Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Scourge of the Slave Lords”
Subtlety…what is that?
Before the sun rose, Mikael summoned a fog down on the castle, and Ezekiel put silence on a rock so we could sneak around to the east side of the castle. Once there, Raven scaled the wall and broke off some of the wooden spikes along the top so that we could actually reach the top. He disappeared over the edge, and we started following him with the rope of climbing.
Ezekiel left the stone behind, so as we approached the top of the wall, we could hear shouting and clanging and the rattle of arrows against stone. (Business as usual already, eh?)
When I jumped over the parapet after Ezekiel, I saw him waving at some hobgoblins to the left, while Raven was chasing some others to the right. I decided we didn’t want them raising any more of an alarm than they already had, so I went to back up Raven, drawing my sword (because my bow was still on my back, and besides I need to practice sometimes).
As we rounded a turn in the wall, we spotted a funny-looking little blue creature, plus a whole squad of hobgoblins piling out of a door. Raven went for the blue creature, so it didn’t start spitting lightening or something all weird, and I went for the hobgoblins.
I did have one fumbled strike – maybe because a wolf cub was darting in and out of the hobgoblins’ legs and nipping at Raven. Everyone seemed to be shouting (something like “ranger”? But I don’t speak hobgoblin), and the wolf cub ran under my feet and knocked me on my butt for a moment. I picked myself back up, and between Raven’s rope of tangling and me, we polished off the rest of the squad.e
Heiron was shouting at us to come on, so Raven told the wolf pup to stay, and we went back along the wall to where Ezekiel had shifted the rope of climbing to help us get down to the roof. There were still plenty of archers lining the wall, plinking Ezekiel’s armor, so I stood by him to make a shield wall while Raven led the others onto the roof and across to the chimney we could get down. Well…the “others,” except for Agnar. For a while, I wasn’t sure where he was at all, except that I kept hearing wild laughter in a dwarvish accent from somewhere up ahead.
Ezekiel and I backed up to the rope, and after the others had gone down, I followed – while Ezekiel kept shouting after Agnar to come on (I don’t think he could hear a thing…he was in his “zone”). As I came up to the others, they were battling some huge apes, as tall as Mikael. Lydia was squatted down, just watching the show, while Mikael waved his arm at one of them and sang a song, and Raven slapped one he had tangled in his rope.
By the time I walked up to them, the last ape was staring at Mikael, making hooting sounds through her lips, and the others were dead. We did have a moment when the ape sucker-slugged Usin, but Mikael told her we were all friends, nice friends, and she shouldn’t attack us.
Ezekiel showed up, and after a round of healing, we started down the chimney. Ez stayed up top to keep a look-out for Agnar.
Raven and Usin went first, and by the time I got down, they had a hobgoblin tangled in the rope. Apparently they surprised him in bed, and he was spluttering and trying to get us to surrender. Raven rolled his eyes and asked for some regular rope, then shoved a rag into the hobgoblin’s mouth.
While I was digging in my pack for rope, Mikael told his ape (Lulu, apparently) to hold the prisoner still. That worked right up until it didn’t, and the hobgoblin slipped free enough to grab a rope and ring a bell (though, on reflection, I’m not sure there was anybody left alive to hear that bell). Big mistake…Raven and Lulu finished him off before he had a chance to move again.
Raven led us out into the hallway. Heiron and I cleared the barracks (some hobgoblins hadn’t heard the bell, I guess) while Raven checked the storeroom. Agnar appeared (panting and grinning like a puppy that ran off by itself after rabbits), and showed off a ring of keys he’d found on the hobgoblin we killed guarding the chimney-ladder.
While the “cleric types” did a round of healing, we checked the dining room for enemies, and finally Raven picked the lock on the accountant’s room and we burst in (Agnar at the front once again).
Maybe the weird tall man actually heard the alarm bells, because he wasn’t there. Nobody was there, except the stuffed bear – which, according to Raven’s account, had been pushed back into its place at the top of the ramp.
While Raven checked the southern door (the one into the mirrored hall), Usin stared intently into the bear’s face and finally announced that the eyes were crooked. Seeing as it was a dead bear, and they were probably glass, it didn’t seem like that big a revelation…until he started poking them, and one of the eyes dropped out and he discovered a pebble behind it. We don’t have “detect magic” on demand anymore, so he put it in his pocket for later examination.
Raven opened the door, and the tin cans or whatever jangled. According to plan, he opened the secret mirror door for Ezekiel, Agnar, Mikael, and Mikael’s menagerie of animal friends to sneak in behind the enemy, while the rest of us took the “front” route. It went about as well as our plans usually go.
Raven and I stalked down the hall until we met the three mummies at the far door. I dunno what they were, but they sure went down fast.
Once in the barracks beyond, we could hear shouting and clanging and other sounds of combat from the secret passage to the north. I heard Agnar shouting “kill-steal!” and lots of hobgoblins screaming. Apparently, they were hiding in the secret passage to jump out behind us once we went down the hallway…and bottled themselves in. Once that was clear, I helped Raven guard the next door. I suppose I could have put them out of their misery faster, but when the conclusion was foregone, it didn’t really feel like a challenge.
When the others had finished, Raven opened the door, and we ventured into the dark, carpeted hallway. The door to the storeroom swung free, as though it had been recently opened, but no one was obvious. After some exploration, we took some of the empty crates from the storeroom and piled them into the spiky pit trap, so even the less-nimble of us could get across safely. Raven examined the trip-wire, and decided it was just attached to the walls to stumble people trying to jump across the gap…so he cut it (and the walls didn’t collapse in on us).
Once across – creak – creak -wobble – we double-checked the room with the well, to make sure nothing would be behind us. Sure enough, nothing out-of-the-ordinary showed itself, so we continued to the door with the slaves…a door that definitely felt un-ordinary!
First things first…Ezekiel and Mikael and Lydia all eye-balled the door and sniffed it or whatever and tried to figure out what uneasy feeling was beyond it. Ezekiel was pretty sure it wasn’t divine magic, but Lydia had never run into anything like it in her experience. Mikael suggested some kind of fungus could put the slaves in a stupor, but he didn’t offer any counter-recipes.
Ezekiel and Lydia had protection from Evil on, so he tip-toed into the room and glanced around, while the rest of us all stayed close to her. Sure enough, the slaves sat around on the blocks, staring blankly into space and making no reaction to our presence. Even the hobgoblin “guard” at the far end of the room seemed to be in another world.
Ezekiel tried a dispel magic…and nothing happened. He combed the room, sniffing for traps, and nothing happened. Raven commented that, last time he came through here, there were weird shadows all over the place – but this time, the shadow looked completely normal.
We crossed the room and filed out (the hallway beyond was a relief!), then Ezekiel covered his shield and glanced back in. Without the continual light, the shadows seemed to grow and swirl in ways they don’t normally, and gathered around the people. He and Lydia agreed that the low moaning sound coming from somewhere must be connected to the slaves’ condition, but they couldn’t seem to find where the sound came from…and the rest of us weren’t excited to spend any more time in that room.
Finally, Ezekiel led the hobgoblin guard out into the hall. It stood quietly – not fighting him, not bolting, not interested by anything. Even when Mikael slapped it, it didn’t flinch or even blink. Truly unnerving!
Well, like it or not, we had done what we could for that room…until we got some new information, or new ideas. Ezekiel cast continual light into the room to keep the shadows down, and we continued on.
First, he and Raven investigated a door where a rhythmic clanging sounded from. As they went in, the clanging stopped – but they didn’t call for help, and I didn’t hear any other sounds of conflict, so I kept guarding the hall. When they came out, they said it was a smithy, the smith didn’t know anything about anything that wasn’t weapons, and he didn’t know where the leader of the castle was (the one named Markesa).
Raven and Ezekiel led the way forward. They opened the next door, there was a high-pitched scream, and they slammed the door closed again. Agnar asked, “We leaving that orc alone, then?” and Ezekiel said, “It’s the smith’s wife; she’s none of our business.”
This turned into a theme. The next creatures we found were a pile of orcs, sleeping in bunks. Raven said we didn’t need to fight them right now, and borrowed my iron spikes to wedge the door. He also trapped two drunk orcs in their room, and the next person we discovered was a grey-bearded man writing at a desk.
Ezekiel stayed long enough to find out he was a merchant here to pick up an order (the orcs were his escort), and Raven warned him that we were slaughtering the rest of the castle, and he’d best stay out of the way.
And that’s when things got a bit chaotic. Two huge grey creatures with bulbous eyes came around the corner up ahead, carrying trays. Ezekiel came out and challenged them – and the merchant called out, “Cari and Filch? They’re my servants.”
The two weirdos backed away, not uttering a sound, and as Ezekiel was trying to talk to them again, the sound of muffled chattering and squabbling burst from a room on the other side of the hall.
Ezekiel threw open the door, and what we saw set my blood on fire.
A crowd of goblins and kobolds were packed into the room, surrounding a makeshift arena made of toppled chairs. Inside, a halfling was fending off a badger with a table leg. The badger’s back legs were tied together, but as we opened the door, it lunged and sent the table leg flying.
Ezekiel waded into the room and grabbed the badger by the scruff of the neck – scratching and snapping. I slipped three arrows onto my string, and half-a-minute later, all the kobolds were dead.
Ezekiel called Mikael, who took the badger from Ezekiel and started singing to it. Clearly, he’s got a better touch, since the badger stopped trying to claw everybody’s faces off, and stared at him to listen. Even when one of the goblins kicked Mikael in the back, the badger stayed focused.
I had to dig out my next quiver. While I was doing that, one of goblins jumped into the ring and knocked the halfling on the head, felling it to the ground. Ezekiel gave it a death-glare, put his hand down, and set the halfling on his feet again. By that time, I had another couple arrows on my string, and the goblins died before they could finish screaming. They should have tried for me…not like it would have changed things.
I stepped back out into the hall, and heard a crash from a room up ahead. Stepping into the doorway, I saw an overturned table, Raven balancing on the back of a chair, and a huge figure in black armor and an executioner’s mask, menacing him with a sword. Must have been an ogre, because those veins just behind the eye sockets make ogres go down like a ton of bricks.
The executioner hit the floor with a thunderous crash, and we searched the room while Mikael finished singing to the badger, and Ezekiel helped the halfling find some better clothes (he probably doesn’t like smelling of goblin, but that was all that fit). Heiron took a shine to the bow the ogre had hanging in its room. Even he had to concentrate to string it, but once he had, it obviously had good tension. Always pays to have a spare bow, I’ve learned.
[sketch of ugly woman]
Ez borrowed my paper to copy a charcoal sketch he found on the wall behind a bed. It might be a woman’s face…but if so, I hope I never meet her. Probably just goblin graffiti.
Once we finished stealing from the dead, we rejoined Raven, who had continued down the corridor to scout. Surprise, surprise, he had something tangled in his rope…as it happens, the two bulb-monsters that the merchant called “Cari” and “Filch.” Raven pointed out that their grey skin blended almost perfectly with the stone walls, and said they tried to jump him when he approached the staircase – and tried to slap him with their tails (Filch had a dagger in his…like, holding it, not like Raven struck back).
The last time we tried to communicate with them, we got no response…but Heiron told them to lie down or die, and they obeyed, so they understood that much. Raven and Ezekiel tried talking to them – telling them to flap their tails for “yes” – and then asked strangely personal questions: “Are you slaves of the merchant?” and “Do you want to be free?” Ezekiel-type questions.
Lydia took the opportunity to search for magic. None of the new weapons were magical, but we forgot to check the pebble Usin found, so I guess we had other things on our minds.
Ezekiel told the overgrown anteaters, “We want to free all the slaves, but you have to show us how,” – and they fell asleep. They almost sound like overweight cats, with their little snores.
So with that problem shelved for the time-being, we explored our next options. The staircase beyond Cari and Filch led to a trapdoor, but Agnar said he couldn’t budge it.
Another turn of the corridor led to a door. We formed up (Ezekiel told us to hold our fire for some reason, like we’re not storming an enemy fort or something), and we opened the door.
A hail of arrows rattled off Ezekiel. A fire-pit straight ahead lit up a tall man in black armor, who shouted orders. A group of red-haired men at a table grinned at us and flung hand-axes across the room.
Someone must have thrown something else, because a flask of oil broke on my head and shoulder and splashed all over me, almost getting in my eyes. I saved my bowstring, though, and started dropping hobgoblins.
A huge wine cask – almost a tonne – sat between us and the fire-pit. Someone must have kicked it or something, because it rolled toward us, and we had to plaster ourselves against the walls to avoid getting flattened (Ez has been there, done that). I still got my toes pinched. Lulu wasn’t having any of it, though, and grabbed the barrel, making a “hoo” sound.
Raven was already in the room, of course, (he’s so fast). While most of us were still regaining our footing, Ezekiel charged in after him. Agnar and Usin went for the big guy, who was on the other side of something roasting on the fire-pit.
All right, I must gotten oil on my bowstring after all, and flubbed a couple shots until I got it worked out. When I rejoined the fray, Ezekiel and Mikael were fighting some wild boars on one side, while Raven sparred with the leader in black armor. I heard Ezekiel yell something about “were-boar” or “ware, boar!” or “where boar?” but I had my hands full killing hobgoblins.
Heiron drew his bow beside me, and I caught a flash of silver as he let fly. The boars squealed, and in another minute or so, everything was dead.
Lulu pushed through to the front and went straight to the fire-pit, where a giant lizard was roasting. Raven agrees it didn’t smell quite done, but apparently murderous apes aren’t picky about that, and she ripped off a leg and started munching.
A closer look at the leader revealed something curious…his helmet had no eye-slot of any kind. When Ezekiel took his helmet off, we saw his eyes clouded like Joanehs’ grandpa who used to carve whistles and tell scandalous stories about stalking a nymph in the woods. Looking back on it, if he really did try to stalk a nymph, he probably got what was coming to him…but they were very nice whistles. I had one for a while, but I think it got left behind in Ertuli, which would be sad.
We searched the room and piled the bodies together (a little cleanliness never hurt anyone – except slimes, and we hate them). Several side rooms: a couple small ones, with dirty dishes and supplies, and a couple bedrooms. Ezekiel discovered a stray boar in one of them (don’t know if it was a real one or a shape-shifty one; it broke its tusk trying to gore him, and we put it out of its misery)…and a – “man,” Ezekiel tells me – hiding under the bed in another room. He told the “man” to stay put, and told me he wasn’t worth bothering about.
Lydia still had magic-sight, so she could tell us the leader’s sword and ring were magic (Raven thinks it’s a ring of fire-resistance, since the leader was standing in the fire as he fought). The last door apparently leads to the leader’s room – it’s bigger than all the others, and all the furniture is nailed to the floor (what, hobgoblins would dare move a blind man’s furniture around just to mess with him?! Unthinkable!…Bartholomew!)
[roughly sketched out map]
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