Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure “Scourge of the Slave Lords”
Today we rescued more “lost souls” – some more conclusively than others.
We started the day with fitting the ladder together so we could climb down to the courtyard (Ezekiel says there’s nothing left in the hall to be dangerous, but this way is more direct).
We retraced our steps through the courtyards, through the portcullis, into the keep, through the barracks, and to the disused hall where Raven saw the white figure. All the while, we saw no sign of other living things…so any of the garrison that we haven’t killed must be lying in wait somewhere.
We advanced with due caution, with Ezekiel opening the door first, followed closely by Agnar.
As Raven had warned us, as soon as we stepped through the door we saw a white figure with black eyeholes floating beside the fireplace, swaying gently. Something rattled in the corner behind the door.
Ezekiel marched right over to the figure – and pulled the sheet off the cord that was holding it up. Agnar went around the corner and asked Ez, what do ye want done with yon windchimes? (None of us had a use for windchimes.) Ezekiel stuck his head up the chimney to find the draft that was flapping the sheet, and found the flue blocked open with a small silken pillow.
A door at the far end of the room opened into a hallway. After Raven checked it, he opened it – to find the corridor blackened with soot and ashes. I didn’t see any tracks in the ashes (until we walked over them), which further pointed to this wing being abandoned…but we weren’t satisfied yet.
A foul smell seemed to hang in the air…and when Raven opened a door on the left, the stench wafted out at us like a solid force. I have never cared for the smell of hobgoblin (though it’s not as bad as gnoll), but the putrid reek of one’s bloated, half-decayed corpse is even worse. Only Raven could stand to go into that room (as he pointed out, he’s immune to disease). He examined what we could only see from the door: a dead hobgoblin, strung up in the middle of the room by its neck, and a dark, bloody stain on the floor below where one hand was hacked off. From the dusty beds in the corners, this seems to have been a bedroom – but Raven found some silver under the victim’s shirt and a dagger in its boot, so the murderer probably wasn’t after money. An irritated roommate, perhaps? That didn’t seem to fit the story, either…so we kept looking.
The room on the opposite side of the hall had been destroyed by fire, with the roof collapsed and everything. We couldn’t even tell if it was more “recent” destruction, or if this was left over from when the humanoids seized this area from the humans (which feels like a powerful long time ago, but so do lots of things that I wasn’t there for).
While we were busy there, Ezekiel and Agnar kept investigating down the hall (we had several doors to go). The next room they poked their noses into, they discovered a floor-to-ceiling stack of crates (the nearest one had moldy food in it, and from the smell, they’re probably all the same). Ez and Agnar say one of the crates floated off the stack and broke at their feet – and whatever you think of that, we all heard a voice shouting at them, “Begone!”
When we examined the next room on the left hand, someone started chucking crockery and kitchen knives at Ezekiel…the only problem was, we didn’t see anyone – just cupboards and a table and chairs, like any abandoned kitchen. Next to the door, Raven found the hand from his hobgoblin corpse – pinned to the wall with a butcher knife, and captioned with a message in blood: “This is a harbinger of your fate!”
Now, someone who can take out hobgoblins isn’t necessarily someone to be scared of (even in large numbers, they’re kinda push-overs)…and besides, the enemy of hobgoblins might not automatically be our enemy, too. We could definitely understand why hobgoblins might stay out of this area, though.
Ezekiel was starting to get a little smile as he walked around. I don’t know if he thought he was figuring it out, but while Raven was examining the hand message, Ez stuck his head up the kitchen chimney to see what was there.
Next thing we know – clang, clack, thump! – Ezekiel is gagging and wrestling with the fireplace. Raven ran over and got past him enough to see a rope wound around his neck and trying to drag him up the chimney. A flash of Raven’s dagger, and Ezekiel was free…but the rest of the rope disappeared, leaving no trace that we weren’t crazy except the noose around Ezekiel’s neck.
Well…Ezekiel is Ezekiel. He took almost being strangled in stride…more than that, he started telling Lydia about these joke-buildings he’s heard of (seems like they have them in Greyhawk and maybe some other places) where people set up magic tricks to try to scare their friends. He said the whole thing felt like a joke…like whoever made it was just trying too hard to be intimidating.
The last two rooms in the hallway were a dining room (moldy food still on the table) and a bedroom. As Agnar stepped into the bedroom, a pitcher flew off the dresser, and a rocking chair started moving back and forth. The same voice we heard earlier yelled at him to “Be gone!” and “This is your last warning!”
Still, we couldn’t find any motive for all this. If they wanted people to stay out of this area, it was for a reason – probably because they were hiding something. But what? Not treasure – we hadn’t found any.
And what was with the shouting voice? We’ve run into magic-mouth voices before, but Lydia said that kind of spell usually repeats itself whenever it’s triggered – unless it was cast as a single-use thing. She went around detecting magic just to be safe, but didn’t see anything glowing that we didn’t bring.
Raven went back to check the fireplace where Ezekiel almost got hung. He couldn’t find any traces of a trap in the chimney, but there were faint traces in the soot from the rope. Following those upward, he suddenly found a gap where some bricks had been removed on the inner side of the chimney – leading to a space between the ceiling of our room and the roof – or the floor of the room above. We heard him crawling above us:
“There’s a gap above the ceiling, here;” “Someone hauled a bunch of benches up here to make a barricade;” “Someone’s trying to shoot me with a crossbow, now;” “No, maybe someone’s trying to shoot a spider on the other side of the barricade.”
Next thing we knew – crash, bang, rumble! – Raven fell through the ceiling, missed Ezekiel’s head by that much, and landed in front of us. While Heiron sent an arrow up through the plaster, Raven had Ez give him a boost up through the hole. A short tussle later, the same bellowing voice said, “Oh, bother it all!” and Raven pulled a man down tangled up in his rope.
The man didn’t look like a guard, being unkempt, hairy, and dressed in tatters. He kept saying things like “you’ll never take me alive, Slavers!” and calling to Istis for help (Ezekiel knew who that was). He also kept muttering to himself in a strange language and didn’t seem to understand when we told him we had killed the guards and hobgoblins. Lydia tried to calm him down and tell him we were here to help, and finally he explained that he escaped from the Slavers, and he had to make preparations for the woman – the woman and her child. He seemed resistant to talk about that.
Ezekiel gave him a ration, and Raven let him out of the rope – and next thing we knew, the man was dashing back up the chimney with the ration. Raven rolled his eyes a bit and told us to wait a minute, and climbed after him. Raven must have done some good talking, because after one of those dungeon waits that we’re used to, he came back with the man – and a woman, that Heiron had to help down from the ceiling, who was carrying a baby.
The woman gave a much more coherent story. She was captured from the Safeton area, and kept in the barracks area of the fortress until she was ready to have her baby. (I wasn’t quite clear on that part, but Ezekiel got his “Heironious face” and offered her his arm.) Anyway, she got away from the Slavers far enough that the man found her, and hid her in the ceiling…but she wasn’t sure what the next part of the plan was. He would bring her food, but I don’t think they would ever have made it through the humanoid tribes on their own.
Between Ezekiel and Lydia and some food, we persuaded them to come with us, and led them back to the front wall (no ankheg this time!), where Lydia had left the portal sitting. When Ezekiel came back from escorting them to Homlette, he said Father Yra had taken charge and taken care of the man, and hopefully he is on the way to healing now. The baby looked kinda sickly and discolored, but hopefully he’ll shape up now his mother will have a more wholesome diet.
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