We had the potion longevity that Consul Fabrece had demanded as part of our accord. Now, however, we faced the much more difficult task in our part of the bargain - we had to free Feral the Forger from the island prison. The island prison was used to house Rel Astra’s worst criminal offenders and was protected by a veil of magic that turned anyone crossing that border into an undead. The only known way past the veil was aboard the ‘Death Ship’ crewed by the Everlasting - a ship with an undead crew that had one 20-foot square cell in its hold that shielded the living from the effects of the barrier.
In my previous conversations with the Consul I learned of one other possible avenue past the barrier of undeath: A wizard, named Bowen, had come very close to developing a magic item that could permit passage through the barrier. Consul Fabrece had hired the Unseen Hands to make sure that item was not completed and Bowen disappeared. If somehow we could get a hold of Bowen’s research it might give us another insight in how to get to the island.
We developed a plan whereby Shen and Faithless, our two arcane arts practitioners, would inspect the cage aboard the Death Ship and see if they could figure out a way to use it. While, Thock and Edgy would make their way to the Foreign Quarter and seek out the Pus and Boil Tavern, reputed home of the Unseen Hands.
I set to work on a missive to Consul Fabrece explaining that we needed an inspection pass to get aboard the Death Ship. The letter was delivered to the Consul by Marco and he returned shortly with the required documentation. Thus prepared, the two pairs headed to their destinations in the city while I held vigil on our ship, Molly’s Folly.
Kord sometimes requires more hands than yours.
Shen and Faithless returned to the ship first and reported that the inspection had gone off without a hitch. They concurred that the large cell’s bars were imbued with baroque runes of a protective kind of magic of a much higher valence than they were capable of. They also suggested with great effort the cage could be unsecured from the ship and taken in some manner. The complications involved with such an endeavor made my head swim. They also reported an unsettling discovery that a huge pile of bones served as ballast for the Death Ship. They were informed this was the retirement home of the undead crew that had worn out over the years. Clearly, the name Everlasting was a bit of a misnomer!
Edgy and Thock returned and we learned they had been largely successful in making contact with the Unseen Hands, The pair had been instructed to return at 7 P.M. the following evening to meet a woman named Oshi. They were confident the tavern was a front for the organization. Edgy reported the drinks they were served was the worst stuff he had tasted and that included his time in prison. Thock thought it was palatable. One must keep in mind, however, Thock grows hungry at the sight of rotting carrion.
The following morning a sea gull flew to our ship and dropped a tiny scroll. The scroll seemed to have an odd, innocuous question. However, Edgy quickly recognized it as thieves cant with instructions to him to “bring everyone.” Edgy and Thock were of the opinion that we should plainly lay out our plan to Oshi and seek her aid. The argument was that it would be in the Unseen Hands interest to discover a back door past the veil of undeath protecting the prison island too. The Unseen Hands were also the most likely to have access to Bowen’s magical research.
I had several qualms concerning this plan. Not the least of which was that I was going to be present. I resolved to seek guidance from Kord in this matter before venturing forth. Prior to disembarking from our boat onto shore I pulled out a pouch containing a small mixture of dragon bones and after a beseeching prayer rolled them in a chalked star of Kord. I prayerfully inspected the bones and determined they were a positive sign from Kord.
Freshly reassured by the Augury, I gladly went into the city towards the foreign quarter with my companions.
The Sword of Kelmar is my Light.
The barkeep in the tavern quickly acknowledged Edgy and we were led into a back hall. Through a door on the left we entered a pleasant, if somewhat Spartan room with a large table. Seated on one side were four figures. There were five chairs arranged facing the four. The first one to catch my attention was a male dark elf. The half-elf introduced herself as Oshi. She then introduced her companions - A halfling, picking at his nails with a dagger, named Grab, a human barbarian draining an ale mug, named Smash, and the dark elf, called Vadu.
Oshi greeted each of us by name, but was unfamiliar with Faithless. Faithless made her introductions to the group. When Faithless offered her hand in greeting to the halfling he leapt onto the table and kissed her proffered hand in a most chivalrous manner. Faithless was delighted by this gallant greeting. Oshi glared down at the halfling and said, “Give it back.” Grab returned all of the rings and jewelry and an item of clothing he had stolen from Faithless. Grab and Faithless both smiled and neither seemed particularly nonplussed by the event.
“Do you know of forger named Feral?” I asked.
“Yes, very talented,” she replied. “She operates independently though and can be hard to work with, particularly because she is currently on prison island.”
“Why is she hard to work with?” I asked.
“Mostly communication issues. She is a Kenku.”
“We are in need of her services and need to get her off of that island,” I replied.
“I see. That explains why your friend here was asking about the wizard Bowen when he came in the other day.”
“Yes, we were hoping to find an alternative way onto the island past the undeath veil. We were hoping you might have access to Bowen’s magical research,” I explained.
Ales were brought in and set before everyone at the table. Edgy cautiously sniffed at the edge of his mug’s rim.
“The swill you were served yesterday is intended to dissuade customers,” Oshi remarked, noting the tabaxi’s hesitation.
“I thought it was fine,” Thock offered.
The dark elf raised an eyebrow at Thock’s comment and a bemused countenance crossed his face for a moment.
Oshi returned to the topic at hand. “We actually have something better than the research we have an item that would allow passage through the veil.”
“I thought Bowen disappeared before it was completed,” Shen interjected.
“Oh, we killed him, and then we had the item completed by others,” Oshi replied. “It does have a drawback though, it only has two uses. As such, it is extraordinarily valuable to us.”
This is going to be expensive I thought to myself.
“You are aware no doubt that my noble family is down at the moment, but I can reassure you if we can obtain the services of this forger we will soon be one of the fastest rising and powerful families in the city. If you were to help us, my family would owe you a debt,” I offered.
“Vague possibilities are not that appealing to me,” Oshi replied. “There are, however, about 100 prisoners on the island. If you were to promise to free them all, we might be able to talk.”
Negotiations continued for quite sometime and an accord was reached after I revealed we were in possession of Molly’s Folly formerly known as Grim’s Folly. She was suitably impressed that we might actually pull off the prison break after this revelation.
“You know,” Oshi said with a smile, “we know where Grim is.”
“I see, so you have additional leverage over us in this bargain,” I replied.
“Oh don’t worry, we don’t care for him either,” She explained.
“A subject of a further deal at another time perhaps,” I said.
The half-elf smiled in reply. “There is also the matter of your dues,” Oshi said addressing Edgy. The tabaxi’s knowledge of thieves’ cant had given him away.
Edgy plunked a gem worth 50 gp down on the table in response. Oshi accepted the gem. The magic item was retrieved from somewhere, assumably in the large building, and handed over to me. It was quite an ornate metal scarab with crystalline wings. I was instructed to remove one of the wings and the undeath veil would be down for five minutes.
We waited patiently in the common room as the newest member of the Unseen Hands, Edgy, was given a quick tour of the place. We were also given a map of an island where we were to deposit the prisoners once we got them off the island. We took our leave of the tavern.
“There’s a price on your head,” Edgy said to Shen.
“What?” Shen replied.
“Yeah, 50 gp,” Edgy answered.
“I wonder what for?” Shen mused.
“Who knows, but I would be incensed by a bounty that small!” Edgy replied snickering.
We stopped at an armory and I purchased some new plate mail to replace my heavily damaged set. Damn rustbugs! We then grabbed a bite to eat, at the insistence of Edgy, and then headed back to the ship.
The ship sailed on the sea at dusk towards the island. The magic item worked as promised and we hesitated as we approached the island in the darkness. The prison was visible in the half-moon lit sky and there were numerous torches lit illuminating parts of the fortress. In particular, we could see a guard marching around the tallest and largest of the towers.
“I could swim ahead and take out that guard,” Edgy suggested.
I winced. I knew the tabaxi had a Cloak of the Manta Ray, so the swim would be no problem. I knew the feline had the right skills. It was the logical choice. But, I also knew this was Edgy. Edgy’s level of focus was akin to a drunken orc trying to learn how to play a fiddle. What we needed was some stricter guidelines and clearer expectations.
“We need to set a timeline of when we are going in after him,” I suggested.
“We’re about a half mile from shore and with his cloak he should be able to get there in around two minutes. He has to cross about 150 yards or so of ground and climb the tower. Edgy should be atop the tower in less than four or five minutes,” Shen calculated.
“We give him eight minutes and if we do not get a signal, like waving a torch around on the tower we head in,” Faithless suggested.
“I will get us out of the water as soon as he departs so the ship can respond a little more quickly,” Molly our gnomish engineer chimed in.
“Excellent. Edgy did you get all of that?” I asked.
“Yep! Swim, sneak, climb, kill, and then signal,” Edgy replied.
I was very tempted to cast Augury to Kord, but there was not time and I feared the veil of undeath might interfere with my spell anyway.
Edgy dove into the water. I prayed.
Kord chooses his tools, not man.
A torch waved at us from atop from the large tower.
“That was less than four minutes!” Shen exclaimed.
“God’s teeth! He’s done it!” Faithless shouted.
“May it please Kord, Edgy actually followed a plan,” I added.
Events were to prove that our celebrations were a bit premature…
The gang plank lowered onto the tower’s roof and we scrambled quickly across. We could see a dead human, but no sign of the tabaxi.
“Edgy?” Thock hissed in a loud whisper.
“He is not here,” I replied, frustrated.
We heard a loud OOMPH from below the tower. Thock looked over the edge of the tower. He went to his pack and grabbed a coil of rope. He threw the rope over and Edgy quickly climbed up the top of the tower. Edgy related how he had fallen off the tower while climbing down and alerted a nearby guard. He had fooled the guard into believing he was the tower guard and had fallen over and been injured. The alerted guard in the other tower had promised to retrieve the medic. We quickly grabbed up the human corpse and threw him over the side of the tower near where Edgy had fallen. We had to move quickly, the general alert would be sounded soon.
I was quite proud of myself for not asking why Edgy had not followed the plan or said I told you so or any other scolding. The truth was this was as close as the tabaxi had ever come to following a plan.
Small victories shall bring glory to Kord as well.
From the roof of the tower we headed down a spiral staircase. The topmost level was a storage area. The third floor was a training area. The stairs terminated on the second level. We surprised another guard there and killed him. Sadly, just before he was killed the guard managed to raise the alarm.
We quickly moved into the interior of the tower and fought another guard. Then we were flanked by two officers and a mage. Shen faced off against one officer, while Faithless duelled with the mage. The rest of us tried to quickly kill the captain. During our melee with the captain there was a multi-hued flash behind us.
The captain was a tough nut, but Thock was eventually able to bring him down. By the time we turned around we could see that Shen was wounded and Faithless was wounded and blinded. Thock ran across the floor to try and help the casters. I cast Kord’s Transfixing Immobility on Shen’s opponent. The mage slammed a group of magical bolts into Faithless and she was badly hurt. The officer facing Shen managed to shake off my spell, but Shen pounded him with a barrage of magic that brought him down. Thock then took care of the mage with his magical long sword.
We had just managed to kill the XV Legion’s Officer Corp, but several folks needed healing and it would not be long before the rest of the troops found us.
The XV’s Legion’s officers lay dead at our collective feet, but it was clear the struggle had taken quite a toll on my comrades. Naturally, blessed by the enduring spirit of Kord, I was fine. We all realized that the alarm had been raised and we needed to make haste in finding the prisoners. Thock rushed down the stairs, I followed with the rest trailing us.
When Thock reached the lower floor a crossbow bolt sailed past him. The Half-orc roared and charged after the shooter. Faithless and Shen pushed past me to lend their support to Thock. I made my way down more cautiously and could see the halls were filling with legionnaires. Perceiving this threat, I moved over and cast a healing prayer on Faithless and then did the same for Shen.
The legionnaires were streaming out of their respective barracks on both sides of us. Thock closed a door to try to cut off one side. Edgy ducked out of a dark corner and shot a bolt through one of the legionnaire’s throat, killing him instantly.
Thock’s blood rage was at full tide and he charged down the hall at the legionnaires. At that moment, I could see real fear in the guards’ eyes. There were at least a dozen of them, but they were mostly in night shirts armored only with shields and carrying gladii. They were still disoriented and trying to understand what was happening. In this state, they faced a hulking barbarian charging them! Their fear was well-founded as Thock eviscerated the first soldier in line with his long sword.
A pesky archer kept peppering our flank and so I cast Kord’s Spiritual Hammer and commenced attacking. My blows were glancing, but forced the archer back.
Meanwhile, Thock was a whirlwind of steel, blood, and death! The legionnaires were making a concerted effort to drag the barbarian to the ground. The mighty half-orc shook off their attempts with dismissive ease and continued his maelstrom of destruction.
I killed one of the legionnaires with Kord’s Bolt and rushed down the hall to aid Thock. As I reached the melee there were only two soldiers standing, the man between Thock and I threw down his scutum and gladius and surrendered. Thock slayed the remaining guard. An eerie silence fell in the halls. Thock stood triumphant, ankle deep in the gore of the fallen.
“Who are you people? What are you doing here?” the captured soldier whimpered.
“Be silent. Turn around and hold still,” I ordered. I affixed a noose around the soldier’s neck and down around his wrists. The arrangement guaranteed if the soldier struggled to escape he would be rewarded with a choke.
“I expected more from someone of the noble class,” the soldier complained.
“You're just showing your ignorance of Rel Astra politics,” I retorted. “Now you will lead us to the stairs descending to the dungeon.” I handed the rope ‘leash’ over to Thock who took it with a menacing grin.
The captured legionnaire led us through a dining area, a kitchen, and through a back hallway to a spiral staircase descending. Single file we made our way down to the dungeon. The lower level was lined with large cells and we could see well over 100 prisoners held within. When the prisoners saw us they began begging to be released. The pitiful cacophony was unnerving and very unbecoming.
It was agreed that we would split up and search for the Kenku, Feral. Thock stationed himself near the top of the stairs to watch for reinforcements, while I guarded the base of the stairs. Suddenly, a door we had not noticed in the prison complex, flew open and a group of Legion XV’s Centurions rushed out to the attack. I bellowed an alarm and Thock rushed down the stairs and launched an attack. He had released our captured legionnaire, and I have no doubt the coward ran off to hide.
One of the centurions was a female with a long bow and she was particularly skilled with her weapon. Unable to physically close the distance to her, I cast Kord’s Spiritual Hammer to attack her. I physically attacked one of the nearer centurions. Edgy began picking the locks of nearby cells and letting prisoners out. I heard him yell, “You must help us!”
This clarion call from my feline friend was responded to with the prisoners running away as fast as they could. In spite of this turn of events, Edgy continued to work on picking the locks of other cell doors.
Meanwhile, one of the centurions near the archer managed to knock Faithless down.
Some of the prisoners began flinging feces at the archer, which distracted her enough to make her aim less deadly. The centurion who knocked Faithless down was killed by the combined might of Shen’s spellwork and Thock’s mighty sword. The other centurion soon fell and it was now just the archer.
Realizing the odds had quickly turned against her, she threw down her bow and surrendered. I have no doubt that she surrendered largely thanks to the might of Kord’s Spiritual Hammer!
I rushed over to Faithless and quickly administered some healing. She revived quickly. She had only been knocked out and was in no mortal danger, We found some keys on the centurions and began freeing the prisoners. It was at this point someone noticed Edgy was missing. I said a quick prayer to Kord - it was not answered as the Tabaxi showed up shortly with the Kenku. Edgy reported there was a particularly dangerous looking Dark Elf in some special cells in an adjacent chamber.
The archer introduced herself to us as Antonia. She warned us that the Dark Elf was a wizard and could not be trusted. We quickly agreed the Dark Elf had to die. Thock went into the special cells area and returned with a blooded blade. “It is done,” Thock announced.
A swift end is sometimes the greatest blessing.
“Lucius! Lucius Gnaeus,” one of the prisoners called out to me.
I scanned the crowd of prisoners on the dock. We had moved all of the prisoners out of the fortress and gathered them on the dock to wait for Molly to bring the airship to load up. Finally, I saw an older prisoner waving at me. I did not recognize him.
“It’s me, Tabulus,” the prisoner cried out.
“Tabulus? Oh, Tabulus! How long has it been?” I now recognized Tabulus, the one time Censor of Rel Astra. I actually knew almost to the day how long it had been - four years and five months. I distinctly recalled him being dragged through the city’s main thoroughfare in chains to the death ship. Senators, garbed in their sacred vestments, were chanting ‘shame, shame, shame’ as he struggled with his manacles and chains. When I asked my father what terrible crime Tabulus had committed he only laughed and said he was guilty of picking the wrong side of an argument.
“Lucius, my young friend, we must help each other,” Tabulus said.
“I am helping you. I am freeing you,” I replied.
“But, you are taking us into the grip of the Unseen Hands. At best, my friend, they will only ransom me back to my enemies. I would suffer less if I stayed in this gods-forbidden place.”
“We will talk, Tabulus. I promise.”
“I still have some connections. I can help your family.”
“Get aboard Tabulus.”
“He says they are taking us into the control of the Unseen Hands. We will be ransomed or worse,” another prisoner called out. “Why should we go like sheep to the slaughter?”
“Stay or come, it does not matter to us,” Thock bellowed.
There was a distinct murmur of mutiny being whispered amongst the prisoners.
“There are some men here who would like to serve with you,” the archer Antonia whispered to me.
“Prisoners?” I asked.
“No, Legionnaires,” she replied. “The XVth was already shamed. This disaster, no offense, will lead to a much worse assignment. We are dead to the city.”
“Antonia are you interested in joining us and helping crew our ship?” I asked.
“Yes, particularly if it means I don’t have to die at the feet of the Unseen Hands,” she replied. We quickly worked out shares arrangement and just like that, I had enlisted the aid of our former enemy.
The six legionnaires came forward. Many of the prisoners hissed and spat at the men. “Do you trust them Antonia?” I asked.
“They will serve you as long as you treat them fairly,” she replied.
“They’re behavior is a reflection on you from here out,” I warned her.
“That’s fair,” Antonia replied.
There was a minor ruckus down by the area where Edgy was collecting weapons. I could see a few of the men were agitating the other prisoners. I needed to act quickly to quell this mutiny! I stepped up on a box on the deck and began to give a speech about heroism, gratefulness, the divine will of Kord, and…
PSSSST - THUMP!
An arrow sailed past me and lodged directly in the eye of one of the prisoners. The man staggered back clutching at the shaft and fell back, dead before he hit the deck. Antonia stepped up with her bow, “That’s what Markus gets for running his mouth! Now who else has some wise ideas about revolution!”
The ship fell entirely quiet, save for the squawking voice of the Kenku behind us saying the word revolution over and over. “I thought I was making headway,” I muttered to Antonia and the rest of the group.
“Sorry Lucius, she was a lot more effective and saved a lot of time and air,” Faithless answered.
I thought about objecting, but in my heart, I knew Faithless was right.
Kord favors deeds over words.
Following a short trip we came to the island we had agreed to bring the prisoners to and the halfling Grab was there to greet us.
“Well done!” Grab called out. “Did you get Feral?”
“Free as a bird!” the Kenku called out from behind Faithless. In a relationship I found mystifying, Faithless had befriended Feral.
“Excellent!” Grab laughed. “We have a special room set aside for you Feral.”
“What kind of special room?” Faithless asked in a demanding tone.
“A place where she can do the required work. Don’t worry, we will take good care of her,” Grab promised.
“I want to hold your hand,” Feral replied.
Faithless took the Kenku’s hand and led her down the gangplank and they went off to check out Feral’s quarters.
“Feral told Faithless she should only take a day or two,” Shen said.
Grab laughed heartily at this suggestion. “She’s the best at what she does, but there is no way she will finish in under five days. Feral is not exactly a focused worker.”
The prisoners continued parading down the gangplank. When Tabulus passed me, he raised an eyebrow toward me and I returned a nod to him.
I approached Grab. “What are you going to do with that old man?” I asked motioning toward Tabulus.
“Do you know who that is?” Grab asked.
“He’s an old family friend,” I replied.
“I see. Well, I’m afraid he is set to be ransomed,” Grab replied.
“How much would it take for me to take him with me?” I asked.
“As a favor to a new friend, I could release him to you for 5,000 gold,” Grab replied.
I whistled lowly. “I’m afraid that’s more lucre than I can manage.”
“We might make another arrangement,” Grab suggested.
My heart plummeted, performing another deed for the Unseen Hands did not appeal to me in the least. “What are you thinking?” I asked.
“Easy job - just a bit smuggling,” Grab said. “An airship could make a valuable delivery quickly.”
“That may be a problem,” I replied. “What kind of goods or is that ‘a need to know’ topic?”
“Weapons and healing potions for rebels in the Bone Forest.”
My heart soared. Supplying rebels was something I could get behind. I was not sure how far the Bone Forest was, but I certainly did not object to the mission. “I need to consult with my comrades, but I think we might reach an accord.”
“Why do you care about this old man?” Shen asked.
“Well, to be honest, I don’t a great deal. He does have my sympathy though. I understand what it is to be on the wrong side of Rel Astra politics. He could also be helpful to my family,” I replied.
“That hardly seems enough to be worth our effort,” Faithless observed.
“I agree, but the rebels probably would be interested in more than weapons and healing potions. I think we could sell them wine,” I said. I didn’t mention the very idea of supplying righteous rebels struggling against oppression was the most tempting part of the bargain to me.
“Wine?” Thock queried.
“I happen to know where there is a stash of barrels left from my family’s vinery.”
“We need to make sure Molly and Filbert are alright with this,” Edgy said. “I should go ask her.”
“I agree we need to consult with them, but you are the last person who should approach Molly,” I replied.
“I have been extremely nice to her,” Edgy pouted.
“Approach me concerning what?” Molly asked. She had appeared on the deck behind us.
“What would you think of smuggling weapons, healing potions, and wine to rebels in the Bone Forest?” I asked.
“Hmmm, that’s a three week trip,” Molly mused. “We would have to re-arrange the stowage to accommodate the weapons, the barrels could go to the rear, and…”
“So you have no objection to a smuggling run then?”
“No, of course not,” Molly answered. It was clear to me she was still making mental calculations to figure out the stowage of the goods.
I left the gnome in her thoughts and rushed to tell Grab we had a deal. He agreed to allow me to take Tabulus with us and leave Marco behind to deliver the forged documents to Fabrece. We took the ship to my wine stash and with all of the goods loaded, set off for the Bone Forest.
“Two of the new recruits have sailing experience and are already good. The rest are making solid progress,” Edgy reported. The new recruits Edgy was referring to were the legionnaires that had joined us. His marine experience, albeit much of it as a slave, was proving valuable.
Shen chimed in, “Molly seems pleased with our progress. She even had time to explain some particularities about the gems that power the ship. Apparently, the gems are actually all shards from one large gem. That great gem held a cloud giant city aloft. The cloud giants were defeated by the gods and the city fell…”
Shen was interrupted by a call from the sailor in the crow’s nest.
“What did he say?” I asked. His voice had been muted by the wind.
Edgy turned toward me, wide-eyed, and said, “He spotted an approaching airship!”
We rushed to the ship rails to try and get a better view of the airship approaching us. “Molly! Come up here please!” I yelled down.
Molly was already on her way up. “I heard the call,” she said as she scrambled to our position on the rail.
“I thought there were only seven of these vessels,” Shen stated.
“There are,” Molly confirmed. “Four of the ships are merchant crafts like ours and the other three are warships. The warships are in the Far West. I have never seen one.”
“The one coming at us is much smaller,” Shen commented. “It looks like they have about a score of crew and they’re heading directly towards us.” Shen’s elven blood made his vision far more acute than mine.
“That is a hostile move in the open seas, but I do not know about the open air,” Edgy said.
“Well, it is not friendly here either,” Molly stated. “They are moving fast, but that is some strange copper plating they have on their hull. It looks like it was strapped on there yesterday.”
“Are we attacking them?” Thock asked.
“We need to be ready, but I think we should let them approach,” I offered. “I just hope it is not Grim.”
“It looks like they have a tough time maneuvering,” Molly observed. “I’m going to move us around a bit to see how nimble their craft is.”
Molly put Molly’s Folly through a series of maneuvers and it was clear that the intercepting craft was either poorly crewed or very clunky. It was also clear the smaller craft was much, much faster. Even as our ship out-maneuvered theirs, the intercepting craft’s speed meant they were going to catch up to us. We agreed to lower our altitude and prepare to ‘receive’ the foreign craft.
A familiar leer shown in the face of the large humanoid on deck. It was Grim Balo, the cambion from whom we had liberated the airship. He had a crew of tieflings. The cambion barked directions at his fiendish crew and we set ourselves for a hostile encounter. Grim’s airship looked new! Even more disturbingly, it flew the flag of Iuz!
“Give me back my ship!” Grim yelled at us.
“You abandoned it!” Faithless retorted.
“Faithless! My fair maiden, how I have missed thee,” Grim replied with a toothy grin.
A string of the vilest, filthiest insults I have ever heard streamed out of Faithless’s mouth like a black torrent of audible hate. The outrageous, impudent, and blasphemous nature of these affronts made even the legionnaires aboard our ship blush! The fact that many of the acts she suggested were physically impossible did nothing to ameliorate their impact.
While the crew of Tieflings were visibly agitated, Grim smiled with genuine glee. “I always thought you were just a pretty face. Such originality! Such pluck! Now, I know I’m in love!”
I cast Kord’s Guardians, a new prayer of a higher valence than I had cast before. Several spectral warriors flew about my person wielding mighty hammers that crackled with lightning energies.
Battle is a Blessing of Kord
“I will even allow you to leave on this ship in exchange,” Grim called out.
“You are not getting this ship back!” I replied.
Thock pointed at the smaller ship and said, “Thock’s ship.” Those two words ended the parley.
The two Tieflings flanking Grim made supernatural jumps, spanning the six or seven yards spanning our vessels. One landed in front of Shen and the other in front of Faithless. Grimm pointed or gestured at our archer, Antonia, in the high crow’s nest.
The Tiefling that jumped in front of Shen was buffeted by Kord’s Guardians.
I heard a cry of pain from the area of the forecastle and saw two of our legionnaires down with arrows protruding from them. “Antonia has been charmed!” I called out. Now we were caught between our own expert archer turned against us and hell-spawn pirates!
Shen’s arcane words and gestures invoked Shen’s Sphere of Conflagration instantly killing several of the Tiefling crew aboard the smaller vessel. While Thock attacked one of the Tieflings on our deck, I launched a Greater Glorious Bolt of Kord. The prayer had amazingly little effect on the half-fiend, but Kord’s Guardians hacked him down.
There was one Tiefling still engaged in a desperate hand-to-hand battle with Thock, but I felt confident that conflict would go our way. The greater concern was Antonia was continuing to shoot down at us. One of her arrows wounded Faithless.
A strange, blank look crossed over Thock’s face just as Grim emerged from cover on the other ship. Fortuitously, the Half-orc shrugged off the magical mind ensnarement and proceeded to hack down the remaining Tiefling on our ship.
Shen said, “We need to concentrate our efforts on Grim. Be ready for him to pop out of cover again.”
Thock picked up a grappling hook and heaved it over to Grim’s ship. As the grappling hook dug into the enemy ship’s hull, Thock strained to pull the two vessels closer. The physical impossibility of the task was no deterrent to Thock, as his muscles bulged from the effort.
Grim emerged from cover and Shen peppered him with Marvelous Missiles of Unerring Flight while I hit him with a Greater Glorious Bolt of Kord. The Cambion quickly ducked back into cover. Shen smiled over at me and we prepared to do it again when Grimm revealed himself.
I almost lost concentration on my spell when I heard a surprised yelp from above. Edgy had shinnied up the main mast to the high crow’s nest and was attacking Antonia. Apparently, the Tabaxi’s attack broke the effect of Grim’s charm, because we could hear Edgy and the archer conversing thereafter.
Shen and my preparations had been in vain as Grim did not reappear. “He planeshifted,” Shen noted regretfully. “We need some way to pin Grim down to Terra Firma,” I stated. Shen nodded in agreement.
Scorn and Pity the Coward.
Employing numerous grapple hooks and lines and most of our ship’s crew we managed to secure the smaller ship to Molly’s Folly. We boarded the vessel and found the deck empty. The construction of the ship was hasty and clumsy. We continued below deck where we heard conversations. Going below deck we were immediately hit by a wave of heat. The temperature below was at least 25 degrees hotter than above. We found three Tieflings, each armed with a dagger. There were also four folks chained to a strange looking mechanical pump. The four slaves consisted of two dwarves, a human, and a female tabaxi. Edgy immediately went over and began freeing the slaves from their chains.
“Oh great,” I whispered, “the last time I freed a tabaxi it did not go well for me.”
“I heard that priest,” Edgy replied.
One of the tieflings stepped forward and in an imperious voice announced, “I am Mordai, chief engineer of this ship of the Dread Sovereign Prince of Demonhood Iuz and I suggest you leave!” His voice had a high, atonal quality to it that bordered on screeching.
Faithless laughed loudly at Mordai’s pronouncement.
“This gem is making heat,” Thock observed.
“Yes, we will have Molly come look at it after we fully secure the ship,” Shen stated. “How did you find us?”
“That was all Captain Grim’s doing. We were not supposed to be here. He was insistent though,” Mordai replied.
“He’s not much for going down with the ship is he?” Faithless asked with a smirk.
“He was not supposed to be in charge of the mission - I was!” Mordai whined.
“What mission?” Shen asked.
“We were to drop off a contingent of troops about a day north-west of here to put down some puny rebellion,” Mordai replied.
We exchanged glances - we all knew these had to be the same rebels we were bringing supplies to.
“Yes, but how did Grim find us?” Shen queried.
“Everyday he consults some old ship compass. Two days ago he started saying that ‘he found it.’ We dropped off the force and he directed us here. Now, I must insist that you turn this ship back over to us as part of the Royal Forces of the Dread Sovereign Prince of Demonhood Iuz - unless you want war!”
A deep bellowing roar came out in a rush from the half-orc, “Thock’s ship!” Thock’s mighty long sword swung in a high arch, splintering off a piece of the deck’s ceiling and crashing down on Mordai’s skull. Thock forced the blade through the tiefling’s torso and out his crotch and drew the blade back. Mordai stood for a flash moment and then his bisected body tumbled in separate directions with blood and viscera spraying throughout the hold.
Mordai’s shocked companions gaped in abject horror at their former comrade’s demise. Their dismay would be short-lived as Thock swung widely again and decapitated the pair. Making even more great fonts of blood spraying throughout the lower deck.
“Thock’s ship!” Thock proclaimed in another bellow.
“Yes, and you are cleaning this mess up Thock,” Faithless admonished the barbarian. “All we had to do was send these fellows on a short flight over the side. Now, look, what a mess you’ve made.”
“Too much talk. Thock bored,” Thock replied.
The two dwarves were applauding Thock’s actions with glee. The human looked dumbfounded and bewildered and the tabaxi had no reaction whatsoever.
“What is wrong with her?” Shen asked.
“I don’t know,” Edgy replied. “She seems lost.”
“They broke her,” one of the dwarfs offered.
“She’s cat-atonic,” I offered.
Faithless groaned, “I know I will see you in the hells for that one priest.”
“Not funny,” Edgy said.
Sometimes my companions lacked the sophisticated wit to appreciate my repartee. A curse of my superior upbringing and education I suppose.
The dwarfs introduced themselves as the brothers Balen and Valen. The human remained quiet.
“I will go get Molly, and Thock, you go get a mop,” Faithless ordered.
Action is Honored by Kord
Molly came aboard the smaller ship and stepped gingerly around Thock’s mess. “I cannot believe it,” she exclaimed. “This is a new airship! Very crude compared to ours, but look at the size of the propulsion gem. No wonder it is so fast.”
“What is the pump for?” Shen asked.
“They have to pump the heat out of here to keep the gem from exploding,” Molly replied. “Not many facets on the gem, which explains why they had a tough time maneuvering. Very crude and definitely not gnomish design.”
“Can we use it for parts or something?” I asked.
“It is far more valuable intact,” Molly replied. “It should not slow us down much to tow it.”
“Thock’s ship,” Thock announced proudly. “I steer it.”
Shen raised his eyebrow at Thock’s suggestion and I looked at Molly.
Molly spoke up and said, “I just have to make a couple of adjustments to the ship and then you can drive Thock’s ship all the way home after we make our drop-off. How does that sound?”
“Good,” Thock replied with a smile.
Filbert came out with heaping trays of food. The halfling cook had even prepared a special tabaxi dish for the former female slave. Although she remained largely non-responsive, the taste of home did seem to put her at ease a bit. Edgy finally managed to get her first name from her, which was Whisper.
The human ate heartily from the feast table, but did not say too much. The dwarven brothers on the other hand, were full of mirth and merriment. They dove into the victuals and rum with gusto.
I attempted to engage the human several times in conversation and only learned that his name was Trevor. He did not share much except that he learned he did not have much respect for organized religion or governments. A viewpoint I somewhat agreed with, but when I inquired where he would like us to take him his response caught me off guard.
“If you could give me a weapon and a couple days of hardtack, I will be on my way,” Trevor said.
“Naturally, we won’t hold you against your will,” I replied.
“Yeah, feel free to leave, but watch the first step off the ship - it’s a big one,” Faithless said with a smirk.
“I thought you said I was not a prisoner,” Trevor protested.
“You certainly are not. Do not mind Faithless. What makes you want to leave us out here in the wilderness?” I asked.
“I saw what the big man did to those tieflings. I think I would rather take my chances in the wilderness,” Trevor replied.
Everyone seemed satisfied with this reply, but I was not. I had a sense he was hiding something. “Look, Trevor, we don’t care if you are a criminal or a political fugitive. We represent no governmental agency and have no agenda for you and the others. What are you worried about?” I asked.
“Oh, I see,” Trevor hesitated. “Yes, I am a criminal and I have a price on my head.”
“Don’t we all,” Shen chimed in.
“He probably has a real price on his,” Faithless sneered at Shen.
Shen and Trevor both laughed.
“I really would rather leave now,” Trevor insisted.
After further conversation and ascertaining that Trevor felt confident in his abilities to survive in the wilderness and that he was no friend of the forces of Iuz, we agreed. Trevor was presented with a solid sword and a few days rations. He seemed genuinely grateful and said we should look him up at the Wolf & Mug Tavern in Dyvers. He had a brisk trade business waiting for him in that city. We said our goodbyes and lowered him over the side of the ship to the ground with a long rope. Trevor quickly disappeared in the surrounding foliage.
Treat the Forsaken Kindly.
We resumed our journey to deliver the supplies to the rebels. The dwarven brothers Balen and Valen were playing a drinking game with Thock. They had drank enough alcohol to kill a horse, but none of the trio seemed affected in the least. The three were playing a drinking game, and although I watched for several minutes I could not tell how the game was played. I had gathered that there were stakes and that Thock was winning.
“I bet this,” Thock announced and placed a spyglass in the center of the table.
The item immediately caught my eye. “Thock, we could use that. Where did you find it?” I asked.
“Thock’s ship,” he replied.
“You cannot wager it. We need it,” I said.
“He has not lost yet, Father Lucius,” Balen tried to reassure me.
“I am not a Father, and that item is potentially far too valuable to us for a wager in a drinking game,” I replied.
“No worries Master Lucius, he can double down and earn it back in a side dribble,” Valen interjected.
“Please do not call me master and I have no idea what that meant, but he cannot wager the spyglass,” I insisted.
Thock ignored me and slammed his palm on the table, “Bet!”
The dwarves shrugged their shoulders and Balen placed a steel pin on the table and Valen said something about a five drink saga. They then all quaffed their alcohol simultaneously and slammed their tankards down together. They looked at each other, laughed, and the dwarves said that Thock had won again. Thock smiled broadly and gathered the stakes..
“Thock, I wonder if I might borrow that spyglass?” I asked. Thock raised an eyebrow at my question, but after a moment handed the spyglass over.
I took the spyglass and looked it over, It was a well-built brass instrument with quality lenses, and I had no doubt would prove very useful to us. Meanwhile, Thock and the dwarves had resumed their baffling drinking game. So, I took the spyglass and left the trio to their merriment.
We neared the area where we were supposed to deliver the weapons and healing elixirs to the rebels and came upon a scene of war. Shen reported that through the spyglass he could see three large war machines, massive catapults that were manned by bugbears. They were set up on the edge of a descending cliff and were preparing to fire into a canyon.
“By the Hells, please do not tell me that these people set up their camp in a canyon?” Faithless exclaimed.
“It would appear so,” Shen confirmed.
“Crew the ballistae!” Antonia ordered.
Molly moved the ship to a higher altitude as we approached so we could get a better view of the layout of the battle. In short, it was not good. The rebels were indeed in a canyon. The bugbears were preparing to reign massive burning balls of tar down upon them and there were stone barricades on both sides of the canyon manned by yet more bugbears.
“They are all fish in a barrel - the fools!” Faithless decried.
Following a quick discussion we decided to swoop in with our ship and with the help of Shen’s magic drop right on top of the catapult crews. It seemed like hours to close the gap to the enemy and I watched with horror as they began to rain their fearful munitions down on the rebel camp. As we came closer, the scene was even worse, as it was clear that their were numerous elderly and children amongst the rebels. We attacked with the ballistae as we approached, but it was mostly ineffective. The only benefit I could see was that the bugbears rotated a catapult towards us.
“If we get hit by one of those catapult loads we are in big trouble!” Edgy warned. “Ships and fire do not mix!”
Molly poured on the speed and skillfully placed our airship over the top of the bugbear crews. Shen cast Fortuitously Falling of Featherly Descent on the five of us and we stepped over the side of the ship. We could see from our high vantage point that there was a bugbear captain directing the catapult crews and that each crew had three bugbears apiece.
As I fell I watched a Shen’s Sphere of Conflagration burst amongst one of the bugbear crews immediately killing two. I cast a Greater Glorious Bolt of Kord killing the third crewmember. Faithless launched a massive ball of hellfire and destroyed another crew of three. I was starting to feel confident and thought we might wipe out their force before we ever touched ground!
Challenges and failures sharpen the sword of Kord.
An evoker emerged from invisibility and cast a fireball up at us. We dodged much of the blast, but it was clear this combat was far from over! She fired another fireball at us, and alas, this spell hit home. Edgy YOWLED as he came down very near the bugbear commander and took a blade for it. As soon as I touched Terra Firma I quaffed a healing potion.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the evoker cast another spell towards us - a streak of arcane lightning lashed towards me, and…
Thock was pouring a healing potion down my throat. “Wake priest! Wake!” he was demanding.
I did wake and called a Great Spiritual Hammer of Kord down upon the evoker and then launched myself in a hand-to-hand attack against the bugbear commander. Sadly, both attacks failed. Edgy ran from the melee to take cover behind a war machine and Thock went down in a heap from damage.
My comrades were taking their toll on the enemy too though - the evoker went invisible rather than face a further assault from Kord’s Spiritual Hammer. I then called Kord’s Guardians to finish off the bugbear commander, but my prayer failed! The now visible evoker had emerged from her shroud of invisibility to dispel my prayer! She paid a heavy price for her action - Faithless hit her with a massive ball of hellfire and the evoker fell, burnt to death by the foul flames.
All that was left was the commander and a couple more bugbears. Edgy emerged from his hiding place and buried his blade deep in the back of the commander. The bugbear’s eyes went wide with surprise and then a drool of blood formed at the corner of his mouth as Edgy kicked him away from his blade. The bugbear was dead before he toppled to the ground.
The remaining pair of bugbears fought half-heartedly and were quickly dispatched. I began healing myself and all of my comrades. We looted the evoker and the commander.
We had managed to stem the immediate damage to the rebel encampment, but there was still the problem that they were surrounded by a sizable bugbear force. “Let’s use these things on the bugbears,” Edgy suggested pointing at the catapults..
“That is an excellent idea!” I proclaimed. I was genuinely impressed. I thought Edgy was pleased with my compliment, but honestly it was hard to tell with the tabaxi. His resting state was one of an appearance of being smug and pleased with himself. We managed to turn the catapults and began raining fiery bolts down on the bugbear forces. It did not take long for the bugbears to retreat.
The leader of the rebels was a middle-aged man with burnt skin and was a bit soft in the middle. He was clearly upset by the carnage the bugbear catapults had rendered on his people, but he was also very appreciative of our help. He explained that his people had been fighting against the usurpations of the Overking Ivid IV. He was disconcerted to learn that the force he had just faced served Iuz. He knew of no connection between Ivid IV and Iuz.
We delivered the weapons and healing elixirs and the rebel people tried to put on a feast for us. It was simple fare, but their effort was genuine. I brought out the wine barrels I had transported from home and offered them for sale to the rebels at a very reasonable price. Alas, they had no gold for trade, but they did offer a magical Deck of Illusions. Honestly, I had no use for such an item, but I certainly was not going to deny these people some well-deserved wine! The trade was made.
There were numerous toasts made. I made one, admittedly somewhat under the influence of my vineyards fine product, “I shall not rest until the usurper Ivid IV is overthrown by these righteous people!” It was a regrettable oath, but the rebels cheered it wildly. After night fell we said our goodbyes. The rebels were packing up their camp to get out of the canyon and we were taking our ships back to the Isle of the Unseen Hands near the city of Rel Astra.
I woke early in the morning with a splitting headache. Too much wine always has that effect on me. Fortunately, Filbert was already up and served me some herbal tea with honey. It helped a bit.
There were a flock of beautiful birds soaring alongside our ship. They were a stunning azure, blending with the bright morning sky with flecks of silver towards their slender beaks. They swooped up and down occasionally and their grace reminded me of hunting barn swallows. I believed them to be a positive portent for the journey back.
I looked back over the aft of the ship at the smaller airship we were now towing. There I saw Thock standing proudly at the wheel, his face straining with concentration as he guided the smaller ship in our wake. I noticed he had changed the name of the ship as well. The symbol of Iuz had been scratched out and ‘THOCKS’ replaced it. The “K” was backwards, but I was not going to mention it. Somehow it helped to confirm the ship was indeed his. He noticed me and gave me a quick wave and then returned to his white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel.
I walked down below deck. Molly was tending to the gems and offered me a good morning.
“Do you know Thock is steering the towed ship?” I asked.
“Yep,” she replied.
“That, uhhh, that does not concern you?” I asked.
“Not in the least,” Molly replied.
“May I ask why not?”
“I disengaged the wheel from the air rudder gear. He’s not really steering at all,” she answered.
“Excellent,” I replied. I was truly relieved.
We landed in the water port at the Unseen Hands Island and Grab the halfling quickly came forth to greet us. “You made the delivery?” he asked.
“We did,” Edgy answered.
“And you grew your fleet a bit by all appearances,” Grab stated looking at the smaller airship.
“How would you like to buy your organization one of the fastest airships in the sky?” Edgy asked.
“You are selling it?” Grab asked.
“We already have an airship,” the tabaxi replied.
“How much?” Grab asked.
“Did the documents get done and delivered to Lord Fabrece?” I interrupted.
“Yeah, it’s all good to go. Fabrece wants a meeting with you,” Grab replied somewhat distractedly.
“How much for the airship?” Grab quickly turned his attention back to the bargaining with Edgy.
“100,000 pieces of gold,” Edgy replied confidently.
Grab gave a low whistle. “Not saying your wrong, but that is way out of my league. I got to bring Oshi in to discuss something of this magnitude.”
“Fair enough,” Edgy replied.
Grab left and prepared a message for his boss.
“You do realize we need to get rid of this thing, right?” I whispered to Edgy.
“I told you on the ship earlier, we got to start big. Believe me, Oshi will give us a counter-offer,” Edgy replied.
“What about Thock? He seems very keen to keeping the ship,” I pointed out.
Hey Thock,” Edgy called out. “Do you care if I sell your ship for 100,000 pieces of gold?”
“No, ship steering not work right anyway,” Thock replied.
A couple of hours later Oshi and the dark elf Bowen arrived. Grab had a conversation with the pair, and even I could tell they were excited by the prospect of the flying ship. Molly gave them a tour of the smaller ship and explained how it worked and even some of the drawbacks of the technology, but reassured them it would fly and it was very fast.
“It’s amazing isn’t it?” Edgy asked Oshi.
Oshi did not directly smile, but her enthusiasm for the vessel was obvious. “100,000 pieces of gold is way out of line. Besides, shouldn’t you be offering it to the guild?” Oshi asked.
“First, it is only one-fifth mine, I am just doing the negotiations,” Edgy replied. “And second, I already am doing the guild a service - I joined you.”
Oshi smiled at the tabaxi’s response. “Look, we don’t have that kind of specie just free and clear. What about a barter?”
“We’re listening,” Edgy replied.
“If we had this ship, we probably would not need this safe harbor any longer. What about this island for the ship?” Oshi offered.
“Thock’s Island!” Thock pronounced excitedly.
The tabaxi hesitated. I interjected quickly, “Throw in 5,000 gold pieces and lifetime guild dues for the Tabaxi and we have an accord.”
“Agreed,” Oshi quickly stated.
Edgy looked sideways at me. “I could have gotten more,” he snarled under his breath.
“And I made sure we got rid of it,” I replied.
Oshi gave us an extensive tour of the newly christened Thock’s Island. While we were walking about I mentioned that I would very much like to make another delivery to help out the rebels and Oshi affirmed that this could be arranged.
Edgy spent much of his time tending to Whisper. Eventually, he managed to learn that her entire name was Whispering Wind. He knew that name! Whispering Wind had been a great queen of the Tabaxi people who fought to keep them from being sold into slavery. Her former glory somehow made her current shell of a being all the more sadder.
I started thinking about how to build or convert some of the warehouse rooms to a gymnasium and where the Temple to Kord would be placed. However, I knew there were other matters at hand. The meeting with Lord Fabrece and reviving my family’s fortune. There was also that unfortunate drunken oath I had made to aid the rebels….
“Come in young Lucius! You look fit my boy. Would you care for some tea?” Lord Fabrece asked.
“That’s very kind, my Lord,” I responded. I took the offered cup from his slave while the man poured me some translucent green tea.
“I expect you have heard that the charges have been dropped against your father?” Lord Fabrece asked.
“Actually, I had not heard. That is great news indeed.”
“It gets better, my young friend. All of the Cranstons have been arrested and charged with treason,” Fabrece smiled.
I sipped my tea. Fabrece seemed disappointed I was not joyful at the demise of the Cranstons.
“I would have thought the plight of the Cranstons would have cheered you,” Fabrece said.
“They are getting what they deserve, no doubt. However, the politics of this city bring me no solace, let alone joy,” I replied.
“Yes, I can see that,” Fabrece said. “I wonder what role you are going to play in your family’s future enterprises in Rel Astra?”
“None, I hope,” I replied.
“That will not do young Lucius. I have to tell you honestly that your father is a fool.”
“On that much we are agreed, my lord.”
“Now, my fate and fortune are tied to his house. Gaius is a pleasant man, but he has no acumen, no savvy, and is a bit dense,” Fabrece stated. “It’s a wonder his seed bore fruit as bright as you.”
“My mother is remarkable woman,” I said.
“Oh yes. How is Angelina?” Fabrece asked.
“She is well. I plan on going to see her and my sister Tullia at the villa this evening. Tullia is who you should be talking to, she is the one who has my Grandfather’s business and political skills.”
“Does she? Is she matched?” Fabrece asked.
“She is only 18, my lord. It is my hope to get her a strong foothold in the family business before contemplating matrimonial arrangements. A lot of good a political marriage of Petronia did for my family,” I answered.
“I forgot about your older sister Petronia. She did marry well as I recall. One of the top families.”
“My half-sister, my lord. She does not even acknowledge our family. Like I said, political marriages are not my father’s strong suit.”
“Which brings us right back around to the problem of your father - Gaius, I simply must have your assurance that you will be available for your family’s interests,” Fabrece insisted.
“I understand your concern my lord. I wish I could say it was unfounded. However, Tullia is a very capable young woman…”
“Tell me this young Lucius,” Fabrece interrupted. “If you received a message that your family was in trouble would you come back?”
“I will always protect my family,” I answered.
“Excellent. That will have to do, for now. Please do give Angelina and Tullia my best.”
I received a number of documents from Lord Fabrece’s slaves concerning various open trade monopolies that were open due to the fall of the Cranstons. I walked towards my family villa, stopping off in town for some flowers and sweet biscuits.
“That was a wonderful meal mother! I doubt Filbert himself could have done better!” I rocked back on the couch and patted at my full stomach.
“I will take that as a compliment I suppose,” my mother said with a laugh.
“Indeed, you should. Tullia, there are a few parchments that Lord Fabrece gave me to bring to the family business. Would you fetch them from my pack and look them over?”
My sister rose from her stool and grabbed the papers from my pack.
“Your father is working at the office late. You know he is very grateful for what you did for the family Lucius,” my mother said. She was washing some dishes and handing them to a servant to be dried.
I merely grunted.
“Lucius! He is grateful!”
“Mother, I appreciate your loyalty, but my father is oblivious to what I did for him. He does not fully understand what nearly happened.”
“That’s not true!” my mother retorted.
“It is true,” Tullia interjected. “But Lucius, isn’t it enough that mother and I are very grateful for all that you did to save the family?”
“Yes, of course,” I replied with a smile.
“You should go see him,” my mother said.
“I might,” I replied non-committally.
My sister’s eyes went wide as she read the parchments. “Gods’ teeth!” she exclaimed.
“Tullia! Language!” my mother complained.
Tullia ignored her. “Do you know what these are Lucius?”
“Yes, a few trade concessions and monopolies Lord Fabrece wants our family to bid for and take over.”
“This,” Tullia stuck out a parchment and pushed it towards me, “is the western salt concession.”
“Salt, yes, fascinating,” I mumbled.
“It’s only the foundation of the Cranston fortune, you fool,” Tullia stated.
“Good, let’s sell some salt,” I replied.
“You are impossible! I’m going to draw up the bid documents. Come on, grab your cloak. You are escorting me to the office. This is getting done tonight,” Tullia announced.
“Yes, your Highness,” I replied.
I kissed my mother goodbye and took a small dish of pear patina and libum with me. I told myself it was for me later, but the truth was I knew Edgy loves desserts.
“And, so now, you own an island?” Tullia asked. We had been walking slowly together through the city talking about all of my adventures.
“Part owner, but don’t tell Thock that.”
I told her how we were going to have the dwarven brothers, Balen and Valen, as caretakers. However, I needed some barrels of mead to keep the pair happy. She promised she would get the barrels for me. I also told her the fallen ex-consul Tabulus was on the island and might send her some correspondence and that he was a friend, but not to endanger her position for him. I also reminded her that I has access to a great airship and if she came across a business opportunity that required quick delivery - maybe we could work something out.
We opened the door to the family office. My father was seated at a large, old leather chair behind a great wooden desk. He looked up briefly and saw Tullia entering.
“You are here late my dear,” our father said.
“Yes, I have some paperwork, and look who I brought along,” Tullia replied.
My father stopped writing and looked up. “Lucius! Welcome my son. Have you come to start learning the family business and giving up that religious nonsense?”
I nearly choked. “No father, I just dropped in to say hello and wish you well.”
“Ah, too bad,” he replied. There was a long, awkward silence and then he said, “You know Lucius, I appreciate what you did to expedite my trial.”
“Expedite? You mean save you from certain execution and the loss of the family?” I was barely containing that familiar, old rage.
My father laughed, “Oh now, I’m certain justice would have prevailed at the trial if given time…”
I looked up to see Tullia making a downward motion with her hands. It was her old signal to me to calm down.
“Father, we will just have to agree to have a different view of those things. Now, I know you understand our family’s fortune is closely aligned with Lord Fabrece.”
“Yes, a wonderful turn events. I’m so glad I could convince him to work with us,” he replied.
“I have just talked with the Consul and he has made it very clear to me there are to be no matrimonial arrangements for Tullia for at least three years.”
“Paterfamilias,” my rather retorted.
“Not in this case father. Fabrece was quite clear on this point.”
My father snorted in disgust.
“I know you don’t like it, but you do understand?” I asked.
“Yes, no arrangements until she is at least 21.”
“Good. Well, I wish you well father,” I said.
“When you grow up a bit more, come back to the family business and a decent occupation.”
I rolled my eyes and turned to leave. Tullia rushed up to me at the door and gave me a hug. She also promised to have the barrels of mead delivered in the morning.
The trip back to the area of the rebel camp was uneventful save a small storm that did a bit of damage to the airship. Molly reminded us once again we could really use a ship’s carpenter. We decided to head back to the canyon and hope to trace the rebels from there.
“It won’t take long to find them,” Shen said. He was holding the spyglass out looking towards the canyon.
“Why is that?” Faithless asked.
“Because they have not moved,” Shen replied.
“The fools!” Faithless growled. “We’re making a pie for a tongueless leper!”
“We’re making pie?” Thock asked.
“She means we are wasting our time helping these folks,” I offered.
“I like pie,” Thock replied.
“Speaking of which, do you have anymore of your mother’s libum?” Edgy asked me.
“You ate it all. Six days ago actually,” I answered.
“Did I? Well, she has to show Filbert how to make those cakes,” Edgy replied.
“I like cake,” Thock interjected.
“Can we focus please?” Faithless asked.
“You did start it,” I replied with a shrug. The Tiefling merely glared back at me.
“They did move the catapults down to their encampment,” Shen offered from behind the spyglass.
“Where they are much less effective,” Faithless observed.
I had to admit Faithless was right - our rebels did seem fairly tactically inept.
The rebel leader walked forward to greet us as we touched down in the canyon and delivered the foodstuffs we had brought. He gratefully paid for the items and invited us into his tent.
“I thought we were quite clear that you needed to move your people out of this canyon,” Faithless stated.
“Oh yes, you were quite clear,” Cornelius replied.
“You’re still here!” Faithless stated.
“Well, we do have that suggestion on the agenda for the next war council meeting. In fact…” Cornelius paused to leaf through some papers. “Yes, it’s right here. Old business, motion four, consideration of moving camp at suggestion of rescuing heroes.”
“You have to be kidding me,” Faithless said, clearly exasperated.
“Oh no, it’s definitely an item on the agenda,” Cornelius reassured her.
Faithless threw her hands in the air. “What are we doing here?”
“Which reminds me…” Cornelius shuffled through some more papers. “I have been authorized by the Committee on Important Information to share this news with you.”
“Yes?” Shen asked.
“By unanimous vote it was decided to let you know a group of religious zealots known as the Doom Speakers came here about a week before the attack on our camp and tried to convert everyone to their cause. We refused them and one of our woodsman trailed them back to a cave beneath an old fort about a day’s journey from here,” Cornelius continued. “The Committee on Important Information or C. I. I., thought you should know because the lead zealot was the Evoker you killed during the battle.”
“Can we speak to this woodsman?” Shen asked.
“Sadly, no. He left our camp,” Cornelius replied.
“Why?” Thock asked.
“He said I was an ineffective leader who was never going to get anything done!” Cornelius answered indignantly.
“The very nerve,” Faithless interjected sarcastically.
“The C.I.I. thought you might like to check the fort out to see how the attack on our camp was connected to the Doom Speakers,” Cornelius stated.
“What exactly are your plans for the rebellion?” I asked.
“I probably should not tell you, but we are debating Plan 17B at the next war council meeting. It’s quite an exciting possibility,” Cornelius rubbed his hands excitedly.
“Then you will strike against the legions of Ivid IV?” I asked.
“Well, it is new business. So, the plan cannot be approved at the next meeting. I just hope it does not get tabled from discussion like plans 13-17.”
Following a short debate outside earshot of the rebels we decided a couple of things: First, this group of rebels was hopeless. Second, we probably should check out the Doom Speakers’ place to see if we could make sense of the connection between Iuz and Ivid IV.
The trail through the woods was actually a very pleasant journey and late in the afternoon we came upon the fort. The fort was an ancient motte and bailey affair. It had once stood atop a squat hill and was surrounded by a moat. All that remained of the fort atop the hill were some crumbling flagstones and low wall foundations. Any bridge that might have spanned the moat was long gone and the moat had expanded greatly and turned to marsh. We could see a crevice that entered the hill, below the fort level.
Thock took up a javelin and began probing the quagmire that surrounded the hill. “Thock find way,” he announced to the rest of the group and began wading into the stinky muck. Approximately half way across the boggy area the swamp seemed to rise up directly in front of Thock. A creature composed of algae, moss, and rotting vegetation rose up to attack the Half-Orc!
Shen launched Shen’s Scorching Rays at the creature. The spell chipped away at the shambling mound, but it still slammed into Thock. Thock valiantly cut through the mass in front of him and then was engulfed by it! Realizing Thock might be lost, I began to wade into the muck. I launched an attack with all of the power I could muster with the help of Kord! The beast was staggered, but lumbered forward and I found myself engulfed too!
I managed to wrench myself clear of the nasty swamp creature and cast Kord’s Healing of the Faithful Masses. The prayer was enough to invigorate Thock and he broke free of the deadly shambling mound. With a guttural war cry Thock’s mighty sword whirled in a wide path and put the monster back into the swamp.
We had decided to camp in the ruins of the fort atop the hill rather than venture into the cavern below. We were exhausted by the battle with the Shambling Mound and needed to rest. While setting up camp we heard the murmurs of a conversation coming from another area of the fort. Edgy explored the area and reported back that the conversation was coming up from a chimney from a complex below the fort. He also said it was a couple of men who spoke with a northern barbarian accent, much like Thock. They were discussing demonic theology in very crude terms. Not surprising to me, because we were on the trail of a demonic cult.
The following morning we made our way down to the cavern entrance and entered. The area below was mostly a natural cavern, but at the rear we found an area that led to an area of finished stone. Edgy expertly found a path for us to follow that unfortunately required us to wade through a lot of filthy water. We finally emerged on a ledge of an ancient sewer complex.
We could hear snatched of conversation up ahead. The talking suddenly stopped, and I assume they heard me trying to move through the passage burdened by my soaking leather and plate armor. As two large northern men came into our area Edgy launched a devastating backstab on one of the men nearly eviscerating him. The other northerner seeing half our group struggling to climb up on the ledge launched himself directly into the water at us! The northerners fought with fury, but soon one was dead and the other was knocked unconscious.
The northerner shook his head as my curing prayer of the first valence began to wash over him. We had taken the precaution of tying him up and I gently removed the gag to allow him to breath more easily and answer my questions.
“What is this place?” I asked.
“This is the mighty outpost of the Doom Speakers!”
“Keep your voice down. I want to learn more, but if you continue to be loud I will be forced to kill you,” I admonished him. He nodded solemnly to indicate he understood.
“You should join us,” he said in a conspiratorial whisper. “I can take you to our priestess Andarra and she can help you join the mighty cult of Doom Speakers!”
“I may very well want to join, but I need to know what you are doing this far south?” I asked.
“We are spreading the word and power of the mighty demonic force of the Doom Speakers. Soon we will control the entire world. Those who join us will be mighty indeed!”
Suddenly, I realized I knew of this cult. A few years before I had heard of rising cult of demon summoners in the kingdoms of Iuz. Iuz had put down a direct rebellion from the cult, but they were still managing to flourish. I knew the cult by a different name. The Bloodied Blades. I was certain it was the same group.
“I will lead you to Andarra. She will answer many of your questions and you can join the mighty Doom Speakers!” the northerner’s enthusiasm was borderline juvenile.
“I have to know I am joining a truly mighty group,” I began. “Just how many members do you have at this outpost?”
The northerner hesitated. “We do not have many yet, but we are growing in power. There are eight of us right now. Well, seven, since you killed Sven. You should not have killed Sven.”
“Very sorry about that, but I’m sure his soul is serving a greater power now,” I tried to reassure him.
The northerner seemed greatly cheered by this suggestion. I suspected the truth was his soul was being consumed as a larva in some dark corner of the Abyss. I untied the northerner and gave him his weapon back. “Take us to Andarra my good man - so that we too can join the great and mighty Doom Speakers!”
The northerner grinned widely and motioned for us to follow him.
“Drop your weapons,” the man demanded. “You will not be admitted to an audience to Andarra armed.”
“They are not going to harm her. They want to join,” our northerner guide tried to reassure the four men who confronted us. Our northerner had led us through several sub-basements and catacombs to this area.
“They need to drop their weapons first,” the man again demanded.
I gave Shen and Thock a quick nod. I then called Kord’s Guardians to me and the fight was on! Our ignorant, but friendly northerner guide was the first to drop. The melee was fast and furious and these northern cultists proved to be worthy foes. Just as I felt the tide of battle might turn our way a female Tiefling appeared in a doorway at the far end of the chamber and cast a shadowy veil about her!
Distracted momentarily by the appearance of Andarra Thock was nearly felled by a great blow to his torso. Three of the cultists went down in rapid succession, but our resources had been tapped in the battle. The Tiefling was shooting arrows at us with deadly accuracy. When the last of her burly northerner barbarians fell she retreated through the door. Edgy moved up to pick the lock and we pursued.
Edgy picked the lock and Thock pushed through and charged ahead. The Half-orc was quickly knocked down and Shen gave him a healing potion. Thock got up and continued fighting. Adarra knocked Thock down again and Someone gave him healing potion. Thock got up and continued fighting. Andarra knocked Thock down and someone gave him a healing potion and he fought on. No less that four times in the combat Thock went down and was revived and kept fighting. The force of his mighty barbarian blade took effect and Andarra was struck down.
A search of the priestess and her chambers yielded some magic items. However, most importantly, we found a number of missives directing her to establish an outpost for the spread of the cult of Doom Speakers. The fact that the forces of Iuz had been used to aid the Doom Speakers meant that the cult had penetrated high into the upper echelons of Iuz’s command structure.
It also meant we had made yet another very powerful enemy.
For the next couple of days I avoided the rebel encampment and spent my time aboard Molly’s Folly pouring over the correspondence that we had discovered at the Doom Speakers outpost. It took some time to understand the rhythm of the letters. The syntax had a strange cadence and the phrases seemed packed with underlying meaning. Eventually, I began to decipher the obtuse wording and could ascertain the outpost was one point of a complicated web of a shadow structure. Then I saw the blasphemy, the heresy! The Doom Speakers were trying to use the solemn Monastery of Contemplation to draw power for their nefarious schemes. This most holy site of Kord was being defiled!
The Monastery of Contemplation was founded on the site where Kord had tried to seduce Fharlanghn. The goddess tricked Kord and Kord wept. The site on the mountain was revered as a holy site, and eventually, the monastery was built there. Followers of Kord came from far and wide to stay and contemplate their own faults. I had never personally been to the monastery, although I have faults, none required the sort of tortuous self-examination the Monastery of Contemplation demanded. Nonetheless, I was incensed that this very holy refuge of Kord was being so abused!
I informed my companions of my discovery and to my delight they were only too happy to leave our sorry bunch of rebels behind to right this injustice! While they were not of the church, they could see this abominable state could not stand! After a lengthy explanation of the history of the monastery and my belief of what the cult of Doom Speakers was up to - there were only a couple of questions to be answered:
“Are we going to kill things?” Thock asked.
“Almost certainly,” I replied.
“I’m in,” Thock said.
We hired a carpenter’s apprentice, Egbert, to serve as Molly’s ship carpenter and set sail for the northern Flinty Hills.
I continued to study the correspondence as we journeyed towards the Flinty Hills. I saw numerous references to the Prince of Darkness, which I initially took to mean the master of the Gaping Maw, the Sibilant Beast, Maker of the Death Knights, or Ahmon-Ibor (He Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken). I needed another opinion and asked Faithless to consult the passages that were troubling me.
“Initially, I thought these were references to the Sibilant Beast, but now I’m not sure,” I said.
“Prince of Darkness does sound like Demogorgon,” she replied.
“SHHHHH, his name must not be spoken!” I admonished her.
“Well, what do you want me to call Demogorgon?” she asked.
“Now, you are intentionally goading me! Master of the Gaping Maw or Ahmon-Ibor would be more appropriate to use,” I replied.
“Too much trouble - why don’t I just call Demogorgon ‘Daddy Darkness’ or ‘D.G.’?”
“Please stop saying his formal name - D.G. is fine,” I tried to remain cool, because I could see the delight Faithless got from my reaction to her blasphemies.
“You know you bestow power on D.G. by refusing to say his name. Show me why you are doubting this is one of his cults.”
I read the passages of the correspondence to her and she thoughtfully listened. FInally, she stood up and said, “I think you are right Lucius. There is no mention of duality, no reference to those who swim in the dark, basically none of the hallmarks of Demog… D.G.”
“Who or what do you think they are referring to?” I asked.
“No idea. None of the big fiends for sure. Probably some archaic, Chthonic deity who could care less that it has a cult.”
The consideration of such dark matters was taxing and I resolved that all that mattered was that the cult served an evil purpose.
Oppose injustice in all forms.
Around an hour out from our destination, the air became very chilly and thin. I was pleased we had decided to have warm clothes tailored for us before we left the rebel camp. Despite the chill it was a clear and sunny day and we began to debate our approach to the monastery. While we were debating, the ship was set upon by a pair of shadow demons. The foul fiends seemed completely unaffected by the bright sunlight.
When Thock struck down the first of the demons I saw the flash of a handsome man’s face before the creature dissipated. The second demon was tearing through some legionnaires at the other end of the ship. Edgy, with amazing speed, traversed the entirety of the ship to confront the second demon. There the cat gave battle, but it was felled by my Greater Glorious Bolt of Kord. Edgy, jumped back when the fiend dissipated, and upon questioning, revealed that just like the first, a flash of man’s face had appeared when it died. It was only due to the Tabaxi’s amazing speed that we could confirm that both demons had flashed the same face as they left the prime.
Sadly, we were unable to save one of the legionnaires who was struck by the demon.
The Bearer of the Sword of Kalmar brings a warrior home.
We spied a Dwarven muleskinner working his way up the switchbacks on the narrow trail leading to the monastery’s front doors. We resolved to cut him off and question him. Molly expertly steered the airship to a drop right in front of the monastery in an ancient courtyard. We waited patiently for the muleskinner to plod his way up to our position.
The Dwarf revealed no surprise at the sight of the airship and barely paid attention to us at all. When questioned about the monastery his response was uniform, “I drop the supplies. Knock on the door and they pay me.” We decided to allow him to knock on the door - there was little value in further reconnaissance - the monastery was a squat, windowless, rock structure.
Two young men in robes answered the door when the Dwarf knocked.
“Greetings brothers! I am Lucius Victorium Gnaeus fellow priest of mighty Kord. I bring you blessings,” I said.
“Have you come for contemplation?” one of the monks asked.
“What of these others?” the second monk asked. He gave the Dwarf a sack of coins. The Dwarf looked into the sack and then began unloading his mules.
“These are my companions who have given me great aid in reaching this holy site. I wish my mission was personal, but alas, it is of much higher concern. May I speak with the Abbot?” I replied.
“The superiors are in contemplation,” one of the monks replied.
“Please come in and be cleansed,” the second added.
We entered the monastery’s narthex and immediately felt a blast of warmth. We were led into a forecourt where a sizable brazier steaming with heat. The brazier was fired by a thermal current known as the Spring of Kord. There were four more initiates in the forecourt.
We exchanged introductions and I again insisted on seeing the abbot.
“Brother, you must know the superiors are in contemplation and have a vow of silence during their time of reflection. We cannot disturb them except in the case of a dire emergency,” one of the initiates responded.
“This is just such a dire emergency,” I replied.
“Before we can allow you admittance beyond you must be cleansed in any case,” another initiate said.
“What’s involved with this cleansing?” Shen asked me.
“I do not know,” I replied honestly.
“You will remove your old clothes and initiates will bathe and scrape your skin and you will receive robes of Kord,” an initiate said.
“Not happening,” Faithless announced.
“What?” an initiate asked.
“I am not removing my clothes in front of you or being bathed in any holy water,” Faithless clarified.
“You are the most impure and must undergo the cleansing first,” the initiate replied indignantly.
“I think you are impure, you filthy perverts,” Faithless replied.
“We have female initiates who can do the cleansing,” the initiate offered.
“Thock will go!” Thock offered.
“Perhaps I should go,” I offered.”You could explain the cleansing ritual and then I could do it for my companions.”
“You said you are not here for contemplation. It must be a brother of the monastery,” the initiate replied.
“Thock will go!” Thock insisted.
The initiates looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. A pair of the initiates began to lead the massive Half-orc away.
“How long will it take?” I asked.
“Normally a quarter of an hour, but with someone of this size and state of filth it will take longer,” one of the initiates replied.
While Thock was led away for his cleansing the rest of us were shown to some small cells with comfortable beds and the initiates brought us bread and water. It was tempting to lay down and sleep, but this whole situation still troubled me. I went to each of my companions and told them I thought there was something amiss.
Keep a watchful eye and a ready sword.
Thock returned to us accompanied by a pair of initiates. His skin had appeared to change color!
“Thock are you alright?” Edgy asked. “Your skin looks different.”
“Just clean,” Thock replied cheerily. He was toting his old clothes and weapons in his arms.
I was relieved they had not tried to take his weapons. That would have gotten ugly very quickly. I had Thock explain what had happened and tried to ascertain if he was under any magical duress or influence. In all regards the entire process seemed innocent.
“She should be next,” one of the initiates said pointing at Faithless.
“I will be next,” I announced. “First, however, we will join in the prayer of the second blessing of Kord. Please join me brothers.”
I led the initiates through the first stanza of the prayer, but they seemed to stumble through the words.
“That is a basic supplication to our Lord, and yet you struggle. How can this be?” I asked.
“We are surrounded by silence, Brother Lucius, speaking prayers aloud in the monastery rarely happens,” one of the initiates offered.
I did not believe him.
“I demand to see your abbot. This matter can no longer wait. I feel the evil influence may already be upon this place!”
The initiates protested, but I could see coming from the Nave a person in robes of a superior.
“Ah, finally, someone I can speak with,” I declared.
“Zedeena may not speak with you,” an initiate protested. “She has undertaken a vow of silence.”
“Who are you and why are you not cleansed?” Zedeena asked.
“Sister, I have some grave news that could not wait, but first, I would ask that we join in prayer and have you lead us in the fourth liturgy,” I replied. The fourth liturgy of the Sword prayer and response was so well known and common in the church that any hesitation on Zedeena’s part would confirm my growing suspicion we were dealing with imposters.
Zedeena with supernatural quickness shed her robes and struck three of us grievous blows with a rapier! The initiates all attacked us in concert with their leader. Zedeena licked the accumulated blood from her rapier and I felt an icy fear of her grow in my heart!
I cast Kord’s Guardians and battled one of the initiates. Shen was quickly overwhelmed and fell unconscious to the stone floor. Thock was hacking away at another of the initiates. He had let his robe fall to the floor and was battling with naked fury! I cast Kord’s Will of Mass Healing. Shen, recovering slightly, thanks to the prayer, cast a spell at Zedeena from the floor. I moved over and attacked her as well. Kord’s Guardians were spinning around me, buffeting into the initiates and Zedeena.
Faithless and Edgy both managed to slay initiates and as they fell they changed form into gray, featureless humanoids. Doppelgangers! Now, I understood what had happened!
Thock with a mighty swing of his sword slew Zedeena and Kord’s Guardians killed another initiate. Zedeena apparently was some sort of other creature - she did not change form. There was a momentary pause in the battle and then, ten more doppelgangers appeared from the Nave.
A doppelganger stepped forward and said, “We will cease fighting if you give us safe passage out of this place.”
We were very battered and facing ten more of these things did not seem like the wisest choice. “I think we can reach an accord,” I offered. “Who are you and what happened to the brothers?”
“We are mercenaries. We were hired to keep this place running. The men we replaced are being held in the basement, along with Hoplodamos,” the doppelganger replied.
I knew that name. Surely it could not be the same I knew of! “Who is Hoplodamos?” I asked.
“A Titan,” it replied.
It was the same. “Gods’ Teeth!” I muttered. “One more thing and then we will let you go, show me what Hoplodamos looks like.”
The doppelganger formed the face of a handsome man. The same face we had seen flash before us when the shadow demons were defeated.
“Who holds him?” I asked.
“We do not know. They never come above. We only dealt with Zedeena,” the doppelganger answered.
True to our word, we allowed the doppelgangers to leave and watched as they took the forms of Dwarves and began heading down the long trail away from the monastery.
Assured that we were safe at least for a few hours, we set up for a long rest on the monastery’s ground floor. Once recovered we would go below and confront evil forces that had managed to imprison a Titan!
Although we took the precaution of posting a watch in the monastery the previous evening, it proved unnecessary. Well rested, but apprehensive, we ate a cold breakfast in silence. I recited my prayers while others prepared in their own ways. We marched through the nave and at the back found an exit to a descending spiral staircase.
The structure of the staircase was a wide ancient stonework, and yet, it seemed somehow out of place in the general construction style of the monastery. As we descended we noticed that the stonework was becoming more jagged and almost warped as we descended further. I was having to watch my step and dodging places where jagged blocks hung down in jaunty angles from the ceiling. The stones did not seem displaced, but warped into this configuration.
Sparkling against the light were tiny little red motes. The red dots began to cling to us and soon were coating our armor, capes, weapons, hair and anything else exposed to the air. Efforts to scrape this red substance away were futile. It was Faithless who realized the motes were vaporized droplets of blood. What was bleeding and why was the blood acting this way were not questions I wished to dwell upon. We forged on.
Edgy was scouting ahead of the group and came back to report that there was warped door at the bottom of the stairs. The Tabaxi led us to the base of the stairs and the door. He inspected the lock and announced it should be easy to pick because the warping of the door had also warped the lock. True to his word, with a quick flick of his wrist the lock clicked open and the chamber beyond was revealed.
The chamber beyond was spacious and built with fashioned stone with an arched ceiling some 17 to 18 feet overhead. The construction reminded me of the ancient catacombs below the city Rel Astra. Spaced fairly evenly in the chamber were five figures impaled on stout wooden poles that looked much like scarecrows. However, these scarecrows were a strange combination of flesh, straw, wood, and bone. I feared that these were many of the former brothers of the monastery, but I couldn’t be certain in the stygian vault. There was a door on the far side of the chamber.
Thock hefted his mighty weapon and strode brazenly into the chamber. As the Half-orc barbarian prepared to knock one of the fleshy pillars to the ground it came to life and attacked! As the rest of us poured into the chamber to aid Thock, ten shadow creature also sprung to the attack.
I held forth my holy symbol and chanted, “Be gone! The Power of Kord compels you!” A half-dozen of the shadow creatures recoiled in fear and slinked to the far edges of the chamber.
The scarecrows advanced, undeterred by my divine admonishments, bearing metal-tipped claws. Edgy streaked into the combat and buried his blade into one of the scarecrows ending its unnatural life. I summoned Kord’s Guardians and they began to mow down the remaining shadow creatures.
Meanwhile, Shen and Faithless were doing heavy damage against the scarecrows with their fire-based magic. Combined with the might of Thock’s attacks, the scarecrows fell rapidly. All that remained was to finish off the shadow creatures I had turned through the divine might of Kord. A task the group accomplished with aplomb.
While we breathed heavily, recovering from combat, I noticed that each of us now had a sparkling reddish tint. So many of the bloodlet motes had attached to us we appeared to have been neatly sprayed with blood. The scene was disconcerting. As the reddish veneer could not be scraped away or removed, we resolved to continue through the far door.
There are no half-measures in the faithful.
The door opened up to another descending spiral staircase. The stonework surrounding the stairwell seemed even more warped. Stonework in the stairs made it difficult to climb down and we were even forced to duck and dodge stonework jutting at awkward angles in our path. As we carefully picked our way down the treacherous stairs we were interrupted by a large chasm dividing the stairs.
The chasm at first appeared natural that had divided the stonework, but it had several odd features. Deep, at the bottom of the chasm, we could see the glow of lava. Further, the sheer nature of the sides of the chasm seemed somehow constructed and unnatural. We could see the stairs continued on the other side of the rift.
“I can jump across,” Edgy offered.
“What if you miss?” Shen countered.
“It’s a short span for my legs,” Edgy reassured us. “I’ll jump across and you can send across a rope and secure it.”
“Allow us to wrap a rope around your waist for security,” I offered.
Edgy acquiesced and we looped and tied a rope around him. Edgy took a short run up and made a prodigious leap. He landed far beyond the opposite side.
“Good thing I jumped as far as I did,” he called over to us.
“Why?” Thock asked.
“The first few feet of this ledge is an illusion,” Edgy answered.
The rope was secured and we all made our way across the chasm.
Kord clears the eye of the true.
The stairs ended at another very warped door. Edgy went forth and began inspecting the door. Edgy suddenly shrieked and jumped back from the door.
“What is it?” Faithless asked.
“The door! It’s magical! It rusted and corroded all of my metal tools and equipment. My lock picks are ruined!” he wailed.
Thock began peeling his gear off and then his clothes until the half-orc stood stark naked. He gave a mighty war cry and charged the door and threw his body against it. With a resounding *CRACK* the door splintered apart and Thock burst into the chamber beyond.
I heard a roar of surprise and watched in fascinated horror as a large tentacle reached down from the ceiling and wrapped around Thock. Thock twisted and struggled, but the tentacle quickly pulled him aloft. We charged into the chamber after our vulnerable barbarian.
The predominant feature of the chamber we came into was some sort of chthonic horror on the ceiling with tentacles shooting out of its massive amorphous body. Thock yelled out as his skin was being burned by the slimy coating of acid that covered the beast’s body. Thock thrashed wildly with his fists, punching the tentacle with fury.
My own battles with the tentacles seemed ineffective, but fiery blasts from Shen and Faithless did great damage to the creature. Thock managed to sever the tentacle and he fell to the floor with a rain of acid coming down with him. Shen and Faithless kept up their flaming onslaught and soon the beast ceased to move. Puddles of acid sizzled on the flagstone floor and we carefully traversed the room to the far door.
“I cannot open it. My picks are ruined,” Edgy complained.
“Couldn’t you fashion picks from some spare iron bits?” Faithless asked.
“Everything I own is rusted!” Edgy complained. “Besides, this is no simple clasp, roughly made picks probably would not work.”
Thock was scraping the last spots of burning acid from his skin, when Shen spoke up, “Maybe we could use this creature’s blood to destroy the lock.”
“I’m not touching it,” Thock said.
“It is an acid. If we could apply enough to the lock it would destroy the mechanism,” Shen suggested.
“Using what?” I asked.
Shen did not reply directly, but instead conjured a spiritual hand of some sort and directed it to begin splashing acid onto the door and lock from nearby puddles. The robust sizzling sounds and smoke that rose from the lock’s metal gave some indication that he was making progress. The lock eventually fell out of the door and the door swung opened as though squeezed by the pressure of the surrounding warped structure.
Beyond was another descending spiral staircase.
“Why are the walls and stairs built this way?” Thock asked. “Is this the way of your temple?”
“This is not part of my temple,” I replied. “This place is a corruption. It is a place tainted with evil.”
“You’re god is not perfect,” Faithless interjected. “This monastery is a tribute to his fallibility.”
“Your blaspheming holds no weight given your patron,” I angrily retorted.
“Everyone be still,” Shen commanded. “There is light below.”
We all quieted and could see that the sharp-eyed half-elf was right - on a landing below torch light shone out from an arched doorway.
The stairs ended at a landing, and beyond the door, was a chamber with a dwarf manacled to the wall. The dwarf was wearing the robes of Kord.
Edgy began to make his way across the chamber floor towards the dwarf and the dwarf lifted his head and vigorously shook his head to warn him off. Edgy looked down at the flooring and called back to us, “There are pressure plates all throughout this entire chamber.”
Shen cast flight and Edgy went back across the room and freed the dwarf with the help of Thock. Thock carried the dwarf back to the landing. We fed him and gave the dwarf water and wine. Slowly, he regained his wits. We learned that the Dwarf was a brother in the monastery and was captured when it fell.His name was Delvan and he was an acolyte, but had been rigged to the wall as a kind of living alarm.
I recited a quick blessing in unison with the acolyte and began to question him. “What enemies are beyond?”
“They are few in number, but there is a mighty one amongst them clad in black armor,” Delvan replied.
“What happened to the other brothers?”
“I do not know the fate of all, but there were a few taken alive down below. For what nefarious purpose, I know not.”
We talked some more, but it became clear the brother had little more information to help us. We gave him a weapon and some sustenance and set him back up towards the monastery.
We continued down another set of spiral stairs and suddenly the stonework around us changed nature again. The walls surrounding us were now a seamless, black stone. We came to an opening in the wall and beyond found three priests of Kord in small cells. We released them and they knew even less than Delvan. The only information they could share was that they expected to be sacrificed. We sent the brothers back up the stairs to the monastery as well.
There was something even more markedly sinister about these solid black walls. The pall the walls cast upon our demeanor was palpable.
Edgy was cautiously probing ahead of us and suddenly I heard a barely audible yelp. At the edge of my vision I could see that Edgy had slipped down. I rushed forward and could see the tabaxi had triggered a trap that turned the stairs into a slick ramp. Without hesitation, I jumped onto the slide behind him. I found myself plummeting down with no idea what lay ahead!
Trust Faith. A man’s eye will lie.
To my relief my companions came sliding after me and we found ourselves in a jumble at the base of the slick ramp. We were in a nightmarish scene.
The chamber we faced had four dark cultist and their master in black plate. The captured Titan was chained to the floor in the middle of the chamber. The bizarre sigils sketched on the walls and floor of the massive chamber helped me realize we had interrupted some sort of ongoing ritual. The Dark Master raised his gauntlet and pointed at us. No words came from him, but his minions responded immediately by rushing to the attack.
Edgy and Faithless were able to quickly dispatch one of the minions. I cast Kord’s Guardians and the divine spirits began buffeting the Dark Master and his minions. Thock, in a full battle rage, charged the Dark Master. The barbarian paid a terrible price for his battle lust. As he ran across the chamber, flaming tentacles sprung up from the floor and raked at his skin. Ignoring his wounds, Thock rained down a series of blows on the dark master. I heard the Half-Orc shout, “Do it!”
I had no idea what Thock was talking about until I saw Shen readying a spell. Shen released a ball of fire that enveloped the Dark Master and Thock! Thock fell at the feet of the Dark Master. I watched as the Dark Master drew back his mighty sword to cleave Thock’s head off. I dashed closer to the grisly scene and the divine spirits of Kord crashed into the Dark Master. It was just enough. The Dark Master toppled backwards as his life drained out of him.
Meanwhile, the rest of the minions had succumbed to the combined efforts of Edgy, Faithless, and the divine spirits of Kord.
TheTitan was still alive, but it was clear he was undergoing a corruption. I tried healing him, but to little effect. As I tried to communicate with him there was a rumbling and I realized the chamber was collapsing!
The walls were coming in on us and we were trapped, because the stairs up had transformed into a slick ramp. Edgy desperately looted the Dark Master and found an amulet around his neck and a large book. I took the book and Edgy took the amulet back over to the entrance. The Tabaxi found an indentation that matched the goat head shape of the amulet and inserted it. The stairs were restored and our exit was secured!
There remained the problem of rescuing the titan. There was no way he could make it up the narrow winding stairs. The walls continued to collapse. The Titan with a mighty roar shook off his confining chains and braced himself against the walls. Haplodamus finally spoke to us, “Run! If you find a way to free me, I will be in your eternal debt!”
The monastery shook occasionally from the tumult below, but seemed secure. We found the rescued brothers performing rites of cleansing and rituals of sanctification throughout the building.
I inspected the book with the help of Faithless translating the Abyssal text. We learned that an Abyssal pocket had been formed and the cultists were using the nexus of magical flow in the monastery to power a profound ritual. Faithless learned they were trying to summon an ancient Dark God of THE END. The dark cult eternal was trying to bring about THE END. They hoped to use the mighty vessel of the Titan Haplodamus to bring their Dark God to the world. To me, it was all pure nihilism, void of faith or hope.
The ritual was flawed and would not have succeeded. The cultists had rushed and made several mistakes. If completed it would have had cataclysmic effects, but not accomplished their goals.
Following Faithless’s relating of what she had found in the book, I demanded, “The tome must be destroyed! It is a source of elemental evil!”
“Nonsense,” Faithless countered. “It is a source of great knowledge. It may even give us the key to freeing Haplodamus. If we destroy it, we may be damning him to an eternal struggle he can never overcome!”
The debate went back and forth in this manner. Finally, much to my chagrin, the group voted to keep the book.
In the fight against the monstrous, one must not become a monster.
The miles began streaming past as we passed in our airship over the rolling hills and forests. We would be in the great City of Greyhawk in a few days and I wondered how I would adjust after this time in the wilderness. Still, I was excited by the prospect of Greyhawk’s massive temples and vast libraries. I have much to learn.