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!