Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure “Scourge of the Slave Lords”
Turns out the leader’s room wasn’t as deserted as we thought. Raven and Lydia were searching the place, when Raven gave a squeal (he insists it wasn’t a “squeal,” more of a “cry”) and we heard a female voice say, “Ichar, release me!” (with some kind of insult attached to it).
Raven yelled at us to stay out – and not look at whatever it was – while Heiron and Ezekiel both rushed forward.
Lydia’s version is that Raven opened up the closet, and found himself face-to-face with a lady with snakes for hair. While he tangled her, Lydia dug in her bag – and hurled an egg, making the ugly creature gag and puke.
Ezekiel rushed into the room and tried to throw bedclothes over the lady’s head – apparently this kind of creature can kill you if it looks at you or something. Ezekiel says – from the stories he’s heard – they’re like basilisks. When he said that, Heiron looked around, and grabbed the leader’s blind helmet and handed it over. The snakes hissed and lashed at Ezekiel, but he got the helmet over the lady’s head – and we all breathed a bit easier (except the lady, who was still choking and gagging even after Lydia dispelled the stinking cloud).
The lady (Lydia calls her a “medusa”) was chained to the back of the closet, guarding a chest cemented to the floor. We searched the leader and his room, but didn’t find anything like a key – although Raven found a bunch of dirty laundry in a chest, and Heiron found a trap-door under the leader’s bed (this “Ichar” fellow was really tall, so his bed was extra long and high off the ground). The chest in his room was kinda interesting – it had a battle scene carved all over it.
We had a bit of a discussion about the medusa, but finally Ezekiel said we were here to rescue slaves, and the medusa technically counted as a slave. He told her we would lead her out of the castle – but if she killed anyone, we would kill her. Mikael tried to confuse her with a list of people she could kill, but I was worried enough about letting an evil creature loose. I mean, Agnar’s evil, and he’s helping us kill evil things for the moment, but that doesn’t mean we won’t run into problems with him later on…
While Lydia unlocked the medusa and the chest, and Ezekiel tied the medusa with regular rope, we could explore the rest of the room. The leader had a mandolin, and a chessboard with carved lines so a blind person could play. I’ve heard chess is good for developing the mind, but when Dexter tried to teach me, he didn’t really know how to play, either, I don’t think. Lydia says the mandolin is in trashy condition, but as I don’t really play the mandolin (yet), I don’t mind. Ezekiel said I should stop cluttering my backpack.
In the chest in the closet we found a bunch of money, and some matched silver and opal jewelry, and a clerical scroll, and a tiny fake anchor. Lydia couldn’t tell us whether it was magical or not (the glow had faded), but Ezekiel is hanging on to it because he’s a junk-man who likes knicknacks. He says, “You never know when something is going to come in handy.” There were also two potions – Ezekiel and Raven think they’re for undead control and diminution.
Last thing of interest in the chest was a piece of parchment that seemed to be blank – but when you held it at an angle to the light, you could tell it had raised or stamped letters on it. None of us recognized the writing system, so Lydia held on to it for now.
When I returned to the main room, Usin tried to give me another of those blank papers with impressions on it. I told him to give it to Lydia, since she had the other one. I admit, while maybe it wasn’t smart to leave the Evil dwarf, the half-orc, and the man-eating ape guarding our rear, it worked out this time.
I’m not the only one who was having trouble focusing today…when we told Ezekiel about the trapdoor, he led us all down there. The shaft has a ladder bolted to the wall, but one of the rungs was sharpened and Raven had to wrap a blanket around it after Agnar cut his hand. No sooner had we all trooped to the bottom, than Ezekiel and Raven decided this was probably a vast network of tunnels and it would be more methodical to clear the upper floors first. So they made us climb back up again, and I am working on a list of deprecating zingers…like “you just wanted to see if our arms and legs still worked;” “you wanted to test how far we’d ‘follow the leader'”…
With the medusa sitting quietly, tied-up, we returned to the hallway and explored the staircase to the east. Cari and Filch were still fast asleep…Filch snorted a little, but hardly broke his snoring rhythm when Ezekiel dragged him out of the way. Either they were really tired, or there’s some magic involved.
Remember, Agnar hadn’t been able to budge the trapdoor at the top of these stairs. Ezekiel went up there with his gauntlets of ogre-strength, and cracked that puppy right open. As the deadbolt snapped and the shards of wood flew upward, someone above shouted, “Intruders!”
The downside to these narrow corridors and staircases and such is that those of us in the back basically stand around and look pretty until the people in front get out of the way. Ezekiel and Agnar struggled up through the trapdoor, where we heard a bell ringing – and a loud clang, at the same time as Ezkiel yelled “ow!” Mikael was up near the front, too, and Raven skittered up the wall like a spider to join the fray.
Well…I guess this way we let the others have some fun. Agnar and Ezekiel looked a bit dented up by the time I got there, and Mikael was picking up his rod. I will give Usin this: he charged right into the middle of the hobgoblins without hesitation.
Then Heiron and I emerged from the trapdoor, and it was all over. Not going to lie…I was amazing.
What happened next…well, it’s a bit outside my experience. A man in a bright, shiny robe appeared out of nowhere. Normally, that would be disturbing – and, I mean, it was disturbing – but somehow there was a sense that he wasn’t there to hurt us
, if that makes sense Doesn’t say it quite strongly enough, but I felt disturbed and reassured at the same time.
This bright man told Ezekiel there were five “lost souls” here, and Ez had been given power to save two of them…one in one of the towers, and another “down below.” Ezekiel asked about Cari and Filch in the corridor, and the bright man chuckled – they were “lost” in a different way, apparently.
When the man left (again, just blinking away from our sight), we decided to wrap up some of the loose ends around us. The barracks we just slaughtered was behind the balcony and arrow slits that overlooked the garden (Lulu seemed nostalgic or something when she looked out at the trees), but we didn’t find any other doors or openings to lead elsewhere. Which meant “forward” would have to be “down into the tunnels,” and we had people to deal with first.
Much as Ezekiel might disapprove, the slave merchant was really a third-party here, and we ought to get him out of the way while we did our slaughtering. We went downstairs, collected the medusa, and told the merchant we would escort him out of the castle. He rounded up his orcish escort (couldn’t get Cari and Filch to wake up, though), and we wound our hazardous way through the fortress and down into the courtyard.
Nothing ever goes as planned, though.
Remember: we had never actually been through the portcullis that led to the next courtyard. Raven climbed on the portcullis, and slipped under it without touching the ground more than necessary. Turns out that big pile of mud out front wasn’t just there for looks.
The orcs and merchant went first (I was concerned about keeping the medusa separated from them all), all funneled into the narrow tunnel under the gatehouse. They never really had a chance.
When the first orc stepped out into the mud, an ankheg surged up and swallowed him. As Heiron and I tried to shoot it through the portcullis, it spewed acid all down the tunnel. If we were going to kill the orcs, we really should have used arrows…orcs don’t scream quite so horrifically when they die by arrows. Worst of all – the ankheg burrowed again before we could properly kill it!
The merchant ran back out of the tunnel, yelping and rubbing his head with the inside of his robes…but he was the only one. While he sat against the wall and recovered his breath, we turned to a small door in the foot of the tower to find an alternate route…or a way to kill the ankheg and clear the path. (Mem.: we all thought someone else was responsible for the medusa. It worked out this time, but we must get a better system…after all, Targl is off who-knows-where at this very moment…)
Ezekiel and Lulu smashed the door open and led the way up some stairs. Another room, another choke-point, another squad of hobgoblins. There were some men in there, too, since I heard someone shouting a strange language, but the voice didn’t sound humanoid. Apparently Mikael’s badger got some good bites in before he called it back and bound its wounds.
Ezekiel clasped his hand together and chanted something in a low tone. I couldn’t understand the words, but it made me feel better somehow. Stronger, and more alert.
We worked our way through the tower, killing hobgoblins. Agnar has a bit of trouble being too eager – he tried to rush into the fray at the beginning, and fell down the open stairwell. It doesn’t seem to have hurt him too much…mostly his emotions are hurt for missing so much fighting.
Eventually, we found our way to the top. Doors opened on either side of the tower to let us out onto the walls. I was guarding the rear at that time, but after hearing enough commotion – and watching the ceiling shake with a “chunk!” sound – Raven and I went up to join the fray.
We found two more of those funny blue creatures – one chained on each end of the wall. They started keening when they saw us, so maybe they’re some kind of alarm system. Seriously, though, with all the bells clanging and all the hobgoblins being slaughtered in other parts of the castle, it seems kinda funny that these forces were just sitting around. I guess by waiting for us to come to them, they had the advantage of terrain…and a ballista. Ezekiel says the ballista missed taking his head off by “that much.”
I remember, I was on the stairs with Lydia, waiting for a chance to join the fight (and to see if the others really needed us). Raven shouted out to Lydia for “fire!” and she gave a little smirk (her veil covered her mouth, but I could tell by the squint of her eyes) and stepped up through the trapdoor opening above us. Next thing you know, fire explodes all over the place in the room above.
Then, at last, I could join the battle. I started dropping hobgoblins, while Heiron ran past with his flametongue sword. A hail of arrows came through the door to the west, and he changed his mind, dragging Agnar (kicking and cursing) out of harm’s way (doesn’t look like it’s been Agnar’s day; he’s kinda cut up).
Mikael waved his arm, and next thing you know, snakes writhed and crawled all over the floor…they headed toward the squad of archers on the wall to the west. The ballista rattled again, and Raven went to deal with it.
While the archers fired at the snakes slithering toward them, I could peek out of cover and shoot at them. Plus, with arrows littering the top of the wall, Mikael had plenty of “sticks” to make even more snakes! They swarmed over one of the small blue creatures…but that’s the only one that died. Ezekiel and Mikael spared the blue thing on the other end of the wall, on the theory that “chained up equals slave, equals rescue”…or at least, equals “not kill.”
And then, suddenly, all the shouting was quiet. Heiron and I looked around us, and saw nothing but dead hobgoblins, and the noon sun driving away Mikael’s fog clouds.
We met up with the rest of the party (Heiron had to switch to the ogre’s bow because Lydia’s fireball burned up his bowstring) and took stock of the situation. Everyone was weaving a bit on their feet…Raven looked like he was holding his organs in by sheer force of willpower. Even Lydia was holding her wrist where she sprained it or cut it or something. Ezekiel and Mikael passed around what healing they could, but Mikael had trouble doing the motions with only one arm. He did manage to seal over Raven’s wounds so he didn’t have to actively hold himself together, and then Ezekiel led us in searching the bodies of the fallen.
We found some money and some jewelry – Ezekiel and Usin also found the mechanism that raises and lowers the portcullis, but Usin explained that the chains were broken.
Looking over the wall, we could see the merchant still sitting and cradling his head, and the medusa in a corner of the courtyard, thrashing her helmeted head against the walls. We decided it was high time we got them out of the castle, and hatched a plan to drop dead bodies off the wall to tempt out the ankheg, where Herion and I could shoot it dead.
That plan went much better than most of our plans, and before long the ankheg was dead and we trooped down all the staircases to the ground. Ezekiel went to collect the medusa (and make sure the helmet was still firmly on her head) while I told the merchant we were ready to leave for real. His face still looked pretty raw, so I dabbed some ointment on the worst of the burns. There’s no need to torture him…and with his escort all dead, he’ll need all the help he can get. After that, he seemed in a better mood.
Heiron and Ezekiel (with his magic gauntlets) lifted the gate higher, and we wedged crates and boxes under it to hold it (did the hobgoblins leave it only waist-high so the ankheg couldn’t get through it? Guess we’ll never know, and besides the ankheg is dead anyway).
We reached the outer gates without any trouble – not even arrows from the walls – and Ezekiel took Usin with him into the east tower to find the lowering mechanism. This one must have been in proper condition, because Usin came out shortly after to ask me for some of the keys we looted from the guards. Raven says it pays to have an “expert” in these situations. Not long after, the drawbridge lowered and the portcullis rose, and Ez and Usin came back to send the merchant and medusa off.
The merchant took off at a trot as soon as he felt he had permission…then Ezekiel – with a stern expression – told Heiron to have an arrow ready, and told Usin to free the medusa’s hands. None of us were very comfortable, but when that was done, Ez told her: walk ten paces forward and turn left, and you’re on the road out of the castle. Take five paces further than that, and you’ll go over the cliff. Be good, and we won’t have to come after you.
The medusa started walking, and Ez sent Usin up to raise the drawbridge as soon as she was across. We still don’t know how soon she took off the helmet, because the bridge cut her off from our sight…but I sincerely hope we never meet again. I can’t help thinking no good will come of setting a creature like that loose, but I guess Ezekiel felt he had to do it.
Speaking of Ezekiel…he also had a “special mission” of sorts. Since one of the victims to set free was in “one of the towers,” we decided to explore the western gatehouse. Raven had passed through there during his scouting mission, and said it seemed uninhabited…also really dusty. And that sounded like exactly the kind of place a “lost soul” might be.
The door from the courtyard to the tower didn’t have a handle – but it did have a stab wound on one side. Raven pulled out a dagger and wedged it in like a handle – almost like he’d done this before! – and popped the door right open.
Up some stairs, we found a room that definitely seemed neglected. Under the thick dust, we found some white shards that interested Mikael very much…though I didn’t like the brown stains around them. Ezekiel told us to wait for a bit, and went through the one door in the room. Beyond, we could see another dusty room, with broken furniture cast hither and thither. I think it must be one of the rooms above the gatehouse, since there seemed to be an oil pot for dropping on invaders and the like…but in that case, I don’t know why there would be so much sticky oil residue all over the floor.
Mikael asked if Ezekiel would be all right, and Lydia asked what we would do if he weren’t. Even Raven didn’t have anything quippy to say to that, so I guess the mood of the place has affected him, too…
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