Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure, “Scourge of the Slave Lords”
The wildmen put us back on the right track to find the “Slaver City”…but even without that, the trail was pretty easy to follow. There’s been a lot of traffic here over the years, some of it more-or-less recently.
Arrived this evening. It’s set on a hill that overlooks the surroundings, with a ditch surrounding it – crossed by a drawbridge. Even from this distance, we can see scores of sentries – some posted in set positions, some making rounds on top of the walls. Bottom line, wiping out the garrison with a frontal assault won’t be so simple as it was in the Flind village (which, I must remind everyone, had some sketchy moments).
Lydia thought about sending a Wizard Eye down into the fort, but then she said it doesn’t last very long, and wouldn’t get far enough in to be useful. So instead, she’ll make Raven invisible (so he doesn’t have to worry about it wearing off), and he can sneak in first thing in the morning.
Mikael really, really, really wants to light up the place with lightening again…but we talked him down by reminding him there are probably slaves imprisoned here, and we need to scout before we do anything else. Ideally, Raven will find a back door right into the boss’s office, and we can start there like we always do.
[sketch of chess board, and like a million tick-tack-toe games]
Raven is finally back, and he has told us his story in his own words. I don’t think I can do it justice, but here are the crucial points…
[sketch of castle interior…]
Stealthily, Raven approached the front of the castle. The sentries were set at close intervals, but as the day was overcast not even his shadow would give away his presence.
Drawing closer to the lead wall, he noticed a rope dangling from an open window. Intrigued, he scaled the wall – avoiding the rope itself, which was composed of rags, sheets, and other make-shift cloths. Slipping through the window, he discovered a trail of bare human feet leading to the window – the only marks visible in the thick dust that covered the floor.
Walking in the footprints as well as he could to leave no traces of his presence, Raven followed the footprints through a door…into a room also covered with dust, and broken furniture, and strange shards of what seemed to be white glass.
The footprints continued to a staircase, leading down. Another staircase led up – until it ended in a solid brick wall.
Bemused, Raven took the downward path – pulling up short at the glint of a trip-wire strung across the path. Stepping over it, he encountered another one about half-way down the staircase, and avoided that one, too. Perhaps avoiding two of them gave him a false sense of security…
The third wire bit into his ankle, and in the moment his stepping foot pulled it free, he knew he had sprung the trap…and he knew there was nothing he could do to reverse it.
Glass shattered — in the same moment, light flashed, brighter than the sun, and a low rumble sounded. As Raven blinked, trying to clear his eyesight, he heard the sound of about 3,000 marbles rolling down the steps behind him. He jumped onto the wall beside him and clung there, blinded, until the rolling stopped…and the room slowly came back into focus.
Sure enough, the bottom of the stairs was now covered with tiny glass marbles…but he stepped nimbly around them and continued following the passage until it ended in a wooden door.
Raven unlatched it and peeked out. A courtyard lay before him, bright with the light of morning. A frisky breeze tossed leaves back and forth – and brought the smell of manure to his nostrils.
Raven slipped out the door, wincing as the wind blew it shut with more force than he would have liked. But if any of the guards ringing the walls above him heard it, they quickly lost interest when they failed to spot anything dangerous below them.
In the wall opposite him stood a portcullis, raised a mere two or three feet from the ground. The area in front of it must have been highly traveled, for it was all churned up into a muddy morass. Not caring for that idea, Raven scaled the wall and climbed side-ways to reach the portcullis…he could not top the wall, because wooden spikes lined it just under the crenellation – pointed downward.
His bad luck struck again…just as he was reaching the portcullis, a bit of rusty bar gave under his foot, and he slipped to the ground – dunking one foot in the mud. Suppressing a grumble, Raven ducked under the portcullis and examined his surroundings while wiping his foot on his clothes.
The portcullis itself was lodged onto a broken stone block, which prevented it from closing all the way. The space under the gatehouse was filled with boxes, bales, and other storage items.
Crossing the tunnel, Raven peeked out into a sunnier area — another courtyard, this time packed dirt, with but a single guard in view. The guard was a larger-than-normal hobgoblin, walking a funny-looking blue creature on a chain. As they paced the perimeter of the yard, the creature snuffed the air, turning its head this way and that.
Keeping on the opposite side of the courtyard as much as possible, Raven crossed to the opposite gate and peeked through.
This next area was laid out as a garden. Despite the chill in the air, a fountain tossed up water in the center of the space, and trees lined either side. At the far end sat a covered walkway…with hobgoblin archers manning a balcony above. A bell stood on either end of the balcony…Raven grinned wryly to himself and thanked his invisibility.
Rather than entering the garden, he climbed the wall beside the gate…this one allowed him to reach the top, and he found himself on a roof dotted with chimneys.
From this vantage, he could see disturbingly large shapes moving around in the trees. When he moved closer, he thought he could make out giant apes, just chilling in the branches (Mikael: “Friend!”). As he crossed the roof, a slate shingle broke off under his foot and slid off the roof, but once again, the hobgoblin archers decided not to be interested.
Raven circled the area of the roof – peeking in a few arrow slits to come eye-to-eye with another archer – and totaling up sentries. He gave up counting after a while…Besides the pairs posted at regular intervals, there’s a patrol of thirteen than makes rounds along the top of the wall, with the commander inspecting each group of sentries he meets. Raven tried to listen in on their conversation, but they were speaking hobgoblin, and even Mikael can’t speak that yet.
Glancing around at the chimneys trickling smoke, Raven noticed one that stood out from the rest. It wasn’t smoking, and it seemed large enough that he could squeeze down it. Going over to investigate, he found he could do more – there was a trapdoor inside the chimney, so it seems it was designed to be accessed.
Slipping neatly down, Raven found himself on the top shelf of a closet. Most of the shelves were coated in dust, but the front edge of each shelf had been wiped clean…probably by hands and feet. He climbed down and listened at the door. Nothing but heavy snoring met his ear, so he risked a peek.
In the room beyond stood two beds and assorted bedroom furniture; a lone hobgoblin snored away, a sword and bow at his feet. Raven considered this tempting display for a moment…then chose the side of caution and discretion, and left both hobgoblin and bow alone.
Outside the bedroom, Raven found a hall with several doors. He investigated a latrine, a bunkroom with several sleeping hobgoblins, a locked storeroom and armory, a room with the sounds of eating and chatter behind the closed door, and finally he found a large room with more doors leading out of it…and a tall, strange-looking man sitting on a box, counting coins.
Raven had still not found a proper staircase to access the wall, nor a stair down into a dungeon of any kind (such as might hold slaves)…and he was somewhat nervous that the sleeping hobgoblin would wake up, and cut off his only path to escape.
He waited around for a bit, until a large group of guards tramped out of the mess hall and went to visit the big, weird man. With them gone, Raven could investigate the mess hall…but found nothing except dirty dishes and greasy cards. No staircase or door to anywhere important.
He returned and peeked under the door to the big man’s room, watching the shadows of feet until all the hobgoblins left through some other door…and listening to the clink-clink of the big man’s accounting.
Finally, light footsteps entered the room and a squeaky voice said, “Mistress wants books.”
There was a pause, and the crate creaked, and finally a deep, resonant voice answered, “Very well.”
Raven waited…coins clattered – then the ring was muffled as they dropped into bags. At long last, the big man’s footsteps clumped across the floor and left the room…and Raven went in.
First, he noticed a huge stuffed bear standing against one wall. Slipping past it, he walked down a short ramp and tried the door at the foot of the ramp.
When he opened the door – he had to dodge as the bear slid down the ramp and out into the hall beyond. After taking a moment to restart his heart – and make sure the bear was actually a stuffed bear.
The hall beyond was chilly, and thick with dust. Raven considered a moment…but since there was no way for him to cross the hall without leaving a trail, he decided to leave this door for the moment (not much he could do about the bear, of course).
Through a second door, Raven discovered a long, carpeted hall, with defaced paintings on the wall and a floor-to-ceiling mirror part-way along the passage. (Reminder: the Slave Lords didn’t build this city; it’s a legacy from before this was the Pomarjch.) Lit torches in sconces illuminate the space…and suggested this area was indeed inhabited.
He had barely taken all this in – and a clanging noise behind the door had barely died away – when three mummies swathed in burial bandages emerged from a door at the far end of the passage.
Raven froze, but obviously they couldn’t see invisible things…and after glancing at each other, they shrugged and went back inside – still holding maces hidden behind their backs.
Raven closed the door – doing his best to muffle the tin dishes on a string that hung behind it – and crept forward. He found the full-length mirror very suspicious…but a thorough examination from this side yielded no information. It did not reflect his invisible face, nor did it seem to suck his soul out.
As he approached the end of the hall, Raven was startled to realize that the end was much closer than he had thought…a mirror sat at an angle along the far corner, making it seem that the passage continued when in reality it turned. Around the corner stood the door where the mummies had emerged.
Throwing himself into fortune’s hands, Raven opened the door a crack and peeked in. A squad of hobgoblins sat eating and grumbling at some tables – with the three mummies (also eating)…while more lounged on bunks behind. Everyone was so distracted, Raven could slip in unobserved and look around the room.
Two doors led further into the fortress…but one of them was too close to the hobgoblins, and he didn’t dare risk it yet. Trying a different door behind their backs, Raven found another carpeted passage with curtains along the wall and more torches in brackets – these ones unlit. It seemed to run just on the other side of the wall from the first carpeted hallway…and sure enough, right about where the full-length mirror seemed to be, he found a wooden frame that opened like a secret door.
Following the passage further, Raven just barely caught his balance as a panel of the floor fell away, revealing a yawning pit full of rusty spikes. Climbing along the wall to reach the other side (and avoiding a black trip-wire as he did so), he tried to re-latch the floor so no one would suspect a disturbance…but couldn’t get it quite level.
After a couple doors that didn’t seem important, he found a room full of water barrels, with water dripping somewhere along the walls. A staircase wound down to a well with a windlass for drawing water…and perhaps a shaft of some kind, but it didn’t seem a place intended for people.
(At this point, Heiron thought he heard a patrol, so he and I went to investigate, but turns out it was nothing, and by the time we got back to the others, Raven had sketched a new map and I’m not sure where this new door is.)
There was a door that made him feel quite uneasy. Not in the sense that he thought there was a trap…but just…a foreboding. It’s true his luck with traps and the like had not been great so far…
He decided to investigate the dusty hallway, first. So he snuck back past the hobgoblins, through the accountant’s room (still empty, thankfully), past the stuffed bear (stilled stuffed), and into the hall with the mysterious chill, and the thick dust all over the floor. Clearly, this area was not inhabited – therefore not heated like the other areas – but there was something else about it…
At the end of the hall, Raven opened a door and peeked through. As he glanced around the room full of cobwebs and dust bunnies, a gleam of light caught his eye…something like a figure in a sheet (that’s the best he could describe it) with black, empty eye sockets turned and stared at him. Raven never knew whether the being was staring at him, or just the open door…he closed the door and zipped back to the other side of the hall without waiting to find out.
Running out of places to explore, he tip-toed back through the accountant’s room, down the carpeted hall, past the hobgoblins (a couple of them were slapping one of the mummies, and grunting something Raven mentally translated as “stupid”), down the second carpeted hall, and finally to the door that made his neck-hairs stand on end. Peeking through the crack under the door, he glimpsed what he took to be human feet – bare human feet.
He opened the door…and, at long last, found something of real interest. The long room seemed lined on either hand with wide stone steps – like bleachers – and these were crowded with mostly naked humans. They were chained, but none of them struggled…none of them even seemed to be considering their plight, or scheming an escape, or mourning their misfortune. They were sitting, and staring…blankly, emptily. Wracking his memory, Raven believes some of them were indeed breathing…but you would barely notice it in the stillness of the room.
One lone hobgoblin sat with them…but whether as fellow prisoner or as guard, it was hard to say. He also sat dully staring into space, hands motionless, seemingly uninterested in anything. Shadows seemed to hang around the figures…which could be a mist from the dampness of the room, or possibly a trick of the poor lighting…or, possibly, something more sinister.
With the knowledge of where the slaves were (at least some of them), Raven closed the door and retraced his steps. He gingerly avoided the traps that had nearly ruined him, and at length emerged into the garden under the covered walkway. Invisibly, he watched until the sniffing blue creature and the guard were clear of the middle gateway, and slipped through the gatehouse, under and onto the portcullis, climbed over the mud, and finally reached the wooden door he had used before.
With a silent exclamation, he discovered that the near side had no handle…but with a dagger, some concentration, and several glances over his shoulder toward the archers on the wall, he managed to lift the latch and lever the door open – using the dagger as a handle.
Taking his weapon with him and easing the door closed, he followed the bare footprints from before (tip-toeing through the carnage of little glass marbles), and finally climbed out the window and down the front of the fortress, with nobody the wiser. (He says the rope is secured well enough that it could support someone’s weight, but we’re unlikely to need it.)
When he reached our campsite, he dispelled the invisibility to let us know he was there. Ezekiel was just about to wear his hands out with worry (it was nearly lunchtime by then), Mikael had been threatening to level the place with a lightening storm for a good two hours, and I was on a checkers winning streak.
Anyway, we went over his map, and talked strategy. Raven says that, from a conversation with a rat, most of the hustle and bustle seems to happen in the eastern half of the fortress. The western half has “not the best food, and also maybe snakes”…although the rat also mentioned a “dead two-legs” who was “hanging around” – not walking, like dead things shouldn’t.
Ezekiel agreed that no type of undead could produce the stupor the slaves seemed to be under, so hopefully if we stick to the inhabited parts of the castle (like, not go down that dusty corridor), we won’t encounter anything weird and scary. (Hobgoblins…pfft. I eat those for breakfast. Not, like, literally – but -)
Mikael says he can call down a thick fog to help hide our movement, so Raven can get us up the wall and into the castle. Ezekiel grumbled a bit and shuffled rocks back and forth on the map, but I think this is about as good as we’re going to get. Even at my best, I could never just start at the front gate and meat-grinder my way to the back…we need some form of subtlety…
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