Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure “Scourge of the Slave Lords”
Ezekiel told Raven and me to chase the mysterious man, taking Lydia to unlock the iron door for us. Mikael tagged along, too (I guess having only one arm hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm).
Good thing he came, because when Lydia got the door open, the plants on either side of the path were lashing back and forth, practically snarling. Raven tried calming them down with talk, but I guess they weren’t impressed — they kept telling him they were upset, but plants aren’t big on details. Mikael still had an anti-plant shell active, though, so we advanced along the path, sticking close to him…until we reached the door north, that leads to the hall and the superstitious-orcs room.
That door was currently all blocked by trees, which looked as though they’d thrown their limbs across it like arms (I didn’t know they could move like that!). Here and there, glowing blotches stuck to the tree, sparkling in the morning light…and when Mikael pointed out the pulpy stains of man, we pieced together what happened to our quarry. I…I guess he forgot about the angry plants…or didn’t have a way to ward them off. They claim to “serve” Beori, after all – and I doubt this guy was very tight with her.
I gathered up the biggest pieces I could reach without leaving Mikael’s side, and we headed back to show Ezekiel.
While we were gone, he gathered up all the papers he could find in the desk (mostly boring ledger stuff) and searched the crates around the office. He found rations, chains, traveling supplies, a little bag of jewelry, and way more money than we could easily carry (bag of holding, you are missed).
When we got back, he sent Heiron, me, and Agnar up the ladder to “just take a peek” at what was there (“don’t open any doors or anything!” – the horse left that barn, Ezie). There’s a twisty little dirt tunnel that narrows so far, even Agnar couldn’t squeeze through…so unless it was for halflings, or that guy could shape-shift, I don’t know what the point of it was. At the very least, I made the assumption we wouldn’t meet any of those giant ant-men things, so I persuaded Agnar we wouldn’t find a good fight up there, and we should go check on Mikael (his best-buddy-forever).
Mikael, it turns out, was sitting on the table and having a “serious conversation” with Obed-Hai about his arm and possible methods for restoring arms. I don’t think he got much response, but I’m not exactly a cleric-type.
Ezekiel and Raven, meanwhile, had been talking about the money. We put it to a vote, and agreed that if the rescued slaves could carry it out, they could have it. It should help them get back on their feet and head home, and maybe they can meet up with the other group we rescued at the Grumpy Gargoyle.
We also decided that it was time to get them out – before Mikael’s plant shell wore off (assuming it hadn’t already), and since we hadn’t found any better exit anyway. So we went and fetched them from the storerooms, and loaded them up with gold coins (you should have seen their faces). We kept a fair share for ourselves, and divvied it up so that no one person had to carry all of it.
The three merchants are still in the cages, and we’ll really have to do something with them before long (probably send them off into Highport) but I guess we want to be sure they can’t raise the alarm about us to anybody before then. For all we’ve accomplished here, we still have the Slave Lords themselves to find and deal with…
Raven told the trees blocking the door we were about to make something powerful hot on the path, and they stood up. It was quite a sight! Of course, after they moved, Lydia didn’t have to make a fire after all, so is that like lying to them? Do trees count for that?
Anyway, we led the slaves along the tunnel, up the steps, and Mikael escorted them through the garden and out the north door. Well…not all of them.
The young lady who half-choked the aspis really impressed Raven and Mikael. They asked if she would like to join us in fighting back against the slavers, and Ezekiel said he could tell her about the God of gods that he (and Raven) serve. She said, well, all right – and she looks much nicer now that she’s dressed in the better clothes from the storerooms. Her name is Dree (which sounds kinda Oeridian, but her face seems kinda Flannish).
Ezekiel introduced us to her one by one (spilling all our abilities and secrets – it’s like he never learns!). She seemed concerned that he wasn’t telling her about this “God of gods” she was supposed to be working for, but I guess he’ll get around to that eventually (it’s like what he talks about all the time…does he need to warm up to it or something? Maybe he’s nervous because she’s a pretty girl…Mikael certainly keeps trying to tell her interesting things. He told her all about how he lost his arm as soon as she officially joined us).
After the talking break, we headed back to the huge room with all the trapdoors. Raven showed how he had figured out which levers controlled which trapdoors, so Ezekiel went first out onto them.
There were a couple aspis clinging to the central support pillars of the room, and they threw darts at Ezekiel…but Heiron and I dealt with them. I don’t like that they can climb on vertical surfaces…it makes them creepy. Raven pointed out that he can climb vertical surfaces, too, but at least he has the decency not to hang there like a spider. I still keep an eye on him, though.
We didn’t spot anything or anyone in the cages underneath the floor, so we kept moving on. I still don’t know what the point of that room is, since beyond it is yet another long, narrow corridor. Anything that would need that much space can’t get to it from the surface!
Beyond the corridor is a small room to prepare you for what lies ahead…it stinks. The floor is a mess of rags, dirt, and weapons rusted beyond any usefulness. The foulness is so thick in the air, you have to blink your eyes until they adjust (and they still continue to hurt).
Raven, Ezekiel, and Agnar led the way through the next door…and boy am I glad. We stepped out onto a five-foot-wide stone ledge, running alongside a moat of sewage water. Lydia theorized it’s linked to the sewers of Highport, and that makes sense…but I have no intention of exploring it in depth.
Not too far along the path, orcs came out from a side passage up ahead, and attacked the vanguard with spears over a short stone wall. At the same time, orcs appeared over a short wall on the other side of the moat, lobbed clay jars at us, and ducked back down.
I expected something burning in the clay jars, but in some ways it was worse. For Raven and Ezekiel, it was worse. They now know what foulness you get when you squeeze an orc…and they had to puke out that knowledge for several minutes while the orcs stabbed at them.
Agnar did better, shrugging off several of the pots, but Bornthene and I didn’t shoot them down quite fast enough, and he got a chamberpot all over his head. That’s going to take a job to wash out.
Mikael cast faery fire (he’s obviously figured out a way that works with one arm). An orc up ahead shouted something rude-sounding, and a mist or dimness wrapped around the vanguard…but we could still see everything thanks to the light on Heiron and Ezekiel’s shields.
Then I guess Lydia decided to fight fire with fire. She pulled her arm back and lobbed an old egg over our fighters and into the group ahead of us on the ledge. Green smoke exploded, and after that…well, it was just a matter of plinking the gagging and coughing orcs. They can be grateful I killed them before they staggered into the moat.
Once they were dead – and no more heads popped up above the wall on the other side – Lydia dispersed the cloud and we picked our way forward to see how the vanguard was doing.
Raven and Ezekiel were recovered, and healing Raven – but Agnar was not just recovered, he was angry. Or antsy, maybe. Before the rest of us could do anything, he leapt over the low wall and charged down the side passage where the orcs had come from, yelling threats.
Raven and Ezekiel followed him, and Lydia and Usin were next. Next thing I knew, I heard a muffled explosion, and screams…I think I now know the orc word for “fire.”
Down the narrow passage is a small room with a stone chest, and through another opening is a larger cave which is obviously an orc lair. When I followed Mikael in, I could see skins hanging on the walls, and furs and skins and human bones lining the floor.
For a minute or two, I guarded the exit (figured I could let Agnar have his fun) but then I heard the thunderous tread and deep gurgly voices of ogres, and stepped inside.
Lydia’s wall of fire still blazed across the southern end of the room, while plastered against the north wall of the cave huddled a group of miniature orcs – younglings of various sizes, all hugging each other and shaking. I’m kind of surprised Agnar left them alone…but then again, they wouldn’t put up an interesting fight – not like the ogres directly across the way, blocking yet another doorway.
Usin did all right for himself. Nice he was near the front for once…somehow, he keeps finding his way to the back where I am, and it’s not comfortable. Raven makes fun of me, but let’s be honest – if I jog his elbow, and he explodes, who’s Ezekiel going to yell at for blowing up his pet orc-half-orc?
After the ogre caught Agnar so hard it knocked him backward, I lined up my shot and took it down. I heard Mikael calling for insects to come and aide him, but maybe there aren’t any of the right kind nearby, or they didn’t hear him. Maybe they’re hibernating this time of year.
With the ogres down, Mikael prayed over Raven (he got the brunt of the counter-attacks, looks like), and Ezekiel explored the chieftain’s room…the second room of the suite, lined with furs and worn tapestries, with a chest that Raven was pretty sure had a glyph of warding.
After Raven unlocked it, we all backed up, and Ezekiel risked his luck and opened it. Lots of copper, a few gems, and three daggers that he didn’t want to touch for some reason. There’s some kind of rust on the blades, and though they don’t look that useful, Raven took them for curiosity’s sake.
Ezekiel and Usin tried talking to the orclings, and told them to run to the clan in Highport. I got out of the doorway to let them run past, rubbing their eyes and noses on their sleeves. A part of me hopes maybe Ezekiel is right…that there is a God over all the gods who can gather all creatures to Himself – waifs of all races who would otherwise be serving Grumpsh’s afterlife, if he has one.
The rest of me remembers Ertuli. The goblins shed no tears for the Thlan family…I carried little Gwen on my back that whole first day we were heading for Hochochl, after we couldn’t find any of her brothers. That elf on the ship was truthful, when he said their masters have no mercy.
We searched the bodies (about twice as many females as males) and came up with some gold. The stone chest in the outermost room, however, had the real loot – a big pile of gold pieces. We divvied it up right away, so no one of us would have to carry it all, and it still ended up about ten pounds per person.
There were also some long boards in this room that should reach across the moat, to let us get to the doorways where orcs were lobbing stuff at us…but Ezekiel didn’t seem excited about that yet. Instead, he voted to continue south along the stone walkway and see how far we got.
Before too long, we got to a place where the passage had largely collapsed. A thick beam supported a block that the roof sat on, while the river of sewage flowed under the crumbled stones and disappeared. The gaps on either side of the beam might have allowed Wonillon through, but not Agnar.
Mikael changed himself into a snake (no limbs to worry about) and crawled through. When he came back, he reported a branching passage that smells like orcs and ogres, but he couldn’t tell much more with his snake senses.
That’s when Bornthene piped up and volunteered to go in. He said he’s a Stout (though he doesn’t look it) which I guess means he can see very well in the dark. Ezekiel cast continual light on a coin for him, anyway, so he could take Mikael with him…so he squeezed through the gap alongside the beam, with snake-Mikael on his heels. I remember thinking at the time it was a nice step toward taking his own initiative, and breaking out of his shell, and…well, anyway, we’ll see.
They weren’t gone very long at all before they came back and reported the tunnel doubles-back to the orc lair…so that’s one mystery anti-climactically solved.
We went back north, through the caves, and found where Lydia’s wall of fire had finally burned out (some of the skins around the place were still smoldering, though). Behind where it had been, we could see a doorway tucked in a curve of the wall.
All together again, we followed the passage into a kind of intersection, where several tunnels led off – with alert gongs hanging by each passage from pegs in the wall. I wonder if there’s anybody left to be alerted…but Ezekiel didn’t try it out this time. I think Raven wanted to…
The passage we chose led to a landing – with steps heading down into the sewage. I suppose orcs might not mind getting filthy refuse on their filthy skins, but none of us were ready to walk down into that much (and Usin didn’t volunteer, either, so maybe it bothered him, too).
I suppose I should mention the ladder, even though it didn’t go anywhere. This same landing has a ladder leading to a trapdoor – that neither Ezekiel nor Raven could get open. But when Agnar borrowed the mace and smashed the trapdoor to bits, there was nothing on the other side but smooth earth. Why do bad guys feel the need to fill their lairs with confusing, pointless passages? It’s like the levers and cages, but even more confusing, and less elaborate. I suppose it’s possible the passage above collapsed, and that’s just the debris from above…but it still feels silly.
Well, we all voted that looking for the secret door outside the slave pens (where the mud on the stone floor was all smeared funny) sounded much better than wading through sewage…so we trooped back that way. (Sometimes it feels like we don’t accomplish much, but that’s just because we spend so much time walking back and forth.)
Ezekiel told us all to look for a hidden catch or something, and then Agnar just shoved his short, heavily-armored body against the wall, and a door slid open. The orc fight seemed to have mollified him, but he was still champing at the bit for some more excitement.
This secret door led to – surprise! – another ledge alongside a moat of sewage! This is getting really old by now…not to mention, the smell was giving me a headache. Surely a proper architect shouldn’t need to combine spaces so much. Whatever you say about Explictika Defilas, at least she just used mud.
As we picked our way forward, an irregular drumming sound echoed from somewhere up ahead. Before long, the passage split – across a little bridge, one ledge hugged the wall west, while the “main” path continued south.
There wasn’t much to the western path. A rock-fall has blocked the entire passage, choking the flow of sewage to a trickle in that direction. (Doesn’t make it feel any safer to be down there!) A water leakage from somewhere above dripped steadily from the ceiling, drumming a huge inverted barrel that blocked the end of the walkway. Ezekiel checked underneath it, but there’s nothing but ledge…the barrel is empty. …Raven observed, And now anyone who’s still alive down here could have heard the interruption in the drumming!
Across yet another bridge, the passage Ts, heading either west or east. To the west, stairs lead down into the moat. To the east…
Ezekiel went first. Unexpectedly, the whole ledge rocked, and he tossed his shield and mace into the water to grab at the wall. Shadows jumped into being around us as his lit shield dropped into the sludge. While he didn’t fall, he let us grab his arm to help him back onto level path.
Raven came up to help light the way, as he’s rigged his lit pebble into a necklace with some string. (Heiron and I have lit shields, of course, but they’re facing the wrong way when we have our bows out.)
Agnar took a close look at the ledge, and borrowed an arrow to wedge into a crack. He says it’s “unstable,” but the arrow should hold it.
Ezekiel tested this theory, hugging the wall, and the floor seemed to behave itself. (I wonder if it really is “unstable,” or if it’s unstable on purpose!) One by one, we followed him (some of us holding our bows high, just in case).
As Bornthene brought up the rear, the stress of all that weight was just too much, and the arrow snapped (I heard it). But he’s a halfling, who as everyone knows are noted for their graceful feet, and he skipped forward onto the level walkway with a little gasp.
At long last, the ledge widened out to form a “floor” from wall to wall…I hesitate to call it a room, though, since the space seems crammed with refuse. Above the shriveled, drying garbage the damp air rises with nauseating fumes…one could almost imagine the streaks of slime on the walls are visible fingers of the stench.
We seemed to be out of ways forward…so Ezekiel (never one to back down from an honest challenge), tip-toed into the ankle-high water toward a door just to the side of the room. Halfway there, the “floor” sloped or something, and he staggered, but he kept his footing – and his grip on the club Mikael loaned him.
As the vanguard picked their way through the door, I heard them groan and make fake puking noises (it seems to be the day for that).
When I came up, I knew why. A five-foot walkway led between two ditches or trenches, filled with food-stuffs. Orc food-stuffs. Carcases and rotting vegetables, and grain that really shouldn’t have been stored so damp, and drink-skins pegged to the walls. Quite apart from all the other reasons we wouldn’t touch this stuff if we were starving – the corpses are human.
As we picked our way along the path, Bornthene gave a strangled cry and pointed at one under-sized arm, with a ring on its finger.
Ezekiel leaned over to pick it up – and this huge maggot as big as his arm leapt out of the pile and started chewing on him. Lydia sprang to his side – zip! – fire licked up her finger – and the grub squealed as its skin split open in the heat.
Ezekiel shook off the rest of it, and turned to Bornthene. “You know that arm?” he asked.
The ring. He says the ring belonged to his wife. For a moment I thought he might cry, or throw up – but then I thought he might draw his sword and dice the whole pile into little pieces…and then he looked more like he was going to kill someone. He started marching up the path, his eyes not even seeming to see us – but Heiron grabbed his shoulder and seemed to bring him back to himself.
Ezekiel retrieved the arm…that’s all there is, and it looks pretty shriveled and dry. He pulled out the candle we found upstairs by the garden, handed it to Lydia, and handed the forearm to Dree “for a moment.”
Dree’s face didn’t look like the right color, but she stood there solemnly holding the little arm while Ezekiel borrowed Mikael’s staff and turned over the pile of dried, decaying body parts. Bornthene stood by him, to “identify”…and Lydia stood on his other side, to burn every spot a grub latched onto.
I heard a retching noise, and then another one. I was guarding our rear, so I didn’t see who did it.
Finally, Ezekiel said we were done. He found an extra length of silk in his backpack and wrapped up all the fragments he’d collected (including the forearm from Dree), and carried them balanced in his hand, like a relic or incense censor or something.
Mikael raised his one arm, and mumbled a prayer over the pile. I’m not sure what all of it meant – there was a bunch of Obed-Hai stuff in there – but I think I got the gist. Not that rats need a burial service, but maybe it brought the humans and demis some peace. The grubs can go to the Abyss for all I care.
Bornthene’s face is completely changed. He’s not standing around in the back with the archers anymore. He’s up near Ezekiel, and he’s clearly concentrating on something…hard to tell if it’s a lot of thoughts, or just one thought, repeated over and over.
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