The Umber River Strategem

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What's another name for pirate's treasure?
Liliwyn learns to love booty

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As a druid and a worshipper of Mielikki of the Deep Wilds, I have very little use for money or materialism. I take the money we’ve gained from this adventure with great reluctance, knowing that we need it to accomplish our goals but still disliking any engagement with filthy lucre.

But the goods we got from our tomb raid? I must admit this shit is cool.

We found multiple Ioun stones, and I selected an amethyst one. It holds up to three spells, depending on their power, which I am sure will come in handy with our upcoming battle with necromancers.

Most of my companions have found excellent weapons and armor during their journeys, but my inability to handle metal has made it difficult for me. That all changed when we found the tomb of a fellow druid, albeit one who was clearly far more skilled than I. His studded leather armor is perfect for me, adding more protection than my previous armor. It is also magical, able to induce paralyzing fear into my enemies. As I see it, they should be afraid. But this will help bring their feelings in line with the reality of their impending deaths.

Mercy agrees.

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I also got a quarterstaff of healing. It’s a humble-looking weapon, but it can help save the lives of my fellows.

Luckily, Garos got a ring of protection. His combination of impulsiveness and fragility makes me quite glad that he has such a thing.

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Facing A Legendary Death Knight
Liliwyn discovers her destiny

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The sense of destiny that has infused our quest in the East has been validated, though not in the way I would have ever guessed. We were sent back in time not just to help save the world by stopping doomsday cultists from releasing kraken, but to show modern Theskans that resorting to the nuclear option against Orc settlers is foolish and will only result in total destruction.

Enias told us this was our destiny, but I cannot help but think this is but a small part of it, and that greater things lay in store for us. Why else would the universe then turn around and provide us a veritable treasure trove of some of the best weapons and armor I have ever laid eyes upon? My destiny is to make a major blow in the war against necromancy. I can feel it in my bones.

The Theyan wizards must be very afraid, because they sent against us a figure that has been spoken of in whispers in the world of undead fighters, a fiend so evil that I often wondered if he was just a legend. In life, he was a paladin named Sir Antonin, a knight who had sworn himself to the pursuit of justice. But he became wrapped up in a false faith, one that teaches evil beliefs— that women are inferior to men, that same-sex attracted people are perverse— and his religion turned his heart, making him hateful and so evil that he morphed into a true abomination, a death knight, an undead thing composed of pure evil.

I cannot say we slew him. The rot in the soul of a death knight is so profound that they are cursed to live in undeath unless they are somehow redeemed. But we put him down so hard we were able to strip him of his weapons and armor. When he rises again, he will be naked and unarmed. That is not nothing.

It was perhaps the fiercest battle of my life. The death knight was riding a night mare.

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Luckily, I was able to summon some elementals, in the shape of flying magma monsters, before the death knight cursed us with a spell so powerful it nearly killed both myself and Garos. Luckily, Vance revived me enough that I could revive Garos, but we were hardly in much shape to fight. But my elementals had, as asked, breathed so much fire on the death knight that he was weakened and, in short order, my brave companions killed both him and the death knight.

We have returned to Enias’s camp and I have set Garos to work drawing the death knight so I can catalogue him for the book, along with instructions on how silencing spells are a good way to prevent such a monster from casting his deadly spells. Nearly dying was terrifying, of course, as was nearly losing young Garos, who I occasionally worry is not grown enough for such dangerous adventures. (To which he gaily replies, “Gosh, boss, maybe if I were an ordinary gnome, but I’ve been chosen by Oberon!”) But with my new quarterstaff of healing and my magical armor— to finally find magical armor that isn’t metal was such a relief!— I feel we will come out on the other side of this alive.

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The Bane of the Undead Is Singing
Liliwyn cannot wait to kill some necromancers

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We have finally met Enias. He is alive and well, which is exactly what Aglarond told us would not be true, making me all the more concerned that we are being played by them. Either way, I have no trust for them any longer. Or anyone, except my loyal teammates, who may have their secrets but have proven time and time again that they are basically good people who will do the right thing when the chips are down. And that includes Enias, who I fear is so wrapped up in the the intricate politics of Thesk that he has stopped seeing the big picture here.

And that big picture, of course, is stopping the scourge of undeath that poisons our world, perverts the natural order and prevents hapless souls from enjoying their much-deserved rest. As I long suspected, the Red Wizards of They are attempting to build an unholy army of undead to perpetuate their petty political grievances and expand their fascistic empire. Enias and his crew are so caught up in this local civil war that they can’t see what needs to be done, which to totally destroy the Red Wizards and their entire evil empire. So it is up to us.

Enias has, with a reluctance I find a bit disturbing, agreed to let us go after these dark fiends, as if we’re doing him a favor instead of simply doing what needs to be done. (Mielikki help me, I would have thought someone of the angelic persuasion would take a more spiritual, not to mention global and longterm, view of things.) But before he would give us the location of where the Theyan necromancers were working, he made us go stop a bunch of imbeciles from releasing some kraken in order to prosecute their pointless war between humans and orcs.

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Fine. At least it is more noble work than trying to make peace between two factions of people who are so caught up in their grudges that they can’t even hear reason. And so we have done what needed to be done, keeping the kraken in their place and those who would release them have been sent to their eternal rest.

My gnomish friend suggests we should, since we’re already here, load up on weapons that are hidden in the tombs, in order to fight this war. I cannot argue with her logic, but it does seem that doing this might require us to fight some rather unpleasant monsters, like a beholder.

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But no matter. My squire, Garos, does need more battle-hardening and my companions do need more weapons. I have the Bane of the Undead already, but would not want them to miss out on what it’s like to hold such awesome power.

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Soon we will be doing what I was born to do, trained to do, and will likely die doing: Killing the undead. I will not stop until they are all dead or I am.

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Orsik responds to Khulan
In a surprising moment of sobriety, some thoughts

Khulan, what you say has much truth in it for sure. It is hard to shake the feeling that we failed in everything we have tried to do since leaving the red keep. And for once, I was nearly sober for most of it, so I can’t even blame that.

That said, I still think we made the right decisions, given the information we had. I don’t regret trying to stop needless bloodshed, or the slaughter of innocents. Those Orcs are going to die, terribly, at the hands of our ostensible allies. Galushbar was completely overrun by a small team of weaklings that we dispatched in under an hour. The burgeoning Orc militia we saw is totally untrained. Some of its members appeared to be but whelps. And their commander said as much, while also saying they don’t have nearly enough arms to fight.

Yet they insist on doing so. I thought we had an opening to try to save them and, failing that, an opportunity to warn Thesk off from this disastrous course. Particularly as it helps Thay. But no one seems to care. The Orcs know this fight is doomed. They know they’re doing exactly what Thay wants them to do, yet they insist on doing it anyway.

And people wonder why I drink.

We now are faced with a situation: If we are to continue the mission, we are doing it with almost no leads to speak of. So the question is: what is our next move? I think I have an idea.

I have been rereading this letter you discovered while I was in Galashbur. The one between “Loris”and Zuur. I think there are some avenues that will help us that we have not explored that we need to pursue now, especially as Groa has left. Just to be clear, I think we all want the following things, although we might each prioritize them differently:

- To find Enais and discover the truth of what is going on (which may or may not necessitate killing him).
- To hurt Thay as much as possible
- To stop a war between Thesk and the Orcs

This letter, I think, contains two important leads to accomplishing these things. The first takes us to this self-appointed Chieftan of Chieftans, the Gul’Kirskuk of the Adopted Children of Eilistaree.

The letter makes it fairly clear that the Gul’Kirskuk and “Loris” (really, a Doppelgänger) had contact with one another. Which means Gul’Kirskuk may very well have information about Enais (or someone he thinks to be Enais) since Loris is/was Enais’s right hand man. Whether this is the real Enais or some sort of monster adopting his visage, finding this figure will get us closer to our mission. We must speak to the Gul’Kirskuk, as respectfully as possible, and find out what he knows. My hope is our recent altercation with the Theskan military, our bombing of the bridges, and our delivery of arms will buy us an audience and some good will. Perhaps our newfound Orcish monk friend can be our go-between and can help us with this.

We could also try to dissuade the Gil’Kiskuk from playing into Thay’s hands, but I think we should try to get the information we need from him before we disrespect him by telling him what to do. Every time we have tried to do that, we’ve failed. We are dealing with leaders, both civilian and military. They are proud people, after all.

Second, buried in “Loris”’s letter is a mention of the Orc Horde:

“Some of these orcs are very scared and even have been talking about calling for support from the orc hordes. Most resist, but the desperate may seek help from the followers of Grumsh. If the orc hordes enter the region, we may find ourselves with another enemy. They may have no love of Aglarond, but the brutes will not bow to us at all. I’ve killed some of those more eager to call in the orc tribes.”

Thay is clearly worried about the Horde coming to the aid of the Umber River Orcs. This would in turn mean that the Orc state will be too well fortified to easily knock over. “Leoris” even went so far as to assassinate some Orcs who were advocating for contacting the Horde (This must mean, as a side note, that “Leoris” spent a great deal of time with the Orcs). Perhaps, if we can help facilitate this contact, enough of a force will move into the Orc regions of the Umber river that Thesk will be dissuaded from continuing their assault and Thay will be sufficiently intimidated.

This could backfire, however, and simply escalate the conflict between Thesk and the Orcs radically. But it’s worth saying that the Orcs are currently doing exactly what Thay wants them to do. Perhaps we should point this out to them, and ask them (respectfully) to consider doing the thing that Thay specifically says it’s afraid of. Of course, as you mentioned Khulan, we are terrible at playing The Great Game of international politics and war thus far. So perhaps we shouldn’t even try. But we could at least tell the Chieftan of Chieftans about it and let him make up his own mind. Then at least we’d know we had done what we could to try to stop this needless bloodshed before moving on.

These are the other avenues available to me:

I am supposed to speak to Groa via a sending spell tomorrow at sundown. Hopefully she will respond. I think if we carefully craft a message to her—keeping in mind it must be 25 words or less—we might be able to convince her to tell us where she is so that we can resume finding Enais.

I can also Send a message back to our handlers at Aglarond asking them to try to stop this fight between Thesk and the Orcs. They believe—with ample justification—that Thesk is the weakest of the States surrounding Thay and that Thay will move first against it. Once they know that Thay is already doing this and that Thesk is playing right into Thay’s hands, they might do something about it.

But I think no matter what, we might have to accept that our ability to help people who do not want—and are, in fact, actively hostile to—the help we want to provide is limited.

So I say we make contact with the Gul’Kishkuk, with Groa and with the Synarchy and see where we are. If all of this fails, we can always venture into Thay, start causing some havoc, get Khulan a new red wizard skull to drink out of, and see if we can learn anything.

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A heart-to-heart with my Squad Buddies
Khulan has given recent events a lot of thought, and has something she's like to reluctantly share

We might not be good at diplomacy, you guys.

I know we all thought it would be a good thing to try to stop the orcs and the Theskians from fighting each other instead of fighting the Red Wizards but it occurs to me that maybe diplomacy isn’t one of our Squad Strengths.

Also, I worry that even though we have been having tons of wonderful Squad adventures — I got to slay a chain devil, from the Nine Hells! And pilot an airship! All in the same day! — it also seems like the one person who could have led us to Enias has left us and run off to find him on her own, and probably warn him that we are coming. I don’t mean to alarm anyone, but does this seem kind of bad to anyone else, Squad Buddies?

I mean, I know everyone is sad that our former Squad Buddy Groa isn’t our Squad Buddy anymore (even though she was kind of a downer and kept shooting arrows at me for no reason) but my friends, are we even still trying to find Enias? Is that our mission? Or did we get a new mission? I am not sure what our mission is.

Squad buddies, I need you to tell me these things.

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From Leoris Lightdancer to Chaitin Zurn

Chathin,

We will need to transfer heavy ordinance soon, but not before the militias are ready. The Adopted Children of Eilistraee will declare an independent orc federation along the banks of Lake Umber and the Umber river but only after the once the militias are trained and their numbers sufficient. Only after Thesk launches an attack should the heavy ordinance be sent, guaranteeing that it will be used against Thesk and not us.

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Some of these orcs are very scared and even have been talking about calling for support from the orc hordes. Most resist, but the desperate may seek help from the followers of Grumsh. If the orc hordes enter the region, we may find ourselves with another enemy. They may have no love of Aglarond, but the brutes will not bow to us at all. I’ve killed some of those more eager to call in the orc tribes.

Thesk will send various militias to stop the Adopted once the uprising starts; small militia units are attacking villages already, but that may be more out of the new Theskian Warmages desire to create a consolidate, centralized human state. We will need to help the Adopted hold out long enough for the orcs and the Theskans to bleed enough forces for us to take the new orc state easily, and maybe even take a good deal of deeper Thesk along the way. They may not have a hard a time as we thought in holding out. The self-proclaimed “Gul-Kish’ku” of the Adopted is considerably more effective than expected.

The numbers of the Adopted are nearly 6,000 now. The Theskan government has always claimed that orcs are less than 1 in 10, perhaps only 1 in 20; in truth that number may be close to 1 in 5. Many continue to flock to the militias, and for good reason. The stupid Theskians are proving to be more brutal and thus more useful than expected. The numbers of the Adopted swell with each Theskan raid.

But one way or another this orc federation will be stillborn, I promise. And Thesk’s efforts to finally create a real state instead of this network of weak lords and baronies will finally succeed with a centralized Thesk… ruled by a Thayan viceroy.

On another practical note, the Gul-Kish’ku has asked, as you expected, where we managed to get such firepower. They accepted the story that the arms are coming from remnants of the faction that was defeat by us a few months ago in Waterdeep, that their remnants have now become arms dealers and smugglers. But they are not buying the idea that these dealers have stolen heavy ordinance from Thay. He wants proof that we ambushed a major Thayan party with 300 jars of Dragon’s Breadth. “Too convenient,” he said. He asked the “arms dealer” come when the explosives are delivered.

I suggest that you bring the document to show that Zass Tamm is reinforcing the old Red Keep. Best to hide lies with truths.

They are cautious; getting key figures to meet us so that we can get them near some dopplegangers will not be easy.

I await delivery at the Adopted Camp outside Tar Hill on 18th of Eleint.

—Leoris Lightdancer

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Observations: Flameskull, bleakborn
And a bonus dragon

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A flameskull is particularly nasty creature whose dim recollection of its former life lends a certain air of pathos to its suffering. Permanently killing a flameskull so that its spirit can ascend to the next realm is not easy. You must splash some holy water on it after you break it apart, or it will reform.

Bleakborn.jpg The bleakborn is a fairly standard undead thing, smarter and tougher than a zombie, but still not the kind of undead the leaves an experienced zombie killer sleepless at night. This was was being used in service of what I assume were the Red Wizards of Thay. If there were more on the airship that transported him to us, the copper dragons graciously killed them all.

Bleakborn are drawn to fire, so should we encounter more, we can use the flames to draw them out. That should make Garos happy, as he loves shooting fireballs in the way that most young men his age like to masturbate.

Speaking of Garos, he was so impressed by the copper dragons attacking the airship that he included a drawing of one to go with the bleakborn and flameskull drawings. This book is to catalog the undead and collecting knowledge that threatens to be lost if not for undead scholars like myself. Dragons do not need me to catalog their form and behaviors, which are well-known. Still, it was a spiffy drawing and, more importantly, the more time Garos spends with his paints and paper, the less time he will spend accidentally bringing forth earth elementals. The bit where the dragon seems to be speaking to a gnome is pure invention on his part.

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Are we being taken for a ride?
Liliwyn worries that the Synarchy has hidden too much from the adventurers

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I am beginning to fear that we are being exploited by the Synarchy. We have found Groa, as they asked, and persuaded her to go find Enais. However, the more time I spend with her, the more I find her to be a trustworthy and bright woman, and the worse I feel about keeping the secret from her that we fear her beloved foster father might be turned into some kind of undead thrall by the Thay.

Worse, I am beginning to see why she is suspicious of Aglorand. There is nothing good about their policy of trying to know and see everything while refusing to be transparent themselves. I know they would not want us to go to the Red Keep of the Unliving and would prefer instead we just find Enais wherever he is, but at this point, that’s all the more reason to keep exploring. We are in grave danger here, and not knowing why or much about what is going on will only make it more so.

Of course, I am also not passing up an opportunity to go to a place that is no doubt teeming with undead.

Our attempts to save this Orc village have left me in a sour mood. It seemed so straightforward at first: Humans killing innocent Orcs, including children, who have doing nothing wrong but to shun the maddening crowd to live the lives of humble farmers at one with the land. But fighting them caused me to commit a couple of acts I regret, starting with the death of the direbear.

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I had no choice, of course, but to kill such a magnificent creature that bore us no personal animosity, but had been kidnapped and forced into service to murderous humans, broke my heart.

I also endured a bit of humiliation after being turned into a chicken. Oh, how my companions laughed at me, but the chicken is a noble beast that harms no one. Cackling at one is amusement for the all too easily entertained.

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But what caused my sinking stomach was the assurance that human had, before we killed him, that he was somehow doing right by setting a building of unarmed Orcs, many of whom are children, on fire. No doubt such a belief is inherently a racist delusion. Still, I had my concerns that mere racism was not enough to drive a bunch of humans to such madness.

And sure enough, a little prying revealed that these humans did have reason to be afraid. Not of Orcs, but I have no doubt that they have seen ships traveling the Umber bearing weapons that will soon be used against Thesk.

My current theory is that the Red Wizards of Thay are deliberately provoking racial anxieties in Thesk, hoping that humans and Orcs will war on each other (possibly taking out many half-elves and gnomes with them). These wars will leave the countryside decimated and the population’s defenses weakened, making it easier for Thay to invade, enslaving all of them. Theskians should be working together, but poor communication and prejudice will make these kind of internecine wars nearly inevitable.

But the real question is what role Aglorand is playing? If they were, as they say, simply interested in protecting Thesk against Thay invasion, surely they would have been more forthcoming about what is going on here. I doubt it is simply that they wished us not to get sidetracked from our mission. After all, by not telling us more, they have piqued our curiosity. Our ostensible leader, Orsic, could not give a fuck, and neither can anyone else, about just finding Enais when there is a greater mystery at stake.

Except Groa, of course, who seems reluctant to go to the Red Keep instead of continuing upriver. I feel the time to tell her the whole truth is drawing near. Secrets do not help anyone.

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Voyage of the Man-O-War
Meeting my great destiny

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The first leg of our journey was to Veltalar, the capital city of Aglarond, where the Simbarch Council had an offer to make us. Money is not of much interest to me, but fighting undead is, and I had my suspicions, after the events in Waterdeep, that Aglarond, being long-standing enemies of the Red Wizards of Thay, might be offering a chance to really kick some undead ass, while offering not just compensation but all expenses paid. Our journey started off uneventful, with only a weak attempt at taking the ship by some raiders.

But then we were attacked by an airship that sent, through a portal, a mage and a slaughter wight to come kill us. We defeated them, but not before the slaughter wight created another wight and the mage summoned a water elemental. Luckily, my new companions, a dragon born who seems honorable (if a bit worrisome in his methods) and a gnome who is the least gnomelike gnome I’ve ever met, were able to hold their own and we won the battle with only the loss of the one sailor.

Still, I was so worried for the life of our captain that I turned into a saber tooth tiger in hopes of scaring off the water elemental that hurt her so badly.

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I flew after the airship but saw almost nothing of any interest in it. I assume that it was sent by the Thay, but the leaders of Aglarond are just sketchy enough that I can’t rule out the possibility that they are involved.

Once we arrived at Veltalar, our movements were closely controlled, apparently because this mission is too secret for any leaks. We were told that the Aglarond had a tentative peace with Thay, but they feel this is threatened because Thay’s civil war had resolved in favor of the undead, led by the infamous litch Szass Tam. (No surprise there. Undead are cheating nature, so it’s not surprising that they cheat when it comes to war and politics.) Aglarond has become an unsettling security state after they lost their leader, known as The Symbol. The police state vibe of the place added to my already strong dislike of such an organized, urban area. If I’m being honest, the politics of it ended up interesting me less than finding out that I would be soon returned to where I belong, the wild with its open river.

Still, there is something off about what is asked of us. While even the high level officials seem unaware of it, apparently Aglarond is building military bases in Thesk, a gnome-heavy country that is constantly besieged by illegal Thayian slave traders who want to extract new quarry. They sent a Lord Enias Mythrahal into Thesk in order to work on this mission, but he is disappeared, or, as we found out, actually not. No, he’s flipped and is working for the Thay now.

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Of course, we only find all this out after some spy enters our supposedly secret location and hits poor Vance with some drau poison, causing me to sic some spiders on him. The whole thing unnerved me so much I didn’t even ask the questions I normally would of the Aglarond officials who showed up to share this secret that their beloved Lord Enias is a treacherous cock-sucker for a lord of the undead.

I don’t trust those guys. They claim to want peace but are taking measures they know for a fact will be read as aggressive. But you know what? I also don’t care. Politics aren’t my thing, even in a place where half-elves rule, like Aglarond. They can play their reindeer games. All I’m interested in is the spread of the undead and making it stop. Or, if that’s not possible, at least learning as much as I can about as many undead as possible, so the undead fighting Circle of the Moon—-as well as any fellow travelers—-can get leaner and meaner about fighting this threat to the natural order. If Aglarond is willing to pay for me to fight undead and undermine their center of power, so be it. If they have corrupt politics, that is their business and not mine.

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Our mission is simple: Go up the Umber and find Enias. His foster daughter Groa will help us, though we are not to tell her that we think he’s a mind-controlled possible zombie, or she might not be as helpful as she possibly should be. We will be meeting two more people to help us on our mission. Straightforward, simple.

And yet, I keep wondering, and hope this isn’t just Garos getting into my head, if this isn’t something more. I always thought I was destined for the life of an ordinary soldier: Fight, die if necessary, for the eradication of the undead, sure. A life of honor, but not necessarily of glory. But this mission, which promises levels of undead activity that no one living, not even the oldest elf, has ever seen? And while toting around an unmistakeable Scion of Oberon while I do it? I can’t help but wonder if I’m on a path to greater things. If this might actually be more than a scuttle in the long war against undeath, but a great battle. I will try to keep my expectations in check, but part of me hopes so.

But either way, I look forward to the opportunity to chronicle the various undead things we meet, many of which I suspect have never been properly observed and cataloged since the Circle of the Moon committed to the art of undead taxonomy. Doubly so, now that I have Garos on hand. The boy isn’t a half-bad artist, especially when I cast Guidance on him. (Plus, giving him something to do shuts him up for awhile.) We will, if nothing else, return home with some excellent drawings and descriptions of the undead.

If we return home, that is.

I keep thinking of Gunther. What would he think of this crazy mission? Would he think it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take undead fighting—-and taxonomy—-to the next level? Or would the iffy motivations of my employers make him think twice? Probably the latter, but he was always an overcautious man in many ways, overly concerned with praying and less with taking the big chances. I miss him, but I’m the one in charge now. So I think it’s time to go for it.

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