The City of Cowls

The Talespinner
A story of life in Indiss

Rutger the talespinner sat hunched on a filthy scrap of cloth in the meager shadow of an abandoned shanty that leaned at a frightening angle. The hovel’s list created the only shade to be found at noon in Indiss, and in the month of Sunharrow, the height of summer, a shred of shadow in Indiss was more precious than anything.

Except ale. Rutger’s throat felt rough; he was parched. So when the gang of young toughs (at least, they thought they were) came swaggering along, Rutger extended a hand, rasping, “Copper…copper…a few coins for an old man…” The gang stopped, and the leader, a pale-faced wag whose voice had barely dropped, smirked at him.

“Sure, old man, we got coppers for ya. But you have to work for em.”

“Yeah!” piped in a scrawny girl with filthy red hair. “We want a story!”

Rutger sighed. “Alright, alright.” He swallowed a few times to wet his parched throat. “Hunker down about me and you’ll get your story. I’ll tell you about the old times, when the Devilkin ruled this land and fought the Scathelings until they had all killed each other and only the good folk of Pelor were…”

The lead boy spit. “Boring. We’ve heard that one a thousand times.” He’d produced a shiny pair of copper Sheafs, no doubt filched from a rich merchant’s purse last evening, and was dancing them across the backs of his knuckles. Rutger swallowed – he could almost taste the bitter ale waiting for him in Tarkwel’s Taphouse. He needed those Sheafs.

“Okay, then,” he began again. “You want excitement? Tales of adventure and death?”

The youths nodded, leaned in close.

“Then I’ll tell ye about the War of the Seven Cowls. About the Faceless Lady, who could be anywhere, anyone; and about the Ebon Cowl, the only one known to have thwarted her and lived.”

His audience glanced about nervously at the mention of the Lady. He had them now. He might even get a silver Crescent out of this, if one of them had one to give.

“It was 21, no, 22 years ago that the future Queen and her companions returned Prince Benedict from his long exile. In those days, there was only one Guild that mattered here in Indiss – the Seven Cowls. They were assassins, but they also dabbled in…well, everything! Their hands reached even into the shining palaces of Pelaurios. It was no coincidence that the capital had no Guild of its own. The Cowls were crime in the Sunlands.”

Rutger sighed, his rheumy eyes far away. "I was a Bravo with the Guild in those days. I had women and jewels; I drank the best wines out of golden cups. " Oblivious to the snickers of his audience, the old talespinner continued. "But then the Legion arose in Pelaurios. It was in the year that Benedict inherited the throne from old Angrohans. They drove our agents out of the capital and hunted any who practiced the assassin’s art to death. Whoever she was, their leader hated hired killers.

“And her! Rumors swirled around her. She was said to have no face by some who had met her. Others claimed she was the Queen in disguise, or the Queen’s half-elf compatriot using powerful sorcery to hide her identity. It really doesn’t matter. Once her Legion had a stranglehold on crime in the capital, they came at the Cowls.

Rutger paused in his telling, his throat suddenly dry again. How to tell them that he had seen her? Or at least, he thought he had, that the strange creature who came for the Azure Cowl that awful night had to have been her, for even through the smoke and the flames, he could not possibly have imagined the melting, the awful swirling, of her facial features…and what had been a rather plain human woman was suddenly Otiere, the Azure’s favored concubine. He dropped his knives then, fled the burning mansion and took shelter in a bottle of liquor and the anonymity of a storytelling beggar’s life. But sometimes, he wondered when – not if, but when – she would come for him.

“Forget it, Utred,” the scrawny girl whined, tugging at the leader’s sleeve. “He’s forgotten where he is, the old drunk!”

“Leave off, Brida. Hey, Talespinner! I want to hear the rest!”

“Eh? The Cowls! Yes, they came for the Cowls. It was nine or ten years ago when they found the Argent Cowl, all purple and swollen from the poison that he’d been fed. He was a poisoner, you see, but nobody made that connection then. We just figured a rival had done for him – it wouldn’t have been the first time something like that happened. But even before an heir could take up the Argent, just days later, the Scarlet Cowl was stabbed to death in broad daylight by a score of swirling, flying blades that dropped lifeless to the dirt along with her – and she was the best knife-fighter anywhere .

“Now, some of us figured it was one of the Cowls angling for supremacy, but me, I had a hunch it was something else. So, when we caught some Halfling creeping about in the Azure Cowl’s big house, we figured we’d put the screws to him and get the knowledge out of his head.” Rutger hung his head. “But we didn’t get a damned thing. He wouldn’t talk…and me and the boys were pretty rough on him. He died before dawn. After that, it was as if war had been declared. There were ambushes, fires, knifings, poison, strange sorcery…Why, my pal Ulrich got killed by some creepy elf who pulled his nightmares right out of his head and showed them to him. He shrieked like all the Devils of all the Hells had their claws in him and dropped stone dead. The sight of it turned my hair white.”

“What did they look like? The nightmares,” a tiny lad with sunken eyes squeaked.

Rutger gulped. "I can’t rightly say. But I remember, they had…they had…


“They had teeth.”

The Sheafs weren’t dancing on Utred’s fingers anymore. Like the rest of his gang, he was leaning in to hear every word, his hands clenched into excited, meaty fists.

“But the worst came three nights later. I was part of the Azure’s crew, a firebug. We killed however we wanted, but we burned the evidence afterward. It was his trademark. Anyhow, we woke that night to the smell of smoke and the sound of screams and splintering wood and roaring flames. Everything was a nightmare of chaos and death. I tried to find the Cowl, but I was, well, I was prevented.”

“By what?” Brida whispered.

“By her. By the Faceless Lady. She had come, I think, to avenge her friend, the Halfling we’d killed. And avenge him she did. The Azure Cowl burned that night, as did most of his crew. The rest of us, the handful that survived, fled into the night and never looked back.”

Utred snorted. “You never saw the Lady. You’re a liar and a drunken old fool.” He tossed the Sheafs into the dirt. “Come on, let’s get out of here before we catch his stink from him.”

Rutger scowled after them, but he scrabbled quickly after the copper coins and began to haul himself to his feet.

“What about the Ebon Cowl?”

The talespinner turned suddenly. “Eh? What do you want?”

It was Brida, the filthy red-haired girl. “You said you would tell us about the Ebon Cowl. I want to hear.”

Rutger nodded slowly. “He thwarted her, you see. She came for him, with all of her resources, all of her power…and he escaped. The Lady lost a lot of her people that night, and the Ebon, he got away. And he’s still out there, somewhere in the city, with his most loyal lieutenants around him, watching and waiting. When the time is right, he’ll step from the shadows and rebuild the Guild, and crush the upstart Legion in Pelaurios, and all of this street warfare and random murder will finally stop. He’ll bring order back to Indiss.”

Brida smiled. “Thank you for the story. Here,” she fished in a hidden pouch and pulled a tarnished silver Crescent, handed it to him.

Rutger reached for it, then, “no,” he said, shaking his head firmly. “You get yourself a bath and some clean clothes with that. You need it more than I do.”

She clutched it close, nodded brusquely, and scampered off. Rutger watched her until she disappeared down a narrow alleyway. She would make a fine storyteller someday. If she managed to survive childhood on the streets of Indiss.

Turning slowly, the talespinner set out for Tarkwel’s, already tasting the bitter ale. It would be a good day, after all.

We're Going To Be Friends

Fifth of Sunharrow, 474

Maudrin was sure that the helpful (but dirty) man on the docks would not steer him wrong, but he was also sure he had been walking for a while and seen no sign of the inn that the man had pointed him towards. The streets were getting narrower and twisty, and the Sun was actually growing dim, moving down towards the western horizon. He’d been told to expect this, but it was disheartening to actually SEE it. Then, a dozen yards or so in front of him, a door opened on light and lively sounds. The sign above the door read “KRAYKENS MAW”, below a picture of a gaping, toothy hole surrounded by tentacles. An inn!

The place was starting to fill up, as it always did around sundown. Anu and Fiona sat hunched together near the back wall, also as they always did around sundown, heatedly debating how to go about rebuilding the Guild. Namoran hadn’t shown up in the two weeks since the massacre; the mysterious, masked attackers must have gotten her too. Among the regulars filtering in, the two ne’er do wells spotted Dove, a mysterious new face who had somehow managed to con Jorlim into giving her a free room – they needed her in the Guild. Anybody who could con Jorlim into a free anything must be quite the grifter. Jorlim hadn’t willingly parted with a single Sheaf since the day he was born.

The door opened again, and in came a stranger. Odd enough on its own, but this fellow was…clean. Interesting. A couple of the local toughs thought so too, and tried to make trouble with the guy. It was starting to look ugly when the door opened again, and in swaggered Alaric. The air in the place got a few degrees colder, and everybody shut up for just a half second. He was a big bruiser, and he projected an aura of menace that everybody seemed to notice except him. His presence averted any violence, and he sat down to a drink.

As the evening went on, Fiona and Anu tried their best to recruit Dove and the new guy, Maudrin, to their guild. Seeing the four of them sitting together, discussing business, Alaric was naturally interested and joined them uninvited. Unsurprisingly, nobody thought it was a good idea to ask the big guy to leave, and Anu pointed out that the Guild would need muscle, too.

The door opened again, and another stranger entered, a short, skinny man of middle years who looked half in the barrel already, and proceeded to drink the rest of himself in as well. With drunken candor, he introduced himself to anybody who would listen as Odo Caldwell, a jeweler of the Crescent Ward, who was losing business to a smear campaign. Interested, and an the interest of protecting Caldwell from the two toughs who were eyeing him like hungry sharks, the fivesome invited him to their table, and learned that he had been accused of selling cheap paste and calling it quality gemstones. He swore vehemently that he was an honest man and would never cheat his customers, and the group agreed to come to his shop the next morning to investigate. But when he staggered out, and the nefarious looking pair of thugs followed him, the next morning became right now. After frightening off the would-be muggers, the group escorted Caldwell to his shop, which was also his home. He had been so drunk he had forgotten to let his guard dog into the shop, but luckily nothing was missing. While he swooned in a chair, the party investigated, finding his hidden stash. Using Caldwell’s key, they opened it to discover several amazingly cut stones, which Odo called his masterworks. When pressed, he said that there had been a few customers who were interested in buying one or more of them, but he had turned them away because they were not offering anything near the value of the stones. One, a fellow named Roelich, was particularly insistent and wanted to buy the cabochon-cut ruby. If business continued to decline, he would have to sell them at a tremendous discount and that would be a huge blow to his pride and reputation. While talking to him, they noticed a hooded figure outside the window. It ran away when it saw them watching. Quickly, they gave chase and followed the figure down a dead end alleyway! But when they thought they had the snooper cornered, they discovered that it had disappeared without a trace!

Thwarted, they headed back to the Maw to wrap up the evening. They saw several group of staggering drunks along the way, when they suddenly realized they weren’t drunks, they were Zombies! In desperate battle they put down a group of the undead, and they heard other battles nearby. The city guard thanked them for their help, and they returned to the Maw, seeing evidence of more zombie attacks along the way.

People Ain't No Good

Sixth of Sunharrow, 474

The next morning, Maudrin rose early and went out to visit the temples and shrines to Pelor in Indiss, and meet some of the priests and monks therein. Largely underwhelmed, he did meet a few good, dedicated men and women, including Brother Tarol, a monk at the Church of the Sunrise Over Water, a dockside temple.

Meanwhile, everybody else gathered at the Maw. Jorlim was absent, but Hedra, his young servant and assistant, was working the common room. As they debated which problem to pursue, Maudrin returned from his walk and joined the discussion. As they debated, a town cryer paused on the street outside to read his missive. Lord Mayor Fronc Derlain was offering to pay well for any information relating to the zombie attacks! The offer of a reward tipped the debate and the group set out to investigate the Zombie plague.

At the scene of last night’s battle, Anu recovered some black mud from the corner of a wall where a zombie had fallen, while Alaric found some rotten black leaf residue. Maudrin’s blessed vision revealed powerful evil in the blood spilled by the zombies. Meanwhile, Dove put a frightened local at ease and was told that the zombies had all come up the road from the east. He also told her about an old tale, the story of the Necromancer’s Garden, but he was certain that it was nothing but a story to frighten wayward children.

The group decided to visit the Scriptorium, a repository of knowledge where learned sages were known to spend their time in the perusal of old scrolls. Along the way, a suspicious squad of guards accosted Anu and accused the hapless Tiefling of being in the wrong part of town, but Alaric’s bluster and Dove’s silver tongue convinced them to leave her alone. But even these tools were of no use at the Scriptorium – there was simply no way that Anu and Fiona were getting in.

While Maudrin, Dove and Alaric entered and sought advice on their problem, Anu quickly found a side window and scaled the wall effortlessly. Finding an open clerestory window, she found the temptation to grab at a scroll too much to resist, and ended up in a precarious position.

Meanwhile, the other three companions were introduced to Guthrim, a sage knowledgeable in mythology and history, and Sigrun, a botanist by profession. From these two, they learned that the leaves were likely a variety of marshwillow that grows on the shores of Greenwater Lake, and that the Necromancer’s Garden was a legend with roots in fact – an ancient shrine to Nerull the Deathgod, razed years ago by a Pelorian crusade, which once stood on the western shore of Greenwater. Perhaps the ruins could still be found?

Their education interrupted by the sudden arrival of Anu and Fiona from above, the group said their hasty thank yous and good byes and left for the lake shore. As the shops and tenements grew sparser and the ramshackle huts more common, they realized that somebody was following them. in the lakeside shantytown they sprung an ambush on their pursuer, who claimed to be an adventurous young cobblers apprentice who heard them talking and wanted to join them. But when Fiona took him off behind a hut, he turned the tables on her and drove a knife into her gut! Luckily, she was able to wound him and her friends finished him off; the wound was not as bad as it had appeared, and the party began a search of the lake shore.

A few hundred yards to the south, they found a pile of old stone that resolved itself into a ruined estate of some sort – a large, collapsed structure with four mausoleums, all surrounded by a wall. Could this be it? As a tremendous storm broke over the city, skeletal figures crawled up from the mud and attacked. This had to be the place.

The battle with the skeletons was hard fought but victorious, and Maudrin’s vision revealed an aura of evil inside one of the mausoleums. After resting for a bit and patching up, the group entered the mausoleum. A clear trail led to the back wall, which contained a secret door. Opening the door revealed a dark spiral staircase, leading down into darkness…

The Smell of Death Surrounds You

Sixth and Seventh of Sunharrow, 474

Fiona went first, down the slippery stone spiral stairs into the night below. Reaching the bottom, she could see a hazy light to her left and hear the sounds of chanting. Straight ahead and to the right were hallways leading into darkness, but her Unseelie eyes, accustomed to the gloom of the Darklands, did not shirk from the dark; at the end of the long hallway in front of her, she could see a huddled form lying on the floor. As the rest of the party filtered down the stairs, Anu was able to verify the language of the chanting: a bastardized Infernal, with lots of terms involving death.

Anu crept towards the light, to see just exactly what was going on. There were four living people in the room, chanting; one of them held a bloody basin of bronze. There were also two skeletons standing near the leader, and a shadowy form in an alcove. As she watched, the chanting reached a crescendo, and the leader poured the blood from the basin into the mouth of a corpse on the floor. There was a choking sound, a wet retching, and the corpse lurched to its feet. The new zombie stood still as stone, and suddenly the leader’s eyes seemed to register Anu’s presence! Battle was joined!

The zombies seemed indestructible; although the cultists fell quickly to Dove‘s magic, Alaric had to hack at his zombie until it literally fell apart. Only then did it fall. The skeletons were dispatched by Maudrin’s mace and Fiona and Alaric’s blades, though not before Anu fell to a skeleton’s ragged claws. The final zombie also knocked Fiona unconcious, and as her horrified companions watched, it opened its jaws impossibly wide and dove for her throat! Dove destroyed it just in time. The wounded were patched up, and Anu and Fiona were back on their feet, although Anu was still a bit unsteady.

Fiona went to investigate the huddled form – it was a man, with countless ugly gashes all over his body, bound like a beast and thrown on the floor. After healing him, he said his name was Carlo, and that he lived nearby, in the shantytown. Fiona also noted the word GARAPHOS inscribed near the top of the chamber. Meanwhile, the rest of the band searched the altar room and secured the captives. One of them, the leader, was wearing a strange, patchwork robe, and had a pinch of dust and marbles in his pocket. Beneath the crude altar cloth, Anu found the handsome bearded visage of Asmodeus carved into the stone. It has once been an altar to the King of Hell, so this was probably an old Tiefling crypt. The fact that Garaphos was a Tiefling family name confirmed that.

As they were preparing to depart, Anu spotted a cunningly hidden door and opened it. Behind it was a hidden room, filled with moldering debris and a few shards of pottery. Not trusting it to be empty, Alaric thrust one of the prisoners before him into the room. Immediately, two specters rose from the floor, howling in Infernal, and drained the life from him! Fearlessly, Anu strode into the room and spoke to them in Infernal. They seemed to recognize her as a scion of Garaphos, and allowed her and her friends to enter. After dealing with several patches of Yellow Mold, they were able to loot the hidden treasure room and depart at last.

Carlo’s shack was not far, and he invited his saviors to stay the night and share his meal of fish stew. he even offered them his life savings, which they graciously declined. In the morning, the party brought the remaining prisoners to Castle Indiss, and met Lord Mayor Fronc Derlain for the first time. He seemed impressed, and asked many questions about their adventure in the crypt. After promising to deal with the cultists, he paid them handsomely for their efforts and bid them farewell.

Interlude 1 - Time Out for Fun

Seventh and Eighth of Sunharrow, 474

After their meeting with the Lord Mayor, everybody went their separate ways to pursue the business that they found most pressing. Alaric went to the Bazaar to sell the swords taken from the cultists; he was able to make a decent profit after selling them to the blacksmith Johann. Meanwhile, Fiona and Anu headed back toward the crypt; Fiona stopped at Carlo’s cottage to offer him a job working as security for Odo Caldwell, while Anu continued on to the old Crypt to study the carvings and images on the walls…and to have a quiet place to study her stolen scroll on Hell’s hierarchy. Maudrin, having felt his connection to his patron grow stronger, realized that he would no longer need his leather armor (being able to create his own magical armor now); he resolved to give it to Carlo to protect him in his new duties. So he headed to Caldwell’s shop, and met up with Carlo, Fiona, and Alaric there. After outfitting Carlo with his new armor, and a nice new club as well, Alaric and Fiona gave him a quick lesson on the basics of hand to hand combat, then bid farewell.

Dove dove into frantic action immediately after leaving the Castle. After a quick trip to the Kraken’s Maw to clean up and throw on some fancy clothes (and con Jorlim into making some improvements to the Maw’s bathing facilities), she headed out to Hillside and Northridge. In the guise of a visiting noble, she raved about Caldwell’s craftsmanship in the salons of the idle rich. Then, returning to the Ratrun, she began planning a party.

Dove hired bards from street corners, and courtesans from the Blue Orchid house, a brothel of good repute. She convinced Jorlim, along with several other publicans in the neighborhood, to roll barrels out to the street and serve beer and food to the party-goers. By midday on the eighth, everything was set; the party would commence at sundown that night.

Alaric, meanwhile, had spent the night “dissuading” criminals from preying on the folk of the neighborhood, and slept late on the eighth. Anu had worked in the crypt late into the evening, and returned early the next day; she was vaguely aware that some priests and Maudrin had come down to consecrate the foul altar, but turned down Maudrin’s offer to stay and keep an eye on things for her. Perhaps she should have taken him up on that offer…

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.

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…

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!

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.

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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