Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure “Scourge of the Slave Lords”
We all felt strong and ready to go this morning. Once at the bottom of Ichar’s ladder, we spent some time in a narrow corridor until Agnar found a lever to open a door into a larger passage. Ezekiel and Agnar, who were at the front, found some chained guard-wolves on the other side, but Agnar only killed one before Ezekiel called Mikael up to befriend it. I was up for exploring a bit instead of listening to Mikael’s long friendship song once again, but I was stuck in the back with the archers once again.
When we all finally made it out into the main passage, Raven was working on the lock of some big double doors to our north (since Ezekiel always goes right…and, well, that’s as good a system as any). Tunnels stretched away to our west and south, as well, but we’ll have to get to those later. Turns out, the doors were probably barred on the other side, but Ezekiel and Agnar decided to put stealth aside “just this once,” and punched them open.
Almost the same moment that the doors crashed back into the room, a blinding light tore down the hallway through us. I think I turned to catch the blast on my shoulder, but I heard Mikael’s badger scream briefly…and as I blinked my eyesight clear, I saw Usin standing rigid, clutching his heart, his clothes smoking gently – and somehow I could tell that all his hair was standing up.
Ezekiel was at the front, and his lit shield shone into the pitch-dark room ahead of us. As soon as my eyes adjusted, I spotted the little misshapen figures of goblins, and started dropping them with arrows.
It was hard to see – the room stretched back beyond Ez’s light – but two tables of some kind stood in the middle of the room, with shriveled, gangly creatures lying on them. The creatures were most like men, but deformed…stretched and clawed and miserable-looking. As we burst into the room, they gave off croaks like ravens…and Raven tells me they went down like punks.
Next thing we knew, every figure in the room started sparkling with faery fire (Mikael’s best spell!) – and we could see a female figure at the far end of the room limned in light (that’s all we could see of her as blue smoke clouded the far end of the room). Those of us who were closer could also see balconies or platforms lining the walls on either side of the main entrance, swarming with goblin archers (who I imagine were squealing in frustration as Raven dodged and deflected their countless arrows).
Myself, I found my attention diverted by something else. First – the clackity-thump of oversized wolf paws on stone…next – a lance drove into my back (punching a fine bruise underneath my chainmail) and shoved me into the corner of the wall, where the passages intersected. A couple inches one way or the other, and it might have cut an eye. As it was, I just lost my bow…and got really mad.
Lulu howled, grabbed a goblin off the back of a worg (yeah, they ride worgs now, apparently!), and ripped it in half. That ape is terrifying, but I like her style (sometimes). Heiron was sprawled near me, blinking and rubbing his head. I was just scrambling to my feet and drawing my sword, ready to slice-and-dice some goblins, when a wall of fire exploded across the passage, cutting us off from our foes. I looked over my shoulder to see Lydia looking smug.
The goblins riding on the worgs shrieked as they sizzled and melted…so I guess that was worth something. And I kept busy finishing off the worgs (I guess they’re tougher than goblins – which isn’t hard), so I wasn’t completely useless.
When Heiron picked himself and his bow up, I recovered my bow, too, and we finished off the worgs that were beyond the fire (Lydia kept them pinned with a stinking cloud). By the time we cleaned up the hallway and rejoined the others, we found they’d been keeping plenty busy killing an owlbear and all the goblin archers, but Ezekiel somehow let the shadowy lady get away.
We took a moment to pass out healing, and examine the room. Lydia and Ezekiel figured the twig-limbed creatures on the tables used to be alive, rather than undead, but they were definitely dead after Raven and Agnar got to them. The furniture of the room disturbed us: a tub of brine; a table covered with decanters and sewing kits; barrels of body parts; a bookshelf full of tomes about alchemy, medicine, and body mechanics.
At least we found some paperwork of the Slave Lords, which might be more useful. A stack of parchments had some lists – with names, attributes (domestic, alchemy, hard-labor), and place names (Highport, Safeton, Keoland). Hard to tell if these are markets or supply-lines, but that’s for Ezekiel to puzzle out. There’s even a map, but the quick look I got of it didn’t resemble anything I’ve drawn recently.
Lydia gave Ichar’s parchments with raised lettering a closer examination, and realized one of them is a note of instructions: a new group of slaves must be sent to the Slave Lords in Suderheim for “questioning,” as soon as possible. Still no detailed directions for how to get there, but at least it’s confirmation “Suderheim” is our next breadcrumb in this chain.
She also found a list from Ichar, talking about “Specialist Quarters” somewhere in this fortress…some high-ranking fighters, a scribe, an alchemist, an emissary, and a worg trainer. The emissary and the worg trainer apparently have secret entrances to the “treasure vault.” We all agreed we had probably just cleared the alchemist’s room, though in retrospect I’m not so sure.
Searching the fallen revealed some money, a ring of keys, and sachets of some foul-smelling herb. As Mikael (resident herb-expert) was waving it around, trying to name it, his new wolf bestie started gurgling in its throat and rubbing against him (I think it would be purring, if it were a cat). So, we know we can get a use from that…if we can avoid throwing up in our mouths while handling it.
Raven also found the weirdest thing in a desk drawer – a pair of claws, but made out of some strong, shiny metal. Lydia thinks (and I agree) they have some connection to the ugly, spindle-legged creatures we killed…but Raven thinks they’re cool, and made me hold on to them.
We re-grouped and filed through the back door, where Ezekiel insists the shadowy lady went. The next room is much more of a cross-roads, with a corridor continuing on at the far end, and four doors leading out – besides the one we entered through. Ezekiel picked the first door on the right (consistency!) and Raven and I dropped the two goblin guards on the other side before they had a chance to draw breath. One of them had a copper horn we can only assume was for raising the alarm – but Raven snatched it from him before the goblin’s body even hit the ground.
The corridor snaked around – and headed north, flanked on either side with a row of doors. Ezekiel told Agnar to help him open them all up, so Agnar opened the first door on the left. Apparently there was a man with a cocked crossbow there – and while Mikael tried to save him for questioning, he sealed his fate by firing at Agnar (I admit, Agnar is an intimidating figure, especially when he bursts into your bedroom threatening blood and violence). Long story short, we won’t be asking that guy any questions.
On the right hand, Ezekiel discovered a man pouring liquid between flasks. Ezekiel and Raven questioned him, though I’m not quite sure about their methodology. He told them the captain of the guard was two doors north, and the Mistress Marquessa had a room somewhere to the south. Then Raven said, we’re here to kill the Slave Lords and anyone willingly working with them, so what do you think about the Slave Lords? Any man with a brain would start whimpering and insisting that he wasn’t free to leave (he says he originally came from Nirond), but was kept there to help Marquessa with her “experiments.” He called her animals “cave-lings” and says she wants to create the “perfect slave.”
Mikael asked, if he was really a slave himself, where did the big coffer covered with emeralds come from, and the man groveled and said it was a present from Marquessa, and we could absolutely have it if we wanted.
Ezekiel told me and Lydia to loot the coffer, and anything else in the room that looked “dangerous” for the man to hold on to, and left. Yes, Ezekiel is a sly one, he is. Raven told the man to stay put until we finished killing everyone else, and walked out, too.
I was just shifting the coffer to see if it would really fit in our bag, when m… my hand decided it didn’t want to let go. It was like the coffer had a coating of amber tree sap, except there was no sap…or maybe like the coffer was an iced-over well pump in the dead of winter, except it wasn’t cold. Lydia looked over from confiscating all the man’s jars, said some kind of magic was holding my hand in place, and gave the alchemist a look…but he just blubbered and said he didn’t know anything about it, and it was a gift from Marquessa. So Lydia got Mikael into the room, and before I could have a break-down Mikael dispelled the magic on the coffer and I could stand up again. So that’s the last time I ever listen to Ezekiel about anything.
Lydia made me hold the bag open so she could finish looting the alchemist’s shelf of supplies, and I didn’t whine because she didn’t ask me to touch any of it myself. Going over the events of the day, if this really was the “Alchemist” (official title), then it was probably pretty dumb to leave him alone in his room…but there’s not a lot we can do about it at this point.
Mikael was quite intrigued by the coffer, and tried poking it with one of his sticks, and finally tried to open it (since he and Lydia figured it was safe, with the magic dispelled). But it didn’t even open, and while we might have to get Agnar to be sure, I bet anything that the emeralds are just glass. The only circumstances under which I shall consent to lug it around are if we chuck it at Ezekiel the moment the magic reactivates itself.
When we’d finally emptied the room to Lydia’s satisfaction, we closed the door and used some of my crampons to wedge it shut, sealing the alchemist in there (barring unforeseen circumstances…). On rejoining the others, Ezekiel, Raven, and Heiron told us about the exciting, vigorous fight they just had with what Ezekiel calls an “ogre-mage” – a tall, bony, pale figure that Raven recognized from his espionage trip: the one counting coins.
This creature called himself Blackthorne, and claimed to be both captain of the guard and the treasurer. He had a “nice” chat with Ezekiel, and confided to their group that Marquessa was absolutely crazy, but unfortunately since we were dead-set on killing all the Slave Lords, he couldn’t come to an agreement with us. So he pulled some tricks, including blasting them with cold like a frost-dragon, and bolting for the wall in gaseous form.
Gaseous form was no match for Heiron’s flame-tongue sword, however, and by the time Lydia and I got there, our party was searching Blackthorne’s dead body and Ezekiel was charming away Heiron’s frostbite (no extremities missing so far).
Raven gathered up a load of gold coins and some ledgers, and so the only other interesting thing in the room was a bizarre plant hanging in a pot from chains. While the party in the hallway killed some bugbears that showed up in the wrong place, and a man in another of the rooms along the hall, Mikael investigated the plant. (The last man had a bunch of papers that Heiron showed to Ezekiel; some of them list places along the route to Suderheim, which might help us – especially if the map we found has names written on it.)
Mikael declared the plant “unnatural,” and it made his skin crawl, he said. Lydia said it reminded her of the gangley creatures, and discovered a mouth and a couple ears under the broad, waxy leaves. She thinks it might be a “prototype” as she says, and theorized that Marquessa might have spied on Blackthorne via the plant. (She tried to turn it into a learning opportunity for Agnar, on why we don’t trust people who are always willing to betray us. Can’t help feeling we’re not the best teachers of that lesson, though.) Anyway, the ears were too much for Mikael, and as soon as Lydia stepped away, he splatted it with his stick – to “put it out of its misery.”
As the plant sprayed against the wall, the chain relaxed with the reduced weight – and a secret door opened up in the north wall, where Blackthorne was trying to flee.
Meanwhile, I was helping search the last door on the corridor. It opened into a bedroom covered with dust and hair, and if my nose knows anything by this point, I think wolves (or wolf-like beings) have been all over that room in the recent past.
I also heard Agnar mention that the man he killed had a silver dagger and silver bolts for his crossbow. I’ve never played much with crossbows, but it seemed like it might come in handy – especially the silver part, given all the wolf hair around here – so I went back to collect that stuff.
When I caught up with the others, they had opened up the secret door and killed a couple wolf-men on the other side of it, so I was starting to feel like a glorified baggage-man, which feels like a waste of my talents.
We started down the secret tunnel – and immediately got distracted. On the eastern wall right to hand, we found a tunnel opening barely a foot square, with strange metal rails running into it. Mikael dropped into snake form, and carried Raven’s light-marble in his mouth to investigate. After one of those polite waits that happen in dungeons, we heard his voice, explaining the situation:
The rails led to a cart, just as tall as the tunnel itself. A braided metal cord also led out of the tunnel, attached to the cart – actually, three carts – and would let us pull them out. As for what we might want to put in the carts? Six chests and three coffers filled the space, not to mention a cot and a water barrel, so Mikael could comfortably hole up there if he happened to blow his transformations by accident (or, an Evil officer could stash his treasure and rations back in a hole where no one else could fit, and retreat whenever he felt like it – hiding from his allies or his enemies, as the case might be).
Mikael started unloading one of the chests into the carts (it happened to contain platinum pieces). As he was reaching the bottom half of the chest, he pulled some kind of trip wire, and noxious fumes filled the secret room. He said he summoned the power of nature and held his breath until the gases dissipated.
After that, Raven decided he should be in there, helping to make sure no traps got triggered anymore. So he quaffed a potion of diminution we got way back when, and we all stared as he shrank to the size of my hand! Off he hustled into the short tunnel, and before too long (I guess he’s pretty fast, even with inch-long legs) we heard him talking with Mikael and ordering Mikael to lift him here and hold him there so he could check the locks before the diminution wore off.
A couple of the locks were too hard for him, and he found at least one trap that he wasn’t confident to disarm in his unusual size. Lydia could try unlocking them, of course, but she wasn’t back there…so after much discussion, and much calling back and forth through the tunnel with ideas, we finally settled on sending the portable hole through on one of the carts…and once Raven grew big again, he helped Mikael heave everything we wanted into the hole (still not sure how the baddies got the chests in there to begin with, but maybe they passed the materials through and then assembled the chests on the spot). Finally, Raven climbed into the portable hole (so he didn’t have to drink the rest of the potion), and Mikael carried it out, riding one of the carts in snake form.
Hmm…the most important things we got…
- more platinum, silver, and copper pieces than I can count right now
- barrel of iron rations; so our food should be set for life, I guess
- wooden case, containing a pewter jar, containing an amber amulet floating in fluid; Ezekiel is mystified yet intrigued…as usual
- one of the coffers had three locks; once Lydia opened it, we found a bunch of gems and a scroll none of us could read
- several potions and a silvery blue ring (haven’t checked it for magic yet)
Anyway, it’s possible that was the “treasure room” mentioned in one of the parchments…if not, I balk to imagine what kind of treasure is sitting in the belly of this fortress. We explored to the end of the secret tunnel, and Agnar found yet another secret door, this one opening into the wolf-hair room. If that counts as the “worg-trainer’s room,” then we’re halfway to an answer…but I still have some unanswered questions about this place.
Since we had already blown so many hours emptying the hidden treasure room, and waiting for Raven to change size, I voted to finish exploring the doors to the north, rather than worry about the shadowy lady who most likely fled somewhere to the south. That way, we’re less likely to get enemies coming up from our rear, and for once other people agreed with me, and we returned to the “cross-roads” room and opened the second door along the north wall (see map).
A long, dingy hallway stretched away from us, and the sound of shouting goblin voices came to us muffled by doors. This hallway…finally…repaid me for my patience. The first door we found had a dog’s skull nailed to it. After Raven unlocked it, he stood back, revealed a bunkhouse packed with sleeping goblins. About a minute and a half, and Heiron and I had killed them all.
The second door was marked with some kind of thighbone, and sat empty. We theorized that they must be the goblins who attacked us earlier, so Lydia killed most of those. However, the third door (marked with a donkey’s ear, slightly decomposed) revealed a crowd of reveling goblins.
They stink. Their voices are grating. Their teeth are sharp and ugly. And their idea of “fun” is revolting. This lot had a medium-largish lizard tied to a table-leg – missing a foot, riddled with darts, and flopping around in a panic. Two starving rats cowered in a cage across the room, and a human slave lay, trussed and gagged, on a cot along the wall.
After a long day of watching other people kill things…I needed this. Even Heiron was so excited he pegged Agnar in the back by accident (I know they’re all short, but goblins are even shorter than dwarves). And all the while, I made sweet, sweet music with my bow…music that sounded like goblins suddenly gagging with arrows in their throats. These, I think, were for Old One-Eyed Pyetrov, who always pretended he didn’t like anyone, but must have bit it trying to get Widow Hylda’s grandson to safety. There weren’t enough of them, then.
With the enemy dead, the caring members of our group sprang into action. Raven untied the slave and offered him something to eat while Ezekiel poked everything with his healing finger. Mikael scooped up the lizard (though it was nearly as long as his arm) and cradled it, making comforting sounds. He and Raven fed the rats, and after Raven told them not to bite anyone still alive, he let them out.
The slave says his name is Penn, and the goblins dragged him from a cage for nefarious purposes unknown. He says there are many other slaves in cages, and will lead us to them. I just better make sure he stays out of the direct line of fire; even if he’s got it prepared, Ez can only raise one person per day. (Seems a bit dazed – typical reaction – but some rations have pulled him together remarkably. That, and watching the goblins all die in under two minutes.) (Agnar disgruntled that chopping goblins in half doesn’t provide much challenge; says he wants more of those bugbears.)
We paused long enough to search the goblins for anything of value them might have (lots of money scattered on the floor, somehow) and Lulu took the opportunity to eat a goblin or two. I just hope Mikael keeps her from getting confused about who’s who and what’s what.
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