9th World -- Cook's Journal (19 posts)

thread created on 2/5/13 at 20:29

Cook's Journal - Session 1 - Session 2 - Session 3 - Session 4 - Session 5 - Session 6 - Session 7 - Session 8 - Session 9 - Session 10 - Session 11 (2/8/14) - Session 12 (3/21/14) - Session 13 (4/19/14) - Session 14 (8/23/2014) - Session 15 (11/8/2014) - Session 16 (12/13/14) - Session 17 (1/31/2015) - Session 18 (3/14/15) - Session 19 (5/20/17)

cook, 2/5/13 20:29
Cook's Journal - Session 1

Journal of Archibald Cook

[date? Spring? which year? the 9th age?]
Life has been rather boring since having left the Academy. I had thought that ranging 'round the wilderness and filling in gaps in His Majesty's maps would be more exciting than this! Perhaps it is just that I have not ventured far enough from civilization to escape its somnolent influence. I think that I shall set out to visit The Grave in a few days -- now, there is a magnificent mystery! A paper on its supposed mysteries would be just the thing to enliven the dusty pages of the Transactions of the Royal Society...

[+4 weeks]
After a bracing trek spanning several weeks, I have finally arrived in Graveside! I have taken up lodging at Una's, an inn of some fame, in the hopes that I may find a group of explorers who are down a man. There are in fact several promising groups in evidence in the common room, along with a few unsavory looking characters. As I arrived, I would have sworn that I saw some kind of tengu vagabond picking at the carcass of a large rat that had been trodden to death by a carriage or team of horses or some such...

[+2 days]
Having a grand old time at Una's! Una (I don't believe she is the eponymous Una, seeming far too young) provides a fantastic roast quail. I have not yet managed to find a group. It seems that there are a fair number of such groups passing through. Primarily pilgrims visiting the holy site. There are currently a company of Gravediggers and a group of savages from the shattered lands. There is also a group of some capital chaps from more civilized lands. Unfortunately, none of these seem to be interested in making use of my considerable expertise and training.
I have begun discussions with several of the more disreputable looking vagabonds I've spotted prowling around the common room - it turns out that they are in much the same situation I am, and as such we may simply give up on looking for a group and go in together.

[+1 day]
After a good night's drinking, I am beginning to like these men. We have:
- John Smith, an amnesiac who was found near The Grave and is interested in returning to try to find clues to his history. He is a holy man by trade, and wears a disturbing leather mask. But I feel certain that he's a good man and I am eager to assist him in his strange endeavor.
- Zarzuket, a gnomish singer. He is surprisingly knowledgable, despite his racial handicap, and can project a rousing tune!
- Andrew Chokobo, a jolly tengu chemist from the isle of thieves. I can't always fathom the workings of his alien mind, but he is quite entertaining.

We have also been discussing pertinent matters with some of the other groups:
- the Gravediggers - 10 hobgoblin mercenaries from this honorable company, on a pilgrimage to the Grave as some kind of initiation rite. Shem, their leader, is a reasonable man and has offered to join up with us for the trip to the entrance (but not after, as theirs is a spiritual undertaking that is best performed alone).
- the Pilgrims - 8 savages from one of the shattered lands tribes. They say they are members of the "Goddess Guard tribe" and are on a holy mission to inter the remains of their chieftan. There are a man and a woman with them who are not of their tribe, but joined them somewhere along the route.
- a motley group of explorers - 2 humans, a dwarf, a half-orc, and a grippli - jolly good fellows interested in exploration, fame and fortune.

After some parley, we have arranged to head in toward the entrance with the Gravediggers in the morning.

[+1 day]
This is turning out to be quite an eventful excursion!
We set out at dawn with the Gravediggers. After a few hours' walk through the pleasant spring forest, we passed some sort of hedge that surrounds the site. It seems that the druids record the passage of pilgrims in and out, in a rather rude fashion. We pass the barbarians from the shattered lands on the way in - they are engaged in some kind of ritual.

As the trip wears on, we fall steadly further behind the Gravediggers - Zarzuket's racial handicap prevents him from maintaining a manly stride. Yet, you have to give the little chap credit - he perserveres.
So it was that we were out of easy range when the hobgoblins stumbled into the first excitement of the day. Hearing the sounds of combat, we raced in to find them engaged in a fight with several gigantic flesh-eating beatles. We leapt to assist them and drove the vermin off, but not before several of the mercenaries were brought down. (I am somewhat ashamed to admit that Chokobo and I availed ourselves of a pair of solid chain shirts whose former owners no longer had any use for it.)

Given the Gravediggers reduced strength, we took the lead after that. We found ourselves harrowed by some kind of forest monkey, who harassed us from the trees and then eventually fled.

As we ventured closer to the holy site, we noticed that the sky became unnaturally dark (to a much greater extent than even the thick forest canopy could explain), despite the fact that it was still mid-morning. Presumably this has something to do with the Grave. It became rather hard to orient oneself, but we followed the path we were on.

After traveling for a spell, we came to a cave guarded by a large man (about 9 feet tall, but slim, with pointed ears) wearing some sort of chitinous armor. Despite our peaceful approach, the strange creature attacked us. He also summoned some kind of waterspout demons to try to cut us off from behind. After a protacted struggle, we managed to put them down. We the proceeded through the cave, which lead back outside after a bit.

Finally, we came to a large hole in the ground that we took to be the Grave itself. We entered a bit into the cave, and (having had a rather exhausting day) set up a shared camp and watch with the gravediggers.

Entering the grave was a strange experience - there was a sort of wind that felt as if it were blowing through one's very soul. I would have dismissed this as a psychological glitch, but the others seemed to experience it as well.

In any case, it was after having settled down to a much-deserved rest that we were attacked in the dead of night by none other than the motley band of scoundrels we had spoken to not two days before at Una's! After a bloody struggle that left yet more hobgoblins dead, we managed to slay the villians.

The grippli, having earlier been taken captive and forced to accompany them against its will, offered to join us and tend the wounds of the mercenaries. Evidently, it is well-versed in herb lore. Given our generally poor condition, we decide to fortify our camp and stay for another day, to give ourselves and Shem and his men the chance to recover, before proceeding further into the site.

Edited by: cook on 2/5/13

cook, 2/7/13 21:51
Session 2

[+1 day]
Given the ambush in the middle of the night, and the general poor condition of all of us (particularly the Gravediggers), we decided to take a day to tend to our wounded and recover our strength before proceeding further into the Grave. The holy man among us (John Smith) and, strangely, the gnome, were able to tend the worst of the wounds. Between their work and the more conventional ministrations of the grippli, we ought to be in a much better condition on the morrow.

[+1 day]
The next morning, we awoke to screaming.

It turns out that, this time, this did not indicate some sort of horrible midnight ambush. Rather, Shem (the sergeant of the Gravediggers company) woke screaming from a dream that he was thereafter unwilling to discuss. It seems that everyone claims to have had particularly vivid and disturbing dreams that night.

My own dream, interestingly enough, was not unpleasant and in fact was rather enlightening. For the first time I was able to make sense of, and draw useful insight from, some of my more esoteric coursework from the Academy -- but with an odd religious twist to it that was entirely out of place. While this could be coincidence, the lessons finally ripening in my mind or somesuch, I feel it is too much to ignore. I suspect that some of the power of the holy nature of the site affected me - that I was touched in some minor but miraculous way by the echos of the goddess... And there is also the mark.

I, and I think at least some of the others, have obtained a sort of disturbing, vaguely nercotic looking patch of discolored skin in the vicinity of the heart. I believe I overheard Shem refering to this as a "gravemark", and it has something to do with the nature of the site.

Be that as it may. Having recovered to a reasonable extent, we set out to explore deeper into the cave. There were two paths available to us - a narrow ledge circumscribing the vertical shaft central to the complex, and a runnel leading down. We took the ledge, and the grippli accompanied us. Citing the need for some kind of personal and private religious experience, the Gravediggers took the tunnel instead.

Passing through various caves and tunnels in what is evidently quite a large complex, we eventually came to a hole leading to a level in the darkness below. After a rather pregant pause, being a man of action, I descended. I found myself in a chamber bounded on one side by the large chasm of the complex's central vertical shaft. There was a large and curiously colorful plant in evidence, but I did not make anything exceptional of it at the time. I checked out the room and then signaled for my colleagues to descend.

At this point, I am afraid that my recollection of events becomes rather indistinct. The long and short of it is that the plant was evidently a "yellow musk creeper", which is some variety of carniverous, brain eating plant creature. At some point it polluted my mind with some kind of hallucinagenic pollen and I believe tried to devour me. There were also some kind of rodent corpses that were gnawing on us. And I believe that the corpse of one of the shattered lands savages might have attacked us. It's all something of a blur.

In any case, we eventually sorted that out (though not without some lasting psychological shock) and proceeded further into the complex.

We eventually came to an interesting chamber full of stalagmites and stalactites, some of which formed curious natural bowls rather than points. Another of the barbarian pilgrims was sound asleep near one such bowl, and we were unable to wake him. (Evidently their party had passed ours while we were recouperating with Shem's party, and run afoul of some of the hazards of the site.)

Several of the stalagmite-pools contained water, which one or the other of the fellows was able to determine to be slightly magical in nature. On the advice of Smith, who seems to be a trustworthy fellow, I drank from a specific pool and found some of my (by that time quite grievous) wounds to be miraculously healed! We later conjectured that the comatose savage might have chosen poorly and drunk from an unlucky pool. Eventually Mr. Chokobo bottled the remaining water from the pools for later analysis, and we proceeded further in with the gnome and the frog scouting ahead.

So it was that the two of them were prowling around when we came to a chamber with the corpse of some enormous animal (it somewhat resembled a garden mole, but was larger than a carriage) in the center. The enormous corpse turned out to be host to, in turn, several enormous insects. The insects must have detected the prowling grippli, and immediately set upon him. We jumped to his aid and eventually dispatched the insects, but not before they had slain him. I must say, he was a kind and gentle creature in the time that I knew him. It is also worthy of note that he was carrying a curious dwarven treasure map, which we stowed for later consideration.

Investigating the large corpse, we were amazed to find that there was an armored man, still alive, under the beast! He was dressed in a very unusual plate armor, seeming to be made of some kind of green mineral and a black metal. The armor was warped as if it had somehow melted and refrozen, but the man did not appear to be burned.

I was further amazed when the man claimed to know myself and Mr. Chokobo! He said that he thought we were dead? But we had never seen the fellow before. Unfortunately, before we could discuss this matter further, a strange grey mist rolled in from the chasm and six ominous figures materialized from it, drew weapons, and moved in on the armored man. They were humanoids of roughly human size, but with a grey coloration and features that I could not recognize.

The armored man said something to the effect of: "The Nullers survived!" and charged to engage them. We attempted to assist him, and did bring down several of the strange men, but eventually the armored man was slain and we, finding ourselves overmatched, were forced to withdraw. It was a strange fact that when slain, the Nullers leave behind no corpse, instead merely dissolving into mist.

Before the man died, he said a very curious thing, which I will record here in full so that I may continue to ponder as to its meaning:
"Don't let them do it! The Parkrexicon won't work!"

As we withdrew, a strangely glowing crystal spider ... thing ... emerged from the ceiling (very curiously, as if passing through the wall rather than tunneling) and set about tearing the cavern apart. After a few moments, this began to cause a cave-in. We fled back up the tunnel, narrowly escaping the collapse. (Though, for a moment, it looked as if the gnome was about to run back into the collapsing room and chase down theremaining "Nullers". A valiant little creature, surely, if somewhat unhinged!)

Finding ourselves once again in rather poor condition, and in a defensible, if unescapable, newly-dead-end tunnel, we set up a camp and are trying to regain our strength before exploring further. We also have much to think about.

Edited by: cook on 2/7/13

cook, 2/8/13 21:47
Session 3

[+1 day]
The next morning, we tended our wounds as best we could and set out, backtracking to the stalactite room, from whence we headed down an earthen tunnel. We eventually came upon the remnants of the shattered lands pilgrims' group, in an incongruously verdant cavern.

Four of them remained: Thangaren, the holy man leading the expedition to inter the chieftan; Skulburen, a warrior from a different tribe (not the same "goddessguard" tribe as Thangaren); Eitog, a very large warrior who serves as both Thangaren's bodyguard and the porter of the corpses; and Milisent, a woman also not of their tribe, but who joined them along the way. They reportedly left the comatose man in the stalactite room after he drank from a cursed pool, rather than carrying him around, with the intent to pick him up on the way back out.

We joined with them and moved further in. Eventually we came to a room with curious etchings on the walls, and some kind of altars periodically spaced throughout. Thangaren explained that this was the burial location for his chieftan, and began a burial ritual. I was somewhat surprised to note that Eitog had been carrying a packload of bricks, which he eventually used to line the grave after digging it. This took quite some time, during which we poked around, conversed rather pleasantly, and listened to Zarzuket's apparently surprisingly faithful rendition of a shattered lands hymn.

We learned that Skulburen seeks to enter the "Jovic Crucible", which (according to Zarzuket) is some kind of ruined temple or something in the shattered lands, supposedly famous for its 10 tests of mettle guarding some treasure or forbidden knowledge. Skulburen does not know the location, but Thangaren and Zarzuket both claim to.

We also learned that Milisent suffers from tainted anscestral blood, and came to the Grave to try to cleanse herself and her purify her faith. She told us that the Grave's mark bestowed upon her a miraculous healing capacity. (Smith seemed to know this also - perhaps it is widely known within their faith that the Grave does this?)

At the conclusion of the burial ceremony, the pilgrims departed. We decided to accompany Milisent further in, as she was interested in further experiencing the holy mysteries of the site or somesuch. As they departed, Thangaren warned us not to enter any other rooms with similar etchings on the walls, as they are likely to be other Goddessguard burial chambers, warded against interlopers such as ourselves.

We explored for a time, passing through several interesting formations - one such appeared to be a tunnel, but i beleve it was actually the corpse of some kind of enormous snake - we walked through its ribs and eventually found the skull, whereupon we were beset by a gigantic spider that attempted to make off with our gnome before being put down. During this encounter, Mr. Chokobo reported that he saw some kind of small humanoid creature crawling around on the walls, watching us, which then fled when he went after it. We never did find it.

There was also an unfortunate episode in which I explored by rope down a narrow, incredibly muddy, chute, at the bottom of which was some kind of mud-crab creature. I was unable to see the creature clearly in the hip-deep mud, and given the lack of readily apparent exits or valuables, I ambled back up the rope without bothering with the crab. As an aside, I must rememeber to practice with the rope to avoid future embarassment! In my fumblings, I left my spear down in the hole ... i must remember to acquire another of those as well.

We eventually ran into Shem and the Gravediggers again. It seems that they had also had a run-in with "the nullers" in some caverns below, were forced to retreat, and were now on their way out of the complex. For some reason (possibly still addled by the lingering spores of the flamboyantly colored brain eating plant from the other day), we (well, except for Smith, who seems to be a sensible fellow - despite which, he accompanied us on our fools' errand) decided to remain and explore further.

At this point, many avenues of descent were closed off by assorted warded chambers and cave-ins, so we descended by rope down the central shaft. Perhaps predictably, this resulted in a protracted struggle against several more "Nullers" while we were descending to the cavern below. We survived (barely) and dispatched the "Nullers". However, being at this point in no shape to continue exploring, and rather concerned about even the process of attempting to leave, we re-ascended the rope and set up a camp for the night in the same chamber that we had done so the first night, to try to recover some strength.

[+1 day]
In the dead of night, some kind of enormous two-headed snake crawled into our camp and attempted to make a meal of us. In something of a desperate gamble, I was eventually able to wrestle the beast to the ground and hold it while Smith pummeled it with his cudgel.
We then immediately proceeded back to Una's, where we found the hobgoblins and the pilgrims still there, recouperating.

[+2 weeks]
The physiology of the two-headed snake is a fascinating subject. The beast was approximately eighteen feet long, 300 lbs, and had teeth ranging in size up to three inches long. It was pale, probably as a result of its adaptation to its deep cavern habitat. For further reading, I refer you to: Bidirectional Digestive Mechanisms in Polycephalous Grave Serpents, Philosophical and Geographic Transactions of the Royal Society [pre-publication]

Edited by: cook on 2/8/13

cook, 3/30/13 22:11
Session 4

We have taken a few days to recuperate and celebrate. Una and the locals seem to eager to celebrate the return of some fellows from the Grave - though perhaps it doesn't hurt that the Gravediggers have dispensed a portion of their haul of gems on buying rounds.

In discussing events and techniques with Shem, he mentioned that someone back in the Kingdoms has been hiring up mercenaries with very unsusual speed and volume. He asked me if I knew what was going on, but interestingly this is the first that I'd heard of it. He didn't know much more (the Gravediggers had sent someone to negotiate rates but Shem hadn't heard any results of that trip). Shem also expressed interest in the blended spiritual and martial style of the Academy, it being at odds with the warrior vs priest dichotomy in the Gravedigger regiments.

We engage in a fair amount of horse-trading with Una, divesting ourselves of some of the ill-gotten gains from the Grave in exchange for some curative potions and a few interesting artefacts.

After several days of recuperation and celebration, we've decided to accompany Skaldburen and Thangaren (as well as Aitog the bodyguard, and Earloch who is the comatose fellow) on their expedition to the Jovik Crucible. Z'ket indicates that Skaldburen is persuing some fellow (Thanagar) for the purposes of revenge. Smith seems to recall that the fellow evidently left the Grave a short time ago and headed for the Jovik Crucible. Be that as it may... I've never traveled to the Shattered Lands before, though I have heard a fair bit about them -- I am looking forward to experiencing their mysteries and learning the savage ways of their inhabitants.

We make the trip south from the island to the mainland on a hired fisherman's boat. Once back on land, it is interesting to note that the tribesmen prefer to go afoot, rather than mounted. Our few-week walk through the Shattered Lands was interesting, involving such attractions as the earthquake-ridden "plains of fury" in which it is quite difficult to find restful sleep, the "large birds" around whom care must be taken to cover reflective gear with cloth, the "cackling peaks" whose whispers and laughter drive men who try to traverse them mad, and the "thicket of the lost" where one may find that which is lost, but are also likely to oneself become lost forever. For a detailed account, I refer you to: A Gentleman's Holiday Among Superstition and Savages, Philosophical and Geographic Transactions of the Royal Society.

[ date? ]
Upon arrival at the "Crucible", we find a depression in the earth, a the bottom of which is a short stone structure. The stone is unusual - a glossy black substance. It is conjectured that perhaps this is the top of a tower which has long since been buried in the earth. Skaldburen indicates that there is some debate over the number and nature of the 10 challenges to be faced in the crucible - it may be that the first challenge was climbing the walls.

We camp for the remainder of the night, and set about entering the crucible at dawn. Thangaren decides to accompany us, but decrees that his bodyguard (Aitog) and the comatose fellow will wait outside. The entrance is in the center of the "roof" of the tower, and it appears that a clumsy attempt has been made to conceal it beneath some brush. Skaldburen suspects that this is an attempt by Thanagar to throw him off the trail. We proceed to enter and descend down a spiral staircase, with Z'ket scouting ahead. The stone inside is of a different nature - milky white in contrast to the glossy black of the exterior.

[ date? ]
After a grueling span of hours, we have won through into a treasury in the basement, and I have some time to record our trials. Unfortunately, along the way we lost Thanagaren in one of the rooms.

Many of the hallways and chambers are marked with what appear to be druidic runes, but none of us were able to divine the meaning. The tower is clearly ancient and magical in nature, for instance making extensive use of magical darkness, exploding runes, and other thaumaturgical traps. We did indeed face nine challenges. Smith conjectured that there was some kind of mystical association between the challenges and the planes or the gods or somesuch, but I am not qualified to evaluate his theory.

In brief, the trials were:
1. a room whose floor consisted of tiles which explode when stepped upon
2. a room which filled with a poisonous vapor as we traversed it
3. a hallway with appealing treasures ripe for the taking, which turn out to be cursed
4. a room containing some kind of mechanical beast which alternated between attacking with blade and electricity
5. a room wherein a large fey creature of some kind demanded that we sacrifice one of our own in order to pass (we declined to do this)
6. a staircase trapped with an accursed rune that instils blindness and confusion
7. a room guarded by three warring champions
8. a room guarded by an enormous, cannibilistic beast
9. a room guarded by some kind of fleshy, featureless, nightmarish changeling, who rapidly alternated form and tactics

Leaving the final room, we entered the apparently safe location where we currently rest as I write this. The room contains assorted weapon racks, armor stands, wardrobes full of clothing, etc, as well as a bedroom. Curiously, while most of the structure is ancient stone and seems many thousands of years old, the bedroom fixtures are crude wood and probably not more than a few decades old.

The room's central feature, however, is a large crystal dome that appears to be a world map. When we entered the room, we saw another blond-haired barbarian studying the map. From the way Skaldburen leapt to the attack, I took this man to be Thanagar. Unfortunately, as Skaldburen charged him, the man grabbed a bag of loot, did something involving the map, and vanished. A short time later, Skaldburen also vanished while investigating the map.

Studying the "map", it appears to depict the world in great detail. But, curiously, there are gross inaccuracies -- it is as if the map is from an earlier age, before the breaking of the world. It also seems that the map can be used to travel to any faraway location; there is an inscription [in what language?] that reads: "To you, all the world is given".

I have made as extensive a study of this map as time allowed (see: Pre-Historic Cartography in the Shattered Lands, Philosophical and Geographic Transactions of the Royal Society) as we recuperated and packed up items of value. I took for myself a particularly fine Moorish sword and a shirt of ancient black mail. Curiously, we found Thangaren's weapon and robe neatly stowed on racks in the treasury. It would seem that the meaning of the "crucible" is that it accumulates and distills the posessions of those who fail at the challenges, funneling them in turn to those who succeed. Who would design such a thing?

After some discussion, we have decided to attempt to use the "map" to return to Una's to recuperate, sell off some more of our gains, and plan our next steps. We also think that Una may assist us in identifying items and in opening some lockboxes that we will take with us, but did not open as Smith indicated that they are protected by dangerous wards.

I sort of envision a "stinger" here: Aitog sitting at the campfire, staring off into space, eating schwarma.

Edited by: cook on 3/30/13

cook, 5/18/13 05:57
Session 5

Una kindly opened the chests for us, revealing a wealth of maps and books and a well-stocked alchemist's lab. One of the chests was empty, but the inside is covered with etchings and the lock can be opened from the inside. That remains a mystery, but we have decided to hang onto all of this stuff. Smith suggested that we acquire a wagon that we can use to lug around all of this stuff and work from. For the time being, we are leaving it all with Una as we travel around.

After a time settling in, we turned our attention to the treasure map that we had recovered from Marigold, who we believe had lifted it from the treacherous dwarf who held him captive. We spent some studying the maps from the Crucible, and think that we have a pretty good idea of where the treasure map leads. The location is in the northern West Wilds (a ways south from the Cliffs), a few miles in from the inner coast. It is somewhat uncomfortably close to the Infernal Hegemony.
It's hard to tell exactly what is there, though. The map doesn't specify.

We found an ensorcled map from one of the Crucible chests, which seems to detail something about the site we are heading to. But the diagrams are inscrutable, and the annotations are written in the High Speech of wizards, which none of us have been able to decipher. Perhaps once we get out there the diagrams will make more sense.

We hire a small boat, The Golden Kelp, captained by a merchantman from the Monarchies named Samuelson and crewed by eleven other men, to take us out there. He seems like a reliable fellow. He charges at 20 crowns per day; we have paid him in advance for 10 days. It's a 2 day trip, and then he will wait off the coast for up to 8 days for us to return.

Smith has somehow enspelled some blackberries, making them remarkably filling (he eats nothing all day but 2 or 3 of these berries) and endowing them with curative properties. In all candor, the man is beginning to frighten me.

After a two day journey by ship, we row to shore in one of Samuelson's boats. It's about another day's hike to the site. We set out. We are lucky to have Smith's woodcraft, as the dense near-jungles of the northern Wild seem to be replete with hazards, such as the "caustic quickmud" which ensnares and dissolves anything that falls into it.

As we approached the site, we were startled to see a man running through the forest toward us. He was some kind of naked savage, running for his life from a pair of giant scorpions. We intervened and dispatched the scorpions. Smith was able to communicate with the fellow, who told us that he had just escaped from slavery at the hands of "dog men", who had a camp a bit back the other way. He indicated that a party of such dog men are following close on his heels, and that we must go. He then fled into the forest.

We set an ambush for the dog men. Eventually three of the dog-men came into view, tracking the savage. Smith approached them and was attacked without preface, at which point we sprung our ambush and dispatched them. Zarzuket indicated that the dog-men are called "gnolls". Interestingly, both the gnolls and the giant "ghost scorpions" are out of place in this subtropical forest -- they must have traveled up from the deserts to the south.

Smith was also able to expunge the scorpion venom from my system, after which he lead us in tracking the gnolls back to their camp (he is a very resourceful fellow).
Reconnoitering the camp a bit, we saw a half-dozen gnolls, some tents, and 20 or so human and tengu slaves digging away at a (~12' deep) excavation in the center. There was a pen made from wooden stakes, for the slaves, and a similarly constructed cage to hold a few more of the scorpions. The gnolls keep the slaves in line. The human slaves dig for artifacts. The tengu slaves translate between the gnolls and the humans, and extract artifacts from the chunks of earth that the human slaves haul up.

Smith somehow disguised himself as a gnoll (!) and then entered the camp while the rest of us lurked in the forest just outside. He conferred with some of the gnolls, though I do not believe he speaks their tongue. From his conversation, he learned that there is a "King" and another, larger, camp out there somewhere. I think that the gnolls thought Smith was a messenger from the main camp. A gnoll named "Loudmouth" is in charge here, and comes out to talk to Smith. Smith released the scorpions and antagonized Loudmouth, at which point all hell broke loose and we attacked.

Eventually we put down the gnolls and freed the slaves. Loudmouth let loose some incredibly loud bellows at a few points during the battle, which may have alerted the main camp. One of the gnoll guards fled into the forest and escaped, so if Loudmouth didn't alert them then he certainly will.

With Chokobo speaking the language of the tengu slaves, and the tengu translating to the human savages, we are able to debrief the slaves after freeing them. They are local tribesmen, who were recently enslaved by the gnolls. They have nowhere to go now, and want to come with us to wherever we are from.

They tell us that the main gnoll camp is about 2 hours away, to the west. The gnolls are not from the area - they sort of came out of nowhere and took over. The main camp has about 30 gnolls and 6 more of the scorpions. The gnolls are led by a terrifying king, who is some kind of sorcerer. He carries a large eye around with him, and is reported to have uncanny powers of perception, seeing afar and such (he almost certainly heard Loudmouth bellowing earlier). He "raises the bones". He carries some kind of small gremlins around with him, in cages that hang from his harness. Loudmouth was the King's lieutenant.

The gnoll king is looking for something, but hasn't found it yet. The gnolls are using the slaves to dig for artifacts at various sites around the area. The sites are protected by magic traps, which the gnoll king sometimes dispels and sometimes just discharges by sending slaves to be killed by magical explosions until the magic is expended.

The leader of the tengu slave faction is a blind old priest of some kind. He seems to recognize Mr. Chokobo's name, and tells an interesting history of how he (that self-same blind old priest) had exiled Chokobo's family a long time ago. Apparently, the family did not believe in "the great bird", and for that they were exiled as heretics. The priest claims that he had foreseen that one day the protection of the great bird would fail, and the tribe would need to turn to the heretics for salvation, and so he exiled them to preserve their heresy. He claims that "the return of the Chokobo" vindicates his decision.

I seem to find myself in the company of some interesting fellows.

Anyway... after some discussion we conclude that the main camp must be aware that something transpired here, and that there is probably a small army of gnolls on the way to investigate. We decide to send the prisoners back to the ship. We give them some coin and write a note for Samuelson, in which we ask him to drop them off somewhere within 2 days' travel and return to resume waiting for us.

We travel with the prisoners for about an hour, then break off and circle around toward the main gnoll camp, trying to hide our tracks. Our hope is that the gnoll force will follow the trail away from the camps, trying to hunt down our party and the prisoners. We hope to catch the main camp surprised and undermanned while their expeditionary force is out at the coast.

Two of the prisoners were eager to "fight the gnolls alongside the Chokobo" and, scavenging weapons and armor from the fallen gnolls, have joined our party. These two have lead us to an hour or so from the main gnoll settlement, where we have set up a dark and cheerless camp for the night. We'll set out early in the morning, and try to catch the sorcerer off guard.

Edited by: cook on 5/18/13

cook, 7/16/13 21:55
Session 6

We spent an uneasy night about 10 minutes' travel from the main gnoll camp. Barefeather, the tengu tribesman who had accompanied us, tells us more of the locals and the gnolls. He speaks a remarkable number of languages, including the languages spoken by elementals and giants; he is remarkably fluent for a savage. (In the weeks since, he has continued to accompany us on our travels, and I have imposed on him to teach me a few of his languages.)

At first light we set out toward the gnoll camp. Zarzuket roamed ahead as is his preference. We came upon the camp deserted: tents and wooden cages struck down and carried off, the remains of campfires, etc, within a day or two prior to our arrival. Sickeningly, some of the campfires contain the charred bones of humanoids (presumably the bones of slaves, cooked by the vile and cannibalistic gnolls).

A substantial region of forest (120' x 200') had been cleared, probably primarily for the wood (for structures and fires). Off to a side in the clearing is an excavation, at the bottom of which are open trap doors, revealing steps leading down. Smith's read of the tracks in the area is that a small group of a dozen or so entered the trap doors, and a larger group of 50-60 went north -- presumably toward the northern sattelite camp that the freed slaves had told us about.

We entered into the structure that the gnolls' excavations had uncovered via the trapdoor. We left Barefeather and the human who had accompanied us behind to watch the door for the return of the gnolls, and descended further into the structure. Mr. Chokobo noted the Arcanists symbol for the school of abjuration inscribed on the inside of the trapdoors as we entered. (The context seemed to be not that of an enchantment or ward, but rather just a decoration, as if perhaps this structure was built by arcanists of that school.) We pass two weighty statues made partially of precious metals as we descend. They do appear to resemble anything, consisting instead just of abstract shapes.

We come to a junction in the tunnel. We explored both directions and found that they circumscribe a circle, and meet up with one another after a while. A quarter of the way around the circle in either direction we find a similar morbid scene: the charred remains of several humanoids (we judge them to be the slaves that the gnolls had sent down here) and a discharged magical trap. The trap involves the focusing of light from some no-longer-functional source, via a large and expensive-looking lens, into an intense and deadly beam. The lenses are set into the inner wall in a startlingly smooth round tunnel about 3' in diameter. The tunnel proceeds past the lens toward the center of the circle, and we see a dim green light, but cannot travel that way because the tunnel is obstructed by the lens. in the left (northern) tunnel, there is also another tunnel opposite the lens, leading off toward the outside of the circle. This tunnel proceeds for, by all appearances, quite a distance (perhaps miles, to the north).

The traps having been discharged, we are able to continue past. At the opposite end of the circle, we discovered a concealed passageway that can be opened by a applying pressure to a loose floor tile. Passing through the passageway, we find ourselves in a small room with another similar passageway on the opposite side and two identical door-control mechanisms. Eventaully we found that we could not open the inner door until closing the outer door, which we then proceeded to do.

Opening the inner door, we entered a large circular room illuminated by a sickly green light. To either side, there is a corresponding 3' tunnel, leading to either lens. In the center of the room, hanging from the vaulted ceiling, is an orb-like contraption sprouting lenses in all directions. Below that, is a man-sized block of glowing green "ice". The "ice" drips as if melting, feeding a pool of green liquid at its base.

Upon setting foot in the room, I was somewhat surprised when the "ice" fired a beam of light at me. Upon being struck by the beam, I was further surprised to discover that it was in fact a beam of acid rather than light. As this datum registered, Smith remarked that he thought the "ice" might be an acid elemental of some sort. The scene quickly degenerated into a brawl. I believe the turning point occurred when Mr. Chokobo was able to set the creature aflame with one of his infernal concoctions, whereupon it continued to burn until its eventual demise. Throughout the encounter, the elemental seemed to be be ranting on in a language unknown to me; Smith later informed me that it was cursing the name of one [some guy whose name is in Ed's other pants], who had betrayed it and trapped it, and how it would take its vengance (interspersed with less-specific curses directed at us).

When the creature was eventually dispersed, it decomposed into a puddle of acid. Mr. Chokobo, who had somehow rendered himself immune to the effects of the acid, recovered a small golden orb from the puddle. Smith was able to determine that the orb is a minor magical artifact capable of shining light on command (more convenient to carry than a brace of torches).

That seeming to be the extent of the structure, we paused to recover somewhat and take stock of the treasures we had found: several lenses that Mr. Chokobo thought would fetch a few hundred crowns if we could bring them to an educated buyer (such as the observatory on the Northern Isle), and the statues (which would fetch a similar price).

Zarzuket started jogging down the lengthy northern tunnel (opposite the lens trap), which he discovered went on for some time. We recalled him after a few minutes, because Mr. Chokobo had discovered that the sentries we had left guarding the entrance had disappeared, and that the exterior of the camp above seemed to be teeming with gnolls who were peparing an ambush for us.

After recalling Zarzuket and a brief conference, we decided that we ought to go up and face the gnolls before they decided to bury the entrance on us. We spent a short time preparing various magical defenses (this arcanist's cloak that Una sold me is remarkably useful in this sort of situation) and then charged out the entrance into a small army of gnolls and their scorpions.

I sprung from the trap doors, protected in part by Una's shadow dust, and established a beachhead - striking down gnolls with my spear as they approached the vicinity. Smith had woven illusions and defenses around himself such that no gnolls could hit him, and seemed able to flicker impossibly about the battlefield while cutting down foes. Chokobo emerged hurling firebombs, and then turning about to rip gnolls apart with his bare hands. Zarzuket provided a rousing anthem, and on more than one occasion magically repaired my wounds as I was close to being struck down by gnolls.

In short order, the sorceror made himself apparent. He sprung into motion, gyrating in a strange dance which seemed to blur his form and make it hard to tell exactly where he was. He carried a large eyeball in one hand, and worked his magic with the other. Hanging from a wooden pole accross his shoulders were two cages containing vile little gremlins. My allies having managed a reasonable exit from the underground, I moved to engage the sorceror.

His form seemed layered with magical protections, and the area near him was permeated by a disturbing aura of unluck, such that one would always seem to stumble at a critical moment and miss an attack. Smith later explained to me that this is a property of the accursed gremlins he was carrying around with him - the Pugwampi. At one point one of the vile creatures managed to cause my spear to crumble, by some magical means. Nevertheless, I did score a few lucky hits, and Una's dust protected me from one of his spells, and with the others holding off the rest of the gnolls and scorpions I was able to fell the sorceror with a blow from the falchion we had recovered from the Jovik Crucible. At that point, the few remaining gnolls fled, and one managed to escape into the wilderness.

With the gnolls driven off, we spared a few minutes to recover our sentries (Barefeather and the human) and a few valuable looking items from the corpse of the sorceror (including his mysterious giant crystal eye orb). Barefeather indicated that the sorceror (the gnolls referred to him as the "death dancer") had been observing us through his globe as we prepared to emerge, and that was how he new to prepare.

On Smith's wise advice, we put down the pugwampi. There was no sign in this group of either the remaining slaves or the treasure that the gnolls had accumulated from their excavations in the area, so we set out after the fleeing gnolls. We figured them to be heading for the northern camp, and so we traveled there.

We arrived at the northern camp to find the remaining dozen or so gnolls in essentially a state of panic, packing up their posessions in preparation to leave. We sprung in among them, killing a few and dispersing the rest. We freed about 30 slaves we found there (including tengu, humans, and a few gnomes), and recovered a chest full of the artefacts that the gnolls had been digging up.

Some of the human slaves are not local, but instead are indigeonous to the shattered lands. It seems that they were captured down south by the gnolls, and brought up here when the gnolls set out on their sorceror-king's inspired quest. For further information, I refer you to Lord of the Dance: Gnole Farseers and Mass Migrations and Adaptaion of the arid Ghost Scorpion to Tropical Conditions, Philosophical and Geographic Transactions of the Royal Society.

There was another excavation site at this camp, that the gnolls appeared to already have throughly looted. Lining up the various details, we concluded that this site was the other end of the "smooth tunnel" that Zarzuket had been exploring from the central site, and that the layout of the central site and the 4 sattelite sites matches up with the mysterious map of the area that we had found in the Crucible. The highspeech on the map is still inscrutable; perhaps some day we will make sense of it all.

About half of the slaves disperse into the wilderness, and half decide to come with us. With their assistance, we carry the gnolls' chest, four large lenses, and the two abstract statues from the central camp to the shore. We find the other slaves there, waiting for us. It seems that Samuelson was unwilling to put in to shore to pick them up without us being there, and that no gnolls had pursued them. It was already dark when we arrived at the coast, so we set up camp for the night, intending to signal Samuelson's boats in the morning.

In the dead of night, Mr. Chokobo apparently had some kind of spiritual visitation from the Great Bird. It seems that the great bird had withdrawn his protection from his flock as the gnolls arrived, to test the veracity of the old tengu priest's prophecies. And indeed he seems to believe that the arrival of and salvation by "the Chokobo" does lend credence to the old priest. Sadly, the priest had died during the slaves trek out to the coast. But he had apparently left several other prophecies in his wake, which now there is reason to believe may have some truth to them. I am unclear on what the other prophecies were; perhaps I can extract a list from Barefeather or one of our other companions along the way...

The morning occassioned several partings. The great bird having offered to resume his protection, most of the slaves decided not to come with us. Additionally, Zarzuket took his leave (along with a share of the coins and one of the lenses) to travel with the gnomes we had freed. He explained that it is his duty as a bard to spread the fame and story of his home caravan in this new land, and to learn the stories of the indigeonous gnome caravans.

About 10 of the slaves decided to accompany us on the ship, including Barefeather, the shattered lands men, and a few other tengu and humans. I have been attempting to learn the language of the shattered lands by observing these men as we travel, but without much luck. I do not believe the language shares a close common relative with any of the others that I know. We pay Sameulson a small fee for the additional passengers.

We eventually return to Graveside, to engage in trade with Una and hire her services to deduce the properties of some of the items we found. Of particular interest are the gnoll sorceror's orb, which can view things at a distance but also seems to have other properties that are obscured by magic, and a hung of milky white stone from the gnoll's chest. Una thinks this may be "dreamstone", an incredibly rare artefact from before the second war. Before the Mother died. It can reportedly take on the shape and qualities of what the owner wants, and has some effect on dreams.

I received a response from Prince Whim to my query about the mercenary activity in the Kingdoms that Shem had told me about. His response is curious, suggesting that the investigation of the issue might be quite dangerous and requesting that I come to assist him in person or provide him with coin.

Chokobo also received a letter, bearing the sad news that his father had passed on. It would seem that he is indeed "the last Chokobo".

We figure that we will head to the Northern Isle to pay respects to Chokobo's father and sell the lenses and the statues. Chokobo also thinks that his old mentor may know more about the dreamstone. And then after that I think I must head back to the Kingdoms to look into the activity which my friend fears to investigate by himself. I think I shall attempt to convince the increasingly terrifying men with whom I travel to accompany me.

cook, 8/19/13 20:46
Session 7

We spent several days at Una's convalescing and preparing for our trip to the Observatory. Smith made some progress studying the dreamstone, and seemed to have some other (leatherworking?) project as well. Mr. Chokobo spent the time practicing his noxious art. I asked after other recent groups who had descended into the Grave, and was told of four:
- A party of adventurers led by a bard from Del Mostro [one of the eastern monarchies]; the bard was very eager to tell the tales of their trip, and the others were quick to give his leadership credit for their success (such as it was).
- A few dozen goblins calling themselves "the Better than Hobs Company" had reportedly survived the grave (though not without sustaining many losses from infighting), and are believed to currently be around on the island somewhere.
- A dozen disguised knights from the easter monarchies, claiming to be pilgrims, entered and left in a very businesslike fashion
- An older man calling himself "Maisin Dowd, the Recanted" entered alone. He emerged a few days later without his equipment, but triumphantly carrying the remains of some large beast.
I also dispatched a letter to Prince Whim indicating that I planned to come to him soon to assist in investigating the matter we had discussed.

During this time we were also approached by one Dorgrim Kek. Evidently he had been a Gravedigger with Shem's company, but had decided to leave. Shem recommended that he seek us out. He was interested in visiting the observatory, so we invited him along.

When ready, we found that Samuelson (the Golden Kelp) was still in port, so we once again hired him to take us to the Northern Isle. The sailors seemed somewhat skittish on the way out, citing a recent rise in piracy in the area. Fortunately, we did not run into any such trouble. They dropped us off at South Bay, the primary port on the facing side (or perhaps the entirety) of the isle. We passed large numbers of fishing boats as we drew into port.

Mr. Chokobo was kind enough to show us around South Bay. In one tavern, we heard that a (perhaps) unusually large number of whaling boats had disappeared this season while in the outer sea.

In short order we set out to the observatory. The island is a few days' ride across, with beaches and such around the perimeter and a mountainous inner region. The observatory is situated on a very tall (perhaps three thousand feet) plateau in the mountains. The terrain can be quite difficult, depending on the approach taken. Once on arrives at the base of the plateau, there are two ways to the top: a long winding trail (several hours to traverse it) or a mechanical platform.

On Mr. Chokobo's advice, we opted for the platform. I must say, it was an awe-inspiring experience. The platform is large - about 30' square. As you stand on it, the distressingly rickety scaffolding above you reaches up almost as far as you can see. The trip up the lift took us half an hour. The view is fantastic. Upon arriving at the top, one finds oneself at the wrong end of a two-hundred-foot "pier" that stretches out from the side of the plateau into nothingness, swaying in the breeze -- it is quite terrifying. In all, it is an amazing feat of engineering. Mr. Chokobo said that he thought the mechanism involves counterweights, but that the structure was built 300 years ago and those who constructed it are long dead, and the mechanism is no longer fully understood.

While we were on the way up, the panorama seemed to remind Mr. Smith of something -- he asked me to help him identify a certain geographical location he described: sea to the north, plains to the south, forests to the east, and mountains to the west. Off the top of my head this did not sound familiar, but I must remember to consult my maps when we return to Una's.

The plateau at the top is roughly a half-mile long and a quarter-mile wide, and is littered with the stone buildings that make up the Observatory and accompanying university. The observatory building itself is quite a sight -- an 800 year old stone building, with its gigantic telescopes protected by a 30' diameter bronze dome that the Astronomers can slide to the side at night.

The university houses about a hundred students and faculty in the three fields of Astronomy, Anatomy, and Alchemy (in roughly that order of population and prestige). These savants are engaged in the study of the world, considering and seeking to understand its natural (non-magical) mechanisms. The alchemists and, to a lesser extent, the anatomists have had some success in directing the fruits of their study into practical gain, but the astronomers, though the most numerous and most prestigous, do not seem to have gotten that far yet. Mr. Smith commented that, according to the teachings of orthodox religion, the Great Mother created the stars to watch over and protect Terra and her inhabitants (with perhaps dubious efficaciousness, in light of the Wars) - but this does not seem to be what interests the Astronomers.

We met Mr. Chokobo's mentor, one Augustin, the Dean of Alchemy. He led us on a tour of the campus, arranged for the sale of our lenses, and invited us to a dinner later that evening. At the dinner, he agreed to examine the Dreamstone for us and asked us if we could assist him by investigating a matter. It seems that a great value in alchemical products and reagents had been being systematically stolen for a few weeks time -- in total more than enough volatile substances to outfit a small army. He is eager to discreetly find out who is doing it, and why. We agreed to help him.

That night, we hid ourselves in the basement's alchemical storeroom to see if we could catch the thief. In the middle of the night, two figures entered the storeroom - a young human man and a half-orcish woman. We could hear them discussing how they had almost run out of materials to steal and would soon leave town, and how the woman "had more to lose" than the man. Sizing them up, I felt some relief as I did not think they would pose much danger in a fight. It was at that point that they opened one of the crates to reveal a monstrous amalgamation of body parts that appeared to have been sewn together (Mr. Chokobo later referred to it as a "Golem").

The orcish woman used some kind of apparatus to awaken the creature, which I suppose they were going to use to move the unreasonably heavy barrels of alchemical reagents. As the monstrosity approached the barrel in which Smith was hiding, I leapt out to challenge them. The woman sent her monster against us, and the situation rapidly deteriorated. Once again, Mr. Chokobo was able to set the creature ablaze early on, which proved decisive. I am happy to say that our new man Kek acquitted himself well in this battle, holding his ground and striking at the thieves with some kind of sorcery.

After a fairly intense bit of combat that saw myself rather comprehensively beaten by the creature's devastating punches, we managed to put it down. We captured the woman alive, but regrettably the monster had killed her accomplice in some kind of fit during the encounter. Disturbingly, this detail did not seem to prevent Smith from interrogating him.

The man was Vintro, a student of Augustin's. The woman is Shoba, a resident anatomist. She told us that the two of them had worked out an arrangement wherein Vintro funded the final stages of her Golem research, and then she in turn lent him the use of her Golem to move the heavier barrels of goods. They had been at it for a few weeks and were planning to leave town soon, hoping to evade capture. She seemed rather put out that we had destroyed her abomination.

From the two of them, we learned that they were selling the materials to a man named Decker, resident to the nearby town of Driftwood-by-the-sea, and were scheduled to meet his men later that night with their latest delivery.

We decided that we would intercept Decker's men when they arrived. We left Shoba with Dean Augustin, who was also kind enough to treat the worst of my wounds with his Art, and then set out to the head of the wagon-trail. Smith disguised himself as Vintro (a startlingly effective disguise, I might add) and waited for Decker's men to arrive. An hour or two later, they did so -- three men in a large cart, pulled by two rather formidable looking warhorses.

Unfortunately, we were unable to return the appropriate signal and the villains, spooked, began to flee. This resulted in a rather harrowing chase down the trail, edged on one side by a steep cliff face. Kek seemed to be quite dangerous in the darkness, picking off some of the men from a great distance. Smith's presence (disguised as Vintro) generated a fair amount of confusion. Two of the men drew bows, but (thanks to one of the enchantments gracing the arcanist's cloak that Una had sold me, which greatly increased the speed of my movements), I was able to leap up next to them. They didn't take this surprise well, and didn't make much use of their bows.

We had subdued one of the men and were close to capturing a second. The second man drank a potion and made as if to jump off the cliff (Smith later posited that the potion would have let the man glide down the side of the mountain unharmed). I was able to catch him with a lucky hit as he jumped, thwarting his escape as he tumbled down the hill. Mr. Chokobo leapt off to chase him, and glided rather well through the air on his vestigal wings. Unfortunately, the man's fall down the side of the mountain put him beyond the reach of our healing abilities. Surrounded and alone, the third man promptly surrendered and was taken into custody.

At some point during the fight, the horses had spooked and run off with the cart. Luckily we were able to recover them - one of the horses had sustained some damage, but Smith was able to get it back on its feet in relatively short order.

Once again, Smith was able to extract some information from the man (Iskander)'s corpse once we had recovered it. Our interrogation of him and the two cart guards revealed that the cart was due to return a warehouse in Driftwood-by-the-sea at some point in the middle of the next day. We decided that we (at this point, rather exhausted) would get some sleep, then take the cart down the lift and head over to Driftwood to try to make this appointment, and see what else we can learn from whoever we meet there.

Edited by: cook on 8/19/13

cook, 9/26/13 14:01
Session 8

Dean Augustin provided us with some information about Driftwood-on-the-Sea upon our return to the Observatory. Evidently it is a lawless haven to thieves and pirates, an anarchy even so far as the Northern Isle goes. More interestingly, the bulk of the town is built on an enormous (~1 sq. mile) pier out over the ocean. The pier is constructed of ancient driftwood widely believed to be debris from the Isle of Martyrs, which was blown out to sea at the end of the Second War. There is some indication that the wood (and the town itself) is cursed - certainly, it seems unusual that the wood has lasted for three ages.

Augustin was also kind enough to apply more curative balms to the worst of our wounds before we turned in for the evening. The man's skill in this field is quite remarkable - I shall have to raise the possibility of taking on a few of these chaps to form a new department at the Academy with Dr. Kristof's staff, the next time I have the opportunity.

On the morning of the next day, we loaded a few empty barrels onto Iskander's cart and set out for Driftwood. We made up a good chunk of our lost time by descending in the lift rather than winding down the road, and arrived in Driftwood an hour or two after sundown.

The outskirts of the town begin on land, and consist primarily of ramshackle huts. We noted various toughs and vagabonds loitering around the streets in that area, but they did not trouble us during our approach. After a short time we came to the Pier. It is an impressive sight -- just as vast as Augustin had suggested, and indeed constructed of a strange pale wood. The pier is quite built-up, with 2-3 story buildings crowded in wherever they would fit. The streets are narrow and jagged, and apparently rerouted and renamed according to the whim of whatever local interest controls the territory at the time. The buildings themselves are not made of the pale driftwood, but rather of ordinary wood.

Following the route described by the caravan guards we had interrogated, we eventually arrived at our destination: a large warehouse on a street (currently) named "Center Way". The building is of better construction than most of the structures, measures perhaps 100' x 180' and three stories tall and, curiously amid the crushing density of the rest of the town, there is a sizable clear area around it on all sides. We were met by four sentries -- these were armed and armored men, altogether more professional in demeanor than the street thugs we had seen guarding other buildings.

While the rest of us crouched in barrels, Smith, once again assuming an uncanny likeness of Iskander, was able to convince them that we were the usual delivery they were expecting. A half-dozen laborers emerged from the warehouse and began unloading the barrels and carrying them into the warehouse.

Within short order, Smith must have said the wrong thing (I believe he asked after Decker), and the guardsmen began closing to attack. We energed from the barrels to join the melee.

The warehouse was mostly empty, and had housed three smaller sheds (inside it). The floor of the warehouse was simply the pier (not an additional floor), and there was a large trapdoor cut into it, presumably for the purpose of loading (or, I suppose, unloading) freight onto a boat below.

In any case, I believe there were seven guardsmen (two from inside and five from outside). Surprisingly, the six laborers grabbed stout poles from one of the shacks and joined the fray -- I suppose they must have been paid much more than the typical longshoreman!

After a grueling fight which involved the immolation of many longshoremen, we managed to kill or capture all of the men. One of the guardsmen we captured, who gave his name as Clydor, had been particularly dangerous with a longbow. Smith carefully interrogated this man.

It has been noted to me on occasion that I am not the most perceptive of fellows, particularly in the arena of conversation and wordplay. I never gave this much thought, but perhaps there is something to it. I certainly felt I was missing something, as Smith seemed to be interrogating the man about matters entirely unrelated to the theft of the alchemical reagents. I listened with puzzlement as he lead the man further and further afield -- discussing the man's trip to the Grave where they apparently recovered the body of a dying wizard; his traveling companions: including "Eli, the astronomer who pretends to be blind", Clay, a warrior who dances around combat tripping people, and a peasant girl; how they had wandered through the Western Wilds fighting some kind of dragon men and then dispersed - Eli heading north and Clay back to the Monarchies... In general, Clydor admitted to not having much information about the big picture: "I don't know, I just kill the wagon drivers."

After this elaborate misdirection must have accomplished whatever inscrutable goals Smith had intended (perhaps wrongfooting of the man?), he returned suddenly to the matter of the warehouse. Once again Clydor did not have much of the story, he was just hired on as a guard by a hobgoblin named Forrest, who worked for Iskander. It seems that no one at the warehouse was really in charge or in on the inner workings -- it was Iskander's show.

We did learn that a barge would likely arrive with the tide to collect the shipment of barrels, which were typically delivered through the trapdoor. We extracted oaths that the survivors would lie low for a few days and then released them. Clydor agreed to report to Smith (by way of Una) if he heard any more about his former traveling companions.

Ransacking the warehouse didn't turn up much, but we did find a signet ring in a hidden compartment of a table in one of the shacks. I didn't recognize the device, but it is reminiscent of the seal of [somebody], one of the great families in [the largest and second-wealthiest of the Monarchies], perhaps a distant relation of theirs. I pocketed the ring -- I shall have to look into this more when we return to civilization.

We tended the worst of our wounds and then waited for the barge to arrive, while Dorgrim watched the street for any sign of trouble. After an uneventful hour, there was a patterned knock at the trapdoor. I opened it, and Smith (once again under the guise of Iskander) parlayed with a man on the barge below. Smith told the man that he didn't have any shipment, but the operation had been compromised and he needed to get himself and his men (us) out. The man on the boat agreed, subject to the condition that we lay down our arms, and we descended through the trapdoor.

The boat was a large (60'x80') flat barge, being poled through the water at the underside of the pier by several Orcs, who were working for the man Smith spoke to. It was very dark under the pier, and the water was remarkably foul-smelling. Kek later explained that the pier is supported by enormous plyons at intervals of 150' or so. Judging by the length of the poles the orcs were using, I took the water to be about 15 feet deep.

As the barge slowly inched its way toward the [west?] edge of the pier, the man persisted in engaging Smith in conversation. After several minutes, Smith must have tripped up and gave himself away. In the total darkness it was hard to tell what was going on, but the Orcs suddenly became much more agitated and were telling the man something. Figuring that there are few safe situations which involve agitated orcs, I readied myself for a confrontation.

And indeed the confrontation was not long in coming. As it broke out, Kek performed some kind of magic that allowed me to see -- a fantastically useful bit of thinking on his part as, while my Academy training did include some techniques that would help, I was not looking forward to engaging a half-dozen orcs in total darkness while unarmed. With my sight restored, I was able to wrest one of the orc's axes away from him, and was feeling somewhat better about the odds.

Even armed and sighted, a fight against a squad of orcs in close quarters is far from a pretty thing. The fight was brutal, but the men performed admirably. It is no small thing for lightly armed scholars such as Chokobo and Kek to engage an orc hand-to-hand. I was inspired to see Kek, after having exhausted his mystical energies, draw a dagger and charge the orcs - he is certainly a Gravedigger.

We caught something of a break in that most of the orcs (expecting to pole a barge, not participate in combat) were unarmored. We eventually managed to slay all of them, but the man escaped by jumping into the water. Chokobo and I jumped in after him, but after several minutes of searching we gave up on finding him. With nothing else to be done for it, we poled the boat back to the warehouse.

As we saw it, we had two options: to look into the signet ring, or to look for Decker in Driftwood. We decided to look for Decker. But as it was late into the night and we were all in pretty bad shape, we found a local willing to put us up for the night and paid him extra to keep quiet about it and let us know if he heard of anyone looking for us. We plan to go out looking for Decker in the morning.

Edited by: cook on 9/26/13

cook, 11/23/13 20:42
Session 9

A day spent exploring the various districts of Driftwood and putting an ear to the street netted us a vague idea of the layout and goings-on of the place, as well as a few leads in our investigation and pursuit of Decker. We resolved to find "Shingles, the last of the trashmen" (supposedly an Elf!) or possibly the Captain Goldsail (an influential Boss specializing in high-end trade, and captain of the mighty dwarven ship Sea Tor). We also decided to track down and question the remaining alchemical supplier in Driftwood, Hurtig Gale, whose rival recently blew himself up under somewhat mysterious circumstances. For a complete account of this fascinating time spent among these noble vagabonds and wastrels, I refer the reader to Scalywag Society: A Survey of Various Anarchic Cultures of the Northern Isles; Geographic Transactions of the Royal Society [and http://www.aurumvorax.com/forumViewThread.php?threadID=67#post140 ].

After spending the night at an Inn in the Plankmen's Ward, we set out in the morning to visit the Grey Market, where it was rumored we might be able to find "Shingles" plying his scavenged wares.

(A "trashman" is a Driftwood profession whose members dredge up valuables from the sea floor (from shipwrecks and such) and bring them to market. We later learned that about three years ago a new actor, "the Underboss", has taken up residence under the docks (in "Driftwood-Under-the-Sea") and has wiped out most of the trashmen (perhaps seeing them as competition or trespassers on his territory). But he has not yet managed to kill Shingles.)

The Grey Market is an enormous building of unusually high quality construction in the Pool district, under the aegis of Captain Goldsail. The building and surrounding area are heavily guarded by dwarven soldiers (generally clad in what appears to be golden plate mail), from Goldsail's clan. Numerous plankmen also patrol the district and the surrounding areas, but they do not work the security of the Market itself.

There was a steep fee to even enter the building -- 50 crowns per head -- which we paid, considering it to be an investment that we might recover from Dean Augistin when we complete his task. The scale of the thing is amazing; given the sizable crowds, the entry fee alone must be grossing Goldsail thousands of crowns per day. Inside the enormous building are myriad stalls and tables set up by various merchants, with goods ranging from merely extremely valuable trade goods to priceless magical artefacts. I was able to purchase (at considerable expense) a beautiful suit of mithral chainmail, supposedly an elven relic. It is a treasure, providing the protection of steel chainmail but hardly more burdensome to wear than the brigandine training suits we had at the Academy.

We saw many wonders that day, but Shingles was not one of them. We did learn that he would likely be there the next day (apparently his appearances follow some arcane elven cosmological calendar). We resolved to try to meet him on the way in, to avoid paying the rather steep entry fee again.

We also learned more about the history of the district and the Goldsail clan.

The Goldsails are a Dwarfish clan who have been influential in Driftwood politics for more than 200 years. The current Boss, Captain Dorim Goldsail, is the son of the original conqueror. While Dorim rules more through mercantilism and trade (backed, of course, by his gold-clad army), his father, King [or was it the Prince? feel free to edit this] Goldsail, was more bloody minded and established his hold on the territory through force. The heart of the Captain's power is his ship, the Sea Tor. It is a massive floating city, somewhat resembling a zigguraut, home to large numbers (hundreds?) of dwarves and their forges. Plumes of smoke can always be seen rising from the ship's many furnaces, and armies of dwarven soldiers patrol the area. The ship has not moved in many generations, and it is likely that it could not. The five or so blocks surrounding the ship's berth, known as The Tor, is Goldsail's district (patrolled by his dwarves, etc).

The Plankmen are thought to be the remnants of a Hobgoblin naval mercenary company that was destroyed during the War of Child Kings in the eastern monarchies 150 years ago. Their primary business seems to be hiring themselves out as escorts and guards for merchants who want to visit the Grey Market.

When we had exhausted our capacity for wonder (and our purses) at the Market, we left. With nothing to do until the following day, we decided to pay a visit to Hurtig Gale, the remaining local alchemical supplier. We attempted ascertain the fate of the former rival (Farmer) and whether Gale knew anything about Decker's illicit alchemical trade. Gale feigned ignorance, but Smith was convinced that he was hiding something. When we departed, Kek volunteered to stick around and tail Gale after he closed up his shop. This proved to be an excellent stratagem -- Kek followed Gale to a sort of courier's office and witnessed him arranging to dispatch a note by pigeon. After Gale left the building, Kek entered, intercepted the message, and returned to our inn.

While Kek was so engaged, the rest of us had set out to find a way to identify ships which had sailed to or from the Eastern Monarchies recently (or were set to do so soon), on the supposition that Decker had been moving the alchemical reagents there in preparation for whatever military campaign is immanent. We were told that a man named Calamestes, operating out of The Rotten Keel on the Docks, has taken it upon himself to accumulate a fairly reliable log of the comings and goings of various ships. We decided that we should search him out when the opportunity arose.

Returning to the inn and meeting up with Kek, we saw that Gale's message was a note instructing the recipients to double check their security, be alert, and respond with a message if anything was amiss. It was not obvious who the recipient was, the letter merely being identified with a cryptic set of coordinates. We decided that we would return to the courier's office (sans Kek, who may be recognized) and attempt to ascertain the destination of the letter and perhaps send a forgery of our own on in its place. This was successful -- the office was still open, and Smith was able to determine (by talking to the clerk) that the destination was a certain pier in a certain block in the Docks -- i.e., a ship. We dispatched a note to the same location, to the effect that Gale was sending four agents on to inspect the ship, and they should cooperate with the agents' requests.

We then headed to the pier (arriving a while after the pigeon). Along the way, we passed through The Tor, and could see Goldsail's ship. It is indeed an imposing sight, as I have related previously. Presently we arrived at the specified pier to find a large merchanter, The Pleasant Gale, Gale's ship and floating warehouse. Posing as security-concious agents from a wealthy buyer, we toured the ship and conversed with its crew. Smith, through conversation (and also, it seemed, some sixth sense) was able to ascertain that (1) Gale's foreman believes that Decker is the Underboss, (2) Farmer (Gale's rival) had been in on some lucrative alchemical deal against Decker's wishes, and this is why he and his operation were destroyed, and (3) Gale is not working with Decker, merely terrified of him and interested in staying out of his way. We then departed.

While we were in the Docks, we decided to try to find Calamestes (the self-appointed harbormaster of Driftwood). We found him at his "office" in the Rotten Keel, with a few bodyguards. He is a tall man, perhaps of the stock of Xalor or the northern Western Wilds. After some preliminaries, we arranged to purchase a log of the comings and goings of ships to the Eastern Monarchies in the past 8-10 months (Farmer's ship was destroyed 8 months ago, and Augustin's shipments had about the same schedule, so we thought this was the relevant time frame), focusing on ships who are currently in port, for a bit over 200 crowns. Calamestes indicated that he would have the information for us by the following day at sundown, if we would meet him back here at the Keel.

We then retired to a local dive on the Docks for the night. In the morning, we set out back to Poolside, and the Market, with the intent to intercept Shingles on his way in and see what he could tell us about the Underboss. We arrived at the Market, and confirmed with the guards that Shingles had not yet made an appearance. We then loitered around in front of the market for a time. Eventually, we witnessed Shingles emerge from the Pool. He simply climbed up out of the seawater -- a very old and leathery elf, expressionless, gaunt and clad in a loincloth, dragging a large net full of salvage behind him. I have only seen a few elves in my lifetime, but he seemed shorter than the average and I have never seen an elf look so old and haggared.

As we approached the Pool, Mr. Chokobo had the fortune to notice someone in the crowd who appeared to be engaged in surreptitious spellcasting, clearly targeting Shingles. He alerted us to this, and we pushed through the crowd to intervene. The spellcaster was not alone -- a few other men emerged from the crowd with weapons drawn. Two attempted to entrap the Market's door guards, but misjudged the distance. They had hurled some magic which exploded into a mass of entangling plants, but they hit the side of the Market rather than the guardsmen. Others warriors closed with Shingles, while another attacked with a crossbow. The first man's spell summoned forth a wild boar shimmering with the otherworldly corruption one of the Eight (Smith later suggested that the man was a priest of Gloriana).

I placed myself near to Shingles and engaged the boar, while also trying to use my spear to prevent the attackers from closing with him; Kek evoked a brutal electrical assault on several of the attackers, Chokobo set several of them ablaze, and Smith fought some of them off while also repairing the worst of Shingles' boar wounds. As the fighting escalated the crowd thinned out, but there were several bystanders wounded in the initial seconds of the fray. Eventually we prevailed, with Shingles suriving and several of the enemy captured. Unfortunately, the attacking priest dove into the seawater to extinguish Chokobo's concotion, and escaped before we could capture him. Shingles' actions during the fray were strange; he accepted my protection and attempted to evade the attackers, but did not take any offensive action and his expressionless face didn't seem to register alarm (or anything else) even during the event of being gored by the boar.

The Market guards had closed ranks to protect the doorway into the building rather than participating in the fray, but they did send up a flare that brought a great many Plankmen. The Plankmen, after consultation with the gate guards and Shingles, left with the prisoners but without hassling us.

We had the opportunity for a brief discussion with Shingles after the encounter, as normalcy and the crowd returned. He told us that Decker's stronghold is a capsized ship on the sea floor, perhaps 80 or 100 feet below the surface of the water, approximately under a specific hatch. He said that he would show us the hatch after he is done selling his wares, if we will wait (we agree to do so). Smith explained that the attacking force seemed to be part of the church of Gloriana, one of the Eight associated with crusades; specifically, they look to be from a sect of Her church who specializes in a crusade against elves. Shingles pragmatically indicates that, in this case, if he finds the priest still under the sea after he returns from selling his wares, he will kill him to prevent a second attempt.

We passed a few hours uneventfully in the vicinity of the Market, and eventually Shingles returned. In conversation, I believe that Smith asked Shingles about his schedule attending the Market, and Shingles explained that the star Avillum is the protector of elves, and so he only emerges from the sea when it is in ascendence. He lead us to a specific hatch, and indicated that Decker's stronghold was almost directly below it, about 50' to the southeast. The hatch is actually inside a ruined building. Shingles then returned to the sea. Scouting, Kek reported that the building did not seem guarded, but the hatch was sealed with a thick stone slab.

We headed back toward out Poolside inn to contemplate these developments. However, as we were milling about that evening, we were accosted by a party comprised of several gold-armoted dwarven soldiers, two enormous goliaths clad similarly, and a fop. The fop explained that we were to be escorted to Captain Goldsail for an audience. Strangely, shortly before this event, it seems that Smith had wandered off toward some sort of stage production -- and so he was not with us when we were accosted. This was not lost on the fop, who dispatched a man to search for Smith, but it seemed that they never found him. The rest of us agreed to visit the Captain.

We were marched through to the Tor, where the three of us met with Captain Dorim Goldsail at an office of some kind (bot not on board his ship). The captain was unarmored, seemingly styling himself more a merchant-prince than a conqueror. He explained that his men had overheard parts of our conversation with Shingles, and asked what our business with Decker was. We explained that we had been hired by someone at the Observatory to investigate a matter of certain disappearances, and that the trail of our investigation seemed to lead to Decker, and that we were interested in recovering some of the materials or at least learning of their eventual disposition -- hence, the need to find Decker.

It turns out that Dorim Goldsail does not like Decker. Decker steals his inventory, steals his business. He would consider assisting us should we go after Decker. On the topic of the fanatics and the earlier attack on Shingles, Goldsail indicated that his men had interrogated the fanatics, and it seemed that Decker had contacted their sect to alert them to the presence of an elf ripe for extermination. Apparently Decker really does not like Shingles. Goldsail indicated that we should wait at our Inn, and he would "send his wizard over" to assist us in preparing to go after Decker, within a day or two. We were then marched back to our inn by the same escort.

[It occurred to me that we did not wind up talking to Calamestes in the evening, as we had intended to. I don't know if it is still early enough in the evening that we might do that next session, the same day before turning in? Or if we should do it the next day?]

Edited by: cook on 11/24/13

cook, 1/29/14 19:55
Session 10

Under the cover of darkness in the early evening, Kek volunteered to return to the Docks to pick up the information from Calamestes. He accomplished this without incident. Calamestes' information indicates that the ship we are looking for, based on his unofficial harbormaster records, is likely the Singing Barnacle. Furthermore, he offers us a payment of 200g if we can confirm the veracity of this information one way or the other by another means.

Later that evening, we were graced with a visit from "Goldsail's Wizard", a portly [Asterman?] who introduced himself as "Geffren, Thaumaturge-Abjurist". Over an ample dinner, he provided us with some information about Decker's operation and various hazards of driftwood-under-the-sea, and we planned our operation for early the next morning. [see http://www.aurumvorax.com/forumViewThread.php?threadID=67 ]

I must note that I was surprised to find this Wizard to be a seemingly reasonable, affable countryman of mine. I did not detect any signs of subterfuge -- his mannerisms and honorifics were familiar and accurate, etc. I suppose that I had thought of wizards as mysterious ancients or elfs, unfathomable to the likes of men. But perhaps it is not so.

In the morning, we (accompanied by Geffren and his apprentice, Gerut) descended to the Below by a hatch a few blocks away from Decker's stronghold, figuring that he would be likely to be monitoring activity at nearby hatches. Prior to descending, Smith worked some spells to allow us to breathe in the water (this took some getting-used-to) and to move more freely, as if born to the oceanr, and Gerut (the apprentus) rendered us invisible by use of a wand. The water was murky and dark, with visibility very limited. Geffren produced some kind of light from his staff, and we followed him.

As we figured we were nearing the location of the stronghold, we were suddenly attacked by a creature of some sort. It was difficult to see the creature -- it appeared just as a sort of region of cleaner water. Smith later called it a Water Elemental. Regardless, it was huge, and intent on devouring Geffren. It took a great deal of punishment -- Kek vicoiusly electrocuted the creature several times and Smith conjured several creatures like it (though smaller) to try to hem it in. I had a great deal of difficulty in moving my sword effectively in the water, and consumed the pearl that the wizard had given us (which did help).

The creature eventually slain, we proceded on and found the stronghold -- an overturned galleon on the sea floor. Some sort of magic maintained an air pocket inside and underneath the ship. We did not see any sentries, though it looked like there were men in the sterncastle watching out windows with a bullseye lamp or equivalent. Kek scouted the area while avoiding the light from the watchmen and seemed to be able to peer through the hull, while Smith scried deeper inside using the Gnoll shaman's glass eye. Within a minute or two they were able to put together a reasonable idea of the layout of the place. There were three levels, a half dozen guardsmen on the lower levels, and four men of interest in a room near the bow on the top level (formerly the deep part of the cargo hold, I suppose), one of whom was likely to be Decker. There was an older, armored man with a sword, who had the look of a veteran (I took this to be Decker, but I was wrong), a younger armored man with an axe, a young, unarmored man with a rapier, and a young hobgoblin.

We decided to make our entrance into the room at the top with the men we were after. We arranged ourselves, and Geffren breached the hull. Water did not enter through the portal he created. We saw two of the four men we'd seen before, the younger humans, but no sign of the hobgoblin or the older man. We entered and engaged the men. The wizards were slow to enter, and the unarmored man with the rapier somehow dismissed Geffren's spell, sealing them outside. At this point, I began to worry.

We fought with the men for several seconds, during which Chokobo set the armored man ablaze and Kek electrocuted some of the men. The veteran then emerged from some sort of secret compartment in the mast and attacked, seriously wounding Kek. As Smith closed with the unarmored man, he magicked himself outside of the room, to the other side of the wall. With some effort, I managed to disarm the veteran in an attempt to defend Kek.

Geffren then appeared in the external room, near to the man with the rapier. They clearly recognized one another -- Geffren called the man "Deca", and seemed horrified to see him in this context. For his part, "Deca" did not seem to fear Geffren and moved to attack him. Geffren manifested some sort of magical defenses, but Decker pierced them and stabbed him through the torso with his rapier. Slain, Geffren disintegrated into a sort of oily smoke that looked (to my untrained eye) similar to what we had seen in the Grave when fighting the "Nullers". Now, I was quite worried.

At that point, Geffren's apprentice suddenly shed his invisibility, evoking several beams of fire from a wand at Decker, seriously wounding him. Kek and Chokobo finished off two of the men, and Kek and i wounded the veteran sufficiently that he decided to withdraw. He opened some kind of secret door in the ship's mast, which concealed a ladder running up and down between the decks, inside the shell of the mast. He retreated into this shaft.

We then landed another hit on the veteran, and he fell down the shaft. As we then focused in on Decker, he evoked some kind of sphere of force around his person, rendering him impervious to attack. Thus protected, he began healing his wounds with some kind of magical device. Gerut indicated that the shell would evaporate after some minutes, so we settled in to wait him out. Seeing that we were not about to leave, Decker dismissed whatever field was holding out the water, and the galleon rapidly began filling with water. We heard screams from below, as the guardsmen succombed to the water. Still protected by Smith's water breathing spell, we were not unduly worried.

Decker seemed surprised that we were waiting around for him to emerge, but not overly concerned. Gerut, terrified, decided to leaver; we dispatched Kek to escort him. After several minutes, Decker was fully healed and began casting some spells on himself (layering magical protections). Shortly thereafter, his shell vanished and he leapt to the attack. He is a remarkably precise and effective swordsman, and his magical protections rendered many of our attacks ineffective. This combination was quite demoralizing. But then I managed to land a hold on him, and was moving to a pin (he is not a particularly strong man). This, he did not like -- he uttered some kind of word of power and vanished out of my grasp.

We remained alert for a time, but he was truly gone. We ransacked the ship, taking several chests, books, and papers (sadly quite waterlogged), and some equipment from the soldiers. On Smith's request, we also took one of the corpses [I don't remember which one?]. We then set out back up to Driftwood.

We emerged through one of the hatches into a seedy part of town. In somewhat of a rough condition and loaded down with several valuable-looking chests, we hired some Plankmen to escort us back to our inn. We dispatched a message to Goldsail explaining the situation (Geffren seemingly dead, Decker's operation seriously disrupted but Decker himself escaped, we recovered some documents). We received a message back asking us to meet him in the Grey market tomorrow.

We spent the night and early morning recuperating, and I examined Decker's documents. Many of them were still legible, but he had used some kind of cipher to obscure the information. I tried various approaches to decode the information, and eventually hit upon the mechanism -- it proved to be a somewhat clever phonetic substitution cipher of elvish syllables.

After realizing this, I was able to extract a good deal of information from a set of documents that were a ledger of about six years' worth of business transactions. The part which interested me was the information about shipments of bulk alchemical reagents to "the Astermont Client", primarily aboard the Singing Barnacle (thus were we able to confirm Calamestes' information, and recover a partial refund). Unfortunately, the name of the client was never given -- but the client was the recipient of other shipments as well: nothing of military import, but primarily high-end textiles (fine silks, etc). Based on this information, I suspect that the recipient is a wealthy house or corporation specializing in textiles.
[Can I guess who that might be? local +8 / nobility +8]

The next day, we entered the grey market (complimentary entry!) and met with Goldsail. He debriefed us on the operation, and seemed more pleased than I had anticipated that Decker's operation was disrupted (albeit at the cost of his Wizard). He offered to buy Decker's notes and business ledger from us (and to pay something extra for the decipherment mechanism); we agreed. Smith kept a few of Decker's less watterlogged books -- treatises on the second war, the natural world, the eight gods, and mathematics, as well as a magicked book that we could not open. Goldsail ventured that he might hire us again some day.

We visited the Grey Market for a time, then departed for the Observatory to check in with Dean Augustin and tell him what we had learned, and to check on the status of our dreamstone.

cook, 6/13/14 06:43
Session 11 (2/8/14)

After tying up our loose ends at the Observatory ( http://www.aurumvorax.com/forumViewThread.php?threadID=73#post184 ), Smith indicated that he was going to take a short sabbatical to engage in some leatherworking project. Evidently he has remembered sufficient lore from his past that he is able to channel Terra's wisdom into leather objects, such that they will aid the bearer in some way. A year ago I would have considered the very notion silly, but I have learned a great deal since then. Indeed, I fancy that I frequently feel this same kind of influence emanating from the gravemark, guiding my motions, and certainly directing my dreams. With this in mind, I provided him some materials and asked him to craft something of this nature for me.

While Smith was so engaged, and Chokobo was catching up around the Observatory, I embarked on a trip to gather information in Astermont, by way of Una's. (I don't know what Kek was doing during this time, but who knows -- half the time I cannot find the man when he's at the next table over at the Inn. It could be that he accompanied me on the trip!)

I stopped in at Una's, visited with her, and accessed the cache of maps (from the Jovic crucible) that we had left in her keeping, to search for Smith's pecular geographic location. It seemed to me that the maps indicated a potential location, in the largely uninhabited northern region of the Astermon's eastern border with Shebal (in the mountains). I left the magically sealed book with Una, who said she would look into methods of opening it.
I also found some evidence in one of my old linguistics texts, to support the notion that the name "Deca" is draconic in origin.

I then caught a ship back to the mainland to meet my old colleague, "Prince Whim" (who, it seems, has still not yet managed to graduate from the Academy), to see what dangerous information he had managed to stumble upon. This turned out to be an odd and somewhat disappointing trip; Whim claiming that he had misread the situation, and there was nothing actually going on.
This struck me as somewhat odd. I spent a day or two hobnobbing with silk merchants, and learned that the big news in the textiles industry is that Astermont would be participating in Eslanda's silk festival this autumn. This is unusual -- ordinarily we would not pay any attention at all to this disgraceful Eslandan foppery. (I could not ascertain an explanation.)
On the docks, I heard some opinions to the effect that the Singing Barnacle's captain is up to something, and has been expanding his operation rapidly over the past two years, encroaching increasingly on the business of his rivals.

About out of time, I then returned to Graveside. I found that Smith, Chokobo, and Kek had also recently arrived there. Smith filled Una in on what we had learned about some other party who had visited the Grave a few months before we -- Clydor (an archer, who we had met), Eli (the blind astronmer), Terra (the sorceress), and Thanagar; and then a man who had joined them after (Clay). Una informed us that she thought she could open the book, but that the operation involved a fair amount of risk to her person. She would be willing to do it in exchange for information about Simeon Clay, should we be able to find any. (I have not met this man, but I seem to recall that the Clays were minor aristocracy in the Kingdoms, with a reputation for doing bodyguard work for greater nobility. But they have since fallen into poverty and are now more along the lines of mercenaries.)

We then headed back to Astermont. In retrospect, perhaps this was not the best idea -- but I had wanted to visit Whim again, with Smith along. Smith seems to be a deeply perceptive man, in terms of ferreting out the truth of the matter. This was essentially unsuccessful on all fronts. Smith confirmed my suspicion that Whim was being untruthful, but we stopped short of recovering the truth and I doubt that the experience provided any improvement in my relationship with Whim.

Whim indicated that there were one or two houses hiring up mercenaries for seemingly legitimate ends, but the larger trend was toward Sheval, who was trying to hire mercenaries in order to address some problem in the northern forest. (This is not consistent with what I have heard from other sources. We did not press.) Smith and I paid visits to the houses Whim had mentioned, and indeed they seemed to be unrelated incidents -- guards for a new mine, guards for seasonal galas, etc. Dead ends.
Talking to Gravediggers in town, Kek and Smith determined that they have been hired by the King to heavily fortify the palace. They are under orders to keep a low profile about it.

Combing the docks, Smith picked up the notion that the Singing Barnacle always sells to the same client, and the deliveries are brought to the Capitol by a group of serious looking men -- perhaps soldiers or experienced mercenaries.

Asking around after Clay, we hear that the family is no longer in residence in the Capitol. The last one, Simeon, used to work for [some family], but left last year when they could no longer afford him. He founded a company and headed South for work. Perhaps to Southwatch.

We then visited the Sherval ambassador, who offered to hire us on the spot for some work clearing interlopers (tribesmen; "monsters", perhaps Grippli?), who are disrupting trade and operations, out of their nothern forest. He seemed quite eager to find men for this task in a hurry.

Upon reflection, we found that we did not have a particular interest in the slaughter of frog-men, and decided to head north in search of the Asterthrone instead. Now, there is a worthy deed! We provisioned ourselves with food, water, horses, and I picked up a few books on the history of the throne. And then we set out. From the references I have studied, I expect about a 5 day journey through temperate forests into colder elevations, and then an unknowable amount of searching around in the mountains for the throne. We may not find it -- several expeditions have made the attempt before us (and lead by better men).


Having been out on the road for a few days, I must say that we may have an advantage over those earlier expeditions; I do not think they had a man of Smith's resourcefulness along! His second sight and apparent ability to press beasts and keen-eyed hawks into his service are greatly increasing the efficiency of our search.

After two days in the foothills, we came upon a small village. There was no sign of the village's men, and the women hid in a hut, terrified of us. We could extract no information from them, and left them alone. Smith found tracks that he thought might indicate that a half-dozen humanoids and a larger humanoid (perhaps a ogre) left the village 3-5 days ago, and headed up into the mountains. We supposed this meant that the ogre had taken the village men as prisoners and, after some discussion, we set off to follow the tracks.

The trail led us into increasingly treacherous terrain. That evening, Smith veiled our campsite with some spell. But it seems it did not help -- in the morning, Chokobo spied a small magical sensor tracking us. He tried to hit it with one of his incendiary devices, but either he missed or it did not have any effect. We set out, and after following us for a few minutes the orb disappeared.

Edited by: cook on 6/13/14

cook, 6/13/14 22:31
Session 12 (3/21/14)

A few hours after the disappearance of the sensor, we were ambushed by a group of four ogres and one small (but stout) creature that Smith later identified as a "Redcap" -- a sort of vile fey. We fought a pitched battle. I attempted to contain the ogres, and Kek quickly electrocuted the fey.
At one point, one of the ogres who had been set aflame by one of Chokobo's concoctions underwent a transformation: he suddenly stopped his wild panic, and stood still. His eyes had gone entirely black, as if the pupils had expanded to cover the entire eye. He then rather calmly looked around, examining us for a time, and then went back to his original state. Smith thought that this might indicate some kind of magical scrying or posession.

We determined from tracks in the mud that this second party had come from the northeast, and arrived less than an hour ago. We decided to continue following the first party up into the mountains.

As we traveled, the mud gave way to gravel and stones. We lost sight of the humanoid tracks we had been following, but continued along the game trail that they had appeared to be following. This worked adequately until we came to a point where the trail split, and we had the choice of two paths: one difficult path (involving a fair amount of climbing) up the mountain, and one easier path down through a ravine. We could find no indication of which way the other party had gone.

After some cogitation, decided upon a third path. Kek used his magic to cause us to fly for a brief span of minutes, and we used this time to head directly to the top of the mountain. While we were so engaged, Chokobo (whom I was carrying) spotted the remains of an oversized stair or road (as if for use by giants or elder men), winding up around the mountain toward the peak. We followed the stair for a while to take a closer look, and spied two other areas of interest: a cavern entrance a bit down from the peak, and what appeared to be the remains of a camp on the small plateau of peak itself.

We landed at the cavern. We found it to be an entrance into a structure dug into the mountain. It was again oversized (the tunnels were perhaps 30' tall), as if built for the (I had thought, apocryphal) ancient titans. The structure was clearly not natural, but worked. We entered, with Kek leading us by a good bit as a scout. We descended through several(enormous) levels, into a chamber with a rank smell. The chamber's floor was scattered with bones and filth, and a giant humanoid (larger than an ogre) slumbered in one corner next to an oversized sword. In the center of the room was a great iron kettle.

We discussed this predicament. Smith suggested that the creature might be a "hill giant", who are not known for their kindness or perspicacity. Some of the bones seemed to be from humanoid creatures. The giant was quite large. Given these circumstances, we decided to make use of our element of surprise. Kek, with great stealth, stole the giant's sword from his side as he slumbered, and returned to us. We then moved in to slay the creature. I used the scythe that the redcap had been carrying, which proved quite expedient.

We were stunned when, searching the cavern afterward, we found an enormous mithril crown set with blue and green gems. Its size was such that it was considerably too large even for the giant -- it might fit a creature who was perhaps twice his size.

We then exited the cave and considered our circumstances. I judged that it would be a managable climb, from the cavern entrance to the plateau at the top of the mountain (where Chokobo had spied the remants of a camp). I made the climb, and let down a rope for the others.

The camp was clearly very old, and we had to excavate it somewhat using Kek's shovel. We uncovered the remains of six humans. Smith performed the last rights, in a (however belated) attempt to send them to rest with Terra. It was hard to estimate the age of the camp, but it occurred to me that this might be the remains of another Asterthrone expedition -- perhaps Landstrom's expedition, which had gone missing (with a similar number of men) rather famously about a century ago. Further investigation confirmed this hunch, as we found Landstrom's journal and maps in a lockbox! What a find! I stayed up rather later than advisable reading it, when we camped that night in the cavern.

The maps detailed, primarily: this mountain, the surrounding area, and the northern coast. Curiously, a second cavern (beyond the one we had found already) on this mountain was indicated. The last few entries of the journal describe Landstrom's delve into this second cavern, which was aborted after his Wizard (Wolphratz) indicated that entry would be too dangerous, due to the presence of dangerous wards. Landstrom's party was comprised of seven men, including the Wizard -- we only found six corpses. (Could the wizard have slain them and fled? Could he be the originator of the magical sensor?)

In collating all of this additional information, it seemed apparent to us that the party we were following was likely headed toward the lower cavern. The next morning, Kek flew us down to the cavern, and we entered. (I was somewhat startled to notice that Smith had apparently called a bobcat to accompany us.) A ways in along the tunnel we were challenged by two longbowmen sentries. Smith approached and told them that we were here to see Wolphratz, whereupon they sent for a superior.

The superior is a some kind of courtier who calls himself Kesali. He is dressed in the the finery of the courts of the Monarchies, but he himself doesn't match -- perhaps he is of shattered lands stock. He invites us in (the bobcat follows). We pass through a large hallway (similar to the construction in the upper excavation - 30' high tunnels). Oddly, it looks as if several doors have been removed along the length of the tunnel, leaving empty hinges and frames. The caverns are inhabited by several dozen men, and their accompanying camps, tents, crates, and two wagons.

Kesali suggests that "the madame" (one Madame Belsamo, presumably of the southern Belsamo trading family) will wish to dine with us in the evening, and then leaves us to wander the camp for the afternoon. The expedition seems sell provisioned for excavation, and have made extensive inroads into this structure, adding support beams and the like.

Madame Belsamo turns out to be a handsome woman of indeterminate age. Kek seemed to take a quick dislike to her, but she seemed like a Belsamo to me. Over an excellent dinner, she filled us in on her purpose here -- the excavation of artefacts of antiquity, with an eye toward finding "profit, of any variety". She proposed that we might enter her employment as explorers of the ruin (at a baseline wage plus a percentage plus some fraction of the artefacts), and detailed three particularly challenging unresolved difficulties they currently faced. These were: a hill giant in residence higher up the mountain; an upper chamber blocked by a dangerous door on the upper level; and a trapped hallway on the lower level that ends in some sort of magical gateway to another location (a party had already attempted this gateway, but had not yet returned after several days). During this conversation, we arrived at the truth of the matter of the magical sensor that had been eavesdropping on us the previous morning -- apparently that had been arranged by Mr. Kesali.

And then a curious thing happened.

I confess that I had been somewhat distracted by a particularly delectable pastry toward the end of the meal, and may not have been as observant as the situation would merit -- but it seemed that we were on the verge of committing to accompany one of Belsamo's employees (one Mr. Tolmero, of Delmostro -- this name was familiar, I believe he had recently visited the Grave) in an exploration of the upper chamber, in exchange for compensation to the tune of 8000 crowns plus 20% of value recovered... when suddenly, upon the handshake, Smith shouted to us that she was an evil creature intent on betrayal, and urged us to attack.

The situation rapidly exploded into chaos. Belsamo's mercenaries rushed to her side; she (apparently a sorceress of some skill) created a giant boar out of thin air and flung various mind-clouding spells about; Chokobo's flames and Kek's lightining were everywhere. Additionally, it seemed that some portion of the catacombs had collapsed, throwing the civilian population of the expedition into panic, filling the chambers with dust, and sealing off the exit.

After a lengthy and confusing struggle (during which Smith's bobcat proved quite helpful), I was finally able to land a blow that felled her. We were somewhat relived to find some evidence that Smith's assessment of the situation may have been accurate -- the Madame's appearance seemed to be some kind of illusion of a Belsamo merchant, under which she, in acuality, was apparently an armored, horned, hooved beast (apparently, a "forlaren"). We also recovered from her an unholy amulet of Edesine, the undead goddess of greed.

During the battle, we had slain Kesali and driven off the Delmostran bard (Tolmero). We pondered whether we might be able to negotiate with Tolmero and make use of him. We had Kek scout around some, to get a better understanding of the layout of the floor, and then sealed ourselves in for the evening, to recouperate from our wounds and exertions.

Edited by: cook on 6/14/14

cook, 6/14/14 13:14
Session 13 (4/19/14)

The next morning, we pushed our barricades aside and looked around a bit. The construction again seems ancient, and oversized as if built for inhabitants 20' tall (the layout is not inconsistent with Josephus's treatise on ancient giantish architecture -- I refer you to Ancient Daityan Delvings in the East Astermont Mountains, Architectural Transactions of the Royal Society). The dust from the collapse has mostly settled, and visibility was returning.

http://www.aurumvorax.com/files/digtially-enhanced-session13-map.pngWe found several hallways and rooms, as well as storage areas from the Belsamo expeditition, filled with ropes, pitons, etc. The hallways were lit with magical torches, of which Kek collected several samples. In one large cavern, we saw several score tents and several dozen people engaged in an animated discussion about the disposition of the expedition; we did not intrude on their deliberations.

Smith disguised himself as one of the mercenaries, and wandered about the place. He found a shaft downward at the end of a hallway, with rope ladders and such descending it. He descended perhaps 500', and explored the cavern below until he came upon a battle between guardsmen and ogres (perhaps escaped slaves). The men were having the worse of it, but when Smith suggested they retreat, they didn't understand what he meant. The explanation for this seems to be that the exit tunnel was concealed by an illusion (it just looked like the rest of the cavern wall). The exact explanation for all of this remains unclear, but it seems that Belsamo had somehow pressed the ogres into service as miners or excavators. Perhaps the spell was broken by her death. Perhaps the illusionary wall was part of the slaves' prison.

Smith managed to escape back up the ladder, and cut one of the other ladders (being used by an orge; He did not cut all of the ropes, because some of the guardsmen were on the way up as well). He came went to retrieve the rest fo us. By the time we got back to the room, there were two ogres up top, and a few more on the way up. A guardsman was stranded halfway up one of the ladders. We engaged the ogres.

During the ensuing battle, we again found that one of the ogres became posessed (or whatever), as indicated by the blackness of the eyes and a sudden change in behavior. Eventually we managed to slay the ogres or shove them back over the edge, and sever the ropes.
[I don't have good notes about this -- I may have gotten this mixed up. Did we manage to rescue one of the guys? or did the ogre cut his rope? what exactly happened?]

Having spent a good deal of time climbing around in the ruins and bruised by our encounter with the ogres, we retreated back to the "dining room" and barricaded ourselves in again. Smith performed a rather gruesome procedure with the Forlaren's corpse, in order to create a map that was supposed to reveal the location of Belsamo's strongbox. It does seem that a sort of transformation has come over the man recently. He has always been a bit erratic and gruff, but his behavior over the past few days has become downright sociopathic. He is a man of great knowledge and wisdom, and has always behaved honorably with us...nonetheless, I am concerned by this turn of events.

The map indicated two locations. Kek went to take a look, and we pieced together that one of these was the "teleportation gateway", which was in a long hallway on the other side of a persistent electrical ward. We decided to investigate the other first. Again with Kek in the lead scouting, we managed to bypass a room full of civilians and enter the room indicated on the map. We found a few chests, some of which had been bashed open, and a few looters. We chased off the looters, gathered what we could find into a chest, and retreated back to the dining room.

We then examined the contents of the chest. In addition to a good deal of bullion and a merchant's scale, we found some maps, a ledger, and Belsamo's journal. From a hasty skim of these, we learned several points of interest:
- the pay of people in the expedition (the highest tier earners were: Ketsaliand Telmaro, the chief engineer Gordon, and two more fellows, Darget and Follo, who she had sent through the teleportation gateway but had not returned.)
- projections about the value of the iron mine down below (where the ogre slaves had been, I believe).
- they had used disposable magical items to bypass several warded doors, but had expended them all and their progress had stalled. (this is why they could not get past the warded door that she had asked us about during our employment negotiations.)
- she thought that the Asterthrone might be here, was planning to sell the location to the highest bidder in the Monarchies. But, she had not yet found evidence of it.
- she had charmed the ogres with a spell, in order to get them down into the mines.
- the redcap and the ogres worked for her; the redcap helped to keep the ogres in line
- the trap guarding the teleortation gateway is electrical in nature
- the expedition had found less in terms of artefacts and treasure than they had been hoping to find. She speculates that the previous inhabitants had taken their belongings with them in an organized and methodical departure. They had also disabled the two teleportation devices and spells that would elevate people up and down the vertical shafts, before the left; ketsali had been able to get the one teleporter functioning again after great effort.
- the remeaning sealed and warded door is protected by some kind of death magic.

We went to examine the warded door. Smith indicated that it was inscribed with a "circle of death". Smith was able to bypass the door by burrowing through the stone of the cavern wall, and reported that the hallway ended in a large (200' diameter) circular room, with a pattern in the center of the floor. It looked as if there had once been a fine inlay, perhaps of metal, in the pattern, but that it had been removed. (Perhaps this is related to Belsamo's speculation about the inhabitants disabling their magical devices before leaving.)

We explored some more and found a vertical shaft upward (sort of the mirror of the shaft to the mines). Kek flew himself up with some rope from one of the expedition's supply rooms, and let down a line for us. Chokobo spied a concealed passageway at the top of the shaft, on the ceiling. After some head-scratching, we determined that there was a mechanism at the bottom of the shaft to trigger it. Kek flew down to trigger it, and the ceiling ground aside to reveal a room. (The sliding stone slab seemed to get stuck halfway open, but there was more than enough of an opening for us to enter.)

Kek flew up to tie off another segment of rope, and we ascended. We found ourselves in a large chamber that might have been the bedroom of a giant, with enormous chairs, tables, etc. And the remains (nearly all dust) of a man who must have been 20 feet tall. The chamber would have been connected to the hill giant's cave above, but for a collapsed passage. Searching the room, we found three giant gold coins, each worth a fortune but extremely heavy (they were the size of the face of a small table, and weighed over 200lbs each). There were dates on the coins, but I don't know which calendar they belong to -- I will look into this when I return to civilization. We also found a giant spearhead.

Aided by Smith's magic (he is able to greatly increase the amount of weight that a man can carry, and permit a man to walk along a wall as a spider does), I was just able to carry the coins back down to the main level.

We rested for the evening in the dining room, reading the journals in more detail and whatnot, and then decided that there was nothing left for us to do but try the teleportation gateway. The exit to the cavern had been sealed off by the collapse, and we had exhausted the other tunnels and whatnot without finding another way out.

Crossing the electrical ward was not one of our finer moments. Smith and Chokobo worked some magic that would protect us somewhat from the lightning, and we made a run for it. The ward was vicious, with the arcs both damaging and paralyzing men who tried to get through. After several attempts, heroism of people running back in to drag others, and antics involving hauling fellows around on lengths of rope, we eventually made it through. We were, however, very badly burned. We spent two days recouperating from our wounds before continuing on through the gateway. During this time, I rigged myself a sort of sled for carrying the coins, chests and enormous crown, that could be dropped with a minimum of effort should I find myself in need of freedom of motion.

We then passed through the gateway. [I think maybe we left the bobcat behind?] There was a momentary feeling of disorientation similar to that at the Jovic Crucible, and we were in the dark, in an enormous chamber or hallway. The ceiling was almost so high above that Kek could not see it. Pillars of worked stone (decorated to resemble tornadoes or waterspouts or somesuch) streteched up to the ceiling about every 40'. We found eight roughly circular symbols etched into the floor, one of which we had just passed through.

Edited by: cook on 6/14/14

cook, 9/4/14 19:40
Session 14 (8/23/2014)

As we were waiting for the other fellows just before entering the transportation device, Smith pulled me aside for a rather disturbing conversation. It seems that he does not trust himself to act in a rational way -- the fellow really may be quite mad, but I am at a loss as to the best course of corrective action. During my time in the Academy, it was a rare situation indeed in which I found myself needing to act in the role of the voice of reason. On the few such occasions, I resolved the situation by squeezing the air out of the fellow and letting him sleep it off, which seemed adequate at the time. This requires further thought.

At any rate, we experienced the same momentary, odd sensation as during our arcane departure from the Jovic Crucible, and we arrived in darkness. The space felt very open, as a large subterranean cavern. Chokobo rooted around in his pack for a bit and ignited a sunrod, and the impression of an open room was confirmed. We were standing on one of eight inscribed symbols, there were large pillars near us, but the room was of worked stone and extended into darkness in all directions. Kek seemed surprisingly disoriented by the experience of traveling in this manner -- perhaps it was because he was not with us for the Crucible, and it was his first experience with this sort of thing.

We did not have long to worry about it, as almost immediately upon our arrival, Smith's crystal oculus flared with a blue flash as an enormous armored humanoid charged toward me. The rest of us were caught off guard by this, but Smith reacted quickly enough to get one of his defensive illusions up before it was among us. It was some manner of animated corpse of a giant. We fought a brief, brutal encounter, during which I was knocked unconcious by its fiendishly strong blows. I am told that Kek finally blew it apart with a blast of lightning.

One of the fellows revived me with one of our healing potions, and we had spent a just few moments recovering when an old man, wearing expensive robes and jewelry and carrying a staff, slowly walked into our circle of light. He approached casually and not as if to attack, but once he was close enough we noticed that he exhibited the "black eyes" that we had seen in the posessed ogres in the past.

He said something to us in the Highspeech of the wizards, which none of us (even Smith with his communication spell) could understand. After a few moments he tried again, this time speaking in an unusual dialect of Giantish. I understood him, but I did not recognize the accent and his sentence structure and lexis were far more sophisticated than one hears in the speech of modern giants (for instance, the degenerate hill giants). (See: Speculations on the Evolution of the Gigantomach-Daityan Language Family, Liguistical Transactions of the Royal Society.)

He asked why we had come here. I responded that we were searching for the Asterthrone. He replied in an oddly formal way, as if reciting a creed or ritual. I translated his response thus:
"The man without a throne is King of everywhere."
He looked at us, as if expecting the ritual response. Smith told him that we did not know the code. He asked for whom we sought the throne. I expressed an interest in finding it for the sake of advancing the scope of archaeological and historical knowledge. Smith answered that he sought the throne for himself, and recounted to the man his disturbing dream about the throne, in some detail.

The man seemed taken aback by this. He told us he would show us to the throne, and headed across the cavern. As we walked, we asked him several things: he was not Wolphratz; he did not know Deca; he did not know the Nullers; he admitted to being the one who was watching us by way of the "black eyes". I asked him if he knew the disposition of the two fellows who had come through ahead of us, from the Belsamo expedition. He indicated that we were talking to one of them (i.e. the entity we were talking to had posessed his body in order to facilitate speech) and the rest had been killed by the undead guardian.
(Kek slipped off to look around, and later reported that the edges of the room were closed off by rubble, but in a strange way -- they didn't look like a cave-in, but instead sort of like a mountain had been dropped on it. He noticed eight [giant?] corpses in a corner, two in platemail.)

He brought us to the Throne. It was an enormous stone chair of simple but elegant and quality construction. Midway up the back of the large throne was inset a smaller man-sized throne. Seated on the giant-sized chair was the corpse of an elder giant (i.e. one of the enormous 20' variety of legend, rather than the modern 8-10' degenerate variety). The corpse was much more intact than one would expect, perhaps mummified or otherwise treated. Etched or painted onto his well-preserved skin, I fancied that I could make out tattoos or inscriptions of some arcane sort. The corpse held a huge bone staff and wore a large ring. Smith asked which throne was the Asterthrone. The man replied that both were, but that the power of the throne was derived from the smaller seat.

Our host then asked us: now that we had found the throne, what would we do with it? Smith told him: "I guess I want to sit in it." He asked who Smith was, and he gave his name. The man then warned that "lesser men" who sit on the Throne "don't fare well", and that most of them die.

The man then asked if we know a way back out, if the teleporter would work to send us back. He proposed that we we might negotiate to facilitate his leaving. He said that he was trapped here in the room, because he could not leave his body -- the giant corpse on the throne!
"Aha!" I unwrapped the massive crown that I had been dragging around on the makeshift sledge. "Is this yours?"
He very briefly recoiled, perhaps as if terrified, then quickly recovered.
Smith touched the man (to work his divination, I imagine), and then flinched back as his crystal orb flared red. He later told us he had felt some outside force trying to compel him to do something, but fought it off, and that his divination failed.

The man asked where we found the Crown. We told him that we found it in a subterranean complex near the peak of a mountain. He told us that yes, it was his, and that it has been a long time since he had seen it.

Kek asked the man who he was, and what had happened.

He told us that he had been trapped here when the mountain shifted and the teleporter stopped working, "probably over an Age ago". (I recall reading in one of the Throne legends that the last king of Asterland had indeed reigned in the last Age, a few hundred years after the Second War.) He later added that "his enemies" may have caused the collapse of this complex; there had been a revolt of some sort in progress.

His courtiers had died, but he was able to preserve himself through the centuries using his magic. He said that he was once a king, but was no longer concerned with that sort of thing. I asked him how he had lost his crown, and he told us that he had sent it away to be polished at the time that the mountain shifted. (Smith indicated to us that this was certainly a lie.)

We spent some time looking around. I made several quick sketches of the throne and the room. Kek examined the corpses and granted the spell of flight to Smith, who flew about the room getting a closer look. He noted that the ceiling was not domed, as it had been in his dream. I asked the King which mountain we were currently in, and he indicated it on my map. It was about ten miles away from the mountain we had entered to find the teleporter -- I had been able see the peak. We recovered some valuables from the corpses (Belsamo's men, I presume).

Smith then landed on the smaller throne, and sat in it with no apparent effect.

The man proposed that we should verify our means of egress, then carry his (enormous) corpse through the teleporter "to a large population center", and leave him there, and that we should discuss what payment we would expect in recompense.

We went to examine the "teleporter", to confirm that it was still working. Of the eight sigils, Smith indicated that the one we had come through had an aura of "moderate conjuration", and that one of the others had a similar but much fainter aura, and none of the others had anything. He speculated that the one with the faint aura might be "broken" -- we declined to investigate that one further. We confirmed that we were able to successfully travel back to the Belsamo complex using the sigil we had originally came through. The experience again seemed to disorient Kek. After some discussion, we decided that our best means of exit would be to return and use (or let the expedition workmen) the abundant mining equipment to tunnel back out.

We also agreed that the old man's plan involving the "large population center" sounded somewhat suspect, as did various other aspects of the situation (such as his untruthfulness, and the fact that his undead servant had attacked both our party and the Belsamo delegation without preamble).

We returned to the Throne room. We were nearing the old man to resume our negotiations, when Smith touched the corpse and suddenly stiffened. There was another sudden red flash from his orb, and the orb emitted some sort of ray, which struck the old man. The man swung his staff and managed to knock the orb out of Smith's hands, and shouted that the orb was cursed and was trying to gain control of Smith. I lost control of the situation -- Smith began chanting, Chokobo began setting things (including the giant corpse) on fire, we fought the man, monkies appeared out of nowhere and began tearing the man and his posessions apart. The man fell unconcious, at which point Smith called off the monkies and used some spell to extinguish the flame on the corpse.

Kek had recovered the orb and examined it. He was able to activate an effect from it, and reported an enhanced sight of arcane auras, and some interesting ones around the old man. Kek, Smith and Chokobo conferred, and concluded that there was a malevolent force with the man, which had been trapped there by an anchoring shell that had been created by the orb's ray. It was perhaps trying to escape, but could not get away while the anchor persisted.

While the rest of us were recouperating from our exertions and discussing the situation, Chokobo levitated himself up to sit in the smaller of the Thrones, also without any apparent effect.

We decided that we did not want to be here when the shell failed and the malevolent force was able to escape. We gathered up several of the more valuable-looking items (including the ring and the huge staff, which Smith reported having to fight off another ill effect upon touching), and left through the sigil. After some discussion on the other end, it was decided that we had best make an effort to destroy the malevolent force, and so Kek and Chokobo returned to burn the corpses. They completed this without incident and returned to the Belsamo complex.

We spent two days recouperating in the sigil room in the Belsamo complex, then made our way (painfully) back past the electrocution hallway into the main part of the complex. Kek scouted around and found that about three dozen survivors were busily excavating a tunnel out. We waited a few days while avoiding contact, for them to finish their tunnel. We then left a few hours after they did, and headed back to Astermont.

Our trip back to Astermont was uneventful, and once there we were able to find buyers for most of the artefacts and wargear that I had been dragging around on my sledge for the past several weeks. While many of the historically interesting pieces (e.g. the enormous coins, Landstrom's journal, etc) went to the Royal Society, we have so far kept mum about the discovery of the Throne itself. After some discussion, we were quite concerned that expeditions there might set free the malevolent force (King?) that had been (intentionally?) trapped there so long ago. If our attempt to destroy it had been unsuccessful, which we deemed somewhat likely.

We elected to keep the Crown, the Ring (it granted the wearer some form of mental protection against divinations, Smith is holding on to it), and the bone Staff. We returned to Una's with these, to check in with her and to collect some of our possessions we had left with her. And to discuss what our next steps would be. I was interested in attending the Silk Festival, but it was still several months off. Smith was interested in finding the Grave Mummers, and in tracking down some fellows as (perhaps?) a favor to Una. We had a tepid lead that one of these fellows (Simeon Clay) was likely in Southwatch (within the past few months). We decided that we would head toward Southwatch, and try to catch scent of Clay or of the Mummers whilst on the way.

Edited by: cook on 10/27/14

cook, 11/11/14 21:23
Session 15 (11/8/2014)

We spent a period of ten days spent attending to various errands -- Smith engaged in more leatherworking and gathering information about Clay via his obscure methods; I made use of Una's library and the volumes we had acquired in the Jovik Crucible to look into various matters that had come up in our travels, and conducted a more thorough review of the maps; and Kek and Chokobo traveled to check in with contacts at Driftwood and the Observatory. During this time I acquired a curious steel helm, supposedly graced with defensive spells, from Una. Further details are recorded elsewhere: http://www.aurumvorax.com/forumViewThread.php?threadID=87

We then packed our wagon with some of our possessions from Una's (Smith's wardrobe, Chokobo's portable laboratory, the subset of the Jovik maps relevant to where we were heading) and set out out for Southwatch.

http://www.aurumvorax.com/files/southwatch.jpgIn Port Somber we learned, by canvassing the streets and the inns, that Clay was something of a larger-than-life villain, and had a price on his head. He was reported to be causing trouble in the eastern part of the kingdom. We elected to travel the High Road east, on the supposition that stopping in the more numerous settlements along the road might give us more opportunity to pick up additional information. It was seven days journey along the road to the capital.

I found Redbush to be impressive, for Southwatch. In particular, Stormwall Castle was a sight to see, a marvelous behemoth of ancient Giantish architecture. Though it is unclear whether the backwards men of that benighted land are still capable of operating the mechanism, its enormous drawbridge was clearly a wonder of construction.

We spent a day exploring the city and trying to find more information about Clay and the goings-on to the east. We heard that Clay had previously been in the employ of Count Baer, and had been instrumental in the eviction of the Goblins from Thislebrook, but since then had been hired by the Infernal Hegemony to protect some fortress of theirs east of Lowbriar. We learned that Clay's bounty was 2000 crowns, that he may have been responsible for the murder of several druids at "the Winter Grove" (just past the eastern border of Southwatch), and that Sir Frederich Gustav of Redbush had been dispatched to investigate the incident at the Grove. While visiting the lists, I heard that Sir Gustav is a well-liked and respected Knight, skilled in mounted combat.

While touring Stormwall, Smith learned that one Exeter, the Arcanists' ambassador to Stormwall, was "discreetly" looking for help with some unspecified matter. Smith sent a note expressing interest to the man, and also arranged for us to have an audience with Baer once we reached Thistlebrook.

The next morning, we set out for Thistlebrook by wagon. Our journey lasted thirteen days, and we passed by several Keeps and Villages. At an inn in one such village, Turning Way, we found Exeter (who was an arcanist of some rank -- according to Kek, a "Conjurer of the Fourth Circle") waiting for us in response to Smith's inquiry. After some negotiation, Smith arranged that we should remove Clay for Exeter, in return for information about Xenophontes, Deca, the Orb, and possibly a translation of the Highspeech map we had found in the Crucible. Evidently, Clay had previously been in the employ of Exeter, but had proven to be "a very unsatisfactory employee". Smith also agreed to perform some action on Clay's corpse, which would secure some information that Exeter did not want to leave lingering in Clay's aura.

Exeter informed us that Clay and his men are currently occupying "the Temple of the Placid Mirror" in the foothills of the Hilly Wood. Evidently the temple, once a place of contemplation overlooking a supernaturally placid lake at the top of a mountain, had been repurposed as an advance base for the Infernal Hegemony, and Clay's company had been hired to fortify it. Clay's forces included his half-dozen students, whom he had only been training for less than a year, and a score or so men recently recruited from Southwatch. We were warned that there may also be dignitaries or parties from the Hegemony present.

You may think me callous, to approach the slaying of a fellow Astermen in such dispassionate terms. Indeed, I wrestled with this concern myself, for a time. But it is a strange thing, to have visited the Mother's grave. It leaves its mark on a man, and I do rather strongly feel that the containment or expulsion of the Infernal Hegemony (truly, of all of the alien influences of the Outer Planes -- but the Hegemony is surely one of the most egregious) from our World is a priority that merits some sacrifice.

With that bit of nasty business completed, we continued on toward Thistlebrook. Along the way, Smith managed to press an enormous falcon into his service, as a scout and watchman. After a few days, we arrived in Thistlebrook. The town had clearly been very badly burned at some point in the recent past, but reconstruction was underway. The craftsmen we questioned seemed to share an opinion that the Count ought to free more funds, in order to more effectively complete the construction projects.

Shortly after arrival, we attended Count Baer for the audience that Smith had arranged while we were in Redbush. The Count's audience room was filled with tables and maps, perhaps as if he were orchestrating a military campaign. Baer himself seemed a more reasonable fellow than his reputation would suggest, and assigned one of his men to provide us any assistance we might require in our pursuit of Clay. He did seem somewhat put out by his reassignment and King Adawulf's decision to have Sir Gustav deal with Clay, but he took it in stride, as a man should when his King calls.

His man informed us that Clay had killed at least oine druid and several initiates, and had kidnapped one of the druids' Holy Oracles. This was performed at the Winter Grove, about ten miles from the Temple. He also provided us with the layout of the temple on its mountain, and a few potential approaches: the main approach is through a series of switchbacks up the mountainside, a secondary approach involves passing through a canyon and then climbing a cliff, and a third approach (apparently employed by Clay in his original assault on the mountain) involving a passageway under the lake, sealed by an iron door.

We decided to investigate the Grove, on our way to the Temple. We set out for Rosewall, which was the village at the closest point on the road. We were about 3 days behind Sir Gustav at Thistlebrook, and 2 days behind him in Rosewall. There had also been some other parties that had recently passed through, hoping to claim the bounty on Clay's head. We left our wagon with a stable hand, and purchased some climbing gear and some light horses, and set off toward the grove.

This travel was slower, as we made use of game trails and such through the wilderness. After a day and a half of travel, through increasingly unseasonably cold locales, we arrived to find Sir Gustav and his hobgoblin second, Braxicore, camped in the Grove. Sir Gustav proved to be a very amiable man, and he invited us to share his fire and his stew. Braxicore, on the other hand, seemed a rather surly fellow, and immediately took a dislike to us, but was mercifully quiet about it. Gustav explained that they were also on the path of Clay, hoping to slay the man "for fame and glory" rather than the reward. We discussed the matter and agreed that we would work together.

While at the grove, we noticed that a large tree had been uprooted and apparently carried off. Smith found a root fragment from this tree in the hole -- it was a strange artifact, almost entirely metal, as if the wood had been fully infused with copper. Sir Gustav mentioned to us that the uprooted tree was the Druid's Oracle, and that Clay had stolen it away during his attack.

http://www.aurumvorax.com/files/temple.jpgBraxicore, evidently a woodsman of some skill originally hailing from the Devil's Fools company, had apparently scouted out the area earlier. Gustav mentioned that the canyon approach had already been collapsed, perhaps as a means to the destruction of one of the other parties that had been hunting Clay. He also mentioned that there was one permanently resident infernalist, a sort of ambassador from the Hegemony, and that there might currently be another party from the Hegemony present.

Their plan was to approach from the north at night, coming in over or around the lake, and then entering the temple through the roof. Smith explored the temple grounds at a distance through the use of his Orb, and we firmed up our plans of attack. Smith noted about ten archers posted around the grounds, primarily watching the switchback approach. We decided to rest for the remainder of the day, and then approach that night from the direction of the lake.

Edited by: cook on 11/11/14

cook, 12/14/14 11:52
Session 16 (12/13/14)

While my own attempts to engage Braxicore in conversation were unfruitful, Smith had somewhat more success as we waited for nightfall. With his prompting, the woodsman gave us some basic information about the Infernalists from the Hegemony: the priests can sicken men with a touch; they can temporarily enspell their weapons and armor; they typically hire others to do their fighting for them, and usually travel in the company of mercenaries.

A few hours after darkness, when we figured (per Smith's reconnaissance) that Clay would be asleep, we set out to the lake. We suspected that sound might carry well across the lake, so we crouched down behind the far bank while Smith and Kek enhanced our group with spells. Smith toughened our skin so that it would deflect blows, lightened our step so that we might easily traverse obstacles and broken ground, and warded us against heat and fire.

Kek caused my ring to emit an inky magical darkness, and I then covered it with one of my gloves (which contained the darkness). Our plan was that when we engaged Clay, I would remove the glove and plunge us into darkness so that he would not be able to see the men in order to pin them down with his glaive. I had devoted significant effort to learning methods of fighting without the use of my sight, and as such would engage him in the darkness. Kek can naturally see in the dark; Chokobo's explosive bombs would damage Clay even if they did not hit directly (and I would be protected from their flames by Smith's ward), and Smith claimed that he would transmute himself into a giant vermin (...) which would be able to fight well in the darkness.

Thus girded, we began our approach as stealthily as we might. There were two sentries on the roof of the monastery who needed to be removed quietly. Braxicore slew one of these with a poisoned quarrel, while Kek simultaneously downed the other with arcane missiles. Braxicore then fired a quarrel with a long thread across to the roof of the monastery, somehow used the thread to secure a rope, and then slid down the rope to the roof. The rest of us followed with varying degrees of grace.

Kek entered the building through a trap door in the roof, looked around, and returned to us. He reported the layout of the top floor (perhaps some sort of training gymnasium involving a sand pit, a pool of water, pots full of smoldering coals, and a wall-less section where one might exit the room and fall to the ground), and that there was a bed with a man in it, near a roaring fireplace. We supposed this man to be Clay (the description approximately matched what Smith had seen of Clay's sleeping arrangements), but we were not sure. We consulted briefly and decided we would go in and confirm the identity of the man before filling the room with darkness.

I was the first to head down the stairway to the man's room, but, being vastly less stealthy than Kek, I set off some arcane alarm at the bottom of the stairs. We managed to react to the situation more quickly than the man in the bed, and I scored a solid hit on him with my spear before he was fully alert.

The man then leapt from his bed -- already clad in a mithril breastplate -- and dove into his fireplace. I managed to land another hit on him as he fled, but it was not enough to drop him. He escaped through a somewhat hidden chimney behind the logs in his fire, to a level somewhere below in the complex.

Kek and Chokobo continued down the stairs to the levels below, looking for the exit of the chimney. They found it two levels down -- a large fireplace with a very bright, very hot fire burning in it. The other level that they had passed through had several rooms, where they heard men stirring at the sound of the alarm. They did not immediately see Clay, but found him soon enough when Kek was tripped by a strike from a glaive upon exiting the staircase. Chokobo landed one of his concoctions on Clay, setting him ablaze.

Smith transformed himself into an enormous spider, and began descending the chimney, through the flames. Sir Gustav looked as if he was tempted to do that himself, but then took the stairs when the spider beat him to it. I ran down the stairs. Clay had enlarged himself by the use of a potion. I made use of my cloak to similarly enlarge, and then removed my glove, plunging the room into darkness. This did not work out entirely as we had hoped, on account of the very bright fire -- there was still enough dim light to see by in much of the room, and so Clay's reach was not neutralized.

On the second level, Braxicore, Chokobo, and Sir Gustav engaged the men who had come out of the rooms. These were Clay's elite students, and were surprisingly effective combatants even unarmed and unarmored in the middle of the night, but our fellows managed to rout them after a time.

Smith emerged from the fireplace in the basement level, and cast monstrous webs around to impede Clay. While Clay was distracted with one of these, I managed to disarm him of his glaive. Upon hitting the ground it shrank to ordinary size, and so he did not pick it up again, but instead attempted to flee. I harried him, but was unable to land a solid hit on him. Kek brought him down with a devastating electricity attack. I covered my ring with my glove again, lifting the darkness.

Smith reverted to his natural form and immediately began a spell to interrogate Clay's corpse. Sir Gustav found this somewhat disconcerting, and went back upstairs "to secure the area". Smith obtained the following information:
- The most significant thing that Eli (the blind astronomer) had brought out of the grave was: "The heaviest object you could possibly lift, regardless of how strong you are."
- That object looked like "A black stone slab."
- The oracle/tree is "in the north prison cell."
Smith then performed last rites on the corpses, we recovered their valuables, and then he placed the wizard's shroud on Clay's corpse, which immediately vanished. (This event seemed to remove all magical energy from the Shroud.)

We searched the area, and Kek found two secret doors. It seemed like Clay had originally been making for one of these, but our actions happened to render the area of the wall entirely dark, and he could not open it. Then he had been on his way to the second door when we brought him down.

Chokobo and Smith went upstairs to search the rest of the building (Gustav and Braxicore had found some documents on the second floor), while Kek and I explored the through the secret doors, which led to a complex of tunnels under the mountain. The second door's tunnel lead to the outside, via an "iron door" that was likely to be the one Clay had used to assault the monastery's former inhabitants. The first door lead to a more complicated network of tunnels.

We began exploring this network, with Kek scouting 40' ahead of me. He had granted me darkvision so that I might more effectively back him up. In retrospect, we should have recovered our colleagues before going so deep into the cave complex... We first found a set of empty prison cells. These were enormous, with 25' ceilings and the remnants of chain links a foot in diameter, with a three inch cross section. Perhaps it was designed as a prison cell for giants, or somesuch. We continued to explore, and walked into an ambush of sorts. The hallway suddenly lit up, and Kek suffered some fire from two crossbowmen. They were in rooms off to the side of the tunnel. It looked as if this area had been converted from a prison block similar to the other, into rather opulent living quarters. The portcullis-like bars of the cells were down, and the mechanism to open them had been moved to inside the cells, making it rather hard to get at the crossbowmen. I engaged them through the bars with Clay's glaive, and brought one down. The dress of the men, and particularly the curious design of their crossbows (there was a mechanism which fed the new bolts into the bow, increasing the mens' rate of fire) suggested that they might be from the Hegemony, rather than locals.

Kek was finishing off the other crossbowman when I was surprised by a man suddenly appearing at the end of the hallway, and launching beam of fire at me. Fortunately, Smith's ward entirely protected me from the flames, which surprised the other fellow as well. I charged the man and dealt him a solid blow, at which time he surrendered. I removed any equipment he was carrying and then bound and gagged him, fearing his magic.

By this time, the other fellows had come looking for us. We ran into Smith and Chokobo in the hallway. Smith divined that the man was in fact a sorcerer of the Infernal bloodline, and we decided we would take him back to Southwatch for interrogation. We searched the room, picking up some valuables, and then went to find the Oracle.

We found it in one of the other prison blocks. It was in fact a medium sized tree trunk, strangely infused with copper. Most of its limbs and branches had been hacked off. It seemed befuddled and frightened, at first mistaking us for more of Clay's men. We told it we would return it to its grove, which it seemed to appreciate. It was monstrously heavy -- I drank one of my carrying-capacity enhancing potions (the so-called "ant haul"), after which I was able to drag it around.

As we were making our way back out of the basement, we were suddenly caught in a blindingly bright light. Squinting into it, thought I could make out a humanoid figure advancing on us from down one of the other hallways. I dropped the oracle and ran to engage the man. Kek and Chokobo came after me. Smith, ever a man of uncompromising pragmatism, executed our prisoner before moving to follow.

I came out of the hallway into a largish room. The light was a sort of beam emanating from a doorway on the other side of the room, across from the hallway. Stepping a bit to the side after entering the room, I moved out of the beam, after which I was better able to see what was going on. There was a man silhouetted in that doorway. The man shouted something to the effect that we were "trespassing on the territory of the Infernal Hegemony", and that we should "fall on our knees" or be killed. As he said this, an enormous wolf charged at me. It was an unnatural creature, smelling of brimstone and fire.

I landed a hit on the wolf as it closed with me, and then fought it while the other men in my group arrived. Kek fired volleys of arcane bolts into the man as he advanced to join us. Two more crossbowmen (similarly equipped with the repeating crossbows) stepped out from behind the man and fired on Chokobo. Chokobo hit the man and set him alight. The man hit me with a painful bolt of focused light. I finished off the wolf and charged the enemy. I found that he was a human with a heavily scarred face, wearing plate armor. After a brief fight, we had killed the crossbowmen and I had the armored man grappled and pinned. Smith divined that he was a cleric of Asmodeus. We killed the cleric, figuring he was likely too dangerous to try to take back for interrogation. Smith performed last rights on all of the corpses, and we salvaged their equipment.

We briefly explored the room behind the man, which contained an enormous contraption of lenses and mirrors and lanterns. We figured this to be some sort of research apparatus of one of the monastery's former inhabitants (likely the mirror mage that Clay had displaced). It was not portable, and none of us really knew what to make of it, so we left it and returned back to find Sir Gustav and Braxicore.

The knight reported that they had found no sign of the other mercenaries. Our earlier scouting had suggested that there should be about twenty men, but we had only found six -- four of whom were probably part of the Hegemony priest's company, rather than Clay's. Kek went out to investigate, and eventually reported back that he had found a few corpses (perhaps three) which had been ripped apart by some kind of beast, and no other sentries.

This development caused us some alarm. Being somewhat worse for wear, we elected to rest for a while in the monastery to recuperate from our wounds and such.

Things we wanted to tie up, not necessarily in this order:
- investigate the area, have Smith do some tracking, etc. What killed the men that Kek found? Where did the rest of the mercenaries go? a thought: perhaps there had been some druids staking out Clay's position, who were hesitant to engage in a frontal assault on their own, but who took advantage of the opportunity afforded by our attack to kill some or all of the mercenaries. (If so, we should perhaps try to get the Oracle back to his grove sooner rather than later.)
- we should talk to the oracle
- we should heal up and get loot sorted out
- some of the more contemplative among us wanted to look into the mirror lake
- take the oracle back to its grove - I think I need to ask Smith for a daily ant haul while we are doing this, as I only have one potion left.
- read through Clay's documents, and any documents recovered from the Infernal delegations. Perhaps conduct a more thorough search of the Infernalists' quarters for more documents?
- we could try to collect the various reward(s) on Clay's head, go back to the Wizard to collect our information, etc

Edited by: cook on 12/14/14

cook, 2/14/15 21:49
Session 17 (1/31/2015)

Session 17 (1/31/2015)

[Events as described in http://www.aurumvorax.com/forumViewThread.php?threadID=94 and http://www.aurumvorax.com/forumViewThread.php?threadID=97 ]

After concluding their business in Redbush, Smith and Kek headed back toward Thistlebrook, and we met them on the road. We exchanged information, and decided that we needed to get to Turano (in Del Mostro) as quickly as possible. We stored the wagon with an inkeep in a small manwall-county town, and made by horseback for the main road through Eslanda at our best speed.

The extortionist bandits who call themselves the Eslandan army generally try to shake down anyone who entering through the border, but Smith skillfully managed to talk them down to a reasonable toll. We spent seven days riding the road through Eslanda, and then Smith performed a similar minor miracle at the border crossing into Turano. We noted that while the border between Southwatch and Eslanda had been largely a symbolic one (a run-down fort with a small force that would be incapable of manning it in anger), the Del Mostro border (or at least, the crossing along the Road) was well fortified and manned, with a wall stretching at least a quarter mile in each direction.

A few hours after we made our crossing, as we were traveling through the forested hills of Del Mostro, we heard a ruckus up ahead around a bend in the road. It sounded like a large beast was attacking a group of men. Smith used his Orb to investigate while Chokobo, Kek, and I advanced. We found a caravan of eight wagons stopped in a clearing. Four of the wagons contained large cages, one of which was broken apart. An enormous beast, had escaped, and was attacking the caravaners. It was a terrible beast of a chimera, with a goatlike head whose jaws had bitten through the cage and the armor of some of the men, an arachnid head spitting globs of acid, and a strange scorpion tail whose strike would to enspell a man to float helpless, 30 feet in the air. It was advancing on the caravan guards who had formed a sort of line against it, while the rest of the caravaners hid in the wagons.

The guardsmen were having the worse of it, and we leapt to their aid. We fought a pitched battle, during which several of the other caravaners were wounded or slain by the beast. As we were beginning to gain the upper hand, a large man emerged from one of the wagons and shouted to the effect that he would pay us hansomly if we took the beast alive. I don't think that any of us considered that option, given the circumstances. Shortly therafter, the beast threw me up into the air with its strange tail and Kek finished it off with a blast of lightning.

In the aftermath, Smith aided the fallen men who were still alive, and gave the otherseir last rites. We buried the fallen men on the spot (we have a Gravedigger with us, after all) while the caravaners reconstituted their wagons. The fat merchant, disappointed that his beast was slain, nonetheless offered to hire us as caravan guards for the rest of his trip to Turano. We consulted and decided that we would accept, as this would provide us a way to enter the city relatively unnoticed. We procured a room at an Inn, and set about looking for information about a translator. Kek looked into the location of the Stonefane.

The city of Turano is situated on a hill overlooking the sea. The top of the hill sports the Bonespire, an ancient tower which houses the Turant, and a large windmill of some sort. The ruins of a wall (a relic of the Ruby Kingdom) surround the city and probably provide some protection, but it is crumbling in many places and the gates have been removed to provide easier commerce to and from the city.

The city is districted into regions under the influence of the four Noble houses of Del Mostro, with a fifth district housing the Consulati.
- The city's political center is up on the plateau, under the influence of the Tyrant and his House, Del Mostro. The heraldry of the house includes a Dragon. This is the most intact and expensive part of the city.
- The "Raven district" is home to the majority of the Consulati, an independent class of scholars who don't owe allegiance to any particular House. The area is home to the Augustino Universities and the offices of many sages.
- The "Sphinx district" is named for the heraldry of House Grivano, which is headquartered there. The district is also home to the Arts in Turano, including the Gallery Obscura.
- The "Medusa district" is home to most of the mercantile activity in Turano, and to House Marvosi.
- The "Chuul district" is a sort of slum at the bottom of the hill, on the coast. Refuse from the rest of the city flows downhill and through this district, on its way out to sea. House Sardinas is headquartered here. (Smith explained that the Chuul are a race of cannabilistic crab-men, intelligent yet uncivilized, who ambush and eat men who venture too far into the swamp.)

We spent the evening investigating and canvasing for infromation. Smith learned that a sage named Crobus is a leading linguist and translator in the Raven district. Chokobo heard a rumor that an orchestra in the Dragon district was hiring for some large production, both performers and laborers for the construction of a large auditorium. Kek learned that one Voli Verenza, in the Medusa district, is the man to talk to about the Stonefane.

In the morning, we all went to the office of Crobus the linguist. Crobus turned out to be venerable Tengu. We asked him to translate the infernalist reports while Smith examined him, with some divination enhancing his perceptive abilities. Smith detected no alarm or recognition as Crobus translated the part about the inverfernalists contact in Turano, and so we supposed he was not our man.

We asked him if he could translate Druidic, and he said he could not. He suggested that we find a druid, and informed us that there is often one to be found in the Dragon district. After some discusison, he also revealed that he had heard a rumor of a translator who could do this, and that we might cautiously inquire after him at the Raven's Egg, which is an inn where one might arrange illicit activity. He suggested that he would be very interested to know who it was if we found out more.

As we still had ten minutes left in the chunk of time for which we had hired him, we stayed to discuss far-ranging topics with him afterwards.
He mentioned that "Chokobo" is an infernal name ("chosen one"), and that speaking highspeech is dangerous. He told us that Xenophontes was not the giant-king's real name, as Wizards always take a new name when they become such.
Chokobo asked him about "the language of music" and he indicated that there is something like this that some bards use to make their magic.

Corbus also pointed out that our infernal reports were missing several pages (we had pages numbered 1,2,4,6,7,9, and so were missing at least 3,5, and 8.

We traveled to the Raven's Egg, which is on the edge of the Raven district, at the lowest point on the hill. We found it to be a semicircular, two-story building set into the side of the hill. Smith asked the bartender about the possibility of hiring a translator, and we were directed downstairs (the building extended into the hill) to Laurosa at the bar.

We descended to find a room similar to the room above, with a bar and some tables and booths, and a stage. Kek noted a large bugbear lurking in the shadows at the end of the bar. Laurosa, wearing a veil, was behind it.

Smith asked Laurosa about a translation from Druidic, and answered that our need was urgent when she asked our timeline. She indicated that it would be expensive, and made a note in a curious ledger that she had behind the bar. She said that we should arrange to return later tonight. Then she paused, and changed to "tomorrow at dawn". (I found this somewhat suspicious.)

We consulted and thought that if we could get a look at her ledger, we might be able to find our Infernalist by looking to see who had a recent appointment with the same person we did. Smith and Kek went to engage the bugbear in conversation, to distract him. I similarly attempted to distract Laurosa by ordering another drink, and Chokobo snatched the ledger. He took it into one of the curtained booths to look it over.

After a few minutes, Chokobo had not returned. I went to check on him, and found him paralyzed by the book. I slid the curtain closed behind me, and had a look at the book myself. There was a painful chill as I opened it, but I was able to shrug off the effect that had incapacitated Chokobo.

The ledger was not in a language that I am fluent in -- I believe it was either Fey or Aklo. But I have some familiarity with the language family and the precursor tongue, and was able to extract the gist after a few minutes of study. For our appointment, she had written something like "Druidic text translation, 6 pages. John. Dawn tomorrow." There was only one appointment scheduled for tonight, and it was not for a translation (I believe it said "halfling brains"). I looked back a few days worth of pages for any other Druidic translations, but did not find any. I did notice the name Voli Verenza, who had been in to sell Dwarven artifacts a few days previously.

By this time, we thought we were on thin ice in terms of someone noticing the absence of the ledger, so we arranged to return it. Kek had a potion that would render him invisible. He would use the potion and then return the book, while we provided a distraction.

Before we could implement the plan, the Bugbear pushed our curtain aside and asked what the problem was. Kek managed to put him off by saying that Chokobo had drunk too much. The bugbear demanded that we leave at once, and we agreed. Kek was able to swiftly return the book as I manhandled Chokobo out of the booth and up the stairs.

We returned to our inn to see if we could revive Chokobo. He recovered after about an hour.

Kek and Chokobo went to try to find Verenza, but he was not in his office. They left a message that "Kek is looking for him", and then learned in town that Maestro Massimo is the fellow responsible for constructing the auditorium.

Smith (disguised, downstairs) and I (upstairs) spent the rest of the day hanging around the Raven's Egg in the hopes of spotting the Infernalist as he came in to make his appointment. The Egg was busier at night, with more bartenders. Smith noted one half-orc making an appointment with in the ledger. I followed this fellow to a tenament, and then we sent Kek to check him out, after which we decided he was unrelated (not an infernalist, no wealth, or tablets, or exotic hegemony equipment, etc. He appeared to be a petty criminal.)

We turned in and returned to the Egg at Dawn. Laurosa was still there (or there again?), and introduced us to a tall, rather severe, well-dressed woman. She gave the impression of being minor nobility or something like that -- she was somewhat put off by our ruffian ways and lack of civilized manners. I was somewhat embarassed by this. Smith told her that we were looking for someone who stole something from us and was looking to have it translated; we would pay for information. She said she would inquire and would have information for us this evening. She indicated that I should come to her office alone this evening, just before sunset. She gave us an address [in the Raven district? I can't remember], and said her name was Moira, and that her office has a sign out front with her name.

Smith performed some conspicuous divination on Laurosa on the way out, and later indicated to us that she was related to a gnome - a sort of spriggan, innately magical gnomes who can grow to large size.

We were concerned by the proposition that one of us go alone to collect the information. We wandered through Moira's neighborhood on the way back to our inn to get the lay of the land, and then we concocted the following scheme: as evening approached, Chokobo would drop down to the roof of Moira's building from the hill above. I would wait accross the street, while Kek would conceal himself in the alley beside her building. Smith would disguise himself as me, and enter the office a few minutes before sunset. Kek would watch through the walls with his magic, and sound the alarm if necessary.

This essentially worked. Moira invited Smith up to the highest floor in the building, which was totally dark. Kek, watching Smith's progress through the wall with his magic, noted that the room was full of wicked meat-hooks, blood grooves, and contained a large Cauldron; and he noted that Moira had sloughed her skin to reveal herself as a blood hag. He signaled to myself and Chokobo.

I ran in through the front door and up the stairs, nearly knocking the poor secretary over. Chokobo desended and entered through a third floor window with Kek. We still had to make it up into the fourth floor, which had no windows. Smith managed to hold off the creature for long enough for the rest of us to arrive.

I chopped through the door's bolt with Clay's glaive and we made a sort of entry, but had difficulty manoevering into the room due to the confines of the stairway. We fought a pitched battle. At one point she dropped Kek with a volley of fiery rays, but Chokobo was able to revive him.

Over the course of the melee, she made some comments that led us to believe that she had been comissioned to translate the Druidic, but she had been unable to complete the work on account of not having access to a Gravemarked person. We conjectured that she would perform some kind of blood magic using the body of someone with the mark, to perform the translation. I suspect that she had been hoping to capture me and use me for this purpose, as my Mark seems to be more extensive than that of the other fellows, and is clearly visible in my arms, hands, even face.

At one point, she ignited into a blazing ball of fire, and flew about burning people. When we finally defeated her, the ball of fire exploded.

Smith was killed in the explosion. This came as a shock to all of us.

We found the secretary below, who seemed to be innocent of any part in the creature's plot. We showed her the creature and the cauldron room as evidence of our claims. She showed us where the important business papers were kept, and then left. We searched the place, collected the papers and any valuables we could find, as well as Smith's body, and made our way out of the building.

We recalled hearing tell that worshippers of Terra might be reborn into other bodies, emulating the cycle of life. We resolved that we would return to the Grave and seek the counsel of Una and the druids there on this topic. I recalled that Smith had mentioned at some point that the soul only lingers near the body for a certain amount of time, and so we would make our attempt with all speed.

The creature's papers revealed that she had indeed taken the comission, but provided no leads as to where we might find the Infernalist. We considered staking out the office, but it was unclear how long that might take, and we were concerned about getting Smith to the druids in time. We also had recovered the rubbings of the tablets, and removed the translator. The infernalists still had the original tablets, so it was quite possible that we had accomplished all that we could.

We decided to hire a ship and make for Godfall in the morning.

[Having thought about it some, I think we should also take the Hag's body, if it's still there in the morning or whenever we can get back there with a cart.]

cook, 3/29/15 16:32
Session 18 (3/14/15)

Before morning came, however, fate intervened. A man named Pietro found us that evening at our inn room. He indicated that he was a druidic acolyte acting as a courier on behalf of Roberti Grivano, Druid to Kings, and he was looking to deliver a message to Smith. We explained the situation, and he brought us to his master's grove, in the Dragon district. Grivano, through a rather grisly ritual (some of the details of which Grivano seemed strangly ignorant!), was able to revive Smith.

Grivano also relayed to us the message he had intended Pietro to convey -- Martin, the druid we had met earlier on our return from the Placid Mirror, had succeeded in identifying the Infernalist who had hired Moira the hag. The agent was called "Interloper Maedu", and had been operating in various guises in the Monarchies for some time. In Turano he was known as Fino Raelus, and was a leading explorer of the Stonefane. Grivano had attempted to capture the man, but he had escaped into the Stonefane. He explained that anyone following him into the Fane would be at a considerable disadvantage, as Maedu was as familiar as any man alive with its winding tunnels and secret dangers. And as such they had not sent anyone in yet, but were expecting us to go after him. [Events described in more detail in http://www.aurumvorax.com/forumViewThread.php?threadID=100 ]

I mentioned to Grivano that I thought someone should go and collect the Hag's corpse, in order to make it more difficult for the Infernalists to revive her in a manner similar to what he had done for Smith, and he said he would take care of it.

Smith, seemingly dazed and amnesic from his ordeal, asked the Druids several questions and they provided us with some explanations.
- There are 5 druidic orders who make up the council, separated by geography.
- (Supplemental information from Kek: "Druid" is a title reserved for the practitioners who have accomplished some deed and been inducted. There may be a limited number of these titles to go around, and everyone else is an Acolyte.)
- "Druid of Kings" is the title of Druids (not acolytes, but full Druids) who are located in the region of the Eastern Monarchies.
- "The Unbroken Circle" is the title of the druidic order in the Shattered Lands, and their acolytes are often called "seekers of the unbroken".
- Both Martin Adler and Grivano Roberti seemed to be under the impression that Smith is one of these shattered lands acolytes, who has ventured into the Monarchies on some holy quest given to him by his Druids, perhaps in order to try to earn the title of Druid. I believe they may have come to this conclusion based on his exotic mask, which has the look of those worn by some of the Shattered Lands chieftans. Smith's appearance and racial type are curiously indeterminate -- he may well be of shattered lands stock.
- "The Staff and Sickle" was an organization of druids and wizards founded after the First War, to hunt down servants of the Eight. But the organization fell apart over a thousand years ago, possibly as a result of recriminations when the Outer Kingdoms were discovered.

Grivano gave us three maps, composites of the uppermost three levels of the Stonefane pieced together from various sources and expeditions (some portions were from maps drawn by Maedu, but not the majority). The third level map was quite incomplete. The entrance we would be using was a large crack in the granite of the ceiling on the uppermost floor. The pervailing wisdom was that the upper levels were systematically abandoned "before whatever happened to the Stonefane happened" (i.e. before it mysteriously ceased to be a functioning Dwarven city).

The maps indicated the location of three sorcerous wards or traps, but Grivano warned us that there had been reports that the wards "moved around", and may not always be found in the same location. He did seem to think that the uppermost level should be relatively safe, though, as it had been trafficed by various expeditions sent by the Tyrant over the course of the past century. But expeditions sent to the second level sometimes disappeared, and groups sent below that seldom returned; the third level was expected to be quite dangerous.

He also provided us with significant material aid, in addition to the maps. He gave us:
- a 50' length of "Borza rope", silk rope which would (once) turn to iron on command (harnness 10, 30 hp). The rope would still function if cut, so we could use it in segments. (Kek is carrying it)
- A spider silk net, which would entangle enemies when thrown. (10' range incrememnt, bursts into a "Web" spell) (Chokobo)
- a silk robe, which on command would (once) protect the wearer in a restorative cocoon. (fast healing 5 for one minute, harness 8, 60 hp; after a minute it dissipates but until that point it would be fairly difficult to get back out.) (Smith)

Grivano's grove was home to many species of silk worms and spiders. It seemed to me that these represent his area of specialization, and that he must be instrumental in the recent DelMostran textile revolution.

The druids led us a ways northwest of the city, into the wooded hills. During this part of the journey through the wilderness, an enormous bear seemed to seek Smith out. I was initially alarmed and moved to intercept the beast, but it seemed subdued enough and Smith soon seemed to have it tamed. It accompanied us on our journey and proved invaluable in several instances.

When we arrived at our location, Grivano used some sort of potent earth magic to part a hill, revealing a some recent construction that looked like a mine shaft or a subterranean structure. To my inquiry, he said that Maedu had possessed equivalent magic, and had been able to enter in a similar fashion.

The Druid then opened a sturdy door with a key, and we descended into the earth through a stair that eventually let out into a natural cavern. He then led us to a granite wall, with a large crack (perhaps 4' at the widest -- a bit of a tight fit for the bear). My studies of such things are far from complete, but it looked to me like a stress fracture caused perhaps by the settling of the earth, rather than the result of a delving or an attack. Grivano said that he would post men at the entrance, to assist us should we flee in some emergency, and also to prevent Maedu from moving around us and leaving by this exit. (We supposed that he must know of a second exit and be making for that, but agreed that there was no harm in posting the guard.)

The Stonefane

Using some of the cold torches that Kek had recovered on an earlier venture, we entered the Stonefane. As we entered, we noted a pattern of airflow (up and out through the Crack), suggesting a second exit somewhere below.

The first level was clearly the work of the Dwarves at the height of their powers -- it was skillfully delved by expert craftsmen, the stones sturdy and immaculately fitted. In looking about a bit, we found no furnature or hardware, but did find various sockets and slots in the walls and floors. We supposed that earlier expeditions had stripped the place bare of everything including the fixtures. We also noted some curious depressions in the floor, as if intended to hold a large crate or something like that.

Smith had noticed some tracks in a dusty area near the crack, which he thought were likely made by Maedu about 48 hours previously. Unfortunately, we lost the trail once we got a bit away from the entrance and the floors reverted to bare stone. It seemed that Maedu had been heading toward the entrance to the second level, and so we made for that as well, following the map Grivano had provided.

Stonefane: 2nd Level
We descended toward the second level by way of an enormous staircase that spiraled around the central solid-stone core (indicated by a shaded square in the maps). We calculated that this took us about 150' further below the surface.

The second level was also somewhat stripped of fixtures. We wanted to make for the third level, and so we headed east in order to avoid the trap notation to the west. The corner rooms were enormous 100' cubes, with pillars in the corners and a curious 20' ledge around the bottom edge of the room, forming a shelf that we regarded as a good place for an ambush. We moved past apprehensively, but there was nothing waiting for us there.

The next room to the south was a hallway with four enormous doors, two of which were ajar. Our map indicated that these led to four parallel hallways that let out at the same location on the other end. Kek scouted ahead and reported a dozen or so "bestial dwarf creatures" in one of the hallways.

We attempted to bypass the creatures by using another of the hallways, but they must have heard us. The hallway was 40' wide and lined with empty pedestals (again, the place had been thoroughly stripped). When we were almost to the other way of our hallway, several of the creatures charged us through the door at the other end. I destroyed one of the creatures with a swordblow, but then another of them managed to get its claws into my arm. My body was numbed by a creeping chill, and I was unable to move. Chokobo and Smith's bear engaged them.

Another of the creatures similarly paralyzed Kek, just as we heard another large group of them approaching from behind. Smith caused the hallway behind to undergo a subtle but deadly transformation, growing blades that were very difficult to see. Of the dozen charging us from that direction, nine were disintegrated on the blades, and the other three retreated, hurling invective at us in what seemed to be an archaic form of the Dwarvish language. Chokobo immolated the creatures remaining on the other front, and Kek and I recovered after several seconds.

We made it the rest of the way to the downward stairwell without incident, and descended to the third level.

Stonefane: 3rd Level
We had been provided with an incomplete map of the level, showing a warded room, a few of the cubic rooms, and a mazelike system of tunnels that we took to be a living area. The cartographer had not attempted to map the tunnel system in detail. We could still feel the air moving up from below, and we decided to avoid the ward and the maze, and try to make for the area where we guessed the stairs to the next level would be.

As we descended to the third level, we observed that the temperature was increasing, the further we descended. It was not yet uncomfortably warm, but it was an interesting phenomenon. We exited the stairs into a large chamber, and noticed that the walls were broken at regular intervals by large alcoves (almost like doorless closets), and the floor contained several strange depressions, as if something should be there. We also noticed that the stone of the floor was different -- darker than the grey granite in the upper levels.

We traveled east, and then southeast, through two of the large cubical rooms with the 20' ledges. It grew increasingly warmer as we traveled, and we began to see a faint light in the tunnel ahead.

In the southeastern cubic room, we noticed that some of the depressions in the floor were occupied by pallets loaded with metal ingots. There were hundreds of pounds of bars. Smith used his Orb to scout ahead into the lit room, and reported that it did contain stairs heading down to a lower level. It also contained a large metal cube in each corner (a different metal in each corner), and a large cubic golden furnace on the south wall. This was the source of the light, and presumably the heat. We continued into the room.

The furnace room looked like it had been unspoiled by previous expeditions. We noticed a sort of rail track on each side of the stairs, which we suspected were for use by a cart or pallet carrying ore. The metal cubes were large and mysterious, and were engraved with something that was not writing. There were something like stone tables, along the walls. On one of these rested a beautifully crafted warhammer.

I went to examine the warhammer. It was very finely made, and seemed balanced for two-handed use. It looked somewhat unfinished, missing a handwrap and other finishing touches. It was entirely steel, and probably very old. I went to turn it over, to see if I could find the maker's mark.

Often in my life, it has been the case that I have acted without really thinking things through. It seems to be a character flaw of mine, and significantly limited my progress at the Academy. In my youth my uncle advised that this was natural, and would improve as I aged. It hasn't happened yet, but I will make every attempt to remedy it in the future.

As soon as my finger touched the hammer, a thunderous noise resonated throughout the chamber startling us all. The four metal cubes in the corners, plus the furnace, began to move and... reconfigure. The lines that we had taken to be strange engraving, were really seams. The cubes slid along and came apart on the seams, changing shape to resemble enormous humanoids. More disturbing than these, was the golden furnace. It underwent a similar transformation, but was even larger, and the flames in its belly surged to a roaring blaze as it moved.

The creatures began to advance on us. Smith had been examining the furnace, and was dangerously close to it. I unlimbered my glaive, which is well suited toward hacking off bits of metal, and charged the furnace creature. The bear once again proved itself fearless, attacking the furnace creature alongside me.

The furnace creature managed to grab me and shove me into the flames, gates slamming shut to keep me there. It was a rather unpleasant experience! I began hacking at the gate whilst burning. Through the steel latticed floor I was standing on, I could see molten metal lapping up from below. Kek and Chokobo fought another of the creatures on the other side of the room. Chokobo later related to me that the smaller creatures did not seem to have a great range of vision, and that he quickly found that fire had no effect, but that he was able to slow the creatures by chilling them with some concoction.

I managed to hack my way out through the bars, and the bear and I fought the creature while Kek and Chokobo fought the smaller ones. At one point, the furnace fired a great beam of fire at Kek. The bear and I brought down the furnace, knocking it on its side. Molten gold spilled out from within it, disturbingly blood-like. Chokobo and Kek had brought one down of the others, and we managed to finish off the remaining three in a fight that left us all bloodied.

We discussed our options. We did not want to descend further into the Stonefane's dangers in our current state, but we were unsure whether we wanted to travel back up to the surface. Kek went to look ahead, and returned quickly to warn us of an ambush of a half-dozen or so of the ghouls, hiding up on the 20' ledge in one of the cubic rooms.

Thus warned, we were able to approach rapidly and under cover of darkness, to invalidate most of their advantage. Unfortunately, there turned out to be 16 of them instead of 6, but we eventually defeated them. We had to run down a few who attempted to flee toward "the burrows", giving us reason to suspect that the mazelike tunnel system is in fact full of ghouls.

Now in even worse shape, we were doubly unexcited about the prospect of crossing back through the ghoul-infested area to try to reach the surface. We decided to hole up for a few hours and recuperate inside the rapidly cooling golden furnace, which we deemed would offer us concealment and some level of protection against the ghouls. We sealed the gates using a section of the Borza Rope, and tried to get some rest.

Edited by: cook on 3/30/15

cook, 5/24/17 18:35
Session 19 (5/20/17)

We were lucky to pass the night uneventfully, protected in the belly of that metal beast. When we had rested and tended our wounds as best we could, I severed the Borza rope with Clay's glaive, and we emerged.

We had two options in terms of where to explore next -- a hallway across from where we had entered, and a staircase descending into darkness. We carefully searched the dust on the floor in both directions, but could find no sign of our quarry. Chokobo noted that the faint breeze was coming from the stairs. Figuring that Maedu was headed for a second exit, and further figuring that the second exit was the source of the airflow, we decided to descend further.

Kek scouted ahead and reported a large sealed door about 40' down the stairs. We caught up and examined it, eventually finding a mechanism by which to open it. I also noted that the doors bore the emblem of the dwarvish king who ruled over the stonefane, all those ages ago. It seemed that the door and its mechanism had suffered some damage, likely as a result of the earth shifting when Terra expressed her wrath at the king's betrayal, and no longer seated quite correctly (accounting for the airflow).

We triggered the mechanism, and the door rolled slowly open with an unhealthy grating sound. After a brief discussion, we closed the door behind us in the hopes of preventing the ghouls from attacking us from behind, and descended further with Kek leading again.

Stonefane: 4th level

The stairs descended another 40', then widened into a long hallway. The 4th level appeared to have suffered more significant damage than the upper levels, with the hallway cracked and crumbled in several places. At least one of the cracks in the wall was large enough to fit through, but as the airflow was not coming from that crack, we passed it by. Smith noted that the dust on the floor was heavily disrupted in this area, as if an army of creatures (probably ghouls) had emerged from the crack and continued down the hallway, within the past day. We steeled ourselves and continued down the hall, again with Kek in the lead.

We eventually came to a branch in the tunnel. The breeze seemed to be coming from both branches, though more strongly from the right. Smith again searched for sign of Maedu, but couldn't find any tracks in the rightmost path. The ghoul tracks took the left path. Supposing that the ghouls may have been in pursuit of Maedu, we followed them to the left. The tunnel curved gradually back around the way we had come, and descended. We followed a few hundred feet behind Kek to give him the advantage of stealth. After traveling for several minutes, we began to hear echos ahead -- the sounds of battle.

Kek took flight and investigated, as the rest of us hastened to catch up. Kek's reports, conveyed to us by way of enspelled whispers, described the tunnel opening up into a large chamber in which "several hundred" ghouls were engaged with the Arcanfoe. His reports became less coherent as he was spotted and someone fired a beam of flame at him.

We thought it likely that this was Maedu the infernalist. Smith began layering magical protections against fire and weapons on us, as well as illuminating Clay's glaive so that I could better see what was going on, and we closed as quickly as we could. Kek reported that Maedu and three dwarves (possibly ghouls) were apart from the main battle, up on top of a 20' shelf above the mouth of the tunnel. Kek and Maedu had exchanged a few rounds of spell fire while were closing, and Maedu had used spells to ward himself against both Kek's electrical damage and his force missiles.

Having used my runed cloak to accelerate my speed, I reached the chamber first. Kek pointed out Maedu's location and enspelled me with magical flight, so I needn't attempt to climb the shelf. I ascended toward Maedu and saw him and his three companions. They were some manner of undead like the ghouls, but less feral and more intelligent. All three were armored, and one was wearing a tarnished crown -- the oathbreaking Dwarf King himself? I landed a glaive hit that would have felled a man on one of the King's guards, but it didn't go down.

I had managed to stay out of reach of their battleaxes, so their reprisal was limited. The King hit my glaive with a spell, and it began to grow painfully cold. Maedu hit me with a beam of fire and was nonplussed to see that it was entirely absorbed by Smith's ward. I closed on Maedu and tripped him but did not manage to connect with the blade. The Dwarf King used his spell to chill my mail, as well. His guards began climbing down the wall to engage with Smith and Chokobo, who had emerged from tunnel into the chamber. I felled one of them with a glaive swing as he descended, and damaged the other.

Smith again caused the floor near the army of ghouls to sprout spikes, in an attempt to contain them away from us. In any case, they seemed to remain focused on Arcanfoe and did not head toward us.

Perhaps realizing my intent to get to grips with him, Maedu uttered a spell and disappeared. Kek evoked a blast of glittering motes in an attempt to find Maedu, but evidently he had moved out of range. The king was temporarily blinded by the cloud and I tried to take advantage of it by hitting him, but my blows glanced off of his ancient armor. Chokobo set the bodyguard ghoul on fire with one of his concoctions, as it closed with him. It continued to burn, and went down a few seconds later.

Maedu reappeared, firing a poisoned quarrel at me from his mechanical crossbow. I was caught off guard, but the bolt was largely deflected by my lucky hat. His exasperation increased. I dropped my painfully cold glaive, grabbed Maedu, and pulled him into a chokehold, and flew him down toward Smith and Chokobo. At some point, he paralyzed Chokobo with a vicious bite.

The King descended as Kek rained spells down upon him. I had the upper hand on Maedu and felt one of his ribs give way as I continued to squeeze him, but the painful cold from my hauberk eventually caused me to lose consciousness and he was free.

Smith revived me with a spell a few moments later. Still in pain from the cold, I drank the potent curative elixir that Dean Augistin had provided us and recovered some of my strength, then, judging that the other fellows could hold off the King for a bit, I chased after Maedu who had retreated down the hallway a bit and was firing his crossbow at us. Smith had outlined him in cold magical flames that prevented him from becoming invisible again.

I caught Maedu and crushed the life out of him, then returned to engage the king. Between the lot of us, we eventually brought him down. As I struck the last blow with my bastard sword, he uttered a shout of grief and rage. His ice-cold breath seemed to shake the very walls, and blow the unlife from the ghouls. They dropped to the ground.

Stonefane: Arcanfoe

His foes suddenly destroyed, Arcanfoe approached us. "Kek! You finally showed up." He picked up the fallen ghoul-king's crown, crushed it with his bare hands, and threw it across the chamber. He gruffly thanked us for destroying the king (though he seemed mildly put out that we had "beat him to it"), and we coaxed him into conversation for perhaps an hour as Smith performed Terra's Last Rites on the corpses of the ghouls.

Once engaged, he turned out to be a very knowledgeable fellow, and we were lucky to have a chance to discuss the events of the Last War with a bit of living history -- his is quite the tale of dedication and duty. Interested readers are referred to Stonefane: a Tale of Oathbreaking and Commitment, Historical Transactions of the Royal Society. Of particularly sensitive interest, and hence not included in the Tale, we learned that the Iron Bastard's ruby was in fact a chip off of a large ruby inlaid in Arcanfoe's shield, which seemed possessed of a baleful enchantment that enabled him to more quickly and "thoroughly" dispose of his assailants without necessitating the use of his axe.

When Smith was finished attending to the dead, he joined the conversation for a bit and then thanked Arcanfoe for his enduring service to Terra, and offered our services in partial payment should he ever need them. (Like a proper druid! Perhaps his memory is returning...) Kek left our company to remain. The rest of us took our leave of Arcanfoe and departed with Maedu's body and his possessions, including the Druidic translations from the tablets. (Arcanfoe had indicated that we should refrain from looting the corpses of his kinsmen, and we acquiesced. And Smith had suggested that he could interrogate Maedu's corpse to learn details of where Maedu was taking the translations.)

Edited by: cook on 5/24/17

Cook's Journal - Session 1 - Session 2 - Session 3 - Session 4 - Session 5 - Session 6 - Session 7 - Session 8 - Session 9 - Session 10 - Session 11 (2/8/14) - Session 12 (3/21/14) - Session 13 (4/19/14) - Session 14 (8/23/2014) - Session 15 (11/8/2014) - Session 16 (12/13/14) - Session 17 (1/31/2015) - Session 18 (3/14/15) - Session 19 (5/20/17)