Randy's Last Thoughts

(Start of Session 6)

Everything went wrong, and I am going to die. The walls are too slippery to climb, and I can only tread water for so long. Maybe two hours if I'm lucky. I can faintly hear Timmy shouting himself hoarse. He'll probably last a week if he doesn't pound himself into a coma against that wall first. The rest are dead.

My life sure isn't flashing before my eyes. I just keep thinking about how we got here, how we were going to fix everything, and how it all got messed up. Stupid priest. Stupid trapped temple. Stupid orcs. And stupid taxes.

We knew the Eagle House was going to close. That's the orphanage where we live. Well, lived. It couldn't pay its taxes anymore; the donations weren't sufficient. We didn't know where we'd be going after that; we just kept hoping it wouldn't really happen.

Then this priest came through. He was shorter than I was, but full grown: A halfling. Glenn said the symbol he wore was of the god Arus. I've heard of Arus, but damned if I can remember anything about him, her, it, whatever. The priest introduced himself as Ablais. "Well, hi, I'm Randy; this is Glenn." I thought he was a pervert at first, but he genuinely cared about what was going on. So we told him about the Eagle House. He asked if we knew anything about the old, abandoned temple of Daewyr down south.

Did we know anything about it, heh. Bernie, Glenn, Linda, Timothy and I used to hike down to there. We would take along blankets, food, tinder, and knives, and tell the adults we were leaving to practice woods lore. We always knew we weren't supposed to go near the temple, though no one ever told us why. They just implied that it was a horrible place, where terrible things happen to people who don't know better. But we would go camp out, in the woods right by the temple, where we could see it. We told ghost stories and tried to scare each other. Only Timothy was any good at it. He made up such a scary story, one time, that Linda and I wanted to run all the way back to town. But none of the others did, and we didn't want to go alone, so we just stayed awake, terrified of the darkness, all night.

So we figured it was just things like that that had the adults all scared of this place. They were afraid to admit that they had been spooked by someone who told stories a little too well. Nothing ever happened to us there. So we told Ablais, yeah, we know the place. He asked to speak to Sonja, our caretaker, and came back to us about an hour later. Then he made us an offer we couldn't refuse. He said he needed to get into the temple of Daewyr. According to some old records, there was an immortal being trapped deep inside. And his church doesn't like imprisonment of any sort, and they think that eternal imprisonment is about the worst thing imaginable. So he wanted to free this immortal. He told us that there was a large reward offered for this, and that if we would be his guides, he would donate the whole reward to the orphanage, to keep it going. He went on to explain that the upper level of the temple should be safe, but that there are traps in the lower level. So he would go first, using magic granted by Arus to find the traps.

That sounded like a win/win situation to us! We would finally get to see the inside of the temple, and we wouldn't lose our home! I was actually pretty scared, but I didn't let on. Linda was the only one who wouldn't go; she was too frightened. The rest of us packed some travel supplies. We didn't tell the other kids what we were doing; they would have kept us up all night asking about the temple, and pestering us to let them tag along.

We got up at sunrise, but had to wait for Glenn to finish his mystical voodoo rituals. (He always says it's not voodoo, so I keep calling it that because he hates it. Um, hated it.) He asked Ablais whether he had to pray for spells, whatever that means, but Ablais said he had already done that. We had a great hike down to the temple. I noticed Timothy turning to look hard at the woods to our right for a moment, but he said it was nothing. Eventually, we spotted the old path from the road to the temple. It's all overgrown now, but if you only look at the big trees, you can kind of see where the path used to be. Timothy was the one who found it the first time, but we can all find it, now that we know what to look for.

We bushwhacked until the forest opened up, maybe ten yards from the road, then hiked the short distance to the temple. It doesn't look half as scary during the day. The broken stained-glass windows only make it look decrepit, not spooky. I felt a lot braver, replacing my haunting nighttime memories of the place with the benign daytime version. We went right to the front door. Ablais had some difficulty with it, but Bernie yanked it right open.

Inside, we found cobwebs and rat's nests. A rat scurried out as we approached, and I jumped over and stuck it with my spear. (It was kind of a lucky hit, for me. I can't fight like Bernie can. He had his father's rapier with him; it was our only weapon that we didn't make ourselves in shop class.) We found an empty storage room to the left of the foyer, and what was probably a meeting room on the right. A passage led back from the far side of the room, to where the temple is built into the hill. Ablais lit a lantern and we followed the short, twisty passage. The next room was weird, with tiled patterns all over the floor, ceiling, and walls. There was a large bathtub, or something like it, built right into the floor toward the back. It was full of nasty-looking water. A small basin in one corner looked like it may have held holy water. There were two tiny rooms to either side, with old beds in the rooms to the right, and empty desks in the rooms to the left.

Ablais told us that a circle on the floor, hidden within spiral patterns, was a secret door that had a trigger somewhere nearby. We spread out, looking for the trigger. We tapped on tiles, pushed torch sockets, and spent a while fussing over the holy water basin. Glenn suggested that the switch might be at the bottom of the large basin, and pushed Timothy in to test it. Damn, that was funny, but Timmy was mad. Ablais turned his attention there, put his head down near the edge of the tub, looked around, and pointed at a spot just under the lip on the opposite side. "Right there." Timothy found the tile and pushed it.

We all heard the grinding of stone on stone, and the circle rose from the floor as a staircase spiraled upward, supported by a central pillar that spun as it rose. But timothy turned his attention to the passageway behind us. "There's something coming." We froze and listened as the staircase finished rising, and over its echoes, we heard guttural voices. "Orcs!" Glenn said, and Bernie nodded. They would know; orcs had made them both orphans in the first place, and both had narrowly escaped. (Glenn had hidden, and used what he called "cantrips" to lead the orcs away from him. Bernie says that he leapt from hiding, brandishing his father's rapier with such a fierce shout that the orcs backed off for a moment, giving him time to jump onto his parents' horse and get away. Well, that was his second version of events. He recanted his first version after we asked him where we could find the bodies of the four orcs he killed.)

Now that I think of it, maybe that's what Timothy almost saw in the woods: An orc that saw us first, and went to get more orcs. I wonder.

Ablais ordered us to get down the stairs quickly, then started an incantation. Glen whispered something at his dagger, and it started glowing brightly. He hurried down the stairs. The rest of us followed, with Bernie at the rear. Glenn fell off the stairs, which ended several feet above the floor. I don't think Timothy pushed him, but I can't be sure. Timmy and I were lowering ourselves from the staircase when we heard Ablais scream in pain. The next moment, the staircase started spiraling downward. Bernie, still near the top of the stairs, jumped up to help Ablais. Or to kill orcs. Or both. As Timothy and I moved away from the descending stairs to avoid getting crushed, I saw Bernie lunge, and an orc grunted. I figure he hit it. Fat lot of good it did him. I saw Ablais appear at the top of the stairs, diving to grab Bernie and get them both to safety down here. But the orc beat him to it. I saw a glint of metal, there was a horrible sound of sliced flesh and bone, and a soft "thud," and a moment later Ablais tumbled down the stairs with Bernie's headless body. What was left of Bernie fell off to the side, but Ablais, his robes bloody, rolled right down to the bottom, and off the lowest step, which was only a foot off the floor. The staircase continued down and forward, right onto his head. He had an instant to scream, and then his head cracked and burst. When his eyeball hit me in the stomach, I collapsed and started screaming. Glenn was just starting to get off the floor when Timothy whacked him hard in the ass with his walking stick. Glenn groaned and lay still for a while. I guess Timmy was venting all the insanity of what had just happened on the only target left: The guy who had pushed him into that filthy basin.

I got a grip, and crawled over to what was left of Ablais. I searched him squeamishly, and slid his bracers off. They were all that looked valuable, aside from the torn and bloodstained robe.

Timothy and I shook Glenn back to full consciousness and helped him get up. We looked around by the light of Glenn's dagger. We were at one end of a passageway, carved all over with runes and hieroglyphics that we couldn't read. On the wall at the very end, behind the staircase, were three big levers. We left those alone, walked a bit, and explored a side passage to the left. It quickly turned right to parallel the main passage. After several yards, Timothy rounded a corner on the left. Just as he stepped forward and declared it a dead end, we heard a loud rumbling sound from behind us. Guessing that we were about to be trapped, we turned and ran as fast as we could. A section of wall, stretching from floor to ceiling, was quickly closing off the side passage from the main one. Glenn and I squeezed through, but Timothy didn't make it. At least he didn't get crushed; he was left on the far side of the wall. We could hear his muffled yells, about not being able to see anything, and pleading with us to find a switch to open the wall.

We started farther down the main corridor, and passed another branch on the right. It wasn't long before I stepped into the next trap. I'd have sworn I was walking on solid stone, but as far as my foot was concerned, it wasn't there. I dropped right through the floor as if it were nothing, and fell headfirst right into a pool of water. I broke the surface, and responded to Glenn's calls. "Yes, I'm still alive. You don't have to yell, I can hear you just fine. But I can't see anything." I felt around, finding slick stone walls in all directions. Even if I were any good at climbing, these walls would be far too wet and slippery to be helpful.

Glenn called out, "I'm going to try the levers." I could hear him straining against one. After a minute or so, "I got the left one down, but nothing happened. I'll try the middle one." Almost immediately, I heard a loud bang, and the sound of torn flesh and splintering ribs. Glenn managed to grunt out a couple of syllables of what sounded like a mystical incantation, but he never finished.

I can still hear Timothy yelling. I think he's asking what happened, but it's hard to understand, with all the echoes and the wall in between. I don't think he can make out my words at all.

He'll have the slowest death, of starvation or thirst. I heard that drowning isn't bad, if you relax and accept it. I'll try hard to do that when my muscles give out, but I don't think it'll work. I'm way too scared.

We'll all be dead soon, and all our friends at the orphanage will be homeless soon after that. Bernie, Randy, Timothy and I did this for all of us, but now we're all screwed. That really gets me. This whole, horrifying spectacle was all for nothing.

Stupid taxes.

From the Journal of Tang Zhen

Session 6

July 21, 5086, Everwinter Lodge

My meditations have granted me no new insight in the past few months. Last night, I realized the folly of the dichotomy of my two callings. The study of the Art, learned carefully at Hoggelrynth School of Magic, required that I develop and depend on my own abilities, and more, that I believe in myself enough to bend reality to my will. This has disrupted my continuing effort to abandon my self and to recognize that "I" am nothing more than an artificial construct defined by an imagined boundary between myself and the rest of the universe. To the end of furthering my understanding of my nonexistence, I have decided to resume my meditations under the instruction of my teacher, Lo Pan.

I informed my companions of my decision this morning, as we made ready to leave. They offered to belittle me, in order to reacquaint me with my nothingness. While I appreciate the offer, it is insufficient. We crossed Y Mynyddau Gwawr together, and then I turned north while they followed the road southeast toward Dinas Felin. The Ystrad has been visited in our absence by thunderstorms, of which we caught only the final few hours. The drought is ended, and I am pleased.

After a peaceful encounter with a wandering elemental from the plane of air, and a less peaceful encounter with a hungry cave bear, I arrived late at the lodge. I have bought back my old snowshoes; they had not sold since I passed through here two seasons ago. If all goes well, I shall be at the Li Xiang Monastery tomorrow evening.

August 14, 5086, Li Xiang Monastery

I cannot quite say that I have found myself, or my lack of self. Still, my time here was well spent. I have been given several mysteries to ponder, have learned some deeper meditations, and have also worked myself raw, to try to lose myself in labor. I feel, at least, that I am back on the path, even if my progress is not yet tangible. It is time to return to my obligations at Dinas Felin and to learn of my companions' latest misadventures.

August 16, 5086, Dinas Felin

As I foresaw, my companions have quite a story to tell. I shall record it here as accurately as I can.

Toward evening on July 21, they had reached Dinas Felin. They dined with the local V.I.P.'s (Governor N. Skeboyee, Corla Ruckheim, and Sir Brannigan) and shared some tales of our recent exploits. Corla was interested to know how and why Cassandra and the other inhabitants of Tre Glyn had escaped to the south, rather than fleeing north, away from the fire, to Dinas Felin. Tam related Cassandra's story of the druid who had warned them to evacuate, a week in advance of the fire.

Sir Brannigan turned completely pale at this point in the discussion. "I swear it wasn't my fault." The others gave him questioning looks, and he continued: "This dirty hippy chick shows up at my place smelling like shit, raving about imminent destruction. I figured she was one of those end-of-the-world cult freaks like they have around Dinas Mawr. She was making a scene and stinking up the manor, so I just said whatever I had to to get her out of there." He swore roughly. "How the hell was I supposed to know? It's not my fault!"

Pheldran quickly took an accusatory stance, implying that Sir Brannigan had been intentionally deceptive. Delyra defended Brannigan before the conversation could get more heated. Jasper offered a reminder that the damage was already done, and that pointing fingers would help nobody.

Slowly, the conversation continued, until the account of the second conversation with the priests of Faynwan. Upon mention of the haunting of the road between Caer Cefn and Dinas Felin, Sir Brannigan again interjected. "When I was a child, some merchants carrying wares for my father arrived terrified by something. This was a common occurrence. It stopped happening about ten years ago. Something to do with the road, though I'm not sure what."

Corla added, "Yes, when I was young, some of the children used to dare each other to spend nights in the woods with the ghosts. I don't know the details, and never did it myself."

Food arrived. Over dinner, Sir Brannigan complained about his need for more money. He had already fired some of his servants (presumably, to make up for the blow to his finances that had been his share of Kawg's tribute). He made some offhand comments about possibly going into the dragon slaying business, and offered a foul-mouthed apology to any who might be offended. Delyra commented upon her virgin ears, whereupon her alcoholic drink was finally noticed and taken from her.

Upon finishing the meal, Governor Skeboyee invited the party to visit the city archive for more information. There, the archivist found only that a section of the road had been moved ten years ago. The record was no more detailed than that, for the imperial highways are not managed by the city. The governor suggested a talk with the mayor of Tre Glyn, Winston Macdonald. Macdonald has lived there for more than thirty years, and would certainly have knowledge of these events.

The next morning, the group strolled south to Tre Glyn. The ruined inn there was under busy reconstruction, and they stopped inside to speak with Cassandra, who was pleased to see them. They could stay there if they wished, she explained, but the inn had not yet reopened, and as such there was no food available. She had much to say about Winston Macdonald. He owns the whole town. The land on which the inn and the other establishments stand is rented from him. He has subsidized the quick rebuilding of the town through loans, to be repaid from a percentage of profits over the next several years. (Thus, he has shown himself to have more money than most people had suspected.) His farmstead is just west of the town.

My companions paid him a visit. His daughter answered the door. "Some strangers are here to see you, daddy." Macdonald approached cautiously. The party explained their need for historical information about the road. He visibly relaxed and offered to talk with them while they walked. He explained that the road to Dinas Felin follows Neirinwy in all but two places: Just north of Caer Cefn, where a spur of Y Mynyddau Gwawr forces the river east some distance, though the road just goes up over the crest; and within a mile or two either way of Tre Glyn. The latter changed because enough people were getting scared along the old stretch of road by the river that they blazed a trail bypassing it to the west. The alternate trail became so heavily used that the imperial highway department eventually gave in and started maintaining it as the main road. All of a sudden, the Macdonald estate, formerly a huge chunk of worthless property in the middle of nowhere, had a trade route going through it. People stopped there for the night and for food, and the location became lucrative. He leased land to tenants who put up stores and an inn (supplied by his farm). Now he's lending them money to rebuild, as he has more than enough saved, and knows that they'll be able to make enough money to pay him back.

The party thanked him, returned to the main road, bickered about where to start looking, and finally took the road south to where it rejoined the river. They searched until they found the remains of the old road, then bushwhacked along it, looking for ghosts. Twenty minutes into their trip, eerie moans floated toward them from the woods to their left. N-Guuk and Dunbarton strode out to investigate, but found nothing. The group continued walking.

A half-hour later, Dunbarton stopped in his tracks. He reported a momentary feeling that he was trapped in pitch blackness. After several more paces, Delyra dropped to her knees, threw her head back, and let out an ear-splitting shriek. She took a few moments to come to her senses, then shakily described a vision of having her head chopped off, and looking back at her own headless body. N-Guuk seized up in his tracks, then shortly relaxed and explained that he had felt he couldn't breathe. While he described this, Pheldran cast a detect undead spell. He saw auras enveloping the three who had just undergone these strange experiences, and another one moving straight toward him. He backed away from it, and spent the next minute or so weaving around as it tried to approach him.

Meanwhile, the other three had more visions, less alarming than the originals: Walking through the woods, searching a tiled chamber, and running down stairs. Delyra finally announced, "I think they're trying to communicate with us." Pheldran had a moment of indecision, then stood still to let the spirit catch him. He was not thrilled with the result: A vision of himself getting impaled through the midsection by a large spike. He had some unkind words for the spirit, followed by a second vision, this one of watching a stairwell descend to crush a halfling.

Guided somewhat by the ghosts, these four led Tam and Jasper through the woods to an old, abandoned temple. One door had partly collapsed, and N-Guuk cleared it away with his axe. The stonework looked dwarven, he noticed, which unfortunately meant that any traps were likely to still be in working condition. Memories of this place from times past continued to surface, unbidden.

They advanced cautiously through the front room and a twisted passage. At the exit to the passage, N-Guuk froze. He had seen a tiger cub. He didn't dare approach it, for fear of the mother. He looked around carefully, but could not see the portion of the room against the near wall. The cub approached him curiously. "No. No. Get away!" he insisted in whispers, but he could not stop the cub from approaching.

A low growl shook the room. N-Guuk jumped out of the passage to avoid getting pinned, and to allow his companions into the room to help him. The mother attacked, mauling N-Guuk and driving him into a corner. He pounded the tiger with his fists a few times, and the group poured out into the room. Delyra tried but failed to put the beast into a magical slumber. The party tried, almost consistently, to subdue the tiger without killing it. I suppose they felt that killing such a creature, which was merely defending its young, would be unjustified. Delyra managed to briefly stun it with her second color spray. N-Guuk, Dunbarton and Pheldran (now in his mage armor) started attacking it with the flats of their blades. They finally knocked it unconscious and tied it up. N-Guuk looked much worse for the wear, so Tam offered him some healing.

Two frightened cubs huddled in a corner. Pheldran tried to lure them into a side room, using food, but they did not respond. Delyra cast a sleep spell on them instead. They were carried into a side bedroom and blocked in with a desk dragged from an office across the main chamber. This way, there was no risk of them wandering into the lower tunnels after the party.

As further memories of others' lives came to them, my companions discovered a switch for the spiral staircase leading down. Dunbarton and Tam stayed above to work the switch, in case the stairway lowered itself while people were still below. (Nobody trusted Dunbarton alone with this task.)

At the bottom, after a six foot drop, they discovered three old corpses, one underneath the stairway with a crushed head, one a few feet away with no head at all, and the third crumpled against a wall, under three levers (the leftmost of which was pulled down), with holes in both sides of its torso. All three were smaller than adult humans. Pheldran discovered a brittle book within the robes of the first. He opened the cover, to find that it was a diary. The first page crumbled when he tried to turn it, so he closed the book and stowed it.

There were unfamiliar glyphs covering nearly every surface. Tam came down to examine the glyphs, but could infer only that the temple was dedicated to Daewyr, the Dweller in Darkness. He climbed back up.

The corridor led in only one direction from the stairs. Another body lay barely within a passage to the left. Memories not their own warned the group not to go that way. Shortly after passing a side corridor on the right, N-Guuk suddenly knew there was a false floor ahead, before the oaken double doors that could be seen farther down the corridor. He felt for the drop-off, placing his spare greataxe on the floor to mark the edge. The group decided to toss a rope and grapple forward, and saw that the rope sank beneath the floor for about eight feet of its length. After more discussion, Delyra used a mage hand to bring a lantern close to the double doors. She then tried to remotely pull on the door handles. This caused an arc of fire to spring from the door, which did not open. Delyra lifted the grappling hook with her mage hand, and caught one of the handles. Tugging on the rope caused the flame to shoot out again, singeing the rope but still not opening the door.

The party then spent a while trying to manipulate the levers back at the start of the hallway, from the safety of the stairs above. This was awkward and unproductive. They went back to fiddling with the double doors from a distance, which yielded no more help this time, despite the assistance of an unseen servant.

Jasper tried the unexplored tunnel, suddenly yelping as he dodged a razor-sharp, swinging pendulum. The rest of the group came over, and Jasper gave a demonstration, staying close to the wall as he approached and set off the trap again. The pendulum, similar to a double-bladed axe, dropped from a slot in the ceiling, swung back and forth a few times, and was pulled back into the ceiling by a chain anchored to the shaft. N-Guuk failed to sever the chain with his greataxe on the first try. Jasper set off the trap again, and Delyra hit the chain with a ray of frost to render it brittle. This time, N-Guuk broke it, disabling the trap. This corridor led only to a dead end.

Dunbarton grew impatient and joined the group. Jasper searched the dead end for hidden doors. Pheldran's unseen servant failed to attach a grappling hook to the body which they somehow knew to be at the bottom of the watery pit. They lowered Delyra on a rope, holding a lantern just below the illusory floor. Holding her breath, she found the skeleton so brittle that any bone she touched fell away from the rest. The body as a whole could not be brought up easily. While down there, she searched fruitlessly for hidden doors, buttons, levers, or anything out of the ordinary. They pulled her back up. N-Guuk also tried looking below the illusory floor, with no greater success. Meanwhile, the unseen servant set off a sliding wall in the left hallway, from which the fourth body had been recovered.

At last, Jasper discovered a ceiling tile which, when pressed, opened a doorway at the end of the right corridor. The group cautiously entered, after N-Guuk had placed his spare greataxe across the entry to prevent it from closing at an inopportune moment. The room beyond the door was a spacious lounge with thoroughly rotten furniture and what might have been a bar at one end. A door near the opposite corner beckoned. The unseen servant tried the door, with the party as far back as possible. A spray of fine dust shot from a hole in the adjacent wall, filling the air in front of the door. Within a minute, it had settled. Pheldran had the unseen servant sweep the dust into a bag (which he kept). It then finished opening the door.

The party slowly looked into a room the size of a large closet. They saw only a pile of ashes, a torn canvas bag, and a white dagger.

"Yo, who be dat?" came a voice from within the closet.

Delyra introduced herself and returned the question.

"I be Gelfor the Immortal!" the voice exclaimed, drawing out the last syllables in "Gelfor" and "Immortal". The dagger was talking to them, they realized. Gelfor told a story of being traded by thieves, stuck in a sack, traded some more, and left in the closet. He had escaped the sack, and had been waiting in the closet for what he estimated to be a week. Pheldran told him that it had probably been more than fifty years. Gelfor didn't mind.

Further conversation with Gelfor revealed the following: He talks a lot, in a dialect known as Jive. He doesn't like to be told to shut up. He has escaped possession by people he didn't like. He is not pleased to be used as a weapon. He enjoys sampling well cooked food.

Pheldran failed to fit Gelfor into his dagger sheath, so he carried him. Gelfor asked to be shown the double doors that were still puzzling the party. Pheldran had the unseen servant carry Gelfor over and demonstrate the trap. At Gelfor's request, the unseen servant stuck him into the door. Despite the servant's lack of strength, he embedded himself easily. "Tastes like solid rock behind here. You got yourselves a fake door!"

Having done all that they could think to, the group left the tunnels, lowering the staircase behind them. They released the tiger cubs and used an animate rope spell to free the mother from a safe distance. The ghostly flashbacks continued unabated, until they had gone over a mile from the temple. N-Guuk wondered about the moaning they had heard before, and Pheldran laughed as he admitted that he had magically created those noises as a joke. N-Guuk was irate. That this failed to bother Pheldran calls his sanity into question.

The group stayed that night at the inn, where they were awakened early by the construction.

Just over three days' travel brought them to Corstref. An audience with the priests of Faynwan saw the party sharing what they had learned of the ghost situation. Gelfor made a nuisance of himself.

Pheldran found an alchemist, whose ideas on restoring his newfound book were unconvincing. The alchemist then suggested that the book be brought to the Great Library. (Being in Corstref turned out to be convenient.) "Members only," said the aged librarian as the group entered. Pheldran presented his book, and her attitude changed. A very quick haggling session left everyone satisfied: Pheldran would donate the book to the library, which would then restore it free of charge and allow Pheldran to be the first creature to read it.

"Don't touch anything," the librarian insisted, and shortly fetched a bespectacled gentleman, presumably her expert on book restoration and conservation. He examined the book for her. "Yes, you were quite right. An application of slaked lime, fixative, and glycol will be just the thing." He nodded to Pheldran and left, cradling the book in his arms like a child.

With a week to wait for the book, Pheldran bought a basic membership to the library, and spent his time reading. The others enjoyed the sights and beers of Corstref.

The restored diary was that of Ablais, a halfling historian and priest of Arus. It told of his many travels and historical inquiries. More to the point, it told of his planned venture to the temple of Daewyr to rescue an immortal being, and of his young guides from the Eagle House orphanage at the Pembrey Estate, which had been taxed into bankruptcy.

This rang a bell with Tam, our geography expert, who recalled that the Pembrey Estate is the property north of Dinas Felin that holds Brannigan Manor.

The group hurried back toward Dinas Felin. On the way, they spoke again briefly with Winston Macdonald, who confirmed that the Pembrey Estate had changed hands to the Brannigan family within recent history.

The initial idea of confronting Sir Brannigan on this seemed likely to be unproductive, so they spoke instead with Governor Skeboyee at his earliest convenience. The governor was shocked at the information. "Taxing a charitable institution is illegal. I wasn't here when this happened, but I will look it up even if it takes all week." The city archivist worked very hard that day, and discovered that Sir Jarlath Brannigan (Sir Ferdia Brannigan's father) had seized the Pembrey Estate from the care of the orphanage "in compensation for outstanding debt". The Eagle House itself had become Brannigan Manor. The seizure made no mention of taxes, nor were they logged in Jarlath Brannigan's records. They were, however, clearly indicated in the financial records of the Eagle House orphanage, all of which had been turned over to the city archive upon its closure. Further, there were no indications in Jarlath Brannigan's official records of any debt owed to him by the Eagle House, to provide an alternative explanation.

Governor Skeboyee presented this information to my companions. "I do not have the authority to seize Sir Brannigan's land. But I can write to the capital with the evidence we have, and they will likely authorize his removal from the Pembrey Estate. It will go back under the care of the city until we find a suitable use for it."

It is not clear who first came up with the idea; perhaps it was on everybody's mind: The manor should be restored to its former capacity as an orphanage. This still left the problem of funding. Gelfor finally suggested the Church of Arus. "You said dey was off'rin' a reward to come find me, right?"

Governor Skeboyee agreed. "Yes, and they would probably be happy to support an orphanage, especially since the building is already in place and in good condition. Plus, I think they owe those ghosts something for getting them killed. I shall write to the temple of Arus back at the capital and see what funding we can secure."

"Also," he noted, "someone should let Sir Brannigan know about this so that it doesn't come as a surprise when official notice of his eviction arrives in a couple of weeks. You could talk to him, or if you'd rather avoid facing him, I'll get his servant Aengus to deliver the news."

My companions thought it might be gentler not to tell Brannigan themselves, given that they are the instruments of his loss.

And so I return to find the social and political atmosphere in Dinas Felin changed. Its most prominent nobility is about to be cut down. The petty nobles have turned on him like jackals, and he was never liked among the lower classes. He will have little recourse once the imperial messenger arrives. Even the poor subsistence farmers are glad not to be Sir Brannigan.

Once the deal is done, my companions and I will venture to the abandoned temple of Daewyr, to retrieve and bury the bodies. I am confident we will find no ghosts.

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