marda walks into the cafeteria, Yish casts message on one of the waiters. Marda’s screaming and writhing on the ground was not convincing by itself, but Yish’s chanting in Abyssal causes the waiter to scream and run out from the cafeteria. Hysteria ensues, and all of the servants run out after the waiter. The commotion causes one of the spiced potatoes to fall to the ground; this causes her to become even more earnest in her writhing.

Lilith and Clarion walk to the wall and escape the guards with one guard getting hold person cast on him. Lilith returns to Cobus in cheerleader guise. Cobus is a little weirded out by the fact that he doesn’t have pants on, but he’s still happy to see Lilith.

Yish goes up the servants stairs and comes up to the locked door. He decides he can’t open it with lockpicks, nor does he want to force open the door and leave evidence of entry. Marda stops her act, picks up a potato, and starts munching on it as she asks Yish what he wants her to do. He asks her to stay on alert for others coming this direction. She sits down in the cafeteria and continues eating her potatoes.

Yish goes up a different set of stairs, goes down a hallway with closed doors, and finds an open door. He enters a room that seems to be the king’s solar. Yish finds documents on a desk: two contracts for new establishments in Bandu, one for a major construction project in the middle of town, and one personal correspondence of the king with some not fully named entity mentioning a trade network that will come to be in the near future.. There is also a doll in the room (the girl’s from earlier). Yish contemplates taking the doll, but then he sees the quills and inks. He decides to take an inkpot with a pale yellow liquid. He then looks through the drawers, eventually finding a small, shoebox-sized lockbox, which he takes. Yish then casts invisibility on himself and runs away as fast as possible; as he passes Marda, he tells her that it’s time to leave. He also asks Hiss to round up the others.

They make it to the Cat’s Paw. The busty barmaid eyes Hiss warily (he’s a little underage), but she lets the party back into the room with Cory. Yish unrolls the pants that he was carrying the scrolls and the lockbox in. Yish hangs onto the lockbox but hands the scrolls to Cory. Cory is upset by the two new attractions, but he is more interested in the construction project and the trade network. He muses that the city is being turned into a tourist destination. He is very confused. How are people going to be transported into the city?

Yish mistakes Cory’s reaction as anger and asks why he would be upset at the tourist attractions. Yish reveals that Cory is the rightful king, which Hiss catches onto.

In the middle of this, Clarion’s hands burst into flames. Hiss recognizes immediately that Clarion has failed to cast a spell. As Clarion tries to pat the flames out, Marda creates water as Hiss instinctively casts ray of frost. Her hands are encased in a block of ice. Somehow, a lot of water gets splashed everywhere, and everyone and everything in the room gets wet. Hiss has a conniption as he walks out of the room. Yish apologizes to Cory, and the rest of the party walks out.

Yish confronts Clarion about the fire incident. She says that she was trying to use fire magic to melt the lock on the lockbox. Everyone is very upset. Yish takes the lockbox and decides to pry it open with his art chisels.

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Visiting the Castle

Marda finds out that Wubbe is dangerously curious and a dirty fighter.

In other news, Sef gave birth to her pups; seven survived

Nen calls the party together into the office (his office door is now open, even propped open). He introduces them to a new figure. It looks like a bipedal black house cat of human size, engulfed in a very wide and full brown cloak. It introduces itself as Hiss, short for Hissis Hississis. It is the new intern (until literally anything better comes up). Hiss is the offspring of a ghost and a female catfolk; hotness level is 9 (out of 20). Hiss is majoring in interplanar communications; Hiss wants to become an interplanar diplomat. Yish doesn’t think Hiss is hip. Hiss notices Lilith’s ghosts, but Lilith refuses to admit that she has them. But as Hiss attempts to converse with her ghosts, Lilith admits that she has ghosts that constantly follow her around, and the two have a conversation which ends with Hiss offering legal help in case of unwanted ghostly advances. Hiss wants to practice advocacy in the field of ghost-living communications.

Marda asks whether she can pet Hiss. Hiss declines, explaining that catfolk can pet other catfolk, but other races typically shouldn’t.

Yish explains that he is the leader of the party, attempts to asks why Hiss is here (especially considering that Hiss has gone to college), and warns Hiss to leave the company as soon as possible. Hiss explains that the internship is only a college job. However, it becomes clear soon that Hiss was looking for only a desk job.

Marda then confronts Ness to see if she can bring Wubbe into the office. She has a bag of carrots and oats.

Meanwhile, Clarion goes down into the basement. She then comes back upstairs, announces that she needs to go out, and leaves.

Immediately after Clarion leaves, the waitress from the Cat’s Paw arrives at the office. Yish swears that he’ll pay the tab; but she instead informs him that Cory wants to talk to him. Yish walks out the door as Hiss asks what to do. Yish asks for a poem and departs. The waitress and Marda follow him.

Cory is sitting at a table in the back. He informs Yish that new intel has arrived. Construction has begun in the middle of town under orders of the Usurper. Yish doesn’t really see the problem with Bandu becoming a pleasure place, but he agrees to gather further information. Apparently, the construction foreman is visiting the Usurper at the castle in the King’s Solar room. Yish agrees to go on the mission. The misunderstanding over Cory’s commandership gets brought up.

Cory also asks when to have the next blue stone session. Yish declares Tuesday to be the day.

On the walk back to the office, Yish and Marda have a conversation about the new intern. Yish expresses concerns about divulging their anti-government activities.

After returning to the office, Yish sits next to Hiss and attempts to understand Hiss’s opinion on the political situation of Bandu. Hiss admits to not knowing much about the political situation. Yish presents Cory’s mission as a white-hat hacker job to evaluate the security of the castle. Hiss realizes that Yish is planning on breaking into the castle and is hesitant if this would cause problems for graduation. Yish assures Hiss that graduation would not be in danger.

Clarion walks back into the office and finds out that Yish is planning a break-in to the castle. After some discussion, Yish and Clarion decide that the best way to fulfill Cory’s mission is to go to the castle gift shop and pick up some information pamphlets. Hiss is interested in looking for ghosts at the castle (the location of an overthrown government sounds like a great place to find spirits).

Yish, Hiss, Lilith, and Clarion put on disguises. Hiss’s disguise is shabby-chic. Marda’s disguise is not very disguising. Lilith’s disguise is to act like a very outgoing, pretty, and loud girl.

At one point, the castle was a stronghold for a well-established government. Now, the castle is a gigantic visitor’s center. The first floor is open to all people, but it seems that upper levels are off-limits. Hiss leaves the party at the gift shop and searches the grounds for ghosts. Yish catches Hiss, asks where Hiss is going, and upon understanding, requests Hiss observe the visitors and people at the location.

Near the well, Hiss hears ethereal chatter. The well has a plaque describing some historical point or other. Hiss understands that the voices are complaining about how cramped the space is. Hiss looks down into the well and sees 18 spirits cramped inside. After ascertaining that none are watching carefully, Hiss jumps into the well and casts levitate. Hiss goes down and begins talking with the spirits. Their story was that they were guards of the old monarchy killed during the overthrow; after the overthrow, their bodies were thrown into the well, and now they are stuck. Hiss offers to help them get better living conditions. In return, Hiss asks for information from the spirits. Hiss doesn’t ask very good questions so leaves without further insight on getting into the castle.

In the gift shop, Yish notices that the advertising strategy attempts to appeal to all people. Yish, in disguise, converses with the store clerk and discovers that the king and his family live on the second floor; the dungeons are also off limits. Yish decides to watch the main gate, where shipping and receiving seems to be occurring. He’s especially interested in learning the patterns of the delivery people. There aren’t any deliveries occurring, but Yish notices Hiss levitating out of the well and goes over to Hiss. Yish sidles up to Hiss and discovers that Hiss has been speaking with ghosts in the well. Yish asks Hiss to go back down and ask about how to get into the Solar. Hiss has a conversation again with the ghosts; this time, Hiss asks about the King’s Solar, and the ghosts explain that while the King’s Solar is heavily guarded, there is a servant’s passage that goes up to the long drops on the second floor.

With Hiss’ new information, the party (except for Hiss) look around at the rooms available to the public. Yish notices servants in the kitchen and dining area (today’s special is spiced potatoes). The servants are wearing deep-green outfits: sandals, harem pants, and practical belly dancer tops for the females. Yish approaches a half-elf bus boy and introduces himself as JayJu. The bus boy’s name is Cobus. Cobus feels out of his element interacting with customers, but Yish claims to be excited to see another half-elf and asks what work hours are like. Cobus explains that schedules are flexible and that there are shifts open while the castle is open.

During the conversation, Lilith’s beauty has caught Cobus’ attention. Lilith asks Cobus for a salad. As Cobus goes back to the kitchens, Yish asks whether Lilith really likes salads. Lilith stops her act and admits that she doesn’t like rabbit food, which causes Marda to react.

Hiss investigates the northeast corner of the castle. There are lots of vines to make the castle look old, but the vines also make the wall easily scalable. There are two large bay windows on the second floor, where the Solar must be. There are no guards watching the area. Hiss casts ghost sound in the middle of the gift shop; guards run towards the shriek while the clerks and customers run out to the stable looking back at the gift shop. Hiss uses the distraction to cast levitate and thereby look into the Solar. Hiss sees the royal office; there is a six-year-old girl playing in the middle of the room, and a babysitter is watching the girl play; the babysitter has her back to the window. Hiss casts spells, causing books to fly out of the bookshelves and another shriek to emit noises which sound as if ghosts are running around the room. One of the books hits the girl in the head, who falls unconscious. The babysitter screams, grabs the girl, and Hiss descends as quickly as possible, but some people notice that a catfolk has just descended from near the Solar. The crowd is now muttering among themselves, and some are pointing at Hiss. Hiss bows, jazz hands, and walks around the wall.

Cobus returns with a small salad plate. Lilith returns to her act, and Cobus is very pulled into her scheme. With the castle on high alert now from the ghost sounds, the guards are now escorting visitors off to the stables. Cobus follows Lilith. This results in him getting a bucket of water dumped on him and then getting kicked by a horse. With Cobus lying unconscious on the ground, Yish asks for his pants, which Lilith gives. Yish disguises himself as Cobus.

Hiss returns to the party, and Yish, while finishing his disguise, questions Hiss’ actions. Hiss replies that he knew Lilith is an exorcist and so was hoping that the reports of ghosts at the castle might give the party a way in through Lilith. Yish disagrees.

Yish walks back into the castle, where he is greeted by a thumbs-up and a wink from one of the show guards, who returns to his serious pose quickly. Yish continues through the halls, and the other workers in the castle don’t think anything of Yish, thinking him to be Cobus.

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The End of Hnng

The party leaves the research lab. Yish wants to go back to Bandu. Olivie is happy to have her books. On the way back, the party decides to take the way back to Bandu the same way they had come. This requires them to go back to the mansion. Clarion is curious about her work there, but she doesn’t pursue that thought any further.

After passing the mansion and while passing by the path where the party had met the merchant group earlier, the party is ambushed by four bandits. Yish jokingly offers Clarion in exchange for passage. The bandits like the offer, but Yish takes back the offer. Instead, he loads his crossbow (which causes the bandits to aim their bows at him), and he points it at Hnng. Hnng and Yish then put on an act to convince the bandits that the party is totally crazy. The act includes Yish threatening Hnng while nudging him with his foot and slapping him. Hnng makes strange screeching noises.

Two of the bandits say something about the party being connected with “the spirits” and then start running as fast as they can away from the party. The other two are not convinced that the party is connected with “the spirits”, but they feel very vulnerable without the other two and so run away as well. Hnng tries to chase down one of them, but that one gets away. Meanwhile, Yish shoots another one. Hnng then tries to grapple the bandit that got hit by Yish’s crossbow bolt. While Hnng does not succeed in his grapple, the bandit does lose his boot to Hnng, who begins gnawing on it. Once Hnng realizes he has failed at grappling, he yells out, “if I can’t have you, no one can”, and he shoots his crossbow at the fleeing bandit (the shot misses). The party eventually outmaneuvers the bandit, which leads to the bandit laying down his weapons, kneeling, and surrendering.

Marda approaches the bandit and asks how he got his armor. The bandit looks back at Marda and tells her that he doesn’t know (he received it from his boss). Yish points his rapier at the bandit, threatens him that Marda will fully explain the ethical armor matter unless he gives him all of his stuff. Hnng suggests that the bandit is a victim of bureaucracy. His name is Lactna Aurelius born under the sign of Libra. Yish attempts to lead the negotiation, demanding that Lactna give up all of his money, but Hnng tries to mediate the situation. Marda asks the bandit where the squirrels are most prevalent in the forest. The bandit makes the terrible mistake of mentioning squirrel traps, at which Marda moves to kill him. Hnng stops Marda from killing the bandit. Yish comes up with a compromise: keep weapons, receive healing, take down squirrel traps, and change careers.

Later during the travel, Yish pulls Marda aside and explains how valuable she is to him, which is why he acted the way he did with the chimera circumstance. He doesn’t want to lose her. The rest of the party is unbearable. Of all the people in the group, only Marda’s actions (in the context of her beliefs) make sense to Yish. Yish also reveals that he cares about finding Vallan because, despite Yish finding Vallan boring, Yish knows Vallan as the only person that seemed to care about him.

As the party approaches the swamp, there is a herd of ponies that ignore the party. Marda approaches them to ask if any of them would like to follow her. One of them has always wanted to be an adventurous pony. His name is Wubbe. Wubbe says goodbye to the other ponies and follows Marda. Yish tells Marda to find a way to permanently enable Wubbe to speak common.

As the party returns to Bandu late at night the third day afterward, Hnng invites Olivie to stay the night with him. Olivie is so flattered that she kisses him, and the two go back to his apartment. Marda asks Wubbe if he would prefer to stay in town or go to the animal sanctuary. Wubbe prefers to stay in town if the animal sanctuary is far.

#####

As usual, Nen’s office is completely locked up. Hnng knocks. Nen opens his door slit a crack and asks, “What?” Hnng responds that he is quitting. Nen unbolts the door and rushes forward, embracing Hnng. He can’t stop smiling as he says, “I’m sorry to see you leave. I’d be happy to write you a letter of recommendation for your next position.” Hnng informs Nen that he has cleaned out his office.

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Grabbing Research

Olivie leads the party through caves which eventually wind their way into a corridor that seems more man-made than natural. Hnng lights a torch and stands near Olivie, volunteering to be her light. Yish wants to go home. Hnng asks if Yish is high. Yish responds that he is high on windows updates; Hnng, playfully bumping Yish’s thigh, asks if that is a euphemism for a new drug. Yish isn’t happy about Hnng’s touch, but he chooses to ignore it. Hnng attempts to reassure Yish that the touch was not sexual. Yish responds by saying that he can’t be sure with Hnng.

At the end of the corridor is a door. Hnng volunteers to open it, while Yish warns him to look out for booby traps. Hnng throws caution to the wind and pushes the handleless door. It opens a little bit, but there seems to be something on the other side preventing it from opening further. Yish responds to Hnng’s plea for help, and they eventually shove the door open.

Looking into the room, the party sees six human-sized automata total. One was obstructing the door. Hnng asks Olivie whether it is safe to enter as Yish thinks back on his previous experience with the vacuum cleaner automaton. Olivie says there is nothing to worry about and walks into the room fearlessly. Once she reaches the other side of the room, she pulls out the musty book and begins to press buttons on a panel on the wall.

Clarion inspects the automata, but she realizes nothing more than that the automata are made of some metal that she cannot identify. On the backs of the automata are inscriptions. Yish recognizes that writing to be similar to the one in Olivie’s musty book. Yish further notices that each automaton is equipped with a fold-out blade on its arm. He decides to disarm them after Olivie confirms that the automata were originally designed to guard the room. Meanwhile, Hnng nervously tries to use a pet name on Olivie for the first time: “Hey, uh babe, would you like some help?” Olivie smiles at the pet name and informs Hnng that the door doesn’t have power to open. Now that she’s unlocked the door, she needs help to force open the door, and she invites Hnng to help her—-she wants to share an activity with Hnng. The two together manage to pry open the door, which has two sliding segments that meet together in the center. They successfully open the door, with Olivie’s side opening a little faster on account of her greater strength. Hnng is turned on by this.

There are seven thick cloth jumpsuits woven with a grid of silver-colored thread, sized for humans and half-elfs, although there are eight lockers. The automata are too bulky to fit into these suits. One the other side is a large door with a big red lever. Olivie immediately begins putting on one of the suits. Clarion asks why she is putting on the jumpsuit. Olivie responds that she knows that these suits are necessary to enter the next room; when pressed, Olivie points at the inscription above the door and declares that the inscription instructs them to wear the suits before entering the room. Clarion uses rope to help adjust the suit to fit better. Hnng tries to put on the jumpsuit better than Clarion, but Clarion’s fashion is better. Clarion then attempts to convince Marda to put on some gloves of fumbling, claiming that they are part of the suit. Marda doesn’t fall for Clarion’s bluff.

Olivie walks over to the lever and makes sure that everyone is wearing the suits. After she has confirmed that everyone has put on the suit, she pulls the lever. The doors behind close as bars in the ceiling begin to shed light. The sounds of the automata booting up in the previous room scare Hnng, who reaches out to hold Olivie’s hands. Olivie does not reciprocate Hnng’s emotions, but she does not reject his hands. Lilith asks Olivie if they should be concerned. Olivie is not concerned at all; Lillith is inspired by Olivie’s fearlessness.

The next room is a large, dark, open space. On the right is a column of constantly burning blue fire on a raised dais. There seems to be something in the flames, but the flames are concealing. There are two desks in front, with study materials on top. There are bookcases filled with books along the center. Olivie rushes forward to the books and piles up a selection on a desk. Hnng lingers with Olivie as the rest of the party begins looking through the room, careful not to touch anything. Once satisfied with her collection, Olivie opens up her bag of holding and lets Hnng help her stuff the books into the bag.

There are cages with rotting corpses; the animals seem to have been left there. Marda doesn’t like the room. Against the back wall are glass panels hung on the wall, but the entire room is still in darkness. Yish notices that behind the glass panel near the blue flame, there is a gash in the wall, through which a small box with three faintly glowing blue shattered crystals can be seen. The crystals must have been shattered when the gash was made into the wall. Clarion creates water on the blue flame; the water immediately evaporates, but it seemed to have had an effect. Encouraged by the effect, Clarion continues to create water on the flame until she catches a glimpse of some flesh on the other side of the flames. Clarion then continues to investigate the other three raised daises. She notices that the three daises without flames have a small groove in the ground, each one placed nearer to the center of the room than the inactive circles. The dais with the blue flames has a groove occupied by a small, blue crystal. There is a skeleton wearing the eighth suit lying on the dais with the blue flames, with one arm stretched into the blue flames.

Lilith picks up the crystal placed in the groove on the dais with the blue flames. The blue flames suddenly go out, and she looks straight into the eyes of a three-headed chimera. Lilith immediately places the crystal back and the blue flames resume. Clarion takes a swipe at the blue flames with her 30 foot long metal scarf, standing next to the flames. She finds that her scarf has ceased to exist farther than the blue flames, even the portion that should have stretched beyond the flames. Clarion then asks Olivie if she wants a live chimera taken back to Bandu with her. She responds that she doesn’t even care for a dead chimera. She just wanted the research. So Yish suggests that everyone should chill and enjoy some pizza bagels. But he decides to help Olivie search through the bookshelves. They find some scrolls (1x protection from evil, 1x unseen servant), some precious stones, and some potions (1x eagle’s splendor, 1x protection from arrows). There were also 300 gold pieces worth of change lying about.

Meanwhile, Marda approaches the blue flames, where Lilith is guarding the crystal. Marda wants to kill the unnatural chimera. She voices her intentions to kill the chimera by following Yish’s idea of coaxing the chimera out of the circle halfway and then reigniting the flames. Yish threatens Marda with a sleeping-potion filled souper soaker. A battle of words ensues, and Olivie steps out of the room with her library. Despite Marda’s earlier victories, Yish ultimately convinces Marda not to pick up the crystal while others are still in the room. And then Yish pumps Marda full of sleep potion. The party drags Marda out of the room, and the doors into the farther room close as the doors of the room of automata opens up. Everyone takes off suits; Yish chooses to keep his in his pack. The automata do nothing as the party passes through the room.

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Leaving the Mansion

The party stands over the defeated manticore. After searching through the basement, the party finds a number of items and some money. Hnng compiles a list of the loot as Olivie informs everyone that she needs a few hours to decipher the tome. She believes that the tome contains information on where the lab is. She then starts reading the book.

The party begins to be concerned with the smell in the room. Hnng approaches Olivie to see if he can help in any way, even offering to give her a massage. Olivie is so engrossed in reading that she doesn’t respond to Hnng. Hnng is hurt by this; so he apologizes for disturbing her. Hnng mentions something about being grieved and desiring to kill something as he attempts to sneak up the stairs opposite from the manticore’s nest. Clarion follows. The two squeeze through the blockage and find a way up the stairs, which are narrow—-meant for servants’ use and not for the master’s.

Hnng and Clarion find themselves on a landing. Two sides have a closed door each. The third side is a tapestry. From the southeast, Hnng can hear a whispered conversation. He can’t tell what exactly they are saying, but it is clear that the conversers do not want to be heard. From the southwest, snoring can be heard. To the northeast, where the tapestry is, there are sounds of grunting.

Hnng carefully opens the southwest door. There are many bunks with trunks at the bases of the beds. Hnng sneaks up on the sleeping bandit. As Hnng punches his dagger into the bandit’s throat, the bandit’s eyes open up, meeting Hnng’s as life drains away. Hnng feels a little bad, but he also feels slightly aroused. Hnng looks up and meets eyes with Clarion before he walks back down the stairs. Clarion searches the room and finds a number of items, including three masterwork daggers, a masterwork longsword, and some trashy novels. Clarion then takes the blood from the bandit and writes on the wall: “Nowhere is safe.”

The two halflings come back down the stairs. Hnng is wiping the blood off his dagger and looks very satisfied. Hnng stares at Yish expectantly. Yish is sitting on the ground with his eyes closed. Lilith decides the stench is too much to bear and so heads out the door. Hnng informs Olivie that people are leaving; Olivie is so engrossed in her reading that she doesn’t respond until Hnng touches her arm. Olivie then looks up from her tome, smiles at Hnng, and then asks, “What’s up?” Hnng repeats what he says, at which Olivie picks up a piece of wood as a bookmark for her tome and follows everyone out. Clarion stays behind, writing “Nowhere is safe” with the manticore’s blood. She then swaps the manticore’s head with the murdered bandit’s, and she leaves a bear trap set by the door.

Clarion returns in the morning as everyone else is waking up. Although she is excited to tell about her exploits, no one wants to hear her. Olivie informs everyone that she has figured out that the lab is a half day’s journey back toward Bandu. Yish yells at the sky, “I told you it wasn’t there!” Marda thinks that Yish is crazy.

As Clarion begins to tell her story, Yish attempts to stop her. Clarion tries to convince him that it would be a good idea to return to the mansion. She just wants to show off. Yish puts down his foot and declares that the party will not return to the mansion. Clarion tries to argue that it would be glorious to go back to the mansion, but Yish argues that they shouldn’t go back and kill a bunch of losers in the woods. After all, no one knows who they are. And then it dawns on him that those bandits are exactly like them, a bunch of unknown losers wandering in the woods. Yish then goes on an existential tirade about how he just wants to leave the forest and stare at the poster of the band he always wanted to make but never did. Clarion becomes upset at her unappreciated efforts.

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