Monthly Archives: July 2010

SOW Chapter6: The Grand Cathedral

The Grand Cathedral

Trolls and other foes

Bring the party many woes
A retreat is called

The Grand Cathedral

Their foes fallen, Bhenedict looks about uneasy. Normally at times like this he would turn to James for healing and advise. The boy was hot-headed of that there was no denying but to go down like this … it wasn’t what anyone would expect. Maybe Bairdyn was the heart of their little group but James … James was their soul and often times their savior as well. It was by accident and misfortune that they found themselves here without him, and when last they saw him he had fallen alone against the massed guardians of the sepulcher; he had certainly down and likely he had been killed. The memory of James being dragged away by the chains burned in Bhenedict’s chest. There could be no doubt they had to get back. James would not have hesitate to come to their aid … and he deserved no less!

Looking back to their point of entry on the western side of the south wall Benedict sees the figurine of the adamantine horse sadly lying on its side next the chamber door where Maxyzne had dropped it. Bhenedict walks over to pick it up easily tipping it upright, but strangely he finds the figurine is too heavy for him to lift. Frustrated he asks for help but try as they might no one in Benedict’s party can lift the figure, not even when they try working together.

Disgruntled Bennie opens the door they had entered from, the same door that had led them here from the sepulcher. Opening the door, once again the turbulent lights of the portal are revealed. Staring hard through the dancing lights Bennie can catch glimpses of the sepulcher beyond but as he tries to reach through he finds the way is blocked, barred by an invisible barrier. Bennie’s frustration growing, he pounds the portal to no affect. Pausing, he looks to the three other doorways in the chamber as well as the opening on the east wall, the one likely created by the cave-in that was clearly evidenced by the damage on that side of the chamber … Bhenedict determines that they must check every exit.

Looking about the chamber is easy, it being brightly illuminated by the fires carved into the two reliefs and the statue, which glows with a magical light. The broken passage in the east, however, is very dark. Checking the doorways on the west wall and on the eastern end of the south wall the party finds they are also magical portals, both leading to other dwarven temples, the first one leads to Thunderhold and the second to Icehome … both blocked of these portal are also blocked by invisible barriers. Fixed in the center of the south wall they found the door locked and secure … this door having been built to provide access to the surface from the High Cleric Tower, but now it too was on no use blocked by arcane lock, damage or both … maybe even the very same water they had used to flood the dwarven tunnels when the used the Nexus to secure the tunnels (but Bhenedict doubted that could have reached this far). The dark broken passage on the east wall looks foreboding and unlikely to provide an exit but Bhenedict searches it anyhow finding that it wraps around leading back to the doors on the north wall of the chamber, of these the main double door leading north appear the most promising but there is another small westward leading door.

Opening the north door reveals a fifteen foot wide hall which extends approximate forty feet to another set of double doors. As these doors are opened a vast chamber is revealed. The members of the Brigade had all seen keeps smaller than the vast chamber opening before them. Roughly oval in shape, save for the crumbling walls to the east, the chamber consists of multiple levels. Stairs in the room’s center, as well as great sweeping ramps around the sides, climb to the second level twenty feet above.One of those ramps, the one on the east side of the cathedral is partly collapsed along with the walls. Steeps stairs and slopes lead from there to a third level, and a platform not unlike the one in the temple’s entry chamber stands high atop that. Huge chunks of wall and stone stand along the broken edge, forming natural ledges,and a deep crevice runs a jagged path to the southeast. There are several high platforms formed of broken stone, these are also on the east side of the chamber. Part of the second tier of the cathedral creates an overhang on the north-end of first level and below the ramps on either side of the cathedral … this overhang covering two small doors on the north wall of the first level.

Grand Cathedral Map

Glancing about the chamber the party sees another of the vile, bestial-looking dwarves hiding in the lee of the stairs, and above, you spot several insectoid-featured humanoids, some wearing odd looking hats or crowns made of a variety of materials such as antlers; these creatures are perched high upon the ledges atop the broken columns of stone.

Insect Humanoids

The closest of these plays a shrill note on a pipe launching a strange winged dart, something like an insect. The thing buzzes at Bhenedict dashing past his shield to pierce the dwarf dazing him with its vicious sting. Staggered, Bhenedict takes a half-step backwards. Wolf is then targeted by an elderich blast from the sly gully dwarf; again as the powerful living energy strikes and fills Notaku before spewing from his body causing the party to separate and seek cover. 

Suddenly from the numerous hidden shadows and cervices within the chamber more foes appear—twisted gray humanoids roughly the size of halflings, lurking around the various corners these come at the party racing with tremendous speed, striking with twined blades, slicing and running away before the party can react. 

Quickling

Responding, Shaden adopts a defensive posture on the main floor of the cathedral. Maxyzne and Wolf take to the broken ramp on the east side of the chamber; Bairdyn and Bingus look for cover, and Bhenedict tries to move the gully dwarf charges swing a ridiculously large hammer batting Bhenedict into off his feet and into the southern wall where he falls to the ground.

The quicklings come at them again dancing through the Brigade’s defensive line and viciously attacking both Bairdyn and Bingus, while two others circle about Shaden attacking from all sides, a fifth quickly stands back directing the others using a high-pitched elven dialect. As the fast moving quicklings pull out of the range of the Brigade’s melee attacks Bingus reaches within his poach withdrawing a handful of sand which he casts at the quicklings while voicing an enchantment upon the sand; the sand explodes bursting into a cloud over the quicklings and as the cloud drift upon them they stagger noticeably. 

Banshrae

Elsewhere Maxyzne runs, leaps and climbs on one of the columns of broken stone which rises twenty feet above the cathedral floor. There she faces off with the first of the three banshrae, unconcerned the creature waits impassively, then interrupts the half-orc’s thoughts the thing’s voice evading her mind: 

(You may jump or fly but fight and you will die.)

Unimpressed she strikes at the creature which dodges easily, efficiently, standing its ground, reacting with an outward striking of its own, an open palm into Maxyzne’s midsection. She involuntarily collapses inward, losing all her air, her heart skipping a beat … stunned she staggers backward, stepping off the broken platform, she falls just catching the edge avoiding the long fall to the ground.  

As Wolf struggles to find a clear path up the broken ramp a second banshrae staggers him with another living dart from atop a second column of stone further back than the first. Shaden takes advantage of Bingus’s sleep spell finally catching-up to the first of the speedy quicklings killing the creature as it staggers about struggling against the gnome’s spell. Another quickling collapses, at the half-orc’s feet, losing consciousness overpowered by spell, and still another attempts to hide but not before Bairdyn spots it cringing beneath the curved ramp. Two other quickling, those that recovered from the gnome’s spell, turn infuriated by gnome’s magic, racing after Bingus who turns and runs back into the entry hall hoping the quicklings won’t follow. Next to the main door Bhenedict and the slystone dwarfling trade blows, neither gaining any clear advantage in their reckless melee.  

Still recovering from the banshrae’s attack, Wolf rises and begins to climb the rock column using the column as to provide cover from the second attacker. Atop the column, the first banshrae steps away from Maxyzne and begins dancing allowing Maxyzne to regain her footing. As she stands the strange creature sweeps back without interrupting the flow of its dance its leg lifts snaps high, gracefully connecting with Maxyzne’s head, with astonishing force; obviously toying with the half-orc the vicious blow echos throughout the chamber, her chin that almost spinning her head fully backwards, Maxyzne collapses like a puppet with its strings cut, exactly where she had stood.

Deep at the high-end of the cathedral a deafening boom rings out over the chamber, echoing

through the vastness. Once, twice, three times, and then everyone in the chamber hears the sudden crash of shattering wood rebounding off old stone. At the same time with a finally effort, Wolf lifts himself to the platform where Maxyzne fell and in one smooth motion leaps upon the banshrae taking him off his feet while raising his own enormous two-headed battle axe above his foe.

Wolf’s axe falls ending the first banshrae, and shifter takes advantage of his high viewpoint to looking across the cathedral to the source of the sounds at the high north-end. The double doors have burst open, jagged bits of the lock hanging loose in the wake of the destruction. Through the open doorway barges an array of monstrous figures: green and mottled trolls, some of a smaller variety, still easily taller than a man, trolls with feral features and narrow, mean eyes, and several more massive trolls and—most terrifying—a broad-shouldered troll with two shrieking heads. Following behind one of the smaller trolls there is a red-scaled reptile on a heavy chain, smoke rising from its nostrils and from between its jagged teeth.

Shaden uses the distraction to attack another of the quicklings, his sword, the Wicked Fang bites deep the quickling clutches his torn side and darts away. Back in the entry hall the paired vengeful quickling race past Bingus in preparation for an attack but before they wind around Bingus conjures a blazing wall of fire that cuts off his attackers. Bhenedict and his tough dwarf opponent struggle on as Bhenedict smashes the small dwarf in the face with his shield only to be lifted off his own feet by the power of the smalled dwarf’s counterstrike. From the far end of the cathedral a jet of arcing flame erupts as the drake lights the third banshrae atop the farthest column of stone aflame … the banshrae falls from the column still burning.  

Spiky Troll

"Ho, good shot Flamespewer, but don’t burns them all, I likes mine fresh-n-juicy!"

"I LIKES THE DARK MEAT!" 

"It look-like there’s enough for all, here I’ll spike one for yew."

In answer a javelin hurls from the upper deck with deadly accuracy striking the second banshrae on his high post, thrown by one of the smaller trolls peering down from the raised deck.

All the trolls continue their advance. Shaden taking count of their number as they approach, two small ones, moving fast … one of these with the fire lizard; four huge following between those, and one large two-headed troll catching and passing the more massive trolls. Fortunately the large warren trolls bottle-necking at stairs was slowing the advance of these monsters.

In the entry hall, the quicklings test their speed against Bingus’s wall of flames one dying in the attempt the second breaking through but in no shape for another try at the gnome. In the cathedral, the quickling runs fast evading Bairdyn so the halfling reassesses switching his target to the injured quickling slaying it. Shaden quickly kills  the sleeping quickling while waiting on the trolls and calls to Bairdyn, "I don’t know if we can handle these trolls there are too many and they are too large do any of you have any ideas?"

On the south-end of the cathedral Bhenedict finally raises his new craghammer victoriously, realizes that his new hammer had become evermore effective as the fight had continued … clearly the hammer held an powerful enchantment. Thinking the name ‘Dwarf Crusher’ would be not be appropriate, Bhenedict finally looks up long enough to see the trolls, and think ‘Troll Squishier?’ might due. Higher in the chamber, on the broken east side, Wolf lifts Maxyzne, finding her thankfully still alive if barely, and using a combination of leaps and climbing he works his way back to the ramp while carrying the half-orc. A second javelins flies spearing the burning banshrae killing it as its tries to rise. The second banshrae darts the drake and quickly climbs down to the floor of the cathedral’s ground floor. Cautiously, Shaden directs his attention to this new opponent when he suddenly hears the banshrae’s thoughts:  (Fight me not, have no fear, there are others I must fight here.)

As the trolls arrive in mass to the final stair which leads to the main floor, the huge troll again bottle-neck, worse this time as the four hugest trolls collide at the single stairway. The two-headed frustrated mumbles with both heads as it moves past the mess down the west ramp while the two smaller trolls take advantageous positions on the second level where they can target opponents with their javelins.

The first huge troll at the base of the stairway reaches down grabbing Shaden with one meaty paw and lifting him high high into the air; the troll’s fetid breath washes over the half-orc as hollers, "WHAT HAVE WE HERE?"

Another yells, "SQUEEZE THE TAIL OUT OF HIM AND LET’S EAT!"

And another, "HEY, BREAK ME OFF A PIECE-O-THAT!"

"Look there Midget their all ready eating"

"Don’t worry, you little piggy, we’ll be there soon enough!"

 "No, I’m hungry now, you’re always stuffing your face!"

Suddenly the banshrae is there spinning like a dervish, the inhuman thing strikes high with a whirring staff, striking the troll’s bullocks with incredible force.

"AAH!" exclaims the troll dropping Shaden, stunned by the banshrae’s blow.

 "HO, HO … DID YA SEE THAT, E SLAMMED WILLY’S, WILLY!"

"OH, IT’LL TAKE AWHILE FOR THAT TO GROW BACK."

"OUT OF MAE FREAKIN WAY, YOU DONKEYS, I’M HUNGRY AND I’M GONNA GET ME A BISCUIT!"

Moving around the crowd of trolls at the main stair on the west ramp the two-headed monster stares down a Bhenedict. One of the heads asking, "Are you a dwarf?"

Surprised Bhenedict answers, "Yes." without thinking.

"Oh." responds the second head, "Then we shall have to kill you."

"It’s mae turn first midget, you promised."

As the arm on second head’s side strikes claws ripping an angry welt in Bhenedict shoulder right through his armor as the troll grabs at the dwarf. "HEY ITS MY TURN TO EAT FIRST!" hollers the first head.

"IS NOT, YOUR DAFT! You always have been stupid." adds the second head.

 Bhenedict tries to strikes back, but the first head lands a telling blow forcing Bennie to give way to the troll overpowering strength. "OH, LIES! MOMS LOVED ME MORE THAN YOU!"

Wolf gives Maxyzne a healing potion, then tries to help Bhenedict but one of the small trolls quickly targets him with a javelin from the second level. Notaku dodges wildly but the javelin still bites deeply and prevents the shifter from coming to Bennie’s aid; the second man-sized troll targets the surviving banshrae impaling it with the javelin as it fights the huge troll.

Returning to the cathedral, Bingus makes a quick assessment and unleashes an exploding ball of fire on the main stairs engulfing the largest mass of trolls, along with Shaden and the banshrae in flames. The banshrae stands bravely against the onslaught quickly snapping off the end its staff on the hard stone floor and one motion spinning the sharp end around plunging in deep into the massive troll. The two remaining quicklings join in the banshrae’s attack slashing viciously at the troll’s ankles as they pass. They troll falls to its knees scooping one of the quickling into its mouth as it falls chomping down dividing the quickling into three pieces. The quickling dies with a sickening crunch; the banshrae also falling. The final surviving quickling comes around pasting near Shaden who instinctively strikes, the Wicked Fang taking off the quickling’s head. Again Shaden yells, "We cannot win here!"

Bhenedict answers, "Agreed Mate, a hasty retreat then?"

Shaden yells back, "We need to kill the downed troll first!" Bairdyn answers, "I’ve got him." and fires a sling bullet the bursts into flames after it is fired. "A troll can’t regenerate from fire." says Bairdyn.

"ZOOT, HELP DINGO!"

"Wot happened? Did the little one kill Dingo?" ask the one of the smaller trolls.

"HURRY UP, E’S HURT BAD!"

Looking down from the second level the small troll collects a great glob of spit within his fist hurling the thick gooey mass at Dingo, the huge fallen troll … as the glob hits it bubbles and fizzes, Dingo’s eyes immediately open as the fallen troll twitches taking in a large breath.  

"WHERE’S YER USELESS BROTHER CRAPPER?"

"Oh EE’s fetching the lizard, it stopped for a little snack." answers the troll named, Zoot.

Without a word, Bingus uses another spell lighting Dingo back on fire. 

Bumpy Troll

"OH YOU LITTLE DEVIL, LOOK IT WOT E’S DONE!"  … "E ROASTED DINGO." … "E’E AIN’T HEALIN NOW. CRAPPER!! GET YOUR WORTHLESS ARSE HERE " … "E’s done fer for sure." … "GET EM!" "TH-ERR RUNNING AWAY!"  "RUN PIGLET RUN."

"Settle down, there no where for them to go we’ll catch them all soon enough … there’ll be plenty fer all."

And the Brigade does run. Run, run, and run! Bingus and Wolf leading the way, followed by Bairdyn and Maxyzne, followed by Shaden, all leaping into the dark crevice and finally Bhenedict uses the space he gained when the two-headed troll knocked him aside to back-peddle and drop into the deeply scarred floor disappear into the crack in the floor moving, recklessly, stumbling eastward over broken jagged stone, as quickly as his thick stout legs could carry him. Running as if his lift depended on it … and it did. 

Gathering in the darkness, their way lit by the gnome. Shaden, taking on the role of Captain Obvious says, "I wasn’t expecting that."


SOW Chapter6: The Mountainroot Temple: Part Two

The Mountainroot Temple: Part Two

Dwarf and harpy both

Smell of offal, dung, and piss
Targets hard to miss

The Mountainroot Temple: Part Two

As Bairdyn, Bhenedict, Bingus, Notaku, Shaden and Maxyzne all stand cramped in the space located behind the filigree and in front of the portal doorway, as doorway opens unexpectedly and Bairdyn reaches towards James, Bhenedict incidentally brushes the shimmering portal. The portal itself is obscured the glow of turbulent lights, dark lights of moody shades, none of which feels either warm or cold. As the dwarf’s backside breaks the plane of the doorway he vanishes from the sepulcher.

gully dwarf

Bhenedict feels no magic—no tingling or shimmering. His absence occurs between steps; one instant, he’s in the sepulcher, and the next he’s . . . not. Now Bennie finds himself in a great, stone-walled chamber with numerous doorways—many of which are contained within deep stone arches, almost like artificial caves—provide egress. A platform with multiple stairs stands near the chamber’s center, presumably for a ceremonial purpose long since forgotten. The eastern portion of the room appears to have been largely damaged in an ancient cave-in, marring one of two great reliefs that adorn the far wall.

Perched on one of the archways and atop the undamaged relief, a pair of foul females with ragged hair and the claws and wings of vultures turn piercing eyes in Bhenedict’s direction, letting loose with a terrible, predatory cry; and only a few yards from away what appears to be a scruffy, abnormally short dwarf; what they would call a ‘gully’ dwarf in Overlook, stands peering at Bhenedict through its slitted lids, and grins evilly as fell looking energy builds on his far hand.

One-by-one the others come through, Bairdyn, Wolf, Bingus, Shaden and finally Maxyzne. As they take in the chamber the sly dwarf unleashes a bolt of white flame the comes in at the party in an arc homing in on Bhenedict momentary disappearing as it strikes, somehow absorbed into Bhenedict’s body then suddenly the white flame erupts from Bhenedict seeking egress from his body by any means possible, forming rivulets of argent fire streaming out of Bhenedict’s eyes, his mouth, his ears, any available orifice leaving agony and confusion in its wake. As the energy escapes from Bhenedict’s body it spills over burning all those adjacent to Bhenedict forcing the party to spread out as the harpies begin to sing, a low mournful cry, a disconcerting sound that is both frightening and strangely irresistible. The harpies separate pulling the party in two different directions effectively splitting the Brigade up. One using her song to draw Bairdyn to the raised platform while most of the others follow the other harpy towards the western most door.

map

As most of the party moves to the northwest, the harpy perches upon the arch above the door. Bingus follows, but the gnome himself is hidden, invisible … having use his gnomish guile to magic ability to hide himself after the gully dwarf’s initial attack. Of the others, only Bairdyn and Bhenedict, were drawn to the northeast by the other harpy and roughly a the midpoint between the entry door and the raised platform Bhenedict is intercepted, knocked off his feet and out of his trance by the gully dwarf who charges into Bhenedict slamming him so hard he sends Bhenedict flying back through the air until the chamber wall cuts Bennie’s flight short.

harpy

As the rest of the party collects at the base of the northwest arch the harpy’s song changes to a brutally deadly screech filled with thunderous power. The harpy focuses in on Shaden pulling him closer while blasting the others away incidentally waking Bingus.

On the far side of the chamber the second harpy takes to air cruelly, gleefully it circles the entranced halfling, cackling joyously, intent on sampling the halfling’s tender flesh. Desperately Bhenedict stands just in time to parry the smaller dwarf’s weapon, a sword almost welded with frightening power by the small dwarf who was swinging the sword with enough power to make Bennie silently question his own strength. Clearly the smaller gully dwarf  more than capable of carrying on a full-sized fight, and then a second thuggish-looking gully dwarf appears from his hidden position in the shadows of the broken wall.

As Bingus’s head clears he quickly gages the scene and still invisible to the others he levels a powerful magical assault upon the harpy in the northwest knocking her from her perch waking Shaden at the same time. Instantly both the half-orcs are on harpy putting an end to her within seconds. Coming to his senses again, Wolf races to Bhenedict’s aid attacking the first gully dwarf, and freeing Bennie to go to Bairdyn’s aid. Seeing the halfling’s plight, Bingus fires off a spell at the remaining harpy, his magical cloud of flying daggers forcing the harpy to give way.

As the odds shift as the Brigade’s pressure mounts. Maxyzne and Wolf make short work of the first gully dwarf who was already injured during the fight with Bhenedict. Bhenedict is intercepted the second gully dwarf at the stair to the raised platform, Bennie still trying to make his way to Bairdyn. Again this gully dwarf puts  Bhenedict on his butt with a resounding blow but immediately Shaden is there slashing madly at the dwarf. While Bingus keeps the harpy a bay using his spells until together with Bairdyn’s help the second harpy is killed. Soon after the half-orcs and Bhenedict finish the second gully dwarf. In the end the heroes Carry the day and among their foes in the chamber, there are no survivors.


SOW Chapter6: The Sepulcher

The Sepulcher

A parable now

Avoids the wrath of the god
But the priest dies here

The Sepulcher

map

The heroes find themselves standing at one end of a long chamber. Chandeliers hanging from the ceiling spring to life even as they pass through the secret door illuminating all that lies before them. To the right and left, stairs lead down to an open lower level, transforming the floor on which they stand into a central walkway, with two narrower ledges along both sides of the room. At even intervals along those walkways the floor abruptly widens, almost like the teeth on a gear. At the far end of the chamber, a bright silver filigree of unimaginable complexity bulges from the wall and it beautifully displays a scene of Moradin hard at work at his forge. There a four statues, two flanking the filigree, two flanking the entrance, all show Moradin with a pair of ravens perched on his shoulders. Perhaps these being meant to honor the Raven Queen, who watches over even Moradin’s dead? guesses Bhenedict.

The open space between the protrusions slope sharply down from the walkway to lower level where the remains of the honored dead are interred. The group slowly moves as one through the center of the huge chamber. As they draw near the filigree they can see an old stone door on the wall behind the filigree image, but their is no obvious egress; the door being secured behind the filigree, they can see no way to access it.

Approaching the filigree with a sense of reverence, Bhenedict removes his gauntlet and gently touches the silvered work of art prompting a response from the image of Moradin contained within the filigree. The metal image suddenly bends, the face of Moradin turning towards Bhenedict and speaking with a voice reminiscent of rending metal.

“Who would step through the portal to the heart of Moradin’s worship must first prove he understands Moradin in his own heart. Think you carefully on Moradin’s precepts, his teachings, his actions, and his favored disciples. Then speak unto me a parable, a tale of Moradin, not one that you have learned from his texts, but that you have created yourself. Let it show your understanding of his words and his ways, and you may pass.”

Animated Chains

From the iron image, thin strings of metal—liquid, as though melting—shoot forth, not targeting the Brigade, but rather the hanging chandeliers. As the metal strikes it collects forming canopies of metallic strands, like webs, and from the webs to links, collecting overhead, weaving and growing from the chandeliers. Within these growing networks of metal sparkling violet clouds develop and expand, swirling vortexes of power that build until great lengths of chain explode outward dropping to the floor where they rise up, like deadly serpents of chain.

James speaks first, "Moradin’s titles include Soul Forger, Dwarf-father, the All-Father, and the Creator. He created the first dwarves out of earthen materials and tutored them in dwarven ways!"

Bhenedict adds, "Right."

After the pronouncements, the chains advance, eight of them in all, one from each chandelier … each a huge mass of chain mixed with wicked, spiked blades and hooks. Bingus gives way as Shaden and Maxyzne step forward putting themselves between the approaching monstrosities and the rest of the party. Notaku speaks out loudly, "This is not right, we shouldn’t be fighting here."

James continues, "Moradin charges his followers with the task of removing the kingdoms of orcs and wiping out the followers of Gruumsh. He is upset if they flee from their foes or kill their fellow dwarves."

Then the chains attack reaching out from better than two body lengths the chains striking violently ripping at the half-orc and winding about them like great constrictors. Wolf, the shifter, races to aid Shaden but he is savagely rejected by the mass of writhing chain. Other chains close from either side, Bhenedict and Wolf adjust adopting defensive positions so they might protect James and the two smallest members of the party, Bingus and Bairdyn. Squeezed together behind their protectors Bairdyn turns to Bingus and asks, "What is a parable?"

"A parable … well, its a story of sorts, a short one that often with a lesson." answers Bingus.

"Oh, that’s what I thought … he wants us to tell him a story. No ones told him a story yet!" exclaims Bairdyn.

"Well, you know, I don’t know much about dwarven gods and all, but here’s a story my grandpa used to tell sometimes, under the stars when we docked for the night on the river.  I don’t think he knows much about dwarven gods either, but he’s a wise old codger, so I guess his story will just have to do." 

‘Once there was a boy who lived with his father in a small village at the edge of a forest.  His father was a logger, and worked to provide lumber for those in need of it.  It was a meager existence, so the boy had to work as hard as he could to help his father make ends meet.  The only problem was, the boy was weak and crippled, walking with a terrible limp.  Still, he worked as hard as he could, given his limitations.

‘ Of course, this was not all the boy had to deal with.  He went on errands for his father in the village, as best he could, but was almost always picked on by the children while in town.  Often, while returning from the market, he was beaten most of the way home.  The poor boy was nowhere near strong enough to defend himself successfully, so the best he could do was to drag himself home as quickly as he could.  He complained about this to his father, a kind but stern man, who responded, "Son, I’m very sorry, but what can I do?  These are children who are hurting you, so I cannot defend you against them.  If I were to raise my hand against them, I would be ridiculed by the townsfolk, and we would lose what little business we have.  I hope they will learn that such foolish behavior is wrong, and that superior strength is never reason to bully anyone.’

‘ The boy did the best he could, putting up with the abuse, and helping his father as best he could.  As he grew older, he found that his health improved greatly, and he found himself endowed with far greater strength and health than he ever could have imagined.  This was no doubt due to both his perseverance in putting up with the beatings, and his hard work chopping wood and helping his father with the family business.  One day on the way home from market, the boy was attacked, but instead of attempting to flee, he defended himself, and found that he could now defeat his tormentors.  However, instead of inflicting severe abuse upon them, he merely fended off their blows and told them that they would do well to never bother him again.  The boy then returned home, proudly told his father of his deeds that day, and was never troubled by bullies again.’

In response, the image of Moradin announces, "You may pass."

As Bairdyn reaches out to the filigree the silver work twists and bends allowing the halfling to pass through.

As the half-orcs, Shaden and Maxyzne fight for their lives Shaden pulls free long enough the cleave the first chain-thing in two using the Wicked Fang. Maxyzne is dragged to ground still embroiled in a life and death battle. Bhenedict and Wolf standing near are both entangled by the chain-things attacking them. As they fight even more of the deadly chains approach, Bingus finding himself surrounded and cornered by three of them yells out, even as he is gripped by one arm.

"I have attempted to use my strength and dexterity to free myself rather than my arcane power even as a dwarf might do. Dwarves wouldn’t rely on chaotic magic as it would be a sign of weakness to escape. You know that I could have freed myself at any point using Avandra’s Boon of Escape to teleport myself to freedom, but I did not. Instead this is my parable, I, a gnome stand before you bloodied in the face of adversity when others would beg for mercy. When others would look for hope, for light for freedom, I stand as the dwarves would with courage and honor. I do not look for exterior light for my salvation instead I have my own inner light to guide me. This is the dwarven way, this is my parable of dwarven courage."

Again the image of Moradin speaks "You may pass." and the filigree reveals a passage for the gnome as the chain releases him. In a sudden act of defiance, Bingus blast the chandelier nearest to Maxyzne and the chain strangling her bursts into thousands of fragments freeing her. Turning Bingus walks through the filigree.

"Oh, too easy." says Bhenedict … "It is about time you figured it out, and I would have told you, but any true dwarf knows the easy road should be avoided, it hard work and toil that makes that shapes stone, metal and a forges a dwarf’s soul. So let this lesson be my parable, and in understanding you too will be closer to perfection."

Again the announcement, "You may pass." … see what I mean adds Bhenedict who freed passes through the filigree.

Shaden and Maxyzne combine their efforts destroying another of the chain homunculi while Notaku speaks, "Not all forges are made of iron, nature too forges the creatures that struggle everyday to survive, a struggle that rewards both strength and courage … when this power is then harnessed with will and purpose the wondrous design of living things are created even as Moradin has forged the dwarven people."  

Again the declaration, "You may pass." Leaving three heroes and five chain constructs, both half-orcs flanked by two and the final writhing chain coiling and slamming into the cleavenger.

Showing outward signs of grim focused determination as if fighting against some inner turmoil struggling, Shaden lowers his blades and says, "Dwarves are known for being tough and resilient.  I embodied those attributes, yet I am half-orc, we too are strong and tough, the proof being demonstrated by action rather than just words. By charging the chains and ignoring my wounds I have battle your creations as if they were nothing even as a dwarf would do."

"You may pass."

Led by Bairdyn, the members of the Brigade already safe behind the filigree call out desperately to James and Maxyzne:

"Tell a story!"

"You can do it !"

"Make something up …"

Still outside the filigree, James is entangled and beaten he replies, "I already explained what Moradin wants, all I know!"

Bairdyn seeing nothing but jaw-dropping, dumbfounded confusion on Maxyzne’s face yells to her, "Make-up a story! … a parable!"

Still looking confused over the din of the chains she asks, "What is a pair a bowls have to do with this thing?"

Flummoxed Shaden urges Maxyzne, "Something dwarves think is good. What they like to do, a parable."

Maxyzne is loses herself in thought for a moment, as her thoughts race she thinks … I have once seen a dwarven woman feeding her children. The women seemed to be enjoying herself. It seemed like she was doing something good. The woman was very well endowed for a dwarf and her her bosoms were shaped like bowls, and making bowls of her hungry children, filling them like a pair of bowls. Maxyzne suddenly starts laughing as she considers the thought of her male companions confusing full breasts for bowls or of using breasts to fill bowls. Regardless, Maxyzne was sure that she shouldn’t mention the breasts in front of the dwarven god, her thoughts passing in seconds as she is again whacked on the head by the chains and suddenly says, "Um, okay, ah, I guess, there was a, ah, a, dwarven woman who had two bowls and, she…she saw another woman who didn’t have a bowl and so she shared one of her bowls with the other woman."

The chains continue their attacking the she-warrior unabated;  Maxyzne demonstrating her speed and grace as she dodges and parries the attacks.

Desperately trying to get Maxyzne’s attention Bairdyn calls out to the half-orc through the portal, "Psst, Maxyzne, try this…think of a dwarven man, the patriarch, the father of a great many other dwarves, a warrior who is fighting with a dwarven warrior woman and they are fighting a horde of goblins. The man falls before the horde but the woman fights on and defends him. Later on when asked she says nothing of his defeat but instead describes how he defeated the goblins to preserve his honor and the honor of his clan."

Even in the face of certain death Maxyzne muses, "No one would believe that!"

Not giving Bairdyn urges,  "Go ahead and try it."

Shrugging she says, "There was a great dwarven hero. He was father to a great many dwarves. He was the leader of his clan and held great honor among his race. There came a day when he and his woman were attacked by a great many goblins. They fought bravely for many days but eventually even this great hero fell. The woman stood over him and continued to fight and slew the last of the goblins saving the life of her mate. When they returned to the clan she told no one of his fall but instead told tales of his great bravery in defending their home and his strength of arms in defending her and their kin."

"You too may pass."

It is only as Maxyzne crosses the threshold of the filigree wall that Bairdyn turns his attention back to James the halfling’s heart sinking deep as his friend falls. Surrounded James falls, faster than any of the Brigade can respond. Dismayed Bairdyn gasps, watching James, who with a final herculean effort blindly thrusts the figurine of the adamantine horse into Maxyzne waiting arms saying, "Take this!" and with that final request the cleavenger collapses beneath the weigh of the attacking chains. Involuntarily Bairdyn reaches out to James only to find his path barred by the filigree. At the same time the door behind the party opens and as the cleavenger’s body is dragged away leaving grim red streaks to marking his passing, the Brigade begins to fall through the passage revealed.   


SOW Chapter6: Rescuing Durkik

Rescuing Durkik

The real Durkik–found

Traps are disarmed; life is spared
Evils’ goal revealed

Rescuing Durkik

The captured dwarf leads the heroes to the north side of the warehouse opposite the main doors. There hidden behind crates upon the warehouse floor he points out a secret trapdoor. Testing the door Bhenedict finds it is locked, and calls for Bairdyn who redeems his previous fumble at the counting house door quickly picking the lock and cautiously lifting the trapdoor revealing a ladder that leads to an underground passage.

"Check for traps," suggests Bhenedict.

Looking back at Bennie with a facial expression that says, "Duh, do the think?" Bairdyn shines in a light into the passage he immediately a raspy hoarse voice responds from within.

"I have nothing to say to you, kill me already and be done with it."

"Durkik?" asks Bhenedict.

"Who is that? Another changeling trickster?"

"No Sir, this is Bhenedict Stormcastle … we are here to save you."

"If you are who you say be warned there are traps here and they aren’t going to kill you."   

"Go to him Bairdyn, take care."

Bairdyn descends the ladder into the narrow, stone-walled hallway. Mildew darkens the mortar between the bricks and fills the air with the damp scent of rot. A steel door, speckled with rust, stands at the far end of the hall. It boasts a small barred window, but from where he stands Bairdyn cannot see what might lie within.

The halfling cautiously creeps forward again hearing the weak voice.

"Be careful,” he rasps. “The door’s trapped.”

Next to the door, standing on the tips of his toes, Bairdyn can finally see through the barred window. Inside hangs a dwarf, his flesh bruised and beaten, his hair and beard matted with blood, he stands chained to the far wall of a stench-ridden, claustrophobic cell. It takes Bairdyn a moment to recognize High Priest Durkik Forgeheart! Slowly, as though even so minor a move obviously pains him, he looks up to meet the halfling’s gaze through the bars, his eyes widening slightly with sudden recognition.

He gestures with a finger, chains clinking, to indicate a number of tubes that protrude from the walls of the cell, before pointing back in his own direction.  Impassively he says. “They don’t want me escaping.”

Peering through the windows Bairdyn and sees that Durkik’s wrists are shackled and in turn connected to a series of chains that are attached to one or more of three trapped tubes, one end of each tube is buried in and fixed to the cell’s wall … each open end of the tube is directed at Durkik. Carefully studying the

mechanism Bairdyn determines that he should be able to disarm one of the three traps from by reaching through the window and while the others are too deep within the cell to reach, Bairdyn removes a leather pouch from belt and withdraws his enchanted set of unfettered thief’s tools. Asking everyone present for quiet, Bairdyn focuses and the enchanted tools, made-up of picks, keys, tweezers, and tongs magically take to air floating under Bairdyn’s mental control through the cell window. Signaling Bennie to move forward, Bairdyn has his dwarf buddy lie still on the filthy dungeon floor in front of the cell door, then taking a position on Bhenedict’s back, Bairdyn watches through the window. 

"Stop wiggling Bennie!" orders Bairdyn … "Unless you ‘want’ to kill the High Priest!"

When Bhenedict settles down, Bairdyn begins carefully manipulating the tools with his mind, just as if he was holding them in his hands. Carefully he disables one trap after another, his focus beading drops of sweat upon his brow, with irritate Benedict further as they drip down upon neck causing more wiggles and a few unspoken grumbles. After several tense moments, Bairdyn draws the tools back to his hands and unlocks the door, then finally taking a breath he slowly dismounts Bhenedict and says, "I think I did it, go ahead and open the door."

Once the door is opened it is clear that Bairdyn has indeed succeeded, both Bhenedict and Bairdyn enter the small cell. Quickly Bairdyn frees the High Ancestor from the shackles and Bhenedict steps up to help the proud dwarf slowly limps from his cell. The priest, wincing with every step makes it clear that he does not want assistance. Obviously he is in a great deal of pain, but despite that  fact, his eyes are alert.

“Thank you,” he says simply. “You’re the answer to every prayer I’ve offered Moradin these past days. But I fear, as grateful as I am to be out and alive, that I’ve little good news for you.”

Bhenedict offers Durkik a drink, which he gratefully accepting a small sip slowly before he continues.

"Given at you are here now you have no doubt discovered that Aerun and some of the other priests have been foully compromised. Several have been possessed, victims of a dark ritual, and a few others like myself have simply been replaced.

Our opponent … General Zithiruun is his name, has been after specific information from me and I would assume others as well. He and his cronies have been questioning me endlessly about the Mountainroot Temple.

It is a subterranean structure built by the same order that later went on to construct the Monastery of the Sundered Chain that you are familiar with. The Mountainroot Temple stands deep beneath the Stonehome Mountains, beneath the High Clerics Temple. They built it as we were still celebrating our hard won freedom from the giants. It was not built solely to be a dwarven structure, but rather a temple built as a gift for all the people of Klarn, anyone who wanted to pay tribute to Moradin, and people of any race were welcome there. Within the temple held great reliquaries of holy icons, and an enormous cathedral where hundreds could worship at once, and even had a doorway to the Astral Plane from whence angels and exarchs of Moradin would occasionally appear to discourse with the god’s most favored priests and champions. The temple facilitated the grand community of Moradin worshipers. In addition to its astral doors and its main entryway from the High Cleric’s Temple, it has four other mystical doorways, each linked to another temple of Moradin elsewhere in the world, so the faithful could come and go with ease. And for decades, the temple thrived. Slowly, however, as relations between Moradin’s faithful grew strained. Priests assigned to other, “lesser” temples grew envious of those at Mountainroot. Many of our faithful grew haughty, considering themselves Moradin’s “true” children, and sought to oust all others, or at least put them in lesser places, denying them access to the temple’s wonders. Then fifteen years past, whether it was it Moradin’s wrath or a curse brought upon us by the giants, or a simply catastrophe brought about by the fall of the black moon … regardless of the cause, the mountain housing the temple was struck by an earthquake. Portions of the inner tunnels collapsed, causing heavy damage to several chambers of the Mountainroot Temple, destroying others entirely. Panicked, the priests and the faithful grabbed up their treasures and holy icons—at least most of them—and fled using the surviving magical portals.

Once they’d escaped they settled elsewhere, the bulk of Moradin’s priests decided that this way was better. By scattering from the temple, they would allow the dwarves to build their own shrines, without feeling constrained by the other races, and the jealousy that marred the priesthood would fade. Although they mourned the loss of the great cathedral, and those few treasures they’d been unable to save, they declared the quake to have been Moradin’s will and left the temple abandoned. Since then, most faithful, even most priests save those most thoroughly involved with the Temple, have ignored the Mountainroot; most, but not all, a small group of Moradin worshipers—mostly dwarves, but with members of other races as well—have recently returned to the Temple. They have been cleaning it up as best they can and they have vowed to continue and maintain the temple until it some day becomes important once again. The most powerful of their number holds the title of Caretaker and he lives within the temple, in a small structure built inside the larger reliquary.

Historically, the Caretaker has been attuned to the temple’s surviving magic, this allows him to control the constructs and divine defenses and traps that have protected the structure from outside invasion throughout its existence."

 The High Ancestor take another drink and then continues, "As you’ve doubtless guessed,” he says, his voice still weak, “the Stone Anvil contains one of those portals to the Mountainroot Temple. I don’t know why this General Zithiruun wants the temple, but it’s clearly what he’s after. It’s funny, he’s had me tortured for days to make me describe the Mountainroot’s mystical defenses, but the truth is, I don’t know much about them. I know about the temple only because, as High Priest, I was told of it by my predecessor. I can tell you that the defenses are psychically linked to the Caretaker, allowing him to control them, but beyond that, I know little. But even had I told them that much, I doubt they’d have believed me.”

Durkik coughs twice, then continues: “I don’t know why he wants the temple,”

He repeats, “but I know it cannot be good for us. I know not who else in this city may yet still be compromised—nor who can be trusted. That leaves only you. The entrance from the Stone Anvil is carefully hidden within an old sepulcher. The chamber is hidden behind a secret door; I can escort you to it, but no farther. What I cannot do is tell you how to access the portal, for I don’t know, and I am oath-bound never to enter the sepulcher. But my hope is that, once you find it, you can figure out how to use it. I must ask you one thing more,”

He adds swiftly. “When the Mountainroot Temple was abandoned, the priesthood took most of our ancient religious relics with them. Most, but not all. Somewhere within the temple lies a tome entitled, when translated into Common, the Incunabulum Primeval. It is a book of great power for those who know how to use it. If you can find it and return it to us, I can promise you a reward of no less than 3,600 pieces of gold from our temple treasury, as well as legal right to any other treasure you find in, and can carry out of, the Mountainroot.”

With Durkik’s rescue James suggests a hasty retreat from the warehouse to the whatever security they might find with the Stone Anvil. Agreeing with the cleavenger, Durkik leads the Brigade back through the towering halls of the Stone Anvil. Several of the priests and guards appearing nervous as they pass through the halls, but it is also obvious that none of them are prepared to gainsay the High Ancestor.

Looking concerned Durkik suggests, "Time is not on our side, but neither is carelessness, you should what preparations you can now, during this short respite for not I nor you can say what you might be walking in to or when another opportunity to rest might avail itself."

The Brigade rests throughout the day until things begin to quiet down within the Stone Anvil, then on the evening of their fourth day back within Overlook they move quickly through the temple halls lead by High Ancestor Durkik, after a dozen or more and several wide stairs, their guide stops inside a great chamber. Shelves of old scrolls line the stone walls, and great marble tables occupy the room’s center. Dust lies thick over it all, proving that this room is rarely used. For a few moments, the priest fumbles with the scrolls on one particular rack. Finally, a loud click resounds throughout the room, and one of the walls slides open with a deafening rumble and a cascade of powdered stone. “This is it,” he tells you. “The sepulcher. I cannot go any farther.”


SOW Chapter6: The Warehouse

The Warehouse

From two sides attack

The heroes nearly get killed
Not such a good plan

The Warehouse

warehouse

"We will enter in two teams, Bingus, Bairdyn, Maxyzne and I will use the stairs to get to the upper level; of course I will lead the way … leaving the lower, main entrance to James, Wolf, and Shaden … a two pronged approach, any arguments? … No … good,  then that’s the plan," says Bhenedict.

Bairdyn is the first up the stairs giving him an opportunity to work on the lock. Bhenedict follows close behind, climbing the stairs as quietly as  he can … a bit quieter than a rhinoceros but certainly loudly compared to the halfling.

Then an unexpected, "Clink" … and Bennie’s head snaps to attention at the sound of one of Bairdyn’s tool dropping to the ground.

"Oops!" declares Bairdyn softly. 

Pushing her way up the stairs Maxyzne appears cursing under her breath with every step, "Skai, pushdug-glob!" … an orcish interjection of contempt … (basically she called Bairdyn foolish dung filth); within moments clearing the lock, she opens the door for Bhenedict.

Captain Aerun

Pushing the door open Bhenedict sees a small counting house, occupied by little more than a table, a chair—and Captain Aerun, shock evident on his face as he rises. The wall behind him boasts a shuttered, glass-free window. Bhenedict begins to charge, but freezes in place with his first step and then suddenly flies backward through the air like a leaf in a storm hurling toward the ground 20 feet below.  

Together Shaden and Wolf lift the main door revealing a vast chamber that stretches before them. Rows upon rows of crates—some stacked as high as 15 feet—form aisles and corridors. A catwalk runs around the perimeter, as well as across the cavernous room at several points, with an array of chains and pulleys dangling beneath. Pushing hard they lift the door high enough for James to duck in while mounted upon the adamantine steed as Shaden and Wolf make for cover on either side of the door.

On Wolf’s side in the corner, a flight of stairs leads to a balcony built into the catwalk. Several walls surround what he guesses to be the office entered by the other members of the Brigade. Several gruff-looking dwarves, the sort you don’t want to meet in a dark alley but wouldn’t be surprised to find there, they lurk atop the catwalks, atop several crates, and seemingly all around the many corners, most have crossbows held at the ready. In the center of the warehouse on the catwalk stands their overseer … Goodman Kyrrist, the priest of Avondra.

warehouse map

Almost immediately Wolf and Shaden recoil midst a hail of crossbow bolts as over a dozen dwarves take aim and fire. Both warriors are hit but thankfully not seriously due to the abundance of cover. Without hesitation James directs the metal stallion to charge and almost as quickly, as Goodman Kyrrist raises his hand the cleavenger is hurled forcefully off the horse into the back wall  behind him with a hitting with powerful thud before collapsing to the floor.

Having an open doorway before her Maxyzne leaps towards Captain Aerun but finds her advance cut short by a quicker dwarf who stops her in her tracks as a second dwarf moves into flanking position behind her. Still her momentum carries her far enough into the small room to allow Bairdyn to squeeze in to the room behind her where, taking advantage of his small size, Bairdyn hunches and moving quickly taking cover under the table; from his position beneath the table Bairdyn grips Aerun’s wrist and using the Captain’s own momentum against him the halfling swings the Captain towards the door much to the Captain’s surprise!

Back on the  floor of the warehouse both Shaden and Wolf abandon the first corridor, the one the stood open to front of the main door. Wolf races towards the access stairs that lead to the counting room and the battle occurring on the upper level; while Shaden seeks to shake the crowd of enemies in the first corridor opting for the corridor toward his left. Both see more combatants in their new aisles, a pair on Wolf shift form revealing themselves to be doppelgangers as they move to flank him; and Shaden stumbling into an another ambush finds himself completely surrounded. The combatants remaining in the first corridor refocus their aggression at James and drawing warhammers, charge.

Outside of the warehouse Bhenedict finds himself floating through the air like a feather falling soft, caught in one of Bingus’s spells, as soon as he lands Bhenedict charges back up the stairs. In a twist of fate, Bennie catches up to Aerun as he is swung towards the door and thinking quickly he helps the Captain along his way knocking the Captain over the rail to the ground 20 feet below.

Within the counting room Maxyzne takes charge slicing through her foes while whirring, attacking like a bloodstained hurricane, her eyes running black as coal, her chant one of, "Slay prey, slay prey, slay prey." Seeking to escape the carnage Bairdyn steps out on to the overlook outside of the counting room but finds himself immediately beset, targeted and pinned down by crossbow fire.

Back on the main floor James clamors to his feet struggling to rise before he can be overwhelmed by attackers. He orders the metal horse to trample the approaching dwarves, a task it is well suited for the the broad mechanical horse. Across corridors Shaden shouts with a hint of desperation, "To me Brigade, I am surrounded … I will hold out to the best of my ability, but the odds are not in my favor!"

In the another corridor Wolf spots Bairdyn’s plight and charges with renewed fury ripping into to the halfling’s attackers privately swearing that he will not see the halfling fall a second time, at least not ‘this’ day.

Outside of the warehouse, Bingus privately duels with Aerun as the dwarf Captain tries to gather himself. As soon as Aerun rises the gnome’s spells hit him hard and the Captain finds himself out manned, and overwhelmed. Befuddled Aerun tries to flee but finds he is too late, struck by the gnome’s corrosive magic the Captain falls dead.

As Bhenedict crosses the threshold into the counting room Maxyzne kills the last opponent still in the room and without delay the dwarf advances out on to the overlook. Bennie lifts his shield held high, screening Bairdyn well enough for him to to make a run for it. As Bairdyn runs, Bennie slams into the dwarf ruffians still assembled on the overlook. Bairdyn spins around behind the thugs, and together the dwarf and halfling tear into the attackers until they clear the overlook. At the same time Wolf takes to the stairs killing foes as he encounters them. those at the foot of the stairs.

On the main floor the adamantine horse tramples the footman and James reaches out with the force of his god’s will pulling the false priest Kyrrist to himself. As Shaden’s protests continue, he kills dwarves one after another, faster even than than the attackers can fill in the gaps in their lines. Injured, the half-orc fights on giving far worse than he receives, and then he sees the High Ancestor, Durkik, climbing over a stack of crates, the priest’s eyes filled with a wrath. Shaden yells again, "I can ‘really’ use assistance … my foes are overwhelming and my resources are at an end! To me! TO ME!"

Too busy to respond, James battles the false priest and having finished their foes Bhenedict and Wolf rush through the maze of crates towards Shaden’s calls for help. Staying on the catwalks Bairdyn pursues the pair of attackers that remain there targeting them with both sling and dagger. At the base of the stairs still outside of the warehouse Bingus searches Aerun’s body noting that precious little remains of his body, that which is there confirms that this dwarf  indeed had been the Captain of the watch; he was no doppelganger and of his gear, only his craghammer was still whole and undamaged by spell’s assault. For Bingus, the condition of the hammer was a sure sign that the hammer was magically enchanted. Pausing only long enough to grab the hammer, Bingus turns and climbs the stairs as fast as his legs can carry him.

As the others rush to his aid, Shaden drops the last of the priest’s minions and parries Durkik with unmatched skill.  Surprising Durkik, Shaden slashes at the priest high and low simultaneously dropping the priest to his knees before knocking the priest unconscious with a blow to the head using the metal hilt of the Wicked Fang. Without warning Shaden’s head explodes in pain amid the cacophony of unexplained protest and  a sudden overwhelming desire to kill the priest. Looking down at Durkik he sees the priest’s flesh warp taking of the gray hues of a doppelganger and in a fit of caged rage, he sinks the sword not into the false priest’s flesh but rather back into the sword’s own hilt as Wolf arrives panting, a wide-eyed witness to the carnage upon which Shaden stood.

Their foes defeated, the Brigade gathers in the center of the warehouse along with their two prisoners, the false priest captured by Shaden, and one of the thugs that had surrendered to Bairdyn on the catwalk. The prisoners are tied. And Bhenedict begins questioning the doppelganger that had disguised itself as Durkik. He begins by offering the doppelganger the choice of a slow or a fast death. The doppelganger tries to negotiate for its freedom an option soundly rejected by the Brigade generally and Bhenedict specifically, then suddenly the doppelganger vanishes to all save Bingus and James slipping easily from the ropes that bind it. Dumbfounded most the Brigade tries to figure out what happened but quickly Bingus and James move to subdue the villain. Soon recaptured, the doppelganger is tied and suspended from the catwalk hung upside-down, and helpless. Bhenedict approaches, staring at the doppelganger, eye-to-eye. As Bhenedict says, "Let’s try this one more time." when without warning  Maxyzne’s blade flashes as in one motion she disembowels the doppelganger where it hangs, her eyes running dead black as she shouts, "SLAY PREY!"

Immediately Notaku is on Maxyzne physical throwing her backward away from the doppelganger, but too late to save him. Shifting tall, he stares her down at Maxyzne. She stares back, her body quivering, her skin shining with a sheen of fresh sweat and blood as her muscles ripple with an anticipation that borders on ecstasy. Speaking with certitude Notaku says, "If you even do anything like this again in my presence, I will slay you without regard. This will be your only warning."

For a moment Maxyzne waivers, her lips rise involuntarily baring her teeth, her eyes still black voids and then as suddenly, like a flame extinguished she is back within herself, and in her own voice she responds with a call of deathly promise she answers, "Bring it if you dare, we will find out if you or more wolf or dog."

The rambling of the surviving dwarf thug cuts through the tension like a knife. It is clear that given what he’d just witnessed, that this dwarf is only too willing to talk.

The conspirator reveals that a doppelganger had taken the place of the real high priest Durkik, promising that even now the real Durkik was still there being held prisoner in a secret chamber beneath the warehouse floor. The dwarf confirms that they have been working for someone called General Zithiruun. According to the dwarf no one had been allowed to see Zithiruun’s face, but also the dwarf explains the the General could be recognized by a hooded cloak and a strange leather-and-steel harness he wears. He knows that Zithiruun wanted them to hold the Stone Anvil, and to continue questioning Durkik about the security and magic of another temple, called “Mountainroot.”

According to the dwarf, the false Durkik assigned most of the priests of Moradin to rebuilding the old temple mostly as a means of keeping them occupied and out of the Stone Anvil. The conspirator doesn’t have any idea why Zithiruun is interested in this “Mountainroot Temple.” He knows only that Zithiruun has  been growing more and more frustrated with Durkik’s failure to answer their questions; so much so a few days ago, he stormed off insisting that he was going to “find out for himself,” and left, ordering them to keep torturing the High Priest, and record anything they learned from the priest in the General’s absence. That being all he know, the dwarf agreed to lead the Brigade to the High Ancestor’s prison in hope that he might be spared the doppelganger’s fate.


SOW Chapter6: A Plan of Action

A Plan of Action

Heroes make a plan

The slippery foe eludes them
But in the end–found

A Plan of Action

                            High Ancestor Durkik

High Ancestor Durkik

As Bingus, James and Bhenedict see to Bairdyn’s restoration, later that day Notaku and Maxyzne are drawn into a little scouting of their own.

With the others tied-up saving the halfling, the thought occurs to Notaku that now might be a good time to try and get a gauge on the half-orc Maxyzne; that she could fight was unquestionable, but her sanity wasn’t … Maybe what the shifter had seen was just her blood-thirsty nature, but it seemed more, darker, like the blackness that had filled her eyes.

Throwing out an initiation to the the half-orc the pair decide to take repast together within the Pig & Bucket. As the eat and drink Wolf is surprised to find Maxyzne warming to him quickly, almost aggressively in the a man might pursue a chased maiden. Concern growing, Notaku  is almost relieved when suddenly he spots Captain Aerun unexpectedly in one of the far booths cavorting with a pair of scruffy looking individuals in a shabby gray cloaks. Quietly Wolf points out the group to Maxyzne, and without drawing attention to themselves the keep an eye on the meeting, hoping for some clue as to the goings on but quickly Aerun concludes his business and moves to depart. Curiosity peaked, Wolf  turns to Maxyzne and suggests tailing the gray cloaked ruffians to see where they might be headed, Maxyzne agreed … they follow. The night is dark, and the roguish men move quickly apparently born to the alleys, darting in, hoping fences and eventually disappearing into shadow near some of the abandoned buildings within the Nine Bells, adding more intrigue to the already strange goings on.

Back in the room, within the Mountain’s Hearth, finally Bairdyn’s eyes flutter open, unfocused at first, but soon he, realizes while gasping that Bingus, James and the ‘frowning’ face of Bhenedict are staring down upon him, as his life is restored; Bairdyn having no recollection of how he’d gotten there.

In the morning as the Brigade gathers Wolf and Maxyzne explain all they’d seen, and bright and early the Brigade heads straight away to High Hall, their goal, the Ministry of War to meet with Captain Aerun. In route Benedict explains, "High Hall is the very soul of Overlook, it is where the movers and shakers make all the important decisions. Common folk most often just call it the Old City, and normal folk are rarely invited … Nope it is just where the city leaders run the city. Very few folks still live in the Old City because nearly every inch of space is taken up by the various ministries that make the city run."

The Ministry of War is huge, it consists of six buildings arrayed around a central courtyard—all of them contained within an imposing set of guard walls of course. As the Brigade heroes approach the gate, two guards, a dwarf and a minotaur step forward and cross their spears before them. “State your business within,” the dwarf demands.

"We are here to see the Captain of the Watch," announces Bhenedict.

 "On your way then," says the dwarf guard as the minotaur turns to direct the party to the correct office, which happens to be  the buildings that stands closest to the main entrance of the compound.

Bhenedict is the first to enter the Captain’s office, as he does the dwarf seated within stands up from behind his desk, his blond beard well-groomed, his armor brightly polished. It takes Bhenedict only a moment to recognize him as the officer he saw shouting orders from the wall when the party first arrived in Overlook.

“I’m Captain Aerun,” he says in a gruff voice. “I’m honored to have Overlook’s heroes in my office. What can I help you with?”

As Bhenedict lists the atrocities they had discovered and those the Brigade had directly been involved with since their return to Overlook Aerun listens intently and politely, scowling in anger when Benedict mentions some of the vile things they’ve seen, and shaking his head as he mentions having found Haelyn’s body and the fight with Grovald. Ultimately he responds, “These are indeed very grave matters you bring to me. I’ll get looking into them at once. And you once again have the thanks of a grateful city. Go on and take a load off, wherever you’re staying. I’ll let you know how the investigation turns out.”

"Am I to understand that you would have us sit this out?!" asks Bhenedict.

 "Are you not aware of what happened to the Freeriders when they meddled in city affairs better handled by the watch? Do you suppose I want you ending up like them? Who are you to question me?" replies the Captain.

As Bhenedict becomes increasing irritated Aerun’s resolve only stiffens as he flat out refuses to allow the Brigade to take part in the investigation, going so far as to order them to stay out of it, telling them to leave further efforts to the proper authorities.

Then remembering the story Notaku and Maxyzne had shared about their exploits the night before, Bhenedict pulls his ace, "We will follow your direction provided you can explain the nature of those shady characters you met at the Pig & Bucket and prove that you yourself are not one of these doppelgangers!"

"How dare you spy on me! … I have no need to prove myself to you. Need I remind you that I am the Captain of the Watch. I permit you this offense this once taken in mind your history of service to this city but you will leave this compound immediately and have no fear; I am assigning a full patrol of guards to escort your group for as long as you remain within this city sirs. Now good day to you."

With that Captain Aerun leaves his office leaving the Brigade to the guards who escort them from the Ministry of War. The guards are still deferential, showing the Brigade that they respect them a great deal, but they follow orders to the letter.

James whispers to Bhenedict, "That Aerun is obviously more interested in keeping us out of the investigation than he is in finding out the truth. Something about Aerun’s behavior isn’t right; even though he was engaged in the conversation, something about him appeared distant, as though he was thinking about something else."

True to the Captain’s words a squad of the city guard follows the Brigade to the Mountain’s Hearth Inn setting a watch around the establishment which makes it clear the Brigade might still  be able to move through the city freely but only with an escort.

Frustrated, Bhenedict retires to the Pig & Bucket where he starts drowning his woes with a tankard of  ‘King Goblin’ ale a particularly intriguing concoction brewed only on nights of a full moon.

"Not bad, not great, but not bad … hops: fuggles, sovereign … Stygian, & Cascade malt: chocolate, crystal a veritable rainbow of favor and its got me thinking. We’ve been going about this the wrong ways lads. We’ve been playing their game when I should be thinking with my stomach," muses Bhenedict.

"If they are gonna follow us anywhere we go we might as enjoy ourselves and make it costly. We will go to the most expensive, exclusive establishment in the city and just wait for them to do something about it."

"That would be Polliver’s, ‘the’ inn and club used by visiting officials and for local officials to conduct private meetings, to make secret deals, and to chart the course for the future of Overlook. Membership is gained by chance of birth or wealth, as well as the membership’s discretion. It will no doubt bother them if we just happen to show up uninvited. We might well make them come to us!" concludes Bhenedict.

At that moment Shaden strolls into the Pig & Bucket and a huge grin lights-up Bennie’s face, "Oh, better yet, we have to bring the orcs with us! Go, Bairdyn, go fetch that hellion Maxyzne, I’ll gather up Shaden here. The more the merrier."

Convincing Shaden with a few more rounds of ale. The drunken party including: Bhenedict, Bairdyn, Bingus, Notaku, James, Shaden and Maxyzne head out for Polliver’s just in time for lunch. Polliver’s is located within the northeast corner of High Hall (or Old City, as the old-timers call it), it being just about as deep within the district as one can get. Drunken the Brigade stumbles in through a cacophony of shouts as their escort of  guards keeps the peace while their worthy charges presses through the important people of High Hall. To be sure the Brigade does not go unnoticed passing through the congested streets of the Old City.

Arriving at Polliver’s they walking betwixt a pair of golden griffons each displayed prominently on either side of the bronzed doors. As the Brigade barges in it sparks clamor and confusion amid a troop of matradees who attempt uselessly to deny them entry. Tall glass windows face out on all sides, with burgundy curtains inside, some of these drawn closed for the privacy of guests. Clearly the inside of club is just as grand as the outside, with high ceilings, patterned floors in priceless woods, and a legion of servants catering to the guests within. A bar, a restaurant, a game room, and the smoking lounge fill out the main floor of the establishment. Marching into the main restaurant, Bhenedict clears first one table and then a second, pushing them together to make a single large table as he ushers in the rest of his friends. As the staff objects Bhenedict’s ears go deaf to their pleas and angrily he tells them, "Bring out yer finest food  and drink and don’t keep my friends waiting unless you want me to go into that kitchen and teach your chefs a thing or two about cooking. And don’t you worry about those poisoning rumors, that was just a misunderstanding!"

Polliver’s staff runs to the escorting guards but lacking any specific orders the guards throw their hands in the air looking more confused than the staff; until eventually the most senior guard among them runs off to god knows where leaving the other guards behind dumbfounded, staring and holding the bag. Taking pity on the guards, Bennie is quick to offer them a taste of the food and some very expensive wine to calm their nerves, and while they refuse the wine their mood becomes noticeably more manageable as a result of Bhenedict’s gesture.

After a couple of hours of this feasting, a pair of Goliaths enter the dining hall, leading the way for Elder Cadrick who quickly joins the party at the table. Greeting the party with brevity he signals the staff to prepare a private chamber. Quickly the staff sees to the Councilor’s need and a room is made available prompting Cadrick to invite Bhenedict, Bairdyn and James in for a private meeting. Bhenedict hesitates, not wanting to be separated from the others but soon he relents, and he agrees to join Cadrick with Bairdyn in tow while leaving James behind to keep an eye on the others. 

Away from the others after hearing Bhenedict’s story Cadrick says, "Assuming you are correct, and I have no reason to doubt you …. our first order of business is to get you and your friends out of this establishment unseen. I can help you with that, but if there is a conspiracy then we have to assume Aerun is involved then something is bound to happen and we should expect that we and particularly your Brigade is running out of time. Aerun is sure to put an end to your investigation one way or another. You say your certain Durkik is involved, if so then he is almost certainly our strongest lead, but you can’t simply charge into the Stone Anvil and accuse the High Ancestor of treason. You will have to be more circumspect … guile is called for here and that is not your strength Bhenedict, but young Bairdyn and maybe some or your other friends might be able to find something out by keeping an eye on the Stone Anvil. What do you think?"

Agreeing with the wisdom of Elder Cadrick’s plan. Bhenedict allows the Councilor to smuggle the party out of Polliver’s in ones and twos while he and James keep the guards distracted, and eventually after everyone else is long gone they stroll out of the establishment with Cadrick. The good Councilor even foots the rather sizable bill. As they leave Polliver’s Cadrick dismisses the befuddled guards who leave with a little encouragement from Cadrick’s goliath bodyguards.  

By the time Bhenedict and James leave Polliver’s Shaden and Notaku are already setting watch at the Stone Anvil, and soon they are joined by Bairdyn, Bingus and Maxyzne. At dusk James and Benedict finally join them.  After some time waiting, as the city is fully cloaked in the shadows of night, their patience pays off when they see Durkik emerge from the temple, surprisingly alone. As he steps out, the priest glancing around, before he turns and begins walking off at a swift but inconspicuous pace.

After walking a few blocks Durkik ducks into an alley. Quickly, but cautiously Maxyzne and Bairdyn follow moving through shadows. Mere seconds after the two rogues enter the alley, another dwarf—slightly taller, with different hair and beard—emerges onto the street. Not even James notices him at first, but then realizing that this new dwarf’s outfit appears much the same as Durkik’s own, and remembering that Bingus had told him that doppelgangers could change their form with magic but not their attire the cleavenger grasps that this new dwarf’s posture is also near identical to Durkik’s own as he watches this ‘new’ dwarf walking away. Alerting the others, Notaku picks up the trail while Shaden runs into the alley to gather Bairdyn and Maxyzne.

Wolf makes his way as silently through the streets of Overlook as he can knowing all the while that stealth is not his strongest suit. He still tries to keep Durkik in sight while keeping enough distance not to alerting him. Soon he is joined by Shaden who tells him that Bairdyn and Maxyzne had taken to the rooftops. Their quarry obviously wary, glances back over his shoulder periodically, which causes them to dart into doorways and shadows to avoid being seen. This cat and mouse game continues for some time, the chasers quickly learning to keep an eye to the clothes rather than the dwarf as he shifts form time and again. The Brigade continues moving from roof to roof and from corner to corner sticking to the shadows, but in the end the wily Durkik still manages to give them the slip.

Unwilling to give-up, the Brigade splits-up into two and threes beginning a sweep of the entire neighborhood where they lost Durkik which happens to be particular seedy section of the Blister district. They search for clues for hours throughout the night checking out the buildings in the area until eventually, after several hours of hunting even as dawn breaks Bairdyn spots a warehouse, with some unusual activity that grabs his attention. Nothing in particular makes this warehouse stand out. It is just a large, squat building, with a huge front door that opens by sliding up into the ceiling on rails. There is a rickety wooden staircase along one wall leads to a door that presumably opens onto an upper level; what stands out is the activity and the dress and appearance of the folks going in to the building, not typical workers or common folk, rather they are the kind of people that just don’t fit the environment. Convinced he’d hit pay-dirt, Bairdyn gathers the others.


SOW Chapter6: Bairdyn’s Demise

Bairdyn’s Demise

Sneaky ones advance

Bairdyn runs and wets his pants
Bladder death response

Bairdyn’s Demise

map

Strolling upon the cobbled paths of Tradetown, moving through the dead of night past a hodgepodge of stone buildings (many of dwarven architecture), wooden structures, warehouses, shops, inns, taverns, and everything and anything a person might want in a city of this size; during night, gone is the smell of roasting meat and spice, yet the foul odor of excrement and soured ale persists. Everywhere quiet figures pad through the dark tight side streets and alleys like shadows in the night.

As the Brigade approaches Haelyn’s home. Some of the group, Wolf and James hide amid a small group of trees just off the path west of the shrine while Bhenedict, Bairdyn and Maxyzne skulk forward to the single small tree standing in front of the caretaker’s humble cottage. There Bhenedict hides while Maxyzne and Bairdyn move cautiously forward to scout the grounds. 

The first closest cottage is really more of a hut and being closest it is searched first. Bairdyn picks the lock with ease and together halfling and the half-orc enter to find that it is no more enticing inside than out. They are welcomed by an old, rickety table and chair which stand beside an ash- and charcoal-filled fireplace, there is a door leading to a second room, that door standing slightly ajar. Moving quickly to checkout the second room Maxyzne opens the door wide revealing what appears to be an equally cheap bed beyond. Searching the first room Bairdyn finds a scrap of parchment, only partly burned, buried amid the ashes in the fireplace. This scrap, even though much of it has been burned away remains partially legible and the halfling is able to make out:

. . . unreachable for a time, as I must . . . the priests’

orders as you would my own, for he . . . s always, be

certain you destroy this mis . . .

. . . eneral Zi . . .

Finding nothing else of value Bairdyn and Maxyzne exit the first cottage and make their way quietly to the second, which is known to be Haelyn’s home. This small cottage looks more comfortable, but it also is old and rickety. Bricks are missing from the chimney, and the paint is peeling from the walls. Again easily picking the lock, they peering inside noticing that the dust of days, if not weeks, lies over the homey little abode. Another ash-filled fireplace stands in one corner, with an old table and two equally old, but comfortable looking, chairs beside it. A pantry stands alongside a door that would lead to the bedroom. A faint stench, foul and out of place with the cottage’s peaceful appearance, tickles the pair’s nostrils.

As they begin to enter from the darkness, an arrogant voice from behind says, “I’m just as glad you chose to come here at night. It makes things so much neater when we need not involve the authorities, don’t you think?” Looking toward the trees behind the cottage they see a bald, sharp-faced man in dark clothes all but fading into the shadows, and movement coming from several other individuals in the night around him, a cadre of dwarven thugs.

Immediately Maxyzne charges Grovald, tumbling as she attacks ending her assault with a flying kick that knocks him prone. As she stand over the priest, the darkness at the priest’s hand congeals, shaping itself into a sword in the priest’s hand, a swift preparation for his counterstrike which lands knocking Maxyzne back over a dozen feet.

Seeing that Maxyzne has Grovald occupied,  Bairdyn quickly assesses the situation around him first noting dwarven thugs armed with crossbows are swarming the temple grounds from the north, and then a dwarf just a few feet away who looks so sinister he was most likely their leader (probably not even a dwarf, either!!), Bairdyn thinks to himself, “We’re in WAY over our heads, I’ve got to take somebody down…..besides, with Bennie here, what could POSSIBLY go wrong?!?!”  The desperate hobbit steps in and strikes with all the skill and precision he can muster, slicing his nearest foe deeply.  Seeing an unexpected opening, Bairdyn steels his resolve and quickly strikes again, watching with satisfaction as his foe falls revealing itself to be doppelganger just as he’d imaged. 

Reasoning out that the odds are stacked again him, Bairdyn bolts back towards Bennie while calling out an alarm, screaming “Bennie!!!” at the top of his lungs; barely getting in a half-dozen steps before being cut-down by the sure aim of pair of crossbow welding dwarves. Crippled Bairdyn struggles to rise and a third thug puts a bolt through the center of the halfling’s chest and as Bhenedict comes in full view, Bairdyn collapses limp, face in the dirt in the narrow pass between the first cottage and the trees. Howling his rage Bhenedict arrives just in time to see Bairdyn’s demise.

"Oh, look at what you have gone and done!" he yells in despair as he charges in seeking to wreck a small measure of his vengeance upon the first dwarf but somehow the dwarf feints, appearing somehow at Bhenedict’s side even as a second suddenly appears behind him, both cutting him grievously, both carrying paired shadar-kai blades. Like a savior in the dark Wolf is there cutting a bloody path through the attackers. One of the attackers falls his form melting, revealing yet another doppelganger. Grovald forms phantom spears of the night air and quickly hurls them at the hulking wolf-man, the spears finding purchase within the shifter’s flesh. Wolf falls prone, his muscles freezing, trapping him immobilized as the dark priest follow by casting out sphere of pure darkness that explodes in sharp shards which litter the ground between him and the Brigade showing the area with ebony spikes.

maxyzne enraged

 And then suddenly Maxyzne is upon him, her eyes gone black she rips… tears… slashes… gouges, she is the teeth in the darkness, the talons in the night, all lust… and power raking … until the priest is dead, his blood spattered across the ground at her feet.

As the priest is shredded, Wolf recovers and James arrives calling down a column of flame upon the dwarven attackers. In moments the fight is over. Again none of the attackers are spared. And again as in the alley before, small crowd collects, drawn in like moths toward flame James had summoned. Bhenedict knells at the crumpled form of  his friend Bairdyn gently lifting his friend’s body from the ground.

James turns towards the small group of onlookers telling them to stay back and looks among them for any sign of the guard. The ‘Wolf’, Notaku thinking quickly searches while he can. First he searches in Haelyn’s hut where he finds only long rotted food and a small gold framed portrait of Lord Majere; thinking to himself that it was unlikely that Haelyn would leave such a memento behind and that it was even less likely that she would leave the food to rot. Then adopting his more feral form, he drops to all fours and wanders the shrine grounds ending up behind the fountain, where not far from the nearest tree he locates a faint

bulge in the earth that mars the contours of the soil. Examining the freshly turned earth it suddenly appears likely that something had recently been buried there. Digging quickly, Notaku finds Haelyn’s dead body just before dawn breaks and the guards arrive; as they do, Bhenedict insists on an IMMEDIATE audience with the captain of the watch!

Giving Bhenedict a moments to cool down … James whispers:

"Bennie, we can’t see the captain now. We need to save Bairdyn first."

"Are you daft, he’s dead, finished …The boy is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! Get it … its over Bairdyn is no more!" answers Bhenedict.

"No, he’s only mostly dead. He can still be saved … that’s what Bingus has been studying, a ritual to raise the dead.  We have but to deliver his body to our friend Bingus. Provided he has studied and not gone to sleep, and he that he is as talented as we think, he will produce mystic salves, then we’ll all say a pray to Bairdyn’s god and he will be restored to life. Do you know what God Bairdyn worships?" asks James.

"Don’t ask me how I know, but ‘e is followin’ Avandra … although I doubt Ee’s seen the inside o’ one of her temples since I can’t tell you when … and if this works he’ll owe her plenty. Very well then, well gather Bingus, fill our bellies and then pay the captain a visit. That gnome best earn is keep … if ‘e pulls this off I will make him a full member of the Brigade!" concludes the Bhenedict.

"Bhenedict … the ritual takes a full day," explains James

"WHAT?! … that’s ridiculous, we can’t spend all daaay in prayer to some foolish halfling God … That halfling is going to owe me too!" spits out Bennie loud enough for all Tradestown to hear.

 "And we’ll find also need 500 gold pieces worth of materials to prepare a salve," adds James.

 "THIS IS $#!^! … m0+#3r! ... Ya fookin’ numpty! What the !@#$@#%@!@# are you talking about … No skip that, keep yer flapper shut … I’ve heard too much already!"

And with that tirade Bhenedict hoists Bairdyn’s limp body over his shoulder like bag of beans and stomps off in the direction of the Mountain’s Hearth.


SOW Chapter6: An Alley Ambush

An Alley Ambush

Ambush in Alley

Bit off more than they can chew
No time for guards now

An Alley Ambush

For the next few hours the Bennie, Bairdyn, Wolf, James, Bingus and Maxyzne drown their frustrations back at the Pig & Bucket. Bhenedict’s stated plan is to eventually gather back at the inn, where he hoped they might find Shaden, ("That half-orc can hold his own in a fight.") grab a little rest and then head back to the Shrine of Erathis before dawn in the wee hours of the morning to do a little investigating of their own.

Minotaur Ambusher

Eventually they leave the tavern, taking the short walk to the Mountain’s Hearth when suddenly the toasted heroes find their way blocked by a massive minotaur. Looking back to the alley entrance they find a quartet of black clad would-be-assassins separating themselves from the shadows in such as to close off the Brigade’s retreat, and then additional movement across the rooftops and the alley doorways alerts to a number of rough thugy looking dwarves sneaking out from around corners, doorways both on the ground on the rooftops above with their blades and crossbows at the ready and coming for the Brigade!

There is no time for words, the battle is upon the Brigade immediately, fast and furious. Bhenedict rushes forward meeting the minotaur in the middle of the alley. Bairdyn looks for cover from the crossbows and a good spot to the climb to the rooftops. Bingus helps by screening Bairdyn while he tries to climb by harassing rooftop attackers with spells, and Maxyzne defends the gnome soon climbing to the rooftops herself. James and Wolf back-up covering the rear taking the fight to the assassins.

Neither side offering the other any quarter; the Brigade taking an edge in the battle when Wolf slices an assassin’s neck. As the killer falls its body warps and shifts, its skin taking a pale gray hue, its eyes growing taking the shape of wide and dark saucers, revealing the assassin’s inhuman nature. The battle is hard, fast and decisive, both sides fighting with deadly purpose. The ambushers fall one after another, the Brigade’s advantage growing as each foe falls and in the end the Brigade is triumphant. Maxyzne finishing the fight in a bloody frenzy tracking down the last of the attackers and seeing to it that none of them leave the alley alive.

Covered in blood, standing amid the carnage of the scene, Bhenedict poses one question, "Where is that city watch when you need them?"

"Maybe we should leave before they show-up?" suggests Bairdyn.

"You may not be a thief, but you think like one Bairdyn." responds Bennie. Pausing he adds, "… No, I really think we should go find them," and looking over at Maxyzne he adds, "I only wish we had left one alive to question."

Looking down from a rooftop, Maxyzne throws down one of the dead attackers before climbing down herself … whispering a chant softly, "Slay prey, slay prey" as she descends. Taking a final jump she lands beside Wolf who notices a black void in her eyes. Dismayed he stares transfixed as the darkness withdraws from the half-orc’s eyes and their normal deep-green color returns … as her eyes change, Notaku sees a calmness comes over the she-warrior’s body.

Then all at once the city watch appears while the party is still tending to their wounds. Taking initiative Bhenedict and James move to speak to the guards. Towards the rear of the party, Bingus whispers his plans to Bairdyn before slipping out the back among the collecting crowd of onlookers, deftly dodging the guard, so he can return to the Mountain’s Hearth Inn; with the intent to study … It being common knowledge within the party that Bingus had long been anxious to study the rituals they had acquired the last time they were in Overlook; study Bingus considered long overdue and critical to the future success of the Brigade, a point which none of them argued.

Unfortunately reporting events to the guards takes Bhenedict and the others much longer than they had hoped or planned. Eventually the guards advise them to head back to their rooms and to avoid further trouble … leave patrolling to them and telling them to talk to Captain Aerun in the morning. As soon as the Brigade in freed to depart Bhenedict shouts a closing salvo at the guards, "Why don’t you go home and pose in front o’ the mirror some more ye weasel-hearted, bairn stealin’, sticks O’ manure!" then turning to the others he announces, "Let’s go!" and absolutely ignoring the guards advise, the Brigade, short Bingus, heads directly back to the Shrine of Erathis intend on getting there before sunrise, smelling of stale ale, still coated in blood, with no rest at all.


SOW Chapter6: Return to Overlook – Again

Return to Overlook – Again

Dwarves prepare for war

Priests and others are not true
Heroes find them out

Return to Overlook – Again

overlook

“Our eyes are open, our fists are closed.

Our walls are stone,

our shields are steel.

Our faces are many,

our soul is dwarf.

And thus is there no

foe against whom

Overlook cannot
stand.”

It is an ancient Overlook proverb, though some might call it a prayer.

Following Amyria as she leads the Brigade, now minus Bingus and Yu Gnuf, the party approaches Overlook its towering walls of rising slowly but steadily over the horizon as they draw ever nearer to their destination. From a distance, the city looks as secure and serene as ever, but as they move closer, they can see that all is not as when they left left it a weeks ago. A great mass of activity bustles around the gates, people lugging stone and timber this way and that, all beneath the watchful eyes of sentinels who stand dutifully atop the wall.

One particular blond-bearded dwarf in plate armor—an officer, by his bearing—stands atop the gate shouting orders to everyone in sight. Although the activity doesn’t appear especially rushed or frantic—indeed, people pause to talk or jest with one another as they work (and when the officer isn’t looking)—still it appears as though Overlook is mobilizing for war.

The Brigade is hailed as they approach, alerted by the sentinels atop the walls, guards by the gates offer friendly but careful greetings. Multiple crossbows are trained on the small group until they identify themselves, Bhenedict, Bairdyn, Notaku (appearing less feral than usual), Amyria, Shaden, Maxyzne and James, when they do, their welcome becomes far warmer. Several workers and soldiers stop to clasp their hands, and the sentinels swiftly lower their weapons and stand taller at their posts. Word has spread of the Brigade heroics on behalf of the city, and it is obvious their return is seen as a good omen.

The officer, introduces himself as Captain Aerun, greeting the party soon as they’ve entered the gate.

"Good tidings, good tidings indeed. How fare you? Any news from the road?"

"None of great import. Our throats are parched in need of ale, our stomachs craving better than hardtack … and the rest in need of of good scrub. There will be time to talk later, for now it is to the Pig & Bucket for us. What is this work you’re up to?" inquires Bhenedict.

"The city is making preparations for war, nothing specific mind you … The orc invasion has been defeated and given your help the Shadowfell gate was closed. The city is good and safe. And I mean to keep it that way for a long time to come. Still, recent troubles have stirred up concern and we are better safe than slaughtered. And of that, I have no doubt. So with the support of the Council of Elders I have ordered that Overlook’s defenses be repaired and enhanced."

 As the Brigade enters the city, Amyria inquiries about a temple, specifically the Temple of Ioun, stating that she feels a need for prayer and solitude so that she might clear her mind and find herself. James agrees to direct her to the temple within the Nine Bells district and then join the party at the Pig & Bucket once she is safely delivered.

Of the former prisoners of the gnolls, Alys, Shaden and Maxyzne, Shaden comments that neither he nor Maxyzne would likely be well received within mixed company after thanking the Brigade, they excuse themselves to shop the market, stating they may check back with the Brigade at Mountain’s Hearth Inn if they hear anything interest while they are at the market. Alys reminds the Benedict that she herself had been looking for the Brigade when she had been captured, specifically on the behalf of the priestess, Haelyn. In thanks for the aid she received from the half-orcs while she was held by the gnolls, she offers to pay for their needs while they stay within Overlook, at first Shaden resists, but Alys adds that she is not without means telling him,"Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth."  Shaden shrugs his shoulders,and with her mission accomplished, Alys bids the Brigade well accompanying the half-orcs as they leave.

The Brigades’ first few hours in Overlook go smoothly, they have no issue with the average street thieves and other ne’er-do-wells, all giving them a substantially wide berth. Within the tavern, the mood is jovial and soon breaks-down to road stories and a serious assault on the tavern’s ale stores. Until their repast is interrupted by an ale pourer.

“Begging your pardon, m’lords, but you look familiar to me. You are the folks who saved us from the orcs, and from those foul creatures of shadow, aren’t you?”

 

"Yes that would be us, what’s on your mind?" asks Bhenedict.

 

“Well, I’m sorry to disturb you and all, but there’s someone been looking for you. Woman named Lavinya? She’s a priestess at the temple of Erathis, over in the Divine Knot. She’s been leaving messages all over town—says she desperately needs to speak with you. She begs you to come

see her at the temple, just as soon as you can get there.”

"Isn’t Haelyn the priestess of Erathis?" Asks Bairdyn.  

The barkeep answers, "Haelyn is the caretaker at the Tradestown shrine, Lavinya is the priestess at the temple in the Divine Knot."

"Oh, I see … well than we shall see to her right away I would think, thank you," answers the halfling, flipping the barkeep a silver piece.

The Brigade quickly leaves and while passing through the Divine Knot, Bairdyn spies an alarming sight within one of the alleyways, a small figure, dressed in finery splayed upon the ground, a familiar top hat laying catywampus beside the body, "Bingus! Look, there’s Bingus!" 

Abruptly, Bingus find himself being jostled by Bairdyn on the streets of Overlook, his head splitting from the worst headache he had ever had, "Bingus, what happened to you? Where have you been for the past three days? And, where is Yu? Ugh, is that piss you’re lying in? Why are you sleeping in this smelling alley?"

Having recovered Bingus and he having cleaned himself as best able, the Brigade finds him unable to say how he came to be there. Bingus explained, "All of a sudden everything went black." As the gnome explains himself, James cannot help but notice, that the old temple of Moradin appears to be under as much construction as the city ramparts. Great frameworks and ladders stand alongside the building, and lumber stacked along the inner walls through the open windows. It is clear that not every priesthood in Overlook is as badly off these days as that of Erathis.

Even as compared to other temples of the Knot, the temple of Erathis has seen better days. It’s all but impossible to tell what color the stones of this temple might once have been, for now they’re a repugnant mixture of smoke-stained gray, dirty-hand-print brown, and bird-dropping white. The stenches of the Nine Bells district appear to congregate here, as though seeking admittance and absolution, and the party had seen zombies that looked (and smelled) healthier than some of the unfortunate, impoverished souls shambling along the streets with empty eyes. Three wide steps that don’t appear to have been swept in days rise toward a heavy wooden door that boasts a relatively fresh coat of polish—one that cannot begin to conceal the rot beneath.

As the group enters they see a largely empty cathedral, its pews old and candles burned down to nubs. At the far end stands an altar to Erathis, which is far better maintained than anything around it. A dark-haired and gold-robed half-elf, grown old before her time, kneels before the altar, rising and turning at the sound of the door.

“Thank you,” she says as recognition fills her expression. 

“I knew Erathis would guide you to me,” For a few moments she waits on the Brigade, offering

what comfort she can, pointing them toward the pews at the front of the cathedral (the cleanest ones), offering a few glasses of cheap wine, and the like.

Frowning thoughtfully she speaks up. “My name is Lavinya,” she says. “I’m the last priestess

here; the others all departed years ago, when the Nine Bells went all to seed, and the temples with it. I keep it open and functioning as best I can on my own, but . . ”

She shakes her head, as though reminding herself to stay on topic. “You know Haelyn?” she asks. "You met her at your award ceremony. Haelyn is a wonderful old woman.”

Pausing as if broken by swelling emotion, Lavinya takes a sip of wine and continues. “I’m sure you know,” she continues, “that most worship of Erathis in Overlook takes place there, rather than here. I must admit, I haven’t always been a friend to Haelyn. I was . . . bitter, very bitter, at what happened to my temple. But after a time, we got to know each other, and we’ve become great friends.”

 

Lavinya looks up, her eyes suddenly narrowed. “And that’s why I need you! Something is wrong! Something’s happened to Haelyn, I know it, and maybe not just to her!”

Lavinya takes another sip of her drink, then says: “A few weeks ago, Haelyn just disappeared. I went by the shrine to speak with her and she was gone. There’s a man named Grovald maintaining the shrine now. I don’t know him; I’ve never met him before, and nobody I talk to knows him, either. He told me that Haelyn left on a spiritual retreat and would be back in a few months. But I know better! Haelyn needed no ‘spiritual retreat.’ Her faith was strong, and it was centered on that shrine! And even if she had, she wouldn’t have up and left—not without telling me.”

She shakes her head and gauging Bhenedict’s reaction, then continues: “I must confess, I went back at night and snooped around a bit, not just in the shrine, but peering through the windows of the groundskeeper’s cottage. I’ve offered penance to Erathis for my trespass, but I had to know what happened! I didn’t . . . I found no trace of Haelyn, but I did catch a glimpse of a letter through the cracks in the shutters. I couldn’t’t read much of it, and I dared not stay long, but I’m certain it was addressed to ‘G’—that must be Grovald, right?—and it began with ‘I am commanded to ask if you’ve had any further problems with the worshipers of . . .’ That’s all I saw, but it sounds sinister enough! And that,” she says morosely, “is where things got even worse. I went to the authorities, but they told me there was nothing to look into, that Haelyn—or any citizen—can travel as they please. I spoke to some of the other priests—Aelys of Bahamut, Durkik of Moradin at the Stone Anvil, Kyrrist of Avandra, even Matron Volorvyn of the Raven Queen. Some of these have long been my friends, and even those who were not have at least been respected colleagues. And all of them brushed me off! They were distant, uncaring, even cold, as though my worries were of no moment! Volorvyn

appeared barely to recognize me, and while we’ve never been close, we’ve known one another on and off for years.”

Lavinya looks at each of the assembled heroes, one by one, while continuing: “And that’s when I thought of you, Overlook’s new heroes. I’m terrified that something has happened to my friend and

that something is wrong with my fellow priests. I should, we all should, be showering you with gifts and thanks, not heaping even more cares onto your shoulders—but I’ve little influence left in this city, and I have nobody else to whom I can turn.”

Noting the approval on the faces of the Brigade Lavinya smiles gratefully.

"We should go see Durkik," states James.

“That’s a good idea, James,” Bairdyn pipes up, but here’s the thing.  What if he really is an imposter?  Then we’re just tipping our hand by letting him know we’re investigating the situation.  From what this fine priestess is saying, it sounds like those priests could ALL be imposters!  In fact, come to think of it, we have already dealt with shape-changing imposters here in Overlook…..what were they called?”

“They’re called doppelgangers, Bairdyn,” Bingus volunteers.

 

“Ok, so maybe we can trick one of them into revealing that they’re not actually whom they’re pretending to be.  Let’s just start talking about a made up conversation we had with them before we last left town, and if they chime in like they remember it, we’ll know they’re a fake,” Bairdyn suggests.

Looking doubtful Lavinya says: “You could talk to one of the priests, I suppose,” she mutters doubtfully. “I’m not sure they’d agree to speak with you at any length, though. Everyone’s so busy with the mobilization. And these are important people; you can’t just, uh, ‘hero’ your way into the building and confront them,” she adds with a smile. “Still you might learn something from them.

You could examine the shrine of Erathis. You might well find something I missed. Or you could search Haelyn’s home, which is on the same lot as the shrine. I looked for her there, but when she didn’t answer, it felt wrong for me to just barge in. But now . . .” She shrugs.

Wanting not to waste anymore time the Brigade follows the cleavenger’s lead moving quickly through various districts from Nine Bells, to Forgeworks, through Elftown, to the dwarf-heavy, elitist district of Stonehammer. Under normal circumstances a group as diverse as the Brigade would have been questioned entering Stonehammer, but the heroes of Overlook suffer no such delay ending their rush at the Stone Anvil, the greatest house of worship within the city.

As James peers into the sanctuary—which is no less sweeping, magnificent, and ostentatious than the building’s exterior—he sees about a hundred worshipers engaged in prayer, heads bowed and chanting in low, sonorous voices. As usual, the overwhelming majority of the faithful here are dwarves. The services are being led by a young dwarf female who reads from a great, steel-bound tome that, which when open, is nearly as broad as she. They see no sign here of anything out of the ordinary, nor of High Ancestor Durkik himself.

As the others join James they examine the halls surrounding the main sanctuary, however, beyond the sanctuary things don’t appear so mundane. A great many tasks appear to have been left undone; floors are not swept, candelabras are unpolished, torches and braziers have been allowed to burn out. The Brigade being familiar with the temple, having sought sanctuary from evil spirits of the Shadowfell gate there they explore farther still, going deeper into the temple than most worshipers ever travel. Within mere moments, High Ancestor Durkik appears, accompanied by a contingent of the city watch. As he sees the Brigade he speaks up immediately issuing orders to his accompanying guard.

"What are they doing here? They are not priests here, they aren’t even worshippers. Is anyone allowed into our sanctums now? Remove them immediately or I will find another to do your job."

The guards apologetically approach clearly recognizing the heroes. "I am sorry good sirs, but the under-priests are currently hard at work restoring the old temple in the Divine Knot and we’ve no proper care for visitors, we will have to escort you folks out of the temple, and now." Sorry or not, the guards are certainly adamant. Not wanting to make a scene the Brigade follows the guards least certain that something odd is afoot at the Stone Anvil.

“I’ll tell you what,” James declares quietly as the brigade leaves the area.  “That was NOT Durkik.  I know Durkik, and there’s NO way he would treat me like that.  I personally GUARANTEE he’s an imposter, doppelganger or otherwise.”

maxyzne smiling

Having been expelled from the Stone Anvil the Brigade crosses the city once more this time in route to the Shrine of Erathis. While passing the Salty Mug, a tavern nestled between the steep cliff that runs through the Tradetown and the middle wall such that the sun rarely shines upon it. There amid a loud crowd, Bennie sees Maxyzne surrounded by a number of the tavern’s disreputable clientele. Against his better judgment the dwarf muscles his way through the annoyed crowd saying, "Come along dear, let’s not upset the natives."

"I could have taken those wretched dogs." she says loudly as Bhenedict pulls her away. He thoroughly unaccustomed to saving anyone tainted by orc, silently muses to himself that he must be going soft, then looking up at the attractive half-orc’s assets … he corrects himself or perhaps ‘hard’.

"Where is Shaden?" Bhenedict inquires.

"He is a fool, and I will not suffer him … He thinks to trade the Wicked Fang, he is worse than a fool and unworthy of that blade. I could not stay with him another instant for fear that I might slay him!" she answers.

As compared to Overlook’s temples, the Shrine of Erathis is poor indeed—and yet it offers a sense of intimacy that the greater edifices do not. Several wooden poles stuck in the earth support walls and ceiling of heavy fabric, barely enough to keep the rain off the altar within it. The altar is littered with candle stubs and scraps of parchment, which are the remnants of prayers and offerings. Beyond the makeshift sanctuary, a statue of Majere with his familiar, Mondragon, the fairy dragon reputed to be the first of dragon-kind; the statue displayed in the middle of a pool of stagnant water, staring off toward the horizon. Many of the bricks of the pool are broken or missing, and a closer glance suggests that the “statue” was in fact a fountain at one point, but the mechanism has failed and likely many years ago. Several rickety cottages stand on the edge of the property, apparently held together by little more than faith and an extra coating of paint.

Several townsfolk move in and out of the curtain-housed shrine, leaving written prayers on the altar and occasionally glancing askance at a fellow who paces behind it. He is a tall human, bald-headed with features sharp as an eagle’s, clad all in somber black. He mutters to himself as he paces having the look of one who doesn’t want to be there, though any time one of the citizens utters a prayer to Erathis, he replies with a quick “So may it be.”

Squirming through the assembled townsfolk Bairdyn works his way towards the front of the gathering and approaching the dark clad priest asks, "Where is Haelyn?"

“She is away on a spiritual retreat,” he answers curtly.  

"And where has she gone and when will she return?" presses Bairdyn.

"I do not know where or when, and it does not matter, I am here to care for the faithful," he answers.

"Are you Grovaldy?" asks Bairdyn.

"I am Grovald … and I take it you are ‘those heroes’ from Brindol? Don’t you have anything better to do than pester me. I assure I am quite busy," he says, his irritation showing. At this point he begins pacing again as he starts muttering more loudly, offering prayers to Erathis.

Interrupting Bingus asks, "Sir, can you tell me the name of the small dragon that travels with Erathis’s prophet?"

Looking confused, Grovald asks, "What are you talking about?"

In answer Bingus points out, "You know, the dragon sculpted at Majere’s feet at the statue in shrine’s pool."

Unwilling to interact with the gnome, further, Grovald pushes towards the path calling out to the city guard.

One of the faithful, an older woman dressed in shabby but well-mended shawl and dress, stands up from the altar and turns her eyes on Bairdyn. “I know you!” she calls out. “Thank you so much for all you’ve done!” As she approaches you, however, she glances once at Grovald and her eyes narrow.

In a much softer tone of voice, she says, “I couldn’t help but overhear, and a lot of us have asked him the same questions. We don’t trust him, and we’re worried about Haelyn. Almost nobody comes here after dark anymore, so if you want the chance to talk to him in private, when he’s not so ‘busy,’ that’d be a good time to come back. Maybe you can find out what’s going on.”

Words having grown harsh between the Brigade and Grovald, the priest turns from the party of heroes threatening to contact the city watch. Disgruntled Bennie leads them away from the shrine, assuring ‘Grovaldy’ not to worry they would be back after the shrine closes for the day.