SC-Heroes' Ascent

Waste

Since the encounter with Crescendo’s jilted lover, the bounty hunters, and meeting Derek Poundstone, Leonis had spent most of the remainder of the day walking ahead of their wagon and the others, away from the sounds of Morfael tending to the Tiefling’s wounds and the occasional snatches of Firuz’s conversations with the gigantic mountain man, staying there until the skies turned to twilight, and he helped find a good place to set camp and make dinner.

The memory of most of the bounty hunters killing themselves rather than surrendering after the fight was clearly lost was a sour taste in his food.

The sounds of Crescendo taunting the half-elf who he’d apparently loved and left, driving her to attempt to kill both herself and him out of rage spoiled the taste of his drink.

They’d gained…what? A few magical trinkets. The warning that many more would likely be coming to challenge them for the prize on Crescendo’s head. And for that, 5 needless deaths in a pointless fight.

The more he thought about it, the more the anger he’d worked to tamp back down after the fight nagged at him.

Without speaking to the others, he stood, dumped his mostly uneaten food into the ground, and headed for his bedroll. He wanted nothing more than to try to forget the utter waste of the day.

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Reflection

After finishing the town’s evening meeting, despite the boisterous mood that gripped the town, Leonis didn’t really feel like celebrating. Heading away from the small house near the library which had become his home, he instead walked to the South tower, wanting a bit of quiet, and was surprised to find Cynn.

“Keeping watch?”

“It’s my turn.”

The southern girl seemed to puff herself up slightly as she answered, trying to impress him again. Despite being in a bit of a pensive mood, Leonis couldn’t help but smile just a little.

“Fair answer…but consider yourself relieved – they’re having quite a party in town. I’ll keep an eye on the gates until the next watch.” Cynn gave him a bit of a skeptical look, but she nodded and headed down the tower stairs all the same, leaving the paladin alone with the night sky.

Letting out a long sigh, Leonis settled onto one of the benches atop the lookout post, listening to quiet creaks and clanks as his armor settled against itself.

He’d already been a bit troubled when Brandis had led his friends and sister into town wanting to join ‘Your crusade’. He wasn’t going to turn them away when the children had been in need and had nowhere to go, but the idea of a crusade?

He wasn’t a crusader, was he? He fought, yes. But he fought mostly to defend and to protect, not to conquer or to subjugate. Even the battles he now found himself preparing for against the Yuan Ti and the primordials was more about protecting the world, in a way. He wasn’t looking to try and invade their lands, even if he was beginning to amass something of an army.

The Harbingers go where they are needed, Gutrod had said, They fight when it’s too dangerous for anyone else to stand.

That meant a big responsibility to live up to, and more importantly, it meant they’d have to go a lot more places than Sebohin or the elven lands. Acting like an army of conquest wasn’t going to serve that end.

Worse was the fact that Brandis seemed to think that anyone who didn’t follow Andrikos was a heretic to be attacked – even if (name) had apparently corrected a fair bit of that notion out of his head after Brandis had provoked him into their brief fight, that was the kind of attitude that could do worse than provoke fights in camp – it could easily lead to other cities and peoples not wanting to allow the Harbingers to pass through.

“The light of the sun is for everyone. Andrikos will shine down upon every face, even if they don’t always turn towards him…”

How to explain that to Brandis? He’d tried earlier, but it didn’t seem like he’d really been listening – he was far more interested in hearing his idol praise his zeal than receive a lecture on tolerance.

Admittedly, at his age, Leonis hadn’t been the best at listening to Father Brendan’s teachings, either, but as he got older, he’d realized the value of what his teacher had been trying to show him. But did Brandis have that kind of time? Even if he wasn’t comfortable with Brandis and his friends fighting alongside the Harbingers right now, the fact was that they lived in a city full of powerful individuals…and someone might just take offense at being called a heretic too many times. In particular he could imagine Daar, Berrian, or Content Not Found: sc-pain giving him quite a rough lesson indeed…

He was having an easy time finding problems, but not much of answers in the cool night air. Still, it was at least fairly quiet, and the sounds of the welcoming party that the breeze carried to him seemed to slowly be muting to the noises of Haven generally settling in for a peaceful night…

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2 Weeks after the Big Battle.

As everyone continues to do their duties in helping clean up the land that just went to pieces, you know that Ainerun is much more concerned about the forest than anything else. So he’s helping the Elves as Leonis is helping the Humans, and the rest of you are doing your own thing. About 2 weeks later, each of you receives a note from the town of Dimlain. You open it up and there’s card stock inside the envelope, and it says:

Tengwar

If you can read Elven, or know someone close that can, the resulting translation is:

Ba bhreá le
Siofra Durmenel agus Ainerun Cionaoith
Dá mbeadh sibh
in ann ceiliúradh linn
tráthnóna ár mbainse ag 16 Samhain 212 Tríúaois
Teampall Dimlain

16 Samhain is 6 weeks after this letter was sent, (be sure to add delivery time for your characters), so plan accordingly!

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Another Letter

Father Brendan,

I’m not sure when, or even if, I’ll ever have a chance to send you this letter. I hope you are well and that the monastery is safe. It’s funny – I spent so long wanting to travel the world and visit all the places that the caravans and traders spoke of. I’ve seen elven cities, disappearing towns, magic temples, Dragonborn sages, Eladrin magic…even now we’re travelling into these breathtaking (if dangerous) mountains and the Dwarven kingdoms.

But for all that, I wish I could wake up tomorrow and see my parents’ farm, or walk through the market after our morning devotions. I suppose I’m learning that sometimes having a thing isn’t as good as wanting, after all.

I’ve also learned that being a warrior – a protector, like you, isn’t a simple or clear thing. I’ve seen some truly wondrous things – but I’ve also seen some terrible, sickening things.

My anger at those who deliberately attack the helpless and weak burns at me – sometimes I feel like it could spiral out of control.

I have tried to offer succor and help to those I can, to make things right. I’ve tried to push the anger away, and concentrate on doing what is just. But I’ve learned that can be so much harder than I thought when I was growing up.

I want to live up to your example, Father. I will continue to strike to do so.

-Leonis

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A Letter

This letter is bound for Alain Marsters, late of the Sebohin monastery, and would be of dubious utility to any other should it be intercepted. I seal this in the name of Andrikos, may his light shine upon those who carry it to its’ intended destination.

Alain,

It’s been only a few days since we parted company, but so much has happened that I barely know where to begin.

We traveled north, attempting to reach Girithin, but we encountered more and more hobgoblins from the Red Hand ‘tribe’. (I’m not actually sure if they call themselves tribes, clans, or soemthing else, but it turns out this is important!)

As we attempted to take a deeper path into the forests to evade their notice, we chanced upon a group of gnomes assembling some fantastically complex machinery in a large clearing. It turned out that ‘Nicole’, who you may recall joined us while we were in Dimlain, seemed to know one of them! They asked us to keep out of the way while they conducted an experiment, and to defend them should we be attacked by the hobgoblins.

As it turned out, we were indeed discovered, but by a different ‘tribe’ of goblins – this batch wore tunics and armor with a different design – an axe upon a shield that had been divided between black and white. To my surprise, as we gained the upper hand in the short battle that followed, their leader surrendered rather than shed blood needlessly, and we spoke for a time. He was pledged to the Hobgoblin general Morthok we had heard about when we met with the Council of Seven.

As we parleyed, the gnomes began their experiment, and that’s when everything got strange, even by recent standards.

Their machinery began to cause strange and intense Earthquakes – much like the ones we felt not long before we encountered the dire wolves, back when this all began. As the Earthquakes intensified, a city began to appear in the forest clearing! From what I was told later, the city belongs to the Eladrin, and the gnomes were attempting to bring it back from the Feywild by their science and magic. Unfortunately, they didn’t get it quite right…as the gnomes worked, a sudden rip in the sky appeared, and through it came a creature that I cannot truly describe. My eyes seemed to almost slide off of it as I tried to discern details. We’d later learn that it was a creation of Primordial natures called a ‘Mursaat’.

We attempted to battle it back, but I regret to say that many of the gnomes and our temporary hobgoblin allies fell before it could be stopped. However, by luck or fate, many of the Eladrin who the gnomes had attempted to rescue were able to remain in our plane, along with a great deal of the city.

After taking some council with the Eladrin, they gave us some fresh provisions and magical gifts, and we traveled on to the North.

Unfortunately, as we neared Girithin, we found the small obstacle of the main Goblin army besieging the city. Even worse, we felt another earthquake (apparently the gnomes have been performing quite a few ‘experiments’ in an attempt to re-open our world to magic and the Gods), and another Mursaat appeared!

After a battle where many goblins were slain, and ‘Nicole’ stricken by a strange affliction by the Mursaat, we were captured and escorted to the heart of the camp. There we met with Go’ren and Nog’ri, the massive Bugbear and the goblin sorceror we encountered at the monastery. It seems they are sworn servants of General Morthok.

To my surprise, we were ushered into dinner with the general, where we discussed the Mursaat, our attempts to reach our friends, and some discussion (very carefully) around what the Goblin army was attempting to do. I found the general a surprisingly honorable man. The forces dedicated to him (as opposed to the red-handed ones, of whom I will speak more shortly) clearly fight with an aspect of being a professional, disciplined army. No wanton killing or pointless destruction – were he not involved in besieging our friends, I’d actually say that he seemed quite admirable.

His second in command, however, is less so. A goblin mystic named Hakjor, he leads the red handed goblins, and seems…well, you’ll complain about me making snap judgements again, but there seems to be almost a palpable sense of evil coming from him. He was apparently the one who told his minions to burn the monastery, where Go’ren and Nog’ri sought to simply steal the orb. He also seems to be sending more and more of his forces south towards Dimlain, and I fear his ambitions do not stop there.

I fear that the Council’s request that we break the siege by stopping the army’s commanders is a dangerous one – if Hakjor claimed full command of that massive army, he would be a true terror. As it was, we could not proceed to Girithin, and it did not seem safe to travel back to Dimlain, so we accepted the General’s offer of shelter until Nicole recovered, and to release us at the Western edge of the encampment, so we could travel on from there.

We made some safe travel away, though we were eventually beset by attackers sent by Hakjor in an attempt to kill us. As we traveled, we originally considered returning to the Eladrin city, but we were favored with another path.

We were guided in another direction by means that you simply would not believe should I tell you. Once we traveled for a few days, we found what I can only describe as a truly ancient temple which appeared out of nothingness as the dawn broke through the skies.

As we explored it, we became aware that strange creatures – elves, but not elves, men, but not men, wolves, but not wolves, had inhabited it. We attempted to meet them in peace, but we were forced to battle. It was a near thing, but we prevailed, and after a brief rest we explored deeper into the temple.

To my great shock, we battled even stranger creatures as we approached the temple’s heart. Beings of wind, rock, and burning stone attempted to drive us out. Warriors made of ice and flame nearly slew us all, until Mikhail was able to rally our band to drive them off. And finally, in the lowest chambers of the dungeon…a dragon!

It was massive – scales that were the colors of fresh grass, heavy leaves, and old copper encased its’ bulk. We were nearly spent, but we knew that we had to defeat the dragon if we had any chance at all of surviving the day.

It was a long, difficult battle, but by skill, luck, and Andrikos’ protection, we managed to finally slay the dragon, and claim his hoard before we made our way to safety as quickly as possible!

I seem to have forgotten to mention that we heard sounds of battle from another part of the temple even as we made our escape – it would seem that Hakjor had sent another party to attempt to murder us and seize the temple! Fortunately, they were slowed by more of the strange defenders we had already battled through, and could not reach us before we were able to make our escape.

Going through the treasures we recovered, It turned out there was a reason we had been guided to this temple – within the dragon’s lair was another orb, much like the one stolen from Hannah’s monastery. I intend to protect it until we can find someone who can tell us what it is, and why Hakjor is trying so hard to gather them to himself.

These are truly strange times – I still can’t believe that I saw a dragon, much less tested myself in battle against it!

I hope that someday soon I will be able to come to the monastery that you and Hannah are working to restore. It seemed like it was a very pleasant place, before the battle. I think I would enjoy spending some time there in peace!

I pray that all the gods watch over you, and that this letter finds both you and Hannah well.

Leonis

(P.S. – I’ve been given what I can only call a staggering amount of gold from the Dragon’s hoard. I really have no good use for it, so I’m putting it away in a sealed bag until I see you next – I would think it should make rebuilding the monastery a great deal easier!)

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A Most Unusual Meal

When they’d been escorted, for lack of a better word, into the Goblin headquarters, Leonis had been too busy trying to aid Nicole (or whatever her name was) to worry much about anything else.

Now, after dining with the General, Nog’ri, Go’ren, and others, he wasn’t sure what to think, or what to worry about.

They’d been treated fairly and honorably. The General had been surprisingly polite, really, given that they’d been fighting (and killing) so many of his men since they’d journeyed towards Dimlain.

Suddenly, Leonis’ eyes snapped open.

Or were they his men?

Until they’d encountered the Goblin warrior who’d aided them against the first Mesthot, hadn’t all of them been wearing the red hand insignia that the Arcanist had worn?

Does the general know that his ‘Advisor’ has been sending troops out towards Dimlain?

Leonis wasn’t sure how he could ask the question, but he suddenly had a great urge to find out.

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Trust

When Ainerun started his trip to Sebohin, he had no idea what to expect. All he knew is that Dimlain was in trouble, and that he was told by his dad to find help. All he had were Landrovel and Cedric with him as they traveled. Honestly, Ainerun had no idea what to expect in Sebohin, and boy was he in for a treat. He leaves his family and his betrothed in town, walking, on a dangerous mission that he might not come back from.

His trek into town was nothing noteworthy, but as he got into town, he had a spat with Landrovel and Cedric over which way to go. Being as proud as he is, of course, Ainerun took the wrong turn, into the bad part of town. He walked into The Blue Oyster and… well… we won’t talk about that anymore. Let’s just say that the patrons kept trying to give him a pair of “magic pants”.

Once he got out of there, gasping for air, he finally finds his way to Gutrods, on the other side of town. There he meets up with Landrovel and Cedric, and they form whoever they can, about 15 people, or so, and head out of town.

As they start on their journey away from Sebohin, he sees Brother Leonis get called by his patron god, and the brother’s ability to actually smite his enemies. At the same time, the musician is actually able to explode people’s heads off by uttering bad jokes. He’s concerned, he’s wondering, what kind of witchcraft is this? Surely the Tiefling musician’s work is that of the Anmat, but that does not explain Brother Leonis’ unwavering devotion to Andrikos. The only thing he knows is that they all are finding their calling as they get close to death, however, being that close to the edge is not something worth risking.

A couple nights later, he watches as Landrovel walks into a set of what can be called living bushes, and come out 20 minutes later as him, but as someone else, too. A wolf-man? Lycanthropy? Or is The Silence going away? If so, where were Ainerun’s powers? This is stuff that he read only in books. This is folklore. This is stuff that was last seen 200 years ago, surely it’s just a fable, isn’t it?

Then, one night, while keeping watch, a vision comes to him. It’s that guy from the bar who kept talking about the magical pants. The vision actually talks to him, explaining how to draw an arrow and use it even more deadly. How he can move and keep his eye on the target at the same time. The vision describes how to pull the bow just right and feel it so the arrow flies at the exact location. This is information Ainerun took to heart, but why that guy from The Blue Oyster? The information was surprising, but why him? Why here? Why now? Why was a humble man like him called?

The journey back home, for some reason, is much more dangerous than the trip to Sebohin. As they head back to Dinlain, the hobgoblins seem to be on this course to ensure that this group do not make it back. Every 5 days or so, there would be an attack, and a few would die. Problem is, there is no time for mourning. You have to move on, or you’ll never get home. It battle hardens him, but it also makes him weary about what is to come.

They fight on for a few days, and while they are fighting, and wandering, a handful of the party get kidnapped. The part that did not, which included Ainerun, decide that they are going to find their other party members and try to remove this small party of goblins (or hobgoblins). While on the search, The party finds what they think is one of the smaller strongholds for the hobgoblins. He’s relieved, until he finds two dead on stakes, and one… Eladrin?

What is she doing here? and what manner of control does she have over the leader? The leader is chasing her once she gets freed, but she keeps pushing them away, running for the group. The leader of this gang of hobgoblins is fixed on her, for some reason. Ainerun has never seen anyone so beautiful, or so absolutely deadly, in his life. However, once she finishes the leader, is she going to turn on him and his friends? What is she going to do? Again, more fables coming to life, this is some weird dream.

The Eladrin runs off, and instead of pursuing her, because he has so many questions, instead, he keeps heading home. About a day away from the home, they find a monastery on the edge of the woods that was attacked by more hobgoblins, and when they finally find the people who attacked, they teleport away into thin air, with the remainder killing themselves. More witchery? People can just do that? Finally, one of the members of the little monastery shows up, and can’t explain why, or what, but she seems like a good person, or is Hannah in on this as well? People keep flying in, flying out of his life. Good people gone, strange people staying. He doesn’t know what to make of it; he’s just not thinking about it.

Finally, he makes it home, only to find home completely boarded up. Why? It used to be such a free town. Now there are two sets of walls, patrol posts everywhere. Everyone’s got a bow and arrow or a sword on their hilts. Where was the peace? Where was the tranquility? He gets into town, and his friends are immediately put into what could be called “customs” to make sure that they’re not here to lay waste to the town. Why? Wasn’t coming in with Ainerun good enough? He can understand the animals, but what happened?

Oh, the Hobgoblins have declared war on the Elves.

Well, that changes things.

And so, a meeting in the council chambers. He sees people he came with, so that’s a relief, but who the heck is that on Brother Leonis’ arm? He thought Brother Leonis had a vow of celibacy or something like that, so who is that little wench? Wasn’t she that girl who was left in holding for 4 days? There had to be a reason why she was still in holding, and to get out like that? Who the, what the… Ainerun scans around the room, where’s Landrovel and Cedric? Where’s everyone else who was supposed to go ahead and meet them here? So he lost everyone but 4 people, and gained this arm candy. Yeah, this is going to look good in front of the council.

Fortunately, the council said that the members who showed up were already on route to Girithin, to try to get a head start on the hobgoblins to the north of that city. Of course, he would’ve liked to have known about this first, but oh well, better late than never. The meeting went well, and Siofra’s uncle know that woman on Leonis’ arm, but how? And if he knew this girl, why was she in holding for 4 days? That’s something that doesn’t make sense.

After this, House Cionaith found some Shifters from Sebohin. What, WHAT? Shifters? Yes, Shifters, and they wanted to know what happened to Storm, one of the people that left Sebohin with the group, but died early on. Crecendo told him what had happened, and he understood, and then, shifted into the form of the guy with the “magic pants.” Well, shit, it’s going to be that kind of night, isn’t it?

The town wakes up in the morning, refreshed, after a good party. Relieved that the plan is more intact that he had imagined, and that the people closest to him are the one he would trust with anything, he gives Siofra one last kiss before riding off to Girithin, hoping that the fate of that town is just as good as the one he is leaving.

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Partings

Despite the exhaustion he felt after addressing The Council of Seven and the Elder, the brief spurt of fear at their encounter with Flint and his shifter pack, and the grim shadow that hung over everyone from the encroaching Goblin threat, Leonis couldn’t help but feel a bit of awe as he left the House Cionaoith keep just as dawn began to break through the trees, bathing the city in golden light.

“Well, we made it…an Elven city! ” What a simple goal it had been…come to the city and protect it. How complex it had become, now.

Leonis was distracted from his thoughts in the early dawn by the gentle rustle of bridled horses. Turning, he walked back towards the keep as Alain and Hannah rode out, dressed for travel.

“So, this is it, then?”

Alain nodded, his voice quiet. “For now, at least. We’ll make our best way to Sebohin, and from there, we’ll see where Aerie and Alaric guide us.”

Leonis nodded, a sad smile crossing his face. “I’m sure that Father Brendan will be able to help with restoring the monastery. Maybe when this is over, I’ll have the chance to come see it.”

Hannah smiled back at this. “I hope so.”

“Alain…I’m sorry that it’s gone on like this, and that there’s been so much death and loss. But I am glad that you came with me, and that you’ve been by my side.”

The Alarite reached down, and the two priests clasped hands tightly.

“You, too, Leonis. May Alaric protect you, even as Andrikos guides your sword and shield. I’ve no doubt that the journey up to Girithin is going to be a dangerous one. Keep yourself in one piece!”

“Don’t worry – I will!” As they broke their clasp, Leonis suddenly looked thoughtful. “But, can I ask you a favor?”

“Of course. What?”

“After you reach Sebohin, can you take a message to Gutrod for me?”

“Gutrod? Sure.”

“Tell him that The Harbingers will be needed again.”

”...the Harbingers…” Alain’s face creased in puzzlement, but he nodded. “I will. Anything else?”

“Only that if he should ask where we’re headed, let him know that we’re bound for Girithin. I suspect he’ll know what to do, after that.”

They said a final goodbye, and as the priest and priestess road for the city gates, Leonis’ hand drifted to the spear and sun at his neck. “May the Light shine down upon you, and guide your path. May the Wind blow gentle upon your brow, and may the Blessing of Andrikos ease your burdens and speed your journey.”

His prayer complete, he bowed to the sun as it rose higher into the skies, the sounds of Dimlain awakening to a new day reaching his ears. Turning back to the keep, he returned to the room that Ainerun’s father had granted him for their stay. Alain and Hannah were not the only ones leaving Dimlain today, and he had his own preparations to look to before they set off for the North.

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Ashes

As the others continued to argue about what the strange Bugbear and Goblin might have been there to do, Leonis began the trek up the stairs, armored feet clanking noisily against stone steps.

What did they take from that shrine?

He was almost certain it had been an orb – glowing with some kind of light. From the way things had been arranged, almost certainly a relic the monastery had been built to protect. But why?

The other goblins had killed themselves rather than answer any questions after their leaders had made their magical escape. No answers to be had there. But perhaps, just perhaps, there might be answers once they reached Dimlain...either asking about the strange teleporting magics the thieves had used, or perhaps seeing if Artair might be recognize it. After all, it had been a shrine to Silionwe.

A long sigh wound its way up the stairwell. “If he’ll talk to us about it, anyhow.” That seemed unlikely, but it was at least worth a try.

As he neared the top of the stairwell, he could smell the smoke, laced with the scents of burnt oils, incense, and the sick-sweet undertone of burnt flesh. The fires that the goblins had set, apparently against the commands of the bugbear and his Master, still smoldered. Finally making his way to the hidden door in the traveler’s shrine, he wondered about the missing monk – the servant of Aerie who had apparently escaped the slaughter. He hoped that whomever the goddess had blessed with the fortune to escape would understand that they’d gotten to the monastery to late to save his fellows, and that they’d done their best to avenge their deaths on those responsible.

He hoped it would be enough.

As the others caught up to him, he stepped back out of the traveler’s shrine and onto the road, then froze. A horse and cart now sat there, where none had been before, and a figure sat in the road, on their knees, in horrified shock at what had happened to the monastery.

Stepping forward, his legs like lead, Leonis tried to clear a throat that had suddenly gone dry, a tongue glued to his mouth.

”...brother monk?”

At his voice, the woman(!?), dressed in traveler’s garb and wearing a symbol of Aerie turned to him, her eyes filled with tears, and Leonis could taste nothing but ash.

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Legends

The Hobgoblin camp was not noticeably improved by being the site of a pitched battle, Leonis thought. After cutting down the bodies of the goblins’ horrific sacrifices and giving them proper burial, he had gone off to a quiet part of the forest to pray over their spirits after Alain had helped him tend to everyone else’s wounds.

Andrikos, guide their spirits to peace and rest that they did not find in life. Let them bask in your radiance and run in the endless fields, and may they look down upon us and smile as you continue to guide our hands.”

As he walked back to where they were searching through the remnants of the camp before they made their next move, Leonis saw Carric and the other two Elves cluster around the strange woman they had saved earlier, who had commanded such astonishing powers. He’d caught Carric mentioning her as ‘Eladrin’. Could it be? The Eladrin were beings of legend – if they had ever truly existed at all!

On the other hand, an Elf who could turn into a wolf was certainly a being of legend. To say nothing of a Tiefling who could make a Hobgoblin’s head explode by insulting it. And then there’s the matter of a warrior of Andrikos who could call up on his Holy Light to protect his friends and harm the wicked…

Perhaps he wasn’t the right person to determine who was and was not a legend…

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