The Happy Muggers

Flashback Session 6: Showdown
Wherein it all ends and begins anew.

The gates of the Spiral Palace, easing open with a gliding motion at the faintest wind, are slightly more trouble to bypass than the guards who had flanked it, and though the formal garden within hold a multitude of places to hide, planning an attack on any interlopers, no such attack is made and we find ourselves opening the doors of the impressive building just as a magical device, its purpose clearly (to your humble narrator’s trained eye) some sort of transportation, glimmers before us and deposits a large, wingéd beastly thing, who though he looks nothing like himself straightaway self-identifies as Kalbon, whereupon I attempt a charade of offering our services to him and his allies, they being the new and likely long-term power on the island, and though he seems interested in the offer he asks a few too many questions and we instead must turn our trick into a surprise, which goes badly the moment a sword is drawn, as the very spirals of the palace leap from their foundations, swing too quickly to be believed, and drive little Lulu into the tile flooring, leaving nothing behind but a stain on the floor and a rage in the eye of Saya, the now-departed fairy’s blood sister, who in an uncharacteristic fit of good sense runs not at the perpetrators of the foul deed but at the master of the house, drawing her sword across the scaly skin and quickly sheathing it again in hopes that the spirals might not be disturbed by her if she does so, a trick which seems to work well enough, the spirals settling back into their edifices as the rest of the party scatters away from them, following her lead with quick strikes on the demonic form Kalbon has assumed, which goes as well as can be expected but does little to address the loss of our comrade, even as it hastens and then accomplishes the loss of Kalbon.

After ensuring that there was truly no hope of a recovery for Lulu, and after assessing the benefits of a continued assault versus a renewed attack another day, it is decided that we should make the passage through the portal that Kalbon has used, KD leading (as he always does) the charge into the danger, which is, when we emerge, slowly descending a vast crystal staircase, clothed in the borrowed skin of Caerwyn, though we all know her truly to be Soryth, her beauty stolen from the exhausted body of Julianna, who lays strewn across a settee in the corner, looking quite the worse for the encounter, which state will not be improved when she discovers that her love is dead, if she does not know already based on the state of the hag, who smiles at us with stolen teeth as she beckons two xivorts out of the shadows and toward us, which only serves to push KD into action, and before a blink he is at her throat, his focused sword drawing blood– stolen or not I have no idea– which sprays across the marble floors just as Saya follows along, her sword finding the perfect opening and digging deep into borrowed flesh, but then those stolen teeth smile again, and Soryth is suddenly between us all, and KD’s sword flashes and Saya’s sword rings out and we are all compelled– told– forced by the True Ruler of the Island to lash out at those who intrude upon her domain, and the blood on the marble is mine, now, and KD’s, and Saya’s, and in another moment the blood streaks as KD falls, his body sliding and then falling still forever, a moment later mimicked by Saya’s lifeless husk, her blonde hair stained with the gore, and when the hag calls out for Veleris and I to run lest we join our friends, my smile is true when I ask why I would care and why I would run, for they were no friends of mine and I have barely begun to learn the wonders of this Island, and when Veleris and I offer our services this time we mean it, and when she accepts them we know that the future holds many a year of study… and a clear path to power beyond anything we’ve yet seen.

Flashback Session 5: The Hedge Maze
In which the fey unite, the heroes are chosen, the Spiral Palace is seen, and the party ventures forth into a hedge maze.

“Ill met by starlight,” Ragnar says as we approach the clearing, his massive form standing one wide stride past his dozens of fellows on one side of the field, directly across from - and her dozens. The events at the Water Palace can not be hidden, and we make little attempt to do so, and to his credit Ragnar makes no attempt at revenge upon us for the death of his cousin, taking his share of the blame for the unfortunate incident. He and she and we all know that the immediate threat remains Soryth and Kalbon, especially now that Proferio’s essence has slipped the material plane once more to become part of the island, free to be siphoned into the Hag’s ritual and crystalize her dominance of this plane. Forbidden from making another assault of their own, and after a night’s rest is interrupted by an incursion from the Xivorts who seem to blanket the width and breadth of the island every nightfall, our small party is ushered to the edge of the vast hedge maze that surrounds the Spiral Palace, whose many roofs we can see in the distance, and when we ventured inside we see the trickery of this island in every nook and cranny of the fouled place; twice we find ourselves doubled back on our tracks, and twice more we come to dead ends. The saccharine smell of the yellow roses is like a madness that slips into the nostrils and down the throat, numbing senses and confusing memories.

Since the altar’s imprint matches exactly the Bloodstone KD acquired from who-knows-where, we place the gem in the groove only to see it vanish, and the footfalls of Boggles running becomes our guide as we hunt the thieves. We manage, somehow, to flank them and pin them, and when they turn to make their stand we have little trouble felling the nasty blighters, though not without a few painful pricks of our own. We continue into the maze; this ends tonight.

Flashback Session 4: the Water Palace
In which a crossing is made, a thrall is freed, a hideout is found, chicken is shared, a contest is fought, and a tragedy occurs.

Down the hill from Oakstaff is a lake, a wide expanse of calm water surrounding a single island in its center, upon which is perched a colonnaded structure that we all assume immediately to be the Water Palace, former summer home of Proferio and current hiding place of Orlando. There is a small raft tied to a small dock, and seeing no other ways across we commandeer it and KD pushes us out into the water, upon which we glide for a few moments before a thunderous voice behind us proclaims us trespassers, asserts that Kalbon is the ruler here, and issues a threat to our lives. Turning, we see a smoky visage of a fangéd man slowly dissipating from the air above a tiny blue-robed pixie, whose eyes share the glassy sheen of the enchanted we know from our encounter with the leprechauns. The pixie swirls up the water with a wave of his tiny hands, and four spouts of water and fury spin toward us, push us all off of our tiny boat, and generally make our passage quite impossible until, a few moments later, we manage to knock some sense into our attacker and dispel his watery servants. He is quite apologetic for his misdeeds, and after explaining how, after the assault on the ritual, he was left behind and eventually enthralled by the hag Soryth and the fiend Kalbon, he asks to depart and we allow him to go back to the Summer Queen’s Champion’s camp while we continue on our way, albeit somewhat more damp than we were beforehand.

The ascent to the Water Palace is short and sweet, through a small grove of flowers and over stepping stones in a small brook. We enter to find a still-hot dinner laid out on a long table, and find poor Orlando, his visage half-transformed as Julianna’s was, hiding in a small pit trying to keep his freedom. When we explain our situation to him he attempts to explain his to us, but like his beau he finds the task quite difficult, since, as he puts it, “part of me is in Kalbon, and part of me is in here.” KD, though, recalls that he has the young man’s locket– though I swore Saya had it last– and when it is returned to him Orlando’s whole appearance resolves, and his wits come about him long enough to recall the journey into the Crystal Cave, being set upon by Soryth, being captured and chanted at by the Hag, being freed in the assault on her Palace, being lured away by the dryad Rosaline, and being sent here by the Treent Oakstaff.

But no sooner was this story told than in burst Basal, Ragnar’s cousin and hunter of Orlando. He offers to fight us for possession of Orlando, and when it is clear that he will not take no for an answer the battle ensues, but it is clear that this brigand intends no such fight as he ignores us and hits poor Orlando again and again, despite the poor boy’s running away and despite our blows lashing red blood over the giant’s green form. When Orlando falls we know that he will not be rising again, and we encircle the brute who did the act, and the green turns redder and redder until there are two bodies laying on the ground of the Water Palace. We have failed.

Flashback Session 3: Champions and Fiends
In which we attend a fey revelry, wrestle unicorns, bypass an obstacle, talk to dryads and treents, and still do not find anyone we're looking for.

We camp under the stars, though their constellations bely the unnature of this place. It is a quiet sleep, and when we awake the claw marks of Xivorts all around us reveal the protection that the leprechauns lent us overnight.

Thus rested, we set out North to find the Green Lord‘s champion. It is an easy trek, save a field of crimson-thronged shrubberies that look menacing enough that we bypass them through various bits of magic and ingenuity. Soon afterward we find ourselves at the gates of a raucous camp in the throes of an early revelry, and while they somehow manage not to recognize KD they do invite us to join the fun. When our mission is made clear to them–after a few drinks and stories, of course–they offer to bring our case to Ragnar, the Champion himself, if we will but do them the favor of guiding a few unicorns to them, said unicorns having made the unfortunate choice to favor the Summer Queen’s champion instead. We agree with the hearty agreement possible only after a few drinks and stories shared with wild fey in an early morning revelry, and though the unicorns prove playful we have no real trouble guiding them into the orbit of the Green Lord and his ilk.

Ragnar, suitably impressed with KD as he led a four-unicorn parade back into the camp (still enjoying a revelry, now not so early but just as raucous), tells us that though he has already sent his cousin to break the magic hex by finding and killing young Orlando-cum-Propherio, he would be more than happy to attempt to disentwine them if we were somehow to bring the lad back in one piece, providing that we somehow do so before said finding and killing is completed by said cousin. KD manages to avoid the ongoing revelry and set off immediately, and the rest of us are obliged to follow along.

The last known whereabouts of the identity-confused boy are known to us, being not far away in the presence of a tree said to house a dryad, which would coincide nicely with Julianna’s story of her love being wooed away by a woman of some great wiles. Indeed when we arrive at the tree and talk to the dryad in question she confirms this version of events, and further points us in the direction of a Treent of her acquaintance by the name of Oakstaff, whose roots are put down not far from her own, and whose acquaintance we too soon share, the old fey having heard of our presence on the island and being quite ready to point us along to the Water Palace, the old hideout of Propherio, which is guarded against the hag Soryth–who we’ve met– and her fiend friend Calaban– whose presence we were before this unaware of– in much the same way that their lair, the Spiral Palace, is protected against all those native to the island, making it impossible for them to approach it. Oakstaff gives us some provisions and points the way onward, but it is becoming a bit tedious running errands for the errand boys of great fey lords without so much as a promise that the errand boys will be happy about it, let alone that the fey lords might come to know the many tedious steps necessary for their wishes to be made real. Nevertheless KD is not about to give up on poor Julianna and Orlando, whose timing was abysmal but whose fate should not be left to the hands of chance. So I do assume that we shall away to the Water Palace forthwith, and indeed your humble scribe should stop now as the party seems to be heading in precisely that direction.

Flashback Session 2: Soryth Appears
In which a crossing is made, a confused and transformed Julianna is found, a royal wedding gift is explained, a pair of fey lords are implicated, and a hag appears to steal Julianna away.

We hear the bubbling before we come into the cavern, the slush and slurp of mud slowly moving, of thickened water pressing its way slowly past thicker soil. When we emerge into the cavern we see the mud everywhere, caked on the walls and covering the ground. The little stream runs down the center of the room and off to the right, but its destination is not what we are looking at: rather it is the two hands that protrude from the mud, reaching for each other. I am about to comment on the ring on the womanly hand, which pegs it as not being Julianna‘s, but then the mud shifts, and a column swirls up, and from a few directions the very earth advances toward us. KD starts forward, Saya flanks right, and after a few moments of flying dirt and energy and flashing blades, the last of the Elemental beasts is seeping back into the mud from which it emerged. We inspect the hands and find three of Crystalbrook’s finest, part of the party sent to find their Orlando. Two more members went, but they are not here.

KD continues through the cave, our footfalls echoing his as he follows the river and we follow him. The walls glint in the darkness, and soon the name of this cave shows itself in our surroundings, with crystals protruding from the dirt. The crystals steadily grow in number and size until the walls are made of nothing but, and when your humble narrator attempts to break a bit from the wall to document the passage, I find in my hand nothing but a stone. It is not an illusion, but the walls of this place somehow sustain the crystal, and breaking from the wall breaks it from its essence.

Ahead is a lighted room, and when we enter we see a strange sight indeed. A pool of water dominates the cavern, a waterfall at the far end. But the waterfall is like a picture more than a reality, the water droplets frozen in time, waiting to fall. There is no sound except the rush of water racing away down the passage we just emerged from, and no other exits. If anyone preceded us into the cave, they must have ended here. KD is already wading into the water, and it is evident that his passage is being slowed, increasingly, as he approaches the falls. The water is only a foot or so deep, yet he might was well be trudging through tar. Suddenly he glances back, and points through the waterfall, and as he describes the scene we all see the room behind the curtain of water. KD pulls his feet from the pool and stands atop it, then walks to the falls and attempts to shove his way through, but is repulsed. He tries again, slower, and disappears behind the veil. Your humble narrator has other means available to him, and with a blink I find myself standing next to the Kender. Soon after an issuance of steam presages Valeris’ passage, with Lulu in his pocket and Saya close behind.

The room contains a table and chairs, a mosaic flooring of natural scenes, and a smattering of broken glassware scattered about. With nothing else to see we move through the solitary door and find ourselves on a wreckage-strewn beach, a vast expanse of water all around. The Sildaine Forest is nowhere to be seen; we have been transported, but where we’ve found ourselves is anyone’s guess.

We wander for a bit, the sunshine bright to our cave-dark eyes, until we hear the sounds of laughter and crying. Followed, we find four leprechauns circling a raven-haired woman, whom your humble narrator, long her acquaintance, recognizes as Julianna, but changed from her chestnut hair to this black and with one eye similarly miscolored, to a hazel where blue should be. It is from this woman–Julianna but not Julianna–that the weeping emanates, and from the leprechauns–four, prancing and singing gaily about the return of “Caerwyn”–that the laughter comes.

We entreat the five to make their origins and meaning plain, and though it takes some guile and wit on our part we do convince them to disclose such. This is, in fact, the lost Julianna, though she has only dim remembrance of her coming, and is quite inclined to believe herself to be Caerwyn, since everyone is calling her such. The mysterious Caerwyn seems to be the daughter of Oran, the Green Fey Lord, for whom this place was a gift of some sort. Her betrothed–Caerwyn’s, I mean, not Julianna, who though she has a beau has yet no betrothed–is one Propherio, who seems to have died some time ago. Orlando did accompany Julianna, but ran off chasing yet another woman, whose identity is anyone’s guess. Your humble narrator has some recollection of all these names, especially of the Green Lord, and brings Tiandra the Summer Queen into the story, whose son shares a name with the betrothed in this story, and whose betrothed in turn shares the name Caerwyn. We seem to have stumbled into an old legend through a waterfall. One tends to do such things when following KD about.

But no sooner have we unraveled the origins of this place as the mention of Soryth the Dream Witch darkens the mood, and all the leprechauns bolt for the underbrush. One stops short, his eyes rolling back in his head as he loses his senses. KD predicts the next move and is next to the Hag as soon as she appears, half her visage the same as Julianna’s darkened Carrowin-mask. She claims the powers of this island and pulls Julianna in with tendrils of dark energy, and though KD stays at her side and pummels her rightly she escapes into the ether before our eyes. In her stead we come face to face with various dark Xivorts, who prove annoying but no match for our troupe.

Shaken by the Hag, the leprechauns become more talkative, and soon tell us of a pair of champions from the fey lords’ courts, both of whom have recently appeared on the island. A ritual was attempted a short time ago, causing Caerwyn to “stir in her grave”, and either the Hag or the champions interrupted, and your humble narrator must confess that the leprechaun’s telling of the story made it impossible to  discern who did the invoking and who did the interrupting. In any case, those involved now bear marks and confused identities as a result. Pointed in the right direction to find the champions and uncover what might be done to return the children to their homes, we set off.

Flashback Session 1: Entering the Crystal Cave
In which the party gets a quest, fights some Xivorts, gets cash from everyone, finds a mystical Oracle hidden in a legendary cave, and asks how it's doing.

Kender Defender stood listening to the old man. Money was promised- and some was exchanged- but KD didnt care about that. He cared about the two poor children who had disappeared, one from each side of this conflict between the fey of the forest and the men of the town. This count was droning on about how imperative it was to diffuse the situation, and KD agreed inasmuch as he wanted to help diffuse every situation, but he was ready to get to the solving part of the puzzle.

He and his companions set out as soon as they can, heading toward the town first only because it is closer. The flickering wings around KD’s ears is Lulu, the little battlemaster who once ended up sharing a jail cell with the hero through some misunderstandings now unspoken. Behind them are the two humans: Saya is lithe and quick, her eyes watching the underbrush for signs of danger. She is blood-sister to the little fairy, though the obligation that laid on the Slayer is much heavier than the nonexistent boon of magic she had hoped to obtain from the pact. She undertook the experiment because of her utter failure to master the arcane arts on her own, despite the repeated lessons of the man beside her, her master Valeris, whose bright eyes burn with the fire that he can unleash at the slightest provocation. Your humble scribe Teagan, an old friend to Valeris and sometime mercenary, brings up the rear of the party, scribbling into my log as we walk.

Presently we come close to the town of Crystalbrook, and as is the tradition of late the thick mists roll in from the forest, bringing the darkness closer about us all. KD leads us on, and before long we see the city walls ahead, and KD begins telling us stories of his hometown as we approach it. But before he can tell us what his cousin did to escape the Kobold Kids [editor’s note: find out later!], we see the gates of the city, portcullis raised, and rush in to see why they would leave it so, only to find the city being invaded by Xivorts, their orange eyes glowing in the semi-darkness. KD plants himself in the gates as they rush us, and we all do our part to draw them into the killing zone before the diminutive kender. This is only our second excursion as a group, but we are beginning to learn the rhythms of battle, with the baseline of KD punctuated with the sharp flourishes of Saya and Valeris. She may have learned little of magic, but she has learned to be quick and decisive, to strike hard and take the opportunities presented. I catch Valeris smiling at his pupil.

KD finds among the dead his uncle Billin, and we let him mourn, but the guards are insistent that we go see Lady Tamora to receive her thanks and inquire after the missing lad, who is her son. We do, and despite her mistrust in your humble scribe and all the fey, she tells us of a note she found detailing a rendezvous between her son and a mysterious “J”, who she naturally suspects is the missing fey girl Julianna. We thank her for her help, receive a small compensation for our troubles, and continue on a few hours into the forests. I inform KD and the others that the Crystal Cave mentioned in the letter is a real enough place, and the oracle inside features heavily in local legend, but as the coterie of a real hero we’ve all come to expect the legendary to be true, so no one is particularly surprised.

Cerik is an old friend of mine, and so naturally he sees us, and we drink a bit as we talk of Julianna‘s recent distance from her people, her interest of late in the Cave’s legend, and the ongoing conflict with the Xivorts and the Men. Cerik also provides a small stipend, and provides us more detailed direction to the cave than my old memories of rumours would have been. Thanks are exchanged, and we continue on to the cave itself, deeper in the forest.

KD is small next to the gaping maw of the cave, but he is, as always, unafraid as he takes point. Outside we saw the tracks of the Xivorts, as well as a variety of flora uncommon to this place and this season. Another set of tracks followed two people into the cave quite recently, and we surmised that those two were the missing Orlando and Julianna. Your humble scribe had snuck into the cave first, but upon finding nothing had returned to bring the others along. This time, venturing farther inside, we meet a suit of animated armor, which attempts to impede our investigation by means of arms, and though he and an ochre jelly try mightily, KD and his friends continue on into the cave. At this rate we shall not be long before we must rest, but we cannot afford to lose the trail we follow by letting it go cold.

A simple augur points us away from one path, and the other takes us into a room of wind and voices that is certainly the Oracle of popular lore. The “lovers” passed this way, it confirms in echoes, and it provides us with a small whistle that might help us find them. It allays our fears that some that we have met might be working against us, but confirms that the Xivorts are sourced from the same evil as is presently putting the lost lovers in danger. KD asks what life is like for an Oracle, showing his traditional compassion for all we meet, without pretension that some are more or less worthy of care than others. “Lonely” it answers.

We continue, and find the long-dead corpse of some ill-fated adventurer, but clutched in his hand is a strong quarterstaff that catches the gleaming eyes of Valeris. He leaves his plain staff in its stead. We venture forth to, we hope, a happier fate than the one this unfortunate met.

Session 35: The Garden of Graves
Wherein a lustful swan attacks

The glow was faint, at first, a soft orange around a corner. They knew they were still far too deep for sunlight to be peeking through, and so they suspected a torch and an armed force, but they heard no clink of armor and saw no flicker of flame. At these depths it could be some bioluminescent plant, but they had passed only the purple fungus-field on the way down. Of course it was possible they had made a wrong turn somewhere; the cave-in had driven them steadily and too-quickly forward, each cavern safe for only a few minutes or hours before the strain and rumble from below shuddered one step farther up the chain from depth to surface. Presently a crashing behind propelled them forward; they drew weapons and prepared for whatever it was.

It was a turtle. He sat in the center of the path, translucent and shrouded in mists that evaporated as they left his immediate vicinity. The turtles’ eyes opened when they turned the corner, and D’cafnaet’d and Montiago recognized Aegis, the spirit companion of their old friend Tortolla. The ancient creature blinked, then turned his head toward a nearby wall, which immediately issued forth the same orange mist before a swirling vortex of energy sprouted from the center, sparks and reality twisting around as the wall gave way to a brightness whose nature clashed so perfectly with the darkness of the cave that the rent world around flew bits of fire as the two met.

The rumbling came again, but over it they heard a voice. “Come,” it said. It could be Tortolla’s voice or Leeloo’s, and it could be both, but it was impossible to tell. They were out of options in any case; they ran for the portal and leapt through. The cave and portal both collapsed behind them.

The crash and the ruble followed them out, bits of rock and dust shrouding the world for a moment. But as it cleared the world came into sharper focus than it ever had before. The grass was greener, the sky bluer, the trees taller, the sounds purer. Each of them knew, immediately, that they had fallen into the Feywild. “There is a great evil growing here,” the voice said, “and you have the power to stop it.”

The voice faded and the sounds of a nearby battle replaced it. From a copse of trees not a hundred feet away they heard a shout, and they all glanced around before running forward. Great evils were kind of their thing, these days. And they didn’t have any other way of getting home.

An elf stood in the center of the trees, which formed a ring so dense that it might as well be a wall. There was one arch of an opening that they were all standing in, watching as the elf notched an arrow in his bow and loosed it at the lumbering tree that was slowly shuddering toward him. It was a dryad, but it was cloaked in a black, noxious cloud that was foreign to this place. The arrow landed with a thunk, but the other dryad that lumbered out of the trees right next to Montiago had already become the center of attention. They fell back, slid around to share defenses with the elf, and then were thrown apart by a blast of sound as a trio of harpies flew into their midst and shrieked out a mockery of a song. After that it was a struggle to regroup, the sound driving them apart as the dryads picked off anyone far from the others. But D’cafnaet’d and the elf managed to pick off the harpies one by one while Kynun kept the dryads far enough away that they didn’t do too much damage. The clouds that followed each creature provided a surprise, however: as soon as any of the beasts fell the cloud coalesced on the body, which flailed about for a moment more before finally succumbing to fate and death.

“Lucan,” the elf said after the fray had finished. “I thank you for your kindness.” Pleasantries were exchanged and the elf shared his story: he had been dispatched to discover the source of these clouds, and his search had suggested a cemetery in this area. Guessing that this was likely their goal as well, the others offered to join him, and soon they were standing outside the cave that served as the entrance to the Garden of Graves, reading the plaque mounted in the stone of the mountain:

Count you the shadows, watch the sun,
The wise know where they stand;
While knowing not the time to shun,
The fools must find themselves undone.

Like lustful swain or panicked child
Who beg another’s gentle hand,
The fool delves heedless through the wild.
The wise are not so soon beguiled.

When darkness falls and dreams portend
The rising of a fearsome foe,
The fool, swift-striking, meets his end,
The wise know foe from friend.

Let art and image point the way,
Abandon all you think you know,
For common sense leads fool astray.
The key is simply this: Obey.

The wise must ever strategize;
They never play, unless to win.
They see the harm in comfort’s lies,
And seek to open weary eyes

You’ve fought your way, you’ve risked demise,
To view the ivy heart within.
Now as the soul within you dies,
This knowledge is your only prize:
You’d never have come, were you truly wise

Immediately inside the cave stood three statues: a young woman, a matronly sort, and a crone. Each had a hand outstretched, ready to take something. They stood and discussed for a while, deciding that the poem’s mention of a lustful woman and a panicked child probably pointed to the youngest one, and the wise one to the crone. After all agreed, Kynun pulled a coin from within his robes, which floated from his hand, wobbled slightly, and then sailed across to the middle statue, settling slowly in her outstretched palm.

The crone leapt to life and charged Lady Ronstien, plowing her down and pinning her to the ground. Kynun’s sword snicker-snacked and the construct fell back, Lady Ronstien climbed away, and then D’cafnaet’d drove his dagger into the thing’s back. Again it attacked, again it was driven back, and this time the stone staggered, lurched, and stood still… exactly where it had started.

“Apparently this one is a lustful swain,” Montiago said, pointing at the middle figure, “and we are the ones who should be wise.” He picked up the coin, dropped it in the crone’s hand, and walked past. The others followed.

Session 34: It's A Trap
In which we learn why Pep'Ci really gathered this army, and the whole charade comes crashing down around us… literally.

D’cafnaet’d pushed his way forward and tossed derisive looks at all who passed. The others followed, trying to look somewhere between scared and brave, as befit their role in this charade. None of the riff raff on the outskirts of the Drow Invasion force’s camp bothered to stop them, deference to a real Drow mixing with indifference to anything more than their next meal.

That all stopped when they reached a checkpoint, where the camp’s perimeter bounded those within its protection from those who merely hoped to snatch up some of the glory and some of the spoils. The drow in charge stepped forward, put up a hand to stop the intruders, and simply asked, “Where are you taking these… things?”

D’cafnaet’d leveled his eyes at the other drow. He held up a fist and dangled a medallion at arms’ reach. The symbol of his house caught the light and glimmered. “I have business in the camp, and you will let me pass.” He did.

Deeper in, the camp was bustling with the activity required to maintain anything as large as it had become. Slaves of one species or another moved from place to place, shuttling messages and supplies. A few drow meandered through the crowds, overseeing.

They found their way to the large square tent in the center of the camp, and circled around its perimeter to the guardhouse. Again the medallion came out, but this guard wanted more. “What news do you bring for General Pep’Ci?”

Lady Ronstien fell on her knees, “We come to offer terms of surrender to your lord; we offer information on the other towns’ troop movements in return for an acceptance of a peaceful supplication from our fair city.” The guard smiled, stepped aside, and waved them through.

Another Drow stepped out of the tent as they approached. He smirked at them, then passed by on his way to the guardhouse. When he stopped to chat with the guards D’cafnaet’d motioned the others behind a cart, out of view, and then around to the side of the tent. Waltzing in the front door wouldn’t have been D’cafnaet’d’s style; he’d rather slice the side of the tent open and sneak in that way.

But when they did they saw a tent empty save for a large golden statue and a figure slumped over a dark wooden desk. Still unseen, D’cafnaet’d crept over to the figure, moved in behind him, and…

It wasn’t Pep’Ci. It was a decoy; a skeletal figure posed in place. Under his head was a note:

My dear brother,

I commend your skill at invading my camp, but I am quite sure you will have less luck getting back out again.


PS I hope you like the Runes I’ve inscribed for you.

An explosion sounded outside, and then another. The floor shook, and the walls shuddered. Then the statue roared as the gold peeled away, falling in expensive flakes onto the floor as the Hydra squirmed its way free of its cage.

Kynun ran forward to take point. Lady Ronstien’s prayers fell into the cacophony of explosions, but as they did the hydra felt his strength falling away, too. "Run!” Kynun shouted, “There is no use wasting time fighting this beast when an army awaits outside; we should pit the two against each other as we make our escape!” Montiago did not hesitate to make his way to the open flap of the tent, and what he saw outside made running seem an even better idea: the huge columns supporting the vast chamber’s ceiling were glowing red with magic sigils, rock spewing forth as each sigil drew light from around it and detonated.

The hydra followed as they ran, catching D’cafnaet’d once, twice, and again, each strike a bite from each of the beast’s three heads. But Lady Ronstien’s prayer had sapped the hydra’s strength, and the distraction caused by Kynun’s flying sword made each blow a glancing one. The important part would be getting out alive, and the beast at their back made them run no faster. Indeed, D’cafnaet’d and Kynun made a dance of the chase, taking the blows and returning them with stronger ones, all the while dodging the cave itself as the edifice collapsed around them. When the hydra lost a head– and Montiago seared the wound with a fireball– it made little difference. When the beast fell, the chase became only a race against time and gravity. When they tumbled out into the ancillary chamber they had been in a few hours before, the path behind filled and still filling with rubble and dead men, they knew there would be no invasion, but their chances of making it out alive still seemed sketchy at best: dust clouds were still billowing around them, and the crash and clatter of collapse still echoed off the dark stone in every direction.

But D’cafnaet’d was too busy cursing himself to care: Pep’Ci had known exactly how to play his brother. D’cafnaet’d could not let it happen again.

Session 33: Skirmish
In which the assault force is found, a snatch-and-grab goes badly, a hideout is located twice, and a plan begins.

They marched perhaps half a day more–it was impossible to tell so far removed from the sunlight–until they began to hear the rumbles of amassed forces before them. The clash and clatter or hundreds of bodies, the grunts and growls of the impending assault. D’cafnaet’d moved ahead and returned, reporting of a large cavern, the small tunnel that the Happy Muggers were traveling down but one entrance.

Kynun tried to locate the vanguard and then aim for a spot away from them, but when he led D’cafnaet’d in for the first skirmish the pair wandered off course. So when D’cafnaet’d ambushed a patrol, attempting to incapacitate the drow leader, the greater number of goblins in the party made a quick grab impossible. D’cafnaet’d managed to distract the underlings long enough for Kynun to grab the patrol leader, but Kynun’s blow to knock the drow unconscious was too late; the yell echoed through the cave. They ran, unconscious patrolman over Kynun’s shoulder.

The cave wall was growing, bit by bit covering the small opening they had scrambled through to escape the pursuing search parties. Montiago’s hands shone as he waved them back and forth, assembling the dim light into the illusionary rubble now congealing before him. Lady Ronstien, behind him, was standing over the unconscious drow patrolman, who was groggily coming to.

“Let me do the interrogation,” D’cafnaet’d said, his lip curling in his best mock-sadism.

Lady Ronstien slapped him away, sending the rogue tumbling onto his back. She looked down at the prisoner, “Let me tell you how this goes. I ask the questions. You give the answers, end of discussion.”

But the patrolman smiled up at her, “Your play acting does not scare me. You are but weak surface dwellers. And soon you–” he stopped suddenly as the glint of a blade shone from its spot near his chin.

”Answer the Lady’s questions,“ D’cafnaet’d said. The patrolmen gave a slight nod.

”Who leads this army?“ Lady Ronstien asked, stepping back to better take in his reactions. Montiago strode over, his illusion complete. It wouldn’t last forever, and it wouldn’t hold up to careful scrutiny, but it would do for a short while. Kynun stayed by the faux wall; he guessed it would be a very short while indeed before those who lived in these caverns noticed that one of them was missing.

”General Pepsi leads.“ the prisoner continued, ”He intends to strike a city on the surface, to bring those weaklings into our service.“

D’cafnaet’d’s eyes narrowed, but the prisoner did not notice: in truth he had never seen Pepsi, and so wouldn’t guess that the General’s brother now stood before him. ”Where is Pepsi?“ Lady Ronstien asked, and for a moment the patrolman thought he’d given his thoughts away. ”Does he lead from the front lines or does he keep his hands clean back at home?“

”The largest tent, near the center of the camp, is his.“

”And it is guarded?“ Lady Ronstien asked.

The prisoner almost laughed, ”Of course it is guarded! He has an army waiting for action; he has guards aplenty!“

That was when the hobgoblin leapt through the illusionary wall, a triumphant glint in his eye. He had bet Kobobumble a whole silver piece that he wouldn’t ram into the wall, and now he could collect. After he dealt with these… who were these people, anyway? He took stock as he ran forth, hearing Kobobumble land behind him and follow. He veered right toward the robed figure, spear lashing out… and missed. Kobobumble was right behind, though, his maces swinging through the air… and Kynun deftly sidestepped both. Then the crackle of lightning snapped, and Kynun’s sword slashed through both of them, combining with their momentum to spin them away. Then a leap, and Kynun met the rest of the attackers as they stepped through the wall; two crossbow-toting goblins and a drow matron. They managed to avoid his blade, bolts and spells firing into the others. The drow matron fell first after Montiago conjured acid around her and everyone took the opportunity to repeatedly plunge her into it. The archers went next, though Kobobumble and the hobgoblin were hit a great many times by the dervish whirls of D’cafnaet’d and Kynun as they tried to keep the others out of harm’s way. For one brief moment it looked like Lady Ronstien might fall, but she managed to retreat to safety just in time for D’cafnaet’d to fall instead. Kynun pulled a hobgoblin away from his ally to make room for Lady Ronstien to revive the rogue, and together they turned an attempted retreat into a rout.

Immediately after the last one fell, D’cafnaet’d strolled over to the prone patrolman. ”I hope your uniform fits me," the outcast said as he drew his dagger.

Session 32: Darker
In which we have a lovely chat with some Drow, use some High Magic, take a nice walk through pitch blackness, and Kynun finds a nice lady who wants to kill him.

It was already late, the remaining embers of the oft-trampled fire were fading, and the Minotaur magus had a sizable lead, but he was also their only connection to the rest of this mystery. Montiago and Birdiago took the fore, following the path the Minotaur had ineptly tried to hide. It lead north, then along a ridge and into the next valley, where it took a sharp turn downhill to a natural cave.

“A good spot for an ambush, if he knows that we’re following.” Kynun’s thoughts echoed in his allies minds.

D’cafnaet’d nodded, then motioned for the others to stay as he went forward. He approached the opening cautiously from above, determined the appropriate entrance point, leapt down to it, and then gestured that the others could join. When they got there they found D’cafnaet’d already ahead, listening to the voices that were echoing from further in the cave.

“Fool,” the brusque voice said in Elvish. “You have been outmatched and outwitted. They’ll track you back to this place and attack.” D’cafnaet’d stole a glance around a corner, and saw a well-armed drow angrily gesticulating to the unseen Minotaur.

The Minotaur’s voice wavered as he tried to spin his failures, “I covered my tracks. We will not see them again!”

“Nearly right.” the other voice said, “You won’t see them again.” Then a short grunt and the magus’ body fell at the drow’s feet.

“They are the next connection, and they will seek reinforcements.” Kynun projected, drawing his sword. D’cafnaet’d was already running forward, his shuriken finding the flesh of the warrior who had spoken. Above the minotaur’s body stood another drow in similar armament, but the real defense was a golem who bade the rocks of the cave to trap all those who came near. Montiago spent the battle trading arcane energies with a drow spellslinger who tried to remain in the back, while Lady Ronstein attempted to keep the golem off guard and vulnerable to her allies’ blows. D’cafnaet’d managed to take advantage of the distraction with a flurry of slashes from his blade: a high hit to the golem’s head, another to his arm, and a twist drew a final line across the stone stomach of the thing, which opened and deposited rubble all over the floor as the golem fell.

Kynun stood above the last drow warrior at the end, and Montiago dusted himself off as he began the interrogations. “Why are you with these minotaurs?”

The drow looked confused at the question, which was precisely why Montiago had begun with it. “They’re… slaves. They do as we bid them.”

“What is your name?” Lady Ronstein asked.

“Sunkïst,” the drow said. He knew the good constable/bad constable trick.

Lady Ronstein knew it well. But she had little interest in being the good one, and knew Montiago had even less. “We all know how this ends, Sunkïst. Do you want a quick warrior’s death or a slow and insufferable one?”

.s looked about at the others, but found no solace in the eyes of D’cafnaet’d or Kynun, and couldn’t see any compassion for anyone in Montiago’s. “I serve at the pleasure of the General of the Army of the Houses, Pepsï.”

D’cafnaet’d arched a brow, “Army of the Houses, now? What Houses?”

Sunkïst smiled, unable to contain his pride, “All of them.”

Montiago coughed to steal the focus, “Which cities do these Houses come from?”

Sunkïst’s smile widened, “All of them.”

Sunkïst’s curses quieted as they delved deeper into the cave, the echoed obscenities fading with the ambient light. Lady Ronstein had known when she asked for the location of the army that they needed the information, and had known further that Kynun would not let her lie to the helpless drow, so when she promised that the information could be traded for survival she had a plan in mind. The trade accepted, the drow had been quite upset when she laid out the candles, read from her holy books, and made the incantation to inescapably bind him to a promise to never again venture beneath the surface world. But he would grow to deal with it.

Montiago had used the time to send off a warning to Brindol that they were the focus of the attack. The small hamlet had little chance of fending off an assault from the entirety of drow culture, but with enough time to rally Overlook and Astrazalian they just might hold them off for a while. The assault was an army of the drows’ slaves, which might be a sign that this was still an experimental alliance. Perhaps Brindol could buy enough time for this small party to break the assault’s political support. But to do that they would have to go to where such politics were made, and so they were descending into the darkness.

It was perhaps two hours before they saw the torchlight before them. They doused their light and crept forward until they saw the bearer of the torch– a tall, unarmed brunette– and a large reptilian creature that walked with her. She was meandering between columns of rock overgrown with purple mushrooms that glowed faintly in the dark. The cavern narrowed such that her position was the only way forward, so she appeared to be a guard, but she didn’t seem a very formidable one. Nevertheless it was better to avoid entanglements when possible, so they attempted to pass on the far side of the opening. But as soon as they stepped close to the mushrooms’ glow, the little fungi rippled and a shriek went out of them. The woman spun around, her guardian did the same, and then, out of nowhere, a long tendril snaked out through the darkness and grabbed Kynun’s ankle and pulled him in.

D’cafnaet’d rushed forward and sliced the tendril, which curled back toward the guards. “It’s a Roper!” he said, twirling behind a column for protection.

Lady Ronstein planted her feet and gestured at the shape that might be the beast. Light shone out, a burst traveling up her legs and out her fingertips, converging on the column of rock that was no rock at all, and then it disappeared, banished to Gods-know-where. Everyone scrambled forward, taking the opportunity to fill the space and hit those who were hoping to hide behind the thing.

The woman tumbled back, then sidled over to Kynun, whispering something to him. The genasi smiled, and a moment later when Montiago sent a ball of darkness at the woman Kynun stepped forward to take the hit for her. Lady Ronstein shook her head, “Men.” Her complains we’re drowned out by a blast from behind. A ink-black cephalopod fluttered down out of the darkness, sound and fury riding on its tentacles.

Kynun was busy avoiding the succubus; he spun round and let his sword slice through the reptile and the Roper, which reappeared just in time to be bit by the arc. Lady Ronstein managed to distance herself from the Dark Mantle and push light and force at the other woman, who retreated from the field, then sprouted batlike wings and flew up into the blackness D’cafnaet’d leapt aside the reptile– a basilisk, Montiago figured– and sliced open it’s side. The basilisk fell. Kynun’s blade hit the roper again, and the tendrils fell limp. The dark mantle saw the tide turn and took the opportunity to float away. The mushrooms’s sirens quieted. The party stood in the near-darkness. The succubus would warn others of their coming. Everything had just become harder.


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