Southern Kingdoms

Superstes Scripsit Canticum
Ab exiguo Benedicti libros

There is a strange property of this land: sometimes people simply vanish. Perhaps it is because we were born outside the shield. Keller and Fungdark have spoken of a strange, otherworldly adventure that took them out of our time for several hours, and which none of the rest of us noticed. Sirette has vanished, and – so far as we know – has not reappeared. And most recently, Dragda vanished without a trace, just as we were entering the Kobold Caves.

Ironically, I suspect if she had been there, some of us would not have survived.

We had entered the cave cautiously – the footprints outside spoke of a mix of goblins and kobolds within. Not long after we entered, we found a chamber containing several goblin bodies, hacked to bits. We reinforced our arcane and divine protections and continued down a side passage into an apparently empty room.

Moments after we entered, a kobold struck at me, shimmering into visibility as his knives grated across my armor. I fell back to the mouth of the passage, shielding Keller and Fungdark as two more kobolds emerged from hiding and joined the battle. My combat abilities pale in comparison to Dragda’s berserker fury, but I was able to block them from going after the others while they cast spells and fired arrows past me.

One of the kobolds was quickly disabled and the other two withdrew. We pursued, wary of ambush, arriving at another seemingly empty chamber. Two kobolds struck from ambush, one with magical missiles, the other with a knife. Both of them were unable to penetrate my armor and magical shielding. This time, Keller, Fungdark and I quickly filled the room with sound bursts, exploding alchemical mixtures and a fine glittering dust that clung to the outlines of three invisible kobolds. Our attacks left two of them stunned. The third threw down his weapons in disgust and snarled something in a hissing, growling language.
To my surprise, Keller snarled and hissed back, then said, “They speak Draconic! And I think they’re surrendering…”

Having established communication, we quickly learned that the kobolds were not allies of the goblins. Indeed, they were defending their home – first from the goblins and then from us. Fortunately, the kobold we had disabled was only wounded, not dead, and I was able to heal him.

The kobold shaman told us that he had been second in command of a group of ten kobolds who had been frozen in time. He showed us the room where he and his compatriots had stood on pillars for untold years. Something had gone wrong somewhere – he feared that they had been there for far longer than intended. The world had changed drastically from when they entered their sleep.

He was unsure what had awakened them, but there was a crack in the wall of the pillar room. A slow dripping leak had undermined the stone. And – worse yet – there was a creature deep in the caves. Something horrible had killed six of the kobolds, including their original leader. In recompense for having attacked the kobolds in their home, we agreed to see what we could find.

In the far wall of the room where the kobolds surrendered was a narrow fissure – barely large enough to admit Fungdark. Keller and I were far to large to fit, but fortunately both of us had arcane means to reduce our size so that we could squeeze through. The kobolds were roughly Fungdark’s size, so they would follow us through the crack to assist in the fight.

Having seen how effective the sonic burst was at stunning opponents, the plan was that Fungdark, the kobold shaman and I would take turns blasting whatever it was with sound while the kobold skirmishers engaged it in melee. Keller would lend arcane support with his most damaging spells. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, few plans survive actual contact with the enemy.

The cavern at the end of the fissure was a rough sinkhole, muddy, rocky, and half submerged in silty water. Keller, Fungdark and I entered and attempted to flush out whatever creature lurked in there. Our efforts were fruitless until Keller lit the room with glittering dust and a man-sized figure of mud launched itself from a puddle and lashed out with viscous limbs across the room.

The muddy tendrils slammed into Keller and Fungdark, wrapping around them and beginning to squeeze. I could see that Keller was half-dead from the initial impact, and Fungdark wasn’t much better. I fired off a sonic blast, but the creature shrugged it off and began to bear down on the two people it had trapped.

Fortunately, the kobold shaman was able to act in time, casting his own sonic burst into the room. This time, the creature loosened its grip, dropping Fungdark and Keller. We quickly beat a retreat, taking advantage of its temporarily stunned state.

We have escorted the four kobolds out of their caves and are on our way back to the tower. The kobold shaman has a key around his neck – one which may, perhaps, match the locked chamber we found so long ago… Perhaps we can make a deal, helping to give them shelter and some measure of protection in exchange for the key.

Our physical injuries are, fortunately, minor, but Keller’s pride is rather bruised. He groused to Fungdark, “I don’t think we’ll be getting a song out of that adventure.” But the bard disagreed. “The survivors write the songs” Fungdark said. “And there’s a lot to work with: A tragic misunderstanding, averted at the last minute. A hasty alliance between former foes. And, at the end of it all, a chancy rescue… And who says we have to go into the trifling details about who rescued whom?”

I wrote about an irony earlier. By going into this cave without our strongest warrior, I think we benefited more than if Dragda had been there. With her in the fight, I doubt the kobolds would have lived long enough to surrender. Without their warning, we would have stumbled into the room with the mud creature unaware of the danger. With her help, but without the assistance of the kobold shaman, some of us might have survived the fight with it, but we would probably have lost Keller. As it is, we have gained some interesting knowledge and possibly some useful allies.

Sepulcrum Limo
Ab exiguo Benedicti libros

Goblins have far too many unpleasant gods.Pieter_Cornelisz_van_Slingelandt_-_Breakfast_of_a_Young_Man_-_WGA21471-e1380798482283.jpg

It was early in Trickster when we set out from the Fort to continue our exploration of the southlands. We had been traveling a few days when we came across signs of goblin habitation – crude trails in the woods, marks on trees, the usual sort of thing. It didn’t take us long to track down the caves that they were inhabiting. They had a single sentry visible from the edge of the woods, but the tracks indicated that there were quite a few others nearby.

We moved in quickly and engaged the guard – he called out a pair of combat-trained giant beatles as reinforcements, but didn’t live very long after that. The beatles were, in turn, reinforced by a few more goblins from within the cave, but we were able to keep them bottled up so that only a few of them could attack us at a time. The combat with the guards was short and brutal. We stepped back into the woods to catch our breath and watch for any returning patrols or other signs of life.

After a few minutes rest, we decided to proceed cautiously into the caves. Fungdark took the lead, reinforced with a few protective prayers to aid his scouting mission. He snuck around a few bends in the tunnels then returned. Down one short corridor was a wall with signs of recent excavation. Down the other was a deeper, heavily defended cave. He caught sight of several goblin defenders and had noted their position before returning. Despite being on high alert from our earlier attack, they failed to find Fungdark, and we were ready to take advantage of that.

Keller conjured a ball of flame that rolled down the passage and into the crowd of guards. We marched in after it, Dragda and I in the lead, backed up by Fungdark’s shortbow and Gnomish battle chant. Keller continued to bowl through the defenders with the flaming sphere, scattering them and preventing them from forming a solid defensive line. Unfortunately, from deeper within the cave, the leader of the goblins let loose with a magic missile volley that slammed into Keller, hurting him badly.

I broke off from melee and fell back to heal Keller and pass him a shield infusion. The flaming sphere flickered out and the goblins began to form up around their leader. Still, Dragda and Fungdark were taking a heavy toll on the guards, and there were only a half dozen or so left by the time we were able to rejoin them. The goblin leader tried a second volley of missiles on Keller, but they fizzled out when they hit the shield.

The goblins had fallen back into a large cavern. Filthy bedrolls and debris indicated that it was their main living quarters. Over on one side of the room were the remains of an ancient goblin altar that I vaguely recognized as being associated with decay and slime. At this point the goblin guards had surrounded their leader, using their bodies to try to shield him from Dragda and Fungdark. I tossed an explosive flask into the middle of their formation, inflicting a solid hit on the leader and blistering all of the guards.

It was around this point when the back wall of the cave collapsed and a wave of ooze rolled into the cavern.

The goblin leader seemed pleased at first, but quickly realized that whatever this was, it wasn’t under his control. The ooze overwhelmed two of the wounded goblin guards almost immediately, and the others found themselves trapped between us and the slime. Things quickly turned into a three-way fight between us, the goblins, and the slime. Chunks of slime were breaking off from the main body as the goblins slashed away, dividing the creature from a glutenous whole into a small army of blobs. I started a more liberal application of my alchemist bombs, tossing one in whenever I could find an opportunity to catch three or four targets in the same blast. Such opportunities were plentiful, and I burned through my supplies fairly quickly, inflicting damage on goblin and ooze alike. Keller was low on large area spells, but his volleys of missiles were highly effective against the oozes. Fungdark found that his arrows did very little to them, so he concentrated on the goblins, as did Dragda.

The combat was fierce. Dragda took a couple of wounds from the goblins and the ooze’s acids, but nothing serious. Between us all, we managed to eliminate the cave’s living inhabitants fairly quickly. And as soon as we poked our heads into the newly revealed depths of the cavern we encountered a cohort of undead inhabitants.

A cluster of tombs on the outskirts of the cave creaked open and a good half-dozen zombie goblins came shambling out. Nearby on the left, a croaking voice began to order them around in some debased undead language. At this point we were low on spells, wounded, and in totally unscouted territory. We needed a more strategic position, so we fell back to the narrowest part of the cavern.

Once there, Dragda and I were able to hold a choke-point. Only two of the creatures could approach us at a time. We set to work with axe and morningstar, chopping and crushing the attackers. Keller took a couple of opportunistic shots with his crossbow while Fungdark played a jaunty undead-crushing tune. The creatures didn’t last long, but in the distance, Dragda’s dark-adjusted eyes were able to make out a ragged, rotten shape retreating back into the newly opened cavern. Whatever it was, it had the wit to not follow us into our slapdash – but effective – fortification. We needed to recuperate before facing it.

We returned to the surface for a quick breath of fresh air. When we had recovered, we made a cautious return to the cave. I called light into a pebble and slung it into the new cavern, revealing more coffins – fortunately uninhabited by undead – and an alcove where furtive movement gave away the position of the leader of the undead attackers. Unaware of what we might be facing, we moved to surround the alcove, approaching it from multiple angles. What we found turned out to be a goblinoid ghoul of some description. Cornered by the four of us, it tried to put up a fight but was quickly crushed.

With the immediate threat dealt with, we were able to make a more careful exploration of the newly expanded cave. Keller and Fungdark began to debate the origin of the coffins and the meaning of the carvings on them. According to Keller, they’re the product of an ancient goblin civilization. According to Fungdark, the words ‘civilization’ and ‘goblin’ are contradictory. Dragda and I decided not to get involved in the debate and explored the rest of the cave.

Most of the cave was plain, natural stone, slightly etched by the acids of the ooze that had lived here. In the farthest end, however, was a carefully constructed stone wall. We called the others over. Keller’s knowledge of engineering wasn’t able to place the construction style with any major race he was familiar with. Rather than annoy Fungdark by speculating that it may be of goblin origin, we agreed that it was from a “hitherto unknown race” of builders.

We scavenged some of the crude tools from the excavation site that Fungdark had scouted earlier and set to work on the wall, eventually dislodging enough stone that we could enter the room beyond. Inside, we found an undisturbed treasure chamber, thick dust on the floor speaking to how long it had been since anyone had entered the room. Keller turned his attention to spotting any enchantments in the room and quickly identified some objects that we set aside for later investigation.

On the outskirts of the chamber were a quartet of paintings depicting a goblin chieftain performing standard acts of goblinish chieftainship – oppressing slaves, tricking humans, looting, pillaging, and so on. Dragda went over to investigate them more closely, accidentally triggering some sort of ancient anti-theft enchantment and flooding the room with fire. Keller and Fungdark were on the fringes of the explosion and were unharmed. Dragda was only mildly singed. I was pretty badly scorched. We took a break to patch ourselves up before we continued on our way.

Smitten, Stricken and Afflicted

Afflixit Peste, Contagia Probrosus

The battle with the wraith had been exhausting. We rested and recovered our strength before moving on. A careful search unearthed a surprisingly un-rusted metal shield, which Kellar determined was mildly magical. Since Dragda was wielding a two-handed axe, I took the shield.

We determined that we had fully explored the underground parts of the ruined castle, so we took our search to the surface. Our path took us through a disused chapel that had been dedicated to a particularly nasty god of slavery and oppression. At my request we took a little time to topple the statuary and cleanse the altar. From there, we found our way into what must have been the administrative center of the castle.

There were rooms with desks and cabinets, shelves of rotting papers, long tables in a hall, and everywhere there were shackles and manacles hanging from the walls. Finally, our explorations ended in a set of locked doors, beyond which we could hear the sounds of… crunching?

We arranged ourselves for battle, Fungdark struck up a battle chant and Dragda took down the door, revealing a trio of creatures gnawing on the bones of some vermin they had caught. Dragda charged in to pin them down as I identified them as two ghouls and a ghast. Dragda’s initial swing slammed into the central figure, rocking it back, but from that point onward our luck was abysmal.

I blessed some stones to use as missiles, but then the creatures clawed at Dragda, managing to make contact with bare skin and paralyzing her. One of them stayed in the room to continue clawing and biting at her while the other two closed in on Fungdark, Keller and I. I tried a couple of strikes at them using the blessed stones as improvised knuckledusters, but failed to connect. Keller, wisely, backed off and began sniping at our assailants with both magical force bolts and conjured acid arrows. Fungdark tried to gain access to the room to assist Dragda, but found that the other entrance was jammed shut.

He rejoined the fight outside the room’s door just as the two creatures I was fighting inflicted a flurry of claws and bites on me. I staggered back as he charged in, quickly channeling some healing energy to stop some nasty bleeding. At around this point Keller’s spell damage brought down one of the creatures. Fungdark’s charge drew the attention of the remaining hallway antagonist, and he was subjected to a fierce onslaught. Fortunately, this was the one that Dragda had damaged in her initial attack, so Keller’s spells were able to take it down quickly.

The final creature, hearing the death of its fellows, left off chewing on Dragda and came out to engage us. Fungdark and I were both badly wounded and Keller’s spells were nearly depleted. Fortunately Dragda had just recovered from her paralysis and followed the creature into the hall, cleaving it down with a single slash from her axe.

We took stock of our situation. My healing prayers took care of Fungdark’s injuries, but the wounds that Dragda and I had taken were showing early signs of ghoul rot. My medical and alchemical skills could probably hold it at bay, but it would be best to return to the Iron Fort just in case we needed to engage the fort’s cleric’s services.

We collected Xaktooth, Krychug and little Pip – the Guardian Eye family – from the tower where they were waiting and began the journey back. We tested, every so often, to see if they could return to their home plane, but to no avail. On the other hand they were able to conjure food and drink enough for all of us, so we didn’t have to spend time foraging while we walked. And it was a good thing too – despite my efforts, I could tell that we weren’t shaking off the ghoulish infection as I had hoped. As we neared the Iron Fort, we were telling the Guardians about the wall of trees that had become the de-facto border of civilization.

Xaktooth spoke up, “Border as in… barrier?”

We allowed that it could, in fact, be considered such.

“Because I’m feeling very strongly that I can’t proceed any further. And that if you force me to, then I’ll be forced to resist.”

It looks, then, like we finally have an answer to the question of why they were trapped, as well as a clue to the conundrum of the forest. Some ancient spell, probably epic in scope, that has created a block – a vast zone of interference which was preventing their planar travel. A fascinating puzzle that may take us quite a while to solve. We gave the Guardians directions to the outpost where we last saw Sirette. The handspider caretakers shouldn’t prove a problem to creatures whose natural state is ‘hovering’.

And so we are resting up in Iron Fort, restocking, recuperating, studying, selling the salvage we found and spending our money on the bare necessities. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a very fine bottle of necessity calling to me from the cellar…

Capti Inique

Having rested up a bit, we searched the room. There were several piles of bones in one alcove, where the gel creature had deposited the remains of its prey, but very little else of interest apart from the exits. Apart from the door we had used to enter, there were a pair of double doors and a winch-driven portcullis. Dragda gave the double doors a casual shove with her axe and practically reduced them to splinters, revealing a rough chamber populated by three floating eye creatures.

I admit: we all tensed up until we noticed that the creatures had far too few eyestalks to be beholders. Our concerns were further allayed when we heard a slightly peeved voice in our heads saying, “You could have knocked.”

As it turns out the three creatures were guardians, summoned and bound to protect a treasure in the cavern. To be more precise, two of the creatures were guardians and the third one was their offspring, an adorable little melon-sized eye creature. The summoning had been centuries ago and now that the door was gone, they were free to leave. Unfortunately they now found that they couldn’t. Their natural plane-shifting ability was being blocked by something.

In with a bit of gold and a few gems was the interesting item that they had specifically been tasked with guarding: a two-handed axe with an utterly black blade. Dragda took an instant liking to it, but kept her old axe along as a door opening device…

With the three eye creatures in tow, we set out to thoroughly explore the caves beneath the keep in the hope of finding whatever was holding them in our world. Dragda spotted that one of the passages we had passed through, where there had been five lighted areas, there were now only four. Our initial theory that this was an indicator that some magical force had been lessened was dashed when we discovered that it was due to a clever bit of construction – the hallway itself used forced perspective and shadow to hide a stairway leading up. Rather than investigate this immediately, we decided to complete our survey of the lower levels.

Just off of the cold room where we fought the first waves of undead we found a doorway leading into a warm antechamber. Beyond that was a luxurious little apartment with a desk, some bookshelves, a comfy bed, and a skeleton chained to the wall. Once again we were a bit taken aback, but the skeleton was well secured, and it differed from the standard undead shambler. It had eyes, and a tongue – although it couldn’t speak.

We were, however, able to establish communication. It could nod and shake its head to answer questions, and with the occasional sarcastic eye-roll we learned that it was the remains of someone who had been chained to the wall, animated and left there to rot as a form of torture. Fungdark was able to place the date of his imprisonment as nearly four hundred years ago. According to the skeleton, destroying his body wouldn’t free him, and his bonds were enchanted to be unbreakable. Some powerful prayer might free him – an exorcism or uncursing – but for now there was nothing we could do. In the hopes of lessening the boredom of his torment, we rearranged the room so that he could reach the books and read them.

Since we were near the entrance, we returned to the surface. Night had fallen, and the fresh air was quite welcome. The guardian eye creatures – still unable to depart our world – took shelter in the tower above the tunnels. The weak floor of the second level would pose no threat to them.

We continued to explore the caves. Soon, we found some areas that had been finished with stonework, including a set of stairs and a long wooden ladder. Having exhausted the lower reaches, we decided to climb. Dragda went first, as she was the heaviest of us. If the ladder would support her, then it should support the rest of us. Unfortunately, about thirty feet up, some dry-rot afflicted rungs gave way. Dragda managed to twist and grab at the ladder as she fell, but she still landed hard. After some healing and rest, we decided to try the concealed stairs instead.

The atmosphere around the stairs themselves felt odd. Almost electric. There was a feeling of nervousness and impending doom. On the way up, Keller noted that all of our metal equipment was giving off a faint blue glow as well. Dragda was the first to the top, followed by me, then Keller, with Fungdark bringing up the rear. When we arrived at the top of the stairs, we found ourselves in a rough room with a narrow passage on the opposite side. We cautiously spread out and set forth, Dragda continuing in the lead. Just as she stepped into the passageway, something spectral clawed into her. She snarled, hefted the black axe, and the fight began!

The creature’s touch was horrifyingly cold. In addition to the physical injury, it also pulled the heat out of its victims, weakening them. Dragda got tagged twice before she was able to barrel into the next room, clearing the bottleneck in the passageway. I was clutched by the creature as well, and can testify that it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Fungdark struck up a Gnomish battle chant and we set to work. Keller and I managed to inflict a few minor pinpricks of damage. His spells and my healing energies could affect the thing, while Fungdark’s arrows passed through it harmlessly. Keller identified it as a Wraith – a fairly nasty form of undead that can’t be harmed by mundane weaponry. Fortunately, Dragda’s new axe was far from mundane!

Bolstered by Fungdark’s song and assisted by an oracular enchantment from Keller, Dragda began carving swathes of ectoplasm out of the horrible creature. I readied the magical dagger that we were saving for Sirette, but for the most part I spent my time healing Dragda or myself from the creature’s claws.

It seemed that the wraith was drawing some sort of dark healing force from the room, but in the end that wasn’t enough for it to keep up with the punishment that Dragda was dishing out. Three extremely solid hits with the black axe, along with the sprinkled spell damage from Keller, were enough to send the wraith on to its reward.

Nota quiesceret

(Marginal note: less mint, more juniper – the mentha arvensis is more aromatic than the alpha pinene, but the increased aggression makes it difficult to think strategically in the midst of a fight.)

We’ve left the ancient outpost behind – Dragda made sure that there was a note for Sirette, and she’s used her axe to blaze marks on the trees so that she can find us with relative ease. We’ve struck out to the east, and we had plans to cut back to the north, but we’ve found some intriguing ruins. It had been a castle – to be fair, much of it is still standing – but it has certainly seen better days.

It has also certainly seen worse days. Our first clue to its existence was the wreck of a siege engine pointed in its general direction. It had been a catapult, or perhaps a trebuchet. To satisfy his curiosity on this point, Keller started poking around the machine with his newly attuned staff. This had the unfortunate result of rousing the remains of the weapon’s crew. A massively broad, ten foot tall skeleton levered itself out of the rubble and began to reach for him.
Fortuitously, I had been discussing a mixture I was working on using some herbs that we had scavenged while traveling, and I had a sample on hand. I drank it back and grabbed Keller by the back of his robe, shoving him behind me as my elixir took effect: within moments I was the same height as the skeleton – if not quite as broad. And no where near as sturdy. Perhaps annoyed that I had taken his first target away, the skeleton simply swatted me down, knocking me senseless in a single hit.

(Margin – cutaway sketch of acorn with notes: Powdered paricarp of Quercus seed next time instead of the dried cotyledons. Extra size and strength are useless if they make you easy to hit.)

Dragda jumped up on the wreck of the catapult and began some virtuoso axe work, cracking and chipping away at the skeleton. Her quick thinking drew the creature’s attention long enough for Fungdark to cast a quick healing spell on me. Keller stepped back to a safer distance and began to pelt the thing with magical force bolts. The skeleton clawed at Dragda, but she was able to withstand the attack with relative ease, and continued to carve chips out of the animated bones.

Partially restored by Fungdark’s magic, I grabbed the heftiest wooden beam I could drag out of the ruined catapult and brought it down hard on the back of the thing’s skull. The wood shattered and it staggered slightly but continued to claw at Dragda, dealing out some serious gouges. Her riposte ruined several of its ribs, and Keller’s force-bolts knocked some more bones out of joint. Fungdark sent an arrow clattering through its ribs, but it didn’t seem fazed. If we didn’t take it down quickly we were in a bit of a pickle: none of us could withstand another hit from the giant skeleton. I’d gotten lucky with one swing, but Keller’s magic was nearly drained, Fungdark’s weaponry was entirely ineffective against the thing, and it was only through sheer strength that Dragda was able to damage it with her axe. Concentrating, I called up a wave of positive light, flooding the area with energy. With the damage we had inflicted, this was enough to disrupt the necromantic force that was animating the skeleton. It collapsed into a pile of inanimate bone shards.

We rested for a while, healing and recovering our energies. Keller found some gold in the ruins of the catapult – probably the pay for the giant that had been operating the weapon. He sighted along a line where the thing would have been firing and spotted part of a stone wall through a gap in the trees. Once we were rested, we set off in that direction.

The castle we found had been the site of a pretty intense battle. We walked around it carefully, scouting from a distance and looking for any signs of habitation. The walls were breached in several locations, but the main structure was mostly intact – a three story keep with an enclosed courtyard and a detached tower at the far corner of the yard. The battle must have gone badly for both sides – in addition to the breaches, there were more ruined siege weapons scattered around. If the defenders had won, they had abandoned the place without rebuilding. If the attackers had been victorious, they hadn’t bothered to repair their weapons or bury their dead.

We decided to investigate the tower first, entering via a gap in the outer wall. The interior was in disrepair, the floor of the second level sagging in the middle. A quick check of the stairs revealed that it was unlikely to support the weight of anyone other than Fungdark. Instead we followed a path downward, stairs into catacombs, catacombs into caves.

It wasn’t long before we found the remnants of some of the castle’s defenders. Or perhaps attackers. At this point, they all were bound to the service of some necromancer – skeletal figures and putrid zombies lurched into action, throwing themselves claw-first at us as we explored the frigid spaces underneath the keep. We positioned ourselves well, using natural narrowings of the cavern and the rough-hewn doorways to choke the flood of the undead. Dragda’s axe made short work of those that got close and I tossed a few bottles of liquid flame over her head and into the throng to drive them out of the shadows and into her blade. There were a few undead that were more than mindless minions though – casting spells past the knot of their rotting soldiers and into our midst. Keller’s arcane bolts and Fungdark’s mundane arrows made short work of them.

(Margin – Illustration of two nested bottles of thin glass sealed with a single lump of wax. The interior is labeled “cibus”, the exterior is marked with a circle crowned in flame. The entire drawing is titled “Hypergolic”)

After a rest, we continued. Exploring further, we found a number of peculiar areas – a corridor with five patches of glowing light on the wall, several locked or barred doors. At the end of one long corridor, we decided to open a door and see what it hid. A bit of acid on the door’s lock and hinges weakened things enough for Dragda to drag the whole door free from the wall, revealing our prize. We had found a cavernous room with several exits: the former door which we had demolished, a set of double doors on one side and a portcullis-sealed passage on the other. We were ready to continue our exploration when Keller and I spotted an odd cloudiness in a passage on the other side of the room.

In the spirit of experimentation, I heaved a rock toward it, expecting it to disperse the mist and land on the other side of the room. Instead, it struck something semi-solid in midair, rebounding to tumble onto the floor as a cubical mass of transparent gel slid across the cavern floor toward us.

The four of us quickly scattered, trying to avoid any attacks that it might level against us as a group. Dragda carved a slab out of its substance with her axe, and Fungdark struck up a Gnomish battle chant. In a matter of seconds though, it washed over us. I lost sight of Dragda as I was trapped in its gooey interior. As quickly as I could I shoved a flask of hypergolic reagent into the stinging jelly and pulled the stopper. Concentrating on the blessings of the Free Wanderer, I felt the ground beneath my feet and twisted sideways into a low leap, pulling free from the creature just as the chemicals I’d deposited burst into flame. The battle that followed was short and furious. I splashed the sides of the cube with my last two bottles of fire while Keller slammed it with arcane force. The creature quickly slumped into a pile of goo and we stepped back to take a much needed rest.

Fragments from the Past
Ab exiguo Benedicti libros

The handspiders had been doing a pretty good job of keeping the place vermin-free for the past several thousand years. If we were thinking of using this as a remote base of operations I thought it might be a good idea to capture one of them rather than destroying them all, and the others agreed.

We were fairly certain there were some of them in the last room. Sure enough, when Dragda opened the door four of them rushed out at her. They might not be very sturdy, but they’re certainly quick! We made short work of three of them – Dragda crushed one, Keller blasted another with a spell and Fungdark picked one off with a well placed arrow. The third one was tripped with a whip, entangled in a cloak and finally bundled into a cooking pot for our later study.

The room itself was a sort of workroom, with clay cylinder tomes and all the trappings of a small lab. A pile of red grit on the floor indicated that someone had spent a great deal of time destroying some of the old books. The dead goblin in the corner was a late addition to the decor, and something of a distraction especially because Fungdark would occasionally give it a casual stab in an off-hand way.

Fungdark and Keller told us about something strange which had happened to them in the instants before the battle with the handspiders. The two of them had suddenly found themselves in a different building – a strange parallel to this place – where the only living things were a swarm of rats and a strange, spectral butler which cleaned up the corpses of the vermin when Keller and Fugndark were attacked. Dragda and I hadn’t noticed a thing, but it would explain where Keller’s new staff and Fungdark’s joke book came from. It might also explain where Sirette had vanished to…

Our earlier explorations had been cursory, mostly to get the layout of the place and to make sure there were no lurking threats. Fungdark and Dragda set out to make a more careful search of the building while Keller and I got to work seeing what we could learn from the remains of the handspiders. We confirmed that they were constructs, carved from bone and enhanced with a necromantic aura. They were small and simple, with very limited capabilities. We theorized that they were likely controlled by some external object of power – something which could be used to change their behaviour.

At this point Dragda and Fungdark returned. They had found a small hole in the floor and a couple more handspiders had crawled up out of it while they were watching. Fortunately, the critters were quickly disposed of and the hole was blocked with an upside-down table. The four of us decided to regroup for the search and see if we could find whatever it is that would let us control the remaining guardians.

Careful searching without the benefit of Sirette’s expertise was a bit nervewracking. Most of the nicer rooms and a few of the not-quite-so-nice rooms had chests and dressers with trapped drawers or lids. We were – for the most part – able to open them without getting blasted with a jet of red mist. Keller was the notable exception, but he was unharmed. As we searched, we also gathered the bodies of the former inhabitants to give them last rites.

There was a fair quantity of coins in the place, but the most ornate room provided some of the most unusual results. The chest by the dresser had a false bottom concealing a couple bottles of potion and a pair of engraved clay cylinders. The potions were Lesser Restoration, but the scrolls were something strange. Keller snagged his finger on a rough edge of one of the cylinders getting it out of the bottom of the trunk. As soon as his blood touched the clay, the cylinder collapsed into shards and Keller got a look of astonishment on his face. He then shocked the rest of us by deliberately jabbing his other hand with a shard and bleeding on the other cylinder, which also crumbled.

He then explained that the first cylinder had given him the ability to temporarily comprehend languages, and that the second had granted him a necromantic touch attack, similar to the power that the handspiders possess. Of course, in order to do that, they had permanently damaged his health.

This didn’t strike the rest of us as the best of bargains, but there was nothing to be done about it now.

With Keller now able to read the clay cylinder tomes, we returned to the workroom. Most of the surviving texts were simple instruction books (herb lore and basic arcane theory) but two of the texts were more in-depth. One of them was an book of oraclular lore that Keller quickly pocketed. The other was a description of the religious rites and practices of their ancient society – useful for last rites for their dead. It also included a mention of the spiritual requirements of their architecture. In order to comply with their strictures, buildings need to be constructed with the walls facing in cardinal directions and the number of doors on the walls must be even.

This meant that either this building was an anomaly, or there was a door that we hadn’t yet found…

Now that we knew what we were looking for, it didn’t take long before we located an entrance to a hidden workshop. The floor was littered with chips and shards of bones, and a large ogre skull with gems in the eyes was perched jauntily on a pedestal, watching the room. A clay cylinder tome was sitting amongst some rags on a table. Keller quickly determined that the tome was a how-to manual on creating and animating handspiders. And that the skull on the pedestal was where the critters went to recharge their chilling touch attack. And that there was a little gold whistle that would start or stop the creatures on their patrol.

Out of an abundance of caution, Dragda decided to put a bag over the skull on the pedestal before we did any more experimentation. Unfortunately, during the process, the skull got bumped and a pair of spiders crawled out of the nose socket… A quick tweet of the whistle sent them back inside, so it looks like things are working correctly. Two tweets will send them back out on patrol. We’re keeping the whistle with us. We still haven’t found Sirette. Dragda doesn’t seem terribly worried, but I’m nervous about how time has been behaving strangely.

At this point I’m preparing to conduct a funeral for the late Merithians – Fungdark and Dragda are digging graves while I’m preparing the bodies. There is one of the original inhabitants of the place who is still around. A young woman in a green toga is trapped in one of the silver mirrors in the bedroom. She looks physically unharmed, but her eyes seem to indicate that she’s in a catatonic state. No surprise considering that she’s been stuck, staring into an empty room for nearly two thousand years. If I can, I’d like to free her and cure her insanity. Unfortunately, I don’t know how she was trapped in there, and without that knowledge, there’s nothing I can think of that would be powerful enough to undo what has been done. Perhaps, in time, I’ll be able to help her regain her freedom.

Beginnings and Endings
ex ephemeride Benedicti

The plan, as it was formed, was simple – two days out into the forest, two days back. A simple scouting, just enough to get a feel for what might be needed for a longer expedition.

The first day out we encountered a trio of goblins. The fight was suitably short. We spent more time discussing how to dispose of the bodies than we did in actual combat. We camped a careful distance away from the site of the skirmish and spent the next day’s journey keeping a cautious eye out for any goblin reinforcements or encampments.

That’s how we spotted the wall.

Three hundred years or so of vines and moss clinging to stone looks astonishingly natural – from a distance it could be a cliff or a ridge of rock. Sirette spotted the windows though, and closer investigation revealed a solid tower fallen into disrepair. It didn’t take long to find the arch which once held the front door.

Keller used his magic to detect a faint undead presence within the tower, so we proceeded with caution. Dragda and her battleaxe took the lead, with backup from Keller’s spells and my prayers. Sirette provided melee support and Fungdark alternated between songs of courage and carefully placed arrows. The two skeletons defending the base of the tower were rapidly dispatched.

From there, we began a careful exploration, working our way up the spiral stairs. Sirette jimmied the locks that were amenable to gentle persuasion. A solid kick from Dragda’s boot convinced the more recalcitrant latches. As we worked our way upwards we encountered several pairs of skeletons at strategic junctures – defending a long-rotted storeroom of food, guarding an officer’s quarters and so on. The heaviest resistance was in a barracks near the top of the tower where a half-dozen skeletons were lurking. Fortunately, we were able to keep them bottlenecked in a doorway where they could be dealt with in manageable numbers.

On the way up, Keller discovered a journal from the former captain of the troop that had been stationed at the tower. The tale it told was grim – a promising young officer of the old empire, traveling north with his family to take up residence at this outpost. An uptick in bandit activity, coupled with an ambitious underling. Betrayal. Siege. A last-ditch attempt to reach reinforcements.

As we approached the roof, Keller’s divination sensed a powerful undead presence. We prepared ourselves for a more dangerous foe than the skeletons we had been facing, but as it turned out our preparations were unnecessary. It was the ghost of the captain, still looking for reinforcements that would never arrive. We learned from him that there were two things keeping his spirit in this world: first, he didn’t know the fate of his wife and young child. Second, the tower needed to be garrisoned and secure.

The captain had told us that his troops had been defending his wife and toddler – hidden in a bolt-hole somewhere nearby. If they had succeeded it could have led into a months-long quest for information, tracing family histories in far off lands until we found his distant descendants. Tragically, the problem was much easier to resolve. In a chamber under the base of the tower stair we found the remains of a woman and a child. Her angry spirit appeared as soon as the bones were disturbed, but I was able to calm her and she let us conduct last rites.

And now we have a quandary. This tower could be a fine base of operations – if we can keep it garrisoned. The captain and his troops will only stay at rest if people make the tower their home. Will using this as a base be enough?

On a personal note, I find myself with a theological puzzle: the Wanderer’s Code calls us to help others on their journey. Would helping the unquiet dead reach their afterlife be considered part of this calling?

The Adventure Begins

The story so far…

Adventurers have begun to gather at the One-Eyed Cat in Iron Fort.

And continuing…

One overlooked new arrival was the human wizard Keller. He was eager to get started exploring the Southern Kingdoms in search of any old magic.

Naturally, Dragda drew his attention. Fungdark (the Magnificent—just ask him!), a gnome, had also arrived and was distracted distracting her attention. This made it easy for the also newly arrived Sirette, a half-elf, to sneak in and surprise her.

Introductions were made all around, including the nearby Ben. The five of them decided to set off in the morning into the Southern Kingdoms.

The next day looked to be a nice, clear day once the morning fog burned off. The party decided to travel near the Star River so as to not get lost. Entering into the forest, the party immediately noticed something odd: there were none of the normal noises of a forest. No birds chirping, no animals scurrying, only the soft sound of the river.

The party could still see the fort. An experiment by Brother Ben proved that objects could still leave the forest. Traveling on, the normal sounds of the forest started up, making everyone a little more relaxed.

That didn’t last long when they overheard the arguing of several goblins. Sirette sneaked closer and discovered the goblins were attempting some method of fishing in the river. They proved to have good hearing when Sirette tried to sneak away. The first battle had begun.

Disposing of the goblins proved to be well within the groups’ means. Following the traditional disposal of bodies by cremation, the party decided to travel on further south for another day.

First Session

Dragda, a half-orc barbarian, approached the edifice known as Iron Fort. The expected challenge to her presence was given, though being given entry into the town revealed that the defenses where undermanned; they didn’t have enough people on watch to lower the drawbridge and raise the portcullis at the same time.

She met the gatekeeper after that. Sabine let Dragda in after informing her of the rules, which boiled down to: ‘don’t make trouble’. After opening the final obstacle to entry, Dragda was directed to where the inn and tavern could be found.

It wasn’t long before the first caravan of the season arrived.

Joining the caravan for the journey were six newcomers. Somewhat oddly, five of them were related to each other in some way, the oddity being that they were a mix of humans, half-elves, and elves. There was Theraga, a half-elf fighter; Aderyn, an elven bard; Dore (like ‘dough-ray’), a human paladin; the half-elf sorcerer who only goes by Blue Eyes; Robin, an elven druid; and the outsider of them, Tair’vor, a magus.

Passage into Iron Fort was smooth, and the caravan stopped at the warehouse, while the passengers were directed to the inn and tavern.

Inside the One-Eyed Cat, Iron Fort’s only tavern, Dragda found a table in a corner. Brother Benedictus was nearing the end of his shift working. Working off his debt, that is. Ben had travelled south to Iron Fort to see what there was to see, and to avoid one or two previous bar bills.

Eventually, the six newcomers arrived at the bar. Not all at once; a couple of them had other things to do, such as reserving rooms at the inn. Most of them settled around one of the tables that resembled a picnic table.

Soon enough, the evening crowd came in. Ben’s replacement, Drogen, arrived. Ben switched from tracking other patron’s tabs to running his own, but stayed available if needed.

Dragda wanted to experience different drinks, so Ben thought it might be time to bring out the specialty beer he had created. Drogen, thinking the brewer mad for attempting his concoction in the first place, reluctantly went into the back and retrieved the small cask of drink. Putting a tap in, he poured out a mug for Dragda.

Dragda found the drink quite good, so Ben pronounced the brewing a success, relieved it hadn’t killed anyone. Yet.

The regular evening crowd started gathering, and noticed the number of newcomers in their midst. Drogen brought attention to this and called for people’s attention.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen so many adventurers gathered here. You are all adventurers, yes? Thought so. Last year we only saw two. The last time we saw more than four was… Grem! When was that?”

“Oh, five, no six years ago. Yes, six years ago,” Grem said.

“Right, six years. And when they explored the Southern Kingdoms, they made a map. A map carved out of the top of one of the tables just like that one,” Droga said, pointing to the picnic table most of the adventurers had gathered around.

The table was bare of any such carving, but that didn’t prevent some from looking at the underside to see if there was a map there.

“I’ve spent many a night under one or another of these tables, and I can assure you none of them have any maps on the underside,” Ben provided.

“What happened to the map they made?” someone asked.

“I think they took it with them when they retired,” Drogan said.

“Oh, I heard they destroyed it before they left,” Grem said.

“I heard they sold it to someone,” another tavern patron offered.

“Well, whatever happened to it, it’s gone now,” Drogan finished. “Heh. Guess you’ll be wanting to start one of your own, right?”


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