Archive for May 2012

Chapter 2: Back to the Wizards Guild   Leave a comment

Zhanh, Lumlas, and Gronk left the Grinning Goblin about the same time that Wulf’s party departed. Weslynn, Edurin, and Algris remained at the Grinning Goblin. Zhanh knew exactly where to go in order to get back to the Guild office that he had visited in the morning. Gronk still had a fistful of drumsticks that he was cramming into his mouth and lustily chewing up, bones and all.

While the two elves could have slipped quickly enough through the crowd, Gronk was greatly impeded by the flow of human traffic around him. Minotaurs were not unknown, but were relatively uncommon on the streets of Khazan, and many folk stopped to gawk at the mighty bullman.
Zhanh did his best to keep his eye on Gronk and Lumlas while leading the way back to the Wizard’s Guild, and maintaining his usual “strange city” wariness. He was glad that Lumlas had chosen to come along on this errand; he seldom encountered “proper” elves, and looked forward to speaking to her. It didn’t hurt that she was easy on the eyes.

Gronk started getting angry at the humans staring at him. He was getting angry enough to want to chop them. But Wulf would tell him that was a bad thing. He must keep his attention on the elves, He must keep them safe. He bared his teeth and growled, trying to intimidate the humans out of his way.

Zhanh noticed that Gronk was getting edgy. He decided to try talking to the minotaur to calm him down. “The thing about this city, Gronk, is that the are ALWAYS more people. You could chop at them until you were too tied to lift your axe, and there would STILL be more of them. Better to just clench your teeth and get out of the crowd as soon as you can. And we don’t have too much further to go.”

He gritted his teeth and snorted.  “Not worry, Zhanh. Gronk not chop stupid humans. Gronk protect elf-friends.”

Lumlas moved closer to her large bovine companion and gave him a beaming smile. “Thank you Gronk – elves are not necessarily very popular here in Khazan. Your presence alone will probably keep us safe.”

Lumlas spoke quietly to his companions. “Don’t look up but something is following us, flapping from roof to roof trying to keep out of sight. It’s on the upper level of that ruin ahead and off to the right of the street.
I wonder if we could entice the creature down and capture it or climb up and at least see what it is? Any bright ideas Zhanh or you Gronk?”

Zhanh flicked his eyes upward to seen what Lumlas was talking about, and said, “If Gronk and either Lumlas and I were to find something fictitious to concentrate on at the foot of the ruin, the other could probably sneak up for a better look. But that would risk having to go one on one with a complete unknown, and THAT sounds like a recipe for disaster.”

Addressing Zahn in quiet tones, Lumlas said “What if you two try to do as you’ve suggested. I’ll hang back and get as close as I can to this creature that’s trailing us. I’ll have a ‘Hold That Pose’ ready to cast to try to stop it in its tracks and then we may be able to charge it and take it prisoner.”

Gronk made a face. “Gronk notice strange smell on breeze. Not human. We go look at base of ruined building. What if buzzard drop something on us?” But Zhanh had already started walking toward the building and was in range when something dark and winged reared up and heaved a block of stone at him. (Lumlas and Gronk make a L2SR on SPD. Zhanh try for another L2SR on LK).
Gronk roared.

“Zhanh! Death from the sky!”

Death from the sky!

Zhanh ran TOWARD the building, in the hope that the rock would then fall behind him.
Lumlas was looking in the right place and saw something apelike and winged come into view at the top of the building. She pointed her finger and yelled something in Elvish (Hold that pose!–or literally, be still, be one with the emptiness)

The gharg froze in the very act of hurling the boulder. Instead of an aimed throw, the stone slipped from its fingers and bounced down the side of the building.

Zhanh heard Gronk’s warning bellow and lunged toward the wall, hoping to be protected by the overhang, but actually moving right into the falling stone’s path. He caught his foot on a piece of debris, stumbled and went down to one knee.

Gronk saw the falling stone and jumped forward, his hands raised to catch the tumbling rock.

Gronk tried to catch the falling stone. He almost made it, but the irregular lump broke one of his fingers and his hand failed to hold it. (3 points of damage to Gronk’s CON.) The stone came out of the bullman’s hand and fell onto Zhanh’s outstretched leg, striking the calf just below the knee, on the back of the leg where the leather armor didn’t give much protection. Everyone heard a sickening snap as the Elf’s leg bone cracked.

A series of chattering grunts came from the rooftop above them. “uurrr, urrahh, uggghh, urrrnnn,

Gronk roared with a combination of anger and pain.

“Gronk crush vulture beast! Aarrgghhh!!!!!”

He started towards the entrance of the ruins, axe in hand.

Zhanh bellowed at the impact, then gritted his teeth, rolled onto his back, and started looking at the rooftops for a target for a TTYF. Once he got his breathing under control, he said, “Lumlas, do you by any chance know the Poor Baby spell? I think I could use one…”

Too late! Discovered and thwarted in its attempt to kill another wizard, the creature has fled through the sky, and not in any line of sight. If Zhanh had waited and heard Algris say that some victims had been struck down from above, he would now know what the human wizard was talking about. Lumlas found herself with two wounded companions–the minotaur with a broken finger and the elf with a broken leg.

to her damaged companions, “That was presumably a Gharg and the cause of the wizard killings we’ve all heard about. At least we’ve scared it off for the time being.
Now, let’s see what I can do to patch you together.”

Lumlas concentrated and worked her magic on her injured companions. She seemed good at it. The pain washed away in a brief burning sensation and then the broken body parts of both elf and bullman visibly moved, realigned themselves, and regenerated on the spot. There was a moment of what felt like intense heat for Zhanh and Gronk and then they felt wonderful. The pain was completely gone. Zhanh stood up and tested his leg–it seemed strong as ever. Gronk looked at his no-longer mangled hand in wonder.

They continued their journey to the Wizards Guild. Though they watched the skies carefully, they saw no more of the gharg. Soon they arrived at the same Guild office that Zhanh had visited in the morning.

“What? back so soon?” asked the apprentice who was minding the store. “The Master is gone for the day. Why did you return?”

Zhanh bowed to the door warden. “I have made contact with the expedition as instructed, and have learned that completing my task will likely bring me into contact with vampires and ghargs; in fact, we were just attacked by a gharg. We have come in the hope of learning more about these creatures, so that we have a better chance of surviving the encounter.”

The desk clerk in the guild pointed to a door off in a far corner. “Go through there and talk to the librarian. He can help you find the answers you want. But he’s crotchety and doesn’t like to be rushed. He also has a rule. He will answer 3 questions for free. After that he charges for his time and effort. So to ask a 4th question would cost you a gold piece. A 5h question costs 2 gold pieces and so forth. He also only answers questions, and he answers exactly the question you ask. So if you say tell me about ghargs, you won’;t get much because that isn’t a question.

The clerk turned his attention from Zhanh to Lumlas. “Hellooo, tall, fair and gorgeous,” he said. “Is that your cow?” he pointed at Gronk with an ink-stained thumb.

Gronk released a low, rumbling growl.

“Gronk not cow, Gronk bull,” he glared at the clerk. “Nobody own Gronk, Gronk free bull!”

Lumlas turned to Gronk and raised a calming hand. “Ignore his comments my friend. We have bigger things to attend to. We need to talk to this librarian fellow and find out how to deal with ghargs and vampires. I was hoping we might be able to persuade someone here to teach us some higher level magics or provide us with magical artifacts that could help us out. Come on let’s go into the library.”

Zhanh led the way to the library, and greeted the librarian. “May you have a good day, sir. My friends and I are here for information regarding vampires and ghargs. We have been told that you have strict rules regarding the questions you will answer, and I hope you understand that such rules invite hostility and exploitation, and that we would much rather have a simple discourse. However, having said that…” He took a deep breath.

“Given that my companions and I are bound irrevocably to encounter and confront vampires and ghargs at and around Castle Greybat, what information would you want us to have if you were a garrulous and helpful person who was not bound by limiting rules, had your current knowledge, and actually wanted us to succeed and survive in our current endeavor?”

The library proved to be very small. It only had 3 books in it, but there was the most overwhelming sense of magic in the room.
The librarian, a distinguished old elf with white sideburns that hung down to his waist, and ears and nose both as long as his arms, gave Zhanh a hostile look, but answered.
“Young fellow, I don’t have all week to tell you about vampires and Castle Greybat, but take a look in this book, and feel free to read as long as you wish. The library does close at midnight, but re-opens at noon if you wish to return tomorrow.

Zhanh and Lumlas went over to take a closer look at the book.

The librarian said, “I’m afraid I can’t allow your bovine friend to remain here with you. He then said something that sounded like this: “Muurrrr, Gronk, mjoon mfreeens nuuuwwww.” (which was Bovine for “Gronk, would you like to join your other friends now?)

Zhanh took a closer looks at the book that the librarian had shown him. It was huge, and rested on a polished ebony lectern. The title was “Things You Want to Know.”
“Try not to let your mind wander as you read,” warned the librarian.

Zhanh opened the heavy leatherbound cover. Inside the title page said: “The Vampires of Castle Greybat” by Various Hands. Wizards Press.
An animated icon showed a turning page. Zhanh turned the page.

Chapter One: The Vampires of Trollworld

The Vampires of Trollworld are one of the strongest vampire races in all of the multiverse. These blood-drinking creatures are not harmed by sunlight or articles of faith. They have the power to regenerate almost instantly from any wound that does not damage their brain. Apparently they must think about regenerating in order to do so, which makes them vulnerable to head wounds. Fire can also destroy them, as burnt flesh is unable to regenerate.

Rumor has it that some vampires are able to shift shapes, but this is a confusion of the legend. True vampires are limited to the shape of their original kindred. Thus, a vampire elf will always appear to be an elf. A vampire dog will always appear to be a dog. However, if a creature was originally a shapeshifter of some kind, the vampire will retain the shapeshifting power, and that has caused the legend that vampires can turn into bats or serpents or wolves or mist.

Many silly rumors have grown up around vampires, such as the one that states they have no reflection. That’s just impossible. When light hits something material it bounces off it, and carries the image that was illuminated. If that light then hits a mirror and rebounds again, the viewer can see the original image in the mirror. Equally false is the idea that vampires cannot cross running water, or that they can be slain by driving a wooden stake through the heart. And forget about herbs. No known stench can deter a really hungry vampire.

These things, however, are true about vampires. They must drink blood in order to survive–preferably blood from their own kindred, as other types of blood provide little nourishment for them. They have very strong magical abilities. Although the Wizards Guild will not willingly sell or teach spells to vampires, wizards who are turned into vampires retain their knowledge and magical abilities. New vampires are made by an act of will on the part of the Sire or Dame that first bites and then drinks the blood of a victim. Usually vampires do not bother to turn everyone they slay–such actions could easily lead to a world full of vampires and then a food shortage that could bring their rule to an end. Only a favored few are turned into undead blood drinkers. Vampires do have considerable powers of persuasion–often people find themselves agreeing to the vampire’s plans or desires even when it makes no sense to do so.

Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Zhanh and Lumlas looked apprehensively at each other. “Is there anything you want to know, Lumlas?”
Lumlas idly turned the page. The first thing she saw was a title: Castle Greybat.

Gronk resisted the notion of leaving his elf-friends, and insisted on waiting outside the library for them. He maintained that he must escort them back after they were through with their business at the library.

Lumlas thought about the subjects of Castle Greybat and its infamous owner as she turned the next page.

There was a picture of a three-towered castle perched on a hill overlooking a swift-flowing river. It seemed to be made of basalt–all the walls were dark gray fading into black. Bats fluttered around the towers. Lumlas could actually see them moving around in a neverending gyre. An arrow pointed behind the hill and the word cave was shown.

Lumlas started reading: Castle Greybat was build by Count Anakul around 830 A.K. The count came out of the south with a force of black-clad soldiers who quickly subordinated the villages for fifty leages up and down the river. Anakul claimed that he named the castle after the giant gray bats that occupied the huge cavern system in the base of the hill. Although the rock in this part of the river valley is primarily limestone, Anakul imported immense quantities of basalt from the volcanic mountains to the northeast in order to build his fortress.

There is still a Count Anakul ruling in Greybat. The Wizards Guild believes it is still the same person who built the castle almost 500 years ago, but cannot prove it. Count Anakul has never come to Khazan, nor has he ever allowed wizards from Khazan to enter his fortress. Scrying the castle works very poorly and the Guild has been warned that the Greybat magicians will punish any invasion of their privacy.

In 977 A.K. the Goddess sent a Death Horde commanded by Vanatung Drokk to capture the castle, but the operation failed when the Horde was ambushed by flying creatures never previously seen in this part of the world. These strange warriors have the form of fierce apes, but the wings of gigantic bats. They seem to be intensely magical creatures, but are not wizards, as their attacks are exclusively physical. They have been named gargoyles, or Ghargs in the common parlance. It is not known how many Ghargs inhabit the Greybat area, but there may be several hundred of them. One Gharg is generally reckoned as the equal to two or three human warriors.

In 978 A.K. the Goddess summoned Count Anakul to Khazan, but he refused to come. She then went with 100,000 troops to the Castle. Once there she was invited to parley with Count Anakul. No one knows what was said, but the Goddess returned to Khazan the following day, and she has never bothered the Lord of Greybat again. However, tribute arrives from the Castle once every 5 years–a single flawless diamond.

Blah, blah, blah.

Lumlas looked away from the book. The pages went blank.

Having absorbed more discouraging news about their opponents, Lumlas turned to Zahn and with her brow creased, started to speak.

“So, to sum up our situation we are up against vampires led by someone who the Death Goddess herself didn’t take on with 100,000 troops at her back. And they’re difficult to kill. Plus, there is an army of these Ghargs; flying apemen, at the Count’s beck and call.

I think we need your friends in the Guild to lend us some pretty powerful magics to give us any chance against Anakul and his minions. A staff that throws fireballs, Hellbomb Burst grenades, a troop of high level combat mages but we require something or our mission will be suicide.”

Zhanh worried a bit about Gronk, but trusted that the minotaur would be able to fend for himself a while longer, and continued to stare at the book. Anakul was tributary to the Death Goddess, but on a five year period that left a lot of room for wiggle room; the Wizard’s Guild had been chased away from Greybat, and yet they were sending him on a more or less forbidden mission (he suspected that, since he was not yet a member of the Guild that they would happily disavow him if things went badly). It seemed that the creatures of Castle Greybat were waging some sort of covert war against the wizards of Khazan city. Zhanh sensed some sort of ugly politics at play, and hoped that his thoughts were focused enough to summon some sort of response from the book.

Zhanh continued to stare at the book and said quietly, “FRIENDS is a bit strong, Lumlas. I think that our session with this book is as much as my connections will get us. I am merely an applicant for Guild membership, and while they would like me to bring them useful information, they really do not care if I live or die.”

Continuing to stare at the book, Zhanh muttered, “The caves. The caves under the castle still exist, and the book seems to imply that there is still an external entrance. We don’t have to do a frontal assault; we can approach the place by stealth. If we can find Weslyn’s barrels, and can throw them into the river, we might be able to FLOAT home. If we are very, very lucky, this might be survivable.” He looked up from the book and flashed a quick grin at Lumlas. “I hope everyone can swim…”

Gronk shifted his weight back and forth, growing impatient waiting for the elf-wizards. He watched the humans of Khazan walk by and tried to ignore their stares and pointing. He would let out a low, rumbling growl when one of them would start to approach too closely.

“Gronk need beer and meat,” he mumbled absent-mindedly to himself. He watched a particularly beautiful peasant maid walk past, and her sheepish glances caused a stirring within him. “Gronk need pretty woman, too. Gronk getting bored.”

Lumlas listened to Zahn and having pondered them briefly said,”You may be correct my young friend. Come. Let us take Gronk back to the tavern. Perhaps the others will have had greater luck than us and with what we have learned, maybe a potentially successful plan can be drawn up.”

Zhanh nodded. “I think we have the information we came for; let’s check on Gronk. Unaccompanied minotaurs in cities tend to attract trouble.”

Gronk spent more than an hour waiting for his friends at the Wizards Guild. The magician on duty provided him with a mystery meat sandwich and a flat rock on which pictures of pretty Minotaur maids would appear and disappear by magic.

Then Zhanh and Lumlas emerged from the Library. They had learned all they could from the book. A master wizard was waiting to speak to them. It wasn’t the same one that Zhanh had seen before. This was an old Trolf named Khayd’haik.

“I understand that you would like more help from the Wizards Guild. We cannot do that much for you, but I can, if you like, teach you a few spells and provide you with kremm batteries containing enough stored essence to cast them. I cannot teach you anything beyond your capability to learn. I will grant you each two spells.”

“While you are thinking about what you’d like to learn, let me tell you a bit about the political situation in Khazan. We are keeping this information from the public, but the Empress has vanished. We cannot find her by scrying, but we know she is still alive. At the same time, the city has been infiltrated by an unknown number of vampires and ghargs. We believe they have come from Castle Greybat. More than two dozen wizards have been slain and converted into vampires. They grow stronger while we grow weaker. We need more knowledge, but we have scant means of obtaining it. Go to Castle Greybat, learn what you can.” He handed talismans to Zhanh and Lumlas. The jewelry seemed to be a featureless head with eyes, ears, and mouth. “While you touch this and say “Khazan”, even silently, we will see what you see, hear what you hear. Break the touch or the chant and we will be cut off again.”

“But what keeps you from scrying them for yourselves?” asked Lumlas. “I always heard that the Wizards Guild was unmatched in power and wisdom.”

“Ask your companion, the half-elf Perry, what happened when Madame Zolgah scryed into their domain by accident.”

“And now you should return to the Grinning Goblin. It is getting dark, and you do not want to be on the streets after dark.”


Posted May 28, 2012 by atroll in Uncategorized

Chapter 1: Entering Khazan, Part 12   Leave a comment

Perry wasn’t sure who Mensa was referring to but thought Wulf would be a good choice to accompany. He spoke up – ‘I’m happy to have some friends to travel with. It’s a sound strategy and I’d like to see the Wizards Guild. Do I smell pretty enough for you, good dwarf? Perhaps it’s the silverwood – it is an aromatic little vintage. Shall we hit the road while the going’s good?

Edurin walked into the Grinning Goblin. The place looked crowded. He called out to the room, “Hey check it out! Some guy got a dragon to appear in the street.” That should drive out the curious.

He scanned the place and saw the band. Looked like the same crowd as the watch house. Then he also spied Perry. He exclaimed, “Friend! Lost you back there. Glad to see you found the right crowd.” He walked over to the bar, placed a gold coin on the bar, “Two beers and a platter of … errr… easy-to-eat-human-foods for the big table.” The differences in his dialect and Khazan’s Common Tongue sometimes troubled him. He couldn’t exactly order fish and rice rolls this far from home.

Edurin approached Weslynn and greeted those assembled, “I am Edurin.” He bowed to Weslyn. In a much lower voice he added, “We have business to discuss concerning passage up river.”

Mensa looked puzzled. How could wood be silver? Rock be silver. Hair be silver. Beard be silver. Wood be silver?

“No – him,” pointing at Wulf. “He smell pretty. You smell medicine of.” For Zweet’s sake, this Common language was hard to remember. He muttered a nursery rhyme in Dwarven, to calm himself.

Zhann set down his mug. “Hmmm. Well, I have a contact in Wizards Guild, and as you say, he should be willing to part with some information in the hope of getting more. Perry, you are welcome to come along with me; I will make what introductions I can. And Gronk, you are welcome to come along, though I suspect that they will stop you at the door. The question then becomes, Where do we meet up again? Also, when it comes to it: I vote for the river route, though five gold for a working passage seems steep.”

Perry jumped to his feet when he saw Edurin. ‘Hail and well met, fellow! We seem to be on the verge of a great adventure! Come, take my seat.’ He then bowed to Mensa and turned to Zhanh and thanked him for his offer. ‘I should love to be on a river – to float along born by the currents, how splendid!’ He clapped his hands and capered a little. ‘I would gladly pay that price for you too if you think it unfair. Oh think! The Wizards Guild and a river boat on the same day!’ His mother had warned him about how silly drink made him but he had forgotten in his excitement,

Zhanh smiled warily at Perry; he found the half-elf’s exuberance a bit disturbing, but suspected that he would get used to it. “In the meantime,” he said, “I have this excellent cider to finish. Well met, Edurin; have a seat! We all seem to be going up the river, if not positively up the proverbial creek.”

Weslynn waved Edurin over to her, and moved to the corner of the room, once he introduced himself and made it clear that he wished to speak to her alone.

“What do you wish to speak to me about, then? Passage upriver you said?”

Mensa sized up Perry. Pointy-Ears might smell like medicine, but he was funny. And Mensa might get chance to hit bad gobbles on the heads.
Wulf spoke quietly to Mensa: “Do not worry about Gronk. He thinks only the Bullmen are handsome. He means no real insult or offense. You look as good to me as any other dwarf I’ve ever met. You have a natty beard. Your folk are tougher than a 2 copper steak. Do you use that shovel as a weapon? Let me help you put it in a place where you can get to it more quickly if need arises. A warrior’s weapon should always be quickly at hand if trouble comes.”

Then, to Weslynn, whom he felt was the current leader of the group:
“I am ready, Lady Weslynn, to go on my fact gathering sorty, if you agree with my suggestions.” He finishes his beer.
“Go ahead and try the beer Mensa. It is not pee (Though I have had some that suffered by the comparison). It will certainly do you less harm than the water in this big town. If the waiter ever brings some food we will have a quick meal before we set out.” This last said loudly in earshot of the barkeep.

Weslynn looked around again for the barkeep who has been avoiding her for some reason. “Splitting off into groups this afternoon sounds like a good plan, Wulf Shall we agree to meet up back tonight here? While you and the wizards head on your tasks, I’ll head to the merchants square to seek aid and a courier.”
“I have been around many capable soldiers in our guards all my life, Wulf and never have I felt such. It is most strange, but no matter, I am trusting you to help me. As I am trusting you all.”

Wulf replied:

As soon as I grab some cheese and biscuits to assuage the beast in my belly, Mensa, Perry, and I will be off. We will gather here again before nightfall. Gronk, see that no one harms anyone in the group you are with. Edurin: You seem like a good fighting man. Perhaps you could shepherd a third party in our fact finding sortees? Maybe the sailors at the docks might know more about the grey castle and its master.

Bart the bartender came over to the table pushing a heavily-laden cart. It had two beers on it, and two large platters full of fried chicken wings and drumsticks. (At least it looked like chicken–some of the wings and drumsticks were of unusual sizes.) He pushed the cart over to Edurin and said, “Here is your order, Sir. I hope the meat is satisfactory.” There were over 100 pieces of meat available.

“Hey, barkeep! What’s on your menu?” Weslynn called, trying again to get the man’s attention.

Perry’s head spun – he wanted to go with everyone! He was clearly no leader yet nor did he wish to be. ‘Friends all,’ he said, rising to his feet, ‘I will do as I am bidden and go with Wulf or Zhann. I am so pleased that we will be attempting this heroic foray together. I feel the pen of history dipping into the inkwell of destiny!’ He checked to see that it would be permitted then took a handful from the tray Bart had produced, bowing in thanks to Edurin.

Mensa’s sense of smell was almost overpowered by the odors of the meats… He tried one of the legs, and wondered. “Not cow. Not chicken. Not harpy. Not bat,” he muttered in Kha-zahd. It was OK, but it was no MLS (Moss & Lichen Stew). He gulped the beer, and it was bitter. But better to not offend his new friends, he gulped the rest in one swallow. “Got rock water?” he asked, as he adjusted his shovel in the manner Wulf showed him.

‘Oh, you mean me>’ asked Perry. ‘I’m an elf’ he told Mensa, articulating the word slowly and repeating it, not bothering to confuse the issue with halves. He pointed at Mensa and smiled. ‘You dwarf.’ Then he pointed to himself. ‘Me elf, me Perry. Perry likes Mensa, Perry likes dwarves. We hit many bad gobbles together, yes?’

Wulf quickly ate some of the food, then put on his chain, and helm, and took up the big spike shield again.
“Come, Mensa. Will you come, Master Perry? Let us go find some old warriors to drink with and speak with. And maybe we can find some armor and a buckler for our new Dwarf friend.”

“PAIR-ee. Elf.” Mensa scratched his head. Seems someone had told him something about elfs or elves or something. Hmph! Didn’t matter. Chance to hit bad gobbles on the head – always a good idea.
“You betchum!” exuberated Mensa.

Weslynn gave up on being subtle, got up, went over to the barkeep, and asked, quietly, for an extremely rare steak, if they have such for less than a gold, along with their cheapest grog.

“As you will, Perry,” Zhanh said. “If you don’t come with me today, there will be other opportunities. Mensa… The thing is, beer ALWAYS tastes bad, but there are a million different ways for it to taste bad, and wars have been fought over the distinctions.” He took another swallow of his cider. “So who is coming with me to the Guild? Gronk? Anyone else? I don’t really LOOK like a wizard, and I don’t think I NEED an escort, but I am always glad of company.”

Bart left the cart and walked over to talk to Weslynn. “Isn’t the meat on the cart enough for you? Did you want vegetables or bread or cheese? I tried to bring the best when Edurin spent liberally for food.”

Weslynn pulled his ear down to her mouth. That close to the tender’s clean-shaven neck, the tendency to just bite him almost overwhelmed here. “That stuff is too well-cooked for me. I need a beefsteak, very rare, barely singed, and oozing with blood. And I need it soon,” she said.

“Yes, my lady, I’ll bring it to you in less than 2 turns of the glass.” He set a small sandclock on the table.

The party grew louder as people decided which way they would go next. In less than 5 minutes Bart returned with a covered platter. The delicious aroma of barely singed beef mixed with the smells of fried fouls.

The aroma made Weslynn a bit nauseous.

Weslynn upon getting a good whiff of her meal went a faint shade of green, and excused herself for the jakes.

Gronk scratched his head, gulped more beer, and belched again.

“Yes, Wulf, Gronk protect. Gronk go with Zhanh.”

He hoisted his pitcher of beer in toast to the elf, then swallowed the remainder of its contents.

Although quiet, Edurin was pleased to see such a good mix of people in the group. To Perry he said, “If a deal is struck, then we’ll talk more on the river.”

He grabbed his two beers took them over to an isolated table. Coming back, Eduring picked through the best smelling meats and said to Lumlas, “Please join me as well to talk with Weslynn. You have courage and brains. Good qualities for our discussion.” He took two pieces over to his table. He was a little disappointed watching Weslynn rush off.

When she returned he asked, “Will you be healthy enough to travel?” Genuinely concerned, he did not want to start this trek off on the wrong foot.

Wulf left with Perry and Mensa in tow to go to the Armor and Weapons street of the city. He was already thinking hard about what questions he would ask. He tipped the bartender a silver piece on the way out.

Algris enters the tavern, still trying to remember just what was exchanged with the Dragon. From the encounter he did understand that while Khazan trafficked in many things, the rumor business was especially dangerous. But he was here on other business, and went to join those he’d seen at the watch. He saw the noblewoman he’d met come back to the table.

He joined them: “Hello, for those whom I haven’t met, I am Algris Slog. I have information and want to help.”

Zhanh saw Edurin trying to lead the females off to another table and scowled; the group was fragmenting before it even really existed. He looked at the minotaur and said, “I will be grateful of your company, Gronk; we will be leaving as soon as I have had a word with this new fellow. In the meantime, do have some food to keep your beer company.” He turned and rose enough to offer his hand to the newcomer. “Greetings, Algris. I am Zhanh. Information, or perhaps the lack of it, seems to be the order of the day. What news do you bring?”

Edurin raised his beer in greeting, “Welcome Algris! Have some food!” He gestured to the wings and drumsticks by the big table. Concern flashed on his face thinking he ordered too much food. Apparently he arrived a bit too late. He bit into a drumstick and chewed thoughtfully.

Weslynn sat at the table upon her return, returning to the conversation, trying to ignore the plate in front of her, with an slightly uncomfortable expression. “Where were we?”

At Edurin’s invitation Lumlas joined him and Weslynn at the table. Her new friend’s discomfiture worried her and she looked questioningly to Edurin while she was absent and then to Weslynn herself on her return.

“I am fine, just a little nervous stomach. Stress of the day. Let’s carry on with our planning.” Weslynn did her best to distract her friends from her condition.

Lumlas caught Edurin’s eye and inclined her head slightly without Weslynn seeing to ask him to meet in a quiet corner out of her new young friend’s hearing. When they had both made their excuses and met up again she asked, “Do you think this individual that stole Weslynn’s wine did a little more than ensorcell her for a time? She’s not eating or drinking and she was desperate for a very rare steak but didn’t touch it. Could these vampires we may be up against have done something to her and started to change her into one of their kind?”

“Pardon me a moment,” replied Edurin. He stood and removed his meal from the private table. He could always eat later. Returning, he cleansed his pallet with beer before speaking more. “Thank you Weslynn for donating a moment of your time,” he smiled warmly at Lumlas as well. He leaned forward elbows on the table and fingers steepled, “If you’ll indulge me a little longer, tell me about the quality of your wine.”

Ah, it is quite fine. Our vineyard is in a very sheltered mountain valley, rich with springs, so even when the weather is dry, we can irrigate the roots, so we are fortunate in that respect. The soil is the richest I’ve ever seen, and it brings forth grapes of a brilliant green shade unlike any other. Once they ripen, it is as though a royal court has come to visit, for the hills shine with a gorgeous deep purple. We have more generations invested in this land than I can easily recount. Our family lorebooks tell every recipe, every experiment, with success, and failure alike, going back 10 generations, all of these things our wine makers draw upon, so it is, I believe, unparalleled in bouquet and flavor. It brings forth flavors of blackberries and clove, honey, and roses.” Weslynn perks up, she loves her family business, it is clear.

“Ah, I understand,” he said thoughtfully. “A strong passion must make for a fine wine indeed.” He paused and then added, “I have a proposal. I have access to sufficient funds to buy all of us a trip up river. For additional security, those cabable of working on the boat should. I will work on the river-boat. You should fully expect to retrieve your wines, and my funds are payment for a portion of your shipment.” He let the comment sink in. In the silence, he took a drink from his beer. He looked at Lumlas as well to see what the tall beauty thought. Studying her face he notes her fine elven facial structure. He thought back to the morning at the gate to Khazan. He grinned, and then focused again on Weslynn.

Weslynn smiled at the man before her with his offer. “How much of my wine do you wish, in return for your funding?”

“Gronk ready when Zhanh ready. Gronk like chicken.” He grabbed a half dozen drumsticks and devoured them in moments. After yet another hearty belch, he grabbed a half dozen more.

Zhanh finished his cider, and said, “One moment, Gronk, and then I think we can be off.”Zhanh lugged his sea bag to the bar and asked the barman, “Can you keep my bag secure until I return for it? I expect to be back before sundown, but let us say until noon tomorrow to be safe.” As he spoke, Zhanh pulled out his money pouch and jingled it a bit to make it clear that he did not expect this service for free.

Gronk stood, his mighty axe in one hand, a chicken leg in the other.
Just before he left with Wulf and Mensa, Perry caught Zhann at the bar. “No time to discuss it now but there’s something amiss with Weslynn and her not drinking and her reaction to the food. Keep your eyes open and see what you can discern. Stay well, friend.’ Perry didn’t like going behind anyone’s back but his concern overcame his scruples.
“I expect one barrel for every three recovered.” Edurin spoke with his hands as much as his voice. “Admittedly, sight unseen. There is a lot of risk for me in this venture.” He glaced over at the big table and watched with satisfaction Gronk eating. Edurin was happier. He hated waste.

Zhanh nodded at Perry’s words, and said quietly, “I have noticed that as well. I will keep my eyes open.”

The bartender got caught in a sudden rush, so Zhanh shrugged, shouldered his bag, and went back to the table. “All right, Gronk,” he said. “We’re off to see the wizard.”

“I cannot give you a third of my wares, Edurin. I can go as high as one-quarter, or one barrel in four.” Weslynn countered.

Edurin leaned back deep in thought. “Well, I will need to recover the initial investment. I can accept a fourth of the shipmen only if I also return with equal funds to my expenses.” His voice dropped low and he leaded in close to Weslynn, “Can you accept this band perhaps behaving more like raiders?”

Not his favorite option, Edurin’s displeasure showed as he drank his beer. “And I will have to control the funds. Everyone but you, Weslynn and Zhahn, will have to work. Are you familiar enough with Khazan to join me to make our travel arrangements?” He looked at his empty mug, and picked up the second beer.

“I have been to Khazen many times, though I know the merchant square and inns the best. I have made trips on rivers, though none actually actually to or from Khazan. The shortest reasonable route from here to the vineyard is overland.”

She thinks about the matter. “I agree I do not want to find myself forming a group of bandits, I have woes enough already. I can go to one barrel in three, but I must also cover my losses, which stretch beyond coin into blood and humiliation. To go to one barrel in three I would have to insist on my choosing my share of the barrels first, no questions asked.”

Surprised, he replied, “I presumed your shipment was uniform. Pardon my ignorance. I can accept a fourth with a guarantee of one high quality barrel no matter what happens and a nice mix of additional barrels. I’ll still control the funds.” Edurin brightened conciderably.maybe he won’t swim home afterall.

Zhanh stopped at the table where Edurin and Weslynn were arguing about wine. Lumlas already looked a little bored by it, and was eyeing the other wizard in the group, Algris. Algris was a little upset by being thrust out of the way to eat chicken scraps while the sailor monopolized the wine merchant.
“Lumlas, I think you should come with me to the Wizard’s Guild. There is not much point in me going back by myself with a Minotaur in tow, even though he should make a good bodyguard. You should check in with the guild. You know Weslynn’s problem better than I do, and might have better questions to ask than I can think of.”
The elf-woman threw a questioning look at Weslynn, for whom she was beginning to worry, but Weslynn seemed oblivious to her at the moment. “Yes, I’ll go with you.” she told him, “but we need to be back before sunset.”
The three set out, leaving Weslynn, Edurin, and Algris in the Goblin.

Bart turned to the elf who dressed like an uruk. “You want me to watch your stuff for you? This is a busy place.” Bart gestured at the motley throng around him. “You see that one-eyed elven rogue over there–his name K’neevl. He’s a thief and a cutthroat. You see that skeleton talking to him. That’s Lightfingers Lorrk, said to be one of the best pickpockets in the city. I can’t guarantee the safety of anything you leave here.”

A barmaid sidled up to Bart and plucked at his sleeve. “The kitchen’s on fire!” she yelled at him.

Bart turned to her angrily. “What do you mean the kitchen is on fire? Put it out!” He stomped off to deal with the emergency.

Algris felt that the information he had obtained, at no little risk to himself, was important to this group, but they seemed to be ignoring him. He thought back to the moment when the dragon had materialized and grabbed him. He had to think quickly and speak well then. He remembered what he had said to get the dragon to take him inside and listen to him . . .

“I can agree to this, Edurin. No my shipment was not uniform, also, I doubt the thief is skilled in the proper way to transport wines, so I have little hope of recovering everything intact. Even if we catch up to him before he disposes of it, I expect much of it will be in poor shape indeed.”

“And there lies the risk.” Edurin sighed, “So you understand my risk, I fail to retrieve your wines in ten days, I won’t be going home. We have a deal. Please pardon me, but I do need to eat a little more before I head down to the river.” Edurin stood and returned to the big table. “Algris, com, sit down, and tell me about your new friend the dragon.” Edurin helped himself to another drumstick and ate hurriedly using his beer to assist in swallowing half chewed meat.
“It may be that we will end up raiding the castle. If the wines are lost we may be able to recover some of our losses that way, at least. Assuming we do launch an assault, survive, and can find goods enough to cover my losses so far, and your investment.”
Algris knew the limits of his luck, and the limits of his ability to lie. “Apologies,” he said, “we are far away from plague, or the famine that often precedes one. However, one more harvest like the last one–for my family and those all around us, and lean times will be approaching. It is not blight, nor weather, nor ignorance–my family has been tilling the soil for generations and know when to let land lie fallow. My brother came to Khazan to see what he could learn and did not return. A dolt at times, but still my brother and a wizard. I felt he was dead, and now that I hear of wizard killings…I am certain.

“The dragon teleported into his office in Herome Palace, taking Algris with him none too gently. “What have you heard of the wizard killings?” he hissed. “Do you know anything about them? Have you heard that many wizards are simply missing, and the ones we have found have been drained of blood?”

“There was surprise that a wizard would dare enter Khazan–or at least one not shrouded in protective magics and a suggestion I seek blades and muscle to accompany me if I did not wish to join the others in death. But there was no mention of bloodletting…”
“Now please tell me, how were they drained? Cuts in the legs, bled like cattle? In the neck? Where the heads removed and sewn back on? Did someone examine the bodies in detail? Did the hearts, livers remain?”

“I understand Weslyn, and apologize for being rude. Let me finish this last bite and I will rejoin you.” He hurried, half his beer gone pretty fast. “Algris eat what you want and then let invite the bar to finishe off the left overs. The three of us will head down to the riverfront once you’re ready.”

Weslynn stops speaking to Edurin, and turns to stare at Algris, her mouth agape, as he mentioned “wizards drained of blood.”
“What!?” tell me more of this. “As Edurin asks, how were they drained of blood? When? Where? Am I swimming in vampires now?  Eldurin, once Algris has told his tale, please accompany me to the merchant square and the docks, so that we may make arrangements for our passage, and send word to my family.”Algris took advantage of their sudden interest to tell them what had happened at Herome Palace.”

“The Dragon Man–not really one or the other–was unused to being questioned so sharply. He shook me like a doll before setting me on my feet. “What have you heard?’ he asked me again.””I told him ‘nothing. I just want to find my brother.'””The dragon reached up to a shelf and pulled down a large block of crystal which he set on the oversized desk. ‘Let us scry for your brother. Put your hand on the crystal and think of him.’ I obeyed. The crystal clouded up and then an image began to form. My brother’s face, pale, too pale. We live on a farm and are all tanned. His eyes were rolled back in his head. He looked dead. Then his eyes opened and he laughed. Laughed at me and his eyeteeth were like the fangs of a wolf.”The dragon put his hand on the crystal and scene changed. A dark night. A man walking in a dark street. A woman beckoning him. They clench. They kiss. Her face changes and she rips out his throat. His head flies back. It is my brother. She drinks his gushing blood greedily. She bathes in it. My brother stands up. HIs throat heals with unbelievable swiftness. He links arms with the woman and they disappear in shadow.

“Your brother is one of them now,’ said the dragon. ‘To answer your question. More than a dozen wizards have died in the last two weeks. Some, like your brother, have been turned. Others seemed to have fought. They were brutally slain, limbs ripped off in some cases. Some were crushed, struck by blocks of stone that fell from the sky.”

“The dragon turned to me. ‘Go home, human wizard,’ he ordered me. The last few years have been dry–it is a natural thing. Your brother is a vampire now, dead but not dead. There is nothing you can do for him.”

“I was stunned. I thought I would find him dead, but turned into a vampire?! That I could not have predicted. I staggered out of there and came here.”

“Poor man, you have my em-er-sympathy. What shall you do about this?”

“Dragon said go home. If he meant it, he could have sent me there just like he pulled me into his office. Either that or I wasn’t worth the effort…no matter. No answers, no brother–not even a few magic beans–there’s no way I can go home, or to what’s left of it. Right now I am in need of…too many things. But I have my wits, and a strong back for a mage. It’s best that we not be alone–room for one more?”

Weslynn looked this man in the eyes, and nodded to what she saw there. “Room enough for those who seek a leveling of the scales against a vampire, I think. I hope our purposes will align, and we can be comrades through our trials to come. Welcome to the group.”

She then looked around the room and at her remaining companions. “Edurin, it is getting to be time to leave and make arrangements for our passage and for me to send a missive home to my family business. Let us go arrange passage, and then I must send word to my family. Then we can spend the remaining time looking at supplies I think and t

“Yes.” Edurin stood, shouldered his pack, and called out to the patrons of the bar, “The food is really quite good. Help yourself!” He gestured to the food on the big table. “Come on, Algris and Weslynn, let’s go find a boat. Algris be prepared. We may still find your brother, although you may wish not to know him now.”

He headed out of the Grinning Goblin, and in the direction of the river. Time to find a boat heading upriver.

Chapter 1: Entering Khazan, Part 11   Leave a comment

Strange partnerships spring up in Khazan. Gronk the Minotaur meets Mensa the mental Dwarf.

“Well, then. I am Zhanh olt Grezhakh. I an elf by blood, but I was raised by goblins, and educated by an uruk. My master was a graduate of the Guild Academy here in Khazan, and he sent me here to continue my studies. I have been tasked to accompany Weslyn and scout Castle Greybat for the Guild, by way of initiation.” He smiled at Perry. “I know nothing of forests, Perry. I spent the first half of my life in a cave, and the second half on a ship. I suspect you and I will have stories to trade.”

Wulf and Gronk entered the tavern, and came quickly to the table. Wulf introduced himself and Gronk to the newcomers and then related what he had learned at the docks and the stables.
Wulf heard about a boatman named Phinnq that might be willing to take a party upriver. He went and spoke to him and learned Phinnq would be heading east with a cargo of “metal items” for two villages upriver. He could take passengers for 5 gold pieces a day if they also worked and helped “row the boat”, 10 g.p. per day if they just came as a passenger. Wulf and Gronk were willing to work their passage. Phinnq’s Phawlee (the boat) would stop nights in the two villages. He didn’t ordinarily go as far as Castle Greybat unless he had a cargo for the castle, and that was rare, but he had been there once or twice. It was not a place he had ever wanted to stay overnight.

At the stable, he learned that Kloppity was a chain, and had other stables all over the Dragon continent and had branches in one of the villages upriver. Horses were 10 gold pieces a day. Lizards were faster but cost more–20 gold pieces a day. There was also a security deposit required for renting a mount, and no mount would be able to carry Gronk. None wanted to carry Wulf–very skittish around him. Wulf said that horses and mules were often put off by his scent, but he was not sure why.

Wulf was glad to put down his pack and shield and slip off his chain mail. He and Gronk ordered some beer.

On his way back to the Grinning Goblin, Mensa spotted them in the crowd and followed at a distance. Mensa definitelhy followed them into the Grinning Goblin.

Wulf wanted a seat with as few people behind him as possible. He is most comfortable with his back to the wall. While the others debated he kept quiet except to answer questions. He watched the little tavern’s clients with an experienced eye alert for anyone acting suspicious. He was a little surprised and curious to see Mensa again.

“A minotaur! I have heard tales of their strength and stamina. Is your friend going to accompany us as well, Wulf?”  Weslynn’s exclamation made everyone turn and look at her.

Mensa wandered to the table where Wulf and the minotaur sat, though the minotaur sat awkwardly with his knees bent strangely. The dwarfs he’d met earlier had read the street sign for him, and he was surprised to find that the street was named after this human Wulf! And this minotaur fascinated him – he walked up to the minotaur, poked him with a finger, and asked “Are you REAL?” Boy, he was big – and he looked strong!

Wesylnn, when she saw the minotaur being poked by a strange little dwarf, could not help but smile slightly.

“Greetings, again, …er..Mensa, is it?” said Wulf. “Gronk is indeed very real. We fought together in many battles, and he was a real problem to the foe! He is not hard to get along with if you treat him with respect. He will not hesitate to whack or to chop anyone who dares insult or offend him. Buy him a beer, and he will love you!” Wulf laughed at this small joke. Weslynn noticed that the Wulf man can smile and it softened the hard lines of his scarred face showing he might actually have a softer side after all.

Perry sat back, absorbed by his new companions. He sipped his glass of silverwood gris contemplatively. ‘Does anyone know how to deal with vampires? If my father has been turned into one, do you think he could be turned back to normal again?’ He looked about the group, optimistic as ever that things would go well…

Mensa pulled out a pouch and produced three gold coins. “Will this buy him a beer? — Uh — what’s a beer?”

Weslynn sighed. “I know far less of useful vampire lore than I find myself needing, suddenly. Perhaps this afternoon one of our number could approach the wizard’s guild and consult their lore, while I visit the market square. If they wish to spy on the trip to the castle, sharing information so their spy has a better chance to survive, is in their interests, no?”
Looking at Wulf distracted her slightly, she smiled oddly, and raised her hand, as to pet him, and then visibly recovered herself. “Wulf, why do you fascinate me so? You seem as comfortable and reliable a servant, tool, and companion as the old hound I never had.”

Lumlas leaned back and continued to observe her new friend and the band of adventurers gathering to her aid. She sipped her drink and listened intently to the conversations going on around her. She would speak up when she had something useful to add. For now she was content to stay quiet.

Gronk gave a slight sneer at Weslynn’s smirk. He turned to thump the dwarf poking him in the ribs, but stopped when Wulf mentioned more beer.

“Ugly dwarf buy Gronk beer?” he lifted Mensa up so he could look him in the eyes. “Gronk like beer. Gronk like ugly little dwarf. Dwarf buy Gronk beer, and dwarf stop poking Gronk, Gronk happy.”

The minotaur set the dwarf down, roughly, and waited for his beer.

Mensa held out the three coins to whoever was serving, and bellowed “BIG beer for BIG friend here!” Mensa liked the cow-headed man – “Gronk,” he said his name was, didn’t he? He WAS strong, having hefted Mensa without a grunt, and his voice was a deep thunder, like people sounded in a cave or mine. But what was this “beer” — a good moss stew or some kind of rock water? The only thing Mensa had to judge by, was the empty mug in front of the minotaur and the one which Wulf was emptying.

It was good to be around people. Mensa decided people were much more fun than chopping into stone or watching a cow.

Wulf intervened and intercepted Mensa’s 3 gold pieces. He smiled his business smile at the bartender, gave him one gold piece, and said, “A pitcher of Beer for The Minotaur and a flagon of Beer for our new friend Mensa. Make good on his change- I worked in a tavern and will know if you short us. Gronk: please be gentle with your new buddy. He is tough, but you sometimes do not know your own strength. Mensa: I am glad to make your acquaintance. Gronk and I will see that no scoundrel takes advantage of you here.”
Then, to Weslynn, serious again: ” I am in strong agreement with you about vampires. We need all the information your magical allies can give us, both how to fight them physically and magically. Also, same regarding the Ghargs. It would also be useful if any info about the castle could be found. It is very hard to plan an attack if you know nothing about your enemies or their camp.”
As for my being a good “tool” or “servant”, I have been a soldier since I was sixteen years old, both in the lines and leading men into battle. I feel compelled to get things done in the most efficient and effective way. I hope that my compulsions in the direction of “duty’ won’t put the rest of you off. Please tell me if I am being a pain in the”
Wulf gave Weslynn and the others a friendly (for him) smile. Then he quietly worried that he had talked too much, and sipped his beer as he watched the bar clientele with a practiced eye.

Mensa looked at the flagon and sniffed at it. “This looks like an unhealthy color – it actually looks like pee.”

Gronk gulped deep from the pitcher of beer, then let fly a boisterous belch.

“Vampires bad,” he snorted and bared his teeth. “Spell-throwers must be strong. Wulf need thick wood spears, Wulf impale, Gronk chop head. Gronk not know what are Ghargs.”

Mensa looked up from his flagon of urine and asked, “Vampires bad? Then we chop them up. What is vampires? What is Ghargs? Mensa chop gobbles when they try steal rocks. Hit gobbles on head with digger.”

Gronk patted (slapped) the dwarf on the back.

“Ugly little dwarf like to chop and smash, like Gronk? Gronk like little dwarf more. Gronk and Wulf and ugly dwarf spike and chop bloodsuckers.”

“Bloodsuckers??” Mensa looked puzzled. Ghargs and vampires were giant ticks or leeches? Didn’t know. But if they were bad, they should be chopped. Or hit on head. “We chop and smash, yes” he said to his newfound friend. “And I not ugly. Dad say I’m a dimwit.”

He paused.

“Least, I don’t THINK I be ugly…”

Wulf thought quietly while his friends drank and got acquainted. He made a mental note to check out Mensa’s War Shovel. Then he said:
“Ladies and comrades: I propose that we divide our company into groups of two or three persons. The wizard groups should seek such sources of information as they are privy to in order to learn more on how to fight our foes. I will go to such places as old and young soldiers like myself hang out, and buy some drinks and pick their brains to see what I can garner from them. It is important that we do not wander the streets of Khazan alone, especially the ladies, and the wizards. Gronk can go with one group, and I will take a wizard and Mensa with me. Someone in this town has a bad attitude towards spell casters, so I urge all to be very careful. Let us go and meet back here before sunset. I don’t like the thought of any of us being out on these hard streets after dark, even in a group. What say you all?”

“Gronk go where Gronk needed. Gronk chop what needs chopping.”

Mensa spoke up before he thought, since he couldn’t: “Mensa go with man who smell pretty.”

Perry wasn’t sure who Mensa was referring to but thought Wulf would be a good choice to accompany. He spoke up – ‘I’m happy to have some friends to travel with. It’s a sound strategy and I’d like to see the Wizards Guild. Do I smell pretty enough for you, good dwarf? Perhaps it’s the silverwood – it is an aromatic little vintage. Shall we hit the road while the going’s good?

Chapter 1: Entering Khazan, Part 10   Leave a comment

Wulf and Gronk were on a mission.  They had just arrived in town.  Now they had to find out how to get out of town.  This took the form of investigating the river docks on the eastern side of town.

Wulf heard about a boatman named Phinnq that might be willing to take a party upriver.  He went and spoke to him and learned Phinnq would be heading east with a cargo of “metal items” for two villages upriver.  He could take passengers for 5 gold pieces a day if they also worked and helped “row the boat”, 10 g.p. per day if they just came as a passenger.  Phinnq’s Phawlee (the boat) would stop nights in the two villages.  He didn’t ordinarily go as far as Castle Greybat unless he had a cargo for the castle, and that was rare, but he had been there once or twice.  It was not a place he had ever wanted to stay overnight.

At the stable, he learned that Kloppity was a chain, and had other stables all over the Dragon continent and had branches in one of the villages upriver.  Horses were 10 gold pieces a day.  Lizards were faster but cost more–20 gold pieces a day.  There was also a security deposit required for renting a mount, and no mount would be able to carry Gronk.  None wanted to carry Wulf–very skittish around him.
On his way back to the Grinning Goblin, Mensa spotted them in the crowd and followed at a distance.  Mensa definitelhy followed them into the Grinning Goblin.
Meanwhile in another part of Khazan, Algris pursued his mission at the Herome Palace.  All he found there were long lines of people waiting to get inside, and no obvious way for him to make his inquiries.  Noticing the large crowd, Algris pulled out one of the apples, began cutting runes into it while muttering in Cetacean. He then ate it and wrapped a piece of parchment around his face like a mask. To those who asked, he spoke of plague and the need for protection. In fact, that’s what he was here to see the Dragon about and they best rethink their priorities.

Back at the sea docks, Edurin stifled his excitement long enough to say, “I won’t let you down.” But only ten days. Not much time for getting more than physically close to his goal. Plenty of time for adventure.Edurin tucked the purse of gold into the inside pocket of his leather jerkin. Strangely enough, he felt comforted having the silver anchor charm.Business concluded, Edurin headed out to meet up with Weslynn at the tavern. Along the way he picked up nuts, hard cheeses, and unleavened bread for the journey no more than nine days worth of provisions or as far as his personal stash of coins takes him. As always, he kept an eye open for trouble. He learned well his early lesson of hospitality (hostility) of Khazan.
As he walked briskly back across town he was stopped by a half-elf with a bruised face who asked him if he knew a good place to eat.  He told Perry that he was headed for a tavern called the Grinning Goblin, and he was welcome to come along if he wished to.  On their way they passed through the center of town and saw Algris Srog trying some mumbo-jumbo with an apple and a handkerchief.
When Edurin spied Algris he said to Perry, “We may be in luck.That fellow has family in Khazan, and may have need for a couple of body guards.” Edurin called out a greeting to Algris, “Hello, fellow traveler! I saw you in the watch house just this morning. May we have a minute of your time to talk?”
And inside the Grinning Goblin where Weslynn had gone after having no luck with her fellow wine merchans, all this was happening.
Lumlas spoke to the bartender, who was human, not goblin, and arranged to have the largest table in the place for the group. A bunch of gamblers had it at the moment, but it looked like the game would be breaking up soon. She got herself a seat and a drink and waited for Weslynn to join her, which didn’t take long.
In response to Weslyn’s question, Zhanh smiled and did a simple bow.. “Zhanh olt Grezhakh, Journeyman Wizard. at your service,” he said. “My commission is vague; I am to accompany you to Castle Greybat, and report back. I assume that that would include doing my best to make sure your expedition succeeds; that is certainly my plan. To that end, I have my magic, and I have lived much of my life on ships. I am an accomplished waterman; that should help with a river trip, I would think.”
Weslynn nodded to the journeyman wizard Zhan. “I see, did they say how they knew of this event? I am curious how the guild of wizards knew I was in need before I had gotten any further than the watch house. But no matter, I am in no circumstance to frown on aid. You are welcome to my little group here. Your magic and knowledge of waterwork should come in quite useful.”
Zhanh seated himself at Weslyn’s table and shrugged. “How does the Guild known anything? They are the Wizard’s Guild of Khazan; they know everything within the borders of Khazan that they want to know. If they want more information on Castle Greybat, the place must have substantial defenses against scrying.”
“True,” Weslynn replied, “which I think explains why you are here. If it is too heavily protected for the guild to scry, then they send a spy. Perfectly reasonable caution, if there truely is a vampire running the place.”
Bart, the bartender walked over to the table. “Do you folks want some food, some drinks? You can’t just sit around yakking at my biggest table, you know. I don’t see that the three of you really need that much room.”
“We have more coming most likely, barkeep. What do you have to eat for lunch today, if anything? And what’s your cheapest beer?”
“Petzil’s is the cheapest.  Shall I bring a pitcher or three over to the table?”
“Check back in a few minutes.”
Perry, a young half elf, walked in to the Grinning Goblin – he assumed his new friends were following him. He hadn’t learnt how to find things out discretely yet and called out in his youthful naievete and exuberance “Anyone here going to Castle Greyb

Zhanh ordered another cider (he had one with his lunch, a few tables away), then asked Weslyn, “Is Captain Subtle over there with you?”

“I assume so, or at least he wishes to speak with us.” Weslynn waves to the half-elf and calls out, “I am she who seeks that place, what of it?”
Perry swung round, flushing. It occurred to him rather belatedly that not everyone liked their business made public. He gave his customary half-bow and crossed to the woman’s table. ‘Pardon me if I have caused offence. I meant none I assure you. I seek my father whom I fear may be a captive or worse at a foul place – Castle Greybat by name. I seek others going hither that I may join a company, stout and true. I am ready to pledge my loyalty to companions who will do likewise. I am young and at the first step of the ladder to wisdom but I know spells which may be of value in such a grim fortress.’ Perry drew breath and held the woman’s eyes as he waited for her reply.
“Held captive? What brings you to suspect this, nameless wizard” said Weslynn, thinking it was strange how many wizards seemed to want to join in, or at least spy on, her group.New!

Zhanh muttered, “He came thence, and hither, and together we went hence, and thither,” quietly, and shook his head. More loudly, he said, “Wizards are an irritation in the order of the cosmos; we never fit in, and usually stand out.”

“I wonder if there’s a pile o wizards discount,” she murmured to herself, before turning her full attention back to the group, and the nameless half-elf supposed wizard before her.

Perry grinned. ‘You’re funny!’ he said. ‘Not funny peculiar but funny in a good way. I’m Perrry and I didn’t choose to be a wizard – my mother made be one.’ He grinned again, this time sheepishly.
‘I visited Madame Zolgah and shattered her crystal ball – that was when she was finding my father and we saw the coffins in the castle. All I can hope is they’ve locked him in there and he hasn’t been there too long. I guess I’m in a hurry!’
He motioned to the barman to get drinks for the group and sat down. ‘Tell me your names please and where you come from. I”ve led a sheltered life in the forest and I’m eager to find out about strange new worlds and peoples and boldly get to know them.’

“I am Weslynn Janourn, I am pleased to meet you, Perry. I am by trade a winemaker and merchant. My last shipment to Khazen was stolen three days ago, at a nearby roadside inn, and I have discoverd that the thief took the shipment through Khazen, and is supposed to have travelled upriver yesterday to Castle Greybat. Given the insult to my family buisiness as well as myself, I am in pursuit, as best I can. I have been fortunately to run into others who have offered their aid, which is why we are here in this tavern, to discuss the problem, I plan later to seek funding from friends who might be in the Merchant Square. If not, then we will most likely seek work. I hope your father is still safe, if his has been scryed in this Castle Greybat. I have never been there myself on my missions trading, but I am informed it is ruled by a vampire, with gargoyles for guards. I have been repeatedly warned it is a fearsome place and not to go there. It sounds like you have less choice in this matter than I do, unfortunately.”

“Well, then. I am Zhanh olt Grezhakh. I an elf by blood, but I was raised by goblins, and educated by an uruk. My master was a graduate of the Guild Academy here in Khazan, and he sent me here to continue my studies. I have been tasked to accompany Weslyn and scout Castle Greybat for the Guild, by way of initiation.” He smiled at Perry. “I know nothing of forests, Perry. I spent the first half of my life in a cave, and the second half on a ship. I suspect you and I will have stories to trade.”

(and I’m going to cut it off there.  It looks like almost everyone has signed in to the Planning session.  I still intend to do these blogs, but the real game action will take place on the Trollhalla forums._)

Posted May 15, 2012 by atroll in Uncategorized

Khazangame Character Appearances   2 comments

To help our players and readers visualize the characters in this story/game I’m going to devote this game just to character descriptions.  I’ll collect stuff all day, and put it in this blog for the benefit of all. Artists, if any of this material inspires you to do a character portrait, we would love to see it, have it, and put it in this blog. Weslynn Janoum, age 34 She’s wearing, as of right now, high hard boots, fine cloak, a kilt, and a silken shirt that are of good quality, but at least a couple years old, under a full set of unscarred leather armor that looks to be newly made. Her defensive options are increased by the equally new buckler she bears. She is 5’6″ tall, and about 170lbs or so.  Her eyes are a deep green, that seem to have an intelligent depth.  Her brunette hair, bound in a single ponytail, with a leather strip, is long enough to reach the middle of her back.  She has a backpack, and a set of pouches and the like hanging from her belt, along with wearing a hatchet should she find herself at need. Her bearing is mostly calm, when she is not thinking about the problems facing her.  She acts respectful, but not obsequious, to those she speaks to, as befits a successful merchant who does not wish ill to befall her coin cannot fix. Lumlas Lumlas is tall (6′, 150lbs) and fair of skin and hair. Her eyes are grey. She is reserved in social interaction with kin other than her own but is not bigoted in any way towards other races. She is quick to laugh.


Wulf is a 6 ft tall 210 pound fellow. He has brown hair (braided to give extra protection to his scalp), a short brown beard and mustache. Wears well used, but fully functional chain mail. Has a buckler and an open face steel helm.  Doesn’t smile much, he is a serious fellow, but is not surly or mean. Not really chatty. Thinks before he talks.
Every inch a soldier. Has a Kukri, a morningstar, a spear, and a concealed dagger in his boot. He is in good shape. Reacts poorly to insults. Talent for Brawling and weapons.
Good judge of people; worked as a bouncer in a rough tavern for over a year.
Algris Srog
The most noticeable thing about Algris is that he doesn’t look like a wizard. This human’s big, a little soft but certainly not fat. Were it not for his sharp eyes one might think he would be at home in front of or behind a plow–and not just because of his leather clothing. He’s a farm boy looking who’s more than metaphorically seeking a handful of magic beans. Blights, bad weather–it’s been a bad string of seasons for many of the farms surrounding Khazan and if Algris can’t find the cause–or at least one he can do something about–he hopes to find a means to help his family get through this.
Zhanh olt Grezakh
Zhanh olt Grezakh is a fairly normal elf, except that he knows absolutely nothing about being an elf. He has  auburn/mahogany hair (worn in a braid that falls to between his shoulder blades) and very dark green eyes. His clothes are mostly canvas (sail cloth, actually). He speaks Common with a slight Goblin accent. He wears a floppy brimmed hat made of red leather. He doesn’t carry a staff, but wears a woven leather thumb ring on each hand. He wears leather armor with a vambrace on his left forearm and a sax on his right hip.Characters who know anything about the Uruk language will know that the “olt” in the name “Zhanh olt Grezhakh” means “trusted by”, as in, “this person is not my blood kin, but I think highly enough of him to let him use my name.”Gronk

Gronk’s bullish hindquarters are thick and stocky with slate gray fur. His head, neck and shoulders are covered in the same colored fur, and his hooves and horns are a deep ebony tapering to gray then white at the tips. His eyes are a dull orange-yellow, and his right one is crossed by a scar that extends down to his chin. His left nostril is pierced with an iron ring, and his left ear is pierced with a half dozen smaller rings. His human-like torso is extremely muscular, and the dark gray skin of his arms is etched with black and deep blue bands of intricately traced tribal tattoos. He wears a loincloth in addition to his cuirass. He carries a huge double-bladed broad axe, and has a sax tucked into the band of his loincloth.
Tall athletic build with shoulder length black hair combed back  and held with a long leather band.  A stylish blue eye is painted in the middle of the band.  Edurin thinks the blue eye gives him a mystical look and contrasts nicely with his dark brown eyes.  Sailor’s tan, rough hands, and loose tied clothing mark him a working man.  He is thoroughly unable to grow a beard.
Lumlas, Elfin Wizardess
Lumlas is tall (6′.  150 lbs) and fair of skin and hair.  Her eyes are grey.  She is reserved in social interaction with kin other than her own, but is not bigoted in any way towards other races.  She is quick to laugh.
Gronk the Minotaur
Gronk’s shaggy fur is a slate gray, and his horns a deep ebony.  His human-like torso is extremely muscular, and his bullish hindquarters are thick and hairy.  He speaks a halting and choppy version of Common..  Gronk is bloodthirsty in combat, but he is actually a good friend to all who treat him with respect and kindness.  He wears a loincloth in addition to his cuirass.  He has a ring in one side of his nostrils and several on his left ear..

Posted May 13, 2012 by atroll in Uncategorized

Chapter 1: Entering Khazan, Part 9   Leave a comment

Summary of where we are in the game.

Weslynn Janoum is determined to pursue the thief that took her wagon of wine, but that trail leads up the Khazan River to Castle Greybat–a vampire-dominated outpost that is not technically part of the Empire of Khazan.  The city has been suffering a rash of murders–mostly wizards.  It seems likely that Perry Stroika’s father is one victim of the murders and also Algris Srog’s brother.  Lumlas, not Lumias, is hanging out with Weslynn for lack of anything better to do.  Mensa the Dwarf has decided that following Wulf the Barbarian is a good thing to do, but is hanging back in the background.

After leaving the Watch station, the following things happened.  Weslynn and Lumlas went to the Wine District in the Great Market and spoke to some merchants there.  At first they sounded sympathetic to her plight, but when she mentioned the idea of following the thief to Castle Greybat, they turned hostile and told her to solve her own problems and not bother them.  Clearly they were afraid of something, but not willing to talk about it to Weslynn.  After wasting the morning in the Market, Weslynn and Lumlas headed over to the Grinning Goblin, but her friend, the guard from the gate didn’t show up for the meeting.  Meanwhile, after arranging to meet Weslynn at the Grinning Goblin tavern, Wulf and Gronk went to the docks to find out about travel upriver.  Mensa followed Wulf as far as the Market, but got sidetracked by seeing a lot of Dwarves doing business there.  He had never seen quite so many in his life.  With a little help, he found the gate to Thrindol, entered the Dwarven city and got a good meal at Griselda’s place.  Then he wandered back out into the market and will see Wulf on his way back from the docks, and follow him and Gronk into the Grinning Goblin.  He would still like to talk to a Minotaur, touch him, and find out if he’s real.  He and Gronk may turn out to be kindred spirits.  🙂  At the same time, Algris Srog went to the Herome Palace, also known as City Hall to look into the murder records to see if he can learn anything about his missing brother.  Concurrently, Edurin walked back to the docks and talked to his captain about financing the expedition.  Having secured some money, enough to finance the expedition, Edurin tried to make his way to the Grinning Goblin.  Along the way he met a half-elf who asked him if he knew a good place to eat.  He answered in the negative, but told Perry that he was trying to find a place called the Grinning Goblin.  Their search for the tavern took them fairly close to the Herome Palace, and they might encounter Algris in that area.  Algris and Edurin have seen each other in the Watch Station, and both have spoken to Weslynn, so it is logical for them to fall in together if they meet–depends on how Algris plays his next part of the game.  At the same time Zhanh, having been set on his path by a precognitive command from the Wizards Guild wound up in the Grinning Goblin where he encountered Weslynn about to have lunch.

Things that need to be established: what does Algris learn at City Hall?  What does Wulf learn on the docks?  Will Edurin and Perry join them or not?  Will Mensa come into the group?  Where will they sleep that night?

And now, back to our adventure.

Turn 9:  Algris

Algris walked into the heart of the city.  It took him a long time to reach his destination, as the streets got more and more crowded as the day progressed.  By the time he arrived the sun was nearly at zenith.  When he reached the Herome Hall, as it was called in deference to ancient history, he found a palatial building nearly a block long and 5 stories high, all built of green malachite and iron.  There were five broad doors leading into the building from the front, all of them guarded by at least two members of the Watch.  And there were lines of citizens in front of each door.  The doors were labeled with signs like Taxes, Licenses, Appointments, Wizards, and Official Business, but none of them said Records, and the lines for all of them were fairly long–long enough that enterprising vendors walked up and down the rows pushing carts offering drinks and snacks for sale to the people waiting.  Algris stood and watched for a few minutes.  The lines seemed to move with glatial slowness.
Turn 9:  Weslynn
Wesylnn turned from her greeting of her newfound friends, who had made their way to the tavern on Khazan’s busy streets somewhat faster than her, to face a new stranger who called out her name, and introduced himself as a wizard.
“I take it then you are a Wizard, then.What is your name, then, and what does the Wizard’s Guild wish you to report to them about?  Why is my plight of interest?”
Turn 9:  Gronk
Gronk listened to Wulf very carefully.
“Gronk go with Wulf. Gronk chop for ladies and spell-throwers. Gronk chop for Wulf. Gronk hungry, Gronk thirsty. Wulf know where Gronk get beer and meat?”
Wulf remembered he had some old dried deer jerky in his pack.  The provisions were older than dirt and harder than a tax collector’s heart, but would probably do just fine to take the edge off Gronk’s hunger.  He pulled a couple of pieces out and gave them to the Minotaur.  “Chew this slowly,” he said, “kind of like chewing your cud.  The more you chew it, the better it will taste.”
Gronk took a piece, put it in his cheek and began to chew mightily.  “Ugh, Wulf, this is the hardest meat I’ve ever tasted.”
“Not harder than your teeth, old friend.  Chew slowly and moisten it.  We’ll get a drink on the way.  Right now we must get off to the river docks, and I have only the vaguest idea where they are.”
The barbarian and the minotaur made their way down the street toward the Great Market.  They didn’t notice when Mensa the Dwarf started following them.
Turn 9:  Edurin
Edurin stifled his excitement long enough to say, “I won’t let you down.” But only ten days. Not much time for getting more than physically close to his goal. Plenty of time for adventure.Edurin tucked the purse of gold into the inside pocket of his leather jerkin. Strangely enough, he felt comforted having the silver anchor charm.Business concluded, Edurin headed out to meet up with Weslynn at the tavern. Along the way he picked up nuts, hard cheeses, and unleavened bread for the journey no more than nine days worth of provisions or as far as his personal stash of coins takes him. As always, he kept an eye open for trouble. He learned well his early lesson of hospitality (hostility) of Khazan.  As he walked eastwards again, not exactly sure where to find the Grinning Goblin inn, he overheard a young half-elf asking directions from a passing patrol of Watchmen, one of whom was an Elf.  The words “Grinning Goblin” were mentioned and the young stranger said, “Thanks, I’ll go there.”  This seemed like an omen to Edurin.  When the Watch moved on, Edurin went and introduced himself politely to Perry and asked if he was going to the Grinning Goblin.”Why, yes,” said Perry, “but first we need to find Herome Palace.  My directions to the Goblin start from there, and I’ve never been in this city before.””Nor have I,” answered the sailor.  “You look kind of banged up?  What happened to your face?” he asked as they walked.”It has been a rough morning,” said Perry.  “A guard knocked me down when I entered the city.  Then Madame Zolgah’s crystal sphere exploded in my face while we were looking at some coffins in Castle Greybat.  That’s how I got this cut.”

“Castle Greybat?” asked Edurin.  “My friend, I think you need to come with me.”


Posted May 12, 2012 by atroll in Uncategorized

Chapter 1: Entering Khazan, Part 8   Leave a comment

Turn 8:  Wulf

Wulf agreed to meet with all parties interested in the trip to Castle Graybat. He explained to Gronk that Khazan was full of pickpockets and it would indeed be almost impossible to find the one who stole his message and his money. He introduced his old comrade to the others and vouched for his courage and prowess as a warrior. Then as they made their way to the Grinning Goblin he began to form a plan of action: to get information and to acquire what they might need to battle a vampire and his servants. He made a mental note to inquire with the monks or priests of Omvar if there was a temple in the city about what help they might be able to give him. He also wished to see what the group already had in equipment and money for the campaign. So much to do! But a soldier and a leader had to do it to ensure any hope of success in any kind of expedition. Well prepared is half way done.”
   Wulf told Gronk he and the others were going on a dangerous and probably exciting trip to a bad place where bad people preyed on innocents. He told the big Minotaur that they would be very happy to have him come along. There would be much chopping needed. And the women and other wizards needed some good fighting men to defend them. And there was the possibilty of significant loot to be had.”

Turn 8:  Gronk

“Gronk go with Wulf,” he said as he bowed to the Captain.
Gronk grabbed Wulf in another bear hug.
“Gronk happy see Wulf! Gronk robbed, no money. Wulf money? What Wulf do in Khazan?”
Turn 8:  Edurin
With two minotaurs, the guard station got crowded real quick. Edurin picked up his pack, and thanked the seargent, “I’ll press no charges. The muggers learned a valuable lesson today.” He quietly backed out. On the street he reajusted his back with his spear still bound tightly to it. He checked his dirk. Good the loop still held it tight. He headed to the Captain of the Wayward Sluice. At least, to where the Captain said he was doing business. Along the way, he walked with confidence, purpose, and an eye for trouble.”Samurai Kighe,” he bowed low. “I found a business deal worthy of your attention.” Edurin learned well over the months at sea what motivated his Captain. The man took calculated risks. Riskes exemplified by guiding the Wayward Sluice up the coast from the Dragon’s Claw into the Maw. As usual Kighe said little finishing business at hand before facing Edurin.”I found a merchant who lost her cargo. Fine wines from inland. She has tracked the shipment to Castle Greybat. It is a place of dangerous reputation, and the merchant needs financing to recover her shipment. There lies the risk. The reward, we negotiate a finders fee of one barrel out of every three recovered. To minimize risk, finance us with equipment from your shipment, and I will travel with her people to represent your interests. Even my own meager wealth will be put at your disposal. ” In Sonan Ie, loyalty to one’s ship and crew was a bond tighter than clan or family. Crewmen earned the Samuari’s trust or were set off ship often while still at sea. Edurin counted on this bond to sell the opportunity. He would die first before letting Samuari Kighe down.

Captain Kighe looked steadily at his mate.  “This seems a very risky deal, Edurin.  If her wines are that fine, could we not simply visit the vintners and purchase our own shipment.  What is the likelihood of recovering wines from a hostile castle 3 days upriver?  Slim, I would think.  Still, if you think it’s worth the risk, I will venture 300 gold on the proposition.  That should be more than enough to hire a boat for the river trip.”
“Thank you, Captain.  Give me the money, and I will rejoin Lady Janoum and the party of adventurers she is organizing.”
“Very  well,  I will wait ten days for your return.  Take this charm.”  he handed a tiny silver anchor to Edurin.  It glowed faintly.
Edurin took it and pinned it to his vest.  “What is its purpose?”
“It is the twin of this one which I will keep.”  Samurai Kighe showed his sailor another silver anchor about as big as his finger.  “As long as mine glows, I will know that you are still alive.  And the reverse, of course.  Do not lose the charm, because if it is separated from you for long it will cease to glow, and I will think you are dead, in which case we will make for our next port of call.”
Turn 8:  Weslynn
Having heard someone calling for her, she turned, to see Algris run up to her.  “Hello,” she greeted the stranger. “This was not a good year for crops no, one reason I am so angry about this missing shipment.  We need all the coin we can get, the vineyard did well in it’s sheltered mountain valley, but we have other crops, in less sheltered places, that did very poorly.  We need the coin to buy more food for our workers, lest we have a lean winter.” “Why should I speak to this Dragon?” She clearly looks a bit taken aback.  “I have buisiness at the Merchant Square, to seek if I will be lucky and find someone here who is a friend with coin  to fund a boat.  What ever else we do lies upon that, so it is a question I must answer first.  Not only that, but I must find a courier to deliver a note to my home, telling them of my ill fate.” “Then I will go to the Grinning Goblin, and we shall speak more, and learn to know each other, and you shall all decide if you are in or out. Magic would be of great use to us, I imagine.  It usually is, from what I have seen, and I bear wizards and spellwork no prejudice.  Perhaps afterwords in the evening we can seek the Dragon, if you can convince me there is more to be gained than lost.”
Turn 8:  Zhanh
In due course, Zhanh found himself at the edge of the Great Market, standing in front of a pub called “The Grinning Goblin”. His stomach reminded him that he was still hungry, and he took this as a sign to go in and grab a bit to eat before he continued his search. He found a table near the wall, and settled down for a bit of people watching while he ate his fish stew and drank his cider. He had finished his meal and was about to continue his quest when he heard one of the other patrons call a companion, “Weslynn.” He was looking for a Weslynn, and decided to investigate the co-incidence. He walked over and tipped his hat.”Would you be Weslynn Janoun, by any chance?” he asked. When answered in the affirmative, Zhanh continued, “Word has reached the Wizard’s Guild that you are mounting an expedition to Castle Greybat. That have tasked me to accompany you and report back to them.” Zhanh clenched his teeth to force himself to slow down; his Goblin accent tended to get thick when he spoke too quickly. “May I join you?”

Posted May 11, 2012 by atroll in Uncategorized