Perfectly Legitimate Adventuring Party

Dwarvish Fewmets
Up the Hills from Black Lake Port.

Holy water was such a blast last time, so I took advantage of our last day in Northport to stock up a little Let it not be said that Cogglefree Bridgewomble is a Halfling afraid to show his assets. Speaking of assets, I also got me a nice little pipe and a box of pipeweed in a waterproof container, and a silver dagger. (And a nice one it is at that! None of your Magic-Plated cheap rubbish for this little fellow!) Al complained bitterly about the weight of all the gold he was carrying, but declined my offer to spend it for him. I did, however, point him towards a reasonably-honest jeweller, who was able to convert it into a more portable form.

We hit Kym’s Harbour when it was getting ready for yet another festival – this time the Tournament of the Flowers. Apparently the idea is to dress up as a flower, and fight. Honestly, who decides on this crap? Well, we were just trying to restrain Mel who was going apeshit about the possibility of fighting, when a giant cactus bounced up to us and had to be carefully stopped from hugging us. I mean, those spikes were wicked, and not all of them were fake. Or soft. Or high enough that I wouldn’t be troubled by them.

Then the cactus starts squeaking at us. Yup, it’s Chirreep, in town with Arabella and Sir Agatha the Kind, who is running a team of junior knights and extras. We won’t go into the details, suffice to say that Maul has a rather large hat shaped like a lily leaf, complete with a plaster frog.

Ok, we will go into the details.

Maul was Lily of the Frogs, Al was a poisonous toadstool, Mel was a gladiolus (with Roderick as a Gladiolus Sword) and I was a pansy. And yes, I kept the costume. It was rather shiny, after all.

Barge-ff.bmpWe got passage on one of the nice barges heading up the Princes’ River towards Black Lake, because honestly, who’d ride when someone else can do the work? For 20 gold pieces, we had clean cabins, reasonable food and even shared a few drinks with the crew. Wallace seemed fine with the trip, and was able (with Bluefish) to help out occasionally in pulling the long barge up the river. Luckily, at this time of year, there’s not too much current heading down to make the trip more difficult. Those of us who knew the score made sure our armour was off for the trip (although I slept on mine. Wasn’t going to get any nasty grubby fingerprints on that lot). Maul, though, was surprisingly nervous for a cleric who is up close and funky with the weather. Turns out she’s not keen on going against a current. Weirdo.

Blackwater Port is a trading town just where the river from Venarik’s Deep runs into the lake. And boy does it run in – black as tar and twice as nasty. Wouldn’t want to get caught in that lot. Probably full of dwarf fewmets. The town sells things from up the mountains – gold, other metals, and something called flatgoat. It’s a speciality item from Venarik’s Deep, made from … goat.

I hope.

They import firewood, textiles (other than goat hair and goatskin) and foodstuffs (other than goat). We disembarked, just south of the town, and walked on it, looking for accommodation. There was a frontier style inn/trading post/etc owned by a guy called Vernon, who was willing to rent us a couple of rooms and didn’t even charge for killing off the fleas in them first. We hung around the inn for the evening, and I bought myself a warm cloak and some flatgoat after hearing how long the trip was going to be, and that even at this time of year, there was a good chance of snow. Some old guy in the inn warned us that travellers had been going missing, both newbies and more experienced ones – even the sorts that really shouldn’t be going missing because they knew what they were doing. We thanked him, and headed off to sleep.

Started up the mountains the next morning, when the light was just touching the tops of them from across the other side of the lake. It was quite steep and difficult, and took us until nearly lunchtime to get up to a rather large rock.

Only to spot that someone was waiting for us.

And his mate hiding up the side.

Pair of ugly looking types, big weapons, big teeth – and big friends. Seven all together. This was going to get NASTY.

The pair immediately up ahead threw javelins, but missed. I fired the old crossbow, but their armour was a bit tougher than I expected. So I hid behind Wallace – no point getting poked with holes when I didn’t need to. Maul cast a blessing on us, and Mel pulled out the longbow, while Al toughened herself up for the impending whack-fest.

Bugbears: “We’re going to kill you!”

Mel: “Well, we’ll make your asses into hats!”

Cogs: “So you’re going to make them into asshats?”

Javelins flew towards Mel and Maul, but clattered instead onto the rocks. I got my tanglefoot bag ready, and waited behind Wallace for them to get closer. Mel fired, a beautiful shot, and Al sent out the usually-trusty flaming sphere. Unfortunately, the front dude must have had “Avoid Flaming Sphere” going like crazy, because the blessed thing wouldn’t stick to him. The uglies charged – one of them straight onto my well-lobbed tanglefoot! But they decided Mel was the one to take out, and went for her. Luckily, they just bounced off her, but they must have confused her and Maul, because both of those worthy and large ladies swung their nasties and almost dropped them. Lots of hitting and swinging, but an awful lot of glancing blows and almost-hit-someone-elses. In fact, while he was stuck, my target was also the target of the flaming sphere, and if only I could remember that shimmy-wiggle he used to avoid it, I could give up the adventuring life and make my living dancing for money instead!

Then Maul made a huge and horrid noise at the bunch of them, and stunned the leader. Al took advantage of this to hit him hard, as one of the others actually landed a nasty blow on Maul. In fact, Maul and Al were taking a pile of damage, so I decided to use the stunned nature of the Leader dude to land a sneak attack on him.

Good – hit him spot on!

Bad – with the blunt end of the bolt, dammit! Barely scraped him!

I could have sworn it was a good shot, but no… Axes and swords and flaming spheres flew around, and slowly we managed to grind them down, bit by little bit. Finally, Al’s sphere latched onto one, just as Mel copped a couple of nasty hits. In fact, by this time, everyone else but me had been hit. S of course, I taunted a little.

Unfortunately the picture won’t embed here, but click on this for the sight I gave them.

Then suddenly Mel got her act together, charged at a guy who thought I’d make a nice target, and reduced him to mincemeat just in front of me. I was drenched in blood, and very glad I wasn’t wearing that nice pansy costume or any of my good robes. Al fired at the last guy, but copped a blow herself, so I fired off the trusty crossbow, and Mel got really pissed and went for them. Yup – more mincemeat.

We had the boss down but not dead, (I might have made sure of the others quietly), so we stood around him, and Maul used her positive energy to heal those of us who had taken a bit of damage (or a lot in Al’s case). Soon as the bugbear captain was awake, Maul hit him with a nice knockout blow, so we could take the time now to tie him up properly without danger of him dying.

We scored a masterwork morning star (which will do nicely for selling), a few gold pieces, and quite a few nice tanglefoot bags and thunderstones. Also an odd tube that magically makes things look a lot closer. Very pretty. We also got a nice sword, but I couldn’t make out what it was worth.

Then, question time. Maul pretended to cast “Zone of Truth” around the dude, and Al used her really scary look (which is really scary). The dude wouldn’t give out the info until that happened, but then he turned a funny shade of white and told Al that there were 9 other Bugbears, including the main boss, who exchanges the goods he gets from the travellers they kill for food and weapons from some human.

And then, we struck a problem. Maul wanted to release the bugbear. I wasn’t having a bit of it – last thing I wanted was some bugbear creeping up on us at night, or alerting the rest of his bunch to our presence. Al even offered to let the dude live – I worry about her sometimes. Maul wanted to know why I was so against her life-offer, and didn’t seem to understand that I care – I really do – when they call Wallace by the wrong name. Finally, Mel decided it by stating she didn’t want the bugbear creeping around either. The others capitulated, and I sent a crossbow bolt through his eye into his brain.

And then?

Al decided to sort out the other question, and took Wallace behind a rock to talk to him. Or something. I really worry about her sometimes. But apparently she can talk to animals once per day, so she asked Wallace what name he preferred.

And then came back to us with a huge grin, and said nothing more.

Beast.

650XP each

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I love to go a-wandering...
Val-dera-ha-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaaaaaaaargh

And so we headed on up the road, towards the mountain pass.

Thanks to excellent survival skills, we made it along the trail intact. Along the trail there are villages where they farm goats, do a bit of mining, and make some money off passing travellers (including us). We trekked our way from village to village (or at least a cabin when no village was available) for about a week. As we went on, the villages got fewer, and the only thing that got flatter was the goat.

As we approached the highest point in the pass, we saw some nasty weather coming in. Finding ourselves some overhanging rock, we took shelter, and some light snow started to fall. While camped high in the pass for the night (with most of the party suffering minor hypothermia), Maul heard something sounding like stealthy steps… and waked us all with a cheery song.

Trouble had approached.

Two ice trolls. They hit hard. We fought back, and Mel did a decent amount of damage, right up to the point when she threw Roderick over a cliff… “aaaaaaaaYIPaaaaaaaaaaaaaYIPaaaaaaaaaaaaa”. Poor Roderick. Poor Mel!

Between Alchemists Fire and Flaming Sphere, we knocked off one of the ice trolls, then the other. Maul and a (devastated) Mel were weapon-sharing which limited how much they could do, but the fire was highly effective. After prevailing in that fight, and an expedition to retrieve Roderick (“wetwieve Wodewick!”) – who was much the worse for wear even after some healing from Maul, we proceeded along the mountain track (our handy haversack on our back) and found the remains of a dwarf, wearing a probably-religious symbol (about which Maul had no idea, on account of having zero Knowledge: Religion).

On our way along the road the next day, we encountered some dwarves with the same symbol on them that was on the body we found. After telling them what we’d found, including the part of a dwarf body, they sent the youngest of their group – Denerik – to escort us to the granite tower. It seems there used to be a giant in the area whom the dwarves kept fed, and who in exchange kept the trolls at bay… but the giant went missing a couple of years back and the trolls have been more of a problem since.

Around midday, we crested a ridge and could see the granite tower in the distance (like a sturdy, sprawling castle)… but even so we were still a day and a half away from it. It doesn’t look especially tall until you realise how wide it is.

Towards evening on that day, we arrived at an under-construction outpost, with a dwarvish crew working on building it. It was rather like a small fortress, where a couple of dozen people could hole up and be well defended… and indeed it was a good place to spend the night, uneventfully.

By about midday on the second day, we were starting to get to the outer defences of the granite tower. As we had our lunch, Maul and Cog notice something in the sky… a sack… tumbling end over end. We took cover (just to be on the safe side), and it landed with a BLART. Seems like it had been full of rock dust… and apparently that’s the trebuchet crews practising.

We then made our way closer to the ramparts where the trebuchets are being put away, and saw ballistae on gymballed mounts. Cog expressed some genuine interest in studying engineering there. Arriving in the shadow of the fortress, we began to be able to see more details of its construction. The stonework is unusual – house-sized blocks of stone which lock together. There were quite a few dwarves coming and going, apparently headed onto various trade routes. We approached the main gates, where Denerik vouched for us. We saw many guards around wearing heavy plate and the like, all with the insignia of Taureg (god of protection and the forge). Denerik took us to a priest, and told the priest what we had found.

Denerik then led us through the castle to the forges. Although the Tower looks big and imposing from the outside, inside it feels very claustrophobic. Like there is a considerable amount of missing space. Are there secret tunnels or passages within the walls? Or are the walls just absurdly thick? And in either case, why?

One of the dwarven workers took Roderick and examined him: clearly he will need some repair. We offered them the dwarven weapons and the troll axes, and in return they offered to do the repair for free over a couple of days. In the mean time, we’ll stay in the merchant quarters.

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Bugbears gonna bug
Et tu Vernon?

Having “murdered” our “prisoner” (I say, “finished off that bastard who kebabbed me”), we camped on the way to the cave to recover, then headed to the bugbear cave.

Cog scouted ahead and spotted the sentries, went sneaking off and then … dropped something? Anyway, suddenly they knew where we were, and the fight was on. Six bugbears including their boss, but we held our own and eventually had all the grunts dead and the boss at our mercy.

The boss was very intimidated (Al’s good at that), and told us he had a contact named Vernon who comes out from the town at night and trades with them. Wait… “Vernon”? The shopkeeper in the town!

We decided to camp out and wait for other bugbears or Vernon to show up. Neither did on the first night, but on the second night a posse of folk from the town showed up led by none other than Vernon… who completely denied his involvement, and instead accused us of being in league with the bugbears and responsible for killing travellers. Given that travellers had been going missing for some time before we arrived (and presumably, since we headed into the mountains, no more travellers had gone missing), that’s a pretty flimsy accusation, but never underestimate the stupidity of people in large numbers.

Some substantial debate was joined, including a zone of truth (against which Vernon appears to have saved), but finally the winning argument appears to have been the following line from Al: “we don’t want to fight, we’ve told you the truth, but you can see by looking around what we have done to nine bugbears so far. We will fight you if we must. Some of you might survive, or you might not. Your choice.” Intimidate roll: 27.

So, we are enemies of the town now, but they’ll let us continue on our way. Vernon is most unhappy, but I think the townsfolk may be not quite so trusting of him any more. Good luck with that trading post, Vernon.

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Old Man River

We sailed for Kym’s Harbour, and found a flower tournament-festival-thing on. Mel was absolutely thrilled about the idea of combining flowers and fighting, and made puppy (Roderick?) eyes at the rest of us until we agree to take part. As luck would have it, a cactus came bouncing up to us… Chirreep! It seems Lady Sir Agatha the Kind was running a team – the Tulips – and we were invited along as extras. We were given wooden swords, then kitted out in costumes: Mel became a gladiolus, Cog a pansy, Al a poisonous toadstool, and Maul a water lily… and thus we elegantly combined tournament fighting, flower costumes and typecasting. Actually, it was all quite good fun.

And Cog bought his costume, so no-one will ever again accuse Cog of not being a pansy.

We then went searching for a boat to take us upstream. A ride on a pig boat would have cost just 10gp, but we decided to spring the extra 10gp for the upgrade to a wool barge (drawn by cart-horses) – well worthwhile for the week or so it took to go upstream. Hoatie Wallace and Bluefish helped pull the barge too.

Along the way we spent much of the time watching countryside which might have been scenic apart from the muddy trudged-up paths of the cart-horses (although Maul spent most of her time just looking at the river itself). In the evenings, we learned some of the songs of the vulgar boatmen (not all of them, I’m sure, but there were a few recurring themes).

While on the boat, we also spoke with the folks about the region we were headed to. Rumour has it that there can be dangers in the passes, and there has been some particular trouble lately although the boatmen couldn’t give us any specifics. At last, we reached the black lake (amidst some geological debate about what makes it black).

Trade-wise, the mountains export mountains (in small convenient chunks) and occasionally flatgoat (if they can find a buyer); meanwhile, they import food, firewood and textiles. So you have to ask yourself one question: “Do I have wood and grain for ore?” Well do ya, punk?

We got off the barge, saddled up the mounts and walked on to Blackwater Port – a town with a distinct frontier town feel to it. Arriving in town, we elected to stay in the Trading Post, run by a scrawny guy named Vernon. He set us up a couple of rooms (pretty basic, but no fleas), and his wife will made us a meal. We also learned from an old bloke (named Jonathan) that some travellers have gone missing recently… but it seems no-one had any idea how.

So the next morning, off we trudged. Then, as we approached a rather steep and difficult bit, we noticed something duck down and vanish. We tried calling out, but with no response. And then… something else. And then… fight! A bunch of ugly creatures popped out from behind cover – about 7 foot tall, milky eyes. Bugbears. Four of them. Pretty nasty. Al got hit a lot and went down, but was healed back up a bit. One of the bugbears got stuck in tanglefoot and still somehow managed to repeatedly dodge a flaming sphere sitting on top of it (presumably with a bugbear version of Extreme Twister™)

The leader of the group we managed to subdue without killing (at least, at first… Al had to be persuaded to hold back). He told us – under some duress – that Ugrug is their boss, and meets periodically with a guy who takes what they steal from travellers and keeps them supplied with weapons. He asked to be set free in exchange for telling us how to sneak up on the cave, but we decided (over Maul’s protestations) that it was too big a risk. Cog executed him.

In an unrelated coda to the day’s activities, it occurred to the group that Al has the ability to speak with animals, and could therefore ask the donkey directly whether he prefers “Wallace” or “Hoatie”. So she asked. And received an answer. Which greatly amused Al, and will be kept secret from the other members of the party until it is of greatest advantage to Al to reveal it.

Next time: We’ll head towards the bugbear cave, and set up camp along the way. Time to rest and prepare!

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Taking the Polish off
Because just one Imp can ruin your day.

The boat trip over to The Archives in the Dragon was nice and uneventful, just the way I like it. And sure enough, once we were there, it was a simple walk straight up from the ship to the entrance to the Archives. Strange things abounded, though – there were some odd creatures circling overhead, and a bunch of stone statues near the entrance.

Mel “What happens if I touch their boobies?”
Everyone else: “NO!”

(I made sure my Holy Water Honkerburgers were well tucked in – I’m getting worried that Mel might have … intentions towards the bouncers. Weirdo.)

We opened the door and walked up to the front desk, where Arnold the Archivist took our chit, and handed it to Marian the Apprentice. Within – goodness, it must have been well under an hour – she had returned with a set of three metal talismans, engraved 72B, 83 A.2 and 43.F. We were told to go to Wing E, Floor 2, Room 5, and look inside at the book cabinets – but only to touch the ones matching our metal talismans (talismen?) as to touch the others would result in … trouble. We would only be allowed to take what was in those particular sets of shelves, and any attempt to open the wrong cabinets or even the wrong rooms would result in the Guardians becoming active. Arnold made it abundantly clear that the person holding the token must be the one to take the items.

We thanked them both, and headed through to the second grey block where Wing E could be found. Mel commented that the Guardians here were female, and had less clothing than the male ones. Personally, I had no intention of finding out if they were more or less well protected as a result. We had no problem finding the correct block, floor and door, and opened it carefully.

imp.jpgAnd were immediately met by a pair of the most disgusting little Imps I have ever seen! The room itself was full of cabinets, as far as the eye could see, and the oddest slithering sound – I’m pretty good at spotting things, but Maul was the one to see the metallic snake slithering around on the floor. The imps reckoned it had been 10 years since anyone had been in there, but when we asked “so who was it?”, the little coprolites refused to answer. They did, however, tell us that the metallic snake was a Guardian, and was also pretty good at keeping the rats down. Lovely.

So we went to check the cabinets, each of which had a little shiny plaque that told which one it was.

Correction: each of which had a little shiny plaque that should have told which one it was. The tiny turds had gone and polished the plaques long enough that most of them were now very shiny – and completely blank. Maul managed to spot one that wasn’t completely rubbed off, and we managed to decipher it as 25H. It wasn’t, however, in position 25. Nor would our little lumps of excrement tell us which number the last cabinet was.

We counted all the cabinets, and could work out no correlation between their expected number and their position. There were over 50 cabinets between the door and 25H, and while we did manage to work out that another one was 101, there were a couple of hundred cabinets between them. Smegging Imps.

We trooped back downstairs to Arnold, to ask if there was any way to tell which number was which. He was able to say that they were in order, but that 1A and 1B might be followed by 2, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4Di and 4Dii. He also warned us that the Guardian(s) would increase their reactions with each infraction of the “no touching” rules, so we could expect a very small punishment that then increased as the misdemeanors continued. “The Imps,” he told us, “would burn the place down if they weren’t geased. Their names are Menebanus and Visigax.”

So we trooped back up to the room, and decided that as our numbers were between 25 and 101, we would probably find the ones we sought between them. As the mechanister of the party, I volunteered to try the next cabinet after 25H. Well, that was a mistake. A zap on the fingers, and the snakes immediately started showing an interest in this little piece of appetiser. That wasn’t going to work.

Then to give her the credit, Mel had an idea that more than made up for her comments about boobies earlier.

“Let’s stick the token to an Imp’s butt, and then touch the cabinets with it!”

She might have said “stick the token IN an imp’s butt”, but who am I to complain about little details like that?

So she grabbed an Imp, and that’s when things started to get … interesting. In a not-good way.

bearded_devil_by_prodigyduck-d5e0g3x.jpgAs soon as she laid hands on the pestilent poop, we got company. A large and ugly company, with a pointy stabby weapon, sharp claws, and a neckbeard of doom. I had a pretty good idea that if one of us were unlucky enough to get grabbed by both claws at once, well, we’d be in a deep load of dung. So I resolved to try and avoid this where possible. It also emanated a stench that was a mixture of worse-than-imp and death. Or maybe that was just my fear.

Mel passed the Imp to Al, who started intimidating the little beast. Maul, in her guise as She-who-is-actually-good, yelled “Come at me, foul beast!” and shook her weapons in a fearful manner. I shot the crossbow at it, and did a damned good shot – but the bloody bolt bounced right off its hide and didn’t do a thing! Except piss him off, which was probably not such a good idea.

He swung the glaive (the aforementioned pointy stabby weapon), and we were getting hit hard! Roderick had a go at him, did some damage, so I then tried doing the sneak attach from the back. It might not damage, but might help for a flank.

The devil hit Mel, who hacked back again with Roderick (who was farting with excitement. Honestly, the smell…) and then I remembered – devil. Evil. I have Holy Water. RIGHT! I hefted one of the bags out, and threw it to hit the creature very nicely indeed. And my guess was right – the water sizzled on it like acid, creating quite a welt and distracting it from Mel.

Straight onto me.

It dropped its glaive, and swung at me. One claw connected, so I got out the other Holy Water baggie, and prepared to throw it. And just as I did, Mel hit it hard, Al sent an acid splash (which hit the cabinet behind us), and the bloody balloon collapsed in my hand. A few drops got on the devil, but not a lot. It didn’t like that, though.

Did I mention before that I thought getting hit by both claws at once would be a bad thing? I got the chance to find out. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

At this point, things went rather black, but apparently our combined efforts were enough to de-summon the Devil, and it left us before causing me any more hurt. To be honest, I don’t think I could have taken much more – I was one sore little halfling after that lot. To add to the confusion, the Guardian snake took offence to Al’s little acid splash, and we decided to give everything a chance to cool down, while Maul made excellent use of our new Wand of Healing, and her own spells, and brought me back to the land of the living-and-proud-of-it. And luckily, no-one had thought to check out my underwear while I was out of it. That could have been awkward.

Mel re-attached the token to the Imp in a most forceful and … indelicate manner. And we all applauded her dedication to the cause. The Imp tried to protest that the action was undignified, but none of us cared. And sure enough, the tokenned-imp-butt applied to the cabinets did not alert the Guardians, and we were able to open the Cabinets and retrieve the papers, changing tokens each time. The other Imp was taking a great deal of schadenfreude at the sufferings of its workmate, and we were starting to enjoy the proceedings a lot more.

We retrieved the last set of papers just as a Mage came in to check how we were going. We removed the last token from the Imp’s behind, threw the little git back into the room and headed down to the front desk to check out. The boat wasn’t due back until the next day, so we settled down in the Archives to sleep overnight and repair some of the damage we’d endured. Floriane’s Workbooks notes themselves were fairly boring, with entries from Kristian, Horthas and Floriane. Apparently, though, Kristian went to Venerak’s Venarik’s Deep, made a contact, then went away. We took the papers to Wenton and asked around about the mysterious Captain Bartholomew, but he seems to be staying clear.

Also, the word around is that Venerak’s Venarik’s Deep is something to do with the dragons. But by the time we got back to the mainland, all I wanted was a week’s sleep. It seems some nasty sort of Devil Chills got inside me, and it took days before I was back to my old self again. I blame them for my bad showing at the local pub, where I was trying to hone my storytelling skills in front of a live crowd. Instead, I …

No, you can see it for yourself The following is a form of recording of the transcript of my story. I think I shall have to put more points into the art.

Cog’s Performance Art – The Devil You Know…

600 xp CLW 48

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Noah's Archives
Just like checking out a library book...

We had an uneventful boat ride to the island where the archives are held – imaginatively named “Archive Island” – (although it seems Roderick gets seasick… don’t ask). The boat would be back to pick us up the following day.

Most of the island was covered in big brutalist grey buildings. There were winged things circling high overhead, but we couldn’t see what they were. We could also see several large stone statues standing around near the steps… but they looked more carved than petrified (that’s reassuring… right?).

We presented our chit to Arnold in the front office, who confirmed where we’re from, and that we’re just looking for Bestiary stuff. Marian (the apprentice) went to look up the catalog for the materials we were looking for, then returned with three metal talismans, and archive “coordinates” to match: 72B, 83A.2, 43F.

We were helpfully given quite specific instructions, to ensure that our retrieval of the records in question would go smoothly:

“You want wing E, floor 2, room 5. Take these tokens, you’ll find the books are all in cabinets; each cabinet will have a reference on the door. You go to the cabinet and take only the references that are on the tokens. The person holding the tokens is the only one who can access the materials. Don’t go exploring, don’t pester the guardians, return here when you have what we need."

Easy, right?

So we got directions to wing E, and headed on through. We passed a number of stone figures and a very bored-looking guard who directed us up the stairs. “Fifth door on the left.”

Inside the building were several smaller metal guardians and stone guardians. The door to room 5 was a large heavy oak door. Cog had the tokens at that point, so he opened the door. So far, so good. Hovering in front of us as we entered were some little imp-y creatures. They said it had been 10 years since the last people came in. We also heard slithery noises on the floor. Maul spotted something that looked like a medium-sized metal snake, which the imps told us was yet another guardian.

Confident in the directions we had received, we went to find the cabinets… but as it turned out, all the numbers had been polished completely off. Maul found a couple that hadn’t quite vanished, but not nearly enough for us to deduce the location of the correct cabinets. At this point, we returned to Arnold, who drew us up a map of the general numbering scheme, but on its own that would not be sufficient to determine the correct number of each cabinet, even with some reference points. But he also told us that the guardians’ response to (for example) a single erroneous attempt to access a cabinet, would be proportionate. He also mentioned that the imps would know every cabinet.

We returned to the room, and tried to persuade the imps to help us identify the appropriate cabinet… utterly without success.

By this point, we were getting pretty frustrated by the imps gleeful passive-aggression – they were clearly getting more enjoyment out of our quandary than anything else had brought them in some time. Well, we’ll see about that, you little hovering bastards.

We grabbed one, and attached the first token to its butt so that we could use the hapless imp to test cabinets without setting off the guardians (much to the amusement of the other imp)… but before we got very far a devil appeared out of thin air (apparently a guardian of the imps themselves), and it managed to do us some significant damage before Mel succeeded in cutting it to pieces. Along the way, Al accidentally splashed one of the cabinets with an acidic ray, and ended up with an attempted bite from one of the snakes, but it settled down when it became clear Al wasn’t trying to break into anything.

After dealing with its protector, we handed the imp back to Mel, and Mel continued with the imp-butt test of the cabinets. There were no adverse reactions from the guardians, but after a while we heard a “click”, followed it up with the appropriate token-wrangling, and picked up the contents of that cabinet. The imp then decided there was less embarrassment in its future if it would cooperate somewhat, and directed us to the next cabinet, and the next. Thank you, imp – that’s really all we wanted in the first place!

As we collected the last lot, the door to the room opened, and a mage appeared in the doorway looking to find out what was going on. We explained the chain of events, and the mage was satisfied with our explanations, mentioning that “we don’t want to upset the guardians around here.” Yeah, no kidding.

We checked out the books appropriately, and were given a room to sleep in (which we did, but with watches… call us paranoid).

While waiting for the boat the next day, we had a look through the notes. The notes are in three different sets of handwriting – mostly Floriane’s, with older stuff from a mage called Kristian, and another from a student named Horthus. There’s a lot about plants and magical theory. It does mention that Kristian made a trip to the mainland a while back and visited a place called Venarik’s Deep. There are also references to him making a contact there (who or what?) and coming away with information (what?).

The boat arrived, and we had uneventful journey back. We then took the notes to Wenton and made another appointment to see Fizzleton about the contents of those archives. It will be a few days.

In the mean time we asked around about Venarik’s Deep and Captain Bartholomey. The captain has some contacts in the city, but word is he’s just been through and is probably staying clear for a while. Venarik’s Deep was harder to track down, but eventually (in the Squatting Dragon) we found a dwarf who knew the name – Venarik was one of the old dragon slayers, after whom Venstra is named. The Deep are the caverns under the fortress in Venstra. Well, that sounds delightful and safe!

While we were milling around… Cog started getting chills, and suddenly became considerably weaker than usual (and that’s saying something… says the gnome with Str 8). Maul figured out that Cog must have “devil chills”. This turned out to be a tough one to shake, and Cog kept losing strength while Maul tried to heal him. After no success with Maul’s skill, we decided to take Cog to a professional. This was a reassuring exercise for Maul, as even the pro failed twice before finally succeeding in curing Cog’s chills.

Next time, we will return to the Bestiary to find out what all those archives had to say.

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Just Rewards for the Just - and Us!
Wherein we finally get our hands on some cash

Mistress Ann informed us that the person who sails those ships is Captain Bartholomew, who pays the guards to look the other way when he’s bringing through the not-so-legitimate goods and goodies. He’s known to hang around the Dragon Isles.

We then took the lovely loot that we liberated from the room under the castle, and headed to see Lady Elamnea, who is known for her taste in the old and beautiful. The bone flute was undoubtedly carved from a finger bone from the effing mucking ginormous great dragon who once lived where Northport now stands, and the scale is one of many that were given from his body to those present at his demise. The pendant was just beautiful, and worth quite a bit.

Between Her Ladyship and the locals, we managed to gain quite a lot of cash in return for our stuff. In fact, Lady Elamnea still owes us 600gp and a favour, and I know which of those is the more valuable!

To be honest, we were all a bit tired after that fight in what we now think is one of the original vaults built after the dragon was killed, so all we really did was to collect the goods, (and yay I paid off a great deal of the debts I owe!), and check back with Fizzleton Gummidge. He told us about Lady Floriane, Argenias Lat and a bit about Letticea, and he has given us permission so that we can check The Archives of the Magic School for further information on Floriane (to see if we can work out where she’s gone). This archive is, of course, on the same Dragon Isles where Captain Bartholomew hangs out.

Who would have thought it?

We collected the authorisation from Wenton, and headed back to the Inn for an early night. Tomorrow – back on the boats!

XP 200. CLW 200

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The Shipping News

Mistress Ann had some information for us about the ship: apparently, the ship we are interested in is called the Filthy Lucre, under the command of one Captain Bartholomey. It runs the southern passage, and some guards were paid off on behalf of the Captain not to report it to the authorities. If we’re interested in the cargo, we should try to find Captain Bartholomey.

As for the other business (i.e. various portions of a defeated opponents anatomy independently animating and TRYING TO KILL US): if during our travels we hear about the cult of Zon-Kuthon, we are to let Mistress Ann know. They have, it seems, been around as a fringe cult for a long time.

After these morsels of information, Mistress Ann’s men returned us to the ladders upward, removed our hoods, and so we headed back up to the city.

We visited Skrark to get his opinion on the value of the loot we’d brought up. He noticed that some of the coins are exceedingly old – old enough that they must be authentic Dragon Horde™ from the original dragon of the Northport area, Arakathrax. The dragon slayers came about 400 years ago, did their thing, and founded Northport, unlocking trade between the mainland and the dragon isles.

As for the rest of our items, the only insight Skrark had to offer is that he suspected the flute was made from a dragon bone.

We then headed to the Bestiary to talk with someone about the dragon items. One wizard there believed that the shield scale belonged to Arakathrax. As for the flute: it’s a finger or toe bone of the dragon. This is of some significance – residual magic helps keep things together.

The horn we had identified at Khan Academy. In the end, the “expert” identified it by blowing the thing and plunging us all, gorilla-style, into the mist: it’s a Horn of Fog.

Then it was off to see Lady Elamnea to see if she would like to buy any of our collectible artifacts. Indeed she would! A considerable amount for the flute, shield and pendant. 2000gp, and she will owe us a further 600gp and a favour.

We stocked up on bags of tanglefoot and alchemist’s fire and holy water for Cog (who now resembled a nursing mother cat), as well as a wand of cure light wounds (for those hard to reach areas times when our priest is all out of healing whatsit), then headed to the inn for the night. In a way that should be entirely unremarkable (but isn’t), the beer was drinkable and no-one tried to murder us in the night. The next morning, we headed to our appointment with Fizzleton (who, like all good experts, was running about half an hour late).

We mentioned Lady Floriane, who had been a student at the school, and he agreed to look through the records with us, but first… we will need to retrieve the records from their archive. The archive is on an island about 30 miles off shore. Anything we should know about on that island? Part of the island is used as a breeding facility, but it is separated from the archives. We should be safe if we confine ourselves to the archives. We pick up the relevant paperwork from Wenton. “Deliver this to the registrar when we get there”.

What could possibly go wrong?

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What manner of horror is this?
No, seriously, that's just gross. And I've dissolved corpses with acid.

Resting back at the inn at the end of the day, there was a knock on our door, which we opened to find a shifty looking fellow, inquiring after us. “Lady from the undercity has a business proposition” – ahh… Mistress Ann.

We agreed to follow said shifty-looking fellow, and he led us down and around and down and around, into the Undercity. We were then met by other goons with hoods – we know the drill after all – and, blindfolded, were led along wandering paths designed to confuse and disorient, and finally into a stone-floored building.

Mistress Ann (or at least, her familiar voice) greeted us. It seems she has some information about certain cargo that has come this way. If a captain is feeling suitably daring, a captain might not sail through Northport to get to the sea, but instead sail to the south and through a dangerous passage as the tide is going out. This is a very risky pursuit, and would only happen if the ship and/or cargo wanted to avoid the notice of workers or authorities in Northport. Apparently some such cargo has passed through only recently. Cog asked who it was, and Mistress Ann – never one to give something for nothing – said that she’d need us to do her a favour before she would tell us.

The favour: it seems Mistress Ann has some troublesome “competition” in the Undercity, who had recently taken three of her men (Fred, George and Ron… and possibly their second cousin, Trademark Infringement). She wants us to find them all (competition and her men), and bring them back… alive if possible.

And so we were led back out, deposited at a place by the goons, had our hoods taken off and were given directions. “A little shack about 500 yards that way”. Cog – ever the one to have an ear to the ground – was vaguely aware that a lot of the disreputable, thievey typs in the city have arrangements with Mistress Ann, but there are rumours that another faction may be trying to move in on the territory.

As we walked towards the shack, we found some freshly turned over garbage, which had attracted the attention of some large roaches. FIGHT. Glitch. Everyone a bit gnawed, but otherwise good.

And so we arrived at the hovel in question, garbage piled high around it, pretty much just a lean-to. As we discussed our options, someone shot at Al. Al turn around, fired off a spell, and put them both to sleep. We then entered the hovel, tied them up, and asked them what’s going on. They couldn’t tell us much, except that they were posted there by a “boss, downstairs”.

We made several abortive attempts to get the slab covering the entrance open, then finally succeeded with Cog’s expert engineering assistance. This led us into a dank narrow corridor, which went on about 30 feet before it opened into a room. There were some glowing beads on the wall, and some old stuff on the floor. And there on the floor also were three bodies, all of which were missing their hands (!). And as we entered the room, the bodies started rising to their feet.

Zombies. Damn zombies. They hit us pretty hard, but then… glitched. Rest in pieces, Fred, George & Ron.

Just before we opened the door, someone perceptive noticed a nasty looking spike by the handle, with some poison on it. We worked around that and opened the door. Inside, we found a skeleton with glowing eyes. “You seek to enter?"

It then posed us two riddles. The first we have preserved for posterity (and because Cog used a shiny point to have it repeated while we wrote it down), while the second is lost to memory (no shiny point, no time to write it down):

“Tree I am, but from my forest strayed
Leafless branches clad in leaves men made
Fruitless, I bear every kind of fruit
Rootless, held to earth by iron root”

“A ship at anchor”

Insert second riddle here…

“The Moon”

The skeleton remained silent, but we were pretty certain we had solved both riddles correctly. And not in a “Klaatu… Verata… Ni*coughcoughcough*” kind of way, either.

Cog went in to search the room. There was some old, old decoration on the wall, which looked like it had been painted. And there was another door ahead, but no other activity.

We inspected the second door (“once almost spiked with poison, twice shy”) – but no sign of traps. Cog still used a rag to open the door, but nothing seemed amiss.

The next room looked like a very old library. Out of the corner of our eye, we saw scuttling around the edge of the room (spiders? Must be spiders. Keep an eye out for spiders.)… and at the back of the room, a sinister looking guy in black robes, who stood up and turned towards us. And thus began our most protracted, and certainly by far our most disgusting, fight so far.

Shots fired, then Mel charged. She managed to deliver a powerful hit to the guy in robes, but then six things jumped on her from the shelves. Lots of legs. “Forty-eight?” “Thirty”. That makes… five each. Not legs. Fingers. Hands. Zombie hands. Formerly attached to Fred, George and Ron. Groooooossssssss. They all attacked, and tried to grapple Mel… one of them successfully.

Maul managed to take out four of them (and help the rest of us) with a channel positive energy. Just two hands remained.

Nasty boss-dude then cast some kind of defensive spell. (Sanctuary, it turns out)

Mel successfully got the grappling hand off her throat, but it had another go at her. A palpable hit, but no grapple. I swear this was starting to look like a bad slapstick act.

Al was mostly useless for the time being, with two failed attempts to disrupt undead.

Boss-dude cast a spiritual weapon, which smacked away at Maul, but not doing much damage, while the boss himself casts more spells. Meanwhile, both Cog and Maul (and shortly afterwards, Mel) had attempted to attack the boss-dude, and – all failing their will saves – found themselves unable to take any action to harm him.

Seeing an opening, the boss-dude ran for the door… and Al – finally making herself useful – made the will save against Sanctuary and made the trip check to take him down as he tried to run past her. Maul ran past both to the door on the far side of the room, and slammed it shut.

And then… Darkness. This caused even more confusion, and out of the darkness came devastating blasts of Channel Negative Energy. We were all badly wounded, but Mel grappled, Cog ran away (to live to fight…), Maul stormed, and the boss was almost down. Al managed a rather spectacular feat of missing with every single acidic ray until the very last – acidic ray number 8 – which finally took the bad guy down once and for all. Or so we thought.

LOOT! Lots of stuff. Half plate, dragon scale shield, horn (something magic), and a flute. Put it all in the haversack and we’ll sort it out later.

As we made our way back out… ew. The guys we had left tied up in the shack had been eaten by cockroaches while we fought inside.

We dragged the unconscious boss guy out of the hovel, and began to take him back to the rendezvous. But then… he started writhing violently, rippling… and then the skin ripped and started pulling away from his body. He was quite literally going to pieces.

The skin was first to liberate itself, and leapt at Maul, grappling her.

The rest of the body looked somewhat like a skeleton trying to break free of what was left. And no sooner had we dispatched the skeleton and the skin, than the muscles too started to go for us, and we had to obliterate them too.

Bringing out a bag that we didn’t much care about, we scraped what was left of the boss into the sack, and rang the bell for Mistress Ann’s goons, who dutifully found us, blindfolded us, and returned us to Mistress Ann.

We told Mistress Ann the story of everything that had happened, and in response she seemed both somewhat unsurprised (really? Because we just brought you a dripping bag of butchered body parts that independently animated themselves quite recently), and quite satisfied with what we had to tell her. In exchange, she will tell us what we wish to know.

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So some of us really can hit the side of a barn.
The shorter you are, the higher you fly.

We were honestly pretty pooped out by that fight, so while I wanted to head on, the others called for a break and a bit of a snooze, especially for Al and Maul (who needed to boost the spells before we hit anything else). So we split the snoozing, and Mel and I spent a few hours listening to weird creaking noises in the topiary. I wouldn’t have put it past it for some mucking great Jolly Green Giant type to come out, but nothing really happened. Poked Maul and Es, then rolled myself into my blanket and tried to grab some shut-eye. Not a hope. No sooner had my dreams got to the good bit with the gorgeous silk dress when a pile of yelling woke me up to find Es and Maul whacking the hedge and being dragged into it. Even the grass was against us!

Maul managed to haul Es out of it, but those thorns were nasty! I yelled for people to use fire (Es has a rather nifty wand of that type) as I shot into the mass of branches. Said branches grabbed again for Es, but Maul threw herself in front and got caught instead. Al had taken a while to wake up, but was now casting a pile of genuinely helpful spells – Maul started growing faster than a baby orc introduced to solid food, and the critter (some sort of malicious plant) copped a weakening spell that finally helped us take it out. To be honest, Maul looked pretty well done in, and only just managed to cure herself, then the rest of us that needed it (Es in particular looked fairly battered).

And seriously, I was pretty sure that if we copped one more nasty attack, we were going to be a pile of dead things, and much as I admire this lot, I was not going to heroically stand around and get turned into hobbit-burger. There’s only so much a small thing like me can take! The others seemed to feel I was being unreasonable, but there are sayings about dead lions and live dogs, and if given the choice, I’m for the barking.

We settled down for the rest of the night, which luckily passed without further incident. Es plucked some of the vine bits to make a tea with, and then we headed out of the hedge maze into the open fields beyond.

There, we saw a house, a barn, and a pile of places where there used to be trees. Es was very upset by this, and started cursing damned Dryad-killers and filthy types using Science to try and change Nature. In front of the barn was a cart, complete with an ox, and as we walked across the field, we discovered the ox wasn’t the only living being there. A lady gnome came out of the barn, took one look at us, and ran back in. Then, oh great – the sounds of spellcasting going on.

I had no intentions of being front and centre when the fun began, so I ran around the side and hauled out the old trusty crossbow. Maul decided to cover the door with a foggy cloud everywhere, and Al made a pile of weird sounds that sounded just like a horde of ravenous starving strangers were trying to make their way in, (trying to fool the wretched gnome). I saw the door open (just over the top of the cloud), but I couldn’t tell if something was coming out until Mel threw a dagger into the fog, and that little miss came shooting UP AND OUT, firing as she came! Seriously – she was up in the air firing down at us, and some people don’t have a lot in the way of ranged weapons! I shot back – damned well, I should add, but the git had added a shield of some sort to her magical repertoire, and the arrow just bounced off it. Stuff this – I ran around the side of the barn and into the open door. No, I wasn’t entirely stupid – had a good look around inside before reloading the crossbow.

The gnome cast a couple of scorching rays at Mel. One hit her, the other hit the ox which bellowed and started getting away. Poor Mel, trying to get into the fog cloud, stood on a rake and the handle hit her eye. Al also headed into the barn, as did the others, and Mel and Maul guarded the door while we checked around to see if there was anything a) dangerous b) interesting or c) valuable. Then once more we heard that bloody gnome’s voice starting up the spellcasting. Mel and Maul ran out to try and stop her, but we’d misjudged her actions – the barn doors slammed shut and weren’t going to open for anyone for a while!

I dived for cover, figuring there might be something in the barn we missed. I was right – a small back door! Suddenly there was a WOOF from the roof – not Roderick, but some sort of fire spell that caught fairly quickly, and made exiting the barn a fairly high priority. Al threw her acid spell at the door. I decided that the hinges were close enough in make and model to the old Temple’s side door ones, and gave them the old Secret Fast Exit gesture. it worked. The door flew open, I fell out, and rolled aside just as a crossbow bolt hit my lovely new armour. Luckily, the new armour was up to the challenge, and the bolt bounced off.

And it was on for young and old! She fired at me (honestly, just because I hit her) and the shot was more than just a bolt – a pile of green burning fire flared over my chest. I shot back again, and grazed her, then Al tried the blowgun with the centipede poison. Es made a mighty shot which then did hit the side of the barn. The gnome unleashed some sort of spell which got Maul and felled her – but only asleep. I swear that half-orc snores worse than Al! Speaking of the mighty Al, she managed to make her way to me, and I dipped my next bolt in her centipede poison and readied it. The bloody gnome was firing off the magic missiles AND the filthy language, and infuriated Mel so hard that she grabbed one of her rarely-used spears, and with the power of a woman wronged behind it, flung it at the gnome with such power! It hit the gnome hard, then fell back to the ground, while I unleashed the bolt and hit. In fact, we were all suddenly in the groove, firing and hitting brilliantly (although Mel’s next spear throw lacked the accuracy of her first).

I was worried that the gnome would have another nasty spell to cast, so held off firing until she did something. And then, after a few seconds, I realised she wasn’t doing anything – she was hit with acid, sling shots and a spear, but she was just hanging there, in mid-air, bleeding… We’d killed her! Mel’s mighty spear throw had done for the gnome! Hooray! Mel pulled her down on top of me, and we took stock of our situation.

And there, in the house, was a letter

So we headed back to Kym’s Harbour, and off to Northport to get things identified and to continue our search for Argenius Lat.

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