Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Against the Giants”
The farther from the Starkmounds we come into Keoland, the stranger things become. All day we’ve passed a stream of people headed the other direction, pushing carts, riding wagons, or just walking – bundles of their valuables on their backs.
When we asked them what the trouble was, we got incomplete answers. Some said giants were attacking all over Keoland. Others said that, with the absence of the earl, the bandits had just become too bad – and they were moving in with relatives in Geoff.
One man went on and on about dark sorcery in Istivin, and said the earl turned himself into a dark bubble that swallowed the city. Ezekiel asked if I took notes, but I’m not sure we can trust half what that guy said – even if his voice never changed pitch. I mean, he wasn’t dressed like a courtier, so how would he know what the earl was up to secretly? And what did whining about the music that bards sing these days have anything to do with it?
The clouds have been lowering all day, and the rain finally broke shortly before we entered a little village with one inn. (Mikael very disappointed that we had no enemies to smite with lightning.) We didn’t see much as we rode in, but from the looks of the common room, the place is largely deserted. It’s basically us and the innkeeper’s family; everyone else has evacuated, joining the stream we saw along the road. Not sure how long he’ll be able to keep the doors open this way – everything’s pretty threadbare and polished-by-time.
Just as well the inn was basically empty… We weren’t ready to turn in yet, when suddenly the door crashed open with a howl of the wind. A man with shield, mace, and armor stood in the doorway, lashed by rain, and bellowed, “At last you will pay for your interference.”
As he started chanting something else, Aliana drew Fetifencer (who didn’t glow red), Ezekiel said, “Shush!” and Mikael made buzzing noises with his mouth. Raven and Aliana charged the attackers in the doorway – a second man joined the first, his cloak drawn over his face as he made incantory gestures with his hands – and I fitted my shield on my arm as Tressarian and I appraised the flank.
The shutters were closed, naturally, to keep out the storm – but now someone started hacking them open with axes, one after the other, and bowman stood at the windows – just visible in the firelight – to launch arrows at us.
Agnar dashed past me, and I headed for the nearest bowman. As I went, someone nailed Ezekiel with an arrow; it didn’t penetrate his armor, but it did lodge in a joint, oozing darkly. That’s all I saw in passing – then I engaged the bowman just outside the window.
I’m not sure he was prepared for that, and he left himself pretty open. He did retreat, but not very far, and I scrambled over the sill and caught up with him. The light from the windows – even leaking through the rain – was still enough to take him down (though the cover of my shield slipped a little, sending a beam of light out into the village).
I conveniently remembered the back door of the inn was around the corner, and peeked back there.
Two shifty characters stood there, clearly up to no good…but I didn’t think I could take them both out without one of them escaping. So I went back to the window and whistled for Heiron’s attention, and then he ran over to distract them from the door-side so I could block them from the road-side.
By the time we got out there, the ne’r-do-wells had slipped around the corner – but they hadn’t outright disappeared…which I consider strange, given the clanging and banging and shouting coming from the inn.
Heiron told them to yield – but they were about as saucy and unyielding as you can get…and then they were dead. We dragged them through the back door to get out of the rain (and for easier examination) to find Ezekiel checking on us, and the innkeeper’s family (safely hiding in the cellar; his kid was not of the type who would want to see a severed head again and again).
We searched the dead for anything useful, and then piled them in the stable for tidiness’ sake (Lydia offered to burn them in the morning, which saves us digging). Their leader (the one who yelled so cryptically) had interesting armor: his helmet had an ugly mask painted on it, while his breastplate had an eye inside a triangle worked into the metal. It was hard to tell, though, because the symbol of the Earth Dragon was painted over the top. Did he steal the armor? Or was it a hand-me-down?
Under his helmet was even more surprising. I didn’t recognize him, but Ezekiel knew it was Solmon Klim, the cleric who was one of the Slave Lords, and obviously escaped the island blowing up somehow. So I guess the Earth Dragon still deigned to give him spells…
Ez and Lydia went over the papers from his belongings (including a letter she had to translate with magic) while the rest of us investigated the others: two shady, leather-wearing types; the dark spell-caster who also had a battle ax and longsword (I didn’t notice whether he was an elf or not); a couple fighters-for-hire; and about four archers (yes, with poisoned arrows. We disposed of those quickly). Also a pack of giant spiders – but the shadowy character had them on leashes, so hard to say if they were his “friends” or merely his “dogs of war” (Mikael was very sad they all died). It’s possible these people all had ties to the Slave Lords – or to the Slave Lords’ bosses – but even Ezekiel doesn’t recognize anyone but Klim.
As for the letters… One was written in fancy script, ordering the recipient to atone for his “failure” by bringing them the “heads of our enemies,” and signed merely “E.” The last pile of letters from “E” is in the vault back in the mountains, so we can’t check the handwriting to see if they’re the same. I’m beginning to wonder if “E” applies to a collection of people, and not just one mastermind. Another letter (the one Lydia had to read) talked about “consternation in the noble houses” (Heiron asked if that was like dysentary) and “Her” displeasure leading to “the death of the others.” It also mentioned a place in Flen (which is a town in eastern Istivin) where the recipient can rendezvous if “operations” have to close down.
Ezekiel suspects the helpful notes and trail markers we got in the Pomarchj were from “E” because she/they were closing down the Sudderheim operation – by letting us tear it down. Which raises the question, what failure was being punished? It couldn’t be the failure of letting us destroy the tavern and Marquessa’s place, could it?
Raven wonders how Markessa’s experiments fit in to all this. I remember that the Spider-Queen is a “she,” and Marquessa’s stockade was cooperating with the Underdark…but I haven’t mentioned it to Ezekiel. He’s paranoid enough right now. Raven says that stealing a whole city would take powerful magic. Who has arms long enough to pull the strings of the Slave Lords?
The last note said something like, “You will find your enemies in Geoff – so says Algrathus the Seer.” Someone more tactful than I can bring that up when we see him…that’s the house where the king’s agent is staying. (I put the ring of truth back on.)