Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure “Scourge of the Slave Lords”
We headed south, to the hallway that led out of the “cross-roads” room, and Penn indicated the first door we came to (opening west). We shuffled him a bit back in the group, and then Ezekiel and Agnar threw open the door.
Ezekiel yelled, “Get the guards,” and the two of them rushed in – Raven vaulting over their heads to join in.
Heiron and I finally reached the door, and took in the scene. Banks of floor-to-ceiling cages stretched into the room on either hand (turns out there were four rows in total), while a group of hobgoblins stood watch on a raised platform opposite us. The three vanguard had already charged up the stairs and engaged…Heiron and I just picked off the survivors.
Ezekiel searched the guards for keys, and he and Raven each started down a side, unlocking cages. Ez cast Protection from Evil on Raven so he could check for doppelgangers at the same time.
I tried to remember names at first, but had to give up. There were ninety-one – yes, I declare, ninety-one poor creatures snatched away from their homes and forced into servitude…and that’s not even counting the “special” ones in the north cell! Separate from the others, we found a group that must have been up with the Cloaker…they were all standing quietly and staring blankly at nothing (doesn’t look encouraging for the shadow-room-people we left in Homlette).
Well, there was one in the north cell who wasn’t zombie-fied…a halfling lady waved to get Raven’s attention and tugged his hand to have him come in the cell (never speaking, only gesturing). Never one to shrink from a challenge, he gave the keys to Mikael to keep unlocking people, and followed her in – to a gap in the bars that led into the next cell, which happened to be empty. This last cell was strange for many reasons – it held a circle with a white statue of a “lady” raising one arm, facing the wall…a hideous lady with a snake-tongue and worms for eyes. The statue seemed to be facing either a pile of rags in the corner, or the crack of a cave-mouth. The halfling seemed to want Raven to go into the cave, but as he passed the pile of rags, it rose up and demanded whether he was the “thrice-cursed messenger”.
I heard it hooting and generally making a ruckus, so I stepped over to see if Raven needed a hand. Raven came back to the central corridor (distressing the halfling), and asked Mikael to come with him with his animals, as it looked like the cave system could be large. (They decided to avoid the circle around the statue…can’t be too careful.) I guess Mikael had finished unlocking all his cells by then, and there were all kinds of men women, and even children milling around and trying to process what was going on (the children didn’t seem to know where their parents were, or they weren’t willing to talk about it, but some of the women agreed to be responsible for them, so they should be fine).
Ezekiel was opening the far bank of cells, along the south wall, and he shouted across the room for Lydia to come help him. Apparently, he found a cell full of girls – in various states of undress. Lydia insisted she’s not a cleric – but she is a girl, and sometimes that matters, so Ezekiel had her join him and he warned the girls before he unlocked the cell and undid their chains. I don’t know if it was him or Lydia, but one of them had saved some of the clothing we found earlier, so they could help the girls be…warmer.
Oh, one of the men we found looked more dazed than normal – and the halfling in his cell with him said he was trying to sell out to the overseers for special treatment. The halfling says the man was planning to “report” us to the hobgoblins…but then we killed the hobgoblins almost as fast as we saw them. After talking with him a bit, Ezekiel decided this man wasn’t actually a threat – just a weak character – so he just separated him from the rest of the prisoners to keep things peaceful.
A couple of the prisoners claimed to have treasure and property they could reward us with if we took them back home. We’re a bit busy exterminating the Slave Lords at the moment, but it’s possible some of the tougher prisoners will decide to accompany them back home to improve everyone’s odds…though some of the prisoners, I think, should stay away from each other for the sake of tranquility. As he was unlocking cages, Ezekiel spread the word we were looking for “Lawful Good” people to serve at his temple-monastery-wizard tower-water park…and got the usual collection of blank stares, eye rolls, and concentrated frowns.
The very last cell had some people Ezekiel couldn’t communicate with – so he called me over. Raven and Mikael were still in the cave system, so I told Usin to watch the corridor. Turns out I made the right call, since the last thing we wanted was enemies coming up from the rear and slaughtering our newly-freed prisoners.
The last prisoners were a man and some women, all kinda dark and tough-looking – except for the one in the corner, who was blonde. I asked them in Flan if they had any injuries that needed treatment, and that seemed to relax them. The man explained what was going on to the blonde lady, and then they all said, no, they weren’t really hurt. So I explained we were enemies of the Slave Lords, and they could come out and join the other milling prisoners if they wanted.
Ezekiel told Agnar to find Raven and see if he needed help, then went back to join Lydia talking with the young ladies.
The Flan say they moved around some as slaves, before they ended up here. I tried to get specifics, but I think that would require both of us using the same names for the area. They don’t know much about the Slave Lord hierarchy, either. Sounds like they’re good at looking out for each other, though, so they should be fine.
I went back to guarding the door, and eventually Raven came out of the cave system leading a blonde young lady sobbing her heart out. As soon as the halfling girl saw her, she rushed over to her, and they all went to speak with Ezekiel.
So Raven’s story is this – once inside the cave, he and Mikael were crowded by deformed, human-ish creatures like the ones we killed in the lab…multiple thumbs, mis-shapen limbs, mouths that only make hooting and howling sounds. The creatures spit and threw mushrooms at them – until Mikael ate one of the mushrooms, and then they tossed a pebble. When Raven caught that, they seemed impressed somehow, and let them enter and “talk” with a (female?) creature who seemed to be in charge. The creatures were holding the blonde girl – either as a pet, or what, Raven wasn’t sure – but for a couple of rations and his light marble, they let him bring her out.
However, Mikael and Agnar had stayed behind.
In another part of the cave, they found someone Raven called “Octopus Man,” who could speak telepathically. Octopus Man asked if one of them was the “thrice-cursed messenger” from the “place of light”. Raven said he didn’t know, but we wanted to kill Markessa. Apparently “Markessa” is their word for leader or something – they have an “inner” one and an “outer” one – so when they heard Raven and Ezekiel wanted to kill the “outer-Markessa” the creatures all bowed to the ground.
Octopus Man insisted Raven come speak with their leader, so Raven left Mikael and Agnar in there to reassure the cavelings while he came to fetch Ezekiel.
Raven was just coming out when Usin called me into the hall because we had “trouble.” Turns out “trouble” was some goblins…so we dropped them pretty quickly. Someone caused a cloud of darkness down the corridor – near the second door of the slave dungeon, so I called to the others to watch out – but apparently it was just to cover their retreat…I shot down one goblin as it flapped away in the darkness, but from the sound of footsteps, there was at least one other survivor.
When we searched the bodies, they were pretty decked-out for goblins. Their armor (yeah, they actually had armor, of a fashion) was covered in strange markings…they look like something maybe Lydia could read.
Shortly after I got back inside, Ezekiel and the others all came back from the cave. Kinda funny how Raven and Ezekiel tell stories differently…but here’s the gist of it:
The cavelings (as they call themselves) have a fixation on “Markessa” or “Markessas” – which they say means “loveliness and power.” They seemed to call the young lady Raven brought out a “false Markessa”…don’t know if that’s because she wasn’t the caveling leader, therefore false, or what. Bottom line – the cavelings are in total agreement about killing the “outer-Markessa” (she prevents them from reaching the “Bright Place,” apparently), and offered their warriors to help us do just that. So Ezekiel promised to come get them after we led the “weaklings” to somewhere safe.
Once they returned to us (leaving behind some giant rats Mikael was trying hard to woo), Lydia vanished to go “open the way” for our rescued prisoners. We passed the time as best we could…Raven walked past all the slaves wearing Protection from Evil, but no one reacted suspiciously. Ezekiel questioned some of the prisoners, tested some potions we’d found before, and continued talking with the young ladies (he made Raven help him even though, once again, Raven pointed out he wasn’t a cleric).
After waiting about an hour, we were getting a bit restless. We know Lydia is a big girl who can take care of herself – and there wouldn’t be anything we could do for her if she was in trouble – but we decided that rather than sit on our hands, we would investigate our other options. I thought I remembered where Lydia left the portal end when we led all the zombie-slaves out of the shadow room, and Raven agreed to join me, with Heiron. We also brought a handful of freed slaves…I think Raven and I both tried to choose ones that didn’t look likely to stab us in the back and make off with our gear – though Heiron’s bulky presence would probably discourage most people from that.
We reached the shadow room (which isn’t so shadowy with Continual Light hanging from the ceiling) without incident (not even a stray goblin or giant weasel or anything). Raven agreed with me about which wall we walked the slaves through, but all the walls seemed solid and normal. We went up and down the room a bit, patting the stones, but didn’t find anything…which could of course mean that she closed it after she came through the last time – or that she died, or someone in the tower came along and messed with it, or any number of things! Heiron seemed a bit worried, wondering if “Miss Lydia” should maybe have taken one of the fighters to protect her…but Raven of course doesn’t sweat over much.
As we were heading back to the others, we passed through the barracks/kitchen where Ichar the Blind used to live (until yesterday or something like that). The slaves with us perked up at the sight of the food sitting around, so we loaded up a bunch of it to carry back to everyone (including the giant lizard, which smelled a bit funny by this time, at least to me, but maybe that’s just because I could see Lulu’s teeth marks in it. That murderous ape puts the wind up my back).
Ezekiel read a blessing over the food, and we served it out. Food tends to make everyone relax, I think…and I’m sure being out of those cells helped. With everything that’s happened in the past few weeks, you can start to forget that month we spent unable to move…though I still have pale marks on the backs of my wrists. And if I get too cold while sleeping, I seem to wake up with my bedroll snarled around me…dreams of not having enough to wear.
Hope Lydia’s all right.
Lydia is the champ and was fine. She met with Sir Rufus and Master AbiMarn, and they decided that close to a hundred people would be a little much for Homlette’s resources. So she “popped over to Verbobanc,” where they gave her an introduction to –
But wait – so the first we saw of her, she stepped out of the air into the cage room (scaring one of the women…I think there’s no fix for this), and stuck something into a crack in the pavement. A little water from her canteen, and – FOOM – an oak tree pops out floor, smashes into the ceiling, and spreads branches to cast gnarly shadows across the southern half of the room. I have seen some things in my time…but I am at peace with the fact I will keep seeing jaw-dropping things…it just happens to people like us.
Next thing you know, a stately, white-bearded man steps out of the tree…and now here’s the amazing thing. Mikael walks over and bows to him, kinda dazed-like. Mikael isn’t one for formalities, but he seemed impressed by this guy: Great Druid Kel, from Verbobanc. I don’t think they’d ever met before, but apparently Mikael knows him by reputation.
The Great Druid said Lydia had explained our situation, and so he linked up this oak tree with one in the druid grove of Verbobanc – for a limited time. Verbobanc is quite a step from the Pomarchj, but it’s a big town with lots of resources, and a good jumping-off place for people starting new lives – so we divvied up the left-overs, and supervised as all the freed slaves formed up in a line and walked through the tree.
Apparently the halfling girl, who was taking care of the caveling’s pet lady, found an elf who could communicate with her in hand gestures, so they all went together — Ezekiel wrote a note for her to take to the clerics of Heironious in Verbobanc, so they can maybe help heal her ears. (Note: she’s the only one from the northern cell who wasn’t catatonic…maybe the Cloaker’s power came from the moaning, so she was immune??)
Ezekiel also gave special instructions about the young adult girls, that they should be taken to see the female clerics of Heironious…and we entrusted a decent donation to the temple of Heironious, because it looks like they might need it. Those zombiefied slaves may be agreeable and all, but they’re going to need someone responsible for them…possibly for the rest of their lives.
The place feels much less crowded, now. Glad we don’t have to arrange their travel through the humanoid lands…and now we can concentrate of exploring the rest of the fortress and finding Marquessa (if she hasn’t finally kited out by this time).
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