Monday, June 29, 2015

The Exodus: Session 1

Dramatis Personae:

  • Vadim -- Druidic Cattle-Rustler Extraordinaire 
  • Khut -- Vadim's trusty Ranger sidekick
  • Adu -- A warbler who warbles too much
  • Khadagon -- A hermitic barbarian with bigger tusks than the rest of us
  • Surqutani -- A crazy steppes-witch

Our Story Begins:

Buttercup was in heat, the Black Crow tribe had the studliest bulls, the answer was simple, steal a bull. But no, Vadim had an even cleverer and sneakier answer, why steal the bull when all you need is the semen. So Vadim and Khut headed to the nearest Black Crow camp to scope out the available stock.

They arrived in early morning, set up Vadim's cheap, ugly, worn-out tent, and started making the rounds. Then, of course, the Black Crow tent-mender's wife, an unfortunately thin woman, came storming out of a tent, spitting, cursing, and kicking things over. Khut fell immediately in love. He, of course, added killing the woman's husband to his mental to-do list.

A "warbler" (sentient, tool-wielding, velociraptors)
Just as Khut was daydreaming about the bloody slaughter of a man he didn't know in order to win the hand of a woman he had only seen once (which may or may not be reflective of his own mode of conception), there was a sudden ruckus in the grasses. A tribe of warblers was running through the grass, making quite the racket.

Khut saw a warbler Housebeast running around crazily, and he and Vadim slowly approached to see what was up. Vadim quickly made friends with the thing, but then all hell broke loose. Black-fletched arrows started flying out of the grass and the warblers started jumping and yammering like crazy. Then a flock of black-feathered, glassy-eyed warblers with metal claws and their beaks tied shut burst from the grass and attacked the first band. Vadim charged in with his sabre, quickly joined by a big-toothed hermit and a crazy steppes-witch who were also visiting the Black Crows. Khut, not really seeing the gravity of the situation, kept his distance, but did, slowly, ready his bow.

The black warblers swarmed over the defenders. There was much hacking and bashing from Vadim and the hermit, and blasts of fire from the witch, and the occasional, lazy arrow from Khut, but the little black bird-goblins kept coming. At some point Adu, the lead friendly-warbler, vanished, only to reappear moments later with a shriek and a blast of concussive force that flattened the prairie grasses around him.

Finally, as nearly a dozen of the creatures climbed over the hermit's body, the witch let loose a blast of...something. Whatever it was, it was neither right nor pleasant, as the black-warblers eyes suddenly crusted up with filth, blinding them. The hermit roared and raged, shaking one creature that was clinging to his axe off, splitting it in twain, then charged and leaped headlong into a nearby cookfire. The air was filled with the horrendous smell of burned hair, burned feathers, and burned hornbeast droppings. But the battle was over.

Friendships forged in the heat of battle are the only true kind, and our heroes were no different. Once the black warblers were dispatched introductions were made, wounds were patched up, and our five disparate heroes became a party.

The black warbler bodies were looted and burned. Khut, by virtue of discretion the only one uninjured from the ordeal, offered the warbler tribe the use of his, or rather Vadim's, tent to build their nests in for the day. The warblers and the injured laid down to rest until nightfall.

Khut, meanwhile, went off after the tentmaker's wife. Not that he really expected to confront her, or make a pass at her, or even approach her (women were scary after all), but he was in love, so he followed her. Her trail was strewn with beautiful, perfect white feathers, which he collected, intending to use them as fletching. Then her trail just ended. Khut scanned the skies and spotted a beautiful white bird flying off towards a distant thunderstorm. He breathed the deep sigh of young unrequited love (is their any other kind) and headed back to the Black Crow camp.

When night fell, Vadim called together Khut and their new friends, Adu, Khadagon, and Surqutani, and explained their deep and desperate need for the semen of the Black Crow's prized bulls. While Vadim and Khut, expert cattle rustlers that they were, said they would do the actual collection, the others agreed to help.

Surqutani used her chilling touch to frost over the bone flasks that would hold the collected semen, in order to keep it fresh for the journey back to Drowned Rivers. Adu and his warblers spread out, making a general ruckuss to cover the sounds of the rustlers creeping through the grass, and using their illusions to increase the general gloaming over the ground. And Khadagan walked up and started a conversation to distract the man on watch over the herd. Vadim doused Khut and himself with hornbeast urine to mask their smell.

A Warbeast (domesticated brontotherium)
Crawling stealthily through the grass, Vadim and Khut noticed that the guard was mounted on a truly impressive Warbeast and made a bee-line for his fine stock. As they approached, another large, fine hornbeast bull, already in rut, caught their scent and started to hone in on them. Khut broke off towards the bull, while Vadim moved up to the stallion. Soon they were both crouching carefully between the legs of their quarry and started their milking.

All went well, until the warbeast shifted and stepped on Vadim's foot. Vadim stiffled a scream, and then began working harder, quickly bringing the warbeast to climax. The hornbeast that Khut was jacking, meanwhile, spotted one of the warblers and went trotting after it. Unable to keep up with the excited  beast, Khut grabbed onto its member and hung their, allowing himself to be dragged along. Soon his weight hanging their, combined with the jostling stride of the hornbeast got the job done.

Then, of course, the excited warbeast bucked, throwing the rider, who spotted Vadim. Apparently the sight of the notorious cattle rustler jerking off his mount was (with a little help from one of Adu's spells) the funniest thing the guard had ever seen, as he burst into unstoppable paroxysms of laughter, allowing our heroes to escape.

The five of them sprinted away into the darkness, running east. They finally stopped by a spring about six miles away from the Black Crow camp, where Khut, who had not gotten a nap during the day with the others, fell down and was almost immediately asleep. Everyone else soon followed, though not without posting a watch.

During her watch, Surqutani apparently went insane and blasted her sleeping companions with the same spell that had rendered the black-warblers blind. Khadagon woke up and retaliated, but was quickly kicked down the nearby well and splashed with acid by the witch.

Just then, the thundering of horn-beast hooves could be heard, as a quartet of Black Crow thieftakers came riding after Vadim and company. Adu jumped on the still-sleeping Khut and hid them with the illusion of a bramble ticket. Vadim quickly burried his flasks of semen, figuring that he'd be less likely to be staked out to die if they did not find evidence of the crime on him.

The first thief-taker attempted to lasso Vadim and failed. The second clubbed him. The third simply grabbed him by his shirt-collar and dragged him along beside his warbeast, grinding Vadim against the walls of the canyon they rode through. All the while, Vadim yelled at them, trying to point out that the witch was their real enemy, pointing out that she was poisoning the well. Surqutani, in response, blasted Vadim with a bolt of fire, silencing him. The thief-takers rode off with their unconscious prize, not wanting to tangle with the witch and not seeing the rest of the group.

Still lying within the cover of the illusory brambles, Khut threw a dagger into Surqutani's back. By that point Khadagon had managed to climb up the well. He grabbed the witch's ankle and pulled her into the well with him, where he incapacitated her with a few quick punches. Once he was sure that the thief-takers were long gone, Khut tossed a rope down and hauled the hermit and the witch out of the spring.

Adu said that the witch had clearly been under the effects of the evil magic of the black warblers and said he wanted to heal her. Khut, ever cautious, held a blade to her neck as the warbler cast his spell, waiting to see if her eyes were still the strange milky-white they had been while she was attacking. When she awoke, he saw, reflected in her eyes, a scene of the steppes burning, a wall of fire sweeping from the east, and everything across the steppes lying dead.

Obviously he suggested that they should head west, which, conveniently, was the direction the thief-takers had ridden off with Vadim. He dug up Vadim's semen flask, then said they should set off to rescue their the morning. First, he was still exhausted, so he lay back down to sleep.

The party was awakened by a horrible roaring noise. They woke up to see a wall of fire sweeping across the prairie, right towards them. They leaped to safety in the well, then, after the fire had passed, followed in its wake chasing the blaze across the blackened grasslands (because the alternative was going in the direction of whatever had caused it, which seemed like a patently bad idea).

They followed the fire and the thief-taker's warbeast's tracks to the west, eventually spotting a large marble bluff. Figuring that the thief-takers would have sought shelter from the fire there, Khut called a halt and waited until nightfall. The party then spread out, circling the bluff stealthily, hoping to get close enough to snatch Vadim and then get away.

The thief-takers spotted Surqutani, but not wanting to mess with the witch, simply warned her off with their bows, keeping their eyes fixed on her for signs of treachery or magic. Khut climbed up the far side of the bluff and made his way over to where he could look down on them. He saw no sign of Vadim, but did see the big warbeast stallion from the night before, with no rider this time. Unable to resist a rustler's instincts, he grinned and leaped from the rock right onto the beast's back and kicked it into a trot.

Vadim, meanwhile, had awoken and managed to cut through his bonds. Seeing Khut, he ran out of the cave in which he was being kept, and double-hopped up onto the warbeast's rump, slapping it with a longstrider spell. The two thieves sped away on the fine warbeast, then circled back to pick up their three companions (not without being grazed by a couple of arrows).

Once clear of the thief-takers, and well out of arrow range, they turned the beast south, away from the fire and the thief-takers, and back towards Drowned Rivers and Buttercup, who was still waiting for her semen.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Justification for Your Paranoia

May was a dead month for me writing things, and June is not looking much better so far. I'm not feeling particularly inspired, but, after beating my head against a wall for four days on a problem with my vulnerability scanner at work, I need a break. So I might as well use it to indulge in the less professional side of my paranoia...

1) LastPass
I mentioned months ago that password managers were rife with vulnerabilities, even going so far as to say "Don't use LastPass for anything". Well, I hate to be proven right, but I was...
Monday, LastPass announced "suspicious activity" which included compromises of account email addresses, password reminders, salts, and authentication hashes (i.e. hashed passwords). The good part, the vaults themselves were not compromised...yet.
Attackers having those authentication hashes (and the other key bits of information mentioned) means that it is really only a matter of time before they decrypt the hashes, at which time they can easily get in to your account and get ALL OF YOUR PASSWORDS.
The good news: LastPass master passwords are salted, hashed, and stretched...which should significantly slow down someone trying to decrypt the passwords. But it doesn't mean that they cannot be decrypted, especially if the original password is weak. Rememebr, a high-end GPU can make as many as 10,000 guesses per second.
What should you do: go change your LastPass password, which makes that hash that was stolen useless. 
Also, to be fair to the people at LastPass, they are trying really hard to do things right, and did pretty well with this one. 
  • They quickly identified, contained, and evaluated the scope of the breach
  • They promptly notified users about the breach (within 72 hours)
  • They are certainly doing proper password hashing (100,000+ rounds of PBKDF2-HMAC-SHA256 hashing and stretching is no joke)
  • Vault data obviously isn’t stored on the same system as authentication data, evidence of good segmentation 

2) Encryption as a Human Right
Back in 2011, the UN declared internet access to be a human right, the latest report by UN special rapporteur David Kaye takes that a step further. The report states that:
"Encryption and anonymity, and the security concepts behind them, provide the privacy and security necessary for the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age. Such security may be essential for the exercise of other rights, including economic rights, privacy, due process, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the right to life and bodily integrity."
Kaye also includes appropriate calls to action:
"The Special Rapporteur, recognizing that the value of encryption and anonymity tools depends on their widespread adoption, encourages States, civil society organizations and corporations to engage in a campaign to bring encryption by design and default to users around the world and, where necessary, to ensure that users at risk be provided the tools to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression securely.
The report doesn't take quite as hard a line against encryption back doors as some of the big tech companies did recently, but it is nice to hear this coming from someone (anyone) in an official position. In the US, the fourth amendment protects citizens and their property from unreasonable and unwarranted searches, in the digital age, strong encryption is the one and only way to enforce that right to privacy.

3) Astoria
If encryption and anonymity are a human right, then we need better tools for such, eh?
Enter "Astoria".
Researchers in Israel and the US have developed a new Tor client aimed at thwarting the kind of traffic analysis and timing attacks used by intelligence agencies to de-anonymize of the Tor network. Dubbed Astoria, the tool's relay-selection algorithm decimates the percentage of vulnerable Tor connections from 58 percent of users to just 5.8 percent of users.
Tor Astoria uses an algorithm which is designed to more accurately predict attacks and then accordingly chooses the best and secure route to make a connection that mitigate timing attack opportunities.
"In addition to providing high-levels of security against [timing] attacks, Astoria also has performance that is within a reasonable distance from the current available Tor client," the researchers wrote. "Unlike other AS-aware [autonomous system aware] Tor clients, Astoria also considers how circuits should be built in the worst case, when no safe relays are available. Further, Astoria is a good network citizen and works to ensure that all the circuits created by it are load-balanced across the volunteer-driven Tor network."
 You can read the complete research paper here.
 The source-code for the Astoria client can be obtained from: Stony Brook University.

4) Because you've always wanted to do this, right?

I've talked previously about both cars being hackable to the point that one could control the braking and acceleration remotely. Well, now someone is working on making that flaw into a feature! Jaguar/Land Rover R&D have developed a prototype phone app that allows a driver to control their car remotely: start the car, steer, throttle (sadly to a maximum of only 4mph), and brake. Also, it apparently only works to a range of about 10 meters...
Of course...having made this kind of communication so deliberately possible, it is only a matter of time before someone figures out how to hack it and take complete control of your car from the comfort of their own living room...

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Third Party: Session 30 (GMs notes)

1 Marpenoth

The party stepped out of the last auction of BIshop Braccio's lands, Grimnir sporting his smashing new gloves, to find a frighteningly angry Elissa Bivant waiting for them. As usual, the party dithered for quite some time before Ash threw down a teleport to get them away from the enraged presumed-deity.

They appeared in the central square of Hillsfar, just outside the Citadel. Apparently Ash thought it would be a good idea to check on the progress of the city, now that it lacked an undead army defending it. The undead army was apparently much-missed. The arrived to the smell of smoke and the sound of bombardment. The entire, much reduced, population of the city were up on the walls or running around putting out fires, and it sounded like a pitched battle was happening just outside.

Grimnir levitated up into the air, enshrouded in a cloud of ravens, to see what was up. An army, some fifteen-thousand strong, was camped in siege of Hillsfar, flying the banner of the city's long-time rival, Zhentil Keep. When Grimnir reported the situation, Ash and Mel admitted that they might have let slip to Manshoon, one of Zhentil Keep's rulers, that Hillsfar was basically undefended in their conversation with him a few weeks prior. Grimnir, seeming elated to have a morally-unambiguous target, floated up and began raining eldritch death down on the gray-skinned, Zhentish orcs outside.

In response to Grimnir's magical bombardment, five beholders floated up over the walls and began closing with him (much faster than one might expect such creatures to fly) in a reversed flying-V formation. Grimnir and Ash dropped fly spells on Morgianna and Experiment #321 who swooped up to Grimnir's aid. Mel, meanwhile, dashed to the highest tower of the citadel with longshot and Traithe headed to the walls to take command the try to disrupt the siege engines.

Morgianna was the first to engage with the beholders, flying up behind the left rear-guard, dodging a trio of eye-beams, and striking it with a blinding smite blinding the creature and completely incapacitating three of the eyes. Mel struck the same target with a pair of arrows from her vantage more than a half-mile away, severely injuring it with the first shot and taking out another eyestalk with the second.

Experiment #321 flew in to strike the right rear-guard, but narrowly avoided getting knocked out of the sky when the central beholder turned to catch her in its anti-magic gaze. As the beholder panned, she swooped out of the way and tossed a dagger at it, striking it right in the pupil of the big central eye.

Zorch then summoned a fellow radiant mephit and the two creatures flew head-first towards the right flank of the beholder lines, head on to the antimagic eyes to avoid the eye rays. When they had closed, they used their superior speed and maneuverability to stay just in front of the creatures and just out of bite range. Finally the two enraged beholders pivoted down, to bring all ten eye-stalks to bear on the mephits. The readied imps unleashed blasts of color spray as the eyes came to bear, but the beholders just blinked them off and unleashed a full barrage at each mephit. Unfortunately for the beholders, the mephits took the worst of the blasts, but they also bounced back off their reflective skin. Both mephits and both beholders were petrified by the rebounding beams, plummeting out of the sky like rocks.

Ash tried, unsuccessfully, to save Zorch using a new spell he had developed to reverse time locally to a single creature, but Zorch's spirit was beyond recovery. Enraged he lashed out with a blast of chain lightning, scorching the three remaining beholders. The point beholder sped up to close with Grimnir, but was blasted back, again, and again. Finally it gave up and pivoted down, centering its anti-magic gaze on Ash, rendering him blind and impotent.

Grimnir, meanwhile, opened an arcane gate and used his repelling blasts (from unpredictable angles) to play ping-pong with the blinded beholder, bouncing it into its friends to disrupt their formation. Turning it into an uncontrolled, rapidly spinning mass of randomly firing eye-rays. Morgianna continued to dodge the beams and she and Mel concentrated fire to bring the blinded beholder down.

The central beholder, deprived of its main eye, charmed Experiment #321 and sent her after Grimnir. She flew into the cloud of ravens and narrowly missed slitting Grimnir's throat with her poisoned daggers, giving his beard a very close shave.

Grimnir fell back, allowing his levitation to stop and plummeting towards the ground, only to arrest himself about twenty-feet up and blast the beholder that was pinning down Ash. The beholder was shoved up just enough to get Ash out of the range of its gaze. Ash, who had been waiting patiently for just such a chance, immediately unleashed another chain lightning, one bolt popping the eye-less beholder like a corn kernal, and the remaining arcs frying the last one.

Meanwhile, on the wall, Traithe had managed to destroy three large siege engines of the Zhent army, slowing the assault. In response, the Zhents sent a large,  boar-like demon, a "Lord of Woe" up the walls after him. The demon cleared the walls with its scintillating aura of horror, then tore into Traithe with tooth and claw, wounding him severely. Mel, from her vantage on the citadel tower, pegged the demon with an arrow and called to the flyers to help Traithe.

Everyone ran (or flew) to join the fight on the walls. Traithe blasted the corpulent demon with the icy gaze of the sword of halfrek, then Morgianna lept into the fray, smiting the creature. Ash tagged the beast with Wesley's Temporal Disjunction causing it to lose all sense of time or purpose and leaving it open to a quick, poisoned backstab from Experiment #321. Finally Grimnir called up his crown of runes and banished the thing, which chose not to return after taking such a rapid, colossal, and humiliating beat-down.

Still in the tower and siting in her magical bow, Mel spotted the next, and last, major threat the Zhent's had on hand: a massive, gleaming, Chrome dragon, complete with black-robed, slick-haired, goateed wizard riding it. Mel planted to arrows right in the chest of the wizard, knocking him from the saddle to his death, but drawing the attention and ire of the dragon.

The dragon swept towards Mel at full speed, slowing only long enough to strafe the top of the wall with its breath weapon: a blast of pure, magnetic energy. Dozens of Hillsfar's defenders, including Grimnir, Ash, Traith, and Morgianna, were blasted off of the wall, hurled dozens of feet through the air to crash onto the roofs of nearby buildings.

Ash recovered first, lashing out at the dragon with Murlynd's Void, pinioning its shoulder-blades beneath the saddle it wore by the powerful vaccuum of spell's singularity, significantly limiting the range of motion of the dragon's wings. Unable to do much more than glide now, the dragon zeroed in on Mel and the citadel and dove.

Grimnir hastily scribed a death rune on an arrow and sent it to Melastasya via one of his ravens. Mel dashed into the Citadel, running and shadow-jaunting from room to room, and sniping out of windows as the ravens dropped death arrows into her hands, dealing numerous grievous wounds to the beast. Morgianna and Experiment #321 flew around the dragon's backside as it closed on the citadel, harrying it with their swords and daggers.

Finally the dragon spotted Mel and crashed head-first into the castle, sending the entire west wing crashing down on its head. Mel dove out a window, and clung to the wall of one of the crumbling towers. Ash drew Morvian, called up its burning aura, and with the others.

The dragon burst from the rubble, much battered, but still quite alive, and lashed at Mel with tooth, tail, and claw. Traithe rushed in and dropped another tower on the still moving dragon with a shatter spell. Not seeing Mel, the tower he dropped, was, of course, the one she was hanging from. Mel jumped in the window, sprinted through the tower, and leaped out the far side as it tilted and came down on the dragon's head. Pivoting in mid-air, Mel grabbed the last death arrow from Munin's waiting talons and planted the arrow in the dragon's neck, opening its throat with the explosive force of the rune-enchanted projectile.

No longer conscious-enough to resist the pull of the void, the dragon began to implode, its body sucking inexorably into the nothingness created under its saddle by Ash's spell. As the dragon's tail and head got sickeningly closer together, Grimnir blasted the saddle into the air with a repelling blast and sent it hurtling over the wall. The void-saddle sucked in the last of the dragon and several bystanders on the wall before crashing into lines of the Zhentish troops, consigning dozens of them to oblivion.

With their siege engines smashed, their demon, dragon, and beholders dead, and the sucking darkness of the saddle in their midst, the Zhent army broke and fled, running for their lives, leaving their camp and arms behind. Any that might have thought of staying behind were quickly routed by the sight of the gates being thrown open and the party casually marching out, Ash with his elven blade and 60-ft. aura of golden flames at their head.

Once the army was routed, Ash and Morgianna set about looking for the body of the black-robed wizard that Mel had downed, while Mel and the lizard set about looting the camp. None of them found anything particularly interesting or valuable, save some possible fodder for Zhent disguises, and Ash pointed out that this had probably been the Zhent's "B" or even "D" team, poorly equipped and with only a small contingent of significant monstrous threats.

Grimnir, meanwhile called up the crown of runes again and communed with one of the slain beholders, asking where it kept its wealth. When the only answer was "at Zhentil Keep", Grimnir and the beholder came to an agreement, the simplest: life for service. Grimnir raised the beholder and dubbed it "Yggdrasil" (meaning "Odin's horse" or "Odin's gallows"). It is yet to be seen how loyal a mount the beholder may be.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

PBeM: Chapter 3.5: The Squatters in Onyx: Part 5

In which Miero dies, Skaegedde runs away, Donovan comes back, Frantiska performs a major miracle, and the party finally gets out of the kobold warrens...


Yamtwit watches the Tyrran exorcism with many a fascinated "Ooh!" and "What?!" and "No, not that way!" and "You forgot the rice!" and "It's better with butter!" When Winona starts to swing her massive flail to smash the altar, Yamtwit, who is of course leaning in very close to watch, is forced to dive face-first to get out of the way, covering his head with both arms, and luckily avoiding most of the impending bone shrapnel. When the roaring and the shaking stop, he finally stands, brushing himself off, and walks over to the two priestesses. "Next time," he says, "use butter! It tends to appease the evil spirits' hunger better than water and keeps them from doing that creeping howling rage thing when they leave..."

Frantiska crawls over to look at the shattered opal. Seeing Hrud's awkward stance she mutters, "Jangan khawatir Hrud, Anda jelas tidak memukul cukup keras telah rusak sendiri," before turning back to her examinations. "The tie between a dragon and its wealth goes far beyond mere human greed or dwarven avarice," she says, turning to Lyra. "If their wealth is stolen, most ancient dragons will haunt their former lairs until they manage to accumulate enough treasure to depart and rest in peace. More so for the heart gems. You guess may be correct, if the kobolds found the heart gem, they could certainly have used it to bind the dragon's ghost to prevent it from returning to its lair or passing on. Of course, breaking that binding does not mean that the ghost is gone. If its lair, wherever that may be, was looted, then it will likely plague the region for some time. Of course, even if it is loosed now, dragon ghosts never stir from their lairs. They are less belligerent than their living kin, but more obsessive, thinking of nothing but their treasure."

She lifts a bit of the glowing dust and lets it run through her gloved fingers. «I'm afraid I will miss our lecherous friend. I don't know why this is glowing or what enchantments it may contain. His insight into the arcane would be quite valuable now.» She brushes the remaining dust off her gloves, careful to keep it all contained in the hollow where the gem once rested.


Winona takes her glasses off and wipes them with the inside hem of her robe to clear the dust. "I will take your suggestion under advisement Mr. Yamtwit..." she says formally, though her face clearly reflects the laughter she is suppressing. She puts her glasses back on and looks around at the others, well this is perplexing, she thinks, who is in charge now? Donovan had clearly set himself up as the leader of this ragtag group. Someone needs to make a decision. She looks pointedly at everyone in the room, classifying them quickly: idiot barbarian, fiendish hussy, halflings, dwarf. Well, clearly it must be Lady Frantiska, Lady Lyra, or myself...

"Lyra," she finally says, "we've killed at least fourty kobolds here, including their priest, lost one of our own, bypassed their traps, defaced their shrine, emptied their living quarters. Justice for the villagers seems to have been served. What is our next course of action?" Her face showing an weird kind of probing resolve, as if clearly expecting the young lady to have an answer. "Are we done here? Should we gather Mr. Donovan's body and be away? Or should we search for other possible places where they might be keeping the tribute sent by the villagers?"


Lyra briefly looks a bit taken aback that the older priestess would defer to her judgement.  "If we can recover any supplies taken from the village, they will be better prepared for this coming winter.  We should search for likely storage areas, then recover Mr. Donovan and withdraw back to the village.  I haven't really seen any sign of the supplies they would need to support this kind of population, let alone what they would have claimed from others."

Lyra looks at the dwarf and halfling.  "If you were conscious when you were brought in, do you have any ideas regarding where your belongings may have been taken?  If we find that, they may be storing the tributes nearby."


Skaegedde stands watching Winona ceremony with barely contained disgust and doesn't so much as blink as the cloud of bone dust sprays over her. "Ao bevare mig fra disse mennesker og deres overtroisk tyr lort!" she says quietly. When the goblin begins speaking of the benefits of butter over holy water she lets out a deep audible groan and slaps her forehead with one hand. "Er jeg omringet af børn?! At de ville tro løgne det skabte i stedet for sandheden om Skaberen?!" She shoulders, not to roughly, her way over to the crumbled gem and begins scooping the glowing gem-dust into a pocket, shaking her head all the while.

When Lyra asks about her belongings, she shrugs. "Most of my things were in the witchdoctor's room, and those I recovered. I was conscious when they brought me in, and honestly surprised that they took me captive rather than killing me on the road. I figured they were going to sacrifice me to one of their phony, wanna-be gods, and this place certainly makes that seem likely. We came in through the rear-entrance...not a lot of side passages off that one, until just before the big stomach room, where we headed up. From there it was pretty confusing, I have no idea where they had taken my stuff, since I was deprived of my gear before being led in. From their talking though, I got the impression that all the good stuff was being shipped off to some bigger kobold king on the other side of the swamp."


Yamtwit gives another half-hearted shove on the capstan, then turns to the exit. "If they're shipping off the loot, then it seems like we're done here..."

"Or," Frantiska interjects, "if there is another, larger and allied settlement to the west, then it is possible that they may seek retaliation for our invasion today."


Miero shakes his head, "Skae's got the right of it. I was conscious and armed when I came in, then got jumped by a bunch of them and clubbed like a baby seal. When I woke up I was tied to a wall and no longer armed. This kobos in this place are just vassals to some king called Greshlyyr, mooks. They have a chief, but he was just as much a mook. I figure the backstabbing, dog-faced, little mother-fucker probably fled as soon as you killed the first kobo guard." He smiles, "but I do know where his room was, and I doubt he could have carried all of the loot himself..."


As Frantiska and Miero talk about larger kobold tribes and retaliation, Ryesha's eyes go wide and she lets out a worried squeak. Winona, atypically, notices the look on her subordinate's face and speaks up, "Don't worry Bunny, we're in no position to go hunting more kobolds, especially not if we're talking about a whole kingdom rather than just one tribe. Miss Lyra is right, we should wrap up whatever business there might be here, then get back to the village, and get that Amara girl to her grandmother before her family is worried sick...and see if the authorities in Melvaunt are able to send militia to help defend the villagers if the kobolds come back..."


Standing around somewhat uncertainly, Hrud looks at the destroyed opal and has a rare thought. "Aku pengin kanggo ndeleng yen awak saka siji lawas wis mbledhos." he says, before wondering back to check on the shaman's body.

Hrud makes the long, arduous crawl back to the witch doctor's room to find it just as it was, except that the old kobold's body is no where to be seen.

Confused (which is to say, about the same as any other time), Hrud looks around the room for clues as to what happened to the body.


Judging from the scuff marks on the floor and the ensuing footprints, Hrud's tracking skills tell him that the old kobold just stood up and walked out of the room. Outside the room he turned left, towards the other lung with the trapped door going down into the weasel-caverns below.


Hrud comes out of the chamber and turns down the passage from which he came, "Ing siji lawas wis musna!" Then, concerned about undead dog-faces wondering around, follows the trail.


Yamtwit stepping out into the hallway, suddenly hears Hrud shouting and slaps his forehead with his palm. "Guys...our barbarian friend would like it to be known that the old kobold's body is gone..."

"Sounds like the time for speculation and planning is over," Frantiska says, crawling out the passage and down the slope.


Lyra lets out an exasperated sigh.  "Gone, and if those candles have burned down, in possession of their benefits."


Miero grins evilly, "Oi! Save one for me, eh?", and goes running down the corridor towards Hrud's voice.

Winona sighs, "Lyra, do you have sufficient power to save us from crawling all that way again?"


Skaegedde hefts the club she acquired and goes running after Miero. As she runs, she thinks a silent prayer to herself, Velsignet Ao, skal du ikke lade dørstoppere komme væk, før jeg kan bash et par hoved, secure in the knowledge that her god (unlike all of the other false gods) does not need to hear words spoken to know the desires of his faithful. As her steadily pumping feet bring her back to the witch-doctor's chambers, all of her muscles tense and she looks around intently for something to hit.


Miero and Skaegedde reach the intersection by the witchdoctor's room to see Hrud, silhouetted by the light of his hammer, crawling laboriously through the narrow tunnel away from them, his face low to the ground. The old kobold's trail leads past the bodies of two other dead kobolds, then ends at the ladder leading up into the spinal column, a few bloody kobold footprints on the lowest rungs indicating that he went up.


Miero looks a the barbarian, unperturbed by the loincloth, "Yo, pacangan-jaran, sampeyan ora bakal pas, bakal sampeyan? Arep kula kanggo pindhah disegerne-metu, sethitik asu-ngadhepi, telek-kepala?" Without waiting for an answer, he draws his knives and starts climbing the ladder.

As Miero reaches the top of the ladder, he finds the spinal passage empty. Even his heat-sensitive vision reveals no signs of recent passage.


Yamtwit catches up with Miero and the dwarf-lady, blinking at the sudden light from the barbarian's hammer. "Hang cara durung Dèkné arep lunga?"

Frantiska nods at Winona's comment and taps Lyra on the shoulder to get her attention. "The Good Sister is right. I hate to rely to often on your gifts Lyrathwen, but if the candles have gone out, the old kobold may be a significant threat. It would be better if we could get there in something of a hurry..."


Looking down the narrow corridor, Lyra nods.  "I should still have enough power to get us out quickly if necessary."  Lyra concentrates, the air next to her suddenly the same view as the doorway exiting the witchdoctor's room.


Miero drops back down looking rather upset, "Taek! Ana ora tandha saka asu-pasuryan. Iya ora mbukak arah. Mungkin dheke dipigunakaké Piandel kanggo ndhelikake dalan cilik kang." He looks sideways into the room over the lungs, surveying the many exploded kobold corpses. "Telek Suci, kowé sing paling apik!"

"Thanks Lyra," Winona straps her weapons out of the way and crawls out into the hall. She looks back at the door to the witchdoctor's room, "I can't see in there to confirm if the candles are still burning. You'll need to come through and shut your door..."


Skaegedde walks up beside Hrud, looks around the base of the ladder, and shrugs. "Looks like he went uuu..." she says, then sees Miero skuttling down. "Not up there?" She shrugs again and heads to the right, not caring about the kobold body parts splattered across the walls. "Guess he went down then..." She grabs one of the ropes supporting the boulder-cum-trap-door and swings down, looking for other possible signs of the old kobold's passage.


Hrud follows the others, using the light from his hammer to try and pick up the trail, not sure what the plan is, but interested in seeing what happens at any rate.


Skaegedde swings down into a small room, with strange spongy, honeycombed walls. Arrows litter the floor and fresh blood and kobold viscera have pooled beneath the opening she dropped through. A pile of weasel furs and woolen blankets makes a massive bed off to one side, and a trio of lizard-man skulls hang on the walls as crude trophies. To her right a small, metal door stands open, revealing stairs leading down. Wet footprints, mostly the larger boots of her new companions, lead from the door to the opposite wall, where a curtain has been pushed aside to reveal another small room with sleeping furs and more arrows scattered around a burned-out cookfire.


Miero slides down the rope, glaces around briefly, then points to the stairs. "Apa sing cara, jaran-wong?", he asks, looking up at Hrud.

Ryesha slides down beside him, but addresses the dwarf, "The stairs go down to the weasel pits...and a back door. The other way is the main passage to the stomach or out the mouth if you turn right..."

"So either way it would be easy for him to get away if he came this way," Miero finishes. "Sounds like we need to check out both exits." He starts walking down the stairs, "I'll take the back..."

"No wait!" Ryesha calls, just as the trapped staircase turns into a slide and Miero goes careening down it.


Miero slides to the stairs to land with an uncomfortable bump in the shallow pool of oil that has collected there. A small, burned, wooden door is just in front of him, opening into a small chamber, half-filled with water, with side passages running in every direction. He can hear the slapping of small, wet feet scurrying up the passage immediately across from the door.


One of the few benefits, Lyra thinks, of being inside a dragon, is that the walls tend to curve.  Retaining her concentration until everyone is through the door, she leans back to peer into the back side of the portal to see if the candles are still burning, and that the turtles seem to be ok.  Poor turtles.

Once everyone is through, she follows and lets the portal shut behind her.


Lyra looks through and sees that the turtles appear to be alive and well, though their shells are covered with thick coatings of melted wax. One turtle is casually munching on a bit of wax that has run down it's shell and hardened onto the top of its head. The candles have all gone out.


"Miero!" Skaegedde exclaims, as her halfling cell-mate disappears down the slide. She walks over to the top of the stairs and calls down, "Are you alright?!" When it becomes clear that he is not severely damaged, she looks at the halfling girl and says "Coming?" before carefully setting one foot on the slippery ramp, then the other. She keeps weight on her back foot and her hands on either wall to try to control her decent.


Seeing the dwarf and halflings going down the trapped staircase, Yamtwit stops and yells back the way they came, "Looks like he went downstairs! Lyra, you still got a bomb ready?"


Skaegedde skids to a stop at the bottom, still standing, and just faintly hears Yamtwit shouting above. "Bombs?" she mutters. She offers a hand to help Miero to his feet, then pulls out her morningstar. "Which way?"


Miero takes the dwarf's hand and climbs to his feet. "I heard something running up that way," he points to the up-sloping passage opposite the small door. He pulls out the pair of stilettos and runs, determined to stab at least one kobold to death before leaving this place.


Lyra lets out a frustrated sigh.  "If we think he is heading for the exit down there, I can get us there faster.  That will also let us make sure nothing untoward has happened to the horses while we have been in here."


Miero and Skaegedde run into the opposing passage, struggling to maintain their balance against a stream of water running past their feet, just in time to see two small figures, silhouetted by sunlight, disappearing out of the open end of the passage to the outside.


Two? Skaegedde slows slightly, re-thinking their tactics. If there are two, there could be more. If there are more, they could be waiting outside. And we haven't done anything to disguise our intentions. "Alle ser Ao bevare mig," she mutters, then hefts her weapon. "Let's kick their asses..." she says aloud to her halfling companion.

She charges up the passage, slipping on the wet floor halfway up, sprawling face-first.


Two kobolds, two knives. Miero cocks his arms back and tosses a stiletto at each kobold's back.


Lyra concentrates, opening a portal out onto the hillside near the concealed exit.  "If they haven't made it out, we should be able to cut off their retreat.  If they have, we might be able to pick up the trail."


Winona breathes a sigh of relief on seeing open sky through the dimensional portal. "Thank you!" she says to Lyra, then crawls through the portal and stands up to look around, pulling out her flail. Ryesha steps through after her, looking for kobolds or other threats.


Frantiska peers through the door before proceeding, then crawls after Ryesha. Looking down at the kobolds, she takes a knee, pulls her bow out, and knocks an arrow.

Not really trusting the oil-slicked trap-staircase, Yamtwit doubles back just in time to see Lyra open the door. He squints as he peers through but does not look like he's in any hurry to go through, "...bright out there..." he mutters.


"You'll want to head through before you have to take the long way around, Mr. Yamtwit."  Not waiting for a response, Lyra heads through the portal, stretching and taking a deep breath after the close confines of the kobold tunnels.


At Lyra's urging, Yamtwit squints his eyes and leaps through the portal.


Winona and Ryesha step through onto the hillside directly above the concealed exit. The stone has been rolled aside and two kobolds can be seen running out, their small feet splashing in the water that has pooled just outside the door, making just enough noise to cover the faint, telltale hum of the dimension door and the creaking of Winona's armor as she stands up. Other running, shouting, and splashing noises can be heard coming from the passage behind them, though you cannot see what from this angle.

Looking down at the two kobolds, Frantiska can see that one is clearly the old witchdoctor whom she had seen dead on the floor just over an hour ago, just as pierced, tattooed, and withered as ever. The second kobold looks much younger, unarmed, and wearing what is clearly Donovan's brightly coloured vest, with the bard's spectacles perched on its dog-like snout.


Despite the younger kobold's looting of Donovan's possessions, Frantiska draws a bead on the older kobold, who is a known threat, and lets fly, chanting the words to a fire arrow spell as she does so.


The elderly kobold takes a knife in the back, then, turning to face his attacker, a flaming arrow in the shoulder. With a howl of rage, it extends his right hand towards Miero and screams, "Seni küçük solucan! Neden senin Zhent ustaları bu söyleme?!" With a sickening cracking sound, and a torrent of blood, the halfling's chest bursts open and his heart flies into the kobold's waiting hand. He then points his left hand at Lyra as she exits the dimension door, unleashing a gout of emerald green flames, which are turned aside by the armor of force surrounding her.

Meiro's second knife passes over the shoulder of the spectacle-wearing kobold, who looks up in completely surprise. His eyes follow the line of green flame and widen when they see Lyra. «Lyra?! I thought you had died?!» he squeaks, the elvish words seeming strange coming from his dog-like lips.


Lyra flinches back from the green flames, and pales at the gore below.  «I'm fine, for now at least.  Is that you, Mr. Donovan?  I'm fairly certain you DID die, when the scaffolding collapsed.  You appear to have been reincarnated.  You should ... probably go check on the horses.  Quickly.»


The kobold clears his throat squeakily, «YES! Thank goodness you recognized me. I thought I was going to get shot!» He spreads his arms wide and shrugs, «Not sure I can check on the horses at the moment, it would be very disappointing for you guys to kill my friend here, after he brought me back from death and all. We both may run along through, there is a very angry-looking halfling man and dwarven lady in yonder cave?» He points towards the passage from which Miero's heart just came flying. «Did Hrud make it? I see everyone but him?»

«Oh, well, we appear to have dealt with the halfling, but that dwarf lady looks pissed!»


Seeing Miero's chest spontaneously burst open and his heart go flying through the air, Skæggede, still lying face-down on the ground, decides that she wants nothing more to do with this old kobold. She looks down the tunnel to see if any of their new friends had followed to back them up. Seeing none, she turns and runs back down the passage. Ao forgive me, but if they are going to leave us to face something like that... She splashes into the central intersection and looks around frantically. They said something about a front door through the mouth, and a ladder leading down here. She picks a passage and random and runs, eventually reaching the bottom of one of the three pits, then high-tales it out through the front door. They'll be alright, won't they?

As she runs out through the mouth and then stops to catch her breath, Skæggede looks down at her waist curses under her breath, realizing that her sashling must have come undone when she slipped back in the cave. "Rend! Nå, ingen vej tilbage til det nu!" she growls, then takes off running again.


Hrud steps through Lyra's magic opening through space & time just in time to see the old kobold, very much alive, raining death and destruction back into the warren. This decrepit old dog-face is more of a danger than he realized - truly a worthy foe. Hefting the twin broadswords, he leaps upon the unsuspecting shaman with a roar.


In a flash, Hrud lands on the old kobold, one knee taking the small figure under the chin and bearing him to the ground. There is the sound of cracking bone as Hrud's full weight, easily five times that of the decrepit kobold, comes down on his chest. The blades follow, one on either side of the neck, scissors-like, the magical green-metal blades biting through dried flesh and brittle bones, cleanly severing the old witchdoctor's head. Next to Hrud, the withered claw of the old kobold limply clutches Miero's still-beating heart.


Lyra carefully climbs down the hillside.  «Mr. Donovan, your ... er ... friend ... just ripped someone's heart out.  You don't find that concerning?»


The kobold stares slack-jawed at Hrud and the corpse for a long moment, then gestures lamely, «My other friends have cut people to ribbons on more than one occasion. Ripping out an assailant's heart does not seem that different.» He shrugs again, and clutches at his pantaloons, which are large enough to serve as a tent and quickly sliding down, despite being gathered weirdly with a series of belts. «Life is...weirder and more violent than even I would have thought. I guess I have become used to it a bit over the last weeks.» He picks up the older kobold's head, balancing it on one hand and turning it so he can look into the dead eyes.

«Alas, poor Mide Açar! I knew him, Lyra: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. It seems he hath borne me on his back a thousand times. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft...well just the once really. And now how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Where be your gibes now Mide? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the weasels to a roar? Not one now to mock your own grinning? Quite chop-fallen? Prithee, Lyra, tell me one thing. Dost thou think General Valjevo looked o' this fashion i' the earth? And smelt so? Pah! To what base uses we may return, Lyra! Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Valjevo till he find it stopping a bung-hole?»

He tosses the head aside. Then says, in high, yapping common, "Let's get the fuck out of here before I die again..."


Seeing yet another kobold, Hrud draws back to strike ...


Lyra rushes between Hrud and the pantaloon-clad kobold.  "That is Donovan!" she gestures at the kobold.  "Mr. Yamtwit, how do you say 'Donovan was transformed by magic' in Eraka?"


Winona watches the death of the old kobold and the strange actions of the younger one with deep interest. It almost looks as if Lyra and the kobold-in-Don's-clothing are having a conversation, and not in the kobold tongue. When the kobold breaks into the common speech, and starts talking about dying again, she is even more confused. Can the kobolds spontaneously reanimate? Is that how the witchdoctor was dead and yet escaped this way? Maybe something when we destroyed their altar? She ponders the possibilities, content to let Hrud dispose of the dirty little creature, when Lyra suddenly shouts that the kobold is Donovan. Reincarnation?! Brilliant? I shall have to ask Mr. Donovan about his experiences... Only then does the fact that he's about to be chopped to pieces register.

"Bunny!" She starts sliding down the embankment, only to see that Ryesha is already there.

"Oh, Mr. Donovan! Your beautiful pantaloons! They don't fit...they're ripped...they clash with your fur..." Ryesha looks completely distraught. "You have to let me fix them for you..."


"Da fuq?" Hrud's brow furrowing more deeply than usual. He pulls the blades back from where they were hovering a scant few inches from the young woman.


Yamtwit jumps down the hill, yelling for Hrud, "Teman Hruď! Lyra crita yen asu-pasuryan Donovan ngagem celonone kang, iku bener Donovan piyambak. Roh suci kepepet ing awak asu-pasuryan." He runs over and looks at the kobold closely. "You look good this way," he says to Donovan.

Frantiska puts her bow back on her shoulder, shakes her head slowly, and sits down on the hillside, just happy to be in the open air. «Your soliloquy was a bit you must be Master Donovan.» Holy Selune save me, she thinks, why am I happy to see this lecherous old shyster again?! She steadies her mouth to keep it a firm line, but cannot suppress the smile in her eyes.


Lyra gathers her skirt in one hand and steps over to the old kobold, wincing at the still-beating heart.  "Sisters, what are the proper ... ah ... rites for such circumstances?"


Winona looks at the kobold corpse and the halfling's still-beating heart and shrugs, "Burial customs are not an area I've studied much, particularly where primitive kobold dead-dragon-spirit worshipers are involved. If I were to guess, I'd say the proper way within the context of his faith would be to add him to the stack of corpses in that shrine back in the heart...or, you know, burning it so that the body can't come back as some sort of blood-sucking monstrosity is always good too."

Ryesha heads into the cave and walks down the passage to where Miero's body is. She kneels down, rolling him onto his back and checks to see if the fact that his heart is still beating might mean that he is alive. Seeing the dwarf's sash lying in the water, she picks it up and drapes it over her shoulder, in hopes of returning it.


"So..." Donovan looks sheepishly at the others as he tugs up his slouching, over-sized pantaloons, "did anyone grab my gear? It wasn't with my body..."


Lyra hands Donovan his belt pouch first, which will hopefully help with the pants issue.  Then she shrugs his backpack off of her shoulder, and hands it to him, as well as his crossbows.  "We tried to keep safe what we could, but unfortunately it wasn't feasible to bring your body with us while clearing out the warrens."


Donovan cinches the belt around his waist, then takes the proffered backpack. Donovan, who was relatively weak even before becoming a kobold, collapses under the weight of the pack full of spellbooks and crossbows as he tries to shrug into the straps, falling flat on his back. "Help..." he squeaks.


Yamtwit rushes to the kobold's aid and begins trying to pry him off the ground using his club as a lever. "I think you need to downsize and simplify your life a bit, Mr. Donovan. To match the downsizing of your frame..."

Frantiska, meanwhile, walks over to the deceased and decapitated witchdoctor. "Fire you say?" She rummages through her pack and pours a couple pints of lamp oil over the body, then pours out a vial of quicklime on the kobold's chest, then refills it with water from the pool. She carefully pours the water over the quicklime and then steps back as the quicklime reacts with the water, rapidly generating sufficient heat to set the oil-soaked body ablaze. "How's that?" she asks, pulling out her pouch of tobacco and rolling a cigarette for herself. "Let's get out of here..." she says, lighting in cigarette with the flames from the body, then turning to walk back towards the horses.


Lyra looks down the tunnel, in no small part to get further away from the smell of burning fur.  "I don't see the dwarven woman.  Do you think she'll be able to make it back to the village on her own?"


Donovan heaves himself to his feet with Yamtwit's help. "Thanks," he says, then to Lyra, "What dwarven lady?"


"There were two prisoners that we came across after you ... "  Lyra clears her throat, her eyes starting to tear up.  "There was a dwarven woman and a halfling that were being held.  I didn't catch what her name was, she mostly spoke in Dwarven to Hrud."  She gestures in the direction of Miero's corpse.


Donovan sighs, "You know, I really should prepare comprehend languages more often..."

Winona smiles at Frantiska's corpse-disposal tactics. "Dwarves," she muses out loud, "seem to need an awful lot of rescuing and to do an awful lot of slipping off unannounced. I had always heard that dwarves were supposed to be possessed of an excess of loyalty and a strong sense of obligation."

"Yes," says Donovan. "Based on our admittedly small sample size of two, it would seem that dwarven stereotypes are quite backwards. Or maybe we've only met backwards dwarves."

As Lyra approaches the tunnel, Ryesha appears, dragging Miero's heartless corpse. "I would have run too if I was standing beside this when it happened..." she mutters quietly.


Frantiska circumnavigates the dragon-cum-hill, keeping a wary eye out for kobolds or traps. Seeing none, she heads over to the horses, breathing a sigh of relief to see that they have not been eaten, and mounts up.

Yamtwit circles back to the dragon's mouth and calls out, warily, "Ale nan pare nouyo, sou kèk. Rast!"

The warg comes padding out and growls a reply, "Aleli kitem 'se konsa, chen-fè fasa yonpat'akm'wèsepatefèli, desa lontanpapa kouri tinena."

Yamtwit mounts up and rides over to Lyra, "Rast says that a dwarf came running out the mouth not long ago. Headed that way," he points.


Lyra nods and prepares to mount up.  "Did we want to try and use the remaining runes to collapse the hill?  However, I'm not sure kobolds would actually be discouraged by a bit of extra digging."


Winona and Donovan both manage to blurt out "Yes!" at the same time to Lyra's question. Donovan then rapidly interjects, "The kobolds may not be bothered by having to re-dig their warrens, but the time and effort involved, not to mention the symbolic loss of their home should serve as a significant deterrent to them launching further attacks on the villages..."

Winona nods sagely, "Even if we only manage to weaken or destabilize the existing construction, the repairs should keep them busy for several weeks beyond the time it takes them to move back in."

Ryesha, meanwhile, is busy digging a halfling-sized hole in the soggy earth of the swamp. Seeing her little acolyte laboring away, Winona steps over and picks up Miero's body, loading it onto her horse. "Let's take him back to the village and bury him somewhere where we will have ready access to spades and where he is less likely to just float back the the surface and be eaten in a few days..."


Hrud asks Yamtwit about the oversized weasels still inside.

Yamtwit's eyes go wide, "Oh ya! Sing kulit banget ana regane." He and Rast dash into the dragon's mouth, slinding along the narrow ledge around the first pit, and head for second. "Kita bakal ngasilake kanthi cepet..." He reaches the opening of the pit and stops. «Shit Rast. They're bigger than us, how're we going to get them out of there?»

The wolf lets out a low growl, «Ask the horse-lover.»

Yamtwit runs back to the opening of the cave. "Hrud, sampeyan bisa bantuan kula nindakake mau?"


Frantiska listens to the goblin and rolls her eyes. "It appears that the goblin wants to go back and get the giant weasel hides," she says quietly to the others by the horses. "From the looks of things, I doubt he can be dissuaded. Should we help, just to speed him along?"


Lyra nods.  "Some of the runes should probably be placed inside the tunnels underneath, as well."


Donovan's small dog-like head nods vigorously, "Yeah, those pelts are worth a fortune. As for the runes, I think we should put all of the runes in the intersection below. It seems fairly centered in the structure, and the numerous side passages and standing water should make it the weakest part of the hill. If we set off all the runes right there, I think it should cause the hill to collapse in on that point..."

Ryesha turns and looks at him quizzically. "How do you know so much about blowing things up?"

Donovan shrugs, "Logical guess really..."


"Nggunakake jaran kanggo narik mau metu." Hrud shrugs leading his pony over to the entrance. The barbarian starts rummaging for rope and possibly some sturdy branches or saplings to use in crafting a travois.


With Hrud's hastily constructed travois and a little extra rope to lift the bodies, you quickly haul the four man-sized weasels out of the pit. As you drag the last of them back to the horses, you find Teldicia, who has been following slowly, slumped against a tree, apparently unconcerned about the mud covering her to the waist, clutching her head in her hands and sobbing quietly. Her forearms, shoulders, and the front of her dress appear to be spattered with fresh blood, not unlike the rest of you given the recent decaptitations, exploding chests, and other violence. As you get closer she lets out a piercing scream and rubs at her eyes with her hands, leaving gory handprints across her face, as you can now see that all of the blood covering her is clearly her own, coming from her eyes, nose, and ears.


Donovan, trying to stay out of the way of his larger friends as they collect the weasels, noticed Teldicia's condition with considerable distress. «Lyra...Frantiska...I think we're in trouble...» he squeaks, his high-pitched voice still alien to his own ears. He walks towards the green-haired girl and gently lays a small hand on a corner of her shoulder that is not too covered in blood. "Teldicia," he whispers, "are you okay?"

Winona, carrying the other end of the stretcher opposite Hrud, stops dead in her tracks. Trying to indicate with pointed nods and wide eyes that Hrud, who is walking backwards at this point, should do likewise.

Ryesha, walking just behind her, begins backing away. "Is her head going to explode?!" the halfing girl chirps.


Seeing Teldecia, Hrud's eyes go wide, "Frantiska! Menehi dheweke lambé!"


"The scroll of Impregnable Mind might alleviate the problem, but only for a time.  If we had a few hours, I might be able to get her to Melvaunt and find a healer."  Lyra exhales sharply in frustration and shakes her head.


Frantiska does not understand Hrud's words, but his intent is clear enough. Tears run down her face as she looks at Teldicia. "It won't work..." she whispers. She looks back and forth between the barbarian and the girl and her other companions, trying to fight back the urge to really cry, but unable to stop the tears. Selune, she think impotently, what can I do? I have already exhausted those gifts you've given me. Too many people have died already. There must be some way to save this girl. Please? Show me how...  Unable to think of anything else, she stumbles forward and kneels beside Teldicia and grips her bloodied hands tightly, praying.

«Selune! Lady of Silver! Queen of the Night Sky!
You who watch faithfully over all maidens.
The forces of darkness spread and one of your own lies afflicted.
Your servant has squandered your gifts and failed in her charge.
I have killed in anger, consorted with lechers, and failed to uphold the light.
Still, hear me, not for my sake, but another's.
Elah! Star of the North! You who always point true!
You have preserved my life time and again.
You have lead me here for a purpose.
Let that purpose not be to witness yet another death.
Bright Nydra! Purity Incarnate! Unblemished one!
If it pleases you, remove the taint from this girl.
Purge her of her afflictions. Free her spirit.
Let not the filth of this world despoil her mind.
Heal her...PLEASE!»


Lyra's eyes shiny with unshed tears, whispers to the goblin.  "Mr. Yamtwit, do you have any more of the Soma Juice?  It's supposed to suspend the ravages of disease, is it not?  That might be worth trying."


As Frantiska prays the sky grows steadily darker. Your eyes are drawn upwards to where the sun is slowly darkening. Behind you, Frantiska's whispered elvish prayer continues, droning over Teldicia's continued pained sobbing. Within minutes all you can see is the black disk of the moon, the sun's corona visible as a wreath of flames around it, bathing the world in blood-red light. You stare at the strange event for some time, shielding your eyes but unable to look away. Finally the moon begins to move again, revealing a sliver, and then more, of the sun. Only then do you realize that all sounds have stopped. You look back to see Teldicia, bright-eyed and alert, sitting up with her arms tight around Frantiska's neck.


Yamtwit tears his eyes away from the eclipse and looks at Lyra, "Yeah, I've got a bottle of juice left..." His sentence cuts off in slack-jawed surprise when he spots Teldicia. "Still want it?" he asks hesitantly.

Frantiska, for her part, continues to cry silently for some time, letting the strange faux-elf woman hug her without complains, quite overwhelmed that her prayers had been answered so fully, immediately, and miraculously. Compared to the strains put on her faith by the events of the past few days, such an elaborate sign of her goddesses favor is a little more than she can bear.


Donovan, still standing beside Teldicia is torn between relief at seeing her healed and certain impure thoughts related to the overly prolonged hug between her and Frantiska. The sight of their cleavage pressed together not at all marred by the fact that they were both covered from head-to-toe in blood and mud. Fran's methods of healing really are the best thing ever, he thinks. He stands that way for some time, trying to figure out if there is some way he could console Frantiska without getting punched.

Finally he tears himself away from the spectacle and wanders over to the horse he rode in on. He stares up at the now very, very large creature, wondering how he is supposed to mount it, and also why it smells so delicious...


Yamtwit finishes helping Hrud and Winona tie the remaining weasel carcasses onto Bobbers' back, then climbs up on Rast. "Come on," he calls to the others, turning the wolf and donkey back towards the village, "we need to get these somewhere where we can process the hides before they get too stiff..."

Frantiska finally looks up, wipes the tears from her face, and help Teldicia stand. "Yes," she says simply. She walks over to Thistledown and begins checking the horse's harness when she notices Donovan staring at his horse plaintively. Sighing, she walks over and casually lifts the kobold up onto the beast's back, stoically ignoring his attempts to look down her shirt as she does so. "Teldicia, perhaps you should ride with Mr. Leitch. I doubt he can control his horse in his current state..."


Donovan struggles to find comfortable purchase on the saddle that is much too big for him. As Teldicia mounts up behind him and reaches for the reins, he finally just leans back, propping his feet up on the saddle's pommel and resting his head back against Teldicia's pillowy bosoms, perfectly happy despite the layer of blood and muck covering her front. He tucks his tail to one side and sighs contentedly, pointedly meeting Frantiska's disapproving gaze. "Thanks!" he chirps as they start riding back towards the village. Now if only this horse didn't smell so damned delicious, he thinks.

Winona climbs onto her own horse and pulls Ryesha up behind her. "Okay Lyra, let's blow this joint and go home!"


With the weasels removed, Lyra finishes placing the remaining glyphed boards in the kobold tunnels and returns to her companions down the hill.  She mounts up, and then detonates the remaining glyphs.


As the party rides away, there is a muffled bang from deep in the hill, followed by a deep rumbling noise. Within moments the ground begins to shake, as the heavily honeycombed hills implodes, and the massive, petrified dragon settles into the new sinkhole that opens up beneath it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Justification for Your Paranoia

It has been a good two months since I've posted one of these and a fair amount of interesting stuff has come out of the information security world. If you are at all involved in IT, then you've most likely heard about the LogJam (TLS) and Venom (VM) flaws that came out in May, so we'll not bother with those (if not, check the links and be ready to update your stuff). Instead, as usual, lets talk about some of the weirder (or more snarkable) things.

But first a shout out to the fine men and women of the United States Senate. 
(temporarily at least)

In case you didn't hear, Sunday night three major provisions of the Patriot Act, used to justify the NSA's bulk collection of phone records, were allowed to expire, thanks to the wonderful inaction of the U.S. Senate. This comes just a few weeks after the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that same bulk data collection program to be illegal

Of course, the fight is not over. Not by a long shot. The Senate just had a procedural vote to consider the USA Freedom Act, which already passed the House. This bill does nothing to actually end that bulk collection, just passes it off to private telecoms to mass collect your data. As someone who works for a telecom and has tools for munging that data let me say, YOU DO NOT WANT IT IN MY HANDS (or any other private entity). That data needs to just die.

Thus, if you are not already, it is time to Blackout Congress. Some 15000 sites are already blocking and re-directing anyone from a congressional IP address to the protest page. Get on it. 

That said, now on to your regularly scheduled paranoia fuel...

1) Malware that cleans up after itself...
The malware arms race has been going on for decades as new malware comes out and security analysts try to reverse engineer it to learn what it is doing, how it does it, and how to stop it. Defensive cyber security folks have always been one step behind the attackers, but the latest models of malware are making this much, much worse.
The spyware known as Rombertik goes to great lengths to evade analysis. Rombertik employs a number of methods to prevent researchers from examining its workings, including a "self-destruct mechanism". Rombertik (a variant of an older trojan known as Carbon Grabber) spreads through spam and phishing emails and is designed to harvest all plain text entered in the browsers on Windows systems (note that even if the connection is secure, you are probably entering your credit card number and CCV into the form as plain-text).
It is common for malware to contain anti-debug, anti-virtualization, and anti-analysis features, but this one is different. If someone tries to tamper with it, Rombertik attempts to overwrite the device’s MBR and encrypt files. Effectively wiping the hard-drive to remove all traces of itself. Yep, that's right, if you try to investigate this malware, it just destroys your machine (which may or may not be worse than getting hacked, if you don't have a handy backup).
The real tricky part here, though, is that some researchers believe that the self-destruct is not targeted at security researchers, but at the people using the malware. The feature may actually be a trap for those who might try to use and modify the malware without authorization. When cybercriminals purchase Rombertik from its creator, they get a copy that communicates only with their command and control server. The address of the C&C is embedded in the binary code. Some cheapskate cybercrooks might try to hack the binary and change the address of the C&C server so that they can use the malware without having to pay for it. To prevent unauthorized use, the developers ensured that the destructive protection mechanism is triggered when such attempts are discovered.
Let this be a warning to ye then. If ye be a frugal criminal, write your own damn virus. 

2) Smart Billboards...
So Russia has banned the import of foods from the European Union and the US. This is not really a problem for shop-owners, as getting a few salami past customs is a time-honored tradition around the world, but how do you advertise your contraband?
Simple, pay an ad company to rig billboards with facial recognition that's been tweaked to spot the official symbols and logos on the uniforms worn by Russian police. As police approached the ad (see video below) the billboard would switch from advertising a nice, fat wedge of imported cheese, rolling over instead to an ad for a nice, completely non-contraband Matryoshka doll shop.
An ad that hides itself from the law is a clever stunt, albeit not too effective, as the police in the video had time to spot the ad for imported food before it scurried behind Matryoshka dolls. But what's more interesting than the effectiveness of this particular ad is the idea that billboards can use facial recognition to this degree to tailor offerings.
Besides the creepy factor of being photographed without your permission or knowledge, there's also the risk that comes with facial recognition being hooked up to the wider web a la the Internet of Things. What happens one someone takes over the camera on the billboard and uses it for other kinds of facial-recognition-enabled snooping?
Then, of course, once such data is in the hands of a service provider, there's always the possibility that it can be subpoenaed away by a (very data-hungry) government.

3) In case you still think your Mac is safe...
It definitely is NOT. 
Yep, more easy, permanent backdooring Macs.
Macs older than a year are vulnerable to exploits that overwrite the firmware that boots up the machine, a feat that allows attackers to control vulnerable devices from the very first instruction. The attack, dubbed "Dark Jedi", affects Macs shipped prior to the middle of 2014 that are allowed to go into sleep mode. The attacker can reflash a Mac's BIOS using functionality contained in "userland" (the part of the operating system where installed applications and drivers are executed). By exploiting vulnerabilities found in Safari and other Web browsers, attackers can install malicious firmware that survives hard drive reformatting and reinstallation of the operating system.
This is similar, but actually far worse, than the Thunderstrike exploit that came out in December of last year. Both exploits give attackers the same persistent and low-level control of a Mac, but the new attack doesn't require even brief physical access. That means attackers half-way around the world may remotely exploit it.
Updating BIOS and firmware from user space is just plain dumb. It's like asking for a rootkit, and BIOS-based rootkits can survive a complete reinstall of the OS and even updates to the BIOS. 
Dark Jedi works by attacking the BIOS protections immediately after a Mac restarts from sleep mode. Normally apps in userland are only allowed read-only access to the BIOS region. Somehow, that protection is deactivated after a Mac wakes from sleep mode. That leaves the firmware open to apps that rewrite the BIOS. From there, attackers can modify the machine's extensible firmware interface (EFI), the firmware responsible for starting a Mac's system management mode and enabling other low-level functions before loading the OS. A drive-by exploit planted on a hacked or malicious website could be used to trigger the BIOS attack.
The attack has been confirmed to work against MacBook Pro Retina, MacBook Pro 8.2 and MacBook Air, all of which ran the latest available EFI firmware from Apple. Though Macs released since mid to late 2014 appear to be immune to the attacks. 
At present, the only thing users of vulnerable machines can do to prevent exploits is to change default OS X settings that put machines to sleep when not in use.

4) SHOCK! Password security questions are not secure!
There are always things that light up the news and the internets that really just deserve an eye-roll. This peer-reviewed study published by Google is definitely one of those. Google's analysis of hundreds of millions of password security questions found that an attacker could guess the answers in 10 tries or less >5% of the time for most questions. This was, of course, even greater if the user had a public social media account where it would be easy to mine information like your school ("What was your high school mascot?"), your mother's maiden name, or other common questions. Which makes security questions actually a good bit LESS secure than user generated passwords...
Are you surprised?
Apparently ConsumeraffairsEngadgetABCUSA Today, and pretty much everyone else thought this newsworthy. 
Of course these kind of questions are not secure. We've known this since websites first started using them for password recovery. A few minutes of basic research will come up with the answers for most of them. Unless the user lied about the answers, then a few simple guesses will usually get it, since most users put things like "Don't have one" or other such lamely reused answers.
Seriously, use some form of two-factor authentication.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Third Party: Sessions 28 & 29 (GMs notes)

Due to large amounts of downtime covered by Session 27, the last two games consisted of backfilling some of the activities of various party members during that time, rather than kicking the pig to actually advance the plotline.

Thus consider this to really be Session 27.5.

25 Eliasias

As the rest of the party dealt with the Bishop and the Council, Ash and Melastasya caught a boat back to Hillsfar and made their way to the ruins of Myth Drannor, Ash having expressed a desire to see the results of his manipulations of the Mythal via the Pool. They arrived to find the city in pristine condition, the streets were clean, the buildings whole. In fact, the only thing that seemed different from the city's founding was the absence of elves, and the presence of swarms of infant orcs crawling around and the dragon, Garnetallisar, perched on the top of the Coronal's Tower.

Ash followed the confusing jumble of memories (his own, those passed down by his grandfather, and those stored in his kiira) and led the way towards the building that once housed the "Guild of Naturalists" (which was also home to one of the largest libraries in the city). They stepped into the main hall to find it empty, save for the two wood-paneled kiosks which would have greeted visitors so many centuries before, and the great winding double-stairs that lead into the lower halls of the guild.

Mel carefully examined the kiosks, sure that the elves must have had something of value. After poking and prodding and examining with her strange multi-planar vision, she became convinced that the emptiness of the place must be an illusion. Finally, on one kiosk, she found a secret panel which opened to reveal a half-dozen tiny, plump, grey-skinned, winged creatures with masses of sharp teeth. She shooed them out of the building, taking a couple of minor bites as she did. Ash, watching from the side, saw only that Melastasya tore several pieces of wooden planking from the kiosk and threw them out the door, taking a couple of scratches in the process.

Heading down, Ash, at Mel's prodding, tried to focus on memories of where the naturalists would have kept their most precious valuables. The two quickly descended to the third level down, and, down a hallway, found a door that opened into a vast cavern. Faint light filtered into the room through a long, narrow slit running the entire length of the ceiling, revealing numerous cages of all types and sizes, from small enough for a single mouse to as large as a good-sized house, each whole and pristine and empty.

Ash send Zorch up to investigate the light from the crack in the ceiling. By Zorch's light, the could make out lettering covering the ceiling. Zorch zoomed back down and, using the concave side of a mithril shield as a reflector, illumined the entire ceiling to allow Ash to read the markings, which ammounted to a knock spell on steroids, clearly meant to allow the entire ceiling to open as a single great door, large enough for a dragon (Garnet?) to pass through.

After this discovery, Ash wandered the aisles of cages looking around curiously before his grandfather's memories caused him to pause in front of one, rather small cage, which was immediately adjacent to the largest. The small cage radiated incredible amounts of abjurative and warding magic. The cage was, of course, the one in which The Mog had been imprisoned for so long. Mel picked up the magical cat carrier and stowed it among her belongings, with many reassurances spoken loudly to the empty air that they in no way intended to use it against against Mog.

They looked around some more, walking the length of the great chamber. Mel got close to each cage, peering into the gloom to see if any of them might still contain some valuable creature. As she pressed her face up to the front of one particularly large cage, a long ropy tendril, complete with a fang-filled maw, snaked out from the shadows in the back and bit into her shoulder, grabbing and pinning her against the bars. Within she could see a fleshy mass, with numerous tentacles, eyestalks, and a single, large, vertically slit mouth. Mel shadow-stepped away from the cage and Ash sent Zorch over to shed some light on things, but could see nothing.

Mel described what she had seen to Ash, who said that it sounded like on of the breeders used by the Guild of Naturalists to replicate the creatures they brought in to study. Ash explained that the breeders, which he suspected were created by the Guild from beholder-stock, could almost instantly give birth to near-identical copies of any creature fed to them. Curious, Mel dashed up the stairs and came running back with one of the grey winged things, which she found sitting dejectedly on the steps outside the guildhall from which she'd ejected it (though it still looked like nothing more than a broken bit of board to Ash).

Mel tossed the tiny creature into the back of the cage and watched as the breeder devoured it. Minutes later the great mouth split open and a new gremlin popped out. Ash and Zorch, strangely, saw the board vanish and the gremlin appear in its place, though they could see none of the creature that spawned it. Not long after there were two gremlins, then three, then four. Ash explained that breeders could supposedly produce any number of spawn, so long as fed a continuous supply of organic matter, so Mel immediately bribed the gremlins with food and sent the out to collect tree branches and other things to feed the ravenous breeder so that it could make even more of the tiny creatures.

Ash and Mel left the gremlins to their work and wandered off, now looking for the library. In the fifth sub-basement they found the massive room, with shelves and stacks from floor to ceiling, looking just as it had when first build, but completely devoid of books. Annoyed at the lack of the knowledge they sought, they wandered through the library for hours, looking in every last nook and cranny until they finally found a single book, resting on the bottom shelf of a back corner of the farthest wing of the library. Ash, of course, opened it immediately. And vanished.

Mel let her enlightened gaze unfocus enough to see Ash slipping into the maw of some massive, monstrous creature, with vast jaws and a single glaring eye, apparently on the ethereal plane. Remembering that Ash had mentioned concocting a potion of etherealness, Mel tore-open Ash's dropped pack, grabbed the potion, and leaped into the Ethereal after her companion.

She got the drop on the book-monster, hacking at it repeatedly with the silvered edges of the wicked sisters (one held in her single hand and the other gripped in her mouth). The thing snapped its head around, focusing its one, baleful eye on Mel, causing all of her magical items to cease their functioning. It then swatted her with one mighty claw, sending her hurtling through the gray mists of the strange plane to land hundreds of yards away.

Wincing at the blow, Mel hid as best she could and sniped at the beast from range with the bow longshot. Unfortunately the creature was both very fast and very alert, easily spotting Mel and closing the distance rapidly. The creature pinned her with one claw, then proceeded to sever her remaining arm with a snap of its jaws.

Zorch, meanwhile, looked at the strange book, which now showed a depiction of Ash on the page to which it was opened. Wondering if the book were somehow a magical device tied to the creature, he cast remove curse over its pages. Ash was immediately freed from the book, but in the form of a two-dimensional paper doll. Ash attempted to blast the ethereal beast with a barrage of magic missiles, but the magic-warping effects of Myth Drannor's Mythal resulted in him instead sporting a fine, thick beard of bird-feathers, which puffed out from his paper form much like fluff glued onto a child's school craft.

Mel shadow-stepped away from the ethereal beast and hid again. Using her feat and mouth, she managed to draw the bow and continue firing, teleporting away whenever it closed the distance again. This time, the thing did not see her when she hid, and one well-placed shot finally brought the colossal monster low.

She cut out the creature's magic-canceling eye, to add to the party's collection, and returned to the material plane where she found Zorch and 2D-Ash hacking at the book with flaming swords, to no avail. Witnessing its apparent immunity to fire and blades, Ash finally identified the monstrous writing as a palimpsest (both the creature and a work from which the original text had been scraped), learning that he might be returned to his natural form by liberal application of electricity.

Mel, unarmed and much in need of rest and healing, wandered out into the streets and laid down to sleep on a bed of Blue Moss, which Ash promised could regrow her missing tissues. Ash, meanwhile, quit Myth Drannor, both to escape the Mythal and to put distance between himself and Mel's lightning-rod-like nature. With the, not unpainful, self-application of a few lightning bolts, he was able to restore himself to his proper form.

26 Eliasias

Ash and Mel reunited the next morning, Mel having miraculously regrown both of her original arms, and headed towards Ash's family estate, in hopes that the Ellindir library might be intact. They found the estate, like the rest of the city, just as it had been at the elven capital's height. Ash spoke a word and the gates swung open, with an audible hum of magical wards being disabled. Another word caused the army of skeletal undead standing in the courtyard to snap to attention and step aside, giving them a direct path to the front doors of the house. So they continued, with Ash using the watchwords of his family to disable trap after trap and keep the numerous undead guardians at bay.

Within the house they found nothing, save for the guardians, animated by contingencies from the bodies of those slain by the numerous wards covering the place. Everything was clean and pristine, but all of the furniture, art, and valuables were gone, save for a single table in the dining room, to large to be easily moved out through the door.

They searched room after room, finding nothing and growing ever more frustrated. Finally Ash stopped and opened his mind to his grandfather's memories, searching for some secret as to where the Ellindir family treasures might have been stashed in the wake of the city's fall. In his trance-like state, he made his way up and laid his kiira directly in the center of the flat roof. Bright red light swept out from the lore-gem, forming a great disk on which he and Mel stood.

When their eyes adjusted to the crimson brightness, they found themselves standing in an empty void, with nothing in any direction save the red disk. Fire suddenly appeared all around, only to be swept away by a mighty wind. Then a great wave rose up from no where to crash over them. The waters did not touch them, but left them in a dark cave of loose, brown dirt. This crumbled away and they were back within the void, but now arrows rained from the black sky through which turtles appeared to swim. And thus, they knew they were in the Everchanging Chaos of Limbo.

Mel took immediate advantage of the strange space, imagining herself surrounded by riches. The arrows raining from the sky turned into bags of coins, which exploded on impact, literally showering the two companions with riches. Another stray thought from Mel and the coins lying on the ground became bunches of grapes, and buxom serving girls clawed their way through the disk on which they still stood, fighting each other to gather up the grapes and hand feed them to Melastasya, where they turned to writhing maggots in her mouth.

Ash, meanwhile, focused on the Kiira at his feet and his own muddled memories, thinking of where his grandfather might have hidden the family treasures in this strange place. Immediately a great boulder began drifting out of the void, floating erratically like a piece of driftwood, but maintaining a trajectory more or less directly towards Ash's head.

Ash ducked at the last minute to avoid being struck by the great stone, which landed at his feet and cracked open to reveal a beautiful geode with a single, cylindrical rod of amethyst sticking up from its center. Ash took the rod and immediately a door appeared in front of him, complete with a great lock with a hole exactly the right size for the rod. He inserted the rod and the door opened into a small, stone chamber, much like a mausoleum, but stacked high with books.

Mel quickly stepped into the library with Ash, spitting bugs from her mouth and dodging the frogs that were raining down around them. Ash looked around at the collected lore of his forebears and wished that he might find an index to all of it. Immediately the rod in his hand changed shape, becoming a beautiful amethyst-bladed sword which somehow put all of the collective knowledge of the place at his fingertips, with no need to crack open any of the tomes.

Ash realized that this was his family's house-blade, a lesser cousin of the elfblades wielded by the rulers of Myth Drannor, and a much greater form of the kiira that elves used to store the memories of their long lives. The sword showed him the end of Myth Drannor and the events that lead to it: His family's dislike of non-elves and refusal to accept the opening of the capitals borders to humans and their ilk, and the long rivalry with the Coronals that resulted from it. His grandfather's participation in the creation of the Mythal, and his installation of a back door that would prevent extraplanar creatures from being controlled by their summoners. His grandfather opening Mog's cage, and the cat calling the Trio Nefarious into the city. So, he realized, his grandfather's betrayal of Myth Drannor was not only true, but had begun long before the Army of Darkness arrived in his opposition to the opening and the very ideals that the City of Love stood for.

Mel, meanwhile, looked around the place for anything of value that she might easily take with her. She found a small, blue gem lying in a corner of the structure and managed to palm it. As Ash and Mel turned to leave, they saw that the frogs that had rained from the sky as they entered had grown into large bipedal frog-things, Slaadi. The three closest ones, one red, one green, and one blue, growled ominously and approached them.

Mel jumped in front of Ash, landing several punches on the slaad. The red raked at her mid-section with its claws, but stopped just short, gently caressing her stomach instead. The green lunged for her face with its fangs, but ended with a gentle kiss. The blue spread its arms wide to grapple her, but instead wrapped her in a loving embrace and whispered something akin to "mama". Disturbed, Ash ran for the kiira and picked it up, causing the entire tableau to vanish, leaving Ash, Mel, and the blue slaad standing on the roof of the Ellindir House.

The slaad took a step back from Mel and began groveling at her feet, swaying in time with the faint pulsing of the blue gem in her hand. Mel showed the gem to Ash and he identified it as a "control gem" -- literally the brain of a slaad that gave whoever held it control over the slaad from which it was taken. This gave Mel an idea, and she dashed back to the Guild of Naturalists, slaad in tow, and promptly fed the blue creature to the breeder. She left some snacks for the gremlins and instructions to keep the breeder well-fed, then she and Ash left before the place could be overrun with Slaadi.


24 Eleint

Melastasya, Ash, Damascena, and Kevorkian sat at a small table, enjoying the sun, the breeze, and, judging by the many empty bottles in front of them, the wine. The air was filled with the buzz of the auctioneer's voice, as Bishop Braccio unloaded the deeds to several churches into the willing hands of the wealthy patrons of the Moonsea. The winery where today's auction was being held was just one of many in the area around Mulmaster owned by the Mondaviak family.

Mel called for another bottle of Mondaviak's finest and continued her account of her and Ash's brief excursion to Myth Drannor. Kevorkian, once again invisible to all save Mel and the handful of new lawn ornaments surrounding them, then recounted his misadventures with attempting to purchase a unicorn from a merchant in Melvaunt.

Eventually the discussion turned back to Myth Drannor and the discoveries that Ash had made about his grandfather's and Mog's involvement in the city's downfall. As if on queue, the cat himself, in bipedal form and dressed to the nines, slipped out of the crowd of auction attendees and made his way up the hill towards them. He chatted with them a bit, explaining that he was there as a buyer and had already purchased a few nice temples, but not really adding anything to the conversation at hand. Mel, for her part, dove right into her usual mercantile manner, offering to commission several statues of Mog to be erected in his new temples.

Unwilling to content themselves with the beautiful day, the fine wine, or the pleasant company (ok maybe that one is pushing things a bit too far), Dame suggested that she could really use a new cloak or maybe a tail, either of which clearly needed to be made from something large and dangerous. Kevorkian obliged by casting locate creature for the nearest chromatic dragon. Despite the limited (1000 foot) range of the spell and the inability of the spell to pierce disguises or shapechanging, he did, in fact, locate one. Just down the hill. In the crowd of buyers.

Following the invisible cleric's direction, Mel and Ash wandered down into the crowd and found a small white dragon perched on the shoulder of a well-dressed, dark-haired, goateed high-roller. The man brushed off Mel's initial attempts to engage him, then finally introduced himself as Manshoon of Zhentil Keep. Mel and Manshoon made their way out of the crowd, withdrawing up the hill to talk.

The two had a fairly equitable exchange of information. The party learned that the Zhentarim had been actively backing the council in New Phlan and also the temple of Xvim in Old Phlan and still had a substantial investment of resources and capital in the city. Conversely, the information Mel gave him about the current state of Hillsfar, Myth Drannor, and Phlan seemed likely to kickstart new expansion in the region on the part of Zhentil Keep's forces.

Finally Ash, apparently having lost patience with the talk of business and politics, cast a spell to dispel any shapechanging that might be in place on the man and his tiny dragon. Sure enough, the dragon instantly expanded to full wyrm size, nearly two hundred feet long from nose to tail. Seeing the great dragon, the auction-attendees quickly broke into a panic and fled, emptying the surrounding area.

The man, suddenly pinned beneath the massive dragon's claw, told him to have fun and suggested that he would get into touch with Mel to talk further, then promptly vanished. Dame and Kevorkian did likewise, the former ducking behind some grape vines and the latter covering himself with a sanctuary.

Mel, of course, jumped right in, stabbing the dragon several times with her sword. In retaliation, the dragon flew eighty-feet strait up with a single beat of its wings, knocking Mel down, then opened its maw to douse her with a stream of boiling-hot water. Mel took the full force of the blast, then promptly hid herself as Kevorkian rushed to her aid.

Zorch began ringing his bells as Ash attempted to transmogrify the dragon with Yarash's Spoon, once and again, to no avail. Dame called forth an ice storm, which, while it did not significantly harm the dragon, served to push it downwards to within range for Mel's ability to step through shadows.

The dragon again breathed at Mel, this time unleashing a high-powered blast of sand and grit, which tore through the grape arbors, beating them down and flaying the skin from Melastasya. As it breathed, Dame and Ash noticed a ring of differently-coloured scales circling the base of the dragon's neck, one of which blurred back to white as the breath discharged.

Kevorkian quickly healed Mel again and she leaped into the air, propelling herself through the dragon's own shadow until she was clinging to its underside, stabbing it again and again. The dragon lashed at her with its claws and tail, but failed to dislodge her. At a word from Ash, Mel turned on her electricity-absorbing armorand then pressed herself tight against the dragon.

With a massive clap of thunder, Ash unleashed a storm of lightning, seven bolts in rapid succession arced through the dragon, bending and twisting to make their way to Melastasya. The beast roared and twitched as the energy tore through it. Finally the power pouring into Mel's armor overloaded it, causing a sudden, secondary discharge as the pent-up power exploded back out from the armor, only to arc back by Mel's strange attraction.

The dragon clawed at Mel and beat its wings to try to escape the electrical fury, but the arcing lightning touched off a gem from Zorch's bell of blasting that was still on the dragon's back. With one final burst of flame, the beast roared its last and began falling towards the ground, only to be arrested by a feather fall spell from Ash. A light gust from Dame blew it away from the party, to crash-land on one of the vinyard's barns, crushing it to rubble.

The party regrouped (and healed Mel yet again), then wandered over to look at the dragon they had defeated. Kevorkian examined the scales around its neck and declared that the dragon's fundamentum, the organ that grants the beast it's breath weapon, had somehow been infected with primordial chaos, much like the party had seen when Mel infected things with slaad eggs.

After a few minutes of quiet, the vintner who ran the place came out of one of the , and seeing the dead dragon lying on top of his former-barn and the sand-blasted vines, began weeping. Dame used plant growth to bless his crops and restore them to greater than their former yield, which prompted an anticipated and appropriate level of worship of the beings who could wield such power (mostly Dame and Ash).

After some musing of all the things they could make out of the corpse of so large a dragon (not to mention potentially harvestable body-parts), the party decided to take the whole dragon with them (though whether to Sorrassar or Yarash, they could not decide). Dame cast wind walk, turning the entire party and the entire dragon to clouds and blew them north. The party and their prize settled down in a clearing in the Quivering Woods, not far from Yarash's island, right next to an old forge.

To be continued...