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  1. #41
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    Vann-La throws wide the door, and the party looks in to a half-ruined chamber. The walls show dozens of cracks, the marks of whatever terrible impact the structure felt when it fell from the surface and into its current subterranean resting place. A huge statue, holding a bowl in its hands, has fallen across the floor and creates a 20’ long obstacle. A shaggy, white-furred creature, filthy with spores and stained with slimes, rests in the back of the chamber, its tongue lolling from its mouth. It takes a moment for our heroes to realize that the creature is another quaggoth because of the mass of stuff clinging to its fur.

    Slowly, its unfocused eyes train on our heroes, but before it moves, a clattering of bones sounds from all around the heroes. A mass of skeletons arises from the rubble!

    “Look out!” shouts Kratos.

    Something else steps from the shadows- another undead form- but this one has some withered flesh left on its bones. Torinn’s eyes widen; he recognizes it as some kind of wight. It cackles as it raises a desiccated hand and gestures at Sta’Ligir, unleashing a grave bolt! The wizard writhes in momentary pain. “Watch out for that one!” he cries.

    The quaggoth rouses itself, standing and swaying on its feet. It almost looks... drunk.

    That shouldn’t be, Cook thinks, they’re resistant to poison. He looks at the thick coating of spores and fungal excretions coating its fur. But if it had a thick layer of hallucinogens on it, the dwarf realizes, completely coating it, overwhelming its ability to resist them... who knows what it might do to its mind? Perhaps that is how quaggoths seek spiritual experiences- much as my folk might fast until they see visions, or the flighty elvenfolk might eat fey mushrooms or smoke their funny flowers...

    The psychotic quaggoth roars and gives a great shake.

    A huge puff of spores and other hallucinatory fungal material puffs into the air around it. Those close enough to be affected by the spores begin coughing. Their vision blurs. Things begin moving in the corners of their eyes, and strange sounds start to echo. Things distort and change, slow down, speed up. The heroes reel, dazed.

    But not everyone is close enough to be caught in the hallucinogenic burst, nor does everyone close enough succumb to the effects of it. Our heroes begin to lay about them, driven by a fervent urge to escape these underground tunnels that they have been traveling for so long. The surface, they are sure, is close at hand- possibly just at the top of this tower!- and so they fight with all their hearts. Their new ally, Rathagos, proves quite capable with his bow, landing arrow after arrow in the enemy, and the skeletons fall quickly. The wight does not last long; and the psychotic quaggoth is confused to begin with, and cannot long withstand the force our heroes pour into the attack.

    Passing through the chamber, our heroes come into an old courtyard that is the site of an open-air garden; there is no roof, save the cavern ceiling. Old, dead plants and a large, extinct oak are the only things left in here. More evidence that the place came from the surface, muses Nixie. I doubt very much whether an oak could grow here without sunlight, especially to be that large.

    The far side of the courtyard has a set of double doors leading out of it into the tower proper. They pass quickly through it and into another chamber, this one with a staircase leading up along the right hand wall. A single door leads out as well, and the floor has a fair amount of rubble scattered on it. Our heroes start for the stairs, only to find more undead lurking- but this time, the monsters are mere insubstantial shadows that drain their strength. Worse yet, as the party struggles with them, the door opens and three more wights join the fray. The party is pressed hard; the wights suck out their very life energy, leaving them unable to sustain much damage, while the shadows reduce their ability to deal damage. Still, Torinn is a cleric, and his ability to unleash radiant energy proves pivotal. The light sears the shadows and makes the wights fall back in pain, and the party presses their advantage. It is a tough battle, but one that our heroes win.

    Afterwards, they spend a few moments healing up and catching their collective breath, then search the area the wights came from. It turns out to be an old baracks, with several bunks in it, as well as a pair of locked chests. Nixie manages to coax these open with a little time and a set of lock picks, and the party finds 223 gold pieces and a suit of scale mail armor. Sta’Ligir and Torinn look it over, and both conclude that it is magical; after some experimentation, the group discerns that it is +1 scale mail of durability.

    “Now let’s see what’s upstairs,” Kratos suggests.

    The party ascends past three shattered, fallen floors and up to a final story of the tower, surrounded by earth and stone. Much of the floor has crumbled, and the rest looks relatively unstable. There is no obvious exit; the four windows open onto a mix of stone and packed earth. The ceiling is 30’ overhead. It looks like any attempt at excavation could be disastrous. It seems as though the tower fell down into the earth when a huge amount of empty space below it collapsed. A glance at the ceiling confirms the party’s hopes: it doesn’t look like the roof has sustained a lot of damage, nor does it appear to have much weight upon it. Better yet- there seems to be a very faint light filtering in from some cracks in the ceiling.

    Escape at last?

    Yes!

    It takes some work- the party must first knock a hole in the ceiling, then manage to get even the weak climbers up the remnants of the shaft that the place dug when it broke through the surface and began its fall- but soon enough, the party emerges atop a mountain! They can see a city- presumably Fandelose- shrouded in the smoke of hundreds of fires in the distance. It looks to be about thirty miles away, and most of the terrain is mountainous; to Sta’Ligir, it looks to be about a six-day journey to the city.

    “It might already be besieged,” Vann-La points out grimly. “Look at all that smoke!”

    But Heimall disagrees. “I don’t think so. I bet that’s just the smoke that the city itself puts out from all its foundries, hearth fires and stuff. I think we could see the armies surrounding the city even from here if it was under siege- and the land surrounding it looks mostly green and yellow.”

    “Fields,” nods Nixie, “and harvest time isn’t far off.”

    “Let’s go,” Kratos says.

    ***

    The party travels for several days before they bottom out of the mountains. Along the way, they are attacked once by strange monsters with the head and wicked antlers of a stag, the body of a terrible bird of prey and the shadow of a man. Though they are vicious and powerful, our heroes manage to fight them off, slaying two and driving the others away.

    After that, our heroes keep an eye to the sky.

    On the afternoon of their third day back on the surface, the party stumbles upon a strange scene. Within a large clearing within the wooded mountains that they are descending, the party finds a large hide, made of the skins of multiple humanoids stitched together, stretched taut between four stakes. On the center of it is a human, obviously dead for days at this point, but clearly staked out. Bones and scattered bits of the remains of other creatures litter the stitched hide.

    “What the hell is this?” exclaims Nowhere Jones.

    “Creepy,” mutters Nixie.

    “Over there!” exclaims Vann-La, pointing.

    Across the clearing from them is a trio of strange hounds. They seem to be on fire. Foul, sulphurous smoke pours off of them. Now that the heroes have spotted them, they give up any pretensions of stealth and begin to growl as they advance.

    “Hell hounds!” exclaims Sta’Ligir.

    Our heroes begin to draw weapons and scatter into an attack formation. Vann-La carefully looks around- and spies a small cottage, hidden in the brush on one side of the clearing. Kratos fires an eldritch blast at one of the hell hounds as it enters range, but it only growls louder when he stings it. Rathagos begins firing arrows swiftly into the hell hounds, the string of his bow thrumming with each shot.

    The party and hounds crash into one another, struggling for supremacy. Flames gout from the hounds’ mouths, engulfing several of our heroes. There are cries of pain, but these are followed by yelps as more arrows, and then hammers and mauls, strike home. Nixie destroys a hound with witchfire, and as it dies, she misty steps into a better position to strike the next hound.

    Suddenly, she cries out. Snakes that only she can see appear all around her and start attacking her! She cries out in fear as phantom fangs bite into her. Pain runs through her and her head feels as though it is about to split.

    “Help!” she cries. “Get these things off of me!!”

    “Huh?” asks Vann-La. “What things?”

    Then a new opponent becomes visible as a blast of balefire shoots out from behind the cottage, catching Nixie in the chest and blasting her unconscious with a scream.

    “It’s a tiefling!” shouts Kratos.

    “Oh, I got that, then,” Nowhere Jones grins, vanishing into the brush to approach.

    Meanwhile, Torinn, tired of the party being locked down by the hell hounds, belches out a blast of lightning. [b]ZZZKKK![/i] The one that Rathagos has been focused on spasms and dies. The final hound reacts by becoming even more ferocious, savaging and burning Vann-La. The Kree warrior groans in pain and unleashes a comeback strike- but misses. “I could use some healing here!” she calls.

    Unfortunately for Vann-La, Kratos is too far away to help her. He is already charging towards the tiefling. Seeing the warlord coming, the tiefling- whose name, for the record, is Zeevil- pulls out a wicked-looking, wavy-bladed dagger.

    Kratos swings his maul and smashes into the tiefling’s hip.

    With a cry, the tiefling vanishes, teleporting away. He reappears, limping, in some brush, and fires balefire at Kratos, engulfing the warlord in flames.

    “Bastard!” cries Kratos, rushing towards him again.

    Meanwhile, Nowhere Jones is stymied by the sudden vanishing of his target, so instead of attacking the tiefling, he springs out and unleashes a torturous strike on the last of the hell hounds, slaying it.

    Zeevil cries out in rage. “My dogs!” he snarls.

    Without aid, he is quickly overwhelmed. Nowhere Jones strikes the final blow as his kindred tries to flee.

    ***

    The cottage turns out to hold an ornate box locked with a clever puzzle lock. Nixie manages to trick it open after some work, and it proves to contain nearly 300 gold pieces! The tiefling also proves to have a pair of healing potions in his belt, so our heroes take them and add them to the party’s treasure.

    They continue on, unaware that death is just around the corner for one of them.

    Next Time: The great log crossing- and the first pc death in my 4e campaign!
    Last edited by the Jester; Monday, 5th January, 2009 at 04:37 PM.
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  • #42
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    Quote Originally Posted by the Jester View Post
    The party travels for several days before they bottom out of the mountains. Along the way, they are attacked once by strange monsters with the head and wicked antlers of a stag, the body of a terrible bird of prey and the shadow of a man. Though they are vicious and powerful, our heroes manage to fight them off, slaying two and driving the others away.
    What the heck were those things, then? I assume one of your fine homebrewed creations.

    Quote Originally Posted by the Jester
    Meanwhile, Torinn, tired of the party being locked down by the hell hounds, belches out a blast of lightning. [b]ZZZKKK![/i] The one that Rathagos has been focused on spasms and dies. The final hound reacts by becoming even more ferocious, savaging and burning Vann-La. The Kree warrior groans in pain and unleashes a comeback strike- but misses. “I could use some healing here!” she calls.
    Picked up a formatting error here.

  • #43
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mathew_Freeman View Post
    What the heck were those things, then? I assume one of your fine homebrewed creations.
    Or at least one of my conversions.

    They were perytons- awesome old school monsters. I used the 3e pic from Monsters of Faerun when running the encounter. (Why on earth was the peryton consigned to a FR book??) I used two different versions- both of which are, hmm, in my 7th level? list of converted monsters (see the Monster Project- link in sig).

    Hopefully we see them again in MM2 or something...


    Quote Originally Posted by Mathew_Freeman View Post
    Picked up a formatting error here.
    Fixed it! Thanks for the catch!
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  • #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by the Jester View Post
    Fixed it! Thanks for the catch!
    No worries. It would bug me if I'd made an error in one of my posts, so I'll try and catch any of yours I spot. It's really hard to spot such a thing when you spend ages writing it, sometimes!
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  • #45
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    Behind the scenes, there’s a traitor manipulating certain events. Making sure that the Empire’s greatest general is out of the way, so that the Hand may squeeze closed on the city of Fandelose, whose triple walls and triple gates have never been successfully overwhelmed.

    General Argos rots in the Black Tower, stripped of his rank and honors, awaiting trial for attempting the murder of a Bronze Councilor.

    His abilities are unparalleled in the Empire, and probably beyond it for thousands of miles. A unique combination of a shrewd understanding of politics and human nature crossed with a hard eye for detail and an intuitive comprehension of the military implications of everything around him has made General Argos a legend in his own time.

    The traitor gloats.

    Politics. So easy.

    ***

    The march towards Fandelose continues. On the fourth day back on the surface, our heroes descend a long mountain slope and enter a thickly wooded area as they start the next ascent. After about a half hour in the woods, Sta’Ligir recognizes that this area has been logged in the past.

    “It looks like they practice sustainable forestry around here, anyhow,” he comments.

    Soon Vann-La says, “Listen! Chopping!”, and indeed, the party can hear the sounds of lumberjacks at work. Not long after, the sounds of men singing working songs becomes audible.

    It’s not long before they come into contact with some loggers. There are many groups scattered about; they are all from Fandelose or its outskirt communities. Though they are a little intimidated by Torinn- none of them have ever seen a dragonborn before- they are happy to stop and chat. After all, a chance to share a meal or a drink of Cook’s dwarven spirits with strangers is a wonderful excuse to take a break from all that hard lumberjacking work!

    Our heroes take the time to chat with these folks, and they learn quite a few interesting bits of information. It turns out that the city is about two days’ walk away. Along the way, travelers have to cross a river. There used to be a bridge, but it washed out during a monstrous storm last winter and hasn’t been repaired. The easiest way to cross is to jump across the logs that float downstream, towards the city. There is one particular place, about a mile downstream, that has banks low enough to cross for about 100’.

    Being adventurers, the party asks about any monsters in the area. The lumberjacks tell them that the woods between here and Fandelose are relatively safe, though drakes lurk in the shadows and are always a threat, as do a variety of dangerous, large-sized birds, such as axe beaks, kocho and terror birds.

    The Six-Fingered Hand, on the other hand, is said to be months away, on the other side of the mountains. The Empire will surely crush them before they are a threat to the Western Provinces. Yeah, they’re dangerous, but not to us, is the prevailing attitude.

    “Oh, they’re a danger, all right,” Vann-La says grimly.

    “Who is the military authority in Fandelose?” asks Kratos.

    One of the lumberjacks scratches his beard. “The head man is General Argos, but he’s in the Tower.” A couple of the others shake their heads.

    “What’s that mean?” asks Heimall.

    “Obviously, you’re not from around here,” one of the other lumberjacks drawls. “It’s the Black Tower. You get locked in there, you probably don’t come out. It’s usually for the worst criminals and condemned men.”

    “Why is he in there?” exclaims Vann-La.

    Nobody seems to know. “The city’s crazy, anyway,” one of the men opines. “That’s why I live in the woods, with my family. Too many people. The damned Bronze Council runs the place, but it seems like they are always trying to one-up the Imperials anyway.”

    Rathagos frowns. “This is very disturbing,” he mutters to Torinn. “General Argos is the man we need to fight against the Six-Fingered Hand. If the city has him imprisoned, they may be dooming themselves!”

    “We need to investigate the situation and see what’s actually going on,” the dragonborn says. “Let’s not jump to any conclusions yet.”

    Meanwhile, Sta’Ligir is describing the true magnitude of the threat of the Six-Fingered Hand to the lumberjacks. “When the time comes,” he tells them, “gather your families and flee. Flee to the city if you can, or take refuge deep in the woods, in concealed glades and groves if you must. But be careful to be respectful of nature.”

    “Thanks for the warning, elf,” one of the lumberjacks says. “If the Hand really is as big as you say, we’d best take your words seriously.”

    Sta’Ligir sighs. The difference between an elf and an eladrin is clearly lost on these ignorami.

    ***

    Fandelose specializes in lumber and worked wood items, from intricate music boxes to catapults, and bronze items of all kinds. It is a walled city with a strong militia. Its people are quite a mix- human, halfling, elf and half-elf all mingle together in large numbers, with a few folk of dwarven or tiefling descent as well. None of the loggers have ever met a dragonborn before. Fandelose can provide most of the services that any other large city can. Moreover, it is said that the city’s best ritualist, Yabin, has the best selection of books, scrolls, components and potions this side of the legendary great city of Narthox. Yabin lives in the High Quarter of the city, in the Cerulean Tower- Fandelose’s other great tower, than the infamous Black Tower.

    Our heroes thank the lumberjacks, leave them a bottle of spirits and take their leave, following their directions towards the log crossing. The group walks along for almost a mile; then, the path begins to descend towards the waterway that they can hear not far off through the trees. Soon it comes into view- a wide river, choked with logs. The path descends to a wide, muddy bank, where eddies in the currents have left a number of logs drifting slowly along. Many more logs are heading downstream at a leisurely pace, sometimes smacking into one another or being twisted by an eddy in the current.

    Heimall uses his glaive to catch one end of a log and turn it so that it catches against another. Slowly, he starts a log jam, throwing the logs out of alignment and starting to back them up. “It’ll be much easier to walk across,” he points out.

    But Kratos is young and brash and impatient. He starts moving across carefully. At times he has to stop and catch his balance, but all is looking fine until he is about halfway across.

    Then, from their positions in ambush in their trees along the far side of the river, the forces of the Six-Fingered Hand loose arrows and fire crossbows. An arrow hits Kratos’ arm. He gives a cry of pain. Vann-La, on the other hand, takes two arrows to the breast, each piercing her perilously near her vitals!* “Need healing!” she gasps. Fortunately, Heimall is able to keep her going with his inspiring words.

    Several orcs emerge on the far side of the bank and begin to move out onto the logs to brace Kratos.

    On our heroes’ side of the river, Rathagos starts shooting at the enemy archers. Torinn starts moving across, using his spiked chain to anchor his movements. It is slow, but effective; he moves steadily without falling. Meanwhile, on the opposite sid of the river, a bunch of armored kobolds start to move out of the woods and onto the logs as well. Now there can be no doubt: kobolds, orcs and goblins are three “fingers” of the Six-Fingered Hand. The enemy is in the area.

    How many of them are there? wonders Kratos, as he moves as quickly as possible across the logs. They are slippery and not entirely stable, and he does not relish the thought of being crushed between two of them. The others are starting across behind him, but he’s already most of the way there. He will have to hold against the enemy until they can get close enough to join the battle. And the logs move, too, flowing with the river; if he waits too long to get onto the bank, he will run out of bank to get on to.

    Kratos attacks the orcs. They battle across the logs. Kratos kicks and rocks the log to shake orcs loose, and still manages to maintain his grip.

    Meanwhile the others are coming across the logs, but the river is wide and the logs are slippery.** It’s difficult to get close enough to attack, and they keep slipping and falling and having to get back up. A little missile fire goes back and forth, especially from Iggy, but mostly the goblin archers are able to pepper the party with relative impunity. Nixie, Vann-La and Kratos all take arrows; Nixie, especially, gets peppered, first taking two arrows, then two more a few moments later. “Need help!” she cries.

    Nowhere Jones stands still on his log for a moment. Now that the kobolds are close enough, he can hurl a dagger or two at them! He hits once, wounding a goblin archer, and then falls on his ass when he tries to move.

    It’s agonizing.

    Arrows rain down. Kratos fights valiantly, using his healing to sustain himself in the face of an onslaught of orcs and kobolds. Sta’Ligir and Nixie cast spells back in return, but yet another pair of arrows strikes Nixie down, and she lies bleeding on the wide log she had been casting from.

    Vann-La makes it to the far shore, but then realizes that her friend is dying. With a frustrated cry, she rushes back onto the logs and leaps as far as she can towards her friend.

    Meanwhile, Kratos, Nowhere Jones and Rathagos are finally starting to clear out a bunch of the enemies. Their morale breaks, and the remaining goblins and kobolds try to flee. Our heroes do their best to cut down the would-be escapers, and soon the bloody work is done.

    Vann-La, meanwhile, reaches Nixie. Still alive! Quickly, the Kree tries to bind her wounds- but there are so many, too many...

    Nixie bleeds to death in Vann-La’s arms.

    Next Time: Our heroes reach Fandelose!

    *Double crits from goblin sharpshooters. Nice way for me to start an encounter.

    **To be brutally honest, this encounter sucked. It didn’t go off at all like I had envisioned. The logs were too hard to cross- too challenging terrain, basically- and there were way too many. If I were to run an encounter like this again (and some day I will), I’d fix it in several ways. The biggest would be to have the river only be about 8 squares across. The way we actually played this encounter, it was way too large of an area of terrain that was way too much of a pain in the ass to get through. I totally don’t mind killing pcs, but I kinda feel bad that the first pc to die in my 4e campaign died in an encounter that was poorly designed. Also, the player left while his character was down, and left his death saves in another player’s hands, and the party couldn’t reach his character in time (again, because the terrain was too large and too much of a pain in the ass) to save it.
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  • #46
    Hey Jester, looks like another great story hour is starting! I feel bad for Nixie, dying in weird terrain (when you're not even present!) sucks. I think it might be time for another roll call though....this was the last:

    PARTY ROLL CALL
    Nixie- eladrin fey warlock 2
    Kratos Aurainn- half-elf warlord 2
    Torinn Dzekrasode- dragonborn cleric 3
    Vann-La- (Kree) elf fighter 3
    Sta'Ligir- eladrin wizard 3
    Cook- dwarf rogue 2
    Heimall Heinrickson- human warlord 2
    Nowhere Jones- tiefling rogue 2
    Also I know that some of your older characters have new characters, like Inoke and Alcar. If you could list their names it would be cool to keep track of!

    Hooray for something new to read!

  • #47
    Quote Originally Posted by Technik4 View Post
    Also I know that some of your older characters have new characters, like Inoke and Alcar. If you could list their names it would be cool to keep track of!
    I can help with that. Here's the who's who compared to the old epic party:

    Nixie- Lillamere
    Kratos Aurainn- Alcar
    Torinn Dzekrasode- Gerontius
    Vann-La- Inoke/JJ
    Sta'Ligir- Horbin/Blaze
    Cook- Sybele
    Heimall Heinrickson- Drelvin/Chakar
    Nowhere Jones- wasn't there
    Proud Player in The Jester's Cydra Campaigns ____________L4W -- Vixo______________Living EN World -- Scun

  • #48
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    Into Fandelose!

    It’s not a deep grave, but it is the best that they can do for their friend under the circumstances. They had to leave the beetle and wagon behind when ascending the fallen structure out of the quaggoth caves, and have no way to carry her corpse; it simply isn’t practical. And time is not on their side; the Six-Fingered Hand is coming, and since they have been ambushed, it is all too pressing a matter.

    A shallow, barely-marked soldier’s grave and a quick, roadside ceremony: it certainly won’t be the last one that the environs around Fandelose will see before the year is out.

    ***

    The road is not far from the log crossing, but the city is still two days away. Rathagos grows more and more impatient, unusual for an elf. All of our heroes are possessed of a sense of urgency. Travelers move up and down the roads, unconcerned, oblivious to the threat of the Hand. The party chats with some of these, and they hear more rumors that seem to confirm that the general they are looking for is in prison for some terrible crime or other.

    Nowhere Jones, wandering along the road, hears something more disturbing: the village of Red Bank has been destroyed, though nobody knows how.

    Our heroes can speculate.

    Interestingly, Kratos hears that there is a play running in town- a play by the name of Nowhere Jones. He mentions this, bemusedly, to the others, and Nowhere Jones himself looks quite perplexed by the news.

    “I guess we’ll have to see it,” he says.

    One more disturbing rumor reaches the party’s ears: a daVoi is in Fandelose.*

    ***

    It is a long couple of days. Finally, though, the party arrives at Fandelose, passing by the Black Gorge on the way. It is a polluted, dirty city with vast swaths of barely-livable area- the slums. Massive clouds of black smoke from the multitude of fires hang in the air. The fires, rather than burning wood, burn the dwarfish resource called firestone, which is mined in the Black Gorge. The streets are cobbled, but most buildings are wooden. Everyone seems to have a plethora of pockets on their clothing. The gates into the city are huge and wide, and offer entrance to the city only after passing between no less than three sets of guard towers and walls. However, they do not seem to be fully manned. Many of the knobs, knockers, furnishings and trim in the city it leafed with bronze, though most of it, like everything else in the city, is smudged with sooty residue. Almost immediately, our heroes find that they, too, are becoming smudged with it.

    Rathagos insists the party follow him immediately to the military headquarters of the city. He hails a garen-drawn cab for them, and in only twenty minutes they arrive at an impressive, stolid-looking building. Rathagos enters and speaks quietly to an officer; a few moments later, the party is ushered into a sitting room, where a colonel named Jaxe awaits them. He immediately ushers Rathagos away for a debriefing, and calls a clerk to issue rewards to the others. Each of them is given 250 gp, and the colonel asks that to remain available to him if he requests their assistance, and offers them guest quarters- better than a room in the barracks, but not as nice as a good inn.

    Heimall speaks up. “Colonel, I hope I’m not out of line here, but what’s going on? We heard rumors that General Argos is imprisoned in the Black Tower.”

    Colonel Jaxe nods. His jaw stiffens. “Correct. The new general is General Pythock.”

    “How does he compare to General Argos?”

    Colonel Jaxe hesitates for a moment. Then: “General Pythock is my superior officer. As such, I fully support him.”

    “I see.”

    There is a moment of silence. Then, Torinn asks, “What is the general accused of?”

    “Attempting to poison one of the councilors of the city.”

    “What is his record like?” Vann-La queries.

    “Exemplary,” says Jaxe emphatically. “He has countless awards and medals for honor, valor and service, he was one of the youngest men ever to achieve a generalship for the Empire- he’s practically a legend in his own time!”

    “And did you know him personally?”

    “I have served under him for years.”

    “So you would say that it bears investigating?” Vann-La gives the colonel a measured look.

    “Of course.”

    “And what about the new general? Can we see him?”

    “I can put a message on his desk,” Colonel Jaxe replies, “but I don’t know when he’ll get it.”

    “He isn’t receptive to the troops? He doesn’t answer messages?”

    “He hasn’t been to his office yet,” Jaxe says. His voice is completely neutral, held in obvious iron control.

    “Colonel, you must know that the Six-Fingered Hand is not far from here,” Torinn starts.

    “Indeed, they are less than two months away.”

    The party stares at him. Kratos says, “What does this General Pythock do, then?”

    “I wish I could tell you.”

    “At a time like this, we can’t afford to have someone like this in power!” exclaims Vann-La. “How did he become Argos’ replacement?”

    “Politics,” Jaxe sneers.

    ***

    The government of Fandelose goes back over a thousand years. It predates the Empire’s presence here by a significant amount. When the Empire swallowed up the surrounding lands, Fandelose found it easier to pay a minor tribute and accept a few minor inconvenient terms (including a garrison) than to fight the well trained Imperial Scarlet Thrushes. Their union with the Empire was peaceful, but has always allowed the Fandelosian government to maintain a significant amount of independence.

    Except in times of extreme emergency, the Bronze Council controls Fandelose. The Imperial garrison has to ask for funding from them for any needs above standard operating costs, and Fandelose’s unusual level of independence has left them somewhat reluctant to contribute. Thus, General Argos was unfortunately often in the position of having to go to the council, hat in hand, begging for the money required to (for example) upgrade the battlements of the walls.

    Just a month ago, Fandelose was in relatively good shape. General Argos had gotten word that the Six-Fingered Hand was approaching and would strike inside of two months. He warned the Bronze Council and asked for more money in order to better prepare the city, but one of the councilors, Bridget Willow, protested that the army already gets billions of gold pieces a year and that the Six-Fingered Hand was moving on the east side of the mountains; surely they could not be a powerful enough force to reach all the way over here, too.

    Things got heated in council. Argos stormed out without having gained anything. Without the funds to do more, his ability to prepare the city was limited. He did manage to get the council to agree to stockpile some supplies in case of a siege.

    Later, after another council meeting when Argos pressed again for funding, there was an assassination attempt on Feevon Bronze, the head of the Bronze Council. Argos was arrested and imprisoned in the Black Tower when evidence of the same poison that had been used on Feevon Bronze was found in his bedchamber. Meanwhile, the council appointed a local noble named Dapell Pythock as the new general to appease him on some issues of land ownership and taxation. Pythock has no military experience or talent, but legally, as an aristocrat, he has a right to his new position.

    “Unfortunately, he still hasn’t been in,” Colonel Jaxe says.

    “Colonel, with your permission, we’ll see if we can find anything out,” says Vann-La.

    “Don’t get in trouble,” the colonel warns. “Stay out of trouble with the local law. I may be able to arrange a meeting with Argos for you, if you have any questions for him, but only once.”

    Things are much worse here than we thought, thinks Sta’Ligir. It’s actually quite worrisome- these folk should be focusing all of their energy on preparing to resist the Hand, but their general is in jail, his replacement is an incompetent ass, and politics have brought things to a standstill. The only way things could be any worse would be...

    Sta’Ligir frowns.

    ...if there were a spy.

    ***

    The party begins poking around, meeting some of the other soldiers in the garrison here. Among others, they strike up a friendship with Billy Six-Fingers, perhaps the ugliest, most useless wart of an incompetent private any of them have ever seen. He is ecstatic to be able to sit with them in the mess hall, and immediately almost completely blows it by making a pass at Vann-La. When she makes it clear that his attentions are unwelcome, he makes it clear that clear isn’t clear enough, because he’s just that stupid. Poor lovestruck Billy!

    The party’s investigation will last eleven days before it is over.

    ***

    In the Black Tower, General Argos lays on the pile of straw that serves as his crude bed and stares at the ceiling. As each day passes, he visualizes the horde of the Six-Fingered Hand creeping ever closer. Burning the outlying villages. Seizing the fields. Killing or enslaving the peasantry.

    His mind churns with plans, questions, options, ideas. If he had intelligence, he could plan a defense even from here. Even if they are going to torture and kill him, he wants to defend the city, the people.

    They don’t realize the magnitude of the threat, General Argos thinks. This isn’t some tribe of 400 goblins. They will have archers, engines and siege towers. They will have tricks that the kobolds put together carried in by brute force by ogres. They will have resources we haven’t even seen yet. But if I were free- if I had a free hand- I could still build a defense to stop them, and if I have enough time, I can push them out, back, smash them. Cut their supply lines. Destroy their command section. Eliminate the food. An army that size feeds on its belly. We might have to destroy the lands for hundreds of miles around, but so be it. The horde will fall in on itself, cannibalize and disintegrate. Then they are easy prey.

    He calculates in his mind. If I am not released for another three days, I can still do it. I can. Even if I’m not released for a week or twelve days. The wall, the city’s defenses- I can defend them, so long as I have enough men to do it with. There are catapults. The walls are good, though some funding for repairs would have been nice in the last few years. I can hold the enemy at least. I think. But I must have time- at least a couple of weeks. I need time to prepare.

    The clatter of the tray of food being left for him distracts him for a moment.

    If they don’t just torture and kill me.

    ***

    Our heroes are decorated heroes now: each awarded the Medal of Valor and promoted to Sergeant. In the case of Torinn and Vann-La, since they are technically Navy personnel and thus not subject to Army control, Colonel Jaxe establishes a attached group consisting of the two of them, with more recruits to come- and the Imperial Marines are born. This also gives Colonel Jaxe a certain amount of cover from the actions of them, since they aren’t technically under his chain of command (as they’re Navy), and ensures a certain level of autonomy for them so that politics don’t interfere with their investigation.

    Cook is offered a position as an Army cook, which he immediately turns down. He is then surreptitiously offered a chance to help build a spy network, which he also turns down. “I’m a cook!” he insists, shaking his wooden spoon in the air.

    ***

    The party speaks to several members of the Bronze Council, starting with Bridget Willow, who was General Argos’ nemesis on the council. She seems determined to see justice done. “He’ll have a fair trial,” she insists. “I wouldn’t have thought that he’d have done something like that, but the evidence is pretty damning.”

    “What was the evidence, if you don’t mind my asking?” Sta’Ligir asks.

    “The same poison that was used in the assassination attempt on Feevon Bronze was found in his chamber.”

    “Is there no chance that this poison could be found in more than one place in the city?”

    “Fulcane is quite rare,” she replies. “Exotic, in fact.”

    ***

    Knile Keflingorn is another of the councilors, but one that was usually more sympathetic to General Argos. It is he that has so far prevented Argos’ execution. He is in charge of the Bronze Council’s own investigation into the events surrounding the attempted murder, and so long as his investigation has not finished, Argos is in limbo.

    Heimall is very pleased that at least one of the councilors can be counted on as an ally. He hopes.

    Unfortunately, Vann-La finds another piece of interesting information: General Pythock is a cousin of the daVoi that is in town- Chiron daVoi.

    “Something smells dirty already,” says Sta’Ligir.

    ***

    Arson!

    In a fire under threat of siege, there can be no worse crime. Our heroes help extinguish the blaze as it roars up in the slum, and together with a bunch of peasants, they manage to contain and then finally douse the fire.

    A fire, truth be told, set by someone in the party.

    Next Time: Arson! Investigation! Romance! Treason!


    *The daVois are a corrupt line of decadent nobles in the current timeline in my campaign. In the first session of the 4e game, the pcs stole a daVoi’s boat in order to make their escape from Chebonnay, the city they started in, when the Hand closed on it.
    the Jester

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    The Grand Druid (Lvl 20)

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    Current party lineup:

    Vann-La, elf fighter 5
    Sta'Ligir, eladrin wizard 4
    Heimall, human warlord 5
    Torinn, dragonborn cleric 5
    Nowhere Jones, tiefling rogue 3
    Cook, dwarf rogue 3
    Kratos, half-elf warlord 4

    The warlock's replacement is coming in another game's worth of updates; he starts as a wizard 4.
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    ø Ignore Mathew_Freeman
    I note that Thrush's Empire lasted a fair while after his death, then?

    Excellent stuff as usual, Jester. I'm enjoying the shift from grim survival to politics!
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