Dear Diary…run away, little girl

Still in pursuit of the crazy leader lady.

After getting all the rescued slaves to safety, Ezekiel and Raven collected their caveling friends to join us for the “battle”…though none of us knew where our enemy might be hiding. Some of the cavelings armed themselves with stone axes and such, but others just had their bizarre, unnatural claws. No two are exactly alike…and no description will do them justice.

We headed south down the passage, and the first branch-off we came to ended in a door. Raven and I hid behind the corners of the passage – just in case another lightening bolt came ripping out (you never know!) – and Ezekiel opened the door.

I could just barely hear a woman’s voice asking how he dared intrude (Ezekiel dares all kinds of things) – then Ezekiel called Raven up to join him. They say it was a beautiful, elfin lady in studded armor, who spoke with an imperious tilt to her head…but who answered all Ezekiel’s questions about Sudderheim without flinching or trying to bluster. Ezekiel says she was far too cooperative to be believable…but they didn’t get much time to evaluate the situation.

As soon as the cavelings noticed the lady was there, they surged forward, baying for blood. I think Ezekiel tried to stall them, but none of the ones present could talk with us – and besides, they were in such a frenzy I don’t think it would have mattered. Glad we haven’t had to fight them so far.

I moved up and saw Raven fighting an elf-looking man in armor – so I sent a few arrows into the fray. I didn’t see the lady at all…and no wonder. Before long, the cavelings all trooped past us, heading home, their hands and weapons dripping…and when I got in the room, I saw the bodyguard’s corpse – and a revolting pile of gak that must have been the lady. The cavelings may have a weak grasp on reality in other areas…but they have clung to the memory of who made them these stunted, misshapen travesties of humanity. Can’t blame them, in some ways…

With the excitement over for the time-being, we could examine the room. The male bodyguard came from a hidden door behind a mirror, which led to an arms room – practice dummies, racked weapons, and the like.

Opposite the mirror in the lady’s room, I saw the tattered pieces of a canvas. Ezekiel says it used to be a portrait of Marquessa – but the eyes seemed to be watching them, so he had Agnar destroy it (Agnar could get it unstuck from the wall). Raven dug behind where the portrait had been, and found a chisel sealed into a crack in the wall. Ezekiel thinks that’s bizarre enough to be important, so I have added it to the list.

A desk contained letters to potential slave buyers; a bed and wardrobe stood along one wall…but still, something felt off. Ezekiel said it was too easy – and certainly, for a lady who hurled lightening at us the first time we met, I couldn’t believe she’d let herself be boxed into a corner like this.

I squinted my eyes and concentrated, and breathed in the power of Ehlonna, and all the magic in the room started to glow. Ignoring my party members, I focused – and was surprised to see that neither the bodyguard nor the pulpy pile of Marquessa wore magical gear of any kind. Not so much as a magic ring…which seems very strange for the leader of an evil cult slaver operation. The chisel and the stuff we took from the captain of the guard also didn’t feel special.

However – while I was concentrating, we pulled out some of the other stuff we looted…and the amber vial inside the wood box, the scroll, and the coffer with the potions and ring all glowed. The shreds of canvas from the portrait also glowed…so maybe it really was a magical spying tool. Marquessa seems obsessive enough for that.

Finally, some kind of panel behind the wardrobe glowed. Raven took a look, and said there was a secret door, opened with a peg – but it took Lydia to open it. Maybe no one else did it right, or maybe it was waiting for someone magical…or maybe it was waiting for a girl. I doubt we’ll remember to ask the real Marquessa in the brief moments before we kill her.

Ezekiel went first into the secret passage – and called out that there was a glyph at the end of the passage. We all held back until he gave the all-clear, and Agnar helped him find the secret door behind the glyph (secret doors within secret doors! It’s like a secret society within a secret society!).

This, finally, had the look of a real leader’s quarters. The bedroom was larger than any of the others – and the bed was a huge, cushy, canopied affair. There was even a chandelier – and a fireplace. Ezekiel came out of the fireplace with soot on his nose, and asked Raven to look at the flue. They agreed there was something overly-complicated about it – and Ezekiel pointed out the soot was scraped off part of it in a suspicious way – but they couldn’t get there hands up there to push on it with enough force. Ezekiel said a poker would be perfect…but this fireplace mysteriously didn’t have a poker.

Ezekiel walked around the room with his magical trap-smelling, and spotted a couple more – on the wall by the bed, and in the corner of the room. While I appropriated some of the clothes from the dresser (not for me! You never know when they might come in handy!), Raven cracked open a wall safe at the foot of the bed – a purse, some gems, and…a very mysterious metal box. I wasn’t sure it was glowing…but it made my skin crawl somehow, and Raven and Lydia agreed. We’ll have to investigate it more closely when we have more tools at our disposal.

Meanwhile, Agnar pointed out a secret door in the corner. When Ezekiel opened it, a cloud wafted out of the wall at him – but he got his arm up in time to shield his face, and he rubbed the frost off his hands and ears before continuing.

The room beyond was right out of an Evil cult book if ever there was one. There’s a big ol’ five-pointed star on the floor, in what I hope is red paint, with candles and everything and an amulet in the center. Even Ezekiel wasn’t bold enough to step near it.

Workbenches lined the walls, covered with flasks and papers and measuring cups and other alchemical rif-raf. A couple of the drawers were trapped with glyphs, Ezekiel said — as was a section of the wall with, according to Agnar, yet another secret door.

Marquessa may be off her rocker…but she’s also crazy competent, or she’s got some insanely skilled person working for her. Like, how many secret doors does one person need? And if these doors finally lead back to the surface again, will Marquessa have fled by the time we get there?


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…we’d like reservations for 112 – for tonight

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).


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…gold for stashing, goblins for slashing

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.


Find the previous entry here.

Dear Diary…whisper of the Under-Dark

Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure “Scourge of the Slave Lords”

With those three “lost souls” found and stashed safely in Homlette, we crossed the fortress and found the stairs to take us down to the shadow-room. Just as before, my skin crawled as I approached the doorway…and the sight of all those men and women just sitting there, not feeling the cold or reacting to our presence or anything, would make anyone’s neck-hairs stand up. Ezekiel’s continual light didn’t seem to have changed anything, although it kept the shadows behaving normally. Raven went through the other door to check on the hobgoblin (and maybe to get out of the room), and sure enough, it was still standing in the hallway like we left it yesterday or the day before (time blurs together sometimes).

Ezekiel drew our attention to the faint moaning sound, and insisted it had something to do with the mystery. I tried really concentrating, but nothing started to glow like it was magical (except all of us, of course). Finally, Mikael pointed at one of the cloaks hanging on the wall behind the bleachers of slaves and said that it was moaning.

So Ezekiel went over and did that other Ezekiel-thing he does – poked the cloak with his mace. Darkness seemed to wash over me for a moment, and by the time I blinked it away, everyone else was gone…everyone except Ezekiel and Heiron (and the giant ant Marie Ant-oinette, but she doesn’t really count, she just stood there rubbing her antennae together). I think I heard shrill screaming somewhere in the distance, but I had other things on my mind.

Heiron launched an arrow, which stuck in the cloak in a way arrows and cloaks do not normally interact. The cloak spun around, and we saw it had much more substance to it than first met the eye — also had glowing red eyes that glared at us from the top area where the hood should be, and two clawed “hands” at the far corners of its body. I had my sword ready (since some things take magic to be hurt), but before I could get that close, Heiron launched another volley and the thing dropped to the floor with a squawk. We all instinctively drew sighs of relief as the air seemed to clear, and though we prodded it a few times to be sure, it was pretty clearly dead.

The others trickled back into the room (we’re not talking about it), and we went around prodding the other cloaks – but they all seemed to be normal cloth. The slaves still didn’t react or show any sign of stirring, but the whole place seemed warmer and cheerier for some reason I couldn’t put my finger on.

When Agnar showed up, he looked over the dead thing, and called it a “Cloaker” from the Underdark. He says they use shadows, their mimicking skills, and their effect on people’s emotions to confuse their prey…and that they can move shadows around to disorient people. Obviously a light spell messes with that, I guess. Agnar says he had a distant uncle who tried to bring Underdark monsters to family get-togethers from time to time, and laughed a bit. I guess my brothers still have some competition.

Lydia unlocked the chains on all the slaves. They kept staring into empty space, although when Ezekiel handed each of them a ration, they ate it contentedly. I still don’t know what the point of this would be… Raven pointed out that the slaves would be way easier to transport this way — but they still need some way to “wake them up” to make them useful servants. Unless, as Ezekiel said, they want them passive and docile like little zombie workers. I mean, I guess they don’t “know” they’re slaves right now, but it still seems even creepier than normal slavery.

Lydia took Raven and Lulu to escort her back to the front wall, so she could readjust the portal entrance. Raven says they didn’t spot any troops along the way, but I can’t believe the fortress is completely deserted. Unless the leaders (like that Mistress Somebody) fled through the well-tunnel or something, they must be holed up somewhere, waiting where they have the advantage of terrain. I’m sure we will find out sooner or later.

We walked the slaves through the portal to Homlette, and Ezekiel says he has arranged for their care and feeding while we research how to help them. Homlette is going to be a much bigger town by the time we’re done here. Hopefully some of them stay to give Sir Rufus a hand in his guard-tower. Raven said he took care of the hobgoblin, too – having the blacksmith take care of it for the time being. I’m disturbed they haven’t told me much about this “blacksmith” (and what is he going to do now that the fortress is depopulated?) but Ez told me to come on, and we headed to the blind leader’s suite for the night. The merchant’s “servants” Cari and Filch are still fast asleep near the stairs; either something’s wrong, or they haven’t slept in years and just need to catch up.

Our plan for tomorrow is to head down the ladder under Ichar’s bed and start clearing the dungeon. Lydia says they must surely have another entrance – besides under some guy’s bed, that is – but I think the fastest way to find it would be from the other end. We’ve been up and down this fortress from the top-side, and explored everything to the best of our ability…what goes down can also come up.

Speaking of Raven’s cooking — just kidding.

We all passed around healing, and I think everyone is feeling themselves again. Heiron is trying out Ichar’s bed, and he says it fits pretty well.


Find the previous entry here.

Read the next entry here.

Dear Diary…not so funny

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. Continue reading

Dear Diary…creepy evening

Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure “Scourge of the Slave Lords”

You kinda get used to waiting around in dungeons, so it wasn’t all that long relatively before Ezekiel emerged from the dark doorway and asked Heiron to come investigate a trapdoor that he couldn’t reach.

Fraught nerves suddenly relieved, we demanded of Ezekiel if it really took him that long to just notice a trapdoor.

Eventually, this is the story we dragged out of him:

He advanced into the abandoned apartment, eager to use the “exorcism” he had been given. The bone fragments we had noticed on the floor followed some dark brown smears into a short hall, where an oil pot sat ready to repel attackers in the gatehouse below…except now it was crusted with age. Stepping gingerly around it, Ezekiel entered the next room – beyond where we could easily hear him cry for help – where he spotted a skeletal hand lying on a table.

It seemed “associated” with a human skull and rib cage (one could hardly call it “connected” by now), but the thing did not react to his polite salutation. Continue reading

Dear Diary…”rescue” is relative

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). Continue reading

Dear Diary…storming the castle

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Scourge of the Slave Lords”

Subtlety…what is that?

Before the sun rose, Mikael summoned a fog down on the castle, and Ezekiel put silence on a rock so we could sneak around to the east side of the castle. Once there, Raven scaled the wall and broke off some of the wooden spikes along the top so that we could actually reach the top. He disappeared over the edge, and we started following him with the rope of climbing.

Ezekiel left the stone behind, so as we approached the top of the wall, we could hear shouting and clanging and the rattle of arrows against stone. (Business as usual already, eh?)

When I jumped over the parapet after Ezekiel, I saw him waving at some hobgoblins to the left, while Raven was chasing some others to the right. I decided we didn’t want them raising any more of an alarm than they already had, so I went to back up Raven, drawing my sword (because my bow was still on my back, and besides I need to practice sometimes).

As we rounded a turn in the wall, we spotted a funny-looking little blue creature, plus a whole squad of hobgoblins piling out of a door. Raven went for the blue creature, so it didn’t start spitting lightening or something all weird, and I went for the hobgoblins.

I did have one fumbled strike – maybe because a wolf cub was darting in and out of the hobgoblins’ legs and nipping at Raven. Everyone seemed to be shouting (something like “ranger”? But I don’t speak hobgoblin), and the wolf cub ran under my feet and knocked me on my butt for a moment. I picked myself back up, and between Raven’s rope of tangling and me, we polished off the rest of the squad.e

Heiron was shouting at us to come on, so Raven told the wolf pup to stay, and we went back along the wall to where Ezekiel had shifted the rope of climbing to help us get down to the roof. There were still plenty of archers lining the wall, plinking Ezekiel’s armor, so I stood by him to make a shield wall while Raven led the others onto the roof and across to the chimney we could get down. Well…the “others,” except for Agnar. For a while, I wasn’t sure where he was at all, except that I kept hearing wild laughter in a dwarvish accent from somewhere up ahead.

Ezekiel and I backed up to the rope, and after the others had gone down, I followed – while Ezekiel kept shouting after Agnar to come on (I don’t think he could hear a thing…he was in his “zone”). As I came up to the others, they were battling some huge apes, as tall as Mikael. Lydia was squatted down, just watching the show, while Mikael waved his arm at one of them and sang a song, and Raven slapped one he had tangled in his rope.

By the time I walked up to them, the last ape was staring at Mikael, making hooting sounds through her lips, and the others were dead. We did have a moment when the ape sucker-slugged Usin, but Mikael told her we were all friends, nice friends, and she shouldn’t attack us. Continue reading

Dear Diary…Raven goes Solid Snake

Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure, “Scourge of the Slave Lords”

The wildmen put us back on the right track to find the “Slaver City”…but even without that, the trail was pretty easy to follow. There’s been a lot of traffic here over the years, some of it more-or-less recently.

Arrived this evening. It’s set on a hill that overlooks the surroundings, with a ditch surrounding it – crossed by a drawbridge. Even from this distance, we can see scores of sentries – some posted in set positions, some making rounds on top of the walls. Bottom line, wiping out the garrison with a frontal assault won’t be so simple as it was in the Flind village (which, I must remind everyone, had some sketchy moments).

Lydia thought about sending a Wizard Eye down into the fort, but then she said it doesn’t last very long, and wouldn’t get far enough in to be useful. So instead, she’ll make Raven invisible (so he doesn’t have to worry about it wearing off), and he can sneak in first thing in the morning.

Mikael really, really, really wants to light up the place with lightening again…but we talked him down by reminding him there are probably slaves imprisoned here, and we need to scout before we do anything else. Ideally, Raven will find a back door right into the boss’s office, and we can start there like we always do.

****

[sketch of chess board, and like a million tick-tack-toe games]

Raven is finally back, and he has told us his story in his own words. I don’t think I can do it justice, but here are the crucial points…

[sketch of castle interior…] Continue reading

Dear Diary…genocide

Well, I don’t remember when I have been so stuffed with greasy chicken.

Last night, the chief led us up a tiny, twisty path through the hills until we came over a crest somewhere to the east of a dark valley with a river running through. We could see the darker shapes of huts stretching from one end of the valley to the other, and on a hill opposite us, the fort – where we assumed the prisoners were.

Raven and Mikael took the invisibility potion, and headed off on their infiltration mission. The first greys of dawn had started in the sky, but it was still several hours away. Mikael had prayed a blessing or petition or something, and the sky was sprinkling fitfully.

We gave them about a hour before Ezekiel and Agnar started down the hill. As we approached the huts, the flinds noticed…and started up their yipping, almost-laughing cries. (Lydia says it reminds her of an animal she saw in a cage at Greyhawk.) Wolves howled in the night, but it was hard to tell where the sound came from.

As Ezekiel mumbled and waved his holy water around, Lydia chucked a dobbet of guano into the valley…and a half-dozen huts exploded in flame. Fire-lit shapes and silhouettes appeared in the area – smaller than I expected, but hunch-backed and snout-faced like regular gnolls. I let fly, dropping a couple while Ezekiel shouted, “Stay,” and waved something at the enemy. Continue reading