Secrets of Mystara

Post 42 - Time to Strike! Or run away...

Actually, running away sounds like the better idea.

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Ninmonth 20 (third full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

Morning

[Note: Morgan’s personal spellbook, the one confiscated by Wyman, has just three spells in it: Read Magic, Sleep, and Magic Missile – and the last one is a smudged and unusable copy. When she wants to memorize Invisibility, she does so from the silver spell plaques. These were hidden by Wolfbane before the guardsmen searched the bedroom at Dahlia’s]

In the morning the clank of the lock being turned on the iron door, the creak of the door opening, and the sudden flood of light into the prison awakens everyone, including the two guards who were assigned to watch the prisoners at night. They manage to bring their heads up from the table and leap out of their chairs before the door is completely open. For one of them, this spills FluffyKitten onto the floor, for once he was asleep she climbed stealthily into his lap, it being the warmest, softest place she could find to pass the night in the cold, hard prison. Feeling her weight tumble from his lap as he jumps up, he is of course very confused, but as he cannot see her and has to compose himself immediately, he resolves that it was just a dream he woke from, in which for some reason he was cradling a piglet.

Into the prison stride a pair of guards – likely the ones who spent the night outside the door, in the cold – followed by Wyman, and then another pair of guards with some large leather sacks.

Wyman does not initially speak to the party, or the guards, but goes to examine the doors on the cells that held the dwarves, both the one that is open and unlocked, and the one whose bottom hinge has been broken and was twisted enough to allow the dwarf to crawl out. The amount of time he spends looking at that one unnerves Wolfbane, who crawled into the cell and amassed a pile of dry straw as her refuge for the night, and who now is trying to keep from moving lest she disturb the straw in front of him.

Finally Wyman stands and strides over to the cell that holds Morgan and Thrud. “God morgen,” he says in Nordic, and then titters at the cleverness of his pun. “As you said, your spellbook does not contain invisibility.”

Morgan smiles, perhaps a bit too triumphantly.

“On the other hand, while you and your companions were confined here, there were no disturbances at the palace. And yet, while you were confined here, two dwarven prisoners held here, creatures that could not even walk, managed to break out of their cells and escape. What a remarkable coincidence,” he says, emphasizing the last word heavily.

Morgan’s smile fades. “I already told Captain Haggar – after nightfall, the prison was attacked by…”

“…by a group of dwarven wizards,” interjects Wyman. “Yes, I’ve heard. Because we both know how common dwarven wizards are,” he says drolly.

Morgan shrugs. “Someone has to make their magic rings and hammers and such.”

“Indeed. Be that as it may, you are both hereby reinstated to all your duties and privileges in the Ducal Guard, and your friends are free to go. I trust your accommodations were not too uncomfortable.”

Morgan shrugs again. “I’ve had worse.”

Splendid. By the by, My Lord Draco has an exciting new assignment for the both of you.”

“I thought he needed me to guide the town patrols at night.”

“Yes, well, that certainly was what Captain Haggar wanted. Unfortunately, there are some in the High Lord’s counsel who still, even after last night, question your loyalty to the Duke.”

“Certainly not you,” says Morgan dryly.

“Oh, heavens forbid, no. They wanted to keep you here, of all places. I managed to convince my Lord that your talents could be used outside of town. That way, should something happen at the palace while you are gone, everyone will know you were not involved. And should nothing happen at the palace while you are gone, well, that would be better for everyone, don’t you agree?”

Without giving him the satisfaction of her answer, Morgan has a question of her own. “Outside of town?”

“Yes, yes,” sniffs Wyman. “Should the dwarves attempt a land attack on Rhoona, they will need to use the road that follows the banks of the Vestgaffel Fjord. There is a crew leaving today, soldiers, laborers, and engineers, to build some advance fortifications along the road. You will be going with them to scout and provide defense against any dwarven advance patrols. You will leave promptly after luncheon.”

Wyman gestures and one of the soldiers comes forward to unlock the two cells, while the other begins to unpack the sacks, eventually putting all of the items taken from the tavern on to the table. When Morgan steps out of her cell, Wyman smiles and hands her back her spellbook.

“Oh, and Morgan,” he says in parting, “do ask Dahlia to launder your guard tabard before you go. Yours and Thrud’s both. They look simply filthy after that night in the cell. You are representing the Duke, after all.” Wyman turns his back on them and leaves, four of the guards with him and the other two unsure of whether they are supposed to follow or not.

This has been Ember’s first meeting with Wyman. “Well, he’s…creepy,” she says, and one of the remaining guards sniggers.

Morgan, Thrud, Ember, and Poncherius sort through the gear on the table, pulling out and packing what is theirs – though Thrud gives most of his to Poncherius. Together, they leave the prison, followed by the two remaining guards, and behind them invisible FluffyKitten and Wolfbane. They get more than a few odd looks from the guard assembling to drill. Mostly certainly word of them passing the night in the cells, and the attack that freed the dwarves, has spread around the barracks. Thrud is pretty sure he hears someone say “invisible dwarven army” as they walk by.

They cross the street to Dahlia’s, where she is busy making breakfast for Odleif, who is visibly relieved as they walk in. “Thar, y’see?” he tells Dahlia. “Everbody’s back an’ we kin have a big ol’ breakfast like I asked ya fer.”

Eager to converse in private, the party offers to do the washing up so that Dahlia can leave sooner, though she does prepare their cold lunch before she goes. “I hewp yu all know vhat yu are doin’,” she says as she receives her payment for the day, “because vhatever it is, the Guard is ahwful interested in it.” As she leaves out the door, the men on the wall of the barracks take immediate notice, and one of the guards pretending to be a common citizen hurriedly settles his bill at the tavern next door so that he can follow her.

Finally able to talk, Morgan and Thrud outline what happened at the palace the day before, and then Ember relates to Bhelgarn and Odleif how they passed the night. If Bhelgarn had any reservations about his decision to stay at Dhalia’s rather than go to the prison, Ember’s description of the condition of the dwarven prisoners quickly dispels them. Bhelgarn tells his story of exploring Draco’s private quarters at the barracks and of the note he recovered. He then checks the shuttered window and the bar on the door, produces the paper, and smooths it out on the table for all to see.

Twenty-one lines of text are full of indecipherable symbols, though a moment’s inspection shows that all of them are repeated many times – it is obviously a code of some kind. “I bet my Read Languages could decipher that,” says Morgan.

“Do you think so?” asks Wolfbane, surprised. “Does a code really count as a language?”

“I don’t know. I honestly haven’t used it that much. But it is worth a shot, and we need to find out as much as we can before Thrud and I leave this afternoon. We don’t have any other leads.”

Though her night in the cell was neither comfortable nor particularly restful, neither was the previous day exactly strenuous, and Morgan believes that with a little concentration, she can memorize a Read Magic spell. She goes to the garret bedroom for privacy while the others continue talking below. After an hour, she has committed Read Languages, Magic Missile, Web, and Invisibility all to memory.

She comes back down ready to cast and spreads the paper before her. The spell will affect only her (no one else will be able to read the paper), so Ember sits nearby with fresh parchment, quill and ink to record anything of note.

After Morgan casts the spell, the symbols slowly swirl before her eyes, their strange forms resolving into easily recognizable letters. But when she tries to read it, she finds she does not understand the language!

“Erkhem Luuny ordond mini, Rhoona ireedüin beis,
dugui odoo khödölgöönii sain baina. Odoichuudyn esreg dainy Zarlakh udakhgüi irekh baikh bolno, mön baga zereg esergüütsel tiim khün amyg khol ni ilerkhii yum. Bi kharaal dungee yegch ajillaj baigaag ta sanal niilj baikh yostoi gedegt bi itgeltei baina – ni beisiin nulimj ergüü teneg ni zövkhön bogino khugatsaand tereer ene munkhaglal tunkhaglaj baikh üyed khaan üldsen baikh bolno! bögööd dokhio avakh bairluulakh bai : Kherev ta nüükh ni möch oirkhon baina!
Tany itgeltei negt
Xanathon
Cretia Öndör Takhilch”

Morgan curses in frustration, explaining to the others that while her spell has “solved” the code, it has translated the writing into a language she can’t read. Ember asks what it is like, and Morgan admits that while it uses letters she recognizes, the words do not make any sense.

“Well, if it uses the letters you know, what does it sound like? Read some of it to us.”

Morgan tries the first line, tripping over her tongue as she goes, and then realizes that halfway through is the word “Rhoona”. “Are there any other words you recognize?” asks Ember, and Morgan scans it quickly.

“At the end,” she says, “Xanathon…and Cretia!” None of the party know Ethangarian, but they all agree that the harsh sounds Morgan was producing could be that tongue.

“If what you are seeing now is Ethangarian,” asks Wolfbane, “can you cast Read Languages again to get it to Common?”

“Actually, Elven,” Morgan admits. “I never really learned to read much Common – but, yes, I should be able to to cast it again – except that I only memorized it once.”

“Well, can you memorize it again – before your first spell wears off?”

“Maybe. Why don’t you all hush now?”

Wasting no time, Morgan dashes upstairs and retrieves her spellbook. She sits at the table in the common room, poring over her book and trying to memorize another Read languages before the duration of the first one runs out. As soon as she thinks she has it, she immediately casts it, and then begins reading, slowly. Ember’s quill scratches on the parchment as she records what Morgan reads.

[DM’s note: Read languages has a duration of 20 minutes. It is a first level spell. Rested, Morgan requires 15 minutes to memorize it. She cannot just keep memorizing it over and over without rest, but she can voluntarily give up the slot she had used for Magic Missile and memorize another Read Magic on top of that. To actually get a used slot back would take her four hours of rest]

“My dear Draco, future duke of Rhoona,
The wheels are well in motion now. The pronouncement of war against the dwarves will be forthcoming shortly, and little resistance is apparent thus far from the populace. The slobbering idiot of a duke will have only a short time left to reign when he declares this foolishness – I am sure you must agree that my curse is working admirably!
Be alert: The moment for you to move is near!

Your faithful compatriot
Xanathon
High Priest of Cretia"

“Future Duke of Rhoona…” repeats Morgan. “So that’s his game. And the priest is helping him with a curse on the duke.”

“Yes,” agrees Ember. “We must break this Curse of Xanathon.”

“But how?”

“I have no idea. But it may be time to confront him.”

“Agreed.” says Morgan. “But not in the day – if Draco runs the guard, we don’t want them interfering, or us being seen going to or from the Temple. Even if we beat the priest, we could have the whole guard on us right after. What’s more, they are expecting Thrud and me soon. If we don’t show up on time, we may have Wyman and the guard looking for us even before we act.”

“Yes, you may have to do that until we agree on a time to strike at Xanathon,” reflects Ember.

“Sounds like a trap, ta me,” voices Odleif.

“What?”

“Lure ya out t’ ther woods, no one around but a whole company o’ guards, then ktttch.” The woodsman draws his finger across his neck as he makes the last sound.

“That may be,” muses Morgan. “But we can hardly refuse without admitting we are not really members of the guard. I think we have to go along with things for now, at least until we decide it is time to hit the priest.”

“Alltha same, ye should have somebody with ye.”

The talk goes around the table a few more times. It is agreed that Wolfbane will cast invisibility on Odleif, so that he can follow them out of town and provide assistance if needed. Meanwhile, Ember will try to contact the Temple of Forsetta, now that they have clear evidence of a curse, and ask for advice.

Morgan has just enough time to swap out her Web spell for a second invisibility, in case she and Thrud need it to escape from whatever trap Wyman has in store for them. She, Odleif, and Thrud wolf down their cold lunch and then hurry off to the guard barracks. Just before they leave, Wolfbane casts her own invisibility on Odleif, revealing herself.

After the trio leave, those remaining have a more leisurely lunch and continue to discuss the situation. At the end, Wolfbane makes herself invisible again with a second casting.

The barracks are a busy hive of activity – Morgan and Thrud’s group is not the only one setting out, though they apparently are the ones going farthest, as they have a wagon loaded with provisions and drawn by two large draft horses. Looking in the back, besides bundles of food, Morgan can see tents, shovels, picks, axes, and other implements. It looks like they are in for a long march and camping at the end – she doubts she will be keeping up in her heavy bronze plate armor. Given the number of civilians milling about, barking sergeants, and confused guardsmen, she guesses they will have some time before setting out, so she has Thrud help her out of her plate and then slips the wagon drover a silver to put that into the wagon. Morgan and Thrud are still carrying their bedrolls, backpacks and such – special officers or not, it is important to appear in touch with the enlisted men. While waiting, they hear familiar bellowings coming from the barracks barn. When Thrud investigates, he finds that all of their camels are stabled there – most likely impounded the previous night! Morgan considers taking action, but decides against drawing any more attention to themselves. Let Wyman pay for a few days of camel feed.

Finally they head out, behind some groups and ahead of others. It looks like the guard has been levying townsfolk as workers all morning. As they leave the barracks and head to the road that tracks the shore of the western fjord, running south out of town, they pass several other groups, all preparing fortifications for the town – digging trenches and building ramparts for the most part. Unlike the east fjord road, the west road is not lined with the villas of the wealthy, but instead with only the occasional fisherman’s hut or goatherd’s shack. By the time they are beyond the last of these, and many of their initial number have been left behind, Morgan and Thrud have a better idea of who is actually in their group. There are about twenty guardsmen, bearing weapons – not the clubs they carried in town, but short swords and axes, with an occasional bow among them. In addition to the enlisted men there are perhaps five sergeants and a lieutenant. Two other men wear the tabards of the guards but have only belt-knives, and eventually Morgan takes them for engineers. There are another dozen or so simple laborers or thralls from the town, bearing no weapons. A lucky few have boots without holes and rolled-up blankets slung over one shoulder. Finally there is the wagon drover and them, in all about two score humans and two draft horses.

Morgan need not have worried about the pace (though she surely would have been more tired had she worn her plate). Once out of town, the road grows muddy and rutted, their way having to cross steep hills and deep stream beds. The march is slow so as not to leave the wagon behind. Indeed, they are often either waiting for the wagon at the top of a hill, or pushing it out of mud as the horses strain against the load. It has been three hours since they left Rhoona when they finally stop, and Morgan doubts they have covered even five miles.

They halt at the remains of an old, collapsed guard house of some sort that is now little more than a circle of stones in the grass. At first she can’t believe that this is the basis of their fortification, but Morgan soon realizes that it is not the ruin itself but the location that matters. To the left the ground rises steeply to barren, rocky slopes – to the right it drops steeply over a cliff to the fjord, such that they are on a narrow section with no more than seventy-some paces to defend, a natural choke point for the road. All about them is open pine forest, with no stands particularly dense in the thin soil.

The men are allowed to rest and drink while the drover unhooks his team and a few of the laborers begin setting up cookfires near the shell of the building. The engineers walk about with the lieutenant, pointing and talking. Soon enough shovels, picks, and axes are handed out and the men get to work in small groups supervised by the sergeants. Morgan and Thrud are given command of five bowmen and told to scout ahead up the trail, leave two bowmen as forward scouts in a place that can be easily found in the dark (so as to relieve them later), and return with the remainder before nightfall.

By the time they get back to the camp, the setting sun is reflecting off the waters of the fjord. A number of trees have been felled in front of their fortifications, log barricades are in place, trenches dug, archer’s redoubts constructed, and so forth. By no means is the way sealed off across the entire neck of land – but that is certainly possible in a few days more, long before the dwarven army is due to arrive.

The food is bland after Dahlia’s cooking, but Morgan and Thrud eat with gusto and then retire to their tent. They hold a quick whispered conversation. “Well, this isn’t a trap – but it is ridiculous,” says Morgan to Thrud. “I’m going to get some rest. Wake me after midnight – we are going to steal those horses, go back to town, and settle our score with Xanathon.”

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Back in Rhoona, the remaining party passes a few hours at Dahlia’s, and then Ember and Wolfbane set out. This time the plaza around the Temple of Forsetta is even more crowded than before. It appears that the priests and priestesses of the temple are holding services in turns, with the faithful waiting outside for their chance to enter. Many of the throngs outside are engaged in spontaneous prayer already, but others are just gossiping. More than once on her way to the Temple, Ember hears someone mention the “invisible dwarven army” that is marching upon the city, and their scouts that are even now in the city itself! It is difficult for her to reach the Temple doors, and only her status as a priestess allows her to cut through the crowds and lines, with invisible Wolfbane in her wake.

Once she is at the door, Wolfbane is able to enter, and slip a priest the message Ember wrote in the tavern: “We need to meet with you as soon as possible – where is a safe place?”

Ember and Wolfbane wait in the plaza for an hour, with Ember ministering to the scared townsfolk, telling them to be strong and have faith, telling them that Forsetta and Glöð both will see to their protection. She knows that Morgan has asked her to look for contacts for an uprising, but these people are fearful, and would sooner flee the city than rise against Draco. With no word from the Temple, and dusk gathering, the women head back to the tavern.

They have not gone half a block from the crowded plaza and are crossing in front of an alley, when a harsh, wracking cough emerges from the shadows. Ember enters the alley, and finds the old beggar man, back against a wall, wooden bowl at his feet, shivering as if with fever. “Alms?” he croaks weakly.

Ember kneels and feels his forehead, but finds it cool to the touch. She fills his bowl with water from her skin and drops in a few herbs from a pouch while she whispers to him. “The Duke is under a curse, cast by the priest of Cretia,” she says. “How can we end it?”

“The most powerful priest of our order has tried to remove the curse, to no avail,” he whispers back. “There is terrible Dark Magic at work. The curse must be stemmed at its source.” He drinks the water, although much of it dribbles down his chin and soaks his filthy robes. As Ember stands and turns to go, he begins another coughing fit.

When Ember arrives at Dahlia’s, she tells the others they must ready for an attack on the Temple of Cretia, as soon as Morgan, Thrud, and Oldleif return. Dahlia is overdue to prepare their dinner, but she has not appeared. Outside, the poorly disguised guardsmen still watch the tavern.

Ember sets the others to preparing dinner, a task made more difficult since three of them are invisible and they are constantly bumping in to one another and stepping on each others’ feet. Finally Fluffy gives up in disgust, grabs a torch and a lantern, and stomps out the front door. Ember runs to the door to give a plausible reason for it opening, but dares not call after the halfling given the number of guardsmen about on the dark street.

Fluffy finds her way to the dwarven barracks. Once inside she lights her lantern but turns the wick down low, explores the buildings until she finds a pair of boots she saw on her last foray. The heel is loose on the left boot – the kind of thing that would be repaired in due course had their owner stayed, but not a first choice of something to take when ordered out of town on short notice. She rips strips from some blankets with her dagger until she has enough padding in the toes of the boots so that they fit. Secure in the knowledge that she will be making dwarf prints later, she blows out her lantern and takes a nap while waiting for the night.

[Note: end of play session on 10/30]

Ninmonth 21 (fourth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)

Midnight (Rhoona)

Fluffy awakens in the dwarven barracks, and lies in the hard dwarven bed listening to the sounds of the city at night – dogs barking, cattle lowing, the occasional distant sound of boots on cobblestones.

She arrises and pulls back the blanket from the window – there is a half-moon tonight, but it is low in the sky and the city is still very dark. She goes carefully through the streets, checking each house and shop, until she finds the one she is looking for. There! A limner’s shop. She saw it before, but needed some time to find it again. The door is unlocked – who would steal from a limner? – so she goes inside. There is no second story – the family is sound asleep in a loft at the end of the small building. It is too dark inside, so she lights a candle. The main floor is crowded with rocks and bags of dust, with here and there a flask of oil. Finally she finds a container with paint already mixed – likely left-over from yesterday’s project. After this, finding a brush is easy, and she blows out the candle but takes it with her as she leaves the shop.

Fluffy goes quietly through the city streets, by the light of the rising moon, until she arrives at the wharves. She carefully investigates the warehouses.

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A small warehouse (B10) has a number of guards around it, but they stick close to the building and she decides to stay out of their sight by going to the south wall of a larger warehouse (B12). She listens carefully, but no one seems about there.

Standing on her tippy-toes, reaching up as high as she can, she begins to paint the side of the warehouse. With broad, bold brushstrokes, and letters nearly as big as she is, her words take form, all along the side of the warehouse – “Draco Lies!” She carefully goes over the letters again until there is just a little paint left in the bucket, then throws the remaining paint against the side of the building like a huge, sloppy point to her exclamation mark. She admires her work in the moonlight for a few minutes.

Fluffy turns her attention to the next warehouse over (B9), from which she has not heard a sound, even as the conversation of the guards at (B10) has been audible the whole time she has been painting. The warehouse appears a bit run-down, and several wall planks are loose. She avoids the rusty iron padlock on the door just by slipping through a gap she makes herself in the wall. Inside it is very dark, and for an uncomfortable minute she hears the scurrying of feet and chitter of rats. Once she has her candle lit the rats find cover, diving into broken crates and under rotting bags. The inside is dusty and deserted. Fluffy gathers some of the sacks, setting the rats scurrying again, and wraps them in small bundles at the base of the wooden posts and columns. Then she empties out the contents of her lantern, soaking each of the sack-bundles in oil. Finally, she goes to each bundle in turn, igniting it with her candle.

The inside of the warehouse is bright with flame and loud with the terrified screeches of rats when Fluffy squeezes out of the wall-hole. Through the many gaps and holes in its walls, the interior of the building throws light and shadows across the walls of the other warehouses and the nearby shops and houses.

Fluffy draws back out of the way to watch what happens. It is not long before the guards are alerted by the light and smoke, and they begin to raise a hue and cry. Sleepy townsfolk leave their beds and come out into the streets, even as the roof of the warehouse collapses and the flames shoot high into the night. The bold red letters “Draco Lies!” on the nearby wall are lit by the flames and more than one townsperson gapes upon seeing them. The flames lick hungrily across the space between the burning warehouse and the empty one next door (B6) – fortunately for the townspeople the wind is not carrying the flames in the direction of the crowded houses just a stone’s throw away.

As more and more people are roused, an impromptu bucket brigade is formed, using milk buckets and chamber-pots alike, whatever is on hand, to bring up water from the fjord. The warehouse itself is past saving, past even putting out with a bucket of seawater, but the walls of all the buildings nearby are soaked in the hopes that the fire won’t spread and consume the entire city. As each wall of the burning warehouse gives way and collapses in turn, the people shout in fear, hoping that none of them fall in the direction of the inhabited houses. Finally the warehouse is reduced to a pile of embers and ash and the bucket brigade starts to work pushing back its red, crackling edges. Sparks still drift up into the night, carried by the wind, any one of them capable of alighting on a thatch roof in some other part of the city and setting it ablaze.

By the time the remains of the warehouse are a soggy, hissing mess, a patrol of the ducal guard has commandeered several other red buckets of paint from somewhere and is busy painting the entire side of the warehouse, painting over Fluffy’s message. Not that it will make a difference – with the immediate threat over, Fluffy hears any number of people talking about the words, and what they might mean, commenting on how they were made at “dwarf height”. There is more talk of the invisible dwarven army that even now runs free in the city, looting and slaying and burning at will, immune to any efforts of the guard to find them.

Satisfied, Fluffy leaves the wharves and heads south to the middle-class district. For several blocks the streets are thick with people, all out of their houses, anxious and talking about the fire and the dwarves. Fluffy pushes on and the crowds thin. By the time she nears the Grinning Goblin there are just a few people in the streets, and they are retiring to their houses. Fluffy ducks down a narrow alley and moves to the center of the block. Like most nordic cities, each block is an outer ring of houses, with an interior space that is not enclosed by walls or roofs. Rather, each house has a small plot of land behind, butting up against neighboring plots. For some, this is used as a garden, for many, a chicken run, and for a few, with family connections to hayfields outside the city, as a lot for a milk cow.

Fluffy reaches the end of an alley, which is fenced off, and finds a gate secured by twine (not even a latch). It is easy to open the gate and close it behind her, then move between the back yards of the houses. Many are not fenced, but the ones that are typically have makeshift gates or styles. She ignores the gardens and confronts a cow. The beast towers over her – she thinks twice and moves on. The next lot has a chicken coop – that is what she came for. She opens the door of the coop but the hens inside just fuss, cluck, and wriggle deeper into their nests, even when she tells them to leave. Hmm. She can’t strike at them – she would lose her invisibility. She tries to think of which animals attack chickens, and what noises she might make to scare them. Weasels and foxes, she thinks. She knows weasels go “pop”, but cannot remember what does the fox say.

“Pop!” she says suddenly. “I iz weasel, pop! Pop! Pop!” She grabs the side of a hen and it squawks alarmedly and dashes off. This gets the other chickens to clucking, and with much popping and grabbing Fluffy finally gets them all out and running around the yard. She closes the door of the coop so that they can’t re-enter, then opens the gate to another alley. By the time she has about half of them driven into the alley, a stray dog catches their scent and begins chasing them. His barks set all of them to running and trying to fly, and bring curses from many nearby houses. Fluffy opens all of the gates between yards as she goes, and stops at every chicken coop to open them as well. More stray dogs have now arrived, and even a few guard dogs come out of houses as people emerge to see what the commotion is about. In a few minutes the entire center of the block is full of squawking chickens being chased by barking dogs and yelling norsefolk. By the time things get crowded enough that Fluffy has been bumped into a few times, a startled cry of “Dværge! Dværge!” has gone up and at least two different night patrols are approaching at a run. Fluffy decides it is time to go home.

When she reaches Dahlia’s, she finds the door barred. She would pound and shout, but there are still guardsmen in the street, in their stubborn stakeout. Fluffy goes around to the back of Dahlia’s, climbs up on the roof, and slips in the window of the garret bedroom. She takes off her dwarf boots and great clothes. Ember and Wolfbane are in Dahlia’s bed, and she yawns deeply, nestles between them, and sleeps soundly.

Midnight (Vestgaffel Road)
Thrud shakes Morgan gently and she stifles a groan. Dahlia’s soft bed has apparently spoiled her back for sleeping on the ground as much as her cooking has spoiled her stomach for camp food. She tells Thrud to put on his boots, but no armor – they don’t need any clinking or clanking.

She carefully peels back the flap of the heavy canvas tent. The cookfires are nothing more than warm embers – doubtless they would not even be visible were she not using her infravision. There are a number of men about the camp – but none of them moving, all hunched or slumped over. Together, Morgan and Thrud, carrying all of their gear, slip out of the tent and over to where the horses are tethered. The moon has not yet risen above the hills to the east, but will be up soon – they will need to act fast. Morgan rummages in the nearby wagon until she finds a bag of apples, then cuts one in half and gives each half to one of the draft horses. That has their attention, and soon they are nuzzling her for more. Good. She leaves Thrud to pack their things (armor, bedrolls, backpacks) on one of the horses while she scouts the camp. With her infravision she can spot the outlying sentries before they see her. Most of them are actually awake and alert. Once she has the grounds mapped out in her head she returns to Thrud. It would be easier and faster to cut the horses’ traces, but she wants their departure to be as confusing as possible, so she and Thrud take the time to untie them from the metal spikes driven in to the ground. If they find the horses gone first but think they freed themselves rather than were stolen, it may delay for a time the realization that she and Thrud have disappeared as well. Leading one horse each by the mane, they depart from the camp, walking a meandering path as far from each picket as they can.

They are a few hundred yards from the camp, and have returned to the road, when the half-moon clears the hills and allows Thrud to see almost as well as Morgan. They pause while Morgan uses the light to check Thrud’s packing job, then they point the unladen horse into the woods and slap its rump.

In the moonlight, the road is easy to follow, and after several hours of walking they come upon the outskirts of Rhoona before dawn. Unloading the horse, they set it free as well. Adjusting their guard tunics and shouldering their own loads, they enter the city. When they feel the urge to sneak or slink, Morgan reminds them both that they are members of the Ducal Guard and have no reason to hide. They walk up the street in front of Dahlia’s, bold as brass, and pound on the barred door, in full sight of the guardsmen watching the house.

Bhelgarn and Poncherius are the only ones sleeping on the ground floor, so Bhelgarn has his henchman open the door for them. Morgan closes it quickly behind them after they enter, feeling that something is not right. But what? Ah, Dahlia is not present. She should be here by now, having made the bread and started on breakfast already. A sleepy Ember descends the stairs and tells Morgan that Dahlia hasn’t been seen since lunch the day before.

“Just as well,” replies Morgan. “We need to be out of here before noon.” She explains to Ember that she and Thrud have deserted, but since they took the camp’s horses she is hopeful that news of their desertion won’t reach the city at least until mid-day. They will need to find somewhere else to hole up while they plan their assault on the Temple of Cretia. For the time being, they need to eat, pack, and get as many of them invisible as possible. “Oh,” she adds, “I could use some healing as well.” Morgan is, in fact, still covered in bruises from her fight with the weaponmaster, and at three days old they are now a deep purple.

Ember uses eight orisons of heartmending on Morgan, and Morgan casts invisibility on Thrud. They tell the men to ready breakfast and lunch for the party, cooking all the food that remains at the tavern, and then they go upstairs to rest. Morgan mentions that if they are to move against the priest of Cretia, any advice would be useful, and Ember agrees to pray before she rests.

Morning (Vestgaffel Road)
Odleif, back to a tree and traveling robe pulled tightly about him, wakes to cries of alarm from the guard camp. He is stiff and cold, and takes his time rousing himself before he slips into the camp. It is just before dawn – the sun not up yet, but it is plenty bright. Bright enough to see the horses gone, and the lieutenant frowning as he stands near what was Thrud and Morgan’s tent the night before but is now empty. Odlief doesn’t know any more nordic than he did the night before, but the heated conversations going on around camp don’t require translation.

Odleif chuckles to himself as he slips back out of camp to the north. It would have been nice of Morgan to warn him that they were leaving, of course, but he probably wasn’t the easiest to find, invisible, at night, halfway up the hillside of the woods looking over the camp. He had a good view of the road, but must have been sleeping when they skedaddled. He chuckles again as he sets off down the road.

It does not take him long to find the horse tracks – draft horses leave a deep print in the soft ground. He finds where the horses split, and decides to continue on the road. A hundred yards later he is rewarded by the faintest of boot prints, but one clearly heading north. He takes a deep pull of his waterskin and a bite of jerky from his pack. He has a long walk ahead of him, but, he reminds himself, it won’t be any longer than the one he did the day before.

Noon (Rhoona)
Just before noon, with all their food cooked and gear packed, Ember and Morgan descend to the common room. Now rested and having prepared spells, Ember casts Glöð’s Remedy on both Thrud (still wounded from the weapons-master) and Fluffy (from her fall down the palace chimney). Morgan then casts invisibility on Ember, and Wolfbane casts it on Morgan. This leaves Poncherius and Wolfbane as the only visible members of the party of seven, with Odleif still unaccounted for.

Ember relates that during her rest and prayer she had a vision – or rather a hearing; she heard the voice of Glöð. She had been praying for guidance on how to help the people of the city, and the response was “When the children are scared, the mother must needs be strong.” Morgan snorts, but stops short of full derision, thinking better of mocking Ember’s god. She says, almost apologetically, “I was just hoping for something a bit more practical.”

During Morgan’s two patrols of the city, one by day and one by night, she spotted an empty house near the temple of the Spooming Nooga. Thrud inquired of the guardsmen, and one of them explained in passing that the home had been the property of a hardworking smith, but when the man died in a tragic accident, his wife and children left the city to return to her relatives in another part of Vestland. Whether the property still belonged to her, or by her abandonment had passed to one of his brothers, who also live outside the city, was not clear. Were the property valuable it would doubtless have been confiscated, but enough of the townsfolk believe it to be either cursed or haunted by the man’s spirit that it has been left alone. Morgan thought little on it at the time but has now decided that it is the best place for them to wait until nightfall.

FluffyKitten, besides her own pack, is given a sack with plenty of food and told to wait on the roof of the tavern, outside Dahlia’s bedroom window. Everyone else, one at a time, climbs out the window, across the roof, and drops down in the alleyway behind the tavern. After all of the invisible party members have gone first, they signal to Wolfbane and Poncherius that it is safe for them to leave. Together, they walk through the city in the general direction of the abandoned house, but take a number of detours along the way in case they are being followed. They are banking on Wolfbane and Poncherius being the ones least recognized or associated with the party, and Poncherius walks with his cloak hood up, tight behind Wolfbane with hopefully few people noting his mask.

Neither Morgan nor Thrud exactly remembers the house, but it does not take them long to find it – they are more worried about Fluffy, who has not seen it, and will need to go by their verbal description – and who knows whether she was paying attention. Fortunately the house has a back door and they can enter without being seen. Inside, they find the roof partially collapsed and mold everywhere. Spores fill the dusty air and Ember cautious them all to breathe with a rag or cloth over their face and not move much. The windows are open (the hide curtains having fallen), so Poncherius and Wolfbane lodge themselves against the front wall, as much out of sight as they can be. There are some whispered conversations, but Morgan encourages them all to get as much rest as they can before the night. Ember finds the largest mushroom head she can and lays it in the open windowsill, hoping it will be seen by Fluffy or Odleif.

Afternoon (Rhoona)
Fluufy has been waiting only a few hours when she hears a soft rapping on the front door, which she cannot see from her station on the back roof. Several minutes later, she hears someone scrambling up the wall and then over the roof towards the window. She and Odleif are reunited through an unseen and whispered conversation. She fills him in on what he has missed, and he understands a bit of her broken Common, enough to know that the party has moved on and he needs to follow her.

Taking Odleif by the hand, Fluffy leads him to the Temple easily enough, but after that it is a good hour more before they find the house, having walked by it more than once. In the end, Odleif spots the mushroom at about the same time that Fluffy stops, sniffing the air as she catches whiffs of her companions. The entire party is finally all together around two in the afternoon.

The afternoon drags on in monotony, except for a brief interlude when the Duke’s herald passes by, and Ember and Thrud strain to hear his proclamation. It is not another edict, but just official news. The herald explains that last night’s fire was started by a cow and a lantern, and was NOT the work of an invisible dwarven army. That, in fact, there is no such army and that spreading rumors about such will be considered sedition. Finally, the outlanders that have been obvious in the city these last four days are dangerous outlaws. Two of them are, in fact, deserters from the ducal guard and horse thieves besides. Any information about their whereabouts is to be reported to the authorities immediately.

In the evening, Ember uses four more orisons on Morgan, and then Wolfbane makes her invisible again. Ember hands out their dinner – cold food eaten by hand from Dhalia’s, as a fire or even getting out serving ware is out of the question.

As night falls and the good folk of Rhoona return to their fire-less homes, the party can move about more freely, talking about plans and stretching their muscles. They set out several hours after nightfall but long before midnight, with Ember insisting they pass first by the Temple of Forsetta to assess the situation.

Although it is a cold night, the Temple is still surrounded by throngs of people, now huddled together for warmth – or in fear. While the party stays to the side of the plaza, Ember walks among the crowd. A few people whisper about the invisible dwarven army, when the guardsmen are not about, but more of them are talking about the party – about how they are in league with the dwarves – setting dwarven prisoners free, attacking the guard, threatening the city by setting buildings on fire to please the goddess Glöð, the goddess of fire. It is unnerving for Ember, the vehemence with which the populace has turned against her, but she remembers her dream and tries to forgive the people as she would scared children. Leaning in and whispering, she tries to start a rumor with several people that the party left Rhoona last night, by boat. Hopefully the people will feel better if they think the party has left – and the guard will be less vigilant in their search for them.

Wolfbane and Poncherius are visible, but haven’t been recognized yet in the darkness of night. Still, many in the party are relieved when Ember finally returns to the edge of the plaza and gathers them together to head for the foreign quarter.

The streets of the Ethengari district are deserted of people, but it is obvious that fires still burn inside their homes – smoke is in the air and light peeks out of doorways and windows. Dogs there are aplenty, but Bhelgarn is prepared and has handfuls of jerky at the ready – they leave an odd trail of snapping and yipping curs in their wake. Wolfbane and Poncherius are nearly to the steps of the Temple when a man emerges from the shadows and bars their way. In harsh, unintelligible Ethengari, he demands something of them in an accusatory tone. He repeats his demand, stabbing his finger forward to strike Wolfbane in her chest. Poncherius turns his head and looks all about him, confused and waiting for some direction on how to handle the situation.

A commanding tone calls out from the Temple, and the man in front of them stiffens, then takes a step back. A robed priest approaches, addressing Wolfbane in accented Common. “You are, I think, lost, and in the wrong part of the city.”

“No,” says Wolfbane hesitantly. “We are meant to be here. I just arrived in Rhoona today, but the city is not safe for me. I request sanctuary in your temple.”

“Sanctuary?” asks the priest incredulously. “What for?”

“I wish to discuss this with your high priest, Xanathon,” she says.

This gives the man pause. Finally he turns to Poncherius. “And you are seeking sanctuary as well?”

“Yes,” responds Poncherius brightly, relieved at being able to contribute.

The priest says a few words to the Ethengari man, and he retreats into the darkness. They are led up the steps of the temple, and through the great central doors out of which they fled just two nights previous. Some of the party make it through the doors, but Bhelgarn and Thrud are left outside when the priest carefully closes, then bars the doors behind them. He brings them through the entryway and in to the hallowed hall (37), where he tells them to wait. After he passes through one of the doors at the far end of the room, the party unbars the main doors and hustles Thrud and Bhelgarn inside. In hushed tones the party agrees: should Xanathon appear, the plan is an immediate surprise attack.

They wait, increasingly on edge under the glittering gaze of the statue of Cretia. Some twenty minutes later the far door opens abruptly, and the priest comes in, followed by a tall, gaunt, bald man, clad in a black robe, and holding a gleaming black mace in his hand. He looks rather frail, but before he is far into the room Fluffy is whispering excitedly, “Iz him! Iz him!”

When they arrive at Wolfbane’s side, he begins, “I am Xanathon, High Priest of Cretia. What business have you here?”

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Before Wolfbane can answer, there is the twang of a bowstring, and an arrow appears in the gaunt man’s shoulder. It sinks in deep, for he is unarmored beneath his robes. Odleif appears in the hall, and the combat has begun. As many of them as possible attack the High Priest, but when Ember begins her harangue, she targets both of them. The junior priest is frozen in place, but Xanathon just scowls at her dismissively. Likewise, Wolfbane strikes him squarely with the ray from her scepter of paralysis, but it does not appear to affect him in the least. Xanathon ignores his helpless companion and charges Wolfbane, striking her a great blow with his mace that sends her reeling. Morgan steps between them before he can land a second blow which would surely fell the mage.

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Xanathon, Bhelgarn, and Thrud during the melee in the Temple of Cretia

Odleif, using his magic boots, dashes across the hall, then leaps in the air, coming down sword-first with all of his weight on the priest’s back. Xanathon is knocked to the ground, Odleif’s magic sword having gone completely through his back, out his front, and having been stopped only by the stone flagging of the floor. At this point the six doors along the entry wall begin to open, and in ones and twos armored priests and warriors emerge.

Xanathon struggles to his knees, then rises. Odleif’s sword is still completely traversing his torso. It rises and falls with his breath, but no blood flows from his wounds. He turns, and launches a series of blows on Odlief that leave the woodsman battered and dazed. Some in the party are raining blows upon him, others attempting to deal with the new arrivals. Wolfbane uses a web spell, a hundred feet long and a foot wide, to seal four of the doors closed, and Bhelgarn, Poncherius, and Fluffy, with the help of Wolfbane’s scepter, manage to overcome those who have already entered. Meanwhile, Morgan and Odleif continue to battle the high priest, with Morgan trying unsuccessfully to disarm him. They are increasingly wounded by blows from his mace, but nothing they do seems to affect him. Their blows hit well enough, sink deep into his flesh, but when they draw forth their weapons there is no blood and his flesh closes as if he had never been wounded.

[DM’s note; by the time they flee, the party has done 108 points of damage to Xanathon, and he still appears to be unwounded. They have killed four fighters and three other priests, however]

Ember feels desperately about her for the source of his power – is it the statue? She and Thrud approach it, and Thrud cleaves off one leg with a massive blow of his axe. That does not seem to change the situation – the most Ember can say is that the priest is an empty vessel, devoid of life force. When she tries to find where his life might be, she sees only a vision of the map in his room, the tapestry that Fluffy described to them. Ember throws a ball of flame at the priest, catching his robes on fire, but leaving his flesh unburned. Just then the statue of Cretia topples over, nearly crushing her. She calls for a retreat, and none too soon, as any one of Odleif, Fluffy, or Wolfbane could easily be dropped by a single blow of the priest’s mace.

The party races across the room after Ember, though Bhelgarn with his magical speed soon passes her. Behind them, Xanathon pursues, laughing maniacally.

Morgan, in her plate armor, is the slowest of them, and by the time she reaches the doorway the high priest is right behind her. Once through, she turns to confront him, beginning a spell. He hits her again with his mace, and by sheer force of will she completes her web, binding him in sticky strands and sealing off the corridor for the moment.

[Dm’s note; Xanathon wins initiative and strikes, dealing six points to Morgan. She needs to make a Con save by at least six to maintain concentration on her spell, and she makes her save by seven].

With the brief respite, the party continues its retreat down the hall. Ember yells to Fluffy – “Which way to his room?” Fluffy’s gut is knotted with anxiety – she knows the priest’s quarters are in the back of the Temple, and she is taking them in that direction, but she never made it out through the locked door of the study and does not actually know how to get there.

Morgan is being left behind, and her plate armor is clattering as she runs. When she passes the door to the dining room they hid in before, she stops and enters, then puts her ear to the door as she tries to regain her breath. The sounds of the party fade in the distance, and then she hears the sound of a single sandaled person running after them. When those sounds have long passed as well, she opens the door and returns to the hallway, where the remains of her webs lie strewn all about. She looks around for an alternate way to the back of the temple, and her keen elven eyes spot telltale cracks in the stone of the corner walls – a secret door! She presses a stone on the wall that looks slightly more worn than those around it and the door opens. Morgan passes through into the long hallway beyond and begins running deeper into the temple.

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While Fluffy leads the party deeper into the temple, pursued by Xanathon, Morgan has found a secret door

The hallway down which the party is running has many corridors branching off of it, but Fluffy leads them straight, deeper and deeper into the temple. Only when it appears to dead-end in front of them does she choose a branch to the left. This corridor also dead-ends, but along the right hand wall are two doors. She takes them to the far door and leads them inside, still hoping this is the right way. As the last of them enter the room, the sound of dark laughter from behind them echoes down the stone hall.

The room they have entered (50) is lined with many shelves of musty tomes and volumes. Three tables are in the room, with four chairs at each. There is only one other door – and that leads back to the same hallway they came from!

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The party is trapped in the library (50)!

Thrud and Bhelgarn immediately throw themselves against the doors, while Ember leads the others in moving the tables to be braced against the doors. “Fluffy!” shouts Ember, a note of panic in her voice, “where now?”

“Don’t know, don’t know!” squeals the halfling, dashing about the room. There has to be a way away from the creepy baldy man – maybe a secrety way? But with all these silly books on the shelves, how could they find it? Fluffy begins grabbing whole clumps of books off the shelves and pitching them on to the floor behind her. Some of the party join her frantic search, while the others pile chairs and books on top of the tables to add weight.

WUMP! The muffled sound of a heavy mace hitting the near door shakes the room. WUMP! it sounds again. “Faster!” yells Ember.

CRACK! A large fissure is rent through the wood of the door. CRASH! Splinters fly everywhere, as a hole the size of a mace head opens in the thick wood of the door. There is a pause in the battering – then the priest sticks his face through the hole! “Heeeeere’s Xanathon!” he mocks, then resumes his destruction of the door.

Fluffy clears the last book from a shelf, then tries to rip the shelf out, or pull the whole unit down to get at the wall, but the shelf feels wobbly to her hands. As she shakes at it, she finds that it can fold, but only up. Pushing up, all of the shelves in that section neatly fold as if hinged in the back, until they lie flush against the back wall. She hears the “click” of a latch.

CRASH! With another splintering of wood, Xanathon has opened a foot square hole in the wooden door, large enough to crawl through, but at face height.

Fluffy tugs at the shelves, and the whole unit slowly rotates into the room, revealing a deep recess in the wall. Bhelgarn is in it first, and quickly locates the mechanism that opens the secret door in the far wall onto a corridor beyond. The sound of clanking armor approaching echoes down the hall, but they reason that any guard has got to be less fearsome than this unholy, unwoundable priest, and pass through as quickly as they can.

Fluffy leads then around a corner just as Morgan, the source of the clanking armor, appears. Fluffy points to a door, but when Morgan tries it, she finds it locked.

“I tell you!” says Fluffy. “I tell you door locked…” but Morgan ignores her. She backs up, pushes herself off of the far wall, runs across the width of the hall and throws her bronze-armored shoulder into the wooden door. A crack appears in the door.

Crash! The soft sound of wood splintering comes from behind them, and then the clatter of chairs falling off a table onto the floor.

As Morgan backs away for a second run, Thrud’s great axe splinters the door, and the party moves through. Fluffy leads them through the study (51) and dining room (52) while Morgan pushes the desk in the study across the open doorway. As she moves into the dining room herself, she can already hear Xanathon grunting as he climbs over the desk. Morgan ducks under the table in the dining room and watches the black-robed bottom half of the priest pass by.

The party enters Xanathon’s private chamber (54). Odleif wraps his robe over his head, then runs and leaps at the window, shattering it in a spectacular explosion of glass. After a five foot drop, he lands on the shore of the fjord in a pile of glass shards. Ember is right after him. Bhelgarn rips the tapestry from the wall, and even as Fluffy yells at him “I tell you…” he turns his back on her and dives out the window himself. One by one the rest of the party climbs or jumps through the window, some cleanly, some cutting themselves on the fragments of glass remaining.

Morgan cautiously enter’s Xanathon’s chamber. The priest is standing with his back to her, framed by the window as he shakes his mace and curses in Ethengari at the party. She runs straight at him, her footsteps striking hard against the stone floor. He is only half-turned round when she crashes into him, and the two go tumbling through the open window, Morgan using his body to shield herself from the glass.

They fall hard on the cobbles and pebbles of the beach, and Xanathon is the first to rise. Even as Morgan tries to stand, he brings his mace in an upper-cut loop against her head. Her neck snaps back and her body goes flying, landing unconscious on the rocky ground. For a second Xanathon looms over her, raising his mace as if preparing to bash in her skull, and only then noting that he is surrounded by the remainder of the party. Shards of glass stick through his body at odd angles, bloodless, as if he were made of clay rather than flesh.

Lowering his mace, he spits on Morgan’s body before turning his back on the party and climbing heavily in through the window of his chamber.

Comments

Epic! We are so cool when we are running away. (and lucky!)

 

“Heeeeere’s Xanathon!” – SO GOOD!

kirt_wackford kirt_wackford

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