Adventures in Thargothras

Session 11
Out of the darkness

Neriday, Quintar 8, 930

After resting outside the dungeon, and hiding the loot they had gathered thus far, the party returned to the south entrance and made their way back to the room in which they had slain the goblin-wraiths, from which they headed north. Joshua found another hidden treasure inside a giant statue of a snake. They kept marching north, into a room with an open pit, a giant suit of animate armor, and a few bugbear zombies, which were dispatched efficiently. They explored a secret door on the south wall of this new room and discovered, to everyone's surprise but Skyler (who had scouted this room already), a magic circle containing a glowing skeleton:


Allen summoned a badger to explore the room to test for traps. When the badger was unharmed, he commanded it to fetch a bone from the skeleton. The moment the skull left the inner circle, Alad appeared through the door and initiated a parley. After some long negotiations, a bargain was struck. The party could help themselves to the rest of the treasure in the dungeon, and the undead within the rooms would not attack them, even if attacked themselves. Allen would stay inside the circle at Alad's mercy as insurance, and a few of the party members would carry some of Alad's bones as insurance as well. The mutual trust turned out to benefit everyone, and the party gathered thousands of gold pieces' worth of gold and silver, as well as a few trophies, and the gear from previous adventurers. The wraiths were dealt with as well. When the party returned to make good on their end of the bargain, they removed all of the bones at once, allowing Alad to break free of the tethers trapping him inside his manse. His new flesh coalesced around his bones, and he was reborn as a bodak, his spellcasting ability intact, but his power over his environment lost. Alad and the party waited until sundown (during which treasure was distributed, and Vaelin was cured of his mummy rot using the scrolls bought at the Cloister), discussing his future plans and accepting their request for help in dealing with the shambling mounds created by the recently opened bleed gate to the south. In return, the tower would be explored, cleared of any traps or guardian monsters, and Alad could live inside of it unmolested, so long as he didn't revert to his ways of necroturgy and diabolical pacts. He made short work of the creatures, and after some struggle to find a suitable entrance, treasure was found and distributed, and the party had time to explore. It was strongly speculated, based on the color scheme and some of the treasure found, that the tower belonged to Shi-Domas or one of his favored servants.

The session ends on the morning of the 9th.


Karmic adjustments:
+1 karma to Allen for allowing himself to be used as collateral for the safety of his friends, bringing his score to 17
Erosia remains at 10
Felicity remains at 10
+2 overdue karma to Joshua for spending so much downtime helping his allies instead of working on his own interests, bringing his score up to 6.
+1 karma to Seralyn for destroying the wraiths on their own terms and letting them keep their dignity, bringing her total to 17
+1 overdue karma to Skyler for risking his life scouting the dungeon alone, bringing his score to 10.
Vaelin remains at 11

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Trial by file

Joysday, Sextar 27th, 924. The Cloister.

The young woman excitedly marched through the white marble halls, just careful enough not to scuff the thick burgundy carpet that seemed to lead him onward. Under her arm, just visible under her over-loose robes, given to her only hours prior by one of the senior staff members, was a scroll case. This was her first task as a new scribe, to deliver this scroll case to the office of Thomasine Marshall, as instructed by none other than Cecily Coke herself. She arrived at the door, which was plainer than she expected, and spent a few seconds more than she meant to deciding how and where to knock, how many times, and whether that was a part of her first impression that would actually matter.

Three short knocks later, a voice from within called "It's open." The young woman squared her shoulders, smiled wide, and entered. The office was dark, with a high ceiling, lit by a single tiny window at least twenty feet above her head. The side and back walls were filled with shelves, and the shelves were filled with leather and wood boxes. Blue boxes, brown boxes, green boxes, and a single red one high up on a shelf, visible above a stack of paper to the right. Dust hung in the air, highlighted in a white shaft of sunlight from the window. Behind a desk, her face obscured by a stack of dusty books, was, one could only hope, Ms Marshall. Her shoulders, graced by long, straight, brown-gold hair, were visible, and she was wearing the traditional red and grey vestments in veneration to Satcotaar as a member of his Exemplars. After an uncomfortable silence, she closed her book and leaned over to peer quizzically at her visitor.

"What's your name? I don't remember meeting you."
"Grace, miss. I'm one of the new scribes this year, and let me just say I am so honored to meet-"
"Grace? Grace!" Thomasine interrupted. Grace stopped talking, visibly startled. "…Thank you, but I don't need the formalities right now. What do you have under your arm that is so urgent?"
"Oh, sorry miss. Miss Coke gave me a file for you and said it had to do with your hobby, miss. I-"
"Please, Grace, we are not at war, I am not your commanding officer, you do not need to say 'miss' in every sentence. We are not so formal at this institution as you have been led to believe."
"Oh, I'm sorry, mi- ahem. I… I was told to give you this file a-and I-"
"Grace." Thomasine interrupted again, this time with a dollop of resignation dressing her voice. "Don't apologize, you're not in trouble, I just want to know if that file is what I think it is and I don't want you wasting your breath calling me 'miss' over and over. Call me Marshall or nothing, the latter preferred and by the gods quit standing there quivering and hand me the damn tube!"
Grace complied before she knew she'd been ordered. 
"Sit, Grace."
Grace obeyed, plopping herself onto the nearest chair, which was off to the side of Ms Marshall's desk and angled to face perpendicular to both the door to the office and the desk Ms Marshall sat behind. The arms of the chair, a fine lacquered pine once polished to a shine, were dusty from disuse. Had Grace been more observant, she might have noticed a book-sized rectangle on the seat cushion that the dust had left untouched.
Thomasine eyed the novice scribe, taking in the oversized robe, the tense smile, the fear in the young woman's eyes, which were pointed straight forward at the shelves on the side wall. Then she turned back to the scroll case, untied the string, popped the end open and reached inside. As she unfurled the pages of this new document, she frowned. "Do you know what this is, Grace?"
"I was told only that it had to do with a hobby of yours."
"Are you nervous, Grace?"
"…Yes, Marshall."
"Don't be nervous. You have much to learn about how we do things here, and the first lesson is this: Formality is for visitors. Satcotaar's beard, there's a naked man walking around here somewhere, and he outranks you even more than I do. Loosen up. The second lesson is that as a scribe you are but a pawn among our office holders until proven otherwise. Better that you here it right away before you start developing delusions of personal agency. For instance, did you think they gave you the wrong robe by accident? They didn't. It's a joke aimed at me, and she'll regret it, because I'm already thinking of a way to get back at her."
"But a man gave me this robe!"
"I'm sure he did, but he doesn't make mistakes, and he knows that following an order without question from her is a good career move. Now take these and put them on the desk behind you." Thomasine handed Grace the documents from the tube. Grace looked at the title page. Blood and Fire, a compilation of songs written of the most villainous Red Reaver. She looked at the desk, and saw that the stacks of paper on top of it were taller than the desk itself. She stifled a gasp, and without thinking, turned to face Thomasine, who was glaring in her direction. Had Grace been more observant, she would have seen that Thomasine was glaring past her at the desk, but instead she was more nervous than before.
"Wait, I've got it." said the Exemplar. "Do you have any other assignments today?"
"I, er, I don't think so." mumbled Grace.
"Well then, congratulations." answered Thomasine, in a tone that was anything but congratulatory. If anything, it should have called to mind the tone of a judge passing sentence after a defendant had accidentally confessed to several crimes in an attempt to profess their innocence of a misdemeanor. "You're getting promoted to my personal assistant. You're not going to be used against me for a very long time, and you can help me with the stuff on that desk. It's all Red Reaver stuff. See that box?" She pointed at the red box Grace had seen before, still visible on the shelf. "That's what I had when I moved in. That's my hobby. The rest is people trying to help. You're going to go through it and separate the unique manuscripts from the duplicates, and place them in two stacks. Here," she said, pushing past her new assistant and pulling two drawers completely out of the desk. "use these until I find some better boxes for you to use. I don't care if this takes you a year and a half to sort and another five to fact-check it all, as long as you keep working, and you keep working for me. And no, this isn't a punishment, it's for your own good, because as long as you stay busy, you're immune to all of our stupid politicking, and trust me, sister, this is not a game you want to start playing until you know all the rules, all the players, and who's on what team. Pull up that chair and sit down. Forget everything you know about the Red Reaver, because you're going to learn more than you ever thought there could be. And it's all very difficult to verify, because most of the knowledge we collect here is about interaction between mortals and the gods, and the gods with each other, and the Red Reaver didn't do a lot of interacting with any god, even Satcotaar or Nerith. I'm only interested in him as a war historian. So, as this project goes on, if you need to check a date, check a fact, anything, you'll have to go down to the archives, or look through the Canon, or even sift through the Apocrypha until you can confirm or refute what you've just read. By the time we're done with this, you'll know this building's libraries better than the overseers themselves. Oh, and it'll be difficult, because there are as many stories about the Red Reaver as there are about ghosts, demons, and brave young knights in shining armor, and since he's older than the Age of Chaos, half of them are next to impossible to disprove. Do what you can, and we'll thank each other later. And -" Thomasine paused to squint at Grace. "…Hold on, have you asked the question yet?"
"What question?"
"The question everybody asks when they start working here. About the old building."
"Oh, um. No, I didn't. What happened to it? Was one of the gods angry about something you wrote?"
"That's a popular story, and it's really easy to see why, but that really wasn't it."
"What was it?" asked Grace, not hiding any curiosity.
Thomasine leaned down, her lips barely an inch from Grace's ear. "What I heard is that the Acorn tried to kick a scribe out of the building for insubordination, but missed and kicked the wall instead, and it cracked the building in half. I believe it, too. The might of the gods, even a fraction of it, is a powerful thing, Grace. Now," she said, straightening her posture. "I recommend you start with the short stack in the corner." she continued, pointing her finger at a foot-thick stack of vellum. "We've a long day ahead of us."


Decades later, as she finished her tenure as Chief Document Age Verifier, Grace still remembered that day as the hardest she'd ever worked in her life.

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Session 10
Almost Done-geon

More rooms were cleared of the vile undead, Alad made no appearances, and a new safe room was found. In addition, two more wraiths (former adventurers) were found.

One wraith, a former dwarf named Simon, asked that his remains be buried in Silverhold, and explained a loophole in his commands that let him interact peacefully with the rest of the party. As a parole officer, he knew how rules could be worked around, and had decided to interpret "guard this cavern" as "keep the stone walls from getting dry rot," allowing him autonomy unless commanded otherwise. 

The other wraith, a former elven archer named Aivar, appeared resigned and despairing, and only asked that the party not provoke him to violence. His body still had some great treasures on it, and so a few party members have equipment upgrades.

Near the end of the session, the party decided to gather the treasure from the rooms they'd cleared of monsters, and hide it miles away outside the dungeon. They have also decided to take another long rest, also outside the dungeon. The adventure will continue on the morning of Neriday, Quintar 8.

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Ivideme's Bronze

Excerpt from the Song of the Godforge, verse 11-16, as translated from Indosaian (Circa 497 AC) by Serben Vey in 912 AC for the use of the Cloister:


And on the plains the monsters dwelt,
Congregating in their herds to hunt the people.
And also on the plains dwelt the beast-men,
Hatred for the cities did fill their hearts.
Death came to the farms by beastly claws,
The King1 was made to know, and saw
The danger to all who lived between the mountains and river2
And prayed for the preservation of his people

For ten days and eleven nights the King prayed
To each god and all for deliverance from savagery
On the eleventh day he visited the priests,
To ask if the gods had heard his cries for help
Most had nothing to say, and hid their faces in shame
The King implored the priests of Satcotaar for guidance
But they only spoke against each other
Only one met the King's gaze and prophesied

"By Ivideme's command, you must build a forge
Eight sides shall it have, in the shape of your bed3
Each side ten times the length of an ox.
These will be lined with the molds for your blades.
In the center, a crucible of Obectian Stone4
More instruction will follow these words
Soon you will have swords for an army
To drive out the monsters that harry your kingdom"

The King thanked the priest, and gave praise to Ivideme
He promoted the priest to oversee the construction
The priest accepted, but gave a dire warning
"Ivideme's boon has a price and a cost5;
Two lives must be taken for each batch of bronze.
The first a monster anathema to order
the second a hero and scholar must be
Their blood in the metal shall carry her blessing."

The King swooned with horror at this revelation
Was his salvation worth death for his finest?
His armies to purge his kingdom of chaos
But the greatest among them lost forever?
"How can we replace our heroes if we kill them?
None will rise up without fear of the furnace!"
But the priest said "The whole of the kingdom is greater,
and a true hero fears no death that saves others."

"Bound to the metal, mortals no longer
The graves of the heroes will become their bodies
Protecting the honorable from the claws of the beasts
and cleaving the flesh of the enemies of knowledge."
The words of the priest moved the King's lungs6
He commanded that the foundation be built the same day
and the priest oversaw as it was built
And during his sleep the workers rested7


 

1) It is believed that this refers to King Trevess II, based on date and other indicators in the text. Any information supporting that this refers to King Lorien IV must be regarded as apocryphal. The origin of this divergence can be traced to the play "A Hero's Blood" by Muso Maya, which uses the same events but replaces the historical persons with fictionalized versions of the more popular historical characters from the same country of origin. The details in these and other verses are evidence that the events of this poem take place 68 years before the birth of the oldest character in that play. 
2) This line refers to the Eulum range and the Aqueras river, the national borders of Indosaia at the time.
3) According to artistic representations, King Trevess II's bed was octagonal. Artistic representations of the Godforge from that time confirm the same shape, lending further credence against Muso Maya, who correctly depicts the Godforge as octagonal, but replaces the bed with an octagonal table in his version. The bed is never mentioned or displayed in the play.
4) The "Obectian Stone" refers to violet or green jade, or a mixture of those colors. The stone was typically imported into Indosaia from Obectia, and is known to have a much higher melting point than bronze while staying physically strong. Natually, the purchase of a block large enough to serve as crucible for the Godforge was recorded by both nations, helping to accurately date the events of the epic.
5) A note in translation: While these words have similar meanings in our tongue, the words in the primary source are Vehk and Mishal, which I have translated to Price and Cost respectively, and have distinctly different meanings that are difficult to translate to Viridonian. "Cost" (Mishal) means the resources required to create something, and here refers to the cost of building the forge. "Price" (Vehk) means a person's end of a pact or bargain, typically an abstract or otherwise non-monetary boon or sacrifice.
6) The Indosaians of old believed that emotions resided in the lungs, and so use this symbol where we would use the heart.
7) This line, if interpreted through the context of Indosain law, reflecting the belief that supervised labor is the product of the taskmaster rather than the laborer (the law forbids punishing a laborer for shoddy work unless the labor was unsupervised), here is taken to mean that the work was perfect under the priest's supervision.

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Session 9
More dungeon

The party decided to do some forward exploration, and, not liking what they saw, decided to backtrack and discover other rooms. After a couple of tense fights, and some more exploration, they drew the direct attention of Alad, and had a brief taunting match with him. In the end, to save some time in the future, they loaded up Skyler with some stealth and perception enhancing spells and items, and sent him to scout all rooms not sealed off by locked or trapped doors. Most of the dungeon was mapped due to Skyler's cartography skills, and the locations of treasure (and therefore guardian monsters) are now known, though the kind of monster could be changed as Alad shuffles them between rooms. Allen has also come up with a plan to draw Alad out of hiding and force his hand to empty some of the rooms of monsters into the sunlit room for a large confrontation.

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A dragon's due
and a missing crone

Quintar 6, somewhere near the Blackwyrm Mire.

It was not customary for Wicked Peggy Knucklebones to be so late on her delivery, mused Durvininth. His mate, Indryrth, was quite frustrated, and had sent him to find the hag to make sure she was still holding to their bargain. He was supposed to have every other skeleton that came her way, and since the accident, he was down to ten. It was enough to polish the treasure or his and his mate's scales, but not both, and a dragon with dull scales simply wouldn't do. What if they were to have a visitor? Or be happened upon while hunting? The embarrassment and indignation! Of course, right now it would do. He would use the anger from his dull scales to frighten her and demand two out of every three from now on, just for being late on her delivery. She would be made to cower before him, half-polished scales and all, and remind her why he allowed her to live in his marsh at all. It didn't matter who she worked for. It didn't matter who she worked with. It was his (and Indryrth's) marsh, and her hovel existed at his convenience. As he approached her impressively large mud-hut (with a raised walkway, no less), he noted none of the usual smells that accompanied her presence. No smoke, no stink of sweat, no lizard-meat boiling, no scent of heated iron. It was as if she hadn't even returned. Durvininth took a smaller form, in order to fit through the doorway of her home. It was similar in shape to a werewolf, but black and scaly, to remain frightening and recognizable. Satisfied with the result, he stepped up the stairs and along the walkway to the curtain of rough leather and strung bones she used in place of a door, and flung it to the side. "PEEEEGGYYYYYYYYY!" he roared.

But the hag was nowhere to be seen. Only a pair of little skeletons, one patching the ceiling, one sweeping the wooden slats that served as a floor, resting half-embedded in the clay foundation. A third entered behind him and set a stack of freshly chopped wood onto an already oversized rack. Durvininth looked around the room in bemusement. She should be back by now. He could hardly go out looking for her with his appearance so tarnished, so that was out. And if she'd moved away, she'd have taken all her things with her, wouldn't she? Unless…

Durvininth recited an incantation he'd had the fortune to learn long ago, and the three skeletons in the room jerked to attention. He commanded them, first in draconic, and when they failed to respond, in the local human tongue, to follow him. Three by three, he found the rest, and after a couple more recitations, they were all under his control. Saying nothing else, he walked home, skeletons in tow. It would help to have a few extra hands, barring more accidents, but eventually he'd need to replace them again, and who knew how long it would take to get a new supplier? He hoped his mate would be pleased enough with his haul to overlook that and not destroy half of them in a fit of rage when he told her the hag had gone and her location a mystery. For all her wits, Indryrth did not like mysteries, puzzles, or brain-teasers. Her intellect was mostly used to compose angsty poetry and cruel traps for trespassers. At least for the time being, he would finally be able to have his scales polished along with hers and the treasure, so that would be nice. Perhaps once his scales were shiny enough, he'd retrace her steps to her meeting place and piece it all together from there….

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Session 8
Clerics. curses, and confections

We began on Pasaday, Quintar 5, having safely arrived at the Cloister after a few castings of Mount by Allen. They were greeted at the door by one Denys Bell, the primary overseer of the Cloister. After confirming that the party was not present to deliver goods or documents, but to spend money on spellcasting services, he ushered them inside and eagerly volunteered to make themselves comfortable and maybe visit the gift shop, where they could find holy water, alchemical plagues, and chocolate edi-bibles, among other things. Skyler was cured of his curse by Leonard Sadler, and of his disease by Humphrey Curteys. Seralyn bought a weapon augment crystal to help her destroy the denizens of the dungeon on their return. Seralyn also met with her old pen pal Andrew Hache, who invited her to initiate herself into all of the churches at once under the loose employment of the Cloister, to be given missions at its discretion while gaining the membership benefits and responsibilities of the divine organizations. After speaking a little more, and a stimulating conversation with Nathaniel Leventhorp about the merits of indoor nudity, the party left and headed back to the Black Dungeon to slay more undead and free some trapped spirits.

On the night of their return, they decided to sleep outside to regain their magic and for Erosia to recover from a case of Coward's Mark. That night, Seralyn was visited by another divine vision, this time from Nerith instead of Ortrul, urging her to leave some of the spirits and undead in the dungeon unmolested, but she refused, having already given her word to Ortrul that the dead would be put to rest. In exchange for excusing her defiance, Nerith conditioned that she give all healing priority to the party's arcane casters unless death for another was imminent. The bargain struck, she awoke and the party further prepared the sunlit room to be used as a base of operations within the dungeon as Erosia fought the fungal infection. Days later, when they were ready, they fought their way to another mummy room, this one containing the statue they sought, as well as a fountain full of negative energy-infused water.

The session left off there, on the morning of Quintar 7th.

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The foreigner
and his proposal

Pasaday, Quintar 5, 4:38 p.m., the office of the Baron of Heslan.

Sir Talair Wersil raised his glass to his lips to take another sip of wine, but hesitated as he locked eyes with his visitor, who politely smiled back. Only days ago, he'd gotten a letter requesting an audience, from a name he didn't recognize. Thinking it a scheme, but having nothing better to do, he agreed to an appointment today. Now that he'd had some time to chat with this "Lord Vincent," he'd also had time to discreetly study his appearance and mannerisms. So far, the ruse was convincing. The young man (young for a half-elf, at any rate, but he may well have been in his forties the way they aged) was dressed in appropriate finery, gold and aquamarine, well-maintained, though perhaps outdated by ephemeral human fashion standards. He moved and spoke with the affectations of a man used to luxury and had all but ignored the servants as they brought refreshments, taking a wineglass and caviar from the tray without addressing them. Thanking them was usually the tell Sir Wersil looked for. When he smiled, his mouth was closed, but when he spoke it was clear he had perfect teeth, a rare trait for a criminal or beggar. The baron put the glass back down and furrowed his rather hirsute brow, while leaning ever so slightly forward. He spoke in a low, gravely voice, and a subtly condescending tone. This was, after all, his place of power, however temporary it might be.

"Well, enough small talk, I suppose. Exactly why did you make this appointment? I do not regularly meet with foreigners, noble or not, but I assure you, if you are here to test my loyalty to the crown you will not find me wanting. I know the reputation of those who have sat in this chair before me, but I am not a man to be bought."

"Oh, not at all, not at all." chirped the visitor, his black curls bouncing over his pale face as he shook his head. "I don't think I could afford you, anyway. No, I'm here because I think we can both give assistance for each other's problems."
 The Baron of Heslan remained silent, but the end of his mustache twitched momentarily. He raised an eyebrow, and leaned backwards, almost sitting upright. His visitor took this as a sign to continue.

 "I am offering an end to some of your local problems. I understand you have an issue with bandits extracting tolls from travelers on the Old Road as it passes through the Vastwood to Radimyr. I mean no offense, but I have spoken to some of your employees and I happen to know you've sent at least four regiments to flush them out, and all have come back empty-handed, before you – and correct me if I'm wrong about this – gave up? Somehow these forest-dwellers are infiltrating your city and spending their ill-gotten gains. They disrespect the crown, they make a joke of your soldiers, and they subvert your authority by extorting travelers under the guise of keeping them safe on the roads – your job, if I'm not mistaken. I have a simple plan to take care of them, and permanently, but I've only told a few trusted members of my staff. You could say it was your idea, if you like. With the bandits gone, put to better use, you could take the road back. People are already used to paying for its use, so it would be a simple matter to set up a tollbooth and tax them legitimately. Have a few soldiers patrolling to keep the road safe. You'd have a show of power, and all of the coinage would be guaranteed to come back here to Highridge. And that's only a start. I'm sure that you have other problems that need solving, and in return for what I ask, I'd be happy to assist."
Sir Wersil nodded, and reached for his wineglass again. This time, he drank deeply, and licked the drops from his thick mustache. He set the glass down with some force, not enough to break it, but enough to be heard. When he spoke, his voice was louder, and his condescension far less subtle than before.

"And how do you intend to succeed where my officers and soldiers have failed? Do you own a mercenary company? Do you bargain with fell powers, or command the might of the gods? Are you wealthy enough to buy them out, or do you think you can capture one and torture the location of their camp out of them, which has been tried more times than I can readily recall to no benefit? And more pertinently, what exactly do you want in return? You say you can solve my problems better than I can, so you clearly think quite highly of yourself and your abilities. What could I possibly do for you that you cannot do for yourself?" By this point, Sir Wersil had risen to full upright posture, and the inch or so of height he had over the young foreigner may as well have been a foot or more. Sir Wersil was a man who knew how to take advantage of physicality during negotiations, and though the half-elf was tall by human standards, the Baron's seat was higher-set, and positioned before a window so that a shadow was cast upon his guest. Confident that he had sufficiently chastised the stranger, he sneered and waited for the usual stuttering of a con-man called out on a boast. But the young stranger only smiled and blinked before responding.

"I want an alliance. You, Baron Wersil, have the political clout that I lack and need. I understand you think me an impostor, because you are a shrewder man than your predecessors likely were. That is forgivable, because we both know that I am not listed in any of your heraldry books, which I can explain by having been stripped of rank many years ago. Though I suppose if you were to borrow some older editions than the ones you brought here, the County of Narsiik in Estardana, where I was born and raised as a nobleman, may still be mentioned, before it was subsumed into the neighboring duchy of Brevil. I am, you might say, a political exile, sadly due to no fault of my own, but I digress. I have been left with a large sum of money, which has diminished as I require the services of a retinue of servants and guards, To slow my descent into poverty, I have made use of my extensive education to take a couple of apprentices. I still have my collection of books and clothing, a carriage to store them in, and horses to pull it, but no land to speak of, which I find unbefitting to my bloodline. What I am asking from you is your help in raising my station to where it should be, to reclaim my family's wealth, honor, and power. And power, as you know, is built on alliances." Lord Vincent broke eye contact, and shifted his gaze to the window, sights and voice growing distant. "I would speak to your king and queen and request a claim to land just beyond the borders of their kingdom, just south between Heslan and Radimyr, including Swordbreaker Pass, and a portion of the Battlefield of Iron Dreams. Such rich plains would make ideal farmland, if one had a fiefdom and serfs to make use of it. I have neither, and cannot discuss such a matter without one of the barons of dukes of your fine kingdom to vouch for me. Naturally, I would not ask for you to put your honor on the line without doing you a favor in return, hence my offer to rid you of your bandit problem, among other things. Also, I'll be making the same request of your neighbor, Baroness Zelcir. I've a similar offer for her, and I've sent a messenger to arrange things so that we meet her on the road. Presumptuous, I know, but I knew that if you refused my offer, I'd just send another messenger with my apologies. So, Baron… shall we make some history?"

It was a lot to take in, but Sir Wersil did his best to feign nonchalance through a couple of genuine laughs. "Oh, is that what you wanted? Usually I get requests to keep someone's nephew in the nicer barracks or out of jail, or some beggar trying to cheat me out of a large sum of money, but this is the first time anyone's proposed an arrangement like this. I'll admit I'm interested, but still – you haven't told me exactly how you were going to take care of those bandits. Was one of my guesses correct?"

The young Lord Vincent hadn't lost his smile. "Sorry, nothing so sinister. No gods or fell powers, no army of mercenaries, though a good noble never leaves home without a handful. I don't know if there is enough money in the world to truly and permanently buy the loyalty of a common thief. And I don't believe in torture. But I do employ a few spies with a knack for persuasion. I'll share the details with you after we meet the king. I'm not in the habit of showing my hand this early in negotiations."

"I see. Well then, I'll make arrangements for travel immediately. I trust you are prepared for the road?"

"But of course, Lord Baron. I'm always ready for anything."

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Session 7
Enter the Black Dungeon

On Neriday, Quartar 28, while returning from the Jorba's cabin with Rose Tabard in tow, the party finds themselves with several members having fallen ill, and spends some time in Erosia's hospital under quarantine. Joshua, being the only member with a completely clean bill of health (having been least exposed to the inside of the cabin), is able to go to Madame Raleigh's Distillery to procure all seven antiplague vials in stock. It is days before everyone has recovered, but Vaelin recovers early and Skyler, like Erosia, shows no symptoms. While Audreyn takes the longest to recover from Bubonic Plague, Seralyn stays and heals ability damage, Erosia administers to the sick, and Skyler oversees the ongoing construction of his labyrinth. Felicity, after she recovers, is able to continue with her business as well. Allen, for the most part, confines himself to his observatory to check on the current threat levels. The Horde is in the lead, at Rank 6. Something must be done soon to deter open war.

Once well, Vaelin reports to Gabriel Button on the status of the rescued girl and the interrogation of Wicked Peggy Knucklebones (the green hag). Gabriel brings up that Lusitania, a famous elven witch-hunter was recently in the village, and after some discussion, they suspect that Lusitania is an alias for Jorba. After searching the archives for instances of hag-related activity and the Hearthfires' records of visitors for the last couple of decades, they confirm their suspicions.

On Felsday, Quintar 2, Vaelin brings Joshua to investigate strange lights over Swordbreaker Pass, where they meet some laborers and chanters attempting to widen a magical gateway to Dol'Haddur and bring forth a stone tower. After some discussion with one of the chanters, they learn that a certain "Mister Jake" has paid them to read aloud from a pair of books and dig out the tower's foundation in preparation. Joshua and Vaelin agree to supervise (and even assist) in order to observe the effects of these gates when they are used properly. Minutes later, there is a stone tower on the ground, the gate has disappeared, and magical flecks fall like snow from the spot the gate had been, causing terrible growth wherever they land. Joshua and Vaelin narrowly escape the fast-growing vines and grass, but the laborers and chanters are killed and turned into shamble-men (shambling mounds). Using Erebor's Emergency Equine (Mount), they flee back to Whitefield.

Also on Felsday, Allen meets a man named Hagar in the Silver Sphinx. Hagar is looking for a wizard to share in an expedition back to the Black Dungeon of Alad the Warlock. Allen negotiates to send Hagar on his way with 500 gold and his life in return for all of Hagar's notes on the dungeon, its inhabitants, its treasures, and its secrets. Allen brings this to the attention of the other party members, inviting them to join his foray. Lured by the promise of riches, the opportunity for practice and glory, or the rumor of a talking, prophesying statue in one of the dungeon's rooms, most are quite eager to embark with Allen. Seralyn has reservations at first, but these are quelled by a vision from Ortrul, asking her to free the spirits of the dead trapped within the dungeon walls. The Guardian of the Dead has even offered her a boon for completing the task.

Once inside, the party follows Hagar's map, speaks with Sir Caspin's wraith (who Audreyn had some history with in the tournament circuit), and learns more about Alad and his supernatural powers over darkness and the Dungeon. After dissipating the shade and collecting his belongings, the party is visited by Alad. After an opening salvo leaves Alad less phased than desirable, the party chases him, finds another room, destroys the gasburst goblin zombies inside, and heads to the safest room on Hagar's map. After regrouping, a couple party members head back to gather some treasure before resting, and run into a mummy. This encounter proves dire for Skyler, who finds himself infected and cursed with mummy rot before the monster is destroyed. Seeing as the disease cannot be cured by natural means, the party decides to rappel upwards through the hole in the safe room's ceiling, block the east entrance, and travel north for a cure from the Cloister, where they are sure to meet some interesting characters.

The session ends on Pasaday, Quintar 5.

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Hagar's Tribulations
A survivor's tale

On his way to civilization, Hagar made a mental list of everyone he'd brought to the Black Dungeon.

Gruunich – dead. Killed by dead owlbears, body recovered and buried.
Ferrol – dead. Killed by a fire trap. Body unrecovered.
Sir Caspin – dead. Killed by Alad. Body unrecovered.
Aivar – dead. Killed by Alad, soon after. Body unrecovered.
Stretch – missing, presumed alive, wandering the Whispering Barrens.
T'Lara - missing, presumed dead.
Simon – missing, presumed dead, lost looking for T'Lara.

Gruunich had been the first to die. The skeletons, dripping with foulness, mending their broken bones before his eyes. If only the damn fool hadn't charged in and gotten himself surrounded, he might have had a chance. Or maybe not, since his spear blows only seemed to make the smallest of wounds. Hagar would never forget the way the gore collected on the floor, rolling back up onto the skeletons' bones, filling in the gaps. Gruunich was tough, tough enough to withstand the fire trap two doors from the room that killed him, but there is only so much that mortal flesh can bear.

Ferrol was next, after everyone decided to head the other way. He took the lead, and in the corridor he rushed to the next room, claiming he heard people's voices. He turned a corner, there was a flash of blue light, and everything not made of metal was reduced to charcoal. Fearful of the corridor, no one was willing to see what was in the room at the end. No one even wanted to get close enough to search the body, for fear that whatever foul magic had claimed him would claim them just as easily. Some time later, the sound of dragging chains approaching and terrible moans spooked them enough to chase them out of the Dungeon.

After that, Hagar, Simon, and T'Lara went back to Highridge to recruit Sir Caspin, Aivar, and Stretch.

On that foray, they witnessed the terrible, unmistakable spirit of Alad for the first time. Sir Caspin, thinking himself invincible, a common trait among heroic dolts and young minor nobles alike, challenged him to single combat. Alad dragged himself through the air, accompanied by the same sound of chains three of them had heard before. Caspin's magic sword hurt the shade, but Alad's life-draining touch hurt Caspin more, and he fell after a few blows. The rest of them fled into the nearby portal. The trip across twisted space was mercifully brief, and Alad did not follow. Not through the portal, at any rate.

The corridor on the other side was explored, and a door was opened to a room with a recessed pool, full of the water that dripped incessantly from the ceiling. An altar stood in the northwest corner, which Aivar, ever curious, insisted on examining, ignoring the pile of corroded copper coins under the water. Nothing happened until he took a bone from the bowl on the altar, but as soon as he did, the scrape of chains heralded Alad's arrival through the northern door. To his credit, Aivar was hard to hit, even as he walked backwards, down a flight of stairs, through knee-deep water, and up another flight of stairs, firing arrows with incredible swiftness all the while. Magic fire flared a few seconds after his attacks, courtesy of a magic gem on his bow. Until both of them reached the south end of the room, Hagar, Simon, and T'Lara joined in with whatever ranged attacks they could muster. It wasn't enough, and again they fled through a portal, just after Aivar fell to the ground. Stretch couldn't take it anymore, and ran for the exit, never to be seen again. His boot prints curved to the southwest, toward the wilderness.

They camped in the room with the tree and the sunlight. Hagar and Simon awoke to the sound of zombies crowding through a doorway, to the disappointing realization that T'Lara had either abandoned her watch, which Hagar believed, or been abducted, as Simon chose to delude himself. Had Hagar not known better, he would have thought the dwarf was sweet on her, but he knew it was just business and honor colliding in a messy but convenient (to Hagar and T'Lara) way.

While Simon left to search for her, Hagar took a grappling hook and rope and climbed to the top of the tree to throw. A few tries later, he had a way out, and after a few trips, he had all of the camping gear and what little treasure they'd collected lying on the rough grass next to the hole. For three days he waited for Simon or T'Lara to return to the sunny room, until his food ran out. From time to time, a zombie or mummy or skeleton would wander through and Hagar would have to raise the rope just in case one of them knew how to climb, or worse, tore the grappling hook free, trapping his friends. But when neither of them showed up, so he cut his losses and left. He couldn't go back to Highridge alone; too many questions would be asked, and he knew T'Lara still had some heat on her, and if Simon, her probation officer, was missing, too, the court would find a way to pin it all on him. The damn fool should have turned her in when they went to recruit the last three delvers, but T'Lara was the best burglar in town, and the lure of antique treasure was too tempting. 

No, the only way to go was east, to the next village. Find a new group of delvers, show them his notes, start over. He needed the coin. No one gets out of Eldermarsh Prison early without money changing hands, and he'd made a promise, blood to blood. He whispered under his breath, saving most of his energy for walking.

"I'm coming for you, little brother. No one keeps a Vencane in chains."

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