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Oct 31, 2020

Soulstones Session 1: Anniversary Party

“Howdy, Listener! Good time for you to come to town!” Caherill the Hunter raised his mug as an eagle landed only a few feet away and transformed into a tall, gray-haired and bearded man in dark blue-green robes. In a few years, Caherill might be just as gray, but for now his short hair and beard were only flecked with salt and pepper. Above them, the village of Stump swarmed like an overturned anthill, everyone hard at work with preparations for the anniversary party. “Are you going to join in any of the contests this year? There might be one or two to suit you.”

“That sounds like fun,” a passing traveler piped up. “What are these contests.” Caherill gave the elf a long, leisurely measuring-up. He looked young, but elves generally did. With blue eyes and light brown hair, he wasn't particularly distinctive.

“You look to be a wizard type, am I right?” Caherill hazarded.

“I am merely an apprentice.”

“And what might your name be?”

“Most call me Lucha.”

“Nice to meet you, fellow. Well, one of the most popular contests in Chayo the Alchemist's potion testing, That would probably be right up your alley.” Other recently-arrived strangers were also stopping to take in the conversation. Caherill spied another elf, this one with white hair and wearing a tough's leathers. A small but surprisingly impressive halfling in a suit of armor completed the ensemble.

“Where might I find this Chayo?” Lucha asked, all elven formality. “Could you describe him to me, please?”

Caherill chuckled. “Chayo's a lady! If you head on down toward the inn where the food is, you'll see the big stage she has set up. It's the one with all the potions around it. Otherwise, if the potion-testing doesn't suit, we've got musicians, whopper-telling, wrestling, a sawing contest, archery, the canoe race, and a tree-climbing contest.”

Lucha bowed and walked off down the tunnel, followed by the halfling and, sometime later, the other elf. Caherill was about to make another effort at talking to the reticent druid when he, too, followed the other strangers up the main tunnel and into the stump.

The white-haired elf, whose name was Elendol, watched the crowd with great interest. He spotted a tall, skinny human in tattered wizard's robes stuffing his face and, surreptitiously, his pockets, at one of the tables, and sauntered over. “Hello, friend,” Elendol purred. “What brings you to Stump today? The founding party, I'd wager.”

The skinny human jumped and looked around guiltily. “It's free! It's all free! I'm allowed!” Elendol made a slight face as he realized the human stank of the dung heap.

“Slow down, friend. Just chatting.”

“So? Whaddaya want?”

“I'm just looking to make a friend or two. I'm Elendol. I've come for the party, myself, and I wonder if you could tell me more about the town, here.”

The human swallowed heavily. “I'm Daz. I just work here. The old bat pays me to banish the crap around here so the kobolds don't get angry.”

“Kobolds! Why are we trying to keep them happy?”

Daz shrugged, stuffing another piece of fish in his mouth. “Because otherwise they'll ambush our hunters and stuff? I dunno, I just work here. Ask the old lady.”

“And where would I find this old bat?”

Daz shrugged again. “She lives in the nice house at the top of the stump, but you'll probably see her giving a speech later on in the evening when the contests are over.”

Elendol nodded. “Thanks, Daz, I'll be around. Perhaps we'll meet again.” The elf moved off, but he was arrested by a loud dinging noise coming from inside the nearest, well, it wasn't really a building, as it was carved into the giant ironwood tree stump. It wasn't really a cave. Dwelling? He peeked inside, to see a wrinkled old human peering around short-sightedly and a somewhat impatient halfing trying to get the man's attention from behind an oversized counter. Finally, the halfing gave up on the bell and slammed his mace down on his shield, producing a shattering GONG that shook dust out of the rafters. The old man jumped and looked around the counter.

“Oh, THERE you are! You want a room at the inn? One silver a day.”

The halfling frowned. “Too rich for my blood.”

“Sorry, that's the price!” the old man insisted. “You don't want it, dozens do!”

“Need to find some work,” the halfling muttered.

“Me too,” Elendol said. “What about all these contests? Shall we go take a look?”

“Sure, why not.” The mismatched pair wandered up the platform, past the food stalls, to where a middle-aged woman in a fine, acid-green gown was setting up trays of potions. Lucha the wizard walked up to her and tugged on the sleeve of her gown.

“Eh, who's that? Newcomer? Are you here for my little contest? Well the rules are simple. Each tray has two potions on it. One of them is a minor beneficial potion, the other has some obnoxious side effect. Your job is to figure out which is which and drink down the one you think is the good potion. If it's not, we'll all know about it right away, and you won't advance to the next round!”

The apprentice wizard frowned. “Can I smell the contents and so forth?”

“Certainly. This is a contest of skill, not blind luck.”

“And the cost to enter?”

“There's no entrance fee,” Chayo said. “Or you might complain when you drink the wrong potion and something amusing happens!”

Lucha nodded. “I will participate.” He looked around at the crowd, spotting the human druid, the halfling, and the white-haired elf off to one side, looking out of place in the crowd. “Are you joining, too?”

“Just going to watch,” said the druid. The halfling nodded and the elf grinned.

“Cowards the lot of you! Get in and join the fun!”

Chayo handed Lucha a tray. “Your turn!”

Lucha unstoppered both bottles carefully and examined the contents, his nostrils twitching. He poured out a small sample of the liquid onto his palm and smeared it around with a fingertip, then gingerly tasted it. Then, decisively, he picked up the potion on the left side of the tray and downed it in one gulp. Nothing appeared to happen. The large and rather drunk human standing next to him wasn't so lucky and rushed to the edge of the platform, where he began to vomit explosively, to cheers and catcalls from the crowd. People began calling out bets as Chayo prepared the next round of potions.

“I'll bet twelve silver on the elf,” the druid said, producing the coins. Elendol and the halfling continued watching, wondering if it was just luck.

“Is there a prize?” Lucha asked, examining the two new mystery potions.

“Bet you wish you asked that before you started!” Chayo cackled. “But yes, there's a prize. There are three prizes, actually.”

After a thorough testing, Lucha drank the potion on the right. Again, nothing appeared to happen. A tall, burly woman began to sweat profusely and water vapor began to jet from her mouth, nose, and ears. She passed out on the deck amid loud cheering, and someone tossed a bucket of water over her to cool her off. The bet-taker waved at the druid, but he indicated that he wanted to bet again on the apprentice wizard. One of the other competitors chickened out and withdrew, leaving Lucha alone with a hefty fisherman. Once again, Lucha carefully tested both potions. He seemed to hesitate, lifting first one, then the other, then suddenly grabbed up the first potion again and drinking it down with a slight smirk, a bit of showmanship that the crowd heartily approved. The last remaining potion-taster drank his choice and abruptly turned into a frog, emitting a mighty belch.

“Oh dear, that's not supposed to happen!” Chayo yelled. “Stop that frog! I've got to turn him back!”

The crowd erupted into hysterical laughter as the middle-aged alchemist flapped after the frog.

“My prize?!” Lucha called after her. She waved at the table, where a bright green pointed wizard's hat was sitting.

The druid claimed his winnings and reached out to touch the apprentice wizard's arm. “Well done. Take this, you earned it.” He held out a small pile of silver.

“Thank you!” Lucha said. “We should try another contest!”

“I believe the tree-climbing is next,” the druid said. “I am known as Listens to Greenlings.”

“Pleased to meet you, Listens. I'm Lucha.”

The tree-climbing was some distance outside of town, so the strangers hopped the ferry. Rogus the orc was presiding. Some heavy betting was already underway. The druid handed his silver cheerfully to the nearest bookie, walked up to the line of tall trees, and turned into a chimpanzee.

“Is that cheating?” Rogus asked. He frowned. “There isn't any rule against it.”

“I ain't giving you any better odds than 1:2!” the book-maker yelled.

“You should have waited until after they had the bets finalized,” Elendol said.

“That would be cheating,” Listens declared. The competitors lined up and Rogus beat the starting drum. Moving with lazy ease, the chimpanzee nee druid sauntered up the tree and reached the top well ahead of the other laboring competitors. At the top, he transformed into an eagle and flew down to the ground.

“Nice job,” Rogus said, handing the druid a pair of sturdy boots.

“Those are magic,” Lucha said.

“Oh, what do they do?” Listens asked.

“An enchantment of athletic skill. You'll love them.”

They returned to the village, where the musicians were setting up a stage for the next context. The halfling surveyed the instruments and selected a drum, beginning to warm up enthusiastically.

“He sounds good,” Listens remarked, trying to evaluate the competition over the increasing din. “I'll bet eighteen silver on him.”

The contest began and the halfling tossed off a simple rhythm, growing more and more complex, faster and faster, interweaving complex series of tones. Competitor after competitor washed out. The betting rose to a fever pitch and then . . . disaster. The drumstick shot out of the halfling's left hand and flew across the stage, nailing a flautist square in the nose. Her off-key wail brought the jam session to an abrupt halt. The halfling retired in ignominy, having just missed winning a prize.

Lucha and Listens to Greenlings compared notes. “How much did you lose?” Lucha said, wincing at the druid's all-or-nothing betting style.

“108 silver.”

“Ouch. That's a lot.”

The druid shrugged. “Easy come, easy go. Looks like I'll be watching now.”

“Was that ALL of your money?” Lucha asked.

“Yes, but don't concern yourself, I won't starve.”


The next contest, after the musicians hand been shooed offstage, was the infamous swamp tradition of whopper-telling. Elendol stepped forward and bet five silver on . . . himself.

“You're entering?” Lucha asked, presuming on their mutual elfistry.


“What story are you going to tell?”

“Watch and find out.”

After considering for a moment, Lucha ventured 10 silver on the white-haired elf, who spun a fanciful tale of a one-legged Orc and a dragon-kicking competition that was well-received by the crowd. “Nice job,” Lucha said as they collected their winnings.

“Competition's heating up,” Elendol said. “I need a better idea for the next one. Say, what do you know about this area? Any juicy history? Big rivalries? Maybe they hate the next town over?”

“Oh, nothing like that,” Lucha said. A human who looked to be roughly eight million years old finished his story of a tornado that drained the swamp and rained frogs and fishes all over a society wedding. “About the only thing I can think of is that they really dislike the Mincor family around here, since the Mincors control the Ironwood franchise in Polis.”

“Human politics. Still, I can work with that.” Elendol sauntered forward to take his turn and produced a raunchy yarn about a Mincor heiress who discovered a little too late that her new husband was a cannibal kobold with a ring of shapechanging. The crowd laughed themselves sick, and when he concluded it took several minutes for them to settle down enough that the next tale-teller could be heard. Elendol took advantage of the distraction to canvass the crowd for his most enthusiastic new supporters and elicit their assistance in padding out his bets. The disgruntled book-maker wanted to give lower odds, but complaints from several burly gentlemen and ladies turned the negotiations. With a sour look, the man accepted Elendol's new bet.

“That was quite clever,” Listens said. Lucha bet twenty silver. It was more than he wanted to lose, but the odds looked pretty good. Elendol's final tale of the wizard who drilled himself into the ground trying to chase a magical tower that kept teleporting behind him received tremendous applause, and he was declared the winner by acclaim. Iddelendo the Factor handed him the prize, a fine hat with a showy peacock-blue plume.

“It's magical,” Lucha told him.

“I figured,” Elendol said, spinning the hat once on his fingertip and then donning it with a flourish.

The visitors wandered over to the next context, which proved to be wrestling. A big burly human who appeared to be Rundell the popular champion stood on the platform, naked to the waist and flexing for the crowd. The bets were flying fast and furious, and they could only shake their heads ruefully over the odds. The champion was favored at 5:1, practically a sure thing.

“I'm going to enter,” said the halfling.

“YOU are?” Lucha asked.

“Sure, why not?”

“Well, you're . . . you're on the small size.” The halfling shrugged. “What's your name?”

“People call me Herald Crash.”

“Well, I suppose you know best.”

“Since I have no coin to bet, I may as well enter, myself,” Listens the Druid said.

“I'd bet on you,” Lucha told him.

The druid didn't have long to wait, he was called first to contest a tall, athletic trapper. It appeared that the point of the contest was to push your opponent over the side of the platform, where they'd fall into the swamp water. The trapper readied for the bell, and Listens transformed into a gorilla. Moments later, the trapper was in the drink and Lucha was collecting his winnings. Next up was Herald, who moved quickly and expertly, but nevertheless managed to get snagged by his opponent and catapulted into the air. Rundell flipped his opponent effortlessly into the water, to enthusiastic cheers. Then Listens was up again. After several moments of intense struggle with neither of them able to gain an advantage, his opponent tripped over his own feet and went over the side. A hush fell as Listens squared up against Rundell, who grinned—or bared his teeth, it was difficult to tell—and lunged forward, nearly ending the contest in one pass. Then Listens transformed into a massive bear, grabbed Rundell around the waist, and gave a mighty heave. The startled fighter yowled as he plummeted.

The crowd hooted and jeered and the book-maker cursed as he dug deep to pay off Lucha's substantial bet, leaving the elf with a respectable chunk of mixed gold and silver. Elendol shook his head quietly. “Look there, see that elven fellow? And the orc? They aren't happy with this outcome. Not happy at all.” The pair that Elendol indicated climbed down to the dock platform to help Rundell out of the water, and the three of them conferred, shooting the occasional dark glance in the direction of the visitors.

Herald Crash dried off and began looking around for the next context, which proved to be the sawing competition. The two-man teams were warming up. Herald surveyed the other visitors. “Anyone want to join me?”

“Do you think you might actually have a chance?” Lucha asked. “You're a bit . . . short.”

“Sure. I just need a partner.”

“I can do that,” Listens said, and turned into a baboon, just about the same size as Herald. They had a few practice swings, getting the rhythm, and then the contest judge called for the teams to be ready. At the starting whistle, the little bard and the druid set to with a will, raising a cloud of sawdust and, as they worked faster and faster, the smell of smoke. “Careful!” the judge yelled, but Herald refused to stop. “HANG ON, BABOON!” he shouted. When the whistle blew again, they'd sawed down the entire length of the log, and were awarded the coveted pair of magical bracers.

“Whew!” Herald said, offering the bracers to Listens, who declined. “What's next?”

“Archery, it looks like.” Rundell and his two friends were lined up, and from the sound of the betting his elven friend was highly favored to win.

Herald frowned. “There's something really off about that elf. I'm going to sit this one out. He might hold a grudge if we won. I'd rather see if one of you want to do the canoe race. If I can pull a saw, I can pull an oar.”

Lucha and Elendol placed modest bets on Thaon the elf, and were rewarded with equally modest winnings as he made a clean sweep of the archery, winning a handsome ironwood bow. Lucha approached him and offered part of the winnings as a reward for his performance. Thaon scowled, but Rundell happily accepted and gave the apprentice wizard a clout on the shoulder that nearly knocked him off his feet. “No hard feelings, let's have a drink later, sport!” The three local friends retired to the drink and food, leaving the visitors to wander down to the canoe race, the final event of the night.

Halfling and chimpanzee paddled furiously, circumnavigating the great ironwood stump, raising an impressive wake for a canoe. They got so far ahead that they rounded the curve and came up behind their opponents and passed them before they reached the finish line, a floating platform.

“Oh, well done!” the judge said, and awarded them the prize—a beautifully crafted ironwood war canoe, capable of seating six people and a quantity of gear. After stowing it at the docks, the visitors headed up to the party, where a vast quantity of food and drink was consumed late into the night. Stuffed as full as they could hold, they staggered back to the inn and got a room together to save cash.

The morning dawned bright and sunny, and the visitors wandered down to the taproom to see Rundell sitting at a table with his two friends and a tall, richly-dressed stranger with bright gold skin, hair, and eyes. He grinned at the visitors, revealing sharp teeth, and gestured for them to come over.

“Well, hello there! I hear you all were big winners in yesterday's festivities.” Rundell also nodded in greeting, but Thaon and the orc, who was called Enthir, merely glared.

“Yep, got a canoe,” Herald Crash said.

“I cheated a bit, but came away broke and it was all in good fun,” Listens said.

Elendol nodded. “I'm sure there are others who did better, you guys have some real skill. We got lucky.”

“I'm Prandwas, by the way. If you're broke, it might just be that I can help with that situation, if you're interested.”

“I guess a little extra wouldn't hurt!” Rundell said with forced joviality. Herald Crash regarded the human silently. He wondered what discussion had already gone on. Listens nudged the halfling and drew his attention to Leeta the barmaid, who was serving breakfast while staying as far as physically possible from Rundell and friends. Rundell seemed inclined to flirt with her, but she shrank away, avoiding a pinch, and hurried into the kitchen.

“There are some nasty rumors about these guys,” Elendol muttered while the visitors were pulling out chairs and seating themselves. “I heard some of them last night while everyone was getting boozed up.”

“So,” Prandwas said, after they were sitting down, “you folks familiar with the Adventurers' Guild?”

“Of course!” Rundell replied immediately, pushing himself forward. Prandwas eyed him but didn't seem that interested.

“Well, I got a tip that a party from the Guild came down here to this swamp . . . and they've all gone missing. The reward for recovering their stones would be . . . substantial.”

“Gotcha,” Herald Crash replied. “So, if we accept whatever you're planning to offer, I assume you'll tell us what they were sent here after? And are you hiring both teams or just one team?”

“I was planning to leave that up to you. I don't know what they were sent for. I realize this is all a bit of a long shot, but I think it's worth the risk.”

Crash looked at the team of visitors.

“I have no pressing plans, just a princess to save next month, but I might as well fill my time till then,” Elendol said. The other two nodded.

“So, our team is a go, but we're going to need some more information.”

Thaon leaned over and whispered in Rundell's ear, and the three of them stood up, looking thunderous. “I think we've got better things to do,” he said, and they left the inn.

“All right, spill it,” Lucha said after they were gone. “What do you want from us, and what killed everyone else?”

Prandwas shrugged eloquently. “As I said, I purely don't know. Maybe they were stupid. These swamps have a nasty reputation. All I know is, this is a shot to get in the Guild's good books, and I want it.”

“None of us have soulstones,” Herald Crash said. “If it's that dangerous, we'd be risking our lives. Why don't you just run along and fetch them yourself?”

Prandwas grinned. “Let's just say that swamps aren't really my thing, and I wouldn't be adverse to taking a vacation while you use my tip and we split the proceeds. From what I know, there were seven in the party that came this way, so that seems like a nice reward to split. If you're willing to take the risk, I've got 150 gold I can th row into the pot, and a wand that will enable you to locate the stones.”

“I assume that once we return the stones, the Guild will pay all five of us? So, we can do 80/20 since we're doing all the hard work.”

Prandwas frowned. “I was thinking more you get the cash for four of the stones—minus what I'd already paid you--and I'd get the other three. Assuming you recover all of them, of course.”

“What kind of a reward are we talking about,” Lucha asked.

“I don't know, but the Guild's rich as dragons.”

“That doesn't sound fair to you, friend,” Herald said. “If we only find four, then you don't really get a profit. We would have to find at least five.”

“You were just complaining the deal wasn't much in your favor,” Prandwas said. “I'm willing to take that risk if it doesn't mean ruining my wardrobe in some mosquito-infested pit. If I guarantee you get the proceeds from the first four no matter what—assuming you find any, of course—that sound fair to you?”

“Let's say the first five go to our team. The last two will go to you.”


Elendol plumped down in his chair and everyone jumped, having not realized he was gone. He gave everyone a bland look as Prandwas produced a bag of gold and the promised wand. “A friend of mine made this for me. She's an artificer at the Guild, but she's not up to this kind of long journey.”

“Have you already used a charge to get a general direction? We have a canoe, but may need more depending on how far it is.”

“The range on it isn't THAT big. You'd need to actually travel into the swamp for it to have a chance of working. I'm sure you'll figure it out.” Prandwas headed back to his room. Elendol pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and flipped it onto the table.

“Read that,” he said.


The Guild is so eager to get those lost fools back that they're offering to attune a Soulstone to a new adventurer for each one you can retrieve. Needless to say, we'll all be extremely disappointed if you don't make this work out for us. DON'T get distracted this time. The girls in that muddy pit can't be worth losing this reward.


“Well, that's certainly interesting,” Crash said after everyone had looked it over.

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