The City of Cowls

Arson
Twenty-seventh of Sunharrow, 474

As Alaric departed to conduct his researches, the rest of the group headed towards the Kraken’s Maw, talking as they walked. Dove asked for help distracting Falcon‘s new friend so she could get a few minutes to talk to him, and this gave Anu an idea. She jogged off to Adrik’s shop, to see if he knew anything about Falcon. Unfortunately, she had forgotten to get his name, or his description. Regardless, Adrik seemed surprised to see her. He realized she didn’t know that the Maw had been torched. What?

At about this time, everybody else was discovering the same thing. Hedra was there, screaming Jorlim‘s name, while Franz simultaneously tried casting spells to cool the smoldering embers while holding Hedra back from diving into the wreckage in search of Jorlim. As Mica comforted Hedra (while also preventing her from harming herself), Franz magically cooled the debris, and Fiona muscled a huge beam out of the way. Beneath, she found Jorlim, on death’s door. Even Maudrin’s healing magic was unable to completely restore him, though it kept him alive. Mica carried him to the monastery, with Hedra close at hand. Everybody else took stock of the situation.

There was a strange sigil painted on the building across the way. One of Fiona’s beggars had also seen the people who torched the place, and he gave her all of the information he could recall. It seemed that the arsonists had nailed the front door shut and doused the walls with lamp oil. A search turned up the charred remains of heavy iron nails, and melted crossbow bolts. Based on Anu and Fiona’s informants, and the strange sigil, it seemed apparent that Twilight’s Thieves had carried out the attack. Wait, who?

All they knew about the Thieves was that they operated out of the Ratrun and had interests in the Bazaar and Crescent Ward, and were reputed to be an elite crew. Not much to go on…but Franz had a solution. He had many rare dweomers in his grimoire, and one of them might allow him to speak with the animating spirit of the nail used to hammer the door shut. But he would need time to prepare the spell. Anu accompanied him to his house to recover his grimoire, while everybody else headed for the Skull and Gibbet to eat and process the awful events of the morning.

At the S&G, over lunch, Franz seemed surprised to learn that Nyx had gifted everybody with magical items…but a quick Detect Magic later, he laughed and made some cryptic comments to the effect that he now understood that Nyx needn’t worry about the Thundercranes anymore. After dining, Franz studied his book, while the Thundercranes planned and discussed. Dove was in a funk, and Mica was not thrilled about Franz’s boots on the table. Then Franz was finished studying, and things got really weird.

Franz was able to telepathically communicate with the nail. It gave up several names: Vogel, Evert, Thilo, as well as the scent of pipe tobacco and fish. It also confirmed hearing the phrase Twilight’s Thieves. Finally, it told Franz that the arsonists had walked no more than 5 minutes to reach the Maw. Armed with this data, Franz suggested a Locate Object spell., to find the hammer that had driven the nail. It was a long shot, but the only shot they had.

The spell led them to a tobacconist’s shop on Axe Street, that appeared unguarded. While Anu broke in the back way, everyone else walked in the front door. Maudrin was on crowd control, turning away potential customers, while Dove took point. The tobacconist proved uncooperative, and tried to run, but Anu stopped him, and Dove enchanted him to tell her what she wanted to know.

He was, in fact, Thilo, and he was an agent of the Gallows Corner slavers who had infiltrated Twilight’s Thieves. He had convinced the thieves to attack the Maw by persuading them that the Thundercranes were a dangerous upstart guild that was murdering its rivals. He did this for revenge, for the lives of his comrades. There was a lookout on the roof; Anu and Maudrin dealt with him, terminally. That left, he claimed, 7 more in the basement, and he even gave them the secret knock. But he didn’t tell them where to use it.

In the basement were many barrels of tobacco. Calling for the Thieves to come out and parlay, Dove was surprised when the front of the last barrel swung out from the wall with a click. A wiry man popped partially out, and seemed surprised and angered by Thilo’s deception. But it was all a ruse; when asked by Dove, Thilo confirmed that this was in fact Evert, another slaver agent, and that yet another waited behind the secret door. Evert quickly retreated, and began rallying the Thieves for a fight, but Dove’s Thaumaturgy-enhanced voice cast that into doubt, and the sound of a short, sharp struggle could be heard. While Fiona stuffed Thilo into a tobacco barrel, Mica kicked through the door.

Fiona led the way into the dim passage beyond. It led to a room, in which two fresh corpses lay, one stabbed in the kidney, the other eviscerated and gashed across the throat. A single closed door led from the room; when Anu opened it from afar, an ambush was struck by the slavers!

Evert charged at Fiona, while the halfling, Alton, shot her with a poisoned bolt! Battle was joined. Dove’s magic held Evert in place, and Maudrin’s Moonbeam seared both of the slavers, while the other three Twilight’s Thieves charged into the slavers from behind. Fiona beheaded Evert with great panache, and the fight seemed won. Still, the depraved halfling was determined to kill at least one enemy before Hell took him, and he focused his wrath on Mica, who was poisoned, stabbed in the gut, and slashed badly across the thigh, dropping from shock and blood loss. Anu heroically shielded her from Alton’s death blow, and Maudrin pulled her to safety, healing her most grievous wounds. Maudrin’s spell finally burned the life from the halfling, and the battle was over.

The three Thieves were worried, but agreed to deliver a message requesting a meeting to their mysterious guildmaster. The Thundercranes stuffed Thilo back into his barrel, carried him back to the S&G, and dumped him in one of the very cells where his compatriots had once kept their human chattel. It had been a long day already, and it wasn’t even dinnertime. Questions hung over the gathering. Would Jorlim survive? Were there more slaver agents out there? And who was the mysterious leader of Twilight’s Thieves?

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Every Little Thing She Does is Magic
Twenty-sixth through twenty-seventh of Sunharrow, 474

Their hankering for breakfast sated, our heroes began discussing the situation at the Skull and Gibbet. While Alaric whent to break the news of Gorstag’s demotion to the man, the others started hashing out who would actually end up running the place. Jorlim actually suggested Hedra…much as he’d hate to lose her, he knew she could do the job, and it would be good for her to have her own place. That bit of business completed, talk turned to what to do next.

Around then, a messenger ran breathlessly into the Maw, looking for Maudrin, who had hired him to bring a letter to the Headmistress of the White Lotus Academy. He had run most of the way back from the Academy with a reply…a strange, smooth stone. Clutching it, Maudrin heard a voice in his head, asking him to go to the statue of King Angrohans I at the Bazaar. Gathering up their gear, the party did as they were asked.

There, an odd-lookinh gnome waited for them, who introduced herself as Nyx Es’Daan, Headmistress of the Academy. It soon became apparent that she was not really there, but rather projecting her image from some distant place. It also became apparent that she knew Dove, a fact that broke Anu‘s heart a bit. Nyx asked the group if they could bring the stone to her so that it could be destroyed; Fiona was more than a little skeptical of the purity of her motives, but everybody else was convinced by Anu and Maudrin’s arguments, and they set out for the Academy on phantom steeds.

Dove’s tales of absolute terror at Nyx’s hands were enough to give everyone pause, and Fiona grew to positively loath the gnome wizard by the time they arrived at the Academy. She had words with Nyx almost as soon as they arrived, and at one point Anu started to cast a sleeping spell on Fiona to keep things from getting violent…a spell that the Headmistress dismissed with a gesture, reminding her that “Sleep doesn’t work on Elves.” The tensions eventually disipated, as it became apparent that everyone was on the same side, and they didn’t need to like each other to work together. She proved her intentions by dispelling the evil presence in Odo’s ruby.

Over lunch, the conversation continued. The Headmistress briefly mistook Mica for a dwarf, and she seemed to approve of Alaric‘s attitude toward cleaning up the city. Talk turned to the Famine, and Nyx first became truly angry when Fiona suggested she was doing nothing to fight it. Having proved otherwise, she hashed out a working agreement with the party, offering them her support in exchange for their undertaking occasional missions in the city. When Fiona asked for magical items, Nyx agreed to give them each a gift…if they would submit to a spell of suggestion to prove their loyalty. All agreed, though Maudrin did not want his background discussed in public. Having satisfied herself that the party were not associated with the enemies of the Sunlands (though Anu’s evasiveness troubled her), Nyx had a chest of treasures brought in, one for each of them. She explained that she had tried to select things that each could use.

Maudrin took an ancient Rod, once part of the regalia of the Tuarathan emperors, that would accentuate his magical abilities. To Anu went a fine pair of eyeglasses that would allow her to enchant the minds of whoever she chose. Fiona chose a pair of supple Fey boots that would allow her to run and spring like a hunting cat, while Dove took an Elf-crafted mahogany wand of Magic Missiles. Mica selected a grren cloak, light but strong, that would protect her from her enemies, and finally, to Alaric went an odd, jagged javelin, enchanted to become a bolt of lightning, that had once belonged to a Fjorverr war leader.

With some time to kill, Anu was granted permission to tour the Libary, where she promptly ditched her minders and soon found herself in the Restricted Stacks. Selecting a random book, she broke the chains and seals and sat on the floor to read (and take notes.) Hours later, an instructor found her and removed her to the courtyard. Nyx was not amused, but not too surprised, either.

After dinner, everybody retired, and the next morning they returned on fresh phantom steeds to the City. Nyx had given them a scroll to cure Carlo’s lycanthropy, which Alaric did, and then they all headed back toward the Kraken’s Maw. Hopefully, they’d get there just in time for lunch.

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Interlude 3 - Avenues & Alleyways
Eleventh - Twenty-sixth of Sunharrow, 474

Life in the city goes on as it always does, but perhaps just a wee bit safer. There are rumors of bogey men lurking in the alleys around the docks, of course, but who knows what phantoms the mind of a drunken sailor will conjure up?

Dove spent her time in polite company, charming and swindling the finer things in life out of the upper crust. She even managed to celebrate a holiday from back home, surprising everybody with fine gifts. Maudrin, meanwhile, was busy with research and structural improvements at the Skull and Gibbet. Anu spent a lot of time at the old Garaphos ruins, while Fiona spent her time alternating between wild revelry and building the reputation of the Thundercranes on the street. For Mica and Alaric, it was business as usual.

Despite the triumphs of early Sunharrow, nagging questions remain, and for some, there are more questions than answers. So, as the sun rises on the 26th of Sunharrow, it just so happens that everybody had a hankering for one of Jorlim’s famous breakfasts. To the Kraken’s Maw!

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Who Killed Mr. Moonlight?
Eleventh of Sunharrow, 474

Anu was off somewhere studying forbidden lore, and Maudrin was probably tending his new flock. That left four to deal with Bloodeye and his crew. Still, Alaric wasn’t worried. His new sword would be more than enough to deal with Bloodeye, whatever he was.

Plus, they had a name – a fence named Delia. Bloodeye had run with the Canterway Boys once, and she fenced their illicit goods. A little hunting led them to the Three Fish, a smelly dockside tavern that Mica knew well from her sailing days. Along the way, they saw the aftermath of Jarl Siggrid’s assault on the Goblin ship. Smoke hung over the harbor, the Goblin ship was wrecked at its pier, and Siggrid’s Sӕrvaldyr had its new mast.

At the Three Fish, a surly barkeep served them mugs of grog and directed them to the back, where they met Delia. It didn’t take long for them to be at ease with each other; Dove sold her a nice gem at a bit of a loss, and it soon became apparent that she didn’t like Bloodeye at all. He had tried to sell her some of Odo’s gems, and she couldn’t afford them, so he had left in a foul temper. She wasn’t sure where he would have gone to sell them, but the only fence she knew of that could afford such materworks was Vester Lars. She also knew that Bloodeye was squatting in an abandoned house in the Ratrun, not far from the bazaar.

A quick jaunt up to Northridge to check out Lars proved fruitless; the man wasn’t even in Indiss. He had taken ship for Pelaurios four nights ago. His harried servants were busily cleaning up from his last hedonistic soiree, and Mica promised them beer before leaving. The Ratrun seemed the only possible place to look now.

They found the right street, but there were a great many abandoned structures. Dove approached an old man squatting in the shadow of a leaning shanty, and offered him copper for information. He had, it turned out, seen Bloodeye, and even pointed out the house he had entered. He knew he was in there, along with some flunkies. The old man seemed strangely unfazed by Alaric’s demeanor, as he scampered off to Tarkwel’s Taphouse to drink away his shiny new coppers.

A quick appraisal of the situation showed an abandoned house with two men standing idly across the street from it. Where they lookouts? Only one way to find out. In the alley behind them, Dove floated up to the rooftops to ensure there were no more of them up top; there weren’t, but the alley itself was swarming with rats, who attacked as Fiona charged down the alley to accost the men. One of them drew on her, and she killed him. The party dealt with the rats, and their prisoner was eager to buy his life by betraying Bloodeye. He told them of the secret door in the basement, and of the other guards inside the front door; he even offered to try to talk them down – they were his friends, after all.

It worked; instead of a fight to the death, five thugs ran off, never to be seen again, and the hunters closed in on Bloodeye. In the basement, chanting could be faintly heard down a dark passage. There were huge rats here, but they were easily dealt with. Rounding a corner, the party came face to face with their quarry – three rat-headed humanoids standing around a wooden table. One clutched a glowing ruby, and led the chant from a book bound in black leather. Blades were drawn, and battle joined.

In the end, Bloodeye died along with his misbegotten followers, and Odo’s gems were recovered. Bloodeye’s tale was a tragic one, but he had brought the curse on himself, and his murderous actions left no doubt as to his character. The glowing stone had faded somewhat, but still pulsed occasionally, and the ritual invoking an entity named Lambach to empower the stone was disquieting enough that it was decided not to give it back to Odo just yet. Delia was quite happy with Alaric’s gift to her (Bloodeye’s head), and Odo was pleased enough to pay the party an exquisite black pearl for their services. With any luck, it would be enough to pay for Johann to refit Alaric’s new suit of plate and mail…

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Bodies
Tenth - Eleventh of Sunharrow, 474

Fiona made ready to scramble up the ladder to the trapdoor. Maudrin‘s terrifying moonbeam hung eerily in the air next to her, and she could hear Alaric’s knuckles reflexively clenching and unclenching behind her. The prisoners were gone, headed to the well to climb out to safety. Once Anu threw the trapdoor open with her mage hand, Fiona knew there would be blood and death, and she would be the first one through the breach.

Suddenly Hedra came running back; one of the prisoners was dead. Apparently they were watching the well, too…and they had crossbows. The prisoners gathered outside the cages; it was now the safest place for them to be. Anu spoke a word, and the door flew open. At the same time, the moonbeam darted into the room above, and Fiona went up.

Using a steel mirror torn from Maudrin’s magic robe, she peered over the lip of the floor above. There were walls on two sides, men with crossbows on another, and…footsteps. A man with a mace swung it at her, striking the edge of the trapdoor. She threw herself up the ladder and into the room, crossbow bolts flying around her, and slashed desperately at him. Battle was joined.

As Alaric struggled up the ladder, Mica vaulted past him and into the room. Anu’s firebolt started the floor smoldering, and she scrambled into the room behind Alaric. The fight was short, sharp, and bloody, and it left almost a dozen dead slavers on the floor of the basement. Calling the prisoners up behind them, the party climbed the stairs to the tavern.

Expecting another ambush, they found instead a frightened little barkeep and a few faded old drunks clustered around the bar. Gorstag, the barkeep, admitted his complicity in the slavers’ trade, but insisted he had been forced into it, as it was that or die. He also explained a the basement’s history as a Seven Cowls hideout before the purge, and he agreed to lure the slavers at the well back inside to face the music. They weren’t buying it, though…not that it mattered. Dove’s sleep spell dropped the dogs and one of the slavers, and the other threw down his arms at the overwhelming odds.

He spilled his guts to Maudrin, while Dove and Alaric went in search of guardsmen to wrap up the affair. The others, with help from the prisoners, began to cart the bodies up to Gallows Court. He explained everything about the operation, as well as the monthly visits from a Goblinoid ship out of Cuillean’s Isle and the harbormaster’s complicity in the operation. He even offered to point out the ship at the docks, and he mentioned two individuals with Black Mask pins who often brought lists of names to the Slavers to be “disappeared,” and he showed Maudrin where to find the newest list. He never got the name of the man, but the woman was Faya, or so he thought.

Meanwhile, Dove and Alaric found the bodies of the two well guards who had taken the fall to let them raid the hideout. They had been mauled by dogs and shot by many bolts, but had not died without at least trying to show fight. They met a pair of guards who were attracted by the growing pile of bodies, and one of the guards brought them to the Danks and introduced them to Gerritt, the sergeant of the nightwatch. He filled them in a bit more on the tactics the slavers had used, and how they began by intimidating the patrol guards, working their way up the chain of command as they needed to. He was glad that somebody had been both willing and able to end the slavers once and for all.

Witht the Guard cleaning up the mess, the party turned their attention to the list. It named four targets: A dwarven pawnbroker named Adrik, a human scribe named Thalas, a human spice merchant’s daughter named Winifred, and a half-elf criminal named Namoran! It even mentioned her scars, and the fact that she was in hiding. Whoever wanted her gone, wanted it badly, and knew as much about her whereabouts as either of the survivors of the Shadows of Pelor.

Having secured Gorstag’s permission to move into the old hideout (and having bought half ownership in the Gkull & Gibbet through a sizable investment of copper Sheafs), the group headed back to the Maw by way of the Docks. There, the unlucky slaver pointed the Goblin ship out to them before being hauled off to the Danks. Back at the Maw, beer flowed and everybody relaxed. Jarl Siggrid even stopped by, glumly relaying the news that his ship had lost a mast and an entire bank of oars, along with the steering oar. Alaric, with an evil smile, mentioned the existence of the Goblin ship, and the fact that it had three perfectly good masts. He also mentioned the harbormaster’s guilt and that it should serve as incentive to keep him uninvolved in any raid Siggrid might mount. The Jarl rushed off to plan his attack, and everybody went to sleep not long thereafter.

In the morning, Anu disappeared to research her findings (and think about the strange dream she’d had), and Maudrin went to the church to check on things. Everybody else was present when a messenger arrived from Odo. He had been attacked, his goods stolen, and Carlo badly mauled! After hearing his tale, the brave foursome knew that it was finally time to deal with Bloodeye, once and for all…

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Thunderstruck
Tenth of Sunharrow, 474

Dove wasn’t really fond of moving debris around, but it was obvious that tempers were short, and not all of the bodies in the street had died from the storm – the dwarf with the knife in his back could attest to that, if he were capable of attesting to anything. So she put her talents to work making sure the cleanup went smoothly, without any more bloodshed, and convinced the folk of the Ratrun to help each other out. Alaric accomplished much the same thing, but without the veneer of civility and with a bit more jacking-up-by-the-collar. He also made a quick trip to his rooms, to make sure Jarl Siggrid was still breathing and to ensure that the widow Helga, his landlady, was OK.

Anu and Fiona, of course, had much more important things to work on – like their developing arcane abilities. Besides, the day was bright after the storm’s passing and Fiona and sunlight don’t mix well. Maudrin, feeling the call of Pelor to aid the needy, headed for the Church of the Sunrise-over-Water to minister to the Dockside poor. Mica, who lived at the attached Abbey of St. Ingunda the Mariner, was already busily assisting the cleanup effort. However, Maudrin’s Pelor-given gifts soon attracted a crowd, as word spread that a Prophet was laying hands on the sick at the Church, and Mica found herself drafted into crowd control.

As the day wore on, and people found that there was no more to be done, they began to filter into the Kraken’s Maw to quench their parched throats. Maudrin and Mica, exhausted, also headed to the Maw to check in with their friends. Mica’s brew, a bright summer ale, proved wildly popular, and Jorlim put in a standing order for whatever she could provide him. Soon, talk turned to Hedra and Odo, and Dove spent a little time working the crowd. She was able to determine that Hedra had left the party alone the other night, and specifically said she was going straight home. Dove resolved to follow her route home in an effort to track her down, and afterwards to check in on Odo as well. Maudrin accompanied her, and they set out for Gallows Corner.

They saw nothing unusual along the way, and it looked like poor Hedra had indeed disappeared without a trace. Then, standing in the Gallows Court, they noticed the guards standing by the well, and they realized that there were always guards there. Maybe they had seen something! Approaching the guards, the pair noticed that both wore those odd black mask pins on their cloaks. The guards claimed ignorance of Hedra’s whereabouts, but Dove knew they were lying. However, they suggested check with four other guards at the other side of the Court, and helpfully followed along to make sure they got what they were looking for. It turned out to be a beat down – or an attempted beat down, as the capable duo quickly turned the tables on their six assailants. They left them alive, and one, a reluctant young man named Avan, agreed to help them find their missing friend. As they returned to the Kraken’s Maw, he told them everything he knew.

The Gallows Corner guards, he claimed, were under orders to ignore the slavers who operated out of the Skull and Gibbet, a notoriously tough tavern at the edge of the Court. He also knew they had something to do with the well, although he had never seen anybody coming or going from there. Maudrin had indeed seen an opening in the side of the well about 30 feet down, so that part of the story checked out. When pressed about the mask pins, Avan admitted that they were given to guards who joined the Black Masques, a secret society of vigilantes who took the law into their own hands by night, beating and sometimes killing any lawbreakers they found. Avan had been recruited and thought he was doing good, but he was beginning to feel that the Masques were going too far; he had heard of a beggar that had been murdered on a night’s work by some Masques.

In the meantime, Anu was busily trying out her newfound abilities at the Maw. She gleefully filched a large skeleton key from a laborer…from across the room. Emboldened by her success, she tried to take a bulging pouch from an eccentric looking fellow in a shapeless felt hat. As the pouch drifted toward her hand, he suddenly noticed it was missing, and made a bit of a fuss – it was his spell component pouch! Jorlim tried to calm him down, and in passing referred to him as Franz the Great. Franz the Great? Alaric had heard of him; he had a reputation as a local hedge wizard, nobody of real consequence as far as Alaric knew. Thinking quickly, Fiona took the pouch and planted it on a half elf named Thran, whom she thoroughly disliked anyway, just as Franz improvised a Locate Object spell using a wooden fork as a component. Snatching up the pouch, he looked quite unimpressed with Fiona’s story as he pulled a dried snake tongue and some sweet oil from the pouch – the components for a Suggestion spell. Fiona fell under his power, and he demanded she tell him whether she had stolen the pouch! Truthfully, she answered no. Satisfied, he commanded her to step aside as he pulled from the pouch a small glass cone – and blasted Thran full in the face with a Cone of Cold! No mere hedge wizard was Franz the Great, apparently. As Thran sat, frozen and apparently dead, Franz sat down to discuss the intricacies of arcana with an eager Anu, while Jorlim stood shell-shocked behind the bar. Mica dragged Thran to the street to try and revive her, and with Alaric’s (and Kord’s) help, she did.

Dove and Maudrin returned just then, with Avan in tow. He told his story to everyone, and Fiona started violently at his mention of the Black Masques. It was beginning to look like they were responsible for the old Guild’s destruction. As they plotted and planned for Hedra’s rescue, Jorlim pointedly cleared his throat. Four guards entered the Maw, and two of them were wearing black mask pins. But they weren’t there to fight; they wanted to talk. They were impressed that two people were able to drop five well-armed guards, and even more impressed that they had left them all alive. It turned out that the Gallows Corner guards were not being paid off, but extorted; if they left the slavers alone, the slavers left their families alone. Now, though, there looked to be some people who were both willing and able to do something about the situation. Two of the guards would be on duty at the well that night. They would take a fall and raise no alarums as the party assaulted the Slaver den.

The plan went off exactly that way, although Fiona couldn’t resist delivering a sharp kick to one of the downed guards in anger for what the Masques had done to her friends. The party made their way through several passages to a well-lit room, where a burly armored man discussed business with a Hobgoblin and his retinue. Alaric led a savage assault, calling down Kord’s thunder to slay and destroy, while Fiona followed close behind, beheading the half-ogre bodyguard. It was over in seconds; the slaver boss tried to show fight, and managed a single good swipe at Alaric before he fell to the priest’s blade. More were coming, though, and a running battle through the hideout began. It was a one-sided battle, to be sure, but the enemy did manage some telling blows; Maudrin took a poisoned bolt to the shoulder, and one of the slavers managed to escape up a ladder through a trap door. All told, though, it seemed a great victory, for Alaric had claimed the Slaver’s enchanted greatsword as a prize, and Hedra was indeed among the ten slaves being held in squalid cells for sale to the hobgoblin. Plus, Dove had her own Goblin sidekick, an eager little creature named Jumb’tre…Jubma…Jubjub. Sure, Jubjub!

There didn’t seem to be any more slavers in the den, but one had escaped. Who knew where the trap door led? And, in the excitement of finding Hedra, they had forgotten about Odo. What was happening with the harried jeweler, anyway?

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Interlude 2 - Riding the Storm Out
Ninth - Tenth of Sunharrow, 474

The sun set early that night; a gray wall of cloud swallowed it, spinning in from the southwest. The air was still and heavy, oppressively so. Suddenly, the wind rose to a howl, slamming into the side of the tavern with the force of a giant’s hammer. Dust fell from the rafters and timbers groaned under the strain. The first of the late summer storms had come.

A strange sense of elation filled Alaric; he could feel the hand of Kord in the swirling sky above. For everyone else in the city, though, the storm brought nothing but terror. It was a long, sleepless night, filled with the clamor of collapsing buildings and debris crashing through the streets. Miraculously, the Kraken’s Maw withstood the storm, though the rains spilled through the gaps in the roof and the wind rattled the shutters.

Morning came, and with it, the storm departed to dissipate its fury on Pelaurios and the lands to the north. In its wake, the folk of the Ratrun emerged from their boltholes to survey the damage. Walls were shored up or torn the rest of the way down, while the dead were laid at the edges of the streets, covered in tattered sheets. Carters were already busy in Hillside and Northridge, delivering planks and nails and removing bodies and debris, but they would not come to the Ratrun. The barrowmen could be heard, pushing their rickety wooden carts, to haul the bodies off to be burned, while the living pulled what building materials they could from the detritus. As always, the folk of the Ratrun were left to fend for themselves, and as always, they made do.

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From Black to Wight
The end of a briefly lived cult

Ninth of Sunharrow, 474

As the heros were about to venture down into yet another sub basement, one of the kobolds ran in alerting them that the prisoners were attempting to escape. Not wanting to lose momentum, the group voted to send Mica to check on and quell the prisoners with the help of the kobolds.

Heading down the steps they found the moldy, rotting remains of a storage room, with a door to one side and a dark narrow hallway leading off in another direction. On testing the door, Anu heard voices inside, more cult members! Alaric devised a simple but clever plan to knock and the door, and when asked indicated there was a problem upstairs. When the door opened, Alaric clubbed the person over the head, and everyone rushed in to attack.

The first round or two of battle found 4 of the 6 cultists in the room dead, sending one into the corner to hide after failing a moral roll. The cult leader in an adjoining room was not deterred however, and nor were the 4 zombies protecting her. With Zombies attacking, and a magic using cult leader flinging spells, the table started to turn.

Having the idea that destroying the leader may end the zombies as well, Dove, Anu, and Maudrin combined attacks against the cult leader. The resulting blasting, freezing, and smashing of her face lead to a rapidly headless cult leader. The day was saved! Or was it? The zombies were still up, well, a couple were anyway.

Seconds later, a dark shadowy entity emerged from the neck of the leader, screeching, and sending Anu into a panic. The shadow raced across the room, toward the two remaining Zombies and Fiona. In one hit the shadow drained the life from the only slightly injured Fiona. Alaric and Maudrin both instantly recognized that what they were dealing with was a Wight, and that it was well outside of their league.

In a despirate attempt to at least prevent the cult from spreading further if they lost their battle, Maudrin charged into the now empty side office where the body of the former leader lie rotting. A quick glance around found the black skull mentioned by Anu sitting on a shelf above the bed. Maudrin took aim, and blasted it with his Eldritch Blast, hitting the skull with a critical dose of radiant energy. The skull shattered into thousands of small shards of glass, the Wight shrieked once more, then dissipated into nothingness.

After dispatching the remaining zombies, securing the one living cultist, taking a short rest, and reviving Fiona, the crew stowed the body of the leader into a newly found sack (which was oddly light for it’s contents), and continued down the hall. There they found a small dining room, with a single cultists sitting at a table, sobbing.

The cult member explained that he and the cult leader were part of an expedition group sent by a wealthy noble to find artifacts in the ruins. They found one in the catacombs; the dark skull, and the creature that inhabited it. The creature took over the leader of the party, and then used the power of the skull to force the others to serve it’s will. Those that didn’t succumb to it’s power were killed. The same thing was done to most of those in the cult. With the skull broken, their free will has returned, and they likely were no longer a threat, save those that may have gone mad from the memories of what they’d done. The adventurers also learned there were several other forms of undead in the catacombs, and possibly a few more artifacts. All would likely remain there if undisturbed.

Having rounded up the remaining cult members, the crew bid farewell to the Kobolds (warning them not to enter the catacombs), and began the march back to the palace.

On the way the party met up with a small garrison who were naturally curious about what was going on. During the discussion Anu noticed a small lapel pin of a black mask, not customary to the city guards. Discussing it later, after the garrison was out of range, the group pondered it, but didn’t think much of it. Perhaps a special unit insignia? (Though Fiona seemed quite distracted until arriving at the palace.)

At the palace gates, the prisoners were transferred, and the Lord Mayor was awoken and gave audience to the group to discuss what had transpired. Most of the story told, he seemed satisfied that the issue had been righted, and was quite happy with our report. The Lord Mayor asked what the groups future plans were, and how to contact them if he had any special missions in the future. Maudrin did take a moment to remind the Lord Mayor about their request for ownership rights of the Garaphos ruins, a request he would consider, but would still not commit to quite yet. After noting their location, and the intent was to help “clean up” the Rat Run, well wishes of a good night were exchanged, and the group was escorted out.

The party then headed off to the tavern for a good nights rest. The following day would be tasking, trying to find a proper church to cast the rituals needed to speak with the dead body of the cult leader. Would she tell them who the noble was who hired her? Had she been warned of the danger they were walking into? Has Hedra returned for work? And how was Odo’s vacation going? So many things left to do!

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Bring Me the Head of the Preacher Man

Ninth of Sunharrow, 474

After carting Siggrid up to Alaric‘s rooms, the party was ready to head back to the abandoned crypt…except for one thing. Filled with concern for Hedra, Maudrin went to the Kraken’s Maw to ask Jorlim if she had ever come in to work, or contacted him. She hadn’t. That meant a quick stop in Gallows Corner to check in on her before going to the crypt.

Leaving the Maw, Maudrin was stopped by a young woman dressed in the garb of a junior monk of Pelor. She introduced herself as Mica, and said that Brother Tarol had sent her to offer aid in the investigation of the crypt. He had, unfortunately, not sent her with any information about the black skull.

Swinging by Gallows Corner, they found Hedra’s street easily enough, and Alaric’s commanding tone was enough to convince a local to show them Hedra’s rooms. They were empty, and between Dove‘s sharp perception and Anu’s eye for detail, it was easy enough to determine that she had not returned after the party last night. Still, the zombie cult was a pressing threat, and it was always possible that she had gone home with somebody else, and was off enjoying herself, right? Right?

So, the party headed to the Garaphos ruins. Poking around the courtyard, Anu noticed a few footprints leading to the front door of the supposedly collapsed main structure. Investigating silently, she found an interior space that was battered yet functional, and four zombies standing guard. She returned to her friends, reported her findings, and they decided to go with a frontal assault. Squeezing through the narrow doorway one at a time, they quickly found themselves in desperate melee with zombies, skeletons, and members of the cult, who kept arriving in waves. Fiona was able to bottleneck the skeletons in a narrow hallway, then dashed past them to get at another group of cultists. A poisoned crossbow bolt nearly spelled her end, but she fought the venom long enough for Alaric to preserve her life with his healing magic.

Their foes dispatched or captive, the party turned their attention to the search. They found a secret trap door in the floor, and were able to move the bar using Maudrin’s Mage hand and a bit of good fortune. Downstairs, a dead humanoid huddled on the floor…or was it? As they entered the room, he leaped up, and his companions jumped from alcoves to launch a volley of sling bullets! Kobolds! Four of them were dispatched quickly, and the remainder fled rather than face the party on even footing. More cultists appeared during the battle and were dispatched. Anu managed to convince a kobold that they meant no harm; Alaric, however, proved her wrong. Moving deeper into the dungeon, the party encountered a pair of thugs in a guardroom, who tried to bluff them into retreating. No dice; the party mounted a sudden attack and the thugs fell; in the process, Dove put a hapless kobold to sleep as well. Waking him, Anu got some useful information on the place, including a crude map, and the remainder of the kobold tribe agreed to guard the prisoners upstairs, in exchange for the party promising them their home back when all was said and done.

Now knowing where the cult leader lived, the band of adventurers swept through the last few rooms on the level, slaughtering a few cultists along the way. In the last room their kobold informant had any knowledge of, they found a set of stairs leading down. Somewhere down there was the cult leader…and the black skull…

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Dancing in the Street

Eighth and Ninth of Sunharrow, 474

Anu noticed a secret door, hidden behind the Garaphos family crest. She resolved to go tell Fiona about it, but as she turned to leave, she realized that a group of shadowy figures was blocking her way. One of them, dressed in a menacing hooded robe, held up a black crystal skull with black opal eyes. “Witness the source of our power!” he raved, as the eyes glowed red. Anu felt tendrils of malign force clawing at her mind, but she fought them off, and managed to act as though she had fallen under the sway of the Skull. Sending two flunkies to watch her, the leader dispatched Anu to return to the crypt with her friends in tow, and to say nothing of this to them. En route to the Kraken’s Maw, she managed to shake one of her watchers, but the other shot her with a poisoned dart within sight of the Maw. Maudrin and Alaric both saw what was happening, and Maudrin dispatched the cultist with a blast of radiance to the face. Soon afterward, Dove arrived, and was quite upset to see that her party had not even officially started and already there was a corpse on the ground.

After patching Anu up, and hearing her tale of the secret door and the cultists’ return, the party engaged in a heated debate: should they do something about the resurgent cultists, or continue with the party? They decided to do what all good, responsible adventurers would do: Party. “For the good of the Guild,” Dove reminded Anu. “We’re making connections!”

The party was a rousing, and rowdy, success. Dove was somehow able to drink several big men under the table; after outdrinking a Dwarf, people stopped offering to drink against her. She made a tidy sum before that happened, though. Maudrin kept watch over everything from the roof of the Kraken’s Maw, and Alaric kept the pickpockets and cutpurses in line with his mere presence. Fiona discovered that dancing in a street full of people is actually quite fun! Even Anu managed to relax, after it became clear that no more cultists were coming, at least, for now.

Later in the evening, a wiry little man introduced himself to Fiona as Sanger, AKA Bloodeye. He wanted to join the Guild, and Fiona promised to meet with him on the morrow, after talking up the wealth and prestige of her Guild. She promised to meet him at the Maw, and mentioned that she stayed there. Meanwhile, a patrol of guards arrived to see what was going on. After delivering a stern warning not to let things get out of hand, they hauled off the body of the dead cultist.

As the party went on, Anu managed to use her Dust of dryness to collect an entire barrel’s worth of beer in a marble, and Dove retired to her chamber with a handsome and charming local. Maudrin came down from his perch as the crowd cleared out, and Alaric and Fiona shared another mug of now warm beer. When Alaric went to refill their mugs, Fiona heard a voice from a nearby alley. At first thinking it nothing but a drunken delusion, she soon realized it was real – and it was Namoran! Moving to help her old Guildmaster, Fiona suddenly felt Namoran’s knife at her throat. “Was it you?” she grated. “Did you sell us out?” Fiona vehemently denied any treachery, and Namoran relaxed. Her face, horribly burned and scarred, was a mask of pain and anger. As she turned to flee back down the alley, she warned Fiona to “watch for the black mask.”

Morning, and hangovers, arrived early. Dove rose, evicted her bedmate, and prepared to make a visit to Odo. Alaric also rose early, to go to the Games at the Field of Honor, where he worked as a healer. Maudrin went to see Brother Tarol and the Lord Mayor regarding the crystal skull and the cult activity. Lord Fronc declined to send more guards, but offered to pay well if the party would completely clear out any cultists at the old ruins.

Odo was quite pleased with Dove’s efforts, and with Carlo’s performance as a guard. He mentioned that one of the persistent clients, Roelich, who was after his cabochon cut ruby was in early that morning, and promised to be back before closing with money to buy it at full price! He described him as a one-eyed man, scrawny, with a wispy goatee. Could it be Sanger? Dove warned Odo that he might not be trustworthy, and Odo resolved not to sell to him after all.

Speaking of Sanger…Anu woke to noise in the room she shared with Fiona. Someone was tossing their room! She woke Fiona with a cry and leaped at the thief, driving her blade into his chest and wrenching it free. No blood spurted, nor when she gashed him across the arm. But when Fiona jumped up and slashed him with her sword, blood finally flowed, and he jumped from the window in a blind panic. Fiona recognized him as Sanger, and was disappointed to lose such a promising candidate from the guild.

Meanwhile, Alaric was having a busy (and strange) day at the Games. Burning through his healing magics early on, he patched up a score of fighters the old fashioned way. So when he heard a thunderclap out of a clear blue sky, and a booming voice warning him to hurry, he began to run onto the field. As the crowd watched in horror, a mistimed block ended in a spear thrust through a gladiator’s throat! But Alaric was there in time; he held the wound closed and staunched the bleeding long enough for the fighter to receive magical healing. Later, he heard someone shouting his name from the stands, and looked up to see his old shipmate, Siggrid! After the Games, Dove, Alaric and Siggrid met up and dove into the nearest tavern for drinks.

Siggrid, it turned out, was a Jarl now, and commanded his own ship and crew. He tried to entice Alaric back into the reaver’s life, but to no avail. Then he started drinking with Dove…when Maudrin, Anu and Fiona found them, Siggrid was dead drunk. They had to hire a cart to transport him.

Deciding to take the mayor up on his offer, they swung by Odo’s shop to check in. Roelich had never showed up to buy the stone. Fearing for Odo’s safety, the party suggested he find somewhere nice to stay that night, and that he bring his stones, and Carlo, with him. He agreed, and after ensuring he was not being tailed, they dropped Siggrid at Alaric’s rooms, and set out for the old Tiefling ruins on the edge of town.

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