While the others were surveying the actual party, Dobby was in the kitchen clean some dishes and missing her beloved animal companions. While in the kitchen, she gathered corroborating rumors that something is different with Elspeth. But with no way to communicate these rumors to the rest of the party, she kept on with the dishes.
Elsewhere in the limelight, Elora and Belladonna continued their masquerade as Blackfire Mercenaries. Mariah Goldblossum, the emissary of the Ashdrake’s, sidled up to them and offered her assistance. She shought that Bancroft might know more about the changes Elspeth has been experiencing. So they saunter over and start up a conversation. It was easy to see that Bancroft was also disturbed with the duchesses changes, and after some gentle persuasion, began telling the two all he knew. He described how she has been acting differently for almost a year now. She is always leaving the manor undetected, and seems to be a whole different person with no empathy. She used to love going down to the beach and always refused her guard escort, and it was after one of these visits that she returned while acting strangely. With a quick glance around the room, and a deep search into the adventurer’s eyes for aid, he pulled out a parcel, claiming Elspeth gave it to him on that day.
Thanking him for his help, the two left his company and nonchalantly examined the packet. It was a note wrapped around a key: the note instructed to search the manor for some door. The two were puzzled by this development, and as they pondered, they noticed that Duke Torvald Parsefal and Lady Elspeth were having a heated discussion on the second tier: well, it looked like the Duke was having a heated discussion, and Elspeth was eerily calm. Using her message spell to eavesdrop, Elora learned that the Duke was yelling, practically stuttering in rage, that the big Oaf was in the tournament, probably with the rest of that bunch. Elspeth simply replied that she did not care: she would just see if he won or not. What happened after the tournament was not her concern.
Before he could retort, the tournament announcer informed everyone that the next round would be between The Whirling Slashers and Slash and Smash. Our melee trio triumphantly entered the arena to face their next opponents. One was a heavily muscled and tatooed individual armed with nothing but his fists, another on his left carrying a whip (who immediately threw out some caltrops about the arena), and the one on his right wielded some weighted daggers. Gregor rushed past the caltrops, and aligns a punch at the man with the weighted daggers: with his aim and magic punch, he punched through to also injure the enemy monk. Heisenberg charged forward and left the first bar of his signature H on the monk. Queso charged toward the whip man by jumping over the caltrops. He unleashed two powerful strikes on him, and simultaneously Gregor unleashed two powerful his on the whip man. Thrown off by this onslaught, the dagger man missed so terribly that he ended up stabbing himself. Queso took the opportunity to knock out the whip man and cleaved into the monk. Gregor continues attacking the dagger man while Heisenberg properly engages with the monk, who is landing many a blow on Heisenberg. With much effort, but even greater determination, Heisenberg and Queso drop the monk, leaving just the man with weighted daggers quaking in his boots. He immediately surrendered, which disappointed Queso. Queso, with smash-lust in his eyes, glanced up to Elspeth and asked for her judgement. Amused by this development, she held her thumb up for the moment, before smashing it down. In unison, the three “good” guys each unleashed a devastating “non-lethal” blow on this defenseless man. The healers rushed forward, and Smash and Slash advanced to the next round.
While the fight was going on, Elora used her message spell to confer with Hofniel (who is still undercover as The Hof) and Dobby in the kitchen with how to proceed. Deciding that finding the door would require sneaking about the second level, which was forbidden, the following plan unfolded. Dobby secured two sets of servant’s uniforms from the back. Hofniel gauged which stairwell was less securely guarded. Seeing that one was guarded by actual house guards while the other was hired by a temporary guard, Hofniel went to the latter and informed him that he was relieved. The guard immediately took off toward the food. Dobby and Belladonna then dressed as servants before ascending the stairs that were guarded by Hofniel, and Elora provided overwatch using the remaining duration of her message spell.
So off the two went, up the stairs guarded by Hofniel. Upstairs they found a door leading out to the overlook of the arena and two other directions to explore. At the far end of the straight path was a figure, so they went off to the right. Along the right wall were two doors. Belladonna effortlessly opened the first door, revealing a bedroom. They searched the room thoroughly, and underneath a vase they found a scrap of paper which had handwriting that matched Elspeth’s! It described something about meeting some type of water spirit on her many visits to the beach. Finding nothing else in that room, they continued on to the next door. Although the lock was finer, Belladonna still had no issue with it. Inside they found a much grander room, which they took to be the duchesses. It was covered in nice paintings and furniture. They searched high and low, thinking that the mysterious door must be here. In the closet, Belladonna found a nice light golden shawl, which she just happened to pocket. Then in a side table, Dobby found more writing. This depicted how the spirit taught her in divination and stories and only wanted trinkets and clothes in exchange.
But still they had yet to find a door! Then, Belladonna’s sneakiness kicked in and she thought to look behind the pictures. And behind a large self portrait they found a built in wall safe. The key fit it perfectly, and inside they found a diary and a scroll. In the few minutes they had to skim the diary, they found reference to a secret door somewhere in manor: a secret passage in the library she would use to escape her guards when leaving the manor. Further, the diary mentioned Nelvahi, one of the water narads (a fey creature). They would have read more, but they knew they could be caught at any moment. So they relayed the information to the others, quickly noted that the scroll was that of True Sight, and headed out a door on the opposite side of Elspeth’s room.
In this hallway, they had come to the other side of the mysterious figure which looked like he was slumped in his chair, and the only way forward was past him Belladonna thus crept down the hallway, trying to determine if the figure was possibly asleep. However, as she got closer, she found the figure was not breathing. Getting right next to it, she found a deep, strange scar on his neck, and determined that this guard was dead: probably killed by magic. Thinking that they needed an emergency exit, Belladonna tried to unlock the final door in this corridor, but her hands were shaking too violently to pick it. Then, when they were about to rifle through the guard’s pockets for some keys, they heard his voice.
“My my… I was wondering how long it would take you to make it this far…”
Dirren Kas’ disembodied voice seemed to ring around them. Thankfully, the last vestiges of Elora’s message spell were in effect, so she was immediately informed of the danger. Alerting Hofniel as she hurried past, they charged up the stairs to aid their newly endangered friends. Behind Dobby appeared Dirren Kas’s ghostly hand. Knowing there was nowhere to run, Belladonna charged forward with her daggers, but the hand silently maneuvered around her. But it could not as easily maneuver around the flaming sphere that Dobby summoned on top of it. The carpet and part of the wall caught ablaze while Hofniel and Elora (casting True Strike on herself in preparation) sprinted ever closer to the conflict. The hand retaliates by grasping Belladonna, instantly paralyzing her right within its clutches. Knowing the hall was too small to summon an effective creature, Dobby tried to distract the hand with dancing lights, but it did phase it. Then, as Elora rounded the corner, they cried out some elven battle cry as she prepared her spell. At the sound of her voice, Dirren Kas’ simply replied: “Ah, there you are Elora… I hope you have been enjoying the party…”, then his ghostly hand disappeared. Hofniel arrived after everything had died down. When these four tried to think of what to do with the body, the prize fight was just getting under way.
The final clash between Roland the Magnificent and Slash and Smash was about to go down! Roland entered the field sporting splendid armor and a heavy mace in each hand. The other two of this party simply carried standard swords and shields. Gregor run up and immediately bashes on of the shields with his fist, leaving a small dent. The shield bearer was stunned at this display of force, and was unable to land a counterblow. Queso took the opportunity to charge the man and grappled with his shield. But while Gregor was engaged with the shield bearer, Roland approached from behind and landed a sickening blow with his mace. Heisenberg take the chance to flank Roland and landed a blow. But Gregor was tired of playing second fiddle. Just as Roland started to look away, Gregor landed a devastating blow, followed by a debilitating blow, before delivering a crippling blow! However, Gregor too was surprised by his success: so surprised that he lost his footing and fell. Queso, not wanting to be outdone, jumped while holding the shield, which was still firmly attached to the man’s arm. He somehow jumps over the man, yanking the shield away, and nearly yanking the man’s arm off as well. Then Heisenberg, also not wanting to be outdone, landed a strong, precise blow on Roland’s shoulder, removing the epaulet there. But the blow came at a cost to his coordination, and somehow hit his own head! Gregor unleashed another flurry of blows, while Queso tried to grab the other man’s shield. This, however, was unsuccessful due to all the oil he had applied to himself: but the oil did help him avoid damage from the blunted swords that slid off him. Gregor spend more time dishing out pain, before Queso remembers that he can get angry. He rages, destroys the Roland’s chest piece in a massive final blow, before cleaving into the shield guy. But while Queso is distracted with anger, Roland reveals a hidden lethal blade and slashes as Queso. He plants the blade in Queso’s leg, and Queso feels something entering his bloodstream. He pukes immediately, and Heisenberg bashes in Roland’s helmet, knocking him out.
Then, as if Queso wasn’t suffering enough, he heard a voice in his head that wasn’t one of the usual ones. “Did you really think it was a good idea to put on the Helmet of the Thrall?” It was Dirren Kas! Queso started trying to yank the helmet off, but found that he couldn’t! Then, he started shouting, “Yay Blackfires!”, while his teammates looked at him in shock.
Now that they had won, it was apparent that the Duke wanted some very strong and violent words with Queso, but he was being swarmed by groupies, and thus the Duke was unable to make his move. The adventurers met back together. Seeking advice, Elora asked Mariah about how they could help Queso. She informs the party that there are clerics in the town who could help, but none were present or prepared at the party. Knowing there was nothing they could do to help Queso with the helmet (he was already recovering from the poison) they went to the library to find the secret door. Elora thought for a moment, “If I were to hide a secret passage, where would I want it.” Somehow, she thought a book lever would be perfect. So she started pulling at books and in no time found one that released a door latch!
There were so many questions remaining! Where was Dirren Kas? What purpose could this scroll of True Sight hold? Where does the secret passage lead? Is Elspeth really Elspeth, or possibly is she possessed by this Nelvahi? And what will Dirren try to do with Queso’s poor mind?!? Tune in next time for more!