A First for Many

Espionnage politique
Part II- Electric Boogaloo

While the rest of the party was sleuthing about the guest wing of Castle Pargraven, the steadfast Heisenberg was in a bit of a bind. He had been undercover as a guard in Horizon following the events of the unmasking of the false Duchess, trying to uncover dirt on the Blackfires, inadvertently discovering personal information about Lord Vorne Gell, Hofniel’s primary nemesis and a secret leader of the aforementioned mercenaries. He was shortly thereafter found out, and was forced to make a break for it, with a hired band of bounty hunters, the largely half-orc Reavers, hot on his heels. By the time he was within a half-day’s ride of the castle, his horse had been wounded and he was forced to go on foot. Luckily, Heisenberg was nothing if not resilient…
Back at the castle, Dobby and Gregor were just waking up on their guest bedrooms (Or were they? Perhaps we shouldn’t pry). When Gregor noticed that he had been provided some morning refreshments, he promptly ignored them, his intuition kicking in that something was out of place. He and Dobby made their way down the narrow hall from their rooms, only to be promptly attacked by a waiting invisible assassin! These guys were everywhere! Gregor took the brunt of it, a dagger sliding between his ribs, narrowly missing his heart. Luckily, he was linked to Sriracha’s mind via the magic telepathic earring, and immediately let her know he was being stabbed. He whirled about, unleashing a strike the masked assassin’s chin, while Dobby cast an obscuring mist. Transforming into a Puma, our talented gnome bolted at high speed to rejoin the others, after Gregor signaled her to sniff them out and get their help ASAP. The melee back-and-forth was brutal, but Gregor eventually gained the upper hand, narrowly avoiding a face-full of blinding powder before tackling his nemesis to the ground. The rest of the group soon followed Dobby-the-Puma to the location, and Hofniel promptly jammed his gauntlet into the rogue’s mouth to prevent him from swallowing any hidden suicide pills. After some fishing around, he found the hidden capsule, ripping the entire tooth out to remove it (Hofniel was weary of these people trying to stab him and his friends). They dragged him off into Hof’s room and bound him. Then the classic good guard-bad guard could begin- Queso began unpeeling some garlic, eyeing the fellow’s bottom suggestively. When he would talk, up the rear the garlic went, much to the screaming chagrin of the helpless (and suicide pill-less) would-be assassin. At this point, he became much chattier, telling them about a secret, forgotten cellar in the kitchen that was the Thespians’ (the name of this particular branch of Feu Noir assassins). Satisfied he had given them the intel they wanted, they stuffed him under Hofniel’s bed.
Heisenberg was having quite a misadventure getting to them, peeling of the main road to dive headlong into the nearby forest in an attempt to lose the hunters howling in the distance. In his haste, he ran smack into a black bear, startling both of them. Heisenberg was in no mood for nonsense today, and attacked the beast, inflicting wounds upon it and receiving a nasty bite in return. Injured but relentless, the warrior drove the animal off and continued forth. He noticed a small stream and decided to follow it, luckily, to a small village. Hearing the faint orc war-cries in the distance, he knew he was pressed for time; the old farmer he met there, however, had all the time in the world. Heisenberg negotiated quickly (and at a loss) to purchase the man’s fastest horse, which he lazily retrieved, all the while the sounds the Reavers drawing closer. He quickly paid the man and leapt on to his new steed, galloping at top speed to the capital.
Hofniel and the crew figured they’d look for Lord Stormguard, another family friend who was housed in this wing of the Castle. They started with his room, which was oddly locked; they could hear snoring with their ears placed at the door. Having no one with any lock-picking talent handy at that time, they did the next best thing- QUESO SMASH. After blasting the wooden door to splinters with one mighty charge, they saw Lord Stormguard snoozing away- which was particularly odd, since it was almost noon. By the bed, some familiar, half-eaten confectionary treats were in a dish by the bed. Suspecting poison, they rushed him to old priest Howell, where Hofniel relayed their concerns. Howell, himself jolted awake (he was very old), somewhat confusedly directed the team to the local alchemist, Fonsworth, who had a small lab near the local armory. The frizzle-haired goof attempted several puns, but none of the team were in a particularly humorous mood and made it clear they had an unconscious, poisoned noble to take care of. They provided samples of the poisoned food, and the strange little man got straight to work with bubbling flasks and large alembics, with a variety of colorful and odd-smelling puffs and pops. These were a welcome change to Queso’s usual stench.
The revelation? The poison was…CHEVREN in origin! On the lighter side, Fonsworth was able to manage an antidote, being the King’s alchemist and all, and they were able to revive the Lord. Initially befuddled, he questioned young Hofniel as to why he had been dragged into the Alchemist’s workshop, who explained the situation. Lord Stormguard promised he would support the Thunderlight even more vigorously at the news of this treachery, and proceeded to go spend the remainder of the day somewhere safe and in public view, but not before exhorting the group to do a little reading in the library- they might discover some useful political background after all. The team + Dobby the Puma meandered as casually as they could to the library, hoping to gain some useful tidbits of information. Surprisingly, they spotted a small figure perched on one of the ladders, furiously sifting through books and scrolls- our long lost halfling, Belladonna! The group was mightily pleased to see their resident rogue again, collectively glossing over the fact that she (cravenly) abandoned them right before they fought Gavarath the Tormentor. Hofniel was a bit suspicious as to what she was doing here, the initial shrug an “ooh, nothing much” from Belladonna was met with a raised eyebrow. Further questioning revealed she was looking for any intel that would lead her to some loot; after all, this was Castle Pargraven, and furthermore, there were rich nobles everywhere! Though there were no juicy stories of hidden caches of treasure, the halfling did discover an old schematic for the castle wing, revealing an old cellar that apparently difficult to find without knowing exactly where to look. She also found some irrelevant nonsense about a magical mace, which the Hof quickly asked to see. A quick read revealed that several powerful individuals were involved in creating the mace, including Gelda, the wizened old gnome sorceress who had, several adventures ago, freed Queso from the Helm of the Thrall (aka, the mind-control helmet). Perhaps they could find her later on. In the meantime, it would seem the cellar was of great interest- not only had the assassin mentioned it, but now they had schematics referencing it as something of a secret room. If the assassins were operating out of it, they reckoned they could get the upper hand by clearing them out. They had to cut through the banquet hall to get to the kitchen where the secret entrance was hidden, and on the way spotted Lord Gell, who was feasting on a roasted game bird, surrounded by his cohort. He eyed the group suspiciously but said nothing. His expression changed to one of surprise and confusion when a PUMA sauntered by with the rest of the crowd, into the kitchen.
By this time, Hofniel had made it to the castle, bolting to the guest wing in an effort to find his friends. He had no idea where they could be, but when he caught the scent of befouled garlic, he knew that only ONE individual could POSSIBLY carry such a rank stench. Following his nose, our hero Heisenberg caught up with his friends just as they were bribing the sour-faced, screeching cook to look the other way so they could rifle through several sacks of flour in the corner.
Descending into the cellar, Heisenberg up-front, the first thing the team noticed was the rack of barrels and bottles immediately in front of them, caked in decades worth of dust. The floor, however, seemed to have been recently disturbed, increasing the group’s anxiety as they delved, one-by-one in a line, through the narrow twists and turns between the ancient liquors. They came into a dingy room, discovering a group of cloaked, masked assassins and several skeletons awaiting them! The apparent leader of the assassins growled something about his “quarry coming to him” and they immediately went invisible. Unfortunately at this point, Sriracha and her magic cloak were toward the back of the line, so they did not have visibility on the stabby fiends just yet. Instead, Hofniel, Queso, and Heisenberg began to target the skeletons, with Hof turning one of them, and Heisenberg laying into another with his enchanted silver sword. The leader snuck behind and backstabbed Hof, who was well-armored enough to deflect much of the damage, but it still hurt! In retaliation, he summoned the HOLY BUFFALO OF ANTIOCH (read: a celestial bison) to SMASH the unwitting scoundrel into a nearby wall, goring him mercilessly. While this was occurring, the brave Gregor leapt into the middle of the room and unleashed a furious tempest strike, damaging nearly everyone but revealing a couple of the hidden goons in the process. Sriracha “helpfully” cast glitteredust, blinding nearly everyone (friend and foe) in the area. Belladonna managed to crawl through the racks of liquor and deftly leap upon another assailant’s back-she got the perfect foothold, decapitating him with a dual-wielding coup-de-grace. The tide was definitely turning in the favor of the heroes at this point…..stay tuned for Part III!

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Political Espionage
Part 1

The party journeyed back through the frozen wasteland and returned to the Grey Mountain. As soon as they entered, Queso beelined for the magma forge. With the Remoraz’s gut, his sword was forged into a magical, musical, deadly weapon. But Hofniel was not focused on such things. He went to the tavern to hear if he had any messages from home, and there were two messages waiting for him. One came from his new acolytes: a pair of brothers who were eager to join his adventures. The second came from the Ashdrakes. Hofniel was officially a Hopeful for the Dukedom, and must return to join the Synod which would be held in two weeks.

The party bid their fond farewells to the dwarves (who promised to stay in touch) and headed back. They used Miguel’s services to ferry them back to the main continent. The travels were thankfully uneventful. Along the way to the capital, they were able to drop off Snergel’s tuning fork and received their payday. Whatever he was digging could way, for the Synod was almost here!

The party made it to the castle and were filled in on the current situation. There were three Hopefuls, all contending for the Dukedom. The first was Hofniel, whose exploits and fame are well known. The second was Lady Cassia Drydon who was backed by Duke Garland of Falconwatch. She was described as a statesman from Mid Falconwatch, well tempered, and single (this last being a specific enquiry from Hofniel). However, she had no major accomplishments.

The third Hopeful was Lord Vorne Gell. You may recall that he was the one Elora and Dobby learned was in league with the Blackfires. Officially, he was a high ranking military official based in Horizon. He was a commander of the Avar Raider fighters, and thus well known. Strangely, he was backed by Duke Torvald of Sorpigal, which is… interesting since Torvald chose not to back someone local to Sorpigal.

The party had arrived just in time. The Synod would be held that evening. They had one day to learn all they could about Hofniel’s opponents. Each member was assigned a room in the castle, and unfortunately, the rooms were not all adjacent. Hofniel and Queso’s rooms were adjacent at one corner, while Siracha and Elora’s rooms were on a different corner of the castle. They all knew that the other Hopefuls were on this floor of the castle, along with important members of the Synod who would vote that night.

Hofniel, not trusting Gell, crafted a letter in his room with lies that, when told, would make the messenger look like a fool. He partially hid the letter in his room. Then there was a knock on the door. A servant was holding a tray with many confectionary treats and hot chocolate and offered Hofniel breakfast. Feeling that something was not quite right, Hofniel graciously accepted the food and drink and closed the door. He immediately dumped them into the chamber pot. That’s when he heard a similar knock on Queso’s door. As soon as the servant had left, Hofniel dashed from his room into Queso’s. Queso had a sticky bun headed straight for his mouth and Hofniel’s entrance distracted him enough to stop. Hofniel dumped out Queso’s treats as well.

After promising they would eat a nice lunch later, they began to explore. The first door they checked was adjacent to Queso’s. It wasn’t locked, and upon entering they found a store room with hanging sausages, garlic, barrels of supplies, etc. They began searching the room. When they were near the far end, Hofniel heard an unnatural rustling that Queso missed. Out thin air appeared a harlequin masked man who immediately dug two daggers straight into Queso’s unsuspecting back. Hofniel tackled him immediately to the ground, Queso recovered, and together they tied him up to question him. When they removed his mask, they found the servant who had offered them food. All they could get out of him (despite Queso’s torture technique of garlic up the butt) was that his brothers would get us soon enough. The only interesting thing on his person was a note commanding their death (I can’t remember if this was signed by Gell or not). They stored him in a barrel on continued on their way.

On the other end of the castle, Elora and Siracha planned what they were going to do. They quickly learned that the room next to theirs housed none other than Lord Gell. Elora found a week point in the wall. Gingerly, they removed enough more mortar to yield a small peekhole into his room. They saw Gell writing some letter at his desk, and not much else.

They felt that they must retrieve this letter, so they devised a plan. Elora cast invisibility on herself and Siracha knocked on his door. When he answered, Siracha held him in conversation while Elora sneaked past him. She quickly found the letter and burned it into her memory. Once, it looked like Gell was going to close the door on her, but she did a seductive bend to pick up a dropped something, and Gell was entranced by her charms. Elora scanned the room for more, and finding none snuck back past Gell, tapped Siracha on the back.

Siracha ended the conversation, Gell left his room and locked it, then he walked away down the hall. They returned to Siracha’s room. The note, which Elora copied for posterity, informed of threats made against Madam Gladhammer, an avid family supporter of the Thunderlights, who was a member of the Synod and housed in the room next to Gell. Feeling that this news would require a personal touch, they decided to look for the boys.

They quickly found them while Hofniel was admiring a statue of a Diva. They shared information and returned to Madame Gladhammer. She was in her room with her maidservant and was glad to see Hofniel. Hofniel informed of the treachery and was shocked that he knew of the frequent bandit raids that had plagued them recently. Hofniel offered whatever support he could, and Gladhammer ensured him that she would still support him in the Synod.

The party returned to Elora’s room, where they discussed what to do next. The treachery ran deeper than they had first assumed. Siracha suspected that maybe their rooms were booby trapped. She detected no magic upon the girls rooms and decided to check out the boys’ rooms. However, on the way (Siracha was in the back) a man in a mask emerged from the shadows behind her! Unfortuately for the man, she had her robe of eyes and was not surprised. I don’t remember how he was incapacitated (hold person?) but he was and interrogated in the storage room. He yielded no new information before he dislodged a suicide pill in his mouth. The other masked individual in the barrel was also dead by similar means.

Thankfully before the spell wore out, Siracha ran to inspect the other two rooms. There was nothing in Queso’s, but in Hofniel’s there she spotted a magical, invisible eyeball in the corner. She pointed it out to Queso, who immediately skewered it and the wall behind it. Next, the party reinvestigated the statue. Hofniel noticed that the had was off for a typical Pelorian stance. He moved it into its proper position and a secret door opened. A staircase descended into the castle. They went in an closed it behind them.

At the end of the stairs laid a small study with a desk and books strewn about and a thick layer of dust covering everything. But something didn’t feel quite rights. After a few moments of disbelieving, it became clear that there was an illusion spell in place. The study only seemed to be abandoned, but was actually used recently. After some searching, they discovered a chime with a barely visible engraving of a door upon it. When struck, a small door opened in a wall, revealing what appeared to be a spell book. The party took the book, reclosed the door, replaced the chime, and went back up the stairs.

They decided to explore more, and found a chapel. And who did they find sleeping in the chapel but Old Priest Howel, who was good friends with Hofniel. They exchanged pleasantries and talked of the past. Meanwhile, Siracha was taking note of the other visitors to the chapel. Along the first pews were four men in cloaks and hoods. She could tell they were whispering to each other. Hofniel escorted Howell towards to front and Howel encouraged him to pray for strength from Pelor. Hofniel went to pray, and in the back of the altar could see a button which was just visible as he knelt. He pushed it and a panel opened up, revealing a scroll. Hofniel secretly took the scroll and closed the compartment.

Meanwhile, Siracha’s unease grew. She used her whisper shoes and eavesdropped on the cloaked peoples’ conversation. Apparently, they were waiting for someone, and as Hofniel began to pray, she heard the draw of their blades. The ambush had begun! Hofniel was alone towards the front of the chapel while the rest were near the back. Elora released a sleep spell, which dropped one and Siracha fired some magic missiles. Hofniel guarded himself while he drew most of the remaining assailants’ attention and Queso went to kill the fourth. Queso was having more trouble killing him then usual, so one assailant escaped and charged at the wizards. He mightily slashed Elora, but she refused to falter. She and Siracha kept slinging spells, when Queso finally came from behind and killed him. Hofniel kept himself safe until Queso came and helped him finish off the last two.

And all this happened before lunch! Tune in next time for more adventures.

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Tundra Troubles
Its so very, very cold...aside from the fire centipede

After a long respite at Helga’s Hoppy Haven, and over many pints of ale, the once more victorious group, presumably while completely blitzed, decided it was time…to find the legendary, and awful, Remorhaz- the dreaded ice centipede, from which, Queso’s sword could be completed. Specifically, from its intestines, which would serve as the strings to the musical greatsword. They ventured forth into the Odemark, the icy tundra that expanded into the North of Avarkall, recovering from their hangovers and cursing the day Queso ever heard about this thing. For his part, Queso merrily skipped along, aided by the wide snow-shoes the party had (wisely) purchased prior to this little side-adventure. Hofniel had resistance to elements as part of his divine repertoire, and Dobby was a nature-savvy druid. Everyone else was just plain cold. Despite this, the group seemed to make good time through the icy conditions, that is, until the wind picked up on the 4th day. The howling sound was almost mind numbing…almost. The group felt an unnatural presence, becoming more on edge than they usually were. Is something calling my name?…they all thought, at once. Unfortunately, Dobby seemed transfixed, taken in by whatever dark magic was in play, and within moments, bolted into the blizzard. Thankfully, Dobby is very short, and the group was easily able to overtake her. As they did, they witnessed a truly horrifying vision in the distance- a gaunt, pale, lurching, vaguely humanoid figure with an elk-skull as a head and stumps where its feet should be. In a brief moment, it sped forward on the wind, whisking the stunned Dobby up into the air. It didn’t get far before Queso sped forward and unleashed a wide swipe, cutting into the entity with his fire-enhanced blade, narrowly missing Dobby and causing it to drop her to the ground. Gregor quickly landed several blows on it, causing the being to turn on him with a horrific bite. It was then that recognition dawned on Sriracha, the party’s resident know-it-all. She didn’t know much about Odemark monsters, but she DID know many stories, and recalled the tale of the Wendigo, a hellish spirit borne of desperation and cannibalism. The signaled to the group the fire should be most effective, and right on cue, Elora whipped out a scorching ray that engulfed the monster, followed quickly by a flaming sphere that burned it further still. Gregor pummeled the wretched beast with his fists, and Queso eventually finished it off, ending the flesh eating menace forever.
Deeper into the wastelands they trudged, often glaring at Queso for having dragged them into this frigid mess. As luck would have it, the troupe eventually came across the Kallfodd, or “cold-borne,” the only sane humanoids that lived that far to the North. The group gave a friendly wave, which was returned, and so they met up. The group elder wondered what the heroes were doing so far north, to which Elora grumbled something unspeakable. Hofniel pressed the wanderers for information regarding the dread Remorhaz. It turned out that the Kallfodd were intimately familiar with the wyrm of the wastes, and kept several “effigies” on hand in case of such an encounter. These “effigies” were essentially scarecrows wrapped in leather and seasoned with aromatic effluvia; becoming irresistible to Odemark dwelling monsters. At the behest of the group, Hofniel (reluctantly) attempted to bargain for as many effigies as they could get; the people could spare 2, plus some advice on “optimal” placement. They also made it very, very clear that the creature was, in fact, very much a fire based monster, rather than ice- a simple fact that meant the death of many potential hunters. The heroes thanked the noble nomads and continued on their journey-as it turned out, it wasn’t much farther until they encountered a vast, frozen lake. The team scoped the area carefully, while Hofiel placed his ear against the ice to listen. He thought he heard…scraping? Shifting? He wasn’t certain, but they figured this was as good a place to start as any, and so Queso began pounding the pommel of his sword on the ice. After several minutes, a subtle vibration emanated from the frozen water below them, and they all knew that SOMETHING was on its way. They quickly set up battle positions, with the effigies placed just as the elder had told them. The vibrations increased, culminating in tremendous crash- the horrible, huge Remorhaz burst through the ice and swallowed one of the effigies in one massive gulp, leaving the adventurers scrambling to deal as much damage as possible before it slid back into the water. Magic missiles abounded, and Queso was rapidly enlarged by the quick-thinking Hofniel. The creature slid back into the water and, a few tense moments later, burst through to smash the other (and last) effigy. Queso whirled into action, dishing out massive damage to the fiery menace. Dobby kept Norbert safely out of the fray and did what she could with her Druidic spells, somewhat hampered by the monster’s immunity to fire. When the horror burst back through the ice, it targeted the biggest, juiciest piece of meat in the vicinity- Queso, of course. Our bardbarian fought valiantly, but was ultimately swallowed by the giant insect. Thankfully, Hofniel had prepared for this contingency, casting energy resistance on both Queso and Gregor. Queso thus suffered only modest damage being squished in the beasts esophagus, while slowly attempting to carve his way out with his blade, simultaneously admiring the fine gut that would be used for his musical sword (his face was planted against it after all). The wizards Sriracha and Elora continued pummeling the monster with magic, culminating with Elora unleashing her ace-in-the-hole, the lightening bolt. This caused damage to both Queso and the Remorhaz, though it did provide some extra amusement when Queso’s skeleton become visible briefly inside the beast as they were electrocuted. In the meantime, Gregor punched with impunity, also protected by protective energy resistance. The creature eventually took notice, snatching up the silent monk in it’s jaws. Gregor’s tenacity knew no match, however, and he forced his way out, falling to the ice and immediately retaliating with a strike. The Remorhaz was looking quite ill by this point, having been slashed, zapped, blasted, and punched repeatedly. The final straw came with Queso, still struggling in its guts. He used his blade as an awl, forcing an exit in a most dramatic (and disturbingly birth-like) fashion. The monster gave one last rattle and fell crashing to the frozen lake surface, and the team cheered in victory. Except for Gregor, who felt it was warranted to mount the dead wyrm in a most inappropriate fashion as a last “victory dance.”

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In the Eye of the Beholder
...went Gregor's fist, repeatedly.

The team ventured further into the mines. They discovered a dwarven skeleton clutching a scrap of leathery parchment, which (thanks to Sriracha being fluent in Dwaven) referred to the “Watcher” and its endless avarice and pride; which led it to enslave several surviving dwarven miners and work them to death to scrape a few more gems from the mines. They entered a large, natural opening, with a glimmering underground lake in the background. A deep, unnatural voice seemed to echo from all sides; referring to the adventurers as “slaves” who had brought him “tribute,” i.e., all the gear and treasures they were carrying. Naturally the heroes had no intentions of giving up their stuff, so Hofniel put on a dramatic routine, singing the (unseen) creature’s praises and begging for a chance to serve it. Stunningly, this ploy worked, and the creature revealed itself- a large, hellish floating eyeball with multiple eye stalks and a grotesque, needle toothed mouth. Meanwhile, Queso (in classic Queso fashion) charged into the middle of the open cavern, bellowing his own challenge. He was almost immediately placed under a charm of some kind, rendering him temporarily useless; he clearly now regarded the horrific monster as a snuggly new friend. Despite this, Hofniel maintained his composure as the creature drew near, telling him that he would be his new “envoy” to gather more slaves for his use (Hofniel could sweet-talk monsters as well as people). Hofniel nodded vigorously, while simultaneously signaling his compatriots to attack as soon as it got close enough (signaling frantically behind his back). When the time was right…they struck! Gregor punched the monstrosity straight in its center eye, causing it to squint. Sriracha coated the beast with glitterdust, blinding several of its eyestalks. Hofniel buffed the party and joined the fray, landing blows here and there; and even Queso eventually shook off the charm and joined the fray, slicing at the beasts eyes, managing to sever a stalk in the process. The creature would not be easily subdued however, and soon retaliated- one eye beam confused Queso even more than his baseline, and he began gibbering incoherently. Blasts of energy struck the stalwart monk, who kept up his assault in an effort to keep that center eye closed at all costs. The team ducked and dodged, avoiding showers of rocks telekinetically tossed at them, and managed to avoid the majority of other ill effects- aside from the babbling Queso, who never quite managed to regain his battle-composure for the vast majority of the fight. Elora summoned a fire elemental to battle the creature, and in a rock-star combo, Sriracha coated the beast with oil. The inevitable occurred, and the monster was ignited in a plume of flame, screeching in pain. Hofniel summoned a magical, autonomous floating duplicate mace from the ether, and together, struck the killing blow, maces smashing together on either side of the beast, which exploded (hilariously) like a popped balloon. Sriracha recognized the eyes could be used to craft a gloriously powerful robe, and Queso promptly swam across the underground lake to discover the treasure stashed on a central island there. They even found a tuning fork doohickey that looked suspiciously like the “stone-singer” they were supposed to find- how convenient! Hauling their gains back to the mine entrance, they found it to be sealed off- upon banging on the stone that sealed them in, they heard a familiar voice- that of Volden, the foreman. Volden asked the team if they had slain whatever was causing the problems, and Queso hoisted the flattened remains of the Beholder. An evil chuckle ensued, and Volden commented on how great it would be to take their gear AND claim he had saved the mines once the party had starved. Little did the dwarf realize, the team was exceedingly resourceful. Hofniel used his divine abilities to stone-shape a path through the stone, leaving only a few inches of rock between them and freedom. Naturally Queso set to bashing their way through. After a few minutes of this, Queso bashed through, only to be greeted by some very agitated guards, who presumably thought some monsters where trying to escape the mine. This was partially instigated by Volden, who was screeching some lies about how the party had tried to murder him and rob the mines. The group put this nonsense to rest quickly, proving they had slain the Beholder and confirming their original deal with the foreman through eye witness accounts. Within a short while, the local Magnate, Kroveg Quartz-Fist, got wind of the events and made his way over, calling for the devious foreman to be tossed in prison. Sriracha greeted him in the traditional dwarven manner: with a loud “HeyOOO!” A brief silence passed, and the magnate raised a fist and returned the “HeyOOO!” He offered the team his thanks, and gave them a personal invitation to visit him in his lofty home in the High Quarter of the city for a possible business proposal. Greatly pleased in these developments, the team all high-fived and set off to Helga’s Hoppy Haven for some well-deserved rest and relaxation, and to count their gold, of course.

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Mine Your Own Business
Spelunking for glory, and the creation of the Quesoblade

Our brave team, having arrived safely at the port of Yodelheim, bid the roguish Miguel/Eduardo adieu and prepared for the next leg of their journey. After some discussion, they dismissed the chance to get a guide, figuring the map provided by Snergle was more than enough for them to find their way. They also split up, figuring they could garner as much information as possible about both Avarkal and the Gray Mountain simultaneously. They promised to catch up later- Queso, Elora, Hofniel, and Belladonna headed North, while Heisenberg, Gregor, Serena (or Sriracha), and Dobby did some exploring in Yodelheim.The trip to the mountains was cold, punctuated by a fierce blizzard that set upon them. Huddled in their winter tent, the adventurers thought they could hear voices in the wind, calling…but the feeling passed almost as soon as it came, and they buckled down to ride out the storm safely. When they arrived at the great gray mountain, the directions became less clear, and they spent several hours climbing along switchbacks through the evergreens. In time, they found their way to a steep rock face that appeared to be cut right into the mountainside….at least, until said mountainside began to move. Pebbles and stones tumbled down, the earth shook under their feet. Two great glowing eyes opened on the rock face, and a colossal stone golem stepped forth, leaving an equally enormous golem-shaped recess where it had been hidden in plain sight. The construct towered over the now very anxious heroes, speaking a single riddle in booming tones: “I’ve many windows, but no door; On a Pavilion I sit, with no floor. What am I?” It raised three of its gigantic finger appendages as if to signal the number of guesses the team had. Elora took one look at the situation and was about to turn tail, leaving nothing but a big cloud of NOPE behind her. At that moment, Belladonna, who had clearly spent a great deal of time not only stealing gems, but fencing and appraising them, immediately piped up. “A diamond?” The colossus opened its fist and dropped three pommel-sized gems; red, blue, and yellow, and retreated back into its position in the rock wall, leaving a small doorway as access into the mountain. The rest of the group stared in astonishment, as this was clearly meant to be a MUCH MORE DIFFICULT riddle to solve which instead turned out to be a 2 second inconvenience. Guffawing at their good fortune, they moved ahead into the passageway, which was just wide enough to drag their cart. Glowing lichen lined the walls, as if placed with purpose. They eventually found their way to a large movable wall that blocked their path. Everyone put ears on the stone surface, and they heard several voices speaking congenially in both common and another tongue- likely dwarven, they surmised. Queso, pounded on the side of the wall, and the voices fell silent- within a few moments, the stone slid along deep grooves in the ground, and they were greeted by a troupe of very miffed-looking dwarven guards bedecked in heavy armor. Hofniel put his charm to the max and worked hard to persuade them that they were simply there for trade, pointing at the load of meteoric iron they were dragging along with them. Still suspicious, the dwarf demanded they explain why they were using the secret back entrance into their clan halls. With a mighty sigh, a shrug, and an eyeroll, Elora muttered that this group simply “never did anything the normal way.” Cautious but somewhat assured, the guard required that they disarm, which they did without question. Entering the commons of the great halls of the Gray Mountain clan, the group was overcome by the splendor of the architecture; the glowing molten ‘rivers’ flowing in it’s lower halls, and the plethora of traders and merchants from throughout Roan, all there for a chance to buy and sell with the best craftsmen in the land and take some of those wares back with them to sell at, no doubt, a substantial mark-up. Queso was virtually frothing at the mouth by this point, as Elora and Hofniel tactfully asked where they might find a good smithy. They were directed to Brokker Braunite, whose forge was powered by the very molten flows that ran through the lower city. He made it very clear that he was the best smith they would ever meet- and was rather surprised that the group had found God iron. He even described the original musical greatsword crafted for the hands of the first bardbarian, Fabiol, in the time of the Great War. Much discussion and bargaining took place, and at long last, Queso was able to put in his order for a fabled sword of his own: the Quesoblade. The only catch, of course, was that they needed the guts of a Remorhaz, a gigantic centipede-like monster, to complete the blade’s “string” part and allow it to become the musical weapon of lore. The others got some pretty nifty orders put in as well, and the group headed toward the local Inn/tavern: Helga’s Hoppy Haven. Helga herself was a buxom dwarf woman with a no-nonsense attitude and a bar full of drunken dwarves. They queried her extensively and found she knew a dwarven hunter, who, after several games of dice and and heavy drinking, was able to give the more details about the Remorhaz- specifically, that, while it dwelt in icy climes, the creature was fire based and thus vulnerable to cold attacks moreso than fire attacks. They thanked the fellow, and were about to retire for the evening, when a very intoxicated dwarf punched Queso (of all people) in the side, offering a vague threat. Queso grinned, glanced around as if to confirm that everyone had seen that he hadn’t been the instigator….and promptly lifted the dwarf off the ground….by the beard. The unfortunate dwarf’s friends soon made themselves scarce at this display of raw power, particularly after Queso nonchalantly tossed the fellow across the room. There were no further incidents during the group’s stay in the Gray Mountain.
During their days and weeks waiting for Brokker to complete his work, the team also found out, through Helga, that some very productive mines had gone dark within the past few years. Rumor had it that dwarves either went mad or missing completely, and they finally sealed the mine for safety. Fearing nothing an no one, and suspecting that their status among the dwarves would improve dramatically if they offered assistance. Unfortunately for them, the mine overseer was a surly, bitter fellow named Volden. Fortunately for them, Hof was in particularly good form that day, and was able to smooth talk the group a deal: Volden would open up the mine, provide a map (with designations as to where gem mining sites were). They gathered up their gear, steeled themselves, and delved inside. While there, they narrowly evaded getting flattened by a cave-in, fought various troglodytes, and (wisely) avoided confronting an Otyugh in it’s filthy, filthy lair-thanks to Elora’s ability to speak Draconic and squeeze the defeated troglodytes for information. They even found a strange, brightly glowing gem- as bright as a lamp if not moreso, which Queso promptly placed in his loincloth as his personal crotch-light. Typical Queso behavior, though now no one was willing to touch the gem or examine it to discover if it had any other unusual properties, now that it was stuffed in the barbarian’s unmentionables. Being extra-cautious, the team chose to load up inside an abandoned mine cart and inch forward slowly in case they were flanked by more critters. Out of the corner of her eye, Belladonna spotted movement- something dwarf sized, which Elora promptly put to sleep with a single magical utterance. Approaching, they saw a bedraggled, unkempt, dirty dwarf fast asleep, not far from what appeared to be his living space- dirty rags, various odds and ends, and other hoarded trash that served as the poor wretch’s home. Upon waking, the team quickly realized (to no one’s surprise) that the fellow was completely mad, muttering about some sort of “watcher” or some such drivel. Regardless, Elora took pity and they tied him up in his lair, allowing him to rant and rave to himself while posing no further potential threat to the group. Deeper into the mine, they discovered giant spiders and desiccated, silk-wrapped bodies…of various types. The spiders were shooed away by the light of the gem, but they knew they could sneak up on them at any time, and so took their advantage to fight and slay a large group of the monsters, incurring minimal injuries in the process. Indeed, Queso suffered several bites and incurred their venom- venom which would sicken or kill a lesser man, but only seemed to invigorate our brutish hero. Searching one last room, Elora’s keen searching ability uncovered scratching on the wall that resembled a large eye with…tentacles? It was difficult to say for sure. Even more unnerving were the old, skeletal remains of dwarves, a few of whom seemed to have died fighting each other, for reasons unknown. Having carefully scoured all the rooms on the map, the team took a rest and prepared to enter the newest mine passage, for they knew that the answer to the mine’s deadly mystery was most likely within.

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Creatures from the Deep
This is why no one likes to fish.

Oh our adventurous party. They had successfully thwarted that sea spirit, but it was only the beginning. Before they left Horizon, they were approached by Snergel’s half-orc body guard. After a brief meeting with Snergel himself, the party was (handsomely) contracted to retrieve some singing stone tool whatchamacallit from the Grey Dwarves. This was convenient, since they had been meaning to visit the Grey Mountains anyway. But first, they had to deal with the political implications from the Nelvahi experience.

After returning to the capital, they updated the king on these affairs. They told of Nelvahi and how Queso’s helmet was still getting them into trouble. At the mention of the helmet, out popped some magical short old woman, who offered to try to remove it for us. Queso knelt down so she could put her hand on either side of the helmet. Then she began to radiate a golden glow. Our not so good friend Dirren began speaking through Queso about how futile of an attempt this was… or at least that is what he started with. Then the woman started chastising him like a child and glowed even brighter. With a groan, Dirren’s voice left and the helmet fell off Queso’s head. After she stopped glowing, the woman informed the party that, although she couldn’t identify him directly, she could tell that the power behind the helmet was one of the Elven high patriarchs.

On the topic of the sea beasts and the reference to the old enemy, none in the king’s company knew anything off the top of their heads. However, there was a general recollection of a great war. While his sages began researching, the party decided it was time to put this God Iron to good use, and began preparations for their journey to the Grey Mountains. The remaining party who hadn’t secured a bank account did so, and the God Iron was retrieved from the Thunderlights. It was clear that the closest port to the Grey Mountains was back in Horizon, so off they went.

As they were pursuing the Horizon docks, they came across a very well dressed lady, who stuck out like a sore thumb among the dock workers. Hofniel decided that he must ask about her fashion, since he had not had much time to focus on his wardrobe since the adventuring began. They came to learn that the woman’s name was Sriracha Williams, and she was a fashion designer by trade. Sriracha was doing business on the continent, but was soon returning to her homeland of Tabasco. Hofniel and Queso were not going to let the opportunity of having a professional fashion designer slip through their fingers, so they hired her for their personal wardrobe. She agreed, and the party grew a little that day.

The party eventually met up with Miguel, an associate of Snergel. He gave a reasonable travel deal, so the party packed up and hauled off. The first day didn’t seem so bad, but then out of nowever, on the start of the first night, a sudden storm beset the ship. The waves and winds kept picking up in intensity until all hands were on deck trying to keep the ship. It rocked port to starboard in great ungulations. Miguel quipped that somebody must have upset a sea spirit or something… now who would have done a thing like that?

Soon, shapes could be seen emerging from the waters. They crawled up the side of the boat and onto the desk. They were slimy mer-creatures carrying crude spears. The party knew what must be done. They began the encounter with the creatures. But with the great heaves of the boat, half the time that the party tried to do something, they would end up slipping! (Although, the mer-creatures who’s main mode of transportation was swimming seemed fine on deck…) Hofniel immediately slipped, but was able to unleash the power of the mace. Gregor began his punching arrays, and Queso began making sushi: nasty, slimy, gorey sushi. Dobby summoned a shark that leapt into the water and began attacking the mer that were still in the waters. Elora shot out some magic missiles, and even Sriracha pitched in to fight the beast (she just happened to be a wizard).

Belladonna, trying to be bold, went to the starboard side of the boat to stop some of the newly landed mer. Unfortunately, as a halfling, she wasn’t too familiar with boats, and immediately slipped, opening herself up for some attacks. Even more unfortunate, she couldn’t get her footing right fell off the side of the boat! Down she tumbled into the waves with the mer creatures somewhere around her. She saw and felt a shape approach her, but as she was about to attack, she barely heard Dobby’s cry through the storm, “Grab onto the shark!” Indeed, it was the shark before her, and she was able to keep afloat by riding this terrifyingly majestic beast.

Things on the ship were going better, but not the best. By this time Hofniel had laid down a protection circle while Queso managed to drop more of the mer with the help of the wizards, but he had been injured a lot. When they had almost cleared the deck of the mer, a sailor cried that something big was in the water off the port side. This was most concerning for Belladonna, since the shape was approaching her side of the ship. With the help of some sailors, they were able to get Belladonna back on the boat.

Elora went to the edge of the ship to look down at the shape. Little did she know that this would open her up to a look much closer than she intended. Everyone turned as a giant crash came from starboard side. A giant armored fish leapt straight into the air, took a giant bite from Elora, and plunged back into the deeps (this fish was clearly cut out for Sea World). Elora was on the brink of death, but she wouldn’t let that stop her magic missiles from attacking. Queso and Hofniel shared a knowing gaze, and began their trademark Grande Queso Grande maneuver. Hofniel healed Queso, then soon after enlarged him. Queso then killed the mer he was engaged with and charged toward the edge of the boat. He performed a skewer dive: sort of like a swan dive, but he was holding his great sword in front of him and stabbed the beast, breaking off one of its armor plates.

The rest of the party worked on clearing the remaining mer from the ship while Hofniel went to heal Elora as well. Elora wasn’t even bothered with her closeness to death, and instead fried that fish with a scorching ray while Queso continued his battle with it in person. It would take giant bites from Queso, but he kept at it. The remaining mer were finally cleared, but not before Queso was on his last legs, and too far from Hofniel for healing. Then, Sriracha in all her glamour cast Glitter Dust on the fishy thing. It leaped from the water again, but with its eyes blinded, it narrowly missed Elora and dove back down. Everyone was firing everything they had at the beast, and eventually it died. The seas calmed down, and Hofniel vowed never to sail again.

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The Duchess of Lies
Unmasking the big bad, Scooby-Doo style

Having discovered the secret passage in the library, Elora and friends set out to gather everyone to delve inward and, hopefully, uncover more about the Duchess’s plight. Elora was able to wiggle through the crowds in the hall and, unsurprisingly, discover Queso and Heisenberg living it up at the bar, being fed drinks and find foods in celebration of their recent championship bout. Also unsurprisingly, Queso was drunk as as skunk, while Heisenberg was more moderate in his consumption. After (Not really) feigning the need to offload a massive amount of bowel content, the crowd cleared a path for Queso to do his business, with no one daring to follow, allowing for a discrete exit. They made their way down, with Gregor attempting to cover their absence, though he was soon swept away in a throng of admirers still eager for autographs. Meanwhile, the rest of the party descended down the passage, immediately noting the change in stonework, indicating the lower levels were much more ancient than the manor itself. Several small, empty cells, carved into the bare rock, indicated past use as a dungeon or prison of some kind. One of the cells contained the skeletal remains of…someone; in a tattered dress. Inspection by the very careful Belladonna revealed the fabric to be high quality, indicating nobility of some sort. Fearing the worst, she carefully investigated the cell, revealing the now familiar name “Nelvahi” carved into the wall in fingernail scratches. Thorougly creeped out, they boldly pushed forward, but not before Queso relieved himself in the very same cell, effectively defiling the place. As they moved forward, they discovered a small room with an altar, adorned with the stone-carved symbol of Pelor, with various lesser good deities, including Elven god Carellian Latherian. It was then that a low moaning sound became more prominent, and an apparition slowly made its way through the stone wall. The ghostly figure appeared to be a disheveled woman adorned in a gown, very much like that of Elspeth Sever. It did not speak, and so the brave Hofniel implored her, as the Duchess, to tell them how they could help her. She beckoned to him. Steeling himself, he followed the ghost, who gestured to a loose brick in the Pelorian altar, then vanished. Hofniel very, very carefully withdrew the loose stone, and reached inside, his hand both gauntlet clad and covered in the designated “nasty sack”….just in case. He withdrew several dried flowers, and a small magical disc with a sunburst carved upon it. They speculated as to what it was for, with Hofniel able to discern something about “truth” or “illuminate” from whispers in the darkness. They also noted two more exits at the back of the room, which Belladonna once again carefully inspected. One had the salty tang of sea air just barely drifting inward, while the other was dead silent.
The party entered the right passageway, stepping softly on the slick, ancient stones. It opened into a dank catacombs, with various bones interred in shelves and various sarcophagi lying about. On the far end, a cryptic riddle, barely legible, written in both an old human tongue and elvish, read: “Traitors in life, Servants in death, the faithless guard the faithful, speak reverently with every step.” Wisely interpreting this as a call to prayers, Hofniel invoked a number of memorized Pelorian hymns and such while the rest of them walked quietly deeper into the foreboding tomb. A large, partially opened sarcophagus showed a long-withered skeleton clutching a stone tablet. Hofinel, again with the greatest of care and utilization of the nasty sack, withdrew the tablet, reading it quietly. It made some mention of a “great nemesis” in the “still waters.” Whether it referred to their whatever water spirit they were dealing with, was difficult to say. He took a moment to inquire the other party members, breaking his prayers inadvertently. Almost immediately, bones of all types skittered across the floor to create a huge, monstrous amalgam of parts: a towering bone golem with three heads, attached to whipping spines, and a vicious looking bone flail clutched in one of its large, asymmetrical claws. The embarrassed cleric tried to recover some semblance of control by attempting a turning spell, which caused bones to peel off of the entity and reform as individual human skeletons, clawing at the far walls in their attempt to flee. The golem remained, and set upon them. Hofniel and Heisenberg took point, with Queso charging in with glee as he so often does. The ladies of the group, lacking testosterone poisoning clouding their judgement, realized they didn’t really have to engage the creature, moved to the exit, remaining within spell range. They provided magical support to the men, while the hideous construct tore at their flesh with its mighty flail, and snapped with its various heads. One such bite sunk into Queso’s meaty deltoid, instilling a magical fear that nearly drove him to flee the fight, but he held fast, albiet while quaking in terror. The fight was a prolonged give-and-take, blows exchanged, healing performed, and Elora calmly blasting it with spells. Eventually, Queso went in for a leaping kill strike, stabbing his own toe on the delivery, and falling INSIDE of the beasts immense, exposed rib cage. Completely losing his cool, our barbarian badass wet himself while flailing, grasping, kicking, and bashing in a wild panic. This had the serendipitous effect of dismantling the golem from the inside, sending bones flying all over. After giving Queso time to cool off, the group rummaged through the remaining effects, discovering a couple magical rings and a magical set of fingerless gloves. Satisfied that they had done all they needed to do here, the group healed up and headed back to the main portion of the mansion, nervously pondering just how they would take on this “Nelvahi.”  Using the scroll of true vision revealed the Duchess to be a horrifying, gnarled, heavy clawed haglike being with sharp teeth and sunken eyes that burned like embers…but only to Elora.  Their fears that the true Elspeth Sever was dead were cemented at that point. Much discussion later, they agreed that the old, Pelor’s crest amulet had something to do with neutralizing the awful creature’s powers, though they were entirely unsure as to how. Taking a chance, the heroes positioned themselves strategically in the ballroom-turned-arena that now had various nobles and admirers milling about. Queso and Heisenberg agreed upon a distraction: They began to shout and shove eachother, as if arguing over who was the REAL champion of the previous bouts. As weapons came out, the entire room was enthralled, including the “Duchess,” who leaned over the upper railing to observe with apparent glee at what certainly everyone believed would be an epic battle. While this was occurring, Belladonna utilized the group’s invisibility scroll and snuck up the stairway with the amulet, inching her way to the very creepy “Elspeth.” Taking a deep breath, she nimbly slipped the now thrumming amulet into the coat pocket of the leering creature. Immediately the amulet shattered and an orb of energy coursed in a globe around it, revealing the disgusting hag for what she was. The warriors immediately stopped their charade and together with Elora, pointed at the exposed monster for all to see. Hissing and seething with rage, the witch cast a fog in the hall, obscuring her movement from all…except Elora, whose scroll of true sight allowed her to track its movements as it leaped from the balcony and tore through the blind and bewildered crowd, tossing foppish nobles and guards out of her way with terrifying ease. She was stopped, briefly, by Heisenberg, who had placed himself strategically at the exit. Gripping the monster’s wrists, he held on for as long as he could in an attempt to prevent the hag from escaping, but it was sickeningly strong, eventually tossing even the stalwart fighter into a nearby wall. It was far from over however, as Dobby summoned a wolf to lash at the beast’s knotty calf, and Queso jumped in to tackle and slow the hag’s progress…which appeared to be directly toward the library, where the hidden exit through the bookshelf was. Elora instantly recognized what the hag was doing and called out to the guards to block the library, which they did with some confusion and reluctance. Nelvahi growled something about “getting you and your little dragon too” before drawing upon inner fey powers to bring an unnatural chill to the room, dropping the temperature at an astonishing rate. Everyone in the room suffered from the cold, aside from Queso, whose otherwise inconvenient helm provided cold resistance. Elora, nonplussed though shivering, took this opportunity to immolate Nelvahi with a powerful scorching blast, while Queso continued to hang on and stab with his greatsword as best he could. Screeching with pain, the witch tore Queso off her back, giving him the Evil Eye, which drained the brute of his epic strength….and removed her primary obstacle to escaping, aside from a few frozen guards. Hofniel, who had been attacking with his mace, realized how dire their situation was. Invoking an inner strength he had not called upon before, he, by the power of piety and Pelor, used divine magic to become (drumroll) The Incredible Hoff. Surging with this newfound, nearly superhuman strength, The Hoff dove to the fleeing hag and caught it in a bear hug, from which, despite desperate clawing and gnashing of teeth, even the diabolical witch could not escape. Indeed, the slashes Hoff received only seemed to increase his resolve, gaining even more advantage over the flailing foe. The rest of the party resumed their attacks on the grappled creature. Finally, Heisenberg, having shaken off his delirium after being tossed into a stone wall, made his way back, itching for revenge. With a disapproving frown, he drove his gleaming silver longsword deep into the heart of the beast, with black, brackish blood spilling out over the blade. He saw the life-force draining from its demonic eyes, as it hissed out its last hateful words…“They…will come for you..you…only delay…” Heisenberg was far from intimidated, snorting with contempt and a single “Shut it” before twisting the blade and drawing it back in one smooth motion, ending the killing blow. (Hofniel barely avoided being impaled himself with the hag in his grasp). The witch melted into a puddle of ghoulish ichor on the ground. The room warmed again, and the nearby crowds made their way into the hall, along with Bancroft the steward, who had witnessed part of the final fight. In a state of mixed relief, dismay, and shock, he praised the heroes, who had brought an end to a devious,ancient evil, awarding them all with honorary titles and gold.

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Party Crashers
And that includes more than just our heros...

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!

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Sneaking Into the Party

Having carted the bulk of the god iron to the safekeeping of Bob and Linda Thunderlight, the party made haste to Horizon, the city of Duchess Elspeth Sever. Upon arrival, and realizing they had but two days to come up with a plan to enter the Gala, they broke out into intense debate on the topic. Heisenberg recalled an old guard friend, Isaac, who happened to be stationed nearby, and sent an invitation to discuss the current state of affairs, to include possible guard post openings. They settled on the local tavern (of course) and, by the time our comrades arrived, Isaac was well into his cups. He beckoned Heisenberg over, and the two made small talk, with Hofniel attempting to gain some rapport by buying a round of drinks for Isaac and his acquaintances. He soon regretted this move, as many observing riffraff soon started clamoring to the shiny young noble for their own free drinks. While Hofniel shooed them away, Heisenberg managed to gain some useful information about the Gala. It seemed the Duchess was eschewing the traditional ballroom dancing for something far more exciting- a team based, double elimination gladiatorial style combat! It was non lethal of course, but the promise of large gold prizes enticed the warriors among the group, namely Queso, Gregor, and Heisenberg. As he could not simultaneously take a guard position and fight in the tourney, Heisenberg discussed with Hofniel, who agreed to try for the position in his stead, with Heisenberg’s seal of approval. Isaac recommended they approach the guard captain the following morning and attempt to get Hofniel a “job.”

The following day, everyone went about looking for potential ways into the Gala. Finding no other available jobs for the event other than kitchen scullery, Elora and Belladonna, with great apprehension, decided to go with the direct approach disguised as Black Fire mercenaries, invitations in hand. Dobby had no problem with getting her hands a little dirty, and opted to find work in the kitchens as a drudge. The fighting team applied under the group name “Slash n’ Smash” befitting their style. Hofniel and Heisenberg approached the dour captain to negotiate his way into a guard spot for the event. With Heisenberg’s good word and a bit of smooth talking (as well as fabricating a colorful resume on the fly), he was able to weasel his way into a spot near the upcoming combat.
On the day of the Gala, the group split up into the respective locations. The fighting trio made their way to the holding area next to the ballroom-turned-arena, where the other hopeful warriors prepared themselves. A bit of careful questioning led them discover the tournament favorite was one “Roland the Magnificent,” a large, plate armored, vain fellow, with a sterling record of arena victories all over Erath. Heisenberg and Queso, of course, made faces at him in the prep room which Roland stiffly ignored. The undercover femme fatales went in through the front gate, into the lush gardens, abundant with rare and exotic flora from all over the continent. In the center was a beautiful statue of a woman wreathed in a silver-leaf tiara. Trying to be as incognito as possible, the two slunk carefully to the front door, only to be brusquely accosted by a black-armored, rugged boar of a man, who they quickly learned was Lord Vorn Gell, whose holdings were within the Duchess’ purview. He immediately recognized their Black Fire adornments and demanded proper respects. Having read in advance, they hastily preformed the Black Fire salute. Vorn growled his questions, curious as to why the “knife-eared creep” Dirren Kas had not come himself, to which the increasingly nervous two mumbled something about being recently assigned to the area, effectively pleading ignorance. Displeased but convinced, he switched topics to that of an upcoming supply drop to Fort Overwatch on the Eastern coast, declaring in no uncertain terms that they were to defend it at all costs he would have their heads. Nodding and saluting vigorously, the ladies were finally able to extricate themselves from the brutish fellow and move on into the foyer. The inside was bustling with lords, ladies, and other well-to-do types. A few careful glances around doorways revealed Duke Torvald, bedecked in new, wyvern-hide finery, at the bar with a less than cheerful affect that seemed to clash with his usual gaudy appearance. On the other end of the room, wherein all manner of delicious hors d’oeuvres were being served, sat none other than their old friend Snergle Snodbottom from their first adventure, engaging in conversation and general merrimaking. A peek into the library revealed Duke Finn Garland, who seemed to be avoiding the crowds by poking around for a good book. Moving into the arena, they saw the Duchess herself, attired in a deep lavender dress, standing on the indoor balcony that surrounded the open area space. She seemed to spot them with uncanny precision, smiling and waving the up. Already jittery, and having no idea what the Duchess could possibly want, they made their way up. She greeted them amicably, asking them if the elven mage she had been expecting was among them. Quickly, albeit in a stammering tone, Elora volunteered that she was indeed the mage they had sent for, to which Elspeth asked for a demonstration of her magic. Flustered, our courageous wizard decided to burn her invisibility spell, making Belladonna fade in and out before their eyes. This seemed to mightily please the Duchess, who dropped hints that she might be interested in a long term working relationship with Black Fire, provided they could continue to prove themselves useful to her. She suggested they bring her a few odds and ends, namely a manticore tail and a ghost mushroom (known to only grow in deep mines, she noted), as further evidence that they meant business. They hastily agreed and headed back to the main level, just in time to watch the first round of the tournament, featuring Queso, Heisenberg, and Gregor as “Slash n’ Smash” vs. the blandly named “Tough Guys,” who, as the name suggested, did indeed appear to be a stout group of warriors. Their battle was intense, but not terribly epic; nonlethal rules prevented any deaths, and victory was had by our steadfast trio with some orthodox smashing and slashing, until the other team was either unconscious or to battered to continue. The group nursed their superficial injuries in the prep room in anticipation of the next round. What Dobby had been doing this entire time, remained to be seen…

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Strange Creatures near some Strange Metal
There is such a thing as TOO much magic

After returning from the unsuccessful rescue attempt, the team found that they had just enough time to visit the speculative location of some God Iron before they went to the party. Hofniel hired a local worker to mine the ore for them, and proper storage was also acquired. The journey to the beach was uneventful, probably because this region was guarded by Bob and Linda Thunderlight. In any case, they quickly came to the spot.

When they were still some distance away, the adventurers could see, wedged between a steep cliff and the ocean was a blackened, sooty crater in the beach. The party left the hired hand with the horses and cart while the rest of the party departed on foot toward the crater. As they got closer to the crater, suddenly Elora saw a shimmering appear directly in front of Hofniel. With Elora’s warning, Hofniel was able to avoid having Pelor’s Radiance snatched from his hand by the arm that materialized in thin air! However, he wasn’t quick enough to stop the arm from quickly redirecting and snatching his silver tongue amulet.

After the initial shock, the party could see the creature before them… and what a sight it was! It stood on a single leg with a large foot. In its torso region was a large mouth a small eyes. Four spindly arms with long bony fingers sprouted from the torso. After it successfully grabbed the amulet, it used its other arms to being some hand signs and it began to shimmer again. Dobby was quick to daze the creature and the shimmering diminished. Hofniel cast detect magic, which was not extremely effective since the whole area was glowing with magic, including the creature before them. Queso ran forward and grappled the beast, pinning two of its arms down. Hofniel and Gregor both lunged forward and secured an arm each while Belladonna snuck behind the creature and retrieved the amulet.

For some reason, Elora felt pity for this creature as it tried to escape. After a short time, the party discovered that the creature could understand common but could not speak it. With some effort they learned that the creature had followed them to this location and that it really liked shiny things. They found out that it knew that there were two creatures with some sort of appendages that were in the crater. The party still had it pinned down, but it had stopped struggling and had yet to attack. Feeling pity for it, they told it that they were going to battle in the crater, gave it a gold coin, and released it. It waved at the party, made some arcane gestures, and disappeared into thin air.

The sneaky members of the party tried to get a visual on the creatures, but they couldn’t make anything out without going into the open. Hofniel detected two flickering magic auras, but only for a moment before they darted behind the meteor. Not knowing any other option, they party decided to charge in! When their threat became apparent to the creatures in the crater, they lunged out and attacked the party. These beasts looked almost like two black, emaciated jaguars but with long pincer talon-like appendages coming out of their backs.

Queso charged forward and attacked the closest one while Hofniel enlarged Heisenberg. Dobby summoned vines to entangle the farther one and Elora flung magic missiles at the first one. Queso was strengthened by Hofniel and continued his barrage. Gregor tried firing from a distance, with little to no success. Even with Hofniel and Queso’s mighty blows, the first creature still remained alive while inflicting heavy blows of its own against Queso. Dobby then started rolling a flaming sphere on the entangled creature before Elora summoned 3 monstrous centipedes to nibble on the first creature. With all this, the FIRST one finally fell.

By this time, the second one had freed himself from the vines and charged the party. Gregor moved into range and, with a clever feint, landed a sizeable blow. Dobby summoned a hippogriff to join the fray while the centipedes crawled over to it. Heisenberg, in his battle mindset, charged forward, even though it was over his own teammates. Hofniel move was able to keep his footing, but Queso was caught unaware and was flung to the ground. Hofniel hurried to heal the extremely wounded Queso while the remainder of the party whittled away at the second one. The battle drew on, but with a ridiculous flurry of blows from the Hippogriff, the second creature was also felled.

Now that the adrenaline had died down, Hofniel realized how gory and disgusting the scene was, especially with the centipedes eating the remains. He promptly found a clean place to lose his lunch. When he righted himself again, he returned to the cart to find the hired hand, but he was nowhere to be seen, the spineless coward! Thus, Hofniel did the next best thing and gave Queso the pick. The work was slow, but with Hofniel’s supervision the storage chests began to slowly fill with the ore.

As mining progressed, Elora decided that this time was as good as any to find a familiar. She walked a few steps away and began the ritual. At first, there was nothing. Then, she heard a voice in her head (which wasn’t one of the normal ones. Just kidding). The voice asked if she was nice and would care for it, to which she replied yes. They then began having a conversation. The strange thing was that Elora was talking out loud while listening to the conversation in her head. The entire party was looking at her, and then smoothly a small flying lizard of some type swooped down on her shoulders. Hofniel, ever the gentleman, reached for his mace, careful walked over, and told Elora to stand still: there was some beast on her shoulder. As he advanced however, the small lizard coughed some pink cloud in his face and he immediately fell asleep. Elora was happy with this development.

Thus the party recovered all the ore, loaded it and Hofniel on the cart, and rode off with their new friend (a psuedodragon).

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