Hearts of Stone

Episode 18: Jailbreak
Team Robot, Glitterhaegen, 26 May 216

Team Robot (Boris, Silmaria, Ssh'ta, The Fox, X7-09), minus Ssh'ta and plus Valore, awakens to find itself naked in filthy dungeon cells in an unknown location. There is one other prisoner: Yalanchi, who looks as if he was not in good shape to begin with, and then someone beat him within an inch of his life. He informs them that he is a member of the League of Nine, one of the two great criminal gangs of Glitterhaegen, and that he believes they are the captives of the other one, known as the Shadowmen, which is rumoured to work with the Prince of Shadows; however, the people beating him have been more interested in asking questions than answering them.

Escaping the cells is clearly the first priority. Valore's wing bash, Zadok's heat bolt, and Vor's ill-equipped attempt at lockpicking fail, and the Fox's wild charge straight into the iron bars of the cell door gains him nothing but bruises; but Boris assumes the form of a mouse and strolls out into the corridor between the cells. At length, a massive half-orc enters the corridor and stops before Silmaria's cell, appraising her. (Team Robot will never learn that his name is Zorba.)

"Yes," he opines, "You are as lovely as they said. I can see why Himself wants you back."

"No!" cries Silmaria, instinctively. Thinking more clearly, she goes on: "It's so very dark in this cell, I'm scared. Will you… Will you hold my hand?" Silmaria is as good-looking as it is possible to be, and Zorba (who bears her no particular ill will) grumpily acquiesces.

"What about me?" calls Valore, who is in all honesty not as good-looking but still better than average. "I'm in here with two naked men, can you move me to another cell?" For whatever reason, Zorba agrees, but first summons another three equally large and muscular guards in case of tricks. Boris, meanwhile, has scampered across to X7-09's cell, finding that worthy dormant and powered down. Hearing the guards return, he runs back into his cell – in plain sight of the guards, but a mouse in a dungeon cell block is nothing out of the ordinary, and they ignore him.

The guards form up around Valore's cell in case of trouble, and order Zadok and Vor to the back of the cell before opening it so that Valore can emerge. However, her first action on doing so is to buffet Zorba in the face with one of her wings (which following something weird happening under Dwardel earlier are now made of steel). Boris supports her attack by casting Confusion, whereupon a horde of chittering, fluffy, long-clawed mice fall on the guards, shaking two of them. Zadok fires another heat Bolt at Zorba, to no effect.

Boris runs back to X7-09's cell and picks the lock with long, mousey claws. One of the shaken guards wanders into range of the Fox, who stealthily relieves him of his keys. Boris moves on to Yalanchi's cell, but breaks a fingernail and collapses, howling in anguish.

The guards mob Valore, whose fighting skill is (or shortly will be) legendary, and they can't land a blow on her. Villen, the Fox's squire, opens the door of their cell, and the two make a break for it, running for the exit through the scene of chaos – Silmaria is taunting Zorba, Boris is trying to pick locks, and Valore is punching Zorba repeatedly, making him flash like a torch every time she hits him.

Villen thinks better of abandoning his friends for a complete stranger (remember, everyone forgets the Fox at midnight) and runs back, unlocking Silmaria's cell door and Yalanchi's; but while he is freeing Yalanchi, Zorba stabs him from behind, killing him outright. Boris calls on the Lich King to raise his friend, and the Lich King does so to an extent, raising him as a zombie.

"Braaaiiins," says Villen by way of thanks. Zorba yells at his men to cut the fugitives off at the exit (and also the knees, if possible), and runs Zadok through on the basis that he's having no luck getting past Valore's wing parries, and Zadok is after all a spellcaster. Villen considers attacking someone, but there are these lovely fresh brains leaking onto the floor right next to him, so he digs in.

The jailers form up at the top of the stairs leading out of the cell block, and the Fox runs at them, calling on the Archmage for assistance and invoking his own memory-erasing powers. The jailers promptly forget who they are and what they are doing, allowing the party to herd their unresisting former captors into a cell and lock them up.

They emerge into a well-lit corridor, with sunlight streaming in from the north end. Silmaria and Boris run to the daylight, and bask in it while waiting for the others. Valore and the Fox find a door leading off the corridor into another small complex; they manage to kill a couple more guards before those worthies can react, and arm themselves with longswords whose owners have no further use for them. Vor joins them, and they stealthily move deeper into the group of rooms, finding their own gear piled up on one room and the last remaining group of jailers, who have alas been alerted by the commotion outside and are ready for them, not that it helps; all but one are cut down within seconds, and the survivor mortally wounds Vor as he hacks his way free and makes a run for the exit. However, Boris has been using Healing powers to regrow his broken nail and expand his body hair to cover his nakedness, and now casts Entangle to wrap the fleeing foe in bonds formed by luxurious armpit hair. This slows him enough for Valore to catch him and stab him to death, before moving back into the cell block and butchering the surviving, if now mentally deficient, opponents – as well as the zombie formerly known as Villen.

Rummaging through their lair, Valore discovers trinkets and coin to the value of 80 silver. Yalanchi thanks them for releasing him and melts into the crowd; Team Robot gears up and moves out, the Fox vowing to track down Yalanchi, who he wanted to question further.

Some hours later, X7-09 reboots and finds himself alone in an abandoned set of dungeon cells, surrounded by the corpses of former travelling companions and presumed members of the Shadowmen. Phlegmatic as ever, he picks up Pascal the chamaeleon and lumbers out into Glitterhaegen.

View
Episode 17: Arachnophobia
Under Dwardel, 25 May 216

Previously, on Hearts of Stone…

Half the party descended into the "Archmage's secret facility" under Dwardel town hall via a one-way teleporter, and found a small dungeon complex carved into a stalactite sticking down into an apparently bottomless chasm. Venturing outside it into a cavern, they found intelligent arachnids (who want to capture X7-09 and abduct him for unspeakable experiments) negotiating with drow (who want to kill Boris). Boris has broken the handle on one of the drawbridges, leaving the way open for intruders to enter. Valore is about to be overrun by invisible arachnids. X7-09 has caused the chasm to begin flooding with molten lava. Now, the rest of the party arrives to help. What could possibly go wrong?


Hayes, Kowalski and Ssh'ta brave the one-way teleporter and arrive to help just as the massed bands of drow, giant spiders, and invisible sentient giant spiders charge the party's redoubt. The party forms a defensive line at one end of the closest drawbridge as invisible spiders move across it at speed, barging past Balthazar Rook who manages somehow not to get knocked off. Another invisible spider knocks Valore into the chasm, but as she can fly, this is merely a temporary setback.

Boris runs to the fray, and bumps into what appears to be an invisible giant spider in plate mail. Unwilling to engage in melee, he casts Pummel and a blast of strange-smelling gas emerges from him at speed (the less said about that, the better) and rattles those on the bridge. Meanwhile there is an exchange going on between X7-09 and the sentient spiders in Spidertalk. Ssh'ta emerges from a side door onto a turret with a commanding view of the battlefield, stations Caliban to protect him from spider assault, and begins methodically cutting down drow and spiders with arrows – this occupies him for the rest of the fight. Valore emerges from the chasm and starts rolling up the drow flank – she is one of the party's three combat monsters, the others being Soreth and X7-09.

A spider barges past Balthazar again, and he kills it with his rapier. Feeling outnumbered, he drops his buckler and draws a second blade – the buckler falls into the rising lava. Caliban growls intimidatingly at the spiders, who ignore him. Silmaria sings a love song in Spidertalk, which she thinks should get the spiders frisky, but as the sentient ones are invisible she can't tell if it worked.

The invisible plate-armoured sentient giant spider (trust me, it's even worse than they know) casts Fear, and NPCs scatter in all directions while Balthazar is Shaken, and permanently marked by his terror; his hair turns white. At this point he reveals that he has a teleport amulet on loan from the Archmage, and his plan is to throw it at the boss spider so that she is teleported away. The rest of the party point out forcefully that this leaves them stranded underground with no way back out, and suggest an alternative plan of using the amulet to escape their predicament.

X7-09 pushes his two cultist allies into the lava as sacrifices as they advance around the outside of the stalactite, and calls on the Diabolist for aid, specifically the ability to breathe poisonous fumes on the approaching spiders (and Balthazar too, incidentally). However, either he is distracted by the subject of his phobia coming to drag him off to a life of pain and suffering, or the Diabolist thinks it's funnier to leave him to it, and no help is forthcoming.

Hayes lofts a turnip at the drow patrol leader, who the party recognise as their earlier opponent, but misses. Balthazar invokes the aid of the Archmage to erase the spider leader's memory, causing some sort of protective amulet on its thorax to shatter but having no other effect. Kowalski backs away from the spiders at the door and casts Deflect, Boris casts Fear (illusory ghost zombie snakes), X7-09 shouts that he will never be taken alive and Valore negotiates swiftly with the drow – they attacked, she retaliated, how about they call it even?

X7-09 ducks back around the corner of the stalactite and runs back inside, pursued by spiders, and slams the door behind him. The drow leader yells at her surviving troops to meet up at the rally point, and teleports out as they run for their riding spiders. The sentient spiders start banging on the doors. The party regroup around Balthazar, who sucessfully calls on the Archmage for more help – and all are teleported away.

But there is a catch. Something goes wrong with the evocation; the spiders, who are in the area of effect, are nowhere to be seen. Kowalski, Ssh'ta, Caliban and Hayes shimmer into existence in the basement of Dwardel town hall. The others are… somewhere else…

View
Episode 16: Under Dwardel
Dwardel, 25 May 216

The party makes its way back to Dwardel, and Boris, Silmaria, "Balthazar Rook", Valore and X7-09 stay in town to deal with some unfinished business (namely, the Archmage's alleged secret facility below the town hall) while the others hurry on to Marblehall to brief Countess Casila on the suspected orcish invasion.

Finding Amberlith's pub abuzz with some sort of feast, our heroes enquire what they might have missed, and learn the following:

1 A few days ago there was a minor earthquake near Marblehall. No-one was hurt, and property damage was limited to a few broken plates.

2 The Archmage's weather control station near Concord, known as Boltstrike Pillar due to the frequent lightning strikes it attracted, has vanished, leaving behind a large crater and no clues to what happened. Nearby areas of the Midland Sea are noticeably rougher than before.

3 Lucius, Dwardel's alchemist, has been unmasked as a werewolf by legendary adventurers the Vengeful Company; he was responsible for numerous disappearances and dismemberments around the town, and has been hanged. His last words were: "And I would've gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for you meddling adventurers!" The Vengeful Company is now being celebrated with a week-long party.

Attempting to ingratiate themselves, our heroes are patronised by the Vengeful Company, whose attitude is that they are adorable but they should leave adventuring to the professionals. Boris, unable to enter because of his suddenly-acquired aversion to alcohol, stands outside scratching at the windows like a dog locked out of the house. X7-09 takes this opportunity to sneak up behind him with a rope, intending to forcibly wash and manicure him, but is frightened off by a hideous apparition, of which Boris will later claim ignorance.

Declining to venture into the dungeon at night, the group waits until dawn, when they are met at the town hall by X7-09's cultist friends (who were at the party last night incognito, and arranged this rendezvous there). Showing the mayor their badges to establish that they work for Casila, they gain entrance to the town hall, its basement, and finally to a locked room at one end of the basement which contains a one-way teleporter (helpfully marked as such). Everyone except Balthazar and his squire Villain descend more or less straightaway, and the other two catch up after a few moments, by which time the main body has explored a small complex and started a fight with a couple of drow. Boris by this stage has transformed into an unusually furry mouse and attempts to entangle a drow with his exceedingly long and fluffy fur. One drow is quickly despatched, but the other breaks free of the fur, dodges past her assailants, boots open a door, and flees across a drawbridge into a large underground cavern populated with mushrooms, drow, giant spider mounts, and – some other arachnids.

Valore flies out, grabs the fleeing drow, and dives into a chasm surrounding the initial complex (she will emerge shortly, alone, with wings now made of metal, and make a superhero landing on the other side of the chasm). X7-09 is terrified as he realises that the "some other arachnids" are of special interest; he explains that their leader is none other than the spider mage who created him, and experimented on him, causing him great pain. He appears shaken by her appearance. Balthazar cuts off their dead foe's head and marches onto the drawbridge, declaiming "For my master, the Archmage!" as he casts it into the chasm. He recognises the leader of the drow as the same one who tried to kidnap Casila a couple of months ago. Boris advances and casts fear on the arachnids, causing three of them to flee. As he has assumed elven form again, he is spotted by the drow leader, who calls out in Undercommon: "It's Boris! Kill him!"

Meanwhile Silmaria and X7-09's cultist friends are exploring the other exits from the complex, finding a rubble-filled stairway where some previous visitor brought the roof down, and two other drawbridges (one of which will become inoperable after Boris tries using the controls to operate it and they come off in his hand).

X7-09 climbs a ladder onto one of the complex's turrets and casts a quick eye over the cavern terrain, seeing that the complex is carved into a giant stalactite which descends into a pit, and that stairways round the outside will give drow and spiders access now that one of the drawbridges is jammed in the "down" position. Concerned that the arachnids can now enter the complex, X7-09 calls on the Diabolist for help, and molten lava begins to fill the chasm surrounding the stalactite complex at an alarming rate, forming a sort of moat. Valor is perturbed when X7-09's creator turns invisible, and even more perturbed when disturbances in the dust and debris covering the cavern floor suggest that a group of four invisible giant spiders are charging her. More drow pop up from behind assorted mushrooms and open fire with bows, to no immediate effect.

And people say there's nothing to do in Dwardel.

View
Episode 15: Let's Hunt Orc!
Near Anvil Road, 21 May 216

Orc wyvern riders return Balthazr, Hayes, and Soreth to the party; the three decline to say where they have been or what they have been doing, and the orcs leave without comment.

Shortly, the party notices smoke rising in the distance, and decide to investigate. Several hours later they find the ruins of a thoroughly burned and looted village,  and tracks leading off to the northeast, tracks of orcs and… something else, something with very big feet, maybe 8-10 feet tall if it is humanoid. They leave their henchmen and Valore to bury the bodies and guard their loot cart, and follow the tracks; in due course they discover a dwarf-built tower in the woods, occupied by orcs, who spot them from an observation turret as they are making no attempt at stealth.

There is a brief discussion of what the next step should be. Balthazar points out that if the orcs are allowed to kill and burn indiscriminately, they will be back shortly with friends; his view is that their patron the Countess Casila would want the orcs killed and made an example of. Others favour a gentler approach based on persuading or charming the orcs into leaving. Kowalski points out that they essentially have a choice between slaying the orcs and lying to Casila on their return, but the softer approach wins the day.

Hayes now approaches the guard orcs and asks to speak to their leader, who it turns out is called Nailripper. While those two are in discussion, the outcome of which has yet to be shared with the group, the rest of the party settles in, Silmaria leading the orcs in drinking songs and X7-09 challenging the orcs to arm wrestling matches and similar games. The mystery of the large footprints is solved as the orcs have four ogres with them. The party also notes a winch-operated lift, presumably leading to an abandoned dwarf complex underground.

At length a goblin runs up, and demands to see the orc leader. When admitted, he says he has new orders from the Orc Lord: The group is to return to orc territory at once, since the Orc Lord is not yet ready to invade the Empire. Nailripper and several other orcs hack him to pieces in frustration, but then Nailripper yells at his troops to grab their gear and follow him.

Unfortunately for the orcs, they bunch up in their struggle to get out of the tower, and this proves too tempting for Hayes, who has been searching the tower and has found a blast potion. He hurls that at the struggling mass of orcs and ogres, and inflicts a phenomenal amount of damage, killing all but two – one orc who was outside the blast radius, and Nailripper, who staggers out of the flames singed and heavily wounded. Ssh'ta, Caliban, Kowalski and Balthazar fall on him, and Boris attempts to entangle him by using sorcery to extend a writhing mass of his own armpit hair into the melee, but after a few blows the attackers notice that Soreth is powering up her breath weapon and duck for cover as she breathes fire across the two survivors, incinerating the orc trooper. Nailripper, astonishingly, survives despite Kowalski magically reducing his vigour to make him an easier target. This is to no avail, however, as Hayes throws a turnip at his head, killing him.

The party loot the bodies and the tower, finding a variety of orc trail rations and water bottles, some $440 in cash and readily fenceable items, and a ferociously sharp and well-made longsword.

"We should get this identified," says X7-09.

"No need for that," says the sword. "I am Spiterazor, forged for the purpose of killing dark elves. Who among you is worthy to bear me?"

View
Episode 14: Wyvern Riders
Near the Anvil Road, 20 May 216

The party quickly loots the bodies of the fallen Glitterhaegen marines, and retires to their camp to wait for dawn. After some debate on how to track flying creatures in the dark, a combination of Soreth's extraordinary sense of smell and Ssh'ta's invocation of the High Druid so that he could talk to the trees allows the group to track the wyvern (for that is what it was) to a nearby farmstead.

Here, they find a group of ten wyvern mounts, watched over by a handful of orcs lazing near a lakeside gazebo. While X7-09 stealthily approaches the wyverns, Hayes openly approaches the leading orc (recognisable by his plate corselet) and challenges him to a game of cards.

"Who are you and what do you want?" asks the orc, who unusually for an orc isn't shooting first and asking questions later.

"That's a very good question," answers Hayes, who as an amnesiac doesn't know either answer. "What are you doing here?"

The orc explains that he is looking for another orc named Fangrot. Hayes offers the services of his burgeoning intelligence network, and says he did see an orc while looting a living dungeon some weeks ago. This intrigues the orc greatly, but after a short discussion of the dungeon it becomes clear they are talking about different orcs. Meanwhile Soreth moves up to another wyvern and notices there are more orcs in the farmstead; simultaneously Ssh'ta observes one of them watching him from cover and realises the party has been outflanked.

Valore invokes an icon and calls "Here boy!" to the gazebo, which uproots itself and lumbers towards her, barging aside the orc leader. Ignoring the mayhem to follow, Valore, his followers, Kowalski and others clamber into the now-mobile gazebo and help themselves to its supply of cucumber water. Zadok the priest blesses the gazebo, which becomes less dreadful and shinier.

Meanwhile, X7-09 leaps from cover onto the back of the nearest wyvern with a shout of "YEEEE HAAAA!". The wyvern promptly bucks and throws X7-09 into a pile of rocks nearby, causing its companions to take flight and scatter over the lake.

"Is that dwarf-forged with you?" the orc asks Hayes.

"No," says Hayes, sitting on a rock. "Look, we can talk later, you'd better sort this out."

Balthazar Rook, who unlike X7-09 can actually ride flying mounts, charges from cover and leaps into the saddle.

"That's my wyvern," says the orc leader.

"It's my wyvern now!" shouts Balthazar.

"Your funeral," shrugs the orc, as the wyvern erupts into a blinding ball of claws, teeth and poisonous stinger. He calls sharp orders in orcish, and the other wyverns circle around, heading for the farmstead to pick up their riders.

Balthazar invokes his own icon connection, and his fox mask causes the orc and the wyvern to associate him with their most pleasant memories.

"Come with me if you want to live," the orc leader says to Hayes. Hayes, Soreth and Balthazar are offered seats on orc-ridden wyverns and disappear into the sky, leaving the rest of the group somewhat perplexed.

View
Episode 13: The Death of Matteus Fulmens
Anvil Road, 19 May 216

The 18th of May 216 found our heroes deciding on their next move, as they have a choice of three quests before them.

First, they could investigate the disappearances and dismemberments in and around Dwardel. No-one seemed especially interested in that.

Second, they could investigate the Archmage's secret facility under the town hall. A couple of people wanted to look into this, but the consensus was that it isn't going anywhere and they can always come back to it later.

Third, they could investigate rumours of orcish spies encroaching on the Artalin estate. This has the advantage that their patron, Countess Casila, has specifically asked them to do it, and it won the vote by a tidy margin.

So, having collected rumours from travellers and barflies, and decided where they thought the orc spies were, they gathered up their numerous followers, horses, and a cart, and set off early on the 19th along the dwarven trading route towards Anvil. The day passed uneventfully, but during the second watch of the night, Vor (one of Valore's followers) noticed a large batlike creature with a long tail circling the party's camp before heading off to the north-east. At roughly the same time, Villen (Balthazar's squire) noticed movement in the bushes to the south. They party woke up, tooled up, and after a brief debate set off in pursuit of the latter, elves to the fore to take advantage of their superior night vision, Boris temporarily assuming the form of an owl.

This led them to a small ruined building in the woods just off the road, wherein flickering light from a fire could be seen, and low voices in discussion could be heard. New party member Aditi and Ssh'ta stealthily approached the nearest door with the intention of eavesdropping, but this plan was rendering obsolete by Soreth breaking down the door and discharging her breath weapon into whoever and whatever was inside.

This proved to be Decanus Matteus Fulmens of the Duke of Glitterhaegen's Marines and the remains of his patrol, who have been following the party for several weeks pending instructions from their commander. Three marines were instantly incinerated by Soreth's fiery breath, and seconds later two were smashed into a bloody pulp by Hayes' ferocious charge and shield bash. Aditi slipped in behind them and tried to stab Matteus himself, while Valore dropped a brick on him from her vantage point 20 feet in the air above.

With all his men obviously dead, and a conviction that this was not going to end well for him, Matteus set off a Blast spell in the middle of the room. Only Balthazar was seriously wounded, although several others were blown through the doors. Matteus took advantage of this to flee the building, only to be caught in a Fear spell from Boris, who had flanked him moving up through the woods in owl form, which impelled him to even faster flight. Sadly for him, Hayes charged from the building and tackled him, while Boris summoned a female construct and Ssh'ta also joined in the melee. Low on mana and badly injured, Matteus still put up a good fight, but alone against a party of seventeen he stood no chance once pinned, and after battering him unconscious, Hayes slit his throat.

As far as the party knows, there are no surviving witnesses.

View
Interlude 2: Cultists and Griffins and Bears, Oh My
26th April 216 to 17 May 216, Marblehall

Meanwhile, near Dwardel…

CULTISTS

On his first night in the area, X7-09 is approached after dark, during his sleep cycle, by two bald men in red, hooded robes.

"You see!" hisses one. "It's him, the one from the dream!"

"Shall I paint him red, then kill him?" whispers the other.

"Nay!" says the first. "Wake him! He will help us destroy the Archmage! Then shall the way be clear to our final victory!"

X7-09 wakes, and enquires how the destruction of the Archmage may be accomplished.

"The Archmage has a secret facility under the Town Hall! Help us destroy it and surely the Archmage shall be discomfited!" says one robed figure.

"The dream was clear about that!" agrees the other. "Well, relatively clear. I think. Although I'm not sure why gherkins are involved."

"You doubt the veracity of the Sacred Gherkins?"

"Never! I simply fail to understand their purpose."

"Perhaps it is not for the likes of us to understand."

AND GRIFFINS

After arriving at Dwardel, Balthazar stows his helmet and shield with the cart and, flying low with Lord Fluffington III, heads to the forest where he throws some meat into the middle of the road. Balthazar then sneaks up a tree to watch, leaving Fluffy in the middle of the road with a letter and a collar tied to his leg.

At length, Decanus Matteus Fulmens and his men approach cautiously through the gathering dusk. They approach the griffin with care and produce equipment; the griffin suffers them to muzzle and leash it, clearly they are familiar to it. Matteus recovers the letter and reads it aloud to his men.

"It's addressed to the Duke of Glitterhaegen," he begins. "Blah blah blah… You have my deepest apologies, a mistake occurred as my master Alron Stormwatcher told me to leave the city in the company of his companions using the mount waiting near your estate. However, I instead found the remains of my horse being devoured by a griffin with this collar. Assuming this was now my ride I set off in haste; it was only upon arriving in Dwardel that my master contacted me, making me aware of the error, and Fluffington must have gotten loose. I apologize and request your forgiveness. Yours Faithfully, Sir Balthazar Rook of Baron Stormwatcher's personal guard."

"What do you think, Decanus?" asks one of the marines. The Decanus frowns.

"We're not being paid to think," he says at length. "Caius, you know how to ride this thing, yes?" Caius nods. "Very well, take it back to the Duke; deliver the letter and collar to him as well. Explain to him what's happened and ask for further orders; one of us will be here in a week's time to guide you to wherever we are by then. We will continue to follow this group until ordered otherwise – I don't know what His Grace wants us to do, and once we lose their trail we'll never pick them up again."

"Sir," Caius acknowledges with a salute. He mounts the griffin and takes off.

"Galen," says the Decanus, "Find us a camp site, close enough to scout this out in the morning and far enough away that whoever left the griffin doesn't find us. No fire tonight, marines, but we'll make up for it at the next village, I promise."

Balthazar waits until he is certain they've gone, then slides carefully from the tree and makes his way back to town.

AND BEARS

Further away, Hayes and Soreth have made camp. Hayes is now sporting a bearskin cloak with the head still attached, which he is wearing as a hat. He is thoughtfully chewing a raw turnip; Soreth has lit a fire with her breath weapon – one perhaps a little larger than intended – and is now biting pieces off a small, cute, furry, and still struggling forest creature.

A bear approaches, the gold chain of an envoy swinging about its neck. It rears up on its hind legs at a respectful distance and speaks.

"Good day traveller, are you the one known as Hayes? I have been sent as a messenger by the High Druid herself, to ask what may be given in exchange for the life of the Elf that wronged you. He is of interest to the High Druid and carries a power she would rather stay in this world. Is there any information the Druid can give you about herself or the Elf that would sway your thinking?"

Hayes grins and takes another bite of his turnip, considering his next move.

OH MY

In the Library: Valore is reading the Book of the Creed, looking for references to things like hidden relics and whatnot, and also sends a letter to the main church of the Creed asking for a new priest for Dwardel. Boris and Pascal (X7-09’s chamaeleon, who is clearly more than he seems) are looking at the magic books left by previous generations of Artalins. Silmaria is learning Martyn Artalin’s improbably large collection of bawdy drinking songs, while Boris looks at the pictures and drools.

Everyone notices that Martyn spends most of his time in the Library. In conversation with him they learn that Marblehall is said to be haunted; during the plague which ended the 12th Age, part of the family walled themselves up to avoid infection – and starved to death, refusing to trust the wandering cleric who came to heal them because he was of lowly birth. Their ghosts still haunt the east wing.

Martyn remembers Casila before she was kidnapped as "a lovely young girl, very studious, perhaps a bit odd – likely because she spent more time with Amberlith than was seemly for one of her station, and picked up wild ideas".

The Library itself has a wide range of books, but focuses on dwarven culture, Imperial history, geology, and salacious bardic songs – that last focus is due to Martyn.

By virtue of being in and around the Library a lot, and noticing what books go in and out of the Library when, the above party members notice that Casila is a voracious reader whose favourite topics are ancient history, arcane magical matters, and architecture.

In the estate grounds: The Fox aquires a warhorse and barding, then spends his time riding around the local area and inspecting the Artalins' residence. He learns that the locals believe that there are orcs spying on them, no doubt finding out the lay of the land for the inevitable invasion by the Orc Lord, who is somewhere in the northern wilderness. Dour men in travel-stained cloaks sitting in shadowy corners of taverns swear this is so. Casila asks the group to conduct a sweep of the area and verify this; bringing a couple of orcs in for interrogation would be ideal…

View
Episode 12: Winter Ale
Dwardel and Marblehall, 24-26 April 216.

The party is now in one of the safest areas in the Dragon Empire; House Artalin is not famous for its warriors or wizards, but it is immensely wealthy and powerful, and if anyone messes with it, the Archmage and the Emperor come down on them like a ton of bricks.

Scouting around the town, the adventurers learn the following:

1. The local dwarven brewery is haunted.

2. There has been a rash of disappearances in and around the town. Some of the missing are found, dismembered as if by some large beast; some are not.

3. There is some sort of secret facility below the town hall. Some say the Archmage sealed it up during a visit 50-60 years ago to contain subterranean monsters; some say he also created the monsters. X7-09 maintains his sources confirm the latter and that they also say the monsters are responsible for the disappearances.

After settling in, X7-09, Valore, Boris and Silmaria escort Casila to a joyful reunion with her cousin Octavian, the House Artalin Factor in Dwardel and de facto ruler of the town, although he is careful to defer to the mayor in public. Octavian is delighted to see his lost-lost cousin again, and entertains the group at length while his lackeys send word to Marblehall for an escort. A few hours later, this arrives and takes them with due pomp to the family seat, where Casila is again welcomed joyfully and an impromptu feast develops.

In a bloodless coup, Casila takes over the County; she is the rightful heir, and her Uncle Martyn never wanted to be Count anyway. Mindful that she is a woman in a time of little gender equality, and hasn't been seen for a decade, Casila determines that she needs to score some political points, rally support, and demonstrate her capability in short order. To this end she enlists the party as her retainers, gives them little badges to prove it, and unleashes them back into Dwardel, reminding them that it belongs to her now so collateral damage needs to be kept under control, and asking them to invite her old friend Amberlith, landlady of the Giant's Flagon, the only inn in town, to visit her in Marblehall. As her retainers, they are entitled to free board and lodging at Marblehall, and will be otherwise rewarded too; in return, there are a few little jobs she'd like done, once they have finished the business they say awaits them in Dwardel.

Having passed on the message to Amberlith, Valore and X7-09 decide that the first order of business is the haunted brewery. It transpires that one of the temples in town follows Valore's religion, the Creed of Pytus, and that the local priest has tried exorcism without success. After a daytime tour of the brewery to familiarise themselves with the layout, our heroes settle in to wait for the ghosts to arrive. This they do in due course, causing Zadok and Silmaria to flee in terror and a shaken Boris to declare "I'm never touching another drop."

Volare and X7-09, however, are made of sterner stuff and ask the ghosts to explain themselves.

"We were told there would be Winter Ale," they moan. X7-09 locates this and pours out generous tankards of the stuff, while Valore prays to Pytus for guidance and gains an intervention allowing the immaterial ghosts to drink their fill. Their unfinished business resolved, the ghosts fade away.

GM: You now have the run of Marblehall, including its extensive library. Valore is researching the Creed of Pytus, Boris and Pascal (X7-09's chamaeleon, who is clearly more than he seems) are looking at the magic books left by previous generations of Artalins, and Boris and Silmaria are reading Martyn Artalin's improbably large collection of bawdy drinking songs.

View
Episode 11: Pub Lunch
Between Anvil and Glitterhaegen, 22-23 April 216

The testament of Rosie Frost, barmaid at the Travellers' Rest, regarding the events of 23rd April 216.

I don't want no trouble, sorr, and anyways Oi was behind the bar and didn't see much of what 'appened. But Oi did serve 'em all afterwards, so Oi did get a good look at 'em. What was they loike? Well, there was a forgeborn, you don't see many o' them around 'ere, an' there was a knight on a griffin, an'  two elves, an' a lady – 'ighborn she was, you could tell just by lookin' at 'er, even it she was dressed funny – an' a bard, pretty thing she was an' no mistake, an' a angel with a flamin' sword – no, I mean it was on fire, flames runnin' down the blade. Oh, an' they 'ad a tame wolf with 'em as well.

Now before they arrived we only had two visitors, it bein' slow for a Saturday fer some reason; Dicias the elf and a merchant called Charrid, they's both regulars. They was takin' a wagon-load of weird stuff to that apothecary in Dwardel, what's 'is name? Lucius, that's it. Moi dad – 'e's the landlord y'see – 'e was afraid it might blow up, so 'e made 'em park it a long way from the door, an' what do you know? No sooner did these strangers turn up than it did blow up! Charrid said later as the forgeborn 'ad started fossickin' around in the back o' the cart, an' it was 'im what blew it up.

Oi tell 'ee, Oi never saw a calmer 'orse than Charrid's that day. 'E just kept on drinkin' from the trough, 'e didn't mind when the cart blew up an' not even when the griffin came an' stood right next to 'im. What? Oh yes.

So anyway, the forgeborn walks into the pub, smokin' a bit from the explosion, an' I sees the knight lift 'is purse an' some sort o' book, then 'e throws the book in the fireplace an' it burns up. No, Oi din't try to get it out, what use is a book to me? Oi can't read. Let it give us a bit o' warm Oi sez, useless things them books. The forgeborn comes up to the bar an' asks for a point o' oil, an' Oi sez "Olive all right?", an' 'e sez yes, so Oi pours 'im a tankard full o' olive oil an' then 'e sez 'is purse is missin', an' 'e stomps back outside an' chops Charrid's 'and off with an axe. Vicious, that forgeborn is Oi tell 'ee, vicious. Charrid sez that knight gave 'im a purse to pay for 'is losses, which 'e thought was fair enough, but then this forgeborn comes up and yells at 'im about stealin' 'is purse an' chops 'is 'and off.

The angel an' one o' the elves was up on the roof, to drink in peace they sez, which normally moi dad wunt allow, but Oi seen what 'appened to Charrid an' Oi decided to keep me views to meself. Anyway, they started hollerin' 'bout 'obgoblins, then there was a big fight outside – they said later some 'obgoblins 'ad attacked the pub, an' there was certainly bodies outside when we dared come out again – three with their throats cut an' one stuck on a branch on that tree there, if you looks you can still see the blood. Oi don't mind cleanin' the pub Oi sez, but Oi'm not doin' the trees an' all.

Then they comes back inside, cool as you please, an' orders lunch like nothin' 'ad 'appened. They buys Charrid's 'orse off 'im – for a fair price, mind you, not that 'e would've turned anything down at that point – an' fixes 'is arm as best they can. Then the 'ighborn lady, she asks Dicias an' me all sorts o' questions about Dwardel an' Marble'all, so Oi reckon that's where they was goin'.

A job for Charrid you say? Bless you, sorr, 'e surely needs one, what with losin' 'is 'and an' 'is liveli'ood in the same day. Why you can ask 'im yourself, 'e's just over there…

View
Episode 10: Marines
Near Glitterhaegen, 21st April 216

Report prepared by Decanus Matteus Fulmens, Legio III Adiutrix, 21 April 216…

Sir, I beg to report as follows:

Pursuant to your orders, we set out along the road from Glitterhaegen to Anvil in pursuit of the griffin "Lord Fluffington III" stolen from the Duke of Glitterhaegen and the suspected thieves, and by dispensing small sums of money (separate accounts attached for reimbursement) we were easily able to determine their route.

Approaching by stealth we were able to observe the group before committing to engage, and discovered it to consist of:

  • A knight bearing the livery of Baron Stormwatcher's household troops. He wore a closed helm and could not be identified. This individual was riding the aforementioned griffin, together with an unidentified woman of apparent noble birth.
  • A recently-shaven dwarf, accompanied by a dwarf-forged construct soldier.
  • A rav'malak female – previous reports had not mentioned her.
  • One high elf wizard accompanied by a wood elf musician and a female human bard of uncommon beauty. The wizard's presence was expected, hence my own assignment to the patrol.

There was no sign of the dark elf known as "Dave", Hayes Agar or the dragonborn Soreth. These may or may not be accomplices in the theft but did not take part in the engagement to follow.

We moved parallel to their track through the woods at a sufficient distance to avoid discovery, and blocked the road ahead of them. We observed them encounter an awakened bear – its status was recognisable by its chain of office and its ability to speak. After a brief conversation with the wood elf, the bear moved on, back towards Glitterhaegen. We did not detain it for questioning as the chain of office clearly marked it as a diplomatic envoy.

The bear was clearly on friendly terms with the wood elf, but we could not hear what was said without breaking cover, and mindful of the primary mission, we held our position.

As the party approached, we prepared ourselves for combat and made our presence known, requesting that the griffin be handed over to us – I was hopeful that the situation could be resolved peaceably and indeed several of the party, including the mounted knight and the bard, attempted to parley, but the dwarf-forged immediately attacked us in melee, presumaby on the dwarf's orders, and supported by the rav'malak; negotiations therefore stalled. While the bulk of the patrol engaged the dwarf-forged, a small flanking party approached the griffin from the right flank but were driven off by arrow fire. (Munifex Septimus was gravely injured and will require extensive sick leave; we were lucky he was not killed, and I have sent him back with this letter and an escort of two other Munifexii, leaving me with 9 effectives including myself.)

Meanwhile the enemy high elf had cast several spells, including what appeared to be summoning mystical ghost zombie snakes and some means of whispering into all the patrols' ears at the same time that he was not wearing anything under his robes. However, the discipline of the Legio held firm and we continued to fight.

Under close attack from the rav'malak, who swooped on me with a greatsword, I was forced to reveal my arcane abilities but managed to drive her off. At this point the knight took to the air on the griffin, claiming that he had been given it by Lord Alron Stormwatcher, who as you will recall, sir, has not been seen for a number of years and whose death has been rumoured on several occasions, and that "this is not the griffin you are looking for".

At this point it was clear to me that we could not effectively pursue the griffin once it became airborne, and that the remaining arcane offensive options available to us risked serious injury or death to the griffin and its riders, at least one of whom claimed to be noble born – and thanks to my service in Glitterhaegen I was able to recognise that the knight's livery and heraldic emblems were indeed those of the Stormwatchers. I therefore gave the order to disengage and we retreated in good order.

We will follow the group at a safe distance but will not engage without further orders, as to do so might set the Duke and the Stormwatchers at odds. I recommend however that Baron Stormwatcher be requested to explain his family's involvement if any, since the markings on the griffin clearly identify it as the missing animal. Should you wish us to engage the group I request reinforcements, especially archers, as I do not have the numbers to best them by the honourable means I know the Legio would wish me to use.

I have the honour to remain, sir, your humble and obedient servant,

Decanus Matteus Fulmens, Legio III Adiutrix
Given under seal this day, 21st April, year 216 of the 13th Age

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.